Where is Putin? Russian leader’s absence sparks rumors.

Everyone has their off days, but when you’re the proudly virile and uncontested leader of one of the most-watched countries in the world, your days off make people nervous. Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been seen for days, and now people are beginning to wonder why. On Thursday, Putin’s spokesman announced that the president would not attend a meeting with the Federal […]


Expert: Putin is engaged in ‘an existential struggle’ with the West


Vladimir Putin sees Russia and the West as being locked in “an existential struggle,” reports USNI News, citing an expert at a Heritage Foundation event on Tuesday. 

Eugene Rumer, the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia Program, told the audience at the event that the rising tensions between Russia and the NATO-orientated West was a cause for concern. Particularly at stake in any ramping up of hostilities are the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. 

Both Latvia and Estonia have large ethnic Russian populations which Rumer believes Putin “is not adverse to using … to make domestic trouble.” 

If Putin starts using ethnic Russians to stir up trouble in those countries as he has done in Ukraine, then war just may be NATO’s only possible response, predicted Rumer. As Moscow becomes more assertive, this likelihood increases. 

Russia “is more prone than before to look less kindly on engagement with the West,” Rumer said at the event. 

This is especially true given the Russian military’s new doctrine. Signed into practice on December 26, 2014, it lists the expansion of NATO as the main external threat facing the stability and territorial integrity of Russia. 

In a translation of the doctrine by Defense News, Russia states that NATO is “undermining global stability and violating the balance of power in the nuclear-missile sphere.”

To counter NATO’s influence, Russia’s military doctrine envisions the expansion of bilateral alliances between Moscow and potentially friendly countries such as China and Brazil, as well as the military reinforcement of three areas that Russia sees as geopolitical front lines — the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, the Crimean peninsula, and the Arctic. 

Russian soldiers in Crimea

Each of these regions can serve as a buffer against what Russia portrays as NATO’s aggressive expansion, while also functioning as a potential launching pad for Moscow-directed military excursions. NATO’s supreme commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, warned at the beginning of March that Russia was already in the process of turning Crimea into a forward operating base against the alliance. 

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has been holding snap military drills along its borders with the Baltic States at an increasing pace raising concerns that the exercises could one day be used as a cover to launch a quick invasion of the Baltics. 

The Telegraph reported on February 20 that General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of NATO forces in Europe and one of Britain’s most senior generals, warned that Russian snap exercises could lead to a possible invasion of NATO territory. 

Bradshaw warned that the drills could be used “not only for intimidation and coercion but potentially to seize NATO territory, after which the threat of escalation might be used to prevent re-establishment of territorial integrity.”

If such an invasion were to occur, NATO would either be forced to respond – leading to an unpredictable military conflict in Europe – or the alliance would not respond and NATO would cease to function as a treaty-bound entity. 

SEE ALSO: Russian military flights near Europe are heightening the risk of an aviation disaster

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David Cameron warns Vladimir Putin that Russia will face ‘more consequences’ if Ukraine ceasefire fails

David Cameron holds Vladimir Putin accountable for what has happened with the Ukraine and says the blame lies “squarely” with Russia and their president


Russia’s Putin Says New Ukraine Ceasefire To Start On Saturday

The deal follows marathon peace talks in Minsk, Belarus.

(Left-right) Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Francois Hollande and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko pose during the Minsk peace talks, Feb. 11

Grigory Dukor / Reuters

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine and Russian-backed rebel forces have agreed on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine to begin at midnight on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin says.

The deal, struck in Minsk following marathon 16-hour four-party talks that ran overnight on Thursday, is the result of a week of frantic last-ditch diplomacy aimed at stopping the 10-month Ukrainian conflict from spiraling into all-out war. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande brokered the talks, which built on an ill-starred ceasefire that the sides signed in September but which never took hold.

“We managed to agree on the main thing,” Putin said in comments carried by Russian state television.

A surprise rebel offensive three weeks ago saw Ukraine’s troops suffer heavy casualties and significant losses of territory while throwing Kiev’s Western allies into disarray. U.S. President Barack Obama is mulling suppling Ukrainian forces with lethal aid in response, a move that a top Putin ally said Wednesday was designed to “cause regime change” in Moscow and “dismember” Russia.

Over 5,000 people have died in the conflict and a further million have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

Putin said that the agreement, signed by a “contact group” of representatives instead of the heads of state, also envisioned establishing a buffer zone between the warring sides, withdrawing heavy artillery, and taking steps to resolve the political conflict. He blamed the delay in finding an agreement on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s refusal to deal directly with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics — rebel groups that seized parts of the country’s two easternmost provinces last spring.

The rebel groups, which were not directly represented at the talks, had threatened to scupper the process when they refused to sign the agreement worked out by the four heads of state on Thursday morning. Ukraine has blockaded the rebel territories, which are not recognized even by their Russian patrons, and repeatedly asked Western countries to list them as terrorist organizations.

After earlier saying that Putin’s conditions were “unacceptable,” Poroshenko announced that Ukraine had refused to give in to Russian calls to provide the rebel regions with autonomy. Russia has also called for Ukraine to adopt a federal structure, a move that Ukrainian officials say would essentially allow it to manipulate its Russian-speaking eastern provinces to prevent the country’s drive towards the European Union.

Poroshenko added that the sides had agreed that all foreign troops were to leave the country, and that Ukraine was to regain control of its porous eastern border with Russia by the end of the year. Moscow repeatedly denies Ukraine and NATO claims that its regular army is assisting the rebels with troops, logistics, and supplies. A mountain of circumstantial evidence — ranging from sightings of heavy equipment made only in Russia to casual encounters with regular Russian troops — makes their denials seem scarcely plausible.

Most of the points agreed on Thursday were part of the original deal signed at the first Minsk ceasefire talks in September. Essentially none of them were fulfilled, with neither side able to so much as cease firing.

Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said Thursday that Ukraine had reached a deal with Western creditors to increase bailout money to $40 billion to prevent a potential financial collapse in the country.

LINK: Ukraine And Pro-Russian Rebels Agree To A Cease-Fire

LINK: Ceasefire In Ukraine Reportedly Collapses As Shooting Breaks Out In Mariupol

View Entire List ›


Is Putin Trying to Pry Greece Out of the European Union?

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

By Rob Garver,The Fiscal Times

February 12, 2015

As finance ministers from across Europe held emergency meetings in Brussels in an effort to keep a newly assertive Greece in the currency union, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated an offer from Moscow to provide Greece with the funding it needs to ease punishing austerity programs and rebuild its economy. 

Greece was forced to accept several rounds of sharp cuts in public spending as a condition of receiving a massive bailout package from other EU member nations beginning in 2010. The austerity measures were deeply unpopular with the Greek public, and resulted last month in the election of a new, leftist government that came to power on a promise to push back against European powers, primarily Germany, demanding that the country stick to the terms of its deal despite the fact that it has not resulted in any meaningful economic recovery. 

Related: The Greece-EU Standoff Is Getting ‘Berserk’ 

Now, the new government is trying to make good on its campaign promise by demanding that its European Union creditors ease their requirements by allowing Greece to spend more on public services, and change the terms of repayment to make the country’s debt service less onerous. 

For their part, Greece’s creditors are somewhere between dubious and dismissive. The current bailout package expires at the end of the month, and the next tranche of loans to Greece is dependent on a deal being struck. 

The fight could pose an existential threat to the European currency union, because one of the potential endgames for Greece is abandoning the Euro – a move that would allow the country to take on debt in a currency it controls. The concern is not that the loss of Greece would be economically devastating to the Eurozone, but that if the markets began to see Eurozone nations’ commitment to the Euro as contingent on domestic politics the whole enterprise could collapse. 

Senior officials in Greece have repeatedly claimed that the country has other options for finding financing. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that if Greece demands changes to the financing deal, “It’s over.” He said the other EU nations “can’t negotiate about something new.” 

Related: Ukraine Tensions Hit Boiling Point as Obama Confronts Putin 

Such talk has angered Greek leaders, who see Germany, in particular, as being unnecessarily tied to continued austerity programs. Several have held out the prospect of turning to other sources for funding. 

After bailing out Greece twice, Germany and other European countries like Finland and Holland are also angry. Instead of showing good faith in asking for debt forgiveness, Tsipras has promised to rehire 12,000 public-sector workers, raise wages and essentially thumb his nose at all the reforms that might get him another free pass. 

“We want a deal. But if there is no deal, and if we see that Germany remains rigid and wants to blow Europe apart, then we will have to go to Plan B,” said Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who also heads Independent Greeks, a political party that is part of the governing coalition assembled by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “We have other ways of finding money. It could be the United States at best, it could be Russia, it could be China or other countries.” 

Nikos Chountis, Greece’s deputy foreign minister, has said that both Russia and China have made offers of financial assistance. Russia has also moved to strengthen political and economic ties with Athens. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has, on multiple occasions, held out the offer of financing to Greece. In late January, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the Kremlin was open to considering a financial aid package for Greece. 

Related: How the U.S. Can Stop Putin’s Ukraine Push 

Last week, Tspiras discussed bolstering ties with Russia in a phone call with Putin, according to a statement released by his office. “The Russian president and the prime minister emphasized the need for substantial improvement of the cooperation between Greece and Russia — countries with deep and historic ties — especially in the sectors of economy, energy, tourism, culture and transport,” said a statement from Tspiras’s office, also noting that Putin had invited Tspiras to visit Moscow in May. 

Then Wednesday, as the EU finance ministers were trying to hammer out a deal with Greece, Lavrov, Russian’s foreign minister, again raised the issue of Russia riding to the rescue of the Greek people in a joint press conference with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. 

He said they also discussed further cooperation on the issue of energy. “We discussed energy cooperation, considering Athens’ interest in the plans of building a gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey and to the Greek border,” Lavrov said. “We believe this project has good prospects.” 

Related: If the U.S. Arms Ukraine, Russia Vows Retaliation 

Lavrov also threw in some praise for the Greek government’s initial resistance to an EU plan to extend economic sanctions against Russia over its continued aggression in eastern Ukraine. “We appreciate the stance of the Greek government, which understands the complete counter-productivity of attempts to speak this language with Russia,” he said. 

Adding to the tension of the moment was the fact that on Wednesday, Putin, as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande were meeting in Minsk, Belarus, in an effort to come to a deal to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting to create an autonomous region aligned with Moscow. 

Late Wednesday, the finance minsters discussing the future of Greece’s financial relationship with the EU had not announced a deal. One of the most likely outcomes appeared to be a statement of principles that would allow the talks to continue next week. 

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Here’s Putin rubbing his hands together after addressing Ukraine’s president at peace talks

Poroshenko putinUkrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart reluctantly shook hands before sitting together with Germany’s Merkel and France’s Hollande to broker a deal on Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday.

Since the fight began 10 months ago in east Ukraine, more than 5,300 people have died, the AP reportsUkraine blames Russia for the conflict after annexing the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea last March. All the while, Putin continues to deny arming pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine or sending in Russian troops.

UKRAINEWestern leaders have demanded the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine as well as respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory.

Germany’s Merkel makes the introduction after Putin arrives and speaks briefly with Hollande and the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Ukraine Peace Talks

And it seems clear that Putin is enjoying the awkward atmosphere created by Russia’s aggression.

putin handshake sort of GIF

Here is a video of the full interaction:

All things considered, Putin is looking comfortable as Poroshenko has to watch his own back:

Ukraine Peace Talks

SEE ALSO: US Army commander for Europe: Russian troops are currently fighting on Ukraine’s front lines

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How the U.S. Can Stop Putin’s Ukraine Push

Ukrainian servicemen unload Grad rockets from a truck before launching them towards pro-Russian separatist forces outside Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine February 8, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Chernyshev

© Stringer . / Reuters

By Patrick Tucker,Defense One

February 10, 2015

The question of whether or not to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed separatists is quickly becoming contentious, both inside of Washington and also between the United States and its allies. But the debate misses a key point: The majority of the equipment that the Ukrainian military is asking for is not lethal.

Some experts, such as Micah Zenko, have suggested that any U.S. decision to give (very limited) weapons to Ukraine would have either no effect or a highly negative one by escalating the conflict. But non-lethal aid, others argue, could help reduce civilian casualties in the region by allowing the Ukrainian military to operate more safely.

Related: If the U.S. Arms Ukraine, Russia Vows Retaliation

In a recent Brookings Institution report titled, “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States andNATO Must Do,” former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy; retired four-star Air Force Gen. Charles Wald; Steven Pifer, a current Brookings Senior Fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and others make the case for expanded aid for Ukraine, based on conversations with Ukrainian military officials.

Several of the report’s authors visited the front lines of the ongoing fighting in Ukraine and spoke directly with the commanding officer at Kramatorsk in Donetsk, about 40-50 km from the line of contact with the Russian-backed separatist fighters.

“What we got was a very professional briefing of the military situation in Eastern Ukraine… then they gave us a presentation on what would be the specific things that, if the U.S. were to provide more military assistance, what would be of particular value,” Pifer told Defense One. “We looked at what the Ukrainians said and asked, ‘Does this make sense.’ Most of us concluded that it did in terms of the gaps that they now face.”

While the request from Ukrainian military leaders did call for light anti-armor missiles, specifically Javelins, that could be used against a tank, it consisted primarily of other, less dangerous items, such as armored Humvees, drones for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, and secure communications equipment and jammers to stop Russian drones. The most important item on the list was, perhaps, anti-tank radar.

Give Them Radar
More than 70 percent of Ukraine’s military losses come from rocket fire, according to the report, which relies on figures drawn from conversations with Ukrainian military leaders. That suggests that better missile and rocket tracking could play a huge role in changing the battle dynamic on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Related: Obama: If Putin Really Wanted Ukraine, He Could Take It

The U.S. has already given Ukraine some rocket radar equipment for use against mortars. But what Ukrainian military officers are seeking is the aid of counter-battery radar that can operate at the same range as the rockets that separatists are lobbing into Ukraine. “That would allow the Ukrainian military to pinpoint the origin of both attacking artillery and attacking rockets,” Pifer said.

One example of a medium- to long-range radar capable of spotting incoming Russian rockets is the AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder Weapon Locating System, produced by Thales Raytheon and originally designed by Hughes aircraft. The AN/TPQ-37 is a big truck-based radar that runs off of a 60 kW generator and can detect enemy rockets at 50 kilometers (30 km for artillery).

It’s the kind of device that could be “very valuable” to the military in Ukraine by allowing Ukrainian forces to quickly pinpoint the origin of incoming rockets and then take out separatist positions in response. More importantly, Pifer said, it could also “reduce civilian casualties to the extent that the Ukrainians can make their fire more accurate, it would bring down the number of civilians who get caught [in crossfire].”

The United Nations has said that 5,400 civilians have died as result of the conflict in Ukraine, with an additional 1,200 combatants killed. Some coverage out of Russia is placing the number at 10 times that, with closer to 50,000 dead. 

Related: Putin Won’t Commit to Peace Talks on Ukraine

Better targeting could meliorate casualties no matter what the number. But other nonlethal equipment could also play a constructive role in providing situational awareness, showing what assets are where.

Drones and Counter-Drones
“Russian and separatist forces are using drones so [the Ukrainian military] is looking for some kind of electronic counter-measures to jam those. And, again, they’re looking for drones of their own so that they could have the sort of tactical awareness to know what is going on the other side of the line of contact,” Pifer said.

What sort of non-lethal drones could Ukraine deploy in a place like Donetsk? The most useful Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, will be those that offer a counter-balance to the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR, assets that the Ukrainian separatists, backed by Russia, are bringing to the conflict.

Related: Ukraine’s Second Front: Obama and Kerry Are Now at War With Europe

Russia reportedly has more than 500 drones, one of the largest drone fleets in the world. During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia deployed several ZALA 421-0 and Gorizont-Air-S100 drones to watch protestors and crowds. They have reportedly bought several BirdEye 400 UAVs, Searcher Mk.2 as well as several I-View 150s from Israel Aerospace Industries. These are relatively small drones compared to the big (66-foot wingspan), armed Reaper drones that the United States flies over Syria and Iraq.

If NATO or the United States wanted to send their own drones they have a variety of options that might be small and nonthreatening enough to avoid provoking international ire. Last May, NATO forces staged a series of exercises in Norway, part of a series of trials called Unified Vision 2020, to test ISRequipment and capabilities. The tests included some novel drones like the 3 meter-wide Italian-made STRIX-C. It’s the sort of drone that’s practically a toy but could still be useful in the current situation (which not coincidently looks a lot like the Unified Vision 2020 scenarios). Unarmed Reapers, however, could do much more to counter separatist drone-basedISR capabilities.

In terms of communications and jamming equipment, companies like General Dynamics and others manufacture a variety of systems that could easily be put on trucks to provide what’s called mobile reconnaissance and jamming to bring Ukrainian capabilities a bit closer to those of Russia.

Pifer said more equipment aid to Ukraine could do much to increase the costs of the conflict for Russia. But a few drones, some radios, and a radar truck won’t by themselves end the war. “No one thinks the Ukrainian army would beat the Russians,” he said.

Related: Putin Risks It All on Korean Nukes and Cheap Vodka

The United States has already promised some equipment to Ukraine in the form of money, night vision goggles, tents, armored trucks, and so on, but has had trouble meeting those assurances.

If American leadership can follow through on its commitments and build upon them, Pifer speculated that the U.S. would inspire Canada, Lithuania and even the United Kingdom to do the same. There’s no guarantee of that. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond recently said that the UK did not intend to send lethal arms to Ukraine “at this time.”

To Pifer, that suggests “they left the door open.”

As to the charge that aiding Ukraine would further escalate tension in the region, Pifer answered simply, “It’s escalating regardless of what we do … there’s risk if we do this. The risks of doing nothing are greater.”

This article originally appeared in Defense One.

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Vladimir Putin: ‘We are not going to wage war on anyone’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Moscow did not plan to wage war on anyone, but added that a world order where one leader tells others what to do would not be tolerated.

“There clearly is an attempt to restrain our development with different means. There is an attempt …


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