NATO leaders are gathering in Brussels to hold their first in-person summit since 2018, with Russia and China high on the agenda, according to the alliance’s top official. The summit will be a great opportunity for NATO leaders to exchange views on these issues ahead of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva slated for Wednesday.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin stated that if Ukraine enters NATO, the arrival time of the alliance’s missiles to Moscow will shorten up to 7-10 minutes. He noted that the interests of Russia are not considered since the decision on the extension was made despite the earlier reached agreements.
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline led by Gazprom is projected to be completed by the end of this year,” allowing Russia to ship more gas to Western Europe, while bypassing Ukraine, potentially depriving it of lucrative transit revenues at a time when Kyiv is locked in a confrontation with Moscow.
Turkey’s Military Engagement With The Lublin Triangle Aims To Balance Russia
27 MAY 2021
Poland’s agreement to purchase Turkish attack drones speaks to Ankara’s desire to enhance military engagement with the Warsaw-led “Lublin Triangle” in order to balance Russia’s recent geostrategic gains in the Black and Mediterranean Sea regions that the West Asian country might have suspiciously considered to be an unstated attempt by Moscow to contain it.
Russian-Turkish relations are incredibly complex, but can nowadays be characterized as a “friendly competition” between historic rivals whose leaders ultimately decided to responsibly regulate this dynamic for the sake of stability within their overlapping “spheres of influence”. I explained this more at length in an analysis that I wrote for Azerbaijan’s Axar in early April asking “Will Turkey’s Partnership With Ukraine Worsen Its Relations With Russia?” Generally speaking, this model of “friendly competition” is sustainable, though only so long as neither side does anything to decisively upset the military balance between the other and any of their rivals. That’s why Russia is so concerned about Turkey’s sale of combat drones to Ukraine since these could shift the military dynamics in Donbass. Foreign Minister Lavrov also warned Turkey against “fueling Kiev’s militaristic sentiment” earlier this week, but it’s Turkish-Polish military cooperation that might be much more dangerous.
Polish President Duda agreed to purchase 24 Turkish attack drones during his latest trip to the country in Ankara’s first such sale to an EU or NATO state. What’s so disturbing about this development is that Poland previously lost the war games that it staged earlier this year related to a speculative conflict with Russia, one in which neighboring Kaliningrad would play a major role for both sides. In that scenario, Russia would either attack Poland from that region or be attacked by Poland there. Either way, the point is that Kaliningrad is in Poland’s military crosshairs and represents the only realistic target for the Central European country’s new Turkish drones other than Belarus, the latter of which is part of the Russian-led CSTO mutual defense pact so any Polish attack against it could in theory be treated as an attack against Russia itself. Considering the intensity of Poland’s “negative nationalism” vis-a-vis Russia, a drone attack against either can’t be discounted.
It’s one thing for the US to bolster its Polish regional proxy’s offensive military capabilities and another for Turkey to do the same, especially considering the sensitive nature of contemporary Russian-Turkish relations and associated need to not disrupt the fragile balance between them. By selling drones to both Ukraine and Poland, Turkey is essentially enhancing its military engagement with the Polish-led “Lublin Triangle” which aims to “contain” Russian influence in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) both at Poland’s independent prerogative but also America’s indirect behest. Poland aspires for regional hegemonic status through this platform, the core of the “Three Seas Initiative”, which could also help it reduce Germany’s influence in this strategic space as an asymmetrical response to its neighbor’s ongoing Hybrid War against it and especially against the backdrop of the US pragmatically allowing the Nord Stream II pipeline that Warsaw is so suspicious of to be completed.
It’s unclear exactly why Turkey would so provocatively bolster the Lublin Triangle’s military capabilities through attack drone sales to both the bloc’s Polish leader and its Ukrainian partner, but it might be the case that Ankara believes that this is a symmetrical response of sorts to recent Russian geostrategic gains in the Black and Mediterranean Seas that the West Asian country might have suspiciously considered to be an unstated attempt by Moscow to contain it. To explain, Russia’s victory in the 2008 peace enforcement operation against Georgia secured Abkhazia within its “sphere of influence”, while Crimea’s 2014 democratic reunification with Russia further expanded Moscow’s influence in the Black Sea that it shares with Turkey. On the southern front, Russia’s decisive 2015 anti-terrorist intervention in Syria placed the country’s military forces squarely within Turkey’s soft underbelly.
Although Russia has no intention whatsoever to attack Turkey, both due to their leaders’ pragmatic agreement to regulate their “friendly competition” within their overlapping “spheres of influence” and also to avoid an apocalyptic World War III scenario with NATO, Ankara might have nevertheless feared such a scenario no matter how unlikely it is in reality. This might especially have been the case ever since the agreement to deploy Russian peacekeepers to part of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region as part of last November’s Moscow-mediated ceasefire between that country and Armenia. Although Turkish troops are there too, this still might not have dampened suspicious of the containment scenario. In response, Turkey might have thought it necessary to enhance its military engagement with the Polish-led Lublin Triangle, ergo its drone sales to Ukraine and most recently Poland.
What’s so concerning about these possible calculations is that Russia probably hadn’t ever thought that CEE would become a theater of “friendly competition” with Turkey. Unlike Turkish moves in the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan), Levant (Syria), and North Africa (Libya), its attack drone sales to those two Lublin Triangle states directly affect Russia’s national security. By contrast, Russian moves in the South Caucasus (Abkhazia and Azerbaijan’s Karabakh), Black Sea (Crimea), and Levant (Syria) don’t pose any such threat to Turkey’s national security since Moscow remains in full control of its forces there and isn’t building up its partners’ military capabilities as anti-Turkish proxies. With these observations in mind, Russia might need to review the nature of its “friendly competition” with Turkey, perhaps even as high as the leadership level due to the fact that the very close ties between their Presidents is largely responsible for managing these dynamics.
Some frank discussions between their leaders could be forthcoming if Russia believes that Turkey’s attack drone sales to those Lublin Triangle states could adversely affect the military balance between it and those two recipient countries. Turkey must clarify the reasons behind its enhanced military engagement with this unquestionably anti-Russian bloc that’s forming before Moscow’s eyes right on its very borders. It would still be concerning if Turkey is just doing it for the sake of business, but even worse if it’s for some larger strategic purpose. In either case, the move can be interpreted as unfriendly but perhaps also as a sly means for Turkey to restore the balance between it and Russia if some of its decision makers (whether rightly or wrongly) regard it as having recently tilted in Moscow’s favor, especially after last year’s peacekeeper deployment in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh. Regardless of its ultimate intent, the situation must be clarified soon in order to preserve their pragmatic ties.
The United States and its NATO allies are building up their military activity on the territory of Ukraine and in the Black Sea, and the Ukrainian military is taking part in NATO’s largest Defender Europe 2021 drills, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, and remark that Russia has to take all these factors into account in its military planning.
Russia’s foreign minister warned Turkey against what he said were attempts to fuel “militaristic sentiment” in Ukraine after Ankara moved to boost cooperation with Kyiv. Turkey, which faces Ukraine and Russia across the Black Sea to the north, criticised Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington could increase security assistance for Ukraine after what he called Russia’s “reckless and aggressive” actions in massing troops near its border. Washington has been Kyiv’s most powerful backer since Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists began.
Japan will hold a joint military drill with US and French troops in the country’s southwest. It comes as Tokyo seeks to deepen defense cooperation beyond its key US ally to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas.
Hong Kong’s electoral reform bill has been introduced in the city’s legislature, setting in motion changes that will give Beijing greater control over the process while reducing the number of directly elected representatives.
Japan held consultations with the European Union on security following joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Aden and in the Arabian Sea, as well as a joint port call on Djibouti. They aim to extend their cooperation to other partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that he was against the idea of establishing NATO alliances in the Middle East and Asia, commenting on recent calls for establishing similar bodies in both regions.
India is concerned about a vacuum developing in Afghanistan following the proposed withdrawal of United States from the country. India’s big worry is that instability could spill over into its Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir.
A car bomb blast ripped through a luxury hotel’s parking area in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, where China’s ambassador to Pakistan was staying. Chinese nationals and their interests in the region have been attacked before by Taliban militants.
Russia is a major world power, and if the EU can attempt to bully it in such a dangerous way, then there’s nothing stopping the bloc from doing the same to comparatively weaker countries.
The European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution on Thursday threatening very serious consequence against Russia if it carries out an “invasion” of Ukraine. These include immediately stopping oil and gas imports from the country and cutting it off from the SWIFT payment system, as well as freezing the assets of so-called “oligarchs” and their families on top of canceling their visas. The text also condemns alleged Russian intelligence operations in Europe, including disinformation operations and the latest claims that its agents were behind the 2014 munitions blast in Czechia. They also want to stop Nord Stream II.
The EP also supports meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. Examples of this include criticism of the country’s recent jailing of anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny due to his parole violations and the authorities’ decision to investigate whether his organization is extremist. The resolution expresses support for unsanctioned rallies in Russia too while criticizing the authorities’ response to them. One of the most disturbing proposals put forth is to seriously consider the UK’s proposal for a “Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regime”, which could predictably be exploited for political purposes considering the tense relations with Russia.
The EP’s resolution is therefore very dangerous because it shows that ideologically driven anti-Russian political forces in Europe are serious about imposing extreme costs on Moscow solely for warning that it might defend its legitimate border interests and those of its citizens in Eastern Ukraine in the event that Kiev launches a military operation there. Cutting Russia off from the SWIFT payment system might be akin to an unofficial declaration of war considering the country’s international financial dependence on it. In addition, it’s counterproductive to stop importing Russian oil and gas when no viable alternatives exist at the moment.
Russia, like all countries, has an obligation to enforce its laws. Navalny’s jailing was done in accordance with existing legislation on this issue, as is its breaking up of unsanctioned rallies and temporary detainment of their participants. As a case in point, some EU countries have also detained participants of unsanctioned rallies that were organized against their COVID-19 lockdowns in recent months, especially whenever they clash with police. Furthermore, France is currently investigating various organizations as extremist ones, just like Russia is doing too. The basis of Brussels’ proposed meddling in Moscow’s internal affairs is therefore hypocritical.
The rest of the world is rightly concerned after this resolution was just passed. Russia is a major world power, and if the EU can attempt to bully it in such a dangerous way, then there’s nothing stopping the bloc from doing the same to comparatively weaker countries. In addition, similar resolutions might one day be tabled against China too on a similar basis as well. Basically, nobody would be safe if the EU succeeds in cutting Russia off from SWIFT and so openly meddling in its internal affairs by criticizing its law enforcement agencies and their work. That’s why this resolution is so dangerous to world peace.
COVID-19 is still sweeping across the world, and the extended effect of lockdown has been disastrous for the EU member states’ economies, not to mention the psychological health of their citizens. There are much more urgent tasks at hand for the EP to tackle than concocting a list of threats and criticisms to officially make against Russia. It’s disappointing to see that it’s more focused on such issues than those much closer to home. Their supporters might argue that Russia’s alleged assassinations, attacks, and disinformation plots constitute pressing domestic threats, but none of these have been publicly proven and thus remain speculation.
The EU is approaching an historic crossroads whereby it can finally become more independent of American influence or it can continue to languish under the boots of US neo-imperialism. Judging by the latest resolution, it regrettably appears that the EP is opting for the latter after jumping on America’s anti-Russian bandwagon to score political points with their patron across the Atlantic. This is dangerous and counterproductive to EU interests. What’s more, it’s also deeply unfortunate too since the EP can and should put its legislative skills to work trying to solve more urgent crises like COVID-19 instead.
The latest de-escalation in Donbass is attributable to Russia’s resoluteness in refusing to fall into the US’ Hybrid War trap of launching an all-out military intervention there in support of its legal interests while nevertheless flexing its muscles in this respect by sending the signal that it reserves the right to deliver a crushing strike in defense of its border and/or citizens if they’re seriously threatened.
The month of April was marked by serious tension in the Eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass after Kiev appeared to be gearing up for an Operation Storm-like genocidal advance against the Russian-friendly separatists there which many predicted might trigger a major military response from Moscow. Of course, the Mainstream Media flipped the victims and villains in order to misportray Russia as the aggressor even though it was Ukraine that declined to implement its legal obligations as agreed to during the Minsk peace process and thus unilaterally worsened the situation. I published two analyses at the time explaining the complicated dynamics of those tense events, which should be reviewed by interested readers in case they aren’t already familiar with them:
Basically, Kiev was being put up to this by its Washington patron which wanted to provoke a scenario that would make it politically impossible for most of the EU nations to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V like they were reportedly planning to do up until that point. The US feared the long-term strategic impact of improved Russian-EU relations as a result of their prospective epidemiological cooperation. It hoped to “bait the bear” into launching an all-out military intervention in support of its border and/or citizens, which could in turn function as a HybridWar trap for creating an Afghan-like quagmire in the worst-case scenario. Russia refused to fall for this scheme but nevertheless flexed its muscles by sending the signal that it still reserves the right to deliver a crushing strike in defense of its legal interests if they’re threatened, which got the West to back off.
The situation could of course change at any moment since the strategic dynamics haven’t changed all that much, but Russia’s confident moves must have made the West rethink the wisdom of this Hybrid War plot considering the obviously unacceptable costs that it would likely entail. For the moment at least, everything seems to be de-escalating a bit as a result of Russia’s prudent policy. The Russian “spy” scandal in Czechia was manufactured to serve as a convenient distraction from Western warmongers backtracking in Eastern Ukraine since their leadership couldn’t openly acknowledge that they blinked in the face of Russian resoluteness lest they lose credibility with their populace which has been hyped up by anti-Russian propaganda. This was followed by President Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly and the end of Russian drills in the south.
About those last two, they’re actually interconnected if one takes the time to think about them. The Russian leader very clearly implied that his country’s red lines are connected not only to conventional security interests such as the obvious ones in Eastern Ukraine that everyone had been talking about up until that point, but also “Democratic Security” insofar as announcing how unacceptable the recently foiled Belarusian regime change plot was. Without saying as much but clearly hinting in this direction, President Putin was conveying the message that the West mustn’t dare even think about attempting to assassinate him, stage a Color Revolution (the ongoing Navalny-inspired unrest isn’t a serious threat), try to co-opt military officials for a coup plot, or launch a crippling cyber offensive attack to shut down the national capital like was all planned for Belarus.
Since Russia’s southern military drills were sufficient enough to prove how resolute it was in defending its legal interests if need be, and considering the fact that the West had already begun to de facto de-escalate the situation by staging the Russian “spy” distraction in Czechia and subsequent expulsion of diplomats across a growing number of European countries, it naturally followed that Russia would reciprocate by ending its exercises. Moscow had already managed to show the West that it won’t be pushed around, and its military forces can always snap back into action at a moment’s notice if the situation requires them to do so. In other words, those drills and President Putin’s very clearly implied “Democratic Security” (counter-Hybrid War) red lines were responsible for getting the West to de-escalate, after which Russia responded in kind as is the norm.
The lessons to be learned are several. Firstly, Russia is much too wise to fall into Hybrid War traps that are so obviously laid out for it. Secondly, it still succeeded in showing its opponents that they’ll suffer unacceptably high costs for their schemes if they force Russia to militarily respond in a limited way in defense of its legal interests. Thirdly, awareness of these first two points resulted in a rethink of Western strategy, which was fourthly followed by their desperate manufacturing of the Russian “spy” scandal in Czechia to distract their hyped-up Russophobic populations that had expected the West to be the one to deliver a crushing blow to Russia and not the inverse. Fifthly, Russia conveyed its “Democratic Security” red lines, thereby essentially expanding the list of unacceptable actions against it which could provoke a hot war in the worst-case scenario.
This sequence of events explains the latest de-escalation in Donbass, but observers must remember that the present respite might only be short-lived since the strategic dynamics that provoked the original tensions still remain. There’s nothing stopping the West from trying to provoke Russia again and again, albeit perhaps modifying their approach each time. That would of course increase the chances of a war by miscalculation and contradict the so-called “rational actor theory” upon which many had (naively?) premised their understanding of International Relations up until this point. It might still be premature to predict that this will happen and that the US isn’t behaving rationally since it did after all de-escalate, though only in the face of Russian resoluteness, but everything should become much clearer by the time NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 drills end in June.