Was I right on Russia?

Russian consulate in Svalbard, which looks like my kid built it out of Legos. From The Barents Observer.

Russia continues to make big news that stays under the wave tops of COVID-19 news. I’ve written about Russia many times in the past, and made a few predictions:

I’ve also said that Russia would never give up footholds in Ukraine and Georgia. So, how is that playing out? Sadly, I’m not far off.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is facing a spread of COVID-19 in its country. Who has lined up to help? Russia, of course. They’ve done this while trying to find ways to boost Turkmenistan’s economy, all while Turkmenistan gets closer to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which is Russia’s stand-in for the USSR.

Belarus

Belarus recently arrested a number of Russians that it accuses of inciting riots ahead of its 8 August election. Not surprisingly, Russia asked those people be released. There was in fact a large rise in the democratic movement that seeks to unseat the 5-term Belarussian President Lukashenko. With a soon-to-be contested election and shared border with Russia, what could go wrong?

Svalbard

Russia has started the messaging train once again for Svalbard, this time demanding that Norway comply with Russian demands on Svalbard. Which they still call Spitsbergen, just to make the Norwegians angry.

Georgia

Russia continues to manufacture a “border crisis” in Georgia. It’s slowly stopping any aid from reaching the breakaway sections while not removing troops in accordance with the cease fire.

Russia isn’t pulling any “crazy Ivan” moves. It knows that the US and Europe just don’t care enough (with the exception of Norway in Svalbard) about Georgia, Belarus and Turkmenistan. If Americans can barely find these places on a map, they certainly won’t care enough to risk their sons and daughters in the military to save them. In truth, if we want to stop this, we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to go to war with Russia to save some territory in Georgia. And because the Russians think we won’t, they aren’t likely to stop taking that territory.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Statue wars come to Alaska

By John Ruberry

There was no post from me last week here as I was on vacation in Alaska with Mrs. Marathon Pundit celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and getting away from all of the craziness in what Alaskans call “the lower 48.”

Surely leftists’ obsession with tearing down statues hadn’t come to the Last Frontier?

Wrong. It is there too.

While listening to a Talkeetna, Alaska NPR station–which was apparently the only FM station I could pick up in “Gateway to Denali”–I heard a Native American artist from Sitka say, “Take them all down.” The statues, that is. Well, presumably not all of them, just ones of old dead white guys.

A friend of mine who lives in Anchorage urged me to get a photograph of the Captain James Cook statue in Resolution Park, where the bronze likeness of the English explorer, who led the first expedition of Europeans into what is now known as Cook Inlet in 1778, looks over his eponymous bay.

Why?

“Before Cook is taken away,” he warned me.

I believe the Cook statue is a goner. A Change.org petition to remove Cook from Resolution Park, which is named after his flagship, went online last month and attracted a lot of attention, including that of Anchorage’s Democratic mayor, San Francisco native Ethan Berkowitz. He’s a weasel and he punted the decision to an Anchorage native community of 70 to decide the statue’s fate.

Cook haters and everyone who despises white explorers should be able to take solace in knowing that the captain was killed by native Hawaiians on the Big Island several months after sailing into Cook Inlet. But no.

Anchorage is a sister city of Whitby, England, the town where Cook began his maritime career, and the Resolution Park statue is a replica of the Whitby one. Yes, there is a drive in the UK to topple that Cook statue, although the member of parliament who represents Whitby says it will be removed “over my dead body.”

But like hungry sharks, the first kill is never enough for that haters of white man statues. Even in Alaska. What was then known as Russian America was purchased by the United States in 1867; the driver of that purchase was William H. Seward, the US secretary of state. Seward, a rival of Abraham Lincoln for the 1860 presidential nomination, was seen as more anti-slavery than Lincoln. Along with the Great Emancipator, Seward successfully used diplomacy to keep Great Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy and intervening in our Civil War. On the night Lincoln was assassinated Seward was seriously wounded as well.

In short, most people agree Seward was one of history’s good guys.

We stayed in the village of Seward for a couple of days last month–there’s bust of him there, which is so far safe. That is not the case with the Seward statue in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Yes, there is a Change.org petition calling for getting rid of it.

Seward’s Day is a state holiday it Alaska, it commemorates that signing of the Alaska Purchase treaty. There is a Seward Highway–which we traveled on last month–and a Seward Peninsula in our 49th state. Clearly, the usually overlooked Seward is a noticeable presence in Alaska. If Juneau’s Seward statue goes, which Seward remembrance will be next?

In Sitka, there is a Change.org petition to remove the statue of Alexander Baranov, who once headed the Russian-American company.

Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I journeyed to the Last Frontier, among other things, to get away from the craziness in the continental United States.

But that was not possible.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Open Skies, Game Theory, and what’s next for treaties

The OC-135, the (very old) airplane the US uses for OPEN SKIES flights, from Wikipedia

Recently President Trump pulled the United States out of the Open Skies Treaties, continuing his push of leaving treaties he feels aren’t useful. Given that we’ve pulled out of the INF Treaty, redone NAFTA, and scrapped a few other treaties (like the JCPOA), are we closer to war, and what treaty is next on the chopping block?

Trump renegotiating deals, and in some cases leaving them altogether, isn’t a surprise. A quick read of his book The Art of the Deal, or a study of his real estate deals, or just watching a few episodes of The Apprentice, would tell you that Trump is all about big deals. He doesn’t nibble at the edges of a small deal. He goes in for the big deal, or nothing at all.

A big reason for that is waiting for the big deal typically maximizes the leverage he has. If you give something away first, and the other side doesn’t reciprocate, you lost a portion of your negotiating power. It’s like giving your kids dessert before dinner on the promise they’ll eat both. Sure, it could happen, but if the dinner isn’t finished, you can’t threaten to withhold dessert.

President Trump always looks to maximize leverage, which means pressing on points that do something while ignoring those that don’t mean anything. For example, very early on he called out a number of NATO countries and threatened to withhold US defense money. A critical media made it out to look like he was threatening to leave NATO. Ironically, this worked completely in his favor. The chances of Trump leaving NATO were pretty slim, because it wouldn’t gain much (by the way, the only country to have done so was France when it left the military portion of NATO). But with the media making it look like he would, and a re-surging Russia acting like it wants to re-establish the Soviet Union, many NATO nations upped their funding. Trump won pretty “bigly” in that case.

If you think the whole “negotiating” piece is a sham, you shouldn’t. In fact, Trump has said on many occasions exactly what he’s doing. Here’s a NYT piece from 2016, where Trump was being interviewed by David Sanger and discussing missile defense and Japan:

TRUMP: Or, if we cannot make the right deal, to take on the burden themselves. You said it wrong because you said or — or if we cannot make the right deal for proper reimbursement to take on the burden themselves. Yes. Now, Hillary Clinton said: “I will never leave Japan. I will never leave Japan. Will never leave any of our ——” Well now, once you say that, guess what happens? What happens?

HABERMAN: You’re stuck.

TRUMP: You can’t negotiate.

HABERMAN: Right.

TRUMP: In a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk. Hillary Clinton has said, “We will never, ever walk.” That’s a wonderful phrase, but unfortunately, if I were on Saudi Arabia’s side, Germany, Japan, South Korea and others, I would say, “Oh, they’re never leaving, so what do we have to pay them for?” Does that make sense to you, David?

It’s crystal clear: President Trump will threaten to leave, and then ACTUALLY leave a deal, if it’s not to his liking. That gives him the most leverage to get the other side to comply.

Open Skies is no different. The deal was first brought up in 1955, but was only recently ratified in 2002. It’s supposed to allow unfettered access to anywhere in the signatories countries. The US upholds that end, and as a military member, I’ve been notified before when the Russians plan to fly over an installation I’m working at. Russia began denying access to key areas, including exercise areas and parts of Georgia.

From President Trumps point of view, Russia gets a good deal and the US is slowly losing any advantage for the deal, so he pulled out. Both sides can pull other intelligence assets to make up the loss, but Russia will take a harder economic hit to do that than the US. This gives the US an advantage, and makes a subsequent deal easier. But the next Open Skies deal, if it was to happen, wouldn’t look like the old one. Trump will drive a hard bargain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he demands something completely absurd, like a drawdown of Russian forces from Kaliningrad and the Arctic, with verification flights to ensure compliance.

Now the Open Skies is going away, what’s next? My first thought was Nuclear Test Ban, since the US never ratified it, but the President already beat me to it. Expect the media to really blow this one up, which again plays right into the President’s hand. I would expect him to use this as leverage over China, because he could:

  • Threaten to arm Japan and/or Taiwan with nuclear weapons
  • Threaten nuclear weapons on hypersonic missiles
  • Change US policy and bring back tactical nuclear weapons
  • Negotiate a better nuclear deal with India, to include selling them nuclear submarine technology. Not only would that make China angry, but it would strip Russia of arms sales!

Another deal on the chopping block is the Outer Space Treaty. Trump already announced moon mining. I’d expect him to be looking for partner nations to mine the moon and asteroids. It’s a good chance to bring in non-traditional partners like Brazil, India and Japan that have this technology, but also places like Indonesia and parts of Africa where geography makes launching satellites easier.

The last one I’d expect to see go away is our treaties on drugs. This goes beyond legalizing marijuana. The drug enforcement cost in America is massive and yet is not particularly effective. Legalizing and taxing the drug trade could not only take money away from cartels, but also increase the safety for drug users. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t come up yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump proposed big changes to drug control.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Russia’s Hunger Games

Images from Kadykchan, Russia

While debates continue to rage online about what the true death toll of COVID-19 is, one thing is for certain: Russia and China’s numbers are 100% false. As of this morning, the John Hopkins COVID dashboard is recording 2,537 deaths for Russia and 4,637 deaths in China. If you trust those numbers in countries with 144 million and 1.44 billion, then I’d hate to see your investment strategy.

For Russia, the virus is particularly deadly. Russia’s demographics have all the wrong characteristics for resisting the disease. Russia’s population is considerably older, with an average age around 40 years old. This is skewed heavily, with women living on average almost 10 years longer than men. Stereotypes aside, Russian men have considerable alcohol problems, and compounded by a high smoking rate, the population isn’t exactly healthy.

All of this is made worse by a crumbling hospital infrastructure. While Russian health care is universal and government funded, it suffers from a high level of bureaucracy and lack of funding. Worse still, because of the high concentration of the countries wealth in Moscow verses the rest of the nation. This causes health care to decline significantly the farther away you get from Moscow, causing places like Siberia to suffer considerably more. If you needed a place that resembles The Hunger Games, Russia would be a great fit.

We won’t get the true COVID-19 numbers from Russia, as the government will clamp down on them considerably. But given their setup, be ready for true devastation. Personally I would watch satellite pictures of light intensity, because I would expect areas, especially remote ones, to become uninhabited.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

CNN Letter to Sean Davis (with apologies to Abe Lincoln & Horace Greeley)

There are many who seem confused by the MSM’s behavior toward China, Russia Iran and even towards the efforts to arrest the spread of the Corona / Wuhan Virus in the US. This behavior has drawn harsh responses from conservatives and confusion to those who believe the media operate in the pubic interest. For those who might be confused this letter might explain their actions:

CNN offices,
Atlanta, March 22, 2020.

Sean Davis The Federalist:
Dear Sir.

We have just read your tweet of the 21st. addressed to ourselves through that medium & previous statements through the Federalist. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which we may know to be erroneous, We and other mainstream media do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which we may believe to be falsely drawn, We do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, We waive it in deference to a fellow member of the media although as you are on the right you don’t really deserve such deference.

As to the policy We “seem to be pursuing” as you say, we have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

We would save the Union from Donald Trump. We would save it the shortest way under the Constitution or outside of it. The sooner the national authority of our allies in the Deep state in general and the Democrat party in particular, can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” before those horrible days of the internet, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge in the days before he decided to join our noble cause.

If there be those who would not save the Union from Donald Trump, unless they could at the same time attack Communist China or Putin Iran and save the nation from the spread of the Corona Virus , We do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy Communist China, Putin or even Iran, We do not agree with them.

Our paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union from Donald Trump, and is not either to save or to destroy Communist China, Putin Iran or even the Corona Virus. If we could save the Union from Donald Trump without helping Communist China, Russia, Iran or even the spread of the Corona virus we would do it, and if we could save the Union from Donald Trump by directly helping Communist China, Russia, Iran and the spread of the Corona Virus we would do it; and if we could save the Union from Donald Trump, by helping Communist China, Russia, Iran and the spread of the corona virus in some cases and hindering Communist China, Russia, Iran and the spread of the Corona Virus in others we would also do that.

What we write, broadcast and report about Communist China, Russia, Iran and the Corona Virus,we do because we believe it helps to save the Union from Donald Trump; and what we forbear, we forbear because we do not believe it would help to save the Union from Donald Trump.

We shall do less to help efforts to fight the Corona Virus in the US whenever we shall believe what we are doing hurts the cause of defeating Donald Trump in November, and we shall do more to help efforts to fight the Corona Virus whenever we shall believe doing more will help the cause of defeating Donald Trump in November. We shall try to correct errors when shown to be also errors in our efforts in obtaining that goal of Trump destruction; and we shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be in aid of that effort to destroy Donald Trump.

We have here stated our purpose, shared by other members of the media on TV, online and in print according to our view of the official duty of the media to destroy conservatism in general and Donald Trump in particular; and we intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free of Donald Trump in particular and conservatism in general.

Yours,
CNN.

If you wish to read a slightly modified version of this letter which was sent by some fellow named Abe Lincoln to a newspaperman by the name of Horace Greeley on August 22nd 1862 in response to critiques of his actions concerning fighting of the American Civil War you can read it here.

Why calling out Russia matters

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, from the Jacksonville Coast Guard Website

In the midst of all the impeachment news was a Maritime Safety Information Bulletin issued by the Coast Guard concerning the Russian vessel Viktor Leonov, an intelligence surveillance ship that has been prowling the East Coast. The vessel has been in international waters, which while annoying to the United States is in fact very legal. However, unlike in previous years, this year it decided to behave in an unsafe manner. The bulletin spelled it out pretty clearly:

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has received reports indicating that the RFN VIKTOR LEONOV (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner while navigating through USCG Sector Jacksonville’s Area of Responsibility. This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, U.S. Coast Guard

The VIKTOR LEONOV’s operations should be a lesson as to why we build and maintain a Navy and Coast Guard. Navies aren’t cheap…the 2019 budget for the Navy alone is $194.1 billion dollars. In comparison, the United Kingdom spent about $79 billion on their entire military. The cost of not building a Navy is far worse though. The VIKTOR LEONOV is only a surveillance vessel, but she is likely preparing the battlespace for any future conflict in the Atlantic. The only credible deterrent to her operations is a solid response from a Navy, which she has received since entering the Western Atlantic.

Countries without Navies can’t enforce their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Every country is given exclusive rights over resources within 200 nautical miles of their coast. While that sounds nice in theory, in reality other countries are quick to take advantage of any countries inability to patrol their EEZ. China is exploiting EEZs to illegally fish in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far away as South Africa. Small nations are struggling to keep out the hoardes of Chinese fishermen, who bank on China’s use of economic power to stop any action against their illegal fishing. China has also shown its willingness to illegally drill in another countries waters for oil, which it did in Vietnam in 2014. Even the United Kingdom illegally used waters for fishing, fighting three different “Cod Wars” with Iceland before recognizing Iceland’s EEZ.

A Navy isn’t cheap, but its cheaper to have one than watch another nation plunder your resources. It’s better to fight in waters far away from the Western Atlantic than on your own door step. As tensions continue to rise between the US and peer competitors, the Navy and Coast Guard will be the first to push back against any attempts at aggression on our shores.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, or any other government agency.

Does Russia even need a carrier?

Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on fire. Image from Reddit.

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is on fire, and not in a good way. A large fire spread throughout the ship during recent welding work, and has so far killed one crew member (likely more, due to the extent of the fire). Anyone that has seen the fires aboard Forrestal can’t help but make an eerie connection.

Fighting the fire aboard the Forrestal. By Official U.S. Navy Photograph – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID USN 1124794 1124794#mw-category-media.

You would think this would be big news, but its barely scratched the Google News feed. Given that its Russia’s only carrier, you’d think this might change their Naval strategy or ship building priorities. For Russia though, this might prove to be overall a good thing.

Unlike the United States, Russia doesn’t have nearly the amount of foreign interests around the world. Most of Russia’s interests are right next door to them, in Eastern Europe and the South and Central Asia. These nations don’t require a Navy to reach. When war broke out in Syria and the Kuznetsov couldn’t launch and recover planes, Russia shifted to using other nearby airbases.

This is quite different from the United States, which uses aircraft carriers to project power around the world. The U.S. has multiple islands, two entire states and a number of Caribbean and Pacific territories to defend. Additionally, there are a significant number of Americans overseas, as well as a number of American owned companies that do business around the world. The U.S. needs a Navy to protect all these interests.

Russia’s Navy, in contrast, exists to foil the U.S. Navy. The small Russian economy can’t produce 11 supercarriers. Instead, Russia builds small, extremely capable vessels (such as the Buyan) that are fast, difficult to track and yet carry capable weapons such as the Yakhont anti-ship missile. Russia also builds an extensive and capable submarine fleet, with anti-ship missiles for use against carrier strike groups and fast attack submarines against U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

Remember too that Russia doesn’t need an outright win in any U.S. conflict. It’s sufficient for Russia to slowly take back former Soviet Union territory and keep the U.S. out of a conflict. Georgia and Ukraine are prime examples of Russia “nibbling on the edges of NATO” but keeping the U.S. at bay. In a possible large conflict, Russia would need a quick strike that would hurt the U.S. and convince them to do nothing. A strike on a carrier strike group from a Russian submarine, or an exchange of fire from a small Russian vessel against a NATO surface group, might be sufficient.

So for Russia, it would come as no surprise if they scrap their carrier. It doesn’t fit their naval strategy, and the cost to repair would be far better used building more submarines and smaller, more capable surface vessels. While we might laugh at them for this, given our wasting of money on stealth destroyers that can’t deploy or small ships that can’t fight, perhaps we have something to learn from the Russian Navy.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The problems with Open Source Intelligence

Did you know the Chinese detonated an underwater nuclear device in the South China Sea?!?

Even the Russians are worried!

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fontanka.ru%2F2019%2F11%2F22%2F078%2F%3Fref%3Dt

The Chinese are dismissing the claim as coming from some racist website. Well, we don’t believe them, do we?

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3039040/us-far-right-bloggers-south-china-sea-explosion-claims

Except…it probably didn’t happen.

https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2019/11/no-china-did-not-secretly-detonate-a-nuke-in-the-south-china-sea-to-signal-the-start-of-wwiii/

The military has been asked more and more often to include news articles, social media and other internet sources into their intelligence analysis. Called Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), this information can sometimes be pretty insightful, especially in the case of Humanitarian Assistance missions, when cultural and long standing issues reported by the media can become central to solving a crisis.

The Russians in particular are great OSINT analyzers. Russian operatives scour over contracts, budget requests and laws in various governments, gleaning information such as weapons requirements that speak to future strategies. While its an often grueling process, it can turn up intelligence that can guide future decisions, without the risk of trying to steal classified documents.

But OSINT suffers from fake news. The above “nuclear explosion” is just one of many dead threads. Old pictures of ships in port passed off as current. Troop movements that just don’t exist. The list goes on, and there is no way to eliminate the fake news from the real news.

There is one age-old trick though: verifying source data. Looking at the metadata stamps on pictures makes it easy to find old material. Reading the data from a medical study debunks many of their wild claims. And in the case of the nuclear explosion, looking at NOAA and other nuclear montioring sites, plus understanding the actual units of radiation measurement, make it easy to see a normal background radiation measurement.

We’ll never ban fake news, but perhaps fake news will make us a more skeptical news consumer.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.