Hiding in Plain Sight

Last week, Russian defense firm Concern Morinformsystem-Agat announced it had designed a clever new launch system for cruise missiles: the Club-K. Designed in the form of a standard shipping container, the missiles can then be launched from essentially anywhere: on a train, from a ship, from a tractor-trailer in the middle of nowhere. They use satellite guidance systems. And in case this seemed like yet another cute idea the Russians had, the system makes use of the 3M-54TE, 3M-54TE1, and the 3M-14TE missiles – all of which are tested and proven. The missiles come in two flavors: anti-ship and anti-ground.

This is naturally troubling on a number of levels, though actually not quite so many as one might imagine at first glance. The most immediate concern is that this particular style of camouflage allows a merchant ship to carry enough firepower to knock out an aircraft carrier – a continuation of asymmetric warfare at sea that Robert Gates has been acknowledging quite a bit recently. Asymmetric threats in general stand to gain the most from this weapon; the sheer banality that the missiles are hidden behind (the container looks so normal) is a clever disguise. Watching that video definitely provokes one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Iran and Venezuela are already lining up to purchase the Club-K, and others will soon follow suit. Of course, Venezuela is a highly overrated security problem, but the threat posed by the Club-K is not existential; but one of harassment and annoyance. Iran, on the other hand, poses a clearer danger both itself and through intermediaries. And as Al Sahwa points out:

While it is true that al Qaeda won’t buy this weapon system from CM-AGAT out right, I think we have to recognize that nations like Iran have no qualms in providing groups like Hamas and Hezbollah weapons. The primary limiting factor for a terror organization utilizing this system is most likely the satellite navigation system. A non-Nation State organization would probably need access to a Nation State’s satellite infrastructure, although this is strictly a personal assumption.

However, seeing as some of the weakest links in American border security are the ports, we’re at huge risk there. Is it just me or does the Club-K look like it could also be a toy for eccentric billionaires?

Victory!

C Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment marches in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square for the first time.

Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of V-E Day in most of Europe, but for Russia – being several time zones removed – Sunday, May 9th was V-E Day.

Throughout the Soviet era, a yearly military parade was held in Red Square to commemorate victory in the Great Patriotic War, but after the Soviet Union’s dissolution these parades were reduced in scope and grandeur. Vladimir Putin restored the Victory Day Parade to its former prominence in 2008, and this year’s parade was possibly the most epic yet.

For the first time, Allied and CIS forces also marched in the parade – an American company from the 18th Infantry Regiment, a British company from the Welsh Guards, a Polish battalion, a French aviation detachment, and troops from nine other countries – commemorating the global effort it took to rid the world of Hitler and Nazism.

French troops march in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square.

While there was certainly some resistance to Western troops marching in the holiest-of-holy Russian secular holidays, it mostly ascribed to the Communists and ultranationalists. Many veterans welcomed the other Allied troops:

“This parade unites all those who participated in the war,” said Iosif Efron, 85, who recalled that his Soviet division encountered American forces at the Elbe River in Germany at the end of World War II. “The invitation was absolutely proper. We fought together, and they helped us.

“Of course, without Russia, no one would have defeated Germany,” he added.

There are a ton of stunning (and not a little bit intimidating) photographs of the parade at Wiki Commons – including a real, live T-34! – and the BBC.

The Mask of the Bear: Soviet Deception in Operation Bagration

German columns advance past immobilized Russian tanks, July 1941.

From the moment the first Wehrmacht tank crossed the Soviet border in 1941 until the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43, German victory in World War II seemed inevitable. The fighting on the Eastern Front took place on a scale never seen before or since, a colossal undertaking that consumed three-quarters of all combat forces in Europe, and cost the lives of over twenty-five million Soviet citizens.[1] The war could not have been won without the Soviet front, and even after the Red Army had successfully defended Moscow and Stalingrad, while holding out in besieged Leningrad, victory was far from certain.

The summer offensive of 1943, culminating in the Battle of Kursk—the largest tank battle ever fought by man—finally pushed the Germans onto the defensive. It was not until Operation Bagration, the 1944 summer offensive, that the German ability to conduct offensive operations was curtailed once and for all.

Operation Bagration won the war in the east, and that victory can be attributed to a practice at which the Red Army excelled—deception. The Soviet practice of maskirovka literally translates to ‘camouflage,’ but in the context of military doctrine has a wide variety of definitions covering everything from strategic disinformation to the effective  masking of an individual soldier’s foxhole. The official Soviet definition for maskirovka was:

The means of securing combat operations and the daily activities of forces; a complexity of measures, directed to mislead the enemy regarding the presence and disposition of forces, various military objectives, their condition, combat readiness and operations, and also the plans of the command … Maskirovka contributes to the achievement of surprise for the actions of forces, the preservation of combat readiness, and the increased survivability of objectives.[2]

The Soviets invented the art of maskirovka, and perfected it over the course of World War II. By the summer of 1944, it was second-nature, and the operational planning reflected this. In absolute secrecy, the Soviet High Command (Stavka) managed to position over 2.3 million men and the necessary supplies, all the while deceiving the Wehrmacht as to the actual objectives of the offensive.

It is no stretch to say that Operation Bagration would have unfolded far more poorly without the extensive deception operations, and as it marked an end to any chance of a German victory, the maskirovka so skillfully executed in the summer of 1944 in fact shortened World War II by a substantial amount.

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Russian Resilience

Andrei Loshak has an article out on the endemic corruption in Russia. IKEA’s attempts to open new stores there are met with sheer absurdity, the currency of the realm. The absurd is everywhere in a nation of circular logic and Catch-22s, where power is shut off to a store on the verge of opening for no reason at all. “Reason has limited possibilities, whereas the absurd knows no limits.” According to Loshak, society may have reached a breaking point:

When the absurd transmogrified into the lunatic, the system activated the command to self-destruct. The Castle, impregnable from outside, starts collapsing from inside. Two eagle heads tear into each other, only feathers fly. But, strangely enough, the stronger the entropy in the state, the faster everything disintegrates and the easier it becomes to breathe. As if there’s more air. I think that society has lost its fear: the people perceive the government’s inability to keep control of itself as a sign of weakness. Such a state cannot have enough strength for repression. The animal nips of the enraged system have woken people from their hypnosis. Fear and apathy have been replaced by rage.

The Russian state is trying to do too much where it can, and can’t do enough where it matters (see the recent Metro bombings). Between corruption, incompetence,  and contempt, Moscow has managed to alienate vast swathes of its citizens. Overreach – and for no apparent reason other than the power to do so – could end up a catalyst for decentralizing the Russian state.

The further a person is away from power, the better he is. I have seen this for myself in far away Ural villages built by lumberjacks before the Revolution. These villages’ link with civilisation was the only one-track railway in the country. Five years ago the authorities decided to tear down the villages and pull up the one-track railway. People who had been born and grown up in the forests were offered a flat in a high-rise block on the outskirts of the regional centre.

The government’s attempts to ouster the good citizens of the small village went from gentle cajoling to scorched-earth, smoke-’em-out tactics. But people may be starting to fight back. The state’s attempt to overmanage in the Urals is met by a particularly resilient community.

First the trains stopped going there, so food and pensions were not able to get through. There were people in the villages who hadn’t seen money for several years. They baked their bread, fed their cattle, shot game in the hunting season and wanted only one thing: for the state to leave them in peace.  When their electricity was turned off, they used locally improvised materials to build their own hydroelectric station on the river…

As a rule the spectacle of total degradation is depressing, but the people who lived in these autonomous forest villages were completely different. The men were strong – their children had grown up and they were determined to die in the place where they were born. In spite of the hard living conditions, their wives had somehow managed to remain neat and womanly.  Doors were not locked here, as there had been no thieving in these forests for many years.  People moved from one village to another in railcars, a cross between Minsk motorcycles and wagons, on a narrow gauge railway, a construction that was as exotic as it was dangerous.  I was told confidentially that one of the men was on probation. Representatives of the regional administration had come to take up the railway and he had fired a warning shot and then one at their feet … These people were full of dignity. You don’t often see people like that in the cities.

Unfortunately, you don’t see a lot of people like that anywhere. I’m not trying to call for revolution or mass uprising, nor do I even want to approach the Teabagger argument that the guvmint is a’comin’ to take away our guns and liberties and force us all into abortions and gay marriages. But nevertheless, something’s on the horizon, and as my new mantra goes: the future is coming, for better or for worse.

Attack of the Caspian Sea Monster!

The ekranoplan rusting in its berth, 2010.

If you’ve never heard of the Russian ekranoplan, here’s what you need to know. A ground effect plane that flies only a few yards above water (right, it’s also a water-plane, I forgot to mention), the one-off ekranoplan was an ingenious attempt by the Russians to solve… some problem they’d come up with, presumably. It was retired in the early 90s.

Recently, some intrepid photographer found the ekranoplan in drydock, and has taken a number of pictures (along with a photoessay in Russian) so you can see the magnificent beast in all its glory.

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Via War is Boring.

Tsarist Russia, in Color

"A. P. Kalganov poses with his son and granddaughter for a portrait in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural Mountain region of Russia. The son and granddaughter are employed at the Zlatoust Arms Plant--a major supplier of armaments to the Russian military since the early 1800s. Kalganov displays traditional Russian dress and beard styles, while the two younger generations have more Westernized, modern dress and hair styles." 1910.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a photographer in Russia born in 1863 and who lived until 1944. He invented his own camera, which in and of itself is impressive, but not only that – it was a color camera. The Library of Congress has used modern computing technology to recreate Produkin-Gorskii’s colorization technique, and the collection is available to view as “The Empire That Was Russia.”

These pictures provide a record of tsarist Russia in color, and the results are stunning. Transportation, ethnic diversity, and people at work are the themes of the exhibition. Make sure to check out the Austro-Hungarian prisoners-of-war in 1915. A land time might now remember.

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Via Eternal Remont.

But They Knew Where the Keys Were

Even if they misplaced the tanks themselves. From the Telegraph:

‘There are tanks all over the forest, abandoned,’ an unnamed reporter on the video says. ‘If you need one, come and get it.’

Locals in a nearby village said the tanks had been sitting there for almost four months covered in snow. The armoured vehicles were identified as a mixture of T-80 and T-72 battle tanks, the workhorses of the Russian army.

Who has time to worry about where they left an entire armored regiment’s worth of tanks? What with the nation-state collapsing anyways and all manner of intrigue on every conceivable frontier… Or are the Russians early adopters of the “tanks do not equal power projection” school?

Iran and the SCO

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may soon expand to include Pakistan, and more importantly Iran. Iran is already an observer nation, but full-fledged membership would definitely have a big impact on the region, as well as any future role for the SCO. Larison disagrees:

Granting Iran membership would be seen in the West as a provocative move, but a good question is why anyone should be provoked by it. The SCO is not a full-fledged military alliance or defensive pact, and it has existed primarly as a mechanism to consolidate Russian and Chinese political and economic influence in Central Asia. At the moment, it is a limited security and economic structure.

This is all true – the SCO isn’t even on par with the CIS or other limited regional IGOs. But seeing as one of the main purposes of the organization is to provide China and Russia a multilateral forum for pressuring much of Central Asia, this only increases their ability to do so. I think the way to look at this isn’t so much as Iran gaining influence and legitimacy, but rather another big country on the periphery of Central Asia able to provide additional leverage for Russia and China. A shrinking of Central Asian security.

But the most interesting wrinkle might be that for Iran it can’t be about oil, unless they know something about their reserves we don’t. Larison’s observation that it’s Russia pushing for Iranian membership with the Chinese more reluctant points to some interesting energy politics. Could Russia be looking at Iran as their Kazakhstan?

Why They Fight

They hate us because we don’t know why they hate us.” The perceived ignorance of Americans as to the wider world around them was often cited as a compelling reason for the mass murder of several thousand citizens on September 11, 2001. Low scores on math and science, and the inability of two-thirds of Americans between eighteen and twenty-four years old to locate Iraq on a map in 2006 merely perpetuated this claim; that somehow American geographical ignorance is responsible for jihadists and regional strife around the world.

This is of course not the only suggested explanation for conflict in the developing world. Essentially, all the arguments put forth can be summarized as pertaining to ‘greed’, or monetary and personal gain, and ‘grievance’, i.e., ideological and cultural clashes. Abridging the vast array of motives to these two is oversimplifying the matter to begin with; further choosing one of the two as the sole factor would be downright spurious. Complicating matters is the tendency to use the ‘pre-modern’ character of third world conflicts to build an intellectual bridge back to the very beginning of history. Continue reading