Pyongyang’s nukes, Crimea, War within Syria, Yemen, Brexit, and more seem to be the clearest signs of fundamental shift in the world’s cultural norms and human factors. I learned from a recent publication from Russia, entitled “Russian Weapons in Syrian Conflict”, that Moscow throws an amassed inventory of high-tech weapons into a conflict that needs an abrupt end.
Russia has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government since the beginning of the Syrian crises in 2011. One of the presumed motives is the Russian Naval Base in Tartus, a leased installation since 1971 and the Russian Navy’s only Mediterranean repair and replenishment hub.
For most of us who are purportedly concerned about increasing atrocities in Syria, both Damascus and Moscow would play the central role in solving the armed conflict. However, Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, vetoed several draft resolutions that would allow UN sanctions against the Assad government. Since June 2012, when the UN officially proclaimed Syria to be in a state of Civil War, both the UN and the European Union (EU) have only been “helpless” observers in a conflict that cost the lives of almost 470,000 people.
Since at least September 2014, there is another facet of the never-ending strife - foreign powers – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and member states of CJTF-OIR (Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve) – were involved militarily, raising the question about their motivation. Isn’t? Both Washington and Moscow clearly fell victim to a conflict that shows indications of a ‘proxy’ war. Additionally, the West claims that Moscow aims to use ‘hybrid’ war tactics.
The authors of the above-mentioned publication tell in their address to the readers that the experience gained in Syria confirms that hybrid war needs, at first, high-tech, long-range, pin-point weapons. They added that the combination of conventional and hybrid methods of conducting hostilities has become characteristic of today’s armed conflict within Syria. Isn’t it? I have struggled with these lines for weeks and have found only marginally satisfactory solutions.
Looking at the eastern end of Eurasia, there is another unsolved conflict: the growing tensions between North and South Korea. Here, the foundation (of a possibly armed conflict in the region) has been laid and around for years in the form of numerous military manoeuvres and rocket trials by the North, inciting immediate responses from the South and its allies. So far, testing of nuclear and conventional warhead technology by the North has gone pretty; but, there is still more to come. We are not in WWIII, nor do I suspect we are going to be.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine seems to be a forgotten scourge. Isn’t it? When Russia annexed Crimea, it secured a strategically significant naval base – Sevastopol – in the Black Sea region. The Kremlin warned that when it comes to “intervention” by Western powers in the Black and Baltic seas, Russian military “leads by necessity”. Moscow stated that NATO has “crossed the red line” now following deployment of troops in the Baltic states and Poland.
The Russian military, to overcome certain deficiencies mainly identified during the military campaign in Syria and elsewhere, is spearheading several efforts to better connect its forces. The Russian Navy is doing this as part of a “naval integrated fire control/counter-air architecture”. To operate successfully over vast distances and “detect Western threats as early as possible”, according to the above-mentioned publication, Russian combat and support aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and over-the-horizon weapons must be seamlessly linked. Certainly, this will be of some importance since Russia’s only aircraft carrier, “Admiral Kuznetsov”, was heading for the eastern Mediterranean in support of Syrian air operations last month. Also despatching undersea warfare assets to other regions in the world, like the Arctic, Moscow declares that Russian Navy’s submarines do more than “shoot missiles and transport Special Forces.” They are about to function as “swimming data hubs”, designed to transmit critical threat information and share them with other force elements all over the world. The only problem is that the Russian Navy does not currently have the network architecture necessary to quickly and efficiently distribute that data to the legacy fleet.
Moscow’s global ambitions are not restricted to the eastern Mediterranean, Black, and Baltic seas, however. The Kremlin declared the Arctic as its “near abroad region”, confronting some of Russia’s neighbours – the four Arctic Ocean Coastal States Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway and United States – with “potential for future territorial dispute”. Here, Russia is re-focusing on national interests. The Arctic could play an immense role in supplying the Russian Federation with some of the most sought strategic commodities, most of which having great relevance for the country’s defence industrial base. There are first indications of depleting mineable reserves of rare and strategic metals at some of the nation’s main production centres (apatite, niobium, titanium, vanadium and zirconium in the Khibiny and Lovozero alkaline igneous complexes on the Kola Peninsula, and nickel and Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) in the Norilsk-1, Talnakhskoye, and Oktyabrskoye) sulfide-polymetallic deposits near Norilsk in northern Siberia.
Moscow’s responses to these moves are bolt in character. Russian military is being deployed to Arctic and Polar regions to help secure yet unexplored resources, including energy resources. This explains Moscow’s deterrent line in the region.