The Turkish Story on the Russian Jet Shoot Down Does Not Hold Up

by Stephen Bryen

The Turkish story on the Russian jet shoot down does not hold up.  In fact, the evidence points to a deliberate provocation by Turkey with the intention of drawing NATO into a general war against Syria and Russia. That’s why the Turks immediately asked for an emergency NATO meeting even though there is no NATO operation either in Iraq or Syria, and no NATO member was attacked.  NATO is a collective defense system. If a NATO member is attacked, then the other members of NATO can exercise collective defense (although there is nothing in the NATO system requiring the members to come to the defense of one under attack).

In fact, the Turks have been working hard for some time to “Nato-ize” the conflict in Syria.  That is why they have insisted that the privileges they have given to the United States at the Incirlik air base, where the US has stationed F-16’s and A-10’s,  is permitted as a NATO operation (notwithstanding the fact there is no NATO operation).

The Turkish story is that Turkish F-16 jets “intercepted” the Russian aircraft and shot it down with an air to air missile.

Strangely, the downing of the jet was filmed by Turkish TV, suggesting as some have already noted, that they were in position to record the event.

The piece of Turkey where the Russian plane allegedly passed is only a tiny strip some few miles wide.  The Turks were tracking the Russian plane for some time and shot it down from behind.  The Russian plane apparently took no evasive action and was destroyed.  From the photos it was clearly hit from behind, suggesting the Turkish planes may well have been in Syrian air space when they fired their air to air (AIM 9L) missile.

The Sukhoi is an old airplane which lacks speed and modern radar. It does however, have GPS in the “M” version which is what is flying in Syria.  So the Russian pilots knew where they were.

If in fact it is true that the Russian plane was warned, isn’t it plausible to think they were unconcerned because they were inside Syria’s air space?

Moreover, the time the Russian plane could have passed through Turkish airspace, given its speed and the tiny piece of Turkish territory we are speaking of, could only have been less than 20 seconds.* In this time the Turks claim they gave ten warnings (!) and that they got approval for hitting the Russian airplane from the Deputy Prime Minister.  Sorry guys, this is impossible.  The scenario makes no sense.

Now unnamed US officials are saying the jet was hit over Syrian territory, after supporting the Turks officially.

The Sukhoi 24M was hit from behind as the Turkish TV film clearly shows. The pilot was murdered by Turkish-supported Islamists shooting him either as he parachuted or, according to a different story, point blank when he was on the ground. The flight engineer was rescued by the Russians. Among other things this suggests that the Turks probably fired on the Russian plane while the Turkish F-16’s were in Syrian air space –otherwise they could never have made the shot.  Typically two missiles are fired at a target; the imagery suggests only one struck the Su-24. Thus the Turks acted illegally.

When a warning is not observed (if there was one) the norm is that a warning shot is used to get the pilot’s attention.  This holds for both naval and air operations.  In an air encounter, the chase plane flies beside the intruder and warns him, including even hand motions showing him to flee. If he does not, a warning shot is next.  Such encounters have been fairly common in Europe and along the Atlantic coast.  Obama declined to engage Russian long range aircraft in Alaska and California.

The decision to use an air to air missile is an intent to kill, not an intent to warn.  In and of itself it is a provocation because of how it was done.


This leads me to think this was a provocation consistent with the Turkish desperation to draw NATO into the conflict, get rid of Assad, and push the Russians out.  In leading up to this, the Turks affected a positive attitude toward Russia and Putin specifically, and Putin thought he had a potential partnership with Turkey, going so far as to extol the relationship in a public meeting in Russia. That is why Putin says he was stabbed in the back. In fact even worse: he was set up.

*The Turks have now admitted to 18 seconds.



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We Need to Worry About Terrorists Using Chemical and Biological Weapons

by Stephen Bryen

France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has warned France’s parliament that he could not rule out terrorists using chemical and biological weapons. Accordingly, the French government has taken its first step in distributing an antidote, Atropine, to Sarin nerve gas. How worried should we be about the threat? What are the steps needed to cope with it?

At least one country has put in place a complete system to deal with chemical and biological threats, although more recently Israel’s civil defense has focused on protection against missile attacks rather than chem-bio threats.

The Israeli system was elaborate and comprehensive in scope. In fact, when I visited Israel just after the Gulf war, I went with a friend to a distribution center to refresh the personal protection kit provided by the government.

Picking up kits

Picking up Personal Protection Kits, Israel

The personal protection kit was only a part of the strategy to protect the population. Protection also included creating “sealed” rooms so that chemical and biological agents could not enter, and a warning system that alerted the public to take action. The sealed room not only was to be equipped with food and water (3 gallons per person), but Israelis were instructed on how to use their protection kits if needed.

The French action at least so far is only focused on the Sarin threat. Sarin is an organophosphorus compound that was developed in 1938 in Nazi Germany by IG Farben, the same company that produced Zyklon B to gas people in Nazi concentration camps. The Germans produced Sarin and another organophosphate nerve gas called Tabun and built weapons delivery systems for these chemicals. However, the Nazis never used either Sarin or Tabun according to most accounts.

Neither Sarin or Tabun are effective battlefield weapons. In the fight between Iran and Iraq on the al-Faw peninsula in 1988, often referred to as the “Second Battle” of al-Faw. Here Iraqi troops used Sarin and other chemical weapons including Tabun, mustard gas, and perhaps some biological agents. Iraq’s forces were equipped with gas masks, chemical protective suits and atropine injectors and tablets. Even so, there is no evidence that the battlefield use of chem-bio shells, bombs and missiles did much good; and it badly compromised the war fighting ability of Iraq’s army.

In the Nazi case, both Roosevelt and Churchill, who had intelligence on Nazi chemical weapons development and weaponization of these materials, made concrete threats the Germans apparently heeded. The US imported tons of mustard gas shells to Italy (some of which was destroyed in a Nazi air raid that sank the ship “John Harvey” in Bari harbor, leading to hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian and military casualties. Churchill was even more specific: he made it clear to Hitler that any use of chemical weapons by the Nazis would result in German cities subject to Allied bombings using anthrax.

bari harbor raid

German raid at Bari, 2 December 1943

Middle Eastern terrorists, of course, could care less about the consequences of their actions. Deterrence that can be used to persuade a nation-state to refrain from using chemical or biological weapons does not work with terror organizations such as al-Qaeda or ISIS. In fact, al-Qaeda has been long at work on developing chemical and biological weapons and ISIS has “liberated” stockpiles of Iraqi and Syrian chemical and biological agents. Independent reports have already established at ISIS has used mustard gas in Syria and ISIS probably has nerve gas shells from Iraq and Syria. Even more worrisome is the fact that the quality of nerve gas in the hands of the Syrian government is far higher than the nerve gas manufactured by Saddam Hussein, meaning that the Syrians had significant outside help in producing nerve gas, or it was imported from abroad.


Tokyo Metro Sarin Attack

Nerve gas was used in Tokyo Japan by Aum Shinrikyo, a sort of doomsday cult that attacked the Tokyo subway in 1995. Aum Shinrikyo had its own laboratory and chemists and the Sarin it produced was apparently loaded into aerosol cans and sprayed on commuters as they existed trains underground. The attack was by five different Aum Shinrikyo teams and killed 13 persons and seriously injured another 54. Somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 persons were sickened. The quality of the Sarin used in the attacks was quite low: a better product could have killed thousands.

Most underground systems, whether in London, Paris or Washington DC are poorly guarded and passengers entering the metro systems are not checked. Unfortunately, so far as is known, self-defense tools are not present in Metro stations and communications between metro cars and law enforcement barely function, if they exist at all. Metros in places as diverse as Moscow, London, Madrid, Bologna, and Tokyo have suffered heavy terror attacks.

Should we be worried? The answer is a resounding “yes”! What should be done? For sure serious attention must be urgently given to metro systems and train stations. Armed guards alone are far from a satisfactory answer. Supplies of antidotes must be placed on train cars and at stations. First Responders need to be nearby and well trained to cope with a potential disaster. Identification of the threat as quickly as possible is vital. Atropine, for example, only is effective if used within a few minutes. Supplies of oxygen bottles, masks, and other gear (including antibiotics if Anthrax or other biological agents are used) needs to be on hand and accessible.

It would be a worthwhile idea for an international conference to create a common defense plan against chemical and biological attack. A layered defense, like the one Israel created, is a good starting model. The conference should be made up of scientists, doctors, and terror specialists. The plan, which should be quickly agreed on, should be funded and implemented as quickly as possible.


Readers may be interested in my new book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers, December 2015). It discussed chemical and biological warfare developments as well as nuclear threats.

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Putin’s Options in Syria: What Will Russia Decide?

by Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

Russia’s options in Syria are poor. While Vladimir Putin intervened to save his client Assad and Russian access to warm-water ports, it is beginning to look as if air power won’t do the job for Russia any more than it will for the U.S. – and the Russians are using much higher volumes. In addition, it appears that Russia will suffer now from pushback, the first incident of which might have been the jetliner downed over the Sinai.

Azaz Syria Civil War Rages (courtesy Voice of America)

Azaz Syria Civil War Rages
(courtesy Voice of America)

What can Putin do? Cutting a deal with Saudi Arabia may be the least of several not-very-good options.

Putin’s Goal

Putin’s goal was initially to stave off the imminent collapse of the Syrian regime.  Assad’s army was suffering from large-scale defections, and Iran and Hezbollah were proving to be less than capable foot soldiers. (As a reminder, the Iranians were poor soldiers in the field during the Iran-Iraq war and consequently turned to asymmetric warfare in the late 1980s.) The Russians have hinted that Iran made repeated requests for intervention.  Syria likely asked for help and – minimally – approved and facilitated Russian aircraft, pilots and support personnel coming into the country.

The Russian intervention brought a greater degree of professionalism to the fight.  Russian pilots are more skilled than their Syrian counterparts and more proactive.  But while the Russians have taken over the air war, there was no opposition by Russia to two recent Israeli air strikes (one at the Damascus airport) presumed to be against warehouses of long-range missiles from Iran destined for Hezbollah.

This suggests that the Russians differentiate between their geostrategic objectives and Iranian objectives that prioritize building up rocket forces against Israel.  Right now the Russians need the Iranians and Hezbollah to do the dirty work on the ground; but the Russians don’t need them to stir up Israel.  Israel’s Prime Minister has been it absolutely clear: Israel will not stand by when its security is threatened, and while it has no interest in intervening in Syria (other than providing humanitarian assistance at the border), it will take action against Hezbollah, Iran or Syria whenever they introduce weapons that threaten Israel, or carry out an attack that crosses into Israeli territory for any reason.

Putin’s options look something like this:

Option 1.  Stay the course and protect the Assad government against both the non-ISIS Jihadis and ISIS. This would be consistent with Putin’s public statements that Assad is the legitimate governing authority in Syria and the government had to be preserved. While the U.S. preferred to think that meant “preserved from ISIS,” the fact is that both ISIS and non-ISIS jihadists want Assad out and he fights both. Since a real defeat or capitulation of either group is unlikely, Option 1 amounts to staying and fighting at some level for a long time.

Option 2. Make a deal with the United States and the Europeans.  Putin has been trying to make a deal from the beginning – having clearly said Assad’s presence in the long term is not mandatory.  Recently this has evolved into a modified offer: a transitional government with Assad or a replacement for 18 months, followed by an election.  The recent G-20 Summit featured important talks that seem to be heading toward a compromise that would lead to an 18-month transition, but without any agreement on the fate of Assad.

“Coalition Airstrike on ISIL position in Kobane” by Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from the Suruç, Turkey/ Kobane, Syrian border; “Turkish Border

The biggest problem with Option 2 is that the actual combatants don’t want the deal. Non-ISIS Jihadists have flatly rejected it, and there is no reason to think they will change their minds. ISIS, of course, wouldn’t deign to comment. So, while it might be possible to force Assad out, it would have little impact on the fighting except insofar as it means the Iranians and Hezbollah are unlikely to stay.  Russia may hang onto its bases on the Mediterranean coast. This would amount to a Sunni victory and a Shiite defeat, but it would enhance the position of ISIS – to the dismay of the U.S. and its Sunni allies.

Option 3.  Create two Syrian states: a Jihadi state and an Alawite one. Such a partition could be very attractive since the possibility of reaching any compromise between Sunni and Alawite factions appears out of the question. This is a variation on Option 2 and has the same flaw: ISIS. An expansion of the ISIS “caliphate” is not in the interest of any of the external players, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan or the United States.

Banking on the non-ISIS Jihadis to secure Syria from ISIS AFTER partition is conceivable, though not likely. Non-ISIS Jihadis are, first and foremost, anti-Assad and anti-Shiite. Secondarily, they are a lesser fighting force than ISIS. Pressure from Saudi Arabia, the key to their funding, and training and equipment from the U.S. and Sunni allies, along with Russian bombing confined to ISIS might produce a force prepared to wrest its portion of Syria from ISIS.

Guarantees are crucial in this situation, and the U.S. is ill placed to offer any.

For all the caveats, however, Putin could be very interested in Option 3.  There are some signs that a Russian-Sunni realignment could be in the works.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has held highly productive meetings with Putin in Sochi on the Black Sea.  A number of agreements were reached for oil, military purchasing, investment, counter-terrorism and the upgrading of political relations.

Egypt is buying the Mistral ships from France that the Russians had previously ordered, but the delivery of which was blocked over the European Ukraine sanctions.  France compensated the Russians for the ships, and the Egyptian purchase is underwritten by Saudi Arabia. In addition, it is likely that Egypt will buy Russian Kamov helicopters for the Mistral, again backed by Saudi funding.

“Владивосток – Saint-Nazaire décembre 2014” by Ludovic Péron – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons –
Mistral class originally for Russia

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, is planning a visit to Moscow before the end of the year and of course he was present at the G-20 Summit, as was Putin, Cameron and Obama.

There are many reasons for the shift in attitude by the conservative Arab countries, starting with their attitude toward and fear of Iran.  With weak and unsure U.S. leadership, Saudi Arabia, the emirates and Kuwait need an insurance policy and it seems Russia could be one for them.  The Russians have signaled their interest in improving strategic cooperation, and Russia’s economic interests are well served by arms deals.

If the current talks, in which the U.S. and Russia are the key players, fail to result in a deal, the next best thing for Russia is to try and sort out the mess with the Saudis and the other conservative Arab states.  The groundwork appears to be underway and, with the right confluence of characters and interests, Option 3 may start to look achievable.


Stephen Bryen is a former Defense Department official and strategy expert; Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director at the Jewish Policy Center

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Why Israel Wants the F-15 SE “Silent Eagle” And what it means for the US Air Force

by Stephen Bryen

According to news reports, Israel wants the F-15 Silent Eagle. The F-15 Silent Eagle is a stealthy evolution of the F-15 Strike Eagle, which forms the backbone of Israel’s Air Force.

F-15 Silent Eagle

F-15 Silent Eagle

Some analysts are surprised Israel would request the Silent Eagle.  But there are good reasons for it: in fact, the reasons are so good that if our Air Force had common sense it would reduce the size of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter buy and get the Silent Eagles for our Air Force too.

There is, of course, both a sort of respect and competition that characterizes relations between the US Air Force and Israel’s Air Force.  And there are differences in mission: Israel is a regional power, not a superpower.  It mostly fights in its own neighborhood; although the Iranian challenge means Israel needs more long range aircraft that can carry a significant load of air to ground weapons. The F-35 is not that airplane.

The F-35 is one of the most controversial and expensive aircraft ever built, rivaled only by the even more costly but canceled F-22.  But the F-22’s are aging and soon need to be upgraded; the F-35’s are stumbling forward, but the program has stimulated massive criticism from aviation experts who fault its value as a front line fighter.

The F-35 program hinges on two highly debatable suppositions.

Betting the Farm

The first supposition is that the F-35 can be the main fighter aircraft in the US inventory even though its capability to perform multirole tasks is far from certain.  The US Air Force has bet the farm on the F-35; in the end it means a smaller air force and one with far less flexibility than the air force now has.

Beyond Visual Range (BVR)

The second supposition is that it’s beyond visual range capability is the essential trump card that makes the F-35 superior to the competition.  BVR capability is important, but BVR is not a technology solely under US control –our main competitor, Russia, has BVR and is getting better and better at enhancing all its onboard electronic capabilities.

Russia's Vympel BVR Air to Air Missile Seeker Head (2009)

Russia’s Vympel BVR Air to Air Missile Seeker Head (2009)

The idea behind BVR was born out of the famous air battle in June 1982 over the Bekaa Valley, where Israel, using mainly US aircraft (plus its home-grown Kfir) decimated the Syrian Air Force. The reason for the success was that the US F-15’s that were used in that battle had look-down shoot-down radars, a technology the Russians would not have for another ten years. This meant that high-flying Israeli fighters could pick out Syrian MiGs and Sukhoi’s and hit them before they saw the Israeli planes.

But, while look-down shoot-down was really important, it is only a part of the story.  The Israelis also had command and control and radar planes in the area giving them excellent coverage -they saw the Syrian planes from the moment they lifted off from their bases. And, even more importantly, Israel using brilliant home-grown tactics, were able to shut down and destroy most of Syria’s ground-based air defense missile systems.  The elimination of Syria’s SAMs (surface to air missiles) meant that the Syrian Air Force was left on its own. Consequently, 86 Syrian fighter planes, including the Mach-3 MiG 25, were shot down.  Israel lost no planes in air to air combat; it had four combat losses to ground fire.

Superior Technology?

Thus, the translation of what happened in 1982 to 2015 is not so simple.  In 1982, the US had superior technology.  In 2015, the US has excellent technology, but potential adversaries are gaining ground.  Russia, for example, now has stealth in its forthcoming PAK FA-T50 (made by Sukhoi, an important evolution of the Su-35 4th++ generation fighter).  It has Active Electronic Scanned Array radar (just like the F-35 and F-15 SE); it has infrared tracking capability; it has BVR weapons; and most of the other features of the F-35.  But, unlike the F-35, the Su-35 and T-50 are excellent maneuverable fighter planes. For whatever reason, once the F-35 exhausts its air defense missiles, it is a sitting duck unless it can run away in a hurry. Here the Su-35 and T-50 are exceptional because they have supercruise capability that the F-35 lacks.  Supercruise is the ability to operate supersonically without using engine afterburners.  This means far greater range (because afterburners are fuel hogs), and it means weapons launched under supercruise have greater range too.  Can the F-35 escape against a supercruising F-35 or T-50?  Most experts think the F-35 cannot.

This brings us back to the reasons why the Israelis are seeking the F-15SE.  They need a fighter-bomber that can fight.   They understand that if the Russian relationship with Iran continues, that the Iranians will want top of the line aircraft and will pressure the Russians to give them.  Iran is already getting the best air defense missiles the Russians have (violating current arms agreements set by the United Nations).  It won’t be long before the Russians agree to sell modern fighters to Iran, and Israel must plan on that relatively near-term eventuality.

For Israel, there are other considerable gains in buying the F-15SE.  It is an evolution of an aircraft already in inventory, which means all the logistics and support systems are already in place.  Pilots are already well trained on the platform and have experience in combat, meaning that the capabilities of the plane are well known. And the F-15SE costs less than half of what the F-35 costs, meaning that Israel can get much more punch for the buck than the F-35 offers.  Indeed, the F-35’s main contribution to air forces around the world is that it is so unaffordable it will shrink every air force that buys it. This must cause delight in Moscow as well as Beijing.

Mitigating Risk

But even more concerning is why the US Air Force isn’t mitigating the risk of the F-35 by buying an equal number of F-15 Silent Eagles?  It does not take a supercomputer or even an abacus to understand that putting the entire US Air Force at risk with only one fighter plane in the inventory is a danger to national security.  If the platform fails to perform, America will not only risk its credibility, but our allies who are buying the F-35 are going to be left in the lurch.

Indeed, there are even more risks.  The US cannot afford to keep its older planes flying once the F-35’s enter the inventory.  The F-15’s and F-16’s are unlikely to be further modernized or even properly maintained.

Even worse, the soaring cost of the F-35 and the difficulty of maintaining it in any power projection scenario (and the huge support costs) means that even fewer will be purchased and even less will be available in the field when needed.  This is not a scenario that should be welcomed, and it is likely the Israelis understand the problem all too well.  The F-35 was pushed at them; they did not jump up and down wanting it. Now, for all practical purposes, they really want to hedge their bets or get out from under the f-35 albatross.

So what should we expect?  Any suggestion the US Air Force should buy the Silent Eagle will be met by extreme hostility for sure.  In fact, it is likely the Pentagon will try and block Israel’s request, or try and unload some more F-35’s to shut the Israelis up.  That’s the reality of power-Pentagon politics these days.  What the Silent Eagle needs is some Congressional champions to head off the usual bone-headed Pentagon argument to spend more, get less, and risk our security.

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The Real Story Behind the Undersea Cable Caper

Maybe you will be Surprised

by Stephen Bryen

When the latest Russian ocean surveillance ship, the Yantar (Amber) sailed off the coast of Florida, US Navy senior officials sounded an alarm.  The Russian ship, they said, carried deep surveillance underwater vehicles which could be used to cut the fiber optic cables that connected the United States to the rest of the world.  Speaking strictly on background they opined that the Russians were mapping the cables’ locations, either so they could cut them and knock out US communications in future, or they could be planning to attach listening devices to the cables, something the US and UK have been doing for years.

The Yantar off the coast of Florida.

The Yantar off the coast of Florida.

The Navy alarm came about because American sensors located near the cables had detected the Russian ship’s activity.

There is no evidence that any deep submersible vehicle was deployed, but among the published stories was news that the surveillance ship activity meshed with significantly increased Russian submarine activity.  Presumably the Russian submarines were picked up by these buried sensors.

This is not the first alarm bell on Russian underwater activity growing, perhaps approximating Cold War levels of activity. For example, the Norwegians recently complained about the same thing.  Where did the Norwegians get the ability to detect Russian underwater activity?  Either from information shared by the US and based on similar sensors off the Norwegian coast, or perhaps from sensors put in the water by the Norwegians themselves.

But the real story is not the underwater cables.  There is no real incentive for the Russians to cut the cables because these cables can supply Russia with plenty of valuable intelligence so long as they are functioning.  And the US military has many alternatives to underwater cables for vital strategic communications, including satellites, frequency hopping secure radios, microwave transmissions, as well as other classified means (which could include cables but not where the Russians were looking).

The actual Russian interest is the underwater sensors.  Indeed, the very fact that Navy officials actually referenced the presence of the sensors is unusual.

Underwater sensors are a means of tracking submarines.  Every submarine has an acoustic signature which is made up of the cavitation sound of the submarine’s propellers, the noise created by machinery operating in the vessel, and the sound of the submarine actually cutting through sea water.  The underwater sensors can pick up this noise if they are properly located, and over time can distinguish one submarine from another.

A US Nuclear Submarine in drydock with its Propeller (Screw) covered to prevent spying

A US Nuclear Submarine in drydock with its Propellers (Screws) Covered to prevent spying

One significant Russian victory in the 1980’s was to obtain advanced multi-axis profiling machines from Japan capable of manufacturing “silent” propellers which lowered the acoustic signature of Russian subs dramatically. It became much more difficult for US subs to actively track the Russians. When a Russian submarine knows it has been detected and under active tracking, it can drop its speed, deploy acoustic decoys, and escape.

But underwater acoustic sensors are passive.  They sit quietly and if they pick up a track they transfer that information over an underwater cable to a command center.  If the Russians are able to identify the location of such sensors, they could either shut them down or put noise generators in the water that would make it hard for them to function.

In order to launch any attack on underwater sensors, you need a means to get to them.  The best way is an underwater vehicle, preferably one that has sophisticated manipulator arms that can disable the sensors in situ.

In the 1980’s the Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences made a deal with the Finnish firm Rauma-Repola’s Oceanics subsidiary for a deep sea submersible vehicle.  The Shirshov Institute of Oceanology teamed with Oceanics to build the Mir Deep Submergence vehicle.  The vessel can reach depths of 6,000 meters, giving the Mir a capability shared by the US submersibles Alvin, Sea Cliff and Deepstar 20000, Japan’s Shinkai and France’s Nautile.  The Mir is built from a unique maraging steel alloy that contains nickel, chrome, and titanium.  A key technology is syntactic foam, a special composite material vital to the underwater vehicle. The US company 3-M refused to sell any foam to Finland, but a Finish company (Exel Oyj) was able to develop a local version of the highly specialized foam.  It is critical to the buoyancy of the submersible.

Rus deep sea vehicle

Rus deep sea vehicle

The depth of 6,000 meters means that the submersible could function over 98 percent of the ocean floor meaning that all the underwater sensors, if they could be located, would be exposed to Russian surveillance ships.

A key technology that appears on the Mir and Rus submersible are sophisticated underwater manipulator arms. Without them, it would be far more difficult to destroy US Navy listening devices.  Manipulator arms can be used to pick items up from the ocean floor, cut cables, disable underwater mines, and for other commercial and military tasks.

Rus Manipulator Arms

Rus Manipulator Arms

The Yantar carries two submersible vehicles.  Each of them is equipped with a variety of sensors, cameras, and lighting and each carries a three man crew.  Thus, Russia’s latest operation off the coast of Florida is not any accident: it has a strategic purpose.   The transfer of vital technology has helped enable Russia’s revolution in military affairs and is once again a threat to the United States and America’s allies.

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Turkey Attacks Kurds in Syria Creating Dangerous Situation

by Stephen Bryen

Turkey has confirmed that it has attacked the Kurdish militia operating in Syria, a significant and dangerous provocation not only against the Kurds but one that can draw the Russians into a formal alliance with the Kurds.  Even worse, it can derail any political process and throw Washington into even more confusion.

The attacks were not severe and the Kurds considered them largely irrelevant. Apparently Turkish forces opened fire twice with machine guns, causing no casualties or significant damage. It is likely that the Turks, who probably hoped to get a response from the Kurds, were preparing to escalate the fighting, but were thwarted when the Kurds just ducked.

So what will happen next? And what’s behind Turkey’s obsession with the Kurds?

For some months now Turkey has been waging renewed war against the Kurds. Much of the fighting has been on Turkish territory, but some of it spilled over into Iraq. When the Kurdish-Syrian border town of Kobani was taken over by ISIS, the Turks refused to let any supplies get through to the Kurds, and just watched as Kurdish civilians and militia were hit by stronger ISIS forces. It wasn’t until quite late in the game, and much destruction, that the US Air Force gave some help to the Kurds fighting for their survival. The Turks, quite clearly, wanted to see them all dead.

Turkey’s obsession with the Kurds comes about because of the large restless Kurdish population in Turkey. Kurds probably make up a quarter of Turkey’s population, with the largest population centers in Turkey’s east and south-eastern areas. The most important city dominated by Kurds is Diyarbakir, which actually is the heart of Kurdistan as once promised to the Kurds by the Treaty of Sèvres.

Kurdistan as envisaged by the Treaty of Sèvres.

Kurdistan as envisaged by the Treaty of Sèvres.

That treaty, signed on August 10, 1920, was between the allied powers and representatives of the then-Ottoman government of Turkey at the conclusion of World War I. It was the same treaty that set the French Mandate over Syria and the British mandate of Palestine. That deal was refused by the Turkish Grand National Assembly that was led by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. To further confuse matters, the Turks themselves were divided over what constituted Kurdistan, and in any case the Sèvres treaty was not implemented.  Had it been, a truncated Kurdistan would have been carved out of Turkish territory, forgetting the sizeable Turkish populations in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia.

We do not know if there is, as yet, any formal arrangement between the Kurds and Russia, although Kurdish resistance to ISIS is important because the Kurds can engage ISIS and by so doing help the Syrian regime in its battle against ISIS. It is important that President Putin pointed to the Kurds as an important ally in what he calls the fight against ISIS terrorism.

The Turkish provocation against the Kurds, by opening fire inside Syrian territory, is very dangerous not only because Turkey may try and commit even more significant forces in future against the Kurds in Syria, but also because it will rise in the Kurds a strong suspicion that the United States may be behind the Turkish military attacks. In fact, no one knows what Washington thinks about this, but it is clear the US is in a badly compromised position because it has put US Air Force resources in Incirlik in order to fight ISIS. The arrival there of both F-16’s and A-10 ground attack aircraft could play a role against ISIS, but it could also be a staging ground to try and topple the Assad regime. In effect, Incirlik is a dangerous pivot and the Obama administration’s behavior toward radicals in the Middle East is highly suspect. Even more to the point is the Obama administration’s support for the Erdogan government and Washington’s complete silence while Kurds are being ruthlessly suppressed and slaughtered by Turkish government military and police forces.

Kobanê - Syria - Oct 2014 (

Kobanê – Syria – Oct 2014
(“Kobanê, Syria – Oct 2014” by PersianDutchNetwork – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons )

Above all the Turkish provocations against Syria serves to undermine the progress that may yet be made in finding an acceptable political solution for Syria. Putin has opened the door very wide to try and find a solution, and he dragged Assad to Moscow to drive the point home. His Foreign Minister is in dialogue with Washington and with some of the important European players who badly want a political solution to blunt the overwhelming refugee problem that threatens European unity and is starting to blow away moderate European governments, as just happened in Poland. More than that, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has telephone President Putin and, while not yet worked out, there is a good chance there will be a meeting of the two leaders in Moscow before January. This is not the first overture made by Saudi Arabia, who need protection from Iran far more than they need to try and topple Assad in Syria. But for it to have a chance to work, a constructive United States has to stay in the game. Unless the US stands up to Turkish military action against the Kurds, Turkey is going to get Kerry and Obama into a terrible mess with the risk of general war.

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Provocations and Syria: Where Are We Headed?

by Stephen Bryen

The US is once again provoking the Russians, but for what purpose? It seems the US no-win Syria policy is mutating into a lose-lose one which destabilizes the Middle East even more and has repercussions in Europe.

The United States has announced that it has deployed 12 A-10 “Warthog” aircraft to Incirlik air base in Turkey. This is the same aircraft that the Air Force wants to get rid of but has found strong opposition in the Congress to liquidating this battle-tested aircraft. The A-10 is an effective close support platform with a powerful gun system that can destroy even armored targets. The aircraft is hardened, with self-sealing fuel tanks and cockpit protection. It has a range of around 800 miles. From Incirlik that means it can operate in northern Syria and into part of Iraq. Supposedly these aircraft are being deployed to go against ISIS, but an unnamed US official says: “the A-10s could potentially be used to support rebel groups fighting IS in northern Syria, including a group called the “Syrian Arab Coalition” that received a massive airdrop of ammunition this month.” ( This statement comes at the same time that the US is supposedly working out deconfliction arrangements with Russia to prevent any chance of a clash between US or Russian aircraft. Unfortunately, the official’s remark suggests just the opposite: that by using A-10’s to support these rebel group the US will be directly engaging in actions involving Syrian, Iranian and Russian and other Syrian-proxy forces such as Hezbollah.

While there are a few supporters of the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition on Capitol Hill such as Senator John McCain, it is a well established and known fact that the US-Saudi and Turkish-supported Arab coalition is weak and deeply fragmented and that pro-Islamist hard-

Army Pfc. David Mitchell, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Battalion, scans the landscape surrounding Vehicle Patrol Base Badel, located at the mouth of the Narang Valley in Konar Province with his TOW missile. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber Robinson)

Army Pfc. David Mitchell, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Battalion, scans the landscape surrounding Vehicle Patrol Base Badel, located at the mouth of the Narang Valley in Konar Province with his TOW missile. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber Robinson)

line groups, including most importantly al-Qaeda spin-off al-Nusra, are the real players in Syria. Indeed, after having wasted half a billion dollars on a furtive attempt to train “moderate” Syrian “fighters” who really were al-Qaeda operatives in Mufti, the US is persisting in a dangerous lose-lose strategy in Syria.

Why a lose-lose strategy?

Reason #1 The Russians have been keenly interested in setting up a system for deconflicting air encounters between US, Israeli and Russian aircraft operating in Syria. Sputnik International, which reflects official Russian thinking, says that the deconfliction deal was put in place in the middle of October and is centered in Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is headquartered. According to the news reports, which is all we have since the parties won’t confirm or deny, a hot line has been established. It is important to note that this is a big concession by the Russians who wanted the deconflict system to have its headquarters in Baghdad where Russia has set up a command center made up of Iran, Syria, Iraq and Russia whose purpose is to manage the war in Syria. Unofficially the US has tried to minimize encounters with Russian aircraft by instructing US pilots to stay 20 miles away from any Russian aircraft. The only incidents have been with Turkish F-16’s where the Turks have claimed that the Russians violated Turkish airspace on at least two occasions. In these incidents the Russians responded to warnings, retreated to Syrian air space, and apparently apologized to the Turks for any “inadvertent” incursions by its pilots. Looked at from the diplomatic and military efforts to minimize incidents, the US-Russia-Israel deal seems to make sense. But if the unnamed official’s remarks reflect actual US policy, we could be in for a very nasty surprise since the Russians will not sit still while US Warthog’s pound Syrian and Iranian (plus Hezbollah) positions in “supporting” the Syrian Arab Coalition.

Reason #2 The main combatants in Syria are different flavors of Islamic extremists. The so-called moderates are only a small fraction of the fighters operating there and no one today believes they will emerge from the fighting as winners. In any case, if the non-ISIS faction would somehow manage to topple Assad’s government, which was one of the operative theories before the Russians got there (and one of the reasons they went there), the next stage in the action would be a fight between ISIS and the non-ISIS factions, which will mostly if not wholly be al-Qaeda operatives. Either ISIS and the others will work out some deal, or the civil war will continue to try and determine the winner. Naturally this assumes the Russians and Iranians have gone home.

The US with its various allies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Oman and Jordan has been backing the non-al-Qaeda fighters, although exactly who we are really backing is anyone’s guess. Even the Pentagon really does not know. There is no way to vet these characters, but nonetheless meanwhile we are either shipping or allowing to be shipped, US TOW missiles, which are anti-tank missiles. In order to ship these into Syria, a Presidential decision would need to have been made, because otherwise it is against the law. And even if a Presidential decision was made, the Congress would have to be notified under the requirement of the Arms Export Control law. Was Congress notified? It is unlikely because such notification could not legally go to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is often used by the administration to hide secret operations; it would need to go to the Senate Armed Services Committee, who might have a lot of questions and who might take action to try and block such deliveries.

The recent delivery of TOW missiles has angered the Russians because it is a weapon that can destroy the current generation of tanks deployed in Syria, the most modern of which is the model T-72. . TOW stands for tube launched optically tracked, wire-guided weapon. The TOW operator is exposed when firing the missile, but the missile effects are devastating. It is almost a certainty that many of the TOW missiles delivered will end up in al-Nusra or ISIS hands. The Russians have been searching for weapons stockpiles and are trying to destroy them, but how much success so far is unclear.

These weapons deliveries, along with the threat of the Warthog, open up important questions on how far the United States will go, and what the end result will be. If, as most think, it will be some kind of radical Islamic entity taking over in Syria eventually, the outcome is very destabilizing and could lead to war with Israel and Jordan, neither of which could tolerate that kind of regime. This makes offering such support with such an uncertain and dangerous outcome a risk not worth taking. Yet Washington continues to push while the Russians keep knocking off major Syrian Arab Coalition leaders, the latest to fall was Basil Zamo, formerly a captain in the Syrian military, who headed what is called the “First Coastal Division” who receive arms from the US and its partners. Zamo, who headed the group, was killed by a Russian air strike on October 19th. Also killed was one of Zamo’s fighters who was trained in how to use TOW missiles. On the same day, the commander of another such group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Brigades, was killed in fighting south of Aleppo.

Reason #3 US and Turkish goals are not congruent, and the US presence in Incirlik makes it seem that the US targeting of ISIS is a NATO operation. In fact, the Turks have been promoting the idea of NATO taking a more active role against ISIS, leaving the Turks free to blast away at the Kurds, a major irritant to the Turkish government. The Incirlik base agreements allowing US operations there is supposed to require the approval of the Turkish government and is also supposed to be a NATO operation. But exactly why would NATO want to play a role in the conflict, especially if the outcome of the fighting is to swell the number of refugees pouring into Europe, which is being facilitated by Turkey who wants to liquidate the refugees it has on its territory. As of mid-March, 2015 there were 1.7 million refugees in Syria. But these numbers are estimates and many of the refugees are not registered, meaning that the number may be far higher. The increased fighting in recent weeks means even more refugees fleeing to Turkey, including many combatants who have shaved off their beards and even dressed as women as they cross the border. Sooner or later these may flee to Europe, posing a substantive threat that goes beyond just housing and caring for refugees who were victims of the civil war.

From a purely NATO perspective a rapid settlement of the civil war would be the best outcome, even if it meant some accommodation with the “hated” Assad regime. But the chances for that are not improved if the US continues to push ahead supplying Russia and Syria’s adversary. Perhaps some in Washington think, as the White House has made clear, that Russia is getting itself into a quagmire from which it cannot win and which will eventually force a deal to be reached replacing the Assad regime. This involves a number of factors that depend largely on how tenacious the Islamists are and how long they can stand up to a professional army and air force. The early evidence is they are taking large losses. What we know less about is how severe are the Syrian army losses, and the losses of the Iranians and Hezbollah. The Russian boots on the ground are minimal so far, and there are internal reasons why it is likely to stay that way. But as the US has surely learned, although the lesson has to be constantly repeated, is that air power alone won’t decide a conflict. The Russians also know this, which is why they are trying to grease the war in such a way as to better empower land forces to win decisive battles and that by knocking out the rebel stockpiles and their ability to move out in the open. With most of the fighting now is in areas that have been depopulated to a large degree, the Russians can use more massive air power without too much collateral damage to civilian populations, and the rebels are more exposed because they cannot hide in the population.

The worst part of the deal is the presence of Iranian military forces in Syria, which has been enlarged. It is the worst part of the deal because in the long term it threatens Israel. Iran wants to put its brigades on the Golan Heights, and Israel will not permit this without conducting a clearing operation, which means Israel would enter the war in order to liquidate Iranian and Hezbollah presence. Indeed, if a deal could be found, a key part of any arrangement would have to be clearing out the Iranians and Hezbollah. Israel is supposed to be an American ally, and Israel has a strategic agreement with the US. At the moment the administration largely ignores Israel as it pursues other objectives, especially radical Islamists and Iran.

The US has said next to nothing about the Iranians, focusing most of its ire on Russia and Assad. The same holds concerning Hezbollah. What can we say about US policy objectives?

1. It is generally agreed that the US push to defeat ISIS is broadly shared among Washington policy-makers, both Democrats and Republicans. Defeating ISIS would remove a threat from Iraq and from Syria, and prevent the spread of ISIS operatives in Africa, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

2. It is also generally agreed that the US will supply air power but no ground troops. Efforts to promote a US ground presence have little or no public support.

3. The US has no answer to the refugee crisis and has been silent about the infiltration of ISIS and other radical elements in Europe. By agreeing to take such refugees into the United States, the terrorist danger inside the US is exacerbated. No steps appear to have been taken to manage the emerging problem caused by the White House’a unilateral policy taking large numbers of Syrian refugees.

4. The US support for the Free Syrian Army and the so-called Arab coalition is continuing. The statements by an unamed official about providing them air support invites a response by Russia and a serious escalation that may have implications well beyond the Middle East.

5. US policy is badly conflicted because of the US nuclear deal with Iran. This means considerable confusion. In Iraq it has meant that Iranian-supplied aircraft and pilots (Su-25’s) are in use against ISIS targets while the Iraqis learn how to fly the dozen used Su-25’s sent there by Russia. Meanwhile the US has been flying its own missions, and no doubt coordinating with the Iraqis and probably the Iranians. The outcome of all this is that Iraq is aligning itself with Iran. The US has some options to help the Kurds, but it wants to do this through Iraq because the Turks otherwise are against it. All of this makes the US look even weaker and ineffective.

6. While maintaining a strong anti-Assad posture, the US has also stepped up its anti-Putin rhetoric as well. This presents Putin with some opportunities in Europe if he decides to up the pressure on vulnerable and exposed NATO countries. Likewise, it shuts down avenues for accommodation. Some politicians also have picked up on anti-Russian rhetoric, most notably Marco Rubio. However, his position on Russia does not seem to have bought him much political support.

The key question is when does “no-win” mutate to “lose-lose.” Right now the best that can be said of the US posture is that it is, optimistically, a no-win policy. Sustain the civil war and hope your guys win out, however unlikely the outcome. But lose- lose would mean that the war’s result is a truncated Syria with a good portion of the country under Assad-Russia control. If that happens the Russians can also come up with a government change that will make it appear they have put “responsible” leaders in place, effectively a Russian-engineered coup d’Etat to placate Europe and to show Russian flexibility and sensibility to European “values.” If this happens then the US goes to a lose-lose, leaving much of the once American-dominated Middle East in a shambles and Europe increasingly up for grabs.

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The COTS Danger to American Security

by Stephen Bryen

F-35 in Flight Test by Andy Wolfe – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 110211-O-XX000-001

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Security is but a dream.  –Mostly by Anon.

The Pentagon dreams about cyber security, but in many ways it is responsible for the government-wide debacle that is undermining the United States, imperiling the critical infrastructure, and compromising our defense and intelligence systems. For unexplained reasons, given the number of high priced scientists and engineers and a budget that is the envy of the world (despite recent reductions), instead of making progress tightening up cyber defenses, the number of successful attacks has grown exponentially and the amount of damage has escalated with it. No one doubts we are in a cyber war; but instead of fighting it properly, we are falling deeper and deeper in the hole that cyber terrorists have dug for us.

The failure at the Pentagon and throughout the Federal government is a decision that was taken in the 1980’s which has not been changed. That fateful decision was to rely on commercial off the shelf products –hardware and software– because it was the cost effective thing to do. Security did not figure into it: in fact, when the security issue was raised by some they were accused of being spendthrifts and troglodytes.

COTS, as it is known in Pentagon jargon, is equipment that can come from any source provided it is in the commercial market space. Right from the beginning the Pentagon moved to start buying commercial computers and computer and network equipment. It began to throw out its costly Tempest machines, and not long afterward declared that the Tempest program wasn’t really needed at all, because the “threat” had changed.

This meant that the bulk of computers on desk-tops in the Pentagon were COTS boxes. While in the early years these were assembled in the US, as at the famous IBM PC factory in Boca Raton, everyone knew that the components were sourced all over the place, but primarily from Asia. Increasingly the Asian dimension became a China one, as China dominated the space with cheap labor, low-cost engineers, and a domestic market that attracted big companies to shift their product lines to the Chinese mainland. Even the Taiwanese, who had a vigorous domestic computer hardware industry including home-built computer memories and microprocessors, invested in China setting up factories there instead of in Taiwan. Take note, for example, that the world-famous Apple iPhone is made by Foxconn in China, a company that is owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd.

Nowhere in America’s high-tech industry, and certainly nowhere in Asia, is there any thought about security at manufacturing plants. The same holds true in software development, much of which has also migrated offshore, to South Asia, Taiwan, Korea and China and beyond.

Most of the COTS products that are part of computer networks in the United States are open source, with a partial exception of Apple, and even here the circle is so wide that and the lackadaisical approach to security so pronounced that it really does not matter. Apple does it for proprietary and marketing reasons. In his famous book Spy Catcher, published back in 1988 just when COTS was gaining momentum, former MI-5 Assistant Director Peter Wright explains how MI-5 bugged an East European crypto room. When the operators in the crypto room wanted to encode something, one of them read the message out loud while the other transcribed the message into secret code using a one time pad, a very secure means of scrambling information. The British spies just bypassed the crypto thanks to their microphones. Today we have nearly the same thing since secret access points in computer and network operating systems make it possible for cyber thieves to listen to everything before it is scrambled (in cases where encryption is used, which is less than 10% of the time).

The bottom line is that commercial operating systems, hardware and software, cannot be secured. To make matters worse, updates and changes in software and hardware, in the fast paced computer world, help assure that new security vulnerabilities are generated far faster than the old ones can be patched, if and when they are. Take just the latest mobile platform debacle where it is shown that Apple’s Siri, and Google Now can be operated remotely by hackers that can compromise a mobile device such that it can be controlled and private conversations, even when the phone is not in direct use, can be easily recorded. Take note that the Pentagon has endorsed both the iPhone and a Samsung Android phone that use this software, proving once again that the Pentagon doesn’t have a clue about security and only is scratching the back of computer companies.

The only practical way to restore security is to use non-COTS equipment that does not run COTS software. This would be equipment built from the ground up to be secure, and the equipment must be designed by American citizens who are security cleared and who work in a compartmented cross-checked system. The end system would be designed so that where there is a point of failure it can be quickly isolated and resolved; and where a point of failure won’t grant access to the wider network or the data storage systems which, in any case, would be encrypted.

It will probably cost a few billion dollars to launch a program and design a system that is really secure. It will take another $10 to $20 billion to replace all the compromised junk in use by the Defense Department, the military, the government and by America’s defense industry.

Perhaps that sounds like a huge investment, but against the loss to our national defense programs it is nothing.

Here is a paradigm to think about. The US Joint Strike fighter program, the F-35, is the future tactical aircraft system for the Air Force, Marines and Navy. It will replace the F-16’s and F-15’s in the inventory. There is no other aircraft on the drawing board, so if the F-35 fails or the program is compromised fatally, the US effectively no longer has a functional air force.

There are many skeptics who are critical of the F-35 program. Its stealth is not so good, it manuevers poorly, its BVR (beyond visual range) systems can be jammed, and it is outmatched by existing Russian and emerging Chinese fighter aircraft.

But let’s say that Lockheed and its many contractors work out the bugs in the F-35, and the airplane proves its initial worth. What happens if all its systems are compromised and America’s adversaries arrive at countermeasures that make the F-35 much less useful than was planned some 15 years ago. What then?

It is public knowledge that terabytes of F-35 data have been stolen by China and probably shared with Russia. The information was lifted in cyber attacks primarily on the F-35 contractors and subcontractors. If the Chinese got enough to compromise the F-35, which could be the case, then the F-35 is a dead duck already.

The US is planning to sink $1.5 trillion (or more) into the F-35 program overall. That is a fabulous amount of money. If it is a net loss, there will be more than hell to pay. Our country will be at risk, our allies too, and the security system we have labored to keep in place since the end of World War II will, inevitably, collapse. You can’t fight an enemy with your good looks.

Even worse is the propensity of program managers, contractors and policy-makers to cover up failure. So we may not even know the full extent of the damage until the next D-Day.

Of course, this may all be needless worry and the F-35 program is safe enough, or it can be salvaged. But so long as it continues to be worked on commercial (COTS) computer networks, it is a bad bet.

In the past I have written we need a kind of Manhattan Project to fix our computer systems and networks. We have the scientists and the needed skills. We certainly have the money. What we seem to be missing is the leadership necessary to cure the disease before it is too late. COTS is unacceptable anywhere real security is needed.

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Mush for Brains –How Putin Sees America

by Stephen Bryen

I am not a Kremlinologist, and Kremlinology sort of went out of fashion with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But I always enjoyed the speculation that Kremlin-watchers were so good at. Who lined up on top of the reviewing stand in Red Square during military parades; who was missing; who said what to whom? These and countless other outward signs were diagnosed and re-diagnosed ad nauseam, but sometimes the Kremlin-watchers got it right.

Should we be doing that again now? There is clearly something big going on in Russia. Is Putin listening to the hard-line faction, or is he (or was he) trying to promote a different option?

Putin took himself to New York not just to tell the UN what he intended to do in Syria, but more importantly to make a case to Obama about what both of them should do. Obama rejected Putin’s appeal, and matters continue to deteriorate since then. The US accuses the Russians of bombing the CIA’s allies (among them plenty of radical Islamists) instead of bombing ISIS. The US drops 50 tons of weapons to the anti-Assad forces, poking a finger in Russia’s nose. The Russians send up their jets and buzz around American aircraft, not to mention violating Turkey’s air-space to make sure that Erdogan gets it and understands he is on the Russia hit list. And Putin calls in the Turkish ambassador for a two-hour lecture which ends in an expletive deleted type message to Erdogan, the gist of which is (as reported in the Russian press) “… tell your dictator president he can go to hell along with his ISIS terrorist[s] and I shall make Syria .. nothing [less than] a Big Stalingrad, for Erdogan and his Saudi allies are no [less] vicious than Adolf Hitler.”

For a long time the Russians have thought that the initiative in Syria to topple Assad is under the direction of the CIA, and that the US was not only pushing a program supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey to overthrow Assad, but they were secretly in bed with ISIS. Why, Putin has repeatedly asked, has the United States not really bombed ISIS’s main targets in Syria?

Checkpoint at Damscasus' edge; the capital is ringed by restive towns. Jan. 14, 2012. (E. Arrott/VOA)

Checkpoint at Damscasus’ edge; the capital is ringed by restive towns. Jan. 14, 2012. (E. Arrott/VOA)

Indeed, the US posture is dauntingly confusing. The US has been supporting radical Islamic movements in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria, and probably elsewhere. Most of the time CIA personnel are implicated in these operations, and Putin has hinted they know all about it. Why would America, threatened by al-Qaeda, ISIS and a host of other like-minded Islamic terrorists, do this? What is Washington’s game and, for that matter, the CIA’s game?

It would seem this is the core of the debate among Russian security experts. How do you explain America’s strange behavior, not really wanting to preserve the security system that emerged after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and trying to undermine Russia’s interests in Libya and Syria? On a purely local level, why is the US providing TOW missiles (through its Turkish and Jordanian cut outs, but likely from Saudi stockpiles) to the Syrian opposition, which is Islamist and filled up with foreigners including Chechens? On an even more local level, why did the United States cynically allow the Boston Marathon bombings to happen, even though Russia gave America three clear warnings and pinpointed the prospective Boston bombers?

The Russians have been sorely disappointed before. During the Chechen wars, the US sided with the Chechens and criticized Russia’s heavy-handed tactics. Yet, in the Russian view, America’s tactics in the two Iraq wars and in Afghanistan have been just as brutal if not more so? And the enemy of both has been one and the same.

So the contretemps in the Kremlin is how to make sense out of what appears crazy, counterproductive, and dangerous to both sides. Is the United States so anti-Russian and do America’s leaders still have such a Cold War mentality that they are willing to sacrifice the existing security system in Europe and the Middle East? For what? Surely the Americans know that Russia still has only a small army and could hardly threaten Europe or the United States. So why the extreme anti-Russian stand of American leaders and politicians?

One suspects that Putin couldn’t anymore figure it out than anyone else in Russia or the United States, but his hard-liners and military advisors are very uncomfortable. If the terrorists win in Syria, will Russia once again have to face severe trouble on its own territory? Will Russia lose face if Syria became an Islamic State? What about Iran? If it goes out of control, and Iranian rhetoric has alarmed Israel’s generals some of them pushing for action against Iran, the Russians will quickly find themselves out of the Middle East and unable to pursue military, political and economic objectives including, most importantly, oil exports.

If anything the last weeks have temporarily reinforced the hard-liners in the Russian government. For how long is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, Putin’s exasperation grows mightily. He now says that his Western partners, meaning the US and most specifically Obama, have “mush for brains.”

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