National Security Strategies and the Future of Conflict, Fairmont
Chateau Laurier Hotel
Date: 18-19 February 2016
Lady Olga Maitland
'The Russian bear – hug him or hit him?'
Russia is wily, ruthless, manipulative, driven by history, does not
want to be ignored. Will resort to any tool, propaganda or
She is the elephant in the room – there, huge, dominating but the west
is flummoxed in how to respond. Russia is running circles
around western policy makers.
FACT: Russia Wants to be a world player, be noticed,be the decision
Canada is no stranger to Russia manoeuvres bearing in mind in the
Arctic. New Arctic circle deep sea water ports, largest fleet of
icebreakers in the world, 13 airfields, 10 air defence radar
stations, hefty military hardware and manpower deployed, make
Russia a new commercial and strategic
front. In short an arc of steel.
To cap it all, planted a vast titanium flag under the North
Pole staking its claim to fishing, oil and gas fields. We
will see what the UN says about that.
Sweden is nervous. So too,Norway. Not to mention Denmark and the US,
Canada needs no lessons. Also an active member of NATO –
Canada has seen it all.
is Russia as invincible as she may seem?
everything going to plan?
Not at all sure it is.
Putin’s personal popularity remains sky high. In fact he
works on the cult of his personality, even a book of his quotes came
out recently, let alone a calendar!
Not that the Russians are objecting too much. They like a
strong authoritarian man at the top. They are nationalists heart and
soul. They are comfortable with it. For now.
Just as well.
are not so marvellous.
Ukraine: Crimea and Donbas are economic hellholes, and huge drains on
the Russian economy – at the worst possible time, massive recession,
over dependent on oil and gas where the income is in free fall.
Russia stomachs this. Their pride and nationalism and decades of
suffering means this is nothing new. As for the
new middle classes, they have tightened their belts and
stayed home. No more glamorous holidays in Dubai, Turkey, Paris, and
Sanctions are hurting, made worse by his own punitive
measures against Ukraine and Turkey.
At home, there is the complicating issue of the likelihood of renewed
terrorism from Islamists who can ferment uprisings in Chechnya,
Dagestan and beyond.
Indeed Putin is duplicating in Aleppo the strategy he applied in
Chechnya: full military onslaught on populated areas so
rebels are destroyed or forced out. In his view
there can be no settlement in Syria with the opposition.
for all that Putin presses on.
And must not and cannot be underestimated.
So we have Putin’s Syria. This intervention is poised to be a
quagmire. Afghanistan seems to have been airbrushed away.
Anyway it was not Putin’s war.
But Syria is. Expect to see Russia controlling Damascus not being a
mere ;’partner’. In effect a Russian satellite.
Apart from Ukraine, which Russia considers their’s, Middle East is the
only area where Russia can try and prove it is not just a regional
post-Soviet power, but a global actor able to make a difference in
managing crucial conflicts.
Self respect is returning.
Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet, played into their hands.
Once an ally, Putin turned on Turkey with a vengeance,
cancelled a nuclear plant and Turkstream, an important gas pipeline
under construction; sacrificed multi-billion dollar economic
projects including a hammer blow for Gazprom.
Nothing new with these incursions. Happens all the time over the UK –
but drew a powerful protest when they went too far over the Channel
which could have caused a massive accident with all the incoming
Putin is intent on showing the world Russia is a great power : that he
respects strength and takes advantage of perceived weakness, especially
on the part of the western alliance. The lack of resolve by
Barak Obama on airstrikes against Assad’s military bases after chemical
weapons were used, gave Putin the sense of total freedom.
He pushes forward until there is a push back.
Syria Putin acted swiftly. It was unexpected.
The attraction for him has moved on from securing his small naval base
Tartus and then airfield at Latakia, to demonstrating that by backing
Assad, together with the Kurds as we saw last week, that their alliance
will be the only ones with a credible military force to achieve the
goal of control over a significant part of the country.
And Putin is not remotely squeamish about the miseries of bombed out
men, women and children, fleeing desperately away from his bombing
sorties. As of last count over a thousand killed. ‘They are all
terrorists’ say Sergei Lavrov.
On Syria there is no going back. Military campaign conducted
at minimum effort, JUST 30 aircraft and 2,000 military on the
ground. They have been put to maximum
effect compared to the huge resources invested by the US, UK in Iraq
and then Syria, with a dismal outcome.
Now Russia is in the heart of the conflict. Syria is Russia’s
war. As such accepted by powers such as Saudi
Arabia and Qatar as a legitimate stake holder, albeit on the other side
of the barricades.
By cementing its military presence in Syria, Russia has essentially
guaranteed itself the leading role in 2016.
But I wonder, A quagmire for the future with unintended consequences?
And incidentally Putin is not unhappy about the huge strain
of refugees on the European Union, it has heightened the danger of
BREXIT, (which he would welcome – weakening Europe) , the refugees have
severely weakened Angela Merkel, the architect of European sanctions
In truth Moscow is using refugees as a weapons – the more pressure on
Europe the better. Havoc in Europe is great.
Ignoring the 3 million refugees elsewhere.
Putin enjoys seeing NATO in a bind over Turkey. And
adding pain by hosting Syrian Kurds in Moscow with even a
representatives office there
Hard power – in 3 days of operations, at least 500 killed. –
all using Russia’s cutting edge SU-35 – new generation , long range,
supersonic aircraft not to mention the awesome SU-34 tactical bomber.
Hard power and the means to demonstrate it in war, has been good for
business. Moscow’s campaign in Syria has boosted their arms
exports, : Algeria will be the first foreign buyer of the
SU-34s. Egypt are next on the list having signed a deal for
$2b to buy Russian fighters, Iran is coveting Russian weapons. Expect a
deal this week for SU-30 jets.
power means bargaining power.
Time for a negotiated settlement?
Peace? This might be a defining week, but I am
cautious about that. Cease fire 1st March???
For now Russia is not at all sure that this is the
time for a diplomatic settlement. Hence the further military build up
in Latakia and increased bombing runs. Expect more.
And even in the event there is a cease fire, it will only be on the
condition set by the Russians that Assad remains – at least for now.
What we are likely to see is a movement by the rebels – some
will go over to the ISIL, and others will be driven by sheer fire power
to surrender to Assad. Their reward will be a place at the
In that regard already there is quiet diplomacy going on by the
Russians with now 38 of the rebel leaders, who have also been invited
case of divide and conquer.
There is no going back. Moscow knows all too well that
abandoning Assad will be interpreted as its weakness and a strategic
loss. Even worse, it will mean the
inability of Russian military prowess to yield meaningful results,
which in turn cast a shadow on its entire foreign policy strategy.
Consequently a pull out by Russia looks more and more
unrealistic, because it would leave them without its main lever against
the West in this conflict.
So what next? Is Russia all negative? Or is it that we
misread the runes? I fear, we are too sentimental
for the good days in 2002 when the NATO Russia Council was
running happily and well.
Today’s Russia has changed. For now no turning back.,
it suits, Russia can be helpful.
Gave active support to President Bush after 9/11. After all
Russia has trouble with Islamists at home.
Iranian Nuclear Deal for example. Russia was arguably the key
participant. At the end of it, Obama publicly ‘thanked’
Russia for being supportive and active. He then telephoned
Putin to say the same thing.
Now US and Russia working on a cease fire in Syria. No
guarantee it will work in the short term. Even if Assad and
Russia comply, will the militias agree?
What about ISIL? Who will deal with them – ground forces from
Saudi Arabia? Risk of a clash with Hezbollah forces?
What should NATO’s response be to all this? How do we fit
in? The UK had a fierce debate on taking
part in the Syria bombing. Limited yes, but there all the same.
The issue was: fear of mission creep. Lack of
But it can be said that countries who are part of the alliance will
have a role in the final solution.
To get there, The West must have some clear strategic goals over all.
Deter and constrain coercion by Russia against its European
neighbours. We must deal with present realities and
present leaders. Russia is mounting continuing
military threats all along our NATO’s borders.
Demonstrate military commitment to our interests. Deploy permanent
forces in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Similarly in the Baltic
states. Exercises themselves are temporary measures.
Ignore the original agreement whereby NATO would not deploy
in the former Soviet satellite countries. Faced with Russia
re-creating its 1st Tank Army , massively equipped and
designed for offensive not defensive operations, targeting Eastern
Europe, and the Baltic state, we have to rethink our position. Times
More important: demonstrate firmness of military
purpose. UK will upgrade Trident despite
siren voices of hard left lead by Jeremy Corbyn.
Vital to maintain the nuclear balance.
Maintain defence spending. Again big debate in UK. Austerity
all round has hit the national budget. It has meant
creative management to reach the 2% threshold. Just four
other countries match that, US, Greece, Estonia, Poland.
The US may have the greater military force but Russia is rapidly
catching up. Russia has a conscript army
yes, but a growing professional army. Old naval
ships but new tanks and aircraft. More than that, prepared to deploy
and use – no matter the human cost.
has to have a different strategy. Determined deterrence.
Our protection, and my preference is for a strong
NATO with a visible military presence wherever it is
needed. If a ‘red line’ is drawn, use it. Otherwise
it is squandered and Russia takes us for being weak, indecisive with no
political will. They see an enfeebled West, bungled Iraq, messy Libya,
defeat Afghanistan. Hence the adventure in the Middle East.
In any case, scenario is changing.
Dialogue with Russia is critical. The Russian people will be there long
after Putin has gone. Don’t isolate
Russia. No point. Sanctions? Point scoring? Do they
settle anything? Who is hurt most? Eastern Europe have
suffered losses of on average 30% in the last year. Tough to take in an
There are signs though that Russia having suffered enough economic pain
may quietly slip away from Dombas, which would ease the
sanctions strain. Donbas has only 32% Russians there – not
worth fighting for, unlike Crimea.
As it happens the unintended consequence of sanctions is
that the Russian government blame the west for economic
The challenge for NATO and the West, we are a group of 28 countries
with free thinking democracies. Difficult to get 100%
agreement and action from 28 countries – not TO mention fast.
It gives the impression of being sluggish – which is true.
Russia, by contrast, has no need to consult anybody. Putin
just acts. As indeed other threatening parties such as ISIL
who respect nobody ….
Inevitably we will be at a disadvantage in decision taking, but we are
also ethically coherent.
We will have to speed up consensus thinking, be more modern and agile
in our responses.
NATO must manage Turkey carefully. Volatile
President Erdogan could turn events into a massive
disaster. Taking on Russia is not smart.
Also, be alert for Putin’s irrational behaviour. But stick closely to
him. We do not need a war, there is no war with us, and there
need not be, provided we show our own strength, but out there
mavericks could turn the tables,
Add for Carlton University.
Propaganda has always been an important tool in the Russian
armoury. We should maintain our own
levels of communication.
Putin does it at home. Does it all the
time. That way he keeps his people on side.
He needs an enemy, so Russian media have been hyping up the Americans
as the threat to a war.
Popular TV political show in Moscow, Norkin’s List. The distinguished
grey haired bespectacled host Andrei Norkin turns to the camera with
the words ‘”Will America lead us into another war? How do we stop this
The shows go from bad to worse. It is one of many
Nothing new. He does it in the international sphere
Back in the 1980s, the then Soviet Union put a huge effort to persuade
public opinion in the west to support one sided nuclear
disarmament. Anti nuclear protest movements
flourished. Demonstrations, public debates, marches, it was
everywhere, US, Europe, Germany, Petra Kelly, do you remember her? In
the UK, CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, lead by RC
priest, Monsignor Bruce Kent, Joan Ruddock later a Labour
I launched my own campaign to oppose. Went to Greenham Common and faced
the protesters down. Great
success. We were hated. They were
challenged everywhere, in the UK, at international forums, New York,,
Geneva and so on. – public opinion began to change.
Finally in 1988, I went to Moscow covering the Reagan Gorbachev summit
as a journalist.
My own agenda was also pursued. Meeting with
Genrikh Borovik, one time KGB agent, US, then head
of Soviet Peace Committee, the Master Mind of anti-war demonstrations
Deemed ‘poisonous’ by Foreign Office in London.
Went up to a vast office, wood panel walls, marble floor, a massive
desk with that so precious cup of black coffee.
Like a James Bond movie. He knew all about me.
“So we meet at last…. Why are you so beastly to Bruce Kent and Joan
Shameless and proud of what he achieved. Nearly succeeded in the
Finally one favour, ‘I am writing a book about Kim Philby, the British
spy who defected to Moscow. I know he worked for your father
when he ran a diplomatic news agency. Do you think
I could meet your father, it would be so interesting to hear what he
says about Philby…..?”
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