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Defence and Security Issues Discussed in the 21st Century
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The DSF's Co-founder, Lady Olga Maitland
Welcome to The Defence and Security Forum

The Defence and Security Forum was founded by Lady Olga Maitland in 1983. It was originally a campaigning organisation known as Families for Defence launched to challenge the anti-nuclear protest movements such as CND. Families for Defence’s remit was to promote the NATO case for multilateral nuclear disarmament. In the course of doing so the purpose was to focus on the importance of a proper provision for the defence of the United Kingdom.

Major General Patrick Cordingley, our Chairman Our Keynote Topics

  • International Relations
  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Defence and Security

Speech: The Russian bear – hug him or hit him?
Booking forms

Venue: CDA Institute, Ottawa
National Security Strategies and the Future of Conflict,
Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel
Ottawa, Canada

18-19 February 2016

Speaker: Lady Olga Maitland

Speech: 'The Russian bear – hug him or hit him?'

Newspaper headlines.

Russia is wily, ruthless, manipulative, driven by history, does not want to be ignored.  Will resort to any tool, propaganda or military might.

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 maker…

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.

But is Russia as invincible as she may seem?

Is 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.

Things 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 Rome.

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.

But 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 commercial aircraft.

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.

In 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 against Russia.  

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.

Hard 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 top table.

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 to Moscow. 

A 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.,

Where 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 strategy.

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 have changed.  

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.
NATO 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 economic recession.

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 crisis.  


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 impending catastrophe?”

The shows go from  bad to worse.  It is one of many such shows.

Nothing new.   He does it in the international sphere too.

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 government minister.

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 world wide.

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 Ruddock?

Shameless and proud of what he achieved. Nearly succeeded in the propaganda war.

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…..?”

Read also about 'Applying a traditionalist framework of ‘Soft Power’ to China'.

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A DSF speaker. Lady Olga Maitland talking to delegates. A DSF speaker
Delegates enjoying the debate. Lady Olga Maitland chatting to a delegate. Cordingley

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