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Russia’s military is proving just how dangerous it really is (and testing new weapons)

While some improvements are certainly significant, the Russian military has yet to shed nor improve upon some of its older habits from past conflicts

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(The National Interest) – Russia this month announced another draw-down from its combat operations in Syria, which began on Sept. 30, 2015. The Russian military will retain troops in the country, likely indefinitely, where it has demonstrated the capabilities of new weapons and tactics — which together show it has learned from its shortcomings in past operations.

Nevertheless, as experts told War Is Boring, many of the Russian military’s old habits were also on display throughout this campaign.

It’s no secret that Russia used its military campaign to both demonstrate and test hardware, and furnish its forces with some actual combat experience. In March 2016, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin said that combat operations in Syria are the best form of training for his country’s armed forces.

“The Russians quickly began to see Syria as a testing ground for various weapon systems that hadn’t been used in combat before as well as an opportunity to give various branches of the military experience in an actual war zone,” Michael Kofman, a specialist on the Russian military at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told War Is Boring.

This included Russia firing its ship and submarine-launched Kalibr cruise missiles into Syria, all the way from the Caspian and Mediterranean Sea, and long-range Russian Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers — flying from Russia itself — striking targets with Kh-555 and new Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles.

Russian combat aircraft in Syria averaged 40-50 sorties per day, with peaks as high as 100 such as which occurred in January 2016. Russia achieved this without deploying more than 30-50 combat aircraft and 16-40 helicopters to Syria throughout the campaign, which Kofman notes is a much smaller deployment than the Soviets had in Afghanistan. Mechanical failures and combat losses in the air been “magnitudes less than previous Russian or Soviet air operations,” Kofman added.

Russia only lost a small number of aircraft, largely due to the success of Russian technicians who kept both new Russian aircraft and Soviet-era aircraft based in Syria airborne — an exception being the recent loss of a single Su-24M2 to mechanical failure on Oct. 10. The most well-known loss of a Russian plane during the war was the 2015 shootdown of an Su-24M by a Turkish F-16.

This is illustrative of improved flexibility in the Russian military, which has demonstrated it can achieve more with fewer forces than past in past wars.

Neil Hauer, an expert on Russia-Syria relations who has followed the conflict closely, also pointed out some of the improvements the Russian military has demonstrated in Syria compared to past conflicts.

“I think there’s been an implicit focus on using fewer frontline units than in the Donbass conflict,” Hauer told War Is Boring. “While Russian army units were engaged in full frontline battles there, there’s been nothing of the sort in Syria. Instead, Russian forces have acted in support roles in the guise of advisers, light infantry (reconnaissance and artillery spotting), and air support. The only real combat roles to date have been played by Wagner [Group, private Russian] mercenaries.”

Hauer points out that Russia quickly adapted early on in Syria, re-scaling “their ambitions after realizing just how little offensive action pro-regime forces were capable of.”

“The first months of the Russian intervention saw broad attempts to advance on a number of fronts, but many of the results were disastrous — especially in north Hama, where the regime lost dozens of tanks in a few weeks for zero gain, despite heavy Russian strikes,” he noted. “Since then, Russia has largely focused on supporting one regime offensive at a time, while suppressing rebel and Islamic State forces elsewhere.”

Kofman pointed out that when Russia first intervened in Syria it worked to help the regime secure key roads, infrastructure and isolated Syrian bases – while destroying every piece of heavy military hardware they could find in opposition hands. Most of that hardware had been captured from the Syrian army.

While Russian initial airstrikes in late 2015 and early 2016 reportedly helped the Syrian regime recapture a mere two percent of its territory, air strikes were already having a decisive effect on the battlefield.

Kofman argues that the two percent figure proved misleading since control over territory in Syria has proven “elusive,” largely because local leaders sided with whoever seemed likely to win. Therefore, Russia helped “swing the balance in favour of Damascus” through its bombing campaign across Syria, along with its subsequent sponsorship of ceasefire arrangements between regime forces and the opposition.

Furthermore, the regime’s grip on most of the population centers in Syria and the depopulation of opposition-held areas explained how Russia went from helping Damascus regain a mere two percent of Syrian territory to “appearing the victor in the conflict in less than two years.”

More broadly Russia’s showcasing of hitherto unused hardware in Syria, particularly its long-range bombers and cruise missiles, demonstrated to NATO its long reach and potential to target the alliance’s military assets in Europe were war to break out between the two.

Dumb bombs

While these improvements are certainly significant, the Russian military has yet to shed nor improve upon some of its older habits from past conflicts.

Even though the Russian air campaign was certainly effective, it may have resulted in between 8,324 and 11,282 civilian deaths through February 2017, according to the conflict monitoring group Airwars.

“As well as inflicting excessive civilian casualties, Russia is credibly reported to have extensively targeted civilian infrastructure in Syria — with water treatment plants, bakeries, food distribution depots and aid convoys all struck,” Airwars noted. “Civilian areas were also systematically targeted across rebel-held territories, often on consecutive days.”

Many of Russia’s bombs had far greater payloads than necessary for their targets, Kofman noted. This indicates that Russia still, more-or-less, fights the same way it did in the early 1990s. The proportion of precision-guided weapons used by Russia in Syria amounts to “perhaps less than five percent” of the total, Kaufman said.

While its campaign in Syria proved that Russia is capable of using long-range guided weapons and also demonstrated other improvements in the air since its 2008 war with Georgia, it also revealed serious limitations.

For instance, Russia carried out most of its bombings in Syria with older Su-24M2 and Su-25SM aircraft, which lack targeting pods needed to drop precision-guided bombs. The use of newer Russian Su-34 Fullback multi-role fighters were the only exception to this general trend since they are capable of dropping KAB-500S satellite-guided bombs.

Furthermore, the ability of Russian warplanes to hit small, moving targets with precision-guided munitions has proven extremely limited. Instead, these aircraft relied on unguided weapons and bombs far too big for their intended targets, which Kofman describes as “overkill.”

As with its Soviet predecessor, the Russian military can maul its enemies “in close quarters, but continues to struggle when it comes to actually finding and seeing its intended targets,” Kaufman said.

Russia lagging in the production of drones also haven’t helped. While the Russian military does possess domestically-produced reconaissance and surveillance drones, along with some license-built Israeli models, it has no armed drones to speak of therefore lacks a “recon-strike capability,” Kaufman added.

Also Moscow’s use of naval aircraft in Syria failed to impress given the abysmal deployment of the aging Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in late 2016, which lost an Su-33 and a MiG-29K in accidents.

Overall, Russia’s campaign in Syria has been a mixed bag. It certainly showed improvements in tactics, strategy and capability. At the same time it demonstrated that Moscow has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to conducting conventional military operations beyond its vast frontiers.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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