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DIPLOMACY: The Ukraine crisis has been used to build NATO muscle on Russia’s borders, say Russian experts


NATO launches Contain Russia policy, Moscow open to talks Moscow is concerned at the NATO’s decision to post Rapid Action Force on Russia’s borders and sees it as an attempt to derail dialogue to resolve the Ukraine conflict. NIKOLAY SURKOV RIBR



he NATO summit has ended in Wales, with its leaders predictably focusing on the containment of Russia. The summit’s main highlight was the decision to deploy a Rapid Reaction Force (RAF) on Russia’s borders, which military experts view as a demonstrative gesture, rather than a real threat. At the same time, the final declaration of the summit said that the NATO “is committed to cooperation with Russia and the development of constructive relations with it.” Decisions were taken on concrete measures of deterrence, which are reminiscent of the Cold War. “We have agreed on a Readiness Action Plan to strengthen the collective defence of NATO. This is a demonstration of our solidarity and determination,” said the outgoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a press conference after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council. Under this plan, the NATO countries will retain a beefed up group on the eastern borders of the alliance. The Allies also promised to increase their defence budgets, and some of this money will go to the creation of a Rapid Reaction Force, which will be located as close as possible to Russia’s borders – in the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. Moscow, on its part, is in no hurry to give up dialogue with NATO. “We are ready to cooperate with the alliance, on the condition that it will take into account our national interests,” said Alexander Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO.

The NATO summit in Wales set the stage for aggravating the standoff between Russia and the West. Moscow is, first of all, concerned with Ukraine’s “North Atlantic” ambitions as well as placing the NATO’s troops near its eastern borders. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that the ambition of the Kiev’s authorities to revise Ukraine’s non-aligned status is undermining the efforts on peaceful settlement of the conflict in the south-east of the country. “This is a pronounced attempt to derail all the efforts to start a dialogue aimed at providing national safety,” Lavrov said. According to

Ambassador Grushko, as quoted by RIA Novosti, “The Ukrainian crisis has been used not only to strengthen the relations between Ukraine and NATO,” but also to “build up NATO muscle” on Russia’s borders. However, Russian experts have cautioned against exaggerating the military threat posed by the alliance. Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Studies, told RBTH that the NATO does not particularly need the Rapid Reaction Force on the borders with Russia.

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“For the alliance, this is just a way to show the countries of Eastern and Central Europe the determination of the bloc to fulfil its obligations under the fifth article of the Washington Treaty, which states: an attack on one – is an attack on all,” he said. According to Konovalov, these are the “golden days” for Eastern European NATO members. “This is their opportune moment, and they are taking one hundred percent advantage of it, to get from Old Europe and the United States as many promises as possible, as well as real actions to guarantee their security.” “However, in general, the Rapid Deployment Force, as well as the possible establishment of military bases – is nothing more than a signal to Russia. This solution also has no material effect on the balance of power in Europe – this is more noise than real activity,” he said. The future development of relations between Russia and NATO, said Konovalov, will depend on reciprocal steps that Moscow may now take. “Rasmussen’s statement is nothing more than a demonstration that NATO is changing in response to new challenges and threats to its members,” RBTH learned from Viktor Litovkin, an independent military expert. “In recent years, the block had no real raison d’etre. There was no threat. On the other hand, this is a soothing gesture toward the “new members” of the alliance in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, which have a paranoid fear of Russia. This is a peculiar kind of statement – that NATO does not abandon its own. However, how all this will be implemented in practice, raises a lot of questions.”

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Jointly learning tactics & precision mid-air RIA Voronezh


he Pogonovo fighting ground near Voronezh, located 500 km south of Moscow, hosted one of the signature events of the Avia Indra 2014 Russian-Indian exercises last week. The joint Russian-Indian crew flew the Mi-35 and Mi-8, as well as the Su-30 CM. Helicopters brought down thousands of litres of water to the firing ground, practicing fire-fighting, and the fighters hit the ground targets with missiles and bombs. “The Indian Air Force is not involved in counter-terrorism operations. Their main task is to provide combat support to troops. Therefore, we have chosen operational and tactical aviation exercises at the fight-

ing grounds and practicing of special Army Aviation missions,” said Colonel Alexander Maksimtsev, deputy chief of the Russian Air Force. “This involves interception of air targets, fire-fighting, search and rescue operations and support of ground forces. The IAF has a lot of experience in the highlands.” The second phase of the exercises will be held in India in November 2014. “Russia and India have historical Air Force connections,” said Indian Air Force Commander Praveen Keshav Vora. “We are using the Russian equipment from the sixties: MiG-21, MiG-23 and Su of various types. We have similar methods, because our technique is the same. We are carrying out these exercises for the first time and expect that they will serve as the basis for the development

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of our mutual cooperation. At first glance, this stage went very well, but we will discuss everything in detail when we get back to the base.” Pilots from mixed crews communicated with each other in English, and used

sign language. “We use a similar technique. Only our spillway devices are Canadian. But there is almost no difference between them. However, the weather here is different, other nuances of piloting, new people,” said IAF Commander Nikhil Purandari. Russian pilots have said that the there is almost no language barrier among the crew members, because the aviators’ language is similar. The first phase of the Avia Indra-2014 exercises started on August 29 and lasted until September 5. From the Russian side, aviation pilots from the 4th Training Centre and pilots from the 334th Centre for Army Aviation Combat Training are involved. In Voronezh, pilots are trained, using the Lipetsk Aviation Centre technology. Indian Air Force commanders have expressed interest in the Russian surfaceto-air missile systems in the course of the Avia Indra-2014 exercises, Maj. Gen. Sergey Babakov told journalists.


It’s time to get India in SCO tent BORIS VOLKHONSKY Foreign policy analyst



Poll: Involvement of Russia in Ukraine conflict




In the Avia Indra 2014 exercises, language was hardly a barrier for Indian and Russian pilots doing joint drills.

he forthcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tajikistan has the potential to become a gamechanger. The international environment is just right for the SCO’s expansion by including India and Pakistan as full members, which, in turn, would mean that the SCO itself could move from being a “Chinadominated discussion club” to a real power centre opposing the forces seeking to preserve the post-Cold War unipolar global order. One of the main question asked by political thinkers on the eve of the SCO summit, which will be held in Tajikistan capital Dushanbe on September 12, is whether India and Pakistan will be given clear assurance of full membership. It is an open secret that the main

obstacles for India’s membership is Beijing’s ambivalence. While it is obvious for everybody that the two countries’ membership may be granted only simultaneously, China has no objections against Pakistan and has demonstrated its support for Pakistan’s membership overtly on many occasions. While abstaining from open opposition to India’s membership, China has been all too careful to kick the issue into the long grass by posing endless conditions on minor issues. China’s reservations are quite understandable. However, the full membership of Asia’s third largest economy, India, would definitely change the balance within the organisation, giving space for manoeuver to other member states. The Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated that the West, and primarily the US,

has launched an open offensive on all those who are not ready to toe its line. Under such circumstances, India’s role in global affairs becomes virtually decisive. It is too important an ally for any major power to risk losing its support. China seems to have realised this plain fact. At least, some recent statements by Chinese officials tend to point in that direction. “Relevant countries have shown their willingness to join SCO. We believe that it demonstrates the vitality of SCO. It needs further development,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. If these words of goodwill are implemented into a concrete decision in Dushanbe, and if India and Pakistan are given a clear roadmap for full membership, this would mean a real turning point in the SCO’s history, which, in turn, would reframe the whole system of international relations. Along with BRICS, which has all prerequisites to become a second global financial and economic alternative to the remainders of the Bretton Woods system like IMF and World Bank, the SCO, without even turning into a military bloc like the NATO or super-state like EU, will form a real power centre in Eastern Eurasia effectively ruining the unipolar order. The significance of India’s access to SCO is not limited to “macro-political” aspects. It will also help solve many bilateral and regional issues. One of the main restrictions for India

in building fruitful relations with the outside world is the lack of connectivity with countries lying to the North, including Russia and Central Asian republics. If India becomes a member of an international body enjoying equal rights with all its members, this would mean a real impetus for widening cooperation with a wide region encompassing Central Asia, Russia up to its Far East, as well as Eastern and Northern Europe. Therefore, India’s and Pakistan’s full membership in the SCO will help regional powers to work out a coordinated and non-confrontational approach to post-2014 Afghanistan. There can’t be any zero-sum game in Afghanistan. The only solution for Afghanistan lies in a coordinated effort of all regional power seeking to reach a “win-win” situation. The SCO, with full membership of China, Russia, India, Pakistan and others, and the observer status of Iran and Afghanistan, is the natural platform for such coordinated effort. Whether all this may be implemented will be demonstrated by the decisions taken in Dushanbe. There is not much time to wait and see. The views expressed are of the author’s only.

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September 10, 2014