Reflections on Russia’s flotilla in Syria.

On the day that the world was in awe due to Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Russia’s navy flotilla reached the shores of Syria. The timing of the flotilla’s arrival might have very well been made a reaction to Hillary’s possible election to office.

Russian minister of Defence Sergej Shoigu on the 21st of September that Russia’s Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuzentsov will move towards Syria, arriving there in the middle of November.(1) It was announced that the Carrier would be accompanied by at least 5 ships and several support vessels.

Two months later it has became clear that the Naval group consists of the aircraft carring missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear battle cruiser Pyot Velikij, Two Udaloy class destroyers (Severomorsk, Vice-Admiral Kulakov) and the Admiral Grigorovich corvet (Project 11356P/M) and several support ships. It is been assumed though not confirmed that several attack submarines will also accompany the flotila. A further two destroyers, an Additional Udaloy class and a Sovremeny class destroyer of the passific fleet might join with the task force on a later date.(2)

kuznetsov-group-100

Infographic via Southfront

A2AD

The concision of the arrival of the fleet with the elections should not be deemed an accident. Many analysts agreed that Hillary Clinton would indeed win the presidential elections in the United States. Both Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, as well as her campaign, have made not shown many promises for cooperation with Russia over Syria to put it mildly.

With Clinton’s election, it would have become clear what the US’s foreign policy would have been in the next four years. This would allow the current (Obama) administration to already start deploying a naval taskforce to the area to start or prepare a possibly military involvement in Syria. If such a mission would be executed it might well prove a repetition of the campaign in Libia, de facto destabilizing the region.

However, with the deployment of the Russian naval task force to the area such a US mission would become significantly more difficult diplomatically and militarily. In view of the timing the main reason for the naval task force her deployment therefore seems to be Anti Access / Area Denial (A2AD.)

Subsequent Tasking

Another important mission of the naval grouping is the usage of the carrier at all. The usage of the Kuzentsov in Syria will mark a premiere in Russian maritime history for being the first time a Russian carrier is deployed to a war zone. The experiences gained during the upcoming missions will prove useful in the development of future carrier design. Russia has very recently announced it will start designing its own supercarrier(1) and several helicopter carriers.(3)

One should not expect a Kuznetsov fighters to fly deep into Syrian territory (unless supported by aerial tankers). This is first and foremost due to Kuznetsov’s design. Since fighters take of via ramp instead of a catapult like US fighters do. Consequently, their weight must be limited forcing the fighters to limit their fuel and hence their operational range. Therefore, it is much cheaper to carry out bombing missions from the Russian airbase in Latakia. Most likely fighters will be involved in missions around Hama, possibly Aleppo.

However, aircraft will not be the only way of striking targets in Syria. It is expected that the attached submarines will also carry out strike with Kalibr-M missiles on ground targets in Syria.

Concluding

In view of Clinton’s failure to win the presidential elections, the US-Russia relations over Syria might in fact calm down. If Trump holds by his word to further cooperate with the Russian Federation over Syria, the deployment of the Russian flotilla might therefore be of only limited duration. Never the less the usage of the carrier will be used to subsequently developpe future Russian carrier projects.

 

More info on the Admiral Kuzenetsov can be found in this article of The Duran, found in the link bellow. The article deals amongst others about claims of Kuznetsov being outdated:
http://theduran.com/russia-deploys-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-to-defend-syrian-coast/

 

Credit for Pictures:
Admiral Kuznetsov: Russian Ministry of Defence
http://eng.mil.ru/en/structure/forces/navy/associations/structure/forces/type/navy/north/flagship.htm
Inforgrafic: Southfront militairy analysis.
https://southfront.org/admiral-kuznetsov-battlegroup-to-start-active-phase-of-operation-in-syria-in-coming-days-reports/

1 – https://www.rt.com/news/360178-russia-carrier-syria-kuznetsov/

2 – https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/the-russian-navys-great-mediterranean-show-of-force/

3 – http://theduran.com/russia-build-helicopter-carriers-replace-french-mistrals/

What ís Happening in Crimea (4/5)

Several pictures for your amusement, made this summer in Yalta, Simferopol and Sevastopol.

vdv

In Russia paratrooper day is being celibrated throughout the country. One the day, which marks the anniversary of the establishment of the VDV – The Russian paratroopers, it is tradition to wear the paratrooper out and wave the VDV flag. And, despite it is officially banned, to dance in fountains. Just like in other parts of Russia, paratrooper day is also celibrated in Simferopol.

krim-uk

krim-russia

Above, two picture containing graffiti. The First one reads ‘Crimea is Ukrainian’, the second ‘Crimea is Russia.’ Despite the graffiti, the overwhelming sound heard is that Crimea is considered part of Russia. On government buildings the Russian flag can be seen. And despite it still makes claim to the territory, the Ukrainian government has very little to say what happens there. – Picture taken in Simferopol.

A very famous comment made by former Ukranian prime-minister Yatsenyuk, was the “It is our Crimea, it is our Yalta, it is our sea, it is our territory, Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin)!” (bellow)

A lot of jokes have already been made about this. Like the following two videos:

Nevertheless, the following picture, depicting an advertisement of a carrental company in Yalta, is new to me. It states “Crimea is YOURS!”

yourcrimea

united-russia

In the above picture we can see two billboards for the political Party: United Russia – the party to which Putin and Medvedev also belong. The one on the left says “OUR CRIMEAN SAVCHENKO” and the one on the left is about the “The Building of the Kerch bridge”, stating: “ACTING IN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE IS OUR WORK!”

billboardputin

Here another picture of an advertisement of United Russia, using the popularity of Vladimir Putin.

afghanistan

sevastopol-wwii

Above, two memorial sites. The first one might suprise most. It is a memorial in Sevastopol about the war fought by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The one bellow, also in Sevastopol, depicts all the hero cities in the former Soviet Union.

odessa

The above picture is a memory to Andrej Brazhevskij that died in a fire in a building of the local union in Odessa. The fire resulted in the deaths of dozens of people that were fleeing from far rightwing demonstrators that came to prevent the demonstration of pro-Russian demonstrators. The Odessa fire is faous throughout Russian speaking world as a symbol of far-right extremism in Ukraine. Even worse is that the pupertraitors of the fire have never been convicted nor tried.

Another intersting fact is that the the graffiti has been over painted, painted again (tekst hand written to the left), and again over painted. It shows that, at least in sub-cultures there is still resistance to the Russian set of ideas. – Picture taken in Simferopol.

yaltamcputin

Above the Boulevard in Yalta. The McDonalds, which has been closed, either because of company policy or due to sanctions has been completely built in a wall of all kinds of carnaval rides. To the left, a wallpainting can be see depicting Vladimir Putin and the newest Russian fightjet, the Sukhoi T50.

putinyalta

An enlargement of the same picture in Yalta. In the bottom right it says ‘#OURS’, refering to that Crimea is now part of Russia.

sevastopol

Above a sign about where to find information about departures of autobusses in Sevastopol. There is however a less pleasant sticker: “White boys Simferopol” an organisation, most likely neo-nazi.

donetsk-lugansk

In the above picture a popular way of advertising. Papers posted on posts and walls. There are three things being offered her. First is judicial help. The other, I think, are more interesting. One is an ad to travel to Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov (all safely in Ukraine) but also to Donetsk and Lugansk. The other is for services connecting to the migration card, a card every foreigner should carry with him visiting Russia. Both ads show that there is still much contact with Ukraine and more so, with the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, despite the civil war raging there.

A final word about history. Only few in Europe know something about the role Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, played in the Second World War. Fewer still know about the heroic defence of the city of Sevastopol. For months, the city held out against one of the most able of German generals. The only way to resuply the city was by boat. But despite its heroic defence the city would fall. Nevertheless, so impressive was its defence that the city of Sevastopol would be awarded the titel ‘Hero City.’ And for all those sailing into its harbour today are reminded by a huge statue commemorating those that kept the city safe for so long. In honor to those that fought, this memorial and a link to a documentary about the battles fought in Crimea in World War II.

Storm in the East: The Defence of Sevastopol

img_1527

What ís going on in Crimea? (3/?)

It was like the saleswoman did not want to sell me the magnet I wanted to buy. I already explained to her that my stepmother collected magnets of places which her stepchildren visited. But whenever I again asked to buy the magnet of the railway station of Simferopol, and again she tried to sell me a different magnet. On the magnet was a picture of a soldier, holding a Kalashnikov and completely masked. It was not cheaper, nor more expensive than that of the railway station, but she kept insisting. It was clear to me; these soldiers had been important for her. A look into the 2014 events from the perspective from the Crimeans themselves.

The Soviet Union is still here

‘We did not start celebrating New Year at 11 o clock, we started earlier, on Moscow time. We did this even before Crimea became part of Russia’ a cap driver told us. ‘We watched the president speech, heard the bells of Spasskaya Tower and congratulate each other with the new year.’ It shows how deeply the people in Crimea felt themselves related to Ukraine. In the words of the capdriver: ‘My mother is Ukrainian, my father is Ukrainian, but I, I am Russian, it is how you feel which determines what you are.’

A similar sentiment can be seen in Russia, where people feel like the boundaries of today are not there in family relations. Whether talking to someone from Saint Petersburg, Moscow or Nizhni, often you will hear that got ‘an uncle in Ukraine, a grandfather in Kazakhstan a nephew in Georgia’ or that they all have mixed backgrounds ‘part jew, part Russian, part Polish, part Ukrainian.’ Showing how strong the ties are with the friends and family living in different parts of the former Soviet Union. It were these relations that would deeply effect the attitude of attitude of many living in Crimea and other Ethnic Russian parts of Ukraine.

Enter the Maindan

Initially, the sentiments of almost all people in Ukraine were positive about the protests erupting against the government of Yanukovich. Many considered him to be a corrupt politician and would love to see him go. But as the protests continued the composition of the protesters on the Maidan worried many. About a third of the protestors found themselves on the far right side of the political spectrum. Parties like Svaboda and Pravij Sector held pro-Nazi and strong anti-Russian views. It were these views, dominating the protests, that worried many living in the eastern part of Ukraine and Crimea. They had strong family ties with Russia and like one protestor said in Donetsk. ‘I do not know anyone in the west, my family lives in Russia, it is there where my roots lie.’

As a result of the discontent with the orientation of the Maidan protests, counter demonstrations were being organised in different part of Ukraine. Some people even went so far as to travel to Kiev to take part in anti-maidan protests by bus. It was one of these bus convoys, traveling from Crimea to Kiev, which was intercepted by pro-Maidan supporters. Protestor were being taken out of the busses and molested by pro-maidan supporters, several were even being killed while their busses were set on fire. This event, well known in Russia and Crimea, shocked many. It made many people worry even more about the future orientation of Ukraine and in Crimea.

Cherkassy region, Ukraine. Euro-maidan activists stopped the buses of Crimean pro-government supporters on their way back to Simferopol.

In Crimea people started to get scared that similar events might be organised against them at home. A waiter in a restaurant told us that her own uncle and nephew, having heard that a train filled with far right activists might soon arrive in Simferopol hurried over to meet the train. Armed with self-made shield they, and with them many others, awaited the train. A general sense that something bad might happen had come over the peninsula.

Little Green Men and Polite People

The western world was in shock when all over Crimea, soldiers started appearing. The soldiers were heavily armed, did not wear insignias and were silent, the would eventually be known in the west as ‘Little Green Men.’ They would be the signal to western countries that Russia had taken over Crimea. However, these soldiers would be known under a different name in Crimea. In Crimea they are referred as Вежливые Люди, or ‘Polite People.’ And there is good reason for that.

I would eventually attain the magnet I wanted of the Simferopol train station, but not before the shop owner had did her very best to convince me to buy the magnet with the soldier on it. ‘They were so polite’, she told. ‘Did you see them?’, I asked. ‘Yes! They were, they were standing here. they kept us safe. They were so polite, they helped older people and stood correctly in line when going to a shop.’

Even more apparent were the souvenirs being sold of these soldiers. In every mayor touristic place one could see stalls upon stalls of T-shirts with ‘Polite People’ on them. Next to them other T-shirts depicting the ‘Most polite of all people’, as the T-shirts named him, president Putin himself. And often one would see larger wallpaintings depicting Putin.

img_1509

A wallpainting in Sevastopol, the text says “Congratulations with the return to the mother’s harbor.”

Still, after everything I have heard from the people living in Crimea. It was still hard to believe the results of the referendum. Of the more than 80% of the people showing up to vote, a staggering +95% would vote in favour of joining Russia, only around 1% would vote in favour of remaining in the Ukraine.  If such a staggering result came to be, it should be hard, for someone to know anyone that voted against joining up with Russia. Among the people I asked was a cap driver. I asked whether he knew anyone, friend, family, colleagues, of which he knew that he or she voted against joining Russia in the referendum. The cap driver, responded that everyone he knew voted in favour. Only while talking he remember that the wife of his brother, who was originally from one of the Baltic states, voted against. And judging by the fanatical responses of other people I have been talking to, he was not the only one knowing so little people voting against the joining of Russia.

i-voted-yes

A picture inside a touring bus. Next to the Saint George Ribbon there is a sticker: “I voted FOR [joining Russia]”, written on a Crimean flag.

For many in the west when soldiers started appearing out of nowhere on Crimea, it was the sign that Russia took over Crimea by force. Asking anyone in Russia about their opinion about ‘Russia’s annexation of Crimea’ might result in a stark reaction. For Crimea, according to them, has not been annexed Crimea, Crimea decided to join Russia, Russia just kept it safe while the referendum took place.

All in all, all people I talked to seemed to have been very glad that Crimea has united itself with Russia. Even the person most critical about the process, seemed hardly negative at all. Referring to the evens in Donetsk and Lugansk he told us about Crimea: “Some things are worse now, somethings are better now, but all in all, at least there is no war here.”

Serious Escalation in Russian-Western Relations

The past few weeks have seen a deterioration in the relations between the Russian Federation, the United States and Europe over the conflict in Syria. Despite relations have been very poor the last few years, the language used in diplomatic and military circles the last few weeks marks a new low. The recently past time has been the witness from cancelling of international treaties, refusal for talks to the open threats over and from. Maybe the scariest thing is, that these events are hardly being covered. What follows in this article is an overview of the ghastly events and language which have unfolded the last few weeks.

Prelude

In the days prior to the drastic escalation of the relationship between Russian and the west a cease fire agreement was made by the US and Russia. However, reports from both sides about violations soon emerged. Russian accused the so called moderate opposition to fire upon Syrian targets in the area near Allepo. Russia even went as far as to release drone footage of rebel held territory. (I)

map-syria

17 September: US led Airstrike target Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al Zor.

Two Australian F16s(I) and Two US A10s conducted airstrikes against positions of the Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al Zor.(II) In the attacks, lasting for over an hour, some 60 soldiers were injured and over a 100 were wounded. Immediately after the airstrike ISIS forces have started a counter attack against Syrian troops stationed in the area forcing them to retreat. The Airstrike followed recent successful advance of the Syrian Army.

The Russian defence ministry has stated that “If this airstrike was carried out due to an error in the coordinates of the target it is a direct consequence of US side’s unwillingness to coordinate its actions against terrorist groups with Russia.”(III) Russian Foreign minister Sergej Lavrov would later (09SEP16) hint that it was very strange that such mistakes were made in the airstrikes basing his opinion on a US General that the airstrikes was prepared fort wo whole days using solid intelligence.(V) The Syrian army has even gone so far as to state that the airstrikes are evidence that the US is cooperating with ISIS. (IV)

Syrian War Report – September 19, 2016: ISIS Obtains Air Force – South Front

20 September: Unconfirmed Russian strike on US Special Forces

Via the Russian government funded media outlet Sputnik news reports surfaced of a Russian strike with ship launched Kalibr (Cruise) missiles. The missiles reportedly killed 30 foreign special forces reporting in the Allepo area in Syria. Among the casualties supposedly be US, Israeli, Qatari and Saudi troops. – Till this day these reports remain unverified. (I)

20 September: Russia Allegedly bombed a UN Aid convoy

The destruction of a UN aid convoy has been widely covered in the media the last few days. Allegations are that either Russian or Syrian aircraft bombed the convoy. Despite the UN initially condemned Russia and Syria for the incident. It has later withdrawn its claims after hearing explanation of the Russian Federation.

“We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” a representative of the UN for Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, said. (I)

21 September No fly zone

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has called for the installation of a No-Fly Zone over Syria for Syrian and Russian planes.(I) If such a No-Fly-Zone would be enforced by the US and its partners, it might well provoke open war with the Russian Federation. The shooting down, willingly and knowingly of Russian jet, would put Russian and US troops in open conflict with each other, at least in Syria. It is a question how such a matter would evolve, to the region, possibly the world.

28 September: Allegations of State Department Spokesperson against Russia

During a regular press briefing the US State Department’s spokesperson John Kirby was asked the following question, and gave the following answer:

Reporter: “What are the consequences for Russia if this [ceasefire] agreement falls through?”

John Kirby: “The consequences are that the civ war will continue will continue in Syria. That extremist groups will continue in Syria and expend their operations. Which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interest, perhaps even Russian cities. Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags and will continue to lose resources, ever, perhaps more aircraft. The stability that they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive. It is hard to image that continued war, not just a civil war, but increasingly, more violent extremist activity in Syria.”(I)

US payback? More body bags, attacks on Russian cities. 28 Sept 2016

I leave it up to the reader to make his or her own conclusions about this statement. Nevertheless, these remarks have been interpreted as being a threat towards Russia. At the moment the above statement was made, the Syrian rebels (ISIS nor the so called moderate opposition) did not own any serious AA capabilities. More so the statement comes just days after the No-Fly zone statement of John Kerry in the UNSC.

3 October: Cancelation Plutonium treaty

Following the above events, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement with the United States. Stating that “a drastic change in circumstances, the appearance of a threat to strategic stability due to unfriendly actions of the United States toward Russia.” (I)

At the same time an ultimatum was set by Russia to NATO in order to withdraw all of its infrastructure and personal in the Baltics and Balkans. (II)

6 October: Deployment of S300VM system

The S300VM system is a highly advanced Anti-Aircraft, Anti-Cruise missile and Anti-Ballistic missile system. It is capable of operating in an electronic warfare environment, being able to operate despite the presence of jammers. The choice to send in a S300VM and not the regular S300 system shows that the possible adversary the Russian Federation had in mind with the deployment of this system, is not just fighter jets, but also covers the possibility to engage any threat faced by the Russian or Syrian troops in the area.(I)

venezuelan2bs300vm2bantey2b2500

The statement made by the defence ministry makes this even more clear:

Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality.”

The later statement is clearly directed against any owner of stealth aircraft. The only country in the world currently operating such aircraft is indeed the United States. The move by Russia is an evident reaction against the proposing of a No-Fly-Zone for Russian and Syrian aircraft over Syria and is also strongly linked at the incident at Deir Al Zor.

6 of October: Chief of Staff of the (US) Army threatens Russia

In response to the deployment of the S300VM system to Syria and the allegations made by the Russian defense spokesperson, Chief of Staff of the Army, four star general Mark Milley made a very strong statement ‘to those that try to oppose the United States.’ Saying that “The US Army will (…) stop you and beat you harder then you have ever been beaten before. (…) We will destroy any enemy, anywhere, anytime.”(I)

U.S. Army Chief Threatens War With Russia

 

As a final personal note; The above events are all pieces of the puzzle which is current and rapidly unfolding between Russian and the United States. But perhaps even more depressing than the current events is that many media outlets proved themselves unable to identify the escalation which has been going right for our very eyes on for more than a month now. Instead of seeing the mutual dynamics of the process, reporting seldom reaches farther than suggesting Russia is the new Evil Empire.

 

Sources:

Prelude

I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWqTULshons

17 September: US led Airstrike target Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al zor.

I Australian jets involved in botched air strike on Syrian army, http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2016/09/18/australia-syria-air-strike/

II Russia criticizes U.S. over bombing of Syrian army near Deir al-Zor

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN11N0QG?il=0

III Russian MoD Confirms US-Led Coalition’s F-16, A-10 Jets Attacked Syrian Army
https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201609171045415141-russia-syria-army-attacked/

IV http://sana.sy/en/?p=88303

V Lavrov trolls CNN: Russia flattered by US hacking allegations – Full interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8WiQFWEO4

20 September: Unconfirmed Russian strike on US Special Forces

I – https://southfront.org/30-foreign-intelligence-officers-israeli-us-turkish-killed-in-missile-attack-in-aleppo-unconfirmed/

I – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egUFFM3QQz0

20 September: Russia Allegedly bombed a UN Aid convoy

I https://southfront.org/un-removes-charges-against-russia-regarding-air-strike-on-humanitarian-convoy-in-syria/

28 September: Allegations of State Department Spokesperson against Russia

I – U.S. Army Chief Threatens War With Russia https://www.youtube.com/embed/-wCwJ8pfXXo

3 October: Cancelation Plutonium treaty

I – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/03/putin-scraps-deal-to-dispose-of-bomb-grade-plutonium-in-swipe-at/

II – https://southfront.org/putin-issues-a-ultimatum-to-the-united-states-to-leave-eastern-europe/

6 October: Deployment of S300VM system

http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Giant-Gladiator.html

I – NIEMI/Antey S-300V 9K81/9K81-1/9K81M/MK Self Propelled Air Defence System / SA-12/SA-23 Giant/Gladiator НИЭМИ/Антей Cамоходный Зенитный Ракетный  Комплекс C-300В 9К81/9К81-1/9К81М/МК  / «Антей 2500» http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Giant-Gladiator.html

II – https://www.rt.com/news/361800-russia-syria-usa-aistrikes/

What ís going on in Crimea? (2/?)

We were in Yalta, in the famous palace where Churchil, Rosenvelt and Stalin held a famous conference. I talked to a woman selling souvenirs. I asked her, do you have a lot of foreign visitors here. She answered ‘Yes’, I was surprised. Then I realized my mistake, I asked again, ‘Do you have a lot of western tourists here?’ She told me “We used to have, but now almost nothing at all.” I then realised that we might very well be the only westerners in Crimea. How was this possible? – A look into the sanctions targeting the people of Crimea.

Wine from France!

“What kind of wine would you like?”, the waiter asked my friend that ordered wine. And with a smile to accompany her pride, “we have French wines!” To Drink French wine in a restaurant in does not seem very special, but the idea to have French wine in Crimea was indeed really something to be proud of.

After Russian soldiers were actively deployed on Russia and Russia accepted the request of the people living in Crimea to join Russia, western countries were and still are, outraged. Though the word ‘reunification’ is widely used in Russia to indicate that Crimea became part of Russia, the usual word used in the west is ‘annexation.’ Western countries generally interprete the events, not as local deciding in a referendum to join Russia, but by Russia taking over Crimea with Force. From the western countries their perspective something had to be done.

Both the US and the EU responded with a set of economic sanctions. Russia was, for example no longer allowed to borrow money from the EU and US capital market and were certain goods not allowed to be exported to Russia, like equipment needed for oil and gas drills.

In the past, Crimea used to be a place which was welcomed with the presence of Cruise ships. People from all over the world would come to take a make a stop in for example Yalta to see the famous palace that house the Yalta-conference in World War II, not these ships had all but stopped to visit Crimea resulting in a dramatic cut in tourism.

A video popular television clip from 2014 following the events in Crimea. The video gives a sense of how Putin and the counter-sanctions installed by the Russian Federation are perceived in the west.

Bank and Telecommunication services

I knew that it was impossible, but I wanted to try anyway, to see what would happen. We already took our precautions so it did not present any real problem to our trip, but still, I wanted to find out: what would happen if I would use my Dutch bankcard in Crimea? In the short line which happened to be in front of the ATM I noticed that the Russian card were working alright. What about western ones? I put in my card, was even able to type in my security code alright, got in the menu. To my surprise I found out I could even select how much money I wanted to collect. Perfect! More souvenirs! But alas, as soon as the machine was about to hand out the cash, it stated that the action I was about to perform, was not allowed by my bank.

IMG_1481.JPG

“Excuse us, the operation via your card if forbidden by your bank.
Please contact the contact center of your bank.
Please take your card.”

This is the situation any tourist is confronted with trying to collect money from a western bank, it is not allowed, impossible. It is the result of sanctions imposed by European and US governments on the Crimea. Collecting money anywhere else in Russia is fine, but impossible in Crimea. In fact, all financial services are blocked there. Making payments is very hard if not impossible. Without big sums of cash or a Russian account, it is not possible to stay in Crimea for long.

The same holds true for telecommunications. The two friends I was traveling with tried to call me, just to check whether we could reach each other alright. But we were surprised to find out their card did not work at all, they were blocked. Just as for the use of bank services, the usage of telecommunications is not allowed by European law. Russian cards work alright, it is just a different matter for the European ones.

Also the internet has been turned into a battlespace as apple products would not update in Crimea. At home they worked alright, in Crimea you might better want to trade your mac for windows if you want to travel the internet secure.

Embassy

Running into trouble as a Dutch citizen in Crimea might result in an interesting diplomatic situation. This is already visible from the official travel advice of the Dutch government of anyone traveling to Russia. Crimea is not even on the map of Russia. A persistent traveller might look into the travel advice given for Ukraine. It says there that any traveller going Crimea can only receive “limited consolatory assistance” of the Dutch embassy.

reisadvies-rusland-8-1-2015-620-png.jpg

A map found on the wesbite of the Dutch government. Russia is indeed portait without Crimea.

Because the Dutch government does not recognize Crimea as part of Russia, any traveller running into trouble in Crimea might prove to be left alone or might provoke a diplomatic nightmare for European countries. In the latter case, European Countries might need to ask Russia for help in the region and would, to a certain degree, recognize Crimea as being part of Russia.

Conclusions

Any traveling to Crimea is effectively impossible due to western sanction. The blocking of sim-cards, the impossibility to use bank deposites, makes it impossible to travel to Crimea without serious preparations. . This has drastically reduced the amount of tourists, especially from western countries traveling to Crimea. The impossibility to import or export goods to and from Crimea also put additional stress on the local economy and hence population.

The economic warfare western countries wage against the Russian government is initiated to punish the Russian government for, what is perceived in the west, as the ‘illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, from Ukraine.’ So far, there is little sight that Crimea will be part of Ukraine again and the economic warfare waged by the west seems to be for nothing. But just like real warfare, the economic warfare does not commence without making civilian casualties, especially in Crimea.

Sources:

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/reisadviezen/inhoud/oekraine

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/reisadviezen/inhoud/rusland

https://extra.abnamro.nl/internationaal/risicos/wat-betekenen-de-ruslandsancties-een-jaar-later-voor-de-ondernemer/

http://www.rvo.nl/onderwerpen/tools/wet-en-regelgeving/buitenlandse-wetgeving/internationale-sancties/sancties-oekra%C3%AFne/rusland/krim-sancties

What ís happening in Crimea? (1/?)

Europe and Russia have not been closer to war then when Crimea became part of Russia in 2013. The joining of a piece of land, formerly belonging to Ukraine, to Russia enraged many in Europe. Reactions of Russian media however, were rather the other way around. All were claiming, of course, to tell the truth, but it all sounded too hard to believe and I never really made up my mind what to think. There was only one way to find out: travel to nomans land myself. Venture into the part of Russia no western journalist dared to venture. Go to Crimea!

The Euromaidan revolt in Kiev was hailed by many as a revolution for freedom and democracy. People protested peacefully against Viktor Yanukovych, a man widely believed to be corrupt, to have poisoned his political adversaries. People in Ukraine wanted closer ties to Europe and protested against Yanukovych his refusal to sign the agreement. The protests soon turned violent as Yanukovych send his police to beat down the protests. European MP’s came to support the protestors and even the US assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland came to the square the hand out bread to support the protests. Democracy and freedom eventually prevailed in the end and the dictator was toppled!


Victoria Nuland (assistant secretary of state) offering bread to Euromaidan protestors


European MP’s Guy Verhofstadt and Hans van Baalen supporting protestors on the Maidan.

But… This was the view generally held in the West. The view was very different in Russia and with the Russian population, including the ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Even though Yanukovych was generally not regarded as a saint, the protesters were seen as far worse. Almost one third of the protesters, in fact the protesters most active, were neo-nazi’s linked to the far rightwing part Pravy Sector and Svaboda. (These right wing protesters were well known for their support for WWII fascists like Stepan Bandera, responsible for the murder of thousands of people.) And while the Maidan was commencing people in support of closer ties to Russia came to Kiev as well to show their support for the government. In some instances, the buses carrying people from as far away as Simferopol were attacked by anti-government protestors. (1)

s0sr7dl
Oleh Tyahnybok leader of the far-right Svaboda Party (Original)

After the Maidan revolution proved successful, one of the first things Ukraine saw was the destruction of many monuments honouring the Red Army soldiers for the liberation of Ukraine. A move highly controversial for Russians, a country where more than one in ten people would die in World War II. Even worse was the language law that was announced which no longer recognized Russian as an official language in Ukraine.

1-2

A WWII monument being removed in Stryi, Ukraine. (Original)

The combination of the Neo-Nazi’s, the destruction of WWII monuments and the prohibition to talk Russian did not make it hard to associate the Euromaidan with WWII. More so, the Maidan was supported by the US and the EU, senior US officials even visited the square. (2) In the many cities all across Ukraine people would go to the streets to protest during and after the revolution against the referendum.

The people in Crimea would take it one step further still as they were trying to organize a referendum for independence from Ukraine. But in the process leading to this referendum, Ukrainian nationalist tried their best to prevent any such actions by the inhabitants of Crimea. Despite that whole trains filled with extremists would travel to Simferopol in the Crimea locals would await them armed with only shields and sticks. And at the night that a similar thing threatened to happen at the airfield of Simferopol unknown Green Men appeared from nowhere.

e2bb462ee24cb8108673c0e0ac82e82c62a886f5

Polite People (Original)

Though initially Russian president Putin would deny that these “Polite People” were Russian soldiers, later he would admit that they were. These ‘Polite People’ would block any outside interference in the Crimea until the referendum. The people voting ´За´ (for) was in the huge majority. More than 95% of the voters would choose to join the Russian Federation. And so Crimea would join Russia.

Despite I had strong reason to believe people in Crimea were indeed happy to join Russia, it still deemed on me. Were the elections fair? The results seem to be too positive. Russian media portraits as if the Crimeans are too friendly. Meanwhile, no messages about what Crimean locals thoughed are heard in western media, except that the Crimean tartars are unhappy with the decision and strong insinuation that the whole election process was not democratic and Russian control. What to believe? Only one way to find out: Travel to Crimea myself.

To be Continued.

 

 

1 – http://interfax.com/newsinf.asp?id=482757

 

2 – If this does not seem strange to you. Imagine Putin giving public support to a protest that is trying to topple your government. Public outrage would be total.

The Fog of War in Turkey

However much I would like to write about Turkey the situation is completely unclear to me. With the control of state media still seeming to be in control of Erdogan-loyalists no assessment can be made about the current strategical situation. Nor can it be said who staged the coup, it might be the army, but just as well the army might have been staged by Erdogan himself in order to create a climate which allows him to further establish his power basis.

The coup does shed light on the unexplainable moves made by Turkey in the recent past. Having supported the Islamic State by buying and reselling its oil, allowing IS fighters to be treated in its hospitals, shooting down the SU24 jet. A few months later, Turkey suddenly apologizes to Russia for shooting down its aircraft and started to be less hostile to the Kurds fighting in Syria. These sudden shifts puzzled many and indicated that Turkey had either had incompetent political leadership that couldn’t see the consequences of its actions. Now however, these strange moves might very well be the effect of a weak power basis for the political lead of Turkey, forcing them to adjust their policy to the political climate.

Expanding on this possible weak power basis, the coup, whoever staged it, might turn out very beneficial to Erdogan. If Erdogan survives the coup this will give him the political motivation he will need to further purge the armed forces. In the past, already, a group of around 250 men were tried for organizing a coup back in 2003. The alleged conspirators were found not guilty in 2015. This current coup attempt positions the Islamist Erdogan administration better to better deal with suppressing resistance coming from the mostly secular army. Hence, the coup attempt might very well further establish Erdogan’s power basis.

As for now, nothing can be said. For as in any war, the perception of the people who is winning is vital for for who will win. Hence any news channel should be considered a battle field and every news report as a weapon.  For now, it seems as if Erdogan loyalists are in control of media outlets and hence our perception of who is winning the battle. It is yet to be seen who is truly in control of the streets.

 

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32136809

 

Can you walk over that bridge?

Ever since being amazed by the Cтрелка for the first time, I knew one thing for sure: I will run in such a beautiful scenery, I will cross the Ока and I will climb the steep slopes of Нижный. With these thoughts in mind I was planning my trip for since I first arrived. And, when on excursion I saw a new bridge, I knew, this is it. “Can you walk over that bridge?” I asked my teacher. With her ‘yes’, my faith was sealed, my route was planned. The adventure into Russia’s nature’s hidden secret would begin.

The route near the River Ока (prenounced ‘Aká’) was rather rough. Though some pieces were on concrete, large sections went straight through forests with its slopes turned slippery by the recent rain. The grass and bushes stood tall and passages were narrow. Although engineers did their best in order guide the water stream from high up the hill, some small streams could still be seen here and there.

The nature of Russia is stunning, even despite being only very close to the city, the nature was wild and unplanned. In strong contrast to the planned and therefore dull landscape of the Netherlands, Russia’s nature is wild and untamed. And it looked as if people only seldom went there.

The banks of the Ока were rather deserted seen its beauty. Some buildings were present but were mostly deserted. Only in a small village of improvised houses some form of active housing could be seen. Sometimes gates were presented forbidding people to go farther, but with no fences to close the cap, they were not to be taken serious. Only once, at an abandoned shipyard I was somewhat halted when it was written: СТОЙ! ОПОЗДНО! (Stand still, Danger!) But being in Russia and with no people around…it’s better to move ahead.

lxnhxfh

The most remarkable thing that I found on the bank was perhaps a needle. I know Russia has dealt with a high amount of drug addicts resulting in a very rapid spread of AIDS in the country. I have never seen evidence of that stereotype (Neither of wide spread alcoholism by the way). This was the first time that I have seen something like it and though I feel rather weary to draw conclusions about a country to which I am an alien, it seems as most drug use is hidden.

On the banks of the Ока occasionally a car could be seen, but all of them deserted. I would have expected a last car, parked all the way at the end of a dead end road, positioned right next to a forest to be empty too. But it was not. With both the boy and the girl sitting in the back of the car and the young man tenderly touching the young womans her rear, gave strong hints on what happened, or was about to happen in the car. I could not help but to think about how many young people still live with their parents or in communal housing on universities that might not always allow them the privacy they desire.

eorzbdg

Having reached the bridge at last, had gone through my water supply, I knew this run was going to be a tough one. But the prospect of being able to run accros the bridge was exciting. On my right, there would be a fall of more than 50m down, on the right, slow moving traffic due to one of 4 bridges of НН being out for repairs. The river crossing was somewhat saddened by the sight of flowers attached to the bridge half way. It was clear that this was the end of one persons suffering.

The other bank was different, less nature, more people and more traffic. But what struck me was, despite enough high rise buildings being present, parts of the city were filled with small wooden houses which seemed to have not been painted for many years. Might even seem sometimes to be abandoned. Along the same street factories, sometimes hundreds of kilometers long appeared, interchanged with the familiar wooden houses.

By now, it had all but became clear to me that I had greatly underestimated the distance and the difficulty of the terrain I was traversing. And as my feet grew heavier I was the more anxious to find a short cut. Guided by my sense of direction, I would end up in a ‘neighborhood’ of sheds and plated garages. In all directions I was greeted by an whole army of magazines offering to change tires, but no passage to the second bridge over the Ока I was so desprate trying to find for my way was blocked by a small but violently flowing stream.

My salvation was found when I found a passage over the stream I was not able to cross. No bridge, just a big pipe about 4 meters above the stream. I knew, a possible falling, possibly breaking a leg, fast running water and tiredness might well become fatal. But this is Russia, and crazy things have to be done when in Russia. I crossed and judging by these words – successfully.

exjw3tf

As I again was walking into normal urban areas I was starting to wonder what people might think of me: Adidas tracksuit, tank top, sunglasses, covered in dirt. I can hardly imagine sometime more Kopnik. Though by now I have grow tired and resulted to running, I did manage to find the strength for the run across the last bridge over the Ока and the climb on the bank.

Eventually home, I found I did not run a distance under the 10km as I thoughed, but covered a distance even above 22km. But, every step had been a new discovery into this unknown and surprising country.

Russian aircraft invade European Airspace

Sukhoi’s will soon roam European airspace. The company primarily known for its world class fighter planes has again set to the skies, but this time with a civil aviation airliner: The Sukhoi Superjet 100. The SSJ100 will be pivotal for the Russian civilian aircraft industry for new Russian civilian aircraft are already in advanced stages of development.

The airplane industry might well be the most heavily regulated and politicized sectors of the economy. Before any aircraft takes to the air it undergoes rigorous testing, must comply with a whole batch of safety certifications. On top of that, due to the high costs of an airplane and maintaining an aircraft industry, any country prefers to see its own planes being sold over those of other countries.

By moving on to the civil aviation market, Sukhoi ventured itself into a new market where it has little to no experience. Futhermore the market is dominated by oligopolies with established positions like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer. Together with the high costs of production and development Sukhoi found itself in a high risk market.

For its construction and development Sukhoi incorperated a non-Russian strategy: it sought help from abroad. Using foreign engines, using expertise in the selling and re-selling of boeing, painting in Italy and many more. The purpose for this strategy is two fold, borrow from the safety reputation of established western producers and at the same time borrow on their experience.

The start of the SSJ100 was rough. Who was willing to buy a Russian airplane? In an article of The New York Times Les Weal analyst of aircraft safety put it clearly: “Historically, Russian aircraft have an image that will take a long time to address (…) It would take a huge leap of faith for an airline to turn to a newcomer.” Already the aircraft was experiencing malfunctions, the first Airliner to use the plane, That, however, was back in 2011.

Enter 2012. On May 9th the new SSJ100 would take of for a demonstration flight. Aboard was a representation for potential buyers of the aircraft. Despite the flight, no planes would be sold that day: The aircraft crashed. Amongst the 50 or so people aboard, there would be no survivors.

The pilot flying the plane had over 10 000 flying hours on his name, a huge amount. Initial conclusions that were therefor drawn from the crash was that the plane was unsafe. The investigation into the crash would eventually find the pilot and the air traffic controller to blame. They both neglected to take into account the surrounding mountains in combination with the low altitude of the aircraft. When the altitude warning indicator was heard in the cocpit, the pilots were too late to respond. The plane literally crashed into a mountain.

Despite nothing pointed blame towards the Sukhoi airliner, the damage was dealt. And the influence of a good safety reputation is of big importance in the aircraft and airliner industry. For example, very recently Air Malaysia renamed its company as a result of the damage the company had suffered due to the consecutive accidents with the MH370 and MH17.

 ssj-100-3Sukhoi 100 Superjet (Sukhoi.org)

The next when months proved to be disastrous for the sale of the aircraft. The resulting financial problems that hit the company would not help either with the sale of the aircraft. As Richard Teal, Vice-President an industry analysis company, would explain to The Moscow Times: “It’s a good jet. [But at the same time, big Western airlines] wondered if the company would go under and leave them with an orphaned product.”

The Russian state would eventually step in in order to save the company. With record amounts of investment, the state would save the company. Would appoint a new director being the deputy minister of industry and would replace most of the managers. The aircraft was ready to take off.

The Sukhoi Superjet was deemed to critical to be let down. The aircraft industry is a strategic sector with gives a good representation of the overall level of development of a country. Hence, the SSJ100 will be Russia’s presentation card for the rest of the world. Also the SSJ100 will be pivotal for the new generation of airliners Russia will produce. Any future Russian airliner to be developed will lean heavily on the SSJ100. Any experience gained in construction and selling the aircraft will benefit new Russian airliners. Also, any new airliner will expand of the reputation the Superjet makes for itself. Hence the project will be critical for the development of the Russian civil aviation industry as a whole.

Despite the rough start Sukoi found itself in, things have seemed to have changed for the better. Mexican aircraft company Interjet, which has already been operating the plane for several years has indicated to be quite contempt with the 30 aircraft it is operating. And since january this year, Sukhoi has found its first European costumer, the Irish airline CityJet. Only this January, CityJet has ordered its first set of planes. Just previous month, in May 2016, the first Superjet was handed over to CityJet.

Now rumors are already on going that Air France might be interested in leasing several planes, via CityJet. It is jet to be seen whether these rumors have any base in reality, but if it has, Sukhoi and the Russian aircraft industry will further establish itself on the airliner market.

New projects are already nearing the end of their development and Russia will soon see its second commercial airliner completely developed and build after the collapse of the Soviet Union take to the air. Presenting the MC-21.

Slowly, Russia seems to establish itself on the civil aviation industry and by doing so further shows the world that its economy is slowly developing away from its dependency of the the oil and weapons industry. Though, not there yet, Russian planes over European skies indicate a new era of Russian aviation and hers economy.

Sources:

http://planes.axlegeeks.com/compare/230-336/Airbus-A320-vs-Sukhoi-Superjet-100-95

MC-21