June 7, 2024No Comments

Thomas Mayr-Harting on Transnistrian conflict

In this session, Mr. Thomas Mayr-Harting talks about the current dynamics of the Transnistrian frozen conflict. Mr. Mayr-Harting shares his expertise on the current status of the negotiations, the impact of Russia’s involvement, the grey zone trends, and the future prospects in the light of Moldova's political landscape. 

Mr. Mayr-Harting is the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transnistrian Settlement Process. 

Interviewers: Patrick René Haasler, Alexandra Tsarvulanova - Russia Team

June 4, 2024No Comments

US Military Aid to Ukraine: A Pivotal Move Amid Ongoing Conflict and Global Implications

By Maida Pollinari - Russia Team

The war between Russia and Ukraine, now in its third year, continues to be intensely volatile and dynamic. Recent developments, particularly the approval of a significant US military aid package, mark a critical juncture in international support for Ukraine. This article delves into the US decision, its ripple effects across Europe, and the broader implications for all parties involved.

US Military Aid Package to Ukraine

On April 24, 2024, US President Joe Biden approved a substantial $61 billion aid package for Ukraine. This decision concluded prolonged and intense negotiations within the US Congress, characterised by a bipartisan struggle. Notably, Republican Mike Johnson, initially a staunch opponent, reversed his stance after a confidential briefing, citing the existential threat posed by an "axis of evil" comprising Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Iran. Johnson emphasised that supporting Ukraine was crucial to US national security and a testament to American leadership in defending democracy.

Strategic and Political Motivations

Analysts suggest that this aid package is not only a pragmatic political move but also a strategic necessity. The aid aims to stabilise Ukraine's frontlines, mitigating fears of a Russian breakthrough or Ukrainian collapse. This stabilisation is crucial as it sets the stage for potential Ukrainian offensives in the coming months. Furthermore, the timing of this aid is significant given the approaching US presidential elections. Prolonging the conflict could adversely affect former President Donald Trump's approval ratings, possibly benefiting Biden among undecided voters.

European Response

The US decision has resonated strongly across Europe, prompting several nations to announce their own aid packages. On April 23, 2024, during a visit to Warsaw, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the UK's largest military aid package to date for Ukraine, worth £500 million. Sunak underscored the importance of defending Ukraine not just for regional security but for the entire European continent, warning that a victorious Putin would not halt at Poland's border.

Similarly, Sweden has committed 13 billion kronor ($1.23 billion) in military aid, marking the largest Scandinavian contribution. The Czech Republic has pledged to deliver at least 1.5 million artillery shells by year's end, part of a covert supply strategy involving unnamed countries, likely including some BRICS nations like India and South Africa.

Broader Implications and Russian Reaction

The widespread European support highlights a unified front against Russian offensive and a collective effort towards Ukraine's post-war reconstruction. However, the approval of the US aid package has not been well-received by Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov condemned the decision, suggesting it would enrich the US at Ukraine's expense and result in further Ukrainian casualties. Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev expressed hostility, wishing for internal US turmoil, while President Putin acknowledged the increased costs of Russia's military operations and committed to record war spending of 6% of GDP in 2024.

Economic and Military Considerations

Despite current economic stability, bolstered by domestic fiscal policies and import substitution, Russia's financial sustainability remains uncertain. Continued Western support is vital for Ukraine, especially given the critical timing of arms deliveries and their deployment on the battlefield. This window of delay provides the Russian military with opportunities to target Ukrainian infrastructure, particularly its energy sector. Moscow's propaganda leverages these delays to project Western disunity and ongoing internal US discord, which Russia finds reassuring.

Source: Image by Beverly Lussier from Pixabay

Future Outlook

The conflict's trajectory remains uncertain, with the upcoming US presidential elections poised to influence future dynamics and support for Ukraine. The sustained cohesion and determination of Western allies are essential for Ukraine's long-term resilience against Russian aggression. The new aid package from the US represents a pivotal moment, demonstrating substantial international support for Ukraine with profound implications for the global power balance and the conflict's future.

Conclusion

In summary, the approval of the $61 billion US military aid package signifies a crucial step in international backing for Ukraine. The response from European nations further consolidates a collective stance against Russian offensive, highlighting a significant geopolitical shift. Meanwhile, Russian reactions underscore the persistent challenges and the importance of continued, coordinated support for Ukraine. The coming months and years will be decisive in shaping the conflict's outcome and the broader geopolitical landscape.

May 17, 2024No Comments

U.S. Ukraine Aid: A Part of a Larger Strategy

U.S. Ukraine aid needs to be part of a larger strategic vision that aims for Russian defeat in Ukraine. 

Author: Samuel Dempsey - USA Team

Four days after President Biden approved the $61 billion in military aid, on April 28, 2024, Ukraine received the first wave of anti-armor rockets, missiles, and 155-millimeter artillery shells. While Ukraine welcomed the needed U.S. aid, it came months late considering the on-the-ground requirements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As a result, much of this aid package is attempting to make up for lost time and reinforce the depleted defence supply chain.

In H.R.815 - Making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2024, and for other purposes, $23 billion of the aid supplement replenishes military stockpiles, enabling future U.S. military transfers to Ukraine; $14 billion is designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the DoD to buy advanced new weapon systems for Ukraine directly from U.S. defence contractors; $11 billion will fund current U.S. military operations in the region, and about $8 billion goes to non-military assistance through a loan to the Ukrainian government to cover basic operating costs. 

The supplement comes at a time when Russia is increasingly exerting pressure across the 600-mile front line. Ukrainian brigades are spread thin, with little time for recuperation or new training, and much of the aid, including separate packages from the U.K. and Germany, will take months to arrive to truly bolster Ukraine’s defences on the ground. 

As Jack Waltling, an expert in land warfare at RUSI, discussed in Foreign Affairs, at present Russia has a “ten-to-one advantage over Ukraine in available artillery,” and with the new U.S. aid package, this is projected to shrink to “three to one in some regions.” This is a substantial improvement, but he argues that current Western support has only come in time to “stave off a Ukrainian collapse.” As Eugene Rumer at the Carnegie Endowment observed, the calculations vehemently demonstrate that even with support from the U.S. and allies, “the size of Russia’s population, economy, stocks of military hardware, and defense-industrial base far exceeds those of Ukraine.” 

The new supplement's legislation acknowledges this reality and emphasizes the need to agree on a new multi-year support strategy "to hasten Ukrainian victory against Russia's invasion forces." This U.S. supplement is very likely the only piece of Ukraine aid that will be able to take effect before the next U.S. presidential election, and despite having aspirational goals for greater support, it has focused on buying more time. Given the possible change in U.S. administration and the confidence and firmness with which Russia is continuing this illegal invasion, even recently allegedly conducting an assassination attempt against President Zelenskyy, the question is: how does this supplement fit within a greater Ukraine strategy of the United States? 

U.S. Stated Goals  

The April 24 Ukraine supplement was the Biden administration's fifty-sixth allotment of DoD inventory equipment to Ukraine since August 2021. Post-Russian invasion, the Biden administration has stood behind Ukraine, with the official Department of State position being that the U.S. and allies are “united in support of Ukraine in response to Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war against Ukraine.” The U.S. has demonstrated this by asserting that Kyiv will determine the war’s outcome. As Alexander Ward at Politico pointed out, this has resulted in a strategic misalignment, where the U.S. perceives its support as a means to either force Russia back or negotiate a settlement with Russia, while the Zelenskyy administration maintains that Ukraine will not relent until it reaches its pre-2014 borders, including Crimea. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, "only Russia's defeat and the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity will guarantee stability and peace," and "the Black Sea must become a sea of NATO, peace, and stability."

After the recent U.S. supplement passed, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that Ukraine throughout the rest of the year will have the capacity to “hold the line” and “to ensure Ukraine withstands the Russian assault,” with the chance to enable Ukraine in 2025 “to move forward to recapture the territory that the Russians have taken from them.” Concurrently, Avril D. Haines, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told Congress that, in addition to the anticipated Russian offensive this month, Russia has the means to break through the Eastern Ukrainian front lines. According to Director Haines’ statements, the current U.S. strategy may now come up short, and according to Sullivan’s statements, the U.S. strategy has postponed any possible Ukrainian counteroffensive to 2025. Even then, numerous analysts, including Olga Tokariuk at Chatham House, have stressed that any future Ukrainian military offensive or even the ability to maintain a stable frontline is contingent upon a “steady flow of Western military assistance,” including with approval from the White House. 

If the U.S., regardless of administration, wants to back Ukraine’s goal of the Black Sea being "a sea of NATO peace and stability," a clear articulation of its own political goals is required to ensure a sound strategic vision.

A U.S. Strategy for Ukrainian Victory and Russian Defeat   

“Russia can lose. And it should lose, for the sake of the world — and for its own sake,” wrote Timothy Snyder, a Levin Professor of History at Yale. Snyder, in his CNN opinion piece and while lecturing at the University Club of New York, articulated the four principal reasons for which a Russian defeat is necessary in Ukraine: (1) For an imperial power to restrain its imperial ambitions, defeat is necessarySnyder argued that the European project itself is only the result of lost imperial wars around the world after WWII. (2) If Russia wins, it not only affirms its imperial ambitions but also demonstrates to the rest of the world that imperial conquest is an option. (3) Historically, the most effective Western policy towards Russia is an effective U.S. policy towards Ukraine, i.e., supporting their self-determination and strategic objectives that align with Western values and systems has positive indirect impacts on developments in Russia. (4) Russia's history is replete with defeats; the Crimean War in 1856, the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, World War I in 1917, the Soviet Union's defeat by Poland in 1920, by Nazi Germany in 1945, and Afghanistan's decade-long invasion in 1979 are just a few examples. Snyder argues that in each case, Russia lost without existential risk.

In addition, Snyder emphasizes that Russia’s greatest successes in its invasion of Ukraine (still minor in total scale) occurred in the last six months when the U.S. “was delaying Ukraine aid rather than supplying it.” As Jack Waltling also emphasized, a Ukrainian defeat would also signal to Russia that it has and can defeat the West through prolonged exhaustion. 

To develop a cognizant and successful strategy towards Russia, the U.S. must first articulate the requirement of a Russian defeat in Ukraine.

Source: Image by MotionStudios from Pixabay

Strategic Steps to Russian Defeat

As Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, wrote over X, Ukraine’s three primary hurdles are: ammunition, manpower, and fortifications. Lee, alongside colleagues Michael Kofman and Dara Massicot, propose a strategy “premised on three central elements: hold, build, and strike.” The strategy and commentary do an excellent job of articulating how the Ukrainian Armed Forces can, in the face of Russia’s growing manpower, distribute and train current brigades, absorb Russian offensives, and create challenges for Russia “far behind the front lines.” 

Creating threats and challenges deeper behind the front lines is an immediate way in which the U.S. can support Ukraine’s ability to hold the front and fortify further. As Mark T. Kimmitt, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, wrote, the U.S. and allies must loosen restrictions on military aid that inhibit cross-border attacks and prevent Ukraine from targeting Russia in the Black Sea. Loosening these restrictions will immediately add a new dimension to Russian risk, giving Ukrainians more space and time to develop a successful counter-offensive. Any alleviation of pressure from the front will provide the currently stagnant and exhausted Ukrainian brigades with the necessary resources for recuperation and training.

A key area of support could be a financing strategy that enhances Ukraine's ability to acquire munitions. Recent Ukraine aid legislation allows for the potential use of frozen Russian central bank assets for reconstruction efforts. Building on the Council of Europe proposal that references U.S. initiatives, the international community could explore the establishment of a multilateral legal mechanism to manage these assets. This mechanism could potentially provide compensation for reconstruction costs and free up Ukrainian resources for munitions procurement. Allies and partners hold approximately $300 billion in frozen Russian assets, with the U.S. holding at least $38 billion. Additionally, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has proposed a $100 billion fund for Ukraine's defenses, although this proposal faces internal opposition within the Alliance. Such a fund could facilitate greater coordination of security aid for Ukraine.

After the signing of Ukraine aid and in the lead-up to a challenging election, the Biden administration may be inclined to place Ukraine on the back burner of political communication. Yet, the discussion and growth of a larger Ukraine strategy must be articulated not only on the international stage but also communicated to the general American public. “It’s the president’s responsibility to make the case to the American people why Ukraine and our support matter. While he has done this a few times, the narrative has not been clear enough to most Americans,” said Alina Polyakova to Politico, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis. At the NATO Washington Summit this July, the U.S. has the opportunity to hone its strategic vision and make these initiatives a primary agenda while presenting its case to the American people as to why the United States should support Ukraine and ensure Russian defeat. Whether it's Trump or Biden in the Oval Office come January 2025, Ukraine will need assistance, and the American people will need to know why. 

January 2, 2024No Comments

The fragile unity of Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Authors: Federico Alistair D'Alessio and Alessandro Spada - UK & European Affairs Team.

EU’s response

The European Union has firmly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for an immediate ceasefire, military withdrawal and the respect of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity.

European institutions have repeatedly denounced Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, especially the indiscriminate attacks towards civilian infrastructures, hence accusing Russia of violating international law. Member states have thus strengthened both individual and economic sanctions against Russia while providing Ukraine with military equipment, humanitarian aid and financial support. For fear of an expansion of the conflict, several European governments have also significantly increased their own military spending.

While the Kremlin’s actions were unanimously condemned, the EU approach was not warmly welcomed by everyone in the European community, including the unconditional military support for Ukraine.

Division within the EU

Three apparent factions have emerged. Northern and post-communist member states fiercely supported Ukraine in the war, fearing a Russian victory that would threaten their national security. Western European countries such as France, Germany and Spain insist on vigorous diplomatic efforts and have adopted a more cautious approach. Lastly, the third bloc is composed of those members who have refused to send weapons and have expressed a rather ambiguous stance on the war, such as Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria.

Among the first group, the Baltic states and Poland have been the most loyal partners of Ukraine for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons.

Baltic states

The firm reaction of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia did not come as a surprise, given their past experiences with invasions and annexations by the Kremlin. Their warnings on the threat posed by Russia in Central and Eastern Europe were mostly ignored or downplayed by their partners and accused of Russophobia by the Kremlin.

The Baltic States substantially increased their military spending and gradually abandoned their dependence on Russian energy after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Since the 2022 invasion, they have actively supported Kiev with military and humanitarian aid as they feel the fate of their nations is tightly linked to Ukraine.

They believe the only way to achieve peace is to help Ukraine win the war and force Russia back to its borders, as stated by Estonian PM Kaja Kallas. In addition, the Baltics have regularly called for stronger EU and NATO action, fearing that their allies would lose the momentum to stop Russia once and for all. As of December 2023, all three Baltic states rank in the top five GDP contributors of government support to Ukraine.

Poland 

Likewise, Poland declared not only full military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine, but also the intention of defeating Russia on all fronts as a way to achieve peace. Growing anti-Russian sentiment is evident among Poles, with a peak of 94% viewing Putin as a serious threat post-Ukraine invasion. This sharp rise has consequently brought to more positive attitudes (around 90%) towards the US, NATO and the EU.

In addition to welcoming over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, the Polish government has also mediated between Ukraine and the US, advocating for adequate protection and high-end military equipment. Moreover, their push for Ukraine's EU and NATO integration has significantly reduced EU criticism regarding the rule of law in Poland.

Nevertheless, recent grain embargo disputes have strained relations with Ukraine, leading to a Polish weapons supply halt and a potentially damaging impact on both nations.

United Kingdom

Despite the UK leaving the EU, it is crucial to also analyse the reaction of the British government given its historical role as a security guarantor in Europe. On November 16, 2023, Foreign Secretary David Cameron reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Putin's aggression. The UK, a leading supporter, provides significant military, humanitarian, and financial aid, ranking as the third-largest donor behind the US and Germany. It was the first to supply cruise missilesand depleted uranium munitions to Kyiv and additionally implemented a series of sanctions against Moscow. The British Government advocates for a shorter Ukraine's path to NATO membership by removing the need for a Membership Action Plan, as a result of the summit held in Vilnius last July. Furthermore, secret talks between UK officials and key Russian representatives have reportedly taken place, discussing security matters such as grain shortages and nuclear safety.

Source: Dusan_Cvetanovic / Pixabay 

France

While President Macron has supported Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict, he has kept a more diplomatic stance in comparison to other European leaders. A few weeks before Russia's invasion, he attempted to dissuade Putin and emphasised avoiding humiliation for diplomatic solutions. During an April visit to China, Macron urged Xi Jinping for a mediation in favour of a return to the “negotiating table”. Despite fewer arms transfers (data from Sept. 26, 2022, to Nov. 30, 2023) to Ukraine compared to some NATO allies, France ultimately backs Ukraine's NATO accession to increase pressure on Russia and pave the way for post-war negotiations.

Germany

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced Germany to reassess its role in the world, shifting from "chequebook diplomacy" to increased military involvement. As the second-largest arms supplier (commitments Jan. 24, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023) of Ukraine after the US, Germany has invested €100 billion in a military fund for modern weapons and committed to meeting NATO's 2% GDP defence spending target. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also encouraged China to use its influence to promote diplomatic solutions. Germany opposes immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, fearing direct conflict with Russia and citing unresolved border conflicts as a hindrance. Additionally, Germany is pushing for a reform plan where the conditions listed must be met in order to initiate a discussion on the membership.

Hungary

As previously mentioned, Hungary has condemned Russian aggression while adopting a questionable approach to dealing with the Kremlin.

Firstly, PM Viktor Orbán decided to abstain from sending military support to Kiev and even agreed on a new gas deal with Moscow a few months after the invasion started. In addition, state-controlled media outlets have continued to spread pro-Russian propaganda, including criticism against the sanctions imposed on Russia. Orban has also recently requested the EU to reassess their strategy in the war while threatening to halt all support to Ukraine.

This peculiar reaction to the Russian invasion reflects the local population as well. According to a recent poll, only 33% of Hungarians consider Russia a major military threat. Another vital figure to mention is the Hungarian perception of the US and Russia: only 17% believe the United States are an important partner, comparable to the 11% that think Russia is. This data openly displays how divergent Budapest’s attitude is from the rest of the EU.

Conclusion

The EU’s unified reaction was initially seen as an opportunity to create a new and common geopolitical strategy. Despite claims of unity, the EU is increasingly divided between those prioritising peace diplomatically and those insisting on justice achieved solely through a Russian military defeat.

This crisis has also exposed the union’s reliance on the US and NATO in terms of defence and intelligence. This is mainly due to the fact that the EU was conceived as a political and economic institution, rather than a military power. However, given that European cohesion has also emerged thanks to continuous information provided by Washington, this poses the risk of condemning Europe to political and military irrelevance. Historical security leaders, such as the UK and France, face several challenges - with Germany expected to play a pivotal role.

Moreover, debates on EU military independence versus complementarity with NATO face growing divisions among member states, evident in recent controversies and wavering support for Ukraine - such as the case of neighbouring Slovakia. The question remains whether the EU can establish an independent defence system amid increasing uncertainties.

April 4, 2023No Comments

Germany and other European countries supply Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Authors: Alessandro Spada, Francesca Belotti and Januaria Gizzi - UK & European Affairs Team

Exactly one year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both countries are at an impasse. On the one hand, Moscow has not obtained as many territories as it had wanted; on the other hand, the Ukrainian resistance has yet to make any progress in defeating Putin. This might be due to the lack of weapons at Kyiv's disposal. Indeed, until a few days ago, only lighter weaponry was given to Zelensky's troops to keep their line of defence intact. Unfortunately, a war cannot be won by playing only defence, so Kyiv has started asking its Western allies for additional support. In particular, Germany and the USA were asked to supply its high-tech Leopard 2 tanks, although, with initial insecurity, such a wish was finally granted.

The reasons behind the reluctance

The main reasons Germany was reluctant to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine are the following. The first one is certainly linked to the vast historical significance of World Wars One and Two. German modern-day leaders feel the weight of history, meaning that they feel a deep responsibility for the death of millions of Russians during the two world wars. Indeed, as the aggressor in two world wars, many Germans opt for a cautious line of being Ukraine's leading supplier of battle tanks. Moreover, this decision would be a further break for Berlin with its post-World War Two non-belligerent policy.

The second reason is related to German society. A significant segment of the population, particularly situated in the former communist German Democratic Republic, feels traditionally close to Russia and has an aversion to the values and functioning of Western society. Shortly before Christmas, 40% of Germans who took part in a poll said they recognized the Kremlin's justification to invade Ukraine, blaming the West for the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance. In addition, according to a Jan. 19 poll, only 46% of Germans were in favour compared to 43% who opposed the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The third reason is Scholz's governing coalition and even the SPD. The German Chancellor Scholz couldn't ignore the strong pacifist wings inside both major parties to its governing coalition, the Social Democrats and the Greens. Especially, many Social Democrats voters live in former East Germany, which has been more sympathetic to Moscow".

Another reason for such reluctance would be that the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wouldn't have authorized any Leopard 2 tank supply to Ukraine unless the US government agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks.

Lastly, granting Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine could mean overstepping Germany's position as a mere weapons supplier and cause a military escalation.

Source:shorturl.at/bdoIJ

The two sides' reactions

Ultimately, the decision of Germany to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine generated some reactions at the international level. How did Russia react to this decision? Can we consider this decision proof that the Western powers are escalating into war more than before?

From a realist perspective, we could say that Russia perceived this decision as a proper threat, which will most likely reflect in Russia counter-attacking or entering a defensive approach towards Germany and the West in particular. Hence, in a statement, the Russian Embassy said that the current conflict would escalate to a new level.

Western powers play an essential role in understanding the reactions. First of all, NATO utterly supported Germany's decision, making clear that it would help Ukraine win against Russia. From this, Russia's threat perception has significantly increased, allowing Russia to undermine the Western powers consequently. Interestingly, the position of Britain in this given context reflected on Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister, to underpin Steffen Hebestreit's decision-making. Thus, the British Prime Minister clearly expressed his position on Twitter by saying, "The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine's defensive firepower," and "Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace.".

In a nutshell, the decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was made to help it defend itself better, but it was not made lightly. The fears of becoming too involved in a war "that is not ours to fight", the weight of history, and the pacifistic forces within Germany's main parties were all weighed carefully before lending the peculiar tanks to Ukraine. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the conflict or the requests. Indeed, the day after the announcement made by the Chancellery, a new request for fighter jets was filed by Kyiv in order to switch strategy to an attack-based one. Western ally has yet to respond positively to a possible supply of fighter jets, but all remains to be seen. Will the West stand by, or will it contribute even more than it already has?

March 27, 2023No Comments

What is the future of Russo-Iranian military relations?

Authors: Margherita Ceserani, Will Kingston-Cox, Ilaria Lorusso, Shahin Modarres

Russia’s war in Ukraine has reached its 398th day and the pro-Russian mercenary Wagner Group is still engaging in the battlefield of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk province, after eight months of combat. They have been assaulting the city since August 2022 and, even though they succeeded on the East frontline, there is still room for a defeat by hands of the Ukrainian resistance backed by three Mi-8 helicopter gunships.

That the war was also being conducted from the air is not news as several sources confirmed the deployment of Iranian drones serving the Russian army, although information was repeatedly denied by Tehran. Moreover, Iran has just confirmed a deal through which it will be in receipt of three SU-35 fighter planes from Russia. This signals two trends: firstly, the Iranian intention to reconstitute its military arsenal and to strengthen its aircraft forces; ultimately, its willingness to develop a weapon market and become a relevant seller, given that the embargo on ballistic missile commerce is expiring in October 2023.

The ties with Moscow have been growing increasingly close. Indeed since the rapprochement in 1989, the interests of the two Eastern powers have often converged, for example, on critiques of Western sanctions and the JCPOA. Today, the presence of Iranian personnel in Ukraine has the double aim of bringing support, training and know-how to Russian soldiers employing Iranian kamikaze drones, observing their functioning, and finding vulnerabilities to be improved. How do the military doctrines of these two countries meet? What should we expect from their bilateral relationship?

Russia’s military doctrine can be defined by its active pursuit of modernization and expansion in Russian military capabilities, such as investing in new weapons systems and conducting full-scale military exercises. The current doctrine–adopted in 2014–enshrines the importance of securing Russia’s borders and Moscow’s interests overseas, as well as the maintenance of the Kremlin’s strategic nuclear deterrence, vis-à-vis the identification of NATO and the United States' expansion of its missile capacity as a significant threat to Russia’s national security. It also contains the concept of ‘strategic deterrence’, which seeks to deter adversaries from attacking Russia under the notion that Moscow is willing to employ ‘preemptive strikes’ wherever it deems necessary

Similarly, the military doctrine of Iran is centred around the principles of defence and deterrence. Iranian military authorities emphasize the importance of perpetuating a strong, unwavering defensive position to deter potential threats and defend Iran’s territorial sovereignty against external belligerence. The doctrine’s latest update, in 2018, identifies the importance of enhancing and refining Iran’s military capabilities–both conventional and asymmetric–to advance the end goal of protecting Iranian territorial integrity.

The convergence of Russian and Iranian military doctrines through security cooperation is not a new phenomenon. For example, both Tehran and Moscow supported Bashar al-Assad in Syria to assert their geopolitical interests and strategic partnership in the region. However, in the context of the Russo-Iranian strategic partnership vis-à-vis the Ukrainian invasion, we can identify a greater synthesis of the military doctrines of Tehran and Moscow and their respective political and economic objectives. The war in Ukraine provides another dimension to the Russo-Iranian strategic cooperation.

Source: KREMLIN/ALEXANDR DEMYANCHUK via Associated Press

Both Russia and Iran find themselves increasingly isolated from the international community. Thus, strategic military cooperation provides unparalleled economic and political relief for the two ‘quasi-pariahs’. Russia, now a state proficient in the avoidance of sanctions, has been keenly training their Iranian counterparts the same techniques so as to continue fruitful trade between the two nations. Through the provision of loitering munitions–“kamikaze” drones–to Russia on the Ukrainian battlefields, Iran is hopeful it can alleviate the pressures of its current economic position–a position exponentially compounded by sanctions imposed by the West, as well as a metaphoric flex of muscles to its regional adversaries.

For Moscow, importing Iranian drones provides a cheap and effective method of carrying out its strategic goals in Ukraine. Costing roughly $20,000 per unit, Iranian “kamikaze” drones, such as the Shahed-136, strategically emboldens Putin’s war machine at little significant cost to Moscow. The capability of devastation loaded to these drones, however, should not be underexaggerated. Not only does ‘strategically cooperating’ with Iran alleviate the pressures of drone production on a beleaguered Russian economy, but it also perpetuates the likelihood of Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

The so-called strategic cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Russia is in reality, mostly a one-way pact in favour of the Kremlin. Russia has backed its allies, such as Syria and Belarus to suppress the protests ruthlessly. In this case regarding Iran, Russian intervention can be divided into three categories:

  1. Sending forces, which is not possible considering the serious lack of forces on the Ukrainian front. It is also crucial to mention that officials such as Sergei Surovikin who is one of the very few suitable forces to have such a role is now the new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine.
  2. Intelligence and Security cooperation, which precedent shows cannot exceed a certain level as it is a double-edged blade. Such cooperation in precedent was provided for Ba’ath movement in the Arab world but never exceeded a certain limit
  3. Disinformation and #propaganda support, for which Russia holds the first place in the world but has already offered its best to the Islamic Republic.

Hence, it should not be a point that can discourage the Iranian people. Also, the international community is closely following the Tehran-Kremlin affairs. They will respond to such cooperation under many causes, making them take more serious positions regarding Iran's atrocious human rights violations.

The Islamic Republic’s interest in Russia is mostly based on three main elements. The first element is cooperation regarding the development of satellite technologies because the Islamic republic wants to save its three satellite positions and benefit from Russian satellites, not only for communication means but also for espionage. The second element to consider is Islamic republics’ dependency on the Russian campaign and models of disinformation, which they try to apply within the country. Finally, the third reason is their #intelligence cooperation and their need for structural support from Russia.
Beyond these three elements, we should consider something called “the mad king phase, " a state where it’s a totalitarian system, before its demise, tends to commit grave strategic mistake after strategic mistake.

The response by the international community can only manoeuvre a little on the particular matter of drones because of legal technicalities that make this matter quite hard to analyze. However, it is crucial to consider that the political will to oppose the affluence of the Islamic republic will become much stronger, more systematic, and more collective.

Ukraine’s best strategy to counter the drones made by the Islamic Republic can come from a country that has been studying them for quite a few years. Israel has developed both #IronDome and IronBeam at the Rafael Company by precisely studying and developing mathematical models of the technologies that were used in most of the missiles and drones that came from Gaza and Lebanon, but originated from the Islamic republic. Even though the Israelis have expressed that they will not intervene in this war, it does not keep Israel from giving Ukraine practical, useful intelligence that can help them with countermeasures for these drones.

The convergence of Iranian and Russian interests has constituted a long-lasting partnership characterized by anti-Western sentiments focusing on limiting NATO expansion, protecting and affirming the countries’ respective sovereignty, and enhancing military and technological capabilities. This partnership has materialized, across the years, through a constellation of hard and soft power measures, spacing from exchanges of weapons and military know-how on one hand to the common ideologically-based spread of disinformation and counter-narratives against common enemies on the other. As for now, the war in Ukraine provides new momentum to this allyship as the conflicts continue to evolve.


Whether the international community is effective vis-à-vis Iran and Russia also depends on the cohesiveness of their collective action. We have already witnessed a round of sanctions from the EU and the UK on Iranian drones in October 2022, precisely in response to their use on the Ukrainian conflict. As for the US, punitive measures targeting drones’ producers for Teheran have been issued as of three days ago. While Western power keeps a strict opposing stand against the Iranian-Russian allyship, China may emerge from this as a new mediating power between the two parts. The latter has already facilitated the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore their diplomatic relations. It will discuss a possible resolution of the war in Ukraine with Spanish PM Sanchez in a soon-to-come meeting.


In the meantime, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues to deny the Islamic Republic’s involvement in Ukraine. Accordingly, and in line with the anti-Western rhetoric previously mentioned, the official position reiterated by the Ayatollah is that the conflict in general was devised as a US-based diversion to justify NATO’s enlargements. As the UK gets ready to send armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukrainian forces, between the Kremlin, already protesting for the use of “nuclear weapons”, and the care recommendations of the UN on radioactive exposure, the conflict confirms to be yet another chessboard where the international power games unfold, with Iran and Russia playing on the same side.

March 14, 2023No Comments

Dr Marco Bocchese on international relations and law concerning the Ukraine-Russia war

Marco Bocchese is an Assistant Professor at the Webster Vienna private University specialized in international relations and law. He also got a PhD at Northwestern University in International Relations.

In this session, Dr Marco Bocchese talks about the relationship between international law and the Ukraine-Russia war, with specific reference to private paramilitary organisations and nuclear weapons. He also discusses the impact the war has had on international relations.

Interviewers: Patrick René Haasler and Eleanora Takitzi - Russia & the Post-Soviet Team

March 2, 2023No Comments

Dr. Stephen J. Blank on Power competition in the Caspian Sea region

Dr. Stephen J. Blank, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, discusses power competition in the Caspian Sea region.

The European Union is searching for energy sources around the world to replace the role that Russia once played. They are looking towards Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, including Azerbaijan. A trans-Caspian pipeline would need to be built to get energy from Central Asia to Europe. However, this would be met with opposition from Russia and Iran, who would try to destroy it, making a security guarantee necessary.

Interviewers: Fabrizio Napoli & Davide Gobbicchi - Russia & the Post-Soviet Team

November 21, 2022No Comments

Hypersonic Missiles: A sum zero game to Strategic Stability

Authors: Andre Carvalho and Marco Verrochio.

On March 19 for the first time, TV channels broadcasted that Russia successfully used two Kinzhal type hypersonic missiles in the war against Ukraine. It was the first time hypersonic missiles have been used in combat despite President Putin's presentation of the Kinzhal missile in March 2018. Non-specialized media started to be attracted by these new weapons, especially due to their high performance and their abilities to escape countermeasures. A Hypersonic missile, in some aspects, goes far beyond the capabilities of other conventional supersonic missiles. Supersonic missiles fly between 1.000 km/h and 5.000 km/h, while hypersonic missiles travel above 5.000 km/h, reaching about 25.000 km/h. Moreover, they fly at unusual altitudes and can change trajectory and target during the route.

Hypersonic missles can be devided in two categories. Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs). Usually, an HCM is launched by an aircraft and uses scramjets engines to sustain a speed above 5.000 Km/h. The Russian Kinzhal missile and the American Boeing X-51 are in this category. On the other hand, a rocket boosts the HGV to reach high speed and high altitude, usually above 100.000 feet. The HGV plays as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle using manoeuvres to maintain stability and to avoid detection by ground-based radars and sensors, maintaining the target unpredictable until a few seconds before the strike. Examples of HGVs include the Chinese Dong Feng-17, the Russian Avangard and the US PGS program. The primary concern regarding HGVs is their possibility of carrying a nuclear warhead. It increases the crisis instability in a confrontation, giving an advantage to the country striking first.

Nonetheless, the dyadic categorization between HCM and HGV ends up oversimplifying the hypersonic design possibilities, mainly because conventional ballistic missiles can also travel at hypersonic speed. According to a SIPRI report, HGVs and HCMs travel slower than ballistic missiles. In the same way, Maneuverable Re-entry Vehicles (MaRVs) – such as the Chinese DF- 21 Carrier Killer – can perform in-flight manoeuvres pulling high-G turns at hypersonic speed. Therefore, what differentiates HGVs and HCMs from other missile systems is the combination of speed with endoatmospheric maneuverability while maintaining hypersonic speed throughout the flight.

Kh-47M2 Kinzhal on a MiG-31KImage SourceWikimedia Commons

The mix of maneuverability, hypersonic speed, unpredictability of trajectory and the capability of conducting effective flights in low altitude can be considered both an advantage and a challenge for global security, especially strategic stability. The US, China and Russia are the nations on the forefront in this technology. Tod ay, d eveloping hypersonic missiles requires ad vanced technological development and massive investments. For this reason, they are prod uced in limited numbers. Nonetheless, other countries such as India, Brazil, the UK, Australia, and Japan are also interested in planning a series of investments and conducting tests of scramjet vehicles. As time goes on, the knowledge and the use of strategic foreign investments will increase the proliferation of these weapons. In a contingency scenario, hypersonic missiles will give a tremendous advantage to the aggressor since the combination of speed, maneuverability and their limited detectability by ground-based radars can result in target ambiguity, inaccurate warning times, and ineffective defence. The Rand Corporation had already warned about the proliferation of this technology proposing a non-proliferation agreement sponsored by major players (e.g. USA, China, and Russia) based on the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, the geopolitical tension between US and China and the war in Ukraine demonstrated little interest in multilateral talks, especially on strategic weapons.

It is worth mentioning that, even though non-proliferation talks are relevant, there is a trend among analysts to magnify the potential destructive effects of emerging technologies before their actual introduction and use. This happened in the past with the introduction of strategic bombers and still happens nowadays with hypersonic technology. High-speed delivering missiles have been around for years. Now, new strides in precision, range and maneuverability make them the new trend that competing states seek to acquire to increase their relative power positions.

In the current situation, hypersonic missiles are still on a development stage and their use in conflict is limited to single actions. They are included in the arrays of solutions to strike strategic targets but the reason for their use is still more for deterrence purposes rather than an effective means for military service. Nonetheless, they still exert a significant impact on strategic stability. Regarding deterrence, the speed and precision of hypersonic weapons will leave the option for a decapitating first strike always open, which is inherently destabilizing. Crisis stability can also become unstable due to the hypersonic impact on deterrence since it compresses the decision- making time to just a few minutes, resulting in a first-mover advantage.

For Western analysts, the Kinzhal in Ukraine was a warning from Putin that Russia would not hesitate to resort to advanced technological weapons, destabilizing the global balance of power. Although the world is a dangerous place with or without hypersonic weapons, an arms control arrangement would be necessary. In the future will be essential to strengthen stability, putting a set of limitations on the ‘action-reaction’ cycle that keeps significant players involved in arms race dynamics. However, it is paramount to acknowledge that any agreement regarding hypersonic weapons that limits the speed and range of vehicles would hardly be ratified. There is more chance of success limiting range and speed would affect a large scale of existing ballistic missiles that have a considerable strategic effect and are significantly cheaper than hypersonic missiles. In addition, as mentioned before, several other countries are on the path of pursuit of hypersonic speed and have their indigenous R&D programmes, which makes the possibility of an agreement even more difficult to achieve.

Nowadays, the prospects for hypersonic defence are still low. However, some strides are being made identifying that a robust ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance), along with space-based systems, are key factors for tracking a hypersonic missile for the entirety of its trajectory, enabling multiple interception attempts. Therefore, until the international environment will be ready the only hopes to counter hypersonic missiles lies in developing effective countermeasures for the near future.

October 10, 2022No Comments

Things are not going according to the plan for Russians in Ukraine

Authors: Igor Shchebetun, Fabrizio Napoli, Davide Gobbicchi and Greta Bordin.

A war without logistics is simply an outrage.

At the very beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, the kilometer-long queue of Russian armor entering Ukraine was simply stretched so far that it could not ensure maneuverability, safety and combat effectiveness in terms of deployment in combat formation and readiness to attack or repel attacks. Looking at the first few days, it is clear that the Russian forces have not made as much progress as they originally planned. The reason for this is that the Russian armed forces are primarily an artillery army, but so far they have used some of their available firepower. Russia is essentially trying to carry out a full-scale invasion without the military operations it would require. And as shocking as the scenes from some cities may seem, Russia is looking for a cheap and easy victory with low civilian casualties. In other words, Russia is holding back as they represent themselves. However, as sanctions steadily take effect, Putin escalate the lethality of his war plan. Achieving a breakthrough without getting in the mud. For Ukrainians, this means the worst is yet to come. Like jumping into a pool before checking for water, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan. Technically, Ukraine and Russia have been at war since 2014. The violence has never stopped, but the recent attack is something else.

A new chapter in Ukraine's struggle for statehood. Russia's original plan included a "mad dash" into Kiev, forcing the Ukrainian government to capitulate, while pushing small units to quickly seize strategic transport interchanges to avoid a larger clash with Ukrainian forces. This is a strategy similar to the 2014 seizure of Crimea, when Russian green men forced Ukrainian troops out of their bases but they could not and showed Russia real face in action . Then, as now, the plan of attack was to win with little cost and few civilian casualties. The Russian leadership entered this war knowing that it would be extremely unpopular at home. So they sought to keep death and destruction to a minimum. As a result, the Russian military attempted comes to mass casualties, abuse of civilians, mass rape, destruction of the Ukrainian people and their identity through genocide. What Russia is doing in Ukraine can best be described Putin’s Russia ideology and they values.

Regardless huge experience of military operations Russian army has performed poorly. Ukrainian forces fought back hard, exceeding expectations and playing on Russia's logistical vulnerabilities. For example, by blowing up railroads from and to Russia, Ukraine forced Russian Logistics to switch from rail transport to truck transport. Ukrainian fighters on the ground and Bayraktar drones in the air then targeted these field trucks. Without fuel, tanks and other vehicles are useless. And fuel trucks are an easier target than tanks. Thus, Ukraine played on Russia's self-confidence. At the same time, Russian units are not fighting an all-out war. Instead, in the first few days we saw small units advancing, tanks moving without infantry, planes flying into hostile airspace, and supplies running low. Much of Russia's decision-making seems unnecessary and risky. Instead of operational needs, tactical planning is driven by institutional needs. Probably on the grounds Russians thought they could avoid heavy fighting, at least initially. Moreover, the Kremlin underestimated the Ukrainian will to fight. For example, after several days of fighting in Ukraine and after Russian troops began to suffer casualties, the Russian Ministry of Health mobilized civilian doctors throughout the country.

Image Source: https://www.globsec.org/publications/interim-conclusions-on-the-consequences-of-the-russian-war-against-ukraine-2-2/ Conceptual image of war between Russia and Ukraine with shadow of soldier against wall with national flag background

The fact that the Russians did not do so on the first day suggests that they did not expect things to go so badly. In fact, the Kremlin tried to win the victory at little cost and to do it quickly in order to avoid the worst of the sanctions. Now they find themselves in the worst of all worlds. Putting resources into a bad strategy. That said, Ukraine would not want to celebrate too soon. Although the Russian leadership has underestimated Ukraine's will for war, it would also be a mistake to measure the strength of the Russian army by its territorial gains. The Russian full invasion especially considering the impossibility of providing and supplying all or at least the bare necessities of their mobilized has nothing to boast about so far. But the leadership in Moscow does not have the resources for a prolonged violent occupation. Social and political pressure is already beginning to show inside Russia. The war in Ukraine is unpopular and unexpected, and as the death toll continues to rise, anti-war sentiment in Russia is likely to intensify by the day. Putin needs a resolution to the war, or he will create serious problems at home. However, he cannot back down now without losing face.

Thus, the Kremlin need to intensify the lethality of its military plan and they do that to achieve its goals and achieve some kind of breakthrough. The Russian military started striking public infrastructure and residential areas. Civilian casualties increased, and the goal would be to force Zelensky into negotiations. But as we can see, Russia has forgotten the lessons of Ukrainian history and has drowned in its own illusions that Ukrainians and Russians are one people. Different mentality, values, attitude to people, to hostages and to the enemy, the concept of development, the art of fighting and the will to win appear more and more.

Putin's plank for a negotiated solution is for Ukraine to cede Crimea to Russia and agree to some form of neutrality or federalization and perhaps a constitutional restriction on the Ukrainian army, something like the Japanese situation. Zelensky is unlikely to agree to these demands, which means that the fight will drag on for some time. And this is where predictions become unreliable. The longer the war goes on, the more the Ukrainian battle space becomes similar to the Syrian one, but the opposite is also true: the longer the fighting goes on, the more sanctions will be imposed. A prolonged war will damage Ukraine, but it will also shake the foundations of Putin's power at home. And while a palace coup remains unlikely, as the war reaches home, the odds of success will gradually turn against Putin. So now the Russian leadership is in rescue mode. They need to get out of Ukraine while saving face. It is in Putin's interest to start negotiations as early as possible, while Zelensky would be doing the right thing if he delayed negotiations until sanctions begin to cut into Russia's skin, albeit at the risk of ruining Ukraine.