Tag Archives: Russia

From Russia with Love: Agent Novichok, Russian and the UK


William Reynolds is a 3rd year War Studies student with interests in counterinsurgency, maritime security and contemporary British security. He has been Head of Operations for KCL Crisis 2018, acted as a King’s Research Fellow for Dr Whetham at the Centre of Military Ethics and is currently a Conservation Volunteer on HMS Belfast. 

The poisoning of former Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the 4th March (2018) has sent ripples across the political, domestic and foreign spheres of policy within the United Kingdom. Appearing from nowhere, with no leadup, warning or claims of self-attribution, the attack has come as a shock to many, with social and public media abuzz with speculation. With some going so far to claim it comparable with 9/11, though this is clearly a significant exaggeration, the events of March the 4th will not quietly fade away in public discussion. What are the implications for Russian-UK relations? Why, if the accusations prove correct, did Russia do this? And does this mark an escalation into an unspoken Cold War 2.0? These are the questions that are being asked, and what this article will attempt to assess.

The events

First, what actually happened? The initial ‘attack’ was reported at 1615 hours on March 4th when a 999 call from Sergei Skripal was made from his residence. By the end of the day, both he and his daughter were hospitalised, alongside the presiding officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, in a serious [1]condition and a further two police officers were treated for minor conditions. Overall, 21 UK citizens were possibly exposed to the agent, but it was only those listed above who have, so far, been actively treated.[2]

By March the 9th, after analysis from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at the nearby Port Down facility, military personnel drawn from the Defence CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Centre, 29 EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) and Search Group, Royal Marines from 40 Commando, elements from 26 and 27 Squadrons RAF Regiment, and specialised Fuchs operated by Falcon Squadron Royal Tank Regiment were deployed to contain and deal with the exposed sites.[3] A local Zizzi restaurant was closed due to possible exposure. So at least something positive came out of it.

Novichok Nerve Agent

Novichok is a series of nerve agents developed within the Soviet Union and Russia from 1971 to 1993.[4] Its main purpose was to be used as a battlefield force multiplier, being able to counter NATO CBRN protective gear and being undetectable by current instruments. It further had the bonus of circumventing the Chemical Weapons Convention as it did not draw from the list of controlled precursors. Much like nuclear material, chemical agents have signatures unique to their places of production. A series of factors ranging from the workers to physical conditions result in agents with unique chemical characteristics associated only with their places of respective origin. The belief in NATO, and supported by defected Soviet assets, states that Novichok agents have unique characteristics only associated with the Shikhany facility in Saratov Oblast, Russia.[5]

Military personnel suiting up to contain the exposed areas.

The Fallout

After further assessment, the PM Theresa May publicly identified the agent as one of the Novichok family of agents on March the 12th. A deadline was set for an explanation from Russia as to how a deadly nerve agent made it to Sailsbury, which, as the PM put it, was responded to with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance” by the Russian government.[6] Thus, on the 14th of March the UK unveiled a series of measures as a response to this failure for clarification:[7]

  • 23 Russian diplomats and their families were expelled from the Country
  • Increase of checks on private flights, custom and freight involving Russian citizens
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence that they could be a threat to property and life of UK nationals and residents
  • A boycott from the Royal Family and government of the 2018 World Cup
  • Suspension of all high-level bilateral contact with the Russian state
  • Plans to consider new laws to aid against actions of ‘hostile states’
  • A new £48 million chemical weapons defence centre
  • Offering voluntary vaccinations against Anthrax to British armed forces personnel deployed at high readiness


Expelled Russian ambassador board their plane bound for Russia.

By March the 15th the leaders of France, Germany, the UK and the US released a joint message which stated that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible” and called upon Russia to provide complete disclosure to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as the UK had given the organisation a sample of the agent earlier in the week.[8]

The Russian government remained consistent on their position of denial throughout the process. In retaliation to UK actions, the Russian government expelled 23 UK diplomats and ordered the closure of both the Consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council Office in Moscow.[9]

 The ‘Russian way of warfare’

The debate continues as to who can be attributed to the attack. Members of the opposition in parliament suggest the possibility of Mafia links, rather than the government itself.[10] This inability to categorically attribute, or at least attribute to such a degree to satisfy some critics, risks an uncoordinated response if it is indeed the Russian government at play. What does seem to be apparent however, is that resulting Russian actions, both officially in the political space and unofficially on social media, do share many similarities with disinformation campaigns of the past.

NATO loves to throw around new definitions. Be it ‘network-centric’, ‘multi-spectrum’ or ‘4th Generation Warfare’. However, a term that has stuck, and for good reason, is that of Hybrid Warfare. A doctrine attributed to the Russian Chief of Staff General Valey Gerasimov, though he strongly denies translating his academic thoughts into a Russian ‘doctrine’, Hybrid Warfare is a multi-spectrum approach, utilising all forms of human activity from War, Politics, Society and Economics, to achieve one’s political ends.[11] Much of what was stated in Gerasimov’s writings played itself out on the plains of Ukraine and Crimea. Though it hasn’t been repeated since, the utility of non-state actors as a viable tool without attribution has many NATO border states worried. After all, could not Russia repeat the same in a NATO border state? Without concrete attribution, such actions would risk breaking the alliance apart if Article V was triggered. Such a debate is still ongoing, with no real clear answer discernible as of yet. It is not in the purview of this article to deliver judgement. Rather, the context in which Sailsbury happened should be assessed in regard to Hybrid Warfare.

It is the disinformation campaigns associated with Ukraine and Crimea which are of interest. Though I cheekily referred to it as the Russian way of warfare, drawing upon Liddell Hart’s characterisation of the British affinity to conduct war from the sea, there are aspects of it which can be called uniquely Russian so far.[12] Through news agencies such as Sputnik and Russia Today the Russian government is able to spin its own story of events occurring. Though this isn’t unique to Russia, it is in conjunction with what can only be described as a vast army of ‘trolls’ and ‘bots’ on social media who push the Russian narrative as hard and as far as possible. Indeed, the US 2016 elections saw 36,000 of these Russian bots actively tweeting on social media.[13]


Possible Image of a Russian Social Media bot.

Due partly to the interconnectivity we enjoy today, this allows particularly ‘loud’ individuals to propagate their message directly to the public (here’s looking at you Trump). The combination of ‘loud’ accounts and the quantity of them, in conjunction with a message that is stuck to rigidly, actively increases the visibility of the message over possibly more well-reasoned debates. This in turn creates enough of a ‘smoke screen’ to hinder any counter actions against the state. Without political and national consensus, Western states tend to falter in their resolve.[14]

To link it back to Sailsbury, an estimated 2,800 Russian bots were believed to have “sowed confusion after poison attacks”.[15] There is further evidence which can place attribution to Russian guilt. Exactly a week before the attack occurred, a Russian YouTube account called Group.M uploaded 4 videos of the former spy Skripal.[16] Whilst it may have been coincidental, a second source believed it to be part of a Russian organised campaign of disinformation.[17] In conjunction with the other elements assessed, it is hard to disagree.

Even after the attack, information continues to be deployed by Russia to create doubt of attribution. A particularly outrageous claim, by both ex-KGB and Russian politicians, is that it was a ‘False Flag’ operation. The proximity of Porton Down (8 miles) to the location of the attack has invited conjecture that the UK has poisoned its own citizens.[18] This feels more like a reflection of Russian attitudes to what is and isn’t acceptable for a state to do. Even bringing it up infers that a modicum of legitimacy can be attached to it via the Russian people. The newest element is a ‘former friend’, Vladimir Timoshkov, who has recently come forward stating that Skripal “regretted being a double agent” and wanted to go home.[19] The logic being, why would Russia kill someone who felt repentant for what he had done? Rather, I’d suggest this new information reflects a pivot in strategy as the realisation that the UK public wasn’t quite as divided on the issue as first thought.


So what are the implications for the Sailsbury attack? Is a Cold War 2.0 approaching? It seems unlikely. Rather, the Sailsbury attack has brought forward some suggestions as to possibly why it occurred and highlighted aspects for the wider UK political sphere to consider.

  1. Losing control

There are two possible reasonings as to why Russia may have decided to act now. This is all rather theoretical, so feel free to skip forward if you desire. A worrying conclusion one could draw to this unexpected action is that Putin has simply lost control of highly dangerous chemical weapons, or worse, parts of his intelligence apparatus. Neither bodes well for the West, as a more bellicose Russian intelligence service without the political limitations could lead to further acts of espionage. It is worth noting that there is little evidence to support either theory so far. Indeed, it seems even less likely that this was a ‘mafia hit’, as the ability to maintain a Novochok supply, assuming no new batches were made post-93, without state funding is universally agreed as almost impossible. Until we have proof of the Illuminati or lizard people ruling over us, I’d wager that the chemical was deployed via state actors.

Thus, we are left with Putin losing control of certain actors within his intelligence circles. The attack was very public and very traceable. Therefore, any smoke screen for attribution would be brittle in nature. Putin would have known this going in. So why do it? A plausible explanation is that of rogue agencies.[20] However, it is all rather theoretical. Thus, anything further then ‘He’s lost control’ is conjecture.

  1. Hubris

The second option is just that Russia does not care. As stated, the chemical is easily traceable. But with the proximity of the Russian elections, one could argue that Putin is attempting to reinforce the narrative of ‘the West’ actively attempting to undermine Russia. In this sense, it could be a Russian pseudo ‘False Flag’ operation. Though I’m sure many just rolled their eyes at the very casual comparison just made, one could argue that Russia conducted the attack to provoke a response which in turn provides Putin with legitimacy. Indeed, insurgent groups do this often, provoking a sharp response through their attacks in order to cause civilian casualties, thus increasing their legitimacy as they portray the security forces as barbaric.

  1. ‘Useful idiots’

A particularly troubling aspect of recent events are the ‘useful idiots’ within UK society. That is, British citizens, with no apparent links to Russia or their disinformation campaign, actively aiding in spreading the confusion and casting doubt on attribution. The most shocking event was in the emergency House of Commons session, where the leader of the opposition decided to use his speech to both caution attributing it to Russia and suggesting that government cuts could have possibly caused this.[21] Whilst of course advising calm is neither bad nor being ‘an idiot’, the political point-scoring driven off the back of it provoked much shock from both sides of the House. It is tradition for the opposition to back the government in acts of foreign policy, especially after an attack. Even Clement Atlee voiced support of Chamberlains decision to go to war (1939), despite knowing full well that appeasement had driven them to this point.

This quickly leads to the social media sphere. Many were quick to point out the links between Sailsbury and the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. The reliance on intelligence, rather than an overt act of war, has left many peddling the Russian line. This ‘Iraq syndrome’ seems to have infected much of society, with even Jeremy Corbyn citing Iraq as a reason to not attribute it to Russia as of now.[22] Within the same speech Corbyn cast doubt on the validity of British intelligence, again citing Iraq as an example of their capabilities. Ignoring the fact that a possible future PM is laying into elements of the Civil Service, funnily enough echoing Rumsfeld and Cheney who both based the decision to invade Iraq off the back of their distrust of CIA information, comparing Sailsbury to Iraq is factually false. As stated by Lawrence Freedman, the writer of the Chilcot Report, Sailsbury intelligence is based off scientific facts rather than the human intelligence associated with Iraq.[23] However, the ‘useful idiots’ continue to cite it like gospel.

The final grating aspect of these ‘useful idiots’ is their ability to give Russia the benefit of the doubt. There have been calls, again also by Corbyn, to give Russia a sample of the agent to test for themselves. To which Lawrence Freedman sarcastically tweeted, “They should also do all the anti-doping tests on their athletes.[24] The argument being that we can dismiss any evidence they produce out of hand if it proves to be false. The issue here is that doing so adds legitimacy to their narrative. Handing samples over and even entertaining the idea of listening to their assessment implies the chance that we could be willing to believe them. Such legitimacy served to feed their narrative more than offset the doubt. The fact that many calling for this do not trust the UK intelligence services, or indeed the French and German ones, who undoubtedly assessed the evidence given to them independent of UK influence, and the international OPCW is worrying to say the least. Indeed, one would suggest that this could have easily been mitigated if Corbyn had sided with UK govt policy here. After all, much of the ‘useful idiot’ activity on social media is perpetuated by the self-described Corbynites.[25] One is inclined to believe that they would have changed their tune if Corbyn had voiced stronger opposition to Russia. However, it is not simply the Corbynites who make up this area. Russian disinformation seems to benefit from a collection of groups who take the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, over the past week we have seen Anarchists, Marxists, Nationalists and Scottish Nationalists all trumpet their support of different explanations suggesting it wasn’t a Russian attack. Russian disinformation may be good at its job, but the UK public seems to be rather better.

  1. Escalation?

With this aside, is there a chance of an escalation? Whilst true this represents a significant step up from the usual, though not for the people of Ukraine or Syria, I’d wager there is little chance of a ‘Cold War’ developing as a result. Russian and UK relations have been chequered in recent years, with the UK leading the charge within the EU for sanctions against them.[26] Not much has changed since then. Rather, it appears to be a spike in tensions over what has been a game played since 2014. The UK alone does not represent an existential threat to Russia, but its heavily interconnected alliance frameworks do. However, it seems doubtful that the UK will push for more than economic retaliation. As a triggering of Article V would risk destroying the alliance, with possible declines of assistance occurring, thus undermining the entire legitimacy of NATO. With hard power not viable, what of soft power? It is here that seems the most likely axis of advance for the UK. Through its still quite considerable soft power, the UK will most likely press for further sanctions and tighten the grip already being felt. Indeed, this may prove beneficial. Both France and Germany have been considering loosening the sanctions put in place for Ukraine.[27] The Sailsbury attacks may prove to not only be the evidence required to prevent the lifting of sanctions, but enhance them.



[1] https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/1/590x/russia-vladimir-putin-kremlin-brexit-cyber-attack-theresa-may-moscow-mp-pm-tories-labour-president-uk-election-887114.jpg – Accessed 25/03/18. 

[2]  Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskillJamie Grierson and Steven Morris, ‘Sergei Skripal attack: investigators wear protective suits at cemetery’, The Guardian, Accessed 25/03/18

[3] See, Toxic Storm for Royal Marineshttps://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2018/march/06/180306-toxic-storm-for-royal-marines-in-major-chemical-exercise; for 29 EOD Elite UK Forces – http://www.eliteukforces.info/eod/army-eod/; for RAF Reg RAF Winterbourne Gunnerhttps://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-winterbourne-gunner/; and for a full overview, Rebecca Taylor and David Mercer, ‘Spy Poisoning: Amber Rudd Chairs Cobra meeting as military deployed in Sailsbury’, Sky News, Accessed 25/03/18.

[4] Mirzayanov, Vil (1995), “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: AN Insider’s View”, Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, 104th Cong., pp.393-405.

[5] Ewan MacAskill, ‘Novichok: nerve agent produced at only one facility says expert’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/nerve-agent-novichok-produced-russia-site-expert – Accessed 25/03/18.

[6] Heather Stewart, Peter Walker and Julian Borger, ‘Russia threatens retaliation after Britain expels 23 diplomats’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/14/may-expels-23-russian-diplomats-response-spy-poisoning – Accessed 25/03/18.

[7] ‘Spy Posioning: How is the UK retaliating against Russia?’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-43380378 – Accessed 25/03/18; and ‘UK Defence Secretary tells Russia go away and shut up’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43405686 – Accessed 25/03/18Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18.

[8] ‘Salisbury attack: Joint statement from the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom’, Government of the United Kingdom, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/salisbury-attack-joint-statement-from-the-leaders-of-france-germany-the-united-states-and-the-united-kingdom  – Accessed 25/03/1.

[9] Judith Vonberg and Oliver Carroll, ‘Russia expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation as diplomatic spat over Sergei Skripal poisoning intensifies’, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-spy-poison-british-diplomats-expelled-sergei-skripal-nerve-agent-a8260671.html – Accessed 25/03/18.

[10] Jeremy Corbyn, ‘The Sailsbury attack was appalling. But we must avoid a drift to conflict’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/15/salisbury-attack-conflict-britain-cold-war – Accessed 25/03/18

[11] General Valey Gerasimov, ‘The Value of Science is in the Foresight’, Military Review, Vol.96 (2016): pp.23 – 29.

[12] For more see, Holden Reid, Brian. “The British Way in Warfare: Liddell Hart’s Idea and Its Legacy.” The RUSI Journal, Vol.156 (2011): 70-76.

[13] ‘Russia using disinformation to sow discord in the West, Britain’s Prime Minister says’, NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/14/564013066/russia-using-disinformation-to-sow-discord-in-west-britains-prime-minister-saysAccessed 25/03/18.

[14] For more, see H.Smith, ‘What costs will democracies bear? A review of popular theories of casualty aversion’, Armed Forces & Society, Vol.31 (2005)

[15]Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: 2,800 Russian bots sowed confusion after poison attacks’, The Sunday Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/2-800-russian-bots-sowed-confusion-after-poison-attacks-zf6lvb3nc – Accessed 25/03/18

[16] Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: YouTube videos analysed for links to disinformation campaign’, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/skripal-attack-youtube-videos-analysed-disinformation-campaign-link-53fwb6pl9 – Accessed 24/03/18

[17] Ibid.

[18] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[19] Skripal, ‘regretted being a double agent’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-43519494/skripal-regretted-being-double-agent – Accessed 25/03/18

[20] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[21] Greg Heffer, ‘Jeremy Corbyn infuriates House of Commons with Russia response’, Sky News, https://news.sky.com/story/jeremy-corbyn-infuriates-house-of-commons-with-russia-response-11287599 – Accessed 25/03/18.

[22] Guy Faulconbridge, ‘Britain’s Labour Leader warns of rushing into new Cold War without full evidence.’, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-russia-corbyn/british-labour-leader-warns-of-rushing-into-new-cold-war-without-full-evidence-idUSKCN1GS0SN – Accessed 25/03/18

[23] Lawrence Freedman on Twitter (14th March 2018), https://twitter.com/LawDavF/status/973967779534704641 – Accessed 25/03/18

[24] Ibid

[25] Such as Owen Jones, https://twitter.com/OwenJones84/status/973952909682626562 – Accessed 25/03/18;

[27] Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, ‘UK to press European allies for tougher sanctions against Russia over MH17’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/21/uk-europe-tougher-sanctions-russia-mh17-putin – Accessed 25/03/18

[1] Macron as finance minister wished the sanctions to be lifted in 2016, ‘Macron in Mosocow: France wants Russian sanctions lifted by mid-year’, rfi, http://en.rfi.fr/economy/20160125-macron-moscow-france-wants-russia-sanctions-lifted-mid-year – Accessed 25/03/18; and Merkel also, ‘Merkel: EU will lift Russian sanctions when Minsk accords implemented’, politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/merkel-eu-will-lift-russia-sanctions-when-minsk-accords-implemented/Accessed 25/03/18[28]




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Cold Waters: The Return of North Sea Dangers

north sea 1

William Reynolds is a 3rd Year War Studies undergraduate. He is interested in maritime history and security and is currently researching a dissertation on the role of the Royal Navy for British policy in the 1970s. Will has worked for the Centre of Military Ethics as a Kings Research Fellow, is currently a researcher for the Kings Middle East North Africa Forum and is head of Operations for the Kings Crisis Team 2017/18.


It is safe to say that those working in defence and foreign policy have had much to concern themselves with when it comes to the actions of Russia. The resurgence of an assertive Russian foreign policy, both in Europe and the Middle East, has caught NATO officials scrambling and politicians worrying over future prospects. Both news outlets and pundits claim a second Cold War is on the horizon, yet despite all this focus on the Eastern ‘Front’ and the proxy warring in the Middle East, very few have focused upon the North Sea.

                 This radically changed, at least in the UK, in December of this year where the annual RUSI CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff) talk focused heavily upon these Northern waters.[1] With defence cuts on the horizon, whichever threat the CDS decided to focus on could reasonably be inferred to be the primary security concern of the UK for upcoming years. This was then further supplemented on Christmas and Boxing Day where British tabloid newspapers and the BBC itself focused on a ‘recent upsurge’ of Russian naval activity transiting through waters of interest to the UK.[2] It is with this in mind that this short piece hopes to layout the history of this area, the return of Russia and how this may factor into the security calculation of not only the United Kingdom but Europe as a whole.

The Cold War

For many, the Cold War inspires images of spies, the Berlin Wall and ICBMs sitting in their silos. However, popular culture, thanks very much in part to Tom Clancy’s Hunt for the Red October, has further given the role of submarines a place in Cold War History. To a degree, there is truth in this. Soviet submarine technology initially was superior to the Allies thanks to their patronage of ex-German engineers and the capture of much material alluding to the manufacturing of subsurface vehicles which, and as a result, were used to a large extent by both the Soviets and the West playing catch up.

                It is for this reason that the North Sea played such a crucial role for NATO. In order for Soviet submarines, of all types be it diesel hunter-killer to nuclear ballistic-missile submarines, to prosecute both their peacetime and possible war times objectives, they would have to get out into the open Atlantic. Thus NATO strategy focused on bottlenecking them in through a series of Chokepoints ranging from Japan to the Dardanelles and Gibraltar to the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) Gap.

  noth sea

                                              The GIUK Gap

With this in mind, the North Sea, during the Cold War, became the domain of nuclear submarines, carrier battle groups and naval diplomacy in its sharpest form, that being literally chasing your opponent out of an area of interest.

The Return of Russia

This history lesson is all very well and good, but what is the point of it? Whilst much focus has been placed on the Baltics, Crimea, the Ukraine and Russian activity in Syria, the British public rarely looks at actions in the UKs own ‘back yard’, the North Sea. This could be for a variety of reasons; inherent British belief in maritime superiority, the concept of Russia being a cause for concern ‘over there’, and many others. This piece isn’t attempting to deduce that. What is clear, is that Russia is returning to its old playing field.

                First one must look at the politics of the navy. The Russian navy has never been the centre of its military policies. Even under Admiral Gorshkov, a pioneer in Soviet strategy and quite frankly the father of the powerful Soviet Navy of the 80’s, the Red Army remained the centre of attention. Yet, in the State Armaments Programme (Gosudarstvennnia Programma Vooruzheniia – GPV) of 2011 – 2020, the Navy received the largest share of the defence budget (25%).[3] What is more surprising is the political ‘affection’ for the surface fleet. Both Vladmir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev have lauded the Navy consistently. However, the Russian Navy’s strength has always lied in its submarine force. Gorshkov tailor made the Soviet Navy of the 70’s and 80’s to directly counter the superior US Carrier Task Forces through asymmetric warfare. He did this through submarines, not vulnerable surface units.

 north sea 1

  The Pyotr Velikiy being escorted through the Channel by HMS Northumberland

However, surface units provide something which submarines do not. Visible power. As of mid-2017, the Russian Navy possesses six large surface vessels. The Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear-powered Battlecruisers Pyotr Velikiy and Admiral Nakhimov, and three Slava-class Cruisers.[4] These may be Soviet legacy vessels, but they are all still capable of projecting power in a blue-water environment. The deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria was not a necessary requirement, yet it was done so anyway. The ship itself was a clear statement of Russian intent in Syria. After all, the US Nimitz-class Carriers and Arleigh-Burke-class Destroyers are products of the later Cold War also and yet they remain the backbone of the United States Navy.

The North Sea has indeed seen increased activity. As mentioned previously, the Royal Navy was forced to escort and keep tabs on four separate Russian ships, one a combatant and one an intelligence gathering vessel, within the space of two days.[5] Furthermore, it is not only the Russian surface fleet that is beginning to make more of an appearance. On the 22nd December US Navy Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, commander of NATO’s submarine forces, stated We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen.”[6]. Indeed the activity has caused NATO to reopen a command centre to reinforce SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic) which further infers the amount of activity being witnessed. NATO would not simply reopen a station on a whim.

A New Threat?

So Russia has returned to the North Sea. Is it a credible threat? The CDS of the United Kingdom, Sir Stuart Peach, seems to believe so. In his RUSI speech not only did he bring up the threat of Russian maritime actions in the North Sea, but focused upon the idea of underwater cables. These cables control the flow of information. To use a piece of maritime strategic thought, these cables are the new ‘lines of communication’. Whereas this use to mean the travel routes of convoys and shipping, it now quite literally means lines of cables running through the seabed.

north sea 3

A map of submarine cables in Northen Europe

Just looking at the above map one can see that the majority of submarine cables run from the British Isles across the Atlantic. There is much said the of the UK being the ‘Trans-Atlantic bridge’ between Europe and the US. Politically that may be doubtful. But it is quite clear that for communication purposes, the British Isles is vital.

                Just one counterfactual secenario of a submarine ‘cutting’ one of these cables could throw the economy into jepordy. This would then have a knock on effect for the rest of the region, as the communications reliant London stock exchange, would inevidbly tank as a result. As Sir Peach put it,

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted?”[7]

However, whilst this threat is indeed very real, one must holistically analyse the Russians capability. The increased funding of the Russian Navy may not see the advent of more Russian ships on the high-seas. Russia no longer has the workforce or facilities to construct vessels of higher tonnage than a Frigate. Much of that, during the Cold War, came from the Ukraine.[8] Thus the large Cruisers, Battlecruisers and Carrier of the Russian Navy will not see a replacement anytime soon.

Furthermore, whilst Russian shipbuilding capabilites has retained the full capacity to construct submarines of all types, cost is becoming an issue. Sanctions, falling oil princes and the like will increasingly put pressure on shipbuilding. There is a strong import dependance on EU and NATO states for items vital to this sort of work. One figure places machine tool parts at 88% imported from said states and that was only in the domestic sphere.[9] Thus NATO will not have to contend with a Gorshkov level of rearmament for the time being.


The Russians as of now do not posess the capabilites of their Soviet past. However, as we have seen in the Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, they are willing to forgo conventional means of warfare and adopt an asymetric style unique to their own needs. We will not see the large behmoths of the 80’s continuing to stalk the Northen passages. But if all it takes is a single submarine, cutting several cables to cause, NATO should heavily reconsider its policy of Anti-Submarine Warfare in the North Sea. This piece was not meant to gauge whether the Russians would actually commit such an attack, but rather highlight that despite seeming distance between the Western states and the Red Army, all it could take is a single maritime asset to critically injure the alliance and the EU.



[1] https://rusi.org/event/annual-chief-defence-staff-lecture-2017 – Annual CDS lecture, 14th December 2017

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42481216 – BBC: HMS St Albans – UK Frigate Shadows Russian Warship in the North Sea, 26th December 2017

[3] https://defenceindepth.co/2017/07/17/todays-russian-navy-taking-the-asymmetric-route-with-caveats/ Defence in Depth – 17th July 2017

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russian-warships-skate-close-to-british-waters-over-christmas-holiday-uk-navy-says/2017/12/26/c46bf9b8-ea35-11e7-891f-e7a3c60a93de_story.html?utm_term=.548bc24f610f – Washington Post, 26th December 2017

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russian-submarines-are-prowling-around-vital-undersea-cables-its-making-nato-nervous/2017/12/22/d4c1f3da-e5d0-11e7-927a-e72eac1e73b6_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.6b3acec90fed – Washington Post, 22nd December 2017

[7] https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2017/12/military-prioritising-defence-of-undersea-telecoms-cables-amid-russian-threat/ – Engineering and Technology, 15th December 2017

[8]https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Julian_Cooper2/publication/299338379_Russia%27s_state_armament_programme_to_2020_a_quantitative_assessment_of_implementation_2011-2015_FOI_Report/links/56f11db508aecad0f31f235d/Russias-state-armament-programme-to-2020-a-quantitative-assessment-of-implementation-2011-2015-FOI-Report.pdf – Russia’s state armament programme to 2020: a quantitative assessment of implementation 2011–2015, Julian. S Cooper (FOI: March 2016), pp. 49 – 50.

[9] Ibid, p. 38.

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Is Putin being ‘Trump-ed’ by the Media?


By Gloria Trifonova, a first year War Studies student at King’s College London.

Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for over a decade now – from Prime Minister to President and back again, he has become a symbol for the post-communist Russian political system. Recently, he has been taken out of the spotlight as the media has found a new villain, Donald Trump, who took the world by storm by winning the US Presidential election in 2016. Has the media truly abandoned their beloved Russian scapegoat for everything that is wrong in international relations? 

Given that we now live in a world where executive orders and tweets provoke a similar outrage in the public, it seems Putin is only a side character in the new season of American Horror Story: The White House. We hear about him as if he is the irreverent best friend that is only there to push the development of the main character forward with snooty comments and late night phone calls we never get to hear.


While the media has been concerned whether Trump and Kanye had tea or coffee, Putin has been on the move. His recent visit to Hungary seems to have strengthened Russo-Hungarian relations and may result in Hungarian support for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia. Furthermore, with pro-Russian socialist electoral victories in Bulgaria and Moldova in 2016 it is likely that EU stability may be experiencing turmoil other than BREXIT. Moreover, Russia has managed to keep its relations with Turkey relatively stable thus far, despite a few hiccups along the way resulting in taking down of a Russian war plane in 2015 and a few Turkish soldiers dead by a Russian military jet air strike in 2017. The two historically antagonistic states have taken up a common campaign against ISIS and this is decreasing diplomatic pressures of the past.


Military cooperation in Syria has also helped better Russia’s relations with Iran and many independent media sources suggest that Putin is going to attempt to dissuade Trump from his hard stance on Iran, as Trump has recently threatened further sanctions and of course employed his supper villain catch-phrase “nothing is off the table” in regards to further action if Iran doesn’t stop testing missiles. It would be interesting to see Putin’s strategy regarding Iran, traditionally in opposition to key US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, instead of theorizing about how the Russian leader will handle this delicate diplomatic issue, the mainstream media is concerned with the crisis of the day – why did Nordstrom drop Ivanka Trump’s line indeed?

Perhaps it is a positive development that Putin has been outshone in the media. For too long the West, which likes to presents itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the face of the “borderline fascist dictatorships” of the East, has exerted hypocrisy in criticizing his every move and the election of Donald Trump only reveals this further. The US, which for years has deemed Russia racist, homophobic and radical has elected a man, who is the poster child for all those terms. But this is not all about Trump. It seems the moral code the US has applied to Russia over the last decade evaporates when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Not once has the US condemned their oil donor, which enforces punishments for homosexuality ranging from imprisonment and fines to corporal and capital punishment. Furthermore, crimes based on racism occur just as often in the West, but the US, for example, seems to forget its own Trayvon Martins and Mike Browns, while patronizing Russia for being racist.

Also, it seems mainstream media in the West never truly grasped the position of Putin in Russian politics. The tendency to glorify leaders in Russia has deep historical roots. Modern Russia is a produce of both its Tsarist and communist past. In both cases, whether we speak of Ivan the Terrible or Stalin, a strong leader, whom the people believe in, seems to be an intrinsic part of keeping such a vast country together and Putin has ensured the resurgence of Russia in world order and this has secured him the support of the public. Culturally, Russians look for strength in their leader more than anything and Putin is a “killer” as Trump himself has referred to him.

Thus, maybe given that the spoon-feeding of propaganda by the mainstream media does not solve any problems; it only creates a smokescreen for the gullible Western public, who needs a moustache-twirling villain, it is time we start analyzing Putin’s agenda objectively. As he even said in his 2007 Munich speech – “Just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I mean ideological stereotypes, double standards and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking.” It is high time we let go of such thinking.



Donald Trump seeks a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin, The Economist, Feb. 11th 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21716609-it-terrible-idea-donald-trump-seeks-grand-bargain-vladimir-putin 

Russian Foreign Ministry Following Putin’s Orders on Boosting Embassies Security, Sputnik News, Feb. 12th 2017, https://sputniknews.com/world/ 201702121050595855-russia-embassy-security-measures/


‘US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting’, Routers, Feb. 11th 2017, https://www.rt.com/op-edge/377079-iran-sanctions-trump-revolution/


The new power couple: Russia and Iran in the Middle East, European Council on Foreign Relations, Sep. 13th 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/ summary/iran_and_russia_middle_east_power_couple_7113


Putin Swaggers Into Hungary as Europe Wonders About U.S., New York Times, Feb. 2nd 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/world/europe/ vladimir-putin-hungary.html?_r=0


Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova, The Guardian, Nov. 13th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/ 13/pro-russia-presidential-candidates-tipped-to-win-in-bulgaria-and-moldova


‘Wars not diminishing’: How Putin’s iconic 2007 Munich speech sounds today, Reuters, Feb. 10th 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/376901-putin-munich-speech-2007/


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CIA Russia hacking report, Twitter Sarcasm and the Prospects of Russia-U.S. Relations


By Aleksandra Serebriakova, a 3rd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a strong interest in post-Soviet Union space and Russia in particular.

On the 6th January the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the unclassified report that openly accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections. The report argued that findings were based on the “understanding of Russian behavior” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order” and preconditioned by Russia’s “clear preference for President-elect Trump”, but nevertheless did not argue that hacking affected the election results.

The whole language of the Report was supported by the logic of ‘judgements’ rather than hard evidence through analyses of the CIA and two other agencies (FBA and NASA). This absence of strong evidence was explained by inability to “reveal sensitive sources or methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future”. Thus, the Report has stated that the campaign to undermine U.S. presidential elections was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin who wanted to “denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency”. What is more, Russia’s military intelligence agency and its Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) has been accused for directing the hacks into the emails of Democratic Party officials and released them with a help of Guccifer 2.0 hacker through Wikileaks and DCLeaks.com beginning in March 2016. Notwithstanding the fact that this kind of reporting would be ridiculous in any other democratic country, as it would confirm that administration itself had a “clear preference” for the Presidential candidate ignoring the desires of its own population, two interesting points can be picked up from this Report: U.S. open advertising of ‘Russia Today’s’ (RT) ability to influence American population and reaction of Russia’s officials to these findings that has often been sarcastic and undiplomatic.

Firstly, due to inability to provide strong evidence the Report had to explain Russia’s alleged influence through its ‘covert intelligence operations’ and ‘over propaganda efforts’ with a help of Russian Government agencies, paid social media users (internet ‘trolls’) and state-funded media, with RT and Sputnik news outlets being examples of this ‘propaganda machine’. Seven pages of unclassified version of the Report were devoted to assessing RT America TV’s activities in relation to “undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest”. Without profoundly discussing RT’s efforts to meddle in the current election and only briefly touching upon its ‘negative’ portrayal of Hilary Clinton and open support for Donald Trump, the short Report devotes a substantial part to the discussion of the channels attempts to “fuel political protests” during Occupy Wall Street movement and rise criticism on the U.S. economic and political systems. Overall, the Report presents RT America as some kind of international criminal syndicate with enormous power and financial connection to Russian Government. The argument that “RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK” and the tables of comparison that present this channel as the most popular on YouTube out of foreign broadcasting companies (image 1) has caused a stream of comments and jokes from the Russian officials.


Image 1: Comparative Tables from ODNI Report, Appex A

Thus, the Russian Embassy in London claimed that the Report findings have been the best advertising for RT (image 2). Indeed, RT preferences for Trump were clear from the start but how can the coverage of one channel that has a clear connection to the foreign government be argued to have such an enormous power to indirectly influence election process in a sovereign country? While RT should definitely be grateful to this Report for its promotion, we still should be willing to get some more evidence in support for the existing accusations. Otherwise, it all too sounds more as a Cold War scare.


Image 2: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is more, the reactions of Russia’s officials to this Report were not at all surprising. Seen as another groundless attempt to discriminate Russia in the eyes of international community following the traditions of doping scandal and McLaren report, CIA report was met with sarcastic comments from Russian officials. Thus, Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary of Putin, called the accusations on Russia’s involvement in hacking a “witch hunt” and said that Obama’s administration is “behaving like an elephant in china shop”; while Maria Zakharova, a Director of the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Obama’s team in Facebook “a group of foreign policy losers, anxious and short-sighted”. At the same time, Russian Embassy in the UK called the Report a “pathetic attempt at tainting American’s vote by innuendo coached in Intel new-speak” (image 3) but also posted a bunch of memes in Twitter mocking the Report and Obama administration for its efforts to unleash the Cold War.


Image 3: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is so telling about such an active engagement of Russian officials with Twitter and Facebook in such an ‘undiplomatic’ way? In 2015 Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin have argued that Russia was one of the most successful countries to accommodate the chaotic dynamic of social media and user-led content that for some time upset policy-makers ability to influence and control information. In particular, they argued that Russia was successful in “arresting the mainstream media” through its engagement with Twitter, Facebook and VK by allowing only certain parts of the conflict, such as the one in Ukraine, to be visible and framed in a certain way. Russia’s open engagement with social media allows mediatization of conflicts and disagreements and is trying to be especially proactive in promoting its own definitions of how certain disagreements should be seen and which side should be blamed for their existence (well, definitely not Russian). The Twitter and Facebook comments of Russian officials on hacking claims has signified a change in the platform for diplomatic exchanges and showed how influential it might be for promoting a particular view especially when sarcasm, the competition of memes and social media logic of shareability are present.


Image 4: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 29th December 2016

All of these raise a question over the prospects of future Russia-U.S. relations. While during the last press-conference Barak Obama called Russia “a smaller and weaker country”, which nevertheless was able to meddle with the U.S. elections through hacking processes, new sanctions against Russian officials and diplomats summed up the last two years of Obama’s administration unsuccessful politics towards Russia. At the same time, Trump’s position over Russian involvement into the election process was ambiguous. While his Twitter praised Putin’s decision not to expel the U.S. diplomats in reciprocal measures by tweeting that he always knew that Putin was very smart, at the same time condemning findings of the hacking report, his positions somehow changed after few days when he actually agreed that the hacking took place, but due to the “gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee” that would never happen again when he becomes the president. Russian press such as independent Novaya Gazeta news outlet has suggested that such change in the rhetoric is occurring mainly due to the pressures Trump is experiencing from his own Republican party and other officials that take hacking report seriously and do not share his admiration for Putin. Overall, it is clear that unpredictability of the next American president and the pressures he will be experiencing in the White House might force him to completely change the rhetoric in a more anti-Putin and anti-Russian way that will definitely be followed by reciprocal tweets and Facebook posts from Russian officials in even more sarcastic manner.



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Thomas Rid on the Rise of The Machines

by Nico Seidman, 2nd year War Studies student and North America editor of IR Today, and Millie Radovic, 3rd year International Relations student and Chief Editor of IR Today.


Last week, we sat down with Professor Thomas Rid of the War Studies Department to discuss his new book, The Rise of the Machines: a Cybernetics History. Professor Rid’s insightful book begins in the 1940s and provides us with a history of cybernetics, and of development of machines in relation to human thought. Given the topical nature of cyber, be it ‘space’, ‘war’, ‘espionage’ or ‘crime’, we had some questions for Professor Rid who kindly lent us his time and provided us with some insight into how things have worked, and how they work now within the realm of cyber.


Here is an excerpt of our interview:


Q: You’ve published significantly on the subject of cyber, most notably your work on attribution and the so-called concept of ‘cyberwar’. The Rise of the Machines is somewhat of a departure from this work, so what encouraged you to write it?


T.R: It’s a departure in some ways. I often got this question of what cyber is and what cyber means, that word – where it even comes from? So I decided to write a book about it, to look at the history of this idea and dig deeper than just this superficial origins story of William Gibson, an author from the 1908s. And what I found was remarkable because there is such a long history that really touches human/machine interaction. Everything from how we deal with self-driving cars to our mobile phones, so I found that quite exciting.


Q: So do you think then that The Rise of the Machines is an important read then, not only for those interested in cyber, but for policymakers and professionals within cyber security?


T.R: The problem is, [that] when you write a technology book… often when I read a book I think “oh wow, this is already half outdated” after, you know, six months or a year. And I tried very hard not to write a book that would date that quickly. That’s hard to do in technology, so that’s why the book goes way back to the Second World War, and it actually stops in the late nineties. So it’s a long view of the deep historical background of our relationship to computer technology.


Q: For the less technologically adept of us, [given that] the Rise of the Machines is a history of cybernetics, can you explain what cybernetics is?


T.R: Cybernetics was an idea that was in the late 1940s as super hot and interesting as today artificial intelligence and, you know, machine learning perhaps is. Everybody was talking about it. What people were talking about is machines, computers – this is the time when computers, large factory sized computers, first came out. So very few people had ever seen or touched a computer and cybernetics was the theory of machines, of thinking machines, of learning machines. So there was this idea that machines through feedback – the word feedback itself comes from cybernetics, we all use it all the time: that’s where it comes from – so through feedback these machines, even machines that aren’t computers were able to learn and improve their behaviour. And people at the time found that fascinating.


We also chatted to Professor Rid about Artificial Intelligence:


Q: Recently, Elon Musk has come out with comments on artificial intelligence… [He] came out and said that “artificial intelligence is the greatest threat to human kind”…


T.R:  Whenever I get these questions about the future, and you know, I can’t write books about the future. Many students often want to write about the next security threat, to which my response is always the same: “How do you know what the next threat is?” because we can only study what already happened. So I’m not in the business of predicting the future like Elon Musk is… The historical track record is very clear. Every time somebody comes along like Elon Musk, or even Stephen Hawking, or Bill Gates, even if they are very accomplished and they want to predict the far out future, they most of the time turn out to be completely wrong.


We then moved onto cyber and politics:


Q: How do you think that the development of cybernetics has influenced the way we understand freedom?


T.R: When we look at the, again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we have this ideology that slowly emerges of people who consider the internet a space of freedom – the new frontier, this a very American ideology reaching back to the Wild West. And, of course, online, [on] the internet, everybody can reinvent themselves. This ideology got even more powerful when we added encryption to the narrative, because now the individual could protect themselves against the state by using, by using encryption. Encryption empowered the individual in a very libertarian freedom loving way. “Crypto = guns”, is one of those slogans from back in the day. It empowered individuals against the state, or against the FBI, or whoever the state is represented by. And, Snowden very much embodies that ideology, that crypto-anarchy, [as] was the term at the time, ideology. I think that’s an overstatement, just like cyber war is an overstatement and the post-Snowed discussion today is very much is coming to terms [with that], with a reality check


Q: You end your incredibly insightful book, with the first detailed account of the Moonlight Maze, and what you call the “biggest, most sophisticated made against the United States in history”, executed by Russia. What impact do you think it has had on clandestine operations since and what impact do you see it having still?


T.R: Moonlight Maze first started in late 1996, when it was first discovered, [as an] individual case, but nobody was connecting the dots yet. That only happened two years later, in 1998. But the Moonlight Maze is not the most sophisticated one that ever happened, but only back in the day. It is important I think to see that Moonlight Maze, this vast operation against hundreds of targets in the US already by 2000 had taken… the amount of data three times as high as the Washington monument. This was an operation that was only a sign of what was to come. And it was not cyber war, which is what people thought, it was cyber espionage, if you like, or just espionage without cyber. The future of spying. What we see today I think is a lot of that and small evolutions of it. One of the things that’s actually not in the book, but absolutely fascinates me is the first time the internet was used for Kompromat operations, compromising materials, [for] publishing dirt on politicians. In a way we are seeing this with WikiLeaks and John Podesta. The first time this was done was in 1999, in Moscow during elections, in late 1999 and there’s actually a link between what is going on in Moscow at the time and the Moonlight Maze, so it’s all coming together.


Q: How would you link that to the most recent, alleged, hacks of the Democratic National Committee by Russia, and the most recent remarks made by both Foreign Minister Lavrov, and President Putin?


T.R:  I think it’s important that you used the word alleged here. If we look at the actual evidence that we have of the hack of the Democratic National Committee as a party organisation, and the hack of individual email accounts belonging to Collin Powell, John Podesta, we see that now on WikiLeaks, and others. [With] all these hacks, if we look at the available evidence, publicly available evidence, can be linked back to very specific actors in Russia with a very high level of certainty. So sometimes you hear a statement, from Lavrov for instance, or from people who seem to refuse to look at the evidence that there is no evidence, that the evidence isn’t good. At this point in time there are only two reasons for not accepting this attribution, or at least considering it very seriously. One is to be lazy and actually not look at the evidence, or to simply not understand it.



Q: So expanding on just beyond information war, you mention cyber espionage, in terms of cyber attacks of critical infrastructure or DDOS attacks, what dangers do you see of critical infrastructure being connected to networks, and danger do you see from the internet of things in relation to these attacks?


T.R: Historically the debate has been very much focused on critical infrastructure, and coming from this, again 1980s idea, and early 1990s idea of cyberwar we always expected plates and the planes to fall out of the sky and I literally have the Sun cover, talking about “fight cyber war before planes start falling out of the sky”. I picked this up the day of my job interview, by the way, here at King’s. Anyway, who knows it may happen, but the point is that this is a distraction from the actual operations that are already shaping, and again right now the campaign to shape the election outcome in the United States is spectacularly successful. Let’s be blunt, the Russian intelligence, whoever took the initative for it, is really extraordinarily impressive. It’s very a cost efficient and a highly effective operation that they’re running there. Whenever Trump mentions WikiLeaks, and says ‘I love WikiLeaks’, and recommends it to his base of supporters, that is even one more success point on their scale, and they’re doing very well.



Q: So in response to this, if you had to suggest one thing that policy makers in the UK and in the US should do to protect their infrastructure from these threats, what would you recommend?


T.R: John Podesta, one of HC’s closest advisers – his email got hacekd and dumped on Wikileaks by APT28, that will become public in a few days. Podesta, after this happened to him, did not properly secure his apple accounts, so what happened next is that some idiot, from 4Chan, the anonymus linked platform, basically erased both his iPhone and his iPad because they could, because the credentials were available on Wikileaks. Now you could say this is really mean on their part, and that is probably true, but it’s also not very clever on his part to be so incredibly sloppy with his email account. He even discussed proper intelligence sensitive material on an opened email account that he did not even secure with two-factor identification. And it’s open on Wikileaks, I’m not going to point to it right away. That’s just unacceptable. Everybody should use two-factor authentication, never reuse passwords and use two-factor authentication… everybody should use this, certainly people who have something to lose.


To hear the full interview, look out for it being released in podcast form on Wonk Bridge (https://medium.com/wonk-bridge). Founded by a former War Studies student, Yuji Develle, now across the road at the LSE pursuing his Masters, Wonk Bridge is the first student-led tech publication on Medium. They seek to bring new perspectives on technology by engaging wonks everywhere into fruitful dialogue. 


A hardcover of Professor Rid’s book is now available on Amazon, in Waterstones, and for King’s students at the Maughan library. 




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Two years of War in Ukraine: we are forgetting what really matters

by Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a Romanian native who is also a first year War Studies undergraduate at King’s College London. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.


An Ukrainian man protesting in Moscow against war in Ukraine holding the message “No To War”.

At the beginning of 2014, the world’s headlines were bursting with the events of the striking continental crisis in Ukraine. Ever since the dismissal of President Viktor Yanukovych, the unstable situation in Crimea received all the focus in the media, which shed light on every single step in the process of disbanding an independent, rightful European state. From the 20th of February 2014 (when almost 100 people died in Kiev in less than 48 hours[1]) until March of 2015, when the bottom line was drawn, while the UN was estimating that almost 6,000 people were killed over the whole Ukrainian crisis, the focus was on Kiev. The world was either following the mourning of the irreversible tragic deaths or watching the political moves of the state and the rebels. However, after March 2015, the media seem to have diverted their attention away from the events in Ukraine for multiple reasons, leaving a degree of uncertainty and a lack of insight into what has actually been happening in the Eastern European country in the last three months.

A straight-up answer, coming from the very precise reports would be casualties[2]. Since the Minsk (Belarus) talks between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France (12th February 2015), someone has died every day in the Crimean conflict zone. What is more, around the separatist line of control, there have been daily hundreds of explosions reported by a monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).[3] Considering these facts, the war is far from being over and according to the members of the Ukrainian line of control, it’s just a matter of timing for the separatist groups to strike back in force, as they cannot operate in full force continuously. In addition to this, few are able to point out that the veil of silence which has recently taken over the war might be due to Russia’s need to maintain better relations with the West, allowing a period of smoldering strife, which is meant to shadow the disastrous effects the separatists’ actions have had on the whole area. Does it really work?

Looking at the latest headlines related to the Ukrainian war, one might see that the world is not as interested in Crimea as it used to be. Apart from a few articles of a striking transparency an engagement of the armed forces that have revealed the real tensioned situation on the frontline, it’s either the media not covering the bleeding reality that’s aching the whole country or the people not paying enough attention to it. It might be that people have become unnaturally used to the shock of death and catastrophe, and given the extremely revolting past events (the MH17 flight knockdown[4]), this might construct an understandable justification for the lower level of focus and impact of the Crimean War. This hypothesis added to the Freudian crowd mentality theory (the moral center of consciousness is deposed by the larger mass, leading to rarer complex emotions, especially in the event of repeated pain and shock[5]) might explain why the reactions to daily deaths and violent incidents are not much of news for masses nowadays, especially for the local civilians who have gotten used to living in a constant state of violence. However, this does not seem enough to justify the lack of reaction to the shell incident in earlier this year (April 2016), when two shells fell near a couple of vehicles in south Donetsk, killing four civilians, including a pregnant woman.[6] Regardless of the OSCE reports, which highlighted the involvement of both separatist and Ukrainian sides in the incident, it still was one tragic moment, which caused the loss of innocent lives. In the official point of view, the shell mission might represent the beginning of a new stage in the war, as worrying as the rest of the siege, according to Ertugrul Arpakan, the OSCE monitor chief.[7] With such an alarming statement coming from the very head of OSCE, how can the Ukrainian War really be forgotten?

In spite of all the collective numbness, the voice of the frontline soldiers seems to have echoed louder recently. For them, the endless discussions and the Minsk agreements only represent an official background image, essentially incomparable to the real danger of war. While the rest of the world might have forgotten about the siege in Crimea, the armed forces are still fighting, risking and losing their lives in “no man’s land”.[8] So, in a world with eyes wide shut and a self-preserving shock shield, a realistic view towards the future of Crimea comes straight from the battlefield and, regardless of the 14 hour-long political talks[9]  or the American sanction threats against Moscow[10], the soldiers’ voice has loudly spoken and stated the truth of this continuous war: that it will never stop.

[1] The Telegraph, “Ukraine Crisis: timeline of major events”, March 5, 2015. Accessed: September 18, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11449122/Ukraine-crisis-timeline-of-major-events.html

[2] Shaun Walker, “East Ukraine: on the frontline of Europe’s forgotten war”, The Guardian, August 28, 2016. Accessed: September, 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/28/east-ukraine-frontline-europe-forgotten-war

[3] Ibidem.

[4] BBC, “MH17 Ukraine plane crash: What we know”, September 28, 2016.  Accessed: October 1, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28357880

[5] Sigismund Freud, “The Ego and the Id”, 1923. [Online] Available from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic565657.files/8/Freud%20pt%202.pdf, Accessed: September 20, 2016.

[6] Roland Oliphant, “Two years after war broke out in Ukraine, the death toll continues to mount”, The Telegraph, May 3, 2016.  Accessed: September 22, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/03/two-years-after-war-broke-out-in-ukraine-the-death-toll-continue/

[7] Ibidem.

[8] Roland Oliphant, “Ukraine peace deal: what was agreed in Minsk”, The Telegraph, February 12, 2015. Accessed: September 28, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11407768/Ukraine-ceasefire-agreement-key-points-what-we-know-so-far.html

[9] The Moscow Times, “Poroshenko Calls for Talks with Putin”, August 11, 2016. Accessed: September 28, 2016.  https://themoscowtimes.com/news/poroshenko-calls-for-talks-with-putin-54960

[10] AlJazeera, “US threatens Russia with more sanctions over Ukraine”, February 21, 2015.  Accessed: September 20, 2016.  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/02/threatens-russia-sanctions-ukraine-150221215945506.html


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From black gold to the 21st century

Andrej Bacholdin is in his penultimate year of studying BSc Economics at UCL. He comes from Prague, Czech Republic. Andrej is also an avid follower of current events and has started his own economics and politics blog (www.milleconomist.wordpress.com).


The oil price began its momentous, and largely unforeseen, collapse in June 2014. After nearly five years of stability, by November the price had fallen 40%. With the exception of a few short-lasting rallies and periods of false stability, the decline continued until January 2016, when Brent Crude reached $26.55, the lowest level in 10 years.

Few were prepared. The Russian ruble lost more than 50% of its value; Nigeria’s central bank abandoned the naira’s peg to the USD. But, while still unbeknownst to the outside world, Saudi Arabia was also nearing disaster.

Last spring, the IMF predicted Saudi Arabia’s reserves could last the country for at least five years of low oil prices. To the handful of insiders in Riyadh, the situation could starkly be any different. Saudi’s burn rate of $30 billion a month meant that, at that rate, the country would be bankrupt within just two years.

Yet the story of Saudi Arabia’s survival, and indeed future, began long before the events that grabbed the world’s attention. And much of the story revolves around one man.

Prince Mohammad bin Salman, nicknamed MbS, is Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defence, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, deputy prime ministers and 2nd in line of succession. Western diplomats call him Mr. Everything. He is also 31 years old.

The late King Abdullah and MbS had a delicate history, with the King banning his nephew from setting foot into the Ministry of Defence, apparently for his disruptive and power-hungry tendencies. But they also a shared a crucial interest: to rid Saudi Arabia of its dependence on oil.

For 80 years, oil was for Saudi Arabia what democracy is for the UK. Plentiful oil revenues provided the basis for Saudi’s social structure: absolute rule by the Al Saud family, in exchange for generous public spending, all legitimised by the Wahhabi religious establishment.

Two years before his death in 2015, King Abdullah tasked MbS to prepare a plan on reducing the economy’s dependency on oil as well as change the country’s entire social construction. When MbS’s father, King Salman, assumed power in 2015, he gave his son unprecedented control over the state oil monopoly, Ministry of Defence, national investment fund, and economic and foreign policy. In practice, MbS is currently the power behind the throne.

So when Saudi Arabia began heading for bankruptcy, MbS swiftly reinstated strict spending limits, tapped debt markets and cut the budget by 25%. Disaster, for now, was averted. However, Saudi Arabia’s transformation goes far beyond surviving until the next oil price spike.

Saudi oil policy, under the prince’s guidance, has broken with decades of historical doctrine as the leader of OPEC. In April, an OPEC-Russia production freeze was cancelled after the deal was already agreed; MbS intervened because Iran did not want to freeze its production. In fact, according to him, he does not care if oil prices rise or fall. “$30 or $70, they are all the same to us,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. If they rise, that means more cash for nonoil investments. If they fall, Saudi Arabia, as the world’s lowest-cost producer, can regain market share.

In June, Saudi Arabia unveiled the National Transformation Program, a plan to reshape the country’s economy. Its goals, such as tripling non-oil revenue and creating 450,000 private-sector jobs by 2020, are ambitious. But so are the measures, which include the introduction of a value-added tax, cuts in public utility subsidies, and levies on luxury goods and sugary drinks. That is not to say the days of generous Saudi spending are over; there are, as yet, no plans for income taxes and, to cushion the impact of a slowing economy, poorer households are directly given cash handouts. The government is also exploring a possible IPO of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. Valued at up to $3 trillion, Saudi Aramco would be larger than Apple, Google, Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway combined.

However, transforming the Saudi economy is impossible without transforming its society. The country can’t thrive if half the population is severely constrained in daily activities. The prince has hinted that he would support increased rights for women, who can’t drive or leave their home without a male relative’s permission. “We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” said the prince. According to a former senior US military officer, MbS commented, “If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels.”

Another social problem hindering the prince’s ambitious economic plan is getting young people to work in the private sector. Youth unemployment stands at about 30%, and few are willing to sacrifice their cushy public-sector jobs for more demanding private firms; many, however, may not have a choice given the large public-sector budget cuts. A greater challenge is increasing the attractiveness of Saudi workers. Until now, the Wahhabi religious establishment has supplied the Al Saud family with political legitimacy, in exchange for clerical control over education and the judiciary. Most Saudi youths are underqualified due to an education largely based on religion.

And here lies the greatest challenge: MbS’s relatively liberal views (he recently broke the Ramadan fast while on a visit to the US) risk sparking a collision with the Wahhabi clerical establishment. The prince may be seeking other sources of legitimacy from his own generation, but in a country surrounded by extremism both outside and within, any religious tensions are perilous.

There is no doubt Saudi Arabia still faces an uphill battle. This quarter, the non-oil economy has, for the first time since 1980, slipped into a technical recession. But, with $581.3 billion remaining foreign exchange reserves and a highly ambitious and forward-looking leadership, Saudi Arabia is better positioned than most oil-producing nations. If successful, Saudi Arabia would serve as a model for its Gulf neighbours and other oil superpowers, notably Russia and Malaysia. Perhaps, the black gold’s importance to countries’ economies has already plateaued.


Image source:

Glover, Peter C., and Michael J. Economides. “OPEC Fracked – The Commentator.” OPEC Fracked – The Commentator. S.M.A.R. S.r.o., Web. 17 July 2016.


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A Pyrrhic Victory on Syria’s Diplomatic Front

by Lincoln Pigman, a student of War Studies at King’s College London and an organising member of KCL MENA Forum.


Nine months after Russia took the West aback with its entry into the Syrian conflict, the United States finally changed its tune, proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia: coordinated attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the grounding of Syria’s air force. The offer, it seems, has been received warmly. Some in the West will welcome U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria, including prominent scholars and former U.S. diplomats. However, Washington’s reversal may prove counterproductive and even disastrous.



Committed to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration long maintained a position of disapproval, condemning Russia’s contribution to the refugee crisis and accusing it of ‘directly enabling’ Islamic State. Given the notable decline in refugee arrivals to the E.U. since December, the former may no longer hold true, while the latter is challenged by Professor Max Abrahms of Northeastern University. In Abrahms’ view, which he shared in private correspondence, that ‘unoriginal and never documented’ accusation reflects an ‘ideological’ refusal to acknowledge ‘Russian contributions against Islamic State.’ Even so, other objections to Russia’s conduct in Syria remain valid, and give cause for reconsideration of closer ties.


One of the most obvious is Russia’s unfaltering deception. The Kremlin’s main lie concerns the aim of its intervention. Although coalition voices quickly realised that Russia’s principal target in Syria was the opposition, not Islamic State, Russia continued to state otherwise. In October 2015, Sergei Ivanov, chief of Russia’s presidential administration, promised that Russia was simply ensuring that ‘no ISIL members were left to travel to Russia, and that all fighters would end up lying in the ground in Syria.’ Crucially, Ivanov neglected to mention which fighters.


Five months later, Putin unexpectedly declared Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Since then, Russian involvement in Syria has expanded from air strikes to special operations and demining efforts, while reported Russian casualties near Palmyra and Raqqa point to increased ground presence. Russia’s tireless disinformation efforts, always accompanied by calls for U.S.-Russian cooperation, offer no grounds for trusting Putin to enforce the stillborn cessation of hostilities or pressure the Assad regime to ground its air force. (That the proposed agreement mentions no compliance mechanisms makes Russian non-compliance even more likely.)


Two grave problems doom such a demand. The first is the condition of Russian ‘pressure’ on Assad. Rather than insist that Moscow force Damascus to stop targeting rebels, making clear that only an end to attacks on the opposition can satisfy the agreement, the proposal’s language is moderated to such an extent that Russia could feasibly do nothing and claim that it had. Mere pressure does not equal success in bringing Assad to heel, and can amount to nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist should Assad persist in his suppression of the opposition. Unless the U.S. operationalises pressure, specifying what forms it is to take, it may as well abandon the condition altogether.


Worse still, it is possible that ‘pressure the Assad regime’ is all that Moscow can do, making the U.S.’ demand impossible to satisfy. Some Syria commentators question whether Russia truly dictates developments on the ground, dubbing it Assad’s ‘hostage.’ A growing consensus admits that Russia seeks a diplomatic resolution to the conflict: one preserving Syria’s current government institutions but not necessarily Assad himself, as reasoned by the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund. Now emboldened by Russia’s decisive intervention, Assad clearly refuses to accommodate Russia’s diplomacy and its post-conflict plans for Syria, violating the cessation of hostilities in April 2016 and defiantly insisting on retaking ‘every inch’ of Syria in June 2016. Both positions reflect maximalist goals and a rejection of Russia’s relatively limited objectives, an intransigence that would surely apply to demands that Assad cease targeting rebels.


The demand’s second flaw lies in its identification of roles in Syria. By exclusively attributing complicity in the targeting of rebels to Assad, the U.S. tacitly denies Russia’s role in bombarding the opposition. According to Airwars, a project that consults open source intelligence to map the impact of air strikes in Iraq and Syria, Russian air strikes have inflicted up to 5,686 civilian casualties as of July 4th. Russia maximises the lethality of its air strikes by targeting densely populated areas and hospitals, and using incendiary munitions: weapons whose use against and around civilians is prohibited by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Russia is a signatory. The portrait of the war painted by Washington erases these casualties, and enables Russia to continue attacking rebel groups and non-combatants alike with impunity. U.S. silence legitimises Russia’s many transgressions, and is irreconcilable with a purported concern for Syrians’ welfare and advocacy of a rules-based international order.


In light of Russia’s disregard for collateral damage, Syrians will inevitably see U.S. support for Russia’s intervention as a betrayal. The first such betrayal, Obama’s failure to enforce his ‘red line’ after the sarin gas attacks of August 2013, ‘boosted Islamists … devastated the credibility of [opposition] officials who had tried to work with the West,’ and conveyed a clear message to Syrians: ‘No one’s coming to save you, not in any circumstances,’ writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in Burning Country. Similarly, today, supporting a belligerent viewed as ‘a colonial invader,’ Yassin-Kassab remarked over email, would consolidate the U.S.’ image as ‘another imperialist supporter of the regime which is tormenting [Syrians].’ Any peacemaking legitimacy possessed by Washington would forever vanish, in no small part thanks to its main concession to Russia: coordinated air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate and anti-government militia Jabhat al-Nusra.


Although Russia and the U.S. both list the Islamist Nusra as a terrorist organisation, the intensity with which the two intervening powers attack it has differed greatly, creating a conflict of interests best highlighted by vocal complaints from Moscow. The U.S.’ new proposal to bilaterally coordinate air strikes against the organisation could be aimed at narrowing the diplomatic chasm between Russia and itself. Alternatively, its rationale could be restoring coherence to the U.S.’ position as an enemy of terrorism, removing all doubt by visibly targeting Nusra.


However, a policy of partnership is unlikely to improve diplomatic relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s stated interest in continuing bilateral cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, no peripheral concession can resolve the fundamental disagreement over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which will continue to define U.S.-Russian relations until a consensus on the future of Ukraine’s security is reached. Coordinated air operations in Syria alone cannot cancel out the diplomatic hurt caused by years of sanctions, and are near useless as a diplomatic bargaining tool.


Nor will the proposed U.S.-Russian partnership advance Washington’s fight against terrorism. In fact, attacking Nusra with Moscow could prove completely counterproductive. Those suspecting the U.S. and Russia – widely viewed as having appeased Iran’s nuclear programme and given it free rein in Iraq and Syria – in backing the Shia side of a perceived geopolitical-sectarian confrontation are likely to see joint attacks on the Sunni Nusra as yet another sign of a seemingly pro-Shia Western agenda. Consequently, ‘many … who previously tolerated Nusra for pragmatic reasons … will become more sympathetic to the group and its ideology,’ warns Yassin-Kassab, adding that ‘the U.S.-Russian coalition will undoubtedly provide a boost to Nusra’s recruitment and help it to embed more deeply in Syrian society.’ At the tactical level, striking Nusra only to bolster it is a waste of military resources. However, at the strategic level, transforming an actor in Syria so powerful that it currently controls entire swaths of territory is reckless. In the succinct words of Yassin-Kassab, it threatens to ‘greatly influence the future trajectory of violent jihadism on a global level.’


The proposed U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria brings to mind a number of outcomes. These include Russia duping the U.S.; Assad continuing his attack on the opposition; legitimisation of Russia’s transgressions; discrediting of the U.S. among anti-regime Syrians; and empowerment of Jabhat al-Nusra. Pursuing a military victory against the al-Qaeda affiliate without considering the partnership’s political ramifications reflects nothing less than the absence of a U.S. strategy in Syria.


If the U.S. is to work with Russia at all, it should focus on securing the Kremlin’s assistance in combating Islamic State, a peripheral matter to Russia, rather than make concessions on the vital interest that is the Syrian opposition—especially if there is no visible benefit in doing so. As Islamic State greets ‘the beginning of the end,’ weakened by over seven hundred days of coalition bombardment, the U.S. should not court disaster by entering into counterproductive unions. The future of Syria demands it.

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U.S Missile Shield Dispute: Romania, a voiceless pawn on a foreign chessboard

Diana Borcea is a Romanian incoming first year undergraduate at King’s College London and will start pursuing a BA in War Studies this September. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.


With Russia’s latest public threatening declarations against Romania and other eastern European states that have agreed to be involved in the US military defense shield, a clear, constantly strengthened message against NATO’s new allies has become the main coordinate of new tensions in Europe. The $800 million shield officially switched on in the Deveselu base (Romania) has proven to cause only the beginning of a whole new series of threats coming from the eastern superpower, making Romania a key element in the international dispute.[1]

The Russian concerns had their debut back in 2011, when the American plan to build a missile shield with defensive purposes against states like Iran came closer to reality, as Romania, Poland, Turkey and Spain have all agreed to join the strategic plan. [2] Five years later, major parts of the US military shield became operational, with the officially opened missile site (Deveselu, Romania) capable of shooting down enemy rockets which could reach areas of important European cities. The danger of having developed missile shield close to their borders has determined Russia’s latest reaction the a new addition to the NATO’s defense plan, in May 2016, when the Russian president Vladimir Putin has made a strong warning regarding Moscow’s retaliatory actions due to the threat of the missile shield, alerting Romania and Poland that they could become Kremlin’s enemies, as they are hosting hostile American military elements.[3]

The continuous dispute between the ex-Cold War enemies has, however, transformed Romania in a voiceless actor on the two superpowers’ stage and neither the Romanian leaders, nor the people proved to have acknowledged the very essence of the “play”.  It is explainable how, on the 12th of May, earlier this year, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, has not attended the official opening ceremony of the Deveselu missile site, in spite of the event’s indisputable historical importance and the very presence of NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg and US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work at the ceremony.[4] The absence of both the Romanian president and the SIE leader, Mihai Razvan-Ungureanu, was not clearly explained by the officials, but has stirred the critique of the public opinion, as it could have been misinterpreted by the American diplomats as a sign of uncertainty in the Romanian foreign policy. Consequently, the voice of Romania had barely proven its existence regardless of the crucial diplomatic occasion.

 Despite the official declarations coming from the NATO’s representatives, who have insisted on the fact that the military base is not directed against Russia, [5] Kremlin still sees in the SM-3 interceptors which are to be set up on the 430 acre-large Ballistic Missile Defense Site (near Deveselu Romanian Airbase) a serious threat. Thus, under the apparent absence of dialogue between Washington and Moscow, Romania is to face all the accusations and warnings of potential Russian military interventions across its borders. The Romanian response? A moderate, partially uncertain presidential declaration from Klaus Iohannis, stating that the future of Romanian security is unpredictable[6], considering the Russian reactions, which did not, however, prevent Romania from getting involved in the international Program “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”.[7]

Romania’s lack of voice – or better yet, alleged “silence” regarding its very own position and security in the missile dispute could also be explained by the fact that the country occupied only the 41st position in the 2016 GFP, whereas the two superpowers who seem to have been given vital rights to decide Bucharest’s faith are the world’s top two military forces.[8] Considering the real numbers, the danger truly comes from the East, and after the obvious American absence in the Crimean Crisis, a saving intervention for Romania in a potential conflict with Moscow seems quite unlikely. It must also be noted that, apart from Russia, Romania’s closest neighbour, Ukraine was ranked the 30th in the 2016 GFP, worsening the circumstances for the Carpathian country.

So, while the Romania’s relations with Russia keep deteriorating, the multi-purposed American plans are at a real risk of unwanted exposure, as an important voice from the U.S nuclear expertize highlighted the unnecessary need of American defensive missile base in Eastern Europe, because there is no probability of an Iranian nuclear war in the next two decades.[9] In this case, why is Romania half-passively eager to further involve in defensive plans which are to dramatically deteriorate crucial relations with the eastern superpower?

The answer which should have come from Cotroceni is still missing, whereas the dangerous threats from the east keep gathering and have managed to eclipse the importance of the missile host state itself. The only certain thing that remains, in conclusion, is the danger of a real conflict with Russia (who threatened to send Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers in Crimea as reaction to the missile shield[10]) and a few quarrels between Romanian politicians, who have not yet come up with a strategy to secure the faith of the country.



[1] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-shield-idUSKCN0Y30JX

[2] Andrew Osborn, “Dmitry Medvedev threatens US over planned missile defense shield”, The Telegraph, November 23, 2011. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8910909/Dmitry-Medvedev-threatens-US-over-planned-missile-defence-shield.html

[3] Denis Dyomkin, “Putin says Romania, Poland may now be in Russia’s cross-hairs”, Reuters, May 27, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-europe-shield-idUSKCN0YI2ER

[4] Dodo Romniceanu, Mircea Marian, Alexandra Chiric, “Iohannis a RATAT un MOMENT ISTORIC. Președintele ROMÂNIEI NU PARTICIPĂ la INAUGURAREA bazei americane de la Deveselu” [Iohannis has missed a historical moment. The President of Romania DOES NOT ATTEND the inauguration of the Deveselu American base], Evenimentul Zilei, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.evz.ro/secretarul-general-al-nato-la-cotroceni.html


[5] Space Report, “Deveselu Base, Romania”, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/facility/deveselu.htm


[6] Mediafax, “Răspunsul lui Iohannis la ameninţările Rusiei împotriva României: Declaraţiile din partea Rusiei nu pot să ne intimideze, arată că abordarea noastră e corectă” [Iohannises answer to Russian threats: The Russian Declarations cannot intimidate us, they indicate our rightful approach], Ziarul Financiar, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.zf.ro/politica/raspunsul-lui-iohannis-la-amenintarile-rusiei-impotriva-romaniei-declaratiile-din-partea-rusiei-nu-pot-sa-ne-intimideze-arata-ca-abordarea-noastra-e-corecta-15401757


[7] SRI Report, “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. https://www.sri.ro/academia-nationala-de-informatii-mihai-viteazul-si-universitatea-harvard-organizeaza-a-treia-editie-a-programului-securitate-in-regiunea-marii-negre-provocari-comune-viitor-sustenabil.html


[8] Global Firepower Ranking 2016, January 4, 2016. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.asp


[9] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters.


[10] Kuril Bora, “Russia May Send Tu-22M3 Supersonic Bombers to Crimea In Response To US Missile Buildup In Eastern Europe”, International Business Times, June 24, 2015. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-may-send-tu-22m3-supersonic-bombers-crimea-response-us-missile-buildup-eastern-2023159


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Dear Hillary

by Jackson Webster, a Los Angeles native, currently in his final year of International Relations in the King’s College London Department of War Studies.

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Dear Hillary,


Congratulations. The Democratic nomination is all but yours, and the GOP faces an existential crisis which has caused its voters to choose a loud-mouthed human toupee as their nominee. You’re likely to take the reigns of power next January, and then it’ll be out with the campaigning and in with the governing. Here’s a few humble observations from yours truly about our broken yet salvageable national security strategy and how best to fix it. Let’s get down to business.


  1. Ok, so here’s what you have to do:
    1. maintain American pre-eminence through cooperation with new mid-level allies,
    2. establish connectivity with the global economy as our top national security priority,
    3. use of American military power to back the norms of the liberal world order when institutions fail to do so.
  2. And here’s why:
    1. unquestioned US dominance is fading, and this power is transferring to mid-level states,
    2. the global economy is increasingly interconnected,
    3. hundreds of thousands have died in Syria and territory has been annexed by force in Ukraine, and the UN Security Council has done essentially nothing about it.




The unipolar global system created at the end of the Cold War, where the US’ power stood unchallenged, is no longer a realistic worldview upon which to base our strategy in the 21st century. Equally, American strategy has been bastardized over the past two decades into dealing with old rivals and old allies. We’d best heed Washington’s warnings against unconditional alliances, and revaluate the costs and benefits of our partnerships. Moreover, we have become distracted by threats which do not pose serious existential danger to the US or its interests, such as locally-focused religious extremism in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. We have dangerously overplayed the importance of combating terrorism. This calculus must change to recognize the dynamic nature of power distribution in the 21st century.


American power projection is based in strong alliances backed up by material assistance. The US can be a regional kingmaker. This power is unique in political history. This ability of US patronage was used to create the regional powers of West Germany, Japan, and Israel during the Cold War. The US must be prepared once again to double-down on mid-level allies in this century, though the allies we must court differ from those of the last century. Such states include Poland, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Argentina. Each of these states faces serious internal issues which would be best combatted with our assistance. Patronage for Poland can be used as leverage over the current government, which has spent its time in office thus far flouting the rule-of-law. Turkey faces a serious separatist and terrorist threat in its Kurdish southeast. Malaysia faces slow growth from falling oil prices and multiple regional refugee crises. Mexico is fighting well-armed and well-financed drug cartels. Nigeria faces an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces, with spillover effects into the territories of other US partners like Mali and Chad. Argentina continues to face serious national debt problems. All these countries need assistance, and with our patronage comes an integration of American interests with these states’ interests. Through our aid, and through closer cooperation and inclusion in the liberal international order, we can ensure these states’ partnership for decades to come, just as Marshall reconstruction at the end of the Second World War solidified US partnerships with West Germany and with our East Asian allies.


While Russia has previously presented a geopolitical challenge to the US, and Moscow has successfully countered our interests in Syria and Ukraine, Russia does not present a serious long-term threat to American pre-eminence due to Russia’s own internal weaknesses. A kleptocratic political system centred around President Putin himself, combined with a gas-dependent and sluggish economy, do not provide strong nor stable bases for Russian power. In the short-term, Russian power can be best countered through existing alliances, namely with increased NATO armoured deployments in the Baltic States. A return to conventional deterrence is prudent in this instance. Indecisive acquiescence to Moscow is not. A strengthened American commitment to our allies in Eastern Europe will amply halt Russian ambitions in that region. Russia today is not what the Soviet Union once was: it is not a great power competitor on-par with the depth or breath of American power, despite Mr. Putin’s ego often arguing the opposite.


China, however, provides a direct revisionist threat to the liberal world order. The strength and diversity of the Chinese economy, combined with a decade of robust Chinese diplomacy in their near abroad and in Africa, have lead to extensive gains in Chinese economic and diplomatic influence. This influence is shown in the popularity of the Chinese-lead Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However China, too, is best contained through existing institutions. China’s willingness to work within the international system allows its rise to be less conflictual than historical revisionist powers. China is not a rogue state. It seeks legitimacy as a member of the international community. The US must continue to place resources and faith into our alliances with Japan, Australia, and South Korea as the best regional counterbalances to Chinese ambitions, and must work to increase cooperation with and amongst these allies. Equally, the maritime stability provided by the US Navy will remain crucial to all East Asian export-based economies well into this century, including China’s.




At the creation of the American Republic, the only permanently standing element of the Federal military was the Navy. The Department of the Navy was created to maintain daily connectivity to the global economy, a lifeline the new Republic desperately needed. The US needs this lifeline today more than ever. Freedom of navigation maintains both current global order and US primacy, which are synonymous. The American Navy’s unquestioned dominance underwrites American hard power more than any other branch of the military. Equally, it ensures that American power can be projected anywhere in the globe within hours of a crisis.


Bill was right, when we’re talking about the bedrock of global order, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  The world’s economy is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s only getting more so thanks to the Internet. Global free trade remains the central priority of US national security strategy. For this reason, the US Navy will be the key branch of the armed forces into the 21st century in terms of power projection. Whereas investment in land-based counterinsurgency techniques and equipment has characterized the last decade, investment in naval technology, basing, and logistics must be the central priority of the national security budget in the coming decades. The American population no longer has the political will to launch large land-based occupations, and these kinds of actions can often be a poor long-term investment with very little stability produced in return. Investment in our Navy will ensure American dominance of the seas into the next half-century, will counterbalance China’s new blue-water navy, and will guarantee that global chokepoints of trade remain open to our nation’s imports and exports.




America is not as all-powerful as she was when your husband took office, however the depth and breadth of US power still must not be underestimated. The American military outclasses all our competitors and our allies combined in every measure of strength, the American economy is still the largest in the world despite our relatively small population, and the US possesses a geographically advantageous location: we are literal oceans away from threats to the homeland.


hill 2


The US must use its power projection to be the guarantor of the liberal world order. This rules-based order is beneficial to the US economy, to our allies, to our continued primacy, and to our values. Supporting norms, weapons prohibitions, international treaties, free trade, and institutions of due-process upholds the liberal world order. As the US is the creator and natural leader of the liberal world order, the maintenance of this system is of paramount interest to the US. Even if this support comes at a cost and forces restraint on American actions abroad, the long-term benefits outweigh the short term shortcomings.


As was done in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the US must use our power to punish states who do not play by the rules. We must continue to use our overseas military deployments as guarantees to our allies, who must have no doubt we will defend their sovereignty. When states break international norms or violate the sovereignty of our allies, the US must have a credible threat of the use of force against these rogue actors. While not every violation of the system alone constitutes a direct threat to US national security, the maintenance of the global system of norms and institutions is a central priority of US national security. Therefore, a violation of these norms or a defiance of these institutions constitutes a credible threat to US national security and thus warrants decisive action.


Mrs. President, I wish you the best of luck in the next four (let’s be honest, with the current state of the GOP, probably eight) years. Here’s to hoping for an easy end to what was an excruciatingly long —though certainly unique— election cycle. I hope Bill doesn’t get into too much trouble as our nation’s first First Dude.


Respectfully yours,


Jackson Webster

Proud member of the California Democratic Party

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