US, UK, Australia team up on hypersonic weapons with eye on Russia and China

“The U.S., the U.K. and Australia will start joint work on hypersonic missile technology and electronic warfare capabilities under the umbrella of the AUKUS security pact.

The decision, announced Tuesday by the leaders of the three governments, is the latest move in an international race for hypersonic weapons, which can travel up to 10 times the speed of sound, making them much harder to detect.

It is also a further example of the deepening security partnership between the U.S., Britain and Australia, after their creation of AUKUS last September scuppered a mega submarine deal for France, souring relations between Washington and Paris. Developing hypersonic missiles represents a long-term aim for Canberra, which is seeking to step up the long-range strike capabilities of the Australian Defence Force.”

“In March, Russia said it had used a hypersonic missile to strike an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine. Last year, China reportedly tested two hypersonic weapons, causing alarm at the Pentagon.

The U.S. successfully tested a hypersonic missile in mid-March but did not announce it for two weeks to avoid increasing tensions with Russia, according to media reports.”

Russia may do Biden a favor by killing the Iran deal

“The original deal was reached during Barack Obama’s presidency, after years of talks among Iran, the United States and other leading countries, including Russia and China. It lifted an array of nuclear sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on its atomic program. The deal had limits, however, including provisions that would expire over time, technically starting within the next three years. (Supporters of restoring the deal argue that the most important provisions won’t expire for several more years and some elements last in perpetuity.)”

“the original Iran nuclear deal involves the Russians taking special roles in helping Iran implement the agreement, such as shipping out Iran’s excess enriched uranium. If Russia refuses to play that role, the deal is once again undermined.”

The controversy around Biden’s off-script Putin comments, explained

“Given the horrendous loss of life and destruction caused by Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine, it certainly makes emotional sense for many across the world to yearn for his downfall (and indeed, some cheered Biden’s comments).

But that statement coming from the president of the United States carried some weighty implications — and risks.

The big one was that Putin would interpret this as an escalation and that tensions between the nuclear-armed US and nuclear-armed Russia would get even worse, hurting efforts to negotiate a settlement in Ukraine and raising the risks of war. Biden has said many times that he does not want war between the US and Russia, and he reiterated that Monday, but the question is whether Putin understands that.”

“More extensive clean-up from Biden personally ensued when the president spoke to reporters at the budget event Monday. He said:
“I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing, and the actions of this man — just — just the brutality of it. Half the children in Ukraine. I had just come from being with those families…

… I want to make it clear: I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”

The president went on to clarify that these were his “personal feelings,” not policy, adding:

“He shouldn’t remain in power. Just like, you know, bad people shouldn’t continue to do bad things. But it doesn’t mean we have a fundamental policy to do anything to take Putin down in any way.

… Nobody believes I was talking about taking down Putin. … What have I been talking about since this all began? The only war that’s worse than one intended is one that’s unintended. The last thing I want to do is engage in a land war or a nuclear war with Russia. That’s not part of it.

I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man. It’s outrageous. It’s outrageous. And it’s more an aspiration than anything. He shouldn’t be in power. People like this shouldn’t be ruling countries, but they do. The fact they do — it doesn’t mean I can’t express my outrage about it.””

Why India isn’t denouncing Russia’s Ukraine war

“India forged a relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That has carried over into the present day because of mutual interest and nostalgia, but the biggest reason might be defense. India’s arsenal is largely Soviet- or Russian-made; various analysts put the amount anywhere between 60 and 85 percent. And India needs its military to counter what it sees as the biggest threat in its neighborhood: China’s rise.

China’s rise is also the reason India and the United States have deepened their partnership in recent years; India is a member of the “Quad” (along with the US, Australia, and Japan), an informal alliance that came about years ago but which both the Trump and Biden administrations have sought to strengthen. The Quad doesn’t explicitly say it exists as a counterweight to Beijing; it’s a grouping of democracies focused on regional cooperation and other issues. But everyone — including China — gets it.

The antagonism between Washington and Moscow, made worse by Ukraine, puts India in an uncomfortable bind. Except India is used to this. In the Cold War, India practiced nonalignment, where it sought to avoid becoming entangled in the superpower conflicts and maintain its sovereignty. Although that policy has evolved in the decades since, the idea of autonomy still undergirds how India sees its foreign policy.

India “can really silo off relationships,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, focusing on national security and the Indo-Pacific region. “The relationship they have with Russia should have no bearing whatsoever on their relationships with China, the US, or anybody else.”

It is why India has walked a careful tightrope since Russia launched its war. Prime Minister Modi spoke to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shortly after the invasion, reportedly saying in these calls that he wished for an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue. Modi has had to work with both governments over efforts to evacuate thousands of Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine. (At least one Indian student was killed in the siege on Kharkiv.)

While India hasn’t denounced Russia, it has made some pointed comments. India’s Ambassador to the United Nations said in a statement after an abstention on a February 27 UN Security Council vote that the global order is anchored in “respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.” (That element — Russia’s unprovoked incursion into a sovereign Ukraine — is the one that India might be most sensitive to because of its own border dispute with China.)”

“The Soviet Union and India saw a benefit in relying on each other to counter China and a possible US-China partnership. But India got another perk: Soviet weaponry at what Ganguly called “bargain basement” prices. From the 1970s onward, India built up its military with Soviet, and later Russian, arms and equipment. Even today, the majority of India’s weaponry is of Soviet or Russian origin. Since 2010, Russia makes up two-thirds of India’s arms imports. New Delhi remains Moscow’s biggest arms importer, according to data compiled from the Congressional Research Service.

India has tried to diversify, going to the United Kingdom and France and Israel, and especially, the United States. As the relationship between the US and India grew in the past few decades, so, too, did defense cooperation — to the tune of billions in arms sales. But it’s still nowhere near the amount Russia provides. It’s also not as simple as just swapping out Russian stuff with new, US-made stuff. “Over the last 10 years, Indians have been steadily trying to reduce their dependence on Russia,” Ganguly said. “But it’s damn difficult.”

India needs spare parts to maintain the equipment it already has; arms imports from the US or elsewhere may be inoperable with Russian equipment. India also doesn’t have unlimited funds for defense, and US arms may not come as cheap as Russia’s. “It’s not [as though] you can just turn it off and stop the purchases now,” said Deepa Ollapally, a political scientist specializing in Indian foreign policy at George Washington University. “You’ve got to take care of your entire arsenal, which it won’t be that easy to do.””

“Experts also cautioned against completely pigeonholing India’s connection to Russia as solely transactional. India’s history of being brutally colonized by the British still makes it somewhat wary of being told what to do by the West.”

“India’s biggest concern remains Beijing, especially in the Himalayas, where a decades-old border dispute with China remains a serious source of tension, including a 2020 flare-up, which reportedly left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

But Moscow has grown closer with Beijing, too. In the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin visited Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, during the Olympics. The two said there were “no limits” to their partnership, and Putin may have planned his war around the Beijing Games at the request of Chinese officials, according to Western intelligence sources.”

“India still sees Russia as a possible partner in the region, but the more leverage China has over Russia, the less likely that will play out in India’s favor.”

9 big questions about Russia’s war in Ukraine, answered

“Beneath this rhetoric, according to experts on Russia, lies a deeper unstated fear: that his regime might fall prey to a similar protest movement. Ukraine could not succeed, in his view, because it might create a pro-Western model for Russians to emulate — one that the United States might eventually try to covertly export to Moscow. This was a central part of his thinking in 2014, and it remains so today.

“He sees CIA agents behind every anti-Russian political movement,” says Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist who studies Russia at the University of Toronto. “He thinks the West wants to subvert his regime””

““The formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us,” as he put it in his 2021 essay.

Why Putin decided that merely seizing part of Ukraine was no longer enough remains a matter of significant debate among experts. One theory, advanced by Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar, is that pandemic-induced isolation drove him to an extreme ideological place.

But while the immediate cause of Putin’s shift on Ukraine is not clear, the nature of that shift is. His longtime belief in the urgency of restoring Russia’s greatness curdled into a neo-imperial desire to bring Ukraine back under direct Russian control. And in Russia, where Putin rules basically unchecked, that meant a full-scale war.”

“The initial Russian plan reportedly operated under the assumption that a swift march on Kyiv would meet only token resistance. Putin “actually really thought this would be a ‘special military operation’: They would be done in a few days, and it wouldn’t be a real war,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the CNA think tank.

This plan fell apart within the first 48 hours of the war when early operations like an airborne assault on the Hostomel airport ended in disaster, forcing Russian generals to develop a new strategy on the fly. What they came up with — massive artillery bombardments and attempts to encircle and besiege Ukraine’s major cities — was more effective (and more brutal). The Russians made some inroads into Ukrainian territory, especially in the south, where they have laid siege to Mariupol and taken Kherson and Melitopol.”

“Russia’s invasion has gone awry for two basic reasons: Its military wasn’t ready to fight a war like this, and the Ukrainians have put up a much stronger defense than anyone expected.

Russia’s problems begin with Putin’s unrealistic invasion plan. But even after the Russian high command adjusted its strategy, other flaws in the army remained.

“We’re seeing a country militarily implode,” says Robert Farley, a professor who studies air power at the University of Kentucky.

One of the biggest and most noticeable issues has been rickety logistics. Some of the most famous images of the war have been of Russian armored vehicles parked on Ukrainian roads, seemingly out of gas and unable to advance. The Russian forces have proven to be underequipped and badly supplied, encountering problems ranging from poor communications to inadequate tires.

Part of the reason is a lack of sufficient preparation. Per Kofman, the Russian military simply “wasn’t organized for this kind of war” — meaning, the conquest of Europe’s second-largest country by area. Another part of it is corruption in the Russian procurement system. Graft in Russia is less a bug in its political system than a feature; one way the Kremlin maintains the loyalty of its elite is by allowing them to profit off of government activity. Military procurement is no exception to this pattern of widespread corruption, and it has led to troops having substandard access to vital supplies.

The same lack of preparation has plagued Russia’s air force. Despite outnumbering the Ukrainian air force by roughly 10 times, the Russians have failed to establish air superiority: Ukraine’s planes are still flying and its air defenses mostly remain in place.

Perhaps most importantly, close observers of the war believe Russians are suffering from poor morale. Because Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine was kept secret from the vast majority of Russians, the government had a limited ability to lay a propaganda groundwork that would get their soldiers motivated to fight. The current Russian force has little sense of what they’re fighting for or why — and are waging war against a country with which they have religious, ethnic, historical, and potentially even familial ties. In a military that has long had systemic morale problems, that’s a recipe for battlefield disaster.”

“Vladimir Putin’s government has ramped up its already repressive policies during the Ukraine conflict, shuttering independent media outlets and blocking access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s now extremely difficult to get a sense of what either ordinary Russians or the country’s elite think about the war, as criticizing it could lead to a lengthy stint in prison.”

“Putin has done an effective job engaging in what political scientists call “coup-proofing.” He has put in barriers — from seeding the military with counterintelligence officers to splitting up the state security services into different groups led by trusted allies — that make it quite difficult for anyone in his government to successfully move against him.

“Putin has prepared for this eventuality for a long time and has taken a lot of concerted actions to make sure he’s not vulnerable,” says Adam Casey, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan who studies the history of coups in Russia and the former communist bloc.

Similarly, turning the antiwar protests into a full-blown influential movement is a very tall order.”

“Most other countries around the world fall somewhere on the spectrum between the West and China. Outside of Europe, only a handful of mostly pro-American states — like South Korea, Japan, and Australia — have joined the sanctions regime. The majority of countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America do not support the invasion, but won’t do very much to punish Russia for it either.

India is perhaps the most interesting country in this category. A rising Asian democracy that has violently clashed with China in the very recent past, it has good reasons to present itself as an American partner in the defense of freedom. Yet India also depends heavily on Russian-made weapons for its own defense and hopes to use its relationship with Russia to limit the Moscow-Beijing partnership. It’s also worth noting that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has strong autocratic inclinations.

The result of all of this is a balancing act reminiscent of India’s Cold War approach of “non-alignment”: refusing to side with either the Russian or American positions while attempting to maintain decent relations with both. India’s perceptions of its strategic interests, more than ideological views about democracy, appear to be shaping its response to the war — as seems to be the case with quite a few countries around the world.”

Negotiating With Iran Isn’t Working, But Biden Has a Better Option

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/02/18/biden-threat-conflict-iran-nuclear-bomb-diplomacy-00010162

How to End the Ukraine Crisis in 4 Steps

“Europe is on the brink of war. The United States and its allies are convinced that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine, and they are threatening “devastating” sanctions should it take that step. Moscow vehemently denies any such plans, while maintaining that Kyiv is preparing for an assault on the Donbas separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Russian military maneuvers in Crimea, Western Russia and Belarus unnerve the West, while NATO plans a buildup of forces along its long frontier with Russia stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Meanwhile, a fitful round of diplomacy preserves hope that the crisis can be defused without military conflict — although the leaked “confidential” U.S. response to Russian demands to halt NATO expansion underscores how far apart the two sides remain.

Is there a diplomatic resolution that will bring enduring peace and stability to the troubled region of Eastern Europe? There is, but getting there requires understanding the essence of the current crisis. It is not simply about Ukraine. It is about the broader European settlement at the end of the Cold War 30 years ago, which Moscow contends was imposed on it at a time of extreme weakness and fails to take into account its national interests. The subsequent eastward expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions — notably NATO, a political-military organization designed to contain Russia, and the European Union, an economic community that Russia can never join — in Moscow’s views jeopardizes Russia’s security and prosperity. A revived Russia is determined to halt, if not reverse, that process, using all necessary means.”

“the path forward is treacherous, but it exists. It will take flexibility and creativity on both sides to navigate it successfully. The risk of a war that would prove catastrophic for Europe, and first of all Ukraine, and threaten escalation to a nuclear cataclysm should concentrate minds.”

“We see four elements to a solution. First, restrictions on military operations along the NATO/Russia border. Second, a moratorium on NATO expansion eastward. Third, resolution of ongoing and frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space and the Balkans. And fourth, modernization of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which created a pan-European forum and articulated agreed principles of interstate relations to undergird East-West detente.”