Morning Report: 2008-10-05

Bearish on Russia?

Debka: Russian live-fire missile exercise near Alaska. Debka:
Not since 1984, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, has Russia ventured to launch dozens of nuclear bombers for an exercise in which Tu-95 Bear bombers will fire live cruise missiles. Exercise Stability 2008 will take place Oct.-6-12 over sub-Arctic Russia uncomfortably close to the US state of Alaska, and Belarus.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the exercise is part of a month-long war game described by Russian air force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik as “practicing the strategic deployment of the armed forces including the nuclear triad.”

As part of the exercise, our sources reported exclusively on Oct. 1, that Russian ships armed with nuclear missiles will dock at Syrian ports Oct. 8, on the eve of Yom Kippur, before continuing to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with Venezuela.

More than 60,000 troops and 1.500 tanks and APCs, as well as land-based and submarine-launched nuclear missiles, were tested in the first phase of the war games.

(“Nuclear triad” refers to three tiers of a national nuclear arsenal, usually strategic bombers armed with bombs or missiles, land-based missiles and ballistic missile submarines. These weapons must have a first- or second-strike capability.)

Col. Drik stressed that the Tu-95 and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers will “carry their maximum combat payload and fire all the cruise missiles on board.” Also taking part in the air force exercise are Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers, air superiority fighters, interceptors and aerial tankers.

The locations of the war games were deliberately chosen to underline three messages from Moscow to Washington:

1. Russian leaders are willing to brandish their nuclear strength in America’s face - to the north (Arctic) and south (Caribbean) – to challenge America’s position as the world’s No. 1 superpower.

2. Russia is powerful and rich enough to rise above the shockwaves rocking the world’s financial markets while carrying on developing its military muscle and expanding its spheres of influence.

3. By docking at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Peter the Great nuclear missile cruiser is Moscow’s marker on the Mediterranean to betoken the end of US Sixth Fleet’s sway. Last week, the Russian Navy united its Black Sea and Mediterranean fleet commands.

The Telegraph:
Over 60,000 troops and 1,500 tanks and armoured personnel carriers have taken part in the first fortnight of exercises. Land-based and submarine launched nuclear missiles have also been tested. Once the bombers have fired their cruise missiles next week, Russia will have carried out its first near-simultaneous test launches of all elements of its nuclear triad since the Cold War.

The has worried military observers critical of the Kremlin, who say the scope and character of the exercises does not gel with official explanations that they are designed to train the country's armed forces in counter-terrorism and military defence.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a respected military analyst, says the geographical reach of the exercises suggests that they are intended to simulate a nuclear war with the United States.

"Russia is preparing for the eventuality of a nuclear war," he said. "These are the most elaborate war games for 20 years and is clear evidence that we are returning to the Cold War."

Stratfor: 'Russia’s armed forces on Sept. 22 began conducting the “Stability-2008” strategic command staff exercises, Itar-Tass reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry press service. The exercises are taking place under the command of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and will last until Oct. 21. Serdyukov said the exercises will be conducted in various areas of Russia and Belarus, with the cooperation of the Belarusian Defense Ministry.' More in Commentary section, below.

Helga and the cowboy. Bill Whittle has a terrific piece on an interview with an anti-islamist activist in Europe. He turns the America up to eleven, and then they get serious and learn why the hat - and the mask - cannot be taken off. I'm not going to try to explain - just read it.

Commentary. A post at the Small Wars Journal blog cites an article by Murray Feshbach in the Washington Post, which avers:
Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.

The Telegraph article quoted above seems to back up this assessment of Russia's military strength: 'Not everyone is convinced as the Kremlin appears to be that Russia will soon be as militarily competitive as it was in the Cold War. Despite some improvements, the armed forces – and especially the air force and navy – are still in woeful condition and would be incapable of challenging a medium-sized European country in a conventional war, analysts say.'