Couple of things caught my eye over the weekend. One is the low key presence of the regular Iraqi Armed Forces in the recent fighting against armed contingents of the Islamic State in northern and western Iraq. Instead the push-back against the Islamic militants is being spearheaded by a number of paramilitary groupings, the various party-affiliated factions making up the Kurdish peshmerga and the equally partisan Shia militias of Baghdad and southern Iraq. Both sets of groups are being backed by Iran and the United States, the former providing close air-support in co-ordination with the latter (however much both may deny that tacit co-operation). So after literally billions of dollars of funding, equipment and training the US-backed Iraqi military remains, outside of certain specialist units, more theoretical than real. Shades of the South Vietnamese Army here (and the repeated failure of institutional memory within the United States Armed Forces). From Al Jazeera:
“Government forces mainly composed of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and armed volunteers have broken through the Islamic State group siege on the town of Amerli located between Baghdad, and the northern city of Kirkuk.
The breakthrough was aided by expanded US air strikes, which destroyed Islamc State armed vehicles near Amerli as well as near Mosul Dam further north.
Our correspondent also said that there have been unconfirmed reports that Iranian jets were also involved in bombing the Islamic State group.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from the capital Baghdad, said that the government forces were also backed by “Shia militia”.”
Meanwhile the nations of eastern Europe are keeping a wary eye on events in Ukraine as Russian proxy-groupings have turned the tide against Kiev’s mixed military forces, regular and otherwise, thanks to the direct intervention of troops and armour from Russia. I know the Poles are getting quite nervous though it is states with “ethnic” Russian populations who have perhaps greater reasons to worry. From War is Boring:
“For months, Moscow has supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine with weapons, supplies, cross-border artillery barrages, propaganda and political cover. The result has been a powerful and, in places, deeply popular insurgency that threatens Ukraine’s very existence in its current form.
Now Russian president Vladimir Putin is finally taking a more direct approach to exercising his country’s influence over its smaller, poorer western neighbor. Russian tanks and troops have attacked across the border near the Azov Sea, opening up another front against Kiev’s beleaguered army.
Russia’s strategy is just indirect enough to sidestep traditional military and diplomatic processes that, in the past, might have allowed an opposing military alliances to meaningfully intervene—without triggering a global war that nobody wants.
Back in April, Latvia’s National Defense Academy published a report outlining what it calls “Russia’s new-generation warfare in Ukraine.”
Latvia borders Russia. Like Ukraine, it’s home to a strong community of Russian-speakers. Tiny Latvia looks like a perfect target for maskirovka [deniable aggressive actions, not always of a military nature].
The Latvian report breaks down Moscow’s asymmetric strategy into several distinct phases. The first five aim to cripple the target country through propaganda, misdirection, bribery and psychological warfare. All this happens before a single invading soldier steps foot in the country.
A traditional military might not even be necessary, if the covert assaults inflict enough damage to allow Moscow to dominate by political or economic means.
As Breedlove and other NATO officials have said, NATO is ready to fight back should Russian troops invade a member state. But “the probability of a frontal direct military attack from Russia on Latvia is very small,” the Latvian report asserts. “Instead, a Russian attack on Latvia would probably follow the first five phases.”
…the report points out that the opening phases of Russia’s asymmetric style could already be underway in Latvia.
“Some examples include the broadcasting of Russian propaganda channels, issuing Russian citizenship to Latvia’s non-citizens, pseudo human-rights movements, pro-Russian political parties, just to cite the most blatant,” the report states.
It’s no wonder that Latvia and other Baltic area NATO countries asked the alliance to deploy more troops within their borders—and NATO agreed.”
Yes – most comment sections of Latvian news sites are swarming with pro-Russian trolls that spew Russian propaganda (using very good Latvian language).
Russian versions of those portals are completely unreadable – there are no independent thoughts there – just pure Russian propaganda – directly from Kremlin.
The Guardian in Britain has had a lot of trouble with Russian activists who are co-coordinating their online presence. The Atlantic has a good report from last year.
The difference is that Russian invasion in the UK is highly unlikely.
On the other hand – the probability of Russian attack on Latvia is very high.
And unfortunately – many locals might Betray Latvia and join the occupying army.
Because unlike most Irish people who speak English but still are loyal to Ireland.
Many Russian speakers in Latvia are loyal to Russia.
The Baltic states though are in a different position to Ukraine, are they not? Latvia is a member of the EU, EUFOR, the Nordic Battle Group and NATO. Any Russian aggression against Latvia would force an EU and/or NATO response even if that aggression just took the form of deniable or proxy destabilisation of the Latvian state. Ukraine unfortunately has no allies worth talking about or any real political value to the EU, United States, etc. The loss of Latvia would raise question marks over the very purpose of the EU (and NATO).
Putin is bad not mad 😉
But what if Putin invades just to humiliate NATO.
Look how weakly the EU has been responding so far. Even after MH17 mass murder.
France still hasn’t cancelled the Mistral order for god’s sake.
Our only hope is the USA.
+ Russia is still able to bomb the Baltics back to the stone age before any response from NATO. (Which might be delayed because Russia would surely threaten them with nukes)
And I think that Putin is mad – seriously – he probably has some mental health issues.
Putin is a Russian chauvinist. He believes that the Federation must be recognised as a great global power, harking back to the (largely illusionary) superpower status of the Soviet Union. It is a strand in Russian thinking going back to the 18th century. Eastern Europe lies within Russia’s sphere of influence and he wants hegemony over it, whether direct or indirect. However I can’t see him going head-to-head with the EU, NATO or the United States. The Ukraines, Georgias, etc. are easy prey. The Baltic states would be far harder to justify .
Strategically I imagine that Kaliningrad and direct land access via southern Lithuania from Belarus would be a far more tempting target. The small number of ethnic Russians in places like Klaipėda could serve as an excuse for action though there is little minority unrest at present (and most Russian-speakers are dispersed around Visaginas and Vilnius).
Less than a year ago Russian invasion in Ukraine seemed unreal too.
For the most part the modern Irish people are descended from native Gaelic speakers. The situation in Latvia is not comparable.