Current Affairs Military Politics

From Russia’s National Guard To America’s Private Air Forces

At the risk of drawing the ire of the sockpuppet brigades labouring away in various nondescript buildings around the city of Saint Petersburg, a statement by the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, announcing the establishment of a “National Guard of Russia” has sparked a lot of speculation among Kremlin-watchers. Intended to serve as an internal security force, it seems the organisation will eventually have the wherewithal of a small (or large) army, perhaps some 400,000 strong, subsuming the paramilitary units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including the Soviet-era Internal Troops. Vice News briefly examines the force which bears an uncanny resemblance to several other Praetorian-style units we have seen in the 19th and 20th centuries, there being nothing new under the sun.

“During a televised appearance this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise announcement declaring the creation of a new National Guard, which will be headed by his former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov.

The National Guard will draw troops from the ranks of the Interior Ministry, answer directly to the Russian president, and be tasked with “the protection of public order,” according to a statement posted on the Kremlin web site.

But the timing of move ahead of parliamentary elections in September may signal growing anxiety in the Kremlin about the potential for civil unrest as a collapse in oil prices pushes millions of Russians into poverty. Analysts said the initiative seemed more likely to be aimed at shoring up Kremlin control of domestic security rather than addressing terrorism and crime.”

There is a very strong presumption that the Guard, answering directly to the former KGB spook and staffed with his closest confidants, will become the main deterrent against domestic critics and perhaps heralds a longer than expected Vladimir Putin presidency. There are also rumours concerning the relationship between the membership of the All-Russia People’s Front (insert obligatory Monty Python joke here), a grass-roots movement headed by Putin, and the new Guard. None of which odes particularly well for the future.

Meanwhile, in the United States the mercenary corporations that have flourished since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, notably Academi (formerly Xe Services and before that, the infamous Blackwater), grow ever more ambitious. Providing guns-for-hire is one thing, providing planes-for-hire is quite another. Yet this is the new avenue for profit in the continuing privatisation of America’s wars.  Need an air force quick but pesky Congressional laws are holding things up? Dial 1800-666-666 Rent-A-Bomber! The Intercept reports:

“…in November 2014, a black Mercedes SUV pulled onto the tarmac of an Austrian speciality aviation company 30 miles south of Vienna. Employees of the firm, Airborne Technologies, which specialized in designing and equipping small aircraft with wireless surveillance platforms, had been ordered to work that weekend because one of the company’s investors was scheduled to inspect their latest project.

For four months, Airborne’s team had worked nearly nonstop to modify an American-made Thrush 510G crop duster to the exact specifications of an unnamed client. Everything about the project was cloaked in secrecy. The company’s executives would refer to the client only as “Echo Papa,” and instructed employees to use code words to discuss certain modifications made to the plane. Now the employees would learn that Echo Papa also owned more than a quarter of their company.

A fit, handsome man with blond hair and blue eyes got out of the Mercedes and entered Airborne’s hanger. Echo Papa, who was often just called EP, shook hands with a dozen Airborne employees and looked over the plane.

One of the mechanics soon recognized Echo Papa from news photos — he was Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater. Several of the Airborne staff whispered among themselves, astonished that they had been working for America’s best-known mercenary. The secrecy and strange modification requests of the past four months began to make sense. In addition to surveillance and laser-targeting equipment, Airborne had outfitted the plane with bulletproof cockpit windows, an armored engine block, anti-explosive mesh for the fuel tank, and specialized wiring that could control rockets and bombs. The company also installed pods for mounting two high-powered 23 mm machine guns. By this point, the engineers and mechanics were concerned that they had broken several Austrian laws but were advised that everything would be fine as long as they all kept the secret.

Prince congratulated everyone for making the plane “rugged” and then left. The plane was due in South Sudan, where it was urgently needed to salvage Prince’s first official contract with his new company, Frontier Services Group. Prince was eager to get the Thrush 510G in the air.

The conversion of crop dusters into light attack aircraft had long been part of Prince’s vision for defeating terrorists and insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East. In Prince’s view, these single-engine fixed-wing planes, retrofitted for war zones, would revolutionize the way small wars were fought. They would also turn a substantial profit. The Thrush in Airborne’s hangar, one of two crop dusters he intended to weaponize, was Prince’s initial step in achieving what one colleague called his “obsession” with building his own private air force.”

Read the whole astonishing article for the low-down on a world where businessmen meet gunmen and profits ensue.



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