AUKUS – the beginning of the end of NATO?

Is creation of a new alliance between the US, UK and Australia – the beginning of the end of NATO pact?

So it started!

The announcement that the United States, Great Britain and Australia have entered into a joint pact in the field of defense and security, dubbed AUKUS, has become an event that has already caused quite a lot of noise in the world from the very beginning.

In particular, in China – this event was received with hostility. In Beijing, in general, they called this pact directed against China. And Chinese interests not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in the world. China announced that this agreement between the three countries intensifies the arms race and seriously undermines the “regional peace”.

In the EU, this event, judging by the first reactions of politicians and various institutions of power on this fact, was a complete surprise. And even more, it was the reason why one of the EU countries, namely France as a whole, announced that this agreement on the creation of a kind of alliance – “was a stab in the back” which undermined trust between the allies!

Moreover, I want to note that the reaction of France in this case is quite understandable. This event became the reason for Australia’s refusal to purchase submarines from Paris.

First reactions

In the countries of Oceania, this event, in general, was the reason for the condemnation of the creation of a new military-political alliance and the signing of this agreement. In New Zealand, this event became the reason for the statement that they would ban Australian submarines from leaving their waters!

Only in Russia so far, at the time of this writing, this event has not been commented on at the official level. It has not generally expressed any reaction, but I think that if not today, then tomorrow this event will still receive assessment.

I consider this event from the point of view as the beginning of the end of NATO.

Yes! This is exactly what it is in my opinion. European members of NATO were already shaken in their trust in the aliance leaders – USA. It seems that Afghanistan debacle was just a beginning of something much bigger. Has American establishment made assessment that NATO is not necessary and is too expensive? Are we starting to witness transition of an intelligence alliance known as the “five eyes” into new military alliance spreading over Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Will Europe be left to deal with “Russian threat” on its own?

Why do I think so?

Let’s consider this situation, or rather this event, from a purely political point of view. EU “neither sleep nor spirit” knew about the ongoing negotiations on the creation of this alliance. This came as a complete surprise to the EU! It should be noted that it can and even should be regarded as an open expression of mistrust and even disregard on the part of the United States, Great Britain and Australia for the interests of their allies from the EU. 

In fact Washington, London and Canberra are simply, and not so simply, created a new military-political alliance without notifying their closest allies in the military-political NATO bloc about it. Thus, openly demonstrating their true attitude towards their own allies!

The creation of US, UK and Australia alliance in the field of defense and security without notifying its NATO allies is essentially nothing more than an open demonstration of complete disregard for the opinions of its so-called “allies.” In my opinion, it is a very rash step on the part of the participants in the new pact. It suggests that there is a rather serious split in views in the ranks of NATO. This gives a clear understanding of the fact that the very essence of the meaning of NATO’s existence for some of its member countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, has simply lost its relevance.

There is no alliance without trust

Well, the right thing is how you can be an ally with those who talk about the need to confront threats to Europe, but at the same time, behind Europe itself, it creates new alliances, which not only leave Europe alone with China, but also take away from the countries of Europe large enough orders for their military products?

It is impossible to talk about some kind of alliance if one of the parties makes and creates new pacts, about which the other ally finds out only after the fact. What do we understand and say that there is no longer any sense in the existence of NATO!

Secondly, if this event is viewed from a purely economic and technological point of view, then it should also be noted that the creation of this new alliance is nothing more than the beginning of the end of NATO! Especially if we take into account the fact that Australia has abandoned its plans to purchase submarines from France. 

The United States essentially destroyed the multi-billion dollar deal between France and Australia. And even more than that, the United States has pledged to transfer its technologies for the production of nuclear submarines! Yes, not transfer them to NATO member countries, but Australia – not even a member of NATO. In my opinion it also suggests that there is no longer any sense in the existence of NATO!

Technology transfer

During the entire existence of NATO, the United States has shared its technologies only with Great Britain!

There is a possibility that Europe may be outraged for the sake of appearance and then calmly forget all this. It would not be the first time. 

Something inside tells me that it is quite real. The events of recent year demonstrate to the whole world the fact that NATO is no longer relevant! And this event underlines this very clearly!

Please share your opinion in the comments!

Afghanistan – a unique chance for a military alliance between Russia & China

From Russian Point of View

The inglorious and hasty departure of the US military contingents and their allies from the territory of Afghanistan is today almost the main world news , discussed by everyone – from serious analysts to idle gossips. This is not surprising – after all, this event, no doubt, will have geopolitical consequences that go far beyond the purely regional level.

Already now, forecasts are being made with might and main, and numerous versions are being put forward as to what exactly these very consequences may be. There are already plenty of similar “virtualities” built. However, it seems that one of them is missing – rather non-trivial and extremely intriguing just for our country.

No matter how the events in Afghanistan develop further, where the war (both with the participation of foreign troops and without them) has not subsided for many decades, it would be extremely naive to hope for a peaceful scenario that will develop “by itself”. The wrong country, the wrong people, the wrong internal “alignments” and factors of external influence … It is unlikely that a full-fledged solution to the problems of a state that is about to “break apart” again will be possible without a “power component”. This is where a turn is possible, which few expected today, but more than real in the future.

Reluctant peacekeepers?

It should be noted that it is Russia and China (among the major geopolitical “players”) that have the greatest and most direct interest in ensuring that Afghanistan, with the withdrawal of American soldiers from there, does not turn into a new Syria, or something worse. Let’s try to consider their reasons specifically, albeit in the most condensed and schematic form. 

First of all, neither Russia nor China “smiles” in any way as an excessive strengthening of the Taliban, nor, even more so, the revival of ISIS, which is quite likely at the present moment (both organizations are banned in Russia). And regarding the prospects for a keen bickering of many smaller, but from this no less harmful Islamist groups, which can turn both the country itself and all the regions adjacent to it into bloody bedlam, we can say exactly the same thing.

Radical and militant Islamism is an extremely nasty thing, in particular, because it has a pronounced ability, speaking in medical terms, to produce abundant metastases. Its export to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia for our country will mean a sharp increase in the terrorist threat, flows of refugees and illegal migrants, an increase in drug trafficking, arms smuggling and a lot of other “delights”. China, on the other hand, has a common border with Afghanistan, and even, as a sin, in the Xinjiang Uyghur region, inhabited mainly by Muslims. 

There is no doubt that given the current level of Beijing’s “friendship” with the West, there will be innumerable people willing to direct the expansion of radicals under a green or black banner in this very direction. However, to the reality of the prospects of their attacks on Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, this also applies to the fullest. To “spoil the blood” of the Russians and their allies by the hands of the Islamists is for the “white Sahibs” the most proven and, alas, effective method.

It should also not be forgotten that the Chinese comrades absolutely do not need any changes in not only the bordering Afghanistan, but the Pakistan that has “merged” with it. They have very big plans for this country within the framework of the One Belt – One Road project, considerable investments have already been made there, and even more are expected. In Beijing, they definitely do not agree to carry out a grandiose construction “under the roar of cannonade”. In one of the publications I happened to come across a phantasmagoric version that the Chinese de “offered the Taliban infrastructure and energy projects worth billions of dollars in exchange for lasting peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, having reached an appropriate agreement. This is just ridiculous. The “Islamic Emirate” (and this is how the Taliban deign to call themselves officially) is, to put it mildly, not quite the structure with which one can negotiate anything at all.

And as for financial investments, did the United States greatly help the US $ 137 billion, which it poured over two decades into the “reconstruction and development” of Afghanistan in ensuring stability in this completely unpredictable country and keeping its own protégés in power there? The Chinese are not more stupid and certainly not more naive than the Yankees. They know how to take into account and not repeat their mistakes in the most beautiful way. And so, by the way, with regard to the United States and not only them … One of the most important tasks for both Russia and China in the current situation is to prevent the preservation and even strengthening of the military-strategic positions in the region of the Americans who are now carrying out an exemplary “drape” from it and their allies, as well as the penetration of other forces there – for example, the same Turkey, rushing with the ghost of “Great Turan”. Just let them go

A Commonwealth Time to Put Into Practice

It has been known for a long time that the US army (and, in particular, specific “offices”) are excellently able to “stay while leaving”. However, they are not alone – for example, the British Daily Telegraph, citing sources in the Special Airborne Service (SAS), reported that the British special forces may well “stay” in Afghanistan. Allegedly “for the training of the local military.” Obviously, those that today surrender to the Taliban in thousands and flee to neighboring Tajikistan. It is perfectly clear against whom all the military and other similar structures of states that have declared their enemies No. 1 not some Taliban, but Russia and China, will actually act from Afghan territory. In addition, Washington does not abandon its attempts to openly settle even closer to our country – in Kazakhstan, for example. This should not be allowed in any case.

Where do we end up? Neither Moscow nor Beijing can afford to “let the situation in Afghanistan take its course”, relying on “maybe it will be formed”. Could it come to the necessity of bringing certain military contingents into this territory? Let’s be realistic – more than. And just do not need “oohs” and “oohs”, hysterics about “the danger of repeating the” Afghan break “of the USSR model”! Firstly, even then, everything was far from being as disastrous as they tried to convince us later, and it could have been even more successful – if not for some strategic miscalculations of the country’s leadership and the army. Secondly, the experience of the Syrian campaign convincingly proves that it is precisely these mistakes that Russia has realized and is not going to repeat. Well, and thirdly, forgive the cynicism, if a state with the ambitions of a world power does not participate in wars outside its own limits, war will sooner or later come to his land. To paraphrase Napoleon, a country that does not create military bases on foreign territory will receive foreign bases on its own. In this particular case, the “alignment” is exactly this and the other is not available.

Much more interesting, perhaps, is the question of what kind of forms military cooperation between Russia and China could take in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and the adjacent region? We will consider the topic primarily in a pragmatic aspect – Beijing, perhaps, is much more interested than our country in the material side of solving this problem. “One Belt – One Road” could indeed be extended to Afghan territory – provided a stable peace is established there. For our country, in turn, it is more important to ensure the security of borders – both our own and allies in the same CSTO. However, why not get additional benefits from solving these problems? The People’s Liberation Army of China probably has the military-technical resources to conduct a peacekeeping operation of this magnitude. The problem here is something else – the complete absence of an extremely specific experience, vital in this case. But just our military has it – and from some of them it was acquired directly in Afghanistan, which makes it absolutely invaluable. Each side has something to offer each other, realizing that it will be problematic for both Moscow and Beijing to cope with an incredibly large-scale task alone. That is why such a configuration of the Russian-Chinese peacekeeping contingent seems to be the most appropriate, in which the Celestial Empire would take on the main burden of the logistical and financial support of the mission, and our country would be responsible for its other aspects arising from the presence of a huge array of “developments” which became the result of both the previous Afghan campaign and the recent Syrian one.

Extending the Treaty on Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between Russia and China, the leaders of the two countries spoke very sparingly about the purely military aspects of this very cooperation. Naturally – after all, such things are not announced to the general public. Nevertheless, Vladimir Putin emphasized that “coordination between Moscow and Beijing” undoubtedly plays a serious “stabilizing role”, including in the context of “increasing conflict potential in various parts of the world.” Ensuring peace in Afghanistan can be an excellent example of such “stabilization” in the Russian-Chinese implementation. And this will be even more important in light of the fact that, in front of the eyes of the whole world, the corresponding mission was failed miserably and shamefully by the United States and its allies.

The military alliance between Moscow and Beijing is for the “collective West” perhaps the biggest nightmare they can imagine. On this occasion, in particular, they have repeatedly and very sharply expressed themselves in the White House, calling the very possibility of such an alliance “a direct challenge to the vital interests of the United States.” In order to show that all these are not empty fears, but a very real prospect, over which the West really needs to ponder, the Russian and Chinese military sooner or later need to stand shoulder to shoulder not in exercises, but in a real combat situation, which fully checks for the strength of weapons, people, and defense alliances. So why shouldn’t this happen in Afghanistan?

War games in the Arctic

The first combat icebreaker was put into service

Against the background of the intensification of the Russian Northern Fleet in the high Arctic latitudes, for example, in recent years, Russian ships conducted training voyages along the Northern Sea Route to the New Siberian Islands, the Royal Canadian Navy adopted the first Arctic patrol ship Harry Devolph. It was laid down in 2016, launched in 2018, and on June 26, 2021 in Halifax. the adoption ceremony took place. As early as August this year, “Harry Devolph” will travel north to participate in the annual Arctic exercise.

In addition to the lead ship – “Harry Devolf”, it is planned to build five more icebreakers of this class. The purchase contract between the Canadian Department of Defense and the Canadian shipbuilding company Irving Shipbuilding was signed in 2015. The total value of the contract is CAD 4.3 billion. The net purchase share is estimated at CAD 2.3 billion. The remaining amount is intended for the maintenance of the ships for a period of 25 years. Given the harsh operating conditions in the Arctic, the Canadian Navy believes that in 25 years the ships will be decommissioned. It was planned to build two ships every year. The new warships are specifically designed to patrol Canada’s northernmost regions and sea waters. It is planned that they will also strengthen the country’s position in the Arctic.

“Harry Devolph”

“Harry Devolph” with a displacement of 6.6 thousand tons has a length of 103.6 m. The ship is driven by a diesel-electric system of four generators with a capacity of 3.6 MW and two diesel engines with a capacity of 6 thousand hp. On free water, the ship develops a speed of up to 17 knots. When breaking one meter thick ice – up to 3 knots. The standard crew of the “Harry Devolf” is 65 people. Up to 22 people can be additionally taken on board.

Diagram of an arctic patrol ship of the “Harry Devolph” class.

According to Western experts, the design of the “Harry Devolf” is very similar to the Norwegian coast guard ship “Svalbard” (KV “Svalbard”), so, for example, their basic dimensions practically coincide. The design of the ship takes into account the peculiarities of operations in the Arctic region. There is a closed tank to protect equipment and personnel from the extreme weather conditions of the arctic climate. The payload is located aft, where you can install up to six 20-foot ISO containers, unmanned underwater vehicles, a 12-meter landing boat, as well as weapons and equipment for the landing units.

A crane installed at the stern with a lifting capacity of up to 20 tons allows the ship to unload not only in equipped ports, which is of significant importance in the Arctic. The separate interior vehicle deck can be loaded with off-road vehicles, light trucks and snowmobiles. A CH-148 helicopter can be accommodated in the stern hangar. The helicopter will be used for naval reconnaissance, anti-submarine combat (equipped with two torpedoes) and search and rescue operations. Armed with a Harry Devolph 25mm Mark 38 artillery mount and two M2 heavy machine guns.

Similar Russian ice-class patrol ships are still under construction

Similar Russian ice-class patrol ships are still under construction. Although the contract for the construction until 2020 of the first two ships of Project 23550 (code “Arctic”) was signed between the Russian Ministry of Defense and JSC “Admiralty Shipyards” on May 4, 2016, but the lead ship of the series – “Ivan Papanin” was launched only October 25, 2019 and now stands at the outfitting wall. The transfer to the fleet is scheduled for late 2023.

According to the project, the standard displacement of “Ivan Papanin” is 6.8 thousand tons, length – 114.5 m, crew – 60 people. That is, quite close to the Canadian “Harry Devolph”. However, unlike the Canadian, the Russian combat icebreaker is armed to the teeth: missile armament – 2 container launchers of the KR “Caliber” missile system or 2 launchers of the “Uran” Kh-35U missile system artillery armament – 1 x 76.2 mm AU AK-176MA, 2 x 30 mm AK-306M, 4 x 12.7 mm.

Also on board the ship will be based two high-speed patrol combat boats of the project 03160 “Raptor”. They are designed to pursue and detain violators of the sea borders of the state border and boarding operations. And in the deck hangar – a Ka-27 helicopter and a UAV.  

India-Russia friendship too pragmatic to be ruined

Sreeram Chaulia

Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India. His forthcoming book is ‘Crunch Time: Narendra Modi’s National Security Crises’

Upon his return from India last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said he feels no wavering on New Delhi’s end of its defense cooperation with Moscow. Despite American pressure on anyone doing business with Russia.

The 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual.” This maxim has been used to justify flexibility for a country to choose and discard partners. Depending on the changing times and circumstances.

Whether in defiance, or in support of this very pragmatic logic, one major relationship has persisted. India and Russia have sustained a robust partnership through the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, and now in the emerging multipolar order. The international system as a whole has changed beyond comprehension in the last fifty years, but what New Delhi and Moscow call ‘Druzhba-Dosti’ (friendship in Russian and Hindi) has remained intact.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar referred to this while hosting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on April 7 by remarking that India and Russia have shown a “consistent ability to identify and update our shared interests.”

In spite of the US

While there is a perception of divergence between the two sides due to their respective global strategic compulsions, India needs Russia and vice-versa. The ‘special and privileged strategic partnership’ is not fading away. Defense cooperation is an obvious illustration of that. Lavrov’s comment in New Delhi that ‘prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion’ caught attention in India because of the threat of American sanctions on any country that does ‘significant transactions’ with Russia.

New Delhi insists that the Russian-made S-400 anti-missile system is essential for India’s national security and that imposing sanctions on India for pursuing its core national interests would be a strategic blunder by the US. Russia is a touchstone for India to prove its ‘strategic autonomy’ in foreign policy. Moreover, Russia has been the most generous among the world’s military powers in offering co-production and technology transfer to India for defence manufacturing. Lavrov’s emphasis that ‘we are the only partner that indeed transfers to India cutting-edge military technology’ and that this is in ‘the national interests of both countries,’ conveys that the two sides are determined to plough ahead.

President Vladimir Putin’s commitment to enhancing India’s indigenous defence production capacities matches with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India an exporter of ‘low-cost, high-quality’ weapons. Russia is keen to retain its share of the Indian defence market, which has historically been massive but lately has fallen to 49% of total Indian military imports. If Russia’s competition for a share of the Indian defence pie with France (18%), Israel (13%) and the US spurs more advanced co-development of weapons with India, it serves both New Delhi and Moscow.

Between China and India

Skeptics who contend that India and Russia are strategically drifting apart because of the former’s closeness to the US, the latter’s alignment with China, and intensifying tensions between India and China, should look at how Russia promptly supplied much-needed defence equipment to India in 2020 as New Delhi was engaged in a major national security crisis along its northern border. Jaishankar acknowledged in Lavrov’s presence that “our defence requirement in the past year was expeditiously addressed” by Russia.

Lavrov’s statement that “we are closely watching the process of normalisation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC)” between China and India was not unwelcome from an Indian point of view. Moscow’s good offices have been creatively used both in the 2017 Doklam standoff and during the LAC dispute that began in 2020. India and Russia serve as each other’s balancing factors that bring stability in relations with China.

Unlike the crude offers to ‘mediate’ or ‘arbitrate’ between China and India that the US made under President Donald Trump, Putin’s Russia has a proven record as a pragmatic interlocutor. Lavrov has assured New Delhi that “Russia has no plans to sign a military alliance with China”. Russia has been willing to hear out India’s geopolitical perspectives and dilemmas despite having a joint front with China in standing up to the West. The same open-mindedness has led to exploration of new avenues such as Japan-India-Russia trilateral economic cooperation in Russia’s Far East and India manufacturing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines for combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sticking points

One issue where differences have crept in between India and Russia is Afghanistan. Some in India have expressed worries of a ‘Russia-China-Pakistan axis’ emerging in South-Central Asia whose practical effect could be to sideline India from the settlement of Afghanistan’s future. Lavrov’s recent discussions with Jaishankar on Afghanistan, the former’s reiteration that India was very much a part of the ‘Moscow format’ for stabilising Afghanistan and an ‘important player in the settlement in Afghanistan’, should calm nerves in New Delhi.

Russia’s defence sales to Pakistan are much smaller in volume and scope than the India-Russia security cooperation. And in themselves are not major irritants. What is required in order to reduce disagreements on this front is for Russia and India to coordinate better on their commonly stated goal of an ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.’

Iran is another regional issue where India and Russia are looking more aligned now. The restart of talks involving the Europeans, Russia, China, the US and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement has India’s wholehearted backing. New Delhi’s investments and plans to integrate with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia via Iran’s Chabahar port were stuck in limbo as long as Washington applied ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Tehran. India’s push to get Chabahar included in the agenda of the 13-nation International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could connect Russia, Iran, India and Central Asia closer and help usher in balance in the Eurasian region.

In this context, it can be a good sign that Lavrov personally met the Joe Biden administration’s climate envoy and former US Secretary of State John Kerry. He had played a crucial role in the US-Iran thaw of 2015, while both happened to be in New Delhi.

With a lot still in common between India and Russia, the global dichotomies of Sino-US confrontation and Russia-US frostiness need not be insurmountable hurdles. In the current fluid multipolar world, there are no watertight or exclusive alliances. Countries have to forge one set of friends on one issue and another set on a second issue. India and Russia are mature enough to understand this dynamic.

US warship stirs the waters ‘without Indian consent’

Reacting to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs adhered to the government’s stand on not allowing military exercises in its exclusive economic zone without consent and said it has conveyed its concerns to the US government through diplomatic channels

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |

Days after the first summit of the Quadrilateral grouping and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin’s visit to New Delhi, the US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships, USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had carried out a Freedom of Navigation operation west of Lakshadweep Islands. “Inside India’s exclusive economic zone! And without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

Responding to this public announcement by the US Navy which raised eyebrows given the growing ties between the armed forces of the two countries, especially their navies, New Delhi said: “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels.”

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.”

“The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state,” it said.

In a statement dated April 7, Arabian Sea, the US Seventh Fleet said: “USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” it said.

Freedom of Navigation Operations

“US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” it said.

Under Indian law — The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 — “all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters” and a passage is innocent “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India”.

“Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government,” the law states.

The US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operation near Lakshadweep is not unprecedented. The US Department of Defence publishes an annual Freedom of Navigation report and India found mention in the 2019 report along with 21 other countries that included China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. India was mentioned in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 reports as well.

But the public announcement of the operation has raised eyebrows. It comes at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is on the rise. Their navies were involved in a joint exercise, along with navies of Japan, France and Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean region, in the La Pérouse exercise between April 5 and April 7, and led by the French Navy.

“Shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”

Last month, Secretary of Defence Austin conveyed to New Delhi the Biden administration’s “commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries”.


India and the US, along with Australia and Japan, make the Quadrilateral grouping. At its first summit on March 13, Quad leaders affirmed their commitment to a “shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific” and a region that is “inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”.

The Quad members, for the first time since 2007, had together participated in the Malabar multilateral wargaming exercise last November.

Reacting to the Seventh Fleet statement, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, in a Twitter post, said: “There is irony here. While India ratified UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF!” — IFF stands for Identification, Friend or Foe.

He also questioned the intent behind the move. “FoN ops by USN ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea, are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he said.

Source:

The mystery of Azerbaijan’s missing army chief

In the middle of the country’s victorious war against Armenia, the chief of staff of the armed forces – long the subject of public rumors of “treason” – disappeared. He hasn’t been seen since.

Ulkar Natiqqizi

Najmaddin Sadikov had been Azerbaijan’s top military officer since 1993, the chief of general staff of the armed forces and a deputy defense minister. But in the middle of last year’s war with Armenia, on the cusp of the victory for which the armed forces had prepared nearly all those 27 years, Sadikov mysteriously disappeared.

Rumors had long swirled around Sadikov, a career Soviet army officer who joined the Azerbaijani armed forces in 1992 during the first war with Armenia. Many Azerbaijanis considered him a “traitor,” a word they often used in social media posts about him. Insinuations were made about his ties with Russia and claims that his brother was a senior officer in the Armenian armed forces. 

The rumors reached a peak during fighting in July, when a well-known and respected senior officer, Major General Polad Hashimov, along with Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev, were killed. On social media, many Azerbaijanis accused Sadikov of giving their coordinates to Armenia. 

Sadikov attended the funeral, acting as a pallbearer along with Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. 

But at a massive demonstration in Baku that followed the funeral of another fallen officer, protesters blamed Sadikov for the deaths and called on him to resign. Rumors spread that he had been fired.

The allegations of treason appear ungrounded, but the government seems to have been worried by the harsh public reaction to Hashimov’s death and the heightened accusations against Sadikov, said Fuad Shahbaz, a Baku-based political and military analyst.

“The harsh criticism of Sadikov during the mass demonstrations in July and the demands for his resignation gave the government serious doubts about Sadikov’s image,” Shahbaz told Eurasianet. “This is likely the reason for his dismissal.” 

Sadikov still retained official support, however. In response to the many public insinuations about him, several articles in pro-government media appeared, chronicling his successful career and blaming rumormongers for slandering him. 

The Ministry of Defense issued a statement on July 21 denying the rumors that he had been fired and that his brother was in the Armenian armed forces; the ministry said the brother had been dead for more than 30 years. 

“These reports are fabrications and disinformation spread by enemy forces for provocative purposes,” the ministry said. “Unfortunately, the recent spread and discussion of news on social networks clearly shows that this is done in order to create bias, hostility and confusion in society.” 

Sadikov’s family also was mixing with the Azerbaijani elite: Azerbaijani-Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the former son-in-law of President Ilham Aliyev and friend of former U.S. President Donald Trump, released a song in September on Instagram called “Fatima,” which many fans took as an announcement that he was marrying Sadikov’s daughter, Fatima Sadikova. Agalarov has been coy and not confirmed directly that he is marrying Sadikova, but continued to drop hints that he was.

About two weeks after “Fatima” was released, war broke out again with Armenia.

When Azerbaijan appeared to suffer significant early losses in the fighting, especially around Murovdag in the Kelbajar region, many Azerbaijanis again blamed Sadikov. Rumors again spread that he had been fired for treason.

On October 4, the Ministry of Defense published a photo showing a video teleconference among senior military leaders, including Sadikov. 

A few days later, though, Sadikov’s biography and other information was quietly deleted from the MoD’s web page. There was no official comment, though the erasure was noticed and widely commented on in social networks.

At the same time, Aliyev quietly signed two decrees to dismiss Sadikov’s nephew, Ramil Asgarov, another senior military official. In June, Aliyev had promoted Asgarov to major general. But then in two late October decrees, Aliyev first dismissed Asgarov from his position as chief of the Main Department of Special Security of the Ministry of Defense and then four days later dismissed him from active duty. Neither decision was publicly announced and the decrees passed unnoticed.

Azerbaijan went on to win the war, and on December 10 held a military parade in Baku to celebrate. Sadikov, who hadn’t been seen since that October 4 photo, didn’t appear at the parade. 

Social media speculation again spiked. One Facebook user, under a post captioned “What do you think of Najmaddin Sadikov?” commented: “Why has he not been punished before the people? Why has whatever he has done not been investigated? Why is there no news?” Others returned to Agalarov’s Instagram post and accused the pop star of marrying the daughter of a traitor.

Finally, on January 28, there was official news, of a sort. The Defense Ministry, in response to a query from state news agency APA, confirmed that Sadikov was no longer in military service. APA reported, without citing a source, that he was suffering serious health problems and was undergoing open heart surgery in Moscow. 

But other government officials began to say a bit more. 

One member of parliament, writer Agil Abbas, wrote a short humor piece about Sadikov headlined “Najmaddin Sadigov Has Become a State Secret,” which concluded with a pointed retelling of an old Soviet joke. “So, a journalist wrote about a very high-ranking government official who was a fool. The journalist was sued. The judge sentenced him to a very high sentence – 15 years. Not because he insulted that high-ranking government official, but because he revealed an important state secret.”

Abbas gave a more serious interview to a local news website, Yenicag, where he said he believed that Sadikov was under house arrest. “He made mistakes, or lost credibility, in my opinion, that’s why he was removed,” Abbas said. “If he was arrested, it would be published in the press. Because the arrest of a general could not be hidden. He is probably under house arrest in his house, or one of his villas.” 

A former state prosecutor, Ferman Rzayev, said in an online video show that Sadikov was responsible for early losses in the war. 

“Who created the tactics? Of course, Chief of General Staff Najmaddin Sadikov,” Rzayev said. “Najmaddin trapped our army, directed the attack to the right, towards Agdam. For 30 years, Armenians have built tunnels, fortifications and traps there. Najmaddin had a plan to attack the direction in which the Armenians were strongest.”

Rzayev also had implicated the current minister of defense, Zakir Hasanov. A few days later, the defense ministry responded to Rzayev’s report directly defending Hasanov, but also Sadikov, albeit indirectly. It noted that Hasanov was commanding troops in the operation led by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, i.e. Aliyev. 

“We once again call on the media, as well as electronic media, to refrain from circulating unfounded, untrue and unofficial information.” the MoD said. 

Detailed official information, however, is not likely to be forthcoming.

“The state wants a quiet solution to this and for people to forget about it,” Shahbaz said.


Ulkar Natiqqizi is a reporter based in Baku.

Indonesia to arm up with Rafale, F-15 fighter jets

Jakarta backs away from previous plan to buy Russian Su-35 air defense fighters under threat of US sanctions

By JOHN MCBETH

After a series of pandemic-defying trips across the world, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto appears to have settled on the French-made Rafale and an under-strength squadron of American F-15EX jet fighters to bolster Indonesia’s front-line air defenses, with deliveries expected over the next three years.

Along with the 36 Dassault Rafales and eight Boeing F-15s, the wish list also extends to three Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, three Airbus A330 tankers for aerial refuelling, six MQ-1 Predator drones and Italy’s Leonardo early-warning radar system. 

It could be Jakarta’s biggest-ever defense purchase if it goes through in its current form, but serious questions remain over whether debt-burdened Indonesia can afford the estimated $11 billion it will cost for the aircraft alone and the early availability of the F-15 variant, only two of which have been built so far.

Indonesia’s defense budget for 2021 stands at US$9.2 billion, an increase over the 2020 allocation that started out at $9.3 billion and dropped to $8.7 billion because of fiscal pressure from the pandemic. The 2021 spending includes $3 billion for military modernization.

Widodo’s first-term government had hoped to increase the defense budget to $20 billion by 2019, or 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), but that was predicated on 7% growth, not the average 5% the country has achieved over the last five years as it struggled to attract foreign investment.    

What the February 17 announcement does seem to have settled is that Indonesia has decided not to risk US sanctions with the $1.1 billion deal to buy a further 11 Sukhoi Su-35 air defense fighters to go with the 16 twin-engine Su-27 and Su-30 Russian jets it already has.

Then-US president Donald Trump signed off on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in mid-2017, three years after the Barack Obama administration introduced the legislation to punish Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

If the deal is finalized, Indonesia will become the first East Asian country to operate the Rafale, a twin-engine, delta-winged multi-role aircraft introduced in 2001 and currently in service with the French air force and navy, Egypt, Qatar and, most recently, India. 

India paid $9.4 billion for its 36 aircraft, which began arriving last July amid tensions between India and China over the contested Ladakh region in the western Himalayas. New Delhi also wants to purchase 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKI fighters.

Washington has yet to respond to India’s request for a waiver from CAATSA for the aircraft, but senior Pentagon officials have made it clear that sanctions would be applied if New Delhi goes ahead with a plan to buy Russia’s self-propelled S-400 missile system in a deal worth $5.5 billion.

The Rafales will add a third logistical tail to the Indonesian Air Force, which apart from its fleet of Sukhoi fighters also has three squadrons of refurbished Lockheed F-16s, recently deployed on patrols over the southern reaches of the South China Sea where Chinese Coast Guard vessels have conducted past intrusions.

Concerns have mounted since China passed legislation authorizing its Coast Guard to use weapons against foreign ships that are considered to be intruding into its waters, a move that could also be aimed at enforcing its unlawful maritime claims inside Indonesia’s economic exclusion zone (EEZ) north of the Natuna islands.

Prabowo had previously shown interest in buying 15 second-hand Eurofighter Typhoon fighters offered by the Austrian Air Force, but despite the favorable price he has always said privately that he wants new-generation aircraft that will stand the test of time.

The 4.5 generation Rafale always appeared to be on his radar, however, due in small part to his affinity for France. A French speaker, the retired special forces general spent his early years in Europe, where family members once came across him standing in front of the mirror pretending to be president Charles de Gaulle.

The history of the proposed sale appears to go back to 2017 when the two countries signed a letter of intent to increase defense cooperation, but it was Prabowo’s two meetings with French Defence Minister Florence Parly, last October and in January, that appeared to lay the groundwork for the deal.

Armed with a range of air-to-air and air-ground missiles and advanced French-developed avionics, the 4.5 generation Rafale has a maximum speed of 2,200 kilometers an hour and a combat range of 1,850 kilometers. It can be used in air superiority, interdiction, ground attack or anti-ship roles.  

Prabowo had initially hoped to also acquire Lockheed’s stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but was persuaded to accept the latest version of the F-15, which only now is entering service with the US Air Force to fill a gap left by cuts in the F-22 Raptor program.

Then US defence secretary Mark Esper reportedly told Prabowo on a visit to Washington last October that Indonesia would have to wait at least a decade for the delivery of the F-35s because of a long waiting list of buyers, including  Japan, South Korea and Singapore as the only Asian customers.

While it is the first time the US has sold the F-15 in 20 years, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have continued to fund upgrades worth $5 billion over the intervening years to a point where the EX variant is very different from its predecessors.

Military experts point to its more powerful twin engines, updated cockpit systems and sensors, data fusion capabilities and an ability to carry 29,500 pounds of ordnance over 2,200 kilometers as examples of the improvements to the purpose-built air superiority fighter.

They also note that the F-35 is far more expensive to operate and more problematic to repair compared with the F-15EX, which has a reputed 20,000-hour lifespan and, according to some sources, may cost half as much as the F-35 to operate.

That would present a major challenge to Indonesia. It already has difficulties maintaining the army’s eight sophisticated AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, which have been barely visible since they were delivered nearly three years ago.

Claims by Indonesian officials that six of the new F-15s will be ready for delivery in 2022 appear to be overly ambitious when the US Air Force and Air National Guard will get priority in replacing up to 144 aging F-15C/Ds that are reaching the end of their service years.

Each jet has a fly away price of $87.7 million, but the avionics and weapons systems are expected to add as much as $40 million to its overall cost. The experts also note that some of America’s cutting-edge technology is banned for export to countries like Indonesia.

The acquisition of the mobile Leonardo interdiction radar system will help to bolster Indonesia’s air defenses and, if positioned at a high elevation on frontier islands like Natuna Besar and Sebatik, could conceivably cover more than 500 kilometers of both air and sea, far beyond its EEZ.  

Known as unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UACVs), the Predators are a surprise addition to the shopping list, but Indonesia has been operating unarmed Chinese, Israeli and French-made surveillance drones for three years.

Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology is also developing the country’s first armed Black Eagle drone, which will carry a home-built 2.75 folding fin aerial rocket already used by attack helicopters and jet fighters.

Deployed extensively across Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, the Predator’s precision-guided Hellfire missiles have killed thousands of Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants since they were introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The US Air Force replaced it with the heavier, more capable MQ-9 Reaper in 2018, but it remains in service with the Italian, Turkish and Moroccan air forces and would probably be based at Pontianak, West Kalimantan, the main drone base on the edge of the South China Sea.