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Tag: Russia

World-class World Cup trolling by @qatar

Thursday, 14 June, 2018

Background: Saudi Arabia claims Qatar is a sponsor of extremist political movements in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Qatar denies the charges and accuses the Saudis of attempting to curtail its sovereignty. It’s a nasty feud and the pot is simmering, as they say.

Today’s World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia offered Qatar Airways a golden opportunity to indulge in some world-class trolling of the neighbors and the state-owned carrier didn’t miss the open goal in Moscow.

World Cup


The video game: England vs. Germany

Tuesday, 22 May, 2018

Just 23 days now until the World Cup kicks off in Russia. The deluxe match of the first round will be Portugal vs. Spain on 15 June, but Germany vs. Mexico on 17 June should be tasty because if it’s not a draw, the pressure will be on the losing side. Talking of Germany, no World Cup is complete without the prospect of a 1966 Final revenge rematch with England and it could happen, earlier rather than later. Here’s how:

If England finish second in Group G, they will face the winner of Group H which, according to FIFA rankings, should be Poland. Success in that game would take England into a quarter final meeting with Germany, the likely winners of Group F. Might happen. Might not. Until then, though, we have the videos of the selected squads.

First up, Die Mannschaft, with 28K+ views. The emphasis is on skills.

Next, The Three Lions, with 220K+ views. Here, it’s all about multi-cultural fun.

Result: England wins on YouTube. The World Cup, however, will be played in Russia.


Syria and OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence)

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 0 Comments

Remarkable, indeed, is the wealth of information now at our fingertips. And it’s not just Wikipedia. There’s also the OECD Aid Database, Google Data Explorer and Enigma Public. When it comes to what’s happening on the darker side, Bellingcat uses open source data to investigate everything from Mexican drug lords to Russian gangsters, er, politicians.

Then, there’s The Aviationist run by David Cenciotti, a journalist based in Rome. Since its launch in 2006, it has become one of world’s most authoritative military aviation sites. His post yesterday, Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria, is based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) “since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.” Snippet:

“Interestingly, at least two packages of 5 fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles — actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.”

Should this level of transparency worry us? After all, if David Cenciotti can access all this data easily, so can the Iranians. On the other hand, the abilities of people like David Cenciotti and Eliot Higgins to access and interpret Open Sources Intelligence means that the Iranians and their pals cannot get away with murder as easily as they once did. Their fingerprints are everywhere now, and they can be revealed in real time. Same goes for their lies. Take Russia’s claims that 71 out of 105 Cruise Missiles were shot down in the US-led strike. David Cenciotti casts a critical eye:

“If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.”

Question: What’s the toughest job in the world right now?
Answer: Sales rep for Russian air defense systems.


We need new words to describe the Putin dictatorship

Sunday, 18 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today in Russia, millions of people will go to polling stations and cast their votes in the presidential election. The candidates will be shown on TV placing their ballots into boxes and smiling at the cameras. Later Vladimir Putin, who is certain to get 64 percent 73.9 percent of the vote, will thank the electorate for returning him to the presidency for another six years and world leaders will congratulate him on his victory. All of this will be reported in detail by the Russian media.

Many of the words used in that paragraph are taken from the vocabulary of democracy: polling stations, votes, election, ballots, presidency, media. Yet, in this case, they have been hijacked by a sham process designed to support a dictator, who intends to rule Russia for as long as he wants.

Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and the author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, examines the language of the farce taking place today in Russia in a Weekly Standard article titled The Truth About Putin. Snippet:

“Russia’s election spectacle on March 18 isn’t only a domestic distraction. It provides Putin’s defenders in the free world with rhetorical ammunition, as do the approval polls and fake controversies over the fake opposition candidates. There is no form of democratic process or opposition in Putin’s Russia. Pretending otherwise makes you complicit in his propaganda. Stop calling them elections. Stop calling Putin a president. Stop calling to congratulate him on his victories. Let us begin the fight against Putin’s lies with the fundamental truth about what he really is.”

Putin


Russian mercenaries fighting and dying in Syria

Tuesday, 27 February, 2018 0 Comments

If you live near Yekaterinburg in Russia and want to fight with pro-Assad forces in Syria, the go-to guy is a paramilitary boss who advises Russians looking to work for the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked military contractor. “Each week I receive five or six new requests,” he told FRANCE 24. He said that interest has only increased since the Russian foreign ministry reported that five Russians died in a US bombing raid on pro-regime troops attacking opposition forces in Deir Ezzor province on 7 February.

“Now, it’s more about getting revenge than it is about money,” he said, but he warned that revenge-seekers don’t know the full story. He says it wasn’t just five Russians killed in the American raid — it was 218. US officials have said about 100 pro-regime fighters were killed, without specifying whether they were Syrian army, Russian mercenaries or other forces.


The Fogh of war and peace

Saturday, 17 February, 2018 0 Comments

The annual Munich Security Conference is one of those events where you’ll hear interesting words being used. Take “revanchist”, for example. It’s defined as “seeking revenge or otherwise advocating retaliation against a nation that has previously defeated and humiliated the other side in war.” The word comes from the French revanche (“revenge”) and it originally referred to French indignation over losing Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO from 2009 to 2014, regularly uses “revanchist” when referring to Russia and China and his candour is most refreshing.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen


Kersti Kaljulaid and Sophia talk weaponized AI

Friday, 16 February, 2018 0 Comments

The organizers of this year’s Munich Security Conference decided they’d try something novel for the pre-event titled “The Force Awakens: Artificial Intelligence & Modern Conflict”, so they put Sophia centre stage and had her do the introductions. Hanson Robotics, Sophia’s creator, describe her as their “most advanced robot” and for many last night this was their first opportunity to see a chatty bot in action.

The verdict? Unimpressive. The quality of Sophia’s audio output was sub-standard, but much worse was her language. The Munich Security Conference is an annual gathering of a global elite that’s comfortable with the global lingua franca but those in charge of Sophia’s speech rhythms ignored that fact that speed does not always equal progress. Her pace of delivery was way too fast for even most native speakers present. Earlier this week in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker posited that “Europe speaks its own post-Brexit English” and he claimed that this so-called “Eurish” is a mix of “romance and Germanic influences — and no tricky metaphors”, but Sophia, clearly, does not read the FT and neither do those in charge of her interaction with the real world. Skapinker’s “Eurish” is mostly imaginary but chatbot programmers would do well to slow the pace of delivery, simplify the vocabulary and go easy with the metaphors.

That aside, the real star of the show was Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia. Her English was perfectly attuned to the wavelength of the audience and her knowledge of both artificial intelligence and modern conflict was extraordinary. Then again, she would be familiar with both topics as Estonia is a leader in digital transformation and the 2007 Russian cyber-attack on Estonia was a sign of the dangerous new world we now share with the ruthless regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Teheran. Kersti Kaljulaid is on the front line and we are lucky that she understands the grave nature of the threats posed by AI in the hands of those who wish to destroy the civilization and the society she represents so eloquently and so knowledgeably.

Sophia


Autocrats have a very high friend in Brussels

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 0 Comments

“If @FedericaMog didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her.” So tweeted @EliLake yesterday. Background:

“As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she is a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats though have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators should not aim to transition these countries to open societies, but rather to prevent conflicts at all costs.”

That’s from Europe’s High Representative for Appeasement, in which Lake highlights the disgraceful conduct of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Snippet:

“Just consider her trip last week to Cuba, a plantation masquerading as a nation-state. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.”

Shabby and all as Mogherini’s behaviour in Cuba was, her position on Iran is horrifying:

“Mogherini’s ideology is a particular tragedy in the case of Iran. The West can help aid Iran’s freedom movement by linking the regime’s treatment of its people, and particularly its political prisoners, to economic and political engagement. The U.S. has some leverage here, but Europe — because so many of its businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy — has far more.

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me this week: ‘This is the European moment on Iran.’ Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today: ‘We are not going to sustain political and economic engagement with a country engaged in the suppression of peaceful protests,’ she said.

So far Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was ‘saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.'”

Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea have a friend in very high places in Brussels. That’s bad news for everyone, apart from autocrats, of course.

Federica Mogherini


Fighting the maskirovka of the Russian Elephant

Wednesday, 22 November, 2017 0 Comments

“As the West considers how to respond to the Kremlin’s use of bots, trolls, bullshit news, dark ads and hacks as tools of foreign policy, the way we describe things will define whether we prevail.” So writes Peter Pomerantsev in Beware the Russian Elephant.

The evil we’re up against is fundamental and it was constructed during the last century as part of what is called maskirovka, a Russian doctrine that embraces military deception, ranging from camouflage to denial and deceit to propaganda. It also embraces a cast of unsavoury characters that includes Putin and Snowden, who are now the mortal enemies of the West. So how can they be opposed, overcome?

Although it does appear at times as if the Kremlin has the upper hand, Peter Pomerantsev is far from defeatist because the Kremlin finds itself in a dilemma, he says. Snippet:

“…it needs the media fireworks of a verbal conflict with the West to distract from its own failures domestically and to give it meaning, but it is also reliant on the very same West for advertising to fund its hate speech-filled television channels, for technology to extract its oil, and for banks and law courts to protect its elite’s investments. These are the spots to target. If this were a war, after all, you would never engage the enemy in the battle he desires. There are more painful measures to take against his active measures.”

This is our fight. These are our freedoms. We cannot surrender.


The Democrats have issues, as they say

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 0 Comments

Breaking: Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier. According to The Washington Post: “The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund the research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.”

Meanwhile: Andrew Sullivan is worrying about what he calls “The Issue That Could Lose the Next Election for Democrats:”

“I don’t believe it’s disputable at this point that the most potent issue behind the rise of the far right in America and Europe is mass immigration. It’s a core reason that Trump is now president; it’s why the AfD is now the third-biggest party in the German, yes, German, parliament; it’s why Austria’s new chancellor won by co-opting much of the far right’s agenda on immigration; it’s why Britain is attempting (and currently failing) to leave the EU; it’s why Marine Le Pen won a record number of votes for her party in France this spring. A critical moment, in retrospect, came with Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to import over a million Syrian refugees into the heart of Europe… This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats’ current position seems to be that the Dreamer parents who broke the law are near heroes, indistinguishable from the children they brought with them; and their rhetoric is very hard to distinguish, certainly for most swing voters, from a belief in open borders. In fact, the Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and noncitizens is somehow racist.”

The bottom line for Sullivan is this: “The most powerful thing Trump said in the campaign, I’d argue, was: ‘If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.’ And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw.”


Trump endorses the Three Seas Initiative

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

Readers of today’s earlier post will understand the significance of the Three Seas Initiative to Poland and the other members of this new Eastern/Central European alliance. In short, it’s a project designed to prevent former Warsaw-Pact countries becoming pawns in Russia’s energy game. In his speech earlier today in Warsaw, President Trump addressed the Three Seas Initiative at the outset of his remarks:

“President Duda and I have just come from an incredibly successful meeting with leaders participating in the Three Seas Initiative. To the citizens of this great region, America is eager to expand our partnership with you. We welcome stronger trade and commerce as you grow your economies and we are committed to securing access to alternate sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy. Mister President, I congratulate you along with the president of Croatia on your leadership of this historic Three Seas Initiative.”

For Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, the Three Seas Initiative represents a serious challenge to their different plans for a Europe in which energy supply and energy dependence will be critical. Energy will be central to the 21st-century version of the Great Game and Washington is signalling that it’s going to be a player in every theatre.

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