Shikhany 1987

For decades the Soviet Union had denied it possessed chemical weapons. But in 1987 it came clean under orders of party leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The USSR invited delegates of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament to see samples of chemical munitions. This took place in Shikhany, a hitherto closed chemical weapons facility and testing ground on the Volga, some 750 kms southeast of Moscow.

I was one of the few journalists invited to cover the event. Here are some of the pictures I took back then. Details of the visit, the munitions shown and chemical warfare agents of the Soviet Union can be found here. More pictures I took are here.


Approaching the Shikhany chemical weapons base.© 1987 Hans de Vreij



Delegates at Shikhany. © Hans de Vreij



Chemical warhead for the Scud missile. Filled with 555 kilograms of persistent VX nerve gas. Lethal dose (LD50) = 10 mg

Chemical warhead for the Scud missile. Filled with 555 kilograms of viscous (persistent) VX nerve gas. Lethal dose (LD50) = 10 mg. © Hans de Vreij


Two Dutch diplomats and a VX warhead for Scud missiles. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Two Dutch diplomats and a VX warhead for Scud missiles. © Hans de Vreij


Assorted chemical munitions

Shikhany 1987. Assorted chemical munitions. © Hans de Vreij


Assorted chemical munitions. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Assorted chemical munitions. © Hans de Vreij

Chemical spray tank, free-fall bomb. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987 Chemical spray tank, free-fall bomb. © Hans de Vreij


© Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. © Hans de Vreij



Dutch Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, ambassador Robert van Schaik. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Dutch Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, ambassador Robert van Schaik. © Hans de Vreij


The main protagonists during the negotiations on a chemical weapons ban. Ambassador Max Friedersdorf (U.S., left) and Yuri Nazarkin. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. The main protagonists during the negotiations on a chemical weapons ban. Ambassador Max Friedersdorf (U.S., left) and Yuri Nazarkin. © Hans de Vreij


Colonel-General Vladimir Pikalov, commander of the Soviet Chemical Warfare Troops. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Colonel-General Vladimir Pikalov, commander of the Soviet Chemical Warfare Troops. © Hans de Vreij


Lieutenant-General Anatoly Kuntsevich, deputy commander of the Soviet Chemical Warfare Troops. © Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Lieutenant-General Anatoly Kuntsevich, deputy commander of the Soviet Chemical Warfare Troops. Later he reportedly was involved in providing Syria illegally with precursors to nerve gas. © Hans de Vreij


© Hans de Vreij

Shikhany 1987. Soldier of the Chemical Warfare Troops. © Hans de Vreij


Shikhany 1987. Mobile unit for the destruction of chemical weapons ‘Neitral’. © Hans de Vreij


Shikhany 1987. Mobile unit for the destruction of chemical weapons ‘Neitral’. Prior to neutralization of a free-fall bomb a rabbit was injected with the Sarin from the bomb to prove the experiment was real. It was . Picture MOD USSR

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Stratfor: The U.S. and Russia Plan for Conflict

Analysis MAY 25, 2016

Despite genuinely wanting to resolve some of their conflicts, the United States and Russia’s mistrust of one another is not going away.
Both countries will focus on long-term security initiatives as they prepare for an enduring period of hostility.
Defense programs will center on key security areas, including deployments in Eastern Europe, missile defense and the strategic nuclear balance.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. That is the mantra the United States and Russia are abiding by as they plan for a tense few years ahead. In critical areas, including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and arms control negotiations, both countries would genuinely like to negotiate viable solutions. Nevertheless, the mistrust between the two runs deep, and vast differences of opinion and outright conflicts of interest will continue to undermine efforts to reach a comprehensive deal. With little hope of a positive outcome, the strategic decision-makers in Washington and Moscow are cementing their security positions against each other during this period of significant hostility.

The critical 2016 Warsaw summit, to be held July 8-9 among NATO members, is fast approaching. Out of the summit, the United States hopes a clear, united purpose will emerge for the divided security alliance. The key challenge for Washington will be to reassure its Eastern European allies, especially Poland and the Baltic states, that they will be supported against Russia, an ever-increasing concern now that Moscow has invested itself militarily in Ukraine. The United States has already taken measures to bolster forces on NATO’s eastern flank, but these forces are currently little more than a symbol of U.S. commitment.

The next step for Washington, and a key part of its long-term security plan for Europe, is to enlist greater support from crucial NATO partners for deployments on the bloc’s eastern flank. The United States needs help from its European allies to carry some of the burden of deployments and to act as a united front to deter Russia. But as Poland and the Baltic states call for a permanent deployment of NATO forces, the United States is having a hard time convincing its partners to deploy significant rotational forces, much less a permanent garrison, to Russia’s doorstep. Germany in particular has been difficult to convince, since its leaders hope to renew lucrative business ties with Russia. Moreover, the German population is generally wary of a confrontation with Russia and the prospect of sending forces to defend Poland and the Baltic states.

To bridge the gap between its Western and Eastern European NATO allies, Washington is pushing for a deployment model that eschews permanent basing in favor of permanent presence. In what is being called a heel-to-toe model, the United States is reportedly negotiating the presence of forces, which will consist of a battalion in each of the Baltic states plus Poland on a six-month rotation, to be announced in the Warsaw summit. The United States plans to offer two battalions but hopes its NATO allies will agree to provide the other two. From Washington’s perspective, a long-term and unified NATO effort on the alliance’s eastern front is the key to deterring further Russian action.

But what Washington portrays as defensive deployments and reassurance initiatives looks very different from Moscow’s perspective. Given Russia’s history of being invaded from the west, a growing NATO presence on its frontier is causing concern. Driven by these fears, Russia is already building up its forces to better position itself against NATO.

Initially, Russia began transitioning its military to a brigade structure for greater flexibility in dealing with unrest and insurgency to the south. But now Moscow has changed its strategy, rapidly restructuring its military into a division-level force that is focused on high-end conventional war against a potential enemy like NATO. Last February, Russia finished reactivating the 1st Guards Tank Army in Russia’s Western Military District, a spearhead force built around heavy armor and artillery for offensive and defensive operations on the Great European Plain. Furthermore, Russia is transitioning at least three more of its brigades into division-sized units close to its western frontiers.

What Drives the Conflict
Beyond conventional force deployments, a core variable that drives much of the conflict between NATO and Russia is the development and deployment of ballistic missile defense technology. This is epitomized in the debate over the U.S. initiative to deploy ground-based missile defenses in Eastern Europe, a program known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The plan dates back to 2009, and NATO has insisted since its inception that the initiative is meant to protect Europe from a potential Iranian missile threat and is thus entirely unrelated to Russia. But Moscow has vehemently opposed the program, claiming it poses a direct threat to Russian interests.


Essentially, the dispute boils down to Russia’s concerns over its long-term strategic security. For all the current focus on Russian military modernization, Moscow is keenly aware of its overall conventional military weakness against NATO and a rising China. In response, the Russians have progressively leaned on their powerful nuclear arsenal as the ultimate deterrent. In fact, Moscow has explicitly outlined in its Defense White Papers its willingness to use nuclear weapons against an existential non-nuclear threat, such as invading armies.

As the European Phased Adaptive Approach is presently constituted, NATO is correct that it is far too limited to pose a significant threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal. From Russia’s point of view, though, U.S. investment in ballistic missile technology poses a serious long-term threat. To fully comprehend Russia’s concern, ballistic missile development has to be conceptualized in conjunction with other technological developments. In the future, for instance, Russia fears that the United States could field a deadly first-strike capability, in part oriented around hypersonic missiles. Specifically, an increasingly precise U.S. nuclear arsenal coupled with a reliable anti-ballistic missile network could enable Washington to launch a decapitation strike, which would severely damage Russia’s leadership structure and its nuclear arsenal in a first strike. It would also leave the United States able to intercept and destroy the surviving missiles that Moscow would launch in retaliation.

These fears are driving protests in Russia as well as Moscow’s defense spending. Despite its considerable nuclear arsenal, Russia continues to prioritize its strategic missile force. Last year, the Russians tested eight intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and in January, Russian officials announced plans to test 16 ICBMs in 2016, 14 of which will be entering service in Russia. On the testing schedule are the recently introduced Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which had considerable development problems, and other land-based ICBMs, such as the new SS-X-30 Sarmat. Moscow is counting on these missiles as well as new deployment tactics to ensure its nuclear arsenal can survive the U.S. anti-ballistic missile network.

Still, the United States and Russia have a joint desire to reach an understanding. Their negotiations over Syria imply as much. But given the high level of mistrust between the United States and some of its key NATO allies on one hand and Russia on the other, both Moscow and Washington will continue to invest security against the other. Given the high-tech missiles, anti-missile developments and the deployment of troops by both sides, the little Cold War, as it has been called, should be viewed with a long-term perspective, because it is unlikely to end any time soon.

(‘The U.S. and Russia Plan for Conflict’ is republished with permission of Stratfor)

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The state of Dutch defence: NATO view


1. There have been no changes to the core tasks of the Netherlands Armed Forces since the last Capability Review. The 2013 White Paper identified the need for high-quality armed forces able to face a diverse range of threats, and to conduct all types of operations, both at home and abroad, albeit recognising that participation in missions may be of more limited duration than previously. The White Paper placed a strong focus on innovation and new investments such as the F-35 combat aircraft and the accelerated formation of a Cyber Command. The Netherlands intends to maintain its military specialised capabilities, which will mitigate capability shortfalls within NATO and the EU. These include the Patriot ground based air defence units, the submarine service, and the German-Netherlands Corps Headquarters. The Ministry of Defence will continue to have a significant role in national security and up to a third of the armed forces can be deployed in country.

2. In response to the global financial crisis the Netherlands reduced its annual government expenditure by € 18,000 million, including € 635 million on defence during the period 2011-2015. These cuts notwithstanding, extra funding for defence was agreed in November 2013 in the form of a set of supplements. Further budget supplements in summer 2014 funded an increase military striking power and capabilities: the retention of the new joint support ship and one infantry battalion; the provision of extra Bushmaster armoured vehicles, cyber defence, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities, munitions stocks, and spare parts. In 2015, defence expenditures amounted to 1.16% of GDP, in real terms and the Government decided to stop the declining trend in defence expenditures and to better meet the Defence Investment Pledge. In 2016, a further three annual budget supplements covered counter terrorism, enhancement of readiness and responsiveness, and an increase in the initial crisis response operations fund. The initial budget supplements were to mitigate some, but not all, of the second and third order effects of the 2013 White Paper, where arguably it had cut too deep. The subsequent budget supplements were to meet the requirements of the Wales Summit and the new security environment, including anti-terrorism measures. Although welcome, the multiple budget supplements complicate coherent planning. An increased and predictable defence budget is a prerequisite to achieve value-for-money in the modernisation and renewal of the Netherlands Armed Forces.

3. Discussions on a further increase of the defence budget are expected to take into account the improvement of the Netherlands economy, the international security situation, and other policy priorities. The multiple budget supplements to date have halted the overall reduction in defence expenditures, in real terms, the first step, in a multi-year process, to meet the Defence Investment Pledge. However, the forecast defence expenditures out to the end of the decade will remain less than those in 2011, in real terms. Worryingly, the Netherlands’ defence expenditures expressed as a percentage of GDP will continue to decrease and are predicted to fall to 1.08%, in 2020, which is well below the NATO guideline of 2%. However, the percentage of defence expenditures spent on major equipment, and research and development will rise, on average, to just below the NATO guideline of 20%, in real terms, by the end of the decade.

4. The long terms plans of the services are: for the navy to invest in an anti ballistic missile capability, new frigates, and submarines; for the army to engage in a long term plan to invest in soldier equipment, communications and information systems; for the air force to focus on innovation and education, to introduce the F-35 combat aircraft (approved and funded), and to implement the Chinook (approved and funded) and Apache helicopter upgrades, to invest in the multi-role tanker transport, and to procure medium altitude long endurance unmanned systems. Funding uncertainty hampers prioritisation and has the potential to create a significant bow wave of procurement costs.

5. The Ministry of Defence is still implementing the structural manpower reductions imposed on defence in 2011 by the Rutte administration. Military manpower has been shed almost as quickly as anticipated (down to 40,780 at the end of 2015, against the planned strength of 42,000). However, the Netherlands now plans to increase its military manpower strength in shortage categories and needed specialisations concurrently with the Rutte administration manpower reductions. The overall increase, to be implemented by 2020, will be of the order of 1,000 personnel. To date 3,550 personnel have been made compulsorily redundant. The numbers of flag and general officers have been proportionally reduced.

6. During 2014, the Netherlands maintained some 5.8% (about 1,000 personnel) of its land forces and SOF on operations and during 2015, some 7% (about 1,200 personnel). Land forces and SOF have made contributions to NATO-led ISAF, KFOR, the Resolute Support Mission, EU-led and UN-led operations. The largest current deployment of land forces and SOF (some 396 personnel) is in support of UN-led mission MINUSMA in Mali. The Netherlands has continued to provide significant land forces contributions to the NRF. The contribution to maritime operations in the Indian Ocean was less than previously. The contribution to the standing naval forces is now increasing but will remain below the requirement in the near future. The air force’s contribution to international operations and to the NRF is consistent with its size. The introduction of the F-35 will lead to a reduction in the level of ambition in terms of aerospace capabilities, especially for short-duration operations.

7. The army and marines continue to provide well equipped, capable and sustainable forces. However, the quality of land forces can no longer make up for a lack of quantity. Budget cuts have resulted in significant downsizing of the Netherlands’ land forces accompanied by reductions in combat capabilities, indirect fire support, ground-based air defence, engineering, maintenance, logistics, and operational stocks of ammunition. Furthermore, the armoured capability of two, previously mechanised brigades, has been removed altogether, rendering a remaining mechanised brigade and a new motorised (light) brigade (both having only two manoeuvre battalions) unable to fight effectively a high intensity battle with an opponent using mechanised forces. Additionally, the normal brigade-level training cycle including combined arms brigade-level exercises and live firing, will not resume until 2017. The Netherlands will not be able to provide all the land contributions sought, therefore potentially increasing the burden on other Allies. The highest priority for the Netherlands is to increase the readiness and combat effectiveness of its land forces, with a priority to the mechanised brigade.

8. The Netherlands’ SOF are very capable and have a well-balanced structure. However, not all requested contributions are planned to be provided, potentially increasing the burden on other Allies. Nevertheless, SOF capabilities that could be provided are of good quality and robust. The C2 of the Netherlands’ SOF at the joint level is not optimal and could be improved. Planned empowerment of the Joint Special Operations Office could ensure that SOF work in a more joint and coordinated manner, achieve a better budgetary efficiency, and also produce more capabilities that could be provided to NATO.

9. The current maritime capabilities cover a wide spectrum of NATO maritime operations and meet the NATO requirements with some minor shortfalls. The new NH 90 helicopters will enhance the ASW and anti surface warfare capabilities. The upgrade of the air defence and command frigates with a ballistic missile detection capability will enhance the contribution of the Netherlands to NATO theatre ballistic missile defence. However, persistent challenges in human resources have prevented some ships performing their full range of roles and capabilities. Maintenance difficulties are expected to be alleviated with the funding of extra resources. The replacement of the submarines by around 2025 has been identified and acknowledged by the Government. There will be also a need to replace the M-class frigates and the mine warfare capability in the same time frame. As most of the Allies’ mine countermeasures capabilities will reach their end of life in the next decade, the Netherlands is also encouraged to develop its future mine countermeasures capability in cooperation with other Allies.

10. The Netherlands has a fully capable air force equipped with a wide range of advanced capabilities that mostly meet all NATO’s requirements. Its evolution is supported by a number of modernisation and acquisition projects, some of which have been affected or delayed by budgetary restrictions. Although the air combat capability should be improved with the introduction of the F-35 combat aircraft, it will rely on a significantly reduced number of platforms than at present. Thorough planning and management will be essential to mitigate potential capability shortfalls during the transition to the new aircraft. Although delayed, the acquisition of medium altitude long endurance unmanned platforms will offer a modern, network-based, JISR capability while the multi role tanker transport programme should provide the Netherlands with a reinforced air to air refuelling and strategic airlift capability. Particular attention should be paid to the level of training, which has been affected by financial constraints. The Netherlands should consider the acquisition of sufficient deployable airbase activation modules to avoid reliance on other Allies.

11. The Netherlands meets all the strategic lift capability requirements by a combination of military assets, multinational arrangements, and assured and spot contracts. Currently, it is able to provide sufficient logistics support to its national deployed units. However, theatre level enabling capabilities will not be provided if all requested brigades are deployed concurrently. The Netherlands plans to use contracted services to optimise logistics support in theatre, and to mitigate logistic shortfalls. The Netherlands continues to maintain its medical capabilities despite a reduction in medical manning. It is aware of potential difficulties in the recruitment and retention of medical specialists and is working on mitigation. The Netherlands ensures NATO interoperability of its static and deployable networks and supports the Federated Mission Networking initiative. The Netherlands has developed a comprehensive national and defence cyber defence capability. It intends to build an offensive cyber capability within the armed forces. The Netherlands has sufficient strategic and operational intelligence capability to support to two separate concurrent operations.

12. In sum, although the Netherlands Armed Forces will continue to provide many of the capabilities necessary to participate in the full range of NATO missions, their capacity to do so, and their ability to sustain any commitment, will be reduced. Despite the best efforts of the Netherlands Armed Forces, the ability to conduct full spectrum operations is now in doubt as the armed forces are spread so thinly. Notwithstanding the sustained financial recovery, the Netherlands is not yet rebuilding coherent defence capabilities that can contribute fully to NATO’s collective aims and objectives. Configuring the Netherlands Armed Forces to meet the significant challenges of the new security environment, with its increased demands on readiness, responsiveness, and resilience, without sustained, predictable increases in defence expenditures in real terms, will be an almost impossible task.

13. In light of the new security environment, the Netherlands can expect the Alliance not necessarily to seek more of its armed forces and capabilities overall, but it can expect the Alliance to ask for more of its armed forces it does seek at a much higher readiness than is currently the case and that those forces are capable of conducting and sustaining themselves in high-intensity operations. This implies proper manning, equipment, and training (including at brigade level) as well as all the requisite stocks, ammunition and spares for those designated forces/units. This also implies that combat support and combat service support must be sufficient for the task.


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Handen af van onze kinderen!

Door mijn beroepskeuzes ben ik in de loop der jaren nogal afgestompt geraakt voor ellende. Mijn eerste baan was woordvoerder van de Nederlandse afdeling van Amnesty International, destijds een van de grootste van de beweging. Iedere denkbare martelmethode kwam op mijn bureau terecht. Naarmate de tijd verstrijkt raak je er aan gewend. Sterker nog: ik kan nu wel bekennen dat ik er binnenshuis wel eens grappen over maakte. Helemaal fout natuurlijk, maar zo werkt het proces van gewenning en afstomping. Dat journalisten rare vragen stelden als “heb je voor ons wat dossiers van gemartelde kinderen” hielp natuurlijk ook niet. Hoeveel had je er gehad willen hebben, en heb je nog voorkeur voor bepaalde methodes? Van die dingen…

Later, inmiddels zelf journalist, deed ik verslag van de oorlogen die het voormalige Joegoslavië hebben geteisterd. Ik dacht dat ik bij Amnesty alles wel eens gezien en gehoord had, maar nee. Wist u dat je een oog makkelijk uit de kas kunt wippen met een oestermesje? Ik ook niet, maar het gebeurde daar mooi wel. Bij levende personen, uiteraard. Keel doorsnijden? Heel populair. En vrouwen kun je met een mes heel creatief bewerken. Ik bespaar u de details. Meer in algemene zin raken wij journalisten afgestompt door de voortdurende stroom van slecht nieuws waar we mee te maken hebben. Goed nieuws is geen nieuws (tenzij het echt héél goed nieuws is), negatieve nieuwtjes en ontwikkelingen genieten de voorkeur.

Het bovenstaande moge duidelijk maken dat er heel wat moet gebeuren voordat ik me ergens druk over maak. ‘Been there, done that’, zeggen Britten dan. Toch ben ik gelukkig niet totaal afgestompt, en zijn er nog steeds zaken waarover ik mij druk maak  of zelfs een rode waas voor de ogen krijg.

Laatst was het weer eens raak. Een militair beweerde op Twitter doodleuk dat het prima is wanneer jonge kinderen echte vuurwapens in handen gedrukt krijgen. Dat hoor ik trouwens iedere keer dat ik het waag vraagtekens te zetten bij de gewoonte van Defensie om kinderen te laten ‘spelen’ met echte wapens. Bijvoorbeeld op zogeheten open dagen van de krijgsmachtsonderdelen en bij het militair museum in Soesterberg.

peuter wapen mariniers

Op Twitter verscheen deze foto van een peuter-met-een-vuurwapen, genomen tijdens de recente ‘Gezinsbeurs Wegwijs 2016’ in Rotterdam. De militair op de foto is een kapitein der mariniers. Ik herkende hem omdat hij in de race was voor de titel van ‘Jonge Ambtenaar van het Jaar‘ (en daarbij de publieksprijs won). Op mijn kritiek reageerde hij merkwaardig. Of ik wel eens in het Nationaal Militair Museum was geweest. Of ik wel een hindernisbaan aan zou kunnen*. Dat zijn natuurlijk niet de vragen waar het om draait. Het gaat om de vraag of Defensie kinderen echte wapens in handen mag geven.

Nee, dat mag niet. De Nederlandse wapenwetgeving verbiedt het minderjarigen om vuurwapens voorhanden te hebben. De wetgeving geldt ook voor de krijgsmacht. Militairen die vuurwapens aan kinderen in handen geven, hoe kort ook, maken zich daarmee schuldig aan een de facto of de jure wetsovertreding. Ik laat het graag aan de juristen over welke van de twee opties hier van toepassing is.

Detail: de foto werd genomen op een beurs die mede georganiseerd wordt door het Reformatorisch Dagblad, de spreekbuis van het gezagsgetrouwe (en naar ik aanneem dus ook  wetsgetrouwe) gereformeerde deel van de Nederlandse bevolking. Moet ik nou echt de beursorganisatoren en de kapitein der mariniers gaan uitleggen dat dit een erg ongelukkige setting is om een wetsovertreding-in-de-praktijk aan de bezoekers te tonen? En hoe kan het eigenlijk dat minister Hennis en krijgsmachtsbaas generaal Middendorp oogluikend toestaan dat kinderen ‘hun’ wapens in handen krijgen?

Het is zonder twijfel waar dat jongetjes het hartstikke leuk vinden wanneer ze met een echt wapen mogen spelen. Dat doet niets af aan het feit dat deze praktijk laakbaar en ontoelaatbaar is. Ik zeg tegen de krijgsmacht: handen af van de kinderen!

Tot besluit een andere foto. Dit zijn leerlingen van een VeVa-opleiding. VeVa staat voor ‘Veiligheid en Vakmanschap’. Deze MBO-opleiding op ROC’s is een belangrijke kweekvijver voor toekomstige militairen in de lagere rangen. Maar die leerlingen krijgen dan weer géén echte wapens in handen. Vraag me niet waarom. De man op de achtergrond (Commandant der Strijdkrachten Generaal Tom Middendorp) kan die vraag vast wel beantwoorden.


*PS: in antwoord op de vragen van kapitein Mark Brouwer kan ik antwoorden dat ik nog niet in het NMM ben geweest, en dat ik vroeger in militaire dienst met gemak de stormbaan over ging. Maar dat is alweer een paar decennia geleden.


Nog wat foto’s over dit thema:


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Moskou beschuldigt Den Haag van tegenwerken referendum

De woordvoerster van het Russische ministerie van buitenlandse zaken, Maria Zacharova, heeft donderdag felle kritiek geuit op de Nederlandse regering, die zij beschuldigde van het dwarsbomen van het referendum over het EU Associatieverdrag met Oekraïne.  Ook zegt Moskou ‘perplex’ te staan over beschuldigingen dat Rusland de organisatoren van het referendum zou steunen. Onderstaand de letterlijke tekst. Hier en daar heb ik wat woorden ‘vet gemaakt. (HdV)

Developments around the upcoming referendum on ratifying the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in the Netherlands

In recent days, we have been witnessing very interesting developments around the upcoming referendum on ratifying the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which is scheduled to take place in the Netherlands on April 6.

We acknowledge that the official Hague has launched an information campaign in the media with a view to discrediting the very idea of the referendum. Strange as it may seem, the main goal is to do everything to urge the population not to take part in the vote. I will quote one figure to illustrate the trend: the number of voting stations has been more than halved.

The officials did not even shrink from using 200,000 euros from the notorious Soros Foundation (how can one do without it!), which mostly sponsors colour revolutions and government reshuffles in those countries that cannot take care of themselves. All these steps are being made to prevent the quorum of 30 percent, which is a minimum requirement for the referendum results to be considered valid. This goal is absolutely clear because once it is reached the ratification of the agreement by the Netherlands will become a fait accompli.

We are perplexed that these developments are being accompanied by the allegations that “the Moscow hand secretly leads” the advocates of the referendum. This looks like paranoid delusion. One more figure: while it saves money on the referendum in its own country, the Hague has already allocated, without batting an eyelid, 1.5 million euros on combatting the bogey of “Russian propaganda.”

The only move we ventured to make – and Western countries are vigorously fighting against it – is to openly declare our position in the media, expressing the view that the referendum in the Netherlands is a natural reaction to the EU foreign policy, which is being carried out without taking into account public opinion in the EU member countries. The only thing the public wants is to be heard; the public wants its opinion to be heeded, if such a mess has already been made. Putting it mildly, the results of Europe’s lack of independence in international affairs have become a heavy burden on the Europeans. Every European saw the consequences of EU policy in Syria for himself, when the refugees started flocking to Europe.

What has prompted our stand on this issue? What is the rationale for our approach? We are convinced that the voting in the Netherlands, as in any other country, should take place with the observance of all democratic procedures, and that voters should not be subjected to excessive information pressure by the authorities.

Our colleagues in the Netherlands and many other Western countries have based their strategy of criticising Russia, for instance, as regards Crimea, on the premise that the Crimean referendum was illegitimate. Many politicians officially declared that the way a referendum was held was more important than the fact of the referendum as such. No doubt, the declaration of will by the population is of primary importance and it is vitally important to listen to it because citizens should call the shots in their own country. It transpires that the referendum should not have been held in Crimea the way it was held. Allegedly time was needed to prepare it properly. The “proper preparations” for the Dutch referendum is probably an example of the Western view on how the referendum in Crimea should have been “prepared:” the number of voting stations is being reduced and the official authorities are spending huge funds to push through their viewpoint.

In other words, the expression of will by the public should be organised, not when people want and are ready to voice their opinion that had been held back for decades, nor when they have received a chance to be heard, but when, as many Western politicians believe, they are duly “prepared.” Now the Hague authorities are showing us how the referendum in Crimea could have been prepared. After such preparations, the results of the voting would have probably been counted differently. The way this is being done causes major questions. Meanwhile, these are the nations that have always given top priority to the democratic principles of the expression of will by the population.

(Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 4, 2016)

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Paris Attacks: The Acuity of Hindsight

By Scott Stewart

Until Nov. 13, the eight attackers responsible for the night of violence in Paris were just a handful of radical Islamists in a large universe of Islamist radicals in France. Many of these radicals are nonviolent, while a small segment of them are extremists who espouse violence to achieve their radical agenda — the type we refer to as jihadists. Yet even among the jihadists who advocate violence, there are divisions. Some maintain that jihad should be waged only defensively in support of fellow Muslims being oppressed or attacked in places such as Syria. Another subset advocates for attacks in a Western country such as France. Even among the latter group, there are those whose threats are merely hot air and those who are actually willing to act. Even among those willing to attack there are actors who pose different degrees of threat.

For French authorities, sorting through the universe of potential attackers to identify those who pose the greatest risk is a daunting challenge — as it is for any other government. The process is like a shark attempting to select a few fish from among a vast shoal of baitfish swimming in unison. A shark has an incredible sensory array that is extremely effective at identifying prey to be devoured by its rows of formidable teeth. But the shoal provides security by making it next to impossible for the shark to identify the specific individual fish its needs to target.

This is exactly the situation in which the French authorities find themselves. They have incredible intelligence capabilities (sensors) and very capable police and military forces (teeth). Yet, those intelligence and enforcement resources are quite limited and can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the shoal of potential jihadist attackers.

It requires an incredible amount of resources to maintain live telephone taps on one target, much less 24/7 physical surveillance. This means that security services very quickly reach their capacity. Thus, they need to use risk assessments to rank the potential threats and deploy their resources selectively against those threats deemed the most dangerous. This is especially true in a democratic country such at France, where there is rule of law and one cannot just conduct sweeps to arrest every known potential threat and then sort them out in prison. But frankly, as seen in even authoritarian countries, one simply cannot arrest (or kill) their way out of the problem and, often, draconian measures serve only to fuel anger and resentment, further aiding in radicalization.

Because of this reality, some attackers will slip through the screen, no matter the proficiency of security services. Once they attack, they are immediately removed from the shoal of potential threats and are subjected to an incredible amount of scrutiny. Their electronics will be seized as evidence and searched, and their past travel, associations and communications will be reviewed under a microscope. Under this heavy scrutiny, investigators will undoubtedly find clear warnings and indicators that the attackers were up to no good before the attack. Indeed, we will undoubtedly that some, if not all the attackers had previously come to the attention of the authorities.

To use another analogy, prior to the attack, the authorities had a mountainous pile of puzzle pieces with no frame or reference picture — some of those pieces could have led them to these attackers had they been assembled. But sorting through a gigantic pile of pieces of data and putting those pieces together without a frame of reference is often very difficult. Following this attack, the French authorities now have both the frame and the reference picture, and as they examine individual pieces of information, they will be able to place them into context using the frame of reference and (in retrospect) discover smoking guns.

Many will criticize the French government for missing such obvious clues, but those who do have lost sight of the initial challenge of the shoal of suspects and the vast amounts of data associated with each individual fish. Hindsight can be far more acute than foresight.

(Stratfor, 14 November 2015)

Paris Attacks: The Acuity of Hindsight is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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Songs from Stalin’s Gulag

Here are some songs from the Soviet Union labor camps, better known as the Gulag. They come from a LP in my collection, published by the Dutch section of Amnesty International in 1977.

The songs were collected by Hungarian citizen A. Vardy, who was a slave laborer in the Vorkuta mines from 1950-1955.

Part 1:

Part 2:

© 1977 Amnesty International

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