At the start of April President Vladimir Putin believed he could postpone Russia’s strategic and battlefield responses to the state of war which the U.S. is escalating. He was to be disappointed.
On April 6, the U.S. Treasury announced it is putting the state aluminium monopoly United Company Rusal out of business, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Not since July 26, 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the U.S. and prohibited all U.S. trade with Japan, especially metals and oil, as well as all U.S. dollar transactions, has the American state attempted such a thing against a rival Great Power. Roosevelt calculated it was one deterrent step short of U.S. war with Japan. Everybody understands now that miscalculation led to Japan’s decision to make its preemptive strike against the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, five months later.
There is another, earlier precedent for the U.S. Treasury’s act of war against Russia. That was on November 21, 1806, when Napoleon issued his Berlin Decree. That forbade the export of British goods to Europe or other states controlled by the French military, or the imports of goods on which Britain depended from its empire. Too weak to defeat the British Navy or invade the British islands, Napoleon opted for economic sanctions, retaliating for the trade blockade imposed by the British Navy around the French coastline, starting in May of that year. “It being right,” Napoleon had declared as the justification for his blockade, “to oppose to an enemy the same arms she makes use of, to combat as she does, when all ideas of justice and every liberal sentiment (the result of civilization among men) are discarded.” The British had extended war beyond military operations, Napoleon added in his decree: “it cannot be extended to any private property whatever, nor to persons who are not military, and until the right of blockade be restrained to fortified places, actually invested by competent forces.” The Continental Blockade, thus launched, lasted until Napoleon’s first abdication in April 1814.
On the fourteenth of this month the U.S. launched its assault on Syria, agreeing in advance with the Russian General Staff to avoid Russian forces and Russian-defended targets. That attack was a military failure. But with continuing Israeli operations from the air against Syrian, Iranian and Russian targets, Putin has been requested by the General Staff and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to authorize the deployment of Russian S-300 missile defenses to deter and destroy fresh attacks. Putin has been delaying this decision.
Then on April 25 U.S. forces broke into the Russian consulate at Seattle. This was the second such attack by the U.S. on Russian diplomatic territory in the U.S.; the earlier one was on September 2, 2017, when the Russian consulate in San Francisco and simultaneously, Russian trade mission offices in Washington and New York.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the U.S. actions “illegal invasion”, and violations of the Vienna Convention, but not acts of war.
In the past four weeks Putin has called his Security Council into session just twice. The first was on April 6, to discuss, according to the Kremlin communique, border control plans. The second Council meeting took place on April 19, which the Kremlin reported as discussing “the recent Western airstrikes…[and] measures to prevent floods and wildfires.”
Putin took several important decisions besides, but he did it out of sight at the Novo-Ogaryovo dacha, and for his own reasons kept them secret.
On Rusal it is now clear the President told his current spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to call the attack on the company “illegal”, but not an act of war. Putin refused to agree to nationalization of Rusal when he met with one of the advocates of this option, the leader of Russia’s trade unions, Mikhail Shmakov.
Instead, without revealing his contacts with Oleg Deripaska, Putin decided to delegate to him the initiative for responding to the April 6 sanctions. This was also confirmed with Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, whom Putin called to the dacha on April 17, along with the Kremlin economic adviser, the minister for economic development, and the chairman of the Central Bank.
Siluanov was told to meet U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin in Washington and see what shareholding arrangement the U.S. Government will accept for Deripaska and his shareholding associates in the Yeltsin family to keep control of Rusal; and at the same time release Rusal itself from the global trade embargo. For details of their negotiation on April 20, read this. For the shareholdings of the Yeltsin family in Deripaska’s stake, look at this. What has been concealed of the Rusal shareholding arrangements and beneficiaries can be followed in this backfile.
Siluanov returned from Washington and reported back to Deripaska. On April 26 Deripaska filed an application to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Treasury for extension of the time to reorganize; Mnuchin had already announced this three days earlier, on April 23. Mnuchin had told Siluanov the target of the sanction was not Rusal, but its “entanglement with Oleg Deripaska”, as the Treasury press release called it. They have yet to agree on what Mnuchin will accept as disentanglement.
Deripaska then announced through EN+ that he has,
agreed in principle [sic]… to reduce his shareholding in the Company to below 50%. In addition, in conjunction with efforts to engage with OFAC as described above, Mr. Deripaska has agreed… that he will resign from the Board and consent to the appointment of certain new Directors such that the Board will comprise a majority of new independent [sic] directors.
Deripaska persuaded the Financial Times to headline the move:
Deripaska agrees to relinquish control of sanction-hit Rusal.
No one in Moscow, including the President, believes this.
Silently, Putin has decided to protect Deripaska; not to call the U.S. attack on Rusal an act of war; and to test the Americans with an offer of a limited armistice. International bankers close to Russian business believe it is a Russian illusion that an armistice with the U.S. can be anything but temporary; pursuing it is a miscalculation of U.S. intentions, the sources add. They warn that new attacks will come. “The oligarchs,” the sources say,
will be put out of business by the Americans unless they choose–either return to Russia and face a very different future from the one they have enjoyed until now; or leave Russia, join the American side; lose what they own in Russia to the state. There is no middle position. That’s what the U.S. economic strategy means. There’s no modern precedent for an attack like this. Putin isn’t prepared.
By deciding against nationalization of Rusal, one of the international sources claims, Putin has retreated from the Napoleon precedent on the economic front. In Syria, military sources in Moscow believe, Putin has opted for one step short of extending Russian missile defense beyond the Russian air and naval bases to cover the territory now controlled by the Bashar al-Assad government.
This was discussed by Putin with General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on April 20. The Russian military, they told the President, want the go-ahead to deploy S-300 missile batteries to cover Syrian and Iranian forces against U.S. and Israeli attack from the air. They believe Israeli threats to attack the S-300 batteries as soon as they are operational are a bluff which Russia must call if Russia’s positions in Syria, and Iran itself, are not to come under subsequent attack from the American-Israeli combination. Testing the threat in Syria, they argue, is the less threatening, less costly option than encouraging the Americans and Israelis to prepare their offensive against Iran. Putin won’t agree.
To respond to Putin’s reluctance, the General Staff and the Defense Ministry have devised a step short of the S-300, but with potentially enough defensive power to intercept or deter American and Israeli air attacks. This is the deployment of more Russian electronic warfare systems with the capacity to jam the surveillance, targeting, fire control and command signals on which the attackers rely. It is the Samson Haircut option – deprive the giant of control of his firepower, blind him.
A publication on April 26 in Vzglyad, the Moscow online analytical website, reveals with open sources, including American ones, how this option would work. This is an unofficial translation into English.
How Russian electronic warfare systems interfere with the U.S. military in Syria
The EW Krasukha systems well-tested in real combat in Syria
By Andrei Rezchikov and Nikita Kovalenko
“Because of the actions of our unidentified enemy today, our military in Syria are in the most aggressive electromagnetic environment on the planet,” said the American general. It is clear that such an enemy means Russia, actively using the means of electronic warfare in Syria. What are Russian electronic warfare systems capable of and why are Americans so afraid of them?
General Raymond Thomas, the head of the special operations command of the U.S. armed forces complained at the closed Symposium GEOINT 2018 that “opponents” are jamming the system of American aircraft in Syria. He did not specify which “opponents” he means, but called the current situation in electronic warfare “the most aggressive in the world”. However, the publication Drive, quoting the general, expressed confidence that this is about Russia.
“They test us every day, suppress our communications, disable our (fire support aircraft) AC-130,” added Raymond Thomas.
Earlier, the NBC TV channel, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that Russia has blocked the radio signals of U.S. drones in Syria, which has significantly affected U.S. military operations. The Russian military allegedly began to interfere with U.S. drones “after a series of alleged chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta.”
The editor of the magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland, Alexei Leonov, does not believe that in Syria there was an unprecedented situation in terms of the use of electronic warfare. “In fact, it has not affected the habit of Americans to fight with a weak opponent. After 1991, the United States led all its military conflicts against states whose EW [Electronic Warfare systems] were very weak or not used at all,” he told Vzglyad.
In the assessment of Leonov, the U.S. is now clearly inferior to Russia in the effectiveness of EW systems, primarily for the reason that the Americans stopped paying these technologies due attention. Back in the 1990s, during the first war in the Persian Gulf, the Americans actively used electronic warfare equipment because at the time the Iraqi army was quite developed, and it was necessary not to allow their air defense and intelligence to detect the accumulation of American troops in the main targeting direction, the expert recalled.
But they began to relax, and since then they have developed only one effective electronic warfare system based on the F-18 aircraft to cover aviation units, Leonov said. “Russia did not stand still. And now the Americans, when they have watched our electronic warfare systems, they have recognized that they are among the best in the world”, he added.
“The characteristic of American means of communication is that they work in the K-band. We know this range, so this range was configured in the electronic warfare systems that could be jamming the signal and to catch all the communications,” said Leonov. In addition, Americans in Syria mainly use airborne electronic warfare systems; in Russia they are deployed in ground systems. “Ground systems will always be more powerful and stronger than air ones due to the energy supply,” the source says.
This has long been said by a former head of electronic warfare for the U.S. Army Laurie Buckhout.
Our most serious problem is that we have not fought for several decades in conditions of suppression of communication, so we do not know how to fight. We not only do not have tactics, techniques and procedures for their implementation, but even the preparation for the conduct of hostilities in the absence of communication.
In the Federation Council it was noted after the statements of General Thomas that Moscow has nothing to do with the failure of electronic systems of American aircraft in Syria. “I do not know who they mean by opponents, but Russia has nothing to do with this, these claims are unfounded”, RIA Novosti was told by the first Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, Yevgeny Serebrennikov.
However, the fact that Moscow denies involvement in the impact on U.S. military equipment does not mean that Russia does not use electronic warfare in Syria at all. In particular, to repel the recent raid of drones which tried to attack the Russian airbase at Khmeimim, along with Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile and gun complexes, EW was extensively operated. According to a source of Izvestia in the Main Operational Directorate (GOU) of the General Staff, after detecting the danger at a distance of about 10 km, the electronic warfare system silenced the GPS signal over a certain area, disabling the navigation and control system of the drones.
A British expert on the Russian armed forces Roger McDermott sees the superior effectiveness of Russian electronic warfare in repelling the drone attack. He is convinced that Russia maximizes the ability of electronic warfare, achieving impressive results. According to him, unlike NATO, Russia has integrated military command, communications, intelligence, space, cyber and electronic warfare.
In early January, 13 drones with homemade bombs attacked the Khmeimim airbase and the naval base at Tartus; seven of them were destroyed by Pantsir-S, and another six were intercepted by EW units. Some experts have also assumed that during the recent U.S. missile strike on Syria radio-electronic means of suppression were used to intercept some of the cruise missiles, as a consequence of which many missiles simply did not reach their targets. At the same time, some military experts have questioned this, given the complexity of the signal suppression systems of these Tomahawks.
What kind of electronic warfare means is Russia using in Syria? Detailed information about this is unavailable in the open press because of the increased secrecy surrounding this topic. However, the press has often received fragmentary information, much of it thanks to the activity of Syrian bloggers who have repeatedly photographed examples of Russian weapons. This is how the transfer to Khmeimim was reported of the ground-based jamming system Krasukha, along with Mi-8 helicopters equipped with active interception system Richag-AB. In late March, the Russian Defense Ministry transferred to Syria the latest model of electronic warfare helicopters, Mi-8 MTPR-1.
About the EW [operations in Syria] too little is known. The Krasukha was unveiled in 2011. Several modifications were created. The most powerful option – Krasukha-4 – ‘silences’ airborne aircraft radars, including drones and cruise missiles. A killer electronics system Richag-AB refers to the latest developments and entered service only in 2016. It disables not only the navigation devices of aircraft, but also drones and cruise missiles.
According to some observers, the EW intelligence complex Moskva-1 is designed for a detection and tracking range of 400 kilometers for overhead sources of radiation at different radio frequency ranges.
In addition, as Vzglyad has reported, EW-equipped SU [Sukhoi] aircraft are deployed in Syria in various modifications. In particular, there is the well-known myth about the suppression of [radar and fire-control] systems of the American destroyer USS Donald Cook by the Khibiny system, which has been designed to block radio-electronic signals. As noted by experts, in fact the capacity of this system is quite limited; it is not enough to ‘stun’ American destroyers.
What, then, can EW really do? Military expert Dmitry Drozdenko in an interview with RT noted that such means muffle the channels of communication, and introduce blockages in the frequencies used by the U.S. military to exchange information. “As a result, information is not received between the control centers and combat units; in fact, the armed forces are blinded. If a radar installation searches for a target and tracks the space around it, it sees not only the real targets, but also a large number of false ones,” he explained.
Lenkov said that all the electronic warfare systems work on one principle: perform the tasks of intelligence, that is, determine the frequency and modes of communication and navigation, and their whereabouts. After that, the signal begins to jam. “The power of the signal is more than the transceiver, and therefore it makes for reliable jamming of communications, intelligence and navigation,” the expert said.
As pointed out by U.S. General Thomas, the AC-130 aircraft is particularly vulnerable to our EW attack. The Lockheed AC-130 is a flying gunship for direct support of land force divisions on the battlefield, based on the transport plane C-130 and equipped with several artillery pieces. This aircraft is very dependent on backup from supporting units, and if you block its communication channels, at night it will not be able to identify its objective, or in the afternoon to distinguish other [hostile] forces from its own. This means that if [the AC-130] can attack, there will be a high risk of hitting the allied forces.
Moreover, according to the general, there is a danger of impact by Russian electronic warfare even on the EC-130H Compass Call. One of the tasks of the EC-130H is to detect the EW suppressors of the enemy and transfer data about them to the allies for counter-strikes. However, the electronic warfare equipment of the enemy is able to crack it in order to lure the American forces to attack their own.
Blocking with the help of EW signal transmitters and GPS receivers can not only make it impossible for aircraft and warships to attack targets, but also create problems with their navigation, said the American. In addition, radio-electronic weapons may interrupt the communication of operators with drones, which can lead to their loss.
In addition, General Thomas stressed that for the time being Russia is not operating EW in Syria at full capacity. If Russia starts [to do that], the United States will lose all its communication in the region. The former head of electronic warfare for the U.S. Army Laurie Buckhout adds that the U.S. does not have such extensive capabilities for electronic warfare as Russia has.
“We have very good radio intelligence, and we can listen to everything. But we do not have one-tenth of their capabilities to disable equipment,” she said.
Where and for what reason do American generals produce such self-criticism and such laudatory notes about the Russian systems? This may well be aimed, for example, at trying to extract additional funds for the military budget. Hearings on that in the Senate, by the way, were just held on Thursday.