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Ukraine: Sink or Swim

Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля

Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom
Upon us, fellow Ukrainians, fate shall smile once again.

These words of the Ukrainian National Anthem are full of passion, but they are a key to understanding the dynamics of the events and determination in Kiev. What pushed thousands of people to remain in Majdan Square for 3 winter months in spite of more than 70 victims? Clausewitz’s trinity of passion, chance, and reason is in some way applicable to today’s situation in Ukraine. There is clearly passion, and chance was evident in that this was the second opportunity for revolution – the first being the Orange revolution of 2004-2005. Now reason must govern a way forward full of compromises. For those in the U.S. public who would like to be more informed about these events, a series of questions arises:

– What Happened and Why?
– What Comes Next?
– What is the Larger Meaning for U.S. Interests and Strategy?

The direct cause of the protest was President Yanukovich’s rejection of the European Union Association Agreement. Aleksander Kwasniewski, former president of Poland, said that protests were predictable as one half of Ukraine wants to join the EU and the other half was persuaded by Yanukovich for three years that the agreement should be signed. So nearly everyone was surprised when the agreement was discarded.

Commenters often talk about two parts of Ukraine that are very different. This is true, there is a difference in culture, religion, and business preferences, which comes from history. But both parts want to live in independent Ukraine, without neighbors interfering in domestic matters, and they want to have a chance to realize their ambitions. For many of us this sounds natural, sentimental, or simply trivial. This is a very old nation but very young state. Ukraine gained independence for a brief period between 1918 and 1920 and most recently again in 1991. Not surprisingly they are very sensitive to problems of national independence. Nationalism is strong and could be equally constructive or destructive. The fact that Ukraine was and continues to be very important to Russia, doesn’t help. And it makes a difference. We speak about the vital interests of a former hegemon and a country that has the ambition to regain its status as a world-class power.

So what comes next? We should start with the simple statement that the situation is unpredictable and volatile. There are at least two reasons for that. One is the pace of change and dynamic course of action, full of unexpected turns. Using an analogy to Boyd’s OODA Loop, Majdan acts inside the decision loop of any potential opponent. The second reason is that given the history of the country and the very short period of independence, Ukraine needs time to work on the many soft elements constituting a state: well-crafted law and respect for the rule of it, transparency, accountability, democratic traditions, mature political elites, and so on. This alone is challenging without speaking of external circumstances. The biggest and most immediate threat to Ukraine’s stability is the legitimization of the new President and the economic situation. Such arguments have already been raised by Russian Federation officials, according to Reuters:

“We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

“There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there.”

Russian naval vessels in Sevastopol, Ukraine.
Russian naval vessels in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Strong rhetoric is not a mere ghost from the past. It is a sign that other tools from the Soviet epoch could also find their way into the hands of state leaders. We could witness subtle diplomacy interweaving with hard politics. The references to Russian citizens are especially worrisome. It seems natural, but we shouldn’t forget that there is a strong ethnic Russian minority in Crimea [who reportedly “elected” a Russian citizen as mayor this week] and that Sevastopol is a major naval base for Black Sea Fleet. The situation seems to be serious enough to cause a series of public statements by officials from both the United States and Poland.

Bronisław Komorowski, President of Poland considers honest and transparent presidential elections, producing an undeniable outcome, as a top priority. This was quickly countered by Russian Federation Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who stated, “We consider it premature to hold presidential elections in Ukraine in May, as it contradicts the agreement dated February 21.”

On Feb 23rd, the U.S. State Department on Twitter said “US expects Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, democratic freedom of choice to be respected by all states”.

Prof. Stanislaw Koziej, Chief of BBN (Poland’s National Security Counsel) expressed his concern more directly: “Intervention in Ukraine by foreign power would have significant consequences for international security”.

In order to facilitate strategy shaping for dealing with Ukraine, Prof. Zbigniew Brzezinski offers his long-term vision in an article titled “Ukraine Should Join EU, but No Military Alliance” and says “In brief, the Finnish model is the ideal example for Ukraine, and the EU, and Russia.”

From the geo-strategic point of view, the big problem is that any formal or institutional link of Ukraine with the EU drastically limits Russia’s options and potential to influence this country.

What does this mean for the United States? Even if it doesn’t seem to be a priority, Ukraine’s future could have many indirect and strategic consequences. If the United States really believes in its values, it needs to respect the sovereign decision of Ukrainians. However, any chance of a scenario in which a weak Ukraine becomes a satellite state to Russia, would certainly resonate in all of Central Europe. That means adapting strategy, military modernization programs, and priorities at the NATO Summit in Wales, UK. A Strong or stronger Russia in this region is also an argument in favor of the “Three-Hub Navy” proposed by Brian McGrath.

But even then the hub in the Mediterranean still wouldn’t be among the top strategic priorities until we will assume that a powerful Russian Federation is a link between Europe and Asia. Russia is absent from most discussions about the Rebalance to the Pacific or events in China’s Near Seas, perhaps because the focus is on South China Sea. The way the Russian Federation is going to protect their interests in the Far East and Arctic, and interact with major players there, is likely to impact perceptions of security at least in Central Europe if not in the whole of Europe.

Any discussion about the future of Ukraine is impossible without considering the broader context in which Russia plays a key role. It has been this way for centuries. Poland is ready to offer its own experiences with the transformation process, which was long and painful, but the U.S. is probably the only power capable to persuade an assertive Russia.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is the context, purpose, and structure of navies – and promoting discussion on these subjects in his country.

Jihad at Sea – Al Qaeda’s Maritime Front in Yemen

Yemen’s state weakness due to fragmentation and ongoing conflicts allowed Al Qaeda and affiliates to take and hold territory, possibly enabling them to seize the Port of Aden. If Al Qaeda establishes safe havens in the southern Abyan province, supported by local Yemeni inhabitants, attacks at sea or in near by ports similar to the “USS Cole bombing” in 2000 could become a threat, increasing the danger to Red Sea shipping. Yet Al Qaeda is of secondary concern for the Yemeni government, with secessionist insurgencies in the north and the south threatening the state’s unity. Only a stable Yemen can effectively deny Al Qaeda a stable base in the long run.

(Source: Stratfor)

In recent years, international shippers taking the Red Sea route have been primarily concerned with attacks by Somali pirates. Those attacks went down from 237 in 2011 to 15 in 2013 due to the Somali governments’ increased ability to fight and deter piracy, among other causes. However, another threat to international shipping in the Gulf of Aden looms. Yemen’s southern coastline is on the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb which links the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a critical maritime choke point where roughly 8.2% of global oil supply passed through in 2009. Its oil exports, accounting for 70% of Yemeni government revenue, make the country highly dependent on its declining reserves. Yemen is an Al Qaeda stronghold, second only to Pakistan (and possibly Syria more recently). It was a target of the U.S. “drone campaign,” with 94 strikes between 2002 and 2013 (Pakistan: 368). Al Qaeda aims to enforce rigid Islamic legislation in Muslim countries and establish a global Islamic Caliphate. According to its 20-year plan, Al Qaeda aims to subdue “apostate” Muslim regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It hosts a franchise in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), establishing safe havens in the governorates of Al Bayda’, Ma’rib, Shabwah, Lahji and Abyan, where it exerts considerable influence.

2002 – Bombing of M/V LIMBURG

Yemen’s weak central state
Yet the Yemeni government, headed by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi since February 2012 after the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh came to an end, has to deal with more than Al Qaeda. In 1990, the Yemen Arab Republic in the north united with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. United in name, Yemen, however, remained a fragmented entity rife with internal divisions. In 1994, a civil war between Saleh’s north and the secessionist south broke out. In 1997, a group called “Ansar Allah”, emerging from a Zaidi Shia religious organization, confronted the Yemeni government leading to armed uprisings and several rounds of fighting between 2004 and 2010. In late March 2011, the defection of General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the chief military commander in north Yemen, led to a security vacuum in the northwest that Ansar Allah seized to take control of Saada city where it continues fighting Sunni-Salafist tribes. His defection may, however, only be a symptom of the Yemeni state’s retreat to Sana’a, neglecting the north and the south. As a consequence, Hadi has to cope with internal struggles and two rebel movements, constraining his ability to fight AQAP.

Al Qaeda’s terrorism at sea
Al Qaeda’s terrorism at sea emanating from Yemen has a tradition and method. Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, an eminent jihadi strategist, defined several choke points as a target and outlined methods for disruption: blocking the passages using mines or sinking ships in them, threatening movement at sea through piracy, martyrdom operations and weapons.

On the Earth, there are five (5) important straits, four of them are in the countries of the Arabs and the Muslims. The fifth one is in America, and it is the Panama Canal. These straits are: 1. The Strait of Hormuz, the oil gate in the Persian Gulf. 2. The Suez Canal in Egypt. 3. The Bab el Mandib between Yemen and the African continent. 4. The Gibraltar Strait in Morocco. Most of the Western world’s economy, in terms of trade and oil, passes through these sea passages. Also passing through them are the military fleets, aircraft carriers and the deadly missiles hitting our women and children … It is necessary to shut these passages until the invader campaigns have left our countries. […]. — Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, “The Global Islamic Resistance Call“.

On January 3, 2000, members of Al Qaeda attempted an attack on the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, while in the Port of Aden. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, called “the Prince of the Sea”, was its mastermind. He learned boat-handling and other skills from seafarers in western Yemen, adopted the tactics of the LTTE Sea Tigers, an Islamist insurgency in Sri Lanka, and developed plans to attack in the choke points of the Straits of Hormuz and Gibraltar. He discussed the idea to attack U.S. vessels with Osama bin Laden who sent him to Aden in southern Yemen where he organized the attack on USS The Sullivans. A small group loaded a boat with explosives near USS The Sullivans, however overloading the boat so that it sank, before it could launch the attack. Nine days later on October 12, Al Qaeda avoided mistakes, successfully bombing the USS Cole. The USS Cole (DDG-67), same model as USS The Sullivans, was being refueled in the harbor at Aden when it was attacked, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39. On October 6, 2002, the same tactic worked again. A small suicide vessel rammed the MV Limburg, a French 157,000-ton crude oil tanker, in the Arabian Sea near the southern Yemeni coastal town of Al-Mukalla. On November 22, 2002, al-Nashiri was captured, and he has been held in Guantanamo ever since. Nevertheless, Al Qaeda-aligned groups remain able to attack ships. In July 2010, the “Abdullah Azzam Brigade” launched a suicide attack against the Japanese oil tanker MV M. Star in the Strait of Hormuz, injuring a crew member.

Army soldiers standing at a tank with posters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, secure a road in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden. (Source: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Al Qaeda’s resurgence through soft power
In January 2009, AQAP dramatically increased in strength by merging its Saudi and Yemeni franchises. It has proclaimed Islamic Emirates in the cities of Shaqra, Jaar, Azzan and Zinjibar since 2011, and controls checkpoints in the south. An autonomous enclave, established by AQAP insurgents in the southern province of Abyan in 2011, was overrun by the military in June 2012, although some militants were reportedly displaced to other areas. Hadi was able to recapture Abyan in 2012 and restore limited control over the coastal city of Zinjibar. Abyan could, however, become a staging ground for operations to seize Aden, should the Yemeni military fail to defeat AQAP (sometimes referred to as “Ansar al Sharia”, an alias) in Zinjibar. AQAP’s leadership has recently adopted a “soft power” strategy to take and hold territory. Is has been the frequent goal of AQAP in the south to establish an Islamic state; however, in early 2011, Osama bin Laden opposed the idea in a letter to leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi due to “lack of popular support on the ground”. In April 2011, Adil al-Abab, Al Qaeda’s chief cleric, expressed the need to provide social services such as food and water, as part of the strategy to hold territory. He stated “first Zanjibar then Aden”. Later in May 2, 2011, bin Laden was killed by a US Navy SEAL team in his mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, but Wuhayshi continued with his strategy and made an “unprecedented” effort to develop and provide social services such as water and electricity in Jaar and Zanjibar. Even though President Hadi has been confident in his success ridding Abyan of AQAP, the fighting continues to the present date.

(Source: Josef Polleross)

Aden’s centrality and the U.S. approach
Indeed, Aden would be a vital strategic asset for Al Qaeda, providing a secure base for attacks in the Gulf of Aden, Bab el-Mandeb, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Aden had been a prosperous maritime hub under the British as shipments through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal became an important part of world trade. Yet Aden declined over the last two decades. Because it was mismanaged by corrupt politicians, and Al Qaeda’s attacks on the USS Cole and the MV Limburg drove up the price of marine insurance, international shippers have neglected Aden since in favor of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, Port Sudan and Djibouti. Instead of prospering, Aden could remain a “Cinderella of the East”, so argues author Victoria Clark. The U.S. follows a three-fold strategy in Yemen: combating AQAP, development assistance and international support for stabilization. It has repeatedly targeted and eliminated high-profile targets in Yemen, using UAVs, military-led airstrikes and CIA operations.

Yet the U.S. counter-strategy depends on the Yemeni state’s ability to maintain national unity. Yemen’s armed forces, including the navy and the air force, are poorly equipped, insufficiently trained and lack morale, limiting the government’s ability to exert control outside of the capital and ensure territorial sovereignty on land or at sea. Al Qaeda’s new soft power strategy requires a different approach in supporting the Sana’a government: assistance to local administrations, building forces to protect local communities and developing basic services. Al Qaeda might be of primary concern for the U.S., but it is only one of many threats to the Yemeni state. Hadi has, however, concentrated his security forces to fight AQAP and neglected demands of the north and the south. As a result, the national dialogue conference is in risk of failure, increasing the secessionist threat. In turn, U.S. support should not primarily focus on combating AQAP but the ability to unite Yemen as a whole, decreasing the group’s attractiveness as an alternative to the central government.


Niklas Anzinger is a Graduate Assistant at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, NY. This post appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from our partner site Offiziere.ch.

Sea Control 23 – USS PONCE

seacontrolemblemCAPT Rodgers, former CO of the USS PONCE Afloat Forward Staging Base, discusses how his ad-hoc crew of Sailors and civilian mariners plucked a 40 year old ship from decommissioning’s doorstep and turned it into the most in-demand platform in the Arabian Gulf.


Sea Control is available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio. Remember to tell your friends! We think Sea Control is a fine product. Anyone who says otherwise is going to steal all your banking information and email passwords because information should be free, man.


All images from CAPT Rodger’s unclassified post-deployment presentation on USS PONCE.Slide26


Editor’s Note: The real question is who the jerk is who threw the chairs all around before they left.

Slide14 Slide9 Slide12   Slide18

WarPlan Crimson: The NextWar Schedule

Cavalry? Fear not, boys. Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim gun and they have not.WarPlan Crimson was the War Department’s operational plan for the invasion of Canada, it is also the long-view schedule for NextWar and its Sea Control Podcast

NextWar Upcoming Topic Weeks:

Drone Tactics Week – Mar 3-8
Editor: Dave Blair (daveblair130(at)gmail.com)
The practical view of how a drone could be used outside (or furthering) their current model.

Defense Innovation Failures – Mar 24-29
Editor: Matt McLaughlin (matthew.mclaughlin.1(at)gmail.com)
Too little attention is paid to the innovative failures and dead ends. We’re going to fix that.

Private Military Contractors – Apr 14-19
Editor: Emil Maine (emil.maine(at)heritage.org)
Despite their recent pillorying, PMC’s have existed since before the condotierre and will continue to exist after America’s campaigns. We’ll discuss their utility and future.

Wargaming – May 5-10
Editor: Adam Kruppa (adam.kruppa(at)gmail.com)
From the table-top to the joint exercise, how do we mimic the world in ways that is useful (or not) for security and foreign policy?

Sacking of Rome – May 26-31
Editor: Paul Pryce (prycep(at)cya-ajc.ca)
The United States is the mightiest power on earth. We spend too much time concentrating on how the U.S. could fail, and less on how Hannibal or the Goths could succeed.

Strategic Communications – Jun 16-21
Editor: Nicolas Di Leonardo (nicolas.a.dileonardo(at)gmail.com)
You keep saying words, I do not think they means what you think they mean… to everyone else.

Sea Control Podcast Schedule:

Feb 24: CAPT Rodgers on the USS PONCE
Mar 3: CAPT Moore’s “More with Moore”
Mar 17: ASB with TX Hammes and Tim Walton
Mar 24: Anthony Arend and Maritime Law
Mar 31: Robert Sutter and Chinese Decision Making

Upcoming Projects: Sea Control may soon be broadening its perspective. The Phoenix Think Tank will soon be running a monthly “East Side of the Pond” edition of Sea Control and an Asia/Pacific version may soon follow.