Russia's elite are nervous about new US sanctions - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

There’s a chill settling in over Moscow, and it’s not just the arctic temperatures that typically smother the Russian capital in January.


As U.S. officials put the finishing touches on new financial and travel sanctions against Russia, expectations that the punitive measures will target an expanded list of secondary companies, as well as Kremlin-connected insiders and business leaders, are causing consternation.

Unlike previous rounds, when Washington tried to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and Syria by targeting big fish like major state-run firms and government agencies, the focus is shifting. The new wave to be announced by month’s end is expected to be broader, focusing on companies that do business with previously sanctioned entities, closing loopholes that allowed Russia to skirt punishment, and identifying — and potentially going after — the Kremlin’s inner circle of smaller fish.

Moscow appears to be on edge. One official has accused the United States of trying to influence the upcoming presidential election. An influential Russian newspaper has reported that as many as 300 people close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle could be identified. And financial institutions are taking steps to minimize their risk.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Vladimir Putin held the first meeting with Government members this year. (Image from Moscow Kremlin)

‘Freaking out’

“It is true that the Russians have been freaking out over this for more than a month now,” said Daniel Fried, who was formerly the chief sanctions coordinator at the U.S. State Department.

Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst now based in Washington, D.C., echoes that assessment. “The expectations are very gloomy” in Moscow, he said, “because for the first time, it will bring personal pain to those closest to Putin.”

The new measures, expected to be rolled out beginning Jan. 29, stem from a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer and signed reluctantly into law by President Donald Trump in August.

Known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the law firstly provides for “secondary sanctions” that broaden the restrictions against people or companies doing business with Russians hit earlier.

The earlier measures were imposed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama not only for Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 but also for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military campaign in Syria, and other things.

Related: US intel officials report that Russian leaders think US wants to topple Putin

In October, in the first indication of whom the new law would be targeting, the State Department put three dozen major Russian defense companies and intelligence agencies on notice, indicating that other companies, Russian or foreign, who do “significant” business with them could face restrictions.

In theory, this meant that a foreign bank that provided credit to a company supplying a previously sanctioned Russian state-controlled company could be targeted for doing business with listed companies. That might include state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport or the legendary weapons-maker Kalashnikov.

‘Oligarchs list’

The law also ordered the Treasury Department, in coordination with intelligence agencies, to provide Congress with a list of prominent Russians and their family members who would potentially face direct restrictions. Known as Section 241, the instruction includes identifying oligarchs according to “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”

This, in theory, could target the daughter of a high-ranking Russian official who owns property in the United States, or the head of a major industrial corporation with holdings in the West.

Around Washington, close observers of the sanctions process are calling it “the oligarchs list.”

“This will hit people because it shows they are not safe; that the U.S. is willing to go after this class of people and Putin cannot protect them… that there will be consequences for Russians who seem to be in Putin’s corrupt inner circle and [are] aiding and abetting his corrupt activities,” Fried told RFE/RL.

Those included will not immediately face financial or travel restrictions, but experts say it would be a clear signal of what may soon come and, more immediately, would have a major psychological effect on those listed and those who do business with them.

It could also foreshadow a public record of some wealthy Russians’ sources of income and assets in the United States.

“For some people, it’s very personal. For others, it will be very political,” said Olga Oliker of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is: What’s the signal that is being sent by the administration and how will it be received in Moscow?”

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
The Kremlin in Russia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Parlor-game guessing

For the moment, the potential nominees for the “oligarchs’ list” is a closely held secret by both members of Congress and administration officials. But sanctions experts, Russian opposition activists, and Western lawyers and business groups have been trying to guess. Some wealthy Russians have also stepped up quiet lobbying campaigns in Washington, trying to persuade Congress or administration officials to keep them off the list, according to several observers.

On Jan. 12, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing its own sources in Washington, said as many as 300 people could end up being listed, a number that includes both officials themselves, but also their relatives.

In December, a group of Russian opposition activists with backing from chess master and outspoken Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov met in Lithuania to compile their own sanctions list. The compilation features more than 200 names, including prominent business tycoons who have so far avoided restrictions, including Aleksei Mordashov, owner of the steelmaking giant Severstal, and German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s largest state bank, Sberbank.

Several prominent Russians included in the opposition group’s list were already on earlier U.S. sanctions lists, including Sergei Ivanov, an ex-defense minister and President Putin’s former chief of staff; Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, head of Russian military intelligence; and Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader hailing from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Garry Kasparov. (Photo from Flickr user Gage Skidmore, cropped to fit)

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to queries about its upcoming list.

Credit crunch

One indication of how the Kremlin has sought to get ahead of the new measures came in November. The business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree that would exempt Russian state companies from the requirement to disclose the names of their contractors.

Already there are signs that financial markets, in and out of Russia, are factoring the likelihood of sanctions into predictions for 2018. But among bond traders, equity dealers, and other portfolio managers, the measure that has prompted most worry is a possible restriction on buying Russian government debt.

That measure is seen as an attempt to close a loophole that allowed Russia to skirt sanctions imposed in 2014 that cut certain companies close to or controlled by the state from international credit markets.

The Kremlin ended up bailing out those companies to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and was still able to raise capital on its own. In 2016, for example, Russia sold around $3 billion in new Eurobonds.

The Countering Adversaries law includes the possibility that U.S. citizens could be barred from buying ruble-denominated, Russian government bonds. It’s unclear how much of Russia’s overall sovereign debt is held by Americans, but Central Bank data from October showed that foreigners held about $38 billion of it.

That decision won’t be handed down for some months, but still, analysts predict a ban would put severe pressure on the Russian ruble, which plummeted in 2014 after the Crimea sanctions and amid low world oil prices and has yet to fully recover. In the medium term, that would drive up inflation, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said in a research note in December.

Ripple effect

Some Russian financial institutions have also given indications that whatever the measures are that end up being issued by Washington, they will ripple through the country’s economy.

For example, Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private commercial lender, said it was cutting back its exposure to the country’s formidable defense industry.

“This does not mean that we have severed relations with it overnight,” Oleg Sysuyev, a deputy chairman of the bank’s board of directors, told Ekho Moskvy radio. “But we are just trying to minimize risks.”

In the short term, that could pose a direct challenge to Putin, who will run for another term as president in the election scheduled for March, a month after the new measures are unveiled.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov alluded to this on Jan. 13 when, in comments to the state news agency TASS, he charged that the U.S. measures were an attempt to influence the vote.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (Photo from Flickr user Moscow CTBTO Youth Group Conference. Cropped to fit)

Piontkovsky, a longtime critic of the Kremlin, predicted that the U.S. move to target more individuals could help undermine the broad support that Putin has enjoyed for years.

“It means he is losing his meaning for the elites, his function was to protect them, and their assets in Russia and the West, to ensure their security. And now, on the contrary, he is becoming toxic,” he said.

The question now, according to Oliker, who directs the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, is whether the new sanctions will, in fact, affect Kremlin policies.

For example, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine grinding into its fourth year, dragging on Russia’s economy and losing popularity among Russians, there’s good reason for Russia to pull back on its support for separatist fighters.

However, it would be virtually impossible for Putin to pull back if it appeared he was giving in to the pressures from U.S. sanctions, she said.

Depending on who or what is targeted, the problem is that the new measures could reinforce the perception — encouraged by the Kremlin — that Washington only wants to damage Russia, Oliker said.

“In Russia, the pervasive narrative is that all the sanctions are merely to punish Russia — [that] they’re punitive, it’s not a matter of attaining actual policy goals,” she said. Many think “it’s just those nasty Americans trying to get us.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China plans new satellites to spy in South China Sea

China reportedly wants to extend its surveillance state to the South China Sea by launching satellites to watch “every reef and ship” in the contested sea.

Beginning in 2019, China will begin launching satellites to monitor the region, as well as enforce “national sovereignty,” the South China Morning Post reported Aug. 16, 2018, citing China’s state-run China News Service. Six optical satellites, two hyerspectral satellites and two radar satellites will form the Hainan satellite constellation system, creating a real-time “CCTV network in space” controlled by operators in Hainan.


“Each reef and island as well as each vessel in the South China Sea will be under the watch of the ‘space eyes,'” Yang Tianliang, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing, told SCMP. “The system will [reinforce] national sovereignty, protection of fisheries, and marine search and rescue.”

The ten new surveillance satellites will allow China to keep a close watch on disputed territories, as well as the foreign ships entering the area. The project is expected to be completed by 2021, with three optical satellites going up in the second half of 2019.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

The northeastern portion of the South China Sea.

The satellites, according to Asia Times, would be able to scan the entire 3.5-million-square-kilometer waterway and create an up-to-date satellite image database within a matter of days. Beijing has apparently promised transparency, stressing that it will share information with other countries.

Beijing’s efforts to alleviate the concerns of other claimant states are unlikely to result in a sign of relief, as China has been significantly increasing its military presence in the region this year by deploying point-defense systems, jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles to Chinese occupied territories. China’s militarization of the South China Sea resulted in the country’s expulsion from the latest iteration of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises by the Pentagon.

In recent weeks, China has come under fire for issuing threats and warnings to foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea, an area largely upheld as international waters in a 2016 rebuke to China. “Philippine military aircraft, I’m warning you again: Leave immediately or you will bear responsibility for all the consequences,” a Chinese voice shouted over the radio recently when a Philippine aircraft flew past the Spratlys. China issued a similar warning to a US Navy plane on Aug. 10, 2018.

The incidents came just a few months after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis accused China of “intimidation and coercion” at a security forum in Singapore.

“China has a right to take necessary steps to respond to foreign aircraft and ships that deliberately get close to or make incursions into the air and waters near China’s relevant islands and provocative actions that threaten the security of Chinese personnel stationed there,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to Reuters on the matter.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This crazy photo shows the power of the Carl Gustaf M4 bazooka

The above photo is of an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, Spc. Michael Tagalog, firing an 84mm Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle from an observation post in Afghanistan’s Nangahar Province in September 2017.

The specialist apparently fired the Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System, or Carl Gustaf, in defense of a US base in Afghanistan. Originally used by special operators, the US Army began issuing the Gustaf to soldiers in 1991 in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan.


The Saab-made bazooka is 42 inches long, weighs about 25 pounds and can hit targets from 1,300 meters away, according to army-technology.com.

It fires a variety of munitions, including high explosive anti-tank, high explosive dual purpose, and high explosive rounds. The Gustaf can even fire smoke and illumination rounds.

Army and industry weapons developers are also currently working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop a guided-munitions round for the Gustaf.

The US is quietly ramping up the nearly 17-year war in Afghanistan that has been criticized by many as a “forever war” and a game of “whack-a-mole.”

Articles

NASA astronauts train with Air Force survival school instructors

Four NASA astronauts trained with U.S. Air Force Survival School instructors in water survival and recovery at the fitness center pool [at Fairchild AFB, Washington].


Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Four NASA astronauts sit in with a class of survival school students being briefed on life raft procedures at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Feb. 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey)

Four NASA astronauts sit in with a class of survival school students being briefed on life raft procedures at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Feb. 10, 2017. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey

The astronauts underwent the training in preparation for anticipated test flights of the new commercially made American rockets, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon.

Also read: This is what it’s like to feel zero G aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’

“It’s a different space program now,” said astronaut Sunita Williams. “We’re flying in capsules instead of shuttles, and they can land anywhere. You never know when an emergency situation may happen, so we’re grateful to get this training.”

The astronauts were put through the paces of bailing out from a simulated crash landing in water. They learned to deploy and secure a life raft, rescue endangered crew members, avoid hostile forces and experience being hoisted into a rescue vehicle.

“This is the first time we’ve gotten a complete environmental training experience — lots of wind, waves and rain,” said astronaut Doug Hurley. “This is a great way to experience how bad it can get and how important it is to be prepared.”

Trained With Course’s Students

The astronauts opted to join in with more than 20 water survival course students, despite being given the option to train alone.

“They didn’t want to train on their own,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Chas Tacheny, the chief of NASA human space flight support in Houston. “They wanted to train with the group, because some of these people may one day be preforming search and rescue for them.”

Other NASA astronauts visited the survival school last year in an effort to research and test the viability of its training course and facilities. The astronauts liked what they experienced, and NASA has since developed its training partnership with the schoolhouse.

“The [survival, evasion, resistance and escape] instructors are advising us in water recovery,” Behnken said. “These experts are the most experienced I’ve ever seen. They are able to spot holes in our training and fill the gaps.”

NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston has a large water training facility built to simulate weightless conditions during space walks, but it’s not properly equipped to simulate water surface conditions for recovery training.

This training is vital for future mission recovery operations, Behnken said, noting that NASA officials are working with the experts here to replicate the survival school water survival training equipment at the Houston facility.

Impressive Facilities

“I’m impressed by the use of the facilities here,” Williams said. “It’s a small space, but they really manage to simulate all kinds of weather conditions and situations we might experience during a water landing.”

The survival school originally had a separate detachment at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it conducted water survival training in open ocean waters. The training was brought to Fairchild in August 2015 in an effort to save time and money by consolidating training at one location.

“It was a good decision for the Air Force to streamline our training efforts by moving all portions of water survival training here,” said Air Force Col. John Groves, the 336th Training Group commander. “However, the fitness center pool was designed for recreational use and isn’t suited to the ever-increasing demands placed on it by our training programs. Bottom line, we owe it to our airmen and mission partners such as NASA, who rely on our unique training capabilities, to have a purpose-built water survival training facility.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why experts think Kim Jong Un never actually attended an elite military academy

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.

North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”

Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.


North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
(KCNA)

According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.

Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.

Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater

Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.

“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.

(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)

Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.

“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.

Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.

“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”

‘A natural at military strategy’

While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.

NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

(KCNA)

According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”

He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.

“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.

“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.

Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.

“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

(KCNA)

Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.

“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”

In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”

NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.

In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian lawmakers want retaliatory sanctions against the US

Russia’s lower parliament house has scheduled the first reading of a bill on retaliatory sanctions against the United States for May 15, 2018, meaning the first of three State Duma votes on the legislation could be held that day.

Senior lawmakers met on April 16, 2018, to discuss plans to hit back against Washington, which 10 days earlier imposed asset freezes and financial restrictions on tycoons, security officials, politicians, and companies seen to have close ties to President Vladimir Putin.


The U.S. treasury secretary said the sanctions were a response to Russia’s “malign activity around the globe,” alluding among other things to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain and Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The Russian bill on countering “unfriendly actions by the United States and other foreign states,” introduced on April 13, 2018, would authorize Putin’s government to ban or restrict the import of a raft of U.S. goods and services.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Vladimir Putin

Among goods that could be banned or subjected to restrictions are medicines, alcohol, tobacco, agricultural and industrial products, technological equipment and computer software — though individual Russians would be allowed to bring many of the items into the country for personal use. In addition, individual Americans could be added to existing lists of those barred from entering Russia.

Auditing, legal, and consulting services by U.S. companies could also be subject to bans or restrictions, and curbs could be imposed on U.S. citizens working in Russia. In addition, individual Americans could be added to existing lists of those barred from entering Russia.

Duma deputy speaker Aleksandr Zhukov said on April 16, 2018, that a group of lawmakers and experts will discuss the bill on May 3, 2018.

Russia has sharply criticized the new U.S. sanctions. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, contended on April 16, 2018, that they are “nothing more than an international asset grab” and an effort to give U.S. companies a competitive edge over Russian firms — allegations that U.S. officials say are untrue.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Elite Japanese marines headed to disputed islands for exercise

Just a few months after activating its elite Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade for the first time since World War II, Japan plans to send the crisis-response force modeled off the US Marine Corps on its first naval exercise before the end of 2018.

Japan disbanded its military after World War II, but it has grown its armed forces in recent years and established the ARDB in late March 2018 as part of an effort to counter increasing Chinese activity in the East China Sea and around the region.


The new unit — tasked with defending Japan’s remote islands — carried out its first training exercise in early April 2018.

Tokyo has not said where the naval exercise will take place, but analysts have said that the Senkaku Islands — which Japan administers but are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands and by Taiwan as the Diaoyutai Islands — may be an area of operations for the new, roughly 2,100-member ARDB, according to Taiwan News.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

Service members with the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade show their capabilities during the ARDB’s unit-activation ceremony at Camp Ainoura, Japan, April 7, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)

It’s also not yet known what the exercise will entail, though it may include approaching and securing an island or islands.

The unit, which is based in southwest Japan, specializes in operations involving AAV-7 amphibious vehicles, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and Chinook helicopters.

The unit was reportedly modeled after US Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Units, which are deployed abroad for extended periods for training and for rapid response to crises, whether it’s a natural disaster or a conflict. Japanese officials received advice from US advisers about the ARDB’s formation.

“The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will show to the international society our firm resolve to defend our islands,” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said in April 2018.

The expanding role and capabilities of Japan’s military are controversial subjects. The country adopted a pacifist constitution after World War II, eschewing offensive military operations. Recent years have seen a push to strengthen the military, led by the hawkish government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The decision to reactivate the ARDB was a contentious one, as it gave Japan’s Self-Defense Force the ability to land in enemy territory. Such concerns are balanced against worries over China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade takes part in a drill at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, on the southwest island of Kyushu, April 7, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)

The ARDB’s first naval exercise appears to be a response to Beijing’s recent naval exercises around Taiwan, including drills in the Yellow Sea between August 10 and 13, 2018, a window that overlapped with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s departure for a trip to the US and Latin America.

The latter region is home to 10 of Taiwan’s remaining 18 formal allies — China has lured away two of Taipei’s Latin American allies over the past year.

The Chinese naval drills included air-defense and anti-missile live-fire exercises — meant to counter the capabilities of the US, Japan, and other militaries active in the region.

The formation of the ARDB is not the only move Japan has made to bolster its military or to counter China. The country has pursued external alliances and partnerships as part of that effort, but much of its focus has been on internal reforms.

It lifted a ban on military exports in 2014, and in 2015 the Japanese parliament approved a law allowing the country’s military to mobilize overseas under certain conditions. Japan’s 2017 military budget was its largest ever.

In March 2018, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force carried out its largest reorganization since 1954, creating unified commands and launching the ARDB.

More recently, the government said it would raise the maximum age for military recruits from 26 to 32, hoping to expand the pool of potential soldiers that has shrunk due to low birth rates and an aging population.

“Other countries, like Japan, are really … reinvigorating their own military capability or reforming the constitution, like Abe has tried to do,” Hervé Lemahieu, a research fellow at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, told Business Insider in May 2018. “That’s also been called internal rebalancing by the Japanese.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How to honor Vietnam veterans

The following is an Op/Ed written by Ken Falke. The opinions expressed are his own.


There’s an important day of commemoration on March 29th — or in some U.S. States, March 30th — that goes unnoticed until the nightly evening news or a stumble on social media. This very special day is Vietnam Veterans Day, or in some states, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”

In 1974, President Nixon established this commemoration to recognize the contributions of the men and women who served during this unpopular war and tumultuous time in our history.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Vietnam War memorial. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | InSapphoWeTrust)

While many will rightly mark the day with speeches, tributes, and celebrations fitting for this great generation, there is a more meaningful way to honor our Vietnam veterans and all veterans. That honor is to provide them new and innovative ways to improve their mental wellness and reintegration into their communities.

Approximately 2.7 million young men and women served in Vietnam — about the same number that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001. While all serving since 9/11 volunteered, few realize that almost two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered to serve as well.

Even though Vietnam was an unpopular war, 91 percent of Vietnam Veterans said they were glad they served in the war, and one-quarter said they would do it again. What these numbers show is the incredible commitment to service that our Vietnam-era veterans share with the post-9/11 veteran generation.

But there are disturbing similarities as well. The current veteran suicide rate of 20+ per day is well publicized; though that the average age of the veteran is 55 years old is less known. PTSD rates from both generations hover around 30 percent.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
An American Green Beret (right), and a South Vietnamese soldier assist wounded Vietnamese soldier to medivac helicopter following fighting near the Special Forces camp at Duc Phong, 40 miles north of Saigon, Sept. 9, 1969. South Vietnamese spokesmen said government casualties reached a two-month high 502 dead and 1,210 wounded. It was the highest casualty toll since the week ending June 14, which saw 516 dead and 1,424 wounded. (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS by Shunsuke Akatsuka)

Additionally, Vietnam veterans struggled — and many still do — with the same challenges that today’s veterans face: PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol dependency, and family and work stability. By a percentage comparison, of the 591 Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs) only 4 percent had symptoms of PTSD.

So why did POWs who experience what would be considered the most traumatic experiences seem to fare so well?

Many suggest the leadership of Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” His leadership provided purpose, mission, and direction as a team to “return with honor.”

Often, the sense of purpose provided by leadership during transitions facilitates growth to occur. While the DOD, the VA, and other organizations work hard to care for our veterans, the element of leadership seems to be lost after service and veterans fall into a “no-man’s land” that lacks wellness, a clear mission, and renewed purpose.

Why have we made so little progress in mental wellness for our returning warriors?

Many experts, including the Journal of American Medical Association, suggest that our reactive approach to combat related stress such as PTSD doesn’t work. Indicators show that our current approach has made little progress since the Vietnam War, and some suggest since World War I.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Understanding PTSD is critical military veterans and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

We are repeating minimally effective practices where veterans are offered medication, which largely attacks symptoms and leaves them as diminished versions of themselves, or talk-therapy provided by well-intended but often ill-equipped therapists, and cased in stigma.

Though the VA has announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals, more therapists will not fix the inadequacies of the current approaches.

How can we do better?

First, expand public-private partnerships. The private sector and nonprofit organizations have developed new approaches to veteran wellness and reintegration that could be expanded. These approaches leverage training (which is compatible with military personnel and veteran culture) and new technology that could “triage” veterans and provide skills to facilitate Post-traumatic Growth before the need for medication or therapy.

Second, we need to recognize and address the stigma associated with therapy. While veterans — and civilians — can gain some benefit from talk-therapy and medication, one can only grow by learning the skills associated with growth. This requires a holistic training approach that veterans understand and allows them to thrive, not just survive.

Finally, innovation costs money. The President’s proposed budget has a 6 percent increase to the VA’s budget; much of it to focus on health care. While this is positive, we need to use new funds to create innovative solutions, not further outdated practices. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and future threats remain, veteran mental health issues will likely worsen.

This March 29th and 30th we will stop to honor and welcome home our Vietnam veterans. While speeches, ceremonies, and commemorations will recognize their sacrifice, to truly honor their service — and the service of those that follow — we should facilitate growth and purposeful lives they truly deserve and welcomes them home.

Recognized as one of We Are The Mighty’s 25 veterans to watch in 2017Ken Falke is a 21-year service-disabled combat veteran of the U.S. Navy and retired Master Chief Petty Officer and is the CEO of organizational improvement solutions company Shoulder 2 Shoulder, Inc. He is also the founder and Chairman of Boulder Crest Retreat.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marine Corps’ amphibious assault vehicle in California bursts into flames with 15 Marines inside

An amphibious assault vehicle with 15 Marines inside burst into flames during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton, California on Wednesday, according to a source with knowledge of the incident.


Although the vehicle was engulfed in flames, all of the Marines were able to escape.

However, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to talk with reporters, said that at least three Marines were being taken by helicopter to a local hospital for burns and smoke inhalation.

The extent of their injuries is not yet known.

The training involved Charlie Co., 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, an infantry unit situated at the northern end of the base at Camp Horno. The unit was carrying out a Combat Readiness Evaluation, the source added.

Camp Pendleton’s media relations office confirmed there was an incident involving an AAV fire on base, but directed questions to 1st Marine Division.

“All Marines are currently being treated for injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marines and their families as they receive medical care. Officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident at this time,” 1st Marine Division spokesman 1st Lt. Paul Gainey said in a statement.

This post will be updated as more details become available.

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

Rough week? Well, here are 13 memes to help you make it to your libo brief without going nuts.


1. More of the people would turn so their faces were in the shot (via Sh-t My LPO Says).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
But otherwise, yeah. This is what it would look like.

2. Don’t worry, we’ll totally throw it (via 11 Bravos).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Just remember to catch it VERY carefully. Or not.

SEE ALSO: 4 amazing military stories that should totally be movies

3. When the dogs finally get organized (via Military Memes).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
You know that dogs handler has this as their phone background.

4. “No really, flying drones is as hard as piloting anything else.”

(via Sh-t My LPO Says)

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

5. When you can feel the plane twisting in the wind …

(via Army Jumpmasters)

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
… but the drop zone safety officer is measuring the wind from inside his vehicle.

6. Literally. This. Boot (via Marine Corps Memes).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
For real, you’re as salty as a mango.

7. It always plays at the worst moment (via Sh-t My LPO Says).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
He better render a proper salute, underwater or not.

8. “No babe, really. I have to go!”

(via Military Memes)

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

9. When you don’t want to leave without expressing your true feelings.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
Depleted uranium is just so much more personal than a card.

10. “Sure, I’ll steady your barrel.” (via 11 Bravos)

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

11. You can talk shit, but you know you want a turn (via Navy Memes).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

 12. The pitfalls of joining as infantry (via Marine Corps Memes).

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions
You get to make fun of pogues though, so you got that going for you.

13. When you ask a pilot a question.

Russia’s elite are nervous about new US sanctions

NOW: I went to North Korea and saw the US Navy ship still being held captive after 47 years

OR: 5 jobs future recruits will enlist to get

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Warrior Games create an amazing community for recovery

We Are The Mighty had the great privilege of attending the 2016 DoD Warrior Games to support wounded warriors as they competed with their fellow servicemembers.


The DoD Warrior Games is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. Each year, a different branch of the U.S. Armed Forces hosts the Warrior Games — and this year the Army invited the athletes to compete at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Warrior Games has athletes representing the Army; Navy; Air Force; Marine Corps; SOCOM and the United Kingdom, competing across several events: sitting volleyball; track and field; archery; wheelchair basketball; shooting and swimming.

Comedian and veteran advocate Jon Stewart emcee’d the Opening Ceremony.

“You are not alone, none of us here are alone,” said Rocky Marciano of Team SOCOM. “This has been a ten-day therapy session for me and I love it.”

Adaptive sports programs have proven to be an excellent form of rehabilitation for service members, providing these wounded warriors with an incredibly supportive community that focuses on performing at a high level despite injuries and illnesses.

The United Kingdom’s participation has been particularly impactful since they’ve been invited to the Warrior Games for the past four years. Brian Seggie of Team UK remarked, “If we’re on the same side, we should not only fight on the same side, we should recover together as well.”

This remarkable community is made possible by the efforts of each branch’s Wounded Warrior program, dedicated sponsors like Deloitte who bring in dozens of volunteers, enthusiastic family and friends and the incredible attitudes of each and every servicemember with the determination to keep moving forward.

The 2017 DoD Warrior Games will be hosted by the Navy in Chicago.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch the Russian military test its new anti-ballistic missile

Russia says it has successfully tested a new antiballistic missile. Russian Defense Ministry released video of test on April 2, 2018, which was conducted at the Sary-Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan. The ministry said the missile is already in service and is used to protect the city of Moscow from potential air attacks.


MIGHTY TRENDING

Global military spending just saw its biggest spike in a decade, but the US outspends everyone else by far

Global military expenditure was $1.917 trillion in 2019, rising 3.6% from 2018 and 7.2% from 2010 to reach the highest level since 1988, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

World military spending decreased steadily in the years after the 2008-2009 global financial crash but has risen in each of the five years since 2015, the latest in what SIPRI researcher Nan Tian described as four phases in military spending over the past 30 years.


The post-Cold War years saw spending decline in what many saw “as a peace-dividend period,” Tian said Tuesday during a webcast hosted by the Stimson Center and SIPRI.

That decline bottomed out around 2000, when the September 11 attacks prompted years of defense-spending increases that peaked around 2010 and 2011, Tian said. Spending fell again in the early 2010s.

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World military expenditure by region from 1988 to 2019. Rough estimates for the Middle East are included in the world totals for 2015-2019.

SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

“But more recently, in the last three years, we really see that spending has really picked up,” Tian said. “The reason is the US announcing really expensive modernization programs … and also the end of austerity measures in many of the world’s global spenders.”

US military spending grew by 5.3% in 2019 to a total of 2 billion — 38% of global military spending. The US’s increase in 2019 was equivalent to all of Germany’s military expenditure that year, SIPRI said.

Military spending in Asia has risen every year since 1989, with China and India, second and third on the list this year, leading the way. (Tian said SIPRI’s numbers for China are higher than Beijing’s because SIPRI includes spending it defines as “military-related.”)

“In the case of India and China, we’ve seen consistent increases over the last 30 years,” Tian said. “While India and China really [were] spending in the early 1990s far less than Western Europe … Chinese spending really starts to pick up since about 2000.”

China’s spending, now several times that of France or the UK, and India’s growing expenditures point to “a change in the global balance,” Tian said.

“Whereas a few years ago we saw … [for] the first time that there are no Western European countries in the top five spenders in the world, this is the first time where we see two Asian countries, in India and China, being within the top three spenders, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia.”

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Military spending as a share of GDP by country in 2019. The countries with military spending of 4.0% or more of GDP are listed.

SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

Data is not available for all the countries in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest spender for which SIPRI could estimate totals. In terms of arms imports, the Middle East “has now the largest share it has ever had since 1950, as a region,” SIPRI senior researcher Siemon Wezeman said on the webcast.

“That’s partly related to ongoing conflicts [and] very strong tensions, Iran vs. the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia. It is a very strong driver of arms imports, especially by the Gulf States,” Wezeman added, noting that Iran, under arms embargo, is not a major weapons importer.

Most of Africa’s military spending, 57%, is done by North African countries. “They have the money,” Wezeman said, “especially Algeria, and Morocco to a lesser extent, are basically the big ones buying there.”

“Many of the other African countries buy a couple of armored vehicles — a helicopter here, a little aircraft there — and do that every few years. That’s basically their armed forces,” Wezeman said, adding that fighting insurgencies, like Boko Haram, or peacekeeping, as in Somalia, also drove increased military spending.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen “extremely volatile spending” in recent years, related to the many armed conflicts there, Tian said.

“As countries need to fight … they need to allocate resources to the military. But conflicts, of course, are extremely destructive on a country’s economy,” Tian added. “So we see that countries are increasing spending one year, decreasing spending another year.”

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A Croatian army Hedgehog Battery conducts a Vulkan M-92 Mobile Multiple Launch Rocket System live-fire training at Bemowo Piskie, Poland, December 5, 2018.

Sgt. Arturo Guzman/US Army National Guard

Overall military expenditures by Western European nations fell slightly between 2010 and 2019, but Eastern European countries have increased their military spending by 35% over the past decade.

“Some of this is really down to a reaction to the perceived threats of Russia,” as well as the replacement of Soviet-era equipment and purchase of US and NATO equipment, Tian said.

“European countries, aside from seeing a bigger threat from Russia, also are going through a cycle of replacing their fourth-generation combat aircraft with fifth-generation combat aircraft. So there is a big load of new combat aircraft, mostly or almost all of them US-exported weapons, going to Europe,” Wezeman added.

But an economic contraction sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to bring down military expenditures.

“We’ve seen this historically following the ’08-’09 crisis, where many countries in Europe really cut back on military spending,” Tian said, noting that military spending as a share of GDP might increase if “GDP falls and spending doesn’t decrease as much as GDP.”

This time around, spending in Europe may “be stronger in the coming years” despite the coronavirus, Wezeman said, “because the contracts … in many cases have been signed.”

Below, you can see who the top 10 defense spenders were and how much of the world’s military expenditures they accounted for in 2019.

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The first operational F-35A Lightning II is welcomed to the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s 3rd Air Wing, at Misawa Air Base, February 24, 2018.

US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton

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A British paratrooper prepares to load a helicopter in a simulated medical evacuation during the Swift Response 16 exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, June 17, 2016.

Sgt. Seth Plagenza/US Army

5. Saudi Arabia, .9 billion — down 16% from 2018 and 3.2% of the world total.

Saudi Arabia’s 2019 defense spending and its share of the world total are estimates by SIPRI.

2. China, 1 billion — up 5.1% from 2018 and 14% of the world total.

China’s 2019 defense spending and its share of the world total are estimates by SIPRI.

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The future US Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as its dry dock is flooded three, October 29, 2019.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist 3rd Class Adam Ferrero

1. United States, 2 billion — up 5.3% from 2018 and 38% of the world total.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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