Monday, February 8, 2016

Chapman expert James Coyle explains the realities of terrorism and security after Paris, San Bernardino and North Korea

Q&A feature in the Orange County Register by Jonathan Winslow, published on January 11, 2016. To access the original article, click here.

Oh, the times, they are a changin’.

In the wake of the attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, the world is facing yet another paradigm shift – one of terrorism’s lamentable place in our world.

While still a relatively young insurgency, the methods of the Islamic State render the group a rowdy foe. Even now, it’s working to construct the state that al-Qaida never managed to achieve, leaving the corpses of former countrymen in its wake.

Coupled with self-radicalized terrorists born within our borders and molded by the Internet, these new realities are leaving governments scrambling to keep their citizens safe in an unstable world.

Further complicating the world stage, North Korea last week conducted a nuclear test – one it claims was a successful hydrogen bomb detonation. Condemnation has rained upon North Korea from the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and the United Nations, though the state of world affairs leaves what action – if any – will be taken up in the air.

James Coyle, director of Chapman University’s Center for Global Education, is an expert on terrorism, national security strategy and Middle East politics – among many other topics.

Co-author of “Politics in the Middle East: Culture and Conflict in the Middle East,” published by Prentice-Hall, Coyle also has held several positions in the federal government. Over the last three decades, Coyle has been director of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College, first secretary for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, senior political analyst for Palestinian affairs and special assistant to the FBI/New York Joint Terrorism Task Force.

We sat down with Coyle to discuss world affairs and the new realities of terrorism after Paris and San Bernardino.

QUESTION Given the growth of the Islamic State group in recent years, did the Paris and San Bernardino attacks come as a surprise or were these types of attacks to be expected?

ANSWER First of all, I'm going to contradict you, if I can. ISIS is not growing any more. ISIS is actually on the retreat. They’ve lost quite a bit of territory in Iraq. They’re being pummeled in Syria. The groups outside of Iraq and Syria that call themselves ISIS, they’re really nothing new.

A lot of these groups, five years ago, were all considered al-Qaida affiliates – now they’re ISIS affiliates. Basically, they’re groups that are unhappy with the governing structures of whatever country they’re in. They’ve chosen to use an Islamic ideology to motivate their base. Before, they were loyal to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s dead and ISIS is on the rise, so they’ve sworn allegiance to them. They’re the same groups, they’ve just changed names in a sense.

Paris is not a surprise to me. Paris was a disaster waiting to happen with the large waves of immigration that had been passing through France, not just in the last year but in the last 50 years. It was just a matter of time until this sort of thing occurred.

San Bernardino is a surprise. First of all, the shooters themselves – it appears their connection to the radical groups overseas was tangential. In reality, these are what the press is calling “self-radicalized” individuals. We haven’t seen that before. There’s not really a lot you can do to stop that. The FBI, since 9/11, has done a very good job of stopping any of these attacks inside the United States, but how do you do that? You penetrate organizations, keep track of them. But if you have a guy and a gal sitting in San Bernardino who aren’t in touch, are not using these groups for support, how do you stop them? It was a surprise, and I think we’ll probably see more.

QUESTION What should the takeaway be from these attacks for policymakers as they work to prevent further attacks?

ANSWER You cannot win this battle militarily. Neither on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria nor using homeland security here in the United States. This is a battle for hearts and minds. Everyone who works this field, from (retired) Gen. David Petraeus on down, will tell you the same thing. Yes, you do have to provide a modicum of security. Granted, but that’s only step number one. You’ve got to win the hearts and minds.

This is the difficult part. The United States can’t really be engaged in that debate. That is a debate within the Muslim community itself. The moderate voices in the Muslim community need to engage with the radical Islamists. There are elements within the Quran that substantiate that Islam is a religion of peace. Surah 5 says that if you kill an innocent man, it’s the same as if you have killed all men in the world. A message like that is antithetical to the message of ISIS. That dialogue has to be encouraged, but we can’t be the ones holding that dialogue. We’re not part of the community, and our voice – because we’re outsiders – is suspect from the very beginning.

QUESTION What are some of the major differences, in goals and methods, to consider when looking at the Islamic State as opposed to an entity like al-Qaida – are we seeing the start of a new age of terrorism?

ANSWER It’s only methodology. The goals are the same. The goals are Islamic rule over Muslim lands. The sole difference that I see is that al-Qaida was looking at this as a future goal. The original goal of al-Qaida was the elimination of the Saudi monarchy. They weren’t even interested in the United States. Eventually, bin Laden decided he could not get rid of the Saudi monarchy, which he called “the near enemy,” unless he got rid of the organization that was propping “the near enemy” up. That was the United States, which he identified as “the far enemy.”

So, even though we remember al-Qaida because of 9/11, that was not the main thrust. The main thrust was the elimination of the Saudi monarchy and the imposition of a more authentic Sharia law on the Saudi peninsula.
Now, in the case of ISIS, they’re not even interested at this point in the Saudi peninsula. Their goal is the establishment of Sharia law throughout Muslim lands, but they’ve actually created a caliphate and are trying to establish a government. They’ve established a caliph, they’ve got taxation services, a military, garbage collection – they’re trying to be an actual state. Al-Qaida never got that far.

In my mind, we’re looking at three separate groups. Al-Qaida is your traditional terrorist organization. It had a central authority in Bin Laden. He and his henchman directed operations around the world, and it was pure terrorism: killing a second party in order to influence a third party for political goals. The second group is ISIS. They’re not really a terrorist group, they’re an insurgency. They want to overthrow the government in Iraq and Syria, replacing it with themselves. It’s an insurgency. We sometimes make the mistake in lumping them together because sometimes insurgents will use terrorist tactics. They’re not trying to influence somebody, they’re trying to set up a state.

Now, you’ve got the third “group,” and when I say “group” I don't really mean an organized entity, more like an amorphous mass. It’s all these people around the world that are self-identifying with ISIS or even with al-Qaida. That’s the group we have to be careful of, that’s the group that’s relatively new. There’s always been that element out there. You have these terrorist waves that come through periodically, this is another wave. What’s different? The Internet.

The Internet not only allows people to become radicalized without ever meeting anybody from the organization, it allows them to communicate with people, order whatever materials you need for a terrorist attack and even publicize what you’ve done in a way that was not possible in the old days.

QUESTION In light of recent events, there have been many reports of religious intolerance – people being assaulted even for just looking how a Muslim is believed to look, and a presidential candidate discussing a ban on Muslims entering the country. Even so, it’s been said that Muslims are the chief victim of the Islamic State. Could you comment on this current state of religious intolerance?

ANSWER If you look from a historical viewpoint, the United States has always had a very strong nativist streak within it. Every ethnic group that comes into this country is opposed by people who were here first. The German Americans didn’t want the Irish to come, the Irish didn’t want the Italians to come, the Italians didn’t want the Poles to come and the Poles didn’t want the Slavs to come. The latest is we don’t want the Mexicans to come, and now we don’t want the Muslims to come.

It happens. It’s true that terrorism makes it worse. I’ve heard the phrase “not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim,” which, by the way, is not true. There are lots of non-Muslim terrorists out there. But it strikes fear into people and they have a tendency to overreact, simple as that.
What we have to remember is the First Amendment of the Constitution says Congress shall pass no law on the establishment of religion. That’s the Constitution.

QUESTION Cooperation between the United States, China and Russia seems to be a major make-or-break element in dealing with the current state of world affairs. In terms of these relations, what are the biggest obstacles to a united dismantling of Islamic State and containment of North Korea, and how can we hope to overcome them?

ANSWER The biggest obstacle is national interests. The national interest of the United States is not that of Russia or China. Where those interests converge, there can be cooperation. Where they don’t, there cannot be. We would like Russia to cooperate with the United States against ISIS. That’s good, except that leaves the American-backed opposition untouched. That’s antithetical to the Russian national interest, which is to keep Assad in power. (Bashar Assad is the president of Syria.) It doesn’t make sense to cooperate against ISIS when Russia also wants to take out the American-backed groups.

Same thing in North Korea. Yes, both the United States and China are interested in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula. Both of us are opposed to North Korea having nuclear arms. It sounds easy! There ought to be a large basis for cooperation. In point of fact, however, the Chinese have decided the best way for there to be stability for the peninsula is for North Korea to continue on its way. The concern is that if there were anything to destabilize the North Korean regime, then China would suddenly be inundated with a massive wave of North Korean refuges. Where our national interests converge, it's fine, but eventually you reach a point where our interests and theirs are not the same.

It's a question of where the goals are in the hierarchy. In China’s case, the goals in which the U.S. and China cooperate on in North Korea are lower in the hierarchy than stability on the peninsula.

QUESTION North Korea appears to have conducted another nuclear test. It may or may not have been a hydrogen bomb, but China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the U.N. are upset over what happened. Is there any long-term significance to this, or is it just another in a series of provocations by North Korea in recent years?

ANSWER It’s the latter. This is their fourth nuclear test. The first test took place under the Bush administration. There’s now been three tests under the Obama administration. China is not going to allow any sort of significant sanctions to be placed against North Korea. We can count on China to condemn the tests, we can count on them to verbally chastise North Korea, but we cannot count on them to actually support anything that would hurt North Korea.


When the first nuclear test occurred during the Bush administration, the United States actually considered launching a unilateral strike to take out North Korea’s nuclear facilities. They didn’t do it, for a simple reason. Seoul is 40 kilometers from the DMZ, and North Korea has had 50 years to zero in long-range artillery on Seoul. North Korea has chemical warheads – not for bombs, not for missiles, but for good-old-fashioned artillery. The Bush administration received an assessment at that time that if there was an attack and North Korea response against Seoul, you could be talking hundreds of thousands of deaths in the first few minutes. That hasn’t changed, and that’s not going to change. As long as North Korea has the ability to respond that way against an American ally, the United States’ hands are tied. And as we talked about before, when you talk about China and Russia, it’s because of their national interests that they aren’t interested in responding either.

Russia Looking for an Exit?

Published by the Atlantic Council on September 24, 2015. To access the original article, click here.

As Russia increases its support for beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in eastern Ukraine have observed a ceasefire since September 1. The second Minsk ceasefire agreement, signed in February, had been repeatedly violated. But things have changed. Some separatist leaders have left the area, returning to posh jobs in Moscow. Former Donetsk Prime Minister Alexander Borodai has resumed his consulting career in the Russian capital, and former Luhansk Prime Minister Marat Bashirov chairs the government relations committee at the Russian Managers Association.

Russian reporting on Ukraine has also decreased. Two of its star war reporters have been sent to Syria. On September 6, Dmitry Kiselyov's two-and-half hour program—Rossiya 1's flagship weekly news program—was different: known for his fiery rhetoric against the government in Kyiv, the host "was uncharacteristically cursory" in his comments about Ukraine, the BBC observed. Kiselyov didn't discuss Ukraine until more than half way through his show, and this was in a week with deadly clashes outside Ukraine's parliament. Another Russian journalist observed, "Kiselyov knows something about a change in the rules of the game...The rest of us will find out a little later." RT reported that an impetus for better relations is coming from the West.

Talking heads began to speculate that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be looking to ease the Ukraine crisis and restore relations with the West. Carnegie Endowment's Dmitri Trenin writes, "Moscow certainly hopes that cooperation with the United States and the West on Syria would blunt their confrontation over Ukraine." He goes on to say that it's "probably not a mere coincidence" that hostilities in the Donbas have died down when they did. Another possible reason for the timing is Putin's upcoming speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 28. Reduced hostilities in Ukraine could lead to a blunting of the criticism he can expect from the world community. The strategy is paying off: President Obama has agreed to meet with Putin during his visit.

There are a number of factors for Russia's changing strategy in Ukraine. Despite Putin's bluster about restoring Russian greatness, it is in considerable economic difficulty. The state budget is highly dependent on the sale of oil and gas. Andrey Movchan reports that 60 percent of consolidated budget revenues come from taxes either directly or indirectly related to the oil and gas sector. The Russian government needs oil at $100 a barrel to balance its budget; with oil selling between $40 and $50 per barrel, it is running deep deficits. The Russian economy is projected to decline by three percent in 2015.

The future doesn't look any brighter for Russia's energy sector either. While Rosneft planned to double its oil shipments to China, and Gazprom announced a doubling of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, the reality is quite different. Oil shipments to China have fallen below contracted levels (1.48 mt increase for 2015 instead of the contracted 5 million mt increase). Sanctions are preventing western participation in the Sakhalin II project. China is not providing the $25 billion financing to build the Power of Siberia pipeline and has refused to sign a decade-long anticipated contract for the Altai pipeline. In the West, the much ballyhooed Turkish Stream is also being held in abeyance. The Russian mega-energy deals of the last decade appear to be more propaganda than reality.

Economics is not the Russian President's only concern: the Russian people do not support deeper involvement in Ukraine. According to the Levada Center, 70 percent of Russians supported the takeover of Crimea as "Russian" land, and 80 percent say that retaking Crimea proves Russia's great power status. But when it comes to eastern Ukraine, the results are different. As of March 2015, 57 percent of Russians said the country should stay within its present borders, 64 percent said Russia should not try to keep former Soviet republics under control, and 55 percent said the country should focus on domestic issues. As the Russian economy continues to worsen, it's likely these isolationist sentiments will only increase.

Russia's continuing involvement in Ukraine is turning counterproductive for the Kremlin. Before 2014, Ukraine was leaning toward a more Western identity but nothing was solidified. That identity is no longer ambiguous, thanks to the Kremlin's overreach. Now there are US special forces on Ukrainian soil, training Ukrainian troops. The commander of US Army-Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that those numbers may be expanded. In 2014, Ukraine signed an Association Agreement with the European Union, eliminating the possibility of it joining the Kremlin-led Eurasia Economic Union. Long divided NATO allies remain united over Russian sanctions, and for the first time in its post-Soviet history, a majority of Ukrainians want their country to join NATO.

Last week US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter spoke with his Russian counterpart on ways deconflict Syria, but any cooperation between the two countries should not soften our Ukraine policy. The West may have only marginal influence on the worldwide energy market, but increasing pressure on pipeline routes, Russian public opinion, and negative geopolitical developments are taking their toll on the Kremlin's resolve.

James J. Coyle is a Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Director of Global Education at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

Russian Disinformation Alienates the West from Russian Periphery

Published by the Atlantic Council on July 20, 2015, and featured in Newsweek as “How Putin Keeps His Neighbors On Edge,”  and in the Orange County Register as "Chapman's James Coyle: How Putin spins events, issues to keep Russia's independent neighbors in line"on September 13, 2015. To access the original article, click here.

The Russian Army has released a photo of a Ukrainian tank decorated with a swastika, yet the original Reuters photograph shows no such emblem. Russia also released a photo of a Ukrainian soldier covered in Nazi tattoos, but that picture was actually taken in 2005, inside a Russian prison. Europe is revolted by any reminders of its Nazi past, which is why Russia plays up false claims that Kyiv is a product of that tradition. At a time when Ukraine and other former Soviet republics need worldwide support, Russia continues its media barrage to alienate these countries from their natural allies in the West.

The stakes are enormous. In 1997, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski identified Azerbaijan, Iran, South Korea, Turkey, and Ukraine as "critically important geopolitical pivots" in The Grand Chessboard. Without Ukraine, he writes, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire. Similarly important is Azerbaijan, which Brzezinski calls the cork in the bottle containing the riches of the Caspian Sea Basin and Central Asia.

Russia continues a strategy of keeping its former republics separate and reliant on Moscow. It opposed construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline until a Russian company was included in the consortium. When Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey announced their willingness to build the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, Russia retaliated by promoting the rival South Stream pipeline. As Ukraine pulls further away from the Russian orbit, Moscow supports the creation of Turkish Stream to bypass Ukraine as a transit state. When Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan announced their intention to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline, Moscow raised environmental concerns—while ignoring similar environmental issues surrounding Russian platforms in the northern Caspian.

There are differences in how Moscow uses its information operations in the various countries. According to the Monterey Institute's Ruben Gzirian, "Russia targets political and business elites, whereas it targets ethnic Russians among the general populations of Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltics." Such targeting furthers the Putin doctrine justifying Russian intervention to protect Russian-speakers, no matter where they are. As an example, in May 2014 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin played up to sympathizers in Transnistria and Ukraine when he tweeted future plans to visit the area on board a TU-160—Russia's largest strategic bomber.

But Russian disinformation isn't the only thing that alienates the Russian periphery from the West. A recent spate of press reports has detailed Azerbaijan's detention of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova. Reports on Azerbaijan's dire human rights situation often give short shrift to the country's rapid economic transformation. According to the World Bank, about half of all Azeris lived in poverty in the early 2000s; by 2013, that ratio had fallen to 5 percent. This remarkable feat took place while roughly 600,000 people—about 7 percent of the population—remain displaced because of Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions.

While Western human rights organizations focus negative attention on Azerbaijan, Russia has been offering an olive branch. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently criticized Russian TV for not sufficiently covering the 2015 European Games in Baku. Putin attended the games himself, and used the occasion to meet with President Ilham Aliyev. The timing was no coincidence.

Ukraine and Azerbaijan have a lot in common with Moscow: many Russian speakers, a shared past in the former Soviet Union, and transportation and communication links through the old imperial center. What keeps these countries out of the Russian orbit is their desire for sovereignty. Russia or its allies already control large swaths of territory in both those states. Those occupied lands house the Russian Black Sea Naval Fleet, and justify a major Russian Air Force base in Armenia. The United States and the European Union must give the independence of Ukraine and Azerbaijan the highest priority. If Russia manages to convince the West to avoid former Soviet states as illiberal entities, the only winner on the global chessboard will be Putin.

In February, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Russian actions are an affront to Ukrainian sovereignty, and that he appreciates US support of Ukrainian independence. Meanwhile, Aliyev emphasizes the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, a country former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a strategic partner of the United States.

Indeed, partnerships are there for the taking. The real questions are whether Kyiv can maintain its country's unity and pro-Western orientation, and if Azerbaijan will partner with the West—or the Kremlin—or try to dance with both.

James J. Coyle is a Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Director of Global Education at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

It’s Hard to Take Russian Propaganda Seriously. But We Must.

Published by the Atlantic Council on June 22, 2015, and featured in Newsweek and Kyiv Post as “The U.S. Should Do More to Counter Putin's Propaganda” on June 23, 2015. To access the original article, click here.


Three Russian television stations interviewed Andrei Petkov from a hospital bed in Nikolayev, Ukraine, in April 2014. Rossia 1 described him, with a bandage on his nose, as an ordinary citizen attacked by neo-Nazis and nationalists; NTV named him a German spy for a secret European organization; and the National Independent News of Crimea identified him as a pediatric surgeon who had saved the lives of more than 200 infants before getting caught in the crossfire. Similarly, Russian television has interviewed the same blonde woman as a native of five different cities in Ukraine. She has been a housewife, the mother of a soldier, and an exile living in Russia. In 2014, Russian state television showed a video depicting the murder of a pro-Russian fighter in eastern Ukraine by nationalists. But the video was a fabrication; it was made in the north Caucasus in 2012. The lies on Russian TV have become so numerous and egregious that one news outlet compiled a list of Russia's top 100 lies about Ukraine.

Russian propaganda, sometimes comically inept by Western standards, wants to convince the Russian public, Russian-speaking populations in Crimea and the Donbas, and elites in Western Europe that it's right about Ukraine. They are the targets of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "weaponization of propaganda," according to Russian author Peter Pomerantsev and his colleague Michael Weiss.

Its primary international outlet is RT (formerly Russia Today), a Kremlin-financed cable news network resembling CNN or Fox News. Reaching 644 million viewers in Arabic, English, and Spanish, its message is remarkably consistent, and predictably boring: Putin is a strong leader who is protecting ethnic Russians from sinister Western forces. "We're something along the lines of Russia's Information Defense Ministry," RT employees told Spiegel Online.

In addition to RT, the news agency has created seven YouTube channels aimed at specific countries and linguistic areas: RT America, RT UK, RT France, RT Spanish, RT Russian, RT German, and RT Arabic. Researchers at the George Washington University reviewed RT videos posted for a month in 2015, and found that 27 percent of videos on RT's main channel highlighted Russia's views on Ukraine. On RT Deutsch, 43 percent of its videos centered on Ukraine. RT Russia posted 34 percent of its videos on Ukraine, and these videos received 52 percent of views.

RT also owns the Ruptly video news agency in Berlin. According to Ruptly newscaster Ivan Rodionov, the agency has 14 subscribers and over 200 customers, including public and private German broadcasters. The agency offers almost exclusively videos that are favorable toward pro-Russian supporters of the People's Republic of Donetsk.

The propaganda can be heavy-handed. Russians are told that Ukrainian nationalists shot down the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the Kyiv government is composed of neo-Nazis. Putin has repeatedly denied that Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine, despite a growing number of reports of secret funerals and prisoners of war turning up in Kyiv hospitals.

Even if Russian television can be crude and propagandistic, it shapes opinion in Russia. Ninety-four percent of Russians get their news on Ukraine from domestic television networksOnly three percent of Russians believe Donbas separatists shot down Flight MH 17.

And Russian-speakers who live outside the country rely on Russian television. In Estonia, where there is a large Russian-speaking minority, 72 percent of non-Estonians prefer Russian television, and this is reflected in their views. About two weeks after Flight MH 17 crashed, 38 percent of non-Estonians living in Estonia told pollsters that the Ukrainian government was responsible.

One can understand Putin's desire to maintain domestic support in Russia and to build support for his efforts in the killing fields of Ukraine. His goal in Europe is more elusive, but of higher strategic importance. "Putin's ultimate objective is to fracture NATO," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey said. His words are echoed by United States Vice President Joseph Biden, who said Putin was seeking "to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit."

To halt Putin's ideological offensive, European policymakers have begun to beef up their public diplomacy efforts. Denmark is offering broadcast rights to popular television crime dramas that can be dubbed into Russian, Germany is providing Russian-language news and documentaries, and US diplomats are reaching out to Hollywood. Estonia will launch a new Russian-language channel with 20 hours of original programming a week in September. In the United States, however, supporters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are fending off funding cuts. As the Cold War experience demonstrated, news programs from this venerable outlet reach decision-makers and other elites. The West should also take advantage of already existing commercial outlets with worldwide distribution such as CNN and Sky News. With cutbacks of their own, these broadcasters could use video feed and experts that expose Russian lies. The truth will set you free, if you actually broadcast the truth.

James J. Coyle is a Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Director of Global Education at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

Russia Has Complete Information Dominance in Ukraine

Published by the Atlantic Council on May 12, 2015, and featured by Newsweek, Kyiv Post, Radio Free Europe, and the George Marshall Institute as “Putin Controls All Ukraine's Airwaves, Phones and Computers” on May 17, 2015. To access the original article, click here.


Hackers have consistently used low-level cyber warfare tactics to advance Russian goals in Ukraine.

A dedicated group of hackers successfully infected the e-mail systems of the Ukrainian military, counterintelligence, border patrol, and local police. The hackers use a spear-phishing attack in which malware is hidden in an attachment that appears to be an official Ukrainian government email. For the most part, the technologies are not advanced but the attacks have been persistent. Lookingglass, a cybersecurity firm, suspects the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the culprit behind the virus dubbed Operation Armageddon.

The Russian government is likely behind an even more dangerous virus. Since 2010 BAE Systems has been monitoring the activities of malware they dubbed Snake, and numerous digital footprints point to the Russian Bear. Moscow time zone stamps were left in the code and Russian names are written into the software. Other clues point to the Kremlin. "It's unlikely to be hacktivists who made this. The level of sophistication is too high. It is very well written—and extremely stealthy," observed Dave Garfield, BAE's Managing Director for cyber security.

According to the IT security company Symantec, Snake has infected dozens of computers in the office of Ukraine's Prime Minister and at least ten Ukrainian embassies since 2012. Snake was used against the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to access documents on the Ukraine crisis. The malware establishes a "digital beachhead" that allows its operators to deliver malicious code to the targeted networks. The implications are far-reaching: "Russia not only now has complete informational dominance in Ukraine," an intelligence analyst told the Financial Times, "it also has effective control of the country's digital systems, too. It has set the stage."

Another hacker group in Russia exploited a security flaw in Microsoft Windows software to spy on NATO, Ukraine, and several other targets. Dubbed Sandworm Team after researchers discovered references in the code to the Dune series of science-fiction novels, the group used a "zero day" attack—a flaw in the software that has not been previously identified and for which there is no preexisting fix—which is usually associated with deep pockets. In Ukraine, the malware was targeted at regional governments, another clue that the hackers were not criminals.

So far, Russian cyberattacks have been relatively low key. There's an obvious reason why: the Kremlin already has access to Ukrainian telecommunications. Russia built the system. Even the system Ukraine uses to monitor the activities of its own citizens, System for Operative Investigative Activities or SORM, was originally developed by the Russian KGB. When Russia invaded Crimea it gained access to the national telephone company's operations center on the peninsula. If the Russian government wanted to shut down Ukraine's power and telecommunications, it could do so easily. "And there's nothing that Ukraine could do to stop it," said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of the cybersecurity firm TAIA Global.

Cyber activity was used kinetically as Russia seized Crimea. Ukrainian law enforcement agencies reported Russian cyberattacks had collapsed the communication systems of almost all Ukrainian forces that could pose a danger to the invading Russian troops. Mobile telephone services were blocked, Russian naval ships jammed radio communications, Crimean government websites were knocked offline, telecommunications offices were raided, and cables cut.

“Russia has cutting-edge electronic warfare equipment and personnel trained in proper EW/SIGINT doctrine (what they called Radio-Electronic Combat) and Ukraine is playing catch-up. A generation's worth of neglect of the Ministry of Defense and the security services by Kyiv…cannot be made good in a few months,” said John Schindler, an expert on information warfare.

US technology is also vulnerable: Russia claims (and the Pentagon denies) that it used its control of the cyber battlefield to intercept a US drone as it patrolled Crimean skies on March 14, 2014.

Cyberattacks have increased in frequency around the time of military action, possibly indicating that the attacks are part of the overall offensive. The number of callbacks—computer communications showing someone is hacking a computer—to Russia increased as the turmoil rose.

Russia controls the airwaves, the phone lines, and the computers. The Ukrainian government needs to rebuild its telecommunications network using non-Russian companies and technology. In the short term, US diplomats and military trainers in Ukraine should avoid using Ukrainian communications. The United States also needs to harden its communications to avoid incidents such as the rumored drone intercept. In the long term, the United States must face the reality that it is engaged in a decades-long contest for the Eurasian heartland and will have to adjust its tactics accordingly. Cyber warfare is merely the latest battlefield in which politics is pursued by other means.

James J. Coyle is a research fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Director of Global Education at Chapman University.

No War, No Peace—But Always a Place at the Table for Russia

Published by the Atlantic Council on May 4, 2015. To access the original article, click here.


Russia's track record in the long-simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is consistent with Russian efforts in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's calls for a Novorossiya: No war, no peace—but always a place at the table for Russia.

Unresolved frozen conflicts in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and potentially in eastern Ukraine are one of Russia's main mechanisms for political leverage in its sphere of influence. Russia uses its status as co-chair of the Minsk Group to prevent a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), a mountainous breakaway region of Azerbaijan that has been at the heart of a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan for more than two decades, and to perpetuate its military presence in the region.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE) established the Minsk Group in 1992 to resolve the NK conflict, with Russia, France, and the United States serving as co-chairs. But over time, the co-chairs did not function as envisioned. The United States abdicated its role after a failed peace summit in 2001. Between 2008 and 2011, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stepped outside the Minsk process and hosted nine meetings with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, all without the United States. According to a high-ranking Azerbaijani official, the US role in the Minsk Group from 2009 to 2011 was that of a "spectator" And that since then, not much has changed.

By contrast, Russia uses the conflict to maintain its presence in the South Caucasus. During the war in the early 1990s, the Kremlin played both ends against the middle, making it the irreplaceable presence in the conflict. Russian troops patrolled Armenia's borders, and the Armenians in NK were dependent on Russia for military supplies.

The same was true for the Azerbaijanis. When fighting broke out in 1992, a phalanx of 150 Russian armored vehicles driven by Russian soldiers under the command of Russian Gen. Alexander Shcherbak led the Azerbaijani attack.

Russia continues to play a double game with Armenia and Azerbaijan today. In 1997, Armenia agreed to lease the Gyumri base to Russia for 25 years and has since extended that lease through 2044. The price was too good to turn down: the rent was zero. More than 5,000 Russian troops are stationed in the country.

The Kremlin also sells weapons to Azerbaijan. In fact, Azerbaijan gets 85 percent of its military hardware from Russia. In 2013, the Azeri-Russian arms trade was worth an estimated $4 billion.

Russia uses the NK conflict to its own ends, which is to restore its military presence and influence in the South Caucasus. This was true in 1993, when then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin began to reclaim his country's role in the former Soviet empire, and it's still true today. Yeltsin pushed the United Nations to grant Russia special powers as a guarantor of peace and stability in the former Soviet Union. Russian diplomats followed Yeltsin's lead with a series of proposals to insert Russian or Russian-controlled troops into NK. These troops would have been authorized to shoot, which ran counter to the principles of the Minsk Group.

Simultaneously, the Minsk Group considered proposals banning foreign peacekeepers from using lethal force. Russia's intent all along was threefold: to subvert the Minsk process, ensure that all parties on the ground understood that Russia was the real referee, and supplant the international negotiating process.

In December 1994, the OSCE agreed to a peacekeeping force in NK that would include Russian troops. The Russians insisted on commanding the force and demanded that most of its troops be Russian. The OSCE wanted an OSCE-led force and to limit the number of Russians to less than 50 percent. Yeltsin warned Washington not to try to direct events in Moscow's sphere of influence, noting that any US role in the South Caucasus risked opening a cold peace between Russia and the West.

In August 2014, Sarkisian and Aliyev met in Sochi at the invitation of Putin, who stressed the "special and particularly close relations" between himself and the other heads of state, since all had come up through the Soviet system. Putin renewed Yeltsin's claim that Russia had a unique role to play in the South Caucasus.

US policymakers appear to have accepted Russia as an honest broker in NK. Russia's track record over the past two decades, however, demonstrates that the Kremlin wants to perpetuate its former imperial rule over the remnants of its former empire, not create peace. Russia appears to be pursuing the same goals in Ukraine: creating and ignoring ceasefires as best benefits a continuing Russian presence in Crimea and the Donbas. In short, relying on Moscow's good faith is a leap of faith that few can afford.

Dr. James J. Coyle is a Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Director of Global Education at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

James J. Coyle We still don't have a strategy

Published in the Orange County Register on September 12, 2014. To access the original article, click here.

In his Wednesday speech on the Islamic State, President Barack Obama explained to the American people why we should be engaged against the group, also known as ISIS.

Leaders have threatened America and its allies and some Americans are getting combat experience with ISIS that they could use against the U.S. when they return home, the president explained. Unfortunately, he did not deliver on the grand strategy he promised to “degrade and ultimately destroy” this threat.

He said he is launching a counterterrorist strategy. Yet, despite the president naming ISIS as a terrorist group, it is actually an insurgency rather than a terrorist group. ISIS does not engage solely in terrorist attacks to influence another party. Rather, it controls territory within two nation states and is running cities it has captured. For U.S. efforts to succeed, a counterinsurgency strategy is needed, not a counterterrorist one.

He is limiting American military involvement to air operations and the training of indigenous forces. Air operations alone cannot defeat a dedicated enemy, least of all one that uses unconventional warfare tactics.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton tried the same strategy in the Balkans. The Serbs only capitulated, however, after a hundred days when the president upped the ante and announced he might introduce ground forces after all.
Obama’s examples of American success in using air power to stop terrorism are Yemen and Somalia. He could not have picked worse examples. Both states lack a real central government, both suffer major internal insurgencies, both are considered failed states.

Neither the United States nor its allies can afford failed states in the heart of the Middle East.

In Iraq, the U.S. military team currently in Baghdad estimates that 30 to 50 percent of the Iraqi armed forces are unable to fight, or have ceased to exist.

The Iraqi military’s refusal to defend Mosul against the Islamic State speaks for itself.

In Syria, the president plans to rely on the Syrian opposition to defeat ISIS. The group is the only serious military force opposing the government of Bashar al-Assad, and the U.S. government is committed to the defeat of that regime. The president is silent on the contradictory nature of the policy he has outlined. There is also a question as to the effectiveness of the non-ISIS opposition.

The U.S. has a checkered history of building indigenous forces.

In the 1950s and 1960s at the School of the Americas, the U.S. Army trained its Latin counterparts in security operations.

The result was the overthrow of a number of democracies throughout South America by the American-trained officers.

In the 1980s the U.S. trained fighters to defeat Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The result was the creation of groups throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan who are aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaida. The U.S. has spent millions over the past decade training the Iraqi military – a military that cannot or will not fight ISIS.

The president makes much over his efforts to build a coalition, which will include Arab partners. He makes no mention of the largest regional power: non-Arab Iran.

As the U.S. learned in its Iraq war, the Persians have the ability to make or break governments and insurgencies in the area. Why is there no place at the table, then, for this regional heavy weight. As for the coalition he is building, what do they plan to do?

Insurgencies have been won and lost around the world. The deciding factor in who wins the military struggle is ultimately who wins the support of the inhabitants. This requires more than dropping bombs from the sky – it requires engaging in the creation of civil societies that can meet the needs of the people.

Half measures designed to be all things to all people are not a strategy for success, but for long-term failure.

James J. Coyle is the Director of Global Education at Chapman University, and the executive director of the Caspian Research Institute, an online think tank.