Disinformation Watch: The Open Skies Treaty

Some weird stuff has popped up in my Twitter feed this week. Fortunately, I follow experts who are trying to figure it out.

Steffan Watkins is a Canadian who follows ships and planes via the internet. If you like that sort of thing, I recommend you follow him. He is also very sensitive to disinformation and occasionally given to lectures about it. He is very knowledgeable about the Open Skies Treaty.

The Open Skies Treaty (text, fact sheet) allows the nations that have signed it to fly observation planes over other signatories’ territory. It’s an arms control treaty in that it allows nations to follow up on suspicions or just keep an eye on each other. It says nothing about numbers of weapons. The simple fact that nations are open to each other in this way builds trust, which is needed to negotiate on more difficult subjects. Read More

He Can’t Help Himself

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted about the Russian explosion at Nenoksa.

DJT 190813

A number of experts hastened to criticize on the grounds that the United States doesn’t have a program like Russia’s Burevestnik [NATO designation Skyfall], or, if we do, it must be highly classified.

But there’s something else worth noting. This may be the first time Trump has criticized Russia in any way.

And of course, it’s a dick-measuring contest. He can’t help himself.

Speculations on the Nenoksa Explosion

On the morning of Thursday, August 8, something exploded at the Nenoksa Naval Base in Russia, not far from the city of Severodvinsk. This article is a good summary of what we knew by Friday. Since then, the Russian government has said that a radioactive source was involved in the explosion, along with liquid rocket fuel. Reports have gone back and forth on whether radiation detectors in Severodvinsk detected anything. Five more people have been reported dead. Sarov/VNIIEF, one of the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories, has released a statement, which some folks are rushing to translate.

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PSA – Mushroom Clouds Are Not Necessarily Nuclear

There have been two notable explosions in Russia this past week.

  1. An arms storage depot exploded at Achinsk, near Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. Every summer, a couple of arms storage depots explode in Russia. They have a lot of them, and their safety measures leave something to be desired. Explosions have continued for a week. Once they start, it’s dangerous to fight the fire that started them and continues. Better to evacuate the area (which has been done) and let the burning and exploding continue until there’s nothing left.

This event has produced some impressive video. Because of the relative humidity, you can see the shock wave as water in the air condenses and evaporates rapidly. Mushroom-shaped clouds have resulted. Large enough explosions, whether conventional or nuclear, produce mushroom clouds. Mushroom clouds are not a marker for a nuclear explosion. Read More

The End Of The INF Treaty

A commenter at Balloon Juice asked if I plan to write on the end of the INF Treaty. I hadn’t intended to – there’s an enormous amount of good commentary (Twitter threads here and here) on it – but as I thought about it, I have some thoughts beyond the standard commentary.

First, an overview of the situation.

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was concluded between the US and the USSR in 1987. Both countries had been emplacing missiles in Europe in such a way as to dangerously shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack on Europe or Moscow. The treaty banned a whole class of missiles and largely ended the nuclear terrors of the early 1980s. Read More

Hello, World! Russia Here!

The Russian destroyer Udaloy I forced the USS Chancellorsville to maneuver to avoid collision in the Phillippine Sea today. They were sending a message – look at the guys sunbathing on the flight deck.

The maneuver was planned and approved by the fleet. Probably at the suggestion of Vladimir Putin, or certainly to please him. Read More

Meanwhile, in Russia

I subscribe to Paul Goble’s blog, “Window on Eurasia – New Series.” Goble worked in the United States State Department while the Soviet Union was breaking up. He worked particularly with Estonia and the other Baltic States, which had been made Republics of the Soviet Union after World War II, although that status had never been recognized by the United States and most other countries.

After he retired from the State Department, he taught in Estonian universities and wrote a summary of media, translated from Russian and Estonian, for a mailing list. That summary became the blog. He watches a variety of publications for separatist leanings, of which there are many in Russia. Russia contains many nationalities and many languages, peoples not always happy to be part of that larger state, but not able to break away.

It’s a different view of Russia than we get from Big Media, which focuses mainly on Vladimir Putin, not even on the politics among his government and the oligarchs. The focus on Putin tends to make him look all-powerful, but he is subject to a great many political currents and challenges from rivals. For now, he is in a relatively stable position. Here are a couple of stories that Goble has been following. Read More

The Donald Trump Worldwide Threat Assessment

This morning’s Presidential tweet storm confirmed a trend I’ve discerned recently.

I’ve had a running (good-natured) argument with other nuke nerds on Twitter about the President’s delusions with regard to North Korea. His tweets and much of the administration action and speech, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s, seem to revolve around an assumption that Kim Jong Un is ready to give up his nuclear weapons.

However, every official statement from North Korea says otherwise. Kim sees those nuclear weapons as the foundation of his country’s security from meddling by outside powers. North Korea has long used the word “denuclearization” to indicate a state in which they no longer fear attack and thus can give up their nuclear arsenal.

This disjunction is dangerous. It appears that Kim is playing Donald Trump, and Trump is responding. It may mean that Trump will give up alliances with South Korea and Japan for meaningless actions from North Korea. It may mean that at some point he will recognize the disjunction and feel that he has been betrayed by Kim and will allow John Bolton his desire for a war. Read More

Nancy Pelosi’s Questions About Russia

Nancy Pelosi released a remarkable statement last night. Since she is a strategist, we can analyze it in terms of a strategy, a refreshing change from the last two years.

We have become accustomed to the idea that Donald Trump and his people have connections to Russia. The news has trickled out, first to surprise, now to boredom. But the number and type of connections are remarkable for a President of the United States, and they may well have been unlawful.

The general outlines of the story have been visible since the 2016 Republican primary, and there is a circumstantial case that Trump has been working with Russians and Russian money for a long time and had Russian help in the 2016 election. We have become enured to this and no longer hear it. Read More

Those New Russian Weapons

Vladimir Putin has claimed that Russia is building a suite of advanced nuclear weapon delivery vehicles – Hypersonic missiles, an underwater drone, a nuclear-powered cruise missile. The American Missile Defense Review is, in part, a response to that.

The new Russian weapons sound amazing! The underwater drone, Putin would have us believe, could sneak up on the east coast of the United States and cause a radioactive tsunami! The nuclear-powered cruise missile could cruise around the globe twice and then nuke Florida!

Putin has shown all that on animated videos. A few frames appear to be actual photos, but the videos are mostly animation. Read More