Archive for September 7th, 2017

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Illicit firearms crackdown – Odessa

September 7, 2017

7th September witnessed a police operation across Odessa led by the Criminal Police Department.

“Our main goal is the safety of citizens in the whole country: in the last 24 hours, police officers seized 25 firearms, about two thousand rounds of ammunition and six explosive devices, so we are stepping up our efforts to counter the proliferation of weapons in order to protect every Ukrainian.” – Vyacheslav Abroskin, Head of Criminal Police Department, Ukraine.

Thus far during 2017 the police figures suggest approximately 1,400 firearms, 916 grenades, 21 explosives and approximately 120,000 rounds of ammunition of various caliber seized.

Well bravo.

Aside from the obvious detrimental repercussions of sizeable amounts of weaponry seeping out of the occupied Donbas across Ukraine (and of course back into Russia), with pre-election electioneering now underway, the fact that polls continuously display a large majority of the Ukrainian constituency being against gun ownership will make such police actions an easy political win for the current authorities.

Thus expect more to come.

However intelligence led policing, SBU counterterrorism operations,  and enhanced limited duration national “stop and check/search” policing can only be part of a more holistic approach to reducing the number of illicitly held firearms and/or prohibited weaponry.

As Mr Abroskin rightly makes clear in his statement above, public safety is paramount – so the goal is removing illicit weapons from circulation – not arrests and convictions.

A review of current firearms legislation and licencing policy would be prudent.  Perhaps certain items currently prohibited should be legalised.  Perhaps some currently legal weapons should be prohibited.  Are the current licencing processes fit for purpose?  What of storage requirements?  Perhaps nothing need change legislatively post review.

It would be a fantasy to think that organised crime, vigilantes, or “swivel-eyed underground groups” will not retain weaponry, appoint quatermasters, and secrete weapons for “future operations”/just in case”.  No doubt illicit arms stashes will be found a decade from now, buried, hidden and perhaps forgotten etc., and no doubt many illicit weapons will be used in illegal activity in the years ahead too.

However if illicit weapon reduction is the policy aim, having been personally involved in such attempts in both Northern Ireland and mainland UK, there are other considerations which worked to various degrees (and every illicit weapon removed from circulation is worth the effort).

It would be perhaps sensible (and probably politically beneficial considering electioneering has already begun) at some point in the future (probably prior to polling day), to organise and announce as widely as possible an amnesty for surrendered illicitly held weapons (not simply firearms or explosives, but any and all prohibited weapons – why limit the scope?).

It should be made clear that such an amnesty is part of a wider and longer term policy consisting of several stages.  Amnesties gain greater traction if a cash value is paid for a surrendered weapon – a “buy back” or “buy out of circulation” payment.

If it is decided to take that step, then the amnesty should last a month or so, but certainly within a publicly declared time frame.  Thereafter a return to intelligence led policing and ad hoc enhanced stop-check/search operations with robust enforcement will follow.  And society should be told so.

It should also be made clear that if any further amnesties are to follow in the future, there would be no possibility of cash “buy backs”.

Within a year of the first amnesty, a second amnesty should be offered with reduced or no payments for surrendered firearms.  Once again the amnesty last about a month.  Thereafter, once again, a return to intelligence led policing and ad hoc enhanced stop-check/search operations with robust enforcement.

Announcing such steps would therefore highlight the diminishing amnesty returns and increasing enforcement liabilities.

A year or two later, having let the enforcement institutions do what they do, then begin the entire amnesty process once again.

A repeating process.

Further, some form of cash “community award” may be considered, being  introduced to encourage members of the community to identify those in possession of illicit weapons.  Payment only upon recovery of the weapon – no requirement to give evidence, nor act as a court witness, or otherwise be identified to the offender.

The aim, to reaffirm the policy goal, is to recover as many illicit weapons in circulation as is possible – convictions are secondary, and will come via intelligence led policing by default.

Whether such policy policing operations occur within a regional or national setting is an institutional as well as political decision.  There are constraints of personnel, finance, (and intelligence led policing has its costs), bureaucracy relating to destruction orders and/or reallocation to state institutions for weapons recovered, legislative time, amnesty promotion costs etc.

However, policing works at its best when it carries out its role with the assent and assistance of society, and is at its least effective when those ingredients are lacking – That is the difference between a police service in the first instance, and a police force in the latter.

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Turning an eye back to the occupied Donbas – Interesting

September 7, 2017

Having deliberately not written about the occupied Donbas for some time, primarily because there is so much written about it on a daily basis regarding the on-going kinetics and accompanying awful statistics (both direct and indirect) as a consequence thereof, something of particular interest and equally unusual is necessary for the blog to enter the written realms where so many others ply their trade and/or expertise (and unfortunately “expertise” – as in the distinct lack thereof).

What has caught the eye is the slow removal of Russian EW (electronic warfare) and counter-battery system equipment and some drones (UAVs) from the occupied Donbas territories.

In short somebody in The Kremlin has apparently decided to slowly remove its most expensive tech military toys from the occupied territories and put them on the Russian side of the border.

Although they can always be put back, the obvious questions are why – and why now?

It is unlikely that they are required for the Zapad 2017 exercise – although that exercise would provide a “plausible” storyline under which the expensive toys are removed.  A case of Zapad 2017 becoming diversionary not to escalate (as most will look for) but rather appear to (and perhaps actually) deescalate without anybody taking much notice (which most won’t look for)?  Maybe – maybe not.

It may simply be a matter of unit rotation – or not.

Whatever the Excel spreadsheet says in The Kremlin, it no doubt does not accurately reflect the true military capabilities.   Excel spreadsheets, as versatile as they are, do not win wars.  Thus perhaps it is a matter of either Russia having less EW, counter battery and UAV equipment than is thought, or perhaps less trained and competent system operators as Manning & Records documents might at first suggest.

It may be that maintenance is required that cannot be done whilst deployed – unlikely, but a possibility nonetheless.

Perhaps it is deemed that there is really no longer a tactical need for such equipment to be deployed.

It may also be (indeed quite likely as an immediate goal) that The Kremlin holds the belief that somebody might arm Ukraine with weaponry that could accurately and effectively target Russia’s expensive and limited kit and/or limited number of specialist operators.  Ergo, it is perhaps an act aimed at mitigating, delaying and placating such considerations within some nations.

That said, Ukraine is not a nation under any form of weapons embargo so any real, partial or notional Russian withdrawal does not necessarily make the arming of Ukraine any more or less likely.

Perhaps there are, or soon will be, other theaters and other demands upon such limited equipment and personnel.

Now that the US has (rightly or wrongly – though perhaps understandably) tied the hands of President Trump regarding the easing of Russian sanctions, does The Kremlin see greater advantage in pulling out/partially pulling out of the occupied territories to weaken European resolve and thus split the European and US trajectories over sanctions, while simultaneously poking the fires of division between the US executive and legislature when the US cannot easily do the same?

The trigger for this event is not yet clear – nor the permanency of such equipment removal.

Nevertheless, a few days after it became clear such equipment was slowly leaving the occupied Donbas and returning to Russian territory, President Putin decided it was time to raise the issue of UN peacekeepers in the occupied territories.

There will of course be hurdles to the deployment of UN peacekeepers.  They may never arrive.  There may be no real intention for them to arrive either.  If the expensive military toys are required elsewhere or simply cannot be crewed, then perhaps there is a decision to freeze the kinetic conflict, remove the expensive toys, and then return to the war later on, having first set hurdles to prevent a “gesture of goodwill” from actually manifesting.

War against Ukraine on all other open fronts – diplomatic, political, societal, cyber etc will of course continue – and perhaps intensify – should the kinetic engagements be (perhaps only temporarily) frozen.

Nevertheless Ukraine has long lobbied for UN peacekeepers in the occupied Donbas, although clearly it will not accept Russians within that UN force.  No doubt avoiding the experience of Moldova over the last two decades, a local precedent involving “Russian peacekeepers”, is in Ukrainian minds.

Further, neither Germany nor Ukraine will accept those from the “Republics” among the UN peacekeeping ranks, or being party to discussions regarding any UN peacekeeping force.

Russia will insist upon the passing of legislation granting a “special status” for the occupied territories prior to any UN peacekeepers beginning any mission – and no doubt its interpretation of the Minsk “agreement” rather than any other.

Meanwhile Ukraine during this parliamentary session is expected to recognise the occupied Donbas as exactly that – “temporarily occupied territories” – which may have some interesting legal ramifications beyond Ukrainian domestic statute.  UN peacekeepers then may actually “legitimise” the Russian occupation of the occupied Donbas in the perceptions of some – particularly as time passes.

Kurt Volker (and thus the US) has said very little publicly thus far beyond a tweet stating”Interesting”.  To be fair, brevity aside, it is interesting – but little more than that at the time of writing.

Whatever the case, the very first lens through which to view Kremlin foreign policy is always the Russian domestic lens.  Only thereafter look through other lenses.

As there seems to be no plan for the next period of a Putin presidency after March 2018, and a complete void when it comes to a campaign message for the “electioneering” purposes, perhaps “Putin the peacemaker” will be a possible campaign slogan – and with it some inferred expectation among the increasingly poorer constituency that Donbas related sanctions will be removed or slackened, and an economic miracle will thus follow within Russia (which it almost certainly won’t).

There are also domestic problems with several major Russian banks – not entirely due to sanctions but rather mismanagement and/or the occasional requirements to “do The Kremlin a favour”, that invariably adversely affect a bank’s capital.  Nevertheless, easier access to the international market at standard terms currently frustrated by sanctions won’t help.

In summary, while the slow removal of The Kremlin’s most expensive military toys from the occupied territories is naturally welcomed (on the proviso they don’t return), and acknowledging the hurdles (some significant) relating to a UN peacekeeping mission as muted by President Putin, and long lobbied for by Ukraine, what is perhaps the most interesting is the trigger for these events – for there is no obvious trigger.

 

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