RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 27 MAY 2021 by Patrick Armstrong

IN A WORD. Some time ago – Munich speech? Libya? Ivanov’s re-assignment? – the Putin Team decided that NATO wanted war and Russia had better get its defensive power up. They have decided that they have done so. That’s why the rhetoric has toughened. NATO’s window of opportunity has closed but it will take a while before the dullards in Washington and NATO get this. Moscow will knock their teeth out and add their gewgaws to the world’s largest collection of nazi banners and French cannons. Only a fool thinks it’s a threat and not a promise.

MILITARY. Shoygu says combat robot mass production has started. He doesn’t say which ones but these were shown on Victory Day. Putin says tests of the S-500 are almost complete and that 85% of commanders of “of large military formations and regiments” have received combat experience in Syria.

BOMBERS. Some strategic bombers have arrived at the Russian base in Syria; for exercises, we’re told.

NUKES. According to Moscow, as of 1 March, Russia had 517 ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers with a total of 1456 warheads and the USA had 651 with 1357 warheads. I seem to remember a study years ago that said that something like 400 would be more than enough for each; here’s one that says 100 is the number. Anyway, you can see that with these two having these numbers why Beijing (with a few hundred) is not interested in three-way talks until Russia and the USA come way down.

NORDSTREAM. Washington has lifted sanctions on German companies involved with the pipeline but imposed new ones on Russian entities. What are we to make of this? A realisation that Berlin is determined on completion combined with face-saving meaningless toughness. Amusingly Biden’s now being called “Putin’s $5 million man” (because of the supposed payout by the pipeline to the supposed Russian supposed hackers). Nordstream was a “key Putin goal“, giving power to Putin, what does he have on him? Hilarious, isn’t it? Biden loved it then: here he is calling Trump Putin’s puppy.

SWIFT. An official of the Central Bank of Russia says she sees no risk in using SWIFT now, but that Russia can easily switch to its own system: the Financial Messaging System of the Bank of Russia.

POLLS. In Levada’s presidential stakes Putin is well out in front as usual, most of the rest (especially Navalniy) are in the margin of error. Maybe Zhirinovskiy has edged out Zyuganov for a distant second (both of them were around in 1996!).

MINSK AND RYANAIR PLANE. The story gets fishier by the minute. First the simulated and hypocritical outrage when Minsk is accused of following the example of the keeper and guardian of the Rules-Based International Order (suspiciously rapid and uniform). Calling this coup specialist a “journalist” is pretty creative: yes he did fight with the nazis; more on Protasevich and more still. There has been a sustained – and unsuccessful – anti-Lukashenka operation for some time, is this the next try? The real key to the story is the fake bomb threat: who did it and when? If it did come, as Lukashenka says, from some source in Switzerland (don’t be fooled by the time stamp – they are in different time zones), then everything took place as it should have and the rules required the pilot to land in Minsk; and the threat did say the bomb would be set off in Vilnius. Incidentally, this is the third time (!) a Ryanair plane has been forced to land by armed fighters after a bomb hoax: 2017 and 2020. Fighter interception is normal behaviour. The people who stayed in Minsk were not sinister operatives but people headed there anyway. Did the Belarusan authorities only know he was on board because of this tweet as Petri Krohn wonders (see comment 6)? Maybe we’ll read about it years later in the WaPo – remember Ukraine’s Joan of Arc? So, the question that they should be asking is: who originated the bomb threat? Answer that and you’ll know whether it was another anti-Lukashenka provocation (vide Vovan and Lexus) or something Lukashenka did to get Protasevich. But, anyway, it’s time for Lukashenka to get closer to Moscow; maybe he will.

MACRON says sanctions against Russia aren’t working and I think that we are at a moment of truth in our relationship with Russia, which should lead us to rethink the terms of the tension that we decide to put in place.” Every now and again he says the unsayable, but nothing happens afterwards.

FAKE NEWS. Don’t toss your NYT subscription! Eventually the news will fit. Steele dossier is junk!

RUSSIA/CHINA. It’s only an opinion, but the Global Times carries weight: “So Beijing and Moscow must keep close coordination to handle the upcoming situation, including how to establish a new order to replace the US-dominated one once the latter gets totally dysfunctional, Yang Jin said.”

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

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43 Responses to RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 27 MAY 2021 by Patrick Armstrong

  1. robt willmann says:

    I have seen reports today (27 May) that Russia is denying airlines permission to fly into Russian airspace if the flights are avoiding Belarus’s airspace as part of the new policy by some countries to squeeze Belarus after the situation with the Ryanair plane. An Air France Flight from Paris to Moscow and an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Moscow were allegedly denied entry into Russian airspace.

  2. jerseycityjoan says:


    I saw this today and while I can’t say it is surprising, I am sorry that we are officially at the end of the “engagement” period with China. I hate to see our major challenges in the world increase.

    I was wondering if you think we will officially recategorize our relationship with Russia, too? If so, would you expect us to also label that “competitive?” How do you think this change in our China stance will affect Russia?


    “The U.S. is entering a period of intense competition with China as the government running the world’s second-biggest economy becomes ever more tightly controlled by President Xi Jinping, the White House’s top official for Asia said. “The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” Kurt Campbell, the U.S. coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, said Wednesday at an event hosted by Stanford University. U.S. policy toward China will now operate under a “new set of strategic parameters,” Campbell said, adding that “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.” (via Bloomberg News)

    • Dollar short and a day late. The US has lost the competition.
      The USA was mighty because of tremendous manufacturing capacity, great inventiveness and the ability to harness that, political stability and the “American Dream” had sufficient reality. What’s left of that? And the same applies to the West in general.
      As to Moscow, why would it ever trust Washington?

    • PRC90 says:

      “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.” I do not see any policy regarding the cessation of manufacturing goods imports from China.
      Would that imply competition only in certain areas not fenced off according to specific criteria, or proprietorial interests ?

      • Yeah, Right says:

        PRC90, I suspect it is code for “more sanctions”.

        • PRC90 says:

          Yeah, Right.
          Yes, the US began various sanctions consequent to the Tienanmen Square massacres in 1989. The fact that these have been ineffective at bringing democracy and compliance to China since then would indicate they have been just a bit too selective rather than comprehensive.

    • Just ensuring that good old freedom of navigation.

      • J says:

        And making sure all T’s are crossed and I’s dotted,
        no curse words are uttered on USPACFLT communications networks.

        • Ed Lindgren says:

          Pacific Missile Test Range has tracking facilities located at Barking Sands on the west coast of Kauai.

    • TTG says:

      That’s nothing new. Soviet spy ships cruised in Hawaiian water in the 70s. Our S2 would brief us on them before every field exercise. I’m sure they were cruising the waters long before that as well. We conduct missile tests on Kauai so we should expect to be watched by Russians and Chinese. I’m sure we and everyone who has such ships do the same throughout the world.

  3. J says:

    Patrick, the battle robots I see being air dopped inside the U.S. in mass abundance,. This is a worse case scenario.

  4. Leith says:

    Why would Russians want war? Why would NATO want war? It’s all BS for the home audience.

    • I think it’s probably a maxim easily provable by historical experience that nobody wants the war that they actually get. Most wars happen, I think, because people expect to be home, victorious, by Christmas.
      Consider, for example, NATO’s rather numerous recent wars.

      • Leith says:

        Nobody in the US or NATO is threatening to “knock out any teeth”. Putin is just wagging the dog for his United Russia party so they can maintain a supermajority in the upcoming Duma elections.

  5. aka says:

    So the Chinese think that the US will become “dysfunctional”?
    Are they predicting that US will lose its place because of woke culture and internal strife?

  6. Seamus Padraig says:

    If anybody here still doubts that Roman Protasevich served with the Azov Battalion, Anatoly Karlin’s got the good on him:

    • Mark Logan says:


      Yes, but there must have been 100s just like him. What made him worth stopping a plane for was his writing. While I can appreciate the problems the region has, and can understand their acceptance, even need, for totalitarian rule at this time, but it’s not something that should be celebrated.

      “In America you hijack plane. In Russia…”

  7. English Outsider says:

    Battle of narratives. “Despite their potentially grave impact on public health, official and state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and – to a lesser extent – China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation both at public audiences in the EU and the wider neighbourhood.”

    And on the Belarus incident –

    On Pratasevich – ” The second claim – on dissident Raman Pratasevich being an “Extremist” – is both unfounded and irrelevant to the case. It does not justify Lukashenka’s decision to use military threat against a civilian aircraft.”

    Having been a citizen of the European Union for so long I suppose I should know about the EEAS. I didn’t so I looked it up. It’s the embryonic equivalent, according to Wiki, of the US State Department. The old stamping ground of Lady Catherine Ashton of Ukrainian coup fame. Not much of a budget to do a lot of things, so I imagine the articles above are cut and paste from Bellingcat or some such source.

    All very down market and a little depressing, Mr Armstrong. I had thought the EU and particularly the French would provide a counterweight to our own mini-neocons of Westminster, at least as far as the Russophobic stuff went. Not so it seems.

    • I seem to remember that one of the selling points of the EU years ago was that it would become an independent foreign policy actor — a sort of fourth world to use the expressions of the time. Didn’t happen, did it?

      • English Outsider says:

        More depressing than one might think, Mr Armstrong. That EEAS stuff’s got reach.

        My wife and I follow brief Covid updates from a very good English Covid news aggregator on youtube. Particularly good on how things are going in Australia, the States, and other parts of the world.

        Not afraid to knock UK Covid policy when needed and keeps in touch with the progress of research on prophylactics and treatment methods etc. A touch anti on things European but that’s natural at present and one makes allowances.

        So it was a bit depressing recently to sit down to watch the latest instalment and find him innocently retailing the first of those EEAS references above as if it were Holy Writ. For the whole damned episode. That’s a hundred thousand or so people who’re going to be wisely shaking their heads and saying “I knew those Russkies were up to no good”.

        Maybe. It would be naive to assume they’re little angels. But that mix of information and disinformation that the EEAS site’s putting out is going to be gospel for many. It’s a pity to see it done and a shame it has such reach.

        It was said at the time – I use the passive because I could never find the references so long after – that Lady Ashton was sent home under a cloud after the mess she made of the Ukrainian affair. Proper diplomats put in to handle the resultant disaster. True? Or just another bit of internet smoke?

        • Deap says:

          Intrigued by the way the UK reports deaths …. with nary a mention any death over age 80 was caused by “covid” and not just “old age”?

          ………”The prince’s death was caused by “old age,” the death certificate said, according to Telegraph. The outlet noted the description used for the Duke of Edinburgh’s cause of death is common for people over the age of 80 years old who have been experiencing a “gradual decline.”………. “

  8. Carey says:

    Austin Blinken “Biden”

    Shoigu Lavrov Putin


  9. Carey says:

    My comment above was unintentionally cryptic: the latter three persons appear to me- viewing from a distance- to have real substance, and allegiance to their country; the former three do not.

  10. J says:

    Speaking of working closely with one another, this story highlights how China is seeking warmer waters next to its Russian Allies, close to U.S. shores.
    I anticipate they’ll be working closely with Lourdes, bearing in mind that the Russians will only give the Chinese what they want them to have, not the whole ball of wax.

    Coming Soon: China’s Navy Patrolling Off New York?

  11. Tidewater says:

    I’ve read that the Kmeimim base is a Russian ‘outpost.’ I don’t think so. While the recent upgrades to the base have come as no surprise, now that they have been completed, the base seems to me to put Russia in the strongest position in the Mediterranean that Russia has ever been in all of its history. When, in past, was Russia stronger in this region?

    Ignoring for the moment the whole alarming question of the danger to a US navy carrier strike group that could come from Kmeimim-based MIG-31Ks and medium- range bombers like the Tupolev Backfire, armed with hypersonic glide weapons such as the Kinzhal, the whole question of NATO’s southern flank and what is going to happen there seems to be worth a little speculation.

    The base at Kmeimim seems to be a staging area that will give decisive support to a final battle for a Russian permanent move into North Africa. This invasion will have several objectives. First, would be the defeat of the GNA (Government of National Accord) based at Tobruk and headed most recently by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. The allied forces which will win, given this new bomber support, are Russia, its Russian mercenary Wagner group, the UAE, possibly France, Libyan rebel forces under Khalifa Haftar, or his successor, given Haftar’s ill health, and importantly, Egypt.
    The Tupolev-22M3 (NATO-Backfire) can carry heavy conventional bomb loads. The load will vary according to distance and other factors, even climatic heat conditions, but has recently averaged out it seems (in 2015 strikes) at about 13,000 pounds, though one reads that the load can go much higher. [?] The 2300 sorties over 48 days which Russian Tupolev-160 (NATO-Blackjack) and Tu-95’s (NATO-Bear) bombers made on Raqqa in 2015 were mostly attacks using conventional ordnance, ‘iron bombs’ and not missiles. When the civil war in Libya reaches the decisive moment–and it seems to me that the time could be right now for the contest to resume, given American preoccupations with Iran, internal problems and leadership questions– I predict that the Backfires will make the difference. I don’t think there is anything in Libya to stop them. Given the lengthening of the Kmeimim runways out to 10,500 feet and their strengthening, it seems likely that the Blackjacks and Bear bombers could also fly down from Saratov on the Volga to join the campaign. Further, it is certain that Russian heavy-lift cargo planes can now use the Kmeimim airbase. Russian special forces, the Wagner group, Haftar Rebels, could be greatly reinforced with men and materiel.

    Offhand, and I have only the most casual knowledge of it, the fighting in Libya seems to me to have been uncertain, tentative, puzzling. Putin has seemed to be biding his time. For example, Mirages in 2020 attacked the GNA base at Al- Watiya, near Tripoli, hitting Turkish Hawk missiles and electronic warfare systems. They remain unidentified. Surely they were UAE? So we see the jostling ambitions for a piece of Libya and its oil and natural gas industry. So what about the Turks? It could soon get really bad between Erdogan and Putin.

    If Russia, Egypt, UAE, France, and the Haftar Libyan rebel side renew the civil war, or some elements of this grouping do, and they prevail, it could be a game-changer for NATO’s southern flank. It would be big. Russia would certainly now go for a permanent naval base, possibly at Benghazi or Sirte. There is an airbase at Sirte called Al -Jafra. It is threatened by GNA forces, being near the front. Russia and the UAE have been using this base, and it is believed that Al- Jafra or a similar airbase is needed to support Russian activities further south in Africa, and indeed, all across North Africa. Russian proxies are apparently engaged in Mali, a potential challenge to the French. Russia has interests in the Central African Republic. An airbase in Libya could support the new Russian navy base at Port Sudan. It could have some effect on the Suez canal. Russia has begun something in the Levant which logically connects to the Mahgreb, and deeper into Africa, possibly into regions which have strategic minerals like the Congo, or, again, Mali.

    Once Russia and its allies conquer Libya (in the interest of defeating elements of ISIL) they will move to develop natural gas fields on the offshore, shallow continental shelves of the Egyptian and Libyan littorals. It could be a bonanza. I think Russia and Egypt might just be partners and allies for a long time to come. They and the UAE would also manage, maintain, and develop the extensive oil fields and facilities that already predominate in Eastern Libya.

    It seems to me to be a whole new canvas. I remember years ago making a backpacking journey from Spain to Turkey through the Greek islands during the months of February into spring. My path kept crossing the Springfield. In Barcelona at the harbor at the end of the Rambla I noticed a staff car making a delivery of flowers to the ship! It was sort of charming. Heading east, I would hear about the Springfield from time to time, see something in the Herald Trib, or maybe, see some sailors or a gig at a fleet landing, I can’t remember, really, but I was aware of her during that journey in the way one is aware in Nova Scotia of the famous old schooner Blue Nose which goes from harbor to harbor, all around the maritimes. People will mention her and it is a nice thing. When, at length, as I humped my pack somewhere above the Golden Horn, I noticed a lot of warning horns and merry challenging hoots out in the ever- exciting Bosphorous– a place eternally fraught with the different rights-of- way claims of crossing ferries, and surprisingly fast -moving ocean- going ships–and looked out and saw the Springfield again, I was actually thrilled. Springfield was very handsome with a distinctive stern. But I also found myself thinking: Dammit, the Med is our lake! The Sixth Fleet protects it and that is good.

    Now I think the Med is in play and we need to pay attention.

    • Why would Russia want Libya? It’s be there and done that with the exceptionalism expansionist stuff. Didn’t work and was bad for Russia qua Russia.

    • Deap says:

      Any left over bad taste when the Russians took over Egypt in the 1970’s? Would they want this to happen again.

    • Fred says:

      Where does the supply line for this base run, through the open sea or a couple of choke points easily closed? How long is it by land, sea or air? To qoute the referenced article:
      “as a result of the reconstruction of the second runway with a complete replacement of the coating and the installation of new lighting and radio equipment. The length of the runway was also increased, which made it possible to expand the capabilities of the airfield to receive and service aircraft of various classes.”
      If you will recall, with very modest force commitments the Russian Federation aided Syria in stabilizing the region and destroying most of ISIS, which was their main objective, US Neocon interference being ineffective (and not in US national interests either). This doesn’t sound like a major base for a major move West to Tobruk or anywhere else. But I’m sure some US/NATO sabre rattlers will sound the alarm so as to mal-deploy our forces and expend our efforts to little purpose but neocon career security.

    • JohninMK says:


      Not sure upon what you puff up Russia’s plans in the area. There is no indication that they have significant strategic plans beyond Syria and a naval base in Sudan. Maybe you view Wagner’s work as if it was US SF.

      I also have a problem with your 2300 sorties in 48 days by Tu-160 and Tu-95 claim. That is 48 a day, an impossible sortie rate given the distance they had to fly to Syria as there is no direct route. Indeed it is well on the way to the peak sortie rate for the Su-24/30/34 fighter bombers and Su-25 operating locally out of Hmeimen. I’d love to know where your figure came from as I’m pretty sure the Tu-160 made a handful of trips and the Tu-95 less firing a total of around 30 cruise missiles. Operationally at that time, 2015, the Russians were concentrating on striking small but critical targets with more cruise missiles flying in from the Caspian.

      I should note that three Tu-22M operated out of Hmeimen last week, one of them loaded with a Kh-22, the supersonic AShM, of which three are its normal loadout. Carrying them, its operational range is beyond Gibraltar. Whilst there they made no show of force, ignoring the Charles de Gaulle and Libya but the USN will have been only too well aware of their presence. Probably more worrying for normal operations would be if an aircraft you didn’t mention, the Tu-142M was based at Hmeimen.

      You seem to have got a bit carried away.

      • Leith says:

        I suspect that Tidewater was not claiming 2300 sorties. He was referring to the 2300 km range from Engels AB to Raqqa that Blackjack and Bear sorties would have had to have flown.

        Regarding the Hawks and Jammer destroyed last year at Watiya: The Turks of course blamed the UAE. But I’ve heard some reports that it was Haftar’s Mirages flown by foreign mercenary pilots.

        Otherwise, I think Tidewater’s comment about Russian goals in Africa are valid. Not only in Libya and Mali but perhaps in Ethiopia. Not that they ‘want’ Libya, but they do want influence in that part of the world.

      • Tidewater says:


        Thank you for your comment. I concede the point that there must be something wrong with my figures here about the number of long- distance sorties made by Russian bombers against Raqqa from such bases as Engels on the Volga. While I have not yet double-checked where I was getting my info from, I notice a comment in the Wikipedia article ‘Russian Military Intervention in the Syrian Civil War’. The chief of the Russian general staff, Lt. General Sergey Rudovsky, stated on 25 December 2015 that since 30 September the Russian air force had conducted 5,240 sorties in Syria, including 145 sorties by long-range aviation. That suggests, even if these sorties continued on into 2019, that there was a far fewer number than 2300. I don’t know the exact time frame that the Russians use to define their Syria campaign, which would be their equivalent or side (by invitation) of Operation Inherent Resolve. I assume that CJTF-OIR began in October 2014 and that at the end of August 2019 “territorial defeat in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had been accomplished.” During these years CJTF-OIR had conducted 34,573 airstrikes.

        In January 2017, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces at that time, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, said that overall the Russian Air Forces had carried out 19,160 combat missions and delivered 71,000 strikes on ‘the infrastructure of the terrorists’.
        One indication of the sheer size and intensity of OIR is that in 2015 alone, KC-135 Stratotankers from Al Udeid, Qatar, flew more than 14,700 sorties, though some of this was to support planes involved in Freedom’s Sentinel (Afghanistan). More than 60 aircraft took part in these in-flight refueling operations. As long as one is getting into this, I find that I would be curious to know the bombing sorties from bases in the Gulf such as Sheik Isa, Bahrain; Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia; Al Dhafra, U.A.E. and Incirlik, Turkey. ( I think it is high time for me to design my own board game.) 🙂

        What I find surprising is to be reminded that Inherent Resolve was also deeply involved in Libya. From August to December 2016, the United States ran a bombing campaign called Operation Odyssey Lightning in ‘the battle to capture Sirte’ which was at that time ISIL’s local capital! As of 2017, the US Africa Command had announced that 495 precision airstrikes had been carried out against ISIL, killing some 800-900 terrorists. (That seems to me to be a surprisingly large number of sorties for what is supposed to be a side-show.) In January 2017 B-2 bombers were bombing south of Sirte in yet another operation. There were more. How many US airstrikes have been carried out in Libya in the last four years? What is really going on in Libya?

        And what has been the result? ISIL is still there.
        Erdogan, a NATO ally, shipped some twelve thousand Syrian fighters to the Tripoli forces in the west, many of whom were ISIL It is said that many of these jihadi soldiers want to get to Europe. I assume that some may want to start a new life, but who knows? In Ceuta (Motto: “Estamos aqui”), not long ago some ten thousand sub-Saharan and North African refugees forced their way into the Spanish enclave. The Moroccan troops did nothing to stop them.

        I think we need to take a hard look at what is happening and/or likely to happen in Libya. (Or is it le deja-vu de l’Afrique a nouveau?) There seems to be some impression that Libya can slide indefinitely. I don’t think so. Of course, a lot would depend on how the Iran negotiations go. If Blinken doesn’t proffer his surrender, which I think is the only diplomatic solution, and this administration does not return to the agreement, and if war breaks out in the Gulf, then that would be the time for Putin to make his move in Libya.

        I will stick to my point that Backfires and MIG-31 Ks armed with Kinzhals, and land and sea-based Kalibrs (2700 mile range in one variant) will almost certainly cripple or defeat a U.S. or British carrier group, meaning a strike group of six to eight ships or thereabouts, which would include the carrier, an AEGIS cruiser, two ASROC capable ‘Burkes’ or frigates for ASW, two more DDGs for air guards, two fleet oilers with UNREPing supply capability, possibly two more frigates or DDGs with helos to prowl miles further out from the group dropping drones and listening devices searching for enemy subs who might be dealt with by the attack sub that will also be deployed with the group.

        The British are sending such a carrier group with its flagship the brand-new twin-island/twin-engined HMS Queen Elizabeth II to the Mediterranean in a few weeks. Part of its aircraft complement is 24 F-35s! You know damn well the British are going to put them through their paces. It’s going to be fascinating to see what is revealed about the F-35. This carrier group is magnificent.

        It is an awful thing to have to say… the days of surface fleets are just about over.

  12. Tidewater says:

    I checked a few moments ago and I find that I have got it wrong, that the new carrier is named for a super dreadnought –which is what this carrier is, as well–that had been named for the first Queen Elizabeth. So the name honors Queen Elizabeth I.

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