The Serious Implications of the Unopposed Russian Military Build-up in Syria

Western Inertia Enables Russian Geo-Political Gains

The geo-political gains that Russia are achieving in the Middle East due to EU / USA / NATO / UN inaction will not be reversed with diplomacy. Whether the US administration – current or pending – does or does not decide to change their policy on the region is irrelevant now because when or if they do it will likely be too late as it will risk direct military confrontation with the Russians already on the ground.

Summary Satellite‬ Imagery Analysis‬ of Russian‬ Military‬ ‪‎Buildup‬

The following observations were made at ‪‎Bassel‬ Al-Assad International Airport‬ Sept 4. to Sept 24. 2015 to include:
1. Additional helicopter‬ hard-stands;
2. Ground clearance taking place for future construction;
3. Construction of large new concrete surfaces and taxi ways; 
4. Initial positioning of mobile housing units;
5. Temporary tent‬ facilities;
6. A battalion’s worth of ‪‎armoured‬ ‪‎vehicles‬ & tanks in temporary soft surface parking locations;
7. Several new helicopters deployed to location with rotors removed to facilitate air transportation;
8. Transport aircraft on runways with open nose cones for loading / unloading‪ troops‬ and ‪‎equipment‬;
9. 15 x new helicopters arrived to the airbase between Sept 4. & Sept 20. identified as Mil‬ Mi24‬ attack‬ helicopters‬;
10. Also new on Sept 20. – a large number of fighter aircraft sitting on parking bays parallel to the two runways at the airbase;
11. 4 x Sukhoi‬ ‪‎Su30MKI‬ multi-role fighter aircraft;
12. 12 x Sukhoi Su25‬ ground attack aircraft;
13. A further 12 x Sukhoi ‪‎Su24‬‘s to the base on Sept 24.;
14. Additional construction ground clearance land scars and further deliveries are observed on satellite imagery today Sept 24.;

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Russia & Assad -VS- The West, The Kurds & the Non Islamist Anti-Assad Militias

The Russians have moved to support Assad their long time ally. The West in the event of an intervention would do so to assist the Kurds against ISIS most likely but also to assist the anti-Assad non Radical Islamist militia’s, the latter bringing them into direct conflict with the Russian forces.

Loss of Near Time Regional Opportunity & Increased Complexity

There will now be no NATO / US bases in Syria for the foreseeable future without direct conflict with or agreement from the Russians meaning “boots on the ground” from the West are unlikely to be within easy reach if direct military intervention is eventually agreed by the Western allies and their coalition partners.

Even in the event that the USA and the coalition partners limited their actions to supporting the Kurds against ISIS the planning and logistics would be exponentially more complex due to the existing Russian presence.

The Russians have stolen a march in the region right under the noses of the West – Russia has been allowed to take the initiative in the Middle East. Western Europe is weak – the compromising of Europe is Radical Islam’s stepping stone to undermining the US. Europe needs the US to have strong leadership – the outcome in Europe will dictate the outcome in the US.

The Russian-Iranian-Chinese Triumvirate

In addition, the Iranians are controlling matters in Iraq (outside of the KRG) through their Shi’ite militia and on the ground QUDS forces. The Chinese too are making in-roads in the region driven by the rapid growth in oil and gas imports, Chinese trade with the Middle East has risen from around 20 billion USD a decade ago to an estimated 230 billion USD last year, with the trade volume expected to exceed 500 billion USD by 2020. The Russian-Iranian-Chinese triumvirate are leaving the West in a distance second place in the region.

Western Europe is Distracted

Meanwhile Western Europe’s resources are being stretched and infrastructure overwhelmed with all the negative effects of the conflict in particular the refugee crisis and the associated internal security risks which we have discussed in our post Schengen: Compromising Europe’s internal security by “democratic consent” previously and replied to criticism of our hypotheses in that post through Rebuttal to Comment on the LinkedIn Forum: Counter Terrorism & Geopolitical Security

Putin’s Coup De Grâce

The Russians have spectacularly come out on top in this one – Putin must be a very happy man – and the US runs the risk of losing existing bases in Turkey due to poor relations with Erdogan over the ISIS fight and his governments hijacking of that alleged process to further persecute the Kurds, the only consistent and viable opposition to ISIS in the region since 2013 and additionally bomb the PKK and murder countless Kurd civilians in the process.

Ukraine too and the US influence therein is threatened and the Crimea and the Black Sea firmly under Russian control both outcomes threatening Western Europe’s energy needs. It is easy to be tongue in cheek and suggest that Obama must be on the FSB payroll – they could hardly have done a better job themselves.

The Middle East – A Russian & Iranian Sphere of Influence

The conclusion – the continued unopposed build-up of Russian forces in Syria will mean that a direct Western intervention in the region is rapidly becoming an impossibility without a willingness to accept the risk of a direct military confrontation with Russia and the escalation of the conflict beyond all recognition – and not even the most hawkish US Republican would consider such an option as acceptable.

In the mid-term it would suggest that the Middle East is inexorably moving toward being an undisputed Russian & Iranian sphere of influence.  

Satellite Imagery Analysis of Russian Military Buildup at Bassel Al-Assad International Airport Sept 4. to Sept 24….
Posted by Graham Penrose on Thursday, September 24, 2015

1. Additional helicopter hard-stands:

2. Ground clearance taking place for future construction:

3. Construction of large new concrete surfaces and taxi ways:

4. Initial positioning of mobile housing units:

5. Temporary tent facilities:

6. A battalion’s worth of armoured vehicles & tanks in temporary soft surface parking locations:

7. Several new helicopters deployed to location with rotors removed to facilitate air transportation:

8. Transport aircraft on runways with open nose cones for loading / unloading troops and equipment:

9. 15 x new helicopters arrived to the airbase between Sept 4. & Sept 20. identified as Mil Mi24 attack helicopters:

10. Also new on Sept 20. – a large number of fighter aircraft sitting on parking bays parallel to the two runways at the airbase:

11. 4 x Sukhoi Su30MKI multi-role fighter aircraft:

12. 12 x Sukhoi Su25 ground attack aircraft:

13. A further 12 x Sukhoi Su24’s to the base on Sept 24.:

14. Additional construction ground clearance land scars and further deliveries are observed on satellite imagery today Sept 24.:

Acknowledgements:
STRATFOR – Full Video Analysis Here;
ALL SOURCE ANALYSIS;
GEONORTH – Imagery Coordination Center

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Lacking the hard edge – academics alone will always fail in asset recovery efforts

Using academics to locate missing or looted monies from current or post conflict zones makes sense – for part of the problem – namely forensic accounting, unravelling complex financial structures and corporate cloaking mechanisms like trusts and offshore havens. However giving the same academics the responsibility for actioning the recovery strategy informed by this analysis is flawed. They do not possess the dealmaking, “street smarts”, mediation, negotiation, fixer, logistical, operational or in-country savvy to succeed on the ground.

Abdalla Kablan is a case in point. He was chosen to head Libya’s billion-dollar hunt for sovereign wealth hidden around the world by Gaddafi. Kablan is a 30 year old computational finance expert with a PhD degree in Computational Finance from University of Essex, an MSc in Financial Engineering and Knowledge Management from the University of Bradford, UK, and a BSc in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Malta, based in Malta. He was asked by Ali Zeidan (Libyan PM 2012-2014) to lead an official, government campaign to track down and recover billions in cash stashed away through vehicles like the Libyan Investment Authority.


He decided that a central, government-mandated authority had to deal with government authorities and financial institutions. Kablan gave a presentation of how a central authority could employ computer science and quantitative mathematics to track down financial investments and the life cycle of capital. In Kablan, the Libyans had a desk based expert who could handle the computational forensics, data mining, and asset identification. 

He became part of the newly formed Tracing & Asset-Recovery Support Bureau (TARSB). His plan was to establish links with international organisations, Interpol, and the UN-World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR). StAR’s most important role is fostering ties between countries seeking looted money and those sitting on it. There were similar models that could be examined, Great Britain had formed task forces to work with Egypt and the United States’ Department of Justice had the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section already provided legal and policy assistance to foreign governments. 

Kablan also proposed to link up with Libya’s own institutions, Private Banks, the Central Bank, and the Libyan investment entities, to be able to check data, transfers and investments. TARSB started data mining online resources, using artificial intelligence and heuristics to profile unstructured data for clues.


Progress was glacial. Kablan says he was frustrated by the inability to actually turn the TARSB into a central authority. Malta was ready to transfer €100 million in Libyan funds but they had concerns about the source of the request to re-patriate the monies. According to Kablan, Malta was keeping the Libyan people’s interests at heart by not just “dishing it out to anyone.” Bloomberg then alleged that Malta was being reticent in giving the money back in an “exposé” on Libya’s asset recovery efforts that made serious allegations about Kablan and Malta.

In ‘How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy’, Bloomberg claimed Gaddafi’s son Mutassim had €100 million in Maltese accounts, and suggested that the country was being difficult in letting the cash go. It then alleged that Kablan was only picked by Zeidan for being the son-in-law of foreign minister Mohammed Abdelaziz – but Kablan is not even married, nor is he dating Abdelaziz’s daughter. The article also alleged that he had worked for Exante, a finance firm in Malta that also acts as a broker for Bitcoin, “the virtual currency favored by drug dealers and money launderers.” 


Zeidan wanted to appoint an independent person of integrity with proven technical competence to help Libya recover its money. When Zeidan set up the TARSB in August 2013 to hunt down the assets held by Libya’s sovereign funds, such as the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and LAFICO, cooperation was already underway with Interpol, the World Bank, France and Britain, and the United States’ attorney general. Eventually the TARSB was besieged by internal politics: the LIA was intent on recovering the hidden assets itself, while another unit called the Asset Recovery Committee (ARC) appointed by former prime minister Abdul Rahim Al Keeb, sought the sole mandate to recover assets.


Eventually, Kablan was the victim of an abduction attempt in Tripoli. He received threats, was unable to move freely, was poorly equipped to deal with the hostile realities of the “street” as he took the desk based research out into the world to initiate the recovery plan informed by the academic research. He resigned his post, left Libya and will not return. 


Kablan was unable to take the academic theory and put it into practice. He and his team lacked the core skills to action their plan and manage personal and organizational risk while doing so. He was a soft target and those that did not want his work to continue did not need to exert much pressure, relatively speaking, to prompt him to abandon his mission. 

In Kablan and the TARSB, Libya possessed one part of a two part solution – the toothless part. Firms like TMG Corporate Services who can probe the clues and implement the strategy developed by academics like Kablan and his team are the hard edge that Libya did not possess in this spectacularly unsuccessful effort to identify and repatriate stolen assets. 

The places you’re most likely to get kidnapped



The places you’re most likely to get kidnapped.
Author: Gordon Bottomley 
http://www.vocativ.com, Jan 07, 2014 07:57 EST
Additional reporting by Jan-Albert Hootsen in Mexico City and Jeff Neumann in Beirut.

What’s my motivation?

An overwhelming majority of kidnappings today are motivated by aims that are chiefly financial in nature. Although kidnappers’ motivations can (and do) range from ideological to the more amorous and/or custodial (think Helen of Troy), kidnapping has emerged as a lucrative, reliable stream of income for organizations and individuals (consider the fact that ransom payments in 2012 topped $500 million).

How we know

First, we began by collecting data on global kidnappings incidents by country using a variety of sources, including government and inter-governmental agency data, local, regional and national press and media reports, global incident databases and forums, input from relevant subject matter experts, and (yes) industry-specific reports published by risk advisory firms, tourism groups and insurance companies. 

Next, we filtered the unstructured data using unique keyword strings to sort incidents into buckets based on specific parameters, such as motivation, type and location. This enabled us eventually to focus on the most relevant incidents for international travelers—that is, kidnappings that are motivated solely by financial gain.

Finally, we combined incident information for each country with relevant tourism and travel data, to find the intersection of popular travel destinations that have relatively high kidnap rates.
It’s a growth industry

Kidnapping is booming. To help you to stay safe when you travel, we’ve mapped out the places where you face the greatest risk of getting scooped up by rebels, terrorists or “mainstream” criminals.

There are lots of reasons people avoid high-profile travel destinations—the flights are too long, the hotels are overpriced, the beaches are overrun with German men in skimpy swimwear. But there’s another, sometimes overlooked criteria that you probably won’t find in your copy of Frommer’s or the Rough Guide: The likelihood of getting kidnapped at gunpoint.

Unless you’re the kind of person who heads to the swamps of Nigeria for a little R&R, it’s unlikely you’ve given much thought to the threat of kidnapping when planning your trips. But kidnapping has boomed over the past decade, thanks to the growing socioeconomic divide around the globe and the spread of radical groups. While kidnappers used to target rich locals, and the abductions were largely confined to a handful of countries, these days foreign business executives and tourists are now just as likely to be the victims, and the abductions can happen virtually anywhere. Public policy groups estimate there were more than 100,000 kidnappings around the world last year, including locals and foreigners.

Kidnapping hotspots

To make sense of today’s kidnapping risk overseas, we’ve mapped out the places where you face the greatest danger. This isn’t simply a list of places with the highest kidnapping rates, That directory would include no-brainers like Syria (which has been fighting a bloody civil war for the last three years) and Afghanistan (which has become a haven for Jihadists). We’re assuming you don’t need someone to tell you that those places are somewhat perilous for travelers.
Our list focuses, instead, on countries that are first and foremost popular travel destinations—and that also happen to have a high rate of abductions. There are some surprises on the list: India, for example, might seem out of place among the world’s kidnapping capitals, but the numbers don’t lie.



The official data is skewed

It’s not easy to wrangle data on kidnappings. For one, both governments and kidnapping victims are known to underreport abductions. Also, there are a number of different varieties of kidnapping, and not all countries classify each and every kind as a “kidnapping.” For example, in parts of Asia and Latin America, so-called virtual kidnappings are common—that’s where the bad guys claim falsely that they have abducted someone and demand a ransom. In some countries, these go in the books as “fraud” not “kidnapping.” Another example: “Express kidnappings” where hostages are taken for a day or two at most, just long enough to deplete their bank accounts or max out their credit cards, are sometimes logged as “robberies.”

In pulling together this list, we’ve adjusted for these various quirks and discrepancies to focus on the types of abductions that most often affect tourists and travelers. The countries below are ordered from most kidnapping incidents to least.

Safe travels.

MEXICO


A group of people kidnapped by alleged drug traffickers sit on the 
floor after being rescued by the Mexican Army. (Dario Leon/AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Kidnapping isn’t a new threat in Mexico, but it is now endemic. In the last decade, kidnappings have grown 245 percent (and that’s just reported incidents). Last year, almost 1,583 kidnapping cases were reported to Mexican authorities—the highest number since Mexico began tracking kidnapping stats in 1997.

How the kidnaps typically play out: ”Express” and “virtual” varieties that target both locals and foreigners. Last year’s virtual kidnaps included a Spanish indie rock band visiting Mexico City to perform in a music festival and a U.S. citizen participating in an Ironman competition in Cozumel. The kidnappers demanded $380,000 for the band. Both of these incidents were relatively mild. The country’s kidnappers have a reputation for being particularly violent: 935 victims were killed between 1994 and 2008.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: The government clampdown on Mexico’s drug trade has played a role, heightening competition among traffickers and, in some cases, forcing the traffickers to look for other sources of revenue.

The bottom line: The droves of spring-breakers and tequila-drinkers that descend on the country each year are safest holed up in their private resorts, as Mexico has the highest number of kidnappings in the world.

INDIA


A Maoist guards Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo and 
tour operator Paolo Bosusco, both of whom were kidnapped, 
in Orissa state, India. (AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Kidnapping and abduction rates have grown faster than any other crime over the past 60 years in India.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Several highly publicized abductions and rape incidents involving tourists last year made headlines. One involved a 30-year-old American tourist who was offered a ride back to her hotel by three men. Instead, the men took her to a secluded spot and raped her.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Poverty appears to be the single biggest driver. The country’s poorer states, like Bihar, regularly account for a large share of kidnaps. Several larger criminal organizations and rebel groups also use abductions to augment their revenue streams.

The bottom line: While visitors to India’s postcard-worthy wonders like the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri can be reasonably confident of their safety, both of these UNESCO heritage sites are in Uttar Pradesh, one of the Indian states with the highest number of abductions.

VENEZUELA


Angel Falls at Canaima National Park (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

Kidnap rate: There were more than 1,000 kidnap-for-ransom incidents last year.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Caracas, the capital, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. One of the more recent and harrowing kidnapping incidents took place in July 2012. A Portuguese man was taken from a highway service station and held captive in an underground bunker beneath a rural residence in Carabobo state for nearly a year. He was rescued in June 2013 (the perpetrators did not receive the $6.5 million ransom they had demanded).

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Lack of economic opportunities, especially in Caracas, create an environment conducive to kidnappings. In some of the city’s poorest areas, police are unable to maintain order, and criminals have license to do as they please.

The bottom line: Caracas is the country’s hotbed of kidnapping activity, and there are fewer risks for foreigners traveling outside the capital. But the key takeaway is this: Travel to Venezuela is not for the risk-averse, as it remains one of the most kidnapping-prone places in the world.

LEBANON


Lebanese gunmen from the al-Muqdad, a large Lebanese Shiite Muslim clan, 
say they have kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a family member. (AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Some estimates suggest kidnapping rates rose as much as 94 percent in 2013. Our analysis showed at least 39 kidnappings last year, though given the current porous, shifting nature of the Syrian border, that number is almost certainly much higher.

How the kidnaps typically play out: While the majority of abductees seem to be locals, aid workers, journalists and foreign tourists have been hit, too. Seven Estonian cyclists were abducted in March 2011 in an attack that Lebanese officials described as planned and coordinated. The cyclists were freed four months later. The Estonians later described their abductors as eight Islamic extremists armed with Kalashnikovs who had pressured them to convert to Islam.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Lebanon spent much of the ’70s and ’80s beset by a brutal civil war, and tit-for-tat kidnappings were a near-daily occurrence. The end of hostilities in the ’90s ushered in a period of relative stability, and tourism flourished. But the civil war in neighboring Syria has plunged Lebanon back into chaos.

The bottom line: As long as Syria remains mired in conflict, kidnappings in Lebanon are unlikely to subside. For the moment, Westerners have remained largely outside the crosshairs of kidnappers. But, as one journalist warned back in September, Americans and Europeans could easily become the next victims, especially if local groups take issue with their countries’ foreign policies.

THE PHILIPPINES


El Nido is bordered by the Linapacan Strait in the north, the Sulu Sea in 
the east, and the South China Sea in the west. (Getty Images/Jonas Gratzer)

Kidnap rate: Kidnappings in the Philippines nearly doubled in 2013—and there were more than 20 kidnap-for-ransom cases alone, based on media reports and government figures.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Pirates trolling the Sulu Sea, which separates the Philippines islands from Malaysia’s Sabah region, have been the scene of numerous abductions over the last decade. Just last November, armed gunman took a Taiwanese tourist from an island just off Sabah after killing her husband. The tourist was rescued a month later. Officials have not said if a ransom was paid.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Criminals and separatist groups that operate in the region treat foreigners, particularly wealthy visitors from China, as human ATMs. Abu Sayyaf, a prominent militant Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, has been responsible for numerous tourist abductions over the past few years. Some figures suggest the group has collected over $35 million in ransom fees.

The bottom line: Unfortunately, the coastal and island resorts in the southern Philippines that are particularly popular among vacationers are also frequented by kidnappers and pirates. The good news? The vast majority of abductees have been released unharmed. (Of course, that’s assuming you can foot the bill.)

COLOMBIA


Leticia in Colombia, a gateway town to the Amazon River (Wikipedia/Pedro Szekely)

Kidnap rate: The kidnap threat in Colombia has improved significantly in the last 10 years, thanks to peace talks between the government and the rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with just 219 incidents reported last year, according to Colombia’s Defense Ministry.

How the kidnaps typically play out: A majority of the kidnappings in tourist areas are “express,” usually lasting less than 48 hours. During these “quicknappings,” armed gangs force their victims to withdraw funds from one or more ATMs, sometimes using other proxies, such as cab drivers, to facilitate the kidnap.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Economics. FARC, which has a history of kidnappings to raise money, last year called a stop to that practice as part of the peace process. It’s not uncommon for criminals to claim kidnappings or other actions in the FARC’s name.

The bottom line: While Colombia is no longer teeming with criminal gangs and narco-traffickers the way it was five years ago, it is still a volatile place. Risks remain for foreigners, more so for employees of international oil and mining companies than sightseers and vacation travelers.

BRAZIL


The statue of “Christ the Redeemer” atop Corcovado mountain in Rio. (Reuters/Bruno Domingos)

Kidnap rate: Brazil officially recorded 319 kidnapping cases in 2011. But because express kidnaps—the most common type of extortion scheme in Brazil—are not included in official kidnapping stats, our analysis suggests that well over 6,000 kidnappings take place each year.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Last year, an American tourist was kidnapped, raped and robbed after the minibus she was traveling on was hijacked by three men outside of Rio. The woman was traveling with her French boyfriend, who was also abducted, beaten and bound, and forced to watch the ordeal. The three men left with the passengers’ credit cards, which were reportedly used in multiple locations over the next few hours.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Kidnappings in Brazil are fueled partly by organized crime, though many of the gangs are largely made up of untrained thugs looking for a quick financial gain. As a result, victims are often selected from Brazil’s lower classes because they can be targeted with little preparation.

The bottom line: Improvements in security in preparation for the World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016 should slow abduction rates in Brazil, which is far safer than most of its neighbors when it comes to kidnapping risk.

KENYA


People taking cover behind a bar inside a shopping mall following an 
attack by masked gunmen in Nairobi in September that killed at least 67 people. 
(AFP/Getty Images/Nichole Sobecki)

Kidnap rate: In 2013, there were about 74 kidnapping-for-ransom incidents in Kenya.

How the kidnaps typically play out: A British woman was kidnapped and her husband murdered in 2011 at a coastal resort near the Kenya-Somali border. Six months later, a French national was snatched from a private home in another heavily trafficked tourist hotspot nearby. She died in captivity in Somalia.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Drastic socio-economic conditions and general lawlessness in Somalia are boosting kidnappings in Kenya, predominately along their shared border. These conditions serve as a breeding ground for extremists, like Al Shabaab, as well as run-of-the-mill criminals.

The bottom line: While Kenya’s wildlife safaris are a powerful draw for travelers, the beaches and resorts on the country’s north coast play an increasingly vital role in attracting tourists, but that’s also where the kidnapping risk is greatest. Travelers to other parts of Kenya should take precautions, too, given the recent growth of certain terrorist groups in the region. In September, Al Shabaab stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi. Though unconfirmed, Al Shabaab is thought to be behind some of the more recent kidnappings, too.

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Author: Gordon Bottomley; Contact: gbottomley@vocativ.com / @gfbiv. Reproduced by TMG CORPORATE SERVICES / THE MEDIATOR GROUP with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permissionOriginal article can be found at: http://www.vocativ.com/01-2014/places-youre-likely-get-kidnapped-vacation/ 

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