Ryska generalstaben på dekis

Medskam

Ja, det var nog en mycket låg nivå på den presskonferens den ryska generalstaben höll om sina ”bevis” i nedskjutningen av Malaysian Airlines flyg MH17. Som soldat kände jag något vi här i Finland kallar medskam.

Först kunde man inte undgå att tycka synd om översättaren, som tydligen gjorde sitt jobb simultant utan noter, då den nytillträdde relativt unga (51) insatschefen (начальник Главного оперативного управления), generallöjtnant Andrej Kartapolov, läste från berett papper. Man kunde ju ha översatt i förväg, för att undvika fel i översättningen, som bara bidrog till att sänka trovärdigheten på budskapet. En mycket intressant sak var att medan generalen använde begreppet ”ополчение” (milis) om DNR-rebellerna, så översattes det ”rebels.” ”Separatisterna” använder själva generalens begrepp, liksom också de flesta ryska nyhetsbyråerna och övriga medier.

Men det om arrangemangen, till ärendet — — Den ryska generalstaben verkar ha en väldigt begränsad koll på öppna källor utanför den ryska språk- och kultursfären. Nu visade man t.ex. upp bevis i form av videon hämtade från YouTube med urklippta skärmdumpar. Samtidigt hade man troligen inte tagit sig besväret att kolla hela videon. Ett undermåligt arbete som på några timmar efter presskonferensen revs isär på Twitter.

Först visar man en bild på hur en BUKM1 transporteras i område ”kontrollerat av de ukrainska väpnade styrkorna” någonstans i östra Ukraina. Adressen, som man ”förstorat” från bilden pekar till 34 Ulitsa Dnepropetrovskaja i staden Krasnoarmijsk. ”Bogdan” lär inte bli glad över denna missvisande reklam, då hans affär i verkigheten ligger sju mil österut i miljonstaden Donetsk på 61 Ulitsa Kirova. Hade man sett på de läsliga bokstäverna i reklamen – istället för dåligt jobb med Powerpoint eller Photoshop – och haft tillgång till och kunskap om internet, så hade man kunnat gå till Bogdan-Autos hemsida för konstatera att man direkt åker fast för detta, då Bogdan inte säljer bilar i Krasnoarmijsk.

Kremlin is getting sloppy.

”Bevismaterialet” har i sin helhet behandlats mycket bra på denna blogg med jämförande bilder inhämtade från flera källor. I synnerhet noggrann och förstklassig är observationen av ellinjer ovanför vägarna. I Krasnoarmijsk finns inga trådbussar!

Sedan kom dundertabben, som var helt ofattbar — generalen hävdade att MH17 skulle ha skjutits ned av ukrainskt flygvapen — med en Su-25! Efter detta refererades det till Su-25 som om det vore bekräftad sanning. Man gick vidare till att påstå att flygplanet kortvarigt, ”briefly,” kan flyga på 10 km höjd. Mycket pinsamt då tillverkaren Sukhoi anger 7 km takhöjd utan vapen eller annan yttre last. Vidare anger Sukhoi 5 km som takhöjd med maxlast.

För att förstärka sitt budskap om att MH17 måste skjutits ned av ett annat flygplan tog man fram en radarbild, på vilken det efter explosionen, likt ett smygplan, dyker upp ett extra radareko bredvid MH17, som mister höjd mycket fort. Detta radareko försvinner sedan helt efter att MH17 försvunnit, vilket man förklarar med lägsta höjd för radartäckning.

Efter flere osammanhängande påståenden laddade man ännu på med öppna frågor till Ukraina och USA, i syfte att engagera medier och skifta fokus.

Innebörden av detta är något man ska vara försiktig med att tolka, men som ett första intryck ser det ut som om den ryska generalstaben

  • har en mycket bristande uppfattning om och kunskap i informationskrigföring och strategisk kommunikation
  • dels har begränsad tillgång till, dels begränsad kunskap om digitala och sociala medier
  • har en låg nivå på samordningen mellan insatsledningsstab och informationsstab samt mellan underrättelsetjänst och informationsstab

Trollen i Kreml

Vad gäller uppgiften om takhöjden för Su-25, så avslöjades snabbt försök att med datorer vars IP-adress anger Kreml som ursprung ändra Wikipedia-sidor för Su-25 till att ange en takhöjd mellan 7-10 km. På ryska sidan finns detta ännu kvar – nej, vänta, nu ändrades det igen… Som tur har vissa medier tagit skärmdumpar. Kolla ändringen här! Wikipedia sparar ändringarna för spårbarhet, så samtliga ändringar kan ses här.
Ytterligare avslöjade Global Voices att man från ryska statliga aktörers håll under de senaste 10 åren gjort över 7000 ändringar på olika Wikipedia-sidor andgående ryska personer, institutioner och övriga aktörer.

P.S. Här stärker man budskapet med att från malpåsen skaka fram en tidigare flygvapenchef, Rysslands hjälte, armégeneral Vladimir Mikhajlov.

The laws of war — Gaza and Israel; Hamas and IDF

Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of a horrible tragedy. On July 25, 2006 the Israeli Defence Forces targeted and repeatedly engaged the UN observation post in Khiam. The use of force on UN property and personnel resulted in the complete destruction of the observation post and the death of all four peacekeepers inside. Addenda: The soldiers killed were major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, from Canada; major Hans-Peter Lang, from Austria; lieutenant senior grade Jarno Mäkinen, from Finland and major Du Zhaoyu, from China. Tomorrow I will visit the grave of my fallen brother-in-arms.

Destroyed UN base in Khiam, Lebanon. 2006. Source: Wikipedia.

Destroyed UN base in Khiam, Lebanon. 2006. Source: Wikipedia.

Today’s news, reporting that Israeli air strikes killed three UN Workers and hit a UNRWA shelter, are reminiscent of that day eight years ago. Therefore, from a deeply personal perspective, I find it necessary to broach this subject that seldom lends itself to a sane and calm debate.

I’ve written about the laws of war in the case of the downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. My commentary on the situation in Gaza will be within this dispassionate framework. That said, it is evident that such an approach is inadequate, as the conflict revolves around a faltering peace process, a non-viable state and a struggle for freedom and security, both Israeli and Palestinian. When both sides talk about retaliation and retribution it might be tempting to follow the cue and concede inter arma enim silent leges. My fellow blogger Corporal Frisk, who keeps a keen eye on the conflict, commented on the outcries of genocide in the conflict using the principle of proportionality. Well worth a read.

Note: The above two links are on Israeli statements. They were chosen for the express purpose of showing that both parties engage in a highly inflammatory and non-constructive rhetoric. I chose to omit Hamas’ statements as they are very widely known to promise revenge and retaliation.

Distinction

The principle of distinction rules that the parties shall at all times be able to distinguish between civilians, civilian property and military targets and may only engage the latter.

In the case of Hamas the issue is clear-cut. Hamas deliberately targets civilians as a modus operandi, thus justifying the label of a terrorist organization. The definition of levee en masse, granting the right to armed resistance, can’t be applied as there are no large masses of Gazan Palestinians arming themselves in organized resistance against an occupying force.

In the case of Israel it’s evident that identifying and defining military targets is problematic in the densely populated and built-up area of the Gaza strip as Hamas terrorists routinely use the cover of civilians and civilian property and use civilian disguise. These the facts of the environment, that the IDF is obliged to handle, no matter how challenging they might be found. The Israeli definition of valid targets, on the other hand, is fundamentally problematic. I will address this further down.

Propotionality and necessity

Proportionality is easier to address. The IDF obviously accepts a very high risk of collateral damage in its strikes. It’s obvious that targeting a built-up area, albeit with precision strikes, comes with the inevitable loss of civilian life and property. The collateral damage caused by IDF strikes also indicate that risks aren’t properly addressed in the targeting process and in selection of strike systems, often leading to substantial damage to civilian property and loss of life.

The rationale for the necessity is mainly focused on targeting Hamas’ underground and surface network of tunnels, with corridors for movement, strongholds and rocket storages. Entrances to tunnels emerge in or near civilian property and the storages of weapons above ground are on civilian property.

Do these facts negate the protection of civilians and civilian property? Actually they don’t. The prerequisite of engaging targets in these cases are that a warning is given. The IDF has issued such warnings, where it has deemed it applicable, including requests for civilians to evacuate the areas targeted.

Assessment

As stated obliquely in the above chapters, the IDF is fighting a terrorist organization in a non-international armed conflict. These facts often create a legal obstace course hard to negotiate. However, the key issue doesn’t disappear — the responsibility to protect civilians is paramount notwithstanding the purpose of the use of force. Israel is a State party concerned with this regarding the use of force, as the Palestinian National Auhtority (i.e. State of Palestine) is not using military force.

The problems with distinction become apparent when regarding the definition of a combatant. The Israeli definition of valid targets is very broad:

Our definition is that anyone who is involved with terrorism within Hamas is a valid target. This ranges from the strictly military institutions and includes the political institutions that provide the logistical funding and human resources for the terrorist arm.

Benjamin Rutland, IDF spokesman to BBC in 2009

Such a broad definition of a enemy combatant actually makes civilians military targets by association. This is contrary to the purpose of the Geneva conventions. The definition of a combatant is someone who is ”directly engaged in hostilities.”

Commentary: It should be noted that Israel is not a signatory to the Additional Protocols of the Geneva conventions, but the Israeli High Court of Justice and the State of Israel in its submissions to HCJ have upheld that most articles apply as customary law on the conduct of IDF in operations in the occupied territories.

Proportionality is a construct that easily becomes unclear, vague and general if applied outside the scope of the targeting process. Proportionality must be addressed case by case, e.g. the use of precision guided weapons does not per se constitute proportionality. There is no such thing as ”proportional warfare” in general, but only individual strikes that either are proportionate or disproportionate with regards to the loss of civilian life and property.The ridiculous metaphor on proportionality by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg perfeclty illustrates this common misconception and misuse of ”proportionality.”

I will also argue that necessity can’t be properly assessed, as the principle of necessity deals with actions designed to bring about the military defeat of the enemy. Conventional wisdom has it that engaging terrorists (ie. combatants) in a way that causes devastating collateral damage only increases the conversion of civilians to extremism and strengthens the terrorist support base.

If so, either a doctrine of total war should be pursued or the applicability of military force questioned and other mechnisms for promoting security considered. For half a century, this has been an object of constant debate in Israel featuring both doves and hawks and changes in policy. Today, the doves seem almost extinct.

Conclusions

The laws of war in this case only apply on Israeli use of force. The discretion of using force lies with the IDF. The IDF bears the responsibility of protecting civilians in the areas where force is used. This protection is realized by distinguishing targets and addressing proportionality in choice of systems used in engagements. The IDF definition of valid targets is vague and makes civilians terrorist by association, thus also brining a certain open-endedness to considering proportionality.

With regards to the killing of UN personnel described in the introduction, it is widely accepted that UN personnel should enjoy special protection from the use of force by the belligerent parties, yet it is important to note that Israel has not signed the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

The conflict in Gaza brings about inhumane suffering. It is evident that the use of force won’t solve the crisis as it will further weaken the Palestinian National Authority and its ability to create and maintain a safe and secure environment. The international community, under the leadership of the United States, should take resolute measures to solve the key issue, the protection of civilian lives from the terrors of war.

Must read: The BUK and MH17

Kuva: Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

My fellow blogger Corporal Frisk has made an extraordinary post on the technology of the BUK air defence system and it’s use and also done a wonderful job in digging the best evidence on the whereabouts of these systems so far.

I’ve taken care to check every reference and fact in his post in order to assure the quality and be able to share it with great pride and confidence.

Please take care to read Corporal Frisk’s post The BUK and MH17 and feel free to comment and share more information.

#MH17 and the laws of war

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in Ukrainian airspace, between Donetsk and Luhansk, on July 17. All 300 passengers and crew members were lost.

MH17 turmapaikka.

The MH17 crash site.

Firstly, I offer my condolences to all those bereft in this horrible tragedy. As a soldier I feel great pain in that such are the grim aspects of my profession. It would be hypocritical to assert that this doesn’t apply to Finland. If we were to defend our country in a future war, risks such as these would be likely to appear.

Therefore, I find it necessary to examine this in the context of the laws of war (jus in bello). Arto Pulkki, a military expert for the magazine Suomen Sotilas, wrote a very good piece on the case of flight MH17 titled Responsibility and Irresponsibility, considering intention and liability from a criminal law perspective. I warmly recommend this as a primer.

First I shall consider intention, as it is easier to approach the subjects of guilt or fault using legal principles. A word of warning, though, I must say that I don’t speak proper legalese, especially in English, so read carefully with caution. Nonetheless, mens rea needs to be considered in order to find out which principles of the laws of war are applicable.

Intention as opposed to negligence or carelesness is easily established in this case; if the firing button was pressed with the express purpose of launcing the missile, negligence or carelessness is ruled out. A negligent or careless act would require that, for example, an external event — say an explosion nearby – startled the ”missile operator” or rocked the vehicle causing the operator to inadverently press the launch button.

The issue left is to assess the level of intention. Assuming that there was no intent to down a civilian flight, then the degree of culpability of the operator is low. An obvious and possible outcome of firing a missile is for it to hit civilian aircraft or for the missile to stray and cause damage to civilians.

To assess the culpability of the superiors and other actors we will need to look at the principles governing the use of force in war. Only one principle striclty applies to this case. When considering the prerequisite of targeting, distinction, the case is clear – military force was used on a civilian target. The debate on admissibility ends here; other principles discussed in the case of MH17, such as proportionality and necessity, don’t even come into play.

The principle of distinction catergorically rules out any use of military force against civilian airlines, exempt 9-11 cases. Cases where civilian property can be targeted (as military targets) are usually restricted to infrastructure that contributes to enemy war efforts. Such civilian property then becomes a military target by rules of distinction. In such cases the principles necessity and proportionality need to be addressed: Does striking the military target help in the military defeat of the enemy? AND is the collateral damage caused to civilians or civilian property excessive in relation to the military advantage of on attack?

A good example of applying these principles — and the problems and dilemmas that arise — is the decision taken by NATO forces to target the Lužane bridge in Serbia during operation Allied Force (Kosovo, 1999). During that strike a bus was on the bridge resulting in the loss of life of 23-70 civilians.

The only case where proportionality doesn’t apply are military engagements in areas where no danger to civilian life or property exists. To destroy an enemy combatant with small arms fire is equally proportional to an air strike; destroying an enemy hardpoint with a hand grenade is equally proportional to a cruise missile barrage.

The underlying requirement in applying these principles is the call for precautions. The principles don’t suddenly become valid only in the moment of an attack or decision to attack. Or post-attack as in some cases… The requirement of protecting civilian life and property comes with a specific call for precautions in both planning and executing the use of force. The belligerents (Parties) must be able, to at all times and in all circumstances distinguish between civilians, civilian property, and military targets. Force may only be used on military targets. In practice this means that standards and mechanisms for identifying targets, assessing damage pre-strike, and choosing systems of engagement must be put in place, be upheld and controlled by responsible commanders.

Thus, in order to assess the culpability of the operator launching the missile and his superiors, the relevant questions are:

  • Did the operator take care to properly identify the target, i.e. did he positively identify the target as military?
  • Did the operator act in accordance with the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the identification criteria set therein?
  • Was the identification criteria such that by using them a reliable identification would be acquired? (identification by two or more systems, e.g. radar AND visual, or a positive challenge-and-reply identification)
  • Did the higher command (superiors) make sure that no civilian aircraft were in the dangerous zone, for example by maintaining and distributing a recognized air picture?
  • If it was known that civilian air traffic was in the zone, were decisions taken to limit or cease the use of air defence forces?
  • Or was a deliberate decision taken to continue the use of force, disregarding the risks to civilian air traffic?

State actor culpability is harder to address, but asking: ”Did Russia equip the rebels with powerful and dangerous long range weapons systems such as the BUK surface-to-air missile and the Grad rocket launchers without providing for the required situational awareness systems, thus creating a considerable risk of indiscriminate and non-distinctive use of force?” helps. Such a question may help assess the culpability of Russia as a State actor.

Assuming that the rebels’ possession of BUK-systems was known to Ukrainian authorities, the Ukrainian culpability can be easily assessed as an airspace control issue, asking: ”Did the State take prompt and responsible action to control and regulate the use of its airspace in order to remove the danger to civilian air traffic — knowing in advance either that the rebels were in possession of SAMs with ranges in excess of 5 km, as demonstrated by the downing of a AN-26 cargo plane on Wednesday, or knowing that the SAMs had been captured from the Ukrainian armed forces in the end of June?

But State responsibility is a whole new subject, best left for another post.

//James