SitRep: Mystery Russian Ship Heading for Syria; Clinton Leak Offers Hints on China, Missile Defense

SitRep: Mystery Russian Ship Heading for Syria; Clinton Leak Offers Hints on China, Missile Defense


Meet and greet. President Barack Obama will huddle again with his national security team on Friday to go over the administration’s military and diplomatic options in Syria. The meeting comes a day before Secretary of State John Kerry meets yet again with his Russian counterparts in Switzerland to try and salvage some part of the recently scrapped ceasefire that would have allowed humanitarian aid to flow into the country. Choices at this point are pretty limited, most agree, and striking the Assad regime, as some have suggested, would be met with a Russian military response officials in Moscow have warned.

Cut and paste. There’s something happening in the Mediterranean. And there’s something up with Internet access in Syria. Odds are, the two are related. As the world awaits the arrival of the Admiral Kuznetsov — the Russian aircraft carrier currently heading for the Syrian coast on its first ever-combat deployment — the Yantar, another Russian ship, is already there. You may remember the Yantar from a cruise it took last year to Cuba, when U.S. officials were worried it might cut undersea Internet cable routes. Well, its arrival in the eastern Mediterranean, unsurprisingly, coincides with problems with Web access in Syria.

“The Internet in Syria has a history of going down at times that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has plotted military offensives,” the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris writes, “raising the possibility that Russia may be assisting in a communications blackout as its military forces pound rebel positions in the beleaguered city of Aleppo.”

Strikes, but not war.  The attempted missile attacks on American Navy ships in the Red Sea this week, and the Pentagon’s response — launching Tomahawk missiles at Houthi radar sites in Yemen — are a master class in how nations stumble into war. But Washington insists that it has no desire to become more deeply involved in the Saudi-led campaign to oust the Houthis from power. But it has to protect its ships.

Now Iran has sent two warships to the region, FP’s Paul McLeary reports, one of which trained its guns on a U.S. Navy helicopter in the same waterway last year. “The attack on the American ships also comes amid the backdrop of a Saudi airstrike on a funeral in Sanaa that killed 140 people, including several high-ranking Houthi officials, among them some well-known moderates who were attempting to set up negotiations between the Saudis and Houthis. The strike has led Washington to again assess its support for the air campaign, which includes refueling of Saudi and Emirati bombers, and some intelligence support.”

Which way out? As Washington looks for the exits in the Saudi-led war against the Houthis, an anonymous senior administration official tells the Washington Post that they’re putting the squeeze on the Saudis to accept an unconditional ceasefire and bring about an end to the conflict, which has caused an extensive humanitarian crisis in the country.

South Korea mulling nukes. There looks to be a shift in thinking in some parts of South Korea over basing American nuclear weapons there, with two of South Korea’s major newspapers having come out to strongly support the idea 25 years after the weapons were removed in favor of a strategy based on deterrence. But new threats from the North are spooking many in the Korean leadership. The Wall Street Journal writes, “in a September report, a panel of experts that advises South Korean President Park Geun-hyeon policies to reunify the Korean Peninsula also suggested studying the reintroduction of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Clinton, missile defense, and China. According to one of the leaked emails from Hillary Clinton advisor John Podesta — released by Wikileaks after a suspected Russian hack — Clinton privately told one group in an unreleased speech that the U.S. would “ring China with missile defense” if Beijing was unable to curb North Korea’s nuclear program. The emails contain excerpts from Clinton’s private speech transcripts, which she has refused to release. But many are skeptical of all of the information contained in the emails, as some are suspected to be forgeries.

Slap back? A State Department official called for a “strong” U.S. response to alleged Russian hacking of Democratic Party organizations on Thursday, urging the Obama administration to name names and clearly convey that manipulating U.S. elections won’t go unpunished, FP’s John Hudson reports. “There needs to be a thoughtful, principled, strong response,” said Kathleen Kavalec, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She said the U.S. response must send a “clear message” and “assign responsibility,” in addition to making clear that “we won’t tolerate future intrusions.”

Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley


One of Donald Trump’s former foreign policy advisors has published a new op-ed on U.S.-Russia relations at Sputnik, a state-owned Russian news outlet. Carter Page, head of a private equity firm and a former advisor to Russia’s state-owned Gazprom energy firm — who stepped down from the campaign last month after stories emerged tying him to Russian individuals under U.S. and EU sanctions — accused the Obama administration of “interference” in the “domestic democratic processes of Russia’s neighboring states” and of acting “high-handed” towards Russia in general. Describing Moscow as an “essential piece in the puzzle” for solving the world’s most pressing international issues, Page argues for “mutual respect” and greater consideration of Russia’s interests.


Chinese authorities are not taking kindly to grumbling from cashiered soldiers forcibly retired under China’s new plan to slim the People’s Liberation Army by 300,000 troops. Reuters reports that the state-run People’s Liberation Army Daily ran a piece claiming that “certain hostile forces” are trying to “sow chaos in our reform process” by spreading rumors online. The PLA Daily didn’t provide specifics on the rumors it’s worried about, but the piece follows rumblings of discontent among laid-off PLA troops, including a protest in Beijing by former soldiers upset at the transition assistance they were receiving.

Base race

The U.S. built a base in Djibouti. Then China said it was building one. Now, Japan wants to expand its current footprint in the small east African country, too. Anonymous Japanese government sources say that Japan is looking to lease more land to add to the 30 acre plot Japanese Self Defense forces have used as a base to support anti-piracy operations around the Horn of Africa. The move is meant to give China some competition for influence in the region and press the Japanese military to operate farther away from home.


Negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram have lead to the release of 21 schoolgirls kidnapped by the group from the village of Chibok in 2014. The Nigerian government emphasized that the negotiations, carried out with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Switzerland, did not result in an exchange of prisoners but a negotiated release of the girls. Boko Haram took 276 girls in its 2014 raid on the Chibok village. Prior to the recent release, 57 girls escaped shortly after the raid and one was freed by government forces.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley sprang into action Wednesday night following a deadly bus accident in southeast Washington, DC near his two-car convoy. Army Times reports that Milley and soldiers in his entourage helped render first aid to the injured, and worked with emergency services. The crash, which involved a car and a Metrobus, killed one person inside the car and sent another to the hospital in critical condition.


Photo Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images