Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Sitrep - 18 May, 2016

The US ballistic missile defence system hosted in Romania known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) became operational on May 12. The controversial system, discussed in the Bush administration but sidelined under the Obama administration, is a shore-based “Aegis” interceptor and radar meant to stop ballistic missiles from Iran.

However, that reasoning doesn’t convince Russia. Despite the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia in his first term, the Russians remain sceptical the system’s purpose is actually directed against them. Moscow worries EPAA changes the nuclear balance in Europe, giving the US a first-strike capability and therefore making the entire European theatre unstable. But Moscow is truly concerned about the potential for a permanent US military presence in Eastern Europe as a result of EPAA.

For instance, the introduction of a BMD system will quite likely demand the protection of an infantry force close by, potentially the size of a battalion. Those forces will need armour protection, so Russia can also expect tanks and fighting vehicles. In turn, those tanks will require helicopters and other close air protection, perhaps even fighter jets. Suddenly, the US BMD programme looks very much like an increased force in Russia's backyard.

Looting in Venezuela over food shortages and dangerously rising inflation levels prompted Caracas to send more armed police to the streets and consider the deployment of military units to quell the unrest. The Venezuelan economy has been struggling for a few years, mainly because of low global oil prices, but the current spate of looting and demonstrations could spin out of the government’s control.

Negative growth has led to an increase in unemployment. Inflation and the shortage of US dollars for imports caused not only food shortages, but increasing prices for the items that make it to store shelves, making them unaffordable for many. President Nicolas Maduro is deeply unpopular among voters and in the wider government, but the opposition cannot yet cohere sufficiently to oust him. The country’s outlook for the rest of 2016 will probably be a continuance of this dire situation.

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