Vladimir Putin said he drove a taxi for extra cash after the Soviet Union’s fall

Vladimir Putin waves behind a car door.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gets into a car after a summit with US President Joe Biden at the Villa La Grange.

  • Vladimir Putin said on Sunday he used to work as a taxi driver after the Soviet Union collapsed.
  • He lamented the 1991 fall of the USSR, saying it was a tragedy for Russians.
  • His remarks come amid growing fears that Russia is planning a military invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented the fall of the Soviet Union and said he worked an extra job as a taxi driver after its collapse to make ends meet.

In a documentary aired Sunday by state media channel Russia 1, Putin described the USSR’s demise in 1991 as a “tragedy” for Russian citizens and the end of “historical Russia.” Excerpts of the documentary, titled “Russia. Recent History,” were published on the YouTube channel of state-owned outlet Russia 24.

“Sometimes I had to earn extra money,” Putin said. “I mean, earn extra money by car, as a private driver. It’s unpleasant to talk about, to be honest, but unfortunately, that was the case.”

Putin had previously hinted that in the late 1990s he considered working as a private driver, but his remarks on Sunday were his first public acknowledgment of taking on the additional gig.

Taxis were rare just after the break-up of the USSR, a time of economic instability for Russia, and some people would give rides to strangers for extra income, the BBC reported.

Putin, who worked his way up the political ladder after his career in the KGB intelligence services, has regularly voiced his regret of the fall of the USSR. He once said in 2018 that if he could reverse anything in Russia’s history, it would be the Union’s collapse.

His musings about the former USSR come amid growing concerns about a Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border.

According to The New York Times, Russia has gathered nearly 100,000 troops just outside of Ukraine, stoking fears that Putin will launch a full-scale invasion that Ukrainian officials said they wouldn’t be able to withstand.

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Ukraine ambassador to the UK says Russian invasion could spark nuclear disasters like Chernobyl

Vadym Prystaiko on GB News.
Vadym Prystaiko on GB News on December 10, 2021.

  • Russia invading Ukraine could lead to a nuclear crisis like Chernobyl, Ukraine’s UK ambassador said.
  • Russia is building up its troops on Ukraine’s border. The US and Ukraine say it may invade soon.
  • The ambassador said an invasion would have global consequences: “We will be fighting to the death.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK said that an attack by Russia could result in nuclear disasters like Chernobyl.

It came after a series of warnings that a Russian troop buildup on its border with Ukraine could escalate to an invasion.

Vadym Prystaiko spoke to UK broadcaster GB News on Friday, when he warned that Russia invading Ukraine would have consequences far beyond its borders.

He said that a conflict would have a high death toll and would create many refugees who could spread to other nations.

He also noted that Ukraine is home to many nuclear reactors which generate its electricity that Ukraine has multiple.

“We are second by number in nuclear stations, after France.  So if anything happens — we remember Chernobyl.”

Watch him speak here: 

Chernobyl was the world’s worst nuclear disaster. There was a power surge in reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, and it exploded, sending radioactive material over a vast space.

The explosion at Chernobyl, then part of the Soviet Union, was an accident cause by design flaws and human error at the plant, and was not part of any military action.

Prystaiko did not give details of how a Russian military campaign could damage nuclear sites, but seemed to suggest they could get caught up in the fighting.

Ukraine used to host a large part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, but gave the weapons up in the years following its independence in 1991 and retained only civilian nuclear sites.

Prystaiko said: “I don’t want to use big words like World War III, but if anything big happens we will be fighting to the death.”

“We are a 40 million nation, the catastrophe will be enormous.”

He pointed out that there are already internally displaced people in Ukraine due to its ongoing conflict with Russia: “We have already 1.5 million people displaced, but we can observe them and we are observing them in our whole society.”

Ukraine annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014, and has also supported separatist movements in conflict with the Ukrainian government in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

He said that in the case of a “major” military move by Russia, “we will contain it as much as we can.”

A Ukrainian general recently warned that Ukraine cannot fend off Russia alone, and needs help.

Both the US and Ukraine have said that Russia is conducting a major troop buildup along its border with Ukraine, and that Russia could be preparing to invade in the next few weeks.

The head of the UK’s armed forces warned this week that an invasion by Russia would be of a significance “‘not seen in Europe since World War II.”

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Russian invasion of Ukraine would be of a level ‘not seen in Europe since World War II,’ UK armed-forces chief says

Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Admiral Sir Tony Radakin compared the impact of Russia invading Ukraine to World War II.
  • He said the significance of a full invasion “would be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.”
  • Ukraine has warned that Russia was amassing troops on its border, and that it may invade soon.

The head of the UK’s armed forces warned that a full invasion of Ukraine by Russia would be the most significant in Europe since World War II.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin in a speech on Tuesday, according to Sky News: “The significance of the worst scenarios in terms of a full invasion of Ukraine would be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.”

Fears are growing that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine, potentially as soon as the end of this year or the start of 2022.

Both Ukraine and the US have warned of a potential invasion, and experts told Insider’s Ryan Pickrell last month that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was a “very real possibility.”

The head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency told Military Times last month that Russia already has around 100,000 troops on its borders.

The US has been warning allies that Russia could decide to invade Ukraine in the next few months, and President Joe Biden has spoke to the leaders of France, Germany, the UK, and Italy earlier this week about how to stop such a move.

Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.

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Tucker Carlson accused the GOP of trying to goad the US into war with Russia, the day after he took Putin’s side on Ukraine

Carlson
Tucker Carlson on his December 8 Fox News show.

  • Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday again addressed Russian-Ukrainian tensions. 
  • He accused some Republicans of seeking to pull the US into a conflict with Vladimir Putin. 
  • It followed a segment the previous day when Carlson argued in favor of Putin’s actions.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson accused part of the Republican Party of seeking to goad the US into military confrontation with Russia.

Carlson’s claim was part of a series of sympathetic arguments he made as Russia conducts a military buildup along its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of a conflict.

The host claimed Tuesday that Russia actions were a defensive response to NATO aggression, drawing accusations that he was pushing Kremlin propaganda.

On Wednesday night’s edition of his show he turned his attention to those in the US he claimed are seeking to push the Biden administration towards conflict. 

“It’s almost impossible to believe, but we actually are moving closer to a hot war with Russia,” said Carlson, claiming “you could wake up one morning and it’s 1914,” referencing the year that World War I broke out in Europe. 

“Republicans are doing nothing to stop this,” Carlson said. “In fact, they’re egging the weak and incompetent president on to do more. ‘Oh, Biden is weak. He’s not standing up against Vladimir Putin!'”

“You’re hearing that constantly, including on this channel from Republicans. And the rhetoric is getting hotter and crazier and more disconnected from reality.”

Carlson played a clip of Republican Mississippi Sen. Robert Wicker, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, who said on Fox News on Tuesday that the US should consider deploying troops, or even making a nuclear strike in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. 

The host went on to question how a conflict with Russia would serve US national interests. 

In pushing his “America First” brand of conservatism, and opposing US military actions abroad, Carlson has long been accused of excessive sympathy to Putin’s Russia. 

The Russian leader has become an unlikely hero for some on the US right, who celebrate his nationalism and see him as a champion of Christianity.

Earlier this year, Carlson claimed he had been hacked by the NSA after seeking to contact people in Putin’s circle for a potential interview with the Russian leader. 

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Tucker Carlson justifying an invasion of Ukraine is where he has been heading all along

ucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Feszt on August 7, 2021 in Esztergom, Hungary.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson

  • Fox host Tucker Carlson aired an opening segment Tuesday sympathizing with Russian aggression.
  • Carlson laid out his justification for Putin to invade Ukraine, pitted against the US and NATO.
  • The opinion host urged his viewers to “begin to internalize” that the US is wrong to punish Russia if they invade.

Back in his bowtie days, the idea of young columnist and TV pundit Tucker Carlson arguing in favor of a Russian military invasion and against the position of the US and its NATO allies would have seemed far-fetched.

Yet on Tuesday night, Carlson opened his primetime Fox News show with a segment depicting the US as “weak,” siding instead with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the strong and rational actor in the debate over what President Joe Biden should do if Russia invades Ukraine.

Carlson deployed one of his most common tactics, reframing the issue on his terms by starting out with an assumption.

“Here’s something all of us need to begin to internalize,” Carlson told his roughly 3 million average nightly viewers. “Just because something seems far-fetched or it seems crazy, or it seems totally destructive to core American interests, doesn’t mean the US government won’t do it. That’s the main lesson of the moment we’re living in.”

Carlson then said there is a good chance of a “hot war” with Russia, arguing that Biden would start a war to salvage his historically low approval ratings; Biden, in fact, said Wednesday he would not deploy US troops to Ukraine.

Going even further, Carlson said NATO only exists “to torment Vladimir Putin,” and that the authoritarian leader “just wants to keep his western borders secure.”

In reality, Putin has been the aggressor in Ukraine. He seized its territory by force in 2014 and has fueled the war waging in its east, and has referred to citizens of Russia and Ukraine as “one people.”

But Carlson’s misleading overture to Putin may have deeper roots in his embrace of white authoritarians who present themselves as strong counters to migration and especially Islamic influence.

Fox News did not return Insider’s request for comment.

Carlson’s take on Ukraine is at odds with reality

Russia Crimea amphibious military landing
Russian landing ships and military vehicles during an exercise at the Opuk training ground in Crimea, April 22, 2021.

Carlson’s misleading presentation completely omitted that Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine catalyzed the tensions with NATO that he’s now using as a pre-text to deploy over 90,000 troops (potentially up to 175,000 in the coming months) near the border of the former Soviet republic. 

“Putin invented this ‘crisis’ single-handedly,” Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Nothing changed in Ukraine. Nothing changed regarding NATO policy.”

After the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following mass protests, Putin in March 2014 invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine; it’s now viewed as occupied Ukrainian territory by the international community. Since that year, Ukrainian forces have been engaged in a war with Kremlin-backed rebels in the eastern Donbass region. The conflict has killed over 13,000 people. Russia claims no involvement in the Donbass war, but the West and Ukraine point to evidence of its sent troops and weapons.

The Kremlin currently claims it has no plans to invade Ukraine, but experts warn that it’s a real possibility — particularly given Russia has done so before. Indeed, Putin’s seizure of Crimea was quite popular with Russians but a larger invasion may not be if more Russian troops are wounded or killed. 

“There is a major risk of Russian military activity in Ukraine in the next few months. All the signs point to a major build up of military capability,” Ivo Daalder, the US ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013, told Insider last month.

Ukraine is “unfinished business” for Putin, Fiona Hill, who served as the top Russia advisor on the National Security Council under the Trump administration, recently told Insider.  “One way or another, he wants Ukraine neutralized,” she added. 

The Russian leader views NATO’s growing influence in Ukraine as an existential threat, and has warned the alliance against crossing his “red lines” by expanding military infrastructure in the country. But it was his decision to annex Crimea and the Kremlin’s support for rebels in the Donbass region that pushed Ukraine closer to NATO in the first place. Ukraine borders a number of NATO countries, and members of the alliance have provided it with security aid — including weapons. 

Carlson’s skewed commentary on Ukraine also ignores the fact that NATO (including the US) is unlikely to go to war with Russia, even in the event of an invasion. Ukraine has strong ties with NATO, but it’s not a member and the alliance is not obligated to come to its defense. 

“It is important to distinguish between NATO allies and partner Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently said. “NATO allies, there we provide collective defense guarantees,” Stoltenberg said, while underscoring that “Ukraine is a partner, a highly valued partner.”

Along these lines, President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that the US would not unilaterally deploy troops in response to a Russian invasion. 

 

“If Russia does invade, NATO will not take direct military action against Russia,” Steven Pifer, the US ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000, told Insider in late November. “But you will likely see more arms supplies by individual NATO members to Ukraine, and the Alliance as a whole will become even more serious about bolstering its deterrence and defense posture against Russia.”

NATO and the US have warned Russia there would be severe economic consequences if it invades Ukraine, but have not made threats of war. 

Carlson also did not touch on the fact that Putin, a former KGB operative, is a ruthless authoritarian who is widely regarded as one of the biggest foes to democracy in the world. Putin does not tolerate any opposition to his rule — the Russian leader’s critics often end up dead or imprisoned — and wants to eradicate Western influence in Ukraine.

“The key problem is that Russia denies Ukraine any agency,” Orysia Lutsevych, a research fellow and manager of the Ukraine forum in the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House, told the Guardian. “They genuinely believe that Ukraine is a kind of puppet state … That’s why I believe the situation is so dangerous because Putin is demanding something that Biden cannot give.”

Putin is not the only right-wing authoritarian Carlson has defended or promoted

Tucker Carlson discussing Viktor Orban.
Tucker Carlson is broadcasting from Hungary and praising the country’s autocratic leader.

For some of the global far-right, Putin seems a natural ally. He’s the head of a nation that is predominantly Christian, and a white leader who has ruthlessly fought Islamic militants and promoted himself as an ally in this effort. He even likes to appear at motorcycle rallies with a hyper-nationalist biker gang. 

Carlson’s defense of Putin is in line with this trend. 

And in reaching such an outlier position for an American cable TV host, Carlson arrived at his pro-Russia stance not by accident, but by following through to the logical conclusion of his years-long embrace of authoritarian regimes.

He went to Hungary over the summer to tout Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — an authoritarian leader who has enacted harsh xenophobic and anti-LGBT policies in recent years — as an effective model for the Trump movement to emulate.

Carlson has also cultivated a relationship with the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, another authoritarian leader who has described himself as the “Dictator of El Salvador” and “the world’s coolest dictator.” For his FOX Nation streaming show “Tucker Carlson Originals,” he traveled to El Salvador to sit with Bukele for an interview and promoted it on his primetime show.

Much of this shift in Carlson’s politics took place during the tumultuous years of the Trump administration, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. 

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Biden says the US won’t put troops on ground even if Russia invades Ukraine

Biden Putin
The 2021 Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Biden on Wednesday said sending US troops to confront a Russian invasion of Ukraine is “not in the cards right now.”
  • Biden spoke with Putin on Tuesday, warning of severe economic consequences if Russia invades. 
  • Russia has tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders, sparking fears of a military incursion.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the US would not be obligated to deploy troops to defend Ukraine against Russia because the former is not a NATO member. 

“The idea the US will unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now,” Biden told reporters. “We have a moral obligation and a legal obligation to our NATO allies under Article Five. It’s a sacred obligation. That obligation does not extend to … Ukraine.”

Article 5 of NATO’s charter — the principle of collective defense that underpins the alliance — states than an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all. It’s only been invoked once in the alliance’s history, following the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. 

Biden said he made clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that if he invades Ukraine there will be “economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen.”

The president also said that a Russian invasion would likely require the US to “reinforce our presence in NATO countries to reassure particularly those in the eastern flank.”

“In addition to that, I made it clear that we would provide a defensive capability to the Ukrainians as well,” Biden said.

Ukraine has partnered with NATO, especially after Russia’s seizure of Crimea from the country in 2014. Many NATO countries border Ukraine to its west and south, including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

Biden and Putin spoke on Tuesday amid the rising tensions over Ukraine. Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, prompting fears of a military incursion.

 

Ukraine has been at the heart of geopolitical tensions between Moscow and the West for years. 

Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, and since that year Ukrainian troops and Kremlin-backed rebels in the eastern Donbass region have been engaged in an ongoing war that’s killed over 13,000 troops and civilians.

Though experts say the tensions are largely a product of Putin’s actions, the Russian leader has blamed NATO and the West for the contentious dynamic. Russia has long viewed the former Soviet bloc state as part of its empire and sphere of influence, and Putin has described Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” — a view many Ukrainians reject.

Though Ukraine is not a NATO member, it has sought to join the alliance for years and maintains a robust partnership with it. NATO allies have provided security assistance to Ukraine. Putin views NATO’s expanding influence in Ukraine as an existential threat, and has accused the West of not respecting his “red lines” when it comes to Russia’s nextdoor neighbor. Russia does not want Ukraine to become a NATO member and has warned the alliance against expanding military infrastructure in the former Soviet republic.

The US has given Ukraine Javelin missiles useful in countering Russian tanks; radios and unarmed drones; and armored Humvees, according to Defense One. The Biden administration hasn’t detailed what additional weapons they would offer should Russia invade.

While the US has effectively signaled it would not go to war for Ukraine, it’s also underscored that a Russian invasion would lead to severe consequences. 

“Things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday after Biden and Putin spoke. Sullivan told reporters that Biden made no commitments regarding Putin’s red lines. “[Biden] stands by the proposition that countries should be able to freely choose who they associate with,” Sullivan said.

The administration has not offered specifics on what type of economic sanctions or penalties are on the table. 

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Biden warns Putin he will make it ‘very, very difficult’ to attack Ukraine after US intelligence says Russia is planning military offensive

Biden Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • President Joe Biden said he would make it “very, very difficult’ for Russia to attack Ukraine.
  • US intelligence warned Russia is planning an offensive attack with as many as 175,000 troops next year, The Washington Post reported.
  • Russia, meanwhile, has demanded Ukraine remain out of NATO.

President Joe Biden on Friday warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against taking military action against Ukraine after US intelligence warned of Russia’s plans to launch an offensive attack as early as 2022.

“We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re gonna have a long discussion with Putin,” Biden told reporters outside Camp David in Maryland on Friday, according to the Associated Press

A Biden administration official told the Associated Press that US intelligence has determined Russia plans to deploy 175,000 troops to the Ukraine, and about half of them are already stationed near the Ukrainian border.

“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden also said Friday.

According to the Washington Post, which first reported the US intelligence information on Friday, the Kremlin is planning an offensive attack as early as next year. It’s also demanding the US promise the Ukraine will not join NATO and that NATO will stay out of the region, according to the Post report.

“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said, per the AP.

According to the unclassified document seen by the Post, Russian troops are currently stationed in four locations with 50 battlefield tactical groups deployed with tanks and artillery, according to the Post.

“The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia’s snap exercise near Ukraine’s borders,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. “The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment.”

One Biden administration official told the Associated Press the US has seen an increase in Russian propaganda by proxies and media outlets to weaken Ukraine and NATO.

According to the AP, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US is close to setting up a call next week between Biden and Putin.

“It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,” Psaki said, according to the AP.

A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Biden and Zelensky were also working to set up a call next week, the AP reported.

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Russia pushes the International Space Station away from ’90s US rocket debris — the 2nd space-junk scare this week

international space station above blue earth clouds
The International Space Station, as pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround on November 8, 2021.

The International Space Station (ISS) changed course Friday to avoid a possible collision with a piece of an old Pegasus rocket.

A chunk of that old rocket, which broke apart two years after the United States launched it into Earth’s orbit in 1994, was on track to pass close to the ISS Friday morning. NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, monitored the chunk throughout Monday, eventually deciding they needed to move the space station.

About two hours before the debris was set to pass the ISS, at 2:58 a.m. ET, Roscosmos fired the engines of its Progress cargo spacecraft, which was docked to the ISS, pushing the orbiting laboratory closer to Earth. The two-and-a-half-minute engine burn lowered the space station’s altitude by 310 meters — about 1,000 feet — setting it on a new path, safely out of reach of the rocket chunk.

Because predicting the path of debris in Earth’s orbit isn’t exact, mission controllers routinely move the ISS when objects are expected to pass close by. Friday marked the second time the ISS had to change course in order to avoid debris this year, including once last month, when Russia swerved the station away from a piece of junk. In 2020, the orbiting laboratory had to dodge debris on three occasions.

During its two decades orbiting Earth, the ISS has moved to avoid space junk at least 30 times.

space shuttle endeavour wing debris junk hit hole damage nasa
A space debris hit to the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s radiator. The entry hole is about 0.25 inches wide. The exit hole is twice as large.

NASA and Roscosmos have good reason to be cautious. Bits of space junk orbit the planet at about 10 times the speed of a bullet, so a small piece of metal striking the ISS could puncture a hole in it — which has happened on several occasions.

ISS damage thumb
Photos show debris damage to a robotic arm on the International Space Station on May 28, 2021.

A hit by a 10-centimeter sphere of aluminum would be akin to detonating 15 pounds of TNT, according to NASA. Even paint flecks orbiting Earth have damaged spacecraft windows.

A chip in the ISS cupola taken by Astronaut Tim Peake is seen on a dark background
A chip in the ISS cupola window from a small piece of space debris, photographed by European astronaut Tim Peake in 2016.

Space junk is a regular part of life in Earth’s orbit, and the problem gets worse each year as old satellites and rocket bodies fall apart, crash into each other, or get blown up in anti-satellite missile tests. Each of these events can generate thousands of bits of debris.

Every major space-faring nation has contributed to the problem, either by leaving old spacecraft in orbit or launching missiles at satellites.

It’s been a junky month in space

spaceships docked to the space station above nighttime earth
Russia’s Soyuz spaceship and Nauka module on the International Space Station, high above Earth, on September 15, 2021.

Friday’s maneuver isn’t uncommon — it’s not even the first space-junk scare this week.

On Tuesday, NASA postponed a spacewalk after detecting debris that would pass near the ISS while two astronauts were supposed to be outside replacing a broken antenna system. Without time to assess the risk, NASA rescheduled the spacewalk, later determining the passing space junk wouldn’t have posed a danger to the astronauts.

Two weeks ago, on November 15, Russia blew up one of its old satellites with a missile, doubling the amount of debris orbiting Earth near the ISS, according to a NASA official. NASA said it had no indication that Tuesday’s debris came from Russia’s explosion, but didn’t rule out the possibility.

planet earth with an orbiting belt of multicolored dots representing debris
A LeoLabs dashboard shows more than 200 pieces of debris the company is tracking from Russia’s anti-satellite missile test, as of December 3, 2021.

Space junk is also a problem for private companies. This week, Elon Musk said SpaceX changed the orbit of some of its Starlink satellites in order to avoid debris.

NASA isn’t cleaning up its old space junk

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson criticized Russia for its missile test on November 15, calling it “irresponsible,” “reckless,” and “dangerous.”

But the US has created thousands of bits of space debris orbiting Earth — including the rocket chunk that menaced the ISS on Friday and debris from a 2008 missile strike that destroyed an aging reconnaissance satellite. Other notable space junk offenders include India and China, which have each blown up satellites in space.

Meanwhile, US rocket parts and dead satellites from the ’90s continue to orbit Earth. A January report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General found NASA’s effort to stopping adding debris to Earth’s orbit was “not sufficient” to prevent cascading collisions in space. The agency’s effort has focused on making sure new rockets and satellites burn up in Earth’s orbit once they’re no longer useable, rather than careening uncontrollably around Earth.

NASA must also focus on cleaning up existing space junk, the OIG said. And according to the report, the agency has made “little or no progress” on developing technology to remove debris from orbit.

By leaving old rockets and defunct satellites in orbit, the OIG said, NASA is contributing to the problem.

“Protecting the expanding space environment is critical,” the report concluded. “The services billions of people rely on daily such as weather forecasting, telecommunications, and global positioning systems require a stable space environment.”

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A US commander says he wants to see a lot more aircraft carriers in the Pacific to check China and Russia

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) steam in formation
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) steam in formation.

  • The US Navy recently conducted joint exercises with allies and partners in the Pacific.
  • The 7th Fleet commander said it was “an incredible amount of power” but added that more was needed for deterrence.
  • “Four aircraft carriers is a good number, but six, seven or eight would be better,” he said.

The commander of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet stated recently he would like to see a lot more US and allied aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific region to deter rivals China and Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Following a multinational naval exercise in October involving two US aircraft carriers, a British carrier, and a Japanese helicopter carrier, the US Navy linked up with Japan, Australia, Canada, and Germany in November for Pacific drills.

During that most recent exercise, 7th Fleet’s Vice Adm. Karl Thomas called the joint force “an incredible amount of power” but noted that more would be better to send a message to potential adversaries that “today is not the day” to start a fight, WSJ reported.

Thinking “about how we might fight, it’s a large water space, and four aircraft carriers is a good number, but six, seven or eight would be better,” the fleet commander said.

The US Navy has a large fleet of just under a dozen nuclear-powered aircraft carriers but does not deploy them all at once or in large numbers to any one region.

The sea service has one forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Pacific and routinely operates a second, and in some cases a third, in this region. While most US carriers continue to be armed with fourth-generation F/A-18 Hornets, one US carrier, USS Carl Vinson, has been operating in the Pacific with fifth-gen F-35s.

Augmenting the US carrier force are amphibious assault ships armed with short takeoff/vertical landing variants of the stealth F-35 jet, as well as the carrier capabilities of partner nations.

US aircraft carriers have the ability to bring significant combat power to a fight and have long served as important power projection assets, but China, as a major Pacific power, is attempting to develop the capabilities to take these assets out of the fight.

China has an arsenal of DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles, so-called “carrier killer” missiles, and has, according to the Pentagon, fired them against moving targets at sea.

A satellite picture shows a carrier target in Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, October 20, 2021
A satellite picture shows a suspected aircraft carrier target in Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China, October 20, 2021.

Earlier this month, satellite images showed a mock-up of a US Navy aircraft carrier, as well as some other ships, in the desert in western China near an area that has previously been used for target practice for the Chinese rocket force, USNI News first reported.

The expectation is that the mock-ups discovered in the desert will be used for practicing missile strikes against naval assets.

Both Russia and China have conducted military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region focused on defeating an enemy carrier strike group.

While China, through an anti-access/area-denial strategy, is working to limit the ability of US carriers to fight close to its shores, the country is also building its own carrier force.

China currently has two carriers. The Liaoning was built using the hull of an older Soviet vessel, and the Shandong is a Chinese-built copy of that first ship with some upgrades.

The Chinese carriers closely resemble Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, and are distinguished by their ramp-assisted aircraft launch systems, which can limit a carrier’s combat capability.

A third aircraft carrier is in the works though and could be ready to launch in the coming months, according to analysts. China’s new aircraft carrier appears to be a larger, more modern vessel equipped with catapults and other improvements.

Experts have said that when this carrier “eventually enters service, it will be a formidable addition to China’s navy and allow it to more effectively project power.”

Additionally, China is in the process of developing a new next-generation carrier-based fighter to either replace or augment its fleet of fourth-generation J-15s.

China has the world’s largest navy and an extremely robust shipbuilding capacity, according to US military assessments, and the US and others have repeatedly raised concerns that it may choose to use its growing military might to aggressively pursue its interests in the region. The US and its partners have a number of concerns about Russia as well.

Commenting on the recent joint exercises with US allies and partners, Thomas said that such drills are necessary to “deter aggression from some of these nations that are showing burgeoning strength” and to “tell these nations that maybe today is not the day.”

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A rare conversation at a NATO meeting shows how the alliance is trying to figure out what it does after Afghanistan

Lloyd Austin and Jens Stoltenberg at NATO
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters, October 21, 2021.

  • NATO is preparing for what leaders expect will be “a more competitive world.”
  • Alliance members are shifting away from counterterrorism toward more traditional security competition.
  • NATO leaders see Russia and China as future challenges and a “technological edge” as vital for that competition.

At the end of October, defense ministers from NATO’s 30 member-states met in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

After the withdrawal from Afghanistan and as tensions with Russia increase sharply, the defense ministers aim to reorient the alliance while also looking ahead.

The summit was a signpost for the alliance’s future.

New and old challenges

U.S. soldiers, part of the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
US soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force on a patrol west of Kabul, January 28, 2012.

NATO forces spent nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, training Afghan forces and fighting the Taliban in what was the largest mission in the history of the alliance.

All NATO militaries contributed to the war effort, and many shifted their focus from conventional to unconventional warfare to combat terrorism and asymmetrical threats in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The end of the war has firmly reshuffled the alliance’s priorities.

“NATO is now prioritizing its core business of collective defense to deter and defend against threats such as those from an increasingly aggressive Russia,” Rachel Ellehuus, the deputy director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, told Insider.

That Russian aggression can be felt across NATO’s eastern flank.

NATO and Russia have increased their activities in the Black Sea. Russia has also massed troops on its border with Ukraine, putting Western countries on high alert. Many also see Moscow as permitting, if not facilitating, the weaponization of migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Dialogue is also suffering. In October, Russia suspended its mission to NATO and closed the alliance’s offices in Moscow in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats accused by NATO of spying.

Encapsulating the current state of affairs, at the press conference introducing the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the media that “the relationship between NATO and Russia is at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and the reason for that is the Russian behavior.”

But Russia is not NATO’s only problem.

NATO members recognize that the threat of terrorism persists and that Afghanistan still has an important role to play. As Stoltenberg said, key to curtailing the threat is ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a safe-haven for international terrorism.

That will not be easy. Fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups is harder without boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Stoltenberg has said that the “allies have the capabilities to strike from far away against terrorist threats,” but the effectiveness and accuracy of such capabilities diminish without assistance from in-country ground forces.

NATO has to also contend with limited resources. It may prove challenging to maintain the gains made against terrorism while also effectively deterring Russia.

For NATO to do that, “it will have to leverage the intelligence assets and military capabilities of its individual members,” Ellehuus said.

Looking ahead

Jens Stoltenberg Joe Biden NATO
Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden at the 51st Munich Security Conference, February 7, 2015.

Overcoming current threats and preparing for future ones requires keeping a “technological edge,” Stoltenberg said.

“Future conflicts will be fought not just with bullets and bombs, but also with bytes and big data. We see authoritarian regimes racing to develop new technologies, from artificial intelligence to autonomous systems,” Stoltenberg told the press.

For that purpose, the 30 defense ministers announced the establishment of the NATO Innovation Fund and the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic.

The fund, which will be worth $1.2 billion, “will support the development of dual-use emerging and disruptive technologies, in key areas for Allied security,” through investments in startups, according to Stoltenberg.

Although the fund’s size will not make it a game-changer, its establishment signifies NATO’s awareness of the fast-evolving technological landscape.

The accelerator, known as DIANA, aims to enhance interoperability and increase cooperation in critical technologies between sectors and member-states. The fund’s offices and test centers will be hosted in a number of NATO countries.

At its October summit, NATO also adopted its first Artificial Intelligence Strategy, reflecting the potential its leaders see in AI.

Those efforts underscore the importance NATO puts in having a technological edge to better deter Russia, but the alliance is also looking beyond Moscow.

To the east

Lloyd Austin at NATO
Austin at a NATO Defense Ministers meeting at NATO headquarters, October 21, 2021.

China’s technological and military progress has NATO concerned.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin went into the October summit seeking to raise the issue of China, and it was the subject of considerable discussion even though no part of the summit was explicitly about China.

“What we have seen over the last years is significant modernization of China’s military capabilities,” Stoltenberg said when asked about China’s recent hypersonic missile tests.

NATO tries to avoid painting China as an adversary, but the writing is on the wall.

“China is assertively using its might and technological advances to coerce other countries and control its own people. It is expanding its global economic and military footprint in Africa, in the Arctic and in cyber-space. And it’s investing in our own critical infrastructure, from 5G networks to ports and airports,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said at the Future of Democracy Forum in November.

Not all NATO countries have the same concerns about China, which is a major trade and investment partner for many alliance members — 15 of them participate in the 17+1 Initiative, which is meant to foster investment and business relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries.

That means the alliance will have to tread carefully, focusing on “building resilience within the alliance rather than on confronting China militarily,” Ellehuus said.

NATO’s upcoming 2022 Strategic Concept will be a roadmap for the years ahead and is expected to feature China as a rising power with worldwide ambitions.

“Our transatlantic alliance remains the bedrock for our security. And Europe and North America will continue to stand strong together in NATO, as we face a more competitive world,” Stoltenberg said at the end of the October summit.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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