Weekly Round Up- Great Power Games
As we go into the May long weekend here in Canada there are a few international stories that are worthwhile following that come in the category of great power games.
Most interestingly, three Russian satellites code-named Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504, that were placed into low orbit in 2013, are reported to be maneuvering and on the move again. All three satellites have been idle for more than a year until one of the satellites moved hundreds of meters off its orbit last month close to the remnants of a destroyed Chinese weather satellite that China obliterated in 2007 in an anti-satellite rocket test. Some experts believe that the apparently maneuverable satellites are technology-demonstrators or proto-types for orbital weapons. The three satellites reportedly maneuvered several times in the last three years to within meters of their old booster shells. There is some speculation that the satellites could inspect other satellites, scan and match the orbit of other spacecraft, carryout repairs, modifications, or even the destruction of an orbiting space vehicle.
As the US attempts to piece together a coalition of countries to restrain North Korea, China and Russia have returned to great power gamesmanship with the Americans. On Thursday, two Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets intercepted a US WC-135 Constant Phoenix "sniffer" plane over the East China Sea. The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft "sniffs" the atmosphere for signs of nuclear activity and was conducting a routine mission Wednesday in international airspace over the East China Sea. US officials said that the crew of the US sniffer plane described the Chinese interception as "unprofessional." A new ferry between North Korea and Russia docked for the first time at Vladivostok on Thursday, despite US demands to further isolate the Kim Jong-un regime. Ironically, the new ferry link comes after North Korea fired a second missile in the direction of Russian territory.
As well, last week’s global cyber-attack has been further linked to North Korea’s cyber intelligence team believed to be among the best hackers in the world. North Korea is now widely believed to be behind the biggest online extortion attack ever that held more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries for ransom and crippled several European companies. Digital security firms Symantec and Kaspersky Lab are reporting that the software used in last week's attack, known as “WannaCry,” includes a portion of code used by hackers known as the Lazarus Group that is closely linked to North Korea.
Equally significant are reports that North Korea’s recent Hwasong-12 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) test achieved a "successful" controlled reentry into the earth's lower atmosphere rather than falling back to the surface or burning up which suggests that the North has overcome one of the last remaining technical hurdles to an effective Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
Lastly, the embattled Trump administration, mired in one domestic controversy after another, announced that the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is set to join the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group for exercises off the coast of the Korean peninsula in the Sea of Japan. To get Russia and China back on side, US Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, warned on Friday that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale."