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New war college institute zeroes in on maritime Russia

Associated Press Associated Press 2/09/2016 By JENNIFER McDERMOTT, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The U.S. Naval War College has opened a new institute to zero in on Russia's approach to maritime issues as that country continues to assert itself in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.

The college in Newport opened the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute on Wednesday. Faculty and students will study Russian decision-making on maritime issues, the legal and trade implications of the melting sea ice in the Arctic and questions about deterrence, among other topics.

Institute Director Michael Petersen said the resurgence of the Russian military has enabled Russia to become more "adventuresome" in its foreign policy. Russia's annexation of Ukraine's region of Crimea and its military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government are just two examples, he added.

"Because of that, the Navy needs to be able to respond as intelligently as it can to these adventuresome and, in some cases, very challenging activities that the Russians are conducting," he said.

The war college, a one-year, resident program that graduates about 600 students a year, opened a similar institute in 2006 that studies China's growing, modernizing maritime forces.

Research at the Russia Maritime Studies Institute will be tailored to the Navy's needs to help it make smart decisions, Petersen said. Naval leaders will benefit from in-depth and up-to-date information on how to deter activities more aggressive than those normally seen in peacetime but short of outright war, he said.

The Russian military's unsafe maneuvering close to U.S. naval ships is one example of such "gray zone" activities, Petersen said. Russian jets buzzed a U.S. military ship and planes in the Baltics in April.

The institute plans to share its findings with NATO members and use its research to enhance the education of Navy personnel at the college.

Jeffrey Rathke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the U.S. government and the broader policy-making community need more expertise on Russia and how to deal with the security challenge Russia increasingly represents in the Arctic, the Baltic Sea region, Black Sea region and eastern Mediterranean.

"In the foreign policy community over the last decade and a half, the way to make your mark and have the most direct contribution to the policy debate was by focusing on issues related to Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran, or the Middle East more generally," said Rathke, deputy director of the Europe program at the Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank. "That has now changed."

Esther Brimmer of the Council on Foreign Relations said that delving further into Russian maritime issues makes sense because of changes in the ocean due to climate change, as well as increased commercial activity and increased political importance of the oceans.

The impact of climate change alters the dynamics and calculations of public and private sector leaders, added Brimmer, project director of the Independent Task Force on U.S. Strategy in the Arctic.

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