12 Mar 22. Latest Updates
- Russia’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) claims to have destroyed a military airfield in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, using high-precision weapons on 12 March. The location is Ukraine’s main centre for signals intelligence in the city of Brovary, east of the capital. Claims have not yet been independently verified, though videos released on social media platforms purportedly show a plume of smoke over the military airfield. It must be noted that despite Russian sources reporting their use of precision weaponry, the British MoD reports that Russian tactical aircraft supporting the advance of ground troops are primarily relying on unguided “dumb” munitions. These weapons are relatively indiscriminate, thereby increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties, particularly in densely populated urban areas.
- On 12 March, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that Moscow has warned the US that it could target Western arms shipments to Ukraine. During the press conference, Ryabkov said “that pumping weapons from a number of countries it orchestrates isn’t just a dangerous move, it’s an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets”. This aligns with previous assessments that Russia is unlikely to continue tolerating the shipments of critical military equipment, including MANPADS and anti-tank weaponry, without some sort of response, particularly as Ukrainian resistance continues to stall Russia’s offensives. Preventing these shipments will be a key medium-term goal of the Kremlin in order to prevent, or mitigate the potential for, the current war descending into a protracted insurgency supported by Western arms supplies. Ryabkov did not clarify whether the “legitimate targets” would apply to convoys that had crossed the border into Ukraine or also those convoys that had yet to cross the border. At this stage it remains most likely that Russian forces would target known convoys only once they are inside Ukraine, given the escalatory nature of any attack in a NATO country, even if perceived as a legitimate military target. Nevertheless, that remains a potential point of escalation in the coming weeks and months if Western countries do not cease supplying arms to Ukraine, but further warnings would likely pre-empt such an attack given Russia’s desire to avoid an unnecessary escalation.
- On 12 March the head of the Russian space agency Dmitry Rogozin warned that sanctions against Russia could lead to the International Space Station (ISS) to crash. He called for sanctions to be lifted because they could disrupt the operations of Russian spacecraft servicing the ISS. Given that the Russian section of the station helps correct its ISS’s orbit, Rogozin has warned that this could cause the structure to fall into the sea or land. NASA have previously stated that they are working on a solution to maintain the ISS’s orbit without Russian assistance, but Rogozin’s comments are likely designed to remind the international community of the further escalatory levers available to Moscow that could disrupt the space sector.
- Following strikes on Belarusian villages across the border with Ukraine by Russian forces on 11 March, Ukrainian officials claim that an attack by Belarusian forces is imminent. On 12 March, the Belarusian government announced that it is sending five battalion tactical groups to replace the ones deployed at the Ukrainian borders. However, the Lukashenka government continues to state that it does not plan to join the Russian invasion of Ukraine, though Russian pressure is likely mounting on Minsk to more openly support offensive operations.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that Russian forces have kidnapped the mayor of the south-eastern city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov. On 11 March, officials released video footage of what appears to be armed soldiers escorting Fedorov out of a building in the city centre, though the identity of the individual cannot be verified from the video. The alleged abduction comes days after Fedorov publicly refused to cooperate with occupying Russian forces, claiming they had ransacked government offices and exiled his team. In response, hundreds of residents have gathered outside district administrative buildings demanding that Russian forces release the mayor. The protests themselves do not represent a novel development, as Melitopol residents have conducted demonstrations every day since Russian forces captured the city on 26 February. However, Zelensky claims that the abduction marks a “new stage of terror” in the invasion, with Russian forces looking to “physically eliminate representatives of legitimate local Ukrainian authorities” in a bid to suppress organised resistance to occupation. However, strong opposition among residents will elevate the risk of violent clashes between Ukrainian civilians and Russian forces, who are likely to seek to quell dissent and crush popular opposition among residents.
- Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, announced that regular humanitarian corridors will open today, 12 March, from 0900 (local time), 0700 GMT, to facilitate civilian evacuation and humanitarian aid shipments. In particular, an aid and bus convoy will depart from Zaporizhzhia to the city of Mariupol via Vasylivka, Melitopol, Berdyansk and Manhush. There is also a corridor between the town of Pology, Zaporizhzhia region, in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, passing Tokmak, Vasylivka and Kamianske. A number of routes will also be operating in the Kyiv and Sumy regions. However, Russian shelling and possible clashes with Ukrainian forces are likely to generate disruptions to routes throughout the day, delaying civilians evacuations and aid deliveries, as indicated by reports over the past week.
- On 12 March the Deputy of Kherson Regional Council Serhiy Khlan alleged that Russian occupying forces are preparing to stage a referendum in Kherson oblast with the aim of proclaiming the region the KhNR. Russia has utilised similar referenda in the past, most notably in occupied-Crimea, but this latest development aligns with similar unconfirmed reports last week that pro-Russian citizens in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast had been planning to declare a separatist republic in Western Ukraine. This may indicate Russian plans to effectively dismember a unitary Ukraine into a federation made up of separate oblasts. InformNapalm yesterday, 11 March, published unverified reports allegedly outlining plans for how Russia intends to control Ukraine during and after the war that had allegedly been circulated among high-ranking officials and military personnel. The report included the option of holding referenda (organised by local self-government bodies) on the secession of respective regions from Ukraine as a means of controlling the country. It should be stated that this report remains unconfirmed, but the statement of the Kherson official today would align with this. If such a referendum is held, which remains very plausible given precedents in Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk, this would strongly suggest this is what the Russians plan in other oblasts across the country, with the likely ultimate aim of disempowering the unitary government in Kyiv.
Fighting and shelling around Kyiv has intensified since the early hours of this morning, underlining the growing likelihood of a Russian advance to further encircle the capital and take ground. The British Ministry of Defence stated this morning, 12 March, that the bulk of Russian ground forces in the region were around 25km from the city centre. The apparent redistribution of forces to the north-west and as well as more rapid gains to the east of the city indicates momentum is building ahead of an assault, which would likely aim to strengthen and expand the Russian perimeter around the city, cutting off further avenues for evacuation. The cities of Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv will also continue to see heavy fighting in the days ahead. The Russians are redeploying forces back towards these encircled cities in a bid to consolidate ground and ultimately free up forces to assist in the encirclement of Kyiv and progress on to other operational targets in the coming weeks, likely including Dnipro. Aerial bombardments, artillery and long-range strikes are thus likely to intensify in the coming 24-48 hours to assist renewed efforts to gain ground in and around these urban areas.
Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 12 March, the southbound H01 remains a comparatively safer route for access to/exit from Kyiv, then connecting with westbound roads such as the P32 through Bila Tserkva. Russian forces bombarded the Vasylkiv airport on 12 March, highlighting the elevated security risks posed by airstrikes on routes southwest and south of Kyiv as Russian ground troops continue to face challenges to encircle the capital. For evacuation from Kyiv, therefore, the window for safe departure is increasingly limited. Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed around the forests north and south of the E40, and as such, this route remains unsafe. SOCMINT also indicates ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian rear echelon units continue to take place on the P02, P69, M07 circular and H01/P01 in Kyiv. These are likely conducted in order to identify potential Russian fifth columnists/saboteurs, and Ukrainian units conducting these checks are believed to be operating on capture/kill orders. As such those seeking to leave/enter Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution.
Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 remains a likely target for the Russian push to encircle Kyiv. No fighting in the airport’s premises has been observed as of this Alert’s publication, but we consider this to be a likely target for Russian forces in the coming 24-48hrs. In comparative terms, therefore, the H01/P01 remains the safest route out of the city, although any travel is undertaken at one’s own risk as all approaches to Kyiv are vulnerable to shelling or missile strikes. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Mar 22. Failure of tactical comms. Sources told BATTLESPACE that there has been a failure of Russian tactical comms and deployment of EW due to:
1, Corruption in supply of radios causing a shortfall of tactical radios, there rea not the thousands of radios available.
2. Use of cheap Chinese parts which causes breakdowns of radios.
3. Use of a Russia unsecure 3G handheld phone network which is being intercepted and positions of key senior officers and HQs being triangulated causing the death of three Generals. The RAF and USAF have deployed Rivet Joint aircraft to intercept and track radio traffic. The RC-135W Rivet Joint is a dedicated electronic surveillance aircraft that can be employed in all theatres on strategic and tactical missions. Its sensors ‘soak up’ electronic emissions from communications, radar and other systems. RC-135W Rivet Joint employs multidiscipline Weapons System Officer (WSO) and Weapons System Operator (WSOp) specialists whose mission is to survey elements of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to derive intelligence for commanders. Developed under Boeing’s Model 739 series, the first of a long line of RC-135 variants was ordered in 1962. This photographic reconnaissance RC-135A entered service during the mid-1960s, followed by the first of the electronic intelligence gatherers, the RC-135B. The precedent for modifying KC airframes to RC standard was set in 1972, with the conversion of three KC-135As as RC-135Ds for the Rivet Brass mission. All subsequent RC variants were produced by conversion/upgrade, mostly from C, KC and RC standards, culminating in the RC-135V and RC-135W, operated under the Rivet Joint codename that has become internationally, and officially recognised in USAF parlance, as the type’s name. (Source: RAF)
4. EW is not being deployed to jam the networks as the Russians need to keep the networks open.
5. Snapchat and other social media platforms have been used to locate positions by the Russians.
6. They are speaking over open networks which can be intercepted and compromised.
7. No sign of intensive satcom use.
8. There are possibilities of GPS degradation activities to disrupt navigation systems. Two cables were cut in North Norway last year.
9. Russia has closed down outside broadcasts so reports of lack of morale in Russian troops may be overdone. Morale is better in the South than the North as troops in the North thought they were going on exercise.
10. Morale within Russia’s citizens is also not as bad as some external reports. This will be easy to gauge by the level of protests tomorrow and the reaction of the Oligarchs.
12 Mar 22. The capture of Odessa has been stalled for the moment with the withdrawal of amphibious troops to the Crimea where one ship has been sunk with a Ukrainian missile engagement. The fall of Mariupol will free up troops but it is not certain where they will be deployed. Once Nicolayev has been taken and the bridge secured that will speed up any assault on Odessa.
12 Mar 22. The original plan was to attack Ukraine to prevent the country joining NATO and the EU. Other non-NATO and EU countries such as Georgia and Moldova are vulnerable to an extension of this policy. To that end both Finland and Sweden have shelved applications to join NATO for fear of inflaming the situation.
12 Mar 22. Ukraine says Russian forces kill seven civilians in evacuation convoy.
- Bulk of Russian ground forces outside Kyiv, says UK
- Ukraine says humanitarian corridors threatened
- EU to impose new sanctions on Russia
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Saturday of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv, and France said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown he was not ready to make peace.
The Ukrainian intelligence service said the seven, including one child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and that “the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back.”
Reuters was unable immediately to verify the report and Russia offered no immediate comment. Moscow denies targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 and blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said earlier that Moscow was sending in new troops after Ukrainian forces put 31 of Russia’s battalion tactical groups out of action in what he called Russia’s largest army losses in decades. It was not possible to verify his statements.
He also said about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed so far and urged the West to get more involved in peace negotiations. The president suggested Russian forces would face a fight to the death if they sought to enter the capital.
“If they decide to carpet bomb (Kyiv), and simply erase the history of this region … and destroy all of us, then they will enter Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they will have to live on this land by themselves,” he said.
Zelenskiy discussed the war with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Emmanuel Macron, and the German and French leaders then spoke to Putin by phone and urged the Russian leader to order an immediate ceasefire.
A Kremlin statement on the 75-minute call made no mention of a ceasefire and a French presidency official said: “We did not detect a willingness on Putin’s part to end the war”.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of escalating tensions and said the situation had been complicated by convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine that Russian forces considered “legitimate targets”.
In comments reported by the Tass news agency, Ryabkov made no specific threat, but any attack on such convoys before they reached Ukraine would risk widening the war.
Responding to Zelenskiy’s call for the West to be more involved in peace negotiations, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: “If there are diplomatic steps that we can take that the Ukrainian government believes would be helpful, we’re prepared to take them.”
Crisis talks between Moscow and Kyiv have been continuing via a video link, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA news agency. He gave no details but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would not surrender or accept any ultimatums. read more
Air raid sirens blared across most Ukrainian cities on Saturday morning, local media reported.
Russian rocket attacks destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit an ammunition depot near the town of Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Interfax Ukraine quoted its mayor as saying.
The exhausted-looking governor of Chernihiv, around 150 km (100 miles) northeast of Kyiv, gave a video update in front of the ruins of the city’s Ukraine Hotel, which he said had been hit.
“There is no such hotel any more,” Viacheslav Chaus said, wiping tears from his eyes. “But Ukraine itself still exists, and it will prevail.”
Britain’s defence ministry said fighting northwest of the capital continued, with the bulk of Russian ground forces 25 km (16 miles) from the centre of Kyiv, which it has said Russia could attack within days.
Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled under heavy Russian shelling, it said.
Russia’s invasion has been almost universally condemned around the world and that has drawn tough Western sanctions on Russia.
The Russian bombardment has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries. Zelenskiy said the conflict meant some small Ukrainian towns no longer existed.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and “de-Nazify” the country.
Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv, Sumy and some other areas on Saturday.
The governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks were continuing on Saturday morning though some evacuations were proceeding.
The Donetsk region’s governor said constant shelling was complicating bringing aid into the southern city of Mariupol.
“There are reports of looting and violent confrontations among civilians over what little basic supplies remain in the city,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
“Medicines for life-threatening illnesses are quickly running out, hospitals are only partially functioning, and the food and water are in short supply.”
People were boiling ground water for drinking, using wood to cook food and burying dead bodies near where they lay, a staff member for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Mariupol said.
“We saw people who died because of lack of medication,” he said, adding that many people had also been wounded or killed. “Neighbours just dig a hole in the ground and put the dead bodies inside.”
At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said on Friday. It was not possible to verify casualty figures.
Efforts to isolate Russia economically have stepped up, with the United States imposing new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs on Friday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would on Saturday suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment, crack down on its use of crypto-assets, and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction. (Source: Reuters)
12 Mar 22. Russia has warned that it will fire on western armaments shipments to Kyiv, raising the risk of a direct military confrontation between Moscow and Nato during the war in Ukraine. Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday that “pumping up [Ukraine] with weapons from a whole range of countries” was “not just a dangerous move — it’s something that turns these convoys into legitimate military targets”, according to the Interfax news agency. US president Joe Biden has rejected calls from Kyiv to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Nato will not be drawn into an all-out conflict with Russia or send troops to defend the country. However, Ukraine’s western backers have pledged significant military aid to the country. The US has promised $6.5bn in defence spending, the UK has sent 3,615 NLAW anti-tank missiles and Javelin anti-tank weapons while Nordic states have sent more than 10,000 anti-tank weapons. (Source: FT.com)
11 Mar 22. Pentagon revives team to speed arms to Ukraine and allies, sources say. The Pentagon is turning to a special team to respond to increased demand for new weapons sales and requests to transfer existing weapons among U.S. allies as countries including Ukraine scramble to obtain arms following Russia’s invasion, three people familiar with the effort said.
The Pentagon’s office of Acquisition and Sustainment, the weapons buyer for the U.S. Department of Defense, has been fielding increased demand from European allies hoping to ship weapons to Ukraine through third party transfers or to buy arms to bolster their own defenses, the sources said.
The rapid response team was revived in recent days to coordinate and cut through the bureaucracy around sales and transfers while prioritizing requests from allies, the sources said.
The previously unreported effort comes as the Pentagon works to respond to a rapidly changing landscape for arms deals and transfers. The Pentagon made use of the rapid response team during the Trump administration.
“As part of Department of Defense’s ongoing supply chain resilience efforts, the Department is evaluating industrial base capacity to produce items critical to our national security and that of our allies and partners. This effort is focused on identifying key supply chain constraints and mitigation actions to improve capacity,” a defense official said.
The operation is being run in cooperation with the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees weapons sales and transfers to other countries for the Department of Defense.
According to an email seen by Reuters, DSCA recently asked the defense industry for devices that can be used to disable or shoot down drones that were either in stock or could be ready for delivery in 120 days.
“In light of the ongoing crisis in Europe, the USG (U.S. government) continues its efforts to identify effective solutions which would assist Ukraine in the ongoing situation. One of our focus areas is C-sUAS,” the message said. Counter small unmanned aerial systems (C-sUAS) technology is used to defeat drones.
Counter-drone devices come in a variety of sizes, prices and formats including the portable radar gun-like Dronekiller made by IXI Electronic Warfare and the Dronebuster from Radio Hill Technologies that can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars each. There are also larger versions of the technology including one that could shield an area the size of a stadium made by SRC Inc. The larger systems can cost in the $3m to $6m range, industry executives have said.
The Pentagon has stressed that smaller systems such as Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which allies are shipping to Ukraine via truck near-daily, are most useful.
“We believe the best way to support Ukrainian defense is by providing them the weapons and the systems they need most to defeat Russian aggression, in particular anti-armor and air defense,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said.
In some cases allies are trying to leverage the Ukraine situation to “press for things they wanted even before the conflict,” one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, adding that supply chains are still stressed from the pandemic so there was uncertainty about how this demand could be immediately met.
Countries in Europe – and across the globe – are looking at expanding defense budgets to meet an increasingly uncertain security outlook, with Germany among those promising a sharp increase in spending. (Source: Reuters)
12 Mar 22. Ukraine at ‘turning point’, Zelenskiy says as Russians regroup near Kyiv.
- U.S. sanctions hit top Kremlin staff, oligarchs
- EU imposes new sanctions on Russia
- Satellite images show Russians redeploying north of Kyiv
- Civilians huddle underground as Russia bombards cities
LVIV, Ukraine, March 12 (Reuters) – Ukraine was at a turning point in the war with Russian forces appearing to be regroup for a possible assault on Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as the United States imposed new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs.
With the Russian assault in its third week, Zelenskiy, who has rallied his people with a series of addresses from the capital Kyiv, said Ukraine had “already reached a strategic turning point”.
“It is impossible to say how many days we still have (ahead of us) to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it,” he said. “We are already moving towards our goal, our victory.”
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three family members of President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson and lawmakers in the latest punishment for Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. read more
“Treasury continues to hold Russian officials to account for enabling Putin’s unjustified and unprovoked war,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
Russian forces kept up their bombardment of cities across the country on Friday in the biggest assault on a European country since World War Two. Satellite images showed them firing artillery as they advanced on Kyiv.
The fighting has created more than 2 million refugees, and thousands of Ukrainians are trapped in besieged cities.
As hundreds sheltered in Kharkiv metro stations, Nastya, a young girl lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of a train carriage, said she had been there for over a week, unable to move around much and ill with a virus.
“I’m scared for my home, for the homes of my friends, very scared for the whole country, and scared for myself of course,” she said. read more
Putin calls the invasion a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.
The governor of the Kharkiv region on the Russian border, said a psychiatric hospital had been hit, and the mayor of the city of Kharkiv said about 50 schools there had been destroyed.
In the besieged southern city of Mariupol, the city council said at least 1,582 civilians had been killed by Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade that has left hundreds of thousands trapped with no food, water, heat or power.
Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russia’s defence ministry said the Black Sea port was surrounded, while Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately preventing civilians getting out and humanitarian convoys getting in.
A new effort to evacuate civilians along a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol appeared to have failed, as Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian shelling prevented them from leaving.
“The situation is critical,” Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.
Western countries meanwhile took more economic steps to try to force Putin to end his assault.
President Joe Biden, who this week banned U.S. imports of Russian oil, said the G7 industrial powers would revoke Russia’s “most favoured nation” trade status.
Biden banned U.S. imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds. Washington sanctioned more oligarchs and elites, including board members of Russian banks, and a dozen lawmakers.
European Union leaders said they were ready to impose harsher sanctions on Russia and might give Ukraine more funds for arms. But they rejected Ukraine’s request to join the bloc.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU would on Saturday suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment, crack down on its use of crypto-assets, and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction. read more
Russia’s main force has been stalled north of Kyiv, having failed in what Western analysts say was an initial plan for a lightning assault.
But Britain’s defence ministry said Russia appeared to be gearing up for a new offensive in coming days that would probably include Kyiv.
Images taken on Friday and released by private U.S. satellite firm Maxar showed Russian forces were continuing to deploy closer to Kyiv and firing artillery toward residential areas, according to the company’s analysis.
Multiple homes and buildings were on fire and widespread damage was seen throughout the town of Moschun, northwest of Kyiv, Maxar said. Reuters could not independently verify the images.
But Britain’s intelligence update said Russian ground forces were still making only limited progress, hampered by logistical problems and Ukrainian resistance.
The Ukrainian general staff said Russian forces were regrouping after taking heavy losses. Ukrainian troops had pushed some back to “unfavourable positions” near the Belarus border, it said.
Kyiv’s mayor, former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, said the capital had enough essential supplies to last a couple of weeks. Supply lines remained open.
At a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said there were “certain positive shifts” in talks with Kyiv, but did not elaborate.
Ukraine has raised the prospect of Moscow’s ally Belarus entering the war, accusing Russia of staging “false flag” air attacks on Belarus from Ukraine to provide an excuse.
Belarus has served as a staging post for Russian forces before and after the invasion. The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.
Putin and Lukashenko agreed Moscow would supply its smaller neighbour with up-to-date military equipment, the official Belarus Belta news agency said.
Moscow might not have sufficient troops to achieve its goals, said Mathieu Boulegue, an expert at London’s Chatham House think tank.
“You can’t invade a country on a one-on-one ratio” of troops, Boulegue told Reuters. “Nobody has done it, which means that either something was wrong or they had very wrong assumptions.” (Source: Reuters)
11 Mar 22. ‘Risk worth taking’: U.S. rushes MANPADS to Ukraine despite proliferation concerns. The United States and NATO are shipping weapons into Ukraine at break-neck speed, including highly sensitive items such as shoulder-fired missiles called Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) that can take down aircraft.
The Western arms deliveries, another one of which is expected to arrive in the coming hours, have been vital to enabling Ukrainians to fight the invading Russians forces far more effectively and fiercely than U.S. intelligence expected.
But moving those amounts of weaponry into the largest conflict in Europe since World War Two carries with it risks that some could fall into the wrong hands — a possibility the West has considered.
“Frankly, we believe that risk is worth taking right now because the Ukrainians are fighting so skillfully with the tools at their disposal and they’re using them so creatively,” a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday when asked about that danger.
Highly portable missiles such as Stinger surface-to-air missiles — which are a type of MANPAD — can help win wars, but in the past they have also been lost, sold, or wound up in the arsenals of extremist groups.
For example, hundreds of Stingers supplied by the United States were seen as key to helping mujahideen rebels drive Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in a conflict that spanned the 1980s and 1990s.
But the United States subsequently spent years trying to recover unused MANPADS from that country and from other conflict zones around the world.
In a Pentagon-financed study in 2019, the RAND Corp. think-tank estimated that upwards of 60 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970s, killing more than 1,000 civilians. As of 2019, 57 non-state armed groups were confirmed to possess or suspected to possess MANPADS.
Russia was “far and away the single largest exporter of MANPADS”, RAND Corp. said, with more than 10,000 systems sold between 2010 and 2018 to countries including Iraq, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Qatar, and Libya.
The United States and NATO have not disclosed how many MANPADS have been transferred to Ukraine since the start of the invasion, which is now in its third week.
So far, Russia has not targeted Western weapons convoys headed into Ukraine and the senior U.S. defense official said the United States had not seen any Western-supplied inventory falling into Russian hands.
But that could change.
At a Friday meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu talked about potential future seizures of Western-made Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stingers. They should be handed to Russian-backed forces in the breakaway Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly backed the idea.
“As to the delivery of arms, especially Western-made ones which have fallen into the hands of the Russian army – of course I support the possibility of giving these to the military units of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics,” Putin said.
“Please do this,” Putin told Shoigu. (Source: News Now/Reuters)
11 Mar 22. Ukrainians United in Resisting Russian Invasion. The Ukrainian fight against Russia’s invasion of their country is truly a national effort, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today.
The free world has been amazed at Ukrainian resistance to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war of choice.” Ukrainian armed forces have demonstrated great tactical proficiency in confronting the much larger foe.
“They’re fighting skillfully, bravely, quite creatively,” Kirby said. “And the fighting isn’t just by the armed forces.”
He said that average citizens — outraged by the Russian attack — received weapons from the government and learned to use them.
It’s unclear if areas of Ukraine now occupied by the Russian military are seeing some guerilla warfare emerge, but there are videos of Ukrainians confronting Russian tanks.
“Some of the resistance has been non-violent — with crowds of Ukrainians blocking city streets and actually stopping in their tracks some Russian units,” Kirby said. “So, the resistance resides on many levels, and it’s quite inspiring. … They are resisting; they are defending, and we are going to continue to look for ways to help them do that better going forward.”
Responding to a question about whether the Russians are treating captured Ukrainian service members as prisoners of war, Kirby said he didn’t have information on how captured Ukrainians or captured Russians are being treated. “But our expectation would be that that both parties would abide by Geneva Convention requirements and treat any soldiers that are captured humanely and in accordance with the rule of ,” he said. “That would be, that would be the United States’ expectation, as well as so many other nations.” (Source: US DoD)
11 Mar 22. Jeremy Hunt calls for massive boost in UK defence spending. Writing for The Telegraph, former foreign secretary says peace comes from strength, not luck, as Russian invaders close in on Kyiv.
Britain should increase defence spending to the same level as the US, Jeremy Hunt has proposed, as he declared: “Peace comes from strength, not luck.”
Writing for The Telegraph, the former foreign secretary called the invasion of Ukraine “the biggest failure of Western foreign and security policy in our lifetimes”.
“It happened because we forgot the most fundamental lesson of the Cold War: the power of deterrence,” he said.
By “announcing they would not intervene” if Russia invaded Ukraine, the UK and US undercut their attempted deterrence, he argued.
“Instead of peace through strength we caused war through weakness,” he wrote.
Mr Hunt called for a step-change in UK defence spending and referenced Donald Trump’s past criticism of Nato spending – saying the former US president “was very vocal on that point when I was foreign secretary”.
The Conservative MP added: “He was only saying more robustly what numerous presidents had said before. If we want America to remain the leader of the free world, other democratic powers, especially in Europe, must commit to matching US defence spending as a proportion of GDP.”
For Britain to hit that target would mean a huge defence spending increase.
The UK spent 2.3 per cent of GDP on defence in 2021, according to Nato figures, compared to the 3.5 per cent by the US.
Given that the UK currently spends more than £40 billion a year on defence, achieving that goal would mean spending tens of billions pounds more on the military over the coming years.
The call will pile pressure on Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to approve an increase in the defence budget when he delivers his Spring Statement later this month.
The Telegraph understands that Mr Sunak is holding firm against calls for a rise – arguing that just two years ago, the UK announced the biggest increase in defence spending since the Cold War.
But the Ministry of Defence continues to push behind the scenes for more money, with the row expected to intensify next week before a final decision is made.
One senior Whitehall source rejected Treasury arguments, saying that “Putin had not invaded a European country” at that point.
Yet there were questions on Friday about whether it was realistic for the UK to reach the US defence spending target in the coming years.
Prof Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, said: “An increase in taxes beyond what the Chancellor has already promised would be needed for a substantial rise in defence spending.”
A source close to Mr Hunt, traditionally seen as a Tory on the moderate wing of the party and not as a hawk, said he accepted it would take time to make the change.
Mr Hunt also called for Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister – who beat him in the 2019 Conservative leadership contest – to abandon planned military cuts.
He asked: “Can it be right to reduce our troop levels by 10,000 from the numbers planned in 2015? Or cut our Challenger tanks by a third?”
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is also pressing the Government to go further, calling for the cut of 10,000 soldiers to be halted.
Sir Keir told The Telegraph: “With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats of further aggression to Nato members, we need to reassess our military capabilities.”
There are also calls from within the Cabinet. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has repeatedly said this week that the West did not spend enough on defence in recent decades. She indicated that she backed more money going to the military.
Mr Hunt also called for a new target of four per cent of GDP for defence spending combined with foreign aid spending and “soft power” over the next decade. Currently, aid spending is 0.5 per cent of GDP. A definition of “soft power” spending is not given, but appears to refer to Foreign Office work.
The Westminster tussle comes as Russian troops close in on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital city, amid fears of renewed siege tactics in the war’s third week.
Explosions in the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk suggested the Russians could be expanding the area of battle. Most of the fighting has been in the centre and east of the country to date.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has also warned there could be famines in Africa as the conflict drags on.
Ukraine’s biggest food producers have said that wheat production could grind to a complete halt because of the war, with planting due to happen in three weeks. That would deprive the world of a fifth of its total supply.
In response, British farmers have pleaded for an overhaul of red tape to increase productivity.
G7 agriculture ministers also held a meeting to discuss the crisis. A statement released by the G7 made clear that the West intends to cut off luxury product exports to Russia, further tightening the financial clamp on the country. Details are yet to be announced.
Mr Sunak is also facing pressure over taxes on another front – his determination to go ahead with the National Insurance rise, which kicks in next month.
In an interview on BBC Radio Four’s The Week in Westminster, Lord Frost – the former Brexit minister – made a renewed call for tax rises to be abandoned.
Lord Frost said he would like to see Mr Sunak “deferring and maybe even cancelling the tax rises, deferring the corporation tax rises that are going to come in and doing everything we can to free up the economy from the burden of regulation and concentrating on growth”.
But Treasury and Number 10 sources ruled out any change on National Insurance, saying the increase would go ahead as planned. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
12 Mar 22. How Putin could be removed from power – and who would replace him. It’s hard to envisage the Russian president stepping down, but a coup from within the corridors of the Kremlin may force the issue. Vladimir Putin is in for the fight of his life. His brutal and ill-conceived war in Ukraine, a personal crusade he has foisted on his country, has left his army mired abroad and an economy reeling under unprecedented Western sanctions at home. For 22 years he was the one constant of Russian politics, but no wonder people are thinking much more sharply not only about a Russia after Putin, but how that may be brought about.
After all, who would have thought that a country so deeply embedded in the global economic system could so quickly be disconnected from so much of it? That a country with notionally more than half a trillion pounds in its foreign reserves would be debating emergency price regulation for medicines, basic foods and baby products. That a military machine in which Putin has invested so much for so long could stumble and fall as soon as it steps into neighbouring Ukraine.
Indeed, on Monday, Putin, the man who four days before had vowed to destroy “this ‘Anti-Russia’ created by the West”, signalled that he was willing to cut his losses. The terms he offered Kyiv were still unrealistic and unacceptable, but having previously indicated that he wanted to take the whole country – to, as he put it, “denazify” it – now he is only seeking Crimea and the south-eastern Donbas region. Of course, at the same time he is escalating the brutality of the onslaught, hoping to negotiate from a position of strength, having taken more cities. However, it reflects the way that even this most out-of-touch of leaders is aware that this debacle threatens him and his regime.
In a system which has become so personalised and authoritarian, though, the usual mechanisms for the transfer of power do not apply. It may therefore be more out of hope than anything else that there are those in Russia and beyond wondering if mortality will do the job.
Rumours are multiplying. Might his strange terror of infection – never mind those comically long tables, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro apparently had to take five Covid tests to be able to shake his hand – be a sign he is suffering from a disease weakening his immune system? Footage of a trembling hand might indicate Parkinson’s. The puffiness of his face could be a sign of steroid treatment. Illness or a sense of impending mortality might help explain his splenetic new moods, and why a leader who in the past was much more cautious than his macho persona would suggest, now seems to be an angry old man in a hurry.
Barring any such deus ex machina, it is hard to see him standing down voluntarily. He periodically toyed with handing the presidency to a successor, perhaps retaining some “father of the nation” role. However, in a system where politics trumps law, that means putting yourself at another’s mercy, and Putin is not a man who trusts easily at the best of times. Besides, he is clearly obsessed with his place in history – he could only step down on a high, and it is hard to see any triumphs in his future.
In theory, Putin could be removed through the constitution. Article 93 allows for impeachment on the basis of serious crimes. Yet that requires not only a two-thirds vote in both chambers of parliament, but also the consent of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts. All have been packed with loyalists, and even if these opportunists thought that they were being led to destruction, it is almost impossible to see any kind of conspiracy being organised without it coming to the Kremlin’s attention.
After all, not only is the much-feared Federal Security Service (FSB) tasked with watching the elite, but so too is the more secretive Federal Protection Service (FSO). Better known for the colourfully-uniformed Kremlin guards and Putin’s black-suited and earpiece-wearing personal security detail, every morning the FSO submits to the president a dossier on what is going on within the elite, based on agents, informants and phone taps. It must make for interesting reading, these days.
The most extreme option some in the West are openly discussing is the prospect of outright assassination. This is highly unlikely, not least because the security precautions around “the Body”, as Putin is known by his security detail, are massive, complex and comprehensive to the point of paranoia. He rarely travels much these days anyway, except between his palaces and the Kremlin, and then in the presidential aircraft or an armoured Aurus Kortezh limo escorted by a huge motorcade with motorcycle outriders, vans full of heavily-armed FSO officers, an ambulance and an electronic warfare vehicle to jam any bomb detonators along the route and divert drones. Like a medieval monarch, he retains a food taster, and even the air in his palaces is constantly monitored for pathogens and poisons.
Tsar Nicholas II was infamously murdered by the Bolsheviks, but only after they had seized him and his family. The last Russian ruler who fell to an assassin was Tsar Alexander II, over 140 years ago and the FSO has no intention of letting any re-runs happen on their watch.
Where precision is impossible, what about brute force? It is a mark of the times that rumours – seemingly wholly fanciful – have been circulating that defence minister Sergei Shoigu is under suspicion of planning a coup. Certainly the only institutions which would seem able to oust Putin in a coup would be either the security agencies or, more plausibly, the army.
The military have two elite divisions outside Moscow, the 4th Guards “Kantemirovskaya” Tank Division and the 2nd Guards “Tamanskaya” Mechanised Division, as well as two Spetsnaz special forces units close by. However, not only are they carefully watched by the FSB’s military counter-intelligence department, one of whose primary roles is to sniff out potential disloyalty, but they also face a series of other units in Moscow. The National Guard, a parallel internal security army under former Putin bodyguard and arch-loyalist Viktor Zolotov has the oversized 1st Independent Special Designation Division based in the east of the city. They have their own tanks, artillery and anti-tank missiles, making it pretty clear that their role is, if necessary, to take on the military.
Meanwhile, if that were not enough, the FSO’s Kremlin Regiment may be better known for the ramrod-stiff soldiers standing watch over the Eternal Flame just outside the fortress’s walls, but in crisis would exchange their pretty red-and-blue uniforms and ceremonial bolt-action rifles for camouflage and AK-74 assault rifles. There are 5,500 of them, hand-picked for their loyalty as much as their martial skills. In short, any attempt by the military alone to seize power and topple Putin could be a dangerous and messy venture, potentially leading to open warfare in Moscow’s streets.
If mortality, muscle or machination do see Putin leave power, though, who might succeed him? It would probably be a technocrat, a strongman or a proxy.
The constitution says that the prime minister steps in first as interim president before elections are held. Current incumbent Mikhail Mishustin is a former head of the Federal Tax Service. He has been in office since January 2020, and so his tenure has been under the shadow of Covid. Nonetheless, unlike his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, he has already managed to create the image of the no-nonsense and hard-headed manager. He also has just enough of a personal life to give the spin doctors something to craft a narrative around him. He plays ice hockey and the piano and has even written songs for Grigory Leps, a gravelly-voiced pop star sanctioned by the US government for alleged mafia connections.
The 56-year-old Mishustin could be the obvious choice for a technocratic successor, but he has not yet been at the centre of power long enough to build himself a network of clients and allies. Other figures such as Moscow’s well-regarded mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, might also be in with a chance. More to the point, it would be hard to see a managerial candidate actually being able to bring down Putin. Their chance would only come if someone or something else opened the door for them.
Someone like defence minister Shoigu might actually be able to kick that door open for himself. He is not by background a military man. He was a civil engineer who then became the emergencies minister in the 1990s, a job which for many would have been the kiss of death, making him responsible for every natural or man-made disaster in that unruly decade. Yet he made a virtue of necessity and his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get involved in anything, from comforting relatives to digging through rubble, actually made him a national figure.
Shoigu also made the emergencies ministry, originally a dysfunctional a collection of agencies, one of the most efficient, trusted and even honest government departments in Russia. Appointed to head a divided and disgruntled defence ministry in 2012, Shoigu again was able to push forward reform and win the loyalty of soldiers and generals alike. This is, after all, a man with a unique political touch. Not only is he the only figure to make his way into Putin’s inner circle without having been a long-term friend from the KGB or Putin’s time in St Petersburg, he has also managed to rise within the carnivorous world of Russian politics without apparently making blood enemies on the way.
Shoigu might be the kind of savvy strongman at once able to wield the muscle to topple Putin and also the political skills to reassure the rest of the elite. Other key figures within the security apparatus, such as FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov or National Guard commander Zolotov, are too closely linked to Putin and too mistrusted to be credible candidates.
For all his current role in the Ukraine war, Shoigu appears to be a pragmatic kind of nationalist. Pervasive rumours suggest he was the only member of Putin’s inner circle not to support the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, if experience of other coups is anything to go by, it is often the case that the initiator does not get to enjoy power long term. It may be that the 66-year-old Shoigu would simply be a transitional figure, who sweeps away the worst of Putinism, and sets the scene for the next generation of leaders.
In theory, that could include the 56-year-old Medvedev, the only modern Russian politician to have been both prime minister and president. He was only president as Putin’s front man and chair-warmer, though, for the period 2008-12, while his boss governed from the prime minister’s office as a way to get round term limits.
He does not strike an impressive figure, though. Of late, Medvedev, who holds an honorific but essentially meaningless position as deputy chairman of the Security Council, has been trying to reinvent himself as a hawk, taking extreme positions on everything from the death penalty to seizing the assets of companies leaving Russia. Nonetheless, he is now something of a laughing stock. In 2016, opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s followers starting using yellow rubber ducks as a light-hearted symbol of protest after he revealed that Medvedev’s “summer house” was actually a sumptuously-renovated 18th-century palace with an extravagant duck house on a lake.
Medvedev could conceivably be president again, but only as a proxy, if a collection of powerful figures – none powerful enough to seize the presidency for themselves – want a front man they do not have to fear.
In any case, whoever succeeds Putin is likely to have to be a different and even transitional figure, shaped not just by the hard times facing Russia but also the rising political generation. Putin is 69, and most of his close allies are the same age or older. They are in many ways the last of the true Soviet elite.
Beneath them, increasingly impatient at an older generation that still seems intent on replaying the Cold War, and squandering their future in the process, is a rather different cohort of officials and businesspeople in their 50s and early 60s. They are by no means democrats, and can be every bit as hard-nosed as their seniors. However, in my experience at least, they lack the venomous and vindictive passion for Russia’s struggle with the West evident in Putin and people like his Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev and the FSB’s Bortnikov, both 70 years old.
This younger generation is made up of, to be blunt, pragmatic kleptocrats. They hanker after the good old days of the 2000s, when they were free to embezzle at home on an industrial scale, yet spend and bank that money in the West without fear of sanctions, asset freezes and Swift bans. They may not dare to turn against Putin now, as their fortunes and freedom are in his hands, but they are unlikely to want to continue his crusade against the West if they can possibly avoid it.
All of which is why the West must be careful and clever. With our screens darkened with terrible images of a maternity hospital shelled and Mariupol being starved into submission, it is only human that people have begun suggesting that something ought to be done to try to topple Putin’s regime or even remove him. This is understandable – but inadvisable.
Directly targeting Putin and failing would set a dangerous precedent and trigger retaliation. How would our MPs and senior civil servants enjoy having to check their door handles for Novichok every time they got home? Even a successful assassination would likely anger Russians from across the political spectrum and make it harder for a successor to roll back his aggressive policies and improve relations with the West.
For moment, then, it looks as if both we and the Russians are stuck with Putin. But in war, things can change quickly.
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 was meant to be a “nice, victorious little war” in the words of interior minister Vyacheslav von Plehve, to demonstrate Russia’s strength to the world and restore public morale. As it was, a dismal and embarrassing defeat sparked the unsuccessful 1905 revolution. Likewise, the economic crisis and horrifying losses Russia endured in the First World War led to growing unrest that drove the elite to force the tsar to abdicate. The Soviet war in Afghanistan of 1979-89, a war the Kremlin at first tried to pretend wasn’t even happening, didn’t bring down the regime but did become a metaphor for all the other things wrong with an economically-stagnant, mismanaged and corrupt regime.
Already, critical voices are even being heard on TV programmes that usually deliver nothing less than undiluted state propaganda. Guests on the primetime show hosted by Vladimir Solovyov, sanctioned for his role as a Kremlin mouthpiece, drew direct comparisons with Afghanistan and warned that public opinion could quickly change. Meanwhile, on the army’s own TV channel, Zvezda, a serving officer, pushed home the scale of casualties. In both cases, the naysayers were shouted down – the Zvezda presenter insisted that “our guys are smashing the fascist snakes” – but it is unprecedented for such views to be aired on state television, and a sign of the growing mood of dissatisfaction.
History is no map of the future, but it does remind us of how war can change everything. It may seem almost inconceivable that Putin’s reign could end any day soon, but now he has made an all-out gamble on war in Ukraine, all bets are off. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
12 Mar 22. Ukraine army hails Turkish drones but Ankara plays down weapons sales. Turkey is trying to carve out role as a mediator between Kyiv and Moscow. The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 costs about $5mn and has been battle-tested around the world. Turkish-made armed Bayraktar drones with the Ukrainian army that the weapons are celebrated in a song. “We took offence at these orcs. Russian bandits are made into ghosts by Bayraktar,” go the words to the tune posted on the land forces’ Facebook page. The Ukrainian foreign ministry posted on Twitter an image of a police dog named Bayraktar, and a lemur born in the Kyiv zoo has also been named after the drones that have taken out Russian tanks and missile systems in recent days. The glowing Ukrainian tributes contrast with Turkey’s efforts to play down the sale of the weapons to Kyiv, fearful of stirring Russian ire as it tries to carve out a role as a mediator in the conflict. It hosted the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers on March 10 for the highest-level diplomatic meeting between the two nations since the war began on February 24. While other Nato members are supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons and missiles to help it withstand Russia’s attack, Turkey has depicted the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from a company co-founded by the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as just another commercial transaction. “This is not aid from Turkey. It is a product purchased by Ukraine from a company in Turkey,” Yavuz Selim Kiran, the deputy foreign minister, told the Daily Sabah newspaper this month, even as he praised the “game-changing” drones. “The fact that it has become one of the Ukrainian military’s main deterrent elements actually shows the success and quality of the products produced by our company,” he said. “Everyone is waiting in line to buy the UAVs.” Turkey’s caution reflects the complex alliance that Erdogan has crafted with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ankara has bought advanced Russian missiles, outraging Turkey’s Nato allies, but it has backed opposite sides in Libya and Syria. Erdogan has condemned the invasion of Ukraine but opposes sanctions against Russia, upon which Turkey relies for tourism, wheat and most of its energy imports. He has also deepened defence co-operation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The leaders agreed last month to jointly produce a new generation of the drones, expanding on a 2019 deal for at least 20 UAVs from Istanbul-based defence company Baykar. (Source: FT.com)
12 Mar 22. Joe Biden warns of ‘World War III’ if Nato pitched into conflict with Russia. US president personally vetoes plan to send fighter jets from Poland, reportedly fearing it could escalate tensions with Vladimir Putin
Joe Biden has issued a stark warning that direct conflict between Russia and Nato would be “World War Three”, as it emerged he personally vetoed a plan to send fighter jets from Poland to the Ukrainian air force.
Earlier this week, Poland publicly announced it was offering its 28 MiG-29s to the US.
It would send them to the US air base at Ramstein, Germany, so they could then be transferred to Ukraine.
But the US president dismissed the possibility, fearing it could lead to a direct conflict.
He said: “We will defend every single inch of Nato territory with the full might of a united and galvanised Nato.”
But he added: “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct confrontation between Nato and Russia is World War Three, something we must strive to prevent.”
He said Nato was “one movement”, which is why he had moved thousands of US troops along the borders with Russia.
“Because they move once, granted, if we respond, it is World War Three,” Mr Biden said.
“But we have a sacred obligation on Nato territory, a sacred obligation, Article Five … although we will not fight the Third World War in Ukraine.
“The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment, and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews – just understand. Don’t kid yourself. No matter what you all say, that’s called World War III. Okay? Let’s get it straight here guys.”
It emerged that Mr Biden took the decision after advice from officials at the Pentagon and US intelligence chiefs, who believed Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, would view it as “escalatory”.
Mr Biden was also advised by senior military officials that the planes would not significantly increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force.
While the debate over the proposal was under way in Washington, Russia’s 40-mile convoy north of Kyiv was beginning to disperse around the city ahead of what is expected to be a fierce siege. Any opportunity to seriously strike the Russian sitting target has now been missed.
A senior US defence official said Ukraine had about 56 planes remaining, more than 80 per cent of its starting capability – but was only flying five to 10 sorties a day.
The official said: “The Ukrainians have been very creative in how they’re using the air power available to them. They have made effective use of drones, which are cheap, and they’re trained on them.
“They can fly below radar coverage and they’re using them with terrific effect, particularly against Russian ground movements.”
Claiming the Ukrainians “haven’t proven they need to do more than they’re doing”, the official said: “They’ve been very effective with the tools they have.”
However, Tom Cotton, a Republican who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, accused Mr Biden of “timid, hesitating half-measures”.
Sending planes had widespread support among Republicans and Democrats, after Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, pleaded for them to boost his air force.
Some 40 of the 50 Republicans in the US Senate signed a letter calling on Mr Biden to reverse his decision on the Polish so-called “rent-a-MiG” scheme, accusing him of backing down “every time Vladimir Putin says ‘boo'”.
Mr Cotton said: “There is no intelligence that these aircraft, somehow uniquely, are going to be escalatory in Vladimir Putin’s eyes.
“This is only the policy decision of the president and it is a ridiculous decision, and it makes the United States look ridiculous.
“It is yet another instance in which Joe Biden has allowed Vladimir Putin to back him down by saying ‘boo’.
“If we continue to blink every time Vladimir Putin says ‘boo’ it’s not going to stop in Ukraine, it’s not going to stop in Europe.”
Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on Friday making phone calls to Republican senators to explain the military advice given to the president, and his subsequent decision.
But Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said: “This administration has been a step behind every step of the way. The Ukrainians need airplanes, they need equipment to fight with. They need this assistance and they need it right now.”
‘World is united’ against Vladimir Putin
Mr Biden added: “We will make sure Ukraine has weapons to defend against an invading Russian force. We will send money and food and aid to save the Ukrainian people.
“I will welcome Ukrainian refugees. We should welcome them here with open arms.
“We already know Putin’s war in Ukraine will never be a victory. He hoped to dominate Ukraine without a fight, he failed. He hoped to fracture European resolve, he failed. He hoped to weaken the transatlantic alliance, he failed. He hoped to split apart American democracy, he failed.
“The American people are united, the world is united. We will not let autocrats and would-be emperors dictate the direction of the world.
“We’re going to hit Putin harder. The totality of our sanctions and export controls is crushing the Russian economy.”
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Russians were beginning to gain some momentum in Ukraine.
He said: “There’s Russian bombardment and shelling going on quite violently as we speak.
“And we do assess that the Russians are beginning to make more momentum on the ground towards Kyiv, particularly from the east. Not quite so much from the north.”
On Friday night, the US put sanctions on two Russian individuals and three institutions over their support for North Korea’s weapons programme.
The sanctions target “a network of Russia-based individuals and entities complicit in helping [North Korea] procure components for its unlawful ballistic missile systems,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
11 Mar 22. Congress passes budget with defense boost, $13.6bn in Ukraine aid. Senate lawmakers finalized a $1.5trn spending bill late Thursday that provides $13.6bn in new aid for Ukraine and funding stability for the Defense Department for the rest of the fiscal year.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law Friday. Without the budget deal, government agencies would have faced partial shutdowns starting Saturday morning because of a lapse in available funding.
In a statement Thursday night, White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised the bipartisan deal as allowing federal officials to “advance American leadership abroad” and “deliver historic support for the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and democracy.”
She also noted the full-year budget agreement “ends a damaging series of short-term continuing resolutions that have undermined the government’s ability to meet pressing challenges.”
The budget deal includes $728.5 bn in discretionary funding for the Department of Defense for fiscal 2022 (which began in October). That’s an increase of nearly 5% over fiscal 2021 defense spending levels.
Rep. Betty McCollum, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, in a statement praised the final spending deal as “absolutely necessary to meet the needs of the American people and confront unprecedented global challenges.”
The package passed both the House and Senate this week with significant bipartisan backing.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the military funding level — well above what the White House requested in its budget — will help maintain military investments and “keep us from falling even further behind China” and other adversaries.
Since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, defense planners have been operating on a series of budget measures that kept spending at fiscal 2021 levels. That meant new equipment purchases, program starts and other new priorities have been sidelined for months awaiting the full-year agreement.
That has been particularly problematic in the area of military personnel. A 2.7% pay raise went into effect for service members Jan. 1, but Pentagon leaders were not given extra money to implement that change. As a result, officials have had to move money from other accounts to cover those costs, totaling more than $200m.
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train to use an NLAW anti-tank weapon on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Authorities announced a new ceasefire on Wednesday to allow civilians to escape from towns around the capital, Kyiv, as well as the southern cities of Mariupol, Enerhodar and Volnovakha, Izyum in the east and Sumy in the northeast. Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors have largely failed due to attacks by Russian forces. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
The new compromise budget solves that problem, and also provides a large aid package for Ukrainian officials fighting back against Russian forces that invaded their country last month.
About half of the $13.6bn will go to the Department of Defense, in large part to restore military stocks of equipment already transferred to Ukrainian military units through the president’s drawdown authority. Though on the second day of the war the White House proposed spending $6.4bn, the special fund grew steadily over the last two weeks amid Ukraine’s battlefield gains against Russia and pressure from lawmakers.
Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord told a defense industry audience this week Ukraine will force increases to future defense budgets. The added funding in this budget, he said, dovetails with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s pressure on his staff to do as much as possible for Ukraine.
“He has been admonishing us that at every daily meeting, and we do have daily meetings on this, to focus on helping Ukrainians with our drawdown authorities as fast as we can, as long as we’re able to safely,” McCord said. “That has been a big priority and Congress has been very supportive of that.”
Another $3.1bn will cover “deployment, operational, and intelligence costs” for U.S. forces deployed to Europe in response to the Russian actions. Nearly 15,000 American service members have been deployed to the region in support of NATO allies in recent weeks, but none have been sent into Ukraine itself.
The bill also funds the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — a new account to help train and equip the Ukrainian military — at $300m.
The State Department will receive about $4bn for “the rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.” Officials say more than 12m people in the region are in need of food, shelter and other basic necessities because of shortages caused by the fighting.
The bill provides $650 m for military support and “an expansion of existing authorities to bolster the defense capabilities of the Ukrainian military and regional allies.”
The increased defense top line is a boon to Pentagon’s weapons programs and the defense industry. The budget’s defense procurement allotment exceeds the budget request by about $12bn, with lawmakers adding $7bn more for research and development.
Among notable moves for the Air Force, it would buy 20 more C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin, primarily for the Air National Guard to modernize two operational wings at an additional cost of $1.8bn. Amid testing failures, the Air Force’s planned hypersonic missile, the the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, is facing a $161m cut.
Lawmakers added 12 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to the Navy’s budget, keeping the Boeing’s production line going, and they added five ships ― including one more Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer than the administration requested.
The Army won about $300m more than requested for Stryker and Abrams upgrades and $500m more for aircraft, chiefly to add more UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks and Gray Eagle drones. (Source: Defense News)
11 Mar 22. Russian Military Efforts Stymied by Blunders, Stiff Ukrainian Resistance, Defense Official Says. Ukrainian resistance continues to be “stiff and determined,” a senior defense official said today at a Pentagon press briefing.
“Frankly, being very strategic about how they’re defending and where they are putting their resources where they’re most needed. They are doing it quickly. They are being adaptive and nimble,” the official said, noting they are using hit-and-run tactics to great advantage.
The Defense Department has surmised that the Russian intelligence apparatus didn’t fully factor in the degree to which Russian troops were going to be resisted, the official said.
Also, the DOD believes that the Russians haven’t properly planned and executed their logistics and sustainment efforts, the official noted.
Not since World War II have Russian forces executed such a large-scale ground operation using combined arms of air, land and sea, so it’s understandable, in a way, that their planning and execution has faltered. Combined arms integration is difficult to execute in any scenario by any country, the official said.
Having said that, the official believed that the Russians are “going to work through those challenges, and we’re beginning to see them do that.”
Situational Report Update
Advanced elements of Russian forces are about 15 kilometers from the center of Kyiv, which would put them near the suburbs of Ukraine’s capital, the official said.
Russian forces are also on the outskirts of Kharkiv, but there’s still a lot of fighting there and it’s being well defended. The city of Mariupol is under increasing pressure, but is also being well defended, the official said.
Also, the city of Mykolayiv is being effectively defended despite heavy fighting there, the official added.
Since the start of the war, the Russians have launched more than 800 missiles of all varieties and sizes into Ukraine, the official said.
Regarding the Russian convoy in the north of Ukraine, it has not made any significant progress. Some of their vehicles have moved off the road and into the tree line, presumably for force protection against Ukrainian attacks.
The Russians are flying on average 200 sorties per day — not all into Ukrainian airspace since cruise missiles can be launched from those aircraft to hit targets in Ukraine from a great distance. “There’s a general cautiousness on their part,” the official said.
The Ukrainians have about 56 fighter jets available and are flying about five-to-10 sorties per day. The official noted that they don’t really need to do more than that since the Russians have surface-to-air missiles that could knock those planes out of the sky. In addition, the Ukrainians have made great use of their drones, which can deliver munitions as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the official said.
The United States and 14 allies continue to send defensive weapons systems into Ukraine, including small arms, anti-armor and air defense, the official said.
The official cautioned against U.S. veterans traveling to Ukraine to assist in the fighting. The best way Americans can help would be to contribute to organizations like the Red Cross, which is doing humanitarian work there, the official said. (Source: US DoD)
11 Mar 22. Defence firms ramp up pitch to exit sustainability wilderness.
- SEB fund unit among first to loosen investment rules
- Other large asset managers may follow – Jefferies
- Sector on a role as governments ramp up spend
Largely ignored by the growing ranks of Europe’s socially minded investors, defence firms see a fresh chance to argue for a place in portfolios after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
One asset manager announced last week that it would re-allow investment in defence, a sign that cracks are emerging in widespread opposition to owning defence firms from sustainable investors in Europe.
Analysts expect more to follow. But for many with a sustainable tilt – defined by some as investing in companies that aim to have a positive impact on the world – it will prove a tough ask.
Rolls Royce (RR.L), Thales and Airbus (AIR.PA) have joined a chorus of companies over the last two weeks calling for investors to treat the sector more favourably, arguing security and stability are key to sustainability.
That comes after a year of the industry lobbying European authorities not to exclude defence from an upcoming framework or “taxonomy” on socially good investments.
It also follows years in which investors across Europe have avoided the sector in favour of firms with stronger environmental, social and governance (ESG) profiles, hurting defence shares and raising financing costs.
Most of the funds focused on sustainability that Reuters has spoken to remain cold on defence. But some are eyeing the returns on offer from the region’s push to raise security spending.
Sweden’s SEB Investment Management announced last week it had overturned a blanket ban on any company deriving more than 5% of its revenue from defence for six of its funds, although the majority of its product range is unchanged, including sustainable funds.
SEB attributed the change to pressure from customers for exposure to defence as Russian troops amassed on the Ukraine border, underlining that fund houses must answer to clients as well as their own sustainability promises.
“We are seeing evidence that a number of large European asset managers are re-evaluating the sector,” said Luke Sussams, head of ESG in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for investment bank Jefferies. “The Ukraine-Russia conflict has been a real wake-up call for ESG investors in general.”
Yet others say the sudden redrawing of Europe’s security architecture does not mean makers of fighters, missiles and tanks are suddenly sustainable.
“Sustainable investments must fulfil the criterion “Do no significant harm” – this is not the case with armaments,” said Henrik Pontzen, head of ESG at Union Investment. It is sticking to excluding from its sustainable funds any company that earns more than 5% of revenue from arms.
Sasja Beslik, head of sustainability at Danish pension fund PFA, said investors were wrong if they believed they could ensure that any investment in defence went solely towards defending borders.
“What are we going to include tomorrow? Let’s include chemical companies that are polluting certain parts of the world, but not the rest. Come on, it’s ridiculous,” he told Reuters.
While funds with a specific sustainable or ethical mandate may find it hard to change tack, others with a looser requirement to “integrate ESG risks” have more flexibility.
Sustainable managers typically avoid businesses that earn 5%-plus of revenue from defence, while the vast majority of risk-focused funds just ban those involved with unconventional weapons such as cluster munitions.
UBS analysts noted that rather than outright exclusions some ESG managers prefer engagement.
According to Morningstar, sustainable funds have a 0.2% weighting to aerospace and defence against the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF’s 1.1%. In Europe the underweighting is starker — 0.2% against 1.6%.
SOCIALLY GOOD OR BAD?
Still, defence lobbyists believe they are now winning the argument, especially after a strong indication that Europe’s drive to help funnel investment to socially and environmentally friendly activities would not exclude their industry.
A report prepared for the European Commission on its ‘Social Taxonomy’ last month omitted an earlier reference of defence as socially harmful. Lobbyists had feared it would lead to widespread fund exclusions.
With Germany, Sweden and others announcing bigger defence spending since the war in Ukraine, analysts have rushed to upgrade forecasts and share prices have soared.
Calling ESG concerns “spurious and morally weak”, Agency Partners said in a note that the EU taxonomy debate had clouded the investability and valuations of defence stocks.
And French warplane manufacturer Dassault Aviation (AM.PA) hit out at a “schizophrenic” situation that saw European defence spending rising only for U.S. rivals to benefit, because European suppliers were being harmed by the EU taxonomy drive.
“Taxonomy is not an effective weapon against current threats,” CEO Eric Trappier, who also represents the French defence industry, told reporters. “It is a weapon used against us, the defence industry, and the proof is that… its small suppliers are starting to have problems with their banks.”
The defence industry’s fight is far from over, however.
Including defence in the EU social’s taxonomy would “fly in the face of the ‘Do No Significant Harm principle'”, said Hortense Bioy, sustainable research director at Morningstar.
European technical advisers are also backing a 5% revenue threshold to exclude defence companies from the bloc’s planned ‘EU Ecolabel’, which is designed to help consumers identify more environmentally friendly and socially good products.
A spokesperson said the Commission would “carefully reflect on all the implications of those exclusions for defence-related activities”, but stressed no final decision had been made.
For a fragmented industry that can struggle to compete against rivals in the United States where ESG concerns are less commonplace, winning hearts and minds of investors is crucial.
“Even if some banks and investors are coming back to defence, it doesn’t mean they all are,” said Jan Pie, secretary general of European defence industry lobby ASD, arguing that longer term, defence needed more reliable financial backers.
“It shouldn’t be public opinion that decides whether to finance the defence industry.” (Source: Reuters)