Ukraine Conflict Update – March 25
Military and hard security developments
- On 25 March, UK intelligence noted that the Ukrainian forces managed to “reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres east of Kyiv”. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces noted that the Russians are regrouping ahead of an anticipated offensive from the east on Brovary and Boryspil. Elsewhere, Ukrainian artillery targeted the western edge of the southern city of Kherson overnight, which has remained under Russian control for a number of weeks. While the raid did not develop into an attack against the city, it underlines Ukrainian forces’ ability to operate in the region south of Mykolaiv and Kherson’s relative vulnerability to Ukrainian attacks.
- Reports of heavy fighting also continue in Chernihiv, with the regional governor Viacheslav Chaus stating this morning that the city has effectively been cut off by Russian forces, underlining the mounting pressure on Kyiv from the north-east. Additionally, Ukrainian authorities have subsequently requested a humanitarian corridor for Chernihiv, amid growing reports of people in the city being taken hostage by the Russian forces and increasingly scarce water and food supplies.
- May Day Victory Parade? Operational victory, strategic failure? The next phase of recruitment for the Russian Armed Forces involves conscripts which will of course dilute Russia combat capability. The aim appears to be for a May day Victory Parade with the ‘Plan B’ being June when economic problems for funding the war set in. The Russia Army may agree to withdraw some of its troops on the Eastern Borders and in the South to shorten supply lines as part of any deal. Ideally Ukraine would want to keep a seaport access to the Black Sea whilst Russia would want to seal off Ukraine from sea access.
- Lack of camouflage and IR netting. Both Russia and Ukraine have severe shortages of camouflage and IR netting which has led to attempts to camouflage equipment with grass and hay; thus this equipment can be targeted using IR systems at night.
- Mobile phones used as target locations. Mobile phones used by Ukrainian troops, some made in UK, have been used as target locators by Russia artillery. We believe that a change of doctrine has been ordered to turn these off.
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- Today, 25 March, US President Joe Biden will visit a Polish town, approximately 80 kilometres from Ukraine, in a move designed to signal solidarity with Kyiv and willingness to defend NATO allies amid Russia’s invasion. However, as anticipated, western leaders did not fulfil Ukraine’s requests for more sophisticated weapons or sanctions on Russian energy during yesterday’s summits in Brussels. Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the West for its support, but highlighted that it did not come quickly enough. Additionally, Hungary reiterated that it will not permit the supply of weapons to Ukraine through its territory and will not support sanctions on Russian oil and gas, underlining the existing divisions within the bloc that Russia continues to exploit.
- Following yesterday’s NATO summit in Brussels, US President Joe Biden stated that NATO would “respond” if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine. Biden did not elaborate or provide specific details on what the response would look like, stating that “the nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use”. While this ambiguity could prove useful in preventing Moscow from knowing exactly where NATO’s red lines are, and thus promote restraint, the lack of definitive red lines could also encourage Moscow to probe NATO defences and test its resolve to ascertain where these lines are and see how much it can get away with. Nevertheless, Biden’s statement is the clearest indication yet that NATO is preparing a response to a potential Russian CBRN escalation in Ukraine.
- Additionally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today accused the West of waging a “hybrid war, a total war” against Russia through its economic sanctions. He claimed the West seeks to strangle the Russian economy and the country as a whole and underlines the sustained narrative being pushed by the Kremlin that they are fighting not only Ukraine but the West. Such narratives are only likely to intensify as the economic impact of sanctions really begins to bite, with a Bloomberg poll published today, 25 March, indicating that Russian GDP will shrink by 9.6% in 2022, followed by a further contraction of 1.5% in 2023.
Economic/business environment developments
- Several EU member states said that will not yield to Putin’s demands of forcing “unfriendly” countries to pay for Russian oil and gas in rubles, calling the unilateral decision a “breach of contract”. Putin’s announcement yesterday reflects Moscow’s attempts to bolster its currency which has depreciated by about 20% since the start of the invasion and unprecedented western sanctions. Following Putin’s announcement, the Russian government and energy conglomerate Gazprom have one week to iron out the details and implement the changes to the payment procedure. However, it remains uncertain whether Russia can make such changes unilaterally and whether any of the impacted countries would agree to the new terms given that the former is a breach of contract, and the latter would undermine support for Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is likely that Russia may well engineer temporary energy supply cuts or other disruptions to put pressure on the EU in particular, with any refusal to pay in rubles also providing a potential pretext to cut or limit gas exports. At the same time, however, the EU and the US have announced a new agreement on additional LNG supplies to be sent to Europe from the US in a bid to reduce the dependence on Russian gas.
- Russian state-owned public opinion research centre, VTsIOM, reported today that public confidence in Putin has increased over the week and is now at 80.6%. The results are on trend with the previously reported findings which suggest that an overwhelming majority of Russians support the “special military operation” in Ukraine, and that a growing percentage of the population is viewing the west more unfavourably. Although obtaining reliable polling data is an enduring challenge in Russia, the figures and trends very strongly suggest that the government’s clampdown on information landscape is proving effective in drumming up public support.
- Finnish railway company VR Group announced today that it will suspend rail service with Russia on 28 March. The officials noted that Finnish citizens who wanted to leave Russia have managed to do so and that the services will now be suspended due to sanctions. The announcement underlines the increasingly limited number of commercial options available for expats still in Russia to leave, amid earlier suspension of flights and tit-for-tat closure of airspace.
- According to Russian state news, the Russian Ministry of Defence will allegedly open “humanitarian corridors” to allow the exit of foreign vessels from Ukrainian ports. While Moscow has stated that Russian forces pose no threat to foreign vessels, instead alleging the threat from Ukrainian shelling is preventing foreign vessels access, Russian forces have targeted numerous internationally flagged vessels since the invasion began. These maritime “humanitarian corridors” will reportedly operate daily from 0800-1900 (Moscow time) as of today, 25 March. While it remains unclear whether such corridors will be respected and hold, they represent an opportunity for foreign vessels trapped in ports such as Mykolaiv and Odesa to attempt to leave.
- Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 25 March, the southbound H01/P01 remains the comparatively safest route for access to/exit from Kyiv. However, the missile strike in Kyiv’s Podil district near the city centre on 20 March and the reported shelling at evacuation trains from Kyiv near Vasylkiv on 24 March highlight the danger posed to any movements in and around Kyiv. We assess that southern routes still remain comparatively safer, however.
- SOCMINT 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. Finally, there are increasing (unverified) accounts shared on social media of Russian forces firing indiscriminately on private vehicles on westbound routes into Kyiv, highlighting increased desperation on the part of Russian units in the area, but equally highlighting the severe risk to life posed by travelling on westbound routes to and from Kyiv at present.
- For routes toward western Ukraine, the P32 westbound from Bila Tserkva currently remains the safest major westbound road out of Kyiv. However, shelling in Vinnytsia, Vasylkiv and Fastiv remains an ongoing threat, and air raid warnings across the length of the P32 – notably in Khmelnytskyi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv – highlights the increasing spread of the conflict into western Ukraine. Therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes at present.
- Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed north and south of the E373 and the E40, and as such these routes remain unsafe. The advance around Kyiv remains largely stalled at the time of writing, with Russian land forces regrouping east of Kyiv. We assess that the south-west of the city remains highly unsafe, and that the areas of Fastiv, Obukhiv and Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 represent viable targets for Russian forces in the event that a serious push to encircle Kyiv begins again.
In a highly significant development, the Russian Ministry of Defence released a statement this afternoon, 25 March, stating that Russian forces will now concentrate their effort on the “complete liberation” of the Donbas. Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff claimed Russian forces currently control 93% of Luhansk oblast and 54% of Donetsk oblast, where heavy fighting continues, including the besieged city of Mariupol. In the statement Rudskoy also claimed that Russia initially did not plan to storm the now besieged cities in Ukraine in order to minimise civilian casualties, and while he reiterated that this has not been ruled out as an option in the future, Russian efforts will now focus on the Donbas. The Ministry of Defence statement is only of the most significant to be released since the beginning of the invasion a month ago as it could indicate a shift in Russian war aims as well as the potential dampening of expectations as to what a Russian “victory” would look like. The tempo of Russian military operations has steadily eroded in recent weeks as heavy losses, logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance stall offensives on almost all fronts – with the exception of the Donbas where Russian forces have made slow but steady progress. The Russian statement thus reinforces our own assessment that the Donbas and the surrounding eastern region remains the principal effort for Russian forces in Ukraine, despite the significant emphasis and attention placed upon the investment of Kyiv. As we look ahead to when and how this current conflict could end, the statement indicates that Russian operations could be entering a new phase. This phase could be designed to consolidate their positions and shift to the defensive in areas where operations have stalled, including around Kyiv and the north-east where Russian forces have been digging in, and instead concentrate offensive effort in the Donbas to achieve a clear political objective. Indeed, Rudskoy has claimed that Russia has destroyed the vast majority of Ukraine’s air force and navy, which he stated marked the successful end of the first phase of the conflict. However, he also stated that the invasion would continue until all targets set by President Putin had been achieved, though he did not elaborate on what these were. Nevertheless, the complete “liberation” of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts is clearly one of these central objectives, and the successful taking of these regions may provide the Kremlin with an off ramp where it could enter peace talks while claiming its military operation had been successful.
- The last 24 hours continued to see relatively little movement on the battlefield, although further reports emerged of limited Ukrainian counter-offensives east and west of Kyiv. Overnight there was also a notable artillery raid on the western edge of Kherson by Ukrainian forces, although this did not develop into an attack on the city.
- Following the Russian repulse from Mikolayiv, Kherson certainly remains vulnerable to a determined offensive from the west, especially given unrest by the local population. Both sides have relatively equal forces in the area, although Russia continues to extend its forces north and east. This overstretch will continue to provide Ukraine with its most significant opportunity for battlefield success in the south.
- To achieve this, however, forces will almost certainly have to be released from Odesa, where a Ukrainian Brigade is currently fixed in defence. The loss of an Alligator-class landing ship yesterday and the publicised landing of troops from that vessel and two Ropucha-class ships at Berdyansk, west of Mariupol, may allow Ukraine to downgrade the threat of an amphibious assault in that area and shift forces, but we have not yet seen evidence of this. Continued bombardment of Odesa by naval forces is intended to keep Kyiv’s attention on the area and prevent such a move; such actions are therefore likely to continue.
- More widely, Ukrainian forces continue to operate effectively at night. The most successful tactic remains infiltration by small groups armed with more modern weapon systems, especially in more congested terrain. This approach has been successful in disrupting Russian hold over small villages along supply routes or attacking convoys. However, this may be less useful as Russian forces increasingly dig in to defensive positions, especially around Chernihiv and east of the capital. These will require more coordinated action and heavy firepower to successfully assault, although Russian supply difficulties and morale issues may undermine the defence.
- Russia continues to make best progress amidst confused, slow, fighting in the south and Donbas. Pro-Russian social media accounts are proclaiming the fall of Mariupol following the capture of civic buildings in the centre of the city, and also a much-hyped visit by the leader of the Donetsk separatists. Russian forces have certainly made good progress in dividing the defence into several parts, but resistance will likely continue for as long as defenders have ammunition. Their aim remains to draw out the defence for as long as possible.
- The message from Russia continues to be that the destruction in Mariupol and especially humanitarian suffering has been caused by the Azov defenders holding civilians hostage. This shows how the former militia regiment continues to be a focus of Moscow’s claims of right-wing activity, and further propaganda efforts will be made to exploit this following the eventual fall of the city. This hatred also explains why defenders are unlikely to surrender as they will face significant persecution and hostility, likely including show trials and executions.
- Attention remains focused on NATO following yesterday’s meeting. President Biden will visit eastern Poland today, and several nations have pledged further support for Ukraine in the form of weapons supplies. However, the issue of the supply of larger military equipment remains unresolved.
- Attention continues to focus on CBRN and escalation risks. US, UK, and NATO statements have indicated that there will be a “response” to these, but there remains confusion over what this will actually mean in practice. Ambiguity could, however, be useful here as it will prevent Russia from knowing exactly where red lines are and this could lead to restraint. It also does not commit NATO to action should Russia deliberately seek a provocation, with some calculations suggesting that Putin may see strategic escalation and more direct conflict with NATO as being a way out of his strategic dead-end. If nothing else, losing to NATO is probably preferable to losing to Ukraine, and this brings the issue into the strategic nuclear realm – where the Kremlin may be better able to force an outcome.
- There are also complexities around support for Ukraine linked to the risks around dependency for some EU/NATO nations on hydrocarbon supply from Russia. This morning the US signed a deal to provide liquid natural gas (LNG) to replace Russian supplies, but this will only impact supplies later this year, and in the meantime this lever remains. Russia has demanded payment in rubles for this, to shore up the currency, but so far this has been refused. The calculation remains that Moscow requires the substantial revenue in the short term and so cannot afford to disrupt this relationship, in turn preventing serious economic impacts on nations reliant on flows. This may not stop threats of disruption, and of course nations are receiving criticism for – in effect – helping to pay for the sustained Russian campaign in Ukraine.
- This all suggests that while flows of defensive equipment will increase, including body armour, helmets, CBRN equipment, and anti-air or anti-tank missile systems, there will continue to be practical limits on NATO support. Deliveries continue to lag behind promises and it will continue to be a few weeks until more complex systems, such as the UK Starstreak low-level anti-aircraft missiles, will come into Ukrainian service.
- The most substantial delivery is more TB2 drones from Turkey, although in practice these are starting to prove more vulnerable to Russian air defence systems, since they are more able to detect and engage larger UAVs. Russia also continues to use UAVs effectively, although again it is smaller devices that are having a disproportionate impact due to their relative impunity from engagement.
- The aerial situation remains largely unchanged, with the tempo of operations slowing from both sides. Russia continues to make good use of attack aviation in Donbas. There continue to be reports of Russia running out of precision weapon systems, which is more true in the air than elsewhere. However, many of these statements are over-reported and we believe that significant stocks of effective cruise and ballistic weapons remain. Russia has shown a capability to make effective intelligence-led precision strikes where required, albeit this will remain a more selective capability, and unguided munitions will continue to predominate – not least because this is a cheap, effective way for Russia to achieve its ends.
- Overall, we assess that Russia will now continue to draw into defensive positions in order to intensify bombardments of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy. Forces will also continue to use artillery against Kyiv, although much of the city is out of range of the majority of Russian weapons, so this will lack effect. The main Russian offensive operations will continue to be around Severodonetsk, Donetsk, and west of the Dnieper, although all are facing setbacks. The fight for Mariupol will continue for at least several more days, but Russian claims of victory will become louder and more credible; it is unlikely that there will be a formal end to fighting there through, for example, a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces will generally concentrate on small unit actions especially around Kyiv, and disruption of Russian supply lines by road and rail.
Russia: Further UK and US sanctions set to increase international isolation of key sectors
On 24 March, the UK and the US announced additional sanctions on Moscow, with Washington imposing sanctions on more than 400 entities and individuals, including 48 Russian defence companies and the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. Meanwhile, the UK will introduce 65 new sanctions on business elites and strategic industries. Among the sanctioned parties are six additional banks including state-controlled Gazprombank, the world’s largest diamond producer Alrosa, Russian Railways and the private military contractor Wagner Group. The new measures aim to cut off entire sectors of the economy, heightening Russia’s international isolation. The new measures came as the Moscow Stock Exchange partially resumed trading, though Russian financial markets will likely be unable to stabilise in the near term. Meanwhile, G7 leaders will focus on closing loopholes in existing measures in the coming weeks before implementing further sanctions, in a bid to prevent Russia from circumventing restrictions.
Canada: Federal authorities to increase oil and gas exports despite opposition from environmental groups
On 24 March, Natural Resources Canada announced its intent to increase oil and gas exports to reach a quota of approximately 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) by the end of 2022. This is intended to offset the impact that sanctions imposed on Russian energy firms following the invasion of Ukraine have had on international energy prices. Notably, Canada is positioning itself to supply additional oil and gas to European Union (EU) member states, which remain dependent on Russian hydrocarbons. While the move is likely to ease medium-term energy price volatility, lowering consumer costs, the decision to expand oil and gas exports has triggered significant backlash from Canada’s environmental groups. While federal authorities claim the export increase will not affect Canada’s carbon emission reduction goals, the decision elevates the risk of small-scale demonstrations targeting federal facilities and drilling sites over the coming months.
Global: High-profile investors to remain primary targets for social engineering in 2022 as its low technical threshold further proliferates its popularity amongst hackers
On 24 March, the wealth and asset management division of Morgan Stanley disclosed that some of its customers’ accounts were compromised in social engineering attacks. These threat actors called their victims in vishing attacks (also known as voice phishing) to exfiltrate sensitive information such as banking or login credentials. Once they gained access to their targets’ accounts, they electronically transferred funds using the Zelle payment service. Despite these breaches, Morgan Stanley claims there “was no data breach or information leak” and that their “systems remain secure”. This latest incident is indicative of the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report’s findings that social engineering attacks such as BEC, investment fraud, and confidence/romance scams accounted for over USD 4.8 billion of losses recorded in 2021 because of cyber crime. Further such attacks are highly likely to be launched into 2022, especially as they remain popular amongst cyber criminals due to their low technical threshold and high payout rates. Individuals such as high profile investors, financial sector employees, and C-suite executives will remain the most at-risk for such activity.
US: Washington’s indictment of Russian hackers unlikely to inhibit Moscow’s cyber capacities as tensions over the Ukraine conflict remain high. On 24 March, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted four Russian hackers for their alleged involvement in compromising hundreds of global energy sector entities between 2012 and 2018. The DOJ noted that these hackers breached multiple oil and gas firms, nuclear power plants, and utility companies through supply chain attacks against ICS and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. The unsealing of these indictments follows the FBI’s 22 March warning that Russian hackers have been increasingly scanning US-based energy firms for vulnerabilities since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. While the scanning of networks for vulnerabilities is common and not an indication that an attack is imminent, such a threat would be indicative of the White House’s 21 March warning that the Russian government may be “exploring options for potential cyber attacks” (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 22 March 2022). Despite tensions over the Ukraine conflict likely to remain high in the coming weeks, the likelihood of Russian cyber attacks being launched against US-based organisations is currently assessed to be moderate. Nevertheless, any such attacks will most likely be targeted against critical infrastructure operators, such as government agencies or energy-sector firms.
Alisher Usmanov might have made the headlines this week as he boasted about avoiding sanctions by using trusts, but he is far from alone. The use of trusts and complex offshore holdings routed through other offshore holdings is common practice for ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI). These structures are used to own and mask true ownership of assets, like property and superyachts, as well as a means of structuring shareholdings in profit-making companies. Establishing the true ownership of these offshore companies can be complex, and this is fundamentally important when seizing or suspending assets of sanctioned individuals, or to prove that they own or control 50% or more of a company. The percentage control of a company is an important threshold within the US sanctions regime, whereby if a sanctioned individual controls/owns 50% or more of a company that company automatically becomes sanctioned. Alisher Usmanov only holds 49% of USM, Usmanov’s main business conglomerate focused on metals, mining, telecommunications, technology, and media. Usmanov claims this percentage is a coincidence. Although, as noted, (U)HNWI use offshore structures to hide or mask their assets, this doesn’t always guarantee that they remain hidden, and frequent public associations with yachts or houses, or the diligent work of investigators, means ultimate beneficial owners can be revealed, and therefore these assets can be temporarily seized. But this is only the case when assets are held in sanctioning jurisdictions, as evidenced by the public flight of some oligarchs’ yachts and jets to various ‘safe havens.’ The capital sailing across the Mediterranean from France, skirting Greek waters to Turkey or the Maldives, is proof that sanctions are hard to apply. Naming an individual, like Usmanov, is only the first step. Finding and proving ownership of assets, is the next. Lastly, when a government seizes an asset, the question of what to do with it remains. A sanctioning government does not automatically take ownership of the asset. They have no right to sell these houses or yachts seized from oligarchs, which legally still belong to the sanctioned individuals. Should a government decide to dispose of them without proving just cause, potentially opening the door to costly litigation? Moreover, who is responsible for the upkeep of these assets? Superyachts costs millions of dollars a year to maintain and crew salaries have to be paid. With cash and other assets frozen, sanctioned individuals cannot pay, and could refuse to do so; but yachts cannot be left to rot in a marina and houses cannot be left to fall into disrepair. This also leads to another question of a sanctioning government’s social responsibility to those employed by sanctioned individuals to maintain yachts, houses, and other assets. These individuals risk job losses by nature of their employer’s identity, rather than any fault of their own. Lastly, should a government gain ownership of a seized yacht or a house and then sell it, what should be done with the proceeds? At present lawmakers in Washington DC are pushing a bill called ‘Yachts for Ukraine’. The bill would permit authorities to seize property held by Russian élites in the US valued above USD5 million (including bank accounts) and use the proceeds to help Ukraine, including post-conflict reconstruction, humanitarian support and other uses. However, this is just a short term, and arguably, short sighted solution, and fails to address the root cause of both Russian aggression in Ukraine, but also fails to address the international system that has allowed and enabled these individuals to amass these fortunes, and mask their assets.
The following is a list of some of the assets impounded, seized or suspended to date. This list is by no means exhaustive:
- Villa in Golf del Pevero in Sardinia estimated at USD19 million.
- Superyacht Dilbar in Hamburg worth USD600 million was there for a refit and works have been suspended.
- An aircraft linked to Abramovich is reportedly stranded at an airport near Basel due to Swiss airspace closures.
- The sale of Chelsea FC has been suspended.
- Yacht Amore Vero was seized in the French Riviera. Estimated worth USD29.1 billion.
- Superyacht Lady M seized by Italian authorities, valued at EUR65 million.
- Two properties on Lake Como have been seized, worth approximately EUR8 million.
Superyacht Lena seized in Italy, estimated worth USD55m.
- On 24 March, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted four Russian hackers for their alleged involvement in compromising hundreds of global energy sector entities between 2012 and 2018. The DOJ noted that these hackers breached multiple oil and gas firms, nuclear power plants, and utility companies through supply chain attacks against ICS and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. The unsealing of these indictments follows the FBI’s 22 March warning that Russian hackers have been increasingly scanning US-based energy firms for vulnerabilities since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Such a threat would be indicative of the White House’s 21 March warning that the Russian government may be “exploring options for potential cyber attacks” (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 22 March 2022).
- On 23 March, the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed that they had compromised Russia’s Central Bank and threatened to leak 35,000 sensitive documents, including “secret agreements”, by late 25 March. The documents compromised in this campaign have yet to be leaked online as of the time of writing. This activity is consistent with the hacktivist group’s ongoing assault against Russian public and private sector entities since the start of the Ukraine conflict. A Twitter account allegedly linked to the group claimed on 3 March that Anonymous had compromised more than 2,500 websites linked to the Russian and Belarusian government in support of Kyiv (See Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 8 March).
- Meanwhile, Anonymous also claimed on 23 March that they are currently launching cyber attacks against Russian companies’ printers in order to counter Moscow’s ongoing disinformation warfare. The group has reportedly used this campaign to send over 160 devices “anti-war and anti-propaganda” messages to bypass the Russian government’s censorship efforts regarding its invasion of Ukraine. This is Anonymous’ most notable effort to counter Russian disinformation since the group disclosed in late February-early March that they were uploading counter-propaganda material onto Russian companies’ misconfigured cloud databases.
- On 23 March, industry reports claimed that Chinese state-linked hacking group Mustang Panda has been targeting European diplomats, internet service providers (ISPs), and research institutes across the globe in a cyber espionage operation. This campaign – which started in August 2021 – uses a series of phishing lures to compromise its victims, including topics such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the aim of this campaign is unclear, Mustang Panda is known for orchestrating cyber espionage operations aimed at helping Beijing manage its political, economic, and foreign policy concerns. Given that Russia is a main target of this latest campaign, it is plausible that at least one of Mustang Panda’s objectives is to exfiltrate sensitive information about Ukraine to determine how it could affect Beijing’s regional business interests. This aim would be consistent with previously detected activities, with Mustang Panda observed targeting European diplomatic entities assisting Ukrainian refugees in early March (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update -11 March 2022).
- On 23 March, the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) claimed that an estimated 50-70 thousand Russian IT specialists have left Russia since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with another 70-100 thousand expected to leave by the end of April. Despite the timing of this exodus, these departures do not appear to be politically motivated but instead due to tech workers being denied access to platforms critical to their operations as a result of the sanctions imposed against Russia. RAEC claimed that these workers are primarily moving to Turkey, the UAE, Armenia, Georgia, and the Baltics. However, industry reports also claimed that some companies in the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany could be interested in hiring these workers due to Western states’ growing IT-related shortage.
Russia’s utilisation of cyber space remains limited as of 25 March, despite Moscow’s flurry of disruptive attacks during the initial phase of the Ukraine conflict. However, US intelligence agencies have continued to warn that Moscow could be planning to launch malicious cyber attacks against US-based critical infrastructure operators and businesses. Despite the FBI’s 22 March warning that Russian hackers have been observed scanning US energy companies’ networks for potential flaws and vulnerabilities, this act does not inherently mean that an attack is imminent. Several US cyber security firms have questioned the veracity of the FBI’s alert, with former NSA cyber defence expert Sergio Caltagirone saying “some [Russian hackers] have scanned internet hosts which have no connection to critical infrastructure […] therefore, the targeted premise which supposedly underpins this list [of 140 IP addresses being scanned] is questionable”.
In addition, Russian hackers will likely remain hesitant to target the US or other major NATO powers in the short term to avoid bringing these states more directly into the Ukraine conflict and divert much-needed resources away from its military offensives in Ukraine. Nevertheless, with incidents such as Sandworm’s ongoing compromise of Asus and WatchGuard Firebox devices indicating a surge in Russian cyber activity as of late, US-based critical infrastructure operators will remain at an elevated risk of being targeted by Moscow-direct cyber attacks in the coming days and weeks.
Meanwhile, the ongoing exodus of Russian IT specialists has the potential to pose a growing threat to Western businesses and governments in the coming months. Most notably, there is an increasing risk that Moscow may attempt to capitalise on this “brain drain” to engage in some form of corporate espionage or intellectual property (IP) theft. If Russia were to engage in such activity, it would likely duplicate the systems utilised by either Iran or China. With regards to China, intelligence agencies such as the FBI have noted that Beijing targets institutions through developing ties with Western academics or small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) developing technologies within strategic sectors, such as energy. Similar tactics have been adopted by Iran, with Tehran, in addition to cyber espionage, known to recruit overseas informants to steal strategically valuable information from Western think tanks, universities, and companies.
With the international sanctions levied against Russia likely to significantly inhibit its research and development (R&D) capabilities, there is an increasing risk of Moscow either approaching these departing Russian IT specialists or sending IT-related intelligence operatives to the West to engage in corporate espionage considering the high levels of access they would have within their targeted organisations. While there is currently no indication of such activity taking place, these departing workers may be more susceptible to Russia’s persuasion tactics given that most are leaving for economic reasons and not in protest of the war. Industries across most sectors will be at risk of being targeted by such activity given the wide-spanning sanctions levied against the Russian Federation. However, these espionage operations will most likely be targeted against high priority industries, such as aerospace, defence, banking, or technology.
Iran and China’s utilisation of these espionage techniques have significantly increased the scrutiny of Chinese and Iranian citizens applying for jobs in the West. For example, Delft University – one of the Netherlands’ leading universities in aerospace engineering – increased screening of Iranian students applying to be part of its rocket project, Stratos. Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Stef Blok has implied that this is to minimise the risk of rocket technology being appropriated by the Iranian authorities. Companies in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany indicated that they are considering hiring these departing Russian IT workers. As such, firms will be under increasing pressure in the coming months to undergo thorough due diligence to vet potential malicious actors from their networks, especially those with close connections to government agencies.
Elsewhere, Anonymous has remained the most active and effective pro-Ukraine hacking group during the monitoring period. The majority of its attacks have remained aimed at either countering Russia’s disinformation/misinformation warfare and/or disrupting its military offensives in Ukraine. However, the ongoing exodus of Russian IT specialists will likely severely limit Russia-based private sector entities’ cyber defensive capabilities and expose them to a higher risk of attack by Pro-Ukrainian hacking groups. As such, this trend, coupled with Anonymous’ latest claim that they plan on targeting Western firms still operating in Russia, could embolden Pro-Kyiv hackers to launch more brazen attacks, such as ransomware, against their targets given their diminished defensive capabilities. Such a scenario will elevate the risk of the Ukraine conflict’s cyber warfare spilling over to Russia-based private sector organisations in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
25 Mar 22. Russia hints at scaling back war on Ukraine. Military says it will focus on eastern front after defeats around Kyiv. The Kremlin has given its strongest indication that Russia will scale back its military ambitions in Ukraine to focus on fighting for control of the east.
After defeats around Kyiv and stalled efforts to capture ports on the south coast, Moscow said it would “focus our core efforts “ to achieve the “main goal, the liberation of Donbas”.
Full control of the contested province has long been identified as critical to Russia’s war. However, Putin has consistently said his objective is removing “the pro-Nazi regime in Kyiv”. The announcement by the defence ministry appears to indicate that Russia is scaling back its ambitions.
Other key developments:
- It has emerged that Russia sent nuclear submarines into the north Atlantic last month, hours after President Putin put his nuclear forces on higher alert
- The US and UK accused the Russian government of running a long campaign to hack into critical infrastructure.
- The US has agreed to send the EU liquefied natural gas to ease its dependence on Russian imports. It will send 15 billion cubic metres this year, replacing about 10 per cent of overall Russian gas supply.
- A thousand civilians have been killed and 1,707 injured in 30 days of war, according to the UN.
Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian general staff’s main operational directorate, said Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93 per cent of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54 per cent of the Donetsk region, the two areas that constitute the Donbas.
“The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine have been considerably reduced, which . . makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” he said.
He added that Russia’s army had considered two options at the outset of the conflict: a national operation and one limited to the Donbas. “The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Rudskoi said.
Moscow-backed rebels declared self-determination in the eastern Donbas region in 2014, leading to a grinding eight-year war that was used by Putin in February as a pretext for the full invasion of Ukraine. He claimed without evidence that Ukraine was wageing “genocide” against ethnic Russians. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the eastern conflict.
The Kremlin updated its death toll for Russian soldiers to 1,351, well below the Ukrainian estimate of 15,000 Russian casualties and the American figure of about 7,000.
The statement from Moscow came hours after Ukrainian officials said they believed that as many as 300 people died in the Russian bombardment of a theatre in Mariupol where up to a thousand civilians were sheltering.
Russian bombs hit the Drama Theatre building last week despite a large inscription reading “children” being written outside to make it visible from the air.
“From eyewitnesses, information is emerging that about 300 people died in the Drama Theatre of Mariupol following strikes by a Russian aircraft,” the city council wrote on Telegram today. “Up until the very last moment, one does not want to believe this horror. But the words of those who were inside the building at the time of this terrorist act says the opposite.”
Ukraine said efforts to dig people out of the ruins of the building, which had a bomb shelter in the basement, were hampered by relentless bombardment.
For days the government in the besieged city of Mariupol has been unable to give a casualty count for the attack, on March 16. It was not clear whether emergency workers had finished excavating the theatre.
Meanwhile, a British intelligence assessment said that Ukrainian forces had reoccupied towns and defensive positions up to 20 miles east of Kyiv, helped by Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines.
The Ministry of Defence said it assesses that Ukrainian forces are “likely” to continue to attempt to push Russian forces back along the northwestern route from the capital towards Hostomel airfield, which has experienced fierce fighting since the early days of the invasion. The MoD update was referring to territory on the M01 international highway, including Lukianivka and the village of Semypolky.
In the south, the ministry said that Russian forces were still trying to circumvent the strategic city of Mykolaiv as they look to drive towards the Black Sea port of Odesa “with their progress being slowed by logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance”.
Yesterday more than 250 airstrikes were carried out by Russian aircraft, according to the Centre for Defence Strategies think tank, striking military and civilian infrastructure in Kyiv, Chernihiv in the north and the Kharkiv region.
The MoD update published last night said the Ukrainians would probably continue to target logistical assets in Russian-held areas, which would force Russian troops to “prioritise the defence of their supply chain and deprive them of much needed resupply”.
“This will reduce Russia’s ability to conduct offensive operations, and further damage already dwindling morale”, it said.
Ukraine is said to have told the US that it requires 500 Javelin and Stinger missiles a day as it continues to defy the grim predictions of a swift Russian victory while inflicting significant damage on the invading forces. Kyiv is said to have updated its request for further military assistance from Washington in recent days. (Source: The Times)
25 Mar 22. Putin sent nuclear submarines into the north Atlantic. Russian ‘posturing’ has fuelled concern about the threat of tactical warheads. Hours after President Putin put his nuclear forces on a “special” state of alert, several Russian submarines capable of carrying 16 ballistic missiles each sailed into the north Atlantic.
Tracked by western militaries four weeks ago, the decision to send the submarines closer to European shores was seen by British navy chiefs as “posturing” and a warning, rather than an actual threat.
They returned towards Russia shortly afterwards and normal levels of activity resumed. Since then western intelligence agencies have kept a closer eye on the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal.
While Russia’s use of “strategic” nuclear weapons of the sort carried by the submarines is still viewed by most observers as unthinkable, some analysts envisage a scenario in which shorter range, lower-yield “tactical” nuclear weapons are used instead.
With 4,447 nuclear warheads, Russia has the largest stockpile in the world. Thousands of those are believed to be weapons that could be classed as tactical, in the sense that they are intended to devastate enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread destruction.
“The majority of Russian conventional weapons can be retrofitted with a low-yield nuclear capability. It is more complex than ‘plug and play’ but the Russians are quite innovative in what they put in front of bombs and missiles,” said a navy source.
Depending on the yield, a tactical nuclear weapon can typically destroy a football stadium, whereas a strategic missile launched from a submarine, land-based silos or mobile launchers could take out a town or city.
A western official said that the original narrative surrounding President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was to liberate the country rather than decimate it.
“However, the operation obviously is not going to plan,” he said. The official went on to point out that in Russia’s doctrine the use of tactical nuclear weapons was “seen as an option which will be used below a strategic nuclear threshold”. He added: “We’ve seen nothing so far to suggest that is something which is likely at the moment.”
Pavel Podvig, one of the world’s leading experts on Russian nuclear forces, said that such weapons — either dropped by aircraft or fired from land — were not yet on their launchers. “They are stored in special bunkers and we know these bunkers are normally at least a few kilometres away from the airfields,” he said.
There is a procedure for deploying them. It involves taking them out of the bunkers, loading them on to trucks, driving them to an airfield and then putting them in an area where they can be loaded on to aircraft. “Then the aircraft would be sitting on the tarmac with nuclear weapons ready to go,” he said.
If they were fired from land platforms, the warheads would be driven to a position somewhere, most likely in a forest, where the warheads would be installed on to missiles.
“The fact is that if you are Russia you are never certain you can hide this process, you never know who is watching,” he said, adding that western intelligence agencies had satellites and other methods to monitor such movements. (Source: The Times)
25 Mar 22. Dumped EW unit may hold military secrets. The Krasukha-4 module, fitted inside a container on a truck, can jam drones and satellites.
One of Russia’s most advanced electronic warfare systems has been seized in Ukraine after retreating forces failed to destroy it, analysts have said.
The Krasukha-4 command module is designed to jam drones and low-orbit satellites but it is also believed to be able to track Nato aircraft.
The slightly damaged unit was abandoned on the outskirts of Kyiv. Western agencies were reported to be examining the equipment.
The green container housing the technology was pictured turned on its side, with branches scattered across the top in an attempt to provide camouflage. Military analysts said it appeared that an accident led the Russians to consider it unrecoverable.
Some suggested that it fell off a truck during a retreat. There was no apparent attempt to destroy it. The Daily Telegraph reported that the unit would be taken to Germany and flown to the US, where it would be examined closely. It could reveal secrets that might help European and American allies to render it useless on the battlefield.
The unit is estimated to have a range of up to 180 miles with a jamming system so powerful that it can damage sensitive electronic gear on aircraft.
A fully assembled Krasukha-4 system consists of a command module in a container that is mounted on a truck, with a separate vehicle used to carry electronic warfare sensors.
The jamming system is designed to neutralise low-orbit satellites, drones and missiles that home in on radar. It was first used in 2010. Early models were reported to have been used in Syria against Turkish forces flying Bayraktar drones. The weapons have been used by Ukrainian soldiers to destroy Russian tank convoys.
Justin Crump, chief executive of Sibylline, the risk analysis consultancy, said that the seizure was among “lots of goodies that have been recovered on the battlefield”. He said: “It shows how scattered the fighting is and the lack of communications on the Russian side.” (Source: The Times)
25 Mar 22. Finland to deliver additional military materiel to Ukraine. Details regarding the new armament package were not disclosed, to ensure that the assistance reaches destination. Finland is set to deliver additional military materiel to Ukraine as the latter continues to battle the Russian invasion. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has approved a proposal from the government to send another defence shipment to the war-affected country. The government did not disclose the details of the armament package.
“To ensure that the assistance reaches its destination, more detailed information on the content of the assistance, manner of delivery, or schedule will not be provided.
“Both Ukraine’s needs and the resources of the Defence Forces have been taken into account when deciding on Finland’s additional assistance.”
It also added that the decision will not impact Finland’s national defence capability. The move comes more than three weeks after Finland announced that it will ship a consignment of arms, rifles, and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. The Nordic nation also sent combat ration packages, composite helmets, bulletproof vests, as well as medical equipment. After Russia launched the invasion, several countries provided lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine. The UK recently announced that it will send 6,000 new defensive missiles, comprising anti-tank and high explosive weapons, to Ukraine. Leaders of the Nato member countries met in Brussels to discuss the response to the Russian aggression on Ukraine. They agreed to strengthen their defensive posture on the eastern flank of the alliance. The members also approved establishing four new Nato battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, respectively. Nato already has four existing battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. (Source: army-technology.com)
25 Mar 22. Nato opens first MAWI location in Estonia. The location will enable other Nato members to stock their ammunition as part of their eFP contributions.
Intergovernmental military alliance Nato has opened the first Multinational Ammunition Warehousing Initiative (MAWI) location in Estonia.
According to a Nato statement, the MAWI warehouse was officially opened by the Chiefs of Defence of Belgium and Estonia.
As agreed earlier, other allied members can use the facility to stock their ammunition as part of their enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) contributions.
Eight European Nato-member countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year to address the management of ammunition stockpiles.
The initiative aimed to establish such multinational ammunition storage facilities, in order to address logistical challenges during Nato deployments.
Nato now plans to open additional MAWI locations to support eFP, as well as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) to strengthen its battle groups.
The Nato statement said: “The MAWI location in Estonia will save resources and prevent logistical problems by eliminating the need for unnecessarily rotating munitions stockpiles, in conjunction with the various deployment cycles.
“The long-term ambition is that the MAWI high-visibility project will change the way Nato allies and partners go about the storing and distribution of munition stockpiles. This will free up resources for other defence purposes.”
Nato has stepped up measures to strengthen its defences in the eastern part of the alliance, in response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The steps included the deployment of additional troops and equipment. Earlier this month, the alliance activated the Nato Response Force as a collective defensive measure and sent troops to Romania. (Source: army-technology.com)
24 Mar 22. NATO Leaders Discuss Responses to Russia’s Ukraine Invasion. NATO leaders meeting in Brussels discussed the response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, ways the alliance can support Ukraine’s defense, and ways to best defend NATO nations, said alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The secretary general spoke following the meeting of NATO heads of state that includes President Joe Biden. Stoltenberg called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine “the greatest security threat in a generation.” The Russian invasion has solidified the 30-member NATO alliance in opposition to Putin’s threats, not only to Ukraine, but to the international rules-based order.
“The people of Ukraine are resisting with courage and determination fighting for their freedom and for their future,” Stoltenberg said. “We stand with them.”
The summiteers heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Ukrainian leader thanked NATO allies for their support, and he asked for even more military assistance, the secretary general said.
“Today, NATO leaders agreed that we must and will provide further support to Ukraine,” he said. “We will continue to impose unprecedented costs on Russia, and we will reinforce Allied deterrence and defense.”
During the summit, leaders approved four new NATO battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. These join four existing battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. These NATO formations stretch “from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea,” Stoltenberg said.
He noted that the United States now has more than 100,000 troops in Europe and that there are 40,000 forces under direct NATO command, mostly in the eastern part of the alliance.
These forces are backed by major air and naval power, “including an unprecedented five carrier strike groups from the High North to the Mediterranean,” he said.
But NATO leaders are looking to the future. The secretary general said the Russian invasion has changed the security environment on the globe and the alliance must respond. “Today, NATO leaders agreed to reset our deterrence and defense for the longer-term, to face a new security reality,” he said.
NATO will place more land forces in the eastern countries of the alliance and place prepositioned equipment and supplies there.
“In the air, we will deploy more jets and strengthen our integrated air and missile defense,” he said. “At sea, we will have carrier strike groups, submarines and significant numbers of combat ships on a persistent basis. We will also strengthen our cyber defenses.”
The alliance will also step up exercises, focusing on collective defense and interoperability, he said.
Stoltenberg said alliance officials will work with member states to hash out the details of the plan so leaders can decide on the program at the Madrid Summit in June.
The allies will continue to provide significant support to Ukraine, including anti-tank and air defense systems, and unmanned aerial vehicles. These capabilities are proving highly effective against the Russian invaders, Stoltenberg said.
The allies will also continue substantial financial and humanitarian aid.
The allies pledged to do more, including cybersecurity assistance and “equipment to help Ukraine protect against biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear threats,” he said. “This could include detection, protection and medical supplies, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management.”
NATO cannot allow this war in Ukraine to metastasize. “We have a responsibility to ensure the conflict does not escalate further, because this would be even more dangerous and more devastating,” the secretary general said. “Allies agreed that we must also increase our support for other partners at risk from Russian threats and interference including Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The leaders addressed Beijing’s role in the crisis. “Today, allied leaders called on China to refrain from supporting Russia’s war effort,” Stoltenberg said. “China must not provide economic or military support for the Russian invasion. Instead, Beijing should use its significant influence on Russia and promote an immediate, peaceful resolution.”
The allies also called on Belarus to stop enabling the Russian invasion.
The leaders reaffirmed their support for the alliance’s open-door policy. “NATO enlargement has been an historic success, spreading democracy, freedom and prosperity across Europe,” he said. “One month since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s security environment has fundamentally changed for the long haul, and we are responding.” (Source: US DoD)
25 Mar 22. Ukraine morning briefing: Five developments as two missile strikes hit Ukrainian military unit.
Plus: Western sanctions ‘won’t sway Kremlin’ and hundreds of thousands of civilians ‘forcibly removed’ to Russia
Good morning. Western leaders have denounced Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour as “barbarism” as thousands in besieged cities sheltered underground from Russian bombardment.
Responding to Thursday’s Nato show of unity among Western leaders in Brussels, Moscow said the West had itself to blame for the war by arming the “Kyiv regime”.
Here are the key developments from overnight, and you can follow the latest news in our daily liveblog.
- Two missile strikes hit Ukrainian military unit
News is breaking that in Dnipro, Ukrainian forces have been badly hit this morning. According to the city’s governor, there is “serious destruction” after two missile strikes hit a Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of the city. The governor says rescuers are desperately looking for survivors.
Our liveblog will bring you the latest updates.
- Ukraine is reoccupying defensive positions
The UK Ministry of Defence said Ukraine had managed to reoccupy some areas, however.
In its latest intelligence update, posted on Twitter, the MoD said: “Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, have allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres east of Kyiv.
“Ukrainian forces are likely to continue to attempt to push Russian forces back along the north-western axis from Kyiv towards Hostomel Airfield.
“In the south of Ukraine, Russian forces are still attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa, with their progress being slowed by logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance.”
- Hundreds of thousands ‘forcibly removed’ to Russia
People who are sheltering in a metro station in northern Kharkiv receive food from volunteers CREDIT: REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of civilians to Russia to pressure Kyiv to give up.
President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his country to keep up its military defence and not stop “even for a minute”.
Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken against their will into Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to surrender.
The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia.
- Ex-president says Western sanctions won’t sway Kremlin
It is “foolish” to believe that Western sanctions against Russian businesses could have any effect on Moscow, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian ex-president and deputy head of security council was quoted as saying on Friday.
The sanctions will only consolidate the Russian society and not cause popular discontent with the authorities, he told Russia’s RIA news agency.
The West has imposed an array of sanctions on Russia, but one month into the war, the Kremlin says it will continue the assault until it accomplishes its goals of Ukraine’s “demilitarisation and denazification”.
Some of the sanctions have specifically targeted billionaire businessmen believed to be close to President Vladimir Putin.
“Let us ask ourselves: can any of these major businessmen have even the tiniest quantum of influence of the position of the country’s leadership?” Mr Medvedev said.
“I openly tell you: no, no way.”
- Gas shipments to help wean Europe off Russian energy
Joe Biden is expected on Friday to announce increased shipments of liquefied natural gas to Europe, part of a long-term initiative to wean the Continent off Russian energy after the invasion of Ukraine.
He plans to discuss the issue with Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive arm, shortly before leaving for Poland.
Russian energy is a key source of income and political leverage for Moscow. Almost 40 per cent of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia to heat homes, generate electricity and power industry. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
24 Mar 22. Joe Biden: We will respond in kind if Vladimir Putin uses chemical weapons in Ukraine. Joe Biden on Thursday night declared that Nato would respond “in kind” if Vladimir Putin resorted to using chemical weapons against Ukraine.
Asked whether a Kremlin-orchestrated chemical attack would trigger a military response, the US president said: “It would trigger a response in kind.”
He added: “We would respond. We would respond if he uses it [chemical weapons]. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”
Mr Biden’s remarks came as he met Nato, G7 and European leaders at a series of emergency summits in Brussels. They discussed what to do if Putin, whose forces are suffering unrelenting daily casualties, decided to unleash weapons of mass destruction.
Leaders were repeatedly asked how they would respond to a chemical attack in Ukraine after a Western official had earlier suggested Nato would not intervene militarily even in the event of such a strike.
“I think it is highly unlikely that Nato would go directly into conflict with Russia because every leader agrees that we’ve got to stop the killing,” the official said, adding that most believed Nato entering the conflict directly would only escalate it.
The official did not rule out a fiercer intervention, however, saying: “I did hear leaders say that use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict, and would have to have a very severe response.”
Boris Johnson, asked about the subject in Brussels, left open the possibility of a military response and said the West’s reaction would be “very, very severe”. The consequences of Putin launching a chemical strike would be “catastrophic for him”, he added.
Mr Biden’s pledge of a proportionate response to a Russian chemical attack also appeared to mark a toughening of the US stance. The US president has previously been adamantly against any direct military confrontation with Russia, warning that it would spark “World War Three”.
He denied he had been wrong to rule out military intervention earlier in the crisis, or that doing so had emboldened Putin. “No and no,” he said. He also declined to say if the US had specific intelligence that Putin was about to use chemical weapons.
Barack Obama was criticised for declaring the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line” in 2012, only for the West to do nothing when the regime of Bashar al-Assad later deployed them. Mr Biden was then his vice-president. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
24 Mar 22. Biden: ‘NATO Never Been More United.’ “NATO has never, never been more united than it is today,” said President Joe Biden following an alliance meeting in Brussels today.
Biden participated in an extraordinary summit meeting at the alliance headquarters, just one month after Russian President Vladimir Putin broke the peace of Europe by invading Ukraine.
The president noted that the day after the Russian invasion, NATO held a meeting. “At that time, my overwhelming objective in wanting that summit was to have absolute unity on three key important issues among our NATO and European allies,” he said. “First was to support Ukraine with military and humanitarian assistance.”
The second was to impose the most significant economic sanction regime to cripple Putin’s economy and punish him for his actions. “Third, was to fortify the eastern flank of our NATO allies who were obviously very, very concerned, and … worried what would happen,” he said.
All this happened and the meeting today was put in place to build on these efforts. “The United States has committed to provide over $2 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since I became president, anti-air systems, anti-armor systems, ammunition. And our weapons are flowing into Ukraine as I speak.”
In addition, Biden announced $1 billion in humanitarian relief for Ukrainians affected by the war. “Many Ukrainian refugees will well wish to stay in Europe closer to their homes, but we also will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States with a focus on reuniting families,” Biden said.
He also announced the United States will invest $320 million to bolster democratic resilience and defend human rights in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
The United States in tandem with the European Union, Canada and Japan will also look at the effect Putin’s war will have on food and energy security. The nations are also sanctioning more than 300 members of the Russian Duma, oligarchs and defense companies that fuel the Russian war machine, he said.
Finally, Biden said that Putin launched his invasion absolutely sure that NATO would split apart. Instead, the United States deployed more than 20,000 troops to Europe. Other allies stepped up and moved forces to the eastern border of the alliance.
“NATO established … four new battle groups in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia to reinforce the Eastern Front,” he said. “Putin was banking on NATO being split. My early conversation with him in December and early January, it was clear to me he didn’t think we could sustain this cohesion. Putin is getting exactly the opposite what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine.” (Source: US DoD)
24 Mar 22. Up to 60% failure rate for some Russian missiles in Ukraine, U.S. officials say. The United States assesses that Russia is suffering failure rates as high as 60% for some of the precision-guided missiles it is using to attack Ukraine, three U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence told Reuters. The disclosure could help explain why Russia has failed to achieve what most could consider basic objectives since its invasion a month ago, such as neutralizing Ukraine’s air force, despite the apparent strength of its military against Ukraine’s much smaller armed forces.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, did not provide evidence to support the assessment and did not disclose what precisely was driving high Russian missile failure rates.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures.
The Kremlin and Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Such a high failure rate can include anything from launch failures to a missile failing to explode on impact.
U.S. defense officials told reporters this week that the Pentagon assesses that Russia has launched more than 1,100 missiles of all kinds since the war began. The U.S. officials have so far not said how many of those hit their targets and how many failed to do so.
Citing U.S. intelligence, three U.S. officials said the United States estimated that Russia’s failure rate varied day-to-day, depended on the type of missile being launched, and could sometimes exceed 50%. Two of them said it reached as high as 60%.
One of the officials said the intelligence showed that Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles had a failure rate in the 20 to 60% range, depending on the day.
Russia has been seen fielding two types of air-launched cruise missiles in Ukraine, the Kh-555 and Kh-101, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank’s Missile Defense Project.
Reuters could not determine what a standard failure rate would be for air-launched cruise missiles. Two experts interviewed by Reuters said any failure rate of 20% and above would be considered high.
The United States believes Russia fired air-launched cruise missiles from Russian airspace earlier this month when it attacked a Ukrainian military base near the Polish border, and one of the U.S. officials told Reuters there was a particularly high failure rate during this attack. The strike killed 35 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Missile attacks have been a feature of Russia’s invasion, with Russia announcing strikes against military targets including weapons depots.
The invasion has killed thousands and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes. The bombardment has hit residential areas, schools and hospitals in Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv and the besieged port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Russia, which says its military is engaged in a “special operation” in Ukraine, denies targeting civilians. (Source: Reuters)
24 Mar 22. Russia to emerge from Ukraine conflict weaker, senior Pentagon official says. Russia will emerge from the conflict in Ukraine weaker and more isolated, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.
“I think with a high degree of certainty that Russia will emerge from Ukraine weaker than it went into the conflict. Militarily weaker, economically weaker, politically and geopolitically weaker, and more isolated,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl.
Khal also said an upcoming Pentagon defense strategy document would declare Russia an “acute threat.” But Russia cannot pose a long-term system challenge to the United States, unlike China, he said. (Source: Reuters)
24 Mar 22. Biden warns Russia of ‘response’ if it uses chemical weapons. US president urges Nato leaders in Brussels to remain unified against Ukraine invasion. Joe Biden has said the US and its allies are prepared to respond with proportionate severity if Russia uses chemical weapons during its invasion of Ukraine as he urged the west to sustain pressure on Vladimir Putin and remain unified in its response to the war. “It would trigger a response in kind,” the US president said at a press conference when asked whether the use of chemical weapons would prompt a military response from Nato, adding that the alliance would decide how to react “at the time”. He added: “The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.” Biden was speaking after he met leaders of Nato members to debate the appropriate response to the possible use of weapons of mass destruction by Russia, as well as military aid for Ukraine and tighter sanctions on Moscow. The Nato summit, called by the US president at short notice, was Biden’s first stop on a multi-day trip to Europe intended to fortify opposition to Putin’s war on Ukraine as the increasingly brutal invasion is set to enter its fifth week. “The single most important thing is for us to stay united,” Biden said after the summit, warning Putin would be emboldened if he believed the west would “crack in a month, six weeks, or two months”. He added: “They can take anything for another month.” (Source: FT.com)