Ukraine Conflict Update – March 29
Military and hard security developments
- Ukrainian forces have claimed they retook the Kyiv suburb of Irpin on 28 March. The region north-west of the capital city has been the site of heavy sustained fighting since early in the invasion, and conflicting reports underline that the area remains heavily contested. Ukrainian forces have furthermore claimed to have pushed the Russians back by 40-60km from Kryvyi Rih in the south, though Russian shelling continued to strike into south-western Dnipropetrovsk oblast from the western bank of the Dnieper. Russian forces along this bank lack combat power to hold significant ground taken, so Ukrainian claims likely reflect a successful counter-offensive against primarily Russian light and reconnaissance forces.
- Ongoing Peace Talks today with more tomorrow. Ukraine has offered not to host NATO or any military bases and a 15 year consultation on Crimea. Odesa is getting back to normal. No mention of Donbas was made which suggests still no deal in sight. Putin will have to give his reaction and approval, but looks like he is content with winning 3 out of 4 objectives which does not include taking the whole of Ukraine. In any event there will be a Ukraine Referendum which may take months. Russia has stepped back on ay CBRN threat which is good for escalation of the conflict.
- Russia has refused entry to key people from unfriendly states and required payment for gas and oil in Roubles which has caused prices to spike and cause shortages.
- Greater use of insurgency tactics including 155mm IEDs around Kyiv and Chimayev. Ukraine is short of diesel and vehicles.
- The GSM signal has been blocked and the Ukraine internet was down yesterday; ongoing threats of cable cutting and increase in cyber attacks expected.
- Latest Russia casualty figures. Ukraine claims 17,000 dead, this is likely to be overstated based on previous experience and it’s notable that this rise is quite low from the 12,000 claimed a few weeks ago. That probably accurately reflects the trend. NATO estimates 30-40k casualties in total (across all of Wagner/private sector operators, LPR/DPR, and Russian Armed Forces), which at 3:1 injured to killed, would track 10-13k. But these figures may be working from same base. Likely therefore around 10k based on earlier US estimates of which not all are Russian armed forces, many might be separatists (2k?) and another 1k lost from the people paid to cause chaos behind the lines. Conscript period starts on April 1st, another 100,000 called up? Russian moving troops around, 20th Guard Army Group redeployed to South Est and 1st Guards Tank withdrawn.
- According to British defence intelligence, Russia has now deployed more than 1,000 members of the Wanger Group private military company to eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, spokesman of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Andriy Demchenko stated on 29 March that 510,000 Ukrainian citizens have returned to the country since the beginning of the invasion, 75-80% of whom were reportedly men. Returning Ukrainian citizens together with smaller numbers of foreigners joining the international brigades have swelled the number of fighters available to Ukrainian territorial defence units. However, compared to Wagner Group mercenaries and “volunteers” from Syria, Libya and elsewhere reportedly fighting with Russian forces, they will likely have less combat experience.
Pro-Russian operations disrupt internet service provider; continue targeting Ukrainian government-linked entities
- On 28 March, the Ukrainian government disclosed that it had “neutralised” a “massive cyber attack” launched against Ukrainian internet service provider Ukrtelecom, after it impacted the country’s core IT infrastructure. The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIPU) stated that Ukrtelecom is limiting its services to private and business clients to “continue providing services to Ukraine’s Armed forces”. While the SSSCIPU refrained from disclosing the details of the attack, the level of disruption caused by the incident indicates it was likely a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). Considering the timing of the incident, the DDoS operation is likely linked to the Moscow-backed hacking group Sandworm’s ongoing compromise of WatchGuard Firebox and Asus devices, which can be used to build botnets to launch DDoS activity (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 18 March 2022).
- The Ukrainian government also announced on 28 March that it has shut down five bot farms being used by the Russian government to spread disinformation/misinformation. These farms were reportedly composed of over 100,000 fake social media accounts and operated in Kharkiv, Cherkasy, Ternopil, and Zakarpattia. These farms aimed to weaken Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion by propagating “fake news” about the Ukrainian security forces’ inability to combat Russian offensives across the country. These campaigns have been attributed to Russia’s special services and its associated members are currently being charged under the country’s Article 110, which pertains to “encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine”.
- Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) has published a series of alerts over the last few days warning that Russian hackers are engaged in several widespread phishing campaigns targeted against Ukrainian entities. In one notable example, the threat actor, believed to be the FSB-linked Armageddon group, is sending its targets the “PseduoSteel” malware, which allows them to engage in intelligence gathering activities. While CERT-UA did not disclose whether any Ukrainian government agencies or its private sector partners have been compromised during these phishing campaigns, the SSB’s website has been taken offline several times through the Ukraine conflict for prolonged periods.
- Cyber security investigators Malware Hunter Team claimed on 28 March that hackers were inserting malicious code into WordPress sites to engage in attacks against Ukrainian websites. This malicious script reportedly forced the sites’ visitors’ browsers to perform HTTP GET requests to several Ukrainian websites – including government agencies and think tanks – effectively targeting them with DDoS attacks. While Malware Hunter Team did not formally attribute this campaign to any specific threat actor, there is a high probability of this being a Russian or Belarus state-linked campaign given the overt focus on high profile Ukrainian organisations.
Pro-Ukraine hackers continue to launch low-level cyber attacks; expanding range of sectors targeted
- On 29 March, the Anonymous hacktivist group claimed that it had successfully compromised two large Russian companies and exfiltrated sensitive information. The first victim, manufacturing firm MashOil, allegedly had troves of confidential information, including over 140,000 emails, stolen, which Anonymous has since leaked online via the whistleblower Distributed Denial of Secret’s (DDoSecrets) site. MashOil’s website states they are “the official representative of the [manufacturing firm] FID Group in the Russian Federation”. Anonymous claims to have stolen 110 GB worth of data from both entities. The second victim, Russian construction firm RostProekt, has reportedly only had 2.4GB of its sensitive data leaked online by the hacktivist group.
- Anonymous’ subgroup NB65 claimed on 25 March via Twitter that it had compromised the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). In addition to this, the hacktivist group claimed that it exfiltrated 740GB of sensitive information from the company’s servers and will leak the data “soon”. This incident is Anonymous’ latest attack against Russian media outlets since the group hacked several Russian television channels and replaced their programming with coverage of the Ukraine conflict by independent broadcasters Current Times and Dozhd TV, which have been blocked by the Russian government (see Sibylline Ukraine Cyber Update – 11 March 2022). Moreover, this follows the group’s alleged publishment of 28 GB of sensitive information stolen from Russia’s Central Bank on late 25 March (see Sibylline Ukraine Cyber Update – 25 March 2022).
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on 29 March that Russia was preparing measures to restrict entry into the country for nationals of “unfriendly” states, including the UK, EU member states and the US. Lavrov did not specify the exact nature of the restrictions, but the development underlines growing hostility towards western businesses and individuals in Russia, with the state threatening to punish companies that left Russia with asset seizures.
- According to the Wall Street Journal and investigative group Bellingcat, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and two senior Ukrainian negotiators suffered symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning after a meeting for peace talks in Kyiv earlier this month. The individuals have since recovered from their symptoms, which an anonymous US official suggested could have been environmental rather than as a result of poisoning. However, the Wall Street Journal cited sources familiar with the matter that blamed Russian hardliners for the potential poisoning in a bid to sabotage talks to end the war. However, experts have indicated that even if it was a deliberate poisoning, the quantity employed is highly unlikely to have been intended to kill, and as such could have been an intimidation tactic. The Kremlin has since denied the reports that the negotiators were poisoned.
- Much uncertainty remains around the incident, but Moscow could look to blame Ukraine for the suspected poisonings given previous rhetoric and accusations that Ukraine has developed chemical and biological weapons. Russian security forces nevertheless have a clear track record in utilising chemical agents in assassination attempts, most notably the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury in 2018, and more recently the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020. As such, it remains much more likely that Russian operatives were responsible – if indeed the symptoms were caused by a deliberate chemical weapon, rather than environmental issues as has also been posited. Nevertheless, the fact that Russian envoy Abramovich, engaging in negotiations as a direct conduit to President Putin, also experienced symptoms could provide Moscow with plausible deniability and blame Ukrainian radicals for the poisoning. This could potentially be exploited by Moscow and play into efforts to “justify” chemical weapons use in Ukraine, which remains a key escalation trigger following US President Joe Biden’s pledge that NATO would “respond” to such weapons use. Ultimately, however, the cause of the symptoms remains unclear and unconfirmed, but this will threaten to undermine perceptions that the peace negotiations are being conducted in good faith nevertheless.
- Amid the unfolding war in Ukraine, tensions in the Southern Caucasus have risen significantly in recent days. On 27 March Russia accused Azerbaijani forces of violating the ceasefire which ended the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia retains a peacekeeping force. While Russia maintains that it has redeployed peacekeepers in the area and that Azerbaijani troops subsequently left the village of Farrukh/Parukh, both Baku and Yerevan reject this amid numerous conflicting accounts coming from Baku, Moscow and Yerevan. Armenia has in fact called on Russia to remove Azerbaijani troops from the area. While the situation on the ground currently remains unclear, the current spike in tensions reflects worsening relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, with the former taking a relatively pro-Ukrainian line since the invasion.
- Earlier reports indicated that some Russian peacekeepers had left Nagorno-Karabakh late last week amid the apparent demands for manpower in Ukraine. Given that Moscow remains distracted by Ukraine and the demands of the war stretches Russian capabilities elsewhere, Azerbaijani forces could well be seeking to exploit the situation to see if it can apply additional pressure on Armenia – a CSTO ally of Russia’s. The latest unconfirmed reports indicate that Russia is recommitting peacekeeping forces to the eastern line of contact, likely in response to the ceasefire violation and as a potential show of strength to deter further Azerbaijani incursions. Russia pushed hard to assert its position and establish itself as the primary security guarantor in the Southern Caucasus following the 2020 war, but the spike in tensions underscores the impact the war in Ukraine is having in other geopolitical hotspots. While it remains our assessment that it does not remain in Moscow’s interests to openly support Armenia in a renewed military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the war in Ukraine could provide Baku with an opportunity to extend its control over areas of the region while Russia is distracted.
Economic/business environment developments
- On 29 March, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia will not supply gas to European countries that refuse to pay for the Russian gas in rubles, stating, “no payment, no gas.” The statement is in line with our previous assessment that Russia is highly likely to engineer gas supply disruptions in a bid to pressure Europe and retaliate against the sanctions. As such, the risk a sharp increase in energy prices and potential interruptions to industrial production will remain high in the short term. Whilst the EU is developing plans to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, the planned measures will not mitigate the short-term risk of shortages and price spikes should European countries refuse to agree to Russia’s new terms.
- Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo stated on 29 March that the US and its allies plan to expand sanctions on more sectors of Russia’s economy and wider supply chains that are critical to sustaining the current war in Ukraine. The new round of sanctions will be aimed at undermining “the Kremlin’s ability to operate its war machine”, and would involve export controls and sanctions on companies that enable the war effort, potentially including foreign firms and wider supply chains of critical Russian industries.
- The Russian RSPP Commission for Communications and IT has warned that decreasing stocks of telecom equipment could result in large-scale internet service outages across the country. The Commission, the country’s largest entrepreneur union, underscored that reserves of telecom equipment are estimated to run out in six months time, given the impact of sanctions and the limited ability for Russia to import replacements. This issue is being further exacerbated by the rapid brain drain of IT specialists, with the Russian Association for Electronic Communications estimating that between 50,000 and 70,000 IT specialists have already left the country. While the government has stated that it will not hinder people’s movement to foreign companies, this remains a realistic option if the brain drain continues. Ultimately, low stocks of telecom equipment and fewer IT specialists able to maintain telecom services will mean internet outages will be increasingly likely in around six months time, with sporadic disruption most likely in areas outside major cities and population centres.
- The safest route for departure from Kyiv as of 29 March remains the H01/P01. For routes to the western half of Ukraine, we recommend following the H01/P01 southbound until connecting with the westbound P32. On 28 March, RU forces have begun a series of attacks along the north-western and eastern perimeter of Kyiv, and thus we reiterate past advisories that the westbound E40 and south-west E95 remain highly unsafe.
- 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, particularly following the strike against a fuel depot in Lviv on 27 March. 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 southwest 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.
The most significant development over the last 24 hours was the culmination of peace talks in Turkey, which both parties described as “constructive” after the Ukrainian delegation put forward the most detailed proposals yet. According to the Ukrainians, they have proposed that Ukraine adopt official neutral status, barring their joining of NATO or hosting military bases, while international security guarantees would protect the country from attack. The proposals also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of occupied-Crimea, which would come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire. Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky stated that he would review the proposals and forward them to President Putin, with both sides indicating that a meeting between Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky could take place.
In a further key development, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced after the talks that Russian military operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv will “drastically” reduce “to increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine”. The move on the face of it represents a major olive branch to the Ukrainians considering the Russians are now actively considering the proposals, representing notable progress towards a peace settlement. However, while this could represent serious willingness to engage amid the economic impacts of the war for Russia, there are numerous reasons to remain cautious at present.
Firstly, the Ukrainian proposals appear to make no mention of the Donbas. Moscow recognised Luhansk and Donetsk’s independence just days before the invasion, and the whole war was effectively justified by narratives of Ukrainian genocide and the need to defend Russian speakers in the region. As such, it remains highly unlikely that Moscow would accept any settlement that does not either recognise Donbas independence or significantly alter its status within the Ukrainian state; the absence of which would in effect amount to an admission of defeat given the emphasis domestic propaganda has placed on the region. Alternatively, however, the absence of mention of the Donbas may be a negotiating tactic in a bid to make progress on other key issues where both sides are more likely to reach agreement – i.e. on Ukraine’s neutral status and international security guarantees, before coming back to the more difficult issue of the Donbas’ status.
Secondly, the announced draw down of Russian operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv could be a genuine effort to facilitate talks, but the pledge arguably aligns with a shift in strategy to which Moscow has already committed. Last week Russia announced it had entered the second phase of the conflict, with military operations refocused on the Donbas. We’ve already seen Russian forces reconstituting various battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Belarus and reorganising their forces around Kyiv. As such, this announcement could be a cynical move to justify Russian redistribution of forces and lack of progress in the region while claiming it is pursuing de-escalation. In addition, the encirclement of Chernihiv has now been completed, and as such a draw down of active military operations in the area will do little to diminish the impact of the effective siege on the city, and may actually serve to benefit Russian forces by discouraging Ukrainian counterattacks.
Nevertheless, today’s developments ultimately represent the most notable progress yet towards a peace agreement. However, much uncertainty remains, with enduring disagreements over the Donbas and military developments on the ground retaining the potential to undermine further progress in the short term. Looking head, Putin’s response to the Ukrainian proposal will be the key event to watch in the coming days to determine how willing the Kremlin are to engage on the issues and whether further progress towards a negotiated settlement remains possible in the coming weeks.
The last 24 hours have been comparatively quiet on the ground, with the main incident of note being the claimed Ukrainian full recapture of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. This further increases the pressure on approximately 11 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) gathered in the 35th Combined Arms Army salient south of Chernobyl, with the airfield at Gostomel and the town of Bucha likely to be the next objectives. Pressure will also be maintained here from Makariv, north of the E40 highway and west of the majority of Russian forces, although the latter continue to disrupt the E40 with spoiling attacks.
- Despite being pushed back, Russia remains in artillery range against the outskirts of the capital on both east and west. Shelling and airstrikes resulted in power blackouts late on 28 March, although Ukrainian positions identified by UAVs continue to be the focus of attention. Russian forces will continue to prioritise the destruction of anti-air and artillery targets.
- East of the capital, Russia maintains a force of around 11 BTGs, with the lead elements of 90th Guards Tank Division remaining in the town of Belyka Dymerka, north-east of Brovary. A probe from here was successfully turned back by the Ukrainian 72nd Mechanised Brigade, which is defending the northern outskirts. The Russians are building extensive defensive positions around Velyka Dymerka, including minefields, and so this seems set to be a base of operations by mobile forces and artillery.
- Further east, a significant group of Russian forces have been pushed back north of the H07 road. This runs north of Pryluky and has been a key supply route for Russian forces. Ukrainian gains by small units infiltrating seem to have denied use of this road, while advances south of the city of Sumy may have helped reduce the siege taking place there. This means Russian supplies face a more complex journey. Footage released yesterday of a complex ambush involving numerous improvised explosive devices (IEDs) appears to have been from this area.
- Overall, this will limit Russian offensive capability near Kyiv, although Chernihiv is still coming under increased pressure, including air and artillery assaults. The capture of the city may result in Russian forces having more freedom to manoeuvre and so will lead to greater potential for renewed thrusts on Brovary and Borispil east of Kyiv.
- Of note is the personal focus and apparent resolve of the commanding general of the Eastern Military District Colonel-General Alexander Chayko in the area around Kyiv. His appearance at the front has coincided with the rotation of forces into Belarus for refurbishment and additional consolidation. While this is no longer Russia’s main effort, with this instead lying with the Southern Military District front near Donbas (aided in part by the flank of the Western Military District front outside Kharkiv), this further emphasises that Russia will maintain pressure around the capital and seek to tie up as many Ukrainian forces as possible.
- Russian forces have continued to do badly on the 1st Guards Tank Army axis near Kharkiv. The commander of 1st GTA was recently removed, and the commander of 4th Guards Tank Division reportedly committed suicide; this unit had taken particularly heavy losses near Sumy. There are indications that as a result of the failures here, forces from the Kharkiv axis – particularly artillery – are now being moved to support the attacks on the southern end of the front, near Izyum.
- This is supported by footage of at least one tank BTG moving into that area, where Russia is concentrating forces. Further ground was gained in heavy fighting south of the city yesterday and attempts to flank the area to the west will continue. A breakthrough here would be significant as it would threaten Ukrainian forces further east around Severodonetsk, with the regional hub of Kramatorsk being a significant objective.
- Russian and Luhansk People’s Militia attacks have continued on Severodonetsk, with slow progress. Meanwhile heavy fighting has continued north of Donetsk city, towards Avdiivka, and west, towards Maryinka. Intensive artillery bombardments and attacks by helicopters are taking place in these areas, although front line movement remains limited, constrained by the defensive emplacements built since 2015 along the Donbas line of control.
- The offensive into Mariupol has continued with Russia steadily taking the centre of the city. While in many ways the Russian claim that it has fallen is correct, significant pockets of resistance will endure and there is unlikely to be a clear end to fighting. This will keep several Russian BTGs employed around the city, which will diminish the chances of a successful offensive further north.
- In the south-west, the administration building in Mikolayiv was demolished by a Russian precision strike this morning, although the regional governor was not present at the time. While Russian forces have been pushed back from Mikolayiv, the Ukrainian advance on Kherson has stalled, and both sides are now resorting principally on artillery to cause attrition. Around three Russian BTGs still remain positioned near Kryvyi Rih, but are being slowly pushed back by Ukrainian forces, and lack the power to conduct further offensive operations at this time – especially with Kherson under threat. Overall, Odesa is increasingly unlikely to be a focus of activity and we continue to assess the movement of forces from here to attack near Kherson will present significant problems for Moscow.
- At sea, the Slava-class cruiser Moskva has completed restocking in Crimea and is back in position off Snake Island, where it can control the coast. Several more warships carrying cruise missiles have also sortied, and will continue to conduct precision strikes on targets including fuel depots and food stores in the centre and west of Ukraine; they may also demonstrate against Odesa. There continues to be a significant hazard from naval mines, with further sightings of these towards the Bosphorus – where the current will naturally carry any that tear loose of their moorings.
- Overall, the rate of information from the operational area may have slowed yesterday in part due to a major cyberattack on the main Ukrainian internet provider. There has been an escalating pattern of such activity, which is likely designed by Russia to reduce information flows inside of Ukraine and to help reduce the information warfare aspects of the campaign. We expect these tactics to increase further as Russia continues to focus and escalate efforts to deliver what Putin can announce as a victory in the south, particularly as peace tanks are ongoing.
At present we believe both sides feel that they can gain further advantage on the battlefield, and so despite various statements it is unlikely that any settlement will be reached in the short term. Indeed, there continue to be signs that Russia is settling in for a larger conflict, with reports that 100k reservists will be called up alongside the April conscription class of 130k. Many of these “reservists” will likely be current conscript personnel, who will therefore not be released from service, but rather mobilised under their reserve liability. This could allow Russia to reconstitute its combat power by, in theory, up to 50 BTGs – although these will be second line and it is far from certain that equipment will be in suitable condition. Instead, these are more likely to take the place of force elements in Armenia, the Kuril Islands, South Ossetia, and other areas where Moscow has stripped back troops, with the growing crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh showing the vulnerabilities Moscow has created for itself.
Ukraine: Moscow’s cyber targeting of Ukrainian critical infrastructure will persist amid intensifying assaults on major cities. On 28 March, the Ukrainian government disclosed that it had “neutralised” a “massive cyber attack” launched against Ukrainian internet service provider Ukrtelecom, after it impacted the country’s core IT infrastructure. The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIPU) stated that Ukrtelecom is limiting its services to private and business clients to “continue providing services to Ukraine’s Armed forces”. While the SSSCIPU refrained from disclosing the details of the attack, the level of disruption caused by the incident indicates a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. Such a disruptive operation is part of the Moscow-backed hacking group Sandworm’s ongoing compromise of WatchGuard Firebox and Asus devices, which can be used to build botnets to launch DDoS activity (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 18 March 2022). As conflict persists, further Moscow-directed cyber campaigns are highly likely to be launched in the coming weeks. Any such activity will most likely target entities linked to the Ukrainian government’s core infrastructure, such as IT or communications, with the aim of supporting Moscow’s assaults on major cities.
Russia-Europe: G7 rejection of rouble gas export payments will elevate energy security uncertainty. On 28 March, energy ministers from G7 nations unanimously rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand for “hostile states” to pay for natural gas exports in roubles. Putin has ordered state-owned gas firm Gazprom and the Central Bank of Russian Federation to switch to rouble payments by 31 March, as part of a bid to prop up the currency, though implementation of the change remains unclear. Nevertheless, German Energy Minister Robert Habeck stressed that the countries will settle their purchases in the currency stipulated in original contracts, with European leaders announcing that the switch would amount to a contractual violation. In response, Moscow indicated that it could cut natural gas supplies to European customers who reject its payment demands. Heightened uncertainty over European energy supplies will sustain elevated gas prices in the coming days, as buyers anticipate possible contractual breaches by Russia after 31 March when the new payment requirements are expected.
European Union: EU leaders’ summit inconclusive as divisions over Russia threaten to increase regional tensions. A gathering of European Union leaders in Brussels yesterday (24 March) yielded no significant developments, as no unanimous decision on more substantial sanctions on Russia nor on Ukraine’s bid for EU candidate status was reached. With Central and Eastern European member states including Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia as well as the Baltics in favour of much harsher sanctions on Russia, a political gulf between them and the Western member states is apparent in particular with Germany and Italy, neither of whom are prepared to commit to stricter measures such as an embargo on Russian energy imports. In the mid-term, sanctions cutting Russian energy remain unlikely. The Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte noted that whilst support for such a move might be growing in theory, the practicality of such a move would result in significant energy instability and shortfalls across Europe. As such, tensions within the EU over how to step up further punitive measures on Russia will continue into the midterm, increasing regional tensions across the bloc. (Source: Sibylline)
29 Mar 22. Russia says it will “drastically reduce” military assault on Kyiv and Chernihiv. Moscow says it will “drastically reduce military activity” on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv — according to the Russian Ministry of Defense Telegram channel. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin confirmed “to radically, at times, reduce military activity,” according to state media RIA. The move follows talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul on Tuesday.
“Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of an agreement on the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine, are moving into practice, taking into account the principles discussed during today’s meeting, by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing on the signing of the above agreement, a decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kiev and Chernigov direction,” Fomin told reporters.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine earlier claimed “certain units” of Russia’s military are withdrawing from battlefronts in the capital, Kyiv, and from the northern city of Chernihiv.
“The Russian enemy did not meet the goal of its offensive operation,” it said in an official Facebook update Tuesday.
However, it warned of a “high risk” of Russian troops attacking military and civilian infrastructure. The Russian military, it claimed, is struggling to reinforce and rotate in new soldiers, due to the “refusal of personnel to participate in the so-called special operation,” and are “not able to staff even one battalion-tactical group.”
In the fifth week of the Russian invasion, the “heroic” Ukrainian resistance is “conducting a defence operation in the eastern, southeastern and northeastern directions, restrains the enemy in all directions, in some directions – displaces the enemy,” it said. (Source: CNN)
29 Mar 22. Defence Secretary announces new UK Defence Arctic Strategy in Norway. The UK’s new defence strategy in the Arctic region has been announced in Norway today by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North outlines plans to protect critical underwater national infrastructure and ensure freedom of navigation through international seas and Exclusive Economic Zones in the Arctic region.
The strategy sets out the UK’s commitments to NATO, such as increasing UK training and operations in the area with Allies and international partners. The UK will also invest in research and development to build a sustainable and modernised Defence capability for the region.
As part of the new strategy, the UK will maintain a periodic Royal Navy presence in the High North. The strategy also reinforces support to Arctic Allies to preserve the stability and security of the Arctic region.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP said: “The High North and the impact of climate change affects us all whether we like it or not. The North Atlantic will always be the UK’s ‘home beat’ and so it is vital that we strengthen both our interoperability and our force integration with NATO and non-NATO partners in the region.”
The Defence Secretary met his Norwegian counterpart Odd Roger Enoksen, as well as those taking part in Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22 during his time in Norway.
Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22 is a Norwegian-led exercise with 35,000 troops from 28 participants nations. The main UK contribution saw six Royal Navy ships and 2,000 UK personnel carrying out cold-weather training in northern Norway. While the exercises are routine, they demonstrate the UK’s commitment to Allied forces which need to be ready to operate in any environment under any conditions.
Training in Norway allows NATO Allies and partners to practise their skills operating in extreme and rugged surroundings. Around 900 Royal Marines have been deployed to the Arctic since January in preparation for the exercises, sharpening their expertise in operating in the freezing conditions.
The Defence Secretary met with the crew onboard one of the UK’s two aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, which has been leading the Royal Navy’s contribution to Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22. While onboard he received a series of briefings on its role as a NATO command platform. The ship remains flexible and ready to respond in order to command and control Allied ships at sea. The Defence Secretary will also visit Kirkenes to see the enduring Norwegian presence at the border to Russia. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
29 Mar 22. Ukraine claimed it had driven out Russian forces from some key areas around its capital Kyiv and the country’s north-east, as fierce fighting set the backdrop for the first face-to-face ceasefire talks in almost a fortnight. Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, used a late-night address on Monday to praise his forces retaking Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv and an important gateway to the capital, the latest in a series of counter attacks that pushed back Russian forces. “The occupiers are pushed away from Irpin. Pushed away from Kyiv,” Zelensky said. “However, it is too early to talk about security in this part of our region. The fighting continues. Russian troops control the north of Kyiv, have the resources and manpower.” While Ukraine’s precise gains have not been independently verified, the UK said Zelensky’s forces had made progress in “localised counter attacks” to the north-west of Kyiv, including at Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel. “These attacks have had some success and the Russians have been pushed back from a number of positions,” said the Ministry of Defence in an intelligence update on Tuesday. Zelensky’s remarks came as Russian and Ukrainian envoys gathered in Istanbul for the fourth round of talks to end the war in Ukraine. While negotiators have sketched the outlines of a potential ceasefire and moves towards a political settlement, diplomats in Kyiv, Moscow and the west say they remain sceptical about any imminent breakthrough. (Source: FT.com)
28 Mar 22. The Department of Defense Releases the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Budget. Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.
“I am proud to join President Biden today in submitting the fiscal year 2023 Budget. Our department’s budget will help us continue to defend the nation, take care of our people and succeed through teamwork with our allies and partners.
This $773bn budget request reinforces our commitment to the concept of integrated deterrence, allows us to better sequence and conduct operations around the globe that are aligned to our priorities, modernizes the Joint Force, and delivers meaningful support for our dedicated workforce and their families.
To those ends, we are requesting nearly $56.5bn for air power platforms and systems; more than $40.8bn for sea power, to include nine more battle force ships, and nearly $12.6 bn to modernize Army and Marine Corps fighting vehicles. We are requesting more than $130.1 bn for research and development in this budget – an all-time high – because we understand the need to sharpen our readiness in advanced technology, cyber, space and artificial intelligence. Importantly, this budget funds modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad to ensure that we continue to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. And we have devoted more than $3 bn to address the effects of climate change, bolstering our installation resiliency and adaptation to climate challenges.
We are also asking that Congress support our efforts to take care of our most critical asset, our people. Our budget requests $479 m to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault, and our 4.6 percent pay raise for our military and civilian personnel helps ensure they receive the pay they deserve and need, particular in light of the challenging current economic realities. Our budget request also includes additional investments to provide affordable childcare for both our military and civilian workforce. For instance, we are making additional investments in childcare fee assistance for both military and civilian members.
As I have said many times, we need resources matched to strategy, strategy matched to policy and policy matched to the will of the American people.
This budget gives us the resources we need to deliver on that promise. Our budget reflects our National Defense Strategy and the focus of that strategy on the pacing challenge of China. It will help us prepare for other future challenges, as well, including those posed by climate change. It preserves our readiness and deterrent posture against the threats we face today: the acute threat of an aggressive Russia and the constantly emerging threats posed by North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations. And it absolutely supports our policy of U.S. global leadership of — and responsibility for — our vast network of alliances and partnerships.
I am proud of the work that has gone into this budget request, and I look forward to discussing it with members of Congress in the days and weeks ahead.” – Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III
On March 28, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted to Congress a proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Budget request of $813.3bn for national defense, $773.0 bn of which is for the Department of Defense (DoD). In a dynamic and evolving security environment, a strong and adaptive U.S. military remains a central pillar for U.S. national security. The FY 2023 Defense Budget provides the resources necessary to sustain and strengthen U.S. deterrence, advancing our vital national interests through:
- Integrated Deterrence: Working across warfighting domains, operational theaters, the spectrum of conflict, and our network of alliances and partnerships
- Campaigning: Conducting and sequencing military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities
- Building Enduring Advantages: Modernizing the Joint Force to make its supporting systems more resilient and agile in the face of threats ranging from competitors to the effects of climate change
The FY 2023 DoD Budget request of $773.0 bn is a $30.7 bn, or 4.1% increase, from the FY 2022 enacted amount. In addition to supporting the Department’s ability to sustain and strengthen deterrence, it also supports our service members and their families. The request strengthens our alliances and partnerships and enhances America’s technological advantage. This request reflects the recent inflationary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of global supply chains.
Taking Care of People
The DoD recognizes that its most critical asset is our people. The FY 2023 Budget aims to cultivate our military and civilian workforce, grow our talent, build resilience and force readiness, and ensure accountable leadership. Investments include:
- 4.6% pay increase for military and civilian personnel
- Funds $15 Per hour Minimum Wage for the Federal Workforce
- Investments in child care, including fee assistance, new construction, and sustainment
- Funding the new Basic Needs Allowance to help the most vulnerable military families and fully funding anticipated Housing and Subsistence inflation increases
- $479 m to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military
- A focus on talent management initiatives to improve racial and gender diversity at key points in the military career life cycle
- $34m to improve the Department’s capability to deter, detect, and address concerning behaviors and extremism in the ranks
- $1bn for a new Red Hill Recovery Fund to enable DoD to quickly and flexibly address the health, environmental, and national security needs of the Hawaii community and the Department
- $12.2bn for Construction and Family Housing programs, including $2bn for family housing and $1.3bn supporting the construction of quality of life and medical facilities
The FY23 President’s Budget allows DoD to develop, procure, and modernize capabilities to ensure combat-credible forces across all domains to address the pacing challenge from the People’s Republic of China and to address acute threats from Russia:
Nuclear Enterprise Modernization to recapitalize all three legs of the nuclear triad ($34.4 bn). Investments Include:
- COLUMBIA Class Ballistic Missile Submarine – $6.3bn
- B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber – $5bn
- Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – $3.6bn
- Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) Missile – $1bn
Lethal Air Forces ($56.5 bn). Investments include:
- 61 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – $11bn
- 24 F-15EX – $2.8bn
- 15 KC-46 Pegasus – $2.9bn
- NGAD (Air Force) $1.7bn
Modernized Naval Forces ($40.8bn). Investments include:
- 2 DDG-51 ARLEIGH BURKE Class Destroyers – $5.6bn
- 1 Frigate (FFG(X)) – $1.3bn
- 2 VIRGINIA class Submarines – $7.3bn
Combat Effective Ground Forces ($12.6 bn). Investments include:
- 72 Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles – $381m
- 74 Amphibious Combat Vehicles – $631m
- 3,721 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles – $1.1bn
Missile Defeat and Defense ($24.7bn). Investments include:
- Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) and Improved Homeland Defense/Next Generation Interceptors (NGI) – $2.6bn
- Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Ballistic Missile Defense – $335 m
- PATRIOT Advanced Capability (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement – $1 bn
Long Range Fires ($7.2 bn). Investments include:
- Funds to procure highly-survivable, precision-strike, and long-range fires—from hypersonic to subsonic – across the joint force
Space and Space-Based Systems ($27.6bn). Investments include:
- Space Based Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Systems – $4.7bn
- 2 Global Positioning System (GPS) Enterprise – $1.8bn
- 6 Launch Vehicles – National Security Space Launch (NSSL) and Rocket System Launch Program (RSLP) – $1.6 bn
Campaigning. Investments include:
- U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, $6.1bn for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, including military construction, defense of Guam, missile warning and tracking architecture, and Mission Partner Environment (MPE) framework for multinational information sharing, and the Pacific Multi-Domain Training and Experimentation Capability
- U.S. European Command, $4.2bn for the European Deterrence Initiative, including $300m in assistance to Ukraine and support Security Cooperation programs within the USEUCOM Area of Responsibility
Joint Force Readiness ($134.7bn, an increase of $6.3bn or +4.9% over the estimated FY22 enacted amount of $128.4bn). The Department is approaching readiness through a strategic lens, expanding beyond operational readiness to incorporate multi-dimensional and long-term readiness. Investments include:
- Army readiness – $29.4bn
- Navy readiness – $47.4bn
- Marine Corps readiness – $4.1bn
- Air Force readiness – $35.5bn
- Space Force readiness – $3.0bn
- Special Operations Command readiness – $9.7bn
- Joint Capabilities – $5.6bn
U.S. prosperity and military success depend on the cyber resiliency of the Joint Force to execute missions successfully in a contested environment. The FY 2023 Budget allows for continued investment in cyberspace initiatives.
Cyberspace Activities ($11.2bn). Investments include:
- Operationalizing Zero Trust Architecture across Military Departments and Defense Agencies
- Increasing cybersecurity support to the Defense Industrial Base
- Growing the Cyber Mission Force Teams
The FY 2023 Budget continues DoD’s progress to modernize and innovate, including the largest investment ever in RDT&E—more than 9.5% over the FY 2022 enacted level.
Science and Technology and Advanced Capability Enablers. Investments include:
- RDT&E request – $130.1bn
- Science and Technology – $16.5bn
- Artificial Intelligence
- Microelectronics – $3.3bn
- 5G – $250m
- Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program, including investments in chemical production, bio-manufacturing, and rare earth element supply chains
The Department recognizes the vital importance of addressing dangerous transboundary threats. The FY 2023 Budget ensures DoD continues its work to combat current and future crises.
Addressing the Climate Crisis ($3.1 bn). Investments include:
- Installation Resiliency and Adaptation – $2bn
- Operational Energy and Buying Power – $247m
- Science and Technology – $807m
- Contingency Preparedness – $28m
Building Pandemic Preparedness. Focus areas include:
- Defense Health Program for continued COVID-19 clinical testing and public health efforts – $188m
- Expanded surveillance activities, including wastewater surveillance Whole Genomic Sequencing of COVID variants
- Chemical and Biological Defense Programs – $280.4 m
The Department is committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayer funds. The military departments have driven program reforms and retired vulnerable systems and programs that no longer meet mission needs to allow DoD to realign spending towards supporting Secretary’s priorities to Defend the Nation, Take Care of People, and Succeed Through Teamwork. Areas of savings include:
- Reform Savings – $2.6 in FY23
- Re-Prioritization Savings – $2.7 bn in FY23 (Source: US DoD)
28 Mar 22. Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby on U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler Deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. In coordination with the German government, six U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft from VAQ-134 based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, are scheduled to arrive at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany today. The purpose of this deployment is to bolster readiness, enhance NATO’s collective defense posture and further increase air integration capabilities with our allied and partner nations. These Growlers are equipped for a variety of missions but they specialize in flying electronic warfare missions, using a suite of jamming sensors to confuse enemy radars, greatly aiding in the ability to conduct suppression of enemy air defense operations. They will be accompanied by about 240 air crew, aircraft maintainers, and pilots. They are not being deployed to be used against Russian forces in Ukraine. They are being deployed completely in keeping with our efforts to bolster NATO’s deterrence and defense capabilities along that eastern flank. The deployment is not in response to a perceived threat or incident.
As we have said all along, the Secretary wants to keep options open. He is in constant consultations with General Wolters, and as a result of discussions with General Wolters, as well as the German government, this was deemed to be an additional move that could continue to bolster our deterrence and reinforce our defenses on the eastern flank. This deployment is a prudent decision to continue to reevaluate our force posture on NATO’s eastern flank.
European Command will update their force posture fact sheet later today and we’ll have that for you on defense.gov as well. (Source: US DoD)
28 Mar 22. Roman Abramovich ‘poisoned’ at Ukraine peace negotiations. Russian oligarch, along with two Ukrainian negotiators, reportedly suffered peeling skin and temporary blindness after March 3 talks.
Roman Abramovich was the suspected victim of poisoning while trying to negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine earlier this month, it was claimed on Monday night.
The Chelsea FC owner, along with two senior Ukrainian negotiators, was said to have suffered peeling skin and temporary blindness following secret talks in Kyiv.
A source close to Mr Abramovich suggested hardliners within the Kremlin had deliberately poisoned the oligarch to sabotage any possible peace deal.
The source said: “This could be someone there [in the Kremlin] who thinks he has betrayed them by trying to pursue peace.”
US officials, however, cast doubt on the claims, adding that “intelligence highly suggests this was environmental” and “not poisoning”.
Mr Abramovich, a Russian billionaire whose mother was born in Ukraine, had gone to Kyiv following a request to help with negotiations. He and another Russian entrepreneur were reportedly involved in talks until about 10pm on March 3.
His symptoms were said to have emerged later that evening at a Kyiv flat. One source said his eyesight “completely disappeared” for several hours, and he was treated after flying to Istanbul. In the hours beforehand, those affected had reportedly eaten only chocolate and drunk only water. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
21 Mar 22. Satellite jamming ‘normal’ by militaries during conflict, not peacetime: State Dept. official.
The Russian military’s jamming of GPS signals and communications satellites in Ukraine is considered by the US government as essentially a routine wartime activity, according to a senior State Department official.
Judging from actual real world actions during recent conflicts around the globe, Washington and Moscow appear to be on the same page with this issue — a good thing for avoiding conflict between the two nuclear powers. But there may be a growing disconnect between the two sides on the question of satellite interference outside of direct conflict, with a senior Russian official earlier this month making the surprising claim that doing so is an act of war.
During a March 17 virtual conversation at the National Security Space Association, Eric Desautels, acting deputy assistant secretary for emerging security challenges and defense policy in State’s Arms Control, Verification and Compliance bureau, explained that the US military has its own jamming capabilities for use in conflict zones.
“For example, the United States has our own communications jammer known as the CCS system,” he said. “We think that jamming is probably a normal part of conflict.”
CCS is the Space Force’s Counter Communications System, a mobile communications satellite jammer built by L3Harris and first fielded in 2004. The system has been upgraded routinely over the last 20 years, with the latest upgrade, called Block 10.2, declared operational in March 2020.
In the current conflict, Russian forces actively have been jamming GPS signals in Ukraine as they attempt to advance. In addition, a senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official this week suggested that a Feb. 24 cyber attack on commercial communications provider Viasat, which provides Internet connectivity in Ukraine and Europe, was part of an organized Russian cyber campaign against his country’s forces.
Reuters quoted Victor Zhora as saying that the attack, which shut down thousands of satellite receivers across Europe, “a really huge loss in communications in the very beginning of war.” While Zhora said the attack has yet to be formally attributed to Moscow, “we believe that Russia is attacking not just with missiles and with bombs, but with cyber weapons.”
While jamming Ukraine’s systems will certainly not be welcome by Ukraine or its supporters, it appears that in the US view, those actions are just part of any basic military engagement.
Jamming and hacking satellite capabilities in peacetime, however, is an entirely different matter — and the subject of planned UN discussions seeking to create norms for military activities in space, he said.
When employed outside a theater of conflict, the US considers satellite interference to be “irresponsible” and potentially dangerous — strong disapproval, but a far cry from calling it an act of war.
“Jamming in peacetime that disrupts activities of civilians — for example, Russia’s jamming of GPS during the Trident Juncture exercise off of Norway that caused aircraft … to be unable to use GPS — that is an irresponsible behavior,” Desautels said.
For that reason, he said, the US wants to raise the issue of jamming of GPS receivers, as well as of satellite command and control, during the upcoming meetings of the UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) On Reducing Space Threats. “If you lose control of your satellite, that makes it a hazard to other satellites,” he explained. “And so there’s a lot of work that can be done on all of these various cyber attack methods, jamming methods, that we look forward to having discussions on in the Open Ended Working Group.”
Peacetime (or what passes for it): Just Say No
Contrast Desautels’ remarks to those of Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, earlier this month, and a disconnect seems to appear.
Reuters reported on March 2 that Rogozin, who has a history of hyperbolic statements and over-the-top tweets, told Russia’s Interfax News Agency that “Offlining the satellites of any country is actually a casus belli, a cause for war.”
Up to now, there has been no indication that any country seriously considers satellite interference as a legal act of war that allows an armed response. Under international law, a casus belli is a justification that a nation is being threatened, and thus has a right to self-defense.
Instead, Russia, China, the US and Iran (and most likely others) have used GPS and/or satcom jamming for both political and military purposes in what is at least technically peacetime. (For a good primer on the extent of such activities, see Secure World Foundation’s annual Global Counterspace Capabilities report.) This suggests that nations see reversible satellite interference as acceptable under what is know as customary international law, or in essence, real-world practice.
Which is precisely why the US, and the United Kingdom that sponsored the effort to launch the OEWG, want it to be on the table during the upcoming discussions.
And as far as electronic warfare in conflict zones, Russian forces practice it routinely. The Russian military has frequently jammed GPS in Eastern Ukraine since the Crimean conflict in 2014, according to experts inside and outside the US government, as well as in Sryia.
Desautels said that the OEWG is now set to begin May 9, although it remains unclear whether it will actually happen due to the ongoing war. As Russian aircraft are now banned from landing in either the US or Europe, he explained, Moscow may try to block the meeting from going forward by arguing that Russian diplomats from the Foreign Ministry will be unable to attend.
In fact, the May 9 date for the launch of the first OEWG session is the result of Russia’s attempts to derail the talks during a preparatory meeting last month; the original plan was for Feb. 14-18 in Geneva, Switzerland. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was initiated on Feb. 23.
Desautels stressed that the OEWG discussions are important to the United States as it seeks to promote more stability in military space relations — an effort the Pentagon is fully behind.
As first reported by Breaking Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last July issued a first-ever unclassified policy memo committing the US military to five overarching “tenets” to guide DoD space operations in peacetime. And one of those tenets states: “Avoid the creation of harmful interference.”
Meanwhile the National Security Council is leading an inter-agency effort to put more flesh on the bones laid out by Austin and years of declarations by US government officials. That work, Desautels said, is still ongoing and covers a number of complex issues, such as how to ensure that any agreements don’t prevent tests of missile defense systems.
Russia and China, on the other hand, have been been less than supportive of the UN discussions, voting against the establishment of the group. That said, several Western diplomats have told Breaking Defense that Beijing has been less belligerent in the run up to the discussions (as well as parallel efforts taking place in Vienna to establish guidelines for best practices for space activities), and has shown willingness to seriously engage on the issues.
Desautels kept a hopeful tone in his remarks last week, but cautioned that the May meeting is the first in a two-year process that will run through 2023.
“This is going to be one of the first times where we really sit down with countries and start talking about these norms of responsible behavior,” he said. “So, the first meeting in May will most likely be focused very much on background information — what is the outer space environment; what are the security threats in the environment what is the existing legal regime in the environment — so that we can raise the level of education.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com/JED)
28 Mar 22. Biden requests $773bn for Pentagon, a 4% boost. Defense Department spending would see a 4% increase in fiscal 2023 under a plan released by the White House on Monday, significantly above what administration officials wanted last year but likely not enough to satisfy congressional Republicans.
Administration officials said the $773bn plan includes new money to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia, new investments in military aircraft and nuclear deterrence systems, and enough funding to counter “persistent threats including those posed by North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations.”
The total spending plan translates to an increase of more than $30 billion, or 4%, over the fiscal 2022 enacted level.
Last year, White House officials had asked for a boost of less than 3%, prompting a yearlong fight with Republicans and moderate Democrats who eventually added more to the Pentagon’s spending totals.
Even with the higher ask this year, that same debate is likely to repeat. Last week, 40 House and Senate Republicans pushed the White House to increase the national defense budget by at least 5%, in response to mounting inflation and growing worldwide threats.
In a statement, President Joe Biden called the proposed budget plan “one of the largest investments in our national security in history, with the funds needed to ensure that our military remains the best-prepared, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world.”
White House officials noted that if approved, the budget plan would amount to a 9.8% increase in defense spending in the last two years, providing “the resources necessary to sustain and strengthen U.S. deterrence [and] advancing our vital national interests.”
The budget invests in nuclear modernization, long-range fire capabilities, space resilience and the defense-industrial base, which the White House called a source of innovation and “good-paying jobs.” The budget also supports investments in key technologies, such as “microelectronics, casting and forging, and critical materials.”
“DOD plays a critical role in overall Federal research and development that spurs innovation, yields high-value technology, ensures American dominance over strategic competitors, and creates good-paying jobs,” the White House summary said. “The Budget prioritizes defense research, development, test, and evaluation funding to invest in breakthrough technologies that drive innovation, support capacity in the defense technology industrial base, ensure American technological leadership, and underpin the development of next-generation defense capabilities.”
The White House did not immediately make public its request for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It emphasized the budget’s investment in “a strong, credible nuclear deterrent, as a foundational aspect of integrated deterrence, for the security of the Nation and U.S. allies.”
Biden asked for $753bn in overall defense and national security spending for FY22, but that was ultimately increased to $782bn.
Though lawmakers did not specify a number, an analysis by Capital Alpha Partners’ Byron Callan noted the Republican target is likely $875 for overall defense and national security spending.
“We don’t dismiss the odds of an increase of this magnitude occurring but the final outcome may not be determined until 2023 for appropriations,” Callan said in a note to investors on Sunday.
Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord and lawmakers have said they expect the Ukraine crisis to force future defense budgets higher. Defense officials have previously said the crisis could also alter America’s force posture in Europe. (Source: Defense News)
28 Mar 22. Audit clears Finnish F-35 buy amid rising spending on pandemic, Ukraine. A budgetary analysis by Finland’s Ministry of Finance (MoF) has determined that the government’s $10bn buy of 64 Lockheed F-35 fighter jets can be funded from within the Finnish Defense Force’s (FDF) established annual income and expenditure framework. Officials conducted the cost and affordability review to ascertain if factors outside the armed forces’ control, including pandemic-led government spending constraints and pressures on the military’s finances amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, might require supplementary measures outside of the defense budget to help fund the acquisition.
More recently, doubts about the FDF’s ability to work within its current budget were raised after the government decided to export defensive weapons and other military materials to Ukraine.
The FDF Command expressed concerns that costs associated with the government’s decision, and the need to replace materials sent to Ukraine, might negatively impact its operating budget in 2022-2023 and force cuts in areas such as procurement and participation in NATO-linked multinational and domestic military exercises.
Finland had budgeted to spend $5.6bn on defense in 2022, equivalent to 1.96% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The Finnish government has responded to the FDF Command’s concerns by promising to increase the defense budget for 2022 and 2023. Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen informed opposition party leaders on March 24 that Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Cabinet would meet in coming weeks to discuss ways of raising Finland’s defense budget year-on-year to ensure that the military has sufficient finances to cover all expenditure needs moving forward.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sharpened the focus around the need to strengthen the FDF’s budget and national defense capacities both in the short and long term. The armed forces had already begun to scale up preparations for any potential military threats posed by Russia in January, in expectation of the eventual Ukraine invasion on Feb. 24.
The readiness order included preparations to combat possible hybrid and cyber threats by Russia against critical Finnish military and civilian infrastructure.
Finland’s support for Ukraine was extended on March 24 when the government agreed to send a second consignment of military materials, including anti-tank weapons, assault rifles and associated munitions, as well as support equipment such as bulletproof vests, combat rations, composite helmets and emergency field hospitals.
Finnish military aid to Ukraine could also include some of the 100,000 mint condition, but excess, assault rifles, that the FDF considered scrapping in 2022. The military’s current stockpile of Kalashnikov-type assault rifles, bought from Germany and China in the 1990s, is deemed surplus to the force’s reduced wartime reserve force needs.
The FDF’s existing troop strength in terms of wartime forces is 350,000 soldiers. Defense leaders planned to implement significant changes in 2022 that could reduce the reserve size to 250,000 soldiers or less.
Significantly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the Finnish government approving plans by the FDF to accelerate a rebuild of the country’s ground-based air defenses and the linked procurement of surface-to-air missile systems, said Kaikkonen.
The FDF is currently examining purchases of anti-aircraft weapons systems from potential suppliers Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Systems.
“This is another substantial investment for Finland, coming as it does after our agreement to acquire 64 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed. The reality is we need to invest more to ensure we maintain a strong national defense capability,” said Kaikkonen.
The F-35 fighter jets will replace the Finnish Air Force’s (FAF) 57 F-18 Hornet frontline fighters purchased from McDonnell Douglas in 1992. The FAF, which plans to phase out all existing Hornets by 2030, expects to take delivery of the first F-35 jets in 2026, becoming the third Nordic country, along with Denmark and Norway, to operate the aircraft type. (Source: Defense News)
29 Mar 22. New Zealand to provide additional military support to Ukraine. New Zealand Defence Force will deploy nine personnel to support intelligence and engagement work. The Government of New Zealand is set to provide additional military support to Ukraine as it continues to battle the Russian invasion. The support will involve sending military staff to Europe to support Ukraine’s war effort. The personnel will not participate in the ongoing conflict directly but will help in intelligence-gathering efforts. According to a government statement, nine New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel will be deployed in the UK and Belgium to support partner nations in intelligence and engagement work. The deployment will be made over the next months. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “Seven NZDF intelligence analysts will go to the UK to assist with the heightened demand for intelligence assessments. Some of our people will directly support intelligence work on the Ukraine war, and some will join existing teams focused on other parts of the world.
“Two other officers will deploy to the UK and Belgium to enhance our engagement with, and understanding of, partner activities related to Ukraine.
“One will work with the existing Defence Attaché and NZ military representative to Nato, and one will work within the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters.”
The New Zealand Cabinet has also approved the use of the Defence Force’s open-source intelligence capabilities for three months to assist the UK and other European partners.
New Zealand also announced NZD5m ($3.45m) of non-lethal military assistance for Ukraine. The package is set to be dispatched from Ohakea this week. (Source: army-technology.com)