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No one can tell NatSec Daily how this ends.
In the week since the invasion, the U.S. and its allies imposed crushing and unprecedented sanctions on Russia while continuously arming Ukraine to fend off VLADIMIR PUTIN’s forces. A first effort at diplomacy between Kyiv and Moscow didn’t offer much hope and the prospects for peace dim with each Russian missile dropped on Ukrainian civilians. And despite a shambolic start to its military campaign, most Western officials and analysts believe Russia will turn to criminal siege tactics and eventually find a way to break through Ukraine’s fierce and valiant resistance.
Which means you have President JOE BIDEN and co. justifiably marking the Russian economy for implosion while assisting the warring party that, as of today, is projected to lose in combat. That’s only bound to increase tensions between the world’s foremost nuclear powers — especially when Russia has already threatened nuclear use, though few in the U.S. take it seriously. The scary situation would be less frightening if a clear off ramp existed, but there doesn’t seem to be one.
“Diplomacy at the barrel of a gun, diplomacy at the turret of a tank — that is not real diplomacy,” State Department spokesperson NED PRICE told reporters Monday. “We are ready and willing, just as our Ukrainian partners are, just as our European allies are, to engage in real, in substantive, in genuine diplomacy in order to see if we can find a way out of what is a needless, brutal conflict. But that diplomacy is highly unlikely to bear fruit, to prove effective, in the midst of not only confrontation but escalation.”
NatSec Daily spent the last few days asking U.S. and European officials what the de-escalation plan is. Only one articulated a clear-ish plan, but wouldn’t do so on record or even on background.
What we did hear are two things. First, Washington and like-minded capitals climbed up the sanctions ladder far faster than they expected, seeking to match every aggressive Russian move with a corresponding punishment. Second, officials said it was too early to talk about de-escalation as Putin sends his troops deeper into Ukraine to topple President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY’s government. He’s the aggressor, they rightly note, adding that he’s shown little signs of wanting to make a deal.
“Russia taking an offramp depends on Russia wanting to take an offramp. It’s questionable that they do,” a senior administration official told NatSec Daily.
True, but the severity of the situation demands Putin know what precisely he can do to have sanctions and travel bans lifted, since he’s unlikely to give up on the war altogether at this early stage. “This is the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis,” Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, told our colleagues last night.
We’re not alone in wanting a better idea of the de-escalation strategy.
“[A]s satisfying as it might feel in the moment, ‘imposing costs’ cannot be an end in itself. Sanctions should be a means to achieving a larger end,” The Fletcher School at Tufts University’s DANIEL DREZNER wrote in his Washington Post column today. “If the goal is to compel, then the sanctioners need to be explicit about what Russia can do to get the sanctions lifted,” and Drenzer — like NatSec Daily — has yet to hear what such moves look like.
The anti-Russian front still signals it will keep pushing. British Chancellor of the Exchequer RISHI SUNAK today told his G-7 counterparts that the group should go “faster and further” in support of Ukraine. “We will continue to work in lockstep with our allies to cut Russia off from the global economy and financial system in the name of democracy and freedom.”
JAMES ACTON, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., said it should be America’s goal to “make clear, credible commitments that make backing down less unattractive to Putin.” One of those commitments could include offering Russia some arms control measures the Biden administration suggested before the war started. But when the war began, the U.S. halted such talks with Russia. The senior administration official added that “we support Ukraine’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire” — in other words, diplomacy with Ukraine to lay down arms is a de-escalatory opening.
NatSec Daily wrote back to Acton by saying that, as of this moment, there’s no clear climbdown path. “I don’t disagree with that,” he texted back. “But if we want to avoid Grozny in Kyiv, or worse still nuclear weapons use, then I think it’s in our interests to try to create one.”
None of this is to say the West’s moves were wrong or that Russia didn’t deserve these punishments. But it is meant to point out that action for action’s sake — devoid of obvious ways out — could make a historically dangerous situation worse.
SITUATION REPORT: We will only cite official sources. As always, take all figures, assessments and statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.
War in Ukraine:
— As of 6 a.m. local time, Ukraine claims more than 5,710 Russians have been killed or injured, 29 Russian aircraft and 29 helicopters have been destroyed and 198 tanks have been lost (Ukrainian Defense Minister)
— Belarusian troops have entered Ukraine’s Chernihiv region in the north (Ukrainian Parliament)
— Russia has sent 80 percent of its pre-staged invasion force on Ukraine’s border into the country (senior U.S. defense official)
— Russia has launched more than 400 missiles into Ukraine (senior U.S. defense official)
— The cities of Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol “are now likely encircled by Russian forces” (U.K. Ministry of Defense)
— Russians have fired rockets into the residential areas of Kharkiv and Chernihiv (General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine)
— Russia will try to disseminate fake documents to suggest Ukraine surrendered (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— Russia used a “vacuum bomb” in Ukraine on Monday (Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S.)
— Russia’s advance on Kyiv hasn’t move much in the last 24 hours, and Moscow’s forces are running out of gas and food (senior U.S. defense official)
— Belarus has 300 troops on the Ukraine border (Defense Intelligence of Ukraine)
— “Security assistance has flowed into Ukraine over the last 24 hours” (senior U.S. defense official)
U.S. WORRIES RUSSIA WILL ARREST AMERICANS: Current and former U.S. officials fear Russia will retaliate against the U.S. by arresting Americans, NBC News’ JOSH LEDERMAN reported.
“The Biden administration has started notifying some major businesses with operations in Russia that, depending how far the situation escalates, Putin could start taking Americans hostage, two people with knowledge of those conversations said,” per Lederman. “It’s unclear whether the Biden administration has specific reason to believe Putin may take U.S. hostages or is merely anticipating potential worst-case scenarios. But discussions about mitigating the risk for Americans in Russia have involved multiple U.S. national security agencies as well as U.S. Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs ROGER CARSTENS, officials said.”
Russia currently holds two Americans — both former Marines — hostage: “TREVOR REED, sentenced in 2020 to nine years in prison on charges of assaulting a police officer, and PAUL WHELAN, sentenced [also in 2020] to 16 years on spying charges.”
On Monday, the State Department said Americans should not travel to Russia partly because of “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.”
SWISS OFFICIAL: NS2 COMPANY FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY: A Swiss official said Nord Stream 2 AG, the company behind the controversial Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, has filed for bankruptcy. SILVIA THALMANN-GUT, economics director for the Swiss canton of Zug, made the remarkable assertion in an interview with Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen.
Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reported that the owner of the Swiss-based company was considering insolvency. The U.S. reimposed sanctions on the pipeline it had lifted last year in a deal with Germany shortly following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
UKRAINE TO BE CENTERPIECE OF SOTU: Biden planned to use the State of the Union to reset his domestic agenda, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will now be a central theme of the president’s address, our own JONATHAN LEMIRE reported.
“His first State of the Union speech has been rewritten repeatedly and remained unfinished the day before it was set to be delivered, according to two White House aides. Biden has squeezed in some rehearsal time but the Russia-focused late revisions have required extensive rewriting. That stands in stark contrast to the original plan, which was to use the speech to offer a domestic reset of the presidency. While Biden will still discuss inflation, falling Covid rates and his pick of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the court, Ukraine will now be a centerpiece,” Lemire wrote.
Also some notable nuggets in his story. For example, during the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva last summer, Biden deflected the Russian leader’s long historical diatribe. “Mr. President, I know the history. And I know you know that’s not right,” Biden said.
And there’s this: Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN “above all others, has emerged as the president’s top confidant, used as a sounding board and consigliare on how to shape U.S. policy and rally global pressure against Russia in light of its invasion.”
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STATUS OF SIVS: The Association of Wartime Allies released its first report on the status of left-behind Afghan special immigrant visa applicants — and it features some startling numbers.
“Of the estimated 81,000 SIV applicants in Afghanistan with visa applications pending as of August 15, 2021 (the day Kabul fell), 78,000 remain left behind,” the group tweeted. “Nearly all have faced diminished economic opportunity because of the evacuation with 88% reporting loss of job and 94% reporting economic hardship.”
“Over 70% reported going without food at least once in the last month — nearly 20% reported going without meals 10+ times in the last month,” AWA continued.
“We are suffering the worse days of our life, I never go outside of my living area. I have [not] left my home since the Taliban took over the country. … Some of my [family] has provided food and other necessities for me and my kids. I have faced economic hardship, I will not be able to [feed] my kids in near future, and I lost my job furthermore I cannot walk freely in the city/village because the Taliban will arrest me,” said one of the SIV respondents to the survey and quoted in the report.
ANONYMOUS LAUNCHES ‘CYBER WAR’ ON RUSSIA: It seems like the shadowy hacker collective known as Anonymous has turned its attention on Russia, seeking to take down Kremlin websites and complicate the country’s online life.
A Twitter account believed to be tied to Anonymous “claimed responsibility for disabling websites belonging to the Russian oil giant Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian news agency RT, and numerous Russian and Belarusian government agencies, including the Kremlin’s official site,” CNBC’s MONICA BUCHANAN PITRELLI reported.
“Anonymous has ongoing operations to keep .ru government website offline, and to push information to the Russian people so they can be free of Putin’s state censorship machine. We also have ongoing operations to keep the Ukrainian people online as best we can,” the account holder said in a later post.
Russia has already attacked Ukraine as part of the war, launching distributed denial of service strikes on Ukrainian official websites. As we reported Monday, Sen. MARK WARNER (D-Va.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, fears Russia has yet to activate its “A-Team” in cyberspace operations.
BURN PITS VICTIMS AND VETERANS BENEFITS TO FEATURE ON SOTU: “President Joe Biden will call for expanded benefits for victims of burn pit smoke and other military toxic exposure,” Military Times’ LEO SHANE III reported. “That includes new presumptive benefits status for veterans with rare respiratory cancers believed linked to the toxins from waste pit fires in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Biden will also address mental health and financial support for veterans in the speech, per Shane.
Veterans issues at most get a passing reference in speeches as national security issues take center stage. Tonight, the needs of veterans will share a bit of that spotlight.
ARMY’S OMFV PUSH: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) wrote about the Army’s third attempt to replace the M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, releasing documents to detail what it’s looking for in the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle.
The Army wants feedback from industry ahead of a formal solicitation in June, which is expected to draw bids from a number of contractors.
So far there are five companies in the running: American Rheinmetall Vehicles, BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, Oshkosh Defense and Point Blank Enterprises. The service plans to choose up to three industry teams in the second quarter of fiscal 2023 to produce a “detailed digital design.”
UKRAINE ASKS CONGRESS FOR MORE WEAPONS: Our own ANDREW DESIDERIO and CONNOR O’BRIEN reported how Ukraine is pushing Congress to authorize weapons for use against Russia.
OKSANA MARKAROVA, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. and who will be first lady JILL BIDEN‘s SOTU guest tonight, on Monday “told a bipartisan group of senators that the Ukrainian military is in serious need of supplies and equipment, including lethal arms, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting. Markarova told senators that Ukraine was close to running out of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles in particular, both of which have proven to be pivotal as an overpowered Ukrainian military fends off Russian invaders.”
Ukraine’s efforts on Capitol Hill “came as lawmakers are cobbling together an emergency spending package to aid Ukraine that will likely be added to a larger government funding bill expected to pass next week. The White House has asked for $6.4 billion but that number is likely to rise. Lawmakers across the political spectrum support a significant boost in funding for the Ukrainian military.”
Funding and arming Ukraine has widespread bipartisan support in Congress, as evidenced by the fact that Rep. KATIE PORTER (D-Calif.) and Rep. JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) — who see eye to eye on very little, if anything — clapped about the same things they were told in a classified hearing.
“You don’t see that every day,” Porter told reporters.
OLIGARCHS SPEAK OUT AGAINST PUTIN’S WAR: Some of Russia’s oligarchs have begun to speak out against Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal’s MAX COLCHESTER, JENNY STRASBURG and NICK KOSTOV reported, exposing rifts within Moscow’s elite and those close to the Kremlin.
“Please don’t draw an equal sign between Russians, the Russian state and the Government of [the] Russian Federation. There are many Russians strongly opposing the current military action, and I am one of them,” said ANDREY YAKUNIN, the founder of private-equity group VIY Management and one such oligarch.
He’s not alone: “Oligarch ROMAN ABRAMOVICH, who hasn’t been sanctioned, said that he was helping Ukraine negotiate peace with Russia. OLEG TINKOV, the billionaire founder of Russia’s Tinkoff Bank, a unit of TCS Group Holding PLC, highlighted the work his foundation does to help children and his desire for no war. Mr. Tinkov also hasn’t been sanctioned. OLEG DERIPASKA, a raw-materials magnate who was previously sanctioned in the U.S., wrote on social media Sunday that peace ‘is very important.’”
The West’s hope is that tightening the financial noose around the neck of Russia’s elites will eventually lead Putin to wind down the war. One week in, though, the open complaints haven’t changed much.
BOLTON: TRUMP WOULDN’T HAVE DETERRED INVASION: JOHN BOLTON, former President DONALD TRUMP’s third national security adviser, isn’t buying the growing argument that his past boss would’ve stopped Putin from invading Ukraine.
“In almost every case, the sanctions [on Russia] were imposed with Trump complaining about it and saying we were being too hard,” Bolton said on Newsmax last night. “The fact is that he barely knew where Ukraine was. He once asked JOHN KELLY, his second chief of staff, if Finland were a part of Russia.”
“It’s just not accurate to say that Trump’s behavior somehow deterred the Russians,” Bolton concluded. Russia likely “didn’t feel that their military was ready.”
Bolton is obviously no fan of Trump, and wrote an entire book explaining why. But it’s as authoritative a counter to the notion that Putin was somehow scared of Trump and held his fire until he was out of the Oval Office.
The Week’s DAMON LINKER had another theory for why the invasion didn’t happen on Trump’s watch: “[I]t makes far greater sense to suppose his relative restraint during the Trump presidency was a function of a reasonable expectation he might get everything he wanted without having to fire a shot. Only now, with a less … unorthodox American president in charge, has war become Putin’s only means of advancing his more immediate aim of ensuring NATO moves no closer to Russian territory.”
Bolton then told VICE News today that Putin “obviously saw that Trump had contempt for the Ukrainians. I think that had an impact.”
DIPLOMATS WALK OUT ON LAVROV: Diplomats at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva today walked out en masse the moment Russian Foreign Minister SERGEY LAVROV began to speak, refusing to hear his justifications for the war.
Video of the demonstration quickly circulated online, providing the latest indicator of global anger at Russia and how isolated it currently is on the world stage.
SAMANTHA POWER, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator who has worked on U.N.-related human rights issues for a quarter century, tweeted: “I have never seen anything even a little bit like this.”
— ZONGYUAN ZOE LIU and INU MANAK joined the Council on Foreign Relations as new fellows for international political economy and trade policy.
— VINODA BASNAYAKE is now the president of the Qatari headquarters of Aspiration, a multibillion-dollar American public good corporation focused on fighting climate change. He most recently was a partner at Nelson Mullins and chair of its D.C. government relations practice.
— ANDREY KORTUNOV, Russian International Affairs Council: “The end of diplomacy? Seven Glimpses of the New Normal”
— JUSTIN BRONK, Royal United Services Institute: “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Russian Air Force”
— MAURA REYNOLDS, POLITICO Magazine: “‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 10 a.m.: “Rights Revoked: The State of Human Rights in Afghanistan After Six Months of Taliban Rule — with RINA AMIRI, HEATHER BARR and ANNE RICHARD”
— The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 10:30 a.m.: “What is Intelligence Today? Space (Sp)eyes — with KARI BINGEN, GENEVIEVE LESTER, BENJAMIN OGDEN and PETER ROUND”
— House Armed Services Committee, 2 p.m..: “Subcommittee Hearing: Assessing the Effectiveness of Suicide Prevention Programs — with CRAIG BRYAN, BONNIE CARROLL, RICHARD MOONEY and KAREN ORVIS”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Examining the Court-Ordered Reimplementation of the Remain in Mexico Policy”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 2 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States & Multi VSOs: IAVA, WWP, VVA, AMVETS, NCHV, SWAN, BVA, BVEC, NASDVA — with JEREMY BUTLER, GREGORY HEUN, VICTOR LAGROON, MICHAEL S. LINNINGTON, LORY MANNING, JACK MCMANUS, JOSEPH D. MCNEIL, MATTHEW ‘FRITZ’ MIHELCIC, KATHRYN MONET and THOMAS PALLADINO”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: U.S. Policy Towards India — with DONALD LU”
— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Chief Human Capital Officers at 20: What is Needed to Empower CHCOs to Ensure HR Practices Support Agencies’ Mission Success — with ANGELA BAILEY, TERRY GERTON and STEVE LENKART”
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