OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: West rules out military response over Ukraine

The Topline: The U.S. and its allies have ruled out a military decision to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from further incursions into Ukraine, the British defense minister told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. 

“We’ve made a clear decision that the correct response is primarily diplomatic, economic and in the field of energy policy,” Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond said at a morning briefing at the British Embassy. 

“The Russia economy is an Achilles heel. Capital is fleeing the Russian system in response to the events going on. Russia is vulnerable to decisions by the West to invest in greater energy independence [for Europe] from Russia,” Hammond said.

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The U.S. and the European Union have imposed two rounds of sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials responsible for Russia’s takeover of Crimea, and are threatening to take further steps, hoping to dissuade Putin from any further takeovers. 

They are also threatening to expel Russia from the Group of Eight, a group of industrialized nations.

Hammond also said Western officials are hoping Putin’s building of troops at Ukraine borders are in fact a sign he is preparing to deescalate, and warned against an aggressive military response from the West. 

“We know the Russian military doctrine advocates escalating in order to deescalate,” Hammond said.

“That’s what they do. So we have to focus on the deescalatory phase now, which we should not write off the possibility that this escalation that we are seeing is not simply the playing out of a classic Russian military doctrine,” Hammond said.

Lawmakers concerned about A-10 decision: Lawmakers want to reverse the Air Force’s decision to cut the A-10 fleet, but they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to pull it off.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who chairs the Armed Services Tactical Air and Land subcommittee, told The Hill Wednesday he doesn’t know whether the money will be there to reverse the cuts to the A-10 fleet, which would save the Air Force $4.2 billion.

Turner’s committee had just heard testimony from Air Force officials who said they don’t want to cut the A-10 but have determined it’s the best of several bad options, given the Pentagon’s budget constraints.

“In the hearing that we just held, we were just told that everyone operationally in the Air Force believes getting rid of the A-10 is a bad idea,” Turner said.

“We know that there’s a gap in the F-35’s available capabilities [to replace the A-10] and the retirement of the A-10s that is very troubling. The issue becomes the budget, and I’m very concerned as to where we’d get the money,” he said.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who is likely to have the final call for the initial Defense authorization bill, told The Hill it was still too soon to say.

“I haven’t made any decisions,” McKeon said.

Forbes vows to restore funds for 11th carrier: Rep. Randy ForbesRandy ForbesTrump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report MORE (R-Va.) said on Wednesday he was looking forward to restoring funding for the USS George Washington aircraft carrier to ensure the U.S. Navy maintains an 11-carrier fleet.

Forbes, chairman of the Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, criticized Pentagon officials for saying that they weren’t planning to retire the George Washington when there was no money for the carrier’s refueling in the 2015 budget proposal.

Defense officials have said they are pushing back the decision to retire the carrier until next year to wait to see whether cuts under sequestration are reversed.

“The administration’s rhetoric that they are not removing an aircraft carrier out of the fleet simply does not match their actions,” Forbes said in his opening statement at a Seapower subpanel hearing Wednesday. “I think our decision on this issue is clear. I look forward to fully restoring the requisite funding to ensure we retain the USS George Washington for another 25 years.”

US revising Syria policy: Lawmakers pulled no punches during a hearing on the Obama administration’s Syria policy on Wednesday. 

Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told lawmakers the administration was now revising its policy on Syria after diplomatic talks to broker an end to the Syrian conflict have “faltered.” 

“Three years later, 150,000 dead and we’re now revising our policy?” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.) asked.

Under questioning by committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezOvernight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible Poll: Most in NJ want Menendez to resign if found guilty MORE (D-N.J.), Patterson refused to say whether military options were under consideration, saying she could only answer in a classified, closed setting.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Tenn.) responded it was the [most] "major baloney I've heard since Ive been in the U.S. Senate."

“I’m not going to be bullied into an answer,” Patterson said. 

Menendez questioned the need for a classified setting to answer a “generic” question, but promptly scheduled a closed hearing. 

Tom Countryman, assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, who also testified, said that Assad has now shipped almost half of his chemical weapons stockpile out of Syria. 

However, he said he was concerned that fewer than 65 percent of the most dangerous weapons material has been shipped out. 

He said Syria would face “consequences” if it failed to do so by the end of April, but did not elaborate. 

“There are no security or logistical reasons Syria cannot meet the deadline next month,” he said. 

 

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