Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Battle begins for Eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that Russia has begun its battle for Donbas after regrouping ahead of the expected offensive. 

We’ll detail what we know so far and why peace talks seem unlikely, plus the weapon the U.S. intends to train Ukrainian forces on and the latest Pentagon official to test positive for COVID-19. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Zelensky says Russia has started ‘battle for Donbas’

“It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address. “A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive.” 

“No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” the president added, saying he was grateful to all Ukrainian fighters, especially in hard-hit areas like Donbas and Mariupol. 

A second confirmation: Also on Monday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted that Moscow’s “genocidal army is concentrating its forces in eastern Ukraine.”  

“Rocket attacks, bombings, and artillery shelling are widespread,” it said. “Mariupol is being destroyed by multiton air bombs.” 

“Our warriors are beating and will continue to beat the enemy,” the ministry added. 

An expected assault: Ukraine has been preparing for a possible attack on its eastern region since Russian forces moved their focus away from the capital city of Kyiv earlier this month. 

Following peace talks, the number of Russian forces in the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv decreased, a move that the U.S. and Ukraine both claimed was in an effort to refocus on the Donbas region.  

“We don’t actually see any withdrawal of Russian forces. What we see is that they are repositioning them and that they are planning for a broader offensive in the Donbas region,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time. 

Read the full story here.

US to train Ukrainian troops on howitzers

The Pentagon will train Ukrainian troops on how to use howitzer artillery systems sent to Ukraine to help in its war with Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.   

U.S. forces “in coming days” will train Ukrainian forces on howitzers outside the country. The troops will then return to Ukraine to relay the information and train their fellow soldiers.  

“We believe we’re going to be able to start this training in the next several days. It’ll be just the initial efforts. There may be additional ones and in other places and at other times,” the official told reporters.   

Still unknown: They did not say where such training will take place, but it’s likely that American troops based on NATO’s eastern flank, particularly in Poland and Romania, will conduct the lessons. The Pentagon has deployed thousands of U.S. forces to bolster the easternmost areas of NATO since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24.   

The official added that the U.S. military is exploring other options for training the Ukrainians on additional systems or further educating them on using howitzers, which were included in the Biden administration’s latest military aid package to the country. 

Earlier: The U.S. has already trained several Ukrainian soldiers on how to use switchblade drones, which can strike targets such as personnel and vehicles. Those troops were already in the U.S. for planned military education and returned to their country earlier this month. 

The Pentagon has since explored other ways it can help Ukraine use the weapons it sends over. 

Read more here.

ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, the service revealed Monday.  

McConville, 63, tested positive for the virus on Sunday after experiencing “very mild symptoms similar to seasonal allergies,” the Army said in a statement.   

“He is currently working remotely while adhering to all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] protocols,” according to the statement. 

Recent cases: The Biden administration and Congress has dealt with a spate of recent positive tests, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Vice President Harris’s communications director Jamal Simmons, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), among dozens of others.   

The outbreaks have prompted questions about whether leaders in Washington should continue to hold indoor events with large crowds. 

Read more here.

FROM THE WEEKEND

Sinking of Russian warship offers Ukraine a morale, possible strategic boost 

The sinking of Russia’s Moskva cruiser has dealt a major blow to the Kremlin’s fleet in the Black Sea and offered up a big public relations win to Ukrainian forces.  

The warship — which sank Thursday after Ukrainian and U.S. officials said it was struck by two Neptune missiles, exploded and caught fire — was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and one of its most visible weapons in its attack on Ukraine.   

The significance is not lost on the Ukrainians, who quickly began using the incident in videos and images posted to social media. But experts are split on whether the ship’s sinking could turn the tide of the war. 

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • Brig. Gen. Krzysztof Nolbert, Defense Attache of Poland to the United States, will speak at the Business Council for International Understanding at 8:30 a.m. 
  • The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will hold a webinar on “Building Alliances and Competing with China: The Imperative for UAV Export Reforms,” at 9 a.m. 
  • Defense and industry officials will speak at an American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research discussion on “Joint All-Domain Command and Control: Bringing the DOD’s innovative command and control to life,” at 9 a.m.  
  • George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs will hold a virtual discussion on “Germany and the Impact of the War in Ukraine,” at 9 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a virtual talk on “How the Chinese Public Views Russia’s War in Ukraine,” at 11 a.m.  
  • French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne will speak at the Hudson Institute on “Russia’s war on Ukraine and its implications for France’s foreign policy and Franco-American relations,” at 12 p.m. 
  • The Government Executive Media Group will hold a virtual forum on “Electrifying the Future Fleet,” with Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, chief of naval research at the Office of Naval Research, at 1 p.m. 
  • Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will speak at the National Press Club on the Air Force’s fiscal year 2023 budget request and his vision for the department’s transformation to face future threats, at 2 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE.

Tags James McConville Volodymyr Zelensky

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