Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Fears grow for Mariupol

Associated Press/Alexei Alexandrov

The U.S. and its allies are bracing themselves over the fate of Mariupol, the southern port city besieged by Russian bombardments. 

We’ll share the stark observations from U.S. and Ukrainian officials, plus the new retired three-star general selected to coordinate weapons heading to Ukraine. 

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.

Mariupol — the ‘center of hell’ 

The U.S. and its allies are bracing themselves over the fate of Mariupol, the southern city at the center of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal assault on Ukraine’s east — and a place described by observers from the United Nations as the center of hell given its bombardment.  

Conquering the city is viewed as Putin’s primary objective, as complete Russian control would establish a key lifeline to resupply troops seeking to take over Ukraine’s eastern territory.  

Besieged Ukrainian forces holding out in a steel plant represent the last stand of soldiers defending the city. 

Pleads for help:They have pleaded with the U.S. and other powers for help, but the Biden administration and its allies have refused to engage U.S. and NATO forces directly in Ukraine to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia. 

As a result, while the United States has increased the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, it has generally only been able to observe the horrors of Mariupol from afar. 

“We are watching what’s happening in Mariupol from the Balkans, it is absolutely heartbreaking to see what is happening,” Sen. Chis Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters during a call from Pristina, Kosovo. 

Extreme war crimes:The near-complete destruction of the city, under a two-month Russian assault, is described as representing the most extreme case of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces.  

“We’ve seen the horrifying images and heard the credible reports of atrocities from a growing number of cities across Ukraine – including Mariupol,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill.  

“These images and reports suggest these atrocities are not the act of rogue units; rather, they are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of reports of abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged.”   

Read the full story here

UN CHIEF TO MEET PUTIN IN MOSCOW NEXT WEEK 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is heading to Moscow on April 26 for a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to get the Kremlin to cease its war on Ukraine.  

Putin will receive Guterres while the secretary-general has a “working meeting and lunch” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to a statement from the spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general.  

The meeting comes after Guterres had issued an appeal to meet Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv as part of efforts to end the more than two-month war. 

Read more here. 

Biden taps retired general to help with military aid 

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff has been chosen by the Biden administration to coordinate security assistance for Ukraine as Russia launches a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine.  

“The NSC recently brought on Terry Wolff to help coordinate the security assistance the U.S. and our partners are providing to Ukraine, which they are using every day to defend their country,” a National Security Council spokesperson said. 

Lawmaker pressure:Last week, a bipartisan group of senators wrote to Biden to urge him to appoint a Ukraine security assistance coordinator who would lead an effort across federal agencies to better understand the defense needs of Ukraine “while de-conflicting overlapping areas of jurisdiction between” the Pentagon and State Department. 

“This person would also serve as the chief liaison between the United States Government and our allies and partners abroad in matters relating to the transfer of existing stocks and assessment of partner capabilities, such as aircraft, heavy tanks, and sophisticated weapons that could be made available to Ukraine,” the senators added at the time. 

Earlier: The development comes as Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would be sending Ukraine an additional $800 million in military aid, separate from a $500 million package announced by the Treasury Department the same day to provide financial assistance for Ukrainian government pensions and salaries, among other needs. 

Read the full story here

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will speak at The Atlantic Council, at 6 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 Monday!

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