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Defense & National Security — US amps up weapons to Ukraine, Russia ups attacks

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The Biden administration is preparing to send an advanced air defense system to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight back against the Russian invasion, an announcement that was followed by a devastating Kremlin strike on a Ukrainian mall.

We’ll share the details on the Washington’s latest weapons pledge and Russia’s response, plus NATO’s move to increase its quick-reaction force and what to watch for at this week’s NATO meeting.

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 MitchellSubscribe here.

US preps advanced air defense system for Ukraine

The Biden administration is preparing to send an advanced air defense system to Ukraine as part of another tranche of military assistance to help Kyiv fight back against the Russian invasion.  

  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G-7) summit Monday that the U.S. is in the process of finalizing a package that will include “advanced air defense capabilities,” though he declined to provide details on the specific system.
  • “This week, as the President told his fellow G-7 leaders — and as he told President Zelensky — we do intend to finalize a package that includes advanced medium- and long-range air defense capabilities for the Ukrainians, along with some other items that are of urgent need, including ammunition for artillery and counterbattery radar systems,” Sullivan said.

More detailsCNN reported that the Biden administration is preparing to send Ukraine a Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, a medium- to long-range air defense system that has a range of more than 100 miles.  

A plea: President Biden and other G-7 leaders met virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, the second day of the summit in Germany.

  • Sullivan said that during the closed-door meeting, Zelensky brought up recent Russian missile strikes on Kyiv and asked for more air defense capabilities “that could shoot Russian missiles out in the sky.”
  • The Ukrainians have been pleading for more heavy weapons to push back against the Russian assault that has been focused on the eastern part of the country.

Still unclear: It’s unclear precisely when the U.S. will finalize the next military assistance for Ukraine.

  • The Biden administration just last week announced another $450 million security assistance package including more advanced rocket systems, ammunition and other weaponry.
  • A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters later on Monday that the U.S. is seeking ways to help Ukraine’s air defense: “That’s certainly something that we’re looking at — is the way to help the Ukrainians with additional air defense assets. I don’t have the particulars associated with the systems, but as soon as we know that and as soon as those are finalized, we will certainly work to provide you with those details and the particulars of the systems that we’re employing.” 

Read more here 

NATO to significantly increase quick-reaction force

While the West moves to ship more weapons to Ukraine, NATO seeks to bolster its defenses against any potential conflict spillover by significantly increasing its quick-reaction force “to well over 300,000” soldiers, the head of the alliance said Monday. 

  • During a news conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance plans to increase its Response Force on its eastern flank. 
  • “We will enhance our battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance up to brigade-levels. We will transform the NATO Response Force and increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000,” Stoltenberg said. “We will also boost our ability to reinforce in crisis and conflict.”

What that includes: Stoltenberg said the boost in military units will also include more pre-positioned equipment, stockpiles of military supplies, more forward-deployed capabilities, upgraded defense plans and strengthened command and control.

“These troops will exercise together with home defense forces, and they will become familiar with local terrain, facilities, and our new pre-positioned stocks,” Stoltenberg said. “So that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency. Together, this constitutes the biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defense since the Cold War.”

Read more here

Alleged Russian attack on Ukrainian mall rocks West

Ukraine mall on fire after missile strike
People watch as smoke bellows after a Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping mall, in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, Monday, June 27, 2022. Ukrainian officials say scores of civilians are feared killed or injured after a Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Telegram post Monday that the number of victims was “unimaginable,” citing reports that more than 1,000 civilians were inside at the time of the attack.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky alleged on Monday that Russia had hit a crowded shopping mall in the Kremenchuk region, calling it “one of the most daring terrorist acts in European history,” with resulting casualties likely significant.

Sharing video from the strike on his Telegram account, Zelensky said: “The mall is on fire, firefighters are trying to extinguish the fire, the number of victims is impossible to imagine.”

  • He added that about 1,000 people may have been in the structure when it was struck, and the shopping mall had posed “no strategic value” or danger to Russian forces. 
  • “This is not a mistaken hit of missiles. This is a planned Russian strike at this shopping center,” Zelensky said. 

Western leaders react: The G7 leaders quickly condemned the attack as “abominable” in a joint statement on Monday. 

  • “We, the Leaders of the G7, solemnly condemn the abominable attack on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk,” according to the statement.
  • “Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.” 

An increase in strikes: Earlier on Monday, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters that Russia has increased its strikes into Ukraine in the past week, though they could not pinpoint the reason. 

“It could be related to the G7. It certainly could be related to the Ukrainian movement of [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems] into theater,” they said, referencing the system the West was providing Kyiv in its fight. “Or it could be a larger portion of their long-term battle strategy here. I’m just not sure.” 

Read that story here 


Pentagon: Russia’s latest nuke threats ‘irresponsible’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weekend pledge to transfer nuclear-capable missile systems to Belarus is being viewed by U.S. officials as “cavalier” and “irresponsible” language, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.  

“Certainly, anytime anybody uses the word nuclear you have concerns. Quite honestly it seems pretty irresponsible of a national leader to talk about the employment of nuclear weapons and to do so in a generally cavalier fashion,” the defense official told reporters in an on-background briefing.

Over the weekend: Putin on Saturday told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that the Kremlin will transfer Russian-made Iskander-M missile systems to Belarus “in the next few months.”  

The mobile, short-range ballistic missile systems with a range of up to 310 miles “can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” the Russian leader told Lukashenko at a meeting in St. Petersburg, according to a readout from Moscow.   

Always watching: The U.S. defense official said Washington takes such threatening language seriously and has “from the very beginning” of Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24.   

  • “The way that statement read from Putin was, ‘Hey we’re going to give them Iskanders, and oh, by the way, they can hold nuclear weapons.’ And everybody takes that very seriously when you use that language,” the official said.
  • “Our strategic forces are always monitoring things in that regard,” they added. 

Read the full story here

BIDEN AT NATO SUMMIT: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

President Biden will convene with allies this week at a NATO summit in Madrid, which is expected to focus on the security alliance projecting its unity and coordination amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.  

The meeting, which follows the Group of Seven summit in Germany, is expected to cover a hosts of issues beyond the Russian war, including the bids by Finland and Sweden to join the organization. 

Read about the five things to watch for at the meeting here 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • President Biden will attend the G-7 summit where he will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then deliver remarks at the final session of the summit. He will then travel to Madrid to participate in the NATO summit. 
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Madrid to attend the NATO Leaders Summit and then to Stuttgart, Germany for the change of command ceremony for Gen. Christopher Cavoli, set to become head of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO. 
  • Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will give the opening speech at the Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government in Madrid, Spain at 9:30 a.m.
  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will host a virtual discussion on “Delivering Justice for Ukraine: Pursuing Accountability for Russian Atrocities and Restoring the Constitutional Rights of the Ukrainian People,” with Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova; Ukrainian Ambassador at Large Anton Korynevych; U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack and Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, at 1 p.m.   
  • The Atlantic Council, the Elcano Royal Institute, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Munich Security Conference will provide a “NATO Public Forum” during the NATO Summit at 3 p.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold an event on “National Security and Artificial Intelligence: Global Trends and Challenges,” at 4 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 Jake Sullivan Jens Stoltenberg NATO NATO allies NATO membership nuclear weapons russian invasion of ukraine Ukraine aid ukraine war Volodymyr Zelensky Weapons package

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