Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — As Ukraine advances, war grows more dangerous 

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armored vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine on Oct. 4, 2022.

Ukraine is racking up wins in its battle against Russia, pushing Kremlin forces out of occupied towns in the northeast and breaking through enemy lines in the south. But the wins could spell more trouble as Russian President Vladimir Putin is backed into a corner. 

We’ll share why that is, plus the new military exercises meant to deter further North Korean missile tests, and new sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s weapons supply network.  

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.

How Ukraine’s advances are cornering Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing his war, and his frantic efforts to regain momentum through conventional means are destined to fail, according to defense experts and Western officials.   

However, pushing Putin into a corner could be far more dangerous than the grinding fighting playing out now, if he turns to nuclear weapons or other extreme measures.   

  • “It’s highly likely that he will try risky things in order to pull a miracle out of his hat and get a victory big enough” to sell to the Russian public, said Hein Goemans, a political science professor at the University of Rochester who studies how wars start and end.   
  • What those actions might be — and what a “big enough” victory would look like — are fodder for high-stakes speculation. But Putin needs more than what he has now to have a chance of staying in power, Goemans said.   

Earlier: After Russian forces were routed in a Ukrainian counteroffensive last month, Putin responded with a nationally televised speech announcing the mobilization of up to 300,000 military reservists and setting in motion the annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine.  

He framed those annexations as a victory in a grand ceremony last week, but has since lost occupied territory in Donetsk province in the east and Kherson province in the south, both of which are among the regions newly claimed by Moscow.   

Unlikely: Military experts say Putin’s latest push to send reinforcements to Ukraine is unlikely to turn the tide against Ukraine’s well-organized, well-equipped and determined forces.   

“What Russia is doing won’t give you a military formation. It’ll give you just a bunch of men with weapons, if they work on the battlefield, trying to respond to that level of military superiority,” John Spencer, an urban warfare expert at West Point, told Forces News.   

More fighting ahead: However, Russia still controls large swathes of Ukraine — including Crimea, which it seized in 2014 and remains a key staging ground for its invasion — and Putin has proven willing to tolerate staggering casualties.   

  • “There’s probably a lot of fighting that still remains,” former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta told CNN on Wednesday. “My intelligence friends all make clear that Putin will continue to double down. And ultimately what that means is that we are still going to have a prolonged war in the Ukraine.”  
  • Panetta argued that the longer Putin remains in Ukraine, the harder it will be for him to find an off-ramp that allows him to save face.   

Read the full story here 

Also from The Hill: 

South Korea, US begin exercises with aircraft carrier

The United States and South Korea on Friday began another round of joint military drills, this time involving a U.S. aircraft carrier in the waters east of the Korean peninsula, Seoul’s military announced. 

The wargames — which come after the U.S., South Korean and Japanese militaries started ballistic missile defense exercises in the Sea of Japan — are set to go Oct. 7-8, Reuters first reported

All time high: The exercises come at a time of heightened tensions in the region after North Korea conducted six missile launches in less than two weeks, the most recent on Thursday, when it also flew fighter jets near the border with the South in an apparent bombing drill.  

The U.S. military and South Korean forces also held joint missile drills in response to North Korea launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan.    

Further condemnation: Top defense officials from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo also spoke on Friday and condemned the latest launches from Pyongyang, which they stressed threaten the region’s security, the ministry said. 

Preemptive strikes?: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. John Aquilino also spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, where he said that his forces would support moves to prevent and respond to North Korean threats — including preemptive strikes if needed, the ministry said in another statement.  

Read more here 

US SANCTIONS TARGET NORTH’S WEAPON’S NETWORK 

The Biden administration on Friday imposed new sanctions targeting North Korea’s weapons supply network after Pyongyang held a series of provocative missile tests over the past two weeks.  

The Treasury Department slapped the sanctions on two individuals and three entities “for activities related to the exportation of petroleum to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which directly supports the development of DPRK weapons programs and its military,” according to a department statement referring to North Korea by its formal name. 

“By designating these entities and individuals, the United States is sending a clear message that we will continue to take actions against those who support the development and sustainment of the DPRK’s military and weapons arsenal,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.   

Who was targeted?: The Treasury Department imposed the sanctions on New Eastern Shipping Co Ltd., along with the individuals Kwek Kee Seng and Chen Shih Huan for having helped deliver or transfer refined petroleum products to North Korea, as well as two entities owned or controlled by the two individuals: Anfsar Trading (S) Pte. Ltd. and Swanseas Port Services Pte. Ltd. 

Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, ship-to-ship transfers of any cargo to or from North Korean-flagged vessels are prohibited, and Pyongyang’s import of refined petroleum products is limited to 500,000 barrels per year starting in 2018.   

Read that story here 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

  • RAND Corp. will host a discussion on “The View of the Taiwan Strait from the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The  Association of the U.S. Army will kick off its annual meeting and exposition with a press conference including Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, and Army Sgt. Maj. Michael  Grinston, at 11:45 a.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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