Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Defense meeting ends with no tanks for Ukraine

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during the meeting of the ‘Ukraine Defense Contact Group’ at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. Defense leaders are gathering at Ramstein Air Base in Germany Friday to hammer out future military aid to Ukraine, amid ongoing dissent over who will provide the battle tanks that Ukrainian leaders say they desperately need(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

About 50 defense leaders from around the world wrapped up a meeting in Germany on Friday without an agreement to send tanks to Ukraine.

We’ll talk more in-depth about the tanks decision and how Kyiv has responded to the news.

We’ll also discuss new sanctions against Russia’s Wagner Group and three U.S. Marines who were charged this week with breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

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

Pentagon defends position on tanks  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking after the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, dug in on the tanks position at a press conference.

  • “What we’re really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now,” Austin said.
  • That means a new, $2.5 billion package of weapons and equipment the U.S. announced on Thursday for Kyiv. It includes Stryker armored vehicles for the first time, but not the prized M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

What Kyiv is saying: Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky thanked the U.S. and other nations for the security aid, but also expressed clear disapproval for the decision not to send over Western tanks.

“I can thank you hundreds of times,” Zelensky told the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, “but hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks.”

Kyiv has used upgraded, Soviet-era tanks in the war — but has yet to receive modern, Western tanks from partners, which would offer more firepower.

No to Leopards: After five hours of talks, there remains an impasse from the defense leaders on sending over Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks.

Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told The Associated Press a decision may shape up in the short term, but he is unclear what that might look like.

Several European nations who have the Leopards in stock can’t ship them to Ukraine without Berlin’s approval, and they are likely to continue pressing Germany on the issue.

Read more of the story here

Russia’s Wagner Group hit with US sanctions 

The Biden administration announced sanctions against Wagner Group, a private mercenary company fighting in Ukraine along with Russian forces.

The sanctions include labeling Wagner Group a “significant Transnational Criminal Organization” and warning nations and businesses not to do business with them lest they run afoul of the U.S. government.

Brutality: Wagner Group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is accused of brutal war crimes, human rights violations and of meddling in conflicts in West Africa and the Middle East.

In Ukraine, Wagner forces led a vicious assault this month against the eastern salt mining town of Soledar, which Russia claimed victory over after thousands of lives were lost and buildings completely leveled.

U.S. action: The new U.S. sanctions build on action taken last month by the Commerce Department to restrict Wagner Group’s ability to procure foreign produced items and U.S. tech and equipment.

  • National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also said additional sanctions against Wagner are expected next week.
  • “These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” Kirby told reporters.

North Korean ties: Kirby also presented evidence that North Korea is supplying weapons to Wagner, showing what appeared to be Russian rail cars traveling to North Korea and then returning in November.

The U.S. has previously assessed that North Korea has provided rockets and missiles to Russia for use by Wagner.

Read the full story here.

Three Marines charged in Jan. 6 Capitol riots case

The Jan. 6, 2021, defendants list is continuing to grow. 

The FBI on Wednesday charged three active-duty U.S. Marines with four misdemeanor offenses each, including disorderly conduct with the intention of disrupting government business.

The Marines are Micah Coomer, Dodge Dale Hellonen and Joshua Abate. According to the FBI, the defendants placed a red MAGA hat on a statue and posed for photos with it on Jan. 6.

The FBI said they identified the Marines through video footage inside the U.S. Capitol, which was paired with personal identifications.

‘Everything in this country is corrupt’: Agents said in an unsealed affidavit they also identified Coomer after he posted photos of the rioting on Instagram.

  • And in a conversation with another user on the social media platform after the riots, Coomer said he was “glad to be apart of history [sic],” the FBI said.
  • Coomer also allegedly wrote that the 2020 election was unfair and “that everything in this country is corrupt,” expressing a desire for a “fresh restart” and also making a reference to a second civil war.

The bigger picture: The Department of Justice has had its hands full since the pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the 2020 election.

  • More than 950 rioters have been arrested and more than 484 defendants have pleaded guilty to a wide range of federal charges.
  • Other defendants in the Jan. 6 cases have included military veterans or reservists.
  • The first known active-duty military member, Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, was charged in May 2021 with assaulting and impeding police officers during the rioting, among other charges.

Read more here.

Toxic burn pits victims seeking justice

Remember the big hullabaloo last summer over Republicans derailing a bill (over spending concerns) to compensate veterans exposed to toxic burn pits?

Congress did end up passing the Honoring Our PACT Act, which expanded access to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals, but thousands of Americans are still in the dark about when their claims will be approved by the government.

Technicalities: Some victims have been turned away because of a legal technicality.

  • Mike Partain saw his lawsuit seeking compensation from the government over toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune, N.C., dismissed.
  • Partain was ordered to refile an administrative claim, which he says already submitted years ago.
  • “The law says you have to file an administrative claim with the Department of the Navy,” Partain said. “Our position was we already did.”

In limbo: Partain is a breast cancer survivor born at Camp Lejeune, a military base that experienced a contaminated water supply decades ago.

Within the Honoring our PACT Act is a provision permitting lawsuits for those exposed to toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune.

  • Partain said he refiled his new claim months ago as required by the judge, but has yet to hear back from authorities on the case.
  • “I’m in limbo in that sense,” Partain said. “But the thing is, for those people who didn’t and just filed suit, now they would have to file a new claim all over again.”

Read more here.


  • The American Enterprise Institute hosts an in-person event to discuss China, Russia and America’s military readiness with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) at 1 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
  • Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst will moderate an event for the Atlantic Council discussing a new book from the Center for Economic Policy Research, ““Rebuilding Ukraine: Principles and Policies.” The event is available to stream on the Atlantic Council’s website at 10 a.m. ET.
  • The Wilson Center hosts a virtual event at 4 p.m. ET on the topic of Ralphe Bunche, the first Black Nobel laureate known for his civil rights and decolonization activism.



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

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