Overnight Defense & National Security — Concerns over Russia grow

Overnight Defense & National Security — Concerns over Russia grow
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U.S. officials are worried Russia may launch an invasion of Ukraine after Moscow has amassed tens of thousands of its soldiers along its western border.

We’ll share details of the concerns and the Biden administration's message to Russian leaders, plus the results of a recent Air Force survey on harm and the Pentagon’s estimation of how many of its troops’ family members are stuck in Afghanistan. 

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.

US worries Russia may 'rehash' 2014 invasion

Secretary of State <span class=Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions MORE holds up documents as he testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on September 14, 2021. Blinken was questioned about the Biden administration's handling of the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan" width="645" height="363" data-delta="6" />

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the U.S. is concerned Russia may launch an invasion of Ukraine and attempt a land-grab similar to its military takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. 

The secretary further underscored that the Biden administration stands with Kyiv in the face of Moscow’s aggression.

A ‘serious mistake’: “We don't have clarity into Moscow's intentions, but we do know its playbook,” Blinken said while standing alongside Ukraine’s foreign minister at the State Department. 

“Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming — falsely — that it was provoked,” he added.

What happened last time: Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 drew immense international pushback, resulting in Moscow’s booting from the Group of 7 international working group (then the Group of 8) as well as sanctions and global condemnation.

What Russia’s doing now: Russia-backed separatist forces have continued to engage in fighting with Ukrainian forces on the eastern border of the country, a conflict that prompted bipartisan support for increasing U.S. assistance for Kyiv’s defensive needs, including lethal military assistance.

How the US is helping: The secretary of State noted that the U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than $409 billion in overall assistance since 2014, and that Congress has agreed with the administration’s request for almost $400 million in security assistance for Kyiv for fiscal 2022.

“We'll work with Congress, making sure that we continue to provide security assistance that Ukraine needs, including lethal defensive weapons to defend against any Russian aggression,” Blinken said. 

Read more of that story here.


Blinken’s remarks follow those of other administration officials, who say the United States is closely following Russia’s recent military buildup and is warning Moscow against any escalation.

Sending a message: U.S. officials have relayed to senior Russian officials that any increased threat to Ukraine has potential consequences, Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, told The Associated Press.

“Any time we see unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine we make clear that any escalatory or aggressive action is of great concern to the United States,” she told the AP. 

Donfried — who visited Moscow last week as part of a U.S. delegation led by CIA Director William BurnsWilliam BurnsCIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia 'Havana syndrome' suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Switzerland, France: report MORE to warn off Russian officials — said Burns “was effective in sending the messages that he thought it was appropriate to send” to officials, including Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval drills with Russia, China Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions Putin's options extend well beyond invasion MORE and one of his top advisers.

The Pentagon weighs in: On Wednesday, the Pentagon also said it was closely following the situation. Ukrainian officials have said about 90,000 Russian troops are stationed near the border after completing military drills.

Defense Department press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Russia sends troops to Belarus for war games MORE called the military presence “unusual in its size and scope,” and that the department was “monitoring this very closely.”

“What we continue to see is unusual military activity inside Russia, but near Ukraine's borders, and we remain concerned about that. And it's not exactly clear what the Russian intentions are. We obviously would like to better understand that and we don't want to see any action further destabilize what is already a very tense part of the world,” he said.

Read the full story here.


Air Force personnel report harm: study 

More than 35,000 Air Force personnel said they have experienced some form of physical or psychological violence in the past two years, according to the results of a new study.

Of 68,000 airmen, Space Force guardians and Air Force civilians that responded to the service’s Interpersonal Violence Task Force survey last fall, 54 percent —or roughly 36,720 — reported experiencing some form of “psychological or physical harm that detracts from a culture of dignity and respect.”

The survey’s goal: The Air Force, which released the study on Tuesday, hoped to better understand the range of interpersonal violence its personnel experience at home and in the workplace and what support it could provide.

“We gained vital insight into how we can better protect and support our people, no matter where their experience falls along the spectrum of violence,” Air Force Undersecretary Gina Ortiz Jones said in a statement following the report’s release.

Types of harm: The in-house task force identified 81 behaviors as a “continuum of harm,” which ranges from belittlement and humiliation to stalking to sexual harassment or assault to physical harm.

But even though tens of thousands of Air Force personnel have experienced such behavior, few reported it due to little confidence that speaking up would help, or fear of retribution.

Underreported: Only 17 percent of survey respondents that experienced intimate partner violence reported it to authorities, for example, while about 40 percent of people who were hazed reported it — the highest reporting rate among the 81 behaviors.

And most individuals that did seek help were unhappy with their experiences, the report found.  

Leaders concerned: “It seems to be uniformly true that people at the lower levels who have experienced these things are telling us that there’s a problem, and the senior leadership is not perceiving that there is that problem,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters while discussing the report on Tuesday. “So, we’ve got an issue right there.”

Read more details about the report here.

Troops' family members stuck in Afghanistan 

U.S. soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul

The Pentagon confirmed that “dozens” of family members of American troops remain in Afghanistan nearly three months after the U.S. ended its military mission in the country.

“We believe it’s certainly, most likely in the dozens,” Defense Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.

A new effort: The Biden administration is in the midst of compiling a database of such relatives, as outlined in a memo sent last week by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl.

In the memo, DOD instructs all U.S. military personnel and civilian employees with immediate family members in Afghanistan seeking evacuation to contact a DOD-associated email address.

A first: The Nov. 4 memo marks the first instance the Pentagon has targeted family members as a group to be evacuated, as the State Department — which heads the evacuation effort — has previously focused on Afghan troops, interpreters and others who aided the U.S. military during the 20-year-long conflict.

Read the full story here.





That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Thursday.