Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense & National Security — US officials accuse Russia of lying

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via Associated Press

It’s Wednesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.  

Multiple Western officials have said they’ve seen no effort to reduce Russian forces near the country’s border with Ukraine, as Moscow has said was the case. Instead, U.S. leaders said they’ve observed Russia adding thousands more of its troops to an already tense situation. 

We’ll break down the latest reports coming out of the White House and Europe, plus unsafe encounters between NATO and Russian jets over the Mediterranean and the Senate’s warning shot to Moscow.  

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

Let’s get to it. 

 

US says Russia has added 7,000 troops

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A senior Biden administration official said Wednesday that Russia has added as many as 7,000 troops at the border with Ukraine, characterizing claims by Moscow that it was withdrawing forces as “false.”

“We have now confirmed that in the last several days, Russia has increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops, with some arriving as recently as today,” the official told reporters on a call Wednesday evening.  

“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war,” the official said, adding that the U.S. is receiving indications that Russia could launch a false pretext to justify an invasion of Ukraine “at any moment.”   

Earlier promises: The comments directly challenge Russian statements about pulling back some forces and being willing to engage in diplomacy over the past 24 hours.  

U.S. and European officials have said they have seen no signs of Russia de-escalating the situation, despite a statement by Russia on Tuesday that it was pulling back troops.   

Blinken’s assessment“We continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. 

Read more on that here. 

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US WARNS ‘SWIFT AND FIRM RESPONSE’

Blinken also on Wednesday warned of a “swift and firm response” from the U.S. and its allies if Russian President Vladimir Putin moved to recognize territories in eastern Ukraine that have been locked in conflict since 2014 as “independent.”  

Blinken said that an appeal from the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, for Putin to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent would violate the Minsk agreements, an international effort agreed to in 2015 to end fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the region. 

“Enactment of this resolution would further undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitute a gross violation of international law, call into further question Russia’s stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy to achieve a peaceful resolution of this crisis,” Blinken said, adding that such a move would “necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our Allies and partners.” 

Raising the cost: Blinken’s statement appears to raise the cost on Russia by laying out further how the U.S. and allies could respond to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty short of the risk of a large-scale Russian invasion.   

Russia recognizing the territory as independent could provide the Kremlin with a pretext to send Russian soldiers into the region to aid an ally. Russia has reportedly provided an estimated 600,000 Russian passports to residents in the area, provided COVID-19 relief, financial aid, covert military support and has an estimated 2,000 of its own forces in the region, although the Kremlin denies this. 

Read more here. 

 

 Read more of today’s coverage on the situation here: 

 

Navy targeted in ‘unprofessional intercepts’ 

Three U.S. Navy planes experienced “unprofessional intercepts” by Russian aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea last weekend, the Pentagon said Wednesday.  

U.S. Navy Capt. Mike Kafka, director of Defense Press Operations, said in a statement to The Hill that the three Navy P-8A Poseidon aircrafts were flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean when the intercepts occurred. 

‘More dangerous outcomes’: No one was hurt in the interactions, but Kafka said that they “could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes.” 

“We have made our concerns known to Russian officials through diplomatic channels,” he said. “The US will continue to operate safely, professionally and consistent with international law in international waters and airspace. We expect Russia to do the same.” 

Close encounters: It was unclear from the statement what exactly occurred over the weekend and where in the Mediterranean the encounters happened. 

CNN, citing multiple US officials familiar with the incident, reported that one Navy aircraft had an “extremely close” encounter with multiple Russian military jets, followed by a subsequent encounter. 

ABC News separately reported that in one incident, Russian aircraft came within 5 feet of an American aircraft. 

Ongoing drills: Russia is currently conducting military drills in Mediterranean, part of ongoing large-scale drills. According to a statement from Russia’s Ministry of Defense released Tuesday, those drills involve more than 15 warships and 30 aircraft. 

Read the full story here. 

  

Senate leaders send symbolic warning shot  

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Senate leadership and top committee members are sending Russian President Vladimir Putin a symbolic warning shot, saying he will “pay a severe price” if he escalates his aggression toward Ukraine and throwing their support behind Kyiv.    

The statement from Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and top members of the Armed Services, Banking, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees comes as senators remain eager to show their support for Ukraine but haven’t been able to reach an agreement on a sanctions bill. 

The message: “Should Vladimir Putin further escalate his ongoing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia must be made to pay a severe price. We are prepared to fully support the immediate imposition of strong, robust, and effective sanctions on Russia, as well as tough restrictions and controls on exports to Russia, and we will urge our allies and partners in Europe and around the world to join us,” the senators said.  

“The international order established in the aftermath of World War II has not faced such a grave threat since the Cold War. This order, which protects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, has enabled an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity for the United States and its allies. Unfortunately, Russia is threatening this system, and the United States is prepared to meet this challenge with bipartisan and unified resolve,” they added.   

The senators also reiterated their support for Ukraine, including economic, security and humanitarian assistance. 

Still unresolved: The statement comes as hopes dim of passing sanctions legislation before senators leave town as soon as Thursday for a one-week break.  

Senate Republicans — led by Sen. James Risch (Idaho), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee — introduced their own sanctions bill on Tuesday, with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) accusing Republicans of choosing “partisan posturing instead of working to reach consensus on a comprehensive bipartisan proposal that would demonstrate a united front to deter Putin from re-invading Ukraine.”  

Though Risch and Menendez were optimistic they could reach an agreement on financial penalties on Moscow, they hit roadblocks amid deep disagreements on secondary sanctions related to Russia’s banks, which could have broader impacts across Europe, and what to do about Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany. 

Read the full story here. 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will hold a joint press conference at 7:30 a.m. at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, to be livestreamed on Defense.gov, per the Pentagon. 
  • The German Marshall Fund of the United States will hold a virtual book discussion on “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict,” with Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy and force development, at 8:30 a.m. 
  • The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will hold a hearing on “China’s Cyber Capabilities: Warfare, Espionage, and Implications for the United States,” at 9 a.m. 
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Franklin Parker to be assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs; Agnes Schaefer to be assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs; Ravi Chaudhary to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, installations, and the environment; and Frank Calvelli to be assistant secretary of the air force for space acquisition and integration, at 10 a.m. 
  • The Hudson Institute will host a virtual event on “Ukraine on the Eve of the Munich Security Conference,” with Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, at 10 a.m. 
  • The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will hold a discussion on spectrum warfare with Maj. Gen. Daniel Simpson, assistant Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, at 10 a.m. 
  • The Middle East Institute will hold a talk on “The Olympics and Russian Invasion,” with Robert McConnell, co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, and former U.S. European Command head retired Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove, at 10 a.m. 
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Addressing the Gaps in America’s Biosecurity Preparedness,” at 10:15 a.m.  
  • The American Bar Association will host a virtual National Security Law conference discussion on “The National Security Implications of Domestic Discord: How Our Adversaries Create, Enhance, and Use Our Internal Disagreements Against Us,” with Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen, at 10:45 a.m.  https://web.cvent.com/event 
  • The Vandenberg Coalition will host a virtual discussion on “The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy,” with former State Department Policy Planning Staff Director Peter Berkowitz, at 12 p.m. 
  • Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor will speak at a Washington Post Live event on “World Stage: Crisis in Ukraine,” at 12 p.m. 
  • Retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove will also speak as part of a JINSA policy webinar on “What’s At Stake for U.S. & Israel in the Russia-Ukraine Crisis?” at 1 p.m. 

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

 

Well, that’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you on Thursday.

Tags Antony Blinken Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Dick Durbin John Thune Lloyd Austin Mike Turner Mitch McConnell Vladimir Putin

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