Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Blinken details Russia’s possible next steps

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in a joint press availability with Fiji acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyumduring
Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via Associated Press

It’s Thursday! Welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken detailed Russia’s possible next moves as it grows desperate in its 22-day war and revealed that a U.S. citizen had been killed.  

We’ll break down the latest developments, plus President Biden’s upcoming call with Chinese President Xi Jinping and $180 million in security assistance headed for the Baltics.   

For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Write to me with tips at jwilliams@thehill.com

Let’s get to it! 

 

Blinken details Russia’s preparations

Secretary of State Antony Blinken detailed on Thursday what the U.S. believes Russia is prepared to do as its invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week.  

The move was part of the Biden administration’s strategy of declassifying intelligence to counter Russia’s disinformation, and to unite the world against possible atrocities  

What’s next in the war? Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Blinken warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was setting the stage for a chemical weapons attack and then blame Ukraine to justify escalating its own attacks.  

He further said that the U.S. believes Russia would bring in mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries, noting that Putin authorized additional forces for the Middle East and elsewhere.  

Blinken also said that Russian forces would likely “systematically kidnap local officials and replace them with puppets.”  

He also said that after devastating Ukrainian cities, “Moscow may bring in officials from Russia to serve as local government officials and surge what they described as ‘economic support’ in an attempt to make the people dependent on Moscow for survival.”  

US citizen killed: A U.S. citizen has been killed in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed in a briefing on Thursday.  

Police in the region of Chernihiv, located the northeast of Kyiv, said the person was among several civilians killed by a heavy artillery attack, but further details of the attack were unknown.   

The news comes as the journalism community mourns several deaths this week in Ukraine.  

On Sunday, American videographer and photographer Brent Renaud was shot dead in Irpin, Ukraine.   

Fox News revealed on Tuesday that an attack on a vehicle outside of Kyiv a day earlier killed cameraman Pierre Zakrezwski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was working as a freelance consultant for the network.  

Still won’t ‘close the sky:’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday doubled down on her opposition to idea of sending U.S. or NATO forces into Ukraine to help repel Russian airstrikes.   

Pelosi’s words come a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress virtually and pleaded to help his country “close the sky.”  

Pelosi, who spoke with Zelensky last week and has also spoken several times with her Ukrainian counterpart, said Zelensky’s plea was perfectly appropriate. But Ukrainian leaders already “know” the limits of NATO’s involvement, she added.  

“What he wants is a result. He wants a result that says, … ‘If you are not going to give us air cover with your own personnel, we need air cover or we need equipment to affect air cover,'” Pelosi said. 

“‘If it’s not going to be affected by what I’m asking for, then this is another way we can get that done.'” 

 

Biden to speak to China’s Xi Jinping 

President Biden is scheduled to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday as Washington warns Beijing against aiding Russia during its invasion of Ukraine.  

China’s role in the Russian-invasion conflict has been unclear. Beijing has publicly tried to stay neutral in the conflict, but Russia is said to have asked for military assistance during its invasion.  

National security adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart in Rome on Monday, where he warned that Beijing would face consequences if it helped Moscow.  

‘Maintaining open lines of communication:’ “This is part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday, referring to the People’s Republic of China. 

“The two Leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern.” 

Recapping Sullivan’s meeting: Monday’s meeting had been planned before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it came as fears grew that China would aid Russia.  

Biden administration officials described the meeting in a phone call to reporters that day as intense and candid.  

A readout of the call from the White House said “a range of issues” was discussed, and there was “substantial discussion” about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.  

China would ‘never attack Ukraine:’ As China seeks to stay neutral in Russia’s invasion, Beijing’s ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong said it would “never attack Ukraine.”  

Fan made the comments on Monday to Maksym Kozytskyi, the governor of Lviv, Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.  

“I, as an ambassador, can say with responsibility that China will always be a force for good for Ukraine in the economic and in the political sense,” Fan said. “We will always respect your state, will develop relations on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. We will respect the path chosen by Ukrainians because this is the sovereign right of every nation.” 

Read more on Washington’s concerns here.

 

US EARMARKS $180 MILLION FOR BALTICS

The U.S. approved $180 million in security assistance to the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania under the $1.5 trillion government funding bill President Biden signed on Tuesday, Estonia’s ministry of defense said. 

The bolstered aid represents $11 million more than the $169 million the U.S. committed under the initiative last year, and comes as Washington seeks to bolster its NATO allies amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Supporting the BalticsWashington has sought to assure its NATO allies of its commitment to defending the eastern parts of the alliance, having deployed and repositioned thousands of troops to eastern Europe. 

In January, the U.S. allowed Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — three NATO countries that border Russia — to send American-made weapons to Ukraine as tensions grew.  

Estonia’s defense ministry touted the increased presence of US forces in the region, which in addition to ground troops included sending F-35 fighter jets, AH-64 attack helicopters, and Patriot air defense systems. 

More troops to the Baltics?  Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania last week as part of a week-long trip visiting NATO allies in Europe.  

During the trip, he indicated that Washington was mulling more permanent troop deployments in the Baltic region. 

“We’re continuously reviewing within NATO our defense posture, including looking at questions of extending the deployment of forces, looking at questions of more permanent deployments,” Blinken said at the time. “All of that is under regular review, and we’re engaged with NATO Allies in doing just that.”   

Read the full story here.

 

ON TAP TOMORROW

 

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!

 
Tags Antony Blinken Jake Sullivan Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Vladimir Putin

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