Defense & National Security — Russia sends warnings to the West
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Following a claimed hypersonic missile strike in Ukraine, Russia on Monday said it had summoned the U.S. ambassador to Moscow for a meeting to provide him a “note of protest” over President Biden’s criticisms of Russia’s war.
We’ll break down Russia’s warnings plus a previously unannounced U.S. weapons transfer to Saudi Arabia, what the White House is urging private companies to do about their cyber defenses and reveal new details on the fatal aircraft crash in Norway that killed four Marines.
For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write me with tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s get to it.
Russia warns relations with US could be severed
In a tough statement, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that relations between Moscow and the U.S. could be completely severed because of Biden’s remarks and steps by the U.S. government to punish Russia over its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
“It is emphasized that such statements by the American President, unworthy of a statesman of such a high rank, put Russian-American relations on the verge of breaking,” the statement read, according to an English translation. “They warned that hostile actions taken against Russia would receive a decisive and firm rebuff.”
The statements in question: Biden has in recent days called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” a “thug” and a “murderous dictator” because of the actions carried out by Russian forces during their nearly four-week military invasion of Ukraine.
The president called Putin a war criminal last week in an off-the-cuff statement to a reporter after the White House had resisted doing so before a legal process could play out. Secretary of State Antony Blinken later said he personally agreed with the president’s assessment.
The Russia statement said it had summoned U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan and handed him a “note of protest” over the “unacceptable statements.”
The meeting: State Department spokesperson Ned Price later confirmed to reporters that Sullivan met Russian officials and said the ambassador raised the cases of U.S. citizens detained in Russia.
“Ambassador Sullivan took advantage of this encounter to demand that the Russian government follow international law, and basic human decency for that matter, and allow consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pretrial detention,” Price said during a briefing, declining to characterize the message that the Kremlin sent to Sullivan.
US CAN’T VERIFY RUSSIAN HYPERSONIC MISSILE CLAIM
The Pentagon could neither confirm nor deny claims made by Russia that it fired a hypersonic missile at a Ukrainian target over the weekend, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.
“We’re not able to refute it, but we can’t independently confirm it either. It’s not entirely clear. What we would assess is it’s certainly possible,” the official told reporters.
If true, the use of the missile indicates a willingness by the Russians to step up their use of more destructive weapons.
Moscow’s claims: The Kremlin on Saturday said it struck a Ukrainian weapons storage facility with a hypersonic missile, sharing a video that shows a missile striking and destroying a building.
Moscow said the strike took place on Friday on a “large underground storage facility for missiles and aviation ammunition” in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Makes no sense: From a military perspective, however, the strike makes little sense given the target, according to the defense official.
“It’s a bit of a head scratcher, to be honest with you, because it’s not exactly clear why — if it’s true — why you would need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building,” they said.
US transfers Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia
The Biden administration has transferred a significant number of Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia in the past several weeks after the country urgently requested a resupply, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The transfers, which were not formally announced, are to make sure Saudi Arabia can defend itself against drone and missile attacks from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, a senior U.S. official told the outlet.
While they would not specifically confirm a “significant” number of transfers, a State Department spokesman told The Hill that over the past several months the administration has “been working with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors to help them strengthen their air defenses in response to a rising number of aerial attacks from Yemen.”
Where did they come from?: One official told the Journal the Patriot interceptors were moved from U.S. stockpiles elsewhere in the Middle East.
A rocky relationship: Washington’s relationship with Riyadh has been rocky for more than a year after President Biden took office, an issue that stems from the country’s human rights record and its involvement in Yemen’s civil war, which has dragged on since 2014 and killed thousands of civilians.
Biden will not communicate directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and last year released an intelligence report implicating him in the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
And the United States in September withdrew some of its own Patriot defense systems from Saudi Arabia amid ongoing Houthi attacks.
Not a new development: A person familiar with the transfers told The Hill that the recent movements of Patriots to the Saudis was not a new development and that the U.S. has been working for months to bolster Saudi Arabia against cross-border attacks, which numbered at more than 400 last year, they said.
WH warns Russia prepping possible cyberattacks
The White House on Monday urged private companies to bolster their cyber defenses, citing evolving intelligence suggesting the Russian government is exploring “options for potential cyberattacks” targeting U.S. critical infrastructure.
“To be clear, there is no certainty there will be a cyber incident on critical infrastructure,” White House deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology Anne Neuberger told reporters during a briefing on Monday afternoon.
“So why am I here? Because this is a call to action and a call to responsibility for all of us,” she said.
Indications: The administration has warned in recent weeks that Russia could look to target infrastructure in the U.S. or elsewhere with cyberattacks, but officials previously said there were no specific or credible threats against the U.S.
Neuberger said Monday that officials have seen some “preparatory activity” and that the administration briefed companies and sectors who could be affected in a classified setting last week.
A potential shift: She said the preparatory activity could include scanning websites or looking for vulnerabilities, but wouldn’t provide specific details.
Later, Neuberger said that the U.S. government had detected a “potential shift in intention” on the part of Russia.
The White House distributed a fact sheet urging companies to mandate the use of multi-factor authentication; patch their systems; run emergency drills to prepare response plans; deploy security tools to look for threats; back up data; encrypt data; and take other steps to secure information and bolster security to protect against cyber threats.
MARINES IDENTIFIED IN AIRCRAFT CRASH THAT KILLED 4 NEAR NORWAY
The four Marines who died in a training flight crash on Friday off the coast of Norway were identified in a release on Sunday.
The victims of the crash were Capt. Matthew J. Tomkiewicz, Capt. Ross A. Reynolds, Gunnery Sgt. James W. Speedy and Cpl. Jacob M. Moore, according to a release from the Marine Expeditionary Force.
All four of the victims were between ages 24-30.
What happened: The Marines were killed during a training flight south of Bodo, Norway. The crash is still under investigation and the deceased Marines were being returned to the U.S., the release said.
“The pilots and crew were committed to accomplishing their mission and serving a cause greater than themselves,” Maj. Gen. Michael Cederholm wrote of the victims in a letter to the Marines and their families.
The Pentagon’s condolences: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday morning spoke directly with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger “to express not only his personal condolences, but the condolences of everybody here at the department and to pledge whatever support the Marine Corps and these Gold Star families, as well as their fellow Marines, might need going forward as they deal with this incredible, incredible loss,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reports.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Senate Armed Services Committee, will hold a hearing to consider the nominations for several key Pentagon positions at 9:30 a.m.
- Retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the former U.S. European Command head and leader of NATO Allied Command Operations, will speak at the The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on the war in Ukraine at 11:30 a.m.
- The Stimson Center will host a virtual discussion on “Maintaining the Nuclear Peace,” with U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Bzumi Nakamitsu, at 10 a.m.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will discuss “Ukraine and Taiwan: Parallels and Early Lessons Learned,” at 1:30 p.m.
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a closed hearing to receive an update on the Iran nuclear negotiations at 2:15 p.m.
- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) will join a Washington Post Live to discuss the Russian invasion and what the United States and other Western nations need to do to bolster Ukraine’s defenses, at 2:15 p.m.
- The U.S. Institute of Peace will discuss “Responding to Russian Atrocities in Ukraine: Developing a Multilateral Strategy for Accountability,” with Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova; Curtis Ried, senior director of multilateral affairs at the National Security Council; and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, at 2:30 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- US sending secretly acquired Soviet air defense equipment to Ukraine: report
- Biden, European leaders discuss Russian attacks on civilians
- US unable to determine Russian commander leading war in Ukraine: report
- NATO official says Russia-Ukraine war ‘rapidly approaching’ stalemate: report
- Harris taps Philip Gordon as new national security adviser
- Austin: Putin trying to ‘reestablish some momentum’
- The Hill: Opinion: Time to shift strategies: We must do more to aid Ukraine
- The Associate Press: US admiral says China fully militarized disputed isles in South China Sea
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