Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the US Senate and House of Representatives this morning by way of a video link. He came before the US Legislative Branch to plead his nation’s case for more weapons, aircraft and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. In effect, Zelenskiy’s speech was an end run of sorts around the Executive Branch. The White House has stated over and over that a no-fly zone is not going to happen and the US serve as the middleman to deliver Polish MiGs to the Ukrainian Air Force. The US position has been mirrored by many of its NATO allies. Ukraine will be provided with as much assistance as possible, short of taking action that could classify the US or any other NATO nation as a co-combatant.
Zelenskiy understood this coming into the morning’s address and worked it into his plea. He invoked US history and asked lawmakers to remember Pearl Harbor, September 11th and Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Zelenskiy’s remarks were filled with dozens of potential sound bites and digital headlines. The Ukrainian leader came across more like a overindulged toddler rather than the leader of an embattled nation at war.
“Is this a lot to ask for – to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much?” Zelenskiy asked.
Answer: Yes, it is. Especially since a no-fly zone will inevitably lead to clashes between US and Russian forces and serve as the spark for a larger, regional conflict between NATO and Russia. NATO is not going to risk war to save Ukraine. Javelins and Stingers are one thing, but a no-fly zone is another matter altogether.
With oil prices continuing to surge, the Biden administration has been trying to gain the support of oil-rich nations to roll back oil prices and apply more pressure on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. The US is meeting significant resistance on both fronts from some of its allies in the Middle East. There’s mistrust in places like Riyadh and Abu Dhabi right now regarding the Biden administration’s priorities and intent. To put it in simple terms, there are many people of influence in the Saudi and UAE governments who consider the Biden Administration a fair-weather friend. It goes back to the war in Yemen, which was supported by the Obama and Trump administrations. But as the war became a humanitarian cataclysm, US opinion turned and one of the first acts of the Biden administration was a vow to end the war in Yemen and stop supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons.
Now in March, 2022, the United States wants something from its Middle Eastern allies and some are not very enthusiastic to help out. When President Biden attempted to arrange telephone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, he was reportedly rebuffed. Naturally, US officials deny this and have tried to put a different spin on the matter. But the fact remains that Washington’s relationship with some of America’s Gulf allies is in need of repair at a critical time. Iran’s missile attack against a US embassy and airbase in Iraq over the weekend certainly showcases the Islamic Republic’s intent to be play the role of agitator in the region. Especially in light of the pause that JCPOA talks have taken due to the war in Ukraine.
China has reinstituted lockdowns in parts of the country amid a widespread surge in COVID-19 cases. Shenzen, China’s own silicon valley, is one city now under lockdown. Businesses have been ordered to suspend production operations and have non-essential employees work from home for a week. Shanghai and Hong Kong are two other major cities in China now dealing with major outbreaks. Case numbers are rising, but remain small compared to outbreaks in other nations back in late 2021 and early 2022 when the Omicron variant swept across the globe. A growing number of the cases in China appear to be of this variant.
The big concern now is additional instability for the global economy on top of what’s transpired from Ukraine. China’s COVID situation now adds more fuel to a fire which threatens to become dangerously bigger in coming weeks. The global economy will not stabilize by summer as some people had hoped.
With international attention focused on Ukraine and Russia, North Korea has taken advantage of the lack of scrutiny to conduct a series of ballistic missile tests so far this year. On 27 February and 5 March, a pair of intercontinental ballistic missile tests were conducted, raising concerns these tests represent a crash effort by the North to resume its nuclear program. Adding to the concern are recent satellite images that show a resumption of activity at North Korea’s nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri. A North Korean nuclear test could be in the cards sometime soon.
In response to the increased missile tests and activity, the US is conducting naval and air exercises in the area. The USS Abraham Lincoln and her battlegroup are in the Yellow Sea running very visible air exercises with land-based USAF aircraft from South Korea. Patriot missile batteries in South Korea are also running increased exercises and preparations in light of the activity up North.
Amid growing pressure both at home and abroad, the Biden administration will announce a ban on Russian oil imports to the United States this morning. The move is intended to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine, which is now entering its thirteenth day. The ban is not expected to have too great of an impact on US oil imports, certainly not to the level a ban by European nations would bring about.
The humanitarian corridor and attached ceasefire in Ukraine’s Sumy region appears to be holding at present. Evacuations of civilians from Sumy to Poltava have started and remain underway. In a related development, the Ukrainian government has also confirmed that evacuations from Irpin, a town located near Kiev are now underway. Efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol are meeting with considerably less success.
Japan has announced a new batch of sanctions aimed at Russia and Belarus. The assets of nearly three dozen Russian and Belarusian officials, business executives with close connections to the governments and oligarchs have been frozen. Exports of Russia-bound oil refinery equipment and Belarus-bound general-purpose items that could be used by its military will also be banned.
Ukraine is in the midst of another round of cyberattacks this afternoon. Earlier today around 4 PM, Kiev Time, a massive denial of service (DDoS) attack targeting government ministries and banks began. As of now, a number of government websites remain offline and there has been no comment identifying exactly which banks have been affected. Naturally, Russian involvement in the attack is suspected.
The cyberattacks came not long after media reports surfaced claiming US intelligence is expecting a full-scale Russian invasion to commence within 48 hours. Newsweek broke the story initially, adding that the Biden administration has relayed this information directly to Ukraine’s president. An unnamed US official also told Newsweek that there have been violations of Ukrainian airspace today for short periods of time, possibly by Russian combat aircraft. This would fit the assessment of a major attack coming within 48 hours, as last minute air reconnaissance sorties would be launched regularly in the final days leading up to the attack.
Russian naval activity in the Black Sea and especially in the Mediterranean is being scrutinized carefully at this hour as well. The Russian Navy has two surface action groups (SAG), each one centered around a Slava class cruiser operating in close proximity to NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean. A third SAG, is also underway in the Black Sea, positioned either to support a Russian amphibious landing against Odessa, or launch anti-ship missile attacks against any NATO carrier group that enters the Aegean Sea. The Mediterranean is a restrictive, tight waterway, especially east of Sicily. The first few hours of a Russia-NATO conflict would turn the eastern half of the Med into a shooting gallery.
A state of emergency will take effect in Ukraine at midnight, 24 February, 2022. “Across the territory of our country, apart from Donetsk and Luhansk, a state of emergency will be introduced,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev. Ukraine’s parliament is expected to approve the measure within the next day or so. A state of emergency declaration will allow additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.
In past twelve hours we’ve seen a consistent stream of reports from Russian media outlets about alleged Ukrainian military actions going on around Donetsk. Twelve hours ago, Russian claimed Ukrainian armed forces had commenced a ‘massive artillery bombardment of separatist Donetsk.’ This was followed up later in the day (Moscow time) by TASS reporting the death of a Donetsk People’s Republic soldier from Ukrainian sniper fire at the line of contact in Donbass. In the past few hours, similar reports of contact in the Donbass region have been appearing on social media platforms. Unfortunately, the news tweets and posts have not been followed up with any official confirmation from either the Ukrainian or Russian governments. In other words, it cannot be determined if these alleged skirmishes and artillery ‘barrages’ actually occurred. If they have, however, it could mark the start of Russian efforts to carve out a pretext for broader military action in Ukraine at some point in the near future.
The White House has warned that a Russian invasion can take place at any time. In a tour of the Sunday Morning news show circuit, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “We believe that the Russians have put in place the capabilities to mount a significant military operation into Ukraine, and we have been working hard to prepare a response.” On Friday, US officials stated that Russian has 70 percent of the troops, weapons and materials needed to launch a full-scale attack. It was also revealed that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill that Kiev (Kyiv) will likely fall within seventy-two hours of the start of a Russian attack. It is refreshing to see Milley present a realistic assessment which accurately displays the danger facing Ukraine if war breaks out.
Author’s Note: There will be a second update published later today. Likely in the early evening.