Ukraine Update 24 February, 2022 (Afternoon)

I deliberately waited for President Biden to make his comments on the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine before posting the afternoon update. Biden’s remarks were largely a rehashing the threat of ‘devastating’ sanctions being prepared for implementation and painting Vladimir Putin’s actions in a decidedly dark light, and rightfully so. He believes Putin intends to reclaim through conquest what the Soviet Union ceded in 1991 upon its collapse. Biden also made it a point to explain that sanctions will not damage Russian economy immediately upon being unleashed. It will take some time for the effects to be felt. The rest of the comments and subsequent press conference centered around details of the sanctions as well as requests for clarification of the role of the United States military in the fighting thus far. Biden was clear to point out the purpose of US troop movements into Eastern Europe is to strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank against possible Russian action in the future. There will be no direct military assistance provided to Ukraine by the US or NATO.

Also this afternoon, the Department of Defense announced the deployment of an additional 7,000 troops to Europe to help strengthen NATO defenses. This force will include an armored brigade, though it was unknown if the brigade will take its equipment from prepositioned war stocks in Europe or if its equipment and vehicles will need to be transported to Europe by ship.

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Military Update

-On the ground in Ukraine this afternoon, fighting continues to rage. As far as determining how much ground the Russian offensive has gained, that remains hidden by the fog of war for now. Fighting west of Kiev at the airport is still taking place. The Russian air mobile force that secured the airport early in the morning has been counterattacked by Ukrainian forces. It’s unclear which side now has control of the airport.

-Mariupol appears to now be in Russian control, or at least parts of the city are in Russian hands. Video obtained from there earlier today showed Russian troops setting up a checkpoint on a road with two armored vehicles in the background. Whether or not this scene occurred inside of Mariupol proper has not been confirmed. However, given that web camera streams from there are now out and communication severely degraded, I’ll assume Russia controls Mariupol unless independent sources confirm otherwise.

NATO Strategic Considerations Part I

The current crisis in Ukraine has revealed glaring holes in NATO’s readiness and strategic planning, especially with regards to its Eastern Flank. If anything, the events of the last two months should serve as a catalyst for renewed efforts to prepare the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria to be the vanguard against future Russian designs on Eastern Europe. The growing importance of the Eastern Flank is not up for debate. The bone of contention is in the lack of commitment to build the infrastructure for a sizeable and permanent military presence on the Eastern Flank.

Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the alliance realized how exposed it truly was in the east. Plans for a permanent military presence in Poland, the Baltics and Romania were drawn up. The United States developed Atlantic Resolve, a series of military activities aimed at enhancing NATO military capabilities in Europe. NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence was also developed along similar lines and guaranteed a semi-permanent alliance military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Unfortunately, as time went on, the importance initially attached to the Eastern Flank missions waned. Ukraine cooled down to an extent and Russia’s Crimean Anschluss was tacitly accepted. Although Atlantic Resolve and Enhanced Forward Presence continued on through the years, NATO’s attention turned to other areas. 

I believe it is imperative for NATO to begin thinking about what it will take to establish a large and permanent military presence on its Eastern Flank for an extended period of time. During the Cold War, the Inner-German Border served as both the physical and psychological frontier between East and West. Central Europe became an armed camp with hundreds of thousands of troops stationed on either side of the border. When the Cold War ended, there was no need for NATO to sustain such a large force. The Soviet threat was gone and governments from Bonn to Washington were eager to reap the benefits of the peace dividends. Now, NATO finds itself needing to make up for lost time, so to speak. The Eastern Flank now requires the necessary military command structure and framework to sustain a multi-division force on the ground. A structure similar to what NATO had in West Germany through much of the Cold War. Specifically, an army group set up along the lines of NORTHAG and CENTAG back in the 1980s.

This morning, I began writing the first of what will be a series of posts on the strategic considerations NATO is now forced to look at carefully in light of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine. After the events earlier today, I planned to set it aside, but decided to post at least the first entry. Provided things quiet down a bit in Ukraine through the rest of the week, I’ll post the second one around Friday. Between now and then, the focus will be on Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine Update 21 February, 2022 (8 PM)

The White House said earlier today that sanctions will be imposed on the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, but stopped short of announcing sanctions against Russia. The restricted application of sanctions now seems calculated to leave open the chance for a diplomatic solution. For weeks now, the United States and Europe have threatened major economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. Now, with Russian forces moving into the newly recognized independent separatist states, the definition of what exactly constitutes an invasion falls into a gray area. Are Russian troops crossing into what the world recognizes as Ukrainian territory? Yes. Is it a full-scale invasion aimed at toppling the Zelenskiy government and seizing control of the entire country? No. For now the number of troops entering LPR and DPR territory appears to be limited and their mission has been defined as ‘peacekeeping.’

The true nature of the so-called ‘peacekeeping mission’ and Russia’s troop movement into eastern Ukraine will begin to take shape in the coming hours. So far there have been no reports of significant contact between Ukrainian and separatist or Russian forces.

President Zelensky addressed the Ukrainian people after 2am local time. “We are not afraid. We won’t cede anything.” He said Putin withdrew from Minsk Agreements by ordering troops into Ukraine officially. He called for emergency meetings of OSCE, Normandy Format, UNSC. The timing of the address left me a bit perplexed. Why wait until 2 AM to address the people? Granted, most Ukrainians are probably awake now given what is happening in the east. It’s enough to make a cynical person wonder if the Ukrainian government expects something significant to happen later in the morning.

I’ll try and get one more update out before midnight. Things on my end are getting a little busy, but I should be able to get one out. Even if it’s relatively short.

Ukrainian Update 21 February, 2022 (5 PM) “Peacekeeping Operation” In Donbas

The situation in eastern Ukraine is becoming clear at the moment, even as the situation in the remainder of the region remains fluid. Around 4 PM local time (Eastern Standard) Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military forces to enter the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and conduct ‘peacekeeping operations.’ According to multiple sources, Russian forces have already begun entering both the LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic). The start of this peacekeeping mission turns Minsk II to ash.

 The Ukrainian government has been very slow in responding to what’s developing in the east, but it is imperative that Kiev release a statement soon. Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies are preparing sanctions packages. Latvia is calling for sanctions to be placed on Russia as punishment for the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus. Russia’s moves today are being correctly labeled as an annexation and attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine. Only in a much more overt manner when compared to the Crimea annexation in 2014.

There is some news coming out of Donbas from independent sources, however, this will likely not last. I expect the region to be locked down electronically very soon, limiting the amount of information coming out of there.

As I said before, things are very fluid in the east now so I will probably put up a new update by 8 PM.

Ukraine Update 21 February, 2022 (3 PM EST): Putin Lays His Cards Out

Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to formally recognize the independence of Donetsk & Luhansk, the breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. In an address this afternoon, Putin did not discuss the Luhansk People’s Republic/Donetsk People’s Republic at length. Instead, he took the opportunity to lay the groundwork to justify a Russian invasion of Ukraine, most likely in the coming days. The speech was peppered with historical grievances and explanations of why Ukraine is not a sovereign nation-state.

Putin’s speech is still being digested at this hour, but the statement released by the Kremlin on recognizing independence of the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine elicited a swift response from European leaders. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed such a move will “plainly be in breach of international law.” Germany and France have also condemned Putin’s apparent intentions.

There is much happening across Europe, Ukraine and Russia right now and I was caught in transit when all of these events started to happen. I’ll post a more thorough update between 5 and 6 PM Eastern Standard Time.