Ukraine Update: 18 January, 2022 (Morning)

This will be the first of two Ukraine Updates that will be posted on 18 January, 2022. The amount of activity in and around Ukraine, and related news and events in Europe appears to be increasing steadily with every passing hour.

Russia is continuing a drawn-out evacuation of its diplomats, embassy staff and dependents from its embassy in Kiev. The first departures began in the days leading up to the first negotiations between Russian and US officials in Europe last week. They have continued at irregular intervals since then. 50 people have left the embassy in total and a smaller number has departed from the Russian consulate in Lvov. Diplomats and staff at other Russian consulates in Ukraine have been told to be prepared to leave the country at some point in the coming days. The purpose behind this move is unknown. Some sources claim it is strictly a propaganda move to further cause uncertainty in Ukraine and the West. Traditionally, the departure of embassy staff and diplomats is a sign that hostilities are imminent. Yet until today, few people paid close attention to the comings and goings at the Russian embassy and consulates in Ukraine. In the wake of the cyber attacks last week, eyebrows are starting to be raised.

Material help from the West is continuing to arrive in Ukraine. Not in the numbers and types that will deter a potential Russian attack, but some is better than none. Great Britain has started shipping light anti-tank guided missiles to Ukraine. A small number of British troops will also arrive to assist with training. Canada has sent a contingent of special operations troops to Ukraine. The appearance of Canadian troops is expected to be part of a NATO effort to deter Russia from launching an invasion. These troops will also be tasked with helping to develop evacuation plans for Canadian diplomatic personnel in the event that an invasion does occur.

Russia has started moving military forces into Belarus, ostensibly to take part in the military exercise Joint Resolve, which is scheduled for February. The maneuvers are set to take place along the western border of Belarus, in close proximity to Poland and the Baltic States, as well as the southern border neighboring Ukraine. We’ve discussed the Russian obsession with using military exercises as cover for real military operations before. That is a topic that will be talked about more in the coming days.

Ukraine Update: 17 January, 2022

The weekend is ending and the week ahead promises to be active and eventful. Once the West’s official response to Russia’s security proposals and demands is presented, the ball will be entirely in Vladimir Putin’s possession. The Kremlin, as well as the rest of the world, is well aware the West’s response will be a firm ‘NO.’ Odds are, Russia has been banking on a full rejection of its unrealistic redrawing of the post-Cold War boundaries and the numerous security concerns attached to it. A negative reply has been factored into its planned justification of hostility and will be used accordingly.

Late last week and over the weekend, Russia has been busy on a number of fronts. On Friday, increased Russian military activity in the Baltic led to the Swedish government’s decision to send troops to the Swedish island of Gotland. Officially, it was the failure of NATO-Russia talks and the movement of three amphibious assault ships into the Baltic that brought on the Swedish action. There have also been reports of unmarked drones flying over Stockholm, Gotland and around some Swedish nuclear reactors. Between the lines though, Russia’s actions are pure intimidation tactics intended to help keep Stockholm on the sidelines and mute as the crisis with Ukraine intensifies. Sweden has been vocal when it comes to calling out Russia’s aggressive moves and behavior in the Baltic as well as Ukraine. Moscow’s response has not been limited. Operating amphibious assault ships in close proximity to Gotland is sending a message that will be difficult for Sweden to misinterpret.

Microsoft revealed early on Sunday morning that computer systems at Ukrainian government agencies have been subjected to a malware attack. In a blog post earlier, Microsoft said it detected the Malware on Thursday, not long after the final round of talks between NATO, the US and Russia came to an end with no agreements made. The detection of malware also came around the same time a cyberattack took 70 government websites temporarily offline. Cyber attacks are almost certain to play a major role in any Russian plan for offensive operations against Ukraine. They are a large part of the  ‘Military-Technical Response’ Vladimir Putin has been threatening and talking about for weeks now.

Ukraine Update 11 January, 2022: Helicopters and Mild Winter Weather

While negotiations between Russia, NATO and the United States play out this week in Europe, talking heads, and self-ordained military experts are taking to social media to explain their theories for what a Russian invasion of Ukraine will look like, or what the next step down the road to that invasion will look like from a geopolitical vantage. Added to the mixture are the Open Source Intelligence ‘experts’ who are little more than amateurs, neither gifted or useful. The OSINT folks are akin to a person with a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces and a desire to put them together into a clear picture. Only they’re missing dozens of other pieces and have no idea what the end result is supposed to even resemble.

But with a brief lull setting in as the talks continue, newspapers, cable news programs and news websites need to fill the void somehow.

The positioning of Russian helicopters close to the border has captured the attention of some talking heads and they’re pointing to this as an indication that a Russian attack could be near. Why? Because these helicopters can be used to transport air-mobile forces and special operations units behind enemy lines to seize and attack targets like bridges, headquarters, and fuel storage sites. In the opening minutes of a large-scale attack into Ukraine, airmobile companies and special operations teams will be the first Russian units to see action.

  An equal number of ‘experts’ has pointed to the weather as a growing factor for Russia’s timetable. The long-expected surge in Russian military units to the border has not happened as US intelligence agencies and the military expected. The reason it hasn’t could be that the winter season in Ukraine has been unusually mild so far. The ground has not hardened enough to support the rapid movement of large numbers of armor and mechanized formations across it. If the mild weather continues into March when the ground usually softens, the Russians may have missed their opportunity to launch a successful attack. Or, to put it more accurately, a missed opportunity for Russia’s Plan A. If this plays out, rest assured there will be a Plan B for them to fall back on.

Estonia To Provide Military Equipment To Ukraine

With the NATO alliance’s most powerful members committed to half-measures when it comes to supporting Ukraine during the present crisis, one of NATO’s smallest member-states is stepping up. Estonia appears ready to provide Javelin missiles and 122mm artillery pieces to Ukraine in the face of a large Russian military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The pair of twenty-first century sovereign nation states spent the bulk of the previous century as sister Soviet Socialist Republics. Memories of Soviet rule remain fresh in both nations despite the fact Estonia and Ukraine gained independence thirty-one years ago.

Although the symbolism of Estonia’s gesture is high, one has to wonder about how much sense it makes for Estonia to shortchange its own military of equipment that could be needed to defend its own border in the future. The Estonian armed forces are small and equipped with limited amounts of modern weapon systems. Replacing any Javelins and artillery pieces that are sent to Ukraine will not be easy. Unless an arrangement has already been agreed to between Tallinn and NATO headquarters in Brussels. The move will also require the permission of the United States and Finland since it is a US company which manufactures Javelins and a Finnish corporation that builds the artillery.

The Estonian government is also considering an increase in the amounts and types of soft-aid being provided to Ukraine. This includes assistance in setting up mobile field hospitals, and training for Ukrainian Army doctors and other medical professionals expected to treat combat casualties in the event war breaks out.

The Pentagon Plans Improvements To Pacific Military Bases. Too Little, Too Late?

The Pentagon is planning to begin building up key military installations in the Pacific theater early in 2022. The purpose behind the move is to counter and deter China. The build up and improvements will affect Andersen AFB and US Navy facilities on Guam as well as a number of installations in northern Australia which US forces operate from. Infrastructure improvements are at the top of the list with the overall goal to make these locations able to absorb larger numbers of troops, aircraft and supplies in the event of a crisis. The origins for the decision to build up and improve these installations stem from the Global Posture Review, the end result of months of analysis and investigation by the service branches and numerous government agencies to recommend changes to the postures and deployments of US forces in theaters worldwide. The recommendations for the Pacific region did not stop at infrastructure updates. The GPR also strongly recommends the US increase cooperation and planning with allies in the region, as well as increase the number of combat-ready assets in theater.

How much impact the GPR recommendations will have if implemented is anyone’s guess at this point. With China’s recent saber-rattling and its progress made in hypersonic weapon testing, all eyes are on the Pentagon and White House. One concern among defense analysts and former DoD officials is that the GPR’s findings are a matter of being too little, too late. The People’s Republic of China is obviously gearing up for a future war in the region. These measures have been underway for some time now. The US response has been rather slapdash. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a solid doctrine for fighting a potential war in the Pacific against China. In the past decade every effort to craft such a doctrine has withered on the vine due to political indifference or the simple fact that the doctrine was inadequate. From Air-Sea Battle to its successor JAM-GC, the Pentagon has been a day late and a dollar short.

Quite honestly, the current situation in the Pacific seems to resemble Europe in 1939. Once again, we have a nation-state building up its military and preparing for war in front of the entire world. The world has taken note of the developments but the regional and global powers have done little to challenge China’s actions and intentions, and will fail to do so until the shooting starts. By then, as history has shown us countless times before, it will be too late. As for the US military in late 2021, its resemblance to the British and French militaries in the summer of 1939 is astoundingly close. Stale doctrine, low readiness and indifferent senior officers combined to bring about disastrous defeats on the battlefield from late 1939 through 1940.

I pray that I’m incorrect, but it appears we are going down a similar road at present.