In the past 24 hours, the city of Kharkov has been hit with over fifty Russian artillery and multiple-launch rocket fire strikes. The intensity of these attacks has increased dramatically as large convoys of Russian troops, equipment and vehicles continue their transit towards the Donbas region. The purpose of the artillery and rocket attacks is militarily sound; keep the Ukrainian forces in and around Kharkov from interfering with the movement of Russian forces into the east. Unfortunately, while these strikes are logical in the military sense, they are causing considerable amounts of collateral damage.
According to a report from the Svenska Dagbladet, a daily Swedish newspaper, Sweden intends to submit its application for NATO membership in late June according to sources. Part of the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a shift in security priorities by Stockholm and Helsinki. If either, or both, countries decide to join NATO it will bring about a dramatic change in the security and foreign policy pictures for Northeastern Europe.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims the last units of Ukrainian Marines still fighting in Mariupol have surrendered. There has yet been no confirmation that this news is accurate. If it turns out to be true though, Mariupol will become the first major Ukrainian city to fall since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February.
The national leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are on their way to Kiev to tour the city and meet with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy later today. Estonian President Alar Karis said in a Twitter post that the purpose of the visit is to show “strong support” to the people of Ukraine and meet with their Ukrainian counterpart.
It’s getting late in the evening here in the Eastern United States and I wanted to address a couple hot topics before calling it a night.
-Attention is focused on the large convoy of Russian troops and equipment now converging on Kiev. Satellite images show the convoy is 40 miles long and stretching from Hostomel Airport outside Kiev north to Prybirsk. It is safe to say this convoy will bring a large amount of military power into the Kiev area. Perhaps enough to lay siege to the city. I’m not entirely convinced the Russians want to charge in with guns blazing if they’re not forced to. Therefore, another round of negotiations is possible before Vladimir Putin makes the final decision. So far, most of the battles we’ve seen around the Ukrainian capital have been small unit actions. Russian probes and Ukrainian ambushes.
– The Ukrainian government has formally requested a fast track to membership in the European Union. A number of EU member-states in Eastern Europe are supporting the request including Poland and Estonia. The question is, what can EU membership do for Ukraine at this late stage in the game. The Union is not a security alliance along the lines of NATO. It possesses no real military assets or command structure of its own save the EuroCorps. So, for the short-term direct military assistance is out of the question. The request could be purely symbolic and intended to raise morale inside of the Ukraine. A fast track EU membership for Ukraine would not be appreciated by Moscow since one of the main objectives of this war has been to distance Ukraine from Europe.
Alright, I’m tired and for once want to try and get a decent night’s sleep. 😊 Back tomorrow with more news from Ukraine.
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.
Once again, the German government has made a questionable decision concerning its Ukraine stance and, in the process, raises some pointed questions about the nation’s future role within NATO. Berlin is blocking Estonia from providing military material support to Ukraine. The German government is refusing to issue export permits for weapons of German origin, citing a long-standing policy concerning arms exports. Ironically enough, the weapons Estonia is looking to export to Ukraine are former Soviet D-30 artillery pieces that were left in Germany following reunification in 1990. The artillery was then exported to Finland before the Finns sent it on to Estonia. Germany’s policy on weapons exports is not the only factor in play. The Germans have made a point not to send weapons to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia. So, while the United States, Great Britain and a host of other NATO nations are contributing weapons to Ukraine as tensions rise with Russia.
Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Schloz is not helping to strengthen relations with the United States either. He has turned down the Biden administration’s invitation to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to a report from Der Spiegel on Friday. Schloz’s office declined the invitation because of a ‘full schedule,’ including a trip Monday to Madrid. The chancellor’s office will apparently find time to speak with France’s leader Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.
Not mentioned in Germany’s latest moves is the role the Nordstream 2 project is playing in its policymaking, though it is apparent the natural gas pipeline is a growing factor for Berlin.
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.