Ukraine Update 27 February, 2022 (Early Evening)

The European Union has been active in the past eighteen hours preparing additional actions to be launched at Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian domestic airlines and private aircraft registered to Russia will be barred from the airspace of all EU member-states. Many pro-Russia media outlets are also facing suspensions and bans. These moves, according to the EU, will be put into effect ‘within hours’ and mark an increasingly stringent posture now being adopted by Brussels. Earlier today, the EU also announced some of its nations will be supplying fighter aircraft to Ukraine following a request by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The EU will not supply the planes directly but intends to provide the financing needed for its member states to expedite the transfer of planes. These jets will be surplus MiGs and Sukhoi aircraft from the Cold War years. Germany, Poland and many other former Soviet-bloc nations still have these types of aircraft in storage.

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Comments made by Kiev’s mayor earlier today are being disputed and walked back. Vitali Klitchko, the city’s executive and former heavyweight boxer claims Kiev is not under siege and Russian disinformation is responsible for the rumor. However, some Western and Ukrainian sources still claim the Ukrainian capital city is under siege at the present time. From all indications, it seems clear to me that even if Kiev is not currently surrounded, it will be in the coming hours. The noose around the city continues to tighten and convoys of additional Russian troops are reportedly approaching the city from the east and north.

Ukraine Update: 26 January, 2022 (AM)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised today that Russia will take appropriate measures if the US and NATO response to its security demands are less than productive. “If we do not receive a constructive answer from the west on our security demands, Moscow will take appropriate measures,” Lavrov said in a statement.  The US has said it will provide an official answer this week, though judging by the increasing tension in Europe, Washington appears to be deliberately dragging its feet. Russia’s demands center around two points; An end to NATO’s eastward expansion and a guarantee that Ukraine will never be offered membership in the alliance. Rolling back NATO influence in Eastern Europe and beyond has suddenly become the foundation of Russia’s foreign policy. The rapidly shifting position highlights the security dilemma Russia faces. Any action that is taken to increase its own security will invariably diminish the security of others and elicit a response. Moscow understands this, as well as the dangers that are attached to the security dilemma, which might explain the Russian government’s insistence on a point-by-point response to its security demands.

The United States has authorized its Baltic allies to send Stinger handheld surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine. Their arrival will not seriously deter Russia from using airpower in any future military action though. This move is largely symbolic in nature given the role that the Stinger played in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation there in the 1980s. No timetable was given for how long it will be until the Stingers arrive in Ukraine, but some sources within the militaries of the Baltic States have indicated several weeks will be required.

Just under 10,000 troops in the US are on alert for movement to Eastern Europe. Most of these are paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On Monday, the division’s 3rd Brigade was ordered to prepare for possible deployment within 72 hours. Although much has been made about the growing possibility of a US troop movement to Europe, it needs to be stated that the US does already have military forces stationed across Europe and these forces will be utilized to reinforce NATO’s Eastern Flank too.

Philippine Resupply Mission To Second Thomas Shoal Succeeds

Today, the Philippine Navy was able to resupply the marines based on Second Thomas Shoal. Last week, a resupply mission to the island was forced to turn back after considerable harassment by Chinese coast guard vessels. Tuesday’s attempt was successful, however, there was a degree of harassment by the Chinese. It was not as direct as last week when water cannons were used on the resupply vessels. The renewed cat and mouse game around the shoal raised fears of future standoffs down the line. China and the Philippines have competing claims in the South China Sea despite the fact Beijing claims the majority of the sea as its own. The stand off last week, coupled with today’s successful resupply, combine to present a clear message from Beijing to Manila; The South China Sea is Chinese territory, if not in name, then in being. Philippine maritime activity there is dependent upon Beijing’s wishes.

Condemnation for last week’s harassment came from the United States and European Union. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that an armed attack on Philippine boats in the South China Sea would invoke Washington’s defense commitment under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. The EU urged China and the Philippines to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.  

Poland-Belarus Update: 18 November, 2021

Today, Belarusian authorities cleared the largest migrant camps along its border with Poland. The intentions of the Minsk government are unclear at present, but the move is seen as a positive step by some international observers, perhaps even marking the start of a de-escalation in the migrant crisis that has blossomed into a East-West confrontation. In another possible sign of de-escalation, hundreds of Iraqis who spent weeks camped at the border are in the process of flying home. The rest of the migrants at the border will be moved to a processing center. Whether the move is permanent or not remains to be seen. For the short term though, the migrants will have shelter from the freezing temperatures and less-than-hospitable conditions on the border. As the migrant camps were being cleared, Polish security forces repelled a coordinated effort by a group of Middle Eastern migrants to cross the border. This attempt was smaller than the one made two days ago at the Kuznica border crossing point. Nine Polish police officers were injured in the melee that developed then.

Earlier this week diplomatic activity aimed at ending the crisis was ramped up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel held two telephone conversations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. French President Emmanuel Macron also discussed the crisis with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. It’s unclear if these talks are responsible for Thursday’s dismantling of the camps, but today Putin called on Lukashenko to begin a dialogue with the European leaders. Germany and the European Union have also rejected a Belarusian request to take in thousands of migrants and asylum seekers now in Belarus.

Poland-Belarus Update: 13 November, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin found himself walking back comments by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that included a threat to cut off gas supplies to European nations. Putin surmised that his Belarusian counterpart made the comments in a fit of anger. The European Union accuses Belarus of provoking the migrant crisis on its western border to undermine EU security. The Union is considering new sanctions against Belarus and its government.  In a television interview given earlier today on Rossiya television, Putin said that discussions with Lukashenko had not mentioned the threat to cut off Europe’s gas supply. “Of course, in theory, Lukashenko as president of a transit country could order our supplies to be cut to Europe. But this would mean a breach of our gas transit contract and I hope this will not happen,” Putin said. The absence of a firm assurance that gas supplies will not be affected obviously indicates some latitude for Lukashenko to go farther with his threat as the crisis continues. The Belarusian leader’s threat has sparked worry around Europe as natural gas shortages and rising prices affect available supplies and the market.