Ukraine Update 24 January, 2022: Pieces of the Puzzle

The fact Russia is serious about Ukraine appears to finally be kicking in for NATO, the EU and Western governments. Whether this will end up being a matter of ‘too little, too late’ remains to be seen. But for the moment, there are at least some decisions being made in Western capitals which will lead to prudent action in the near future. The Western media is also coming around to the idea that all of this might very well be real. The media is almost always at least 48 hours behind events though, and we’re seeing that in their reporting today.

-Wall Street is responding negatively to the worsening situation in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average cratered this morning, dropping more than 1,000 points.  The immediate reason for the drop was news that President Biden will be holding a video call with European leaders this afternoon to discuss Ukraine and Russia’s growing military buildup. There are other factors contributing to the Dow’s slide into correction territory, however, the realization that the Ukraine crisis is worsening appears to be the catalyst.  

-The US is moving ahead with plans to withdraw dependents of embassy staff from Ukraine starting this week. The plan was announced on Friday but did not garner much media coverage until the official authorization was given. Apparently, the US State Department has also decided to remove non-essential staff from the Kiev embassy as well.  Great Britain has also announced the planned withdrawal of family members of diplomats and other embassy staff. London has also indicated it will be reducing its embassy staff in Kiev along lines similar to what the US is doing with its people. The European Union, on the other hand, will not evacuate its diplomats from Ukraine for the moment.

-NATO is starting to reinforce its Eastern Flank, albeit in limited fashion. A number of alliance members have pledged to deploy additional fighter aircraft and warships to the region in the near future. Denmark is sending four F-16s to bolster the Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuania as well as a frigate to the eastern Baltic Sea. The Netherlands has pledged two F-35s for Bulgarian air policing duties, yet they will not arrive until April. Spain, we discussed last week, has committed two warships and possibly fighter aircraft to Bulgaria. France has revealed it is open to deploying ground troops to Romania and Bulgaria under NATO command.  The United States is considering reinforcing its own forces in Europe but no further details have yet been made available.

Ukraine Update: 23 January, 2022 (Afternoon)

On Saturday the British government announced that their most recent intelligence points to a Russian plan to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a puppet regime controlled by Russia. Former Ukrainian parliament member Yevheniy Murayev, leader of a small pro-Russia political party was identified by the British Foreign Ministry as the likeliest candidate to lead the puppet government. Murayev wasted little time in distancing himself from both Russia and Western Europe on social media. On Thursday, the United States leveled similar accusations at Russia, claiming that Russian intelligence services were spearheading an effort to recruit Ukrainian politicians to take over the government and gain control of the nation’s infrastructure in the opening hours of a Russian invasion. If the coup attempt fails at the start of an invasion, then Moscow will still have enough pro-Russian politicians to form a core government to run the Ukraine after hostilities draw to a close. Whether or not Yevheniy Murayev is selected to become a twenty-first century Viduk Quisling remains to be seen. The US and British governments have warned that an overt Russian invasion is not the only act that will bring on severe economic sanctions. A coup, followed by the subsequent installment of a pro-Russian puppet regime in Kiev will also result in significant economic sanctions.

Ireland has been informed that a Russian naval exercise will occur in February 240 kilometers southwest of the Irish coast. A live-fire segment will be included in the exercise, which will take place in international waters but also inside of Ireland’s excusive economic zone. The Irish Foreign Ministry has raised the issue “ at senior level with the Russian authorities and will continue to do so in the week ahead.” The Russian naval units that will be involved in the exercise will most likely come from the Northern and Baltic fleets. It’s worth paying attention to how these exercises develop in the coming days and weeks as they could give fresh clues about what Russia’s intentions really are.

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: 19 December, 2021

Predictably, Russia’s draft security proposal has not elicited a positive response from NATO governments. The terms embedded in the document include denying NATO membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states, as well as reducing the amount of NATO troops and weapons presently deployed in Eastern Europe. The security proposal was crafted as a counterweight to NATO’s eastern expansion and the problems it has created for Russia’s own security dilemma. While NATO member-states discuss the proposal and consider the response, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country’s relations with the US and NATO have approached a “dangerous point,” and that the deployment of large numbers of NATO forces so near to the border raises “unacceptable risks” to Russian security. There has also been no formal response to Russia’s call for discussions with the United States and other NATO nations on its proposal. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that any talks “would also need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on core principles and documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, such as Ukraine.”

Sources in the Biden administration are now speaking of a ‘four-week window’ to prevent Russia from launching large scale military action against Ukraine. Admittedly, some of these sources are privately admitting that efforts by the White House to deter Russia’s designs have not been successful. The flurry of diplomatic activity and threats of large-scale economic sanctions placed on Moscow were it to invade Ukraine, have been undermined by public admissions by the White House that no US troops will be deployed to Ukraine. Earlier this weekend, a similar public statement about British forces was made by British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace. If anything, Vladimir Putin now has solid assurances that without the possibility of US and British forces being deployed to Ukraine, no other NATO member will dare intervene militarily should Russian forces cross the border in the coming days or weeks.

Some Passing Thoughts on Supply Chain Vulnerability

Shortages in the United Kingdom are providing plentiful ammunition for many critics with an axe to grind. Brexit opponents were quick to lay the blame directly upon Great Britain’s departure from the European Union. Anti-Globalization activists have pointed out the dangerous vulnerability of Just-In-Time supply chains. Then there is COVID-19 where we are seeing the anti-vax and pro-mandate camps slinging blame for the shortages at each other.

The fact of the matter is we’re in a perfect storm of conditions and circumstances at present. COVID restrictions and mandates, post-Brexit teething issues and supply chain disruptions in other parts of the world have combined and brought chaos to the United Kingdom and other nations. It will be some time before normal conditions return. Even though the UK is receiving the lion’s share of media attention for its fuel and food shortages it is not the only one dealing with shortages. In the United States, most major ports are dealing with extreme congestion. Dozens of merchant vessels sit at anchor off places like Long Beach, Elizabeth, and Dundalk, waiting for extended periods of time to enter and unload. This has resulted in a growing number of shortages across a wide range of sectors in the US. Panic buying has exacerbated the situation as well.

Under normal conditions, Just-In-Time supply chains work efficiently. In short, JIT is an inventory management strategy designed to guarantee fast order fulfillment. Production starts only when an order is placed, and inventory stock shipped out as needed. The onset of the pandemic changed the dynamic markedly. Restrictions, shutdowns, and a growing shortage of workers has plagued Asia where much of the manufacturing is done. This was Patient Zero for the current disruptions, for lack of a better term. 

Modern supply chains were neither designed or intended to weather a storm of conditions like the one we are seeing. Supply chains were not built for this.  Their vulnerabilities have now been made abundantly clear and systematic changes are most certainly on the horizon. Before that time arrives, though, the current storm needs to be handled.