Ukraine Update 20 March, 2022 (Afternoon)

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to address the legislatures and parliaments of Western nations. Today it was Israel’s turn. Zelenskiy called Russia’s attack on his country an ‘all out war’ aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people. He then explained this is why the current war resembles what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust. I think Zelenskiy skirted the edge with this comparison. In his drive to keep international support strong, Ukraine’s leader has made a few borderline outrageous statements. Luckily, Western governments and media have wisely covered up his occasional verbal faux pas.
  • The White House has confirmed President Biden will not visit Ukraine during his upcoming trip to Europe this week. When former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commented yesterday that Biden should visit as a ‘symbol of our solidarity,’ it touched off a firestorm of speculation. Realistically though, the prospect of a US president visiting a nation while engaged in an active conflict was never even a possibility.
  • Ukraine’s military claims it has intelligence pointing to Belarussian forces joining the war in the coming week. This comes on the heels of another claim centered around a scheme being planned by Russian elites to remove Vladimir Putin from power, end the war and restore economic ties with the West. Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of FSB security agency, is allegedly being considered as Putin’s successor. Claims like these by Ukraine are not uncommon. Most of them have turned out to be little more than wishful thinking or fairy tales. If there is a coup being planned against Putin right now though, I’m sure the coup planners are not very thrilled with seeing their plans prematurely announced to the world.

Ukraine Update 5 March, 2022 (PM)

  • Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin added to the no-fly zone discussion going back and forth over recent days. He stated that Russia will interpret any attempt by nations outside of the conflict to establish a no-fly zone as active “participation in the armed conflict.” With Russia’s position now staked out with certainty, serious talk about whether NATO or the EU should establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine is going to evaporate. Quite honestly, social media furor and politicians and retired general officers looking to create soundbites for the media were the main forces pushing a no-fly narrative forward. It was never a good idea in the first place.
  • The brief humanitarian ceasefires to allow civilian evacuations around Mariupol and Volnovakha have come to an end. Offensive operations by Russian forces in these areas have resumed.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Bennett traveled discreetly to Moscow and met with Vladimir Putin earlier today. After a meeting that lasted less than an hour, Bennett is now on his way to Germany where he will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
  • Despite rumors that the Russian government would be moving to impose martial law across the country soon, this does not appear to be in the cards, at least for now. The Kremlin claims there are no plans to impose martial law in response to ‘external aggression.’ Internal disorder is another matter entirely, it would seem.

Ethiopia Unraveling

Several nations are ordering their non-essential embassy staff members and dependents out of Ethiopia as the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) move closer to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The United States has joined Israel, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark in removing non-essential personnel from Ethiopia. The order was given on Friday and the US State Department is also urging all US nationals to leave the country too. A number of other rebel groups have joined the TPLF, forming an anti-government alliance that looks to unseat Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power one year after he launched the offensive in Tigray that has ultimately led to this point. In November 2020 there were very few people who could even entertain the notion that Addis Ababa would be under TPLF threat twelve months later.

The government has declared a state of emergency that will allow conscription of any military-aged civilian with weapons. Veterans are also being asked to reenlist in the military. In Addis Ababa, police are searching houses to uncover potential Tigrayans who are connected, or sympathetic to the TPLF. How much good these measures will do with the enemy fast approaching the city remains to be seen.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders there have been a number of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. The Biden administration’s press for negotiations to end the fighting fell upon deaf ears, and so have the selective sanctions placed on some Ethiopian officials by the US government. The reluctance of both sides to turn to diplomacy has derailed efforts by the African Union to mediate an end to the fighting and bring about a cease-fire. Predictably, United Nation Security Council calls for on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” are being ignored. The Security Council is also concerned with how this conflict will affect the stability of the region. The Horn of Africa has long been a hotbed of volatility. The prospect of the fighting leading to a division of Ethiopia similar to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s is beginning to make diplomats around the world uneasy.

Israel Warns Lebanon About Future Rocket Attacks

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett placed the Lebanese government in the hotseat when he stated to his Cabinet that Israel will hold that government responsible for any future rocket attack launched from its soil, no matter if Hezbollah launched the rockets or not. The matter of rocket fire from Lebanon was a topic pushed to the forefront in the last week as militants launched a large number of rockets into Israel, prompting Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire missions in return.

Bennett’s remarks come just 24 hours after Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that his group will retaliate against any future Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon. Nasrallah also warned Israel that Hezbollah will not be restricted by the economic crisis and political divisions now affecting Lebanon. If anything, the turmoil engulfing Lebanon at present offers Hezbollah the opportunity to act with impunity. Israel understands this, and it is likely a factor that motivated Bennett’s comments today. Israeli pressure placed on the Lebanese government gives it more motivation to rein in Hezbollah. Lebanon has enough problems to deal with at the moment without having to worry about a large-scale Israeli military response.

Whether or not the government can put Hezbollah in check is another matter altogether.

Author’s Note: This weekend has gotten away from me so I’ll push Part II of the North Korea Collapse Project to net weekend. Apologies.

Tensions Continue To Rise Between Israel And Iran

Tensions between Iran and Israel continue to rise in the aftermath of last week’s drone attack on the oil tanker MV Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman. Israel, as well as the United States and other Western nations blamed Iran for the attack. Yesterday, the attempted hijacking of another merchant ship in the same area has been linked to Iranian-supported forces in the region. Iran has denied claims made about its alleged involvement in both incidents. Then this morning, on the heels of that latest maritime incident, rockets were launched against Israel from targets in southern Lebanon, prompting counter-battery fire by Israeli artillery in response. By the afternoon, the situation appears to have quieted down, with the commander of UN Interim Force in Lebanon urging both parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalating on the first anniversary of the Beirut Port Explosion.

The Israeli government, however, has not been shy about laying the blame on Iran for recent the recent escalation in tensions around the region. At present, Israel is attempting to rally international action on Iran in response to last week’s attack on the Mercer Street. “We are working to rally the world, but at the same time we also know to act alone,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stated. The meaning behind the last part of his statement serves as a warning to Iran and the world as well. If the international community is reluctant to take effective action against Iran, Israel act unilaterally.