Ukraine Update 14 Feb, 2023: Kiev’s Artillery Addiction

In Brussels, NATO defense chiefs came together to try and reach a solution to the ammunition shortages now affecting the Ukrainian military. More importantly, these Western officials are finally acknowledging the root cause of the overall ammunition shortages. Not because they want to, but for the simple fact circumstances are forcing the issue. In short, Ukrainian forces are going through ammunition the same way intoxicated sailors burn through the money in their wallets on payday. The Ukrainians are burning through artillery rounds at an especially reckless clip and NATO nations cannot replace the expenditures as rapidly as the situation demands. Western defense industries cannot increase production to the levels necessary to sustain a blue force (Ukraine) fighting a conflict against a red force (Russia) with greater reserves of ammunition and equipment. Not for an infinite period of time at least. Put another way, the well is running dry.

With the war now approaching its first anniversary, Western defense officials are working to address Kiev’s ‘most pressing needs.’ New training to reduce Ukraine’s overreliance on artillery support will be one aspect of the training. Artillery fire discipline is one area where Ukraine has been lacking. Ukrainian forces are burning through a lot of artillery rounds and rockets. Western defense industries cannot hope to keep up with the demand. To make matters worse,  NATO armies cannot continue to raid their own armories for equipment and ammunition to send east without causing harm to their own security needs. Before the meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted the Ukraine war “is consuming an enormous amount of munitions and depleting allied stockpiles.” This has been apparent for some time, but for NATO’s secretary general to admit as much publicly indicates how dangerous the alliance regards the present situation as both Russia and Ukraine continue preparing for upcoming spring offensives.

US and Chinese Defense Chiefs Likely To Meet In Cambodia

Following the pre-G20 meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as Xi’s apparent diplomatic outreach at the G20, China’s defense ministry is open to meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Cambodia set for Tuesday or Wednesday. An actual meeting between Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe has not been officially scheduled, but it does seem likely the two defense chiefs will meet while in Cambodia. Austin and Wei have not met or communicated since China suspended dialogue with the US in August after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. On the surface this appears to be the latest indication that relations between the US and China are moving in a more positive direction now.

Whether this holds true remains to be seen, but it’s evident that Beijing wants to at least be viewed as seeking a more productive relationship with the US and nations in the Western Pacific. For the domestic audience it portrays an image of China being treated as an equal. This has the potential to provide much needed political dividends for Xi down the line as the future of COVID-19 restrictions remains fluid. On the international stage the image of a less assertive and belligerent China should give Xi a temporary buffer and allow him to either deal with the slew of domestic matters or set the stage for the next phase of maneuvers on the geopolitical chessboard. Or both, perhaps.

Lavrov’s Warning

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the world against underestimating the chances of a nuclear conflict emerging from Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The risks now are considerable,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s state television. “I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.” Lavrov’s warning comes as the West increases its material support for Ukraine as the war shifts to the Donbas region. Heavy weapons are now being shipped from NATO nations into Ukraine, including self-propelled artillery and self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems. Russia’s previous warnings that NATO equipment could be considered a legitimate target of war once it enters Ukrainian territory. In Washington, Moscow’s ambassador to Russia has told the United States to stop weapons shipments to Ukraine, warning that Western weapons are inflaming the conflict. Lavrov extended the argument in his comments. “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”

While Lavrov’s warnings could be nothing except for bluster, his words should not be dismissed entirely. The risks of a potential nuclear escalation are at least present at this stage. We’re at a point now where the United States and her allies need to consider the viewpoint of Russian leadership. It would help to view the situation from the perspective of Russia and not make decisions largely based on interpretations stemming from a prism of Western views and opinion. The stakes for Russia in this conflict are enormous, to say the least. If Vladimir Putin concludes there is no chance of a victory on the battlefield through only conventional means, all bets are off.

The West should not be intimidated from supporting Ukraine. However, at the same time, some government officials in Europe and the US might want to consider how their recent remarks are being interpreted by the Kremlin. For example, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted a US goal now is to see Russian military capabilities significantly weakened to the point where it cannot conduct military operations abroad in the aftermath of this conflict. Austin’s words run the risk of  being interpreted as the US posing an existential threat to Russia and provoking Moscow into expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Escalation is not in the best interests of anyone.

Ukraine Update 25 April, 2022 (Afternoon)

  • Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia  “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
  • Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
  • Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of  Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
  • The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.

Afghanistan Update: 18 August, 2021

As the Afghan debacle continued to unfold, the incompetence demonstrated by the Biden administration continues to defy logic. Politics aside, there were opportunities to change the script in the previous weeks, so to speak, and make certain the forces and capabilities were on hand to conduct a major evacuation from a rapidly crumbling Afghanistan. The White House simply couldn’t be bothered. Now, instead of admitting its mistakes, the Biden administration continues to point the finger and lay blame on a myriad of people and organizations while being careful not to accept a shred of responsibility. Even the excuses are becoming more desperate and asinine. In his first interview since Kabul fell over the weekend, Biden even claimed that he believed there was no way the departure of US troops could’ve been handled better. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has admitted that US forces do not have the numbers or capability to go out into the countryside and gather large numbers of civilians who are eligible for the government flights out of Kabul. He also said that Taliban checkpoints were permitting U.S. citizens through to reach the airport. The fate of eligible Afghan citizens, on the other hand, is unknown.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s exiled leader Ashraf Ghani and his family have arrived in the UAE. That nation’s government is welcoming them on humanitarian grounds. Ghani continues to claim that he left Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed and chaos. He claims that he is currently in talks to return to the country but did not reveal any details. Even if he is permitted to return, it is not likely that Ghani will be welcomed back with open arms. Many Afghan politicians are bitter about him leaving the country. Even US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told journalists today that Ghani is “no longer a figure in Afghanistan.”

This will be a wrap for the daily Afghan updates, at least for the time being. Tomorrow’s post will look at Taiwan and China’s increasingly aggressive moves in the waters and air around that island nation in the aftermath of events in Afghanistan. Then this weekend I’ll catch up with the August DIRT project and discuss how some of the lessons and warnings from the Afghan situation might also apply to North Korea.