Ukraine is in the midst of another round of cyberattacks this afternoon. Earlier today around 4 PM, Kiev Time, a massive denial of service (DDoS) attack targeting government ministries and banks began. As of now, a number of government websites remain offline and there has been no comment identifying exactly which banks have been affected. Naturally, Russian involvement in the attack is suspected.
The cyberattacks came not long after media reports surfaced claiming US intelligence is expecting a full-scale Russian invasion to commence within 48 hours. Newsweek broke the story initially, adding that the Biden administration has relayed this information directly to Ukraine’s president. An unnamed US official also told Newsweek that there have been violations of Ukrainian airspace today for short periods of time, possibly by Russian combat aircraft. This would fit the assessment of a major attack coming within 48 hours, as last minute air reconnaissance sorties would be launched regularly in the final days leading up to the attack.
Russian naval activity in the Black Sea and especially in the Mediterranean is being scrutinized carefully at this hour as well. The Russian Navy has two surface action groups (SAG), each one centered around a Slava class cruiser operating in close proximity to NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean. A third SAG, is also underway in the Black Sea, positioned either to support a Russian amphibious landing against Odessa, or launch anti-ship missile attacks against any NATO carrier group that enters the Aegean Sea. The Mediterranean is a restrictive, tight waterway, especially east of Sicily. The first few hours of a Russia-NATO conflict would turn the eastern half of the Med into a shooting gallery.
A state of emergency will take effect in Ukraine at midnight, 24 February, 2022. “Across the territory of our country, apart from Donetsk and Luhansk, a state of emergency will be introduced,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev. Ukraine’s parliament is expected to approve the measure within the next day or so. A state of emergency declaration will allow additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.
It has been a long day. I was hoping to get a second update posted in the afternoon, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Things are happening now and it appears the final stages of preparations before hostilities commence are either underway or about to be. We’ve discussed Russia’s movement of more troops and equipment into close proximity of the Ukrainian border. The arrival of Russian army units in Belarus has also been mentioned. Ostensibly they are there to conduct exercises with Belarussian forces. Thursday saw Russia announcing that major naval exercises will be held at the end of this month and in February across a large swath of the world’s oceans. The exercises will take place in parts of the North Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. 140 warships and support vessels and 60 aircraft will be involved, along with an unknown number of submarines. This constitutes a considerable amount of the Russian Navy’s inventory. At first look, the primary purpose of the maneuvers seems to be to provide cover for potential naval movements into the Black Sea to coincide with operations against Ukraine. The worldwide scope of the maneuvers though, lead me to suspect there’s another element at work here. A projection of Russian sea and air power in areas where NATO and Russian navies operate in close proximity to each other. Intimidation tactics, for lack of a better term. Another possibility is that Ukraine is not the only area that Russia has plans for. Maybe the exercises are indeed cover, but for Moscow to strategically position its naval and air forces across the global gameboard. In the event NATO stands up militarily to Russian aggression in Ukraine, these forces could be utilized to cause serious damage to NATO naval forces and land installations in the first hours of hostilities. An improbable prospect, but a prospect, nonetheless.
Russia is not the only country that announced military moves today. Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles told reporters that her country will be deploying warships to support NATO forces in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. A minesweeper is moving east at present and a frigate is expected to sail within 3-4 days. The Spanish government is also close to a decision on sending warplanes to Bulgaria to help bolster NATO’s Southern flank as tensions with Russia continue to rise.
On Monday, NATO began its annual Black Sea naval exercise. Sea Breeze ‘21 is underway with this year’s exercise being co-hosted by the US Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy. It is scheduled to run until 10 July and the multinational exercise will include forces from thirty-two nations. 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams will be involved in the exercise and related operations. This makes Sea Breeze ’21 the largest installment of the annual, multinational exercise, which first began in 1997.
This year there is considerably more attention on the exercise given recent events in the Black Sea. Last week’s encounter between a British destroyer and Russian air and naval forces has raised tensions in the area. As anticipated, Russia will be monitoring the exercise closely and is likely to run a short-notice exercise in the area as well. In fact, Russian forces held snap naval and air exercise in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday, not long after the incident with HMS Defender. The eastern Med has become more congested with an increased number of Russian warships and aircraft operating in close proximity to Syria. Encounters between NATO and Russian forces have become almost routine of late.
News of the decision by Greece and Turkey to resume exploratory talks in Istanbul later this month has been met with optimism by the European Union, NATO and individual nations around Europe. Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey was inviting Greece to attend the discussions being hosted in Turkey on 25 January. This will mark the 61st round of exploratory talks which came into being back in 2002. The last round was held in Athens back in March, 2016. Energy rights, economic exclusion zones, and maritime rights are expected to be the main topics for the upcoming round.
Since 2016 relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated. There has been no shortage of issues fueling the flames between these two rival states. Refugee treatment, energy exploration, and dueling economic exclusion zones have all played significant roles in bringing Greece and Turkey to the state they’re currently at. The EU expressed hope that the upcoming discussions between the two nations will bring about deeper talks and resolutions in the future. “We were discussing already how important it is for Turkey to behave constructively towards the EU member states because the EU has on numerous occasions stressed its solidarity with Greece, with Cyprus (the Greek Cypriot administration), and stressed also the need to solve all the bilateral issues,” European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told a recent daily press briefing in Brussels.
Turkey has been softening its tone in recent days. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country is prepared to repair the damaged relations between Turkey and the EU. The decision to do this could come from the recent setbacks Turkey has endured on the foreign front. Russia has managed to push Turkey out of the post-war picture in the aftermath of the latest Azeri-Armenian conflict in October and November. Despite supporting Azerbaijan with military hardware and mercenaries, Turkish assistance in the peacekeeping process and beyond was politely declined, or in some instances minimized by Moscow. Add to that the continuing difficulties in Libya, blowback from increasingly aggressive energy exploration in the Eastern Med, and the economic exclusion zone issue, and it becomes clear why Turkey could be looking for a breather.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his nation’s largest ever natural gas discovery today. It is a 328 billion cubic meter field in the Black Sea that could be part of a bigger reserve. Erdogan has hinted that the gas could start being extracted by 2023. The field, if as large as Turkey claims, will also give Ankara the advantage when the time comes to renegotiate its existing natural gas import agreements. Turkey presently relies on imports to cover almost all of its energy needs. Energy import bills have been a consistent drag on its currency for years. In 2019 Turkey paid out $41 Billion on energy imports, these payments putting a large dent in the nation’s currency reserves.
Most importantly, the find will have a positive effect on the Turkish economy down the line. The Turkish Lira is responding positively to the news, a marked contrast from the unprecedented slide it has endured lately. It won’t last, however. Turkey’s economic troubles are too broad to be solved by a major natural gas find. Rising inflation, and interest rates, record unemployment, and a recession are some of the obstacles the Turkish economy is trying to overcome right now.
Erdogan also said today that Turkey will increase exploratory operations in the Mediterranean. There are presently ongoing territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus concerning Turkish operations in contested waters. Last week’s collision between Turkish, and Greek warships seems to have cooled tensions for the time being, and forced all of the involved parties to take a deep breath.