Great Britain’s Chief of Military Intelligence Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull believes Russia is overhauling its battlefield strategy to one where attrition is the centerpiece. After a little over three weeks of hostilities, Russia has not achieved any of its major political or military objectives in the campaign. The lightning-fast war of maneuver that was prematurely envisioned by Russian general officers has fallen flat for a wide variety of reasons. Moscow is finally realizing the time has come to shift gears. A war of attrition will take advantage of Russia’s overwhelming superiority in artillery. Indirect artillery fire specifically. This will increase collateral damage to Ukrainian infrastructure and likely raise civilian casualties.
US President Joe Biden held a two-hour video call this morning with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Before the call, the White House described the call as a component of “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication” between the United States and China. After the meeting concluded, China’s foreign ministry said Xi emphasized “severe challenges” around the globe. China’s alignment with Russia is a major worry in light of the war in Ukraine and Biden probably broached the matter of Russia’s request for military aid from China during the call.
In spite of Russian claims, US Central Command has said there is little evidence of foreign fighters traveling from Syria to Ukraine. The comments from CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie on the topic came from a question on Russian efforts to recruit foreign fighters for the war. Earlier in March Syrian media reported Moscow was offering six-month contracts with pay ranging between $200 and $300 a month in a push to increase its force posture in Ukraine.
Lviv was struck by Russian cruise missiles again on Friday. The target was a military aircraft repair facility. According to the Ukrainian military, six Russian cruise missiles were fired from warships in the Black Sea and four impacted buildings at the repair facility.
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.
The United States launched an airstrike on Thursday evening against a border crossing point on the Syria-Iraq border that has been utilized by a Iranian-supported militant groups in the past. The attacks came in response to recent rocket attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and the continued threat that Iranian proxy groups pose to them and their operations. This was the first US military action taken under the direction of President Biden. The decision for the attack was made after the Biden administration consulted with US allies. Shortly after 6 PM Eastern Time two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped JDAMs on multiple targets at the border crossing point.
The United States has stated it ultimately holds Tehran responsible for the actions of Iranian proxies. Thursday’s airstrike is proof that the Biden administration plans to hold firm to this policy. At least on the surface. A single US airstrike against a target with no viable connection to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq gives the impression of being little more than a slap on the wrist, as well as a message to Iran at best. These renewed attacks are a tactic being used by Tehran to increase pressure on Iraq’s government and simultaneously seeking leverage over the new US administration. After a brief period of calm late last year, the situation in Iraq returned to one more reminiscent of earlier in 2020 with regular attacks being made against Iraqi government and US military targets.
Practically speaking, last night’s airstrike should have no effect on US attempts to negotiate with Iran over the future of JCPOA compliance. Of course, should Tehran find it in their best interests to use the attack as a bargaining chip, it will. The White House needs to keep that in mind.
Fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh has continued into a fifth day with the intensity of the clashes increasing. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has stated the war will only end once his nation’s territorial sovereignty is restored. In other words the Azeri drive into Nagorno-Karabakh will not be coming to a halt in the near future. Armenia continues to resist and there are rumors circulating that the Armenian government is contemplating an official recognition Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. This might be viewed as a desperate move but with the fighting going decidedly in Azerbaijan’s favor so far, the Armenians might have little choice.
On the international front, Armenia has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel as a protest over Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has openly admitted using Israeli-made drones in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Both Azerbaijan and Armenia have defied international calls for a ceasefire. The United States, France, and Russia have condemned the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. In a joint statement, the leaders of the three nations have called for an immediate end to the fighting. “We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately commit themselves to resume negotiations on the substance of the settlement in good faith and without preconditions,” the statement read. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went against the grain stating that a ceasefire was only possible when Armenia ended its ‘occupation’ of Azerbaijani territory. Erdogan’s comments were made shortly after France accused Turkey of transporting Syrian mercenaries to join the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied reports that Ankara has sent fighters to the Southern Caucuses.
Apologies for not getting the update published sooner but today grew busier than expected.
Fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continued into its second day, feeding worries about the conflict escalating to a full-blown war that will draw in a number of regional powers. Casualties have been reported by both sides, and according to various third-party sources a high number of civilians have been killed or wounded so far. Azerbaijani defense officials have released video purportedly showing Azerbaijani drone strikes on Armenian air defense vehicles. The Armenians released their own video yesterday supposedly of Azerbaijani tanks and other armored vehicles coming under fire and exploding. There is no way right now to confirm the authenticity of either side’s videos, but it would not be outside the realm of possibility for some, or even all of them to be less than authentic.
The increasing concern about this conflict touching off a regional war is not hyperbole. Russia has maintained close economic ties with Azerbaijan and Armenia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. But Armenia is deeper inside of the Russian sphere, holding membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization. Azerbaijan is a member of neither. Azerbaijan’s closest ally is Turkey. Having these two major powers on opposing sides has raised some eyebrows. There is a possibility that an expanded conflict could bring Russia and Turkey into the fighting, however, at this point the chance of that happening is minimal.
Unconfirmed reports have been circulating about Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan preparing to join the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier reports claim that Turkey has brought the Syrians to Azerbaijan.