Ukraine Update: 18 February, 2022 (Evening)

This afternoon, US President Biden doubled down on his belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin will invade Ukraine and that Russian forces will ‘target Kiev.’ Biden also said he spoke with Congressional leaders and European allies earlier on Friday and the “overwhelming message on both calls was one of determination, unity, and resolve.” Despite Biden’s claim, unity has so far eluded both NATO and the European Union as they struggle to come to terms with contending with the expansive Russian threat and building a post-invasion strategy with regards to the new dangers a Russian-occupied Ukraine may bring. US and European leaders continue to warn of ‘swift, severe consequences’ if Russia invades Ukraine. However, given that Biden and other Western leaders have drawn the line at committing military forces to defend Ukraine, its questionable exactly what form these consequences will take. There will undoubtedly be severe economic sanctions, yet one has to assume Russia has planned for this contingency. We’ve discussed some of the steps the Russian government has taken in recent months to fortify its economy against sanctions. It remains unclear whether these preparations have been factored into the US and European formulas.

Senior US officials have also said they believe Russia was behind the cyberattacks on Ukrainian banks and government websites this past week. There have also been warnings voices about the possibility Russia could launch cyberattacks against US banks and other American targets as retaliation for the levying of economic sanctions. Officials from JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and other large banks had meetings this week with government officials to discuss tactics Russia could use, as well as warnings on Russian cyber activity.

Ukraine Update: 16 February, 2022 (AM)

Although Russia claims to have started withdrawing forces from the Ukrainian border in the past 24 hours, no proof of this has yet been presented. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said this morning “We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. And of course, that contradicts the message of diplomatic efforts. What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So, so far, no de-escalation.” Russia’s Ministry of Defense has published video of tanks, self-propelled artillery and other armored vehicles leaving Crimea. However, it was not made clear if the equipment was permanently departing the peninsula or simply being repositioned elsewhere. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported the NATO claim, saying the United States has yet to see concrete evidence of a Russian withdrawal in progress.

In Kiev and around the rest of the country, Ukrainians are celebrating Unity Day. The holiday was created by Ukraine’s leader Volodymir Zelenskiy to mark the day US intelligence believes a Russian invasion will begin. Ukrainian flags are flying from nearly all government buildings today, the national anthem was performed in cities and towns at 10 AM and the day is being marked by a number of speeches and rallies. Even though the true intent of the holiday remains unclear to many citizens, Ukrainians appear enthusiastic to take part. The threat of war did not appear to deter them from partaking in holiday events.

Ukraine will enjoy at least one more day of peace it seems.

Ukraine Update: 14 February, 2022 (AM)

Moscow is projecting the appearance of leaving a door open for further discussions of its security concerns, even as Russian military exercises continue and, in some cases, intensify. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting a need for further discussion, even as he emphasizes his nation’s worries about “the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East.” At the moment, Putin is referring to the possibility of Ukraine becoming a NATO member. Putin met with his senior advisors today for an update. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Putin’s positive comments on more dialogue with NATO and the West while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that some of the military exercises are drawing to a close while others will end in the near future.

                                                         ***

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has embarked on the shuttle diplomacy circuit. Today, he is in Kiev discussing the crisis with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky. Scholz has come under fire for Germany’s somewhat skittish support for Ukraine lately and hopes this trip will help to erase the looming misperception that Berlin has been reluctant to back Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia to curtain natural gas supplies to Germany.The German chancellor will arrive in Moscow tomorrow for talks with Vladimir Putin.

                                                        ***

 As Scholz arrived in Kiev, Western nations are withdrawing more embassy staff and military personnel from Ukraine. More airlines are also avoiding Ukrainian airspace as the crisis with Russia continues. The Ukrainian government announced it was ready to assume financial responsibility for the safety of aircraft flying through its airspace. Kiev has dedicated over $500 million to keeping its airspace open to commercial flights in the face of many insurance and leasing companies balking at carriers use of Ukrainian airspace as tensions and the threat of Russian military action rise.  

Ukraine Update: 26 January, 2022 (AM)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised today that Russia will take appropriate measures if the US and NATO response to its security demands are less than productive. “If we do not receive a constructive answer from the west on our security demands, Moscow will take appropriate measures,” Lavrov said in a statement.  The US has said it will provide an official answer this week, though judging by the increasing tension in Europe, Washington appears to be deliberately dragging its feet. Russia’s demands center around two points; An end to NATO’s eastward expansion and a guarantee that Ukraine will never be offered membership in the alliance. Rolling back NATO influence in Eastern Europe and beyond has suddenly become the foundation of Russia’s foreign policy. The rapidly shifting position highlights the security dilemma Russia faces. Any action that is taken to increase its own security will invariably diminish the security of others and elicit a response. Moscow understands this, as well as the dangers that are attached to the security dilemma, which might explain the Russian government’s insistence on a point-by-point response to its security demands.

The United States has authorized its Baltic allies to send Stinger handheld surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine. Their arrival will not seriously deter Russia from using airpower in any future military action though. This move is largely symbolic in nature given the role that the Stinger played in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation there in the 1980s. No timetable was given for how long it will be until the Stingers arrive in Ukraine, but some sources within the militaries of the Baltic States have indicated several weeks will be required.

Just under 10,000 troops in the US are on alert for movement to Eastern Europe. Most of these are paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On Monday, the division’s 3rd Brigade was ordered to prepare for possible deployment within 72 hours. Although much has been made about the growing possibility of a US troop movement to Europe, it needs to be stated that the US does already have military forces stationed across Europe and these forces will be utilized to reinforce NATO’s Eastern Flank too.

Ukraine Update: 22 January, 2022 (0100 Eastern Time)

Once again, the German government has made a questionable decision concerning its Ukraine stance and, in the process, raises some pointed questions about the nation’s future role within NATO. Berlin is blocking Estonia from providing military material support to Ukraine. The German government is refusing to issue export permits for weapons of German origin, citing a long-standing policy concerning arms exports. Ironically enough, the weapons Estonia is looking to export to Ukraine are former Soviet D-30 artillery pieces that were left in Germany following reunification in 1990. The artillery was then exported to Finland before the Finns sent it on to Estonia. Germany’s policy on weapons exports is not the only factor in play. The Germans have made a point not to send weapons to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia. So, while the United States, Great Britain and a host of other NATO nations are contributing weapons to Ukraine as tensions rise with Russia.

Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Schloz is not helping to strengthen relations with the United States either. He has turned down the Biden administration’s invitation to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to a report from Der Spiegel on Friday. Schloz’s office declined the invitation because of a ‘full schedule,’ including a trip Monday to Madrid. The chancellor’s office will apparently find time to speak with France’s leader Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Not mentioned in Germany’s latest moves is the role the Nordstream 2 project is playing in its policymaking, though it is apparent the natural gas pipeline is a growing factor for Berlin.