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FIRST BY NATSEC DAILY –– The leading theory for why Russia launched hypersonic missiles into Ukraine last week is it’s running out of precision-guided weapons to strike faraway targets, a senior U.S. defense official and Western official with assessments told NatSec Daily.
President JOE BIDEN confirmed Russia’s use of the weapons Monday, stating the Russian military launched them “because it’s the only thing that they can get through with absolute certainty.” But to date the best explanation Western governments have is that Moscow’s stockpile is quickly dwindling after launching more than 1,100 missiles into Ukraine since Feb. 24, leaving it with fewer weapons to reliably hit positions.
“We think that could be one reason,” a senior U.S. defense official told NatSec Daily. “They’re running out of material,” the Western official said. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive development.
Speaking Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” news show, Secretary of Defense LLOYD AUSTIN said Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN reached for the hypersonic missiles to gain momentum in his bumbling invasion. But he also hinted at another potential reason: A lack of available weaponry. “You kind of question why he would do this. Is he running low on precision-guided munitions?” Austin told anchor MARGARET BRENNAN.
As allies share information about the Russian attack — including where, precisely, the missiles hit — the answer to Austin’s hypothetical question appears to be “yes.”
“It’s really a significant sign of weakness,” the Western official said. “You only fire this thing if you’re desperate.”
The expectation is that Russia won’t launch many hypersonic missiles in the near term since they don’t have a lot of them. Instead, Moscow will likely drop more “dumb” bombs in the weeks ahead — almost certainly leading to more civilian casualties around Ukraine.
There are other theories the two people noted, namely Russia seeking leverage at the negotiating table with Ukraine, the Kremlin messaging to the West not to interfere any further and, as Biden suggested, growing frustrations with the success of Ukraine’s air and missile defenses.
“As all things with Russia, they could be signaling all of this even if the main reason they used the hypersonic weapon was because they had little else to shoot,” the Western official said.
For Kyiv, this news could bolster belief that Russia truly is struggling to win the war it launched — and further still, in some analysts’ minds, that Ukraine is on the road to victory. To ensure that outcome, the U.S. and its allies will continue to supply Ukraine with advanced weapons.
Read Alex’s full piece here.
SITUATION REPORT: We will only cite official sources. As always, take all figures, assessments and statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.
War in Ukraine:
— Since the war began on Feb. 24, Russia has lost around 15,300 personnel, 509 tanks, 1,556 armored combat vehicles, 252 artillery systems, 80 multiple-launch rocket systems, 99 warplanes, 123 helicopters, 1,000 vehicles, three ships and 35 drones. (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— The U.S. believes Russia’s casualty count is in the thousands (White House)
— “Despite heavy fighting, Ukrainian forces continue to repulse Russian attempts to occupy the southern city of Mariupol. Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine have endured yet another day of limited progress with most forces largely stalled in place. Several Ukrainian cities continue to suffer heavy Russian air and artillery bombardment with the UN reporting that more than 10 million Ukrainians are now internally displaced as a result of Russia’s invasion.” (U.K. Ministry of Defense)
— “The Russian occupation forces operating in Ukraine have stockpiles of ammunition and food for no more than three days. The situation is similar with fuel, which is replenished by tank trucks. The occupiers were unable to organize a pipeline to meet the needs of the grouping of troops.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— There are indications that Ukrainians are “able and willing” to “take back” areas captured by Russians. (Senior U.S. defense official)
— U.S.: The U.S. will impose further sanctions on Russia and will be rolled out in conjunction with European allies on Thursday, national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN told reporters.
— Italy: Italian Prime Minister MARIO DRAGHI endorsed Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. “Italy wants Ukraine to join the EU,” he said following Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY’s address to Italy’s parliament. “I want to tell President Zelenskyy that Italy stands alongside Ukraine in this process.”
— E.U.: Per a draft document seen by Agence France-Presse, the European Union plans to establish a “trust fund” to help Ukraine rebuild after the war. The document didn’t contain details about how much money would be in the pot or how the fund would work.
— Wall Street Journal: “Ukraine’s Troops Fight War of Ambush and Skirmish Against Russian Invaders”
— POLITICO Magazine: “The Next 2 Weeks Could Determine the Fate of Ukraine”
— Associated Press: “Ukraine thwarts Russian advances; fight rages for Mariupol”
NAVALNY CONVICTED ON NEW CHARGES: Jailed Kremlin critic ALEXEI NAVALNY has been found guilty of additional embezzlement charges, as well as a charge of contempt of court, following a criminal trial in a Russian prison colony outside Moscow, per AFP.
Navalny’s allies have attacked the Kremlin for conducting his latest trial inside the faraway IK-2 penal colony in Vladimir, where he is already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence at the prison for a separate embezzlement charge.
But Navalny’s new conviction will lengthen that term of imprisonment by nine years. The prosecutor has called for him to serve 13 years behind bars, to be transferred to a “strict regime” penal colony and to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles.
DOD WORKING WITH INDUSTRY TO PRODUCE JAVELINS AND STINGERS: “The Pentagon is rushing to replace thousands of U.S.-made Javelin and Stinger missiles pulled from European and American stockpiles for use in Ukraine. But the multibillion-dollar effort is still waiting on the military and defense industry to figure out how to ramp up production quickly,” our LEE HUDSON, PAUL McLEARY and CONNOR O’BRIEN reported.
There appear to be two main hurdles to hurry up the resupply. “First, the hundreds of small suppliers that form the backbone of the industrial base are working to locate the required components to build new missiles, including rare earth materials and electrical components that can be difficult to source quickly,” they wrote. “Second, companies are also waiting to ensure funding is locked in before investing in increasing production capacity, over worries that investments in raw materials and manufacturing capability won’t be paid for.”
How the Pentagon and industry work this out matters, of course, as Javelins and Stingers have proven wildly effective on the battlefield for Ukraine.
USS TRUMAN IN THE IONIAN: Our HANNAH ROBERTS was on USS Harry S. Truman as the U.S. Navy patrolled the Ionian to make its presence felt during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Accustomed to the Pacific Ocean and the seas of the Middle East, the USS Truman’s strike group are now in the northern Ionian Sea, its fighter jets and radar planes patrolling NATO’s eastern borders and looking east, to a Ukraine now under invasion from Russian armed forces,” Roberts wrote. “Since the invasion almost a month ago, these jets have flown more than 75 patrol missions across NATO’s eastern flank up to the Ukraine border, from the Truman. The so-called Enhanced Air Policing mission is part of NATO’s Assurance Measures introduced in 2014, after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and is aimed at defending NATO airspace, preventing incursions by Russians.”
“There are numerous Russian ships and subs in the Mediterranean today and that’s why it’s important for NATO to have an equal presence, to deter them,” Navy Secretary CARLOS DEL TORO told POLITICO, adding: “The only thing Putin understands is strength.”
There is still no sign the U.S. or NATO plan to send troops into Ukraine. The mission is both for training with allies and sending a political message to Russia: We’re here, watching, and resolved to step up if you cross the line.
PAKISTAN’S PM FACES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE: IMRAN KHAN, the cricket star-turned Pakistan’s leader, is facing a no-confidence vote organized by political opponents and without the backing of the country’s powerful military.
“Pakistan has been buffeted by double-digit inflation, leading to widespread dissatisfaction and fueling criticism that he has mismanaged the economy,” The New York Times’ SALMAN MASOOD reported. “In addition, he has lost the backing of the military, seemingly over his effort to place a loyal aide and former spy chief, Lt. Gen. FAIZ HAMID, in charge of the army over the objections of the top brass.”
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country, has drifted further from the U.S. and moved closer to Russia and China with Khan in charge. His government is also friendly with the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan. The worry is that Khan will rally millions to his cause, potentially leading to broad-scale violence as the vote next week likely will oust the prime minister from power.
“Three major allied political parties that are part of the governing coalition have now indicated that they could side with the opposition in the parliamentary vote. That would be enough to topple Mr. Khan’s government,” Masood wrote, which would continue Pakistan’s streak of not allowing a political leader to finish their time in charge.
“Khan’s rise and potential demise is reflective of the capriciousness of Pakistani politics and weak democratic institutions. If he loses the no-confidence vote, he will join the ranks of all past Pakistani prime ministers, none of whom have been able to complete a five year term,” SAMEER LALWANI, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, told NatSec Daily. “Any political volatility is concerning in a state with nuclear weapons, but it’s certainly not surprising. American foreign policy is not indifferent but it has weathered Pakistan’s fratricidal civilian politics for decades, and this time it is far less dependent on Pakistan than it has been since 2001.”
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RUSSIA’S INVASION HURTING DEVELOPING WORLD: The developing world is getting crushed by supply chain woes exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It has spurred the biggest price shock in decades and choked imports of basic commodities, triggering shortages especially tough for poorer nations that were already far behind in their economic recovery from the pandemic,” per The Wall Street Journal’s SAEED SHAH, NAZIH OSSEIRAN and NICHOLAS BARIYO. “In Kenya, bread prices recently jumped by 40% in some areas. In Indonesia, the government has imposed price controls on cooking oil. In Brazil, the state-owned energy-giant Petrobras said earlier this month it couldn’t hold off inflationary pressures and raised gasoline prices to distributors by 19%.”
They also wrote of a Beirut bakery that has survived 120 years, doing business despite civil war, the pandemic and Lebanon’s decadeslong financial problems. But with flour selling on the black market at 1000 percent higher than normal, ZOUHAIR KHAFIYEH may have to shutter his doors within a month.
“We cannot continue like this,” he told WSJ.
RUSSIA DENIES CYBERATTACK COMING: DMITRY PESKOV, Putin’s spokesperson, asserted Russia isn’t preparing to launch cyber attacks against the West — even after the Biden administration openly warned about that possibility.
“The Russian Federation, unlike many Western countries, including the United States, does not engage in state-level banditry,” Peskov told reporters Tuesday.
The denial follows Biden’s Monday statement that cyberattacks were “coming,” asking companies to harden their defenses against the strikes. JOHN KIRBY, the Pentagon spokesperson, told MSNBC on Tuesday that “We haven’t seen anything affect our infrastructure or critical U.S government infrastructure … We wanted to make sure that leaders knew and were aware that the Russians would probably try this kind of tactic going forward.”
Experts are surprised Ukrainian and other Western targets remain unharmed in cyberspace, even more than three weeks into the war. The expectation, though, is that cyberattacks will come in due time, despite the Kremlin’s denials. After all, Russia insisted it had no plans to invade Ukraine and, well…
‘DAY ONE’: Biden’s pick to lead Pentagon acquisition efforts told senators that speeding up efforts to get weapons and equipment to Ukraine — and replace diminished inventories of that hardware — will be at the top of his to-do list, O’Brien wrote in.
“If confirmed, one of my first things to do on day one [would be to] accelerate all equipment and capabilities to both the Ukrainians, as we agreed to, and also helping our NATO partners and replenish our stockpiles,” WILLIAM LaPLANTE told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a confirmation hearing.
Lawmakers provided the Pentagon with billions of dollars to replenish stocks of weapons — including thousands of Javelin and Stinger missiles — the U.S. and European allies have shipped to Ukraine. There’s also bipartisan concern in Congress over whether the Pentagon and industry can replace those munitions quickly, and LaPlante told senators the Pentagon needs “multiple hot production lines” for munitions, drones and other key programs.
AIRCRAFT CARRIER LOBBYISTS HIT THE HILL: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition is walking around Capitol Hill today and tomorrow for its annual push for funding.
The group has scheduled more than 170 meetings over the next two days — in person and virtually. More than 300 people have registered so far.
The Navy last year proposed retiring the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman early rather than pay for its midlife maintenance overhaul, but Congress blocked it. The coalition not only wants to head off any new attempts to retire carriers early, but will also argue that funding advance materials on future ships can save money, RICK GIANNINI, coalition chair and president — who is also CEO of Milwaukee Valve Company — told our own LEE HUDSON.
Giannini said congressional funding for the future carriers Enterprise and Doris Miller shielded most of the industry’s nearly 2,000 businesses in 45 states, but some suppliers were hit by the global supply chain crisis. The spread of Covid-19 also hurt workforce retention, but the Navy has started programs in Virginia and Pennsylvania to accelerate trade school training for shipyard workers from two years to four months.
LAWMAKERS WANT WAR CRIMES INTEL DECLASSIFIED: All 23 members of the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter that was sent this week to Director of National Intelligence AVRIL HAINES, demanding that the U.S. intelligence community “work diligently to declassify information related to Russia’s planned or actual war crimes or other atrocities” in Ukraine, reports our own NAHAL TOOSI.
“Doing so might deter Russia from continuing down this path or further demonstrate to the world Russia’s callous disregard for the lives of civilians, and the indiscriminate assault that has killed thousands of Ukrainians, and displaced millions more,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter to Haines comes amid growing global concern about Russia’s attacks on civilians in Ukraine, as well as Moscow’s veiled warnings about using chemical and biological weapons. Biden last week called Putin a “war criminal,” and observers worry Putin will continue to violate traditional rules of war to make progress in his invasion.
SENATE STUCK ON RUSSIA BILLS: Senate Democratic leaders want to quickly approve a bill this week revoking normal trade relations with Russia, but the chamber’s Republicans are demanding the legislation be paired with a separate House-passed measure banning Russian oil imports, per our own ANDREW DESIDERIO and BURGESS EVERETT.
Sen. MIKE CRAPO (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said both sides “are negotiating, and my hope is that we will merge the two House bills” — both the trade and oil sanctions packages. “The House voted for both bills with over 400 votes. And that kind of bipartisan agreement is still in existence over here on both bills,” he said.
Crapo indicated that Republicans want to take a harder line than Biden’s executive action banning Russian oil imports, and he vowed that he would try to amend any effort from Democrats to move the trade bill on its own. “The [trade] issue needs to be something that’s part of the economic pressure that we build” on Russia, added Senate Minority Whip JOHN THUNE (R-S.D.).
YACHTS FOR UKRAINE: A new bipartisan House bill would send seized Russian asserts to Ukraine for rebuilding purposes.
The Yachts for Ukraine Act — led by Reps. SETH MOULTON (D-Mass.), MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.), JAKE AUCHINCLOSS (D-Mass.) and PETER MEIJER (R-Mich.) — would permanently turn the yachts into humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts for Ukraine.
“Now these oligarchs will know that the U.S. will do everything in its power to seize their assets for good — and finally put them to good use, rebuilding the country their acquiescence has helped destroy,” Moulton said in a statement. “The cost of this humanitarian crisis should be paid for by Putin and the cronies who have supported him, and converting proceeds from their seized assets to help Ukraine is an obvious way to punish these thugs and increase aid for Ukrainians,” Gallagher added.
Western authorities have seized dozens of vessels collectively worth billions, including the $578 million sailing megayacht — the world’s largest of its kind — belonging to Russian industrialist ANDREY MELNICHENKO.
TOOMEY: IMPOSE SECONDARY SANCTIONS: Sen. PATRICK TOOMEY (R-Penn.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Biden-led sanctions “have been economically damaging to Russia, but not crippling.”
He argues the American ban on Russian oil imports barely register in Moscow since the U.S. doesn’t take in that much. To hit the Kremlin where it hurts, Toomey suggests “the administration and Congress should impose secondary sanctions on the entirety of Russia’s financial sector. These penalties would effectively prohibit foreign banks anywhere in the world, under the threat of U.S. sanctions, from making payments to Russian banks, including for oil and gas. They would force the world to make a choice: Do business with the U.S. or do business with Russia. But you can’t do both.”
Imposing secondary sanctions would compel China from doing business with Russia, thus cutting off Moscow’s biggest lifeline. Separately, Toomey wants Europe to be weaned off its dependence on Russian energy and the U.S. to do more to be energy independent.
To do that, he recommends the administration reverse “its disastrous anti-fossil-fuel policies: restart the Keystone XL pipeline, expedite approvals of natural gas pipelines and LNG facilities approvals, and repeal its broad and punitive regulations and restrictions on U.S. oil and gas production.”
Our own AMERICA HERNANDEZ has a good piece on why oil sanctions hurt Putin.
— ROBERT O’BRIEN has joined the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Advisory Council. He previously served as national security adviser to former President DONALD TRUMP.
— MARIA VARENIKOVA and ANDREW E. KRAMER, The New York Times: “How Ukraine’s Outgunned Air Force Is Fighting Back Against Russian Jets”
— RORY FINNIN and JON ROOZENBEEK, POLITICO Magazine: “Opinion: The Real Goal of Kremlin Disinformation Isn’t What You Think”
— PAUL SONNE and MARY ILYUSHINA, The Washington Post: “Facing Putin’s Wartime Censorship, a Nobel Laureate Fights to Keep Truth in Russia Alive”
— Biden travels to Brussels.
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8:30 a.m.: “The Prospects for a U.S.-Japan Technology Security Alliance — with ROBERT ATKINSON, CHARLES EDEL, MICHAEL GREEN, JAMES LEWIS, KAZUTO SUZUKI and KURT TONG”
— The Government Executive Media Group, 8:30 a.m.: “Defense Readiness Workshop — with DENNIS REILLY and BENJAMIN RING”
— The Wilson Center, 10 a.m.: “The Changing Landscape of Gulf Cooperation Council Security — with DAVID DESROCHES and ELLEN LAIPSON”
— Booz Allen Hamilton, 12 p.m.: “Tracking the Future: Space Domain Awareness — with GINNY CEVASCO, JOHN FANT, THOMAS KELECY and JIM REILLY”
— Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, 1 p.m.: “Pondering the Nuclear Posture Review After Ukraine — with SHANNON BUGOS, MARYANN CUSIMANO LOVE, JAMES MCKEON”
— The Information Technology Industry Council, 11 a.m.: “Security in the Face of Rapidly Evolving Cyber Threats — with JEANETTE MANFRA, GARY PETERS, DARREN SHOU and KEN XIE”
— The Atlantic Council, 2 p.m.: “What Russia’s War Means for European Defense — with KELLY GRIECO”
— Senate Armed Services Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Strategic Competition and Security Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere — with FRANK BRADFIELD III, MELISSA DALTON and JAMES SAENZ”
— The OSS Society, 3 p.m.: “‘Oh So Social’ Conversation Series — with ROBERT GATES and MICHAEL VICKERS”
— Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 3 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Honoring Our Commitment: Improving VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers”
— The Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows, 6 p.m.: “Defending the Digital World: A Survey of the Cybersecurity Risk Landscape — with HEATHER ADKINS, DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, JOHN INGLIS and ELLEN NAKASHIMA”
— The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, 6 p.m.: “19 Years After the Invasion: A Reflection on the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq — with DINA AL BAYATI, DAN CALDWELL, BRANDI JONES, NAVEED SHAH, JOANNA SWEATT and ADAM WEINSTEIN”
— The Stimson Center, 7 p.m.: “The Post-Cold War Transformation of the U.S.-ROK Alliance: Implications and Future Cooperation — with RICHARD LAWLESS, JENNY TOWN and CLINT WORK”
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