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BLASTS ROCK RUSSIAN AIR BASE IN CRIMEA

By Bojan Pancevski and Brett Forrest

Aug. 9, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

Explosions at a Russian air force base on Crimea triggered an evacuation of local residents as Ukrainian officials vowed to liberate the peninsula, though Kyiv didn’t take responsibility for the blasts.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the explosions, which came as Ukraine presses on with a counteroffensive aimed at liberating the south of the country from Russian control, were caused by exploding airforce ammunition.

The blasts bring the nearly six-month war closer to home for Russians who have largely experienced the war as an intervention on Ukrainian territory. An overwhelming majority of Russians supported the country’s seizure of the peninsula in 2014, and it became a popular tourist destination.

Ukrainians greeted the explosions, regardless of their cause, as a sign that Crimea, which Kyiv wants back, was in play after eight years in which they could do little about its loss.

“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea—its liberation,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Tuesday evening address.

The explosions took place shortly after 3 p.m. at the Novofedorivka airforce base on the Black Sea coast, which borders a popular tourist resort, the ministry said.

Explosions could be heard around the area for around an hour on Tuesday afternoon, eyewitnesses told Russian state media.

Footage circulated on social media appeared to show explosions followed by thick columns of smoke billowing from the site, which also includes ammunition and fuel depots of what is one of the largest Russian military installations in the region. Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula—the longtime home of its Black Sea fleet—in 2014, when it also fomented a breakaway movement of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The location, long a source of Russian power, enables Moscow to control much of the Black Sea and access to the Ukrainian coast.

Scores of emergency services were dispatched to the affected area which was undergoing evacuation, Russian officials told the Tass and RIA state-run news agencies.

One civilian died because of an emergency near the village of Novofedorivka in the Saksky district of Crimea, Sergei Aksenov, the Russia-backed head of Crimea, said on social media. “I

express my most sincere condolences to the family and friends. All necessary assistance will be provided,” he said.

Crimean healthcare authorities said nine people were injured by the explosions, according to Tass and RIA.

The association of Russian tour-operators said there were no casualties among tourists.

There was no clear indication that Ukraine was behind the explosions. Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov, a special envoy for Mr. Zelensky, tweeted shortly after the blast that “Crimea is Ukraine. We will de-occupy it soon.”

Another Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that “the future of the Crimea is to be a pearl of the Black Sea, a national park with unique nature and a world resort. Not a military base for terrorists.”

Ukraine has in the past declined to take responsibility for fires at fuel and ammunition depots in Russian regions along its border and the sinking of the Moskva cruiser in the Black Sea, even as some officials heavily hinted at involvement.

The explosions came as Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south began to build and Mr. Zelensky stressed the importance for Ukraine of total victory.

Moscow has transferred forces into Ukraine’s south in recent days to bolster its positions and counter an offensive that Ukrainian officials privately say is already under way, with both sides trading blows.

Yevhen Yevtushenko, the Ukrainian military administration head in Nikopol, along the Dnipro River south of Zaporizhzhia, said Russia shelled the city early Tuesday. The strategic city of Mykolaiv continues to bear the brunt of Russian bombardments, with its military administration saying Tuesday that more than 9,000 civilian facilities had been destroyed or damaged in the region since the start of the war.

Ukraine, meanwhile, struck the crucial Antonivsky bridge in the Russian-controlled Kherson region, frustrating Russia’s plans to reopen it after a series of attacks. Ukraine’s southern operations command reported killing two-dozen Russian soldiers and destroying antiaircraft batteries, tanks and artillery.

Ukraine’s ability to strike strategic targets with precision weapons is becoming an increasingly significant element in the war. Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, in the Ukrainian south, this week said Ukrainian forces had used U.S.-supplied Himar rocket systems to strike Russian troops and equipment at industrial facilities in the area. On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl said the U.S. had previously sent antiradar missiles to Ukraine. Kyiv has

recently reported destroying Russian S-300 and Pantsir-S1 antiaircraft missile systems in the south, underlining its continued reliance on Western military aid in its fight against Moscow.

Russia, meanwhile, has cut the flow of crude oil through a pipeline to countries in central and eastern Europe, adding to the economic pressures building from the war. Transneft PJSC, the government-owned oil-pipeline operator, said Tuesday it had stopped pumping crude through Ukrainian territory on Aug. 4. The move stops supplies through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline that carries oil to Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic—all highly dependent on Russian oil and natural gas before the war, and among the most exposed economies now that Moscow is throttling supplies.

Concern is also building over the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator Energoatom on Monday blamed Russia for bombing power lines to sever the Zaporizhzhia plant from the Ukrainian electrical grid and goading nearby Ukrainian forces into attacks. It said the plant’s staff were forced to close one of its six reactors over the weekend after an attack that severed a high-voltage power line, damaged three radiation monitors and shattered 800 square meters of window surfaces.

There has been no damage to the reactors and no radiological release, but the two sides are trading accusations over who is responsible, with the Kremlin blaming Ukraine for shelling the 5.7 gigawatt plant. Plant staff and Ukrainian officials and diplomats following the case said Russia appears to be trying to disconnect the plant from Ukraine’s national electrical grid with the goal of reconnecting it to Russia’s.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by the Russians since the early days of the war, and has now been heavily fortified, but Ukrainian staff are still operating it. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called for international nuclear inspectors to be given access to the site to assess its safety.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian law enforcement announced that it had foiled a Russian plot to assassinate the Ukrainian defense minister and military intelligence chief, arresting two men in western Ukraine to whom it said Russian handlers had promised $100,000 and more for each operation.

Russia launched Tuesday a surveillance satellite it produced for Iran, weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to form a united front against the West.

Some Western officials expressed concern that the satellite could be used by the Kremlin to enhance its monitoring of Ukraine, but Iran’s government denied that via the state-run IRNA news agency.

The Khayyam satellite was successfully put into orbit by a Soyuz rocket launched from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to Russia’s space agency.

The satellite, which was named after Omar Khayyam, a 11th Century Persian astronomer and polymath, has already started beaming data to Iran’s space agency, according to IRNA.

Tehran said that the new satellite will be used for scientific purposes, but western officials fear it could be used to spy on targets inside Israel and across the Middle East.

In the U.S., President Biden on Tuesday signed a measure that grants U.S. approval for adding Finland and Sweden as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Senate earlier this month overwhelmingly passed a resolution endorsing the move.

“In a moment where Putin’s Russia has shattered peace and security in Europe, when autocrats are challenging the very foundations of a rules-based order, the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance and America’s commitment to NATO is more important than it’s ever been,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership in May, breaking with a decadeslong defense doctrine under which they sought political and security partnerships with other Western nations while staying out of formal military alliances.

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ACCOUNTING OF BODIES IN BUCHA NEARS COMPLETION

By Liz Sly

The Washington Post

August 8, 2022

BUCHA, Ukraine — After months of meticulous, painful and at times gruesome investigation, officials in Bucha said Monday that they had reached what may be the closest they will get to a final accounting of victims of the murderous rampage by Russian troops that set off worldwide outrage over alleged atrocities: 458 bodies, of which 419 bore markings they had been shot, tortured or bludgeoned to death.

Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska, the town’s deputy mayor, recounted that grim tally at a news conference Monday, where she said the details of each case were now being investigated by prosecutors working to identify the perpetrators and ultimately try them for war crimes.

Of the victims, 39 appeared to have died of natural causes, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, but those may have been related to the war or to the Russians’ treatment of the civilian population during their month-long occupation, which ended with a hasty retreat in defeat on April 1.

Even those 39 cases are now being scrutinized by war crimes investigators. They include a seemingly healthy 34-year-old mother who died of a heart attack while sheltering from bombardments in a basement with her three young children, who remained trapped alongside their dead mother for days, and an elderly woman living alone with her sister who died shortly after her sister was shot by Russian troops — deaths that hardly could be considered natural.

That it has taken more than four months to account for 32 days’ worth of killing underscores the horrific circumstances officials encountered when the Russians troops left. Bodies were strewn unattended around the streets, stuffed into wells or abandoned deep in the forest. Electricity and internet service had been cut, meaning the earliest documented evidence had to be written by hand, Skoryk-Shkarivska said.

Identifying all of the bodies has proved impossible. Some 50 corpses remain unidentified or unclaimed by relatives, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, adding that city officials nonetheless decided to announce their findings because the final tally, and complete identities, probably will never be known. Just in the past two weeks, two more bodies were discovered, in a forest and a storm drain, and 10 residents have reported missing relatives who cannot be accounted for.

The final figure also includes one bag of body parts. The remains were too fragmented, decomposed or badly mutilated to be identified, but apparently belonged to multiple people, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, perhaps including some Russian soldiers. Among the pieces are two right arms that investigators say they have reason to suspect belonged to Russians.

The Russian troops left the corpses of many of those they killed to rot unattended, but also burned some, possibly out of hygiene concerns or to hide evidence of torture, the deputy mayor

said. Some of the remains consisted of piles of ashes beyond identification even using DNA analysis.

Nearly all of the bodies included in Monday’s tally are known to have been civilians, Skoryk-Shkarivska said. The bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in Bucha were turned over to Ukrainian authorities and counted separately, while three Russian bodies were sent for repatriation.

A total of 366 of the bodies were male, and 86 were female, while five had deteriorated too badly to determine. Nine were children under age 18.

The stark numbers offer only a hint of the horrors inflicted on the small number of people who remained behind after the Russians swept into the Kyiv suburb on Feb. 27, intent on reaching the capital 20 miles away. Instead, they found their advance blunted by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Most of the town’s estimated 39,000 population escaped before the Russians arrived, but some 4,000 remained – 1 in 10 of whom died in just over a month.

If such numbers are being repeated in only a fraction of the towns and villages currently under Russian occupation — amounting to 20 percent of Ukrainian territory — the full scale of atrocities committed by Russian troops could be vast.

Bucha, however, experienced by far some of the worst of the violence among the dozens of towns and settlements briefly occupied by Russian troops in the Kyiv region, accounting for a third of the estimated total of 1,300 victims.

Many of those who stayed in Bucha when the Russians invaded were elderly, refusing to flee because they were too frail, sick or stubborn to leave their homes, said Father Andriy Halavin, the priest of the town’s church. He helped bury 116 people killed in the first two weeks of the Russian occupation in a mass grave dug by residents in the yard of his church, and recognized some of his congregants. But others may have relatives who live far away and were unable to provide DNA samples to help investigators.

Records compiled by the investigators indicate that many of those unidentified were also elderly, said Eugene Spirin, one of the volunteers who helped collect and identify the dead. He shared a list documenting some of those who proved hardest to identify, accompanied by brief descriptions of what investigators were able to establish about who they were.

There is the man, about 60 years old, shot in the eye, his face barely recognizable, and another age 75 to 85 with stubby gray hair who was shot in the back of the head. One elderly woman’s head was so badly smashed she could not be recognized. Investigators assessed that she was 75 to 85 years old, according to the records.

Skoryk-Shkarivska said the effort to identify these victims will continue. The city is determined to put a name to every one of those who died and memorialize them with a monument. But if final answers don’t come soon, the city said it plans to hold burial services for the last remaining victims who died lonely, nameless deaths.

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RUSSIA JUST MADE A THREAT TO DESTROY EUROPE’S LARGEST NUCLEAR POWER PLANT: REPORT

By Alexander Motyl

August 9, 2022

1945

It seems Russia appears to be willing to blow up Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine.

According to Enerhoatom, Ukraine’s state-run company that operates the country’s four nuclear power stations, the general in charge of the Russian army’s radiational, chemical, and biological defense forces has told the soldiers he commands at the Zaporizhzhya atomic energy station that “this land will either be Russian or a scorched desert.”

According to said general, Valery Vasilyev, “we have mined all the important objects of the Zaporizhzhya atomic station. And we don’t conceal that from the enemy. We warned them. The enemy knows that the station will either be Russian or no one’s. We are prepared for the consequences of such a step. And you, soldiers-liberators, must understand that we have no alternative. And if we receive the most heartless order, we must execute it with honor.”

The Zaporizhzhya power plant is located in the city of Enerhodar in southern Ukraine. Vasilyev could, if Putin so decides, unleash a nuclear catastrophe far worse than that at Chornobyl in 1986. The winds in that part of Ukraine generally blow from east to west and north to south, which means that radioactive fallout would likely affect Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Turkey. Even occupied Crimea might be affected. In other words, Putin and Vasilyev would effectively target a strategic nuclear weapon at the European Union and NATO.

The madness behind such a terrorist scheme is self-evident. But so, too, is the dangerously unhinged degree of Russian hyper-nationalism at work in Vasilyev’s comments. The Kremlin and its cronies are clearly willing and able to destroy, not just Ukraine but large parts of Europe in the pursuit of their Strangelovean designs.

Can one talk to such people?

The question is rhetorical. Can one expect them to respond to normal incentives, pleas, appeals to reasons? That’s another rhetorical question. Will the Germans, French, and other skittish Europeans finally realize that their security is inextricably connected to Ukraine’s? That may be a third rhetorical question.

There is only one way to counter such madness: the West—whether in the form of Washington, London, or NATO—must explicitly tell Putin and his mad men that any such attack on Europe would be immediately countered with a punishing military response.

As Kurt Volker, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, recently put it: “We must not allow any risks. Even if it is 2%, this is already too much. Nobody wants to deal with a nuclear war. If Putin uses strategic weapons, from the West and NATO will be a decisive and quick response and there will be no Russia.”

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”

 

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BATTLE FOR SOUTHERN UKRAINE INTENSIFIES AS ZELENSKY CALLS FOR TOTAL VICTORY

By Brett Forrest and Bojan Pancevski

Aug. 9, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine is pressing on with a counteroffensive aimed at liberating its southern regions from Russian control, as the two countries continued to spar over a nuclear power plant and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed the importance for Ukraine of total victory.

Moscow has transferred forces into Ukraine’s south in recent days to bolster its positions and counter an offensive that Ukrainian officials privately say is already under way, with both sides trading blows.

Yevhen Yevtushenko, the Ukrainian military administration head in Nikopol, along the Dnipro River south of Zaporizhzhia, said Russia shelled the city early Tuesday. The strategic city of Mykolaiv continues to bear the brunt of Russian bombardments, with its military administration saying Tuesday that more than 9,000 civilian facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the region since the start of the war.

Ukraine, meanwhile, struck the crucial Antonivsky Bridge in the Russian-controlled Kherson region, frustrating Russia’s plans to reopen it after a series of attacks. Ukraine’s southern operations command reported killing two-dozen Russian soldiers and destroying antiaircraft batteries, tanks and artillery.

Ukraine’s ability to strike strategic targets with precision weapons is becoming an increasingly significant element in the war. Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, in the Ukrainian south, this week said Ukrainian forces had used U.S.-supplied Himars rocket systems to strike Russian troops and equipment at industrial facilities in the area. On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl said the U.S. had previously sent anti-radar missiles to Ukraine. Kyiv has recently reported destroying Russian S-300 and Pantsir-S1 antiaircraft missile systems in the south, underlining its continued reliance on Western military aid in its fight against Moscow.

In a Monday-night video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine must not be satisfied with a partial victory that would leave Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, citing frozen conflicts in Georgia and, previously, in Donbas, in Ukraine’s east. “Neither smoldering nor frozen conflict should remain after this Russian war against Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This is an important conclusion. Ukraine must return everything that Russia temporarily seized, and the aggressor state must be punished for the crime of aggression.”

Russia, meanwhile, has cut the flow of crude oil through a pipeline to countries in central and eastern Europe, adding to the economic pressures building from the war. Transneft PJSC, the government-owned oil-pipeline operator, said Tuesday it had stopped pumping crude through Ukrainian territory on Aug. 4. The move stops supplies through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline that carries oil to Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic—all highly dependent on Russian oil and natural gas before the war, and among the most exposed economies now that Moscow is throttling supplies. Concern is also building over the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator Energoatom on Monday blamed Russia for bombing power lines to sever the Zaporizhzhia plant from the Ukrainian electrical grid and goading nearby Ukrainian forces into attacks. It said the plant’s staff were forced to close one of its six reactors over the weekend after an attack that severed a high-voltage power line, damaged three radiation monitors and shattered 800 square meters of window surfaces.

There has been no damage to the reactors and no radiological release, but the two sides are trading accusations over who is responsible, with the Kremlin blaming Ukraine for shelling the 5.7 gigawatt plant. Plant staff and Ukrainian officials and diplomats following the case said Russia appears to be trying to disconnect the plant from Ukraine’s national electrical grid with the goal of reconnecting it to Russia’s.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by the Russians since the early days of the war, and has now been heavily fortified, but Ukrainian staff are still operating it. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called for international nuclear inspectors to be given access to the site to assess its safety.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian law enforcement announced that it had foiled a Russian plot to assassinate the Ukrainian defense minister and military intelligence chief, arresting two men in western Ukraine who, it said, had been promised $100,000 and more by Russian handlers for each operation.

Russia launched Tuesday a surveillance satellite it produced for Iran, weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to form a united front against the West.

Some Western officials expressed concern that the satellite could be used by the Kremlin to enhance its monitoring of Ukraine, but Iran’s government denied that via the state-run IRNA news agency.

The Khayyám satellite was successfully put into orbit by a Soyuz rocket launched from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to Russia’s space agency.

The satellite—which was named after Omar Khayyám, an 11th-century Persian astronomer and polymath—has already started beaming data to Iran’s space agency, according to IRNA.

Tehran said the new satellite will be used for scientific purposes, but western officials fear it could be used to spy on targets inside Israel and across the Middle East.

 

Write to Brett Forrest at brett.forrest@wsj.com and Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com

 

 

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NEW UKRAINE MILITARY PACKAGE IS LARGEST YET, PENTAGON SAYS

Announcement comes as Ukrainian forces seek to retake southern city of Kherson

By Karoun Demirjian

August 8, 2022

The Washington Post

The Pentagon on Monday said it is sending Ukraine an additional $1 billion in military assistance, including tens of thousands more munitions and explosives — the largest such package since Russia launched its invasion in February.  The announcement comes as Ukrainian forces undertake a counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming the southern city of Kherson. The operation is seen in Kyiv and in Washington as a vital bid to prevent the Kremlin from making good on its vow to absorb occupied territories via planned referendums. Senior U.S. officials have denounced Moscow’s annexation plan as a “sham.”

The new security assistance package includes ammunition for the high-mobility artillery rocket systems known as HIMARS and 75,000 howitzer rounds, as well as mortar systems, surface-to-air missiles, Javelin anti-armor missiles, Claymore mines and demolition explosives. It pushes the total U.S. military support for Ukraine past $9 billion since the war began, officials said. “These are all critical capabilities to help the Ukrainians repel the Russian offensive in the east and also to address evolving developments in the south and elsewhere,” said Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. He characterized the package as comprising the types of weaponry “the Ukrainian people are using so effectively to defend their country.”

Kahl said the Russian military has encountered considerable setbacks as a result of U.S. efforts to arm and equip Ukraine, indicating its forces have suffered an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 casualties in the past six months. The figure includes personnel killed and wounded, he said.  But the counteroffensive in Kherson will probably be a challenge for Ukrainian forces.

The government in Kyiv has signaled for weeks that it intends to move on the city, which before the invasion was home to approximately 300,000. And while the Ukrainians’ efforts have already helped recover some nearby villages, Russian units have taken notice, said Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at the think tank CNA and an expert on the Russian military.

It remains to be seen, he added, whether Washington’s latest arms transfer will prove sufficient to enable the Ukrainians to achieve their immediate objectives. “The Russians have redeployed a lot of defenses … in that area,” Gorenburg said. “Kherson is a large city. And the same problems of attacking a large city that the Russians faced in the early stages of their attack, the Ukrainians would face if the Russians chose to defend it.”

While the influx of munitions and antitank systems in Monday’s aid package are “good for stopping offensives,” Gorenburg said, “it’s not necessarily going to be as useful if you’ve got a bunch of infantry dug in.”

In Ukraine, the sense of urgency is dire, officials say. President Volodymyr Zelensky told members of Congress late last month that his military had only a few weeks to change the course of the war — a timeline driven in part by Russia’s threat to annex parts of occupied Ukraine as

soon as next month and by the knowledge that the operation would become exponentially more complicated if it drags into the winter.

Ukrainian leaders have pleaded with the West for more HIMARS, which along with other sophisticated weapons systems have enabled them to destroy Russian command posts, ammunition depots, air-defense sites, radar and communication nodes, and long-range artillery positions. To date, they have received 16 U.S.-produced systems, three British-made equivalents, and a promise from Germany that another three will be delivered, according to Kahl.

Zelensky’s top advisers have said they need dozens more if Ukraine is to drive back the Russian advance. When asked Monday if the absence of additional HIMARS was an indication that the United States was running low on its stock of the systems, Kahl declined to answer directly.

The weapons, he said, have been “very effective in hitting things” while making it “more difficult for Russia to move forces around the battlefield.” The Pentagon, Kahl added, is committed to “delivering weapons from the United States’ stocks when they are available.”

Though the long-range precision capabilities of HIMARS are not particularly suited to the close-range combat of a slow-moving counteroffensive, they have been useful in keeping Russian logistics — the weak underbelly that crippled its effort to sack Kyiv early in the war — on the back foot, experts say. By targeting Russian munitions depots within occupied parts of Ukraine, HIMARS strikes have made it more complicated for Russia to resupply its own front lines, causing “havoc in the supply lines” that could provide Ukraine with openings to make additional gains, Gorenburg said.

But the Ukrainian military has to be ready to take advantage of such opportunities, he said. Though Western governments have steadily pledged military assistance to Ukraine, in many cases the promised munitions have been slow to reach the front lines.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, as of July 1, the United States and Germany had delivered less than half of the military aid announced for Ukraine. (The institute said it plans to update its figures this month.)

But Zelensky wants his benefactors to do more than provide arms to help his country stave off the threat of annexation, a looming fate made more real Monday when the Russian-appointed head of the occupation administration in Zaporizhzhia signed a decree to move forward with a Sept. 11 referendum.

In an interview, Zelensky told The Washington Post that the United States and its allies should take the unprecedented step of banning all Russian travelers from their countries. “The most important sanctions are to close the borders — because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land,” Zelensky said. Russians should “live in their own world,” he added, “until they change their philosophy.”

 

Isabelle Khurshudyan in Kyiv contributed to this report.

Karoun Demirjian is a Pentagon correspondent for the Post. She was previously a national security reporter covering Capitol Hill, focusing on defense, foreign affairs, intelligence and policy matters concerning the Justice Department. She began working for The Post based in its Moscow bureau.  Twitter

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STOP TIPTOEING AROUND RUSSIA

It Is Time to End Washington’s Decades of Deference to Moscow

By Alexander Vindman
Foreign Affairs

Aug 8, 2022

For the last three decades, the United States has bent over backward to acknowledge Russia’s security concerns and allay its anxieties. The United States has done so at the expense of relations with more willing partners in Eastern Europe—Ukraine in particular. Instead of supporting the early stirrings of Ukrainian independence in 1991, for example, Washington sought to preserve the failing Soviet Union out of misplaced fear that it might collapse into civil war. And instead of imposing heavy costs on Russia for its authoritarianism at home and antidemocratic activities abroad, including in Ukraine, Washington has mostly looked the other way in a fruitless effort to deal cooperatively with Moscow.

The justification for this Russia-centric approach to Eastern Europe has fluctuated between hopes for a good relationship with the Kremlin and fears that the bilateral relationship could devolve into another cold war—or worse, a hot one. But the result has been U.S. national security priorities based on unrealistic aspirations instead of actual outcomes, particularly during moments of crisis. Even as evidence mounted that Russia’s belligerent behavior would not allow for a stable or predictable relationship, U.S. policy stayed the course, to the detriment of both U.S. national security interests and the security of Russia’s neighbors.

One would think that Russia’s war in Ukraine would have demanded a shift in U.S. strategic thinking. Instead, whether out of habit, reflex, or even prejudice (thinking of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” or of Ukrainians as “little Russians”), the primary decision makers in charge of U.S. foreign policy still privilege Russia over Ukraine.

The war has now reached an inflection point. The United States must decide whether it will help Ukraine approach the negotiating table with as much leverage as it can or watch Russia reorganize and resupply its troops, adapt its tactics, and commit to a long-term war of attrition. If Ukrainian democracy is going to prevail, U.S. foreign policymakers must finally prioritize dealing with Ukraine as it is rather than Russia as they would like it to be.

“THE UNGROUP” AND ITS LEGACY

Prioritizing Ukraine will require breaking the long-standing tradition of Russocentrism in trilateral U.S.-Ukrainian-Russian relations. In its contemporary form, that tradition dates back to 1989, when senior members of U.S. President George H. W. Bush’s administration set up a secret group of interagency staff members to plan for the possible dissolution of the Soviet Union. On July 18 of that year, Robert Gates, who was then deputy U.S. national security adviser, sent a memo to Bush titled “Thinking About the Unthinkable: Instability and Political

As Gates recalled in his 2007 memoir, From the Shadows, he argued that the United States “should very quietly begin some contingency planning as to possible U.S. responses, actions and policies in the event of leadership or internal policy changes or widespread ethnic violence and repression—and consider the implications for us of such developments.”

Soon thereafter, Gates tasked Condoleezza Rice, then the senior director for Soviet and East European affairs on the National Security Council, with assembling an “ungroup” that would take on this “unthinkable” task. (At the time, official U.S. policy still focused on preserving the Soviet Union and supporting reform efforts, so the ungroup’s name reflected both its seemingly impossible mandate and its Top Secret status.) The team Rice pulled together included trusted officials from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among them were Dennis Ross, then the director of policy planning at the State Department; Fritz Ermarth, the chair of the National Intelligence Council; Robert Blackwill, the national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union; Paul Wolfowitz, the undersecretary of defense for policy; and Eric Edelman, an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for Soviet and East European affairs.

Working in secrecy, these officials considered possible scenarios for Soviet collapse and potential U.S. responses. Written evidence of the group’s deliberations—or even its existence—is sparse. (I have mainly relied here on memoirs by people who served as high-level officials in the George H. W. Bush administration, some of which contain details of the ungroup without explicitly naming it, and on interviews with five former officials who were either participants in the group or had direct knowledge of its work.) But the conclusions the ungroup reached are clearly imprinted not just on U.S. foreign policy in the last years of the Soviet Union but also on U.S. priorities in the newly independent Soviet republics. The three greatest threats the United States would face in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the ungroup predicted, would be the proliferation of new nuclear weapons states; “loose nukes,” or the loss, theft, or sale of weapons-grade fissile material, especially to nonstate actors or countries with clandestine nuclear weapons programs; and conflicting loyalties in the Soviet military that might lead to civil war in the newly independent republics or in Russia itself.

When the unthinkable became inevitable and the Soviet Union began to crumble, mitigating these threats became the overarching goal of U.S. policy toward the former Soviet bloc. The United States pursued denuclearization in the former Soviet republics and partnership with an ideally strong, centralized Russian government in Moscow. If both goals could be accomplished, so the thinking went, then widespread ethnonationalist conflicts could be averted and command and control of the former Soviet arsenal could be maintained in a stable, whole Russia, thereby reducing the risks of a nuclear catastrophe.

The ungroup didn’t oppose the independence of the Soviet republics, but its fear of worst-case scenarios contributed to missteps and missed opportunities. For instance, it is hard not to hear echoes of the ungroup’s warnings in Bush’s infamous “Chicken Kyiv” speech in the Ukrainian capital on August 1, 1991. Mere weeks before Ukraine’s parliament adopted an act declaring the country’s independence, Bush declined to support the country’s right to self-determination, warning instead of “suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” In line with the ungroup’s

thinking, he privileged a carefully managed Soviet decline over the wishes of Ukrainians, who would go on to overwhelming vote for independence in a referendum at the end of the year.

Bush’s words provoked a visceral response from Ukrainians. For the Ukrainians who still remember the speech, or at least know of it, Bush’s explicit preference for the Soviet Union’s survival and his willingness to openly reject Ukrainian aspirations for statehood and independence were symbolic failures and practical indicators of where Ukraine fell in the hierarchy of U.S. relationships. One might argue that it was reasonable for the Bush administration to prioritize its relationship with the Soviet Union, which was, by any measure, a greater power than any of its potential successor states. It had enormous energy resources, a colossal military-industrial complex, and the ability to create massive headaches for Washington. But managing Soviet and later Russian threats did not have to come at the expense of engagement with the republics. Washington could have pursued both objectives at the same time, adapting to the Soviet Union’s decline while also hedging against future Russian irredentism by supporting self-determination in the emerging post-Soviet states.

Instead, Bush’s speech in Kyiv was an ignominious start to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship that could have easily been avoided. Bush could have stuck to platitudes about the promotion of peace, democracy, and self-determination and omitted the patronizing warning about civil conflict. After all, the United States had little influence over Ukraine’s decision to seek independence or the Soviet Union’s longevity. In the end, neither outcome conformed to U.S. policy preferences.

The Bush administration wasn’t fully united behind this overly cautious approach toward the collapsing Soviet Union; there were dissenters, both inside and outside the ungroup. For instance, as Michael McFaul and James Goldgeier note in Power and Purpose, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney advocated policies that would prevent the reemergence of a Soviet or post-Soviet threat in Eurasia. He thought the United States should seize the opportunity to undermine a great power rival and extend democracy and Western security institutions farther east.

Cheney’s arguments stopped short of predicting a Russian resurgence—something that was difficult to conceive of against the backdrop of immense economic, social, and political problems in Russia—but they foreshadowed key developments in U.S. foreign policy during the post-Soviet years. One episode from Gates’s memoir stands out: On September 5, 1991, a month after Bush’s Chicken Kyiv blunder, Cheney clashed with Secretary of State James Baker over the effects of the Soviet Union’s impending collapse. According to Gates, Cheney argued that the breakup was “in our interest,” adding that “if it is voluntary, some sort of association of the republics will happen. If democracy fails, we’re better off if the remaining pieces of the USSR are small.” Baker’s response was indicative of the more dominant strain of thinking within the ungroup: “Peaceful breakup is in our interest, not another Yugoslavia.”

According to the former officials I interviewed, those more in line with Cheney’s thinking, including Wolfowitz and Edelman, came to view post-Soviet European security as a zero-sum game with an enfeebled but still dangerous geopolitical rival in Moscow. They also saw a newly independent, vulnerable Ukraine in need of assistance and recognized that, if strengthened, it could serve as a bulwark against Russian revanchism. But these were minority views. Most influential players in the national security establishment agreed with Baker that U.S.-Russian relations had to form the bedrock of any post–Cold War security structure. They believed that if they could get Russia right, the country would become a bastion of stability in the region and even contribute to positive outcomes in Ukraine and elsewhere.

BLINDED BY THE MIGHT

This fixation on dealing with Moscow has proved remarkably durable. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all built their regional policies around their hopes and fears for Russia—hopes for a cooperative relationship and fears of another cold war. Now, President Joe Biden’s administration has come full circle with a risk assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine that could have been drawn up by the ungroup, one that is more focused on the internal Russian consequences of the conflict than on the consequences for Ukraine itself. The Soviet Union is long gone, but concerns about instability, Russia’s nuclear arsenal, regional conflict, and bilateral confrontation remain. To avoid provoking Moscow, the United States has implicitly acknowledged Russia’s influence in an imagined post-Soviet geopolitical space in Ukraine. It has also often filtered its decisions about Ukraine policy through the prism of Russia, balancing its objectives in Ukraine against its need for Russia’s cooperation on arms control, North Korean and Iranian nuclear proliferation, climate change, the Arctic, and space programs, among other things.

By comparison, the United States has been largely ambivalent toward Ukraine. It has engaged with the country when the two countries’ interests and values aligned. For instance, during the Clinton era, the United States made a clear push for democratization and denuclearization. But once denuclearization was attained and democratization had stagnated under Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the impetus for bilateral engagement declined. During Clinton’s second term and during the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States shifted away from Kyiv and toward collaboration with Moscow.

Misguided hope for a strategic partnership with a reformed Russia—or at the very least, a stable and predictable relationship with Moscow—seemed to outweigh much more achievable U.S. interests and investments in Ukraine in these years. The United States bought into the myth of Russian exceptionalism and deluded itself with distorted visions of the bilateral relationship, largely ignoring the signs of authoritarian consolidation within Russia and failing to heed the warnings from partners in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Even worse, because of its desire to accommodate Russia, the United States dismissed democratic progress in Ukraine—for instance, in the aftermath of pro-democratic movements in 2004–5 and 2013–14—and undermined prospects for a more fruitful long-term relationship with Kyiv. U.S. policymakers justified this approach on the grounds that drawing Russia in as a responsible member of the international community would enable democratization in the region. Later, when Russia’s lurch toward authoritarianism became undeniable, they justified it on the basis of stability, succumbing to fears of a return to Cold War–era tensions.

The United States was not necessarily wrong to pursue a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia. Where it erred was in continuing to pursue this objective long after there was no realistic chance of success, which should have been obvious by 2004, when Russia interfered in Ukraine’s elections on behalf of its preferred candidate, or at the very latest by 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia. Instead of looking for more cooperative partners, however, U.S. policymakers continued their futile courtship of Kremlin leadership. As a result, they passed up opportunities to invest in the U.S. relationship with Ukraine, which was always a more promising engine of democratization in the region.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

For most of the last 30 years, Kyiv has been a more willing U.S. partner than Moscow. But Washington chose not to see this. Had it been more receptive to Ukrainian overtures and sensitive to Ukrainian concerns, the United States might have offered something more than vague “security assurances” in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which accompanied Ukraine’s fateful decision to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, the agreement—signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States—required only consultations and a commitment to seek UN Security Council action in the event of violations (an obvious flaw, considering Russia’s veto power in that institution).

Other early attempts at bilateral cooperation came only at Ukraine’s insistence. In 1996, for instance, Kuchma requested the establishment of a special binational commission, named for him and U.S. Vice President Al Gore, to increase cooperation on trade, economic development, and security issues, among other things, as part of a closer strategic partnership. Although the Gore-Kuchma Commission was modeled after a similar U.S.-Russian commission, the dialogue it spawned never produced a real strategic partnership. Engagement with Russia was a major U.S. priority; engagement with Kyiv was an afterthought. After all, outcomes in Ukraine were still viewed as dependent upon outcomes in Russia.

The 2004–5 Orange Revolution offered another opportunity for cooperation. After thousands of Ukrainian demonstrators took to the streets to protest a fraudulent presidential runoff election, paving the way for a free and fair vote two months later, the United States could have provided greater financial and technical assistance to Ukrainian reform efforts and nurtured Ukrainian ambitions for European and transatlantic integration. A stronger partnership might have prevented the political infighting and failed reforms that eventually fueled popular disappointment with the pro-European government of President Viktor Yushchenko.

Instead, the United States opted for a policy of no man’s land. At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration pushed for the alliance to welcome Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. But the United States and other NATO members declined to spell out what Ukraine would need to do to accede, and they refused to draw up a membership action plan. The resulting declaration produced the worst possible balance of provocation and assurance, giving Russia a new grievance to exploit but making Ukraine no more secure.

These failures had painful consequences for Ukraine. If Yushchenko’s reforms had generally succeeded, Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate who was defeated after the Orange Revolution, might not have won the 2010 presidential election. Without a Yanukovych presidency, the Ukrainian government and armed forces might not have atrophied, and a rapacious kleptocracy might not have taken hold. The 2013–14 Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Euromaidan Revolution, might not have become necessary and Ukraine might not have become vulnerable to Russian aggression and Western ambivalence. The costs of Russia’s 2014 incursion into eastern Ukraine would have been significantly higher if the Ukrainian government and military had been intact and developing. Moreover, Russia would have had to contend with a stronger Western reaction and international opprobrium had the United States and the other signatories of the Budapest Memorandum demonstrated a stronger long-term commitment to Ukrainian democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

Even if none of this had happened, the West could have responded more forcefully to Russia’s 2014 invasion. A tougher reaction might have deterred further Russian aggression or at least better prepared Ukraine for a larger conflict. The United States and its allies helped modernize Ukraine’s military, but because they did not want to provoke Moscow, they declined to impose stiff-enough sanctions on Russia or provide heavy equipment or extensive training to Ukrainian troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated anyway. Now, the West is scrambling to make up for lost time.

The United States doesn’t deserve all the blame for these missed opportunities. Rampant corruption, political infighting, and abysmal leadership hamstrung Ukraine’s efforts at reform and development for years before the Orange Revolution. And it wasn’t until the 2013–14 revolution that Ukraine truly pivoted toward reform, transparency, democracy, and European integration. But even in the moments when Ukraine was a willing and able partner, the United States was reluctant to cooperate or upgrade U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Apprehension about the political response from Moscow always precluded a closer relationship with Kyiv.

This historical failure has become more evident as former U.S. government officials have been forced to defend their records on U.S. policy toward Ukraine. There are very few who can honestly say they did all they could in the eight years since Russia’s first invasion to aid Ukraine’s reform efforts, hasten the country’s integration with Europe, harden its defenses, and bolster deterrence. Whether that is because of willful ignorance or an institutional predilection for coddling Russia, there is no excuse for neglecting Ukraine.

Part of the problem may be a decades-long hangover from the Cold War during which the expertise, education, and training of Eurasia specialists in the national security establishment have atrophied. Moreover, virtually all the experts who have worked for the U.S. government over the last 30 years were trained Sovietologists, not Ukrainianists. As a result, they were ill prepared to recognize and understand Ukraine as a fully distinct cultural, ethnolinguistic, historical, and political entity. Rather, these Sovietologists, and the Russianists and Kremlinologists who filled their shoes, saw Russia’s “near abroad” as always having been in Moscow’s orbit. The physical borders of a newly independent Ukraine might have been clearly demarcated, but the mental boundaries of Ukraine’s geopolitics were still fettered to the imperial center in Moscow.

To make matters worse, area studies also declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to a dearth of funding for the languages and specialized knowledge needed to develop regional expertise. Those Soviet studies programs that survived were rebranded as Russian and Eastern European studies, Russian and Eurasian studies, or some other variant of this formulation, suggesting an equally privileged position for Russia relative to the rest of Eurasia.

With a few exceptions (most notably, Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute), most U.S. universities train their students in the Russian language, with a focus on Russian history, culture, and literature. Although the Slavic academic community has begun to reevaluate Russocentric approaches to the study of Eurasia, this shift has not yet been felt within the U.S. government. Russian and Eastern European expertise—or what little of it exists in government—has been treated as a proxy for knowledge of Ukraine. In the time I spent on the National Security Council, from 2018 to 2020, the results of this cumulative bias in national security education became obvious. Very few officials had specialized knowledge of the region, let alone of Ukraine, and among those, even fewer had Ukrainian language skills.

UNGROUP THINK ENDURES

The bias against Ukraine and toward Russia continues to this day. The Biden administration seems unable to accept that as long as Putin is in power, the best the United States can hope for is a cold war with Russia. In the meantime, Washington should be making every effort to prevent the conflict in Ukraine from turning into a long war of attrition that will only increase the risks of regional spillover as time passes. That means supporting Ukraine in full and giving it the equipment it needs to force Russia to sue for peace, not quivering in fear every time Putin or one of his mouthpieces says something about Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. The United States is a superpower. Russia is not. The Biden administration should act as if it knows the difference and deploy its vast resources so that Ukrainians can dictate the outcome in Ukraine.

But old habits die hard. According to two former senior U.S. officials who worked on Ukraine policy, including one who served in the Biden administration, the senior leadership of the National Security Council has acted as a spiritual successor to the ungroup. NSC officials have sought to limit military support for Ukraine based on a familiar logic—that it might escalate tensions with Moscow and upset remaining hopes of normalizing relations with the Kremlin. Even as Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have pledged to give Ukraine all the support it needs to win the war, NSC officials blocked the transfer of Soviet-era jets to Ukraine, declined to provide Ukraine with sufficient long-range air defenses to clear the skies of Russian planes, withheld the quantities of long-range rocket systems and munitions needed to destroy Russian targets within the theater of war, and halted discussion on the transfer of manned and unmanned aircraft required to neutralize Russian long-range attacks on Ukraine’s cities.

According to former officials, the NSC leadership believes that the war will pose significantly greater risks to the United States and global stability if Ukraine “wins too much.” They wish to avoid the collapse of Putin’s regime for fear of the same threats the ungroup identified three decades ago: nuclear proliferation, loose nukes, and civil war. And they have sought to reduce the likelihood of a bilateral confrontation between the United States and Russia, even at the risk of greatly overstating the probability of conventional and nuclear war. “While a key goal of the United States is to do the needful to support and defend Ukraine, another key goal is to ensure that we do not end up in a circumstance where we’re heading down the road towards a third world war,” said Jake Sullivan, who heads the NSC as Biden’s national security adviser, at the Aspen Security Forum last month. In this excessive concern over how Russia might react to U.S. policies, one can see the shadow of the ungroup.

The senior leadership of the NSC has acted as a spiritual successor to the ungroup.

Planning for every contingency is a responsible way to manage national security threats, but lowest-probability worst-case scenarios should not dictate U.S. actions. By looking for off-ramps and face-saving measures, the ungroup’s successors are perpetuating indecision at the highest levels of the Biden administration. Time that is wasted worrying about unlikely Russian responses to U.S. actions would be better spent backfilling allies’ weaponry, training Ukrainians on Western capabilities, and expediting more arms transfers to Ukraine.

The United States is slowly coming around to providing some of the right capabilities, but not in the necessary quantities and not before U.S. torpor degraded Ukraine’s ability to hold and reclaim territory in southern Ukraine and the Donbas. After months of deliberation, the Biden administration finally agreed to transfer high-mobility artillery rocket systems known as HIMARS, but it has refused to provide the longest range munitions needed to hit Russia’s long-range strike capabilities and military stockpiles. It remains unclear whether the administration will eventually send the munitions that can travel 190 miles, a significant improvement over the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions it is currently providing, which can travel only about 45 miles. The United States has also shied away from providing Ukraine with medium- and long-range surface-to-air missiles that could target Russian aircraft, missiles, and in the worst-case scenario, delivery systems for any possible tactical nuclear weapons. Ukraine could force Russia to the negotiating table faster if it had such capabilities. And providing sufficient weapons wouldn’t significantly undermine resourcing worst-case-scenario war plans against Russia. The U.S. government can do both.

The Biden administration has rightfully, if belatedly, begun to speak about a policy of Ukrainian victory on the battlefield, but it still has yet to match this rhetoric with the requisite military support. Thus far, the Biden administration has transferred a modest $8 billion in weapons to Ukraine. Additional security assistance has been blocked or delayed by the NSC or bogged down in the bureaucracy of the Department of Defense. Congress has passed a Lend-Lease Act for Ukraine, reviving a World War II–era program that gives the president enhanced authority to lend or lease large quantities of defense hardware to Ukraine. The Biden administration should be making greater use of this authority. It should also be leading the effort to establish logistical and sustainment centers within Ukraine, not hundreds of kilometers away in Poland and Romania but as close as possible to the eastern and southern battlefields. If Ukraine wins this war, it will be thanks not just to weapons and will but to staying power.

The United States should also do more to resolve the issue of grain exports. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine has disrupted global food-supply chains and prompted a growing list of countries to impose grain export bans. This problem will only intensify as Russian forces continue targeting grain storage facilities and transport networks and loot Ukrainian harvests in occupied territories. Providing escorts for Ukrainian merchant vessels and opening a humanitarian shipping corridor is one potential solution, albeit a risky one. More likely, grain shipments will continue to be transported slowly and inefficiently by rail, barge, and truck to countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria. Ukraine uses a wider rail gauge than its EU neighbors, and while rail capacity is up, the current speed and volume of rail transports is insufficient to remove the existing export backlog.

Transportation costs as well as the availability of trucks, barges, and suitable rail cars is another problem. The European Union has rolled out a plan for “solidarity lanes”—alternative logistics routes for Ukrainian agricultural exports through the EU to third countries—but this ad hoc emergency response is emblematic of the West’s failure to plan for long-term contingencies. In the two months since these lanes have been established, they have failed to clear shipping bottlenecks and left agricultural produce stranded short of its destination. On July 22, Russia agreed to allow grain exports to proceed. But just one day later, Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s largest seaport and cast the deal into doubt. Depending on when one starts counting—the 2014 seizure of Crimea or the February invasion—the United States and the EU have had either five months or eight years to plan for major export disruptions of this sort, so it is disappointing that they have had to scramble to piece together a patchwork solution to a predictable problem.

Again, however, this lack of preparation is more understandable when viewed through the West’s Russocentric lens. Planning for major disruptions in agricultural exports made little sense as long as a wider war was inconceivable. And even in the event of a war, the overriding Western assumption was that Russia could conquer Ukraine or force Kyiv to capitulate in short order; business would find a way to continue with only minimal disruption. The same faulty logic explains how Europe allowed itself to become dependent on Russian oil and gas—and how it has struggled to wean itself off these resources even after the danger they pose has been revealed. The United States and the EU must learn from these failures and interrogate the assumptions that blind them to potential threats, no matter how far-fetched those threats may seem in peacetime.

A FOOTHOLD FOR DEMOCRACY

The Biden administration has made democratic renewal a cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy agendas. There is no better way to demonstrate democratic resolve than by defending U.S. values and interests in Ukraine. A Ukrainian victory would not only limit Russia’s capacity for future military aggression but also cement democracy’s foothold in Eastern Europe, offering a powerful lesson to would-be authoritarian aggressors and democratic nations alike. A Ukrainian loss, by contrast, would signal an acceleration of the wave of authoritarianism and democratic decline that has washed over the globe in the last decade.

To ensure the triumph of democracy in Ukraine, the United States must first change its thinking patterns and learn from decades of mistakes. Recognizing the poisonous Russocentrism of U.S. foreign policy is the first step toward a better approach to U.S.-Ukrainian relations. As Russia’s war effort falters and the prospect of a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia begins to look unthinkable once again, it will be tempting to revert to old ways of thinking and plan for normalized relations with a post-Putin Russia. But such an outcome would once again risk privileging Russia over Ukraine. Even if Putin is deposed or replaced through some other means, the United States should not assume Russia can change for the better; rapprochement must be earned, not given. By freeing itself from its Russocentrism, Washington will also be better able to engage with and listen to its partners in Eastern and northern Europe, which have greater proximity to and more clarity on national security threats from Russia. Their knowledge and expertise will be critical to Ukraine’s victory over Russia, future Ukrainian reconstruction, the prosecution of war crimes, prosperity in Eastern Europe, and eventually, the establishment of thriving democracies across Eurasia.

Beneath the United States’ misplaced aspirations for a positive relationship with Russia lies immense hubris. Americans tend to believe they can accomplish anything, but perpetually discount the agency of their interlocutors. In truth, the United States never had the influence to unilaterally change Russia’s internal politics. But it did have the ability to nurture a more promising outcome with a more willing partner in Ukraine. Unless the United States fundamentally reorients its foreign policy, away from aspirations and toward outcomes, it will miss an even bigger opportunity to bring about a peaceful, democratic Eastern Europe.

 

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TIGHTER EXPORT CONTROLS ON ELECTRONICS COULD HAMPER RUSSIA’S WAR EFFORT

August 8, 2022

By Frank Gardner

BBC News

 

Russia’s military could be unable to operate the high-tech weapons and communications systems it has been using in Ukraine if the West were to tighten export controls, says a report.

Almost all Moscow’s modern military systems depend on western-made microelectronics, says the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report.

Moscow has found ways to bypass sanctions and export controls.

If the loopholes are closed, Russia’s military might be permanently degraded.

Researchers for Rusi, a UK think tank, spent months in Ukraine, examining 27 of Russia’s most modern military systems, either captured, brought down or abandoned by Russian troops.

They discovered at least 450 different kinds of unique, foreign-made components, most built in the US but also in other Western countries.

Products from familiar brands, like Sony and Texas Instruments, are turning up on the battlefield in Russian weapons systems. There is no suggestion those firms have been complicit in sending components to Russia.

Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at Rusi and one of the authors of the 60-page report, told the BBC there was a chance to permanently deny Russia access to these sensitive components – many of which are manufactured in the US, but also in Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany and France.

“If these components can be denied then the Russians will not be able to replenish the arsenal of equipment that they have expended in Ukraine,” Dr Watling says.

He points to Russia’s heavy reliance on artillery, missiles and rockets that have devastated the towns and villages of eastern Ukraine and allowed Russian ground forces to make slow, incremental advances through a shattered wasteland.

“The Russian system of fighting is largely dependent on what’s called reconnaissance strike: finding your targets and then hitting them with overwhelming firepower,” he says. “And what we found is that almost every link in that chain is dependent on Western components.”

Russia’s fleet of battlefield drones, which scout out the locations of Ukrainian positions before they can be bombarded with artillery, also use imported microelectronics, cameras and communications systems. All are high-tech and many should be subject to export controls.

In order for long-range ballistic and cruise missiles to be accurate, says Dr Watling, they have to have Western-made microchips.

So how exactly has Russia been able to get its hands on these high-tech components?

It seems to have found several methods. A clandestine network has been in existence in some form since Soviet times. Operated by Russian intelligence officers it uses intermediate shipment hubs like Hong Kong and Malaysia.

In addition, some companies exporting these vital components are unaware of who the end user really is.

Others, says Dr Watling, prefer not to ask too many questions.

The report’s authors believe time is running out to prevent new illicit pipelines being set up that will keep Russia’s military supplied with these vital components.

In order to cut off what the report calls this “silicon lifeline” and permanently degrade Russia’s ability to wage the kind of warfare it has in Ukraine, the West now has a unique window of opportunity to tighten export licence controls before it is too late.

Russia, it concludes, is scrambling to procure what it can in bulk before the net closes.

“The time to act is now,” says the Rusi report.

 

 

 

 

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THE UKRAINIANS ARE HITTING THE RUSSIANS WHERE THEY AREN’T 

David Axe

Forbes

August 8, 2022

The Russian army in Ukraine apparently is shifting a third of its forces in eastern Ukraine to southern Ukraine in order to defend against Ukrainian attacks in the south.

But that’s exposing gaps in Russian defenses in the east. And now the Ukrainian army reportedly is exploiting those gaps, especially around Sloviansk and Izium. Hitting the Russians where they aren’t.

In pressing these attacks, however, the Ukrainians risk overextending their own forces.

“Ukrainian forces are likely taking advantage of the redeployment of Russian forces away from the Sloviansk axis and conducted localized counterattacks to regain ground southwest of Izium and northwest of Sloviansk on Aug. 4,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. reported.

The purported Ukrainian counteroffensive around Izium, reportedly involving the 93rd Brigade and other units, at best has liberated a few villages such as Dibrovne, Mazanivka and Dmytrivka.

But the eastern counteroffensive belies what ISW described as a more profound shift in Russia’s wider war in Ukraine, which began in late February.

“Ukraine’s preparations for the counteroffensive in Kherson and the initial operations in that counteroffensive, combined with the dramatic weakening of Russian forces generally, appear to be allowing Ukraine to begin actively shaping the course of the war for the first time.”

Five months into the wider war, Kyiv finally has the momentum, according to ISW. It’s an open question, however, whether the Ukrainian army has the resources to sustain this momentum.

It’s clear how we got here. Russia went to war in Ukraine with too few troops to achieve its aims. Just 125 battalion tactical groups, each with 800 or so soldiers and divided between four main efforts: capturing Kyiv in the north, Kharkiv in the northeast, the free portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in the east and the entirety of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

But the Ukrainian army fought hard. Ukraine’s allies offered up intelligence as well as tens of billions of dollars worth of modern weaponry. After a month, Russia’s offensives around Kyiv and Kharkiv and along the Black Sea coast ground to a halt.

The Kremlin in late March pulled its troops away from Kyiv and paused attacks around Kharkiv and the half-occupied coast, shifting more than half its remaining battalions east to complete the occupations of Donetsk and Luhansk.

By early August, the Russian army was spent. It had buried thousands of its best troops and written off thousands of its best tanks, fighting vehicles and artillery. Those troops and vehicles that were left were concentrated in the east.

Russian authorities hastily organized a recruitment drive to form a few new battalions, but planned to deploy them to the front after just a month of training.

Russia’s exhaustion is Ukraine’s opportunity. The Ukrainian 17th Tank Brigade and other units in May launched a slow counteroffensive toward occupied Kherson on the Black Sea coast, taking advantage of the relative paucity of Russian forces in the area.

That counteroffensive intensified in July as the Ukrainians aimed their best new American-made artillery and rockets at supply dumps, bridges and trains behind Russian lines, steadily starving and isolating the Russian 49th Combined Arms Army in and around Kherson.

The Kremlin responded by shifting forces again—this time from the east to the south. “Russia’s war on Ukraine is about to enter a new phase,” the U.K. Defense Ministry stated.

More than a dozen of the roughly 50 battalion tactical groups in the east traveled by rail toward Kherson, occasionally stalling as the Ukrainians dropped a bridge or severed a rail line.

It’s an open question how much combat power these reinforcements still possess after five months of hard fighting.

In any event, the Russians this spring thinned the southern front to stiffen the eastern front, allowing the Ukrainians to counterattack in the south. Now the Russians are thinning the eastern front to stiffen the southern front—and the Ukrainians are counterattacking in the east, too.

Retired Australian army general Mick Ryan described Ukraine’s strategy as one of “corrosion.” “This strategy of corrosion sees Ukraine attacking the Russians where they are weak.”

If there’s a danger for Ukraine, it’s that its army also is exhausted. Ukraine enjoys geographic and morale advantages over Russia, yes. But Ukraine still is a much smaller and poorer country than Russia is—and its army is smaller. If raw counts of troops and tanks decided the winner of this war, the outcome would be clear.

They don’t. But that’s not to say numbers don’t matter. Ukraine has made good its own losses in part by pushing reservists and local territorial troops into the fight and leaning on saboteurs to chip away at Russian occupation forces.

Those forces might struggle to sustain intensive counteroffensives, retired U.S. Army general Mark Hertling explained. “For the [Ukrainian army] to conduct deliberate attacks mixed with relatively untrained territorials and resistance forces will be hard.”

Maybe Ukraine now has the momentum. But that momentum might not last if Ukraine can’t

muster the combat power to press its advantages—and defeat the Russians where the Russians are weakest.

 

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OPEN LETTER TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S SECRETARY GENERAL, AGNES CALLAMARD

By Bohdan Nahaylo

Aug. 8, 2022

Kyiv Post

Agnes Callamard:

Madam Secretary General, I am writing an open letter to you calling for your immediate resignation. This serves not only to acknowledge your mishandling of the notorious Amnesty International (AI) “report” concerning Ukraine (published on August 4), but to protect your organization’s reputation which you have seriously undermined.

You committed a gross error of judgment in a very delicate situation, but also publicly disgraced yourself with personal comments unbefitting an official in your position.

Your handling of AI’s accusations against the Ukrainian military has been disgraceful and reprehensible. You have stabbed Ukraine in the back while it is fighting for its very survival against Russian invaders, and at the same time you have shot your own organization in the foot by delivering a serious blow to its reputation.

Madam Secretary General, I have every right to address you personally in such a manner and call on you to do the honorable thing and go.

I am not only the current Chief Editor of the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s oldest English-language newspaper and its respected global voice. I am also a former activist and official of AI in the years when there was no doubt about what it stood for, how it operated, and the accountability of its Secretariat and leadership to its membership and national sections.

As a student, between 1971 and 1977, I was the co-founder of AI groups at the Universities of Leeds and Manitoba, and later the London School of Economics and Political Science.

From 1978 to 1982, I was AI’s Researcher on the USSR, heading its work within the Secretariat in London in defense of prisoners of conscience and human rights in the repressive Soviet domain.

I had the privilege of serving under AI’s legendary Secretary General Martin Ennals, and later his successor Thomas Hammarberg.

In those memorable days it was crystal clear what AI was about and what it’s three principal goals were: defense of prisoners of conscience worldwide; and opposition to both torture and the death penalty.

Today, I no longer know what AI’s mission is, other than it’s seeking to sustain itself and its well-paid staff among the plethora of human rights organizations that have sprung up in the last decades.

What is AI’s specialization and focus today, its niche and specific expertise that brings added value in comparison to others, apart from its reputation as a pioneer in the field and efficacy as a fundraiser?

I have observed the gradual blurring of AI’s classic focus as it has broadened its purview to encompass areas such as extrajudicial and political killings, forced disappearances, population displacement and refugees, armed conflicts and related atrocities, rights of indigenous populations, economic and social injustices stemming from globalization and domestic violence. In short, all possible areas where human right issues are present.

But excuse me, Madame Secretary General – is this what the founders of AI dreamt of?  That their clearly defined and targeted initiative would be transformed by their successors into such ambitious pretensions to claiming a universal human rights protection role of the sort mandated to the United Nations (particularly the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), or on a regional level to the Council of Europe or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe? That AI would implicitly challenge the International Committee of the Red Cross or the International Criminal Court in assessing human rights abuses in war zones?

That “Amnesty International” would gradually reconstitute itself as the “Be all, and end all” in the human rights domain, and let’s face it, increasingly, become the lucrative “business” it is now?

Or is fundraising the priority now and therefore the importance of being seen to be active on the broadest possible front regardless of AI’s genuine competencies and history?

I don’t know how much you earn Madame Secretary General, but from the last up-to-date figures provided by AI, your predecessor’s salary in 2018 was £145,000 GBP, which was just short of what the UK Prime Minister was earning.

Not bad for an international NGO traditionally funded by private individuals contributing through the collection tins, which also makes it quite understandable why sensationalism is so important to sustain attention and keep the revenues flowing in.

Which brings me to AI’s headline-seeking “report” glibly titled “Ukraine: Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians” on its site.  It raises many questions that need answering.  Here are some of the most obvious ones.

Does AI have any specific competence in this sphere related to the situation in the war-affected areas in Ukraine?  Who were the researchers sent to investigate the situation?  Can they vouch for the reliability of the witnesses they spoke to?

Why was the Ukrainian national section of AI ignored in such a delicate operation? Did AI’s investigators cooperate with the UN mission on the ground, the OSCE’s and ICRC’s representatives. And what was the level of their interaction with the Ukrainian authorities who permitted them to undertake such an investigation – did they in fact inform them up front on what the terms of their mission actually was, and what they intended to do with the findings?

Indeed, what was the purpose behind the investigation which produced the report. Why the sensational loud launch it was given which essentially throws a juicy bone to the Russian aggressors?  Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had recently already alluded to the issue in question but far more tactfully and without aggravating their hosts – the Ukrainian authorities, the national AI section and Ukrainian society generally.

Madam Secretary General, I don’t question AI’s right to conduct its own investigations in spheres falling within its recognized competency. I do however challenge how you went about this particular mission, the way your findings were presented, and your contemptuous and dismissive response to critics ranging from your own Ukrainian national section to the top leadership of Ukraine.

In glibly accusing the Ukrainian army of “endangering civilians” because it allegedly “establishes bases and operates weapons systems in populated residential areas,” AI fails to emphasize the following: that the shifting front line in the war zone very often runs through cities, towns and villages, with the Russian invaders employing scorched earth tactics through indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks; and that the Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly urged the local population to evacuate the targeted and exposed areas.

Forcing civilians to leave their homes would no doubt be construed by AI to be a violation of their basic rights.

Regrettably, because of the grave war crimes being committed by Russian aggressors on Ukrainian territory, there is no quick fix solution as implied by AI to reduce the suffering of the civilian population other than to force Russia to stop its invasion, occupation, and destruction of Ukraine and its people.

Yet by issuing your report in the form you chose, AI effectively suggested a moral equivalence between the behavior of the Russian invaders and Ukraine’s defenders, in turn amplifying the very anti-Ukrainian narrative that Russia has been promoting since 2014 when it invaded eastern Ukraine.

No wonder that in Russia where AI has long been regarded as a hostile intruder, the report has received widespread coverage in the officially controlled media and depicted as a vindication of Russia’s fake news accusations against Ukraine.

Madam Secretary General – all this is very serious. You have  bungled your mission to Ukraine and its report, alienating both your own exemplary national section of AI as well as the Ukrainian authorities. You also arrogantly dismissed criticism of your actions in an insensitive and offensive manner on your personal Twitter account.

Therefore, in order to protect the reputation of AI, the only honorable thing to do is to resign and allow a suitable successor to step in and restore the good name and sense of direction of a human rights organization that deserves better.

If you are not persuaded that this is what is needed, then let me also appeal to the International Board and national sections of AI to do the right thing and dismiss you.

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THIS JEWISH UKRAINIAN PROFESSOR COULD STILL BE TEACHING. HE CHOSE TO GO TO WAR INSTEAD.

‘For more than a dozen years I had been teaching students what civic duty is. For me, those words mean something,’ said Maksym Gon, 56.

By Helen Chervitz

August 04, 2022

Forward

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, a Jewish political science professor was handed a machine gun, and set out to the Eastern part of Ukraine to defend the civic values he had spent years imparting to his students.

At 56, Maksym Gon is no young soldier. And while he was drafted into the Ukrainian army, he did not have to go to war. University professors are exempt from service, and he already had his exemption in hand.

But Gon decided to go anyway. In February, during the first week of the conflict, the army put him on a train to Dnepr, and from there a bus to the front in the Donbas region to join the fighting. He looks forward to the day he can return to teaching and scholarship — Gon has authored several books and more than 200 papers. But he’s not leaving, he said, until he’s killed, wounded or the war ends.

Here is his story, as told to Helen Chervitz, the Forward’s correspondent in Kyiv, who — with the permission of Gon’s commanding officer — interviewed him over WhatsApp and email.

Translated from Ukrainian, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you join the army when you could have remained in safety?

For more than a dozen years I had been teaching students what civic duty is. For me, those words mean something. We must defend our right to freedom in the broadest sense of the word. Ukrainians do not want to become an internal colony of the Russian Empire again.  We do not want to return to the totalitarian society that modern Russia is.

Also, I believe that those of us who have already turned gray should be the first to go to war and not the boys who are just beginning to live their lives.

What did your family think about your decision to fight?

My wife supported my decision. My daughter on the eve of the invasion flew with her husband to Egypt on vacation, and then ended up as a refugee in Poland.

We didn’t want to worry our daughter, so we were not totally honest with her. We told her that I was volunteering to help the war effort, always on the road, and could rarely be reached. This

went on for some time. Eventually, my wife told our daughter the truth. Despite all the fears, my family understands that it was the right thing to do.

But since the day I mobilized, I have had some trouble communicating with them. The aggressors are fighting not only against the military but also against civilians, mercilessly destroying military but also civilian infrastructure.

What was your childhood like? What was it like growing up Jewish in Ukraine?

I grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My brother and I were born in the Western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, and graduated from a secondary school in nearby Rivne.

We were raised in the world of books  — there was a huge library in our house. Otherwise our childhood was rather typical: school, sports, music classes.

But I had no experience with Judaism. My parents, brought up under the Soviet regime, were both atheists.

Yet, I was conscious of the fact that I’m Jewish. My father explained that to me when I was in high school, while showing me a book about the Nuremberg trials. There was a part describing the execution of Jews in the town of Dubno, not far from Rivne.

I remember my brother reprimanding me when he learned that I was ashamed of my Jewish roots — to be a Jew in the Soviet Union, I would say, was not considered something to be proud of. But I was not guided by the precepts of Judaism and I remain outside the world of religion.  My parents didn’t give us a Jewish education, and the Soviet system definitely didn’t.

In truth, my Jewish identity is far from a determining factor in my decisions and actions. I am among those who oppose the aggressor because I want a simple thing: my daughter, relatives, and citizens of Ukraine as a nation to live in a democratic society. We, Jews and not-Jews, are all united in defending our homeland from a terrorist state for the right to have a future as an independent nation.

Have you experienced antisemitism?

When I was younger, during Soviet times, I served in the Russian army, and experienced prejudice because I was Jewish. This sort of prejudice when I was younger has made me not want to reveal that I’m Jewish.

I will tell you a funny story from when I was in the Soviet army. One day I was sitting in a smoking room with another Jew, Sasha Huberman. Two guys from Central Asia come and turn to us and say: “Guys, we heard that there are two Jews serving in our unit. What do Jews look like? Where can they be found?”

What would you like people outside Ukraine to know about the war?

The democratic world needs to know about Russia’s aggression against the sovereign Ukrainian state. It needs to know about Russia’s many war crimes, and how it’s commiting genocide against the people of Ukraine. I could go on, but Europeans and Americans must understand that

Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to restore the Soviet empire, and revive a terrorist state that would threaten everyone.

Are you well outfitted and supplied?

I received a military uniform and a machine gun on the day of mobilization. There was some delay before I received a helmet, body armor, and a first aid kit.

Have you lost friends during the war?

Fortunately, not. But two of them are seriously wounded.

How long are you going to be at the front?

Hopefully until the end of the war. Leaving the front before that means being wounded or killed. But I still have plans for the postwar future. I plan to go back to Rivne University, where I headed the political science department and most recently taught in the Department of World History.

I strongly believe that I still have a lot to say to the youth. I also want to write a book about what I have seen in the war and share my experiences.

How do you feel about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? What does it mean to you that he’s Jewish?

By and large, nothing. I did not like his populist slogans during the presidential campaign. I didn’t vote for him. But his win signified that Ukrainian society had achieved a level of democracy where it could support any candidate, regardless of his origin or religion.

Zelenskyy has tremendous support now. We will see how his political career proceeds. The image of the Jews in modern Ukraine will largely depend on this.

Have you ever thought about leaving the front?

To be honest, yes. Both the physical and psychological fatigue have taken their toll. The scale of artillery and rocket attacks has not yet significantly decreased in the Donbas, and the prospect of dying or becoming disabled is scary.

However, were I to leave, someone else would have to take my place. It will not be easy for him either, and his relatives will be waiting for him at home as mine do. That’s why I’m not leaving the front lines.

What would you say to young people who have avoided the draft?

In my observation, the average age of soldiers in the Ukrainian army is between 35 and 40, though many young people fight as well. Of course there are those in Ukraine who hide and evade the draft.

I would appeal to their consciences. Sooner or later they will have to ask themselves why they didn’t join the army and failed to protect the 350 Ukrainian children who have already died in

this war, and others who have had to endure the horrors of occupation, bombing and shelling. Evading the draft is a moral question, and not an acceptable choice for the vast majority of the youth of Ukraine.

What have you learned from your time at the front?

I know the meaning of human life. I also know — though it would seem unlikely for someone in my profession — how to sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground, and many other skills you learn in the military.

This war has also taught all of us in the army, and Ukrainians citizens in general, that independence is not just a word from the dictionary. Independence is essential for Ukrainians, with its numerous ethnic groups and different faiths, to belong to their communities. That includes, of course, Jews.