‘These are not rental cars’: As Ukraine pleads for tanks, the West holds back

Ukraine is asking urgently for modern tanks to help their forces seize on rapid gains in the northeast and take additional territory, but the West is dragging its feet, according to seven people with knowledge of the matter.

The tanks have shot to the top of Kyiv’s wish list as Ukraine presses its gains in the eastern Donbas region amid the shocking Russian collapse this month. The request took on new urgency this week after Vladimir Putin announced that he would mobilize 300,000 additional troops for the fight in Ukraine, a major escalation of the campaign.

The more modern American-made M-1 Abrams and German-made Leopard tanks would add a powerful punch that could help Kyiv’s forces capture and hold more ground, compared to the old Soviet-era tanks they currently operate, say experts and Ukrainian advisers. But top national security officials in both countries have hesitated to provide the tanks, in part due to the training and logistics challenges involved, according to U.S. officials, Ukrainian advisers and congressional aides.

The M-1s, for example, are a completely different system than the Soviet-era tanks Ukraine currently operates, and require significant maintenance and logistics support.

“It’s a pretty high hurdle to get Ukraine not only U.S.-made tanks but the parts to maintain them,” said one U.S. official, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing conversations. “You don’t want to give them something that’s going to break down and run out of gas and they can’t refuel them.”

For the immediate fight, the Leopards might be a better fit because they are similar to the tanks Ukraine already operates and require less fuel than the Abrams, the official said. But Germany has repeatedly rejected Ukraine’s request for the tanks, with Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht recently saying Berlin has agreed with NATO partners not to take such action “unilaterally.”

This debate over tanks is the latest skirmish in the back-and-forth over weapons between the West and Ukraine. At each step, the U.S. hesitated for months before providing a certain weapon – first the Stinger anti-air missiles, then later the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – concerned they would be a “red line” that would risk provoking Russia into a new escalation, only to change their mind and transfer the weapons as the war evolved and battlefield needs changed.

In this case, Western-style tanks would provide a major upgrade to Kyiv’s armored force in terms of range, speed and fire control, allowing Ukrainian forces to hit a Russian target up to a mile and a half away and move before the enemy can shoot back, said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army Europe.

But the training required and the logistical tail — an M-1 division can consume up to 600,000 gallons of fuel a day — could hinder Ukraine’s movement, he cautioned.

“These are not rental cars, there’s a lot that goes with it,” Hodges said. “You are basically adding hundreds of additional things that would have to be carried along. … You look at a U.S. Army tank company today, there are thousands of gallons of fuel following behind them every day.”

Kyiv’s request for Western-style tanks predates the most recent counteroffensive and Russia’s withdrawal from much of eastern Ukraine. But in the last two weeks, senior U.S. officials have discussed with European allies, including Germany, the possibility of sending tanks to the fight, according to a senior U.S. official and an individual familiar with the matter.

“It’s top of their list now, it didn’t used to be,” said one congressional staffer familiar with the request. “They are trying to retake territory and tanks are helpful for doing that.”

One adviser to the Ukrainian government said “the Ukrainians definitely want the Leopards” and have been frustrated that Germany has denied the permits to Spain and other countries that were willing to donate them. The Leopard tank is one of the most in-demand main battle tanks in Europe, in use in over a dozen countries.

NATO countries have been providing Ukraine with Soviet-era tanks and fighting vehicles over the course of the conflict, led by Poland, which donated about 250 T-72 tanks this spring. Warsaw inked a $1.1 billion deal in July to buy 250 of the most modern Abrams tanks to replace them.

The Germans have been backfilling smaller countries that are sending their own armored vehicles to Ukraine, and in May pledged to transfer 15 Leopards from their own stocks to the Czech Republic after they sent their own Russian-made armor to Kyiv. In August, Berlin agreed to send another 15 Leopards to Slovakia to replace the 30 armored infantry fighting vehicles they donated. Several countries, including Spain, requested German permission to hand their tanks over to Ukraine, but were denied the permits as Berlin continues to struggle with its longstanding policy of refusing to export arms to conflict zones.

German defense company Rheinmetall also requested government approval to export 88 Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but Berlin refused to grant permission.

Modern tanks could make a significant difference on the battlefield heading into the winter, as Putin readies the additional 300,000 troops for deployment. Experts said it’s not clear yet how long it will take Moscow to train and equip the troops for the fight, particularly as they have a mix of combat experience.

Speaking at a defense industry conference in Texas on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov said “winter also is a window of opportunity for [our] military,” and equipped with the “right armament and equipment, we can also succeed more during the wintertime.”

Before heading to Texas, Havrylov spent several days in Washington meeting with Pentagon and defense industry officials about what Ukraine is looking for in the coming months. He warned that while “some people here and in Europe still think that Russia is a sleeping bear, but in fact it is a frightened jackal in a bear’s skin.”

The call-up of former Russian soldiers back into the military won’t likely have any effect on the battlefield for months, but it has roiled Russian society. One-way flights out of Russia are selling out following the announcement, as ordinary Russians head for the exits, and videos show mass protests against the mobilization across the country.

The former Russian soldiers are poorly trained to begin with, as Russian mandatory military service is only one year, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War. The skills they do learn degrade over time as they get no “refresher training.”

“The partial mobilization announcement lacks clarity and will lack meaningful impact,” Hodges said. “It will be many months before they can be properly equipped and trained and organized/deployed to Ukraine. And without massive artillery support, these new soldiers will be pure cannon fodder, sitting in cold, wet trenches this winter as Ukrainian forces continue to press.”

Russia’s mobilization “is a debacle” for the Kremlin, said Dara Massicot, a Russian military expert at the RAND Corporation, and former Pentagon official.

Putting involuntary call-ups “piecemeal into units that are already significantly degraded, and putting them into a situation where the morale is already poor,” will likely only add to the moral and unit cohesion problems plaguing the Russian army, Massicot said.

“It’s not fixing their problems, it’s accelerating it.”

In the long-term, the U.S. recognizes there may come a day when Ukraine will need to transition to tanks compatible with NATO allies, said a senior Defense Department official. But for now, Soviet-era tanks are the best fit.

“Tanks are absolutely on the table along with other areas,” the official said. “In terms of the immediate fight, the tanks that are available that could be provided very quickly with little to no training are Soviet-type tanks, but we’re certainly open to other options provided that the training, maintenance and sustainment can be taken care of.”

Bryan Bender contributed to this report.

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  • 14 часов, 54 минуты назад 02.10.2022Defense
    Austin stops short of endorsing Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to directly endorse President Joe Biden’s statement that the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if China invaded, saying that America’s priority is helping Taiwan prepare to protect itself.

    Speaking on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” in an interview that aired Sunday, Austin said: “In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, we’re committed to helping Taiwan develop the capability to defend itself. And that work has gone on over time and will continue into the future.”

    In an interview that aired two weeks ago on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Biden stated that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were to be attacked and then reiterated his position when interviewer Scott Pelley asked him about it again.

    Zakaria noted that Biden went beyond what has been stated U.S. policy. He asked Austin: “Is the American military prepared to do that?”

    “The American military is always prepared to protect our interests, and live up to our commitments,” Austin said.

    He added: “I think the president was clear in providing his answers as he responded to a hypothetical question. But, again, we continue to work to make sure that we have the right capabilities in the right places to ensure that we help our allies maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

    American policy toward Taiwan has been fuzzy in many areas since the 1970s, when the U.S. belatedly recognized China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. Taiwan is where nationalist forces fled to at the conclusion of Mao Zedong’s victory in China’s long civil war in 1949, and China has always made it clear it wants Taiwan back.

    “We don’t want to see a unilateral change to the status quo,” Austin told Zakaria.

  • 2 дня, 6 часов назад 01.10.2022Defense
    ‘He’s not going to scare us’: Why the West isn’t buying Putin’s bluster

    Vladimir Putin gave a chest-thumping speech on Friday when he declared he was seizing four territories in Ukraine and lashed out at Western countries he claimed are influenced by “satanism.”

    But the reality in Ukraine tells a different story, one in which Russia continues to lose territory and where momentum has clearly shifted to the Ukrainians.

    World leaders, lawmakers and experts quickly dismissed Putin’s claims on Friday, using words such as “sham” and “phony” and “invented reality” to describe his declaration that territories that are not under his control will somehow become a part of Russia.

    “He’s not going to scare us nor intimidate us,” President Joe Biden said of Putin. “Putin’s actions are a sign he is struggling, the sham referendum he carried out, and his routine he put on … the United States is never going to recognize this, and quite frankly the world is not going to recognize it either.”

    Leaders from across Europe read from the same playbook, pledging to support Ukraine and punish Russia for subverting international law by attempting, again, to steal Ukrainian territory.

    The U.K.’s Chief of Defense Staff, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, who spoke to reporters Friday during a visit to Washington, called the annexation “the invented reality of Putin, and the actual reality is that he’s declared these four territories as part of Russia, but he doesn’t even have control of those four territories.”

    The swift rejection of Putin’s annexation announcement and his hints that he could use nuclear weapons show how global perception of his military and its competence have changed since the start of the war. His reputation, once feared, has been so damaged by his disastrous invasion that the threats he has used for so long to shape the geopolitical narrative no longer carry the power they once did.

    Moscow has faced a torrent of setbacks and humiliations since Ukrainians launched their two-pronged counteroffensive this month. Rapid gains using modern, NATO-furnished weapons forced massive and panicked Russian retreats around the city of Kherson, pushing Russian forces back into their own country or into several shrinking pockets inside Ukraine.

    The forecast for Russian forces over the next few weeks and months is equally grim, as conscripts with little training head to the front to face battle-hardened Ukrainians backed by new Western equipment, with more shipments arriving weekly.

    Videos have emerged online of Russian officers telling conscripts to bring their own medical supplies and sleeping bags to the front, as Moscow is expected to leave its troops unsupported in the field.

    “Russia doesn’t have enough people to crew the equipment that they’ve got,” Radakin said. “The equipment they’ve got is quite substantial, but much of it is ancient and in a bad condition. And then [Putin] had to go through this partial mobilization…you then start to see a feature of this mobilization is not people rushing to recruitment offices, but it’s people rushing to leave the country.”

    A senior Defense Department official, who like others in this story requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said there have been no significant moves by Russian forces either before or after Putin’s speech on Friday, further suggesting that nothing at all had changed on the ground, at least in the Kremlin’s favor.

    In fact, Russian troops in the city of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast — an area Putin on Friday said was now part of Russia — have been almost completely surrounded by Ukrainian forces who have cut off supply lines to the garrison. On Friday, Ukrainian commanders began calling for the Russian forces there to negotiate a surrender.

    Lyman has for months been a key logistics and supply hub for Russian forces fighting in the country’s east, and its loss would further cripple the already stretched Russian resupply lines in areas increasingly contested by Ukrainian forces.

    The continued loss of territory that Russia now claims as its own, along with the new sanctions packages announced by the U.S. and U.K. on Friday, will further squeeze the Kremlin’s ability to wage war and undermine the army’s ability to hold ground.

    “Russia will struggle to hold the territory it claims to have annexed,” the Institute for the Study of War said in an analysis Friday. “Putin likely intends annexation to freeze the war along the current frontlines and allow time for Russian mobilization to reconstitute Russian forces.”

    The institute, along with the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, also generated a map on Friday showing that the four territories ready to be annexed actually include wide swaths of land still controlled by Ukraine.

    While leaders have warned that declaring the territories part of Russia could serve as a pretext for escalating the war, Putin’s options are just as limited as they were before his announcement.

    Ukraine has hobbled Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and ship captains now avoid the coastline out of fear of being struck by missiles. The Russian air force mostly shies away from flying over Ukrainian airspace, and the Kremlin is woefully short of allies willing to enter the conflict. That leaves his ground force, which he is now stocking with untrained conscripts.

    And even though Putin and other Russian officials have hinted at deploying tactical nuclear weapons, the U.S. assesses the probability as low. “We’ve not seen anything that indicates we should change our posture,” one senior DoD official said.

    One European diplomat pointed out that Russian warnings against attacking the annexed territories ring hollow, and not only because Putin is already losing ground in those regions.

    “Ukraine has hit Russian targets in Crimea several times, and Putin didn’t respond even though he claims Crimea is now part of Russia, too,” the diplomat said.

    And more Western weapons are funneling into Ukraine. At the White House, national security adviser Jake Sullivan noted the $1.1 billion arms package announced this week, “and we expect to have another announcement of immediate security assistance to announce next week.”

    The package will be worth several hundred million dollars, an administration official confirmed to POLITICO.

    Drawing the aid out ensures that Ukraine can absorb the shipments of tens of thousands of artillery rounds, radars and armored vehicles, but also maintains the “psychological impact” of announcing regular packages of NATO-caliber weaponry to bolster Ukrainian allies and depress the morale of Russian forces and leadership, the official said.

    Putin is trying to raise that morale, but his bluster on Friday is little more than a “fiction” of Russia’s strength and competence, Radakin said. He cautioned against overreacting.

    That fiction “is a feature of weakness, and the pressure that Russia is under,” he said. “We’ve got to be very careful in responding to fictions.”

    Lara Seligman contributed to this report

  • 2 дня, 12 часов назад 30.09.2022Defense
    News The Buckshee

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday stopped short of backing Ukraine’s request for an “accelerated accession” to join NATO, hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the bid in response to Moscow declaring it had annexed four regions of Ukraine.

    When asked by POLITICO if she backed Ukraine’s NATO accession, Pelosi declined to explicitly endorse it, but said she supports a “security guarantee” for Kyiv.

    “We are very committed to democracy in Ukraine,” Pelosi said. “Let’s win this war. But I would be for them having a security guarantee.”

    Her remarks came shortly before the House passed a temporary government funding bill that provides $12 billion in Ukraine aid as the war enters the critical winter months. While Pelosi was speaking, lawmakers were hosting a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians outside the Capitol building, where a different message was delivered.

    “Ukraine’s fight is the reason we formed NATO in the first place,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who recently traveled to Kyiv and met with Zelenskyy. “After the Second World War, we recognized that an authoritarian regime cannot be allowed to wipe out a democratic country. I think we need to support this.”

    Ukraine’s NATO membership has long been a thorny subject in Washington due to Article 5 of the charter, which requires the U.S. to militarily defend any member-nation that comes under attack. As the likelihood of a fuller-scale Russian invasion rose in the past decade, Ukraine sought those security guarantees even as many in the U.S. became anxious over the prospect of fighting a war with Russia.

    The West fears that Ukraine’s immediate entry into NATO — which requires the unanimous approval of all 30 member-nations — would put the U.S. and Russia at war due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as well as its forced annexations announced Friday.

    Some allies of former President Donald Trump have even sought to convince Ukraine to commit to not joining NATO as a way to placate Vladimir Putin, even though the U.S. believed that the Russian leader was going to invade Ukraine anyway and was simply looking for a pretext.

    Earlier on Friday, Zelenskyy gave a video address asking for fast-track admission to NATO, following Putin’s declaration that four territories in Ukraine’s east would become a part of Russia.

    “We trust each other, we help each other and we protect each other. This is what the alliance is. De facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure,” Zelenskyy said.

    Putin, during a Friday ceremony at the Kremlin, vowed to use all the powers at his disposal to defend the four territories following forced annexation referendums this week.

    U.S. and European countries condemned the referendums as a pretext to further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would be imposing additional sanctions on Moscow in response to Putin’s latest move.

    During his address, Putin called upon Kyiv to cease military action and said Moscow was open to negotiations, although Ukraine has long insisted that it will not stop fighting until Russian forces pull out of the country.

    Zelenskyy responded in his own address that, although Ukraine was open to negotiations, it was “impossible” to do so with Putin, and would have to be with another Russian president.

    David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian lawmaker who joined lawmakers in Washington on Friday, said “we are ready to talk to Russia, but not to Putin.” Arakhamia also vowed that Ukraine will “forcefully” take back the eastern territories that were annexed.

  • 3 дня, 12 часов назад 29.09.2022Defense
    News The Buckshee

    Western allies are rushing to come up with plans to respond to the Kremlin’s forced annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine expected to be unveiled Friday, as Vladimir Putin pushes to consolidate dwindling gains in his faltering war.

    Putin is slated to deliver a speech Friday announcing the annexation of four Russian-occupied regions, just days after his government held widely condemned referendums orchestrated to produce the results the Kremlin sought.

    In Washington, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled legislation Thursday that would cut off military and economic aid to any country that recognizes the “annexed” territories as part of Russia. The legislation would also pressure the Biden administration to punish Russia swiftly, and could be attached to the annual defense policy bill in the coming weeks.

    “We are dealing with Hurricane Putin, for the lack of a better word,” Graham told reporters. “He’s trying to rewrite the map of Europe. He’s trying to do by force of arms what he can’t do by process.”

    Added Blumenthal: “It is a land grab. It’s a steal. And it is another craven, brazen tactic by Vladimir Putin to test the West’s support for Ukraine and we are having none of it.”

    On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters to expect “additional measures” in the days ahead. In the meantime, it didn’t appear that President Joe Biden would order any change in approach to the war — just the same mix of reprimands for Russia and support for Ukraine.

    “This also doesn’t change our thinking on the outlook. We’ve always been prepared for the long haul, and the Russians have as well,” a senior administration official told POLITICO.

    Some of Biden’s allies on the Hill, though, expressed concern about the impact of Putin’s annexation effort. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Putin’s move “makes it all the more difficult for the Ukrainians to find a way forward.”

    “It also should consolidate the condemnation of the world, because everybody knows that at the end of the day, it’s the biggest farce that has happened,” Menendez added.

    The move to lay claim to the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine’s south and east was relatively costless for Putin. He played to his domestic base and seemingly added legitimacy to his illegal invasion, regional experts said. Putin knew the sham votes would have little effect on the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they said.

    The goal was “to have a similar situation to Crimea,” where Russians seized the peninsula after another sham referendum, said Jeffrey Edmonds, who handled the Russia portfolio in the Obama administration’s National Security Council. “No one agrees with it, but no one is going to do anything about it either. That would give him a revised victory –– or enough of one –– because he would have hobbled Ukraine.”

    The question now is whether Russia will change its tactics following the Friday announcement.

    One theory is that Putin, aware that his military is struggling mightily against stiff Ukrainian resistance, might use the forced referendums to claim the mission is accomplished and send his troops home, experts said. Few inside and outside the administration think that’s the likeliest option, though, especially since the Ukrainians will keep fighting to reclaim all of their territories even if the Russians want to stop, said Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon and CIA official.

    Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties are keeping up pressure on the Biden administration. Blumenthal and Graham are also pushing legislation to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism — a move that the State Department thus far opposes.

    Lawmakers said they are encouraged by Ukraine’s resolve.

    “I see no letup whatsoever. None. If anything, strengthened determination,” Blumenthal said. “I think annexation is a ploy that will have no effect on Ukrainian will to fight and it should have no effect on our willingness to support that fight.”

    Graham said he sees no possibility of an off-ramp for Russia, particularly as Putin grows more provocative.

    “The world is not going to accept this annexation,” Graham said. “The idea of an off-ramp other than him withdrawing completely from Ukraine is becoming less and less.”

    The other possibility — the one seen as far more plausible — is that Russia settles in for a long-term fight. “The Russian government and people are now forced to be all in. If [Putin] couldn’t lose before, he certainly can’t lose now,” Edmonds said.

    Whatever Putin’s rationale, his forced referendums and looming annexation will be met with stiff resistance from the U.S. and its allies. “We are dead set against it,” one Western diplomat, who asked to speak anonymously before their government could formulate an official response, told POLITICO.

    Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö tweeted Thursday that the Russian-orchestrated voting in Ukraine will “not [affect] Ukraine’s borders, they don’t change the map. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory is indivisible and inviolable. Finland will not recognise the results of the illegal referenda or annexations.”

    Putin’s latest gambit to scratch out some wins comes as Ukrainian forces claw back territory in the east and south.

    The Ukrainian gains this month came in a lightning counteroffensive around the city of Kharkiv. Their success appeared to surprise even Kyiv, but over the past two weeks, the advances have slowed to a steady grind inflicting heavy losses on Russia. Kyiv’s forces have continued their advance east from the Oskil River. Farther south, Ukrainian forces are also taking territory around the Russian-occupied town of Lyman, pushing into the Donbas near Bakhmut. Russia is making incremental gains around Ukrainian-controlled Bakhmut, but at a heavy cost, a senior military official said.

    On the southern front around Kherson, Ukrainian forces are holding the gains they made at the beginning of the month, shelling the enemy in “deliberate and calibrated” operations, the official said. Kherson is the gateway to the strategic port city of Odesa, which is currently controlled by Kyiv.

    In retaliation for Ukraine’s gains, Russia is targeting critical civilian infrastructure, shelling dams and power generation stations and leaving millions without power.

    The Pentagon assesses that the first of the soldiers called up in Putin’s partial mobilization have arrived on the battlefield “in small numbers.” But officials are skeptical the Russian president will reach his goal of mobilizing 300,000, given his military’s dysfunction, and the increasing social unrest that has accompanied the conscription call-ups over the past week.

    The scale of Russia’s mobilization has been matched only twice before: once in 1914 and again in 1941, the senior military official said.

    “If you think about the consequences that they kind of feel that they’re in right now and you compare that to World War I and World War II, that certainly says a lot about what the Ukrainians have been able to do to the Russian army,” the official said.

    The mobilization indicates the Kremlin still sees a way to prolong the war and perhaps end up with a win or a draw simply through attrition of Ukrainian forces and the weakening of Western resolve if the fight drags on month after bloody month.

    “That they ultimately decided to do this suggests that they still think there is an operational play at this level,” said Dara Massicot, a Russian military expert at the RAND Corporation, and former Pentagon official. “They still think that this can save it” for Putin.

  • 4 дня, 4 часа назад 29.09.2022Defense
    Calls grow for China and India to talk sense into Putin

    The U.S. and its allies are hoping to rally the international community to send an unmistakable message to Vladimir Putin: Using nuclear weapons would prompt a crippling economic and diplomatic response, even from Russia’s friends.

    In particular, calls are growing inside and outside the Biden administration to enlist China and India, two major powers with close ties to Moscow, to amp up the pressure on Putin by signaling that even a limited nuclear strike in Ukraine would sever what few global lifelines Russia has left.

    “They could let Mr. Putin know what a disastrously bad idea any use of nuclear weapons would be,” said a U.S. official involved in nonproliferation policy who is advocating discreet overtures to Beijing and New Delhi for help.

    “They should do it. I hope they would,” added the official, who like others interviewed for this article asked not to be identified in order to discuss internal deliberations.

    A senior State Department official said that U.S. diplomats have been pressing Russia’s regional friends and foes alike to pressure Putin not to go the nuclear route.

    “We’d made the point in a number of conversations with countries in the Indo-Pacific region — ally, partner, or otherwise — of the importance of speaking with one voice against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” the official said, without specifying whether the U.S. was leaning on China and India. “Every country has a responsibility to lend its voice.”

    The Biden administration, meanwhile, is scrambling to get the United Nations to take action against Russia. One way could involve bypassing the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has a veto, to adopt a resolution that would condemn Moscow’s plans to annex large parts of eastern Ukraine and call on Russia to withdraw all its troops, U.S. officials said.

    Officials are considering using an obscure provision in the UN charter, a move the governing body also used in 1950, after the North Korean attack on South Korea. North Korea’s attack was backed by China and Russia — both veto-wielding Security Council members.

    But U.S. officials believe one of the most promising ways to change Putin’s mind is to lean on Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a pair of world leaders who are believed to have significant sway over Putin, according to current and former officials in the U.S. and Europe.

    China has not publicly criticized its ally and has continued its military cooperation with Moscow since the February invasion of Ukraine. Following the economic sanctions levied on Russia, China also became an even bigger market for Russian goods, particularly energy supplies.

    But it has also not signed any major economic deals with Moscow since the invasion, as expected. And Putin himself hinted at growing concerns from Beijing about Russia’s invasion at a meeting of heads of state at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Uzbekistan this month.

    “We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin said. “We understand your questions and concerns in this regard.”

    Xi in particular is seen as a potentially powerful voice in helping defuse the crisis from escalating further.

    “[Putin] and Xi have this unbounded friendship, right?” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former deputy secretary general of NATO who has negotiated with Putin, noting the two leaders’ warm relations in recent years. “He should be listening to his friend right now.”

    That also goes for Modi, a closer democratic ally to Washington than his Chinese counterpart, who expressed public displeasure at Putin’s actions in Ukraine at the meeting in Uzbekistan.

    And last week, India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, expressed renewed concern about the situation in Ukraine, singling out the threat of nuclear weapons.

    “The trajectory of the Ukraine conflict is a matter of profound concern for the entire international community,” he said at the UN. “The future outlook appears even more disturbing. The nuclear issue is of particular anxiety.”

    Gottemoeller, a professor at Stanford University who remains in close touch with American and foreign diplomats, said, “I believe that they are also sending deterrence messages to Putin as well.”

    “That, I hope, will be effective,” she added.

    The White House and State Department declined to comment on any efforts to encourage China or India to lean harder on Russia.

    Informal conversations intensified on Wednesday, as dozens of U.S., European and Russian arms control experts and former government officials held a private call to cobble together a solid international front.

    “There continue to be multiple Track II conversations,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, referring to nonofficial talks conducted with the knowledge of representatives’ foreign ministries.

    Putin and other top Russian officials have issued new — and increasingly bellicose — threats in recent days that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons if it felt threatened by what it claims is an effort by the United States and NATO to use Ukraine to attack Russia.

    That prompted the Biden administration to warn of “catastrophic consequences” should Moscow cross the nuclear threshold.

    The White House remains on alert about Putin’s nuclear threats but has seen no evidence that Russia has taken actions that indicate it plans to use nuclear arms, White House and Defense Department officials have insisted this week.

    U.S. intelligence also does not anticipate that posture will change after the announcement of the referendum results on Friday, according to the officials.

    The U.S. believes that Putin knows that his war effort is faltering and knows that he is facing pressure at home. The signs of chaos and protest stemming from the call-up of military reservists last week will only add to that — and make it impossible for Putin to obscure the failures of the war from the Russian people.

    As a result, there is “universal concern about the unprecedented nature of the nuclear threat we’re facing,” said Kimball, who participated in the private call among Western and Russian nuclear experts on Wednesday. “We’re trying to figure out how we can respond privately and publicly.”

    He sees a growing role of global leaders to “reinforce Biden’s caution against Putin’s flirtations with nuclear weapons use,” he added.

    “They should underscore why everyone loses, especially Russia, if Putin breaks the 77-year-long taboo against using nuclear weapons,” he added.

    The Biden administration is also trying to rally the United Nations to put new diplomatic pressure on Putin by devising ways to get a proposed resolution on Ukraine through the world body while avoiding a Russian veto at the U.N. Security Council.

    “If Russia uses its veto to shield itself from accountability, we will then look to the UN General Assembly to send an unmistakable message to Moscow,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday after a briefing on the Ukraine situation.

    One possible avenue is known as a “Uniting for Peace” resolution, used in 1950, that could bypass gridlock inside the Security Council, people familiar with the issue said.

    Kimball said he believes that provision would also be an option for the world body to respond forcefully if Russia resorted to nuclear weapons, including taking some collective action to respond to the damage.

    Gottemoeller contends one of the strongest deterrents to avoiding a detonation in the first place may be that a Russian nuclear attack in Ukraine would also obliterate one of Putin’s primary talking points: that the United States is the only nation to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

    Another U.S. official noted the pariah status that would come with using nuclear weapons.

    The person pointed out that “Russia has made nuclear threats on and off throughout the conflict” but has also “intermittently said they would never use a nuclear weapon.”

    The official also noted that Putin signed on to a declaration in January with the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France and China stating that a nuclear war must never be fought and can never be won.

    Gottemoeller predicts that Russian use of nuclear weapons would alienate the “Global South,” — South Asia, Latin America and Africa — that have had traditional economic and political ties to Moscow.

    “The Russians and Putin himself and his coterie have been very effective at keeping the Global South on his side and going out and saying, ‘Look at what the Americans are doing and their imperial partners like the U.K.’”, she said.

    “I do think that breaking the nuclear taboo would lose them the Global South,” she added. “They would become much more isolated than they have been in this crisis. [Putin] needs his customer base in China and in India.”

    Graham Allison, a former senior Pentagon official and longtime government adviser on nuclear policy, said that better relations between Washington and Beijing would “make a big difference” but “even in the absence of that, I think there’s an opportunity.”

    “If I were working on it,” Allison added. “I would be working that angle as strongly as possible.”

    Nahal Toosi, Jonathan Lemire and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

  • 4 дня, 14 часов назад 28.09.2022Defense
    Nuclear threats hang over Europe as weapons leaders gather in Brussels

    Top military weapons buyers from dozens of countries are huddling in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss next steps in arming Ukraine for the long haul, and to begin mapping out a strategy for replenishing their own stocks depleted by the war.

    The meeting takes place as the Kremlin hardens its position on the war, calling up 300,000 conscripts and threatening to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine continues its offensive against Russian-occupied territory.

    Northern European countries are also scrambling to figure out what happened to natural gas pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor that ruptured on Tuesday, halting Russian gas to the rest of the continent, though European leaders suspect the explosions were intentional.

    “It’s hard to imagine that it’s accidental,” Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, told reporters Tuesday, while Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki blamed Russia, saying “we do not know the details of what happened yet, but we can clearly see that it is an act of sabotage.”

    The day of meetings in Brussels comes under the umbrella of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, an ad hoc alliance of around 50 NATO, EU and other nations that have gathered every few weeks to discuss what military aid can be sent to Ukraine rapidly. Those meetings have spurred the transfer of American-made guided-missile launchers, along with multiple rocket launchers, armored vehicles and artillery systems from across Europe. William LaPlante, the Pentagon’s top acquisitions official, is convening Wednesday’s meeting.

    The Pentagon is also expected to announce a new $1.1 billion military aid package to Ukraine on Wednesday, two people with knowledge of the issue told POLITICO. The money will be drawn from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, leaving about $400 million in the account. The fund provides money to allow the U.S. government to sign contracts with defense firms to provide long-term support for Ukraine, including air defense systems, that take longer to build. The news of the package was first reported by Reuters.

    There is also $2.8 billion remaining in presidential drawdown authority, which allows President Joe Biden to pull weapons and equipment out of American military stocks for rapid shipment to Kyiv.

    Congress is set to approve a new tranche of $12.3 billion in military and economic funding for Ukraine this week as part of a deal to fund the federal government into December.

    The funding package includes another $3 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and a fresh $1.5 billion for the U.S. defense industry to backfill weapons and equipment that’s been sent into the fight. Lawmakers are also set to authorize the administration to ship up to $3.7 billion worth of weapons from military stockpiles to Ukraine.

    An increased supply of weapons to replace what’s been given to Ukraine couldn’t come quickly enough for frontline states in Europe. They fear that clogged supply chains, dwindling workforces and long lead times will leave their arsenals thinned out, complicating their material support to Kyiv in the months ahead.

    “There’s no quick replenishment fix,” a senior Finnish defense official told POLITICO and a group of reporters and experts in Helsinki last week, noting that everyone’s stocks are shrinking fast. “Big wars take a lot of bullets.”

    “We are having discussions with the defense industry because like most countries we have taken equipment, weapons, ammunition and so on from our stocks to send to Ukraine,” Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram told POLITICO during a visit to Washington for meetings at the Pentagon last week. “We will still look into that but at the same time … we have to replenish our own stocks and also purchase more for Ukraine.”

    In the meantime, officials in Europe’s east continue to push France and Germany to arm Kyiv, giving Ukraine the firepower it needs and smaller countries enough time to regrow their arsenals. “If other countries did as much as we are doing, the war would be over,” Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told the same group of reporters and experts in Riga last week.

    At issue are calls for Germany to give Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine to help in its grinding offensives in the south and east, something Berlin has so far refused to do until other allies also send heavy armor. The French are also in the mix for potentially sending more Caesar mobile howitzers to Ukraine, and Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived in Kyiv on an unannounced visit on Tuesday,

    Colonna’s visit comes as Moscow completes its forced annexation referendums in occupied eastern Ukrainian, which could allow Putin to falsely declare them as part of Russia.

    The votes have been slammed as theater by Western nations, who fear that a Russian announcement that the areas are now part of Russia could lead to nuclear escalation should Ukrainian forces continue their counteroffensives to liberate occupied territory.

    Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.

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