This does raise the question whether Erik Prince’s mercenaries have a current contract to do deeds in this operational area. ‘Tempo’ will still change, as maps reveal. Alexander Vindman speculates that Putin has fired Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, likely to provide a scapegoat for the difficulties in the invasion campaign. The Russian Central Bank just increased interest rates to 20% (from 9%). Zelensky now asks the EU for membership.
More than 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Zelensky and his government and prepare the ground for Moscow to take control, The Times has learnt.
The Wagner Group, a private militia run by one of President Putin’s closest allies and operating as an arm-length branch of the state, flew in mercenaries from Africa five weeks ago on a mission to decapitate Zelensky’s government in return for a handsome financial bonus.
Information about their mission reached the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning and hours later Kyiv declared a 36-hour “hard” curfew to sweep the city for Russian saboteurs, warning civilians that they would be seen as Kremlin agents and risked being “liquidated” if they stepped outside.
Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater and a Trump administration adviser, has recently attempted to cultivate a business relationship with a sanctioned Russian paramilitary organization called the Wagner Group, The Intercept reported on Monday. The Trump administration sanctioned Wagner in 2017 for having “recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside [Russian-backed] separatists in eastern Ukraine” in 2014. “In my experience, the act of soliciting from a sanctioned party would indeed be an apparent violation,” Brian O’Toole, a former senior sanctions official at the Treasury Department, told The Intercept, adding that offering to do business with Wagner “would seem to be a fairly egregious thing to do.”
Prince, who is Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother, reportedly met face to face with a top official at Wagner to offer his mercenary forces in at least two ongoing African conflicts, according to The Intercept. Wagner officials reportedly turned him down. The semi-private Russian mercenary firm has been commissioned by the Russian government in a number of high-conflict areas, including Ukraine, Syria, and several African countries. The U.S. military previously killed dozens of Wagner mercenaries in defending a Syrian oil facility in 2018. “Wagner Group is an instrument of Russian policy. It works under the GRU, which is the Russian military intelligence,” Sean McFate, a former military contractor, told The Intercept.
3/24 According to @DanLamothe, the latest background briefing at the Pentagon described how Russia now has ‘about two-thirds of its combat power initially arrayed at the Ukrainian border in the fight’.
4/24 Additionally, Russia is ‘struggling with fuel and logistical issues’. Ukrainian airspace ‘remains contested’ with Ukrainian aircraft and air defense systems ‘degraded but still functional.’
5/24 According to other sources, the Russian defence ministry has ordered units to resume their offensive from all directions after a "pause" on Friday for possible negotiations with Ukraine.
6/24 We are at a critical juncture of the Russian campaign and the Ukrainian defence. Over the next 72 hours, we are likely to see a lethality race. The west will be racing to get more weapons and precision munitions into Ukraine.
7/24 Russia will be racing to achieve some form of tactical breakthrough. This has eluded them so far. Their tactical operations and influence campaign have failed to yield significant results. The most significant outcome has been hardening Ukrainian resolve & Western support.
8/24 As a result, we may see a step up in the level of ferocity and firepower from the Russian forces. As @KofmanMichael
has noted, ‘we've seen a shift in Russian targeting towards critical civilian infrastructure, greater use of MLRS, and artillery in suburban areas.’
9/24 Combining this with the potential for urban operations in and around Kyiv and other cities, we may see a greater Russian tempo of operations and the commitment of more forces. These are brutal operations that absorb massive amounts of military personnel.
10/24 Urban operations are also difficult to coordinate, full of friction, & result in significant civilian casualties. This is heightened if civilians, using Molotov cocktails, are treated as combatants by Russians. More on urban operation at @antkingbruce & @SpencerGuard
11/24 Therefore the coming days will probably see escalating violence, greater uncertainty and more civilian casualties.
12/24 Concurrently, there is the issue of the Russian offer of negotiations. My sense is that Russia is in a weaker position for such talks than they were last week before invasion. The Ukrainians have called the Russian bluff.
13/24 What can Russia ask for that it hasn’t been able to take by force?
14/24 The Russian call for negotiations may be a ploy to gain time. Russian diplomacy before the invasion was designed to coerce the Ukrainians as well as buy time.
15/24 The Russians may use negotiations to buy time to deploy additional ground forces from the periphery of Ukraine, as well as sending air, ground combat, air defence, artillery and other forces from more distant garrisons.
16/24 They may also use negotiations to give Russia time to step up industrial production to replace depleted stocks of precision weapons. And fix their logistics on the ground.
17/24 Also playing into the negotiations is that Putin probably knows (if he is being briefed accurately by advisors) that this isn’t going well, and he has to salvage his domestic position.
18/24 I need to mention the nuclear question. There has been a lot of reporting about Russia’s nuclear posture.
19/24 However, Russian doctrine and their normal practice is to mention nuclear weapons. While we can’t ignore this issue, we should not over-react. This is a useful precis from @RANDCorporation
on Russian military doctrine and the role of nukes: shorturl.at/bghkC
20/24 Finally, there is a long way to go in this campaign. We should not discount a change in the Russian operational approach that might lead to greater success.
21/24 So far, they have been unimpressive. As @kofmanmichale writes, ‘the Russian op is a bizarre scheme, based on terrible political assumptions, with poor relationship to their training & capabilities.’
22/24 As they showed between 1st and 2nd Chechen wars, the Russians are capable of learning, adapting, and improving their tactics and operational approach.
23/24 But the Ukrainians are also learning. In war, as I note in #WarTransformed
, this adaptation battle is constant. The side that adapts faster & better wins. So far, the Ukrainians are demonstrating more proficiency is this part of the profession of arms than the Russians.
24/24 My observations, part 4, ends. More tomorrow.
• • •
To be perfectly frank the only way these sort of tyrannical sanctions, namely a full freeze of all central bank transactions, are justifiable in light of the unimaginable costs they will impose on the Russian people, is if they lead to Putin getting murdered in the near future.
Needless to say this is a huge gamble. While there are already cracks emerging (public dissent among a few of his key cronies), his response might well be to isolate himself, reduce other peoples' purchase on decision making – even dangerously shorten the chain of command.
This would naturally heighten the escalation risk, even though the current level of alertness of the nuclear arsenal isn't per se something panic about.
The SWIFT and settlement system sanction matter, but they still exclude energy. The ones that matter are the asset freezes, and they target the economy as whole imposing great burden. Not only is the payoff unclear (it will not stop the war) but the risk seems unacceptable.
• • •