The war took a strange turn even as “the U.S. must choose urgent diplomacy over military escalation, as the latter could constitute a “death warrant for the species, with no victors.” Yet no stalemate has yet arrived and the experts’ timetables seem the same. Spin continues with much noise, today’s being about nonexistent bioweapons.
The war continues its longer path to negotiated peace, contrasted with the usual external threats making concessions difficult including daily bombardment and increased Russian offensive strikes. Cities continue to be encircled and some humanitarian corridors exist, however vulnerable. In Kherson the use of the Russian paramilitary police to suppress the local population has been noted.
Nuclear plants and reactors could still be held hostage as will noisiness about chemical-biological warfare as proxies for the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Sanctions continue as companies defect from Russia in the face of a financially constrained but not yet isolated Russian economy. Global inflation and commodity prices begin to move up in the midst of continued war. Refugee numbers now reach 2.3 million.
Even as Ukraine moves toward the EU, it likely will be seen as a negotiating point signifying compensation for ultimately rejecting NATO membership, who continue to hesitate in 00...moving toward direct military confrontation of Russia. “Since Putin’s major demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, or if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.”
The US DoD briefed the media further to address the misinformation about bioweapons labs. There are no US DoD bioweapon labs in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. Today’s Pentagon briefing was unambiguous:
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL (1): At this point, David, we have indications that they are -- that there could be -- that this public narrative of theirs, that that public narrative could be setting the conditions for a false flag event of some kind. What (omitted) we said publicly is that could be, could be the actual use of some sort of agents, to, again to -- that they would blame on the Ukrainians and by association, perhaps even the United States to create, again, an excuse for potentially more aggressive military action or some other way of -- of advancing their military interest in Ukraine; could. Well -- that's -- that's about as far as we can go right now.
But the larger point is that the narrative they're putting out there, assisted by the Chinese, is false. It's just not true, as our defense intelligence official laid out for you. Again, we'll -- we'll provide you a fact sheet that -- that lays out the facts about this program, and what it's doing, and just as critical, where it's not doing.
There is no change in the air war even as bombardment continues for surrounded cities like Mariupol. “...(T)here's very little territory of Ukraine that is not covered in some way or in some fashion by Russian surface-to-air missile systems. And they have the vast, vast majority, as I said, more than 90 percent of their capability available to them.”
Similarly Putin has been reported to have fired eight generals, but this is actually normal considering the average firing rate for generals during his presidential(sic) tenure.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to have fired eight top generals in the two weeks since he sent forces across the border into Ukraine.
A March 1 report from independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova claimed that Kremlin insiders were privately declaring the invasion “a clusterf–k.”
Whether tailored or not, it seems Putin is not impressed with the way the invasion is unfolding as Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine's security council, claimed eight Russian commanders have been fired since troops first crossed the border and Russia began to experience heavy losses.
- Yesterday, there was a great deal of focus on the U.S. scuttling a Polish proposal to send MiG-29 jets to Ukraine via U.S. officials in exchange for the United State sending Poland some F-16s. It’s seen as high-risk with limited value in the Pentagon’s eyes.
- Today, the senior U.S. defense official briefing reporters said the U.S. *is* considering sending other sophisticated weapons, including air-defense weapons that are more significant than MANPADS. That means something better than a Stinger missile.
- The senior defense official declined to say what that more sophisticated system could be. One option might be the S-300, an air defense system the Ukrainians have in limited quantities. Some NATO countries, such as Bulgaria, have it available.
- Some troubling battlefield updates: Chernihiv is now assessed to be isolated, joining Mariupol in that regard. Bombardment and ground battles continue in numerous locations.
- The front of the long-stalled Russian military convoy north of Kyiv has made incremental progress, moving from about 20 km outside the city center to 15 km away. That's a new development.
- Another advance on Kyiv is now 40 km to the east of the city, the senior U.S. defense official says.
- U.S. has made weapons deliveries to the Ukrainians within the last 24 hours, with more planned within the day. Plan is to get them “as much and as fast as we can, for as long as we can.” No transfer has been interrupted by the Russians – “yet,” the senior defense official says.
- Pentagon now assesses that 775 missiles have now been launched at Ukraine during the invasion. That number continues to rise by a few dozen per day.
- Pentagon throws cold water on any proposal to send Patriot missiles to Ukraine. Ukrainians are not familiar with it, so doing so would requiring U.S. troops in Ukraine, senior defense official says.
- U.S. does not have an assessment for what kind of weapon was used on the hospital in Mariupol.
- “It’s entirely possible that we will never know that,” the senior U.S. defense official says, acknowledging the vast destruction caused.
Pentagon also attempts again to stamp out conspiracy theories that there are U.S. bioweapon labs in Ukraine.
"We're doing this because the Russians and Chinese thought it was important to put out a bunch of lies," the senior defense official says. "They just flat-out lie."
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Russia has moved to encircle other key cities throughout the north as it advances toward Kyiv, according to intelligence reports from Britain’s Ministry of Defense. Attempts to take Chernihiv have not been successful, while advances from Sumy through the sparsely populated areas to the east of Kyiv have been met with less resistance, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group.
Russia’s ground forces, including armored vehicles and tanks, have made less progress in the dense, urban areas around Kyiv. Ukrainian forces have launched ambushes using small, nimble military units to sneak up on Russian forces. These units are armed with anti-tank missiles that are used to counter Russia’s heavy machinery.
When U.S. officials sanctioned Russian banks this month, it became illegal for U.S. companies to do business directly with major Russian financial institutions. But the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, issued a memo affirming the legal legitimacy of trading Russian assets in “secondary markets” — those not directly involving the Russian banks. That’s why Goldman can act as a broker.
The sanctions action “does not prohibit trading in the secondary markets for debt or equity” of the Russian central bank, the Russian national wealth fund or the Russian Finance Ministry, as long as those institutions aren’t parties to the trades and the debts were issued before March 1, OFAC wrote.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine two weeks ago, the near-unanimous global assumption was that it would score a quick and easy military victory over its neighbor to the west.
But now — with the Ukrainians waging a fierce resistance and Russian forces bogged down outside nearly every major city — the Biden administration and its allies say they see no clear end to the military phase of this conflict, according to interviews with 17 administration officials, diplomats, policymakers and experts. The situation seems destined to result in an even deadlier and more protracted slog, wreaking devastation in Ukraine and causing a massive humanitarian crisis.
As the war enters its third week, President Biden and his team are also entering a murkier, more difficult stage of the conflict, where the new challenge is how to control the largely uncontrollable: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his endgame, whatever that may be.
The Biden administration has successfully encouraged NATO and other Western allies to use nearly every available lever of power to sanction and punish Putin, but those efforts so far have had little discernible influence over the Russian president, who has only escalated his military offensive on cities and towns across Ukraine.
Any outcome represents a lose-lose proposition, as even an eventual Russian defeat is likely to leave Ukraine decimated and its European neighbors bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis. So far, the United Nations human rights office reports that 516 civilians in Ukraine — including 37 children — have been killed since Feb. 24, adding that the actual toll is likely much higher. And during that same period, as many as 4,000 Russian troops may have died, a senior U.S. military officer said.
“The longer that this goes on, the likelier it will be that Russia ends up being defeated, but also more likely that more people will die,” said a European diplomat, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment of the crisis.
Jim Townsend, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, said that right now, “everyone is kind of feeling their way forward.”
“The endgame is going to be pretty complicated, and the endgame is going to have to deal with Putin as who he is, and it’s also going to have to deal with getting Ukraine back on its feet and also deal with what to do with these sanctions,” Townsend said.
1. Ukraine agrees not to join NATO. Putin justified his initial moves toward an invasion by complaining that Ukraine was about to join the U.S.-led military alliance, so he can tout this as a win.
2. Ukraine recognizes Crimea as part of Russian territory. This might be hard to swallow rhetorically, but it amounts to accepting a reality.
3. Russia must withdraw all of its military personnel and equipment from Ukraine—not just back to Russian territory, but back to their original home bases.
4. A free and fair referendum, controlled and supervised by the United Nations, will be held in Ukraine’s Donbas region to see if its residents want the Donetsk and Luhansk districts to be autonomous republics within Ukraine or a newly annexed part of Russia.
5. The Western governments’ economic sanctions would be lifted gradually, as Russia carries out the terms of the peace treaty.
I am not concerned about "provoking" Putin in the sense of pissing him off. He's already pissed off; that's his natural state now. But this is a true crisis - that is, there's a high risk of general war and an unsustainable situation. /2
The outcome of this crisis may well be that NATO will have to fight. If that happens, so be it. But a crisis is something you try to prevent from getting out of control. You do what you can to defend your interests while not letting a terrible fire become a conflagration. /3
On that score, I *am* concerned about stability. I have no real fear that Putin is going to go nuts and order a massive strike on America. He knows how that ends. But I am worried that he is reckless and, frankly, not that competent. He has always been a lousy strategist. /4
Worse, he's desperate. This was a gigantic blunder and now it is turning into an existential and *self-inflicted* threat to his regime. He will take more gambles now because there's now an asymmetry of interests. Ukraine and America and NATO will survive; his regime might not. /5
So when Putin says, for example, "weapons are interference," I couldn't care less; he knows that to stop this, he'd have to attack NATO. If he does...again, he knows how that ends. He's going to yell about assistance to Ukraine. Let him. He created this.
Also, I am sure there are Russian elites around Putin who hate him for this war. But NATO blasting the crap out of Russian positions (which we could do easily)? That's a different world. If I were Putin *and his men*, facing defeat from NATO, I might take some huge risks. /7
This is different than saying "Give in to nuclear threats." I argued for ignoring his initial threats. I still do. But I am not in favor of creating a situation where so much military action is in play that one misstep can become a cataclysm *even Putin* doesn't want. /8
In effect, I'm saying that Biden and NATO have to be the more responsible parties here to protect world peace. And yes, that sucks. But Kennedy had to help Khrushchev out of the Cuban bungle, even though that was no fault of the United States. /9
Our goals should be to raise the costs of war to Russia while closing off Putin's attempts to inflict the burden of escalation on *us*. If he wants to escalate, he should have to take the step. This is a tight needle to thread, that's why we pay diplomats and elect leaders. /10
Putin is losing this war, even if he "wins" in the short term. Russia will be weaker when it is over. If refusing to be baited into war while Putin is destroying his own army seems like "weakness" or "being afraid" to you, I can't help you. /11x
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Ukraine may not have made the most judicious choices, but it had nothing like the options available to the imperial states. I suspect that the sanctions will drive Russia to even greater dependency on China. Barring a serious change of course, Russia is a kleptocratic petrostate relying on a resource that must decline sharply or we are all finished. It’s not clear whether its financial system can weather a sharp attack, through sanctions or other means. All the more reason to offer an escape hatch with a grimace.