Ukraine round-up: Invasion seems to be imminent

Folks are starting to line up and take sides….

First, a new axis seems to be forming (or, more accurately, moving further out into the open):

Wasn’t the Iran nuclear deal such brilliant public policy? Imagine providing cover so one of these countries could develop a nuclear program to be used against western democracies. Talk about earning a Darwin Award.

But, so far, there is almost non-existent political will in Europe to take a hard stand on anything. From the Financial Times:

A cyber attack on Ukraine’s government last week has exposed widespread uncertainty in the EU over a pledge to punish Moscow for further aggression against Kyiv, with member states split over what scale of hostile action should trigger sanctions.

The EU, alongside the US and UK, has warned that Russia will face sanctions entailing “massive consequences and severe costs” in the event of an attack on Ukraine. They want to deter a feared assault sparked by the deployment of more than 100,000 troops close to the country’s border.

But EU countries do not agree on what scale of attack would trigger a response. Some argue that so-called hybrid attacks — such as deploying cyber weapons or a “false flag” operation sparking a response — may not meet the threshold, according to four officials involved in the discussions.

Official said informal talks last week hosted by France made clear the divergence. “There was no agreement at all on what aggression means, and very big differences between states,” said a person involved in the talks. “Some want all kinds of hybrid actions to be included, others aren’t far away from only full invasion [being enough to trigger sanctions].”

“We have reached unity on the need to respond to a Russian attack, but now we lack it on what a Russian attack should be defined as,” the person added. Officials from across the EU are continuing talks on the issue ahead of a summit of foreign ministers on Monday.

The cyber attack on Ukraine last week, which took down scores of government websites, has not been formally attributed to Moscow but Kyiv has said that so far evidence points to its being launched from Russia.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that they expect Russia to use cyber warfare before and during any potential military assault. The EU’s list of potential sanctions is being drawn up by the European Commission, involving what officials say is unprecedented co-ordination with US officials. But deployment will need approval from the 27 member states.

The debate comes as the US seeks to bring Brussels in line with the Biden administration’s approach to deterrence, amid concern that Russian president Vladimir Putin is stepping up possible attack preparations with renewed deployments of troops and arms to sites on Ukraine’s east and south.

Officials from some member states, particularly eastern and northern countries geographically closer to Russia, worry that without a defined trigger for sanctions bigger countries such as France or Germany would in effect take a political decision on whether the bloc should respond to any steps taken by Moscow.

That has raised concerns that moves short of a full invasion, such as the use of proxy fighters or intentional sabotage inside Ukraine used as a pretext for Russian intervention — as the US warned last week was being planned by Moscow — could be overlooked by some EU states reluctant to impose sanctions.

Considering that the purpose of the false flag operations is to provide a pretext for a bona fide land invasion, the notion that they should not respond is, well, nuts.

The bigger issue here is that we are dealing with aggressors that we are all economically dependent on. The endless and corrupt war on terror, which ended with spectacular incompetence only a couple months ago, has also probably soured leaders on staking anything on a milquetoast western military alliance.

From CNN, Russia is not only moving weaponry into the area, but field hospitals. In addition to holding joint military exercises with China and Iran, they have other joint military exercises going on with Belarus:

Ukraine has warned that Russia has “almost completed” its build-up of forces that could be used for an offensive against the country, compounding fears that Moscow could launch an invasion at any time.

According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s latest intelligence assessment — shared exclusively Tuesday with CNN — Russia has now deployed more than 127,000 troops in the region.”

The full strength of RF AF (Russian Federation’s Armed Forces) land group at the Ukrainian direction — (is) over 106,000 personnel. Together with the sea and air component, the total number of personnel is over 127,000 servicemen,” the assessment said.

The assessment called the situation “difficult,” and said Ukraine believes Russia is “trying to split and weaken the European Union and NATO.”

Russia’s actions are also “aimed at limiting the capabilities of the United States,” the assessment said, “to ensure security on the European continent.”

The assessment comes after three rounds of diplomatic talks between Russia and the West aimed at de-escalating the crisis failed to produce a resolution last week.US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said last Wednesday it was unclear whether Moscow intended to use the talks as a pretext to claim that diplomacy cannot work.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia has deployed troops from its central and eastern regions to its western border “on a permanent basis.” At the end of December and in January, Russia has been moving “stockpiles of ammunition, field hospitals and security services” to the border, it said, which according to Ukraine “confirms the preparation for offensive operations.”

The new assessment also said Russia supports more than 35,000 rebels in eastern Ukraine and has about 3,000 of its own military personnel based in rebel territory. Moscow denies having any forces in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s intelligence activity against Ukraine has also intensified, the assessment said, with additional radio and satellite traffic units being deployed near the Ukrainian border and reconnaissance flights along the border having tripled since this time last year.

The Ukrainian military also said Russia could use medium-range missile weapons to “destroy vital objects,” noting “additional tactical groups of ‘Iskander’ operational-tactical missiles” have been transferred to the border.

As of mid-January, there are 36 Iskander launchers near Ukraine, according to the assessment.

Iskander missiles are capable of striking targets 500-700 km (approximately 310-430 miles) away and could now target areas including the capital, Kyiv, it said.

The Ukrainian document warned a new potential front line has now emerged along its northern border with Belarus, a key Kremlin ally.

“The territory of Belarus should be considered as a full-fledged theater of operations that Russia can use to expand aggression against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian military intelligence document said.US State Department officials underlined those concerns Tuesday, saying Russia’s bolstered troop presence in Belarus has increased their capabilities along the Ukrainian border and led to heightened concerns about an invasion.”

What it represents is an increased capability for Russia to launch this attack. Increased opportunity, increased avenues, increased risk,” a senior US State Department official said, adding that the troops were moved into Belarus without sufficient notice.

In Belarus, Russia is “preying on (Belarusian leader Alexander) Lukashenko’s vulnerability and calling in some of those accumulated IOUs,” the official said.”

The timing is notable and of course raises concerns that Russia could intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises in order potentially to attack Ukraine from the North,” the official said.

While the official would not speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intent when it comes to moving troops into Belarus, the official described Putin as “an opportunist.”

“We’ve seen warning signs that the dynamics inside Belarus are enabling Russia to further prey on Lukashenko’s self-inflicted vulnerability,” the official said.US officials have said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen at any point in the next month or two.”

Russian military plans to begin activities several weeks before a military invasion are something we’ve been watching closely and our assessment has been that could happen anytime between mid-January and mid-February,” a second senior State Department official explained.

The United States is looking closely at whether Lukashenko still has the levers of control in his country — or whether the decision-making has been largely passed over to Russia.

Belarus has become an “increasingly destabilizing actor in the region” the first State Department official said, pointing to a number of recent actions such as manufacturing a migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, arresting activists and holding more than 900 political prisoners.

The Biden administration has helpfully told Ukrainians to “prepare for dark days.” I’m curious… How exactly does one “prepare” for a Russian invasion? This is all such an unbelievable joke.

It’s kind of incredible to think about how Congress hosted an impeachment theater not that long ago about the Trump administration daring to ask questions about now President Biden’s son’s dealings with Ukraine while Obama was president. It was considered Russian disinformation even to speak of this ahead of the 2020 election. And then within his first year in office, Biden folks make fools of our military and push us into war with Ukraine.

The corrupt gerontocracy is straight-up an existential crisis (as they love to say) for this country.

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