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7 Things to Know
- Ukrainian military officials have taken turns this week to predict a major offensive by the Russian armed forces in February-March. Ukraine's General Staff said on Feb. 2 that there are clear signs that Russian forces are getting ready for a major push in the east. Ukraine’s military intelligence claimed the same day that Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to capture the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March. A source at the headquarters of the Russian group in Ukraine confirmed preparations for an offensive to Novaya Gazeta Evropa.
- The new $2.2 billion military aid package the U.S. has prepared for Ukraine includes a precise munition with a range farther than any bomb the U.S. has so far provided to Ukraine. The Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb is a precision-guided bomb that is strapped to a rocket and has a range of 94 miles. While agreeing to provide these 250-pound bombs, which can reach targets in Crimea as well as in the land bridge to Russia, the U.S. has rejected Ukraine’s request for F-16 fighter jets, as did Germany. In contrast, France and the Netherlands have signaled openness to discussing supplies of fighter jets to Ukraine.
- The share of Americans who say the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine has grown from 7% in March 2022 to 26% in January 2023, according to Pew. The share of Americans who say the U.S. is not providing enough aid to Ukraine has decreased from 42% to 20% over the same period, while the share of Americans who say the U.S. is providing about the right amount of aid decreased from 32% to 31%, according to Pew. The share of Americans who see the conflict as a major threat to U.S. interests declined from 50% to 35% in that period.
- Ukrainian law-enforcers have continued high-profile searches, firings and investigations of corruption and misconduct by multiple officials as Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, hosted the Pentagon’s inspector general, Robert Storch. Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisor David Arakhamia said that "notes of suspicion" had been delivered to top officials in the country's Defense Ministry, according to WP. In addition, a Ukrainian court approved the pre-trial detention of ex-deputy defense minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who has been accused of profiting from inflated prices on food the ministry has been buying for soldiers, according to Ukrainian media. Meanwhile, the head of the Kyiv tax service, Oksana Datiy, was dismissed and multiple tax offices have been searched.
- Vladimir Putin dropped another hint that he may resort to nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. In his Feb. 2 speech on the anniversary of the Soviet victory in the decisive WWII battle of Stalingrad, he said: “It’s hard to believe, but it’s a fact, that we are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks ... we aren’t sending our tanks to their borders, but we have a way to respond, and it will not just end with the use of armored vehicles. Everyone should understand this.” Since the beginning of the invasion, Putin has been periodically rattling his nuclear saber, though he toned down his language somewhat starting last fall. The latest threat comes as the U.S. and Russia spar over Russia’s implementation of the New START treaty.
- Russia-China relations have reached a point of “higher quality than military alliances in their classic sense, and they have no bounds or limits,” Sergei Lavrov told Russian TV. Lavrov’s agency said this week that it is anticipating a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Russia this spring.
- The IMF has revised its forecast to predict Russian economic growth this year, putting it ahead of Germany and the U.K. The agency now expects Russia’s GDP to grow 0.3% in 2023. That growth stands in sharp contrast to the 2.3% contraction forecast by the IMF in October and marks an improvement from the 2.2% decline recorded by the sanctions-hit economy in 2022, MT reported. Russia’s projected growth also contrasts with the IMF’s expectation that the GDP of Germany and the U.K. will grow by 0.1% and shrink by 0.6%, respectively.
4 Ideas to Explore
- Russia may authorize a nuclear strike on Ukraine if the latter uses missiles supplied by NATO for strikes deep into Russia territory that would hit urban residential areas, according to Alexey Arbatov, one of Russia’s leading nuclear arms experts. NATO’s delivery of such missiles to Ukraine will constitute crossing a Russian redline, as would NATO’s direct involvement in the conflict, Arbatov told AiF. At the same time, Ukraine recapturing lands that Russian forces have taken does not qualify as a condition for Moscow’s nuclear weapons use against Kyiv, according to Arbatov, who hopes for a Minsk-3.1 As for NATO’s red lines in the Ukraine war, the alliance would consider them crossed if Russia were to strike NATO countries or use WMD, Arbatov said. In the interview, he criticized loose talk about nuclear weapons use by some of his country’s pundits and officials, accusing them of “complete ignorance.”
- U.S. fears of a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine peaked during the successful counteroffensive by the Ukrainian military in October, but have subsided since then, according to NYT’s Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger. One of the factors that relieved tensions was a call in late October between Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in which Russia's chief of the general staff outlined a use of nuclear weapons consistent with Washington's understanding of Russia's nuclear doctrine, Barnes and Sanger write. China’s warnings against the use of nuclear weapons may have also played a role in convincing Putin to tone down (but not desist) his nuclear rhetoric. “The most perilous moment,” during which Putin may choose to use nuclear weapons, will be when “Ukraine is on the cusp of victory, and Putin feels he can salvage his invasion only through an unprecedented escalation,” according to Kristin Ven Bruusgaard of the Norwegian Intelligence School.
- Russia’s non-compliance with New START’s inspections regime is particularly worrisome at a time when Putin has made veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine, according to Rose Gottemoeller’s commentary in FT. “At this fraught moment, perhaps it was inevitable that Moscow would link New START to NATO and Ukraine. However, ... sustaining New START is ... in the interest of both countries,” according to Gottemoeller, former U.S. chief negotiator for the treaty.
- Kyiv has obtained “very solid intelligence” of Russia’s intent to launch a potentially major offensive within 10 days, an advisor to the Ukrainian military told FT over the weekend. One of possible goals of the offensive would be to capture all the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March, according to the Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov does not rule out that Russian forces may also make another attempt to capture Kyiv, but he downplayed Russia’s chances of succeeding, according to FT.2