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5 Things to Know
- Donald Trump’s advisers have discussed getting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin around a negotiating table early in a potential second term, according to a Feb. 14 report by Bloomberg. One adviser to Trump said the promise of severing U.S. military aid could help get Zelenskyy—whom Trump has described as “the greatest salesman in history”—to the negotiating table, while the threat of increased U.S. assistance could prompt Russia, according to this news agency’s Feb. 14 dispatch. In the meantime, Joe Biden has rejected Putin’s Feb. 9 call to negotiate peace with Ukraine while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied a report that his boss had made a private proposal to the U.S. to freeze the conflict last year.
- Trump’s re-election team has sent another shock wave across Europe this week by disclosing a plan to have the U.S. deny Article 5 guarantees to members of the alliance that spend less than 2% of GDP on defense, in the event of his victory in the November presidential poll. The disclosure of this plan, in which Putin sees “some logic,” has occurred less than a week after Trump claimed to have recalled how, while the U.S. president, he told the leader of a “big country” that America would encourage Russia to attack NATO members who underspend on defense. This recollection was disputed by some of Trump’s European counterparts. Nevertheless, Trump’s claim made it resoundingly clear that European members of NATO need to act urgently to defend themselves against Russia. Yet, if Russia tests NATO’s Article 5 in the next 3-5-10 years, as some government agencies of several European countries predict, Europe may fail that test. Bloomberg cited senior European officials tasked with preparing their countries for a NATO-Russia conflict as saying this week, that Europe is at least a decade away from being able to defend itself unaided.
- The U.S. Senate has approved a $95 billion national security funding bill including $60 billion in new aid to Ukraine, but the legislation risks languishing in the House of Representatives because of opposition from Trump who wants this aid to be provided in the form of loans, according to FT and Bloomberg. Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House who is close to Trump, has signaled opposition to the bill, but also sought (unsuccessfully) talks with Biden on it. While diminished by one seat this week, the GOP’s majority in the House remains, but there are signs that quite a few Republican Congressmen may ignore Johnson’s calls to oppose the Senate bill and vote for it if it is put up for vote. “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass,” GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, said of the bill, according to FT. Enough Republicans in the House who are set to retire at the end of this year could help pull the bill across the finish line, according to Thom Tillis, Republican senator, according to FT. To put the bill for a vote against Johnson’s will, Democrats in the House need four of their Republican counterparts join them in signing a so-called discharge petition, which is a demand to force consideration of a piece of legislation on the floor, according to WP and NYT.
- This week has seen new commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) Oleksandr Syrskyi formally acknowledge what has been known for weeks: the Ukrainian troops have switched from an offensive to a defensive posture. Syrskyi’s admission came as ZSU edged closer to leaving Avdiivka and as the Norwegian Intelligence Service warned that “Russia is about to gain the military upper hand” in the war. That Russian forces have gained an estimated total of 35 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukrainian forces have re-gained 1 square mile in the past month, attests to the veracity of Syrskyi’s announcement. Of ZSU’s defensive positions along the 600-mile front, it is the positions in the eastern town of Avdiivka that have been subjected to the fiercest Russian attacks in the past few weeks, prompting Syrskyi to describe the operating environment in that area as “extremely complex and intense.” As of Feb. 14, Russian forces occupied more than 15% of Avdiivka, which is a gateway to the Russian-held city of Donetsk, according to ISW. On Feb. 15, Ukrainian OSINT group DeepState’s Telegram channel acknowledged on that “the enemy advanced... south of Avdiivka,” posting an updated map of combat in the area, showing parts of the town held by Russian forces. In spite of ZSU yielding territory for some time now, its chief Syrskyi insisted that Ukraine can end the war with Russia only by reaching its own borders and completely restoring territorial integrity. While on the defensive on land, Ukrainian forces scored a significant win on sea, sinking another large Russian landing ship off Crimea.
- Russia’s has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon, but the threat is not immediate, as it “is not an active capability that’s been deployed and “we’re not talking about a weapon that can be used to … attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on earth,” according to John Kirby of the National Security Council. Kirby’s Feb. 15 comments to AP, which came after multiple media outlets reported claims by multiple current and former American officials that Russia may be considering deployment of a nuclear weapon in space. NYT described it as a “new, space-based nuclear weapon designed to threaten America’s extensive satellite network,” while Bloomberg reported that it was “a nuclear weapon in space.” According to Space.com, however, it's unclear whether the system -- that is being reportedly developed – would deploy a nuclear explosive in space or whether it is another anti-satellite technology powered by a space-based nuclear reactor. Exploding nuclear weapons in space is not new. Both the U.S. and Soviet Russia did so in the 1960s and both have developed and launched nuclear-powered spacecraft. In addition, Russia, which has been working on anti-satellite weapons for decades, is also reportedly developing a nuclear-powered cruise missile, Burevestnik, without much success.*
3 Ideas to Explore
- “Don’t give up.” That was Alexey Navalny’s answer when he was asked in a 2022 documentary what message he would leave to the Russian people if he was killed, according to WSJ. “Everything that's needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. So act,” added the man who, in spite of imprisonment in a remote corner of Russia, had remained this country’s ’s most inspiring and courageous opposition leader until Russian prison authorities reported him dead at the age of 47 on Feb. 16, blaming his death on a blood clot. Navalny – whom Russian authorities allegedly tried to kill by poison in 2020 – made his life an example of how a leader should relentlessly fight for his dream himself if he were to attract followers to his cause. When asked during a conversation in America whether it might be smarter (and safer) for him to continue his work from abroad, he said: “But there is no other option.” “I have to go home and fight with my fellow Russians, fight for our homeland,” Kathleen Kingsbury of NYT recalled him as saying. Even when in prison Navalny stayed true to pursuing his dream of building a “beautiful Russia of the future.” In “15 points of a Russian citizen, who wants the best for his country” which he wrote in his outreach to compatriots from behind bars in 2023, Navalny said, “We are at the bottom, and to float up, we need to push off from it.”
- Western defense officials have recently issued an unprecedented number of public warnings of the possibility of a broader conflict in Europe with Russia. As FT reminds us, Denmark’s defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen believes Russia could test Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty “within a three to five-year period”; chair of the Bundestag defense committee Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann believes Russia can attack a NATO country within 5-8 years; and Estonian intelligence service’s leadership sees a potential NATO-Russia conflict within the next 10 years. Their colleagues from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Romania have issued similar warnings since the beginning of this year while one senior European official event told FT that Russia’s “intent and capability” to attack a NATO country before the end of the decade was “pretty much consensus” within the alliance. One reason for Western officials’ alarm is Russia’s unexpectedly rapid revival of its industrial defense machine. Also, while Russia’s army has suffered huge losses in Ukraine, most Western officials now expect this army to reconstitute its forces within five to six years, according to FT. Another reason for the dire warnings was to prepare societies for the potential danger, according to officials interviewed by FT. At the moment, Europe could not defend itself against Russia in a conventional conflict without the help of the United States, Claudia Major, a defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told NYT. To be really prepared to fight Russia Europe would need 10 years, according to Armin Papperger, CEO of the company building a Rheinmetall ammunition factory in Germany.
- Russia still maintains the strategic objective of subjugating Ukraine, believing that it is winning, but “the Russian theory of victory” will become plausible only "if Ukraine's international partners fail to properly resource” the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU), according to Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of RUSI. Russia may think it is winning, but it is not, according to a Brookings survey of such experts, as Michael O’Hanlon, Steven Pifer, Angela Stent, and Tara Varma. Moreover, Ukraine might manage to not only deny Russia a victory, but also to “evict the Russian invaders from their positions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” according to NATO’s former supreme allied commander Wesley Clark. To do so the ZSU would need to identify potential breakthrough points and ensure “detailed advance reconnaissance, organized special tactical equipment, reserves and air superiority in such points, the retired U.S. general claimed even as ZSU continued to yield ground, coming to the verge of losing Avdiivka in the east. In contrast to Clerk, Olga Oliker, a former Pentagon staffer who now heads Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia program, believes that “if you say the only thing that is victory is the Russians go home entirely from Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine is in NATO, and Moscow somehow disappears off the face of the earth—that’s an unrealistic goal.”
NB: The next Russia Analytical Report will appear on Friday, Feb. 26, instead of Monday, Feb. 19, because of the U.S. Presidents' Day holiday.Read more