Defense & National Security — Russia ups the ante in Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to double down in his invasion of Ukraine with the Wednesday announcement to mobilize 300,000 military reservists and an added threat of a nuclear conflict.

We’ll break down his latest message to the Western world and how its leaders are responding, plus more on President Biden’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly and demands for answers over failures to protect students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps from abuse.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Putin takes big risk by mobilizing greater force

Putin’s decision to mobilize 300,000 military reservists marks a major gamble in the Russian president’s war in Ukraine, which could be reaching a make-or-break stage as he faces rare and intense criticism at home and abroad.

His announcement comes as the Ukrainian armed forces have succeeded in ousting the Russian military from key areas in the east of the country, while the U.S. and allies have maintained unity in their military and economic support for Kyiv.

The military failures have sparked rare pushback from Russian lawmakers, allies in Chechnya and talking heads on state television, where the Kremlin’s narrative on the war is typically strictly enforced.

Silencing critics: Putin’s televised address early Wednesday morning therefore appeared as an effort to silence those critics, railing against Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO for forcing his decision to invade, while also issuing blunt threats to use nuclear weapons.

  • “When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we, of course, will use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in his translated remarks. 

  • “This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”

Cracks: There are early signs that Russian citizens increasingly view the price of Putin’s war in Ukraine as too high.

Civilian flights leaving Russia reportedly jumped in price and sold out quickly following Putin’s address, as Russian citizens already feeling the squeeze of sanctions and visa restrictions faced the grim prospect of potentially being forced to join the fight.

Hundreds of Russians were arrested on Wednesday at anti-war protests across the country.

“I think what Russians are fearing is that they see this as a sign of weakness,” said Evelyn Farkas, the executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University who previously served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Eastern Europe and conventional arms control in the Obama administration.

A gamble: Regional watchers say the mobilization, and signs that Putin is likely to formally annex occupied Ukrainian territory, is a signal that the Russian leader is doubling down to project a victory in Ukraine, but is risking key political capital that could trigger wider backlash in his own country.

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More from The Hill: 

Biden hammers Russia’s war in UN address

President Biden warned that Moscow’s war in Ukraine is a threat to the foundations of the United Nations in an address Wednesday to its General Assembly, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated his aggression toward Ukraine.

  • “Let us speak plainly: A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase a sovereign state from its map. Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter,” Biden said in his address. 

  • “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple. And Ukraine’s right to exist as a people,” he added.

Highlights: The president highlighted steadfast U.S. support for Ukraine in recent months through billions of dollars of military aide and sought to rally global support against Russia, arguing it was a matter of sovereignty and international order.

Biden pointed to attacks on schools, railway stations and hospitals from Russia’s military and mentioned the mass graves uncovered in Izyum with bodies showing signs of torture.

“Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe … that should make your blood run cold,” the president said.

Promises: Biden announced that the U.S. will provide another $2.9 billion for humanitarian and food security assistance, accusing Putin of driving global food insecurity with his war.

“Russia, in the meantime, has been pumping out lies, trying to pin the blame for the food crisis on the sanctions imposed by many in the world for the aggression against Ukraine. So let me be perfectly clear about something: our sanctions explicitly allow, explicitly allow Russia the ability to export food and fertilizer,” Biden said.

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Dems demand answers for JROTC abuse allegations

Senate Democrats are demanding answers from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Education regarding failures to protect students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) from abuse.

The probe — led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — comes after an investigation published in The New York Times found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students, and many others have been accused of misconduct but never charged.

A call for answers: In letters to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the senators asked for answers about the safety of JROTC programs and any failures that leave students vulnerable to sexual assault.

  • “Each act of misconduct by the instructors, particularly those negative acts related to a vulnerable and extremely impressionable population, leaves a stain on the military,” the senators wrote. 

  • “Furthermore, the DoD has stated that its goal is ‘a culture free of sexual assault, through an environment of prevention, education and training, response capability … victim support, reporting procedures, and appropriate accountability that enhances the safety and well-being of all persons’ who fall under its rules and regulations,” they added.

More on the program: The Army JROTC program was established under the National Defense Act of 1916, but later expanded to all military services in 1964. About 500,000 students are participating in the program, according to the RAND Corporation.

Most instructors under the program are either retired or reserve officers, as well as enlisted noncommission officers who are employees of the school district.

Earlier findings: The Times’ investigation, published in July, found that at least seven instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct were flagged, but allowed to stay on the job.

It also found that some instructors operate with little oversight and training, and that schools often struggle to monitor and investigate complaints, as students often report instances of harassment with little action taken.

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  • The Defense Strategies Institute will hold its 11th Military Tactical Communications Summit at 8:45 a.m.

  • The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will host a discussion on Space Force training, education and doctrine and STARCOM’s contributions to space warfighting, with Maj. Gen. Shawn Bratton, commander, Space Training and Readiness Command, at 10 a.m.

  • The Hudson Institute will hold a virtual talk on “Learning to Win: Using Operational Innovation to Regain the Advantage at Sea against China,” at 10 a.m.

  • GovExec and HP with Intel will host an event on “Securing the Air Force,” at 1 p.m.

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will hold a briefing on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test’s (DART) final activities ahead of its impact with the asteroid Dimorphos, at 3 p.m.


That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!


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