Defense & National Security —US doubles down on support for Ukraine

·8 min read
<em><span class="has-inline-color has-cyan-bluish-gray-color">Madeline Monroe/Anna Rose Layden/Associated Press-Efrem Lukatsky</span></em>
Madeline Monroe/Anna Rose Layden/Associated Press-Efrem Lukatsky

President Biden is once again ramping up U.S. support for Ukraine, vowing to send more advanced weapons to Kyiv with the express goal of helping the Ukrainians defeat the Russians.

We’ll detail what that help entails and what it doesn’t, plus the latest Congressional resolution to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war and a first for U.S. Cyber Command.

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.

Biden’s support for Ukraine shows limits

Despite President Biden’s vow this week to send more advanced weapons to Kyiv, the commander-in-chief is still exercising caution, reinforcing that his administration is not seeking a hot-war with Moscow or trying to depose Russian President Vladimir Putin, and issuing dire warnings against the prospect of a nuclear confrontation.

Significantly, the new $700 million package the U.S. is readying for Ukraine for the first time contains High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, but says they are configured to limit their range to strike only Russian forces in Ukraine and not inside Russia.

A risk: Biden made the decision to send Ukraine advanced rocket systems despite the risk that such a move would further amplify tensions with Moscow.

Experts say that the new systems, which can reach targets up to 50 miles away, will be significant in assisting the Ukrainians push back on the Russian offensive as long as they are delivered quickly.

Reassurances: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview Tuesday that “we’re not planning to attack Russia,” but called for the delivery of rocket systems “with the effective range of fire of over 100 kilometers [62 miles].”

“I know some of the people in the United States are saying, or people in the White House are saying, we might be using them to attack Russia: Look, we’re not planning to attack Russia,” he said in an interview with Newsmax.

Russia’s response: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is “deliberately pouring oil on the fire” in response to the weapons-delivery announcement.

Biden’s thinking: Biden laid out his Ukraine strategy in a New York Times op-ed published Tuesday evening, which doubled down on U.S. support for Kyiv while also underscoring the limits to U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Biden reiterated that the U.S. would not put troops on the ground in Ukraine – something the American public does not support – and said the U.S. is not trying “to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”

He also addressed concern over a nuclear war with Russia.

“We currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia’s occasional rhetoric to rattle the nuclear saber is itself dangerous and extremely irresponsible,” he wrote. “Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences.”

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US mindful of ‘escalation risk’

The Pentagon’s top policy official on Wednesday said the United States is “mindful of the escalation risk” in providing Ukraine with advanced, long-range rocket systems, a move that has drawn the ire of Russia.

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it would send four high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine, part of a $700 million arms and equipment drawdown package for the war-torn country.

Administration officials have stressed that the systems would be used to repel Russian systems and not for strikes aimed for inside Kremlin territory, an assurance that has been given “at multiple levels of the Ukrainian government,” Defense Department Undersecretary for policy Colin Kahl told reporters at the Pentagon.

Being mindful: He added that the U.S. is “mindful of the escalation risks in everything we’re doing associated with this.”

“President Biden has made clear we have no intention of coming into direct conflict with Russia,” he said. “We don’t have an interest in the conflict in Ukraine widening to a broader conflict or evolving into World War III. … But at the same time, Russia doesn’t get a veto over what we send to the Ukrainians.”

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Lawmakers propose ending involvement in Yemen

Nearly 50 House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan resolution to attempt to completely end U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war.

The Yemen War Powers Resolution, backed by 48 co-sponsors, would end all U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

Who is leading this?: The bill, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), will mark the third time lawmakers have invoked their war powers during the conflict.

Meanwhile, in the Senate: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to introduce a companion version in the Senate when the body reconvenes next week.

The resolution would require approval by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

Some background: Yemen’s civil war has been raging since 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sana’a, sparking military conflict between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government.

President Biden in his first month in office ended U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, but a small number of American forces are still involved in airstrikes and counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups in the country.

Critics, however, have accused the administration of continuing U.S. support of the conflict through providing aircraft maintenance and intelligence sharing, which they say still enables offensive operations that have killed thousands of civilians.

What it would do: The new resolution seeks to block that by putting an end to U.S. intelligence sharing that enables offensive Saudi-led strikes and stopping logistical support such as providing maintenance and spare parts to coalition members engaged in the anti-Houthi bombings.

It would also prohibit American personnel “from being assigned to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany Saudi-led coalition forces engaged in hostilities without prior specific statutory authorization by Congress,” according to a statement on the resolution.

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Chief confirms US took part in offensive operations

U.S. Cyber Command Director Gen. Paul Nakasone confirmed for the first time that the U.S. had conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine.

“We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum: offensive, defensive, [and] information operations,” Nakasone said in an interview Wednesday with Sky News, a British television news channel.

Limited details: Although the general did not provide specifics, he said the operations were lawful and conducted with civilian oversight of the military.

“My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of Defense and the president, and so that’s what I do,” he told Sky News.

The general, who was speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, said that the “hunt forward” operations have enabled the U.S. to look for foreign hackers and identify their strategies before they target the United States.

In the interview, Nakasone also said the U.S. is conducting operations to dismantle Russian propaganda, particularly disinformation campaigns that may influence elections.

Earlier: Nakasone previously said his agency deployed a “hunt forward” team in December to help Ukraine shore up its cyber defenses and networks against active threats. But his latest remarks appear to be the first time that a U.S. official said publicly that the U.S. has been involved in offensive cyber operations in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Association of the U.S. Army will hold a discussion with Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, at 7:15 a.m.

  • Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro will speak at the Potomac Officers Club 2022 Navy Summit on “critical modernization and fleet readiness initiatives,” at 8 a.m.

  • The Center for a New American Security will hold a virtual talk on “Revitalizing the U.S.-Philippines Alliance,” with former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea retired Adm. Harry Harris, at 9 a.m.

  • The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will host a virtual discussion on “How the Space Force is planning to address the threats of today and tomorrow,” with Space Force Lt. Gen. William Liquori, deputy chief of space operations, strategy, plans, programs, requirements, and analysis, at 9 a.m.

  • National Cyber Director Chris Inglis will speak on strengthening U.S. cyber resiliency at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event at 2 p.m.

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will hold an honor cordon to welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Pentagon at 2:30 p.m.

  • U.S. Southern Command head Gen. Laura Richardson will speak at the virtual Pacific Climate Forum of the Americas, at 3 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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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