Defense & National Security — US warns China over Russia’s war in Ukraine

·6 min read

The U.S. government has warned China against giving any support to Russia related to its invasion of Ukraine.

We’ll detail the specifics of the warning, plus more on new Pentagon reforms meant to make housing, moving and groceries cheaper for troops.

Plus: A letter from employees within the Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog office urges President Biden to fire their boss.

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. Subscribe here.

US warns China against aiding Russia’s Ukraine war

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday warned Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi against Beijing providing any support to Russia related to its invasion of Ukraine, during a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

  • China maintains close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin but has held back from explicitly endorsing the invasion and avoided carrying out actions that would directly position itself as violating U.S.-led global sanctions on Russia.

The message: Blinken “reiterated the United States’ condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and highlighted the implications if the PRC [People’s Republic of China] were to provide support to Moscow’s invasion of a sovereign state,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in the statement.

“He underscored that the United States remains open to cooperating with the PRC where our interests intersect.”

Blinken stressed the need for the U.S. to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing to de-escalate tensions, Price said in the statement.

Timing: The meeting came amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing following President Biden’s remarks in an interview published Sunday that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China decided to invade.

“[Blinken] emphasized that the United States is committed to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, consistent with our longstanding one China policy,” Price said.

“The Secretary stressed that preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is critical to regional and global security and prosperity.”

Devolving relations: The U.S. position toward Taiwan — and Biden’s statements that American forces would defend the democratic island, which have been issued repeatedly — have infuriated the Chinese, which view the island as a rogue territory that will eventually unify with the mainland.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have continued to devolve over a host of security, military, geopolitical, economic and environmental issues.

Read the full story here

Military to up housing allowances, cut grocery costs

The Pentagon will undertake a series of reforms meant to make housing, moving and groceries cheaper for troops and their families as nationwide inflation cuts into service members’ salaries.

  • In a memo issued Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined several actions the Defense Department will take “to improve how we support our service members and their families,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. 

  • Austin “wants our military men and women to be able to come home, to put food on the table, and to have the money in their pocket that they need to be able to live a healthy life, a comfortable life while they serve our nation,” Ryder said.

Tight budgets: The changes follow record-level U.S. inflation and a robust labor market that means the military services must compete for talent with the private sector.

To meet active-duty recruitment goals this year, several of the services have introduced enlistment and recruiting bonuses.

Congress has also attempted to soften the blow of inflation by including in the annual defense authorization bill a 4.6 percent pay increase for service members beginning in January. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by the end of the year.

Unrelated: Ryder stressed that the new round of changes is part of a benefits reform package across the military and not related to the inflation uptick.

“Absolutely not,” Ryder said when asked about the correlation, noting the alterations come after the Pentagon chief met and spoke with service members across the country and globe over the past 20 months to identify areas of most concern.

The changes: The biggest shifts will affect housing costs and allowances given for those changing bases, as well as lower prices at military commissaries. Those alterations will take effect “in the next couple of weeks,” Ryder said.

Military families can expect to see savings of at least 25 percent on grocery bills, compared to their local marketplace, he noted.

Service members living in 28 high-cost areas, meanwhile, will be given increases in their housing allowances beginning Oct. 1. And all troops will get offsets for moving costs and child care.

Read that story here

Employees ask Biden to remove DHS watchdog

A group of employees who work for the internal watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are calling on President Biden to remove their boss, saying they’ve lost hope the “ship will right itself.”

The request comes after numerous congressional panels have asked DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step aside from various investigations after he failed to alert lawmakers in a timely manner that Secret Service text messages for Jan. 6 had been “erased.”

A plea: An anonymous letter shared by the Project on Government Oversight was signed by “concerned DHS OIG employees representing every program office at every grade level” who added that “for fear of retaliation, we cannot identify ourselves.”

  • “Providing effective oversight of the newest and third largest Cabinet department is difficult enough, it should not be made more difficult by our own leadership,” the employees wrote.

  • “We need help. We can no longer be silent when faced with continuous mismanagement of DHS OIG at its highest levels. IG Cuffari has made clear that he wishes to remain in his position, even in the face of prolonged, deserved criticism in the media, from Congress, from other oversight entities and from his own staff. A true leader would recognize the effect of his actions on his workforce and understand the right thing to do would be to step aside. However, IG Cuffari is not a true leader. He instead acts to weaken and undercut his career staff at every step.”

A rocky tenure: Cuffari has faced scrutiny nearly his entire tenure as the DHS watchdog since being nominated by former President Trump in 2019, tapped for the role after working as an adviser on military issues for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

In the past he has been accused of removing information from OIG reports and failing to act on a startling sexual harassment survey at DHS or a request to investigate the Secret Service’s role in clearing protesters from Lafayette Park so Trump could take a photo holding a Bible.

But the revelation that he failed to alert Congress to missing Jan. 6 texts both from Secret Service agents and two agency leaders has ignited the most recent criticism.

Read the rest of the story here

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Veteran Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough will speak to media at part of the George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group, at 8 a.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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