In Other News – Yemen Truce, Ukraine Grain Shipment and Counteroffensives – 8/4/2022

August 4, 2022

Yemen Truce Extended

The Yemeni government and Houthi rebels agreed to another two-month extension of a truce first agreed upon in April and extended in June. This series of deals has been the first significant cessation in the seven-year conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people and has displaced millions.

The original truce called on the groups to halt military operations as well as allow fuel shipments into the country’s main Red Sea port controlled by the Houthis, provide weekly commercial flights to and from Yemen’s primary international airport, and further talks on opening roads to the government-controlled areas such as Taiz and other cities. The new truce extension includes commitments by both parties to intensify negotiations on reaching an expanded agreement. Experts suggest that cross pressure on all parties has helped create the environment for the truce. Iran, seeking to resurrect a deal with the U.S. on its nuclear ambitions, has pushed its Houthi allies to the bargaining table while the anti-Houthi coalition has seen its leader, Saudi Arabia, suggest that it wants to exit the conflict.

Despite the progress, all sides have advised caution on the idea that this would lead to a permanent peace. While the general parameters of the truce have held, outside monitors counted more than 1,800 violations including shelling and drone strikes since April. Analysts note that the Houthi’s have continued to recruit during the cease-fire and are prepared to continue military operations should it fail. Houthi forces have also been slow in opening roads to the besieged city of Taiz. Factions within the coalition are themselves divided over whether south Yemen, their current power base, should secede entirely. While the deal has allowed relief for some of the Yemeni population, significant progress is still needed on a comprehensive political settlement. Success will require continued attention to problems affecting the Yemeni people while also creating a structure for long term agreement.

First Ukrainian Grain Shipment

The first Ukrainian shipment of grain since the Russian invasion has proceeded under a deal to resume the country’s agricultural exports. The deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, may provide some relief for global food shortages and subsequent price surges while also benefitting Ukraine’s beleaguered economy.

The vessel, carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn, left Odessa on Monday and sailed to Turkey where it was inspected by officials from Ukraine, Russia, and the U.N. The July 22nd agreement, which is initially set to last 120 days, allows Ukraine to resume grain exports which could provide at least $1 billion in revenue. In the last seven years, the country has averaged more than 40 million tons of grain exports annually. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine’s agricultural exports in 2021 “totaled $27.8 billion accounting for 41 percent of the country’s $68 billion in overall exports.” Ukraine reportedly has 17 more vessels, which had been loaded prior to the invasion, ready to follow.

Questions remain about how much of its harvest Ukraine will be able to successfully export. Prior to the invasion, the country could export 6 million tons of grain per month. Under the current agreement, Ukraine can send three shipments per day, but to reach the previous level, the country would need each of those vessels to carry 60,000 tons or more than two times the initial shipment. The U.S. Institute of Peace noted that the current rate of transport is insufficient for the 20 million tons of grain the country has ready for export. Still, any increased supply to the global market will help the millions of people facing hunger, including Syrian refugees in Lebanon where the first shipment will arrive.

Counteroffensive in Southern Ukraine

Movements by Ukrainian and Russian forces suggests an imminent collision of forces in southern Ukraine. Russia appears to be amassing units near the city of Kherson where Ukraine’s counteroffensives, empowered with new weapons from Western allies, have recaptured territory and threaten Russia’s hold on southeastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s efforts in the region of Kherson, a provincial capital and a strategically important city, have yielded steady success, moving closer to retaking the city itself. Ukraine’s access to long range artillery, in the form of High Mobility Artillery Rock Systems, has given it the ability to hit Russian ammunition deports and command posts, depleting Russian forces and pushing supply lines further from the front. Ukraine has successfully used artillery to destroy bridges and railways that Russia needs to supply its forces in Kherson. Control of Kherson would allow Ukraine to push Russia back across the Dnipro River, which splits the country in two.

Recapturing Kherson and the surrounding region could be a turning point for Ukraine. While it holds symbolic value as the first major city to fall in the invasion, Kherson also provides significant strategic benefit. Ukrainian control of Kherson would deny Russia its long-held goal of a land bridge to Crimea while simultaneously cutting off Crimea from needed power plants and water reservoirs. Ukraine would also regain access to significant agricultural and industrial resources in the region. Holding Kherson would also allow Ukraine to more easily defend the port of Odessa, where grain shipments have recently resumed. As an added benefit, Ukrainian control of Kherson also carries an implicit threat to Russian-held Crimea. “The threat of the transfer of the war to the territory of Crimea is already becoming a reality for them,” a Ukrainian military official said Monday.

In Other News – The Importance of Continuing Western Support for Ukraine – 7/28/2022

July 28, 2022

The effectiveness of high-precision weapons for Ukraine has shown the importance of continuing Western support to the war effort against Russian aggression. In the ongoing battle between Ukraine and Russia, American-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (“HIMARS”) are proving to be a game changer given the significance of precision weaponry on the urban battlefield. Honed during years of fighting in Iraq, HIMARS are designed for precision strikes in urban environments. Since their introduction in Ukraine, their range and accuracy have forced the Russian military to move ammunition and supply depots further from the fighting, resulting in logistical issues. HIMARS were reportedly used last week to strategically target a key bridge in southern Ukraine’s occupied Kherson to prevent the Russian military from using that bridge to resupply increasingly isolated troops and to move additional troops into the area to meet Ukraine’s counter-offensive. While Ukraine has relatively few HIMARS, these small, mobile, and accurate missile systems have proven to be effective and are changing the war on the ground as, so far, Russia does not appear to have an answer for them. Other Eastern European countries have taken notice, and Poland, Latvia and Estonia are actively looking to buy hundreds of HIMARS to bolster their own defenses; Lithuania is also expected to make a request.

In addition to launch systems, drones – particularly the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, but also Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aircraft systems from the United States – are playing a significant role in Ukraine’s defense. Drones showed their myriad value early on, providing an outgunned Ukrainian military valuable intelligence on Russian positions, enabling them to target their more limited resources more effectively. In support of Ukraine’s war effort, global citizens have organized “dronations” to donate commercial weapons to Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, Putin wants more drones as well and is reported to have recently requested a supply from Iran. He also suggested to Turkish President Erdogan that they build a Baykar drone factory in Russia. The CEO of Baykar has stated that the company supports Ukrainian sovereignty and would never support Russia. When he heard of the dronations, the Turkish drone maker offered to supply Ukraine drones for free and asked that the money raised be spent on humanitarian assistance.

While technical weapons will be essential to Ukraine’s continued military efforts, this week President Zelenskyy re-emphasized the necessity of continued support from democratic nations. With a nod to the early days of the invasion and to current signs of public war-weariness, Zelenskyy reminded the West that the war is a fight for shared values and the joint security of the world. The regrouping of NATO and democratic allies and the continued efforts of the EU to limit purchases of Russian energy are part of the larger effort to stand-up against a nation that has denied another’s sovereignty, and with it, its democracy.

Finally, as to prove Zelensky’s point, Russia continues to attack any semblance of democratic activism within its own borders, and regularly penalizes and threatens those who question the war effort. Despite this, Russian citizens are increasingly using privacy tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow anonymous access to foreign websites and restricted media. According to analysts, VPN services were downloaded to mobile devices in Russia more than 12 million times in the first weeks of July. This is a marked increase from January, when VPN apps were downloaded approximately 2 million times. While it’s unclear exactly what the Russians are reading or if this will impact political mobilization in Russia, technology has found another way through Putin’s defenses.

In Other News – Putin Takes Defense Measures to Tighten His Grip on Society – 7/21/2022

July 21, 2022

As Russia advances its Ukraine offensive, Putin is taking defensive measures back home to tighten his grip on society. Nearly 150 days into the war, the regional battle between Russia and Ukraine continues to significantly impact geopolitics and the global economy. This week, Putin continued to court other politically isolated nations like Iran, and the United States and United Kingdom made new weapons pledges in support of Ukraine. Gas began to flow again from Russia to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after a recent closure, but there remain fears about future supply. Some progress is reportedly being made on the food export discussions, and Germany is also taking measures to move some of the trapped Ukrainian grain to German ports for distribution. But while the repercussions of the war continue to have wide-ranging impact, Ukraine and Russia are also dealing with domestic concerns.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s parliament dismissed the domestic security chief and prosecutor general in a statement against any potential Russian collaborators or state traitors, and Ukraine has requested that its creditors grant the nation a two-year payment freeze on its international bonds. Ukraine is understandably facing some economic and security threats due to the conflict, but it’s Russia that appears the most worried about what’s happening within its borders. According to OVD-Info, an independent media project that has documented Russia’s crackdown on opposition for over a decade, thousands of anti-war demonstrators have been arrested across Russia since the war began in February.

Further, Putin is enacting a slew of new legislation to control the political narrative and the behavior of his citizenry. The new laws, which are broad in scope, target everything from internet and press freedom to financial and lifestyle choices. In Russia, it is now prohibited to transact in cryptocurrency, and Wikipedia is being penalized for failing to erase material deemed “fake news” by the Kremlin. Other tech companies are now being significantly fined for failing to comply with Russia’s “landing law” that requires they establish representative offices in Russia. The state is also taking novel measures to obscure the size of its gold and foreign currency reserves.

On Monday, Russia’s parliament moved to further expand restrictions of LGBTQ rights and relationships, and Russian authorities are now able to mark citizens as “foreign agents” even without proof of receiving foreign payments. Religious groups are also being targeted, and the Russian security council has blamed any Ukrainian sympathies on “excessive permissiveness” in the religious field and misinterpretations of what “freedom of conscience” means. This week, Russian authorities asked a Moscow court to dissolve a prominent global Jewish non-profit that handles emigration of Jews to Israel, likely due to Moscow’s distrust of Israel’s stance on the war and fears of foreign influence.

There are also new laws in Russia that speak directly to the war effort, including encouraging civilians to serve in Ukraine and ostensibly granting them veteran status after even one day on the battlefield. Special economic measures to ensure the government can control its labor force and production are now up and running, and punishments for any potentially war-related crimes have been increased. Putin is also seemingly trying to rally the youth behind the effort via the establishment of a new nationwide youth and children’s movement. While the concept might harken back to Soviet times, it also addresses one of Putin’s greatest potential adversaries– the youth, who will now be fed heavy state-level propaganda before any potential exposure to global media or ideas is even possible.

In Other News – War in Ukraine Means Domestic and International Policy Shifts – 7/13/2022

July 13, 2022

Adapting to a war of attrition in Ukraine necessitates domestic and international policy shifts. Earlier today, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, who is rightfully distrustful of Putin after Moscow’s repeated historic land grabs, stated that Kyiv isn’t planning on ceding territory to Russia as part of any peace deal. Ukraine’s chief negotiator also recently Tweeted that for talks to resume, there would first need to be “Ceasefire. Z-troops withdrawal. Returning of kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. Ukraine’s sovereign rights recognition.” While Ukraine is standing firm in its defense, the war continues to take a heavy toll on Ukrainian society– the latest UN statistics reveal that over 9 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the Russian invasion in late February, and that over 5,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

Meanwhile, Moscow also shows little indication of shifting course. In a recent speech to the Russian parliament, Putin expressed that Russia was just getting started in Ukraine and that prospects for negotiation were growing slimmer by the day. Moscow is also pushing a military recruitment drive and is promising high financial rewards to those who enlist. Further, Putin continues to demonstrate his long-held and delusional belief that Ukrainians want to be Russian, and this week Moscow simplified rules for all Ukrainians to become Russian citizens. Germany quickly dismissed the decree as propaganda, but it’s still revealing as to Putin’s true intentions to eliminate any concept of Ukrainian sovereignty.

To address the global ramifications of the war, however, the international community is also trying to bolster itself for the long haul. Attempting to lessen the food crisis, Turkish-moderated talks to resolve the blockage of grain exports from Odesa resumed on Wednesday, although the UN recently expressed that there’s still “a long way to go.” This week, President Biden is visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia for the first time since assuming office, and it’s anticipated that he’s going to ask Riyadh to increase its oil output. Putin is also slated to travel to the Middle East next week to meet with Iranian leadership, ostensibly to discuss Syria, but likely also to solidify a large transfer of Iranian drones to Russian forces.

Further east, the US has been coordinating with Japan to jointly address rising food and energy prices, and North Korea has reaffirmed its support of Moscow by recognizing the independence of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”. China also doubled down on its “neutral” war stance in a recent meeting with the US Secretary of State, and Beijing likely assumes a Russian victory will help its own political positioning. But with the many recent diplomatic meetings and conversations, the international environment remains dynamic even if the war between Ukraine and Russia has reached a state of attrition. As such, it’s likely that global leaders will continue to adjust their strategies accordingly with their national interests, resulting in new and unanticipated political and economic deals.

In Other News – Nations Scramble to Secure Opportunity in New Geopolitical Order – 7/7/2022

July 7, 2022

As the fighting grinds on in Ukraine, nations scramble to secure energy and opportunity in a new geopolitical order. This week, Russia’s parliament passed two bills that could allow the Kremlin to enact “special economic measures” to support its ongoing military offensive in Ukraine. While analysts have remarked that Russia might soon be initiating an “operational pause” to regroup and reset on the battlefield, Moscow is simultaneously trying to figure out how to sustain its troops and equipment in what has become a grueling war of attrition. The proposed bills would require Russian businesses to supply goods to the military and increase labor demands on employees providing goods and services to the war effort. But as Putin takes measures to ensure a functional military, with no end to the battle in sight, other nations are taking great strides to ensure their energy security and positioning.

Old and new energy sources and partnerships are now under consideration. On Wednesday, France announced it would be nationalizing nuclear energy, and worldwide, nuclear plants that were slated to close are being given another look. Despite ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have announced plans to revitalize old coal plants. In preparation for the winter, nations like the UK are also working with power companies to keep the coal burning longer than planned, and in Ukraine itself, mining operations that were on their way out due to climate pressures are now seen as important sources of thermal and steel-making coal. Further, in a striking new dynamic, the International Energy Agency reported that in June, for the first time ever, the United States provided more natural gas to Europe than Russia sends by pipelines.

While green energy alternatives are rapidly under development and receiving significant government funding in places like the EU, they’re still insufficient to satisfy current demand. In the meantime, cross-national energy projects that were stalled or received little attention are also being revisited. Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria are considering reviving a dormant Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project that would ultimately hook up with existing pipelines from Algeria to Europe. Israel is working with Egypt to export its natural gas through pipelines in Egyptian ports, where it might then be transported to Europe. Kazakhstan’s president is reportedly looking for oil export routes bypassing Russia after two significant crude exports were likely interrupted by Moscow in retaliation for the nation’s neutral war stance.

Notably, since the onset of the war, Russia itself has made a reported $24bn selling energy to China and India. But it’s uncertain how this will turn out for Moscow and how long nations like China will find the alliance in their interest. As Putin cozies up to Iran and China to promote cooperation given sanctions constraints, recent reports show that Iran’s oil exports have decreased as Russia captures more of the market. Indeed, while nations might be willing to overlook carbon emissions or price fluctuations in the short term, the ongoing and wide-ranging consequences of the war demand constant reassessment of political strategy.

In Other News – Putin Waits Out the West – 6/30/2022

June 30, 2022

Time Is No One’s Friend in Ukraine. While murmurings of peace talks seem to have all but disappeared, all sides seem to be playing the clock. Resolve is hardening on both sides and even the recent prisoner swap of 144 Ukrainian soldiers, many of whom defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, feels less like an advance towards peace and more as a harbinger of the entrenchment of a long war.

Russia intent to wait out the West with its brutal and indiscriminate campaign in the Donbas seemed ever-more misguided this week as it defaulted on its foreign debt and G7 leaders reiterated in word and deed their united resolve to support Ukraine and punish Russia. Then at the NATO Summit, members took measures to both expand NATO by supporting the applications of Finland and Sweden and announcing a decision to boost its numbers of deployed troops seven-fold. Moreover, reports on the dearth of semiconductor exports to Russia indicate that there will be severe impact to its military and commercial aviation sectors. These are strategic realignments that will have reverberations for years to come, but while these shifts occur Ukraine continues to be assailed relentlessly.

Putin appears unmoved by any of it as indicated by the launching a rocket into Kiev at the start of the G7 meetings to underscore his doggedness. The negotiations to release Ukrainian grain stores at a critical time to make room for the summer harvest also seem at an impasse as the global food shortage serves Russia’s strategic aims. Putin is counting that he can break the West with soaring inflation and energy costs and a possible influx of refugees into Europe. Eventually, he hopes a protracted war will weaken popular support for Ukraine and create cleavages in the Western alliance. In the interim, Russia seems to have taken aim at Europe’s new primary gas provider, Norway, as Russian-based criminal elements launched a series of Denial of Service (DDoS) cyber-attacks against a slew of Norwegian public institutions.

However, U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Putin’s campaign in Ukraine has profoundly degraded his forces and while he still would like to take the whole of Ukraine, he probably will only be able to make incremental gains like the recent advance on Severodonesk. And even those gains are ephemeral as illustrated by Russia’s retreat today from the strategic and symbolic outcrop of Snake Island in the Black Sea. This tug and pull will endure for the foreseeable future.
June 30, 2022

Time Is No One’s Friend in Ukraine. While murmurings of peace talks seem to have all but disappeared, all sides seem to be playing the clock. Resolve is hardening on both sides and even the recent prisoner swap of 144 Ukrainian soldiers, many of whom defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, feels less like an advance towards peace and more as a harbinger of the entrenchment of a long war.

Russia intent to wait out the West with its brutal and indiscriminate campaign in the Donbas seemed ever-more misguided this week as it defaulted on its foreign debt and G7 leaders reiterated in word and deed their united resolve to support Ukraine and punish Russia. Then at the NATO Summit, members took measures to both expand NATO by supporting the applications of Finland and Sweden and announcing a decision to boost its numbers of deployed troops seven-fold. Moreover, reports on the dearth of semiconductor exports to Russia indicate that there will be severe impact to its military and commercial aviation sectors. These are strategic realignments that will have reverberations for years to come, but while these shifts occur Ukraine continues to be assailed relentlessly.

Putin appears unmoved by any of it as indicated by the launching a rocket into Kiev at the start of the G7 meetings to underscore his doggedness. The negotiations to release Ukrainian grain stores at a critical time to make room for the summer harvest also seem at an impasse as the global food shortage serves Russia’s strategic aims. Putin is counting that he can break the West with soaring inflation and energy costs and a possible influx of refugees into Europe. Eventually, he hopes a protracted war will weaken popular support for Ukraine and create cleavages in the Western alliance. In the interim, Russia seems to have taken aim at Europe’s new primary gas provider, Norway, as Russian-based criminal elements launched a series of Denial of Service (DDoS) cyber-attacks against a slew of Norwegian public institutions.

However, U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Putin’s campaign in Ukraine has profoundly degraded his forces and while he still would like to take the whole of Ukraine, he probably will only be able to make incremental gains like the recent advance on Severodonesk. And even those gains are ephemeral as illustrated by Russia’s retreat today from the strategic and symbolic outcrop of Snake Island in the Black Sea. This tug and pull will endure for the foreseeable future.

In Other News – Invasion of Ukraine Renews Focus on Political Alliances – 6/23/2022

June 23, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered renewed focus on political alliances with an eye towards physical, economic, and energy security. While fierce military battles continued in Ukraine this week, international heads of state have been convening to address the many serious knock-on effects of the conflict. Since the onset of the war, there’s been a renewed interest in securing and strengthening political alliances. We’ve seen this most overtly though a reinvigorated NATO replete with new membership bids from Sweden and Finland, and through heightened attention on security alliances like the Quad and AUKUS. Much of the renewed collaboration initially focused on physical security, but the alliances are also proving valuable to strengthen economic and energy security, especially now that energy’s been clearly deemed a national security interest.

At the BRICS summit this week, leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are meeting virtually to reignite their effort to curb the influence of the US dollar. While Putin was quick to emphasize that Russia’s presence in the BRICS is rising, reflected by the sizable increase in Russian oil exports to India and China, it was Chinese President Xi who has been exploiting the global economic crisis to elevate Beijing’s standing, calling upon the BRICS nations to use their collective economic clout to advocate for leadership over the global financial system. Xi also heavily criticized “the abuse” of international sanctions.

China is now reportedly looking to expand the BRICS alliance to include nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. But India, who is a thorn in Beijing’s side, is likely to oppose any further expansion that could elevate China’s status within the group. Brazil is also relatively cautious of China. Russia’s already been reaching out beyond the BRICS to try to secure its financial future, and this week Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is in Iran attempting to “reconfigure” economic relations to operate outside of the Western system.

Meanwhile, while BRICS and friendly nations try to collaborate, NATO and allies are doubling down on their own alliances and security initiatives. The EU is currently determined in its resolve to support Ukraine, and just today granted Ukraine candidate status. Moldova was also granted candidate status in a further show of unity. The G7 is also scheduled to meet this weekend and while the climate crisis was a big topic at last year’s event, energy security is likely to headline this year. The critical need to secure energy for Europe that isn’t dependent upon Russian supplies has sparked new conversations and strategies.

While some EU members are likely to revert temporarily to coal, especially if supplies aren’t sufficient during the colder months, EU and allies are taking a multipronged approach to energy security. The EU and Norway just announced that they would increase collaboration to ensure additional short and long-term gas supplies from Norway, and the EU recently signed an MOU with Israel and Egypt to explore increasing natural gas sales to EU countries. The United States is also at the forefront of the effort to ensure LNG reaches Europe, and Canada has also stated that it’s open to speeding up gas projects that could supply Europe in just a few years. These are just a handful of myriad initiatives underway, including reevaluating the role of nuclear power and simultaneously increasing the viability of alternative energy sources and technology. As the reconfiguration of energy sources continues for the EU, BRICS, and much of the world, further innovative solutions and novel political partnerships are likely.

In Other News – Russia and Ukraine Are a Microcosm of the Broader Geo-Political Landscape – 6/16/2022

June 16, 2022

This week’s events in Russia and Ukraine are a microcosm of the broader geo-political landscape. Russia is currently hosting its annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, themed “New Opportunities in a New World”, yet the program makes scarce mention of the war in Ukraine. Putin is scheduled to speak on Friday, but earlier in June he addressed forum participants via Telegram where he blamed the West and NATO allies for widespread economic issues like inflation, supply chain disruption, and the ensuing food crisis. Although the program will seek to address how Russia should adapt to the new economic conditions, Putin is expected to take no responsibility for inciting said conditions. Instead, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is only anticipated to be explicitly discussed in a session on “Fake news in the era of globalization.”

While the St. Petersburg forum was initially launched as an outreach effort to encourage foreign investment back in 1997, this year’s event is primarily comprised of Russian attendees. It’s ironic that just last week Putin likened himself to Peter the Great, who sought to open Russia to the West, and yet this year foreign investors from the United States and European Union will be largely absent. According to one of Putin’s foreign policy advisors, the largest delegation and “guest” delegation of honor will be from Egypt. Turkey also sent a representative from the Ministry of Energy, indicating that Ankara still hopes to have a foot in both worlds. Other notable attendees will be representatives of the Afghan Taliban and a minister from Myanmar’s military apparatus.

Chinese President Xi, who vowed on Wednesday to firmly support Moscow’s “sovereignty and security” in a shift from his previous stance of supporting the sovereignty of all nations, is scheduled to address the forum via video call on Friday. Chinese participants and attendees will also hold a Russia-Chinese business dialogue, in line with the Kremlin’s recent statement that “Foreign investors are not only from the United States and European Union.” While Russian officials are towing this line, participants and topics of the forum will largely focus on Russian self-reliance, discussing how businesses and consumers can support Russian-made products and how the nation can boost its industry, including oil and gas. This seems to be a tacit admission that Russia is under strain from international sanctions and cannot easily pivot to other markets.

Meanwhile, as the limited version of the forum is underway, the German Chancellor, French President, Romanian President, and Italian Prime Minister are meeting with President Zelenskyy on their first visit to Kyiv since the onset of the war. After coming face-to-face with the destruction in Irpin, German Chancellor Scholtz tweeted that “Irpin, like Bucha, has become a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war, of senseless violence”, a sentiment that was corroborated by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court who described the country as a crime scene. Ukraine is actively calling upon the visiting heads of state to “increase pressure” on Moscow, including a Russian gas embargo, and the leaders have responded by promising more long-range artillery and backing Ukraine’s EU candidate status.

As NATO and allies continue to display a unified stance against Russia, and atrocities pile up while Putin simultaneously points fingers and deflects blame, the world continues to feel the repercussions of the conflict. The head of the UN refugee agency has reported that the food security crisis prompted by the Ukraine war will likely cause more people to flee their homes in poorer countries, making already record levels of displacement even higher. But while much of the world watches and winces, Russia mistakenly seems to view the chaos as another weapon in its arsenal, hoping to wear down the world’s patience and put Ukraine under pressure to surrender. While Putin is incorrect to think that he can starve the world to capitulation, a war of attrition will not only challenge endurance on the battlefield but test the durability and strength of old and new geopolitical and economic alliances that are on full display this week.

In Other News – Russia Makes Some Battlefield Gains – 6/9/2022

June 9, 2022

On the heels of Davos and in the weeks before the NATO summit, Russia makes some battlefield gains but it’s unclear how far that will take them. This week, there was fierce fighting in Severodonetsk, where reportedly over 10,000 Ukrainian civilians are now trapped, and at a court in the Russia-backed self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic three foreign fighters serving with the Ukrainian armed forces were handed death sentences for being “mercenaries” for Ukraine. Further, while the UN and Turkey have tried to convince the Kremlin to allow grain exports from Ukrainian ports, there’s no sound deal in sight and Moscow continues to blame the global food shortage on financial sanctions.

Western nations and allies continue to stand firmly behind Ukraine, newly committing to send weapons packages and aid, but as the UN recently reported, “the war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe, and speeding up.” On Wednesday, President Zelenskyy called upon the West for tougher sanctions against Moscow and regional Ukrainian officials have emphasized the critical need for more Western long-range artillery, replacement parts, and training. But getting the materials into the right hands is logistically challenging and it needs to happen quickly. Indeed, as the fighting continues in the Donbas, it’s a race for supplies and Zelenskyy has noted that the battle for Severodonetsk, a strategic industrial hub, could decide the outcome of the east.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s also taking measures to assert Russian control of the occupied Ukrainian south. According to the Russian defense minister, the military and Russian Railways have now repaired over 700 miles of track that will allow traffic from Russia to reach Crimea and Kherson via Ukraine’s eastern Donbas. Putin is trying hard to solidify Russian bureaucratic and social control by appointing proxy leaders, elevating the Russian language, and granting the ruble official status for citizens of occupied Ukraine. On the 106th day of the war, Putin delusionally likened himself to Peter the Great in their shared mission to “reclaim” Russian territory, and he shows little sign of changing course.

But a war of attrition wears down both equipment and the individuals serving in the armed forces. In the battle for Donbas, Russia’s losing many of its elite fighters and they can’t be quickly or easily replaced. And while claiming a victory might be good for Putin’s propaganda purposes, Ukraine will still be able to replenish its stock of weapons from the west and right now NATO remains strong in its resolve to help supply Kyiv. While the battle is grinding and Russia’s war crimes pile up, motivation will be an important factor during the upcoming phase of attrition, and Ukraine is fundamentally motivated by the will to survive or even prevail.

In Other News – Can the Ukraine Withstand Russia? – 6/2/2022

June 2, 2022

A wide range of weapons will be essential for Ukraine to withstand Russia in the next phase of battle. This week, in a video address to the Luxembourg Parliament, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy stated that Russia is currently occupying about 20% of Ukraine. Noting the uptick in Russian gains, and the immediate need for Ukrainian rearmament, the United States and NATO allies have made fresh pledges to send sophisticated weapons to Kyiv. On Wednesday, President Biden announced a new $700 million weapons package for Ukraine, including artillery rocket systems capable of hitting targets up to 50 miles away, and Germany has promised anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems. The UK has also pledged sophisticated medium-range rocket systems and Sweden has promised anti-ship missiles and anti-tank weapons. And in a distinctly modern twist and show of solidarity, Lithuanians crowdfunded nearly $6.45 million to purchase a T2 advanced combat drone from Turkey to send to Ukraine, but Turkey decided to donate the weapon for free and the funds will reportedly be redirected for humanitarian aid.

Given the physical circumstances of the conflict, these type of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons have been key to Ukraine’s defense thus far and will remain critical in the days and weeks ahead. But Ukraine and allies are simultaneously leveraging economic weapons and the punishment is getting worse. Despite disagreements with Hungary, the EU has approved new sanctions on Russian oil and agreed to cut off Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT international transaction system. New US sanctions aim to prevent Russia and Belarus from obtaining US or foreign-made products derived from certain US technology or software, and Russian oligarchs, yacht companies, and Putin-friendly elites are all being targeted. Notably, Taiwan has also banned the export of modern chips and materials for chip production to Russia or Belarus, which will limit Moscow’s ability to keep up with emerging technologies.

While these efforts will start to make things more difficult for the Russians, the knock-on effects of the war continue to make life more difficult for many. OPEC+ has agreed to a larger increase in oil supply than planned for this summer, which might provide a bit of financial relief, but it’s notable that many African and the Middle East nations, who will be hurt the most from food and supply chain shortages, remain some of Putin’s staunchest supporters. Recognizing this, Ukraine is trying to get these nations to put some pressure on Putin to lift the blockade of Ukrainian exports, but Putin seems wise to this dynamic and Russia has sent Syria about 100,000 tons of stolen Ukrainian wheat since the war began. As Moscow continues to weaponize energy and food, a combination of physical, economic, and diplomatic weapons will remain essential components of the Ukrainian arsenal.