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The Russian offensive to come
Also, Ukraine is burning 90,000 artillery shells a month.
Happy Thursday, and welcome back to The Ruck. Here’s what’s happening in the national security world this week.
Somalia has launched its “most significant offensive…in more than a decade” against the al-Shabab extremist group, the AP reports, and this time, “Somali fighters are in the lead, backed by U.S. and African Union forces.”
The Pentagon is tapping into its arms stockpile in Israel “to help meet Ukraine’s dire need for artillery shells,” according to The New York Times.
“The Ukrainian army uses about 90,000 artillery rounds a month, about twice the rate they are being manufactured by the United States and European countries combined, U.S. and Western officials say. The rest must come from other sources, including existing stockpiles or commercial sales.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine is worried about a possible Russian offensive launched from Belarus. Moscow and its close ally have been taking part in joint military exercises, leading to fears the training could be a pretext for a cross-border incursion.
“In all areas of our responsibility we are building these fortifications to be able to defend and mount counter-offensives clandestinely,” Senior Lt. Anton, a 32-year-old Ukrainian soldier, told NBC News. “The potential offensive from the Belarusian side could come from anywhere. That’s why we are getting ready for all scenarios.”
Belarus’ exiled opposition leader, however, is skeptical. "I doubt that a possible attack can take place on land, but missiles can be launched from Belarus territory at any moment," Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said. “Putin knows that the participation of Belarusian troops could raise unpredictable consequences.”
“Weapons are crucial because this war is very difficult. This is not the end of the war. Russia is not defeated…” says Polish President Andrzej Duda, urging the West to provide more weapons. “This moment will answer the question: will Ukraine survive or not?”
Regardless of where or how it happens, talk of Russia mounting a spring offensive continues. According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Kremlin “is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine’s current string of operational successes.”
Ukraine wants Western tanks, and Britain has broken the taboo after announcing it will supply more than a dozen Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Kyiv. This “will heap further pressure on Germany” to supply its own Leopard tanks to Ukraine, according to The Guardian.
In other news, "there is little indication that the Intelligence Community’s exquisite collection capabilities were generating information that was valuable to policymakers,” wrote the authors of a review of information from classified reports between December 2019 to January 2020 with insight into the novel coronavirus spread in China.
“Officials were instead relying on public reporting, diplomatic cables and analysis from medical experts — some examples of so-called open source intelligence, or OSINT.”
The context from AP: “The latest disclosure is in addition to the discovery of documents found in December in Biden’s garage and in November at his former offices at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, from his time as vice president. The apparent mishandling of classified documents and official records from the Obama administration is under investigation by a former U.S. attorney, Robert Hur, who was appointed as a special counsel on Thursday by Attorney General Merrick Garland.”
Japan and India are conducting their first joint fighter jet training—“a historic milestone in the two nation’s defense and security ties amid China’s military buildup and regional assertiveness,” according to The Diplomat.
Flying together out of two Japanese air bases, Japan’s Air Force is bringing four F-2 and four F-15 fighters, while the Indian Air Force will fly four Su-30 MKI fighter jets, two C-17 transport planes, and one IL-78 tanker.
Welcome home, Taylor Dudley. After months of negotiations and nearly a year in detention, the 35-year-old American Navy veteran has been released from Russian custody. Russian border patrol police detained the Lansing, Michigan native “in April 2022 after crossing from Poland into Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave which is territory governed by Moscow between Poland and Lithuania,” CNN reported. “He was in Poland attending a music festival, and it is not clear why he crossed the border.”
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New & notable reports
“The DOD has struggled for decades to accurately account for government property in the possession of its contractors. DOD estimated that the value of such unaccounted property is over $220 billion—but that amount is likely significantly understated. This is one of the reasons that federal auditors are unable to audit DOD's financial statements.”
A good three-page overview of China’s democratic neighbor—including the island's history, policies from Taipei, Beijing, and the United States, and updates on the evolving security environment.
“In August 2022, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1997. The PRC’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) responded to the visit by conducting exercises in six locations around Taiwan. PRC state media portrayed the activities as intended to demonstrate how the PLA could isolate and attack Taiwan, including by blockading ports, attacking military bases on Taiwan’s east coast, and controlling access to the Bashi Channel in the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. The exercises, which included missile test-launches over Taiwan, were unprecedented in scale and established a ‘new normal’ in which PLA ships and aircraft now operate closer to Taiwan and with more regularity. The PRC also suspended some cooperation with the United States and announced sanctions against Pelosi and her family. Pelosi’s successor as Speaker in the 118th Congress, Kevin McCarthy, stated in July 2022 that he, too, would like to lead a delegation to Taiwan as Speaker.”
“As the PLA has become more capable, the cross-Strait balance of military power has shifted in the PRC’s favor…Near-daily PLA operations in and above waters around Taiwan increase the demands on Taiwan’s military to monitor and respond to such activities, and could compress the time available for Taiwan to respond if the PLA attacks.”
Defending against Iran's Shahed drones "has proved to be frustratingly complicated." They "fly low and slow, and once acquired are easy to shoot down," but low radar and thermal signatures make them harder to spot from afar.
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See you next week. —Paul