Budget day at the Pentagon; Ukrainians are tough but undermanned and underfunded; Spies, lies and rape: the story of an undercover airman; and a bit more.
FP's Situation Report: U.S. suspends mil relationship with Russia; Budget day at the Pentagon; Ukrainians are tough but undermanned and underfunded; Spies, lies and rape: the story of an undercover airman; and a bit more.
The U.S. just suspended some of its engagement with the Russians - although some "lines of communication" remain open. The so-called mil-to-mil relationship between the U.S. and Russia took a turn for the worse last night after the Pentagon announced that it would not participate with the Russians in two exercises and would suspend participation in an ongoing, strategic dialogue with which it has participated with the Russians. The move comes as top Russian officials face sanctions by the U.S. The suspension of military engagement was largely symbolic, but intended to send a message to amid the worsening crisis in which Russia has reportedly sent more than 16,000 troops into Crimea in Ukraine. At the same time, Pentagon officials said not all engagement with the Russians was off - "we are keeping the lines of communication open," said one defense official to Situation Report by e-mail.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, last night: "Although the Department of Defense finds value in the military-to-military relationship with the Russian Federation we have developed over the past few years to increase transparency, build understanding, and reduce the risk of military miscalculation we have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia... We call on Russia to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases, as required under the agreements governing the Russia Black Sea Fleet." Kirby stressed that there has been "no change to our military posture" in Europe or the Mediterranean" as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.
What's affected for now: The Pentagon has cancelled its participation with the Russians and Canada in an exercise known as Vigilant Eagle to "coordinate on cooperative air defense," as well as another, Northern Eagle, between the U.S., Norway and Russia, to give each country's navies a chance to work together on anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations, "coordinated maneuvering, joint air defense drills, communications and search and rescue ops." The U.S. is also putting on hold its participation in something called the U.S.-Russia Defense Relations Working Group, established in 2010 to provide a "regular forum to share best practices on issues related to training, education and support to military members and their families," and to discuss issues of common security interest, from the Middle East and North Africa to arms control, Afghanistan and NATO-Russia relations, according to a Pentagon statement.
This suspension did not occur during the crisis in 2008 in Georgia. Of course it was a different set of circumstances then. But despite the political challenges between the U.S. and Russia, the military-to-military relationship has been, quietly, reasonably strong. And the Russian military at least, has been perceived to enjoy its relationship with the U.S. military. Whether any of this would affect Moscow's decision-making was far from clear, however.
John Kerry arrives in Kiev today. And this morning, the White House announced an aid package for the Ukrainian government that includes $1 billion in loan guarantees. A statement from the White House this morning read in part: "...The U.S. Administration is working with Congress and the Government of Ukraine to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees aimed at helping insulate vulnerable Ukrainians from the effects of reduced energy subsidies. At the same time, the United States is moving quickly to provide technical expertise to help the National Bank of Ukraine and the Ministry of Finance address their most pressing challenges. The United States is dispatching highly experienced technical advisors to help the Ukrainian financial authorities manage immediate market pressures. The United States will also provide expertise to help Ukraine implement critical energy sector reforms."
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military: undermanned, underfunded and now in trouble. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The Ukrainian government called for the mobilization of 130,000 troops on Monday, threatening to take on the Russian military if tensions on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula boil over into a full-scale armed conflict between the two nations. There's a major problem for leaders in Kiev, however: While Ukraine's military is stronger than the one Russia devastated when it conquered parts of Georgia in 2008, it is still under-funded, undermanned and poorly equipped to take on a vastly superior foe, experts said.
"The tensions simmered as Russia and Ukraine also exchanged a war of words about their intentions. Russian forces seized or surrounded multiple Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, and Ukraine accused Russia of issuing an ultimatum to Ukrainian leaders to withdraw their forces, or watch their bases be stormed. Russia countered that it had issued no such demands, leaving it unclear what could occur. Regardless, Ukraine is in trouble if Russia escalates its use of military force in Crimea." Read the rest here.
Mark Hertling on the Ukrainian military: they're tough. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "A retired U.S. general with deep knowledge of the geopolitical dynamics at play in Ukraine says the country's military will stand its ground if Russian forces launch an assault. 'My experience was the Ukrainian infantry was very tough,' retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the former commander of U.S. Army Europe, told Military Times on Monday. 'They are hard soldiers. They are used to hard conditions and their leadership was becoming more professional as we were working with them in Europe.'" More here.
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Don't forget: it's budget day at the Pentagon today (just the broad brushstrokes last week). Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with the numbers: "The Pentagon's proposed $496 billion budget for the coming fiscal year would provide $154 billion for weapons purchases and research, $25 billion less than projected a year ago, according to Defense Department figures. The reduction is part of the $45 billion in savings that defense officials had to find to meet the budget caps lawmakers agreed to in December.
"The weapons spending amounts, obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of today's release of President Barack Obama's budget plan, reflect Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's pledge last week to shrink the Army and retire older planes in favor of newer systems such as Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 jet and Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Global Hawk surveillance drones." The rest here.
What happens if all the troops leave Afghanistan - will there still be a war budget? Good question that Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber tries to answer: "The US Defense Department will likely continue asking Congress for war funding separate from the Pentagon's base budget accounts and not subject to federal spending caps even if all American troops leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, experts say. The Pentagon will submit a $496 billion 2015 budget request to Congress on Tuesday, a spending plan that does not include money for operations in Afghanistan. The war-funding measure, know as overseas contingency operations (OCO), is being delayed because the Afghan government has not approved a security agreement that would allow NATO troops to remain in the country beyond the end of the year." The rest here.
More on Ukraine: The behind-the-scenes narrative on how the U.S. let Europe take the lead in the effort to usher Ukraine into the West. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Laurence Norman on Page One: "The U.S. ambassador was waiting in the office of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in November, anxious for a decision that would cinch closer ties with the West, when he ran across a staffer bearing unwelcome news. 'I can't believe it. I just came from seeing the president. He's told me we're going to put the European project on pause,' Mr. Yanukovych's chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkyn, told U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, according to a person who was present. The ambassador asked how the president intended to explain the turnabout to 46 million Ukrainians expecting a new pact with the European Union. 'I have no idea,' Mr. Lyovochkyn said. '...I don't think they have a Plan B unless it's a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.'
"The exchange made clear the U.S. would have to come up with its own Plan B. For the previous two years, the Obama administration had sought to let Europe take the lead in guiding the westward political and economic drift of the former Soviet republic, with the U.S. in a supporting role.
"Now, the U.S. has been drawn front and center at a far more difficult time-after blood has been shed, battle lines drawn and Russian ire provoked. Locked today in the very East-West standoff the administration had hoped to avoid, 'The U.S. is now in the lead,' a senior U.S. official said." Read the rest here.
The U.S. is increasingly isolated when it comes to sanctions against Russia. FP's Colum Lynch: "On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence that there was broad international support for imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia unless it withdrew its forces from Ukraine. It took barely a day for a vital American ally to say that it would pursue a different approach -- and for evidence to emerge that a second one was likely to break with the Obama administration as well.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the most powerful figures in the European Union, signaled Monday that she wanted to hold off on sanctions while pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis, not one based on the asset freezes, visa bans, and other punitive measures Kerry outlined during his appearance on 'Meet the Press.' Merkel's government instead favors direct talks with Moscow and the deployment of international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which would establish facts on the ground in Ukraine with the aim of assuring Moscow that the rights of ethnic Russians were being respected." More here.
Rule No. 1 for the Russian invasion of Crimea? Silence the media. The HuffPo's Michael Calderone: "One of the first casualties in the Russian invasion of Crimea was independent television. Black Sea TV, the peninsula's only independent channel, was shut down on Monday. The head editor, Oleksandra Kvitko, said a Crimean governing body had decided to close the station, claiming there had been threats against its journalists. The crackdown on independent media is a hallmark of Kremlin-style manipulation. Such press tightening began early on during the presidency of Vladimir Putin and has continued, most recently, in the run-up to last month's Sochi Olympics and threatened closure of opposition channel TV Rain.
"Russian media chiefs defended their reporting Monday against charges of bias, even as recent coverage demonstrated the Kremlin's control of the news. Following the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Victor Yanukovych, Russian TV anchors have suggested that supporters of Ukraine's new interim government would have sided with the fascists in World War II -- or the 'Great Patriotic War,' the term commonly used in Russia -- and that Western-facing protesters largely belonged to the extreme right. More here.
"Spies, lies and Rape" in The Daily Beast: The story about a young airman just out of Air Force basic training, secretly hired by the AF's Office of Special Missions, who says she was raped while on duty. The Daily Beast's Jacob Siegel: "On the night of July 26, 2013, Airman First Class Jane Neubauer was on a beach in Biloxi, Mississippi having a few drinks and hanging out with friends when she got a text inviting her to a party. The sun had set, but the gulf coast air was still hot and muggy when she jumped in a car and drove off with a group of suspected drug dealers. They weren't her friends and it wasn't her idea of a good time. Neubauer, 23 years old and new to the military, had been recruited by the Air Force's secretive law enforcement branch, the Office of Special Investigations, to infiltrate a drug ring selling pills out of a local restaurant.... According to Neubauer, the man closed his hand around her throat and told her that he knew who she was and where she lived and that he knew she'd been working as an informant. He called her a snitch. Then, she says, he raped her."
"Her story sheds light on three disturbing trends that the Pentagon would rather keep quiet: a culture of drug abuse among service members, the use of ill-prepared young informants to infiltrate that culture, and a pattern of sexual assaults that lead to retaliation against the victim." Read the rest of this tale here.
The military justice system, on trial: The trial of Jeffrey Sinclair, the Army one-star accused of having an illicit affair with a subordinate, assaulting her and threatening to kill her if she told anyone finally gets underway this week. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "A sordid account involving illicit sex in uniform will be aired this week in an austere courtroom at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the results could tip the scales in a high-stakes debate in Congress over the future of the military justice system. The defendant, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, is accused of carrying on a long affair with a junior officer and sexually assaulting her on two occasions, among other crimes. He is only the third Army general to face court-martial in more than a half-century. But after two years of investigation and preparation, the prosecution is in disarray.
"The Army's handling of the case is being watched closely in Washington, where the Senate is scheduled to soon consider a major bill that would strip military commanders of their long-standing authority to prosecute sexual assaults and other major crimes." Read the rest here.
In the lead: War deaths top 13,000 among Afghan security forces. The NYT's Rod Nordland: " More than 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed during the war here, far more than previously known, according to Afghan government statistics. Most of those losses occurred during the past three years as Afghan forces took over a growing share of the responsibility for security in the country, culminating in full Afghan authority last spring. The numbers also reflect an increased tempo to the conflict. More clashes have taken place as insurgents test the government forces, without as much fear of intervention from the American-led coalition as it prepares to withdraw.
"A statement released late Sunday by President Hamid Karzai's cabinet, the Council of Ministers, put the total number of people in the Afghan security forces killed in the past 13 years at 13,729, with an additional 16,511 Afghan soldiers and police officers wounded." More here.