National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Congress investigating U.S. intel mistakes in Crimea

SECDEF begins defending his budget; The combat rescue helo lives; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe

Vladimir Putin just upped the ante in his war of words with the United States. The Russian leader conducted an hour-long news conference on Tuesday, saying he saw no reason for his forces to intervene in Ukraine, but leaving open the possibility of military action if Russian-speaking Ukrainians are endangered. From the New York Times' Steven Lee Myers, Ellen Barry and Alan Cowell, in a story datelined from Moscow: "Mr. Putin seemed eager to explain his motives in Ukraine. But he offered little about the strategic vision behind Russia's actions, and gave no sense of immediate steps that could be taken to resolve the crisis. He also insisted that he did not want a military conflict in Ukraine. ‘I want you to understand me clearly,' he said. ‘If we make such a decision, it will only be for the protection of Ukrainian citizens.'"

The United States is interfering in Ukraine like... what? More from the Times on Putin: "He flatly denied that Russian troops had occupied Crimea and said the United States government had interfered in Ukraine ‘from across the pond in America as if they were sitting in a laboratory and running experiments on rats, without any understanding of the consequences.' Mr. Putin delivered a version of the crisis almost entirely at odds with the view held by most officials in Europe and the United States, as well as by many Ukrainians. He described anti-government protests in Kiev as an ‘orgy' of radicals and nationalists, noting a swastika armband that he had glimpsed in images of the crowd. He also insisted that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych had never ordered security forces to shoot protesters, suggesting that snipers stationed on rooftops ‘may have been provocateurs from opposition parties.'" More here.

Meanwhile, Congress wants to know how U.S. intelligence sources got it wrong on Russia's intentions for Crimea. The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reports that there is a split between how Pentagon intelligence sources and the CIA saw Russia's military movements ahead of its occupation of Crimea. From her story: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) said in an interview Tuesday that his committee has begun a review to find out why intelligence analysts misread Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions. "We've started looking at what was missed in some of the [Russian] intentions piece," he said. He said the source of the problem appears to be more of an analytical issue than any inability by intelligence agencies to collect enough information on Russian plans."

The CIA is sticking to its guns. More from Gorman: "The CIA said its guidance has included assessments of possible Russian action. ‘Since the beginning of the political unrest in Ukraine, the CIA has regularly updated policymakers to ensure they have an accurate and timely picture of the unfolding crisis,' said CIA spokesman Chris White. ‘These updates have included warnings of possible scenarios for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine.' More here.

Meanwhile, in Crimea... The Ukrainians are worried the Russians are trying to bait them into a fight. From Askold Krushelnycky, writing for Foreign Policy from the peninsula: "Try to imagine the dilemma that faces Ihor, a Ukrainian naval officer from a base in Crimea that's now surrounded by the Russian troops that are tightening their grip on the peninsula. (I've changed his identity because of the obvious risks to his personal safety.) ‘I'm afraid that the Russians are now waiting to see how we'll react,' he told me. ‘Whatever we do is high risk. If we fight back against them, chances are that Russian ethnic civilians will be killed or wounded, and Putin will use that as an excuse to push into southern and eastern Ukraine. But if we do nothing, they'll take that as a sign of weakness and think they can do whatever they want without any opposition from us -- which they'll soon find is not the case at all.' More here.

Why Crimea could make Afghanistan complicated. Even with all the hand-wringing over Russia's recent moves, some officials in the Pentagon are quietly calling for restraint, noting Putin's control over a key road out of Afghanistan. From the Christian Science Monitor's Anna Mulrine: "While calls mount on Capitol Hill to robustly punish Russia for its incursion into Crimea, some officials in the back halls of the Pentagon are privately pushing for restraint. That's because senior U.S. military officials are well aware that a key supply line in and out of Afghanistan runs through Russia. That supply line, known as the Northern Distribution Network, or NDN, brings food, water, and building materials that keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan fed and America's longest war going. Negotiating the NDN was a labor-intensive endeavor, and the Pentagon does not want to lose it, particularly as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan is set to begin soon. ‘It's been a heck of a process and of course we're always looking out for any disruptions to it," says a senior defense official. ‘Political problems with Russia is certainly one of them.'" More here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'm filling in for Gordon Lubold after sitting through several hours of budget briefings at the Pentagon on Tuesday. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send him a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and he'll stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see somethingwe hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe and Gordon at @glubold for delightful wit and national security analysis. You can also always reach me at dan.lamothe@foreignpolicy.com. Much obliged.

Speaking of the budget, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins defending his during a 9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill today. And the rollout of the Defense Department's 2015 fiscal plan yesterday made it clear the Pentagon is choosing machinery over manpower. From my story for FP: "The Army is cutting thousands of soldiers from its force while fielding new vehicles to replace the Humvee and upgrading tanks and helicopters. The Air Force is shedding thousands of airmen as it buys new, stealthy F-35 fighter jets and plans for its next-generation long-range bomber. And the Marine Corps is shrinking by thousands of personnel as it prepares to buy not only more F-35s, but a next-generation heavy lift helicopter and an amphibious vehicle that will swim from Navy ships to shore carrying combat troops. It's the new normal for the U.S. military, in which machinery trumps manpower when preparing budgets. With belt-tightening across Washington, the Pentagon wants to cut manpower and benefits for personnel along with select acquisition programs in order to retain as much as they can in new weapons, planes, and vehicles, senior defense officials said Tuesday. The comments came as they unveiled the Defense Department's new, controversial $495.6 billion base budget for fiscal 2015."

The budget was rolled out along with the Quadrennial Defense Review plan, which lays out the Pentagon's strategy for the future. And already, it's taking shots from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel prepares for budget testimony before Congress this week. More from my story: "Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Cal.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, decried the effort on Tuesday, saying President Obama's decision to cut the defense budget at a time when Russia and China are expanding their militaries is problematic, even if Congress called for mandatory budget cuts to drive down the national debt. ‘In an effort to control debt, the only spending the President has truly agreed to cut has been those funds dedicated to national security: $1.2 trillion in defense cuts during his time in office,' McKeon said. ‘While we cut nearly one fifth of our defense resources, Russia and China are arming at an alarming rate -- Russia's military spending is up roughly 30 percent and China's has more than doubled in recent years.'" Read the rest here.

Expect Hagel to get an earful about more than just that, however. The Pentagon has an additional $26 billion "wish list" in which it would like to buy additional aircraft and hardware in fiscal 2015. It is part of the Obama administration's "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative," a separate funding mechanism that also is under fire on Capitol Hill. From Defense News' John T. Bennett: "Fiscal hawks in both chambers are zeroing in on the $58 billion government-wide wish list, including the DoD's $26 billion chunk of it. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., fired a shot across the White House's bow, criticizing Obama's wish list and signaling the Pentagon won't get everything - or maybe anything - on its list. ‘It is important to remember that it is the Congress, not the White House, that holds the ‘power of the purse' and will decide where to cut, where to sustain, and where to invest tax dollars to the most benefit of the American people," Rogers said. More here.

Meanwhile, the China military is expanding its budget... again. The New York Times reports today that China will bump its military budget up by 12.2 percent. That, on top of 10.7 percent jump in 2013. From Edward Wong's story: "Dennis J. Blasko, a former military attaché at the American Embassy in Beijing and a retired Army officer, said the 2014 Chinese military budget ‘won't break the bank, but it says to the troops, ‘Thank you for your service, you are important to us, we support you ... A significant portion likely will be used for more pay raises... You may recall hearing some talk about how P.L.A. officers should be paid more than civil servants.'" More here.

Surprise! The Air Force's combat rescue helicopter program is back from the dead. The biggest curveball of the day for reporters and defense officials at the Pentagon appeared to be the Air Force's late-breaking announcement that it will award a contract for its next-generation combat rescue helicopter, despite it not being included in the budget. Many had left the program for dead, and criticized the Air Force for killing it. Halfway through the Air Force's budget briefing, however, Maj. Gen. James Martin told reporters he'd just received word the program would continue, after all. Air Force Secretary Deborah James, in a news release the service posted Tuesday: "Over the last 10 years, the Air Force has discussed upgrading the platform that performs this sacred mission for all DOD personnel who go into harm's way. This mission is part of the military ethos, and the Air Force is committed to keeping it." More here.

The helo decision is a big win for Sikorsky. From Defense News' Aaron Mehta: "Sikorsky's price bid was expected to expire at the end of March, but a company official said the service has asked the firm to extend and update its pricing through the end of June, with the expectation that a contract will be awarded in that time period. ‘Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U. S. Air Force for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue helicopter that will replace the service's rapidly aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet,' a Sikorsky spokesman said in a statement. ‘We are honored to be part of the sacred mission of leaving no combatant of the U.S. armed forces or its allies behind on the battlefield.' More here.

Duncan Hunter analyzes the defense budget. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), a member of the HASC and reserve Marine officer, penned an opinion piece on the Pentagon spending for Defense One. A key point from it: "Those who think America spends too much for national defense are mistaken, just as those who think that larger defense budget numbers translate into strong security. In attempting to strike a balance in recognition of today's fiscal realities, the Department of Defense unveiled its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on Tuesday, consisting of both high and low points. Ultimately, it's the duty of Congress, empowered by the Constitution, to create the defense budget, but the Pentagon's blueprint does offer some guidance that Congress would be wrong to overlook."

More from Hunter: "One recommendation worth consideration is the reduction in littoral combat ship purchases, from 52 ships to 32 ships. A cutback in the LCS would in fact produce considerable cost savings. But the significance of procuring 20 fewer ships signals a potential change in prioritization, whereby attention can be directed to alternate assets that are capable of operating more regularly in all regions. Building the naval fleet around LCS has never made any sense and cutting the LCS inventory by 20 ships will prevent overreliance on a shallow-water vessel. There are other upsides, including some outside-the-box thinking on the Navy's cruiser fleet, added investments in cyber security and a modest but needed increase in special operations forces. All of these decisions and more are sure to be discussed in the coming weeks and months as Congress moves ahead with its work.  While there are many aspects of the defense budget proposal that have been rightly declared dead on arrival, it will be important to separate the good from the bad and establish a defense budget that is singularly focused on protecting America's security interests within the confines of a new budget environment." Read the rest here.

What's up with all the pilot selfies? Politico's Phil Ewing (@philewing) tipped me off to a photo of a pilot with the Royal Danish Air Force taking a "selfie" photograph while launching a missile in an F-16. The Aviationist blog says selfies are somewhat common among fighter pilots these days, but this one is a bit extra special due to the air-to-air missile roaring in the background, over the pilot's right shoulder. Check it out here.

National Security

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.

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.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. We're going to be wheels up for a few days starting tomorrow and leaving SitRep in the more than capable hands of FP's own Dan Lamothe. Please accord him the same respect and disdain you do us - which is to say, send your loving cheers and jeers his way, at dan.lamothe@foreignpolicy.com. Meanwhile, if you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Please do follow us @glubold.

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.