Today's D Brief: Mixed messaging from Moscow; Eyes in the sky; NATO's caution; Canada's emergency; And a bit more.
Invasion averted? Russia’s Putin seems to have chosen more talks over a new invasion of Ukraine, according to the latest diplomatic developments from Moscow, where German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin spoke to reporters after their first face-to-face meeting as heads of state.
That message came shortly after Russia’s military said it’s begun removing some troops from around Ukraine, and some have allegedly already loaded into trains and plan to travel elsewhere today. U.S. and British officials suggested otherwise, and Ukraine’s foreign minister replied, “we’ll believe it when we see it.”
For the record, here’s what Russia’s Defense Ministry is messaging to the world, and to Ukraine’s uneasy allies and partners in Europe: “As the combat training measures are completed, the troops, as always, will make marches in a combined way to the points of permanent deployment,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Tuesday, without specifying troop numbers or destinations. “The units of the Southern and Western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and will begin moving to their military garrisons today. Separate units will march on their own as part of military columns.”
Kyiv’s top diplomat replied: “We in Ukraine have a rule: we don’t believe what we hear, we believe what we see,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Tuesday morning. “If a real withdrawal follows these statements, we will believe in the beginning of a real de-escalation.”
And NATO’s chief said he sees no signs of de-escalation, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press conference today from Brussels. “So far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine,” he said. The statement from Moscow’s military is nice and all, Stoltenberg said; but NATO would like to see a “significant and enduring withdrawal of [Russia’s] forces, troops, and not least the heavy equipment.”
Eyes in the sky seem to suggest Russian military escalation. The satellite imagery firm Maxar said Monday that it snapped new photos “over the past 48 hours that reveal increased Russian military activity in Belarus, Crimea, and western Russia.”
This includes “the arrival of several large deployments of troop and attack helicopters, new deployments of ground attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets to forward locations, the departure of multiple ground forces units from existing garrisons along with other combat units seen in convoy formation.” Review nearly two dozen of Maxar’s new images, here.
Russian mercenaries are also allegedly flowing into eastern Ukraine’s separatist areas, Reuters reported Monday, citing three Western security sources. If true, this would be concerning because “Russia could also use the mercenaries to sow discord and paralyse Ukraine through targeted assassinations and the use of specialised weaponry, the sources said.”
Russia’s Duma just gave Putin legislation to recognize Ukraine’s separatist regions as “sovereign and independent states.” The move drew swift condemnation from the European Union, according to Agence France-Presse. The new law “can be signed anytime,” The Guardian’s Andrew Roth tweeted, and said about Putin: It’s “not a given he'll go through with it immediately. But as Chekhov said about the gun appearing in act 1…”
- Stocks rebound after Russia signals troop pullback,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday morning;
- “U.S. Weighs China Factor in Drafting Plans to Punish Russia,” via the Wall Street Journal;
- “How a Ukraine Conflict Could Reshape Europe’s [Natural Gas] Reliance on Russia,” via the New York Times;
- And “‘Vladdy daddy please no war…’ Gen Z posts on Russia-Ukraine tensions,” via Reuters, reporting Monday from the internet.
From Defense One
Russian Statements Draw ‘Cautious Optimism,’ But Troops Aren’t Leaving Yet, NATO Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: Stoltenberg hails “signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue” but says there’s no sign of de-escalation so far.
Marines, Sailors Given More Time With Their Newborns // Caitlin M. Kenney: An extra week of leave for “secondary caregivers” may lead to a 3-month leave policy.
Putin's Buildup Continues; NATO Peace Pleas Fail; Attack Now Possible ‘With Little to No Warning’ // Jacqueline Feldscher: White House and Pentagon officials warn Russia could invade ‘this week;’ US embassy ordered empty.
How Technology Is Opening a Window onto Russian Military Activity Around Ukraine // Craig Nazareth , The Conversation: Scraping Twitter is becoming as important as billion-dollar spy satellites.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
Veterans groups are still working to help Afghans in limbo. Some 36,000 Afghans who evacuated to the U.S. in August could lose their residency status this summer, so some veterans groups in the states are lobbying Congress to pass a law to protect those Afghans, just as the U.S. has done in the past for Cubans, Vietnamese, and Iraqis.
One big holdup: “While there is bipartisan support for the idea, Republicans have some outstanding questions,” said Chris Purdy, who directs Veterans for American Ideals. Military.com has more, here.
Canada declared a national emergency so it could reopen roads after hundreds of truckers blocked a bridge and stopped a border crossing with the U.S. several days ago.
The declaration lets authorities "do what is necessary to restore public order” and will allow the police to “seize trucks and other vehicles being used in blockades,” the New York Times reports from Ottawa. It also allows the government to ban blockades in specific areas—like border crossings, e.g..
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his invocation of the Emergencies Act was a “last resort.” Parliament now has a week to approve the decision.
The U.S. Navy may buy unmanned boats from Israel to help patrol the waters around the Middle East. That’s what a U.S. official said Tuesday after the new Israeli prime minister’s first visit to Bahrain. Reuters has a tiny bit more, here.
And lastly: The Navy nuclear engineer nabbed by the FBI trying to sell secret information pleaded guilty in court on Monday. Jonathan Toebbe, 43, admitted to his role in a conspiracy to communicate restricted data, a charge that comes with as many as 17 years in prison, according to the Associated Press. He and his wife, Diana, were arrested last October in West Virginia, where the two had left several packages for an official they thought was affiliated with a foreign government. Jonathan initially pleaded not guilty, but has since changed that as part of a deal to give up what he says is all the classified information he kept at home, as well as the cryptocurrency the couple received during the deal—whose intended recipient (France? Australia?) is still not known.
It’s still unclear what will happen with Diana. According to the New York Times, Jonathan “had done little to contest his pretrial detention or the charges against him,” but his wife’s “lawyers have mounted a defense that she knew nothing of the plot to steal secrets.” More here.