Today's D Brief: Biden to ban Russian oil imports; Ukraine says Russia violated ceasefire again; Moscow's encryption problem; And a bit more.
In an unprecedented, major development on day 14 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the president of the United States is expected to announce a ban on Russian oil imports in televised remarks this morning from the White House. Catch it live via C-Span, here.
What to expect: “The U.S. will be acting alone, but in close consultation with European allies, who are more dependent on Russian energy supplies,” the Associated Press previews. Why go alone? “European nations have said they plan to reduce their reliance on Russia for their energy needs, but filling the void without crippling their economies will likely take some time.”
In context: “About 8% of U.S. imports of oil and refined products, or about 672,000 barrels a day, came from Russia last year,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Of that, Russia’s crude made up roughly 3% of the nation’s imports, about 200,000 barrels a day.” Meanwhile, “The U.S. national average for a gallon of gasoline soared 45 cents a gallon in the past week and topped $4.06 on Monday,” AP reports.
“We are going to see increased gas prices here in the United States,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told CNN on Tuesday. “In Europe, they will see dramatic increases in prices. That's the cost of standing up for freedom and standing alongside the Ukrainian people, but it's going to cost us.”
According to new U.S. polling data: 71% of “Americans are ready to put a chokehold on Russia's key financial lifeblood, oil, no matter what the consequences are at the pump,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy. That compares to just 22% that aren’t on board with the idea of banning Russian oil. Much more in that polling data—including 80% who want a military response if Russia attacks a NATO member—here.
New: Ukraine’s president says he’s willing to consider compromises to end the fighting, and those compromises could include that Ukraine cede Crimea and the two separatist regions in Donetsk and Luhansk to Russia, along with a promise of not joining NATO. “I've cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that NATO isn't prepared to accept Ukraine,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy told ABC News. It is, of course, too soon to know how that offer will be received at the far end of Vladimir Putin’s 20-foot-long table inside the Kremlin. Zelenskyy on Monday said he wants to find out personally in a face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Reminder: What does Russia want? Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov repeated Moscow’s demands Monday. “The main thing is that Ukraine ceases its military action. They should stop their military action and then no one will shoot,” Peskov said. Next, Ukraine “should make amendments to the constitution according to which Ukraine would reject any aims to enter any bloc,” like NATO, e.g. And Russia wants Ukraine to “recognise that Crimea is Russian territory and that they need to recognise that Donetsk and Lugansk are independent states…For the rest, Ukraine is an independent state that will live as it wants, but under conditions of neutrality.” More from Reuters.
One wonk’s reax: “Hard to see how Zelenskyy could do any of these except #2,” Samuel Charap of RAND tweeted Monday. “Frankly, the demands for recognition are effectively demands for total capitulation,” he added. Furthermore, “Recognition of Crimea and DNR/LNR would only happen if there were a new [government] installed.”
By the way: For two stark and recent illustrations of Moscow’s apparent cognitive dissonance, consider first that Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations told the UN Security Council on Monday that it is not Russia bombing Ukrainian civilians, but rather Ukrainians bombing themselves with missiles and rockets. Read more on that up-is-down, black-is-white rhetoric from Russia, here or from Business Insider. The second illustration comes from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who insisted Monday that (emphasis added) “the goal of Russia's special military operation is to stop any war that could take place on Ukrainian territory or that could start from there.” More from Business Insider yet again, here.
New: For the third time, Russia is accused of violating a ceasefire to allow civilians to flee besieged and partially besieged cities. The latest allegations concern the port city of Mariupol, Reuters reports, citing Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
For his part, Zelenskyy is trying to keep a level head. “You know, we used to say: Monday is a hard day,” he said yesterday in Kyiv. “There is a war in the country. So every day is Monday. And now we are used to the fact that every day and every night are like that.”
Coverage continues below the fold...
From Defense One
Why Is Ukraine’s Internet Still Up? Perhaps Because the Invaders Need It // Tara Copp: As well, eight years of effort to harden IT infrastructure may be paying off.
Ukraine, Fight Your Fight—Not Their Fight // Mark Kimmitt: The Ukrainian military needs the weapons and tactics of an irregular conflict, not a conventional war.
Like the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, But for Cyber // Ronald Sanders and Mike McConnell: The tasks of coordinating cybersecurity efforts and growing a cyber workforce is too big for a White House office and too fluid for a full department.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1916, British forces attempted to relieve an Ottoman siege of Kut, in modern day eastern Iraq, close to Brit-held lands around Basra. British hesitation at dawn at least partly cost them the battle to break the siege, which led to the deaths of some 4,000 British and Indian troops.
Armaments report: NATO members have given Ukraine a staggering 17,000 anti-tank weapons in six days, according to five New York Times reporters who teamed up Sunday. Those weapons have traveled by land “over the borders of Poland and Romania,” and “So far, Russian forces have been so preoccupied in other parts of the country that they have not targeted the arms supply lines.” But Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Monday that alliance officials do not expect those land corridors to stay viable. “I think that the international community has been tremendously responsive and have found ways to get the materiel in,” she said Monday during a stop in Madrid, according to AP. “That may become harder in the coming days, and we’ll have to find other ways to manage this.”
Review Russian and Ukrainian equipment losses to date, via four open-source intelligence gatherers. The four caveat up top that “This list only includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available.” Dive in, here.
Moscow has allegedly lost a second general in Ukraine. This time it was 44-year-old Gen. Maj. Vitaly Gerassimov, chief of staff of the 41st Combined Arms Army. Another general officer—Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, deputy commander of the 41st Army—was reportedly killed by a Ukrainian sniper on Feb. 28.
Russia’s expensive, encrypted Era communications system doesn’t seem to be working very well in Ukraine, according to an alleged intercepted communique between Russian troops Monday. Ukrainian forces translated the dialogue between Russians, in which an “FSB officer assigned to the 41st Army reports the death to his boss in Tula,” Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev reported. In that call, the officer “says they've lost all secure communications. Thus the phone call using a local sim card. Thus the intercept,” Grozev tweeted.
So, why the apparent comms troubles? It seems to be the result of Russia knocking out many 3G cell phone towers across Ukraine—towers that Russia’s Era system needs to communicate securely with Moscow. That system, Grozev reminds us, was supposed to work “in all conditions” when it was launched just last year. And that would all seem to suggest “The Russian army is equipped with secure phones that can't work in areas where the Russian army operates,” according to Grozev. Read on in his explanatory Twitter thread, here.
Both the ICC and Germany’s chief prosecutor have launched war crimes investigations into Russian military actions inside Ukraine since the invasion began. The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announced the beginning of that investigation late last week; Germany’s attorney general announced that probe today in Berlin, according to Der Speigel.
What those investigators will look for: Alleged cluster bomb use, attacks on civilians and attacks on critical infrastructure—all of which appear to have been well documented.
And outside Europe? The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon both support Russia’s invasion, the Associated Press reports today in an abbreviated Middle East roundup. Those groups and others like them support Russia’s Putin “largely because of his close ties with Tehran and his military intervention in Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar Assad,” AP writes from Baghdad.
And three major Russian oil firms are operating inside Iraq—Lukoil, Gazprom Neft, and Rosneft—which helps explain why “Iraq is against the war but has not condemned it nor taken a side,” as one analyst explained.
And this week we learned, “It was only a few days ago that Iraq finished paying reparations to Kuwait which totaled more than $52 billion” for Saddam Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. That invasion, too, is on some Iraqis’ minds this week. Read more at AP, here.
Stateside reax: “One reason we're paying $4 a gallon for gas is that a Saudi prince is angry that we criticized him for for murdering a Washington Post journalist,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski tweeted Monday. “If the alternative to relying on a Russian tyrant's oil is a Saudi tyrant's oil, maybe we should be less reliant on oil?”
- “Russia Resorts to Desperate Threats to Cut Off Europe’s Gas Supply,” via The Daily Beast, reporting Tuesday;
- “Biden advisers weigh Saudi Arabia trip for more oil,” via Axios, reporting Sunday;
- “UAE calls on parties in Ukraine-Russia conflict to avoid targeting civilians,” via the Saudi-run and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news agency, reporting Tuesday;
- “Russia Reportedly Sinks Former US Coast Guard Patrol Boat Donated to Ukraine,” via Military.com, reporting Monday.
Because of the so-called “truckers convoy,” National Guard troops will stay on duty around the D.C. area for two more days, ending Wednesday, March 9. The Guard troops are helping staff traffic control points around the U.S. Capitol area. The request for extension came from the U.S. Capitol Police and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby in a statement Monday.
The Daily Beast’s Monday evening headline: “Beltway 3. Convoy 0.”
And lastly: Hawaii’s leaky fuel storage facility is closing down. The U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Oahu will permanently close, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Monday. The closure comes months after petroleum leaked into drinking water and sickened thousands of military families and local residents.
Next: The heads of the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency are expected to submit a plan by May 31 on how they will safely remove the fuel from the World War II-era facility, which has 20 tanks that can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel. They plan to do that within a year. Going forward, the fuel will be redistributed across the Indo-Pacific region, including on fuel storage ships, to put the U.S. in a better position to “meet future challenges in the region,” according to a Pentagon fact sheet published Monday. Read more, here.