Ramstein decisions and arrest warrant for putin: key trends in Ukraine's wartime reality
- russian Air Force Su-27 intercepted and eventually downed US MQ-9 Reaper UAV conducting a surveillance mission over the Western sector of the Black Sea.
russian Air Force Su-27 intercepted and eventually downed US MQ-9 Reaper UAV on a surveillance mission over the Western sector of the Black Sea. The evidence shows that the incident was carefully calculated:
(1) russian Su-27 made a total of 19 passes close to the Reaper.
(2) A UAV had been specifically chosen as a target to avoid the risk of physically endangering a US-citizen military pilot.
Although Washington did not use military force to respond to the incident, the diplomatic response was clear and strong. The russian ambassador was summoned to the US State Department following the phone calls of the US DoD Secretary Lloyd Ostin and Joint Chief Head Gen Mark Milley to their russian counterparts Sergey Shoigu and Valeriy Gerasimov. Eventually, the United States resumed surveillance drone flights over the Black Sea, including Reaper and Global Hawk UAVs.
russian leadership generally seemed unaware of the possible US response, as russian propaganda was relatively quiet during the first 24 hours after the drone was down, sending mild signals that it malfunctioned and crashed on its own. Only after the kremlin felt assured Washington would not react militarily, russian propaganda began turning the incident into "victory".
Such behavior of russian military pilots toward Western aircraft and sea vessels is rather a rule than an exception. During previous years NATO has been closely monitoring these provocations creating a separate yearly list. Often the number of provocations per month was more than a dozen (as in early 2019). These incidents were not limited to the Black Sea alone – they were typical for the Baltic region and the Eastern coast of Great Britain, too. However, this was the first time a Western nation (the US in this case) had lost its craft to the actions of the russian military.
- The online 10th session of the Ramstein initiative took place on March 15.
The session was focused on the demands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for ammo and additional weapons for the coming major counteroffensive:
(1) artillery ammunition, including medium-range capabilities;
(2) air defense systems' ammunition and additional platforms;
(3) logistics to transport and further support Western medium and heavy armored vehicles in Ukraine;
(4) Ukrainian assault forces training for future counteroffensive operations.
One of the less public topics was supporting Ukraine with modern fighter jets. Days after the session, Poland and Slovakia joined efforts to send a portion of their MiG-29 fleet to the Ukrainian Air Force. Poland promised to be ready to send up to 4 first MiGs within a few days, following Slovakia's official commitment to send Ukraine as many as 11 NATO-standards upgraded MiGs as soon as possible.
- Polish counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies wrapped up a russian spy ring aimed at planning and conducting sabotage acts on the main transportation routes, specifically railroads and airports. Nine suspects in total were arrested, and the investigation is underway.
russian leadership is desperate to do whatever it takes to stop the flow of Western weapons into Ukraine, especially in the wake of the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. Likely, russian intelligence agencies are actively using other means to further destabilize the situation in other Western nations (such as France, Germany and the US) by inspiring domestic protests and unrest to complement this strategic effort and to proceed with further hybrid aggression against the West and Ukraine.
- The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for russian president putin and the russian president's office Commissioner for children's rights Lvova-Belova.
It is the first substantial step in the legal prosecution of russian political and military leadership members responsible for numerous war crimes committed by the russian military in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale aggressive war on February 24, 2022.
russian propaganda responded with the aggressive but predictable stance that Russia is not a state party of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Therefore its ruling has no legal force on russian territory. Such denial proves lame as the ICC ruling, first and foremost, calls upon other 123 state parties to arrest putin and/or Lvova-Belova if they travel to the Rome Statute signatory nations. Another narrative of russian propaganda seems to be a repetition of the deliberate threats to the countries who might plan putin's arrest.
russia's putin is reported to visit russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Crimea and the city of Mariupol and took part in the sitting with his military leadership in the regional command post in russian Rostov-on-Don. The move comes as a propaganda tool to
(1) show the russian population that the war "goes on according to the plan" despite the dire situation of russian forces on the East and their weak defense stance on the South front;
(2) divert public attention from the ICC arrest warrant issued for the russian president and his Commissioner for children's rights.
Conclusions and Recommendations
1️⃣ russia desired – and failed, to use the incident with the downing of a US UAV over the Black Sea to provoke a firmer response from the US to give its propaganda something to even the score with the defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine. russian leadership pursued several objectives here.
- kremlin attempted to create a situation where its propaganda could use potentially aggressive US response to try to slow down military aid coming to Ukraine by accusing Washington of turning the region into its own weapons playground.
- kremlin tried to play tough in the wake of China's Xi Jinping visit to Moscow. It is especially important after the previous incidents between the PRC and the USA involving spy balloon shoot-downs and a seeming lack of response from Beijing.
Meanwhile, since Washington quickly resumed its air surveillance operations over the Black Seas after the incident, it stressed the US resolve to continue its intelligence support for helping Ukraine to defend itself.
2️⃣ The 10th Ramstein was dedicated to further practical military support of Ukraine, focusing on the central issues vital for the coming Ukrainian counteroffensive. Additional meeting results came as Poland and Slovakia officially confirmed their joint move to give Ukraine a portion of their own MiG-29 arsenals to support the Ukrainian military with air-fighting capabilities. At the same time, preparations are made for moving forward with sending Western-made fighter jets to Ukraine. This move gives Ukraine the edge and capabilities it needs to boost its Air Force potential and paves the way for further steps in building up readiness to switch to Western-made aerial platforms from the strategic perspective.
3️⃣ By planning and conducting acts of sabotage in NATO member states, russia tries to stop the flow of Western weapons into Ukraine, especially in the wake of the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. russia seems to actively exploit every hybrid tool it has in its playbook to undermine any Western efforts to assist Ukraine in the wake of its major counteroffensive. Besides using its espionage network in Western Europe to sabotage political decisions, kremlin decided to double its efforts and be ready to physically sabotage Western weapons' transportation to Ukraine.
4️⃣ The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for russian president putin and russian president's office Comissioner for children's rights Lvova-Belova. The whole situation seems to create more potential problems for the russian regime's foreign policy efforts to look for further support for its war against Ukraine. It also supports Ukraine's efforts to bring Russian political and military leadership to justice for the war crimes committed by the Russian invading army in Ukraine.
5️⃣ putin's reported visits to the occupied Ukrainian regions of Crimea and the city of Mariupol, and the regional command post in Rostov-na-Donu is another propaganda move to distract the russian public from the ICC order and accusations of Ukrainian children kidnapping. It marks another attempt to consolidate the russian population in the wake of further deteriorating the situation on the frontlines and social/economic problems and to fill in the media vacuum before the coming visit of China's Xi Jinping to moscow. Another reason may be that putin is beginning his presidential campaign to ensure his safe preservation of the president post.
This policy brief was prepared exclusively for "Rubryka" by Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation as part of a project "russia-Ukraine Conflict: from Full-Scale War to Conflict Resolution and Post-War Reconstruction" implemented in cooperation with the Razumkov Centre with the support of the MATRA program of the Embassy of the Netherlands. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the Embassy's official position.