Analytics 10:46 21 Кві 2023

Russia committing war crimes and Ukraine’s air force being boosted: key trends in Ukraine’s wartime reality

International Developments

Washington is investigating the leak of more than 100 classified documents that were revealed last week.

The documents, labeled "secret" and "top secret," offer important insights into the state of the Ukraine war, as NATO expands in response to the Russian incursion, and U.S. politicians debate the wisdom or necessity of supporting the war with financial and military aid.

However, the general content of the leaked documents demonstrates that the information in them did not contain anything that could potentially endanger the US strategic intelligence posture. On the contrary, the leaked documents seemed to be general-character brief materials. This fact hints that they might have been purposefully disseminated by US intelligence agencies to identify potential leak channels and/or personnel involved in them.

Except for the fact of the leak itself, the only serious concern for the US intelligence community seems to be that these documents represent the pattern of how such intelligence briefs are compiled and what conclusions are made in them.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang claimed that the PRC would not provide arms to any side of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

He made this statement during a meeting with his German counterpart, Mrs. Baerbock, stressing that China would thoroughly regulate exports of dual-use goods. According to Mr. Gang, Beijing takes a responsible and rational approach to weapons exports.

The current level of Beijing's neutrality means that, at least in the short run, Russia is not expected to get the desirable amount of Chinese weapons needed to proceed with the Kremlin's war objective in Ukraine.

Belarus' Lukashenko asked Russia for "security guarantees."

During a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Shoigu in Minsk, Belarus self-proclaimed president Lukashenko asked for "security guarantees" from Russia. Specifically, he asked that Russian forces defend Belarus territory "as their own" if need be.

Lukashenko claimed that he had discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Putin and had had a mutual agreement on it.

These claims might mean that Lukashenko is trying to safeguard himself from (1) being directly dragged into Russia's war against Ukraine and (2) to avoid additional international pressure on Minsk regarding its plans to agree to Russia's tactical nuclear weapons deployment to Belarus.

US Strategic Command is commencing its annual nuclear command and control exercise, Global Thunder.

As tensions mount over the possibility of Russian tactical nukes appearing in Belarus, thus allowing the Kremlin to step up its nuclear blackmail over its aggressive stance in its war against Ukraine, the US is prepared to show its determination to address the new security challenges and reassure its European allies by conducting a series of strategic nuclear-deterrence international exercises.

Global Thunder 23 (GT23) involves personnel throughout the strategic enterprise, including USSTRATCOM components and subordinate units. The purpose of GT23 is to enhance nuclear readiness and ensure a safe, secure, and reliable strategic deterrence force.

In addition to U.S. personnel, GT23 will involve key allied personnel and partners, including the United Kingdom, who will integrate into senior leadership teams and work across a broad spectrum of areas offering policy support and operational insight.

The German Defense Ministry approved Poland to provide Ukraine with 5 MiG-29s left from the GDR era.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius officially allowed Poland to hand over 5 MiG-29 fighter jets left from the Cold War GDR arsenal.

The move further enhances the joint efforts of Ukraine's Western allies to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces with additional air force capabilities much needed in terms of the anticipated major counteroffensive.

The move would also speed up the process of giving Ukraine the military aircraft it could use on the battlefield as soon as possible, with Air Force capabilities being one of the most crucial factors of Ukrainian victory.

War/Security Situation

Russia's Wagner PMC mercenaries publicly acknowledge executions of Ukrainian POWs and civilians. 

Wagner's mercenaries made public appearances on a video of brutal execution of a Ukrainian POW, as well as on a public interview for the Gulagu.net project describing how they had executed the civilian population in Ukrainian Bakhmut and Soledar under the direct orders from Wagner's leader Prigozhyn himself.

Airing these brutalities might indicate Russian military leadership is uncertain of the Russian forces' ability to defend against the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive and again shifts to the hybrid toolkit to compensate for the critical lack of resources to mount psychological pressure on the Ukrainian military and civilian population.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  1. The major leak of the classified US intelligence documents, the investigation pending, and the first arrest of the US National Guard Airman 1st Class, Cyber Transport Systems journeyman Jack Teixeira as an initial suspect for a major intelligence leak might be the first step of a much broader investigation effort to uncover foreign intelligence operations aimed at obtaining sensitive information from the US government.

As it is clear that Mr. Teixeira alone could not have spread the leaked documents as widely as they've gone, additional investigation is required, potentially revealing other suspects involved in the leak. With the investigation pending, Ukraine has to assure the United States that the situation will not affect bilateral cooperation and the level of mutual trust between Kyiv and Washington, as it might be used by Russian propaganda and intelligence to undermine any joint war efforts aimed at defeating Russian invading forces in Ukraine.

  1. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang claimed that the PRC would not provide arms to any side of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The statement came during the official visit of the German Foreign Minister Mrs. Baerbock and is another signal that Beijing is currently negotiating trade and political issues with the European Union in general and its key leaders.

However, these efforts by the PRC to boost trade with the EU must be viewed as an instrument for pursuing Chinese strategic geopolitical plans of playing a key regional and cornerstone global role. China clearly exploits the Russian-Ukrainian war to its benefit, and its efforts are to be observed closely by both Ukraine and the West, and if needed, to be met with joint countermeasures.

  1. Belarus seeks "security guarantees" from Russia. In practical terms, the claim made by Belarus' Lukashenko means that Russia and Belarus are preparing to revise their bilateral security agreements and legal documents guiding them.

It is highly likely that this is an attempt to put the announced Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in a legal framework to avoid further accusations of violating the non-proliferation norms. Ukraine and Western allies should watch the developments closely and prepare both legal and security moves to counter this new step in upping the hybrid nuclear blackmail by the Kremlin.

  1. US Strategic Command's Global Thunder annual nuclear command and control exercise, although an annual scheduled event, marks the first step in the Western response to Russian hybrid nuclear blackmail.

For instance, this year Global Thunder 23 will include an increase in bomber aircraft flights throughout the exercise – a move clearly aimed at deterring Moscow from any moves that might be considered a direct threat of the use of nuclear weapons or preparations to do so, especially in terms of the anticipated Russian tactical nukes deployment to Belarus.

Ukraine has to become a security contributor in the field by building a defense capacity able to support these global efforts. This, in turn, demands that Ukrainian Armed Forces possess modern Western-manufactured air defense systems and a fleet of modern military jets to assure not only the defense of its territory but also to provide more strategic defense capabilities to the NATO allies in the region.

  1. The German Defense Ministry approved Poland to provide Ukraine with 5 MiG-29s left from the GDR era.

The move by official Berlin would allow Ukraine to quickly boost its airforce capabilities ready to be used on the battlefield on short notice.

Furthermore, it would allow Western Allies to proceed with preparations to provide Ukraine with modern Western-made combat jets such as F-16s.

As it requires additional time, giving Ukraine Soviet-era aircraft would buy the West the time needed and boost Ukrainian airforce and air defense capabilities for the time being.

  1. Russia's Wagner PMC mercenaries publicly acknowledge Ukrainian POWs and civilian executions. Russia's Wagner PMC Group demonstrates its brutality towards both Ukrainian military personnel and civilians in an attempt to amount psychological pressure over the Ukrainian Armed Forces, civilian population, and political and military leadership.

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.


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