There’s been a lot of news over the last 24 hours.
1.) Today I watched/listened to the majority of the UN Security Council meeting during which President Zelenskyy gave an address. To be frank, these meetings are exceedingly boring, consisting largely of scripted, diplomatic theater. I’d make a poor statesman. Some diplomatic theater can be entertaining, such as Khrushchev’s shoe banging in 1960. Mostly though it’s pretty tame. The meeting lasted just over three hours. Zelenskyy, who spoke for about twenty minutes, was forceful; stating in part that Russia should be removed from the council. Further:
“Where is the security that the Security Council was supposed to guarantee?…Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to close the UN? Do you think the time for international order is gone?…If there is no alternative and no option, then the next option would be: dissolve yourself altogether.”
In this case, Zelenskyy was speaking to his frustration that the Security Council is seemingly unable to prevent wars and war crimes. His address was passionate, as you’d expect, touching on mass deportations of Ukrainians by Russia, murders, and rapes. He also showed a video that was delayed due to technical difficulties, which I subsequently missed while I took what we called in the Marine Corps a “PT shower.” You shouldn’t expect, however, Russia to be removed from the Security Council. I do not recall any mechanism for the removal of a member in the UN Charter, so this request is likely moot. And besides, the UN has the agility of a desiccated snail. Diplomacy, and the diplomats who practice it, is usually measured, which is probably a good thing. It’s a lot better to have sober people as representatives than hot heads, even though one can become aggravated by their glacial movements.
1.a.) A number of nations’ representatives spoke, most of whom expressed support for Ukraine and condemned accusations of war crimes perpetrated by Russia. This does not include, of course, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya, who was not supportive and did not condemn Russian war crimes. Predictably, Nebenzya denied, denied, denied all accusations of war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces in the northern suburbs of Kyiv, and rattled off a slew of very weak counteraccusations about Ukraine staging actors pretending to be dead, among other things. Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya provided a spirited rebuttal, speaking first in Russian directly to Nebenzya and then in English to the larger council. Watching Kyslytsya speak is worth the price of admission. While addressing the UN, he always appears to wear a perpetual, yet understandable, frown, as if he’s disappointed in the report card of one of his children. He’s stern, forceful and, unlike most of his peers, does not act out an impression of a statue reading notes from sheets of paper.
1.b.) The US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also addressed the council. Most of what she said was predictable, but one of the highlights consisted of her formally stating that Russia has no place on the UN Human Rights Commission. Russia’s removal would, as I understand it, require a General Assembly vote. I’ve not seen anything at this time that suggests this was going to take place.
*If you’re sensitive to images of war crimes and dead bodies do not click on the links in section 2*
2.) More and more information is coming out as various entities investigate Russian actions in northern Ukraine. The New York Times refutes Russia’s claims, made yesterday, that “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around 30 March, and that the bodies of dead civilians in Bucha are the result of “Ukrainian provocations,” by confirming through satellite imagery that some of those bodies have been lying in situ for upwards of three weeks. Imagery from Maxar Technologies from 11 March show at least 11 bodies on the street.
2.a.) From Bucha, there are pictures of several dead Ukrainian civilians lying in the street next to a tree. It appears that someone tried to burn the corpses. They did not do a very good job if their intent was to hide evidence of war crimes. Reportedly, some military aged males in Bucha were killed after the Russian occupiers discovered they had certain tattoos, such as the trident of the Ukrainian coat of arms. Russian forces were observed last week searching men in Mariupol for certain tattoos, as well, forcing them to remove clothing so that they could be inspected. It is highly likely that Ukrainians in territory currently occupied by Russian forces have been subjected to the same sort of behavior and, also likely, have suffered significant civilian casualties.
2.b.) A picture of a hand, from a Ukrainian civilian, blackened and withered, appears to have dropped the keys it was holding. On the keychain is a medallion showing the flag of the EU. This lead to speculation that this was a staged photo, but other video stills and imagery show that the keys were there prior.
2.c.) Anonymous has reportedly released information on Russian military units that were stationed IVO Bucha. The information includes the names, rank, and passport details of all Russian troops serving in the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade. If this information is correct/accurate, it was likely gleaned from and/or correlated with cell data. These sorts of endeavors might prove valuable in the future.
2.d.) Israel Foreign Minister Yari Lapid has seemingly formally accused Russia of committing war crimes. This runs counter to Prime Minster Naftali Bennett’s refusal to do so outright. Bennett “strongly condemns” the “terrible sights,” whereas Lapid “strongly condemns these war crimes.” The difference is subtle, but it’s there.
3.) The Great Diplomatic Booting™ continues. France is expelling 35 Russian diplomats. Italy is expelling 30. Over the previous twenty-four hours, something like 215 Russian diplomats have been expelled from various countries. Estonia, Latvia, Romania, and Sweden have joined in. Finland is rumored to be planning to do the same. It’s difficult to keep track. Soon there will be an entire colony in Siberia consisting solely of expelled Russian diplomats. A Diplomatic Diaspora, if you will. Keep in mind, these figures don’t represent all of the Russian diplomats in each country, just certain “special” ones. These are likely those “diplomats” with more direct and known ties to Russian intelligence services. This is a message, and one that seems at least somewhat coordinated. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, it is estimated that almost 400 Russian diplomats have been kicked out of host countries.
4.) German President Franz Walter Steinmeier stated: “I did not believe that Vladimir Putin would accept the complete economic, political, and moral collapse of his country for the sake of his imperial madness.”
4.a.) The European Union has proposed a ban on the import of Russian coal, which adds about four billion Euros to the Russian coffers every year. Up next, I think: Russian gas imports. Banning coal imports is alone significant. Banning both would be titanic and would have a very clear, measurable impact on the Russian economy.
4.b.) Russian naval assets are reportedly blocking the departure from Ukraine of at least one confirmed ship, the Emmakriss III, which is loaded with grain purchased by Egypt. Egyptian officials state that the country has grain stores for two and a half months. This is not how you make nice with other countries. Much has been said about Ukrainian (and Russian) food exports. This could have dire consequences for some nations dependent on those exports.
5.) Video evidence shows at least one Russian mine, with associated trip wire, having been placed in a stairwell in a residential building in Bucha. The mine appears to be an OZM-3 anti-personnel mine. Ukrainian EOD teams have been very busy in the outskirts of Kyiv. In fact, over the last few hours, a lot of images of unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been shown; everything from random artillery shells to unused RPO-A Shmel shoulder-fired thermobaric rockets.
6.) The US is, according to DoD officials, set to give Ukraine the Switchblade 600, which is the newest version complete with an anti-tank/armor munition. This is in addition to the smaller Switchblade 300 previously discussed and is part of the 300 million USD in lethal aid announced by the Pentagon last Friday. The US is sending ten Switchblade 600s, which will be contracted from the company that produces them rather than existing stocks. The 600 has a longer range and loiter time and gives Ukrainian forces the ability to potentially target long-range Russian fire support and artillery systems.
6.a.) We spoke of US/NATO-driven effort to get tanks to Ukraine in a previous INTSUM. It appears that the Czech Republic has already sent “slightly more than a dozen modernized, Soviet-designed T-72M tanks” to Ukraine, as well as an unknown number of BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles. This was apparently not at all advertised beforehand.
6.b.) What has been advertised, however, is the agreement between the US and Poland for 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks, and the deal was to be signed today. Delivery will begin this year. The deal includes ammunition, support vehicles, and other equipment. It is within the scope of reason that this deal will, while not the original intent, free up Polish Soviet-era tanks to be sent to Ukrainian forces.
6.c.) US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley have confirmed that the US is training Ukrainians in the United States.
6.d.) Allegedly, a Russian Ka-52 Hokum pilot has defected to Ukraine. The pilot was with his squadron, deploying to Belarus for combat operations in Ukraine, when he switched off his transponder and flew south. Ukraine evidently offered a half a million dollars for a Russian helicopter. Ukrainian military sources released a six-minute audio intercept of communications between ground control and the Russian commander of the squadron as they tried to find the missing helo. They apparently did not. This has not been confirmed by any other sources, but it is interesting and will be more so if it’s proven true.
7.) There’s some very interesting footage of what looks to be a Ukrainian T-64BV tank engaging a Russian column. It’s some of the clearest video I’ve seen so far; dismounted infantry is visible. One Russian soldier fires an RPG in the general direction of the Ukrainian tank, which positioned itself quite effectively behind a building, but the rocket impacted said building and posed no threat whatsoever to the T-64. Russian armored vehicles can be seen firing wildly, while the T-64 destroys at least one. To me it looks like the Russian response was timid and ineffective. I’d like to have seen the longer, uncut video. I cannot imagine that Ukrainian tank commanders would engage a large Russian convoy by themselves. There’s got to be other Ukrainian assets nearby.
8.) Reportedly, the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) looks to be heading to Europe. According to a Pentagon Press Secretary, it will be going to Iceland to support the exercise Northern Viking 2022, running through 14 April, joining with other NATO allies. Northern Viking is an annual exercise and has likely been planned for quite some time. However, it’s still significant considering ongoing activity in eastern Europe. The Kearsarge ARG consists of the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), USS Arlington (LPD-24), and USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), and carries Marine Expeditionary Unit 22. Marine Expeditionary Units, or MEUs, of which there are seven, are the force-in-readiness for the United States. Basically, they deploy on ships, float around, and provide military (and humanitarian relief) options to meet US foreign policy objectives. They are highly trained and highly skilled Marines. As a former Marine, this is one area in which I allow myself unabashed bias. But the force-projection capabilities of a MEU cannot be understated. The Kearsarge ARG recently completed a training exercise during which it transferred command authority between the US Navy and Support Forces NATO, which is the first time an amphibious ready group and Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) had ever completed training under NATO command.
8.) Since we haven’t mentioned it in a while, the USS Harry Truman and its associated battle group are still operating in the Mediterranean, near Italy. The British carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, operates near Norway. I haven’t seen any recent reporting related to the French carrier that was in the Med.
9.) A Russian lieutenant was captured by Ukrainian forces. Some of the items reportedly found with him: Six smart phones, a Samsung Tab S6 lite tablet, what appears to be four other electronic devices of a type unknown to me, four watches, three metallic necklaces, two sets of earrings, what looks to be six Ukrainian passports, some makeup items including nail polish, four hair ties, a barrette, and cash. These are likely items this lieutenant has acquired or looted over the course of his time in Ukraine. While I can understand why he might loot/steal/rob cell phones and other electronic items, the presence of passports and items associated with female beauty represents some unanswered questions. Those questions are probably obvious to you.
10.) The Red Cross states that its team heading to Mariupol was reportedly stopped and is now being held by Russian forces.
More to follow as news develops. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read.