<![CDATA[Army Times]]>https://www.armytimes.comFri, 14 Jul 2023 04:22:09 +0000en1hourly1<![CDATA[Russian general’s dismissal reveals new crack in military leadership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/13/russian-generals-dismissal-reveals-new-crack-in-military-leadership/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/13/russian-generals-dismissal-reveals-new-crack-in-military-leadership/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 18:26:33 +0000MOSCOW — A Russian general in charge of forces fighting in southern Ukraine has been relieved of his duties after speaking out about problems faced by his troops, a move that reflected new fissures in the military command following a brief rebellion by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th army in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is a focal point in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, said in an audio statement to his troops released Wednesday night that he was dismissed after a meeting with the military brass in what he described as a “treacherous” stab in the back to Russian forces in Ukraine.

Popov said the military leadership was angered by his frank talk about challenges faced by his forces, particularly the shortage of radars tracking enemy artillery, which resulted in massive Russian casualties.

“The top officers apparently saw me as a source of threat and rapidly issued an order to get rid of me, which was signed by the defense minister in just one day,” he said. “The Ukrainian military has failed to break through our army’s defenses, but the top commander hit us in the rear, treacherously and cowardly beheading the army at this most difficult moment.”

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Thursday, June 8, 2023, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th Army, is seen in a photo at an undisclosed location. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Popov, who uses the call name “Spartacus,” addressed his troops as “my gladiators” in the audio message released by retired Gen. Andrei Gurulev, who commanded the 58th army in the past and currently serves as a lawmaker. The 58th army consists of several divisions and smaller units.

The 48-year-old Popov, who has risen from platoon commander to lead a large group of forces, has encouraged his soldiers to come directly to him with any problems — an easygoing approach that contrasted sharply with the stiff formal style of command common in the Russian military. Russian military bloggers say he’s widely known for avoiding unnecessary losses — unlike many other commanders who were eager to sacrifice their soldiers to report successes.

“I faced a difficult situation with the top leadership when I had to either keep silent and act like a coward, saying what they wanted to hear, or call things by their names,” Popov said. “I didn’t have the right to lie for the sake of you and our fallen comrades.”

Many military bloggers argued that Popov’s dismissal eroded troop morale at a time of relentless Ukrainian attacks. One blogger, Vladislav Shurygin, said it has dealt a “terrible blow to the entire army,” while another, Roman Saponkov, described it as a “monstrous terror attack against the army’s morale.”

Russian general believed to be detained in aftermath of Wagner mutiny

In a sign that many in Russian officialdom share Popov’s criticism of the military leadership, Andrei Turchak, the first deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament and head of the main Kremlin party United Russia, strongly backed the general, saying that “the Motherland can be proud of such commanders.”

Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee in the lower house, also said the Defense Ministry should deal with the issues raised by Popov.

News of Popov’s dismissal added to the blow that Russian troops received when another senior officer, Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, was killed Tuesday by a Ukrainian missile strike.

Popov’s remarks about the need to rotate his exhausted troops that have been fighting the Ukrainian counteroffensive since early June, reportedly angered General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who shrugged them off as panicky and promptly ordered his dismissal.

Gerasimov was shown meeting with military officers Monday in a video released by the Defense Ministry, the first time he was seen since last month’s abortive rebellion by Prigozhin, who had demanded his ouster. The uproar fueled by Popov’s dismissal could further erode the position of Gerasimov, who has faced broad criticism for his conduct of the fighting in Ukraine.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov noted that Popov’s statement echoed criticism of the top brass by Prigozhin. However, he added that the general’s statement wasn’t a rebellion, but instead a call for intervention by President Vladimir Putin.

“Such public disputes at the top of the Russian army isn’t a show of force,” he said.

During the June 24 revolt that lasted less than 24 hours, mercenaries from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there without firing a shot before driving to within about 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Moscow.

Prigozhin called his mercenaries back to their camps after striking a deal to end the rebellion in exchange for an amnesty for him and his mercenaries and permission to move to Belarus.

The rebellion represented the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power and badly dented his authority, even though Prigozhin said the uprising wasn’t aimed against the president but intended to force the ouster of Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The Wagner chief was harshly critical of their conduct of how they have conducted the action in Ukraine.

On Monday, the Kremlin confirmed Prigozhin and 34 of his top officers met with Putin on June 29, a startling announcement that raised new questions about the terms of the deal with Wagner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wagner’s commanders pledged loyalty to Putin and said they were ready “to continue to fight for the Motherland.”

Putin has said Wagner troops had to choose whether to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, move to Belarus or retire from service. While details of the deal remain murky, uncertainty also has surrounded the fate of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian group of forces fighting in Ukraine who reportedly had been detained for questioning about his ties to Prigozhin.

Speaking in Helsinki on Thursday after a NATO summit, U.S. President Joe Biden said he is not certain about what fate awaits Prigozhin.

“I’m not even sure where he is,” Biden said. “If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate, I’d be keeping an eye on my menu. But all kidding aside ... I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know for certain what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that mercenaries of the Wagner Group were completing the handover of their weapons to the Russian military, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to defuse the threat it posed.

<![CDATA[Oath Keeper Army vet Rhodes’ jail term too short, says Justice Dept ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/13/oath-keeper-army-vet-rhodes-jail-term-too-short-says-justice-dept/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/13/oath-keeper-army-vet-rhodes-jail-term-too-short-says-justice-dept/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 14:10:00 +0000WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is appealing the 18-year-prison sentence handed down for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as other far-right extremists’ punishments that were shorter than what prosecutors had sought, according to court papers filed Wednesday.

While Rhodes received a lengthy sentence for seditious conspiracy and other convictions, the 18-year term was below the recommended range under federal guidelines and less than the 25 years the Justice Department had asked for in one of the most serious cases to go to trial in the Capitol attack.

Defendants routinely appeal their convictions and sentences, but it is more unusual for prosecutors to challenge the length of a prison term imposed by judges who have wide discretion when handing down punishments. Rhodes’ was the longest sentence that has been handed down so far in more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases.

Rhodes’ attorney, James Lee Bright, called the government’s decision to appeal “surprising.” At his sentencing hearing in May, a defiant Rhodes claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration and tried to play down his actions on Jan. 6.

The Justice Department filed notices in court that they they intend to appeal the sentences of other Oath Keepers, including Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside Rhodes and sentenced to 12 years behind bars.

Three other Oath Keepers tried with Rhodes were acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of other felonies. Four Oath Keepers were convicted of the seditious conspiracy charge at a second trial in January.

An attorney for Meggs declined to comment Wednesday.

During a series of sentencings for the Oath Keepers in May, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta agreed with prosecutors that Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers’ actions could be punished as “terrorism,” increasing the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. But the judge ultimately went below — in some cases far below — the sentence prosecutors were seeking for each defendant.

The Justice Department’s announcement came after it suffered a rare setback in a related case involving Oath Keepers associates. A former “Jesus Christ Superstar” actor was acquitted Wednesday of conspiring with members of the far-right extremist group to obstruct Congress in the Capitol attack.

James Beeks — a Florida resident who was playing Judas in the traveling production of the musical when he was arrested — was cleared of conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of the 2020 election and civil disorder after a trial in federal court. Mehta convicted Beeks’ co-defendant, Ohio resident Donovan Crowl, of the same charges after hearing evidence without a jury.

Beeks is only the second Jan. 6 defendant to be acquitted of all charges after a trial. Beeks represented himself at trial, though he was assisted by a lawyer who served as stand-by counsel and delivered his closing argument. Approximately 100 others have been found guilty of at least one count after a trial decided by a jury or judge, and more than 600 have pleaded guilty.

The trial for Beeks and Crowl was what’s called a “stipulated bench trial,” which means the judge decided the case based on a set of facts that both sides agreed to before the trial started. Such trials allow defendants to admit to certain facts while maintaining a right to appeal any conviction.

Prosecutors had previously charged Beeks with other lower-level offenses — including illegally entering the Capitol — but agreed to only go to trial on the two felony offenses and dismiss the remaining counts.

Prosecutors say Beeks and Crowl were part of a group of Oath Keepers wearing paramilitary gear who stormed the Capitol alongside the mob of Trump supporters. Beeks joined the Oath Keepers in December 2020 and drove to Washington from Florida before meeting up with a group of extremists ahead of the riot, prosecutors said.

Beeks, who was also a Michael Jackson impersonator, wore a jacket from Jackson’s “Bad” World Tour along with a helmet and was carrying a homemade shield during the riot, according to court papers.

Mehta said Beeks — unlike other Oath Keepers charged with riot-related crimes — didn’t post any messages on social media or exchange text messages with other extremists that could establish what his “state of mind” was leading up to the Capitol riot. The judge also cited a lack of evidence about what Beeks did inside the Capitol that could support a conviction for interfering with police.

“His actions must rise and fall on their own,” the judge said.

Beeks was arrested in November 2021 while he was traveling in Milwaukee with the “Jesus Christ Superstar” tour. He told reporters after the verdict that it “feels like a huge burden” has been lifted of his shoulders.

Beeks acknowledged that he joined the Oath Keepers through the group’s website but said he never met or communicated with any of his alleged co-conspirators before Jan. 6. He said never knew of any plan to attack the Capitol and mistakenly believed the Oath Keepers “were the good guys.”

“I met up with the wrong people,” he said. “I lost my whole career. (Jan. 6) is like a scarlet letter.”

Crowl was part of the Ohio State Regular Militia led by Jessica Watkins, who was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges in the trial alongside Rhodes. In December 2022, Crowl sent a message in a group chat that included Watkins that said “law abiding citizens are fix’n to ‘act out of character’... Time for talk’in is over.”

Crowl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said her client was exercising his First Amendment free speech rights on Jan. 6 without any intent to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

“His conduct was no different than that of many Americans who’ve gone to Congress to peacefully protest and have not been charged with felonies,” Hernandez wrote in an email.


Richer reported from Boston.

Dana Verkouteren
<![CDATA[China sends planes, navy ships towards Taiwan in forceful display]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/china/2023/07/12/china-sends-planes-navy-ships-towards-taiwan-in-forceful-display/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/china/2023/07/12/china-sends-planes-navy-ships-towards-taiwan-in-forceful-display/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 18:34:43 +0000TAIPEI, Taiwan — China sent navy ships and a large group of warplanes, including fighter jets and bombers, toward Taiwan over two days, the island’s defense ministry said on Wednesday, before its annual military exercises aimed at defending itself against a possible invasion.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army sent 38 warplanes and 9 navy vessels around Taiwan, between 6 a.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday. From Wednesday morning until noon time, the military flew another 30 planes, among which included J-10 and J-16 fighters.

Of these, 32 crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary that had been considered a buffer between the island and mainland. Later on Wednesday, another 23 planes crossed the midline.

Taiwan is scheduled to hold the annual Han Guang exercise later this month, in which its military will hold combat readiness drills against preventing an invasion. It will also conduct the annual Wan’an exercises aimed at preparing civilians for natural disasters and practicing evacuations in case of an air raid.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and in recent years has shown is displeasure at political activities in Taiwan by stepping up the number of military planes sent toward Taiwan. In the past year, it has also started sending its navy vessels, as well as drones to circle the waters near the island.

In Tuesday and Wednesday’s maneuvers, the PLA flew H-6 bombers in a large loop to the south of Taiwan, traveling past the island before looping back towards China’s southern coast.

Its largest military drills in recent years were in response to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. It fired missiles over the island in a significant escalation and the military exercises disrupted trade lanes in the Taiwan Strait and forced airplanes to reroute their flights.

In April, the PLA held large-scale combat readiness drills in the air and waters around Taiwan in response to the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen meeting with the current U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

<![CDATA[North Korea fires its first ICBM in three months]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/12/north-korea-fires-its-first-icbm-in-three-months/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/12/north-korea-fires-its-first-icbm-in-three-months/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 18:16:03 +0000SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile in three months on Wednesday, days after it threatened “shocking” consequences to protest what it called provocative United States reconnaissance activity near its territory.

Some experts say North Korea likely launched its developmental, road-mobile Hwasong-18 ICBM, a type of solid-fuel weapon that is harder to detect and intercept than its liquid-fuel ICBMs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously called the Hwasong-18 the most powerful weapon of his nuclear forces.

The missile, fired from North Korea’s capital region around 10 a.m., flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) at a maximum altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese assessments. They said the missile was launched at a high angle in what observers say was an apparent attempt to avoid neighboring countries.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the missile flew for 74 minutes — the longest flight time recorded by any weapon launched by North Korea. The previous record of 71 minutes was registered during the test flight of the liquid-fuel Hwasong-17 ICBM last year.

South Korea’s military called the launch “a grave provocation” and urged North Korea to refrain from additional launches. Matsuno denounced North Korea’s repeated missile launches as “threats to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and international society.”

In a trilateral phone call, the chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. agreed to sternly deal with North Korean provocations and boost their coordination to promote a stronger international response to the North’s nuclear and missile programs, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

The launch came while South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were attending the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. In an emergency meeting of South Korea’s security council convened by video in Lithuania, Yoon warned North Korea would face more powerful international sanctions due to its illicit weapons programs.

North Korea’s ICBM program targets the mainland United States, while its shorter-range missiles are designed to hit U.S. regional allies like South Korea and Japan.

Since 2017, North Korea has performed a slew of ICBM tests, but some experts say the North still has some technologies to master to possess functioning nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching major U.S. cities.

The North’s ICBM test in April was the first launch of the Hwasong-18. After that launch, Kim said the missile would enhance the North’s counterattack capabilities and ordered the expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal to “constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror” in its rivals.

Missiles with built-in solid propellants would be easier to move and hide, making it difficult for opponents to detect their launches in advance. All of North Korea’s previous ICBM tests used liquid fuel.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s launch appeared to be the North’s second flight-test of the Hwasong-18.

Earlier this week, North Korea released a series of statements accusing the U.S. of flying a military spy plane close to its soil.

In a statement Monday night, Kim’s sister and top adviser, Kim Yo Jong, warned the United States of “a shocking incident” as she claimed that the U.S. spy plane flew over the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times earlier in the day.

The U.S. and South Korea dismissed the North’s accusations and urged it to refrain from any acts or rhetoric that raised animosities.

“I would just say that we continue to urge (North Korea) to refrain from escalatory actions,” Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said Tuesday. “As a matter of international law, (North Korea’s) recent statements that U.S. flights above its claimed exclusive economic zone are unlawful are unfounded, as high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in such areas.”

North Korea has made numerous similar accusations over U.S. reconnaissance activities, but its latest statements came amid heightened animosities over North Korea’s torrid run of weapons tests since the start of last year. Some observers say the North wants to use an expanded weapons arsenal to wrest greater concessions in eventual diplomacy with its rivals.

“Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose statement against U.S. surveillance aircraft is part of a North Korean pattern of inflating external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang also times its shows of force to disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic coordination against it — in this case, South Korea and Japan’s leaders meeting during the NATO summit.”

Kim Dong-yub, the professor, said Wednesday’s launch was likely made under the North’s previously scheduled weapons build-up programs to hone Hwasong-18 technologies, rather than a direct response to the NATO gathering or the alleged U.S. spy plane flight.

The Hwasong-18 is among an array of high-tech weapons that Kim Jong Un has vowed to introduce to deal with what he called escalating U.S. military threats. Other weapons on his wish-list are an ICBM with multi-warheads, a spy satellite and a nuclear-powered submarine. In late May, North Korea’s launch of its first spy satellite ended in failure, with a rocket carrying it plunging to the ocean soon after liftoff.

Some experts say North Korea might ramp up weapons tests around July 27, the date for the 70th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea calls the date “the V-Day” or “the War Victory Day.”

“Pyongyang might be manufacturing tensions ahead of its Victory Day to further strengthen solidarity domestically after having failed its first spy satellite launch in May, and then justifying future provocations by first unleashing a stream of threats and harsh rhetoric about U.S. spy planes,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from engaging in any launches using ballistic technologies. But China and Russia, both permanent members of the council, blocked the U.S. and others’ attempts to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its recent ballistic missile tests.

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

Ahn Young-joon
<![CDATA[NATO deepens Ukraine ties but doesn’t set clear path for membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/12/nato-deepens-ukraine-ties-but-doesnt-set-clear-path-for-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/12/nato-deepens-ukraine-ties-but-doesnt-set-clear-path-for-membership/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 12:30:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — NATO leaders gathered Wednesday to launch a highly symbolic new forum for ties with Ukraine, after committing to provide the country with more military assistance for fighting Russia but only vague assurances of future membership.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the new NATO-Ukraine Council, a permanent body where the 31 allies and Ukraine can hold consultations and call for meetings in emergency situations.

The setting is part of NATO’s effort to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the military alliance without actually joining it. On Tuesday, the leaders said in their communique summarizing the summit’s conclusions that Ukraine can join “when allies agree and conditions are met.”

“Today we meet as equals,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Zelenskyy. “I look forward to the day we meet as allies.”

The ambiguous plan for Ukraine’s future membership reflects the challenges of reaching consensus among the alliance’s current members while the war continues, and has frustrated Zelenskyy even as he expressed appreciation for military hardware being promised by Group of Seven industrial nations.

“The results of the summit are good, but if there were an invitation, that would be ideal,” Zelenskyy said, through a translator.

Despite his disappointment, the Ukrainian leader was more conciliatory on Wednesday than the previous day, when he harshly criticized the lack of a timeline for membership as “unprecedented and absurd.”

“NATO needs us just as we need NATO,” he said alongside Stoltenberg.

Ukraine’s future membership was the most divisive and emotionally charged issue at this year’s summit. In essence, Western countries are willing to keep sending weapons to help Ukraine do the job that NATO was designed to do — hold the line against a Russian invasion — but not allow Ukraine to join its ranks and benefit from its security during the war.

“We have to stay outside of this war but be able to support Ukraine. We managed that very delicate balancing act for the last 17 months. It’s to the benefit of everyone that we maintain that balancing act,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Wednesday.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose country lies on NATO’s eastern flank and has a long, troubled history with Russia, said he would have preferred more for Ukraine.

“There will always be a difference of flavor of how fast you would want to go,” he said. However, Karins added, “at the end of it, what everyone gets, including Ukraine, and what Moscow sees is we are all very united.”

Amanda Sloat, senior director of European affairs for the U.S. National Security Council, defended the summit’s decisions.

“I would agree that the communique is unprecedented, but I see that in a positive way,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

Sloat noted that Ukraine will not need to submit a “membership action plan” as it seeks to join NATO, although she said “there are still governance and security sector reforms that are going to be required.” The action plan is usually a key step in the process that involves advice and assistance for countries seeking to join.

Symbols of support for Ukraine are common around Vilnius, where the country’s blue-and-yellow flags hang from buildings and are pasted inside windows. One sign cursed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another urged NATO leaders to “hurry up” their assistance for Ukraine.

However, there’s been more caution inside the summit itself, especially from Biden, who has explicitly said he doesn’t think Ukraine is ready to join NATO. There are concerns that the country’s democracy is unstable and its corruption remains too deeply rooted.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are obligated to defend each other from attack, which could swiftly draw the U.S. and other nations into direct fighting with Russia.

Defining an end to hostilities is no easy task. Officials have declined to define the goal, which could suggest a negotiated ceasefire or Ukraine reclaiming all occupied territory. Either way, Putin would essentially have veto power over Ukraine’s NATO membership by prolonging the conflict.

Wednesday’s commitments will include a new G7 framework that would provide for Ukraine’s long-term security.

The British foreign ministry said the G7 would “set out how allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack.” The ministry added that the framework marks the first time that this many countries have agreed to a “comprehensive long-term security arrangement of this kind with another country.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that supporting Ukraine’s “progress on the pathway to NATO membership, coupled with formal, multilateral, and bilateral agreements and the overwhelming support of NATO members will send a strong signal to President Putin and return peace to Europe.”

Sloat said the commitments will show Russia “that time is not on its side.”

Moscow reacted harshly to the G7 plan.

“We consider this extremely ill-judged and potentially very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He added that “by providing security guarantees to Ukraine, they’re infringing on Russia’s security.”

Although international summits are often tightly scripted, this one has seesawed between conflict and compromise.

At first leaders appeared to be deadlocked over Sweden’s bid for membership in the alliance. However, Turkey unexpectedly agreed to drop its objections on Monday, the night before the summit formally began. The deal led to boasts of success from leaders who were eager for a display of solidarity in Vilnius.

“This summit is already historic before it has started,” Stoltenberg said.

Erdogan has not commented publicly on the deal, over Sweden’s membership, even during a Tuesday meeting with Biden where Biden referenced “the agreement you reached yesterday.”

However, Erdogan appeared eager to develop his relationship with Biden.

The Turkish president has been seeking advanced American fighter jets and a path toward membership in the European Union. The White House has expressed support for both, but publicly insisted that the issues were not related to Sweden’s membership in NATO.


Associated Press writers Karl Ritter and Liudas Dapkus contributed to this report.

Pavel Golovkin
<![CDATA[Republican effort to cut DoD watchdog alarms anti-extremism advocates]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/12/republican-effort-to-cut-dod-watchdog-alarms-anti-extremism-advocates/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/12/republican-effort-to-cut-dod-watchdog-alarms-anti-extremism-advocates/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 09:00:00 +0000When Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., declared his intentions in June to eradicate what he called “wokeness” in the U.S. military, he set his sights on abolishing a federal watchdog that investigates the Pentagon’s programs for diversity, anti-extremism and sexual harassment prevention.

The first-term congressman wants to cease the flow of federal dollars to the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military, a job created by Congress only two years ago within the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General. Alford introduced an amendment to the 2024 defense policy bill to eliminate the position. It failed its first vote – and even if passed, it’s not likely to survive negotiations with the Democratically controlled Senate – but he’s not done pursuing it.

Since the position was established at the start of 2021, Theresa Hull, who holds the job, has built a 22-person team that oversees the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies and tracks how the Defense Department handles cases of sexual harassment and assault. Her office also analyzes the department’s actions to prevent and respond to extremist and criminal gang activity in the ranks.

“I absolutely believe in the value of our work and that it should continue,” Hull said in an interview with Military Times.

Alford’s measure is part of a push by conservatives to target the military’s anti-extremism and diversity, equity and inclusion policies, which they argue are driving out some service members and hampering recruitment. Anti-extremism experts and advocates for diversity initiatives met the effort with ire, and Alford’s measure in particular startled some who saw it as a political attack and an attempt to undo recent progress to improve military culture.

“It’s thinly veiled bigotry,” said Wendy Via, a co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “I can’t think of a place more than our armed services where we need to do all we can to create a safe and trusting environment. These people are putting their lives on the line to defend our country, and they have to trust the person next to them.”

A step ‘too far’

Alford, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, tried to attach the measure to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, a legislative package that sets the department’s annual budget and includes a multitude of Pentagon policies.

The amendment failed to garner enough support June 22 when the committee approved its version of the defense policy bill after 14 hours of debate. Two Republicans joined Democrats to block the measure. One of those Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said the amendment “went too far” in stamping out military training regarding diversity, equal opportunity, racism and sexual harassment.

Bacon, an Air Force veteran, supported another amendment offered by Alford to prohibit federal funds from going toward the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Work Group, which was stood up in 2021 to root out extremism in the ranks. That amendment remains part of the committee’s defense bill, as do measures prohibiting defense officials from sponsoring drag shows on military bases and banning “critical race theory” at service academies, among other conservative priorities.

“I supported multiple amendments that reduced [diversity, equity and inclusion] and [critical race theory] training in the military. But I thought two measures, to include this one, went too far,” Bacon said of Alford’s measure to eliminate the deputy inspector general position. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s get rid of the extreme training, but we must preserve the basic standards of the military.”

Both the House and Senate armed services committees advanced their versions of the defense policy bill at the end of June, and work on the measures is expected to continue this week. Once the House and Senate have each approved their bills, a conference committee will convene to reconcile the differences.

Though Alford’s amendment failed to make it into the House bill, his office is still working on next steps for the idea. The congressman is “not done working to weed out these types of programs and ideologies,” said Austin Higginbotham, Alford’s deputy chief of staff.

“In order to properly defend our country, we must eliminate all woke ideologies from our military,” Alford said. The Associated Press defines “woke” as “a slang term that originally described enlightenment or awakening about issues of racial and other forms of social justice. Some people and groups, especially conservatives, now use it in a derogatory sense implying what they see as overreactions.”

“We should not be wasting man hours and taxpayer dollars on programs that do nothing to benefit our military but rather hamper recruitment and retention efforts,” Alford added. “It is absolutely essential that we prioritize readiness, innovation, and the welfare of our service members over any divisive, non-military focused ideologies.”

D’Wayne Thorpe (center), a U.S. Army Kansas City Recruiting Battalion recruit, recites the U.S. Army Oath of Enlistment, Aug. 18, 2022, in St. Joseph, Missouri. (Spc. Alvin Conley/Army)

Tackling a recruiting crisis

The military is experiencing a recruiting crisis, with the Army missing its fiscal 2022 goal by 15,000 soldiers, a shortfall expected to worsen this year. Elected officials and military leaders are blaming myriad factors, from public health, a booming civilian jobs market and negative perceptions of military service. Recruiters told Military Times they fault the military’s new medical records platform, which ended a longstanding practice of applicants glossing over their medical issues when applying to join.

Alford is among a group of Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly blamed the recruiting problems on President Joe Biden’s administration and the Pentagon’s work under his leadership to ramp up diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. They also point to a military-wide “stand down” against extremism in 2021 as having tarnished the military’s reputation.

Republican frustrations with the military’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies were on display Tuesday during a Senate confirmation hearing for Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., Biden’s choice to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., took issue with diversity goals for recruitment that were described in a 2022 memorandum signed by Brown and other Air Force leaders, accusing them of “cultural Marxism.”

“This administration has infused... [diversity, equity and inclusion] politics into our military,” Schmitt said. “It is a cancer on the best military in the history of the world.”

In response, Brown underscored that merit would still determine entry into the Air Force and explained that the recruitment goals were aimed at better reflecting the demographics of the nation. The memo noted that, “these goals are aspirational … and will not be used in any manner that undermines our merit-based processes.”

Despite assertions that focusing on diversity and extremism prevention harms recruitment, advocates argue those policies actually help. Cutting the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military – the watchdog for those programs – would only worsen recruitment, argued Allison Jaslow, CEO for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“The idea that we should eliminate a position that’s important to ensuring that our military has the best culture possible for our troops would be ridiculous on any day. But in the midst of a recruiting crisis, it’s senseless,” Jaslow said.

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General highlights every year the major challenges facing the Pentagon. For fiscal 2023, the IG reported that recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce was one of those obstacles, citing the increased competition with the private sector and a shrinking pool of eligible recruits. Given that problem, one of Hull’s plans for her office is to shed light on how the Pentagon could better recruit and retain a diverse force.

“When potential recruits can’t identify with their military, they’re less likely to join. They need to be able to see that diversity to know that they would feel included and belong,” Hull said. “Without focused oversight, we’re missing opportunities there.”

Uncovering and reporting extremism

Congress created Hull’s office through the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved in 2020. At the time, the issue of ideological extremism in the ranks was becoming more visible. The FBI notified the Pentagon that it had opened criminal investigations into 143 current or former service members in 2020, 68 of those cases involving domestic extremism.

The issue of veterans and service members engaging in extremist violence has been studied more closely in the few years since. Researchers at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism analyzed three decades of extremist attacks and reported in June that a military background is the most commonly shared characteristic among extremists who committed or plotted mass casualty attacks from 1990 through 2022, more so than criminal histories or mental health problems.

And since the law creating Hull’s position went into effect in early 2021, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General stood up an entire component around diversity, equity and extremism that she now leads. Her office has so far launched investigations into the medical waiver process for military recruiting and how the military supports dual-military spouses, among other issues. One continual task for the office is oversight of the Pentagon’s anti-extremism efforts.

When creating Hull’s position, Congress mandated that the office submit an annual report to lawmakers about the effectiveness of the military’s programs to prevent and respond to extremism. The office has so far issued two of those reports, and in both urged the Pentagon to establish standard policies across the services to track and report instances of extremist activities in real time.

Hull said that military leaders are working to implement those policies, but it remains uncertain whether they’ll be in place before it’s time to issue the office’s 2023 update this December. It will be difficult to compare the number of extremist activities by year or discern whether the Pentagon’s prevention efforts are working until a standardized reporting system is created, Hull said.

“Because there are different services and different offices that retain this information, there wasn’t a central database that was being maintained,” she said. “Not having a centralized system has been an issue.”

Amy Cooter, a research fellow with the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, is an expert on domestic militia groups and has initiated a study into how those groups recruit veterans and service members. Based on her study so far, Cooter believes the military should increase diversity efforts, rather than do away with them. A more diverse force means more opportunity to challenge the stereotypes some troops may have learned in homogeneous communities and stop them from being radicalized against other races, she said.

Cooter described Alford’s attempt to abolish Hull’s position as “politically motivated,” adding, “unfortunately it’s the opposite of what we should be doing, both for unit cohesion and long term risks of radicalization.”

This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism. Please send tips to MVJ-Tips@militarytimes.com.

<![CDATA[Sweden’s rocky road from neutrality toward NATO membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/swedens-rocky-road-from-neutrality-toward-nato-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/swedens-rocky-road-from-neutrality-toward-nato-membership/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:40:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — When long-neutral Sweden applied for NATO membership together with Finland, both expected a quick accession process.

More than a year later, Finland is in, but Sweden is still in the alliance’s waiting room.

New entries must be approved by all existing members and as NATO leaders meet for a summit in Vilnius, Sweden is missing the green light from two: Turkey and Hungary.

A major obstacle was overcome Monday when Turkey’s president agreed to send NATO’s accession documents to the Turkish Parliament for approval, something he had refused to do for more than a year.

That means Sweden is now close to becoming NATO’s 32nd member, though not quite yet over the finish line. Here’s what to know about Sweden’s tumultuous road toward joining the alliance.


For a country that hasn’t fought a war in two centuries, the decision to join NATO was huge. Sweden declined to take sides during both world wars and throughout the Cold War, embracing neutrality as core to its security policy and even its national identity.

Though it tweaked its status to “nonaligned” after joining the European Union in 1995 and gradually increased cooperation with NATO, Stockholm until last year ruled out applying for membership, with public opinion firmly against it.

As late as November 2021 — three months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — then-Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist promised that Sweden would never join NATO while his center-left Social Democrats were in office.

Then the war started. As Russian tanks rumbled across the Ukrainian border and missiles struck Kyiv and other cities, public opinion shifted in both Finland and Sweden. Even Hultqvist and the Social Democrats made a U-turn, and in May last year Sweden and Finland jointly applied for NATO membership.


Most observers expected Sweden and Finland’s applications to be fast-tracked, since they already fulfilled the membership criteria and the Ukraine war added urgency. Twenty-eight NATO countries ratified the accession protocols swiftly.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a different idea. He said Turkey could not welcome the Nordic nations as NATO allies unless they cracked down on groups that Ankara views as security threats, including the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Sweden has accepted more than 1 million refugees in recent decades, including tens of thousands of Kurds from Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Some of them sympathize with the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist group by the European Union.

Seeking to address Erdogan’s concerns, Finland and Sweden signed a deal with Turkey at last year’s NATO summit in Madrid. They agreed to resume weapons exports to Turkey that were suspended following a 2019 Turkish incursion into Kurdish areas in northern Syria, tighten anti-terror laws and step up efforts to prevent PKK’s activities in their countries.

When Swedes elected a center-right government last September, negotiations with Turkey were expected to become a little easier because the previous Social Democratic government had been burdened by its support for Kurdish militants in Syria with links to the PKK.

But things got complicated in January when pro-Kurdish activists briefly hung an effigy of Erdogan from a streetlight outside Stockholm’s City Hall. Soon after, an anti-Islam activist from Denmark burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.

If the purpose was to stall Sweden’s NATO bid by infuriating Turkey, the protests had the desired effect: Ankara froze NATO talks with Sweden, while allowing Finland to join in April. Conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s government spent months trying to repair the damage.

Just as relations appeared to be improving, a refugee from Iraq staged another Quran-burning protest last month outside a mosque in Stockholm, dimming hopes that Turkey would unblock Sweden’s accession before the NATO summit in Vilnius.


The anti-Erdogan protests have gathered pro-Kurdish and far-left demonstrators in Sweden. Some participants have waved PKK flags. Meanwhile, the Quran burnings were carried out by a far-right activist from Denmark and a Christian refugee from Iraq. They might not have gotten much attention if it weren’t for the NATO spotlight, but with Ankara keeping a close eye on developments in Sweden, the protests made headlines in Turkey and other Muslim countries, where leaders slammed Sweden for allowing them. That provoked a discussion in Sweden about whether Quran-burning can be considered incitement to hatred, which is illegal, or a lawful expression of opinion about a world religion.

Swedish officials are trying to assure Turkey that Sweden is not an Islamophobic nation, stressing that the government does not condone Quran-burnings but cannot stop them, citing freedom of speech. The government’s strong condemnations of the protests have caused a backlash domestically with critics accusing Kristersson of bending over backward to placate Turkey.

The protests have also raised suspicions of Russian interference. As soon as Sweden launched its membership bid, the country’s security service warned that Moscow might increase influence activities during the application process. However, no proof has emerged of Russian links to the protesters.


Turkey’s holding up of Sweden’s NATO bid irritated the United States and other allies. Some analysts suggested Turkey was using its leverage to press for upgraded F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. While both Turkish and U.S. officials have said the Swedish accession process and the F-16 upgrades are not connected, President Joe Biden implicitly linked the two issues in a phone call to Erdogan in May.

“I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden. So let’s get that done,” Biden said.

Just before departing for NATO summit in Vilnius on Monday, Erdogan came up with yet another demand. He said European countries should reopen long-frozen talks to let Turkey into the European Union. “When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” he said.

After Erdogan met separately with Kristersson and EU Council President Charles Michel in Vilnius, NATO’s secretary general announced a breakthrough: Erdogan was ready to send Sweden’s accession protocol to the Turkish Parliament in return for deeper cooperation on security issues and Swedish support for reviving Turkey’s quest for EU membership.

While celebrating the agreement as a “very big step on the road” toward NATO membership, Kristersson stopped short of calling NATO membership a done deal, noting it was unclear when the Turkish Parliament would make its decision.


Unlike Turkey, Hungary has not given a reason for why it hasn’t yet ratified Sweden’s NATO membership. Hungary pursued close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia before the war. Since it started, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has refused to back Ukraine with weapons and argued against European Union sanctions on Moscow.

During a visit to Vienna last week, Orban denied that Hungary was delaying Sweden’s membership bid.

“We support the Swedish accession, but the Hungarian parliament has not yet ratified the decision,” he said. “We are in constant contact with the NATO secretary-general and the Turks. So if we have something to do, we will act.”

Many analysts believe that Orban is waiting for Erdogan’s next move and that Hungary will approve Sweden’s accession if Turkey looks likely to do the same. That’s what happened with Finland’s accession.

___ Associated Press writers Justin Spike in Budapest and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Mindaugas Kulbis
<![CDATA[As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, what is NATO doing to help?]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/as-russias-war-on-ukraine-drags-on-what-is-nato-doing-to-help/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/as-russias-war-on-ukraine-drags-on-what-is-nato-doing-to-help/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:30:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — With Russia’s war on Ukraine in its 17th month, and Western countries sending increasingly hi-tech and long-range weapons and ammunition to help President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defend his country, it’s easy to lose track of where NATO stands.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — the top civilian official at the world’s biggest security alliance — routinely praises allies for helping Ukraine’s troops to fight back. But when he does, Stoltenberg is talking about individual member countries, not NATO as an organization.

As a NATO summit in Lithuania’s capital begins Tuesday, here’s a look at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and what it’s doing to help Ukraine.


The 31-nation military alliance provides only non-lethal support to Ukraine: Fuel, combat rations, medical supplies, body armor, winter uniforms and equipment to counter mines, chemical and biological threats and drones.

NATO makes its decisions by consensus, and not all member countries agree on sending weapons. The alliance does not impose sanctions, although some of its members do through other organizations like the European Union.


NATO is helping Ukraine’s armed forces to modernize and shift from Soviet-era equipment and military doctrine to modern NATO gear to allow its army to work seamlessly with allied forces. NATO is also helping to strengthen Ukraine’s defense and security institutions.

That assistance is designed to ensure that Ukraine can join NATO at some point in the future, well after the war is over. U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts — who are meeting for a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius — have promised that the country will eventually gain membership.


NATO’s primary goal since Russia began building up its troops around Ukraine in 2021 has been to reinforce its own territory, particularly the countries on its eastern flank — so near to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — from Estonia in the north down to Romania on the Black Sea.

With the war now in its 17th month, NATO wants to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from broadening the conflict to allied territory farther west.

Around 40,000 troops are on standby along the eastern flank. About 100 aircraft take to the skies in that territory on any given day, and a total of 27 warships are operating in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas this month. Those numbers are set to rise.

Under new plans to be endorsed in Vilnius, NATO aims to have up to 300,000 troops ready to move to its eastern flank within 30 days. The plans divide its territory into three zones — the high north and Atlantic area, a zone north of the Alps, and another in southern Europe.


The forces and materiel that NATO drums up for its own defense come from the member countries. NATO has no weapons of its own. The battleships, warplanes, missiles and potential pool of more than 3 million personnel are owned and supplied by member states, mostly at their own cost.

The only equipment NATO has is a fleet of early warning radar planes and some surveillance drones.

The NATO alliance, with its main headquarters in Brussels and military base in Mons, Belgium, is open to any European nation that wants to join and can meet the requirements and obligations. Finland entered in April, and its Nordic neighbor Sweden is on the cusp of joining its ranks.

The Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and Russia have been major preoccupations since the organization was founded in 1949, and in many ways remain the NATO’s reason for being.


The United States is without doubt the biggest and most influential member. It spends more on its own military budget than all the others combined. It also pays almost a quarter of NATO’s common funding for infrastructure and collectively owned equipment.

So, Washington has a big say in how things are run, and smaller allies long to train and work with U.S. forces because it gives them access to equipment and expertise that they cannot afford alone.


The North Atlantic Council meets at ambassadorial level most weeks in Brussels, and less often at the ministerial and heads of state levels, and are chaired by Stoltenberg.

In essence, the former Norwegian prime minister runs the headquarters located near the Brussels airport, a sprawling, cavernous edifice that cost over 1 billion euros to build.

Stoltenberg does not order the allies around. His job is to encourage consensus and speak on their behalf publicly as a single voice representing all 31 members.


On the ground, NATO has helped to keep peace in the Balkans and fought the Taliban-led insurgency in war-torn Afghanistan before the group took control of the country — the alliance’s biggest-ever operation. It was launched after the United States triggered its “all for one and one for all” common defense clause in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It is the only time the clause, known as Article 5, has been used. That security guarantee is the reason Finland and Sweden sought to join NATO and why Ukraine and other countries in Europe also want in.

Morris MacMatzen
<![CDATA[Zelenskyy says NATO’s ‘absurd’ plans for Ukraine fall short]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/zelenskyy-says-natos-absurd-plans-for-ukraine-fall-short/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/zelenskyy-says-natos-absurd-plans-for-ukraine-fall-short/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 14:45:00 +0000This story has been updated as of 1145am EDT.

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — NATO leaders agreed Tuesday to allow Ukraine to join “when allies agree and conditions are met,” the head of the military alliance said, hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskky blasted the organization’s failure to set a timetable for his country as “absurd.”

“We reaffirmed Ukraine will become a member of NATO and agreed to remove the requirement for a membership action plan,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, referring to a key step in joining the alliance.

“This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step path to a one-step path,” he said.

Although many NATO members have funneled arms and ammunition to Zelenskky’s forces, there is no consensus among the 31 allies for admitting Ukraine into NATO’s ranks. Instead, the alliance leaders decided to remove obstacles on Ukraine’s membership path so that it can join more quickly once the war with Russia is over.

Zelenskyy pushed back sharply against the decision.

“It’s unprecedented and absurd when a time frame is set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” Zelenskyy tweeted as he headed to the summit. “While at the same time, vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine. It seems there is no readiness to invite Ukraine to NATO or to make it a member of the Alliance.”

Asked about Zelenskky’s concerns, Stoltenberg said that the most important thing now is to ensure that his country wins the war, because “unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership to be discussed at all.”

The broadside from Zelenskyy could renew tensions at the summit shortly after it saw a burst of goodwill after Turkey agreed to advance Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Allies hope to resolve the seesawing negotiations and create a clear path forward for the alliance and its support for Ukraine.

Officials have drafted a proposal, which has not been publicly released, on Ukraine’s potential membership. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support during a meeting with Stoltenberg, but Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he was not satisfied.

“We value our allies,” he said but added that “Ukraine also deserves respect.”

He also said: “Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit.”

Zelenskyy is expected to meet with Biden and other NATO leaders on Wednesday.

There have been sharp divisions within the alliance over Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, which was promised back in 2008 even though few steps were taken toward that goal.

Stoltenberg wrote in Foreign Affairs on Monday that the alliance would “upgrade our political ties” by forming a NATO-Ukraine Council, which would be “a platform for decisions and crisis consultation.”

In addition, the Baltic states — including Lithuania, which is hosting the summit — have pushed for a strong show of support and a clear pathway toward membership for Ukraine.

However, the United States and Germany urged caution. Biden said last week that Ukraine was not ready to join. Members of NATO, he told CNN, need to “meet all the qualifications, from democratization to a whole range of other issues,” a nod toward longstanding concerns about governance and corruption in Kyiv.

In addition, some fear that bringing Ukraine into NATO would serve more as a provocation to Russia than as a deterrence against aggression.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said allies were debating the “precise nature” of Ukraine’s pathway to membership. However, he promised that the summit would demonstrate how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes for fractures within NATO will go unfulfilled.

The dispute over Ukraine stands in contrast to a hard-fought agreement to advance Sweden’s membership. The deal was reached after days of intensive meetings, and it’s poised to expand the alliance’s strength in Northern Europe.

“Rumors of the death of NATO’s unity were greatly exaggerated,” Sullivan told reporters triumphantly on Tuesday.

According to a joint statement issued when the deal was announced, Erdogan will ask Turkey’s parliament to approve Sweden joining NATO.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another holdout, is expected to take a similar step. Hungary’s foreign minister said Tuesday that his country’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership was now just a “technical matter.” Erdogan has not yet commented publicly.

The outcome is a victory as well for Biden, who has touted NATO’s expansion as an example of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has backfired on Moscow.

Finland has already become the 31st member of the alliance, and Sweden is on deck to become the 32nd. Both Nordic countries were historically nonaligned until the war increased fears of Russian aggression.

Because of the deal on Sweden’s membership, “this summit is already historic before it has started,” Stoltenberg said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that NATO’s expansion is “one of the reasons that led to the current situation.”

“It looks like the Europeans don’t understand their mistake,” Peskov said. He warned against putting Ukraine on a fast track for NATO membership.

“Potentially it’s very dangerous for the European security, it carries very big risks,” Peskov said.

Biden and Erdogan were scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, and it was unclear how some of the Turkish president’s other demands will be resolved. He has been seeking advanced American fighter jets and a path toward membership in the European Union. The White House has expressed support for both, but publicly insisted that the issues were not related to Sweden’s membership in NATO.

“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said in a statement late Monday.

The phrasing was a nod to Biden’s commitment to help Turkey acquire new F-16 fighter jets, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly.

The Biden administration has backed Turkey’s desire to buy 40 new F-16s as well as modernization kits from the U.S. It’s a move some in Congress, most notably Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J, have opposed over Turkey blocking NATO membership for Sweden, its human rights record and other concerns.

In Washington, Menendez said he was “continuing to have my reservations” on providing the fighter aircraft to Turkey. If the Biden administration could show that Turkey wouldn’t use the F-16s belligerently against other NATO members, particularly its neighbor Greece, and meet other conditions, “then there may be a way forward,” Menendez told reporters.

Biden is on a five-day trip to Europe, with the NATO summit as its centerpiece.

The president spent Monday in the United Kingdom, meeting at Windsor Castle with King Charles III and in London with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He met Tuesday with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, emphasizing his commitment to transatlantic cooperation, before he joined the NATO gathering.

“Nothing happens here that doesn’t affect us,” Biden told Nauseda. The White House said Nauseda presented Biden with the Order of Vytautas the Great, the highest award a Lithuanian president can bestow. Biden is the first U.S. president to receive it.

After the summit ends Wednesday, Biden will travel to Helsinki. On Thursday, he will celebrate Finland’s recent entry into NATO and meet with Nordic leaders.


Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro and Darlene Superville in Washington, Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary, and Lorne Cook in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report.

Efrem Lukatsky
<![CDATA[The US Army arsenal from 1813 that’s building weapons for Ukraine]]>https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/11/the-us-army-arsenal-from-1813-thats-building-weapons-for-ukraine/https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/11/the-us-army-arsenal-from-1813-thats-building-weapons-for-ukraine/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 11:00:00 +0000WATERVLIET, N.Y. — On a spring day here at Watervliet Arsenal, workers tapped commands into computers and peered into futuristic pods to watch a robotic arm carve small metal cannon parts.

They sat just steps away from dozens of World War II-era, rusted machining tools, which until recently were used to painstakingly craft these parts.

The facility — America’s oldest working arsenal — is nestled by the Hudson River in upstate New York and serves as the only U.S. Army facility able to produce the large caliber cannon tubes critical to tanks, artillery systems and mortars.

Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, everything old at Watervliet is new again. The pace of battle in Eastern Europe is highlighting the long-established need to outgun the enemy, a difficult task given the strength of Russia’s artillery.

The tools built at Watervliet Arsenal are key to systems that fire on Russian troops in order to prevent them from advancing or help Ukraine take back territory. They are part of weapons that can be used day or night, in all types of weather, making for a highly reliable system.

Such weapons have played a critical role in preventing Russia from conquering Ukraine and have proved a centuries-old, but temporarily forgotten adage — artillery is the king of battle.

For Ukraine, the thousands of weapons supplied by the U.S. are essential. The U.S. has committed to sending Ukraine more than 160 155mm howitzers, 72 105mm howitzers and 31 Abrams tanks, all of which require the type of cannon barrels made at Watervliet. But the invasion has also prompted U.S. officials to take a close look at its own backlog of ammunition — and the potential obstacles to producing more. Potential single sources of failure, like Watervliet, have come under new scrutiny from the military, Congress and contractors.

Already the Pentagon has taken steps to ramp up production of other key weapons systems. For instance, when it comes to 155m shells, the military is expanding from one government-owned, contractor-operated facility in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to two more locations: One based on a partnership with a Canadian company; the other, a General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems-run factory in Garland, Texas.

But there are no easy solutions to take the pressure off Watervliet, a sprawling, 142-acre facility established during the War of 1812 that has provided U.S. military equipment used in the Mexican-American War, World War II and the Gulf War, among other conflicts. Many of its buildings are more than 100 years old. And there isn’t much room for expansion, as the property abuts the backyards of locals.

Now the Army is at a difficult juncture. If the United States wants to continue to provide systems that require large caliber gun tubes to Ukraine, like M777 howitzers, without severely depleting its own supplies, it faces an uphill task: updating the country’s oldest arsenal to modern production standards.

Lisa Sheldon, a Watervliet Arsenal machinist, prepares a cannon destined for an M1 Abrams tank on one of the recently installed hollow spindle lathes. The lathes are capable of machining longer cannon and artillery systems. (Watervliet Arsenal)

Today, demand for the arsenal’s work is growing. A spokesperson for Watervliet told Defense News that there has been an approximately 71% increase in cannon production since October 2019. Furthermore, the Army has made long-range fires a key priority and is prototyping a next-generation weapon that will require a significantly longer gun tube.

The service is currently working to modernize the facility by spending more than $1 billion to shore up and reinforce its industrial capacity. These plans will take nearly a decade to implement.

The oldest building on campus, constructed in 1828, is now home to a high-tech lab working to modernize gun tubes — a top priority for the Army — which includes developing longer-range gun tubes as well as methods for manufacturing them at scale.

Last year, Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, told lawmakers the service planned to spend more than $200 million on Watervliet in fiscal 2023.

“It’s a vital single point of failure in the supply chain that we have to protect,” Bush said.

How to make a gun tube

A cannon barrel, or gun tube, is a straight cylinder made of metal that can vary in length and in the size of the bore — the tube’s hollow interior. Projectiles are fired from the tube at high speeds, triggered by high-pressure gases or propellant.

The Army declined to say how many cannon tubes Watervliet is producing, but a recent Wall Street Journal report estimated it makes hundreds annually.

These tubes are critical to using weapons systems like the Paladin howitzer and the M1 Abrams tank. But Watervliet is expanding its work as the service produces new systems. For instance, the Army has entered low-rate production for gun tubes for its new M10 Booker combat vehicle, Col. Alain Fisher, Watervliet’s commander, told Defense News.

The arsenal has also built a handful of gun tubes for the Extended Range Cannon Artillery system, which the Army is using to test a longer-range cannon, Fisher said.

While gun tubes vary depending on the system for which they are intended, the process for making one is relatively uniform. The arsenal first receives preformed, raw steel from outside vendors.

The steel is heat-treated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the smoldering hot, bright orange rod then moves through the gnawing lamprey-like mouth of the rotary forge that hammers the tube into the shape of a cannon in about 14 minutes.

A Watervliet Arsenal forge technician takes measurements on a preform after it was processed in the rotary forge. The arsenal plans to replace the nearly 40-year-old forge as part of its 15-year modernization plan. (Watervliet Arsenal)

The cannon undergoes additional heat treatment to toughen up the material to withstand firings. It then moves into rough machining, followed by work on the threads and the power chamber, then the rifling of the inside of the cannon.

After final quality inspections, the cannon receives chrome plating inside the barrel, then it’s painted and packaged to either preserve as a spare cannon tube or deliver for assembly to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, where it’s fired and potentially accepted.

Incremental transformation

Before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Army had a five-year plan to modernize Watervliet’s equipment, according to the head of the service’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, Maj. Gen. Darren Werner.

“From the rotary forge to our heat treatment facilities, you’ll go across the board, you’ll see that there’s an aged amount of equipment that’s there,” Werner said. The rotary forge, for instance, dates back to the 1970s.

When Werner took on his role in 2020, he said he quickly identified several high-risk areas, such as chrome plating on the inside of the barrel as part of cannon tube production.

“It was not up to industrial standard,” he said, “and it was because we were using equipment that was outdated.”

The Army in 2021 installed modern, multi-axle milling machines that have had “a profound impact on our ability to deliver high-quality materials to support all the actions associated with gun tubes,” Werner said.

Maintaining a high standard of precision and accuracy in manufacturing is critical because a cannon tube with a defect could, at a minimum, affect the accuracy of a shot, or reduce its range or the life of a barrel. At worst, a mistake could cause a catastrophic failure.

The seven new milling machines have replaced “a lot of single-use machine tools that were old and tired from the ’40s,” John Bianchi, Watervliet’s production director, told Defense News. With the new machines, producing a large caliber gun component now takes 80 days, down from about 170, and quality has “dramatically increased,” he added.

A first-year apprentice prepares to machine his first product at the Watervliet Arsenal. (John Snyder/U.S. Army)

The Army also added a second curing system and a second machine to add rifling inside the barrel in order to increase capacity.

Early last year, the Army, as part of its 15-year organic industrial base strategy, announced a plan to invest $1.3 billion into Watervliet through fiscal 2037 to provide the arsenal with more state-of-the-art machines and enable it to accommodate new weapon systems with longer gun tubes.

In FY23, which began in October, the Army sought $221.5 million for upgrades and improvements, including a $65 million rotary forge replacement, an electro-chemical machining system and a new water-jet system for cannon tube rifling.

Going forward, Werner said, the Army must build an industrial control network that digitally links the machines. This network would collect data to manage maintenance plans, he explained.

Making room for longer ranges

Workers at Watervliet are preparing for the Army’s Extended Range Cannon Artillery system, currently in the prototyping phase and expected to enter the field in 2030.

The 58-caliber cannon is 30 feet long, nearly double the length of some other tubes Watervliet makes.

“We’ve found ways to manufacture that tube effectively using the equipment that we have, but it’s not optimal,” Werner said. “When we put a tube into the paint booth to paint it, we have to put it in diagonally.”

Most of the facilities and tools used at Watervliet are able to accommodate the longer gun tubes, but not efficiently. So the Army is taking steps to build a new long-range precision fire facility focused on manufacturing those longer parts and using modern production methods.

Fisher said the service is now figuring out where to put it. Options on the table include tearing down old housing to make space; or using space freed up by the arsenal’s efforts, already underway, to consolidate its mortar factory into one building.

The Army is budgeting to begin construction on the new factory in FY26, Fisher added. The arsenal is set to receive $130 million in FY24 and $154 million in FY25, and is slated to get $359 million in FY26, part of which will go toward establishing the new facility, he explained.

But it’s not just future systems Watervliet must prepare for; Werner said the Army also wants to ensure the arsenal can surge to fulfill the needs of foreign customers, including Ukraine.

To manufacture the 155mm cannon system for this Paladin howitzer, Watervliet Arsenal conducts hundreds of manufacturing operations. (U.S. Army)

In a statement provided to Defense News, Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, said the service’s facilities “were not producing at capacity prior to the Ukraine conflict.”

But, he added, the production facility is not the only limit on capacity. “There is also the available workforce (which can be expanded) as well as component and material availability in the downstream supply chain,” he said.

Werner noted the Army is trying to improve Watervliet’s capacity by developing the workforce and streamlining operations.

Watervliet “has really come a long way in the last three years,” Werner said, “with regard to integration of new technology. And what they’ve [proved] is they’re very effective at solving problems, identifying how they can do things better and then integrating those solutions in their day-to-day operations.”

Expansion routes

With the growing demand for artillery, analysts and former government officials said it might make sense to produce gun tubes at other locations.

Steven Grundman, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and a former Pentagon industrial base official, told Defense News that adding another source would “reduce your risk of single point of failure, be that from sabotage or otherwise natural, an act of God or otherwise” while also keeping “an element of competition in the game, which is good for everybody.”

Bruce Jette, who served as Army acquisition chief during the Trump administration, said it would be a “great idea” for industry to produce gun tubes at another facility. The service “should have a plan with the ability to expand our production. I know industry has an interest in trying to support doing that,” he noted.

Jette added that the Army previously considered a range of options, such as expanding a Navy facility that makes gun tubes, working with a commercial forge, or reopening government-owned facilities. None of the ideas ultimately made sense.

“It was like playing the worst Monopoly game on Earth,” he said. “Every time we tried to make a move, there’s another card you have to pick up, and it says: ‘Oh, you can’t do that because of this. Oh, you can’t do that because of that.’ ”

Asked about expanding beyond Watervliet, Bush told Defense News that “options are on the table and being reviewed” but said it’s too early to discuss those alternatives.

The Army has at times issued requests for information to industry focused on producing gun tubes in the U.S. outside of the arsenal. As recently as March 2023, Army Contracting Command released a sources-sought notice to identify companies capable of manufacturing the M776 155mm cannon tube of the M777 howitzer.

Before the war in Ukraine, the Army released a sources-sought notice for 120mm M256 cannon tubes used for tanks; last year, the service again asked contractors able to produce the same cannon tubes domestically to speak up.

Rheinmetall, based in Germany, is the original equipment manufacturer for the 120mm smoothbore cannon tube.

American Rheinmetall responded to the Army’s recent requests for information on large caliber barrel sourcing, according to Stephen Hedger, who leads the company’s U.S. branch.

Watervliet Arsenal is installing new machines to increase cannon production capacity at its

“Recognizing the limited capacity and rapidly growing demands on Watervliet, we have shared with the Army our interest in exploring the establishment of new U.S. industrial production to supplement the great capabilities at the arsenal,” he told Defense News.

But there are hurdles to establishing a second source. The Arsenal Act of 1920 prevents the U.S. government from seeking an outside source to build supplies and weapons the Army needs if it can be accomplished in-house on an economical basis. And the Stratton Amendment of 1986 bans the transfer of technical data used to build cannons outside of the country.

Bush said Watervliet provides the best value for cannon production “because within the United States, there is no other commercial capacity to make what is a highly specialized and defense-unique item.”

Creating additional manufacturing facilities is “theoretically possible,” he added, but it would take considerable time and upfront investment.

In a May 2023 Defense Acquisition University study by Joshua Michael Charm on the U.S. cannon tube industrial base, he wrote: “Even in smaller conflicts, the responsiveness of the industrial base is critical as time is of the essence and is critically important during war and can be the difference of the outcome of a conflict. Keeping all cannon tube production within Watervliet Arsenal is not always the best solution when demand is high enough and delivery schedules are paramount.”

“However, turning on other producers outside of Watervliet Arsenal, even those who have capability to produce cannon tubes, is not a quick process,” he added, given those efforts “must be done outside of the time pressures of an active war since the timeline will be measured in years, and not weeks or even months.”

Charm recommended a “re-examination” of the Stratton Amendment as a potential solution.

In the meantime, the Army — and the rest of the U.S. military — is trying to meet the increased demand created by the war in Ukraine, while gauging what future demand might look like, said Jerry McGinn, executive director of the Baroni Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University and a former Pentagon industrial base official.

Watervliet is only just now modernizing because it hasn’t had the money or the demand, he told Defense News.

“It’s going to modulate ... we’re not going to be at this level of demand forever, but we’re going to have to just realize that we’re going to have to build above need in some places for a sustained period of time,” he said. “We have to have stocks for contingencies.

“The question is what is that kind of steady state? And I think that everyone’s trying to figure that out.”

Matthew Day
<![CDATA[Turkey to send Sweden’s NATO accession protocol to Parliament swiftly]]>https://www.armytimes.com/global/europe/2023/07/10/turkey-to-send-swedens-nato-accession-protocol-to-parliament-swiftly/https://www.armytimes.com/global/europe/2023/07/10/turkey-to-send-swedens-nato-accession-protocol-to-parliament-swiftly/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 20:19:07 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to send Sweden’s accession protocol for joining NATO to the Turkish Parliament “as soon as possible” and to help ensure that the assembly approves it.

Stoltenberg made the announcement after talks with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on the eve of a NATO summit in Lithuania. Sweden’s NATO accession has been held up by objections from Turkey since last year.

“This is an historic day because we have a clear commitment by Turkey to submit the ratification documents to the Grand National Assembly, and to work also with the assembly to ensure ratification,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Earlier Monday, with NATO hoping to put on a public display of unity in its support for Ukraine more than 500 days into the war, Erdogan said that he would block Sweden’s path unless European members of the military organization “pave the way” for Turkey to join the world’s biggest trading bloc.

His surprise announcement added new uncertainty to Sweden’s bid to become the alliance’s 32nd member. Turkey was already blocking its entry because Erdogan believes that Sweden has been too soft on Kurdish militants and other groups that he considers to be security threats.

On arriving in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts will hold two days of talks starting on Tuesday, Erdogan first met with Kristersson, before breaking off for a separate meeting with European Council President Charles Michel.

Michel tweeted that he and Erdogan had “explored opportunities ahead to bring cooperation back to the forefront and re-energise our relations.” Michel said he has tasked the European Commission to draw up a “report with a view to proceed in strategic and forward-looking manner.”

Turkey is a candidate to join the EU, but its membership talks have been at a standstill since 2018 due to democratic backsliding during Erdogan’s presidency, concerns about the rule of law and rights abuses, as well as disputes with EU-member Cyprus.

Erdogan’s new demand was the first time that he had linked his country’s ambition to join the EU with Sweden’s efforts to become a NATO member.

“Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the NATO member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years.”

“Come and open the way for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” he added.

Earlier, Erdogan’s office said he told U.S. President Joe Biden during a telephone call Sunday that Turkey wanted a “clear and strong” message of support for Turkey’s EU ambitions from the NATO leaders. The White House readout of the Biden-Erdogan call did not mention the issue of Turkish EU membership.

“Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the NATO member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, before flying to Vilnius.

“I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years,” he said. “Come and open the way for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden, as we did for Finland.”

Earlier, Erdogan’s office said he told U.S. President Joe Biden during a telephone call Sunday that Turkey wanted a “clear and strong” message of support for Turkey’s EU ambitions from the NATO leaders. The White House readout of the Biden-Erdogan call did not mention the issue of Turkish EU membership.

Erdogan’s government has postponed ratifying Sweden’s accession, saying the administration in Stockholm needs to do more to crack down on Kurdish militants and other groups. A series of anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Sweden’s capital raised doubts that an agreement to satisfy Turkey’s demands could be reached before the NATO summit.

Turkey’s delaying tactics have irritated other NATO allies including the United States. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, confirmed Sunday that Biden and Erdogan had spoken about Sweden’s NATO membership among other issues and had agreed to meet in Vilnius for further talks.

Sullivan said the White House is confident Sweden will join the alliance.

“We don’t regard this as something that is fundamentally in doubt. This is a matter of timing. The sooner the better,” he said.

Previously non-aligned Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland joined in April following Turkish ratification.

Another key issue in Vilnius will be how to bring Ukraine closer to NATO without actually joining, and security guarantees Kyiv might need to ensure that Russia doesn’t invade again after the war ends. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky will join the summit in person on Wednesday.

Stoltenberg said the most important thing was to continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to resist the Russian invasion.

“Unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership issue to discuss at all,” he said.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. AP White House reporter Chris Megerian in London contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Ukraine tops NATO summit agenda along with Sweden’s membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/10/ukraine-tops-nato-summit-agenda-along-with-swedens-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/10/ukraine-tops-nato-summit-agenda-along-with-swedens-membership/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 16:54:30 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania — Russia’s war in Ukraine will top the agenda when U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts hold a summit in Lithuania’s capital over two days starting Tuesday.

They are expected to focus on ensuring that Ukraine has support as long as the conflict continues, how to bring the country even closer to NATO without actually joining, and security guarantees Kyiv might need to ensure that Russia doesn’t invade again after the war ends.

The leaders meeting in Vilnius are set to endorse new defense plans in case Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to broaden Moscow’s war beyond Ukraine and westward into allied territory. They also weigh defense spending, and how to boost their budgets as aid to Ukraine eats into national military coffers.

Sweden’s accession to the 31-nation alliance is up for discussion, too, as Turkey delays the Scandinavian country’s entry into the world’s biggest security organization.

Ukraine’s NATO membership

The biggest item on NATO’s agenda is what to do about Ukraine. U.S. President George W. Bush led the charge in 2008, promising that Ukraine would become a member one day.

Now, the country is trying to fend off a full-scale invasion by NATO’s old foe Russia. The West believes that Ukraine is standing up for its interests, and countries are pouring in billions in aid, economic and military support.

NATO isn’t ready to start membership talks with Ukraine yet. But it is helping to train and modernize its armed forces and security institutions to ensure that the country can take its place among NATO’s ranks after the war is over. The summit will see a new forum for consultations created — the NATO-Ukraine Council.

Security guarantees

It’s not really a topic for NATO — more for individual allies — but it’s set to dominate talks in Vilnius.

NATO and its Western partners are discussing ways to protect Ukraine after the war from a future invasion. NATO membership offers ironclad “all for one, one for all” protection, but the 31 countries must agree unanimously on letting Ukraine in, and they’re not united on this.

Failing that, major allies like the U.S., U.K., France and Germany could pledge to shield the country from another attack. NATO and the European Union would back that military protection with more money and other aid.

It’s unlikely that any conclusions will be drawn in Vilnius, but the summit is an important moment for leaders to flesh out what those guarantees might look like.

Sweden’s NATO membership

Nearly all allies, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden say the country has done enough to join the military alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t agree, and he aims to steal the summit spotlight.

Sweden has given up a history of military neutrality to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. It has changed its anti-terror laws and lifted an arms embargo on Turkey to assuage Erdogan’s concerns.

To no avail.

The long-time Turkish leader used the issue during election campaigning last month. He’s also seeking upgraded F-16 fighter jets from the U.S., and Sweden could be leverage.

Defense spending

This is a perennial issue. The U.S. routinely flails its allies for failing to spend enough on their defense budgets. With money, arms and ammunition being poured into Ukraine, the need to boost national military budgets is a no-brainer.

The allies agreed in 2014 to move toward spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. The 2024 deadline approaches.

In Vilnius, the leaders will agree to make 2% the floor — that is, the least they should be spending — rather than the ceiling.

Regional defense plans

NATO is conducting the biggest revamp of its defense plans since the Cold War in case Putin decides to widen the conflict outside Ukraine.

Right now, around 40,000 troops are on standby from Estonia in the north down to Romania on the Black Sea. About 100 aircraft take to the skies each day, and 27 warships are operating in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas.

Those numbers are set to rise. Under new defense plans, NATO aims to have up to 300,000 troops available to move to its eastern flank within 30 days. The plans divide its territory into three zones – the high north and Atlantic area, a zone north of the Alps, and another in southern Europe. The top-secret documents lay out which countries and what equipment should defend any area under threat.


It’s not on the agenda, but NATO hopes that Belarus, Lithuania’s big neighbor, and Russia’s main backer, will play no surprise role in the summit or the war in Ukraine.

Belarus lies just 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Vilnius. Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was offered refuge there. The jury is out on how many of his fighters might join him.

“We have seen some preparations for hosting large groups of soldiers in Belarus. So far, we haven’t seen them going to Belarus,” Stoltenberg said Friday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko also said last month that his country has received Russian tactical nuclear weapons. He’s warning that he would order their use to protect his country.

NATO officials think he’s bluffing. But it’s quite possible that Putin will resume his nuclear saber-rattling again as the leaders gather in Vilnius.

Mindaugas Kulbis
<![CDATA[Putin hosted Russian mercenary leader at the Kremlin after mutiny]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/10/putin-hosted-russian-mercenary-leader-at-the-kremlin-after-mutiny/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/10/putin-hosted-russian-mercenary-leader-at-the-kremlin-after-mutiny/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 16:34:10 +0000Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin at the Kremlin days after the commander led a short-lived rebellion, a senior government spokesman said Monday, the latest twist in a baffling episode that has raised questions about the power and influence held by both men.

The three-hour meeting took place on June 29 and also involved commanders from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group military contractor, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Putin gave an assessment of Wagner’s actions on the battlefield in Ukraine — where the mercenaries have fought alongside Russian troops — and of the revolt itself. The Wagner forces pledged loyalty to Putin, according to Peskov.

The confirmation that Putin met face-to-face with Prigozhin, who led troops on a march to Moscow last month in order to demand a change of defense minister, was extraordinary. Though the Russian leader branded Prigozhin a traitor as the revolt unfolded and vowed harsh punishment, the criminal case against the mercenary chief was later dropped.

His ultimate fate remains unclear, particularly since Monday’s announcement shows much is being negotiated behind closed doors. On the day the meeting between Putin and Prigozhin took place, Peskov told reporters he didn’t have any information on the mercenary leader’s whereabouts.

Monday’s announcement came as Russia’s Defense Ministry published a video featuring military chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov — who was one of the targets of Prigozhin’s rebellion. It was the first time Gerasimov has been seen since the revolt.

The twin updates appeared to be another attempt by the Kremlin to show it’s in control after a turbulent period.

But Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, predicted that some observers would be stunned by the turn of events.

“When you look from the point of view of Russian elite, it’s ridiculous,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s just so unbelievable and just so shocking.”

Adding to the unusual nature of the meeting was that until very recently, Putin had denied any link between the state and Prigozhin’s forces. Mercenaries are illegal in Russia, but Wagner troops have fought for Russian interests around the globe and played a vital role in the capture of Bakhmut in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle.

A Ukrainian soldier prepares a Croatian RAK-SA-12 128mm multiple rocket launcher to fire towards the Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, July 10, 2023. (Roman Chop via AP)

But throughout the war, Prigozhin has criticized decisions made by Russia’s top military brass, leading to tensions with the Kremlin that culminated in the June 24 mutiny.

The rebellion severely weakened Putin’s authority, even though Prigozhin claimed that the uprising was not aimed at the president but at removing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gerasimov. It ended his mutiny after a deal was brokered for Prigozhin to go to Belarus.

Days after the revolt, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Prigozhin was in Belarus. But last week the president said the mercenary chief was in Russia while his troops remained in their camps.

Peskov said that during the June 29 meeting, Putin offered an “assessment” of Wagner’s actions on the battlefield in Ukraine and “of the events of June 24.” The president also “listened to the explanations of the commanders and offered them options for further employment and further use in combat,” the Kremlin spokesman said.

“The commanders themselves presented their version of what happened. They underscored that they are staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the commander-in-chief, and also said that they are ready to continue to fight for their homeland,” Peskov said.

A total of 35 people took part in the meeting, Peskov said.

NATO summit later this week in Lithuania is looking at how to crank up the pressure on Moscow after 16 months of war.

In southern Ukraine, a Russian airstrike on a school killed four adults as people gathered to receive humanitarian aid, the governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region said Monday, branding the attack “a war crime.”

Three women and a man, all in their 40s, died in the strike Sunday in the town of Orikhiv, Gov. Yuriy Malashko said.

A guided aerial bomb caused an explosion at the school, Malashko said, without providing evidence. Eleven other people were wounded in the attack, he said.

Overall, Russia fired on 10 settlements in the province over the course of a day, he said.

Moscow denies it targets civilian locations. Russia has been accused numerous times of doing so and committing other war crimes since its February 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.

Investigations are also underway in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine, located in The Hague, is helping with those probes.

Zaporizhzhia province is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which Russian forces seized early in the war, and is one of four regions of Ukraine that Putin illegally annexed last year. Retaking the province is one of the targets of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian aerial assaults continued across Ukraine between Sunday and Monday, according to a summary from the Ukrainian presidential office.

In the Donetsk region in the east, the Russians used aircraft, missile systems and heavy artillery to shell residential areas of 6 cities and villages, injuring one person, the office reported.

The Russian army attacked residential areas of Kherson, the regional capital of a province of the same name. A 66-year-old woman was injured, the presidential office said.

<![CDATA[Russia reports intercepting a missile over annexed Crimea]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/09/russia-reports-intercepting-a-missile-over-annexed-crimea/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/09/russia-reports-intercepting-a-missile-over-annexed-crimea/Sun, 09 Jul 2023 16:00:50 +0000Russian-installed authorities in the Crimean peninsula on Sunday reported shooting down a cruise missile near the city of Kerch and briefly suspending traffic on the Kerch bridge that links the annexed territory to Russia.

The Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said the interception of the missile by Russian air defenses didn’t result in any damage or casualties. He didn’t offer any details, including the type of the missile and its origin.

In the nearby Russian region of Rostov, authorities on Sunday also reported shooting down a missile. Gov. Vasily Golubev said the missile was Ukrainian, and its debris damaged the roofs of several buildings. No casualties have been reported.

Such attacks far beyond the front line on Russian regions on the border with Ukraine or the annexed Crimean peninsula have become common during the war in Ukraine that has just surpassed its 500-day mark.

Officials in Russian regions and Moscow-appointed authorities in Crimea, which was illegally annexed in 2014, have regularly reported explosions, drone strikes, and even cross-border raids by Ukrainian saboteurs. Kyiv has never openly taken responsibility for these attacks.

Last October, a massive explosion severely damaged the Kerch bridge — a key transport and supply route for Russian troops in Crimea — leaving it out of commission for weeks. In what appeared to be the first direct admission of Kyiv’s involvement, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar in a Telegram post on Saturday listed the attack among the country’s main achievements in the war so far.

“(It’s been) 273 days since (we) carried out the first strike on the Crimean bridge in order to disrupt the logistics for the Russians,” Maliar wrote.

Among other successes, she also mentioned the sinking of the Moskva cruiser — something the Russian authorities refused to attribute to a Ukrainian attack.

Maliar’s post on Sunday caught the attention of Russian state media and officials. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova once again called President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government a “terrorist regime” in an online statement condemning the attack.

In other developments:

— One of the defense commanders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol who returned to Ukraine on Saturday announced going back to the battlefield. The sprawling steelworks was the last bastion of resistance as Russian forces took control of the port city early on in the war. Azovstal’s more than 2,000 defenders left the steelworks in mid-May 2022 and were taken into Russian captivity.

The five leaders, some of whom were part of the Azov national guard regiment that Russia denounces as neo-Nazi, were freed in a September prisoner swap and taken to Turkey, where they were to remain until the end of the war under the Turkish president’s protection. On Saturday, however, Zelenskyy brought them back to Ukraine. There was no immediate official explanation of how this squared with the conditions of the exchange.

Speaking to reporters in Ukraine upon returning, Denys Prokopenko — one of the five commanders — said he will return to the battlefield. “I am deeply convinced that the army is a team effort. And from today we will continue the fight together with you. We will definitely have our say in battle,” Prokopenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying.

— The death toll from the Russian missile strike on Lyman, a city in the partially occupied Donetsk region that was struck on Saturday, rose to nine on Sunday. Lyman is a few kilometers (miles) from the front line, where Russian troops have recently intensified fighting in the forests of Kreminna.

<![CDATA[Afghan interpreter who risked life for US troops shot and killed in DC]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/08/afghan-interpreter-who-risked-life-for-us-troops-shot-and-killed-in-dc/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/08/afghan-interpreter-who-risked-life-for-us-troops-shot-and-killed-in-dc/Sat, 08 Jul 2023 12:00:00 +0000WASHINGTON (AP) — At 31 years old, Nasrat Ahmad Yar had spent most of his adult life working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan before escaping to America in search of a better life for his wife and four children.

He found work as a ride-share driver and even managed to send money back to Afghanistan to help family and friends. He liked to play volleyball with friends in the Washington suburb where many Afghans who fled their country now live. At 6 feet 5 inches, he had a powerful serve.

On Monday night, worried about making rent, he went out driving and was shot and killed in Washington. No suspects have been arrested, but surveillance video captured the sound of a single gunshot and four boys or young men were seen running away. Police have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

“He was so generous. He was so nice. He was always trying to help the people,” said Rahim Amini, a fellow Afghan immigrant and longtime friend. He said Ahmad Yar always reminded him, “Don’t forget the people left behind.”

Jeramie Malone, an American who came to know Ahmed Yar through her volunteer work with a veteran-founded organization bringing former Afghan interpreters to safety, also was struck by his generosity.

“He always wanted to be giving more than he was receiving and he was just really extremely kind.” In America, Malone said, “all he wanted was a chance.”

Amini said Ahmad Yar had worked for the U.S. military for about a decade as an interpreter and doing other jobs, seeing it as a way to help pave the way for the next generation in Afghanistan to have a better life.

While the U.S. has had a Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked closely with the U.S. government to come to America since 2009, Amini said his friend didn’t want to apply right away, preferring to stay in Afghanistan, where he felt needed.

He remembered Ahmad Yar saying: “I have guys here I need to support. ... When I feel that they don’t need my support then I can go to America.”

Then, in August 2021, the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.

Mohammad Ahmadi, Ahmad Yar’s cousin, was already in America after also working for the U.S. military. The two talked on the phone about how to get Ahmad Yar and his family out of Afghanistan. Ahmadi said his cousin could see the Taliban soldiers walking through the streets of Kabul and was worried they would discover he’d been an interpreter for the U.S. military.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to get killed in front of my wife and kids,’” Ahmadi said. When he wasn’t able to get out of the crowded Kabul airport, Ahmad Yar went to northern Afghanistan in hopes of getting into Uzbekistan. When that didn’t work, he and his family went to the northwestern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where he and his family were able to get on a flight to the United Arab Emirates and then eventually travel to America.

Even when laying low in Mazar-e-Sharif, Nasrat would go out of his way to assist other Afghans who also had come to escape the Taliban — greeting them on arrival to the strange city, bringing their families to stay with his, and feeding them, while all waited for flights out, Malone said.

“Nasrat was very different, because even though he was needing help, he was always helping me,” she said.

While waiting at the interim transit camp in the United Arab Emirates, he asked for writing supplies for the children so he could teach them English before they arrived in the U.S., Malone said. “It was really important for him for his kids to get an education and for them to ... have opportunities they never would have had in Afghanistan.”

His eldest child, a girl, is now 13, and the others are boys, ages 11, 8 and just 15 months old.

The family went first to Pennsylvania, but Amini said his friend was robbed there and decided to move to Alexandria, in northern Virginia just outside Washington. Amini said Ahmad Yar told him he’d fled to the U.S. “to be safe and unfortunately I’m not safe here.”

In northern Virginia, they both ended up being ride-share drivers and lived about two miles (three kilometers) from each other. Like many in the Afghan diaspora there, they chatted throughout the day in a WhatsApp group text. And they played in a weekly volleyball game. Ahmad Yar was really good and no one could block his serve, Amini said.

Amini said they spoke Monday evening and the next thing he knew he was woken up by another Afghan friend who’d somehow heard that Ahmad Yar had been killed.

In disbelief, Amini began frantically calling his friend. But it was the police who finally answered the phone: “The police officer said: ‘I’m sorry. Unfortunately he’s not alive anymore.’”

Ahmad Yar will be laid to rest on Saturday. His wife is still in shock, said Ahmad Yar’s cousin, Ahmadi. But she said she and her husband had the same goal in coming to America — to provide a future for their children.

She told Ahmadi: “I have the same goal for them. They can go to school. They can go to college and become educated and good people for the society.”


Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

Sait Serkan Gurbuz
<![CDATA[No legal reason against giving cluster bombs to Ukraine but moral?]]>https://www.armytimes.com/opinion/2023/07/08/no-legal-reason-against-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine-but-moral/https://www.armytimes.com/opinion/2023/07/08/no-legal-reason-against-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine-but-moral/Sat, 08 Jul 2023 12:00:00 +0000Editor’s note: This commentary was first published in The Conversation.

The Biden administration announced on July 7, 2023, that it would send cluster bombs to Ukraine – a deeply controversial move given the munition is prohibited by more than 120 countries because of risks to civilian populations.

The U.S. has been here before. It provided Saudi Arabia with cluster munitions – which contain bomblets that can scatter across a wide area, often not exploding until later – during the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen.

Washington suspended sales of cluster bombs to the Saudis in 2016 following mounting concern over the toll they were taking on civilian lives. But the U.S. is still holding out from joining an international ban on cluster bombs.

As a scholar of the law of war, I know that cluster bombs highlight a reality about the use and regulation of weapons, even those that can cause widespread civilian suffering: These munitions are not in themselves illegal, but their usage can be. Furthermore, the decision by the U.S. to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs could weaken the argument against others’ doing likewise. And that, in turn, could increase the chances of cluster bombs’ being deployed illegally.

Effective or indiscriminate?

Cluster munitions have been part of nations’ arsenals since World War II. Delivered by air or ground artillery, they have been used by the United States in Laos and Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Israel in southern Lebanon, the U.S. and U.K. in Iraq, Russia and Syria in the ongoing Syrian civil war, and the Saudis in Yemen. And now they are being deployed in Ukraine.

If deployed responsibly, they can be an effective military tool. Because they can spread hundreds of bomblets across a wide area, they can prove a potent weapon against concentrations of enemy troops and their weapons on a battlefield. In 2017, a U.S. Department of Defense memo said cluster munitions provided a “necessary capability” when confronted with “massed formation of enemy forces, individual targets dispersed over a defined area, targets whose precise location are not known, and time-sensitive or moving targets.” And on June 22, 2023, it was reported that the Department of Defense has concluded that cluster bombs would be useful if deployed against “dug-in” Russian positions in Ukraine.

Indeed, the Department of Defense argued that in some limited circumstances cluster bombs can be less destructive to civilians. In Vietnam, the U.S. sanctioned the use of cluster bombs – over more powerful bombs – to disrupt transport links and enemy positions while minimizing the risk of destroying nearby dikes, which would have flooded rice fields and caused widespread suffering to villagers.

Still, their use has always been controversial. The problem is that not all the bomblets explode on impact. Many remain on the ground, unexploded until they are later disturbed – and that increases the chances of civilians’ being maimed or killed. Their use in urban settings is particularly problematic, as they cannot be directed at a specific military target and are just as likely to strike civilians and their homes.

A cluster bomb (including its bomblets) is on display at the Spreewerk ISL Integrated Solutions weapons decommissioning facility near Luebben June 23, 2009. A two-day conference on the destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles begins in Berlin June 25, 2009. AFP PHOTO JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Cluster bombs under international law

Concern over the risk to civilian harm led in 2008 to a Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their use, production or sale by member states.

But as of 2023, the convention is legally binding for only the 123 states that are signatories – and Ukraine, Russia and the U.S. are not among them. Nor can they – or any of the other countries yet to sign up to the convention – be compelled to join the ban.

As such, there is no legal reason that Ukraine or Russia cannot deploy cluster bombs in the current conflict – as both have done since the invasion of February 2022. Nor is there any legal reason the Biden administration can’t sell the munitions to Ukraine.

But there are laws that set out how cluster bombs can be used, and how they must not.

The relevant part of international humanitarian law here is 1977′s Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which both Ukraine and Russia have ratified. The additional protocol sets out rules the warring parties must observe to limit harm to civilians. Acknowledging that civilian deaths are an inevitable part of war, Article 51 of Additional Protocol I prohibits “indiscrimate” attacks. Such attacks include those employing a weapon that cannot be directed at a specific military target or of such a nature to strike military targets and civilians and civilian objects without distinction.

Meanwhile, Article 57 of the additional protocol stresses that attacking armies have a duty of care to spare civilian populations. This includes taking “all feasible precautions in the choice of means and method of attack.”

Neither article specifies any weapons deemed off-limits. Rather, it is how the weapons are used that determines whether the attack constitutes an indiscriminate one and hence a crime under international law.

More than an ‘optical’ risk?

Even if cluster bombs are not inherently indiscriminate – a claim that advocates of an international ban put forward – their use in urban settings greatly increases the chance of civilian harm. In 2021, 97% of cluster bomb casualties were civilians, two-thirds of whom were children. And the experience of cluster bomb use in Syria and Yemen shows that it can be difficult to hold governments to account.

Which is why Ukraine’s request for U.S. cluster munitions has led to concerns. The Cluster Munitions Monitor, which logs international use of the bombs, found that as of August 2022, Ukraine was the only active conflict zone where cluster bombs were being deployed – with Russia using the weapon “extensively” since its invasion, and Ukraine also deploying cluster bombs on a handful of occasions.

Ukraine reportedly sought some of the United States’ stockpile of Cold War-era MK-20 cluster bombs to drop on Russian positions via drones. The White House had previously aired “concern” over the transfer.

In announcing the decision to send U.S.-made cluster bombs to Ukraine, Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, noted that “cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” adding: “This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could.”

The Biden administration’s earlier hesitancy was reportedly over the “optics” of selling cluster bombs and that it may introducing a wedge between the U.S. and other NATO countries over the weapon’s use.

Certainly, there would be very little legal risk under international law of providing cluster bombs to Ukraine – or any other nation – even if that country were to use the weapon illegally.

A view shows the internal components of a 300mm rocket which appear to contained cluster bombs launched from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher in Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia agreed to create humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians on March 3, in a second round of talks since Moscow invaded last week, negotiators on both sides said. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)

There is no case I know of in which a state has been found legally responsible for providing weapons to another that flagrantly misuses them – there is no equivalent to efforts in the U.S. seeking to hold gun manufacturers legally responsible for mass shootings, or state “dram shop laws” that hold the suppliers of alcohol culpable for the actions of an inebriated driver.

Yet one of the things that worried people in Congress regarding the sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia was that the Saudis’ consistently indiscriminate use of those weapons in Yemen could be seen at home and abroad as making the U.S. complicit in those violations.

I would argue that it became difficult for Washington to continue to supply the Saudis on moral ground. But still, there was and is presently no clear-cut legal obligation for the U.S. to stop supplying other nations with cluster bombs.

In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that Ukraine will deliberately use U.S.-supplied cluster munitions to target civilians and their environs.

And Ukraine provided “written assurances that it is going to use these in a very careful way,” Sullivan said in announcing the transfer.

Nonetheless, providing Ukraine with cluster weapons could serve to destigmatize them and runs counter to international efforts to end their use. And that, in turn, could encourage – or excuse – their use by other states that may be less responsible.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 7, 2023, in light of the Biden administration’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/there-is-no-legal-reason-the-us-cant-supply-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine-but-that-doesnt-make-biden-decision-to-do-so-morally-right-207717.

Scott Olson
<![CDATA[White House defends giving cluster bombs to Ukraine]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/white-house-defends-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/white-house-defends-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 20:20:00 +0000WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday, vowing the U.S. will not leave Ukraine defenseless and asserting that Kyiv has promised to use the controversial bombs carefully.

The decision comes on the eve of the NATO summit in Lithuania, where President Joe Biden is likely to face questions from allies on why the U.S. would send a weapon into Ukraine that more than two-thirds of alliance members have banned because it has a track record for causing many civilian casualties. And it was met with divided reactions from Congress, as some Democrats criticized the plan while some Republicans backed it.

The munitions — which are bombs that open in the air and release scores of smaller bomblets — are seen by the U.S. as a way to get Kyiv critically needed ammunition to help bolster its offensive and push through Russian front lines. U.S. leaders debated the thorny issue for months, before Biden made the final decision this week.

Sullivan defended the decision, saying the U.S. will send a version of the munition that has a reduced “dud rate,” meaning fewer of the smaller bomblets fail to explode. The unexploded rounds, which often litter battlefields and populated civilian areas, cause unintended deaths. U.S. officials have said the U.S. will provide thousands of the rounds, but provided no specific numbers.

“We recognize the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” he told a White House briefing. “This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians, because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us.”

But Marta Hurtado, speaking for the U.N. human rights office, said Friday “the use of such munitions should stop immediately and not be used in any place.”

A cluster bomb, including its bomblets, is on display at the Spreewerk ISL Integrated Solutions weapons decommissioning facility near Luebben June 23, 2009. (AFP via Getty Images)

Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the U.S. will give Ukraine the most modern cluster munitions that have far lower dud rates. He said the bombs have been tested five times between 1998 and 2020, and the U.S. is confident the rate of unexploded duds is below 2.35 percent. While he declined to say how many the U.S. will send now, he said the U.S. has “hundreds of thousands” of cluster munitions available for Ukraine at the low dud rate.

He said the key reason to provide the bombs is to keep Ukraine in the fight.

“Things are going a little slower than some had hoped,” Kahl said in a Pentagon briefing. “So this is to make sure that the Ukrainians have the confidence that they have what they need. But frankly, also that the Russians know that the Ukrainians are going to stay in the game.”

Kahl said the Ukrainians have provided written assurances that they will not use the munitions in urban areas that are populated by civilians and that there will be a careful accounting of where they are employed.

Questioned at length about the decision, Sullivan said the U.S. consulted closely with allies before making the final decision, noting that even allies who have signed on to a ban of the bombs “have indicated, both privately and many of them publicly over the course of today, that they understand our decision.”

Allies “recognize the difference between Russia using its cluster munitions to attack Ukraine and Ukraine using cluster munitions to defend itself its citizens and its sovereign territory,” he said. The U.S. “will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict, period.”

Still, U.S. reaction was mixed. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., called the decision “unnecessary and a terrible mistake.” And Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the civilian risk lingers “often long after a conflict is over.” Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, backed the move, saying Ukraine needs access to weapons Russia already is using.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions leave behind bomblets that have a high rate of failure to explode — up to 40% in some cases. With a claimed rate under 3% for the supply to Ukraine, U.S. officials said there would be fewer unexploded bombs left behind to harm civilians.

A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries that agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to clear them after they’ve been used. The United States, Russia and Ukraine are among those who have not signed on.

Ryan Brobst, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that while the majority of NATO members have signed on to the cluster munitions ban, several of those nearest Russia — Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Turkey — have not.

“The most important of those are Poland and Romania,” Brobst said, noting that the U.S. weapons will probably go through those countries en route to Ukraine. “While some allies raise objections, this is not going to prevent (cluster munitions) from being transferred into Ukraine.”

The cluster munitions are included in a new $800 million package of military aid the U.S. will send to Ukraine. Friday’s package, drawn from Pentagon stocks, will also include Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and an array of ammunition, such as rounds for howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, officials said.

The remains of a Russian missile that dropped cluster bombs in a residential housing complex is lodged in the ground near the complex on June 27, 2022 in Sloviansk, Ukraine. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Providing the cluster bombs will also ease the pressure on limited U.S. ammunition stockpiles. The U.S. has been taking massive amounts of 155 mm rounds from Pentagon stocks and sending them to Ukraine, creating concerns about eating into American stores. The cluster munitions, which are fired by the same artillery as the conventional 155 mm, will give Ukraine a highly lethal capability and also allow them to strike more Russian targets using fewer rounds.

Kahl said the cluster bombs are not a permanent solution, but more of “a bridge” as the U.S. and allies work to increase the production of the 155 mm rounds.

So far the reactions from allies have been muted. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed on Friday that the military alliance takes no position on cluster munitions and it is a decision that allies will make. And Germany, which has signed the ban treaty, said it won’t provide the bombs to Ukraine, but expressed understanding for the American position.

“We’re certain that our U.S. friends didn’t take the decision about supplying such ammunition lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “We need to remember once again that Russia has already used cluster ammunition at a large scale in its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has been advocating that Washington send more weapons, noted that Ukrainian forces have had to disable mines from much of the territory they are winning back from Russia. As part of that process, Ukrainians will also be able to catch any unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions.

The last large-scale American use of cluster bombs was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But U.S. forces considered them a key weapon during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, according to Human Rights Watch. In the first three years of that conflict, it is estimated the U.S.-led coalition dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee and Associated Press writers Geir Moulson, Ellen Knickmeyer, Lorne Cook, Nomaan Merchant and Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[US to destroy its last chemical weapons]]>https://www.armytimes.com/global/the-americas/2023/07/07/us-to-destroy-its-last-chemical-weapons/https://www.armytimes.com/global/the-americas/2023/07/07/us-to-destroy-its-last-chemical-weapons/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 14:25:55 +0000RICHMOND, Ky. — At a sprawling military installation in the middle of the rolling green hills of eastern Kentucky, a milestone is about to be reached in the history of warfare dating back to World War I.

Workers at the Blue Grass Army Depot are close to destroying rockets filled with GB nerve agent that are the last of the United States’ declared chemical weapons and completing a decades-long campaign to eliminate a stockpile that by the end of the Cold War totaled more than 30,000 tons.

The weapons’ destruction is a major watershed for Richmond, Kentucky and Pueblo, Colorado, where an Army depot destroyed the last of its chemical agents last month. It’s also a defining moment for arms control efforts worldwide.

The U.S. faces a Sept. 30 deadline to eliminate its remaining chemical weapons under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1997 and was joined by 193 countries. The munitions being destroyed in Kentucky are the last of 51,000 M55 rockets with GB nerve agent — a deadly toxin also known as sarin — that have been stored at the depot since the 1940s.

By destroying the munitions, the U.S. is officially underscoring that these types of weapons are no longer acceptable in the battlefield and sending a message to the handful of countries that haven’t joined the agreement, military experts say.

“One thing that we’re really proud of is how we’re finishing the mission. We’re finishing it for good for the United States of America,” said Kim Jackson, manager of the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.

Chemical weapons were first used in modern warfare in World War I, where they were estimated have killed at least 100,000. Despite their use being subsequently banned by the Geneva Convention, countries continued to stockpile the weapons until the treaty calling for their destruction.

In southern Colorado, workers at the Army Pueblo Chemical Depot started destroying the weapons in 2016, and on June 22 completed their mission of neutralizing an entire cache of about 2,600 tons of mustard blister agent. The projectiles and mortars comprised about 8.5% of the country’s original chemical weapons stockpile of 30,610 tons of agent.

Nearly 800,000 chemical munitions containing mustard agent were stored since the 1950s inside row after row of heavily guarded concrete and earthen bunkers that pock the landscape near a large swath of farmland east of Pueblo.

The weapons’ destruction alleviates a concern that civic leaders in Colorado and Kentucky admit was always in the back of their minds.

A worker toils to destroy the United States' chemical weapons stockpile at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot on June 8, 2023, in Pueblo, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP)

“Those [weapons] sitting out there were not a threat,” Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar said. But, he added, “you always wondered what might happen with them.”

In the 1980s, the community around Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot rose up in opposition to the Army’s initial plan to incinerate the plant’s 520 tons of chemical weapons, leading to a decadeslong battle over how they would be disposed of. They were able to halt the planned incineration plant, and then, with help from lawmakers, prompted the Army to submit alternative methods to burning the weapons.

Craig Williams, who became the leading voice of the community opposition and later a partner with political leadership and the military, said residents were concerned about potential toxic pollution from burning the deadly chemical agents.

Williams noted that the military eliminated most of its existing stockpile by burning weapons at other, more remote sites such as Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean or at a chemical depot in the middle of the Utah desert. But the Kentucky site was adjacent to Richmond and only a few dozen miles away from Lexington, the state’s second-largest city.

“We had a middle school of over 600 kids a mile away from the [planned] smokestack,” Williams said.

The Kentucky storage facility has housed mustard agent and the VX and sarin nerve agents, much of it inside rockets and other projectiles, since the 1940s. The state’s disposal plant was completed in 2015 and began destroying weapons in 2019. It uses a process called neutralization to dilute the deadly agents so they can be safely disposed of.

The project, however, has been a boon for both communities, and facing the eventual loss of thousands of workers, both are pitching the pool of high-skilled laborers as a plus for companies looking to locate in their regions.

Workers at the Pueblo site used heavy machinery to meticulously — and slowly — load aging weapons onto conveyor systems that fed into secure rooms where remote-controlled robots did the dirty and dangerous work of eliminating the toxic mustard agent, which was designed to blister the skin and cause inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Robotic equipment removed the weapons’ fuses and bursters before the mustard agent was neutralized with hot water and mixed with a caustic solution to prevent the reaction from reversing. The byproduct was further broken down in large tanks swimming with microbes, and the mortars and projectiles were decontaminated at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and recycled as scrap metal.

Problematic munitions that were leaky or overpacked were sent to an armored, stainless steel detonation chamber to be destroyed at about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Colorado and Kentucky sites were the last among several, including Utah and the Johnston Atoll, where the nation’s chemical weapons had been stockpiled and destroyed. Other locations included facilities in Alabama, Arkansas and Oregon.

Kingston Reif, an assistant U.S. secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control, said the destruction of the last U.S. chemical weapon “will close an important chapter in military history, but one that we’re very much looking forward to closing.”

Officials say the elimination of the U.S. stockpile is a major step forward for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Only three countries — Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan — have not signed the treaty. A fourth, Israel, has signed but not ratified the treaty.

Reif noted that there remains concern that some parties to the convention, particularly Russia and Syria, possess undeclared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Still, arms control advocates hope this final step by the U.S. could nudge the remaining countries to join. But they also hope it could be used as a model for eliminating other types of weapons.

“It shows that countries can really ban a weapon of mass destruction,” said Paul F. Walker, vice chairman of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition. “If they want to do it, it just takes the political will and it takes a good verification system.”

DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Peipert reported from Pueblo, Colorado.

David Zalubowski
<![CDATA[NATO to offer Ukraine continuing support but not immediate membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/nato-to-offer-ukraine-continuing-support-but-not-immediate-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/nato-to-offer-ukraine-continuing-support-but-not-immediate-membership/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 14:00:12 +0000BRUSSELS — NATO leaders will agree next week to help modernize Ukraine’s armed forces, create a new high-level forum for consultations and reaffirm that it will join their alliance one day, the organization’s top civilian official said Friday. But the war-torn country will not start membership talks soon.

At a two-day summit starting Tuesday in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts will also agree to boost defense spending as allies pour weapons, ammunition and other support like uniforms and medical equipment into Ukraine, 17 months into the war.

They also hope to welcome Sweden as the next member of the world’s biggest security organization, if they can overcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objections, even though its accession would only be made official in coming months.

“For 500 days, Moscow has brought death and destruction to the heart of Europe, seeking to destroy Ukraine and divide NATO,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Friday. “At the summit, we will make Ukraine even stronger, and set out a vision for its future.”

Stoltenberg said the leaders “will agree a multi-year program of assistance to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian armed forces and NATO.”

A NATO-Ukraine Council – where crisis talks can be held – will be established. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky will attend the council’s first meeting in Vilnius on Wednesday

Stoltenberg said the leaders “will reaffirm that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and unite on how to bring Ukraine closer to its goal.” NATO first pledged that Ukraine would become a member one day in 2008, but things have evolved little since then.

Asked when, or how, Ukraine might join, Stoltenberg said that the “most important thing now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails.” The U.S., Germany and some other allies consider that Ukraine should not be invited in while it’s at war, so as not to encourage Russia to widen the conflict.

With Ukraine imploring its Western partners for more weapons and ammunition, and national military stocks among its partners depleting, NATO is encouraging the 31 allies to boost their military budgets.

In 2014, NATO allies pledged to move toward spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. In Vilnius, they will make 2% the minimum, but will not set any time frame for achieving that goal, NATO officials say. Under new estimates released Friday, only 11 of the allies will reach the 2% goal in 2023.

But Stoltenberg said that good progress is being made. “In 2023, there will be a real increase of 8.3% across European Allies and Canada. This is the biggest increase in decades,” he said, adding that European Allies and Canada will have invested over $450 billion extra since 2014.

Question marks remain about Sweden’s future at NATO. It abandoned a long history of military nonalignment last year to seek protection under the organization’s security umbrella after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Erdogan appears set to steal the summit limelight. He accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

Hungary is also holding up approval of Sweden’s candidacy, but has never clearly stated publicly what its concerns are. NATO officials expect that Hungary will follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.

The other 29 allies, Stoltenberg and Sweden have all said the country has done enough to satisfy Turkey’s demands. Sweden has changed its constitution, modified anti-terror laws and lifted an arms embargo on Turkey, among other concessions.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all 31 members to expand.

Stoltenberg, Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will hold talks in Vilnius on Monday in an attempt to break the deadlock.

Leon Neal
<![CDATA[See the military camp in Belarus meant to host Russia’s Wagner forces]]>https://www.armytimes.com/global/europe/2023/07/07/see-the-military-camp-in-belarus-meant-to-host-russias-wagner-forces/https://www.armytimes.com/global/europe/2023/07/07/see-the-military-camp-in-belarus-meant-to-host-russias-wagner-forces/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 13:53:34 +0000The Belarusian military camp is near Tsel village, about 90 kilometers (about 56 miles) southeast of Minsk, Belarus. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)Maj. Gen. Leonid Kosinsky speaks to journalists in the Belarusian camp. The officer is an assistant to the country's defense minister. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)An indoor view of a tent in the camp, seen July 7, 2023. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)A view of the Belarusian camp on July 7, 2023. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)Gen. Leonid Kosinsky, an assistant to Belarus' defense minister, said that Russia's Wagner military contractor could use the camp near Tsel if it relocates to Belarus under a deal that ended mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's abortive mutiny. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)The Belarusian military camp is southeast of Minsk, Belarus. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

NEAR TSEL, Belarus — The Belarusian military on Friday showed off a field camp it has offered to Russia’s Wagner military contractor if it relocates to Belarus under a deal that ended its mutiny.

Maj. Gen. Leonid Kosinsky, an assistant to Belarus’ defense minister, told international reporters that Wagner troops could use the former Belarusian military camp near Tsel, about 90 kilometers (about 56 miles) southeast of Minsk.

Journalists were shown rows of empty tents that Kosinsky said could accommodate up to 5,000 troops at the camp in the Asipovichy district that was used by the Belarusian military before it was handed over to the territorial defense forces.

Kosinsky said Wagner representatives haven’t yet inspected the camp to see whether it meets their needs. “When the Wagner Group makes a final decision on whether to deploy to Belarus or not, they will see where and how to deploy,” he told reporters.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday that mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is in Russia and his troops so far have remained at their home camps, raising questions about the deal that ended the extraordinary challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Much about the the agreement, which was brokered by Lukashenko, remains murky, and it was not clear if the Wagner chief’s presence in Russia would violate the deal, which allowed Prigozhin and his mercenaries to move to Belarus in exchange for ending the rebellion and a promise of amnesty.

Lukashenko’s claim could not be independently verified, but Russian media have reported Prigozhin was recently seen at his offices in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday again shrugged off questions about Prigozhin’s whereabouts and refused to comment on whether his presence in Russia would violate the deal.

The Belarusian president dismissed suggestions that the mercenaries could attack Ukraine from Belarusian territory, which Russian troops used as a staging ground ahead of their invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

During their revolt that lasted less than 24 hours, Prigozhin’s mercenaries quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there without firing a shot before driving to within about 200 kilometers of the Russian capital. Prigozhin described it as a “march of justice” to oust his longtime foes — Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the military’s general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, whose handling of the war in Ukraine.

The Wagner fighters faced little resistance and downed at least six military helicopters and a command post aircraft, killing at least 10 airmen. When the deal was struck, the Wagner chief ordered his troops to return to their camps.

The abortive rebellion represented the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power, exposing his weakness and eroding the Kremlin’s authority.

Alexander Zemlianichenko
<![CDATA[US to provide Ukraine cluster munitions in new military aid package]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/06/us-to-provide-ukraine-cluster-munitions-in-new-military-aid-package/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/06/us-to-provide-ukraine-cluster-munitions-in-new-military-aid-package/Thu, 06 Jul 2023 19:50:20 +0000Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information on July 7.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration has decided to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine and is expected to announce on Friday that the Pentagon will send thousands of them as part of a new military aid package worth up to $800 million for the war effort against Russia, according to people familiar with the decision.

The decision comes despite widespread concerns that the bombs can cause civilian casualties and sparked a call from the United Nations to both Russia and Ukraine to avoid using them. The Pentagon will provide munitions that have a reduced “dud rate,” meaning there will be far fewer unexploded rounds that can result in unintended civilian deaths.

U.S. officials said Thursday they expect the military aid to Ukraine will be announced on Friday. The weapons will come from Pentagon stocks and will also include Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and an array of ammunition, such as rounds for howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, officials said.

Why the US is willing to send Ukraine cluster munitions now

Long sought by Ukraine, cluster bombs are weapons that open in the air, releasing submunitions, or bomblets, that are dispersed over a large area and are intended to wreak destruction on multiple targets at once.

The officials and others familiar with the decision were not authorized to publicly discuss the move before the official announcement and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Ukrainian officials have asked for the weapons to aid their campaign to push through lines of Russian troops and make gains in the ongoing counteroffensive. Russian forces are already using cluster munitions on the battlefield and in populated civilian areas, U.S. officials have said.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions leave behind bomblets’ that have a high rate of failure to explode — up to 40% in some cases. U.S. officials said Thursday that the rate of unexploded ordnance for the munitions that will be going to Ukraine is less than 3% and therefore will mean fewer threats left behind to civilians.

At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said he had no announcement to make about cluster munitions. He said the Defense Department has “multiple variants” of the munitions and “the ones that we are considering providing would not include older variants with (unexploding) rates that are higher than 2.35%.”

Ryder would not say whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reached out to NATO counterparts to address some of their concerns on the use of cluster munitions. Ryder said the U.S. is aware of reports that indicate some munitions have higher unexploding rates.

If the decision was made to provide the munitions to Ukraine, he said the U.S. “would be carefully selecting rounds with lower dud rates, for which we have recent testing data.”

Asked how the cluster munitions, if approved, would help Ukraine, Ryder said they can be loaded with charges that can penetrate armor and fragment so they can hit multiple personnel — “a capability that would be useful in any type of offensive operations.” Ryder said the Russians have been using cluster munitions that have a very high dud rate.

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has been advocating that Washington send more weapons, noted that Ukrainian forces have had to disable mines from much of the territory they are winning back from Russia. As part of that process, Ukrainians will also be able to catch any unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions.

“We will have to de-mine anyway, but it’s better to have this capability,” Ustinova said.

She credited Congress for pushing the Democratic president’s administration over several months to change its position on the munitions.

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the move was long overdue.

“Now is the time for the U.S. and its allies to provide Ukraine with the systems it needs from cluster munitions to F-16s to ATACMS in order to aid their critical counteroffensive. Any further delay will cost the lives of countless Ukrainians and prolong this brutal war,” said McCaul, R-Texas.

The Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, would give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from as far as about 180 miles (300 kilometers).

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the U.S. has been thinking about providing the cluster munitions “for a long time.”

“The Ukrainians have asked for it, other European countries have provided some of that, the Russians are using it,” Milley said during a speech at the National Press Club.

Cluster bombs can be fired by artillery that the U.S. has provided to Ukraine, and the Pentagon has a large stockpile of them.

The last large-scale American use of cluster bombs was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But U.S. forces considered them a key weapon during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, according to Human Rights Watch. In the first three years of that conflict, it is estimated the U.S.-led coalition dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder listens to a question during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, July 6, 2023, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Proponents of banning cluster bombs say they kill indiscriminately and endanger civilians long after their use. Groups have raised alarms about Russia’s use of the munitions in Ukraine.

A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries who agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to clear them after they’ve been used.

The United States, Russia and Ukraine are among the countries that have not signed on.

Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office, said Friday that “the use of such munitions should stop immediately and not be used in any place.”

“We will urge the Russian Federation and Ukraine to join the more than 100 states that have ratified the convention of cluster munitions and that effectively ban their use,” she added.

It is unclear how America’s NATO allies would view the U.S. providing cluster bombs to Ukraine and whether the issue might prove divisive for their largely united support of Kyiv. More than two-thirds of the 30 countries in the alliance are signatories of the 2010 convention on cluster munitions.

Germany made clear on Friday that it won’t be providing any cluster ammunition to Ukraine, as it joined an international treaty prohibiting the weapons more than a decade ago, but it expressed understanding for the American position.

“We’re certain that our U.S. friends didn’t take the decision about supplying such ammunition lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “We need to remember once again that Russia has already used cluster ammunition at a large scale in its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense focusing on Russia and Ukraine, recently testified to Congress that the Pentagon has assessed that such munitions would help Kyiv press through Russia’s dug-in positions.

____ AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee and Associated Press writers Geir Moulson, Tara Copp, Zeke Miller and Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

Mohammad Zaatari
<![CDATA[Belarus says Wagner chief who staged mutiny is in Russia]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/06/belarus-says-wagner-chief-who-staged-mutiny-is-in-russia/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/06/belarus-says-wagner-chief-who-staged-mutiny-is-in-russia/Thu, 06 Jul 2023 14:01:05 +0000MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The mercenary leader who led a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin is in Russia and his troops are in their field camps, the president of Belarus said Thursday, raising new questions about the deal that ended the extraordinary challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s claim could not be independently verified, and the Kremlin refused to comment on Yevgeny Prigozhin’s whereabouts. But Russian media have reported he was recently seen at his offices in St. Petersburg.

It was not clear if Prigozhin’s presence in Russia would violate the deal, which allowed the head of the Wagner Group military contractor to move to Belarus in exchange for ending the rebellion and a promise of amnesty for him and his troops. But the reports signaled that the agreement may have allowed him to finalize his affairs in Russia.

If that’s true, it could suggest the threat posed by Prigozhin has not yet been fully defused and that the Kremlin is treading carefully with him until it can figure out what to do with troops who may still be loyal to him. Putin has said that Wagner troops can join the Russian military, retire from service or move to Belarus.

But much about the the agreement, which was brokered by Lukashenko, remains murky.

Last week, Lukashenko said the mercenary leader was in Belarus, but on Thursday he told international reporters that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg and could also travel to Moscow if he so wishes, while Wagner’s troops were in their camps. He did not specify the location of the camps, but Prigozhin’s mercenaries fought alongside Russian forces in eastern Ukraine before their revolt and also have bases on Russian territory.

He also said that Prigozhin has been given back the cash and weapons that were confiscated by Russian authorities.

Asked where Prigozhin is, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the question, saying that the Kremlin has neither the desire nor the means to track his movements — but reaffirmed that the deal that ended the mutiny envisaged his move to Belarus.

Lukashenko said his government offered Wagner, which has sent troops around the world to fight for Russia’s interests, the use of Belarusian military camps but that the company had not made a final decision.

The Kremlin has played down the fact that Prigozhin escaped punishment for his mutiny while other Putin’s critics have been met with harsh prison sentences, exile or even death, saying that the deal with the Wagner chief was necessary to avoid massive bloodshed.

The Belarusian leader shrugged off suggestions that Putin might order Prigozhin killed, saying: “If you think that Putin is so vicious and vindictive to finish him off, no, it’s not going to happen.”

On Wednesday, Russian online newspapers Fontanka and Izvestia posted videos and photos of Prigozhin’s opulent mansion in Russia’s second-largest city that showed stacks of cash, gold bullion and a jacket fully covered in medals Prigozhin was awarded, including the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards. It also published a collection of selfies that showed him posing in various wigs, fake beards and foreign uniforms, an apparent reflection of Wagner’s deployments to Syria and several African countries.

A photo hanging in the mansion showed a lineup of decapitated heads. In one published image, an oversized souvenir sledgehammer could also be seen with the inscription “for important negotiations.” The sledgehammer has become a symbol of Wagner after reports its troops used the tool to beat defectors to death.

Asked if Prigozhin and his mercenaries would eventually move to Belarus, Lukashenko answered evasively that it would depend on the decisions of the Wagner chief and the Russian government. The Belarusian leader said he doesn’t think the mercenaries’ presence in his country would lead to its destabilization and said any Wagner troops there would be required to sign a contract with Belarusian authorities that would outline conditions and limitations of their actions.

He dismissed suggestions that the mercenaries could attack Ukraine from Belarusian territory, which Russian troops used as a staging ground ahead of their invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has also maintained a military presence in Belarus.

During their short revolt, Prigozhin’s mercenaries quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there before marching to within about 200 kilometers (125 miles) of the Russian capital. Prigozhin described it as a “march of justice” to oust his longtime foes — the Russian defense minister and the country’s chief military officer — whose handling of the war in Ukraine he criticized.

The Wagner fighters faced little resistance, smashing occasional roadblocks and downing at least six helicopters and a command post aircraft, killing at least 10 airmen.

When the deal was struck, the Wagner chief ordered his troops to return to their camps.

The abortive rebellion represented the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power, exposing his weakness and eroding the Kremlin’s authority.

Lukashenko said he warned Prigozhin that he and his troops would be destroyed if they failed to make a quick deal to end their mutiny and that Belarus would send a brigade to help protect Moscow.

“It was necessary to nip it in the bud. It was very dangerous, as history shows,” Lukashenko said.

Asked about the deployment of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Lukashenko said they are intended to deter any aggression against the country. Putin and Lukashenko both have said that some of them already have been moved to Belarus, and the Belarusian leader reaffirmed Thursday that a “certain number” of them have been flown to Belarus and the rest will be delivered before the year’s end.

Lukashenko said that Russia would consult him on any possible use of those weapons, adding that it could only happen in response to an act aggression by NATO against Russia or Belarus.

“If I don’t want something, if our people and the state don’t want it, it means it won’t happen,” he said.

The Belarusian leader noted that “these weapons serve strictly defensive purposes.”

He added: “Don’t touch us, and we will never use these deadly weapons.”

<![CDATA[Russian Navy ships visit China ahead of joint drills]]>https://www.armytimes.com/naval/2023/07/06/russian-navy-ships-visit-china-ahead-of-joint-drills/https://www.armytimes.com/naval/2023/07/06/russian-navy-ships-visit-china-ahead-of-joint-drills/Thu, 06 Jul 2023 13:19:17 +0000BEIJING — A pair of Russian Navy ships are visiting China as the countries reaffirm their military ties amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Cold War-era frigates Gromkiy and Otlichnyy arrived in the financial hub of Shanghai, China’s largest city and biggest port, on Wednesday for a seven-day visit.

Following the port call, the ships will conduct joint drills with their Chinese counterparts focusing on ship-to-ship communications, maneuvering in formation, and maritime search and rescue, state television’s military channel reported Thursday.

The visit follows a meeting Monday in Beijing between China’s defense minister and the head of Russia’s Navy, the first formal military talks between the friendly neighbors since a short-lived mutiny by the Russian mercenary group Wagner.

China has reassured Russia of its continued support since the uprising, and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu told Russian Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov that Beijing hopes for increased exchanges, joint exercises and other forms of cooperation to help defense ties “reach a new level,” the Chinese Defense Ministry said.

“The Chinese and Russian navies have close exchanges and frequent interactions,” the ministry quoted Li as saying. “It is hoped that the two sides will strengthen communication at all levels, regularly organize joint training, joint patrols and joint war games.”

China operates the world’s largest navy by number of hulls and vastly outstrips Russia’s Navy in both size and technical ability. The countries’ fleets have held a series of exercises and joint maneuvers since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, as have their air forces.

In February, Russia and China joined with the South African Navy for drills off the African coast in what the South African opposition said was tantamount to an endorsement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The military cooperation embodies the Chinese and Russian governments’ informal alliance. They also align their foreign policies and positions at the United Nations, where Beijing has consistently provided diplomatic cover for Moscow.

While saying it is neutral in the Ukraine war, China has stood solidly beside Russia, accusing the U.S. and NATO of provoking Moscow and of fueling the bloodshed by helping arm Ukraine.

Despite that, China has repeatedly said it would not provide arms to either side in the conflict and would pay close attention to the export of “dual-use” items that could be adapted for military purposes.

<![CDATA[Recruiting now: veterans, military spouses to work the polls in 2024]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/06/recruiting-now-veterans-military-spouses-to-work-the-polls-in-2024/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/06/recruiting-now-veterans-military-spouses-to-work-the-polls-in-2024/Thu, 06 Jul 2023 09:00:00 +0000Running an election used to be a “sleepy” practice, said New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, who has helped organize elections in his state for over 20 years. Voters trusted the process, and for the most part had faith in the outcomes.

That’s changed over the past decade, with the increased spread of falsehoods about election integrity leading to a loss of confidence among voters, Scanlan said. His proposed solution? Bring one of America’s most trusted communities into the process: enlist veterans and military spouses to help organize and watch the vote.

Misinformation about elections reached a climax in 2020, when former President Donald Trump and his supporters falsely claimed he lost because of widespread voter fraud. New Hampshire was one of many states Trump targeted with claims of election fraud that were later investigated and rejected by officials he had appointed. He contended that his loss in the state was due to voter fraud in the town of Windham – an assertion that was debunked through a forensic audit. Still, hundreds of people sent messages of outrage to election officials in the suburban town.

Scanlan, a Republican, blames rhetoric from both political parties for the now widespread distrust in the voting process.

“The issue of misinformation has been growing,” Scanlan said. “We saw it nationally first, where there was a loss of confidence in elections because of messaging from top elected officials in both parties. That has filtered into New Hampshire as well.”

To fortify New Hampshire voters against misinformation in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election, Scanlan is working with We the Veterans, a non-partisan nonprofit that recruited 63,000 veterans and military family members to work the polls during the 2022 midterms through its Vet the Vote campaign.

Scanlan wants to encourage New Hampshire veterans to volunteer during the 2024 election. He’s also embarking on a plan to educate veterans about the voting process in the state, with the hope that they spread the message to their communities. The idea is to use their trusted status in society to guard against unsubstantiated claims of vote tampering.

“We want to use the opportunity to educate voters generally, and to do that through veterans,” Scanlan said. “They can talk to people in their community, and because of the roles they have played, they’re respected. People look up to veterans.”

New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan at the summer conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Through the initiative, We the Veterans will use its vast network to contact veterans in New Hampshire and try to get them interested in the election process.

The group, anticipating election misinformation and a shortage of poll workers in 2024, is already coordinating efforts to recruit veterans and military families to volunteer for the next presidential election. New Hampshire is one of five states where We the Veterans has launched campaigns so far. To fund this initiative, the group works with partners, including the National Football League. The Department of Homeland Security granted We the Veterans $388,500 to fund some of its other efforts, such as educational programs about voting and civic engagement.

“Veterans and military families can be incredibly impactful in the upcoming presidential election to remind Americans that yes, our votes are free and fair, and yes, our elections are secure,” said Ellen Gustafson, a co-founder of We the Veterans. “Especially if the people there making it all happen are people that you trust the most: veterans and military family members.”

In addition to New Hampshire, the group launched initiatives in Michigan, Florida, Nevada and New Jersey. Several localities are also working with the nonprofit, including the city of Dallas; Los Angeles County; Clark County in Nevada; Allegheny County in Pennsylvania; and Maricopa County in Arizona.

We the Veterans is focusing on areas of the country where many veterans live, such as the Los Angeles area, as well as states and counties that were bombarded with election misinformation in 2020. One such place is Maricopa County, where President Joe Biden won in 2020, helping him to clinch the battleground state.

Soon after Arizona was called for Biden, some Republicans pushed to undo the results, claiming the election was stolen from Trump. However, an audit commissioned by Republicans validated Biden’s win. During the midterm elections two years later, elections officials in the county were on guard and aggressively defended against more accusations about the voting process. In their preparations for 2024, they’re seeking assistance from We the Veterans.

“Maricopa obviously has had its challenges with election misinformation,” Gustafson said. “They’ve been a really great partner, and we’re trying to see how we can help.”

Local elections officials across the country, expecting a shortage of poll workers next year, have reached out to Gustafson with pleas for help with recruiting veterans and military family members as soon as possible.

The U.S. experienced a dearth of volunteers in the 2022 midterms, in part because of threats directed at poll workers, Kim Wyman, the senior advisor for election security at the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said at the time. The threats aren’t abating. According to an April report by the Brennan Center for Justice, 30% of local elections officials have been abused, harassed or threatened because of their jobs. Over half of officials are concerned that the threats will harm retention and recruitment, the report states.

“Some people are probably thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re recruiting me for a one-day job in 2024 right now?’ Yes, actually, we are,” Gustafson said. “We want to hear what local officials need and be part of the solution, and what we’re hearing is, ‘Please start now.’”

Melvin L Quakenbush drops his ballot in the box after voting at the Pablo Christian Church on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Pablo, Mont., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Tomy Martino)

Along with recruiting poll workers, We the Veterans is preparing for 2024 by reaching out to larger swaths of veteran and military communities to educate them about the election processes in their states. While many veterans won’t be able to volunteer as poll workers, they might be willing to learn more about voting and pass on that information to skeptics, Gustafson said.

One of the group’s first attempts at that type of education will happen this September in New Hampshire, when the state will hold a voter education event in collaboration with We the Veterans.

Scanlan’s office is planning to set up a polling place the same way they would during an actual election. Officials will give tours, explaining each step of the process and the checks and balances involved. The state will have a film crew at the event to record everything, and the video will be shared on YouTube in order to reach a larger audience, Scanlan said.

We the Veterans is tasked with getting veterans and military family members to attend the event in New Hampshire. The group is also planning to host more educational events across the country later this year and into 2024.

“We’ll explain the fact that everything that happens in a polling place is observable, and the only thing that’s secret about the election is how an individual marks their ballot,” Scanlan said. “Hopefully, we can engage more people to participate in the election process.”

Scanlan served eight terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives before joining the Secretary of State’s office in 2002 as deputy secretary. The legislature elected Scanlan as Secretary of State at the start of 2022. One of his first moves was to establish the Commission on Voter Confidence, which traveled the state last year to ask residents how the government could help people have more trust in the election process.

The biggest takeaway from the commission’s work was the need to shed light on how voting works, Scanlan said.

“We have to do a better job with being transparent,” he said. “When the voter either cannot see what’s going on or they don’t understand what’s going on, that causes doubt and allows for conspiracy theories.”

Scanlan is hoping his work ahead of the 2024 election – including his partnership with We the Veterans – will become a model for other states to follow. He’s presenting his methods next week in Washington, D.C., during a conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

This story was updated to describe changes in how We the Veterans is using DHS funding.

This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism. Please send tips to MVJ-Tips@militarytimes.com.

Charlie Riedel
<![CDATA[Navy: Iran tried to seize 2 oil tankers in Gulf, fired shots at one]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/05/navy-iran-tried-to-seize-2-oil-tankers-in-gulf-fired-shots-at-one/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/05/navy-iran-tried-to-seize-2-oil-tankers-in-gulf-fired-shots-at-one/Wed, 05 Jul 2023 17:10:00 +0000Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz early Wednesday, firing shots at one of them, the U.S. Navy said.

It said that in both cases, the Iranian naval vessels backed off after the U.S. Navy responded, and that both commercial ships continued their voyages.

“The Iranian navy did make attempts to seize commercial tankers lawfully transiting international waters,” said Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. “The U.S. Navy responded immediately and prevented those seizures.”

The U.S. Navy says Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, July 5, 2023, firing shots at one of them. This photo, released by the U.S. Navy, shows damage sustained by the commercial tanker Richmond Voyager. (Navy)

He said the gunfire directed at the second vessel did not cause casualties or major damage.

There was no immediate Iranian comment on the incidents.

The U.S. Navy said an Iranian naval vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman at around 1 a.m. The U.S. deployed the USS McFaul, a guided-missile destroyer, as well as as MQ-9 Reaper drone and a P-8 Poseidon patrol plane.

Three hours later, the U.S. Navy received a distress call from the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager more than 20 nautical miles off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman. The Navy said another Iranian naval vessel had closed within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of the tanker and had ordered it to stop.

The same U.S. destroyer sped toward the tanker at “maximum speed,” the Navy said in a statement. “Prior to McFaul’s arrival on scene, Iranian personnel fired multiple, long bursts from both small arms and crew-served weapons,” it said.

The U.S. Navy says Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed more than a dozen others. Many of the incidents have occurred in and around the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all crude oil passes.

In April, masked Iranian navy commandos conducted a helicopter-borne raid to seize a U.S.-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage of which was aired on Iranian state TV. Iran said the tanker was seized after it collided with another Iranian vessel but provided no evidence. In the past, Iran has seized commercial vessels to use as bargaining chips with the West.

Tensions have steadily risen since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and restored crippling sanctions. Iran has responded by ramping up its nuclear activities — which it says are purely peaceful — and is also providing armed drones to Russia for its war against Ukraine.