Zelenskyy frames aid as investment in the international common good. Putin continues to insist that Russia is the real victim, and that the war it unleashed is really just the latest stage of centuries-long Western aggression.
Ukraine at D+301: Same war, different worlds.
Russia's President Putin promised "unlimited" support to his country's military, Bloomberg and others report: “'The country and government is giving everything that the army asks for — everything,' Putin told top military officials at the Defense Ministry’s annual meeting in Moscow on Wednesday. 'I trust that there will be an appropriate response and the results will be achieved.'” He also projected expansion of troop end-strength by about 500,000, and of a 43% increase in the defense budget. This support and expansion will be accomplished, he stressed, without placing Russia as a whole, and its economy especially, on a wartime footing. "We will not repeat the mistakes of the past, when in the interests of increasing defense capability where necessary and where it was not really necessary in fact, we destroyed our economy. We simply don’t need this.” Few observers think this an achievable goal.
President Zelenskyy addresses the US Congress.
Ukraine's President Zelenskyy spoke to a joint session of Congress yesterday, self-consciously evoking Winston Churchill's appearance in December of 1941. He expressed Ukraine's gratitude for the aid promised and received, said that more would be needed, and that with such aid Ukraine would be victorious. He identified Ukraine's cause with the cause of democracy, and he urged Congress to think of aid rendered not as charity, but rather as investment, the New York Times reported.
During Mr. Zelenskyy's visit to Washington, the US Department of Defense announced a further $1.85 billion in aid. "This includes the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $1 billion, as well as $850 million in assistance via the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI)," the Pentagon said. The most prominent article in the aid package was a battery of Patriot air defense missiles.
Russia gives Mr. Zelenskyy's diplomatic effort bad reviews.
Russia reacted to the visit, and the new round of assistance, in a foreseeably negative fashion. The whole thing was staged by the Americans, who are the real villains of the piece. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov shared his derisory and outraged reaction at a press conference, and he thought it worth repeating them in his Telegram channel. "The Hollywood-style trip to Washington by the head of the Kiev regime has confirmed that the administration's conciliatory statements about the lack of intention to start a confrontation with Russia are just empty words." The true aggressor, in Russia's view of things, is the United States. Ambassador Antonov explained, "What was essentially announced to applauses and sarcastic smirks, was the need to continue the 'proxy war' against our country. Till a full victory over us. Enormous resources, weapons, intelligence capabilities are thrown in. The manic idea of 'victory over the Russians on the battlefield' is put at the forefront. Some legislators even argue that the Russian Federation can be conquered in three days."
The Ambassador finds the Patriots particularly objectionable, and suggests that the systems will of necessity be crewed by Americans. "Despite our warnings, Patriot air defense system will be sent to Kyiv. However, the country does not have specialists to work with them. So, will those be American specialists? Or citizens of another NATO country? They cannot but realize here that Western weapons are being systematically destroyed by our military. I think everyone understands perfectly well what fate the personnel, manning these complexes on the territory of Ukraine, can face." Russia sees deployment of the Patriot (in fairness to the US aid, it should be pointed out that the Patriot is a tactically defensive, not offensive, weapon) as provocative and escalatory. "I want to emphasize that we have repeatedly tried and are still trying to appeal to common sense at all levels. It was stressed that the provocative actions by the U.S. are steadily leading to an escalation, the consequences of which cannot even be imagined. Thusly, discussions about the hypothetical supply of ATACMS missiles and long-range strike UAVs to Ukrainians are deeply disturbing." (And in fairness to Mr. Antonov, ATACMS is a tactically offensive weapon.)
Russia's war goes back to 2014, and Mr. Antonov blames the US for that year's Russian invasion of Crimea. "The United States are fully responsible for unleashing the Ukrainian conflict in 2014."
The Ambassador's statement closes with mendacity that's remarkable even by recent Russian standards. "All these years, Washington has stubbornly ignored or pretended not to notice the inhuman crimes of the Kiev regime against the Russian population in Ukraine. Zelensky's visit to the American capital, the talks in Washington showed that neither the administration nor Zelensky is ready for peace. Focus is on war, on the death of ordinary soldiers, on further tying the Ukrainian regime to the needs of Washington. The notions mulled by the U.S. media that Russia is not interested in achieving peace are a blatant lie. The Russian position was repeatedly voiced by the President of Russia."
The Ambassador's statements represent a somewhat less temperate version of remarks made yesterday by President Putin in an overview of the war he provided. The war has been pushed on Russia by the West, and fighting in Ukraine merely represents the latest phase of Western aggression that's continued for centuries, RT reports Mr. Putin as saying. "Russia spent years doing everything it could to build not just neighborly, but brotherly relations with Ukraine, and nothing worked, said Putin, noting that 'we have always considered Ukrainians to be a brotherly people. I still believe that. Everything that is happening is a tragedy. Our common tragedy. But it is not the result of our policies,' the president said."
Russia relying on Belarus to train mobilized reservists.
The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) continued its assessment of how Russia might manage relations with its Belarusian client-state. "On 19 December 2022, President Putin travelled to Minsk to hold talks with President Lukashenko of Belarus. The presidents’ discussion included talk of a ‘single defence space’. Although Russia and Belarus prominently publicise Russian units’ deployments into Belarus, the armed forces of Belarus have likely recently taken on a significant, but more discreet role in training thousands of newly mobilised Russian reservists. The likely use of Belarusian instructors is an attempt to partially remediate the lack of Russian military trainers, many of whom are deployed in Ukraine or have become casualties. Although Russia and Belarus have an extensive background of military co-operation, the training of mobilised Russian personnel by Belarusians represents a role reversal. Belarusian forces have traditionally been considered by Russia as inferior to Russian forces and their employment as trainers is an indication of overstretch within the Russian military system."
The Hill discusses what Belarus represents for Russia, in terms of combat potential. Regular formations that could be committed to the battle are relatively small, amounting in total to some 10,000 troops. Committing them would also be deeply unpopular in Belarus, where popular sympathies don't necessarily align with official policy. There is, for example, a brigade of Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine fighting against Russia. That's unofficial and unwelcome, of course, but it offers some evidence that the popular mood is complicated. Equipment would generally be compatible with Russian stocks, and so there's some potential for resupply, but, again, that wouldn't be decisive, and probably not even significant. The training role the MoD describes offers some potential value, but Belarus is probably of more value, the Hill concludes, as a deterrent than it would be as an active participant in Russia's war.
Ukraine will receive more Starlink terminals.
Potential difficulties now resolved, Ukraine says, according to Bloomberg, that it will receive more than ten-thousand additional Starlink terminals from SpaceX over the next few months. SpaceX founder Elon Musk had said some things at the end of October that suggested Starlink service to Ukraine might prove too expensive to continue, but those issues have now apparently been addressed. Starlink has been important in restoring and maintaining Ukraine's Internet connectivity, briefly disrupted in the opening days of Russia's war. The resilience the satellite-based communications system offers has been of significant value to Ukraine under wartime conditions.
Cyber phases of the hybrid war: a view from Kyiv.
Victor Zhora, deputy chief of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, spoke at length with the Wall Street Journal about the state of cyber operations in the present war. "We are facing tens of cyber incidents daily," Zhora said. "That means that they have a lot of resources, that they are seeking opportunities every day. Their strategy is seeking vulnerabilities, is providing attempts to gain persistence in networks, attempts to exfiltrate data, attempts to disrupt services in Ukrainian government entities, the telecom sector, critical information infrastructure and seeking impact that they can bring to all the infrastructure." It's a strategy of opportunistic attacks seeking to induce chaos in the target. "That’s the strategy, an opportunistic strategy, a chaotic strategy, but a strategy that is focused on harming Ukraine, on bringing impact to our economy, to our infrastructures, to our everyday life, and to our resilience."