A 5-step NATO proposal for Biden- POLITICO

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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– Before President JOE BIDEN heads to Europe next week, NATO-focused Senators have some advice for what he should tell allies: There’s more we can do to help Ukraine.

In a letter sent to Biden Friday, exclusively obtained by NatSec Daily, bipartisan members of the Senate NATO Observer Group provided Biden with five pieces of advice before Thursday’s extraordinary summit in Brussels.

First, they want Biden to commend allies who committed to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany would most certainly deserve some praise: Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ last month pledged to boost funds for the military after years of Berlin balking at the idea. Russia’s full-scale attack altered Germany’s calculus, and American lawmakers want that kind of change openly rewarded.

As of today, only 10 of NATO’s 30 members reach that benchmark agreed to in 2014.

Second, the Senators want NATO members “to urgently consider all options to support Ukraine” as well as Ukrainian President VOLODYMR ZELENSKYY’s request “for military equipment to defend Ukraine’s own skies.” It’s worded vaguely enough, but one could read the letter as a call for the implementation of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone and NATO-facilitated transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine.

The letter could also be read as endorsing eventual alliance boots on the ground — it says “all options,” after all — though it also states “NATO must balance the threat of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the need to deescalate the conflict.” However, the majority of lawmakers to date support military and humanitarian assistance, not direct NATO armed involvement.

Polish Prime Minister MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI today said his country will formally propose a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at next week’s NATO summit.

Third, the lawmakers said NATO should “bolster its presence” on the alliance’s eastern front. They call for establishing an “Enhanced Forward Presence” in Romania and “request that the administration and NATO consider a more strategic and comprehensive approach toward the Black Sea region, which Russia is freely using to attack Ukraine and kill countless innocent civilians.” The Russian missiles that struck four miles outside Lviv’s city center were launched from the Black Sea.

Fourth, SNOG wants NATO “to increase its engagement” in the Balkans, an area some fear is ready to blow. It was already a powder keg before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kosovo, for example, fears Serbia might be inspired to attack it. Regional nations are also thinking of increasing their own defense spending, which could lead to heightened tensions. The Senators specifically cited their concern that Russia could veto the European Union Forces mission in Bosnia at the U.N. Security Council later this year.

Fifth, the Senators want Biden to add a stop on his sojourn to some Eastern European NATO country, adding “[a] visit to a Baltic country or Romania would be particularly welcomed by these countries.” The National Security Council declined to comment on the record about the potential for such a visit, but we here at NatSec Daily haven’t heard any rumblings about an extra stop just yet.

The letter is pro forma in many ways — a signal to NATO allies that they have the backing of Congress. But it also serves as a blueprint for how the alliance’s cheerleaders in the Senate want Biden to act. Since the war began three weeks ago, lawmakers have been out in front of the president on key issues, such as banning Russian oil imports or sanctioning Russia’s central bank. As Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN deepens the crisis, Biden eventually gets pulled by Congress.

The question now is if Biden will heed the group’s advice in Brussels next week. SNOG’s co-chairs hope so.

“I encourage the president to seriously consider the requests outlined in this letter to further strengthen our alliance and help Ukraine as it defends its land, people and freedom,” Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Europe panel, told NatSec Daily. “It’s imperative the meeting in Brussels produces tangible results, including providing more military assistance to Ukraine and fortifying our Eastern European allies against potential Russian attacks,” Sen. THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) added.

SITUATION REPORT: We will only cite official sources. As always, take all figures, assessments and statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.

War in Ukraine:

— Since the start of the war on Feb. 24, Russia has lost 14,200 personnel, 450 tanks, 1,448 armored combat vehicles, 205 artillery systems, 93 warplanes, 112 helicopters, three ships and 12 drones (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— Russia “managed to temporarily occupy settlements and establish control over the merger paths in Donetsk and South Buzky operating areas” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— Russia is “trying to establish a strict administrative and police regime in the temporarily occupied settlements of the Kherson region” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— Rescue efforts recovered 130 people from the rubble of the Russian-bombed Mairupol theater. Around 1,300 people still remain in the basement. (Office of the President of Ukraine)

— “Russian forces have made minimal progress this week. Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Mykolaiv continue to frustrate Russian attempts to encircle the cities. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and subject to heavy Russian shelling. The UN now states that the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has already surpassed 3.2 million. This number will continue to rise as a result of ongoing Russian aggression” (U.K. Ministry of Defense)

Global Response:

Germany and the Netherlands: Germany is redeploying air-defense forces and a Patriot weapons system to Slovakia while the Netherlands will supply one Patriot system to Slovakia. Bratislava agreed to provide S-300s anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine as long as it received a backfill, though our own PAUL McLEARY reports that Slovakia doesn’t see the Patriots as a substantial replacement.


Financial Times: “How Russia’s mistakes and Ukrainian resistance altered Putin’s war”

Wall Street Journal: “Putin Turned to a Chechen Warlord to Intimidate Ukraine. It Hasn’t Worked.”

The Times: “Specialist Ukrainian drone unit picks off invading Russian forces as they sleep”

WHAT BIDEN TOLD XI: Biden and Chinese leader XI JINPING spoke for nearly two hours via secure video link today, spending most of their time talking about Ukraine. In a readout, the White House said Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians” — following reports that Moscow asked Beijing for military and other support. China said Xi asserted that both countries should “shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work for world peace and tranquility.”

A senior administration official wouldn’t delve into specifics on a call with reporters, consistently dodging questions by pointing to the readouts. But the official did say the call allowed Biden to “lay out, very clearly, in substantial detail” for Xi America’s views on the situation and China’s potential future involvement. “There really is no replacement” for that kind of leader-to-leader engagement, and the administration awaits to see “what decisions China make in the days and weeks ahead.”

As our own PHELIM KINE noted, the Biden-Xi call was likely brokered last week between national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN and his Chinese counterpart YANG JIECHI. The call is a test of “Biden’s ability to leverage his relationship with Xi to overcome Beijing’s position of passive complicity with Moscow and extract commitments that China instead pressure the Kremlin to seek an end to Russia’s slaughter in Ukraine,” per Kine.

INSIDE WEAPONS TRANSFERS TO UKRAINE: The Washington Post’s STEVE HENDRIX got a close and personal look at how weapons make their way from Poland into Ukraine.

“The convoy was carrying 45 vehicles — retrofitted Jeeps, ambulances, an armored bank truck and an army field kitchen — as well as 24 tons of diesel. It had traveled overnight from Lithuania as part of a swelling supply network racing to catch up with the return of war to Europe. More than a dozen volunteer drivers, including one whose relief work was normally limited to helping motorists stranded on the highway, had driven hood-to-taillight almost around-the-clock to rendezvous with Ukrainian fighters,” he wrote. “A second convoy was scheduled to arrive later in the day, packed with generators, radios, surveillance drones, night-vision gear and, most coveted of all, almost 7,000 bulletproof vests and helmets. For the soldiers, it is a lifeline.”

“That is what we need the most,” Ukrainian Lt. ANDREY BYSTRIYK told Hendrix.

The convoy he witnessed began its journey in Lithuania, the tiny Baltic nation and NATO ally, where groups such as Blue and Yellow turn donations into weaponry — eventually sending that equipment into the hands of Ukrainian troops. “I tell them all the time: 10,000 euros can be more deadly than a million if you know how to spend it,” said JONAS OHMAN, founder of the group.

HOW IRAN WITHSTOOD SANCTIONS: Iran created a secret system to keep tens of billions of dollars in trade flowing despite years of U.S.-led sanctions pressure on the country.

The system “comprises accounts in foreign commercial banks, proxy companies registered outside the country, firms that coordinate the banned trade, and a transaction clearinghouse within Iran,” per Western officials, intelligence officers and documents seen by The Wall Street Journal’s IAN TALLEY.

“[The clandestine banking system works like this: Iranian banks that serve companies barred by U.S. sanctions from exporting or importing engage affiliate firms in Iran to manage sanctioned trade on their behalf. Those firms establish companies outside of Iran’s borders to serve as proxies for the Iranian traders. The proxies trade with foreign purchasers of Iranian oil and other commodities, or sellers of goods for import into Iran, in dollars, euros or other foreign currencies, through accounts set up in foreign banks,” he wrote.

“Some of the revenue is smuggled into Iran by couriers who carry cash withdrawn from the proxy company accounts abroad, according to some of the officials. But much of it remains in bank accounts abroad, according to the Western officials. The Iranian importers and exporters trade foreign currency among themselves, on ledgers maintained in Iran, according to the Iranian central bank,” Talley continued.

While Iran’s economy contracted after the Trump administration reimposed sanctions following America’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, this system helped keep the economy afloat. Sanctions may soon come off Tehran if the nuclear agreement is soon revived, as many analysts and some U.S. officials suspect.

On Thursday, NatSec Daily exclusively reported that two top U.S. officials told House members that yearlong negotiations were entering the endgame, though it’s still possible a deal doesn’t come together.

IT’S FRIDAY. WELCOME TO THE WEEKEND: Thanks for tuning in to NatSec Daily. This space is reserved for the top U.S. and foreign officials, the lawmakers, the lobbyists, the experts and the people like you who care about how the natsec sausage gets made. Aim your tips and comments at [email protected] and [email protected], and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @QuintForgey.

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UKRAINE FOOD SUPPLY CHAINS ‘FALLING APART’: The U.N. World Food Programme today said that the supply chain to stock grocery shelves and keep Ukrainians nourished is “falling apart.”

“The systems that feed the tens of millions people are falling apart as trucks and trains destroyed, airports bombed, bridges fallen, supermarkets emptied, and warehouses drained. The encircled city of Mariupol is running out of its last reserves of food and water. Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, Dnipro, and Sumy are partially encircled but can be reached through commercial transport,” the body said in a statement praising Japan for a $14 million contribution to provide Ukraine with emergency assistance.

Hunger could spread further: “With global food prices at an all-time high, WFP is also concerned about the impact of the Ukraine crisis on food security globally, especially hunger hot spots,” said JAKOB KERN, the organization’s emergency coordinator for the Ukraine crisis, warning of “collateral hunger” elsewhere.

WFP is currently paying $71 million more a month for food because of the war and inflation. Kern said that amount could feed 4 million in normal times.

CISA AND FBI URGE SATCOM PROTECTION: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency alongside the FBI warned about the need to protect international satellite communication networks from attack.

“Given the current geopolitical situation, CISA’s Shields Up initiative requests that all organizations significantly lower their threshold for reporting and sharing indications of malicious cyber activity. To that end, CISA and FBI will update this joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) as new information becomes available so that SATCOM providers and their customers can take additional mitigation steps pertinent to their environments,” the agencies stated in a Thursday bulletin.

The joint message comes two days after a top Ukrainian official told reporters about how the sabotage of a KA-SAT led to a “huge loss in communications in the very beginning of the war.”

AI ‘RADAR SCHEDULER’: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) noted how the Army wants to use artificial intelligence to develop a “radar scheduler” that could change waveforms so they are less vulnerable to electronic jamming, according to a notice.

Army radars are preset with a fixed number of waveforms. They are configured before deployment and difficult to alter in the field. “This leaves the radar system vulnerable to Electronic Warfare (EW) attacks and evolving threat target tactics,” per the notice.

The AI scheduler would autonomously manage the radar’s search and track settings. Responses to the contract opportunity are due no later than April 15 at 4 p.m. Washington, D.C., time.

IMPEACHMENT SHADOW HANGS OVER GOP ON UKRAINE: “Republicans clamoring to accuse President Joe Biden of slow-walking support for Ukraine don’t see a shred of comparison with DONALD TRUMP’s impeachment for withholding aid from the very same nation,” our own KYLE CHENEY, ANDREW DESIDERIO and OLIVIA BEAVERS reported.

The three call this phenomenon “a case study in the hopeless partisanship of the modern Congress,” yet another moment of cognitive dissonance that in this case runs rampant within the GOP.

For example: “That was all getting worked out. It would have been worked out quietly. They would have gotten [the aid],” said Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.), whose efforts to convince Trump to release the aid to Ukraine were documented as part of the impeachment trial. “It was the Democrats, the whistleblowers … who did that, and they dramatically harmed Ukraine as a result. That’s the real lesson here.”

‘FEASIBILITY STUDY’ FOR SOMALILAND: The first visit to the U.S. by Somaliland’s head of state proved fruitful for the semi-autonomous nation.

On Tuesday, nine House members — eight Republicans and one Democrat — wrote to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN urging the administration to improve ties with the self-declared independent nation within Somalia. Two days later, Sens. JIM RISCH (R-Idaho), CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.) and MIKE ROUNDS (R-S.D.) introduced legislation for the State Department and Pentagon to conduct a feasibility study on a U.S.-Somaliland partnership.

“In this complex time in global affairs and for the Horn of Africa, the United States should explore all possible mutually-beneficial relationships with stable and democratic partners, like Somaliland, and not limit ourselves with outdated policy approaches and diplomatic frameworks that don’t meet today’s challenges,” Risch, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Republican, said in a statement. “For decades, Somaliland has proven itself to be an area with a stable, thriving democracy amidst a sea of conflict. That’s why increasing opportunities for U.S. engagement with Somaliland makes sense. Our bill will help ensure the United States explores the greater possibilities of this mutually-beneficial relationship,” Van Hollen added.

Kine did a deep dive on how Somaliland has Congress’ ear.

ISRAEL WANTS IRGC STUCK ON FTO LIST: The Israeli government is speaking out against the possibility of the Biden administration removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

“They are an integral part of the brutal machine of oppression in Iran. Their hands have on them the blood of thousands of Iranians and the crushed soul of the Iranian society,” Israeli Prime Minister NAFTALI BENNETT and Foreign Minister YAIR LAPID said in a joint statement. “The attempt to delist the IRGC as a terrorist organization is an insult to the victims and would ignore documented reality supported by unequivocal evidence. We find it hard to believe that the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization will be removed in exchange for a promise not to harm Americans.”

The firestorm began after Axios’ BARAK RAVID reported Wednesday that the U.S. may remove the military branch from the terrorism blacklist in exchange for promises of regional deescalation. Asked about the report the following day, State Department spokesperson NED PRICE neither denied nor confirmed its contents: “It’s not something I can speak to,” he said.

Trump labeled the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2019, insisting the economic and travel restrictions would “significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime” –– though Iran has continued attacking U.S. positions and allies in Iraq and Syria since.

If the IRGC comes off the list, the administration could still sanction the military branch.

DEAN LIEBERMAN joined Vice President KAMALA HARRIS’ team as special adviser for national security and foreign policy speechwriter. He served previously on the National Security Council press team.

TOM COLLINA,The New York Times: “Why America Should Not Deepen Its Military Involvement in Ukraine”

ELIZABETH BRUENIG,The Atlantic: “The Left Has Good Answers on Ukraine”

STEPHANIE FOGGETT, MOLLIE SALTSKOG, and COLIN CLARKE,War On The Rocks: “How are Putin’s far-right fans in the West reacting to his war?”

Access Intelligence, 9:00 a.m.: “Satellite 2022 Conference — with JAMES PLATT, DEREK TOURNEAR and more”

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 9:00 a.m.: “Carnegie Connects: China, Russia, and Ukraine — with KEVIN RUDD and AARON DAVID MILLER

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 10:00 a.m.:“Economy Disrupted: The View from Fort Worth — with MATTIE PARKER, MATTHEW P. GOODMAN and SARAH LADISLAW

The Cato Institute, 11:00 a.m.: “Weltschmerz: How the West Lost Its Mojo and What Liberals Can Do to Fix It — with MARIAN TUPY, DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY and JONAH GOLDBERG

The Hudson Institute, 12:00 p.m.: “The Future of U.S. Energy Production — with BILL CASSIDY and THOMAS J. DUESTERBERG

The Government Executive Media Group, 1:00 p.m.: “Meeting Mission at the Edge, Securing Data at the Edge — with ROY COOPER, STEVE SIMON and PAUL PATE

The Brookings Institution’s Africa Security Initiative, 3:00 p.m.: “Challenges facing the Horn of Africa — with JEFFREY FELTMAN, VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, WORKNEH GEBEYEHU and more”

Veterans Affairs Department, 4:00 p.m.: “Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans”

The Woodrow Wilson Center, 4:00 p.m.: “Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness — with THOMAS GUGLIELMO, ELIZABETH SAMET and SUSAN CARRUTHERS

Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.

And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who says he’s attuned to all sorts of waveforms.

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