Washington Examiner | by Jamie McIntyre | March 18, 2022
‘IT IS DIFFICULT FOR US’: In an angry speech this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the United States and its European allies, accusing them of stealing Russian assets and using his “special military operation” in Ukraine as a “pretext” for a long-term strategy of weakening Russia.
In what was more of a rant than a speech, a frustrated Putin admitted the sanctions were inflicting real economic pain, even as he vowed the Russian economy “will adapt to the new realities.”
“Indeed, it is difficult for us at the moment. Russian financial companies, major enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses are facing unprecedented pressure,” Putin said in remarks to top officials. “Clearly … we will have to make deep structural changes in our economy, and I will not pretend that they will be easy or that they will not lead to a temporary increase in inflation and unemployment.”
“I am aware that the price hikes are a big blow to people’s incomes,” he said. “So we will take action to increase all social payments shortly, including benefits and pensions.” As he railed against the sanctions and what he called the “illegal seizure” of billions of Russian assets in foreign banks, Putin blamed it all on a plot by the so-called “collective West.”
“They have no use — simply no use — for a strong and sovereign Russia, and they will not forgive us for our independent policy or for standing up for our national interests.”
PUTIN: ALL ACCORDING TO PLAN: As U.S. and British officials describe a dispirited Russian army frustrated by a fiercely effective Ukrainian resistance, Putin insisted the war was going well.
“The operation is being carried out successfully, in strict conformity with the approved plan,” he said, again repeating the claim that the invasion was justified to prevent “a massacre and an ethnic cleansing,” which he said was planned by Ukraine. “A massive onslaught on Donbas, and later Crimea, was just a matter of time. However, our armed forces have shattered these plans.”
A senior defense official painted a much different picture for Pentagon reporters yesterday, describing the Russian forces as stalled as the war enters the fourth week. “They clearly weren’t ready for the pushback that they have been getting from the Ukrainians. So three weeks in, they’re still able to maintain their force in the field, but not without difficulty. ”Basically [they are] frozen around the country on multiple lines of axes, struggling to fuel themselves, and to feed their troops, and to supply them with arms and ammunition, and meeting a very determined Ukrainian resistance,” the official said.
‘WE’RE WORKING THIS AS FAST AS WE CAN’: The big push at the moment is to get more anti-aircraft systems into Ukraine so it can take back control of its skies and keep Russian planes from bombing its cities.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Slovakia yesterday, meeting with Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad, who said his country was ready to send its Russian-made S-300 air defense systems along with its aging Soviet-era MiG-29s across the border to Ukraine if the U.S. provides replacements.
“We’re willing to do so immediately when we have a proper replacement. The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is the S-300 system. So, what would happen immediately when we decide to give it to the Ukrainians is that we actually create a gap, a security gap, in NATO,” Nad said at a joint press conference with Austin.
Austin said the discussions were ongoing but that he had no announcements to make. As for how soon the $800 million in additional weaponry will actually get to Ukraine, “We’re working this as fast as we can,” a senior defense official said.
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HAPPENING TODAY: President Joe Biden talks with China’s President Xi Jinping via secure video conference at 9 a.m. in a virtual meeting that was planned months ago, but which has taken on new significance given Russia’s appeal to Beijing for military assistance in its struggling invasion of Ukraine.
“This is an opportunity for President Biden to assess where President Xi stands,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said China’s failure to denounce the invasion “flies in the face of everything China stands for,” including the “basic principles of the U.N. Charter” and “respect for sovereignty of nations.”
“We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and to defend the international rules and principles that it professes to support,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter, and we’re concerned that they are considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine.”
Biden “will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression,” said Blinken. “And we will not hesitate to impose costs.”
WHY NO-FLY IS A NO-GO: During his visit to Slovakia, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attempted to put to rest any further debate about the possibility of a U.S. or NATO enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“There’s no such thing as a no-fly zone lite,” said Austin. “In order to control the skies, you have to shut down the air defenses that are on the ground. And some of those air defense systems are in Russia.”
“Enforcing a no-fly zone actually means that you’re in combat, you’re in a fight with Russia, and that’s one of the things we have said, that our President has said, we weren’t going to do.”
Austin noted that a recent cruise missile attack on western Ukraine was launched from bombers inside Russian airspace, “So a no-fly zone would not have prevented that.”
Austin said Ukraine’s best option is to use the drones and counter-battery systems that can target enemy artillery with rockets provided by the U.S. “So, I think increasingly we’ll see the Ukrainian forces turn to those methods to counter that.”
BIDEN: PUTIN ‘A PURE THUG’: A day after President Joe Biden labeled Vladimir Putin a war criminal, he added a few more choice adjectives to his description of the Russian leader.
In remarks at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Friends of Ireland luncheon, Biden praised Ireland for its support of Ukraine and took a swipe at Putin.
“My generic point is that, you know, now you have Ireland and Great Britain, and the Republic standing together against a murderous dictator, a pure thug, who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.”
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki backed up Biden’s characterization of Putin as a war criminal. “What we’re seeing, whether it is the destruction of a theater, where the words ‘children’ or ‘kids’ was written in Russian outside of the theater, according to photos; or whether it is the, you know, targeting of civilians, of hospitals, of maternity wards — if that’s not considered a war crime by human beings, what is?”
‘PERSONALLY, I AGREE’: “Yesterday, President Biden said that, in his opinion, war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Personally, I agree,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department. “Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise.”
“We’re looking very carefully at what is happening, what is being done, and in particular looking at the question of whether war crimes are being committed,” said Blinken. “We welcome the efforts of various groups, institutions, organizations that focus on this to bring all of the evidence together, to continue to document things, and then for there to be accountability one way or the other.”
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