Around lunch time, I got a text from TaMara asking me about Kyrgystan and Tajikistan. I’d been offline working on something up to that point and actually had to look up what she was talking about. Apparently, we had one of the semi-regular border dispute boil overs between the two today. This is not the same as the Azerbaijani attack against Armenia at the beginning of the week, but it is related. One of the major secondary effects of Russia’s exceedingly poor military performance in Ukraine over the past ten days, on top of its mediocre performance at best up to that point, is rippling out from Kharkiv and Kherson and remaking Russia’s near abroad and sphere of influence. Almost all of Putin’s geo-strategy, or, perhaps, geo-tactics might be better, is to preserve the Russian near abroad and sphere of influence from any further degradation than occurred as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union while at the same time reestablishing it and, if possible, expanding it. The failures in Ukraine – of the Russian military, of the theater strategy and campaign plan, of Russian tactics, techniques, and procedures, or Russian military equipment, and of Putin’s actual leadership in the face of reality he is trying to ignore and remake in a preferred narrative – are emboldened and endangering the former Soviet states that have long been in Russia’s orbit.
These border dust ups between Kyrgystan and Tajikistan happen semi-frequently, but the erosion of Russian power, across all elements of national power – Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence, and Legal (DIMEFIL) – has likely emboldened both sides. Specifically, whichever can gain an advantage may be able to hold it because Moscow isn’t going to be able to intervene even if it wants too. This is the same dynamic that led Azerbaijan to decide to strike Armenia at the beginning of the week. Putin had been guaranteeing Armenia’s security since the Azerbaijanis, with Erdogan’s assistance (the bayraktar’s debut), beat the Armenians up pretty badly a couple of years ago. This included retaking a lot of the disputed territory in the Artsakh (the Armenian name) or Nagorno-Karabakh (the Azerbaijani name). This is why Armenia was the only state to vote no with Russia when the UN General Assembly brought a resolution condemning Russia for the re-invasion of Ukraine to a vote back in March. It was pure realpolitik. For the Armenians, Putin was, at the time, the guarantor that the Azerbaijanis, working on their own historic grievances and also as Erdogan’s catspaw to help him establish a Turkic hegemony in the trans-Caucasus, Asia Minor, the Levant, and Central Asia, wouldn’t attack them. They couldn’t afford to upset him and risk the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers in the disputed territories, as well as Putin’s assurance that the Russian military would intervene if Azerbaijan attacked again.
Putin is clearly no longer able to extend his military power the way everyone believed he could back last February. As a result, a lot of places within Russia’s near abroad and sphere of influence that seemed comparably stable are quickly becoming unstable. In the case of the Armenians they made a hard choice while in a hard place based solely on self interest – national survival – that, at the time, was understandable if regrettable. Now they are really stuck between a rock and that hard place. Given most of our sympathies for the Ukrainians, I expect many here will have little sympathy and empathy for them, but, at least for me, given the history of Armenia and the Armenians, I both sympathize and empathize with their plight.
I would, however, expect more instability on the edges of the Russian sphere of influence and near abroad. I think we’re also likely to see instability on the edges of the Russian Federation too. But that is likely to be a slow build. Whatever is going on will run beneath the surface out of sight until it suddenly boils over and then it’ll be very visible and things will go from seeming to be slow and steady to fast and chaotic.
Here is President Zelenskyy’s address from earlier today. Video below, English transcript after the jump:
In Kharkiv region, investigative actions are ongoing in the areas that were liberated from the Russian occupation.
All the crimes of the Ruscists are being recorded, evidence of their guilt is being collected.
Torture chambers where civilians of occupied cities and towns were abused, premises where people were kept – even foreigners – were found. In particular, seven citizens of the Republic of Sri Lanka, students of the Kupyansk Medical College. Back in March, they were captured by Russian soldiers and subsequently kept these people in the basement. Only now, after the liberation of Kharkiv region, these people were saved, they are provided with proper medical care.
Exhumation of bodies continues at a mass burial site near Izium. As of now, more than 440 graves have been found. It is too early to say about the number of people buried there, investigations are ongoing.
There is already clear evidence of torture, humiliating treatment of people… Moreover, there is evidence that Russian soldiers, whose positions were not far from this place, shot at the buried just for fun.
The world must react to all this. Russia has repeated in Izium what it did in Bucha. And now we have just begun to learn the full truth about what was happening in Kharkiv region at that time.
It is good that the UN units are already preparing a group of employees who will visit this place near Izium, who will see and be able to report to everyone in the UN system about what the Russian terrorists did.
We will ensure full access of journalists to the liberated territory and all places of human abuse. We will provide access to tell the world that ruscism must be condemned.
I thank all our partners, all leaders and just our ordinary people who help fight for justice. Fight for the official recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, for the strengthening of sanctions against Russia for this terror.
I held a meeting of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Headquarters today. As always, key leaders of the defense and security sector, key representatives of the central government, who ensure the implementation of the defense plan, attended it. Commanders of operative forces reported on the situation on the front line. In addition to completely understandable issues and solutions, the topic of advanced weapons, which will significantly strengthen our army, was also touched upon.
I spoke today with the President of Finland. I thanked us for the support we have already received and outlined the additional needs we have. An important topic of conversation was the European policy regarding visas for citizens of the terrorist state. I believe that for every country that shares a common border with Russia, the visa issue is vital and should be resolved in favor of a complete restriction of access for Russian citizens.
I also spoke today with representatives of the Nike company. I thanked them for the decision to leave the Russian market. The right decision. This is an example of how business can play a significant role in protecting humanity and freedom. If a state chooses the path of terror, it is the duty of every self-respecting company to distance itself from such a state.
Today, a meeting of the group led by Andriy Yermak working on Ukraine’s accession to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development took place in the Office, a meeting with the G7 ambassadors and other partner states. This is an extremely important direction, which is important both in the context of European integration and in the context of the internal transformation of our state. During the meeting, the diplomats were given the details of our initiative to create an ad hoc international tribunal to punish Russia for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. I’m thankful to the G7 representatives and other partner countries for their willingness to support Ukraine!
And one more thing. This Saturday we celebrate Rescuer’s Day – a professional holiday of those who dedicated their lives to saving others. And it is also the day of those who, under certain circumstances and thanks to their decency and courage, became a rescuer by helping someone else. Today, I honored such people with state awards. And, of course, tomorrow in the evening address I will say more about it. But I want right now, without waiting for tomorrow evening, to congratulate everyone who performs this noble work, who saves people. I want to thank you for the thousands of saved lives, for the security you are returning to us, all Ukrainians.
Eternal glory to all who care about people! Please always help each other, always keep unity in everything. We must stick together, all Ukrainians, and that’s how we will win.
Glory to Ukraine!
Brig.Gen Ryder, the DOD Spokesperson, gave an on the record briefing this afternoon. Here’s the briefing and the relevant Q&A:
BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK RYDER: All right. Thank you for your patience. Well, good afternoon, everyone. I have a fair amount to pass along to you before we kick things off, so thank you in advance for your patience here.
First of all, as you’re aware, DOD announced last evening the 21st presidential drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $600 million to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs. Notable capabilities include additional HIMARS ammunition, precision-guided 155 millimeter artillery rounds, counter-unmanned aerial systems, mine-clearing equipment, night vision devices, and cold weather gear for use as winter approaches.
In total, the United States has committed approximately $15.1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24th and approximately $17.9 billion since 2014.
To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, we’ll continue to work closely with our allies and partners around the world to support Ukraine as they defend their country against Russian occupation, and on that note, I’d flag that, in coordination with NATO, the U.S. will host a special session under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group with senior national armaments directors on September 28th in Brussels. They’ll discuss how our mutual defense industrial bases can best equip Ukraine’s future forces with the capabilities that they need to defend their country.
I know that Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Dr. LaPlante, touched on this a bit during his briefing last week but we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we have more information to provide on this important international effort.
Separate but related, earlier this week, I was asked about the status of NASAMS deliveries to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI. Since then, I’ve received an update that I wanted to pass along. We’re tracking that two NASAMS are expected to be delivered within the next two months or so. These defensive systems will further contribute to protecting Ukrainians from enemy air threats, to include aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.
Before I conclude and take your questions, I do have a few other items to provide.
Today, the U.S. and Republic of Korea are conducting the bilateral Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group meeting at the State Department. The DOD delegation is led by Dr. Colin Kahl, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and this is the first EDSCG meeting since 2018. The consultation group provides an opportunity for our two governments to discuss peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific.
Also this morning, Secretary Austin hosted our annual POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes. More than 80,000 American service personnel are missing from previous conflicts and 38,000 are estimated to be recoverable.
The Defense POW/MIA Agency remains relentless in its mission to provide the fullest possible accounting to their families and the nation until they can be brought home. It is important to Secretary Austin that we took the time today to recognize and honor the sacrifices of our service members and their families.
I also want to highlight that this month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Secretary Austin and Veteran Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough met virtually yesterday with military and veteran service organizations to reaffirm both departments’ commitment to providing mental health and other support resources to our service members and their families.
As Secretary Austin has said many times, mental health is health and we always encourage service members and veterans to reach out for help and seek the care they need. Confidential support is available 24/7 by dialing 988 and pressing 1 or visiting veteranscrisisline.net.
And finally, as we head into the weekend, we want to wish the U.S. Air Force and the Department of the Air Force a Happy Birthday as the service celebrates its 75th anniversary on Sunday. For 75 years, American airmen have excelled as they execute the U.S. Air Force mission to fly, fight, and win and deliver airpower anytime, anywhere in defense of our nation.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions. We’ll start with A.P.
Q: Hi,and good afternoon.
GEN. RYDER: Hey.
Q: I’m Nomaan Merchant with the A.P. Let me ask you two questions, if you don’t mind, the first being about some of the reports of a mass grave site at Izyum. President Zelenskyy said to day that there were — there was evidence that people had been tortured, shot or killed by shelling at — and buried at Izyum. Can the Pentagon address some of those allegations, and particularly whether Russian forces were involved in wartime atrocities or setting up this mass gravesite at Izyum that’s been discovered?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks for the question. So we’ve seen the reports and certainly heard the comments by President Zelenskyy on this issue. We are tracking that the U.N. intends to send a team to investigate, so I don’t have any specific information to provide other than these kinds of reports are indicative of the suffering that we’ve seen civilians experience and people in Ukraine experience since Russia’s invasion.
GEN. RYDER: Lara?
Q: Yeah, thank you. I just have a follow-up on the Claymore mines in — in this latest package. I — I know that — that President Biden banned most landmine use except for in Korea, I believe. So can you just explain why those Claymore mines are — are in there, and whether that falls under the policy?
GEN. RYDER: We’ll check on the policy, but obviously, all of this equipment is intended to assist the Ukrainians in their offensive operations against Russia and to help them take back their territory.
Q: General, thank you. My audience is in Ukraine, and to — you may imagine how sensitive they are to any articles or rumors that U.S. possibly might not provide enough military equipment. And it has an article published yesterday in Foreign Affairs, and you know, shared by the propaganda that telling people — I’m quoting, “U.S. officials warned that extraordinary levels of military support the United States has sent to Ukraine over the past six months will be impossible to sustain as U.S. military stocks begin to dwindle.” And they’re quoting the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Can you comment on this?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. I think all along, we’ve highlighted the fact that this is an international effort. There’s not any one country, to include the U.S., that’s supporting Ukraine. And so as evidenced by things like the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that was held recently at Ramstein and future opportunities, we’ll continue to examine what type of capabilities we can mutually provide to Ukraine, while at the same time for our own U.S. military, we have systems in place and processes in place that take a very close look at, as we draw down our own stocks, what do we need to do to ensure that we continue to replenish? The bottom line is that U.S. readiness, U.S. military readiness is not in jeopardy or close to being in jeopardy, and we’re confident that we can continue to support Ukraine in their fight going ahead. Thank you.
Q: Hey, thanks, Pat. A couple of questions, the first one a — a two-parter.
Can you confirm the Ukrainian Army’s claim that they’ve fully captured Kupiansk? And then give us a little bit of a operational update.
And then the second question is do you — does the Pentagon assess there’s any connection between the Russia struggles in Ukraine and then the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and now Tajikistan and Kurdistan? Thanks.
GEN. RYDER: Okay, thanks. I think the first part of your question was you were asking about Kupiansk, is that correct?
Q: That is correct. The Ukrainian Army says that they’ve fully captured that. And just give us a operational update if you could.
GEN. RYDER: Okay. Well, you know, at the end of the day, in terms of, you know, granular details, Howard, I’d say we’ll let the Ukrainians talk to the specifics of their operation. Generally speaking, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we have seen them make some advancements in the north, in the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainians continue to conduct their counter-offensive operations, which are, again, primarily up in the north, in Kharkiv, and then in the south, in the Kherson region.
In the north, what we assess is that the Ukrainians are consolidating their gains after taking back significant territory and that the Russians are attempting to shore up their defensive lines after having been pushed back.
In the south, the Ukrainians continue to make what we would assess is deliberate, calculated forward movements as the Russians continue to try to hold that line.
As always, our focus continues to remain on providing them the support that they need in their fight, as evidenced by our announcement last night on the PDA.
In terms of Armenia, you know, we are aware of the reports. My understanding, just based on press reports, is that there is a truce. Certainly, we would echo what the State Department has said, is that there is no military solution to conflict and we would call for an immediate and full cessation of hostilities.
Okay, let me go to Matt White from Coffee or Die.
Q: Yes, thank you for the briefing, sir.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense — can you hear me? Can you hear me?
GEN. RYDER: I can hear you.
Q: Great. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense put out a release today describing that they have reports of Russian soldiers retreating across the Dnipro River using stolen motorboats from residents locally. I’m wondering if you can — if you have any reports of that? And also, a little bit beyond that, if there are other reports that you’re getting that might speak to sort of if the retreat in that area has been particularly disordered?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. I don’t have any comments or information to provide on that level of detail. Again, I’d refer you to the Ukrainians to get those kinds of updates.
In terms of characterizing the Russian retreat, again beyond what we’ve already talked about in terms of as the Ukrainians conducted their counteroffensive in the north in the Kharkiv region, as mentioned we saw the Russians fleeing over the border in some locations, and of course the reports of low morale, logistics issues, sustainment challenges — beyond that, I don’t have any other details to provide.
Okay, I can take one or two more.
Q: On the topic of POW/MIA Day, there are at least two Americans that are being held captive in Ukraine at the moment, I think a few others have gone missing. Do you have any updates on the Americans that are currently being held captive by Russian separatist forces?
GEN. RYDER: I do not have any updates. Thank you.
Q: Is there any new message to the veterans that are currently fighting in the country?
GEN. RYDER: To U.S. veterans fighting in the country? I don’t have a message to pass along. Thank you.
Okay, I’m sorry. Last question.
Q: Back to Ukraine, a senior State Department official said yesterday — or expected yesterday heavy fighting in Ukraine during the fall as both sides try to reposition themselves in preparation for the winter. Also, he said despite progress made by the Ukrainians recently, the war is far from its end. Do you share — do you agree with this assessment?
GEN. RYDER: So I’m, again, not going to try to speculate and put a timeline on this conflict, other than to say again we believe that this will continue to be a tough fight. You know, certainly, we’ve seen the Ukrainians have some success and we’ll continue — you know, our focus will continue to be on supporting them in their fight.
But we do anticipate that this will continue to be a very tough fight and the only thing that could shorten it would be is if the Russians decided to do the right thing and withdraw their occupying forces from Ukraine.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate it.
Here’s the British MOD’s assessment for today:
Here’s former NAVDEVGRU Squadron Leader Chuck Pfarrer’s latest assessments for Kherson and Izium:
KHERSON/2355 UTC 16 SEP/ With the recent destruction of three Russian Su-25 ground attack aircraft, and the interdiction of an Su-24 fighter bomber, UKR has demonstrated the lethality of its resurgent air defense network.This has allowed UKR to increase close air support sorties. pic.twitter.com/kZ3GQOfnEg
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) September 16, 2022
IZIUM / 0100 UTC 17 SEP/ As reported earlier, UKR forces have consolidated control of the east bank of the Oskil River, and have interdicted logistics on the P-66 HWY. After a series of precipitous retreats, elements of the RU army have re-occupied the city of Savatove. pic.twitter.com/xomi5gQ0g3
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) September 17, 2022
Ukrainian partisans went hunting this morning!
Unconfirmed reports by Russians of several important occupational "officials" wounded or killed as a result of strikes in Kherson and Luhansk, including the "General Prosecutor of Luhansk" being "wounded".
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) September 16, 2022
Russian liberation. Photo by the legendary Evgeny Maloletka of the AP pic.twitter.com/lbVrRFkTz0
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) September 16, 2022
Pope Francis has declared Ukraine’s defense of Russia’s re-invasion a just war!
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday said it was morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian aggression.
— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) September 15, 2022
The Congressional Research Service has released a new report on the Ukrainian-Russian war:
New updated Congressional Research Service report on Russia’s War in Ukraine: Military and Intelligence Aspects https://t.co/RXVJJH8uxC
— Andrew S. Bowen (@Andrew_S_Bowen) September 15, 2022
Also updated analysis of the performance of the 🇺🇦 military, 🇷🇺 war crimes, and new outlook given 🇺🇦 recent battlefield successes.
— Andrew S. Bowen (@Andrew_S_Bowen) September 15, 2022
And Dossier, via Christo Grozev, has a new report out indicating that the Russian GRU have placed a controlled foreign asset in the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Which is ungood!
Here is Dossier's extremely troubling investigation (in Russian, google translate quite usable). We have not verified the hacked/leaked documents Dossier obtained, however the open source part of the evidence matches the reporting:https://t.co/DNvCQrHrKV
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) September 16, 2022
A 92-year-old Paraskovia who lives in the frontline area treats her guests, humanitarian volunteers, to apples. She survived two dictators, Stalin and Hitler. We wish her to survive ****n.
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) September 15, 2022
Boys will be boys pic.twitter.com/yDd0TQGN6x
— Illia Ponomarenko (@IAPonomarenko) September 16, 2022
That’s enough for tonight.
Your daily Patron!
Someone asked me the other night if the wounded Ukrainian sapper that was mentioned in the Patron tweet thread announcing a fundraiser for him was Patron’s handler. The answer is no. Patron’s handler is Mykhailo “Misha” Iliev, who is a sapper, but originally adopted Patron as a puppy as a family pet before realizing he’d make a good mine sniffing dog.
Here’s a new video from Patron’s official TikTok:
The caption translates as:
Link to the merch in the profile header😌 #dogPatron #PatronDSNS
Always be selling!