Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: U.S. quietly imposes more sanctions on Russia

Crimea crisis awakens an anemic NATO; Egypt's Gen. Sisi throws his hat in the ring; Petty Officer Mayo was a hero; Why will 1,892 flags to be planted on the Mall today?; and a bit more.

The U.S. has slapped Russia without anyone really knowing about it. FP's Jamila Trindle with this exclusive: "While the Obama administration has touted U.S. efforts to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically, it has quietly found another way to slap Moscow for its annexation of Crimea. Nearly a month ago, with no public notice, a small office in the Commerce Department abruptly stopped approving applications from U.S. firms that want to sell Russia potentially dangerous products.

The U.S. has slapped Russia without anyone really knowing about it. FP’s Jamila Trindle with this exclusive: "While the Obama administration has touted U.S. efforts to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically, it has quietly found another way to slap Moscow for its annexation of Crimea. Nearly a month ago, with no public notice, a small office in the Commerce Department abruptly stopped approving applications from U.S. firms that want to sell Russia potentially dangerous products.

"The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) suspended a raft of pending deals with Russia on March 1, just a day after Moscow sent troops streaming into Ukraine. The office didn’t disclose the move until this week, when it posted an oblique notice on its website. The suspension has not been previously reported. ‘Since March 1, 2014, BIS has placed a hold on the issuance of licenses that would authorize the export or re-export of items to Russia,’ the notice says. ‘BIS will continue this practice until further notice.’

"In 2013, BIS approved 1,832 export contracts to Russia for so-called dual use products like lasers and explosives, according to the bureau’s annual report. The deals were worth roughly $1.5 billion, $800 million of which was for devices cryptically described as ‘designed to initiate an energetic charge.’" More here.

Ouch: Obama calls Russia a "regional power" acting out of weakness. The WaPo’s Scott Wilson with the President in Brussels: "President Obama acknowledged Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea would be difficult to reverse, but he dismissed Russia as a ‘regional power’ that did not pose a leading security threat to the United States." Obama: "Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors – not out of strength but out of weakness… They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States… I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan." More here.

Cuts to NATO makes it ill-prepared to deter Russia. The NYT’s Helene Cooper and Steven Erlanger: "President Obama and European leaders pledged Wednesday to bolster the NATO alliance and vowed that Russia would not be allowed to run roughshod over its neighbors. But the military reality on the ground in Europe tells a different story. The United States, by far the most powerful NATO member, has drastically cut back its European forces from a decade ago. European countries, which have always lagged far behind the United States in military might, have struggled and largely failed to come up with additional military spending at a time of economic anemia and budget cuts.

"During the height of the Cold War, United States troops in Europe numbered around 400,000, a combat-ready force designed to quickly deploy and defend Western Europe – particularly what was then West Germany – against a potential Soviet advance.

Today there are about 67,000 American troops in Europe, including 40,000 in Germany, with the rest scattered mostly in Italy and Britain. The Air Force has some 130 fighter jets, 12 refueling planes and 30 cargo aircraft. At the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, it had 800 aircraft in Europe."

But read my lips: "… Even if Russia moves into eastern Ukraine, senior administration officials said, there should be absolutely no expectation that American troops would head to Kiev. ‘The American people are not going to war with Russia over Ukraine, full stop,’ a senior administration official said, echoing public comments by Mr. Obama. Read the rest of the story here.

Noting – while there have been drawdowns of U.S. troops in Europe in recent years – there were about 100 troops stationed in Europe in 1990 – the current number of about 67,000 isn’t expected to drop any further, Situation Report was told. And while the services, in particular the Army, will be shrinking, we were told that shouldn’t have any long-term affect on the number of people permanently assigned to U.S. European Command.

Forget the pivot to Asia – now it’s the pivot (back) to Europe. John Deni in The National Interest: "…In the meantime, the United States should consider a number of other moves designed to reassure nervous American allies in Eastern Europe, deter the Russians from further adventurism, and signal to authorities in Moscow that the days of accommodating its boorish behavior are over. Augmenting the U.S. contribution to the Baltic air-policing mission and immediately increasing what has been an occasional, short-term U.S. Air Force presence in Poland have been welcome steps along these lines, but Washington and its allies should consider going further." More on that one here.

Is Putin untouchable? Maybe not. US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "…some observers question whether the former KGB officer is untouchable. And many prominent national security leaders who forged their careers during the Cold War say the White House’s approach is a grave mistake. A group of such officials, including a former director of the CIA and NSA, released an open letter last week calling on Obama to, as they said, "impose real costs on the government of President Vladimir Putin," to include targeted sanctions against the man himself. The current sanctions, levied against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as well as Putin’s chief advisers and political allies, freeze overseas bank accounts and restrict travel abroad." More here.

Hagel and the U.K.’s Hammond appeared at the Pentagon yesterday. Hagel: "In my conversations with [Russian Defense] Minister Shoygu last week, I asked him specifically why the Russians were building up their western border and I asked him specifically what the intentions were as to that build up.  He told me that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine.  I told him that we looked forward to the Russians living up to their word, if that was the case.  But the reality is, they continue to build up their forces.  So they need to make sure that they stay committed to what Minister Shoygu told me."

U.K.’s Secretary of State for Defense Hammond, wondering if Russian Defense Minister Shoygu is even in Putin’s inner circle: "I think what I said this morning was that all the evidence suggests that the Russian agenda is being very much run by President Putin personally.  And other Russian players, including Minister Shoygu, may express views, but it’s a moot point, and we cannot know, we do not know to what extent all of those people are really inside the inner circle in which President Putin is planning this exercise."

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There’s going to be an "economic and stability" summit on Afghanistan’s post-2014 transition on Friday at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington. The event will include Afghanistan business leaders discussing plans to grow Afghanistan’s economy and expand its private sector after the bulk of U.S. and allied troops leave after this year. Deets for the event, which begins at 9am and goes until 3, here; register here.

In the push to curb military suicides, some developments in DC today. IAVA tells us that Sen. John Walsh of Montana will introduce a comprehensive bill that includes the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s top priorities to address many of the gaps in care and access that exist today. Walsh, a Democrat who is one of two combat veterans in the Senate, will introduce the legislation at IAVA’s "Day of Action on the Mall" in which vets and other supporters will place 1,892 American flags on the Mall to represent the number of vets who are estimated to have died by suicide to date. The event starts on the Mall today at 10. Deets here.

Petty Officer Mayo was a hero, the Navy says. The Navy identified the sailor in Norfolk who was killed during a shooting aboard the USS Mahan at Pier 1 at Naval Station Norfolk late Monday night. He was Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark A. Mayo, 24, who was a Hagerstown, Md. native and enlisted in the Navy in Oct. 2007. But he died a hero, Navy officials said. According to the Navy, the suspect in the shooting "approached the Mahan’s quarterdeck and was confronted by the ship’s petty officer of the watch. A struggle occurred and the suspect was able to disarm the Sailor.  Mayo, serving as the chief-of-the-guard, rendered assistance after seeing the suspect board the ship.  Mayo put himself between the gunman and the petty officer of the watch and as a result was fatally wounded."

From a statement from Capt. Robert Clark, Jr., commanding officer at Norfolk: "Petty Officer Mayo’s actions on Monday evening were nothing less than heroic.  He selflessly gave his own life to ensure the safety of the Sailors on board USS Mahan… Petty Officer Mayo’s family has endured a tremendous loss, as have the men and women of Naval Station Norfolk, in the loss of a shipmate and friend."

FYI, the U.S. is losing its edge over China and here’s how to get it back. Randy Forbes (the Virginia Republican) and CNAS’ Elbridge Colby, writing in The National Interest: "A flurry of recent statements by senior Defense Department officials has thrown a bright but cold light on a reality that Washington has yet to grapple with: that America’s edge in military technology and the balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific writ large is under serious and growing pressure from China’s military-modernization efforts…We believe Admiral Locklear, Under Secretary Kendall, and General Dempsey should be commended for sounding the alarm because they are right that the military balance in the Asia-Pacific-and especially our edge in technology and its exploitation, the true source of our military advantage in recent decades-is eroding." More here.

Egypt’s al-Sisi has announced he’s running for president and he may just win. BBC’s Orla Guerin in an analysis on the development: "In a widely expected announcement, he said on state TV he was appearing ‘in my military uniform for the last time’. Field Marshal Sisi led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July after mass opposition protests. Correspondents say he is likely to win the presidency, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals. "To his supporters, the 59-year-old former army chief is a saviour who can end the political turmoil dogging Egypt since 2011 when a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of one-man rule. But his opponents hold him responsible for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, and fear that he wants a return to authoritarianism." More here.

The Pentagon has "quietly shaved" billions of dollars from troops’ total compensation package. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: "With no fanfare or controversy, the Pentagon has quietly shaved several billion dollars from troops’ total compensation in recent years as the flow of cash benefits known as special pays and incentive pays has slowed dramatically. That decline, which amounts to a collective cut in disposable income for the force, is not the result of a Pentagon policy change or a new law from Congress, but rather is driven by broader changes affecting the military community. For example, fewer wartime deployments mean less hostile fire pay, while a slow economy translates into fewer, and smaller, retention bonuses."

Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association to Tilghman: "We don’t feel that the Defense Department looked at this holistically. … They looked at special pays in a stovepipe. They looked at the commissary in a stovepipe. They looked at health care in a stovepipe… They didn’t bother to add up across all of those things, what the actual monetary impact would be on average military families." More here.

The Pentagon’s search for "cheap stealth" – hiding war-fighting gear on the sea bottom.  Time’s Mark Thompson: " The Navy’s endless push to build cheaper ships alarmed Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., at a House hearing Tuesday. ‘You mention that we’re hitting a cost target,’ he told the Navy brass about one class of vessels. ‘But if the ship’s not survivable, I don’t care if I meet my cost target if it’s in the bottom of the ocean.’ Bingo! That’s exactly where the Pentagon is looking to build underwater mini-depots for the U.S. Navy. In fact, only hours after Visclosky grumbled about sunken ships sitting on the bottom of the ocean, the Pentagon said it’s moving closer to making that cold and forbidding place a base for U.S. military hardware. It’s planning to test the concept in the Western Pacific, conveniently close to China, starting next year." Read the rest of that bit here.



Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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