The Cable

SitRep: Russia Massing Forces Near Ukraine as Putin Lands in Crimea

Washington’s New Deal with Israel; Ceasefire Proposed in Aleppo; NSA Hack Problems; And Lots More

SEVASTOPOL, RUSSIA - JULY 31, 2016: Russian servicemen take part in a ship parade marking Russian Navy Day. Alexei Pavlishak/TASS (Photo by Alexei PavlishakTASS via Getty Images)
SEVASTOPOL, RUSSIA - JULY 31, 2016: Russian servicemen take part in a ship parade marking Russian Navy Day. Alexei Pavlishak/TASS (Photo by Alexei PavlishakTASS via Getty Images)

 

Russian summer. Moscow is dispatching thousands of soldiers to its border with Ukraine, along with more armored vehicles, more aircraft, and more missile defense systems in moves that have Kiev on edge, and U.S. military officials watching closely. And Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Crimea Friday for meetings with security officials.

What does it all mean? Most U.S. officials are highly skeptical that Moscow is planning a move into Ukraine, saying that the maneuvers could be just another round of exercises and planned troop rotations, or an effort to stir up nationalistic passions before upcoming parliamentary elections next month. Still, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have flared in recent weeks after Russia accused Ukraine’s military of killing two Russian soldiers during alleged cross-border raids into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Over the past two weeks, the Institute for the Study of War’s Kathleen Weinberger says, Russia has deployed new naval, ground, and air units, along with the S-400 air defense system on near Ukraine’s borders. “These new deployments constitute a significant expansion of Russia’s force projection capabilities and may signal preparations for a large-scale military conflict. Russia’s current force posture allows it to threaten or conduct military operations into Ukraine from multiple directions.” Speaking on Ukrainian television Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that “we don’t rule out full-scale Russian invasion.”

The Donbass. Things are heating up in eastern Ukraine as well, where government officials say they’ve been on the receiving end of the biggest artillery barrage in a year. August has been a typically violent month since the conflict broke out in 2014, with fighting peaking around the late summer. That pattern seems to be holding once again, with a Ukrainian military spokesman saying troops have seen 500 mortar and 300 artillery rounds fired at them, raising fears that an even more direct Russian intervention could be forthcoming.

Washington to Jerusalem. The U.S. and Israel are inching closer to finally inking a massive 10-year arms deal worth well over $30 billion, but one of the sticking points is Washington’s insistence on scrapping a coveted provision that has allowed Israel to pump hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars directly into its own defense industry. FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary write that while the Obama administration’s push to remove the clause would inflict some real pain on the country’s small but growing defense industry — which has become the world’s largest supplier of drones — that industry can now stand on it’s own, U.S. officials argue.

More on NSA hacking. Software vulnerabilities are the NSA’s best weapons, Silicon Valley’s worst nightmare, and a new target for hackers, writes FP’s Elias Groll. Earlier this week, “just days after a mysterious group of hackers released what they claimed were a set of NSA hacking tools, a familiar and frustrating pattern was taking shape. America’s premier signals intelligence agency had once again discovered unknown flaws in products used to secure computer networks around the globe, but instead of telling the manufacturers, the NSA pocketed those flaws, like skeleton keys that would let them open doors to others’ networks whenever and wherever they wanted.”

Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

China

China is putting the finishing touches on its first homemade aircraft carrier, according to satellite imagery reviews by IHS Jane’s. The pictures reveal that shipbuilders in the Dalian Shipyard show the hull, bow, and other sections of the Type 001A aircraft carrier nearly complete. China has been modernizing its military and attempting to develop platforms that will allow its forces to operate further abroad. The People’s Liberation Army Navy currently has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a Soviet era carrier which it purchased from Ukraine and has been using for training purposes.

Islamic State in Russia

The Islamic State is claiming an association with two Russian men who were killed in an attack on police in a town outside Moscow, according to the Long War Journal. The Amaq news agency, a propaganda mouthpiece linked to the Islamic State, released footage of the two men pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi along with a statement claiming they were “fighters” for the jihadist group. The two men attacked police officers while brandishing axes and a gun before being shot dead.

Delete your account

Twitter has booted 235,000 accounts of people promoting terrorism since February, the Washington Post reports. The social media company has come under increasing pressure to do more about terrorist propaganda on its platform after aggressive fans of the Islamic State began signing up to use the service en masse. This most recent round of suspensions marks an uptick over the previous round of 125,000 suspensions. Twitter says it’s devoted more personnel to review reported extremist content and taken other, unspecified measures to prevent booted account holders from quickly signing back up again.

Syria

Russia’s defense ministry says it would support a proposal for a two day long ceasefire in Aleppo next week, Agence France Presse reports. Russia had previously offered to respect a three-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the city, but United Nations officials said that the pause would not be enough to allow them to reach populations in need. UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped Russia would be able to pressure the Assad regime into abiding by the terms of the proposed ceasefire.

The conflict in Syria is getting yet more complicated as reports come in about Assad regime warplanes targeting areas held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG. Reuters reports that Syrian airstrikes targeted the town of Hasaka, killing 13. The strikes mark a notable downturn in the relationship between the Assad regime and the YPG, which hasn’t clashed with the regime in same way Syria’s Sunni Arab rebels have.

South Sudan

The AP got a hold of documents circulating at the United Nations claiming that the South Sudanese government coercively recruited child soldiers from a local village. UNICEF also reported this week that as many as 650 children have fought in conflicts in South Sudan this year.

 

Photo Credit: Alexei Pavlishak\TASS via Getty Images

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