The Cable

SitRep: Trump Envoy Sees No End to Russia’s War in Ukraine

North Korea readies another missile test, Russian warplane buzzes U.S. spy aircraft

President Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on November 11. (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on November 11. (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Ukraine grinds on. The Trump administration’s envoy tasked with ending the fighting in Ukraine tells Politico that he sees no end to the war there, which pits government troops against Russian-backed separatists — and Russian troops. Ambassador Kurt Volker said that he sees an “80 percent” chance that the war will grind on for at least another year, particularly after his recent meeting with a top Putin adviser, Vladislav Surkov, which Volker called a “step back.”

During those talks, Moscow had reverted to an older proposal to deploy United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine. Surkov told reporters after the meeting that Volker had presented 29 separate paragraphs to the Russians and that Surkov had agreed with just three of them. President Donald Trump is reportedly considering selling Ukraine $50 million worth of lethal arms, including anti-tank weapons.

Maverick, get down here. The Pentagon is once again calling out Russia for what it says was an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft flying over the Black Sea. The Defense Department says a Russian Su-30 swept in front of the P-8A, fired its afterburners, and forced the aircraft into “a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence.”

North Korea missile worries. North Korea has been conducting missile engine and fuel tests in recent weeks, South Korean officials said Tuesday, with the goal of achieving nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities by next year. Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon also said his government was closely monitoring missile-related activities in North Korea for a possible resumption of tests. And one might be coming soon. Japanese officials said Monday they have been detecting radio signals coming from the North consistent with an upcoming missile launch.

State Department redesign chief quits, again. It’s been a rocky road for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s controversial “redesign” of the department’s operations. The latest in a string of officials tasked with carrying out the project has quit after just three months. The departure of Maliz Beams adds to a list of former officials that includes William Inglee, a former Lockheed Martin executive, and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Now, it’s up to Christine Ciccone to try and move the ball forward.

Is there a readiness crisis? Pentagon leaders and members of Congress have been warning for several years that there’s a severe “readiness crisis” in the U.S. armed forces that has led to a rash of training accidents, and has left the military unable to do its job. But a group of senior enlisted leaders on Monday flipped that assessment on its head, saying the force is just fine, and soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are getting the job done even if they’re not getting everything they might want.

Hack attack. Three Chinese hackers raided the computer systems of Siemens, Moody’s, and Trimble, a GPS firm, according to an indictment unsealed Monday by federal prosecutors. Private security researchers have tied the hackers to China’s powerful Ministry of State Security, though Monday’s indictment contains no information about the group’s links to the Chinese state.

American officials allege the hackers made off with a trove of at least 400 GB of data from Siemens’s servers, targeting the company’s energy, transportation, and technology businesses. The hackers also set up a scheme to obtain confidential economic analyses authored by a prominent Moody’s expert and pilfered technical data from a Trimble project on a highly accurate GPS system.

Is China playing fair? The attack on the American operations of the three firms raises serious questions about Chinese compliance with a 2015 agreement to outlaw economic espionage for commercial gain. That agreement included pledges to cooperate in bringing criminal hackers before a court. A Justice Department spokesperson told FP that Washington sought Beijing’s assistance in the case, but when it received “no meaningful response” from Beijing, prosecutors went ahead and unsealed the indictment.

Who’s where when. 10:00 a.m. Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, briefs at the Pentagon to provide an update on operations. Livestream here.  

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

China and South Korea turn it down a notch. China’s beef with South Korea over its decision to host a U.S. anti-missile system appears to be easing. China has relaxed a ban on Chinese tour groups heading to South Korea, implemented under dubious pretenses shortly after South Korea decided to jointly deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery, locking Seoul into a diplomatic dispute with Beijing.  

Sign of the times. Hawaii, meanwhile, is bracing for the possibility of the real thing, testing out an emergency siren on Friday designed to warn residents of the possibility of an inbound North Korean nuclear missile. While it’s not clear how well locals would fare in the event of a nuclear attack, state officials nonetheless offer the less than reassuring advice that locals should “get inside, stay inside and stay tuned” in the event of an actual missile emergency.

More legal trouble for Flynn. Congressional Democrats say former national security adviser Mike Flynn is in yet more legal trouble for allegedly failing to disclose June 2015 trips to Egypt and Israel paid for by an American client when he applied for a new security clearance the next year. Flynn was in the region to try and drum up interest in a plan by clients ACU Strategic Partners and IP3/IronBridge to build nuclear power plants across the Middle East.  

Respect your copyeditors. The Islamic State’s media outlets have struggled to keep up the same volume of on-brand propaganda content as the caliphate has collapsed. As Islamic State media expert Charlie Winter noticed, though, their translation and copyediting has also left much to be desired with one recent released getting published with the subhed “Islamic State Baqiya Despite Your Nostrils.”  

Geneva talks. The long-suffering U.N. Geneva peace process to resolve Syria’s civil war is gearing up for another go this week, hoping that the eighth time’s the charm to put an end to the conflict. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has told opposition representatives that their demand that President Bashar al Assad step down as part of any peace deal is a non-starter. The Assad regime, for its part, has given no sign that it will send a representative to the talks.

Wedding crasher. America may be delighted by having one of its own, actress Meghan Markle, engaged to a British royal but President Trump shouldn’t expect an invitation in the mail to celebrate this particular special relationship. Prince Harry is reportedly sour on Trump, viewing him as a “a serious threat to human rights” according to friends with Markle having a similarly dim opinion of Trump.

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