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.

Eyeing Russia, U.S. and Canada Launch New Arctic Military Exercises

Tensions over Ukraine war spill into the Arctic.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter.
Two fighter jets are shown on a cloudy day.
Two fighter jets are shown on a cloudy day.
Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets from 425 Squadron prepare for air operations during the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Operation Noble Defender at Thule Air Base, Greenland, on March 16. CANR NORAD/DVIDS

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep, and happy St. Patrick’s Day! Unfortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day isn’t particularly lucky, as Irish leader Micheal Martin, visiting Washington to meet with U.S. leaders for the festivities, tested positive for COVID-19. So at your celebrations today, remember to toast to his speedy recovery. 

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: The United States and Canada look to exercise in the Arctic amid Russia tensions, Russia wants Chinese meal kits to feed its troops in Ukraine, and the Biden administration is considering lifting Iran’s feared military branch from U.S. terror lists

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep, and happy St. Patrick’s Day! Unfortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day isn’t particularly lucky, as Irish leader Micheal Martin, visiting Washington to meet with U.S. leaders for the festivities, tested positive for COVID-19. So at your celebrations today, remember to toast to his speedy recovery. 

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: The United States and Canada look to exercise in the Arctic amid Russia tensions, Russia wants Chinese meal kits to feed its troops in Ukraine, and the Biden administration is considering lifting Iran’s feared military branch from U.S. terror lists

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


High Tensions in the Frozen North

Four years before the end of the Cold War, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared the Arctic a “zone of peace.” 

That moniker held up relatively well in the ensuing decades, even as relations between Russia and the West slowly deteriorated and climate change thawed Arctic ice, opening more of the region to human activity. 

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks upending all of that, melting away decades of efforts to demilitarize the region from the heyday of the Cold War and focus on scientific, economic, and trade cooperation. 

The United States and Canada announced they’re planning new military exercises in the Arctic beginning this week to stress-test their aircraft that monitor the region and their missile defense capabilities.

Noble Defender. The semi-regular exercise, dubbed “Noble Defender,” was planned well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it has taken on new importance amid the military conflict in Europe and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s not-so-subtle nuclear saber-rattling messages to countries seeking to help Ukraine. 

One portion of the exercise will include Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepting other aircraft role-playing as adversaries in northern Canada. (Russian aircraft have a habit of probing the airspace of its neighbors and even buzzing aircraft of NATO allies in apparent shows of force.)

The exercise is aimed at sending a message of deterrence to Russia from its Western rivals that Washington and its allies would be ready for any spillover of tensions in Europe into the high north. 

Cold shoulder. Russia has one of the longest northern coastlines of any Arctic littoral state and views the region as a potential cash cow for vast untapped energy resources. At the same time, it has expanded its military infrastructure and presence in the Arctic in recent years, drawing concern from the United States and its fellow NATO allies: Norway, Denmark, and Canada. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine has already altered Arctic diplomacy. The regional body overseeing the region’s governance, the Arctic Council, was thrown into upheaval over Putin’s invasion when the group’s seven other countries—Canada, Finland, Denmark, the United States, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—announced they would be boycotting future Arctic Council meetings in Russia. (Russia currently holds the organization’s rotating presidency.)

Dust off the Cold War playbook? Arctic security experts, meanwhile, are calling on Canada and the United States to upgrade aging northern early warning radar and air defense systems that the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command has overseen since the 1950s. 

Brig. Gen. Derek O’Malley, deputy commander for the Canadian NORAD region, told CBC that he expected new investments in NORAD infrastructure in the near future. “Equipment gets old, but right now, your defenses are very capable and they’re doing the job,” he said. “I also have confidence that there’s going to be some significant investments in the future that will make us even stronger.”


Let’s Get Personnel

The CIA has tapped veteran cybersecurity leader La’Naia Jones to be its new chief information officer, the Record reports. 


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Mealtime. Russia has asked China for help in its war in Ukraine, the Financial Times first reported this week. Among the requests are pre-packed meal kits known as “meals, ready-to-eat” (MREs).

The request underlines the logistical problems that Russia has faced in its three-week war, experts said, despite a monthslong buildup of troops in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatist provinces. YouTube reviews rank China’s MREs as “substandard” and among the “worst quality rations for a large military in the world.”

Sagging morale. Russia has already lost more than 7,000 soldiers in Ukraine, more troops than the number of U.S. forces killed in over 20 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to conservative U.S. intelligence estimates obtained by the New York Times.

That is contributing to declining morale among well over 150,000 Russian troops who have been deployed into Ukraine, according to the report. A recent U.S. intelligence finding described Russian troops “just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods.”

Clean slate. The Biden administration is considering removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the U.S. terror blacklist amid ongoing nuclear negotiations in exchange for a commitment to de-escalate tensions in the region, Axios reports. The move, which would reverse a decision under former U.S. President Donald Trump, would likely generate uproar from both Republicans and hawkish Democrats as Iran nuclear deal negotiations enter their final stage.


Snapshot 

A plane takes off behind a person lying on the ground with military gear.
A plane takes off behind a person lying on the ground with military gear.

A member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces holds their position while a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft takes off during a joint U.S.-Japan military exercise near Gotemba, Japan, on March 15.CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images


Put On Your Radar

Friday, March 18: Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to mark the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea with a day of “reunification” celebrations. Expect more condemnation from Western officials. 

Tuesday, March 22: Four U.S. Defense Department nominees face confirmation hearings in the Senate, including William LaPlante, the pick to be the Defense Department’s top acquisition official. 


Quote of the week

“LOL.”

Official statement from Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, after learning this week that Russia was sanctioning the group.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Dogs of war. A 2-year-old dog nicknamed Patron, meaning “bullet” in Ukrainian, has become a bomb-sniffing asset to troops dealing with unexploded Russian ordnance in Chernihiv, which U.S. defense officials have said is “isolated” by Russian troops. “The dog is the soul and mascot of Chernihiv pyrotechnicians,” the publication UkraineWorld tweeted.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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