Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer. Look out for special editions of this newsletter Feb. 16-19 as SitRep heads to Germany to give you behind-the-scenes looks and breaking news from The Munich Security Conference, one of the most consequential gatherings of world leaders.

Russia May Be Getting Ready to Mobilize in Ukraine (Again)

Has the Kremlin learned from the mistakes of its first mobilization?

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
A billboard with a member of the military is shown before an old tall building.
A billboard with a member of the military is shown before an old tall building.
The Russian Foreign Ministry building is seen behind a billboard showing the letter Z—a tactical symbol of Russian troops in Ukraine—and reading "Victory Is Being Forged in Fire" in central Moscow on Oct. 13, 2022. Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep, and happy new year, everyone! Hope everyone is having a better start to the year than Kevin McCarthy.

If any member of Congress reading this gets fed up with, well, everything going on now, we found a fun new job posting on USAJobs for you: The Department of the Navy is looking for a new Bingo manager.

Before applying, make sure you meet the Navy’s requirement of having “[k]nowledge of the fundamental principles, methodology, and techniques involved in the operational management of the Bingo program and efficient utilization of existing facilities and equipment.”

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep, and happy new year, everyone! Hope everyone is having a better start to the year than Kevin McCarthy.

If any member of Congress reading this gets fed up with, well, everything going on now, we found a fun new job posting on USAJobs for you: The Department of the Navy is looking for a new Bingo manager.

Before applying, make sure you meet the Navy’s requirement of having “[k]nowledge of the fundamental principles, methodology, and techniques involved in the operational management of the Bingo program and efficient utilization of existing facilities and equipment.”

OK, back to business for the first SitRep of 2023. Here’s what’s on tap for the day: an inside look at whether Russia’s military mobilizations will make a difference on the battlefield, France’s decision to supply Ukraine with light tanks, and how the vote-a-rama drama over the U.S. House speaker race affects national security.

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


Russia’s Drumbeat of War Sounds Again

Remember the monthslong drumbeat for war that led to Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, following the elaborate, televised parlor game that led to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for the recognition of two separatist, pro-Russian Ukrainian territories?

It’s classic Kremlin playbook to use a wide array of tools, from propaganda to mock popular support, to seemingly narrow the options available to Putin, thereby raising the stakes in the process. And now it’s happening all over again.

Mobilizing failure. Putin himself insisted last month that there was no need for a fresh military mobilization. But influential Russian military bloggers have seized on the idea in the wake of Russia’s battlefield failures, and on Tuesday, an obscure patriotic group supporting the widows of Russian troops killed in Ukraine also urged Putin to order a large-scale mobilization of troops.

This is the latest sign that pressure is rising on the Kremlin from hard-liners to double down after its so-called partial mobilization of 300,000 additional troops in September.

That mobilization—Russia’s first major military call-up since World War II—only made things worse in the short term, as it was marked by widespread mismanagement and domestic political backlash. Most of the freshly mobilized troops were ill-equipped and sometimes trained for only a matter of hours or days. “The first mobilization was an absolute cluster,” Ben Hodges, the former commander of U.S. Army Europe, told SitRep. It also failed to stave off Ukrainian counteroffensives near the eastern city of Kharkiv and the southern city of Kherson.

If at first you don’t succeed… In the days leading up to the new year, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was the highest-level official in Kyiv to warn of a possible fresh Russian mobilization. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia was planning another massive call-up.

“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat,” Zelensky said. “We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. … Any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”

Mounting losses. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense estimates that Russian losses in the next four to five months could add up to 70,000 troops, in addition to more than 100,000 killed or wounded last year. [Russia’s] leadership is ready for such losses,” Andriy Cherniak, head of the agency’s intelligence branch, said in comments to a Ukrainian media outlet.

Even as Putin and his top Kremlin advisors have waved away calls for another mobilization, at least for now, there are signs that the top brass in Moscow is preparing the Russian public for the prospect of more caskets coming home from Ukraine.

In an unusual move, the Russian Defense Ministry admitted that at least 89 soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on New Year’s Day. The strike was launched against a makeshift Russian barracks housed in a former school building in the occupied town of Makiivka. (Even that figure could be a gross undercount: Ukrainian officials said that 400 Russian troops were killed in the strike). The admission was also a possible warning to would-be Russian draftees about operational security: Pro-Russian bloggers said the troops gave away their coordinates by using their internet-connected phones within the range of U.S.-provided rocket launchers.

Hodges doubted that a second mobilization would make a difference, unless Russia can sort out massive logistical headaches of how to properly train and equip all of these soldiers.

“The Russians do not seem too worried about the fact that they’re having hundreds of casualties every day,” he said. “They knew there would be huge losses when they started pushing waves of untrained soldiers against the effective Ukrainian military.”

“The Russians will come up with bodies, but I don’t think they have the logistics necessary to pull off” training and equipping an influx of newly mobilized and green troops, he said.

When quantity is a quality of its own. Still, the mobilization could pay off in the long run if Russia can sort out how to effectively train and resupply a steady stream of new troops—still a big “if.”

“Mobilization, fraught and shambolic at the outset, generated considerable manpower and stabilized Russian lines in Luhansk,” Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military, wrote in a recent analysis piece. Kofman noted that it was mobilized forces who helped cover Russia’s retreat from Kherson, and also likely “doubled” Russia’s manpower in Ukraine overall, allowing Russia’s military for the first time to establish reserve forces and rotate out battle-weary front-line units.

“Mobilization may not fix the qualitative, or force employment issues in the Russian military, but quantity does matter,” Kofman wrote.

Also, European defense officials and other military experts following the war haven’t totally written off the mass mobilization as a complete failure. “It’s clear the Russians are trying to learn from their mistakes,” one European official told SitRep.

Last month, Maxim Samorukov argued in FP that the Russians had solved many of their initial problems with the draft, namely by outsourcing the “bulk of procurement from the military to Russia’s more efficient civilian bureaucracy.”

Cease-fire. In another sign that Russia may be planning another mobilization effort more methodically than last time, on Thursday, Putin ordered a temporary cease-fire in Ukraine to mark the observance of Orthodox Christmas. That move was backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has tried to play the role of diplomatic go-between since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. In December, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia might propose a cease-fire to “rest, refit, regroup, and reattack.”


Let’s Get Personnel

Milancy Harris was sworn in as the Pentagon’s new deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security this week.

The former deputy secretary of state and most recent U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, has rejoined global law firm Mayer Brown as a partner.

The Biden administration’s deputy special envoy for Iran, Jarrett Blanc, is leaving his post at the State Department as efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal hit a wall, Axios reports.

Isaac B. Kardon has joined the Carnegie Endowment think tank as a senior fellow for China studies.

Three former top national security officials are joining the advisory board of Sigma7, a global risk consultancy firm: Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Tom Cosentino, a retired top U.S. Army general; and Nadia Schadlow, former deputy national security advisor under the Trump administration.


On the Button 

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

House drama. California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy insisted on Thursday that he’s not giving up on his bid to become speaker of the House, despite a far-right contingent in the Republican caucus dragging the vote to a tenth ballot and a third day as of SitRep’s press time. McCarthy finds himself having to give into increasingly harsh demands, including allowing a single lawmaker to force a snap vote to oust him at any time.

The paralysis on Capitol Hill has national security implications. Members of Congress haven’t been able to get classified briefings while the drama unfolds, and top Republicans on national security committees are worried that there will be no oversight of the White House, State Department, the Pentagon, or the U.S. intelligence community for an extended period of time.

Oh, and by the way, until this all gets sorted out, there are technically no members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tanks for the help. Ukraine, at long last, is getting tanks from a NATO ally, at least in the form of lighter scout versions. France has become the first Western power to announce it will send tanks to Ukraine, as Kyiv campaigns for higher-end and heavier military equipment to continue battling the Russian invasion. France will provide Ukraine with AMX-10 RCs, a light tank that has been in use by France since the 1980s.

The news follows U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that Washington could soon send Ukraine Bradley fighting vehicles, which military nerds insist are definitely not tanks. (Biden confirmed that the United States would send the Bradley vehicles to Ukraine and that Germany intends to give Ukraine Marder fighting vehicles after a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz today.) Our two cents: Sorry, Twitter mil-nerds, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Either way, you can be sure Ukraine isn’t too worried about how exactly to classify Bradleys and AMX-10s; it’s just going to be happy to have them.

Two pariahs in a pod. And speaking of lending a helping hand: On the other side of the conflict, Russia is increasingly relying on Iran for military support to carry out its war in Ukraine as its own supply of missiles dwindles.

Russia and Iran have always banded together as partners of convenience against the West, but now Moscow is increasingly looking to upgrade its friendship with Iran, complete with new levels of military cooperation, economic corridors, and even eyes-in-the-skies intelligence-sharing over Ukraine. Some in Tehran are on board with the newfound friendship, but others aren’t so sure about it, as Robbie and our colleague Amy Mackinnon report this week.


Snapshot 

A weapon is fired in a desolate field. Two soldiers are pictured on either side.
A weapon is fired in a desolate field. Two soldiers are pictured on either side.

Ukrainian service members fire with a 120 mm mortar toward Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 30, 2022.SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images


What We’re Reading

Fighting the next war. Who could have predicted even a few years ago that the next major war in the 21st century would be fought with trenches and mass artillery barrages? FP asked a dozen top foreign-policy thinkers, including a former CIA director, a former NATO chief, and top academics, what the future of warfare holds.

Read all about it in our cover story package here, and don’t miss next week’s FP Live on the topic, featuring Anne-Marie Slaughter and retired Gen. David Petraeus.


Put On Your Radar

Monday, Jan. 9: Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, is set to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on a multiday tour of Europe and the United States that will culminate in a White House meeting with Biden on Jan. 13.

Tuesday, Jan. 10: The United Nations resolution to allow cross-border aid into Syria is set to expire.


Quote of the Week

“I’m tired of your stupid platitudes that some consultant told you to say on the campaign trail, all right? Behind closed doors, tell us what you actually want, or shut the fuck up.”

Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a backer of McCarthy for speaker of the House, is among those getting frustrated with the rebel Republican faction that has derailed McCarthy’s accession.


FP’s Most Read This Week

Why Germany Has Learned the Wrong Lessons From History by Edward Lucas

10 Conflicts to Watch in 2023 by Comfort Ero and Richard Atwood

5 Ways the U.S.-China Cold War Will Be Different From the Last One by Jo Inge Bekkevold


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Russian New Year. Before 2022 was out, former Russian President (and close Putin confidant) Dmitry Medvedev couldn’t help but chime in with some new year’s predictions that are—even by Kremlin standards—pretty crazy. Medvedev said that Poland and Hungary will occupy western regions of Ukraine, while in Europe, a so-called Fourth Reich will form around Germany and go to war with France, forcing the repartition of Poland.

If that wasn’t insane enough, Medvedev floated that the United States will also descend into civil war, making California and Texas independent states and sending Elon Musk to the White House. Stay tuned for that, I guess.

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

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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