Biden government braces for Putin’s victory day surprise

Instead, pundits and Western officials now believe Putin can mark the holiday by declaring a more limited victory in the southern city of Mariupol, which has been bombarded by Russian airstrikes for weeks, and in the Donbas River, which Russia first invaded in 2014 and where Moscow has concentrated most of its troops in recent weeks. Taking Mariupol is key to creating a land bridge connecting Russia to Crimea.

But over the holidays, fears loomed that Putin will use the day to double down on the invasion and announce a large-scale mobilization or call-up of reservists to replenish his depleted troops in Ukraine. Russia has reportedly already prepped its offensive in eastern Ukraine ahead of Victory Day.

“I think he will have to declare war so he can call up the reserves and more conscripts,” said Mick Mulroy, a former top Pentagon official and retired paramilitary officer from the CIA and the US Marine. “If he doesn’t, it could indicate that he knows he can’t win. If he does, it could get worse.”

Ahead of the holidays, Biden authorized a new $150 million aid package on Friday, which will provide additional artillery ammunition, radars and other critical equipment to Ukraine.

“Today, the United States continues our strong support for the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country against Russia’s continued aggression,” Biden said Friday.

As another sign of his commitment to Kiev, Biden virtually met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the other leaders of the Group of Seven on Sunday morning, and coordinated a new round of sanctions against Russian entities.

On Sunday, the government announced it is imposing visa restrictions on more than 2,600 Russian and Belarusian military officials and 35 bank executives; banning tech support and US companies from advertising on the country’s three major television stations; and a ban on the provision of accounting and management consultancy services to Russian companies.

Additional measures include further export controls and sanctions to reduce Russia’s war effort, as well as restrictions on a wide range of commercial products such as industrial engines, engines and bulldozers.

“These new controls will further restrict Russia’s access to components it needs to supplement and supplement its military capabilities,” a senior US government official said.

Western officials have been preparing for a possible formal declaration of war for more than a week. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said late last month that he expects Putin to declare on May 9 that “we are now at war with the Nazis of the world,” a reference to the Russian president’s claims that he ordered to the invasion to de-nazify Ukraine.

“I think he will try to move away from his ‘special operation’,” Wallace told a British radio station† “He is rolling the field and has laid the groundwork to be able to say, ‘Look, this is a war against Nazis now, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”

Alternatively, Putin could opt for a “horizontal escalation” to distract the West and Ukraine from the main battle and put pressure on NATO, retired Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said. This could be an attack on a logistics center in one of the NATO countries, a threat of nuclear attack in Ukraine or a demonstration of nuclear capability in an isolated area, Hodges said.

However, Hodges expressed skepticism that Russia could successfully mobilize a “meaningful amount” of Russian reserves.

“This would actually backfire, expose the depth of corruption within the Department of Defense, as well as years of neglect…and it would pose a problem for the government with their own people,” Hodges said. “Why is it necessary in this special technical operation to mobilize reserves now?”

Rather, Hodges expects the Kremlin to declare a more limited victory and “wait until we lose interest.”

The latest authorization, the ninth withdrawal of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021, sends another signal of continued Western support. It includes 25,000 155mm artillery shells; three AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars; electronic jamming equipment; and field equipment and spare parts, the Pentagon said Friday.

“The capabilities in this package are aligned with critical Ukrainian needs for today’s battle as Russian forces continue their offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

The new package brings the US pledge of $4.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including $3.8 billion since the invasion.

But Biden’s announcement also underlined the urgent need for Congress to approve more aid. The president’s $33 billion request for new funds and authorities for Ukraine was still being written into law on Friday, according to a congressional official.

In his statement, Biden said he had “near exhausted” a key fund known as the Presidential Recording Authority, which will allow him to replenish US arms stockpiles. Congress’ first aid package in March included a $3 billion withdrawal fund; Biden’s latest request is for $6 billion.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how quickly lawmakers can act to send the new funding to Biden’s desk. Democratic leaders are considering linking the aid package to Biden’s separate request for Covid-related funding. Republicans have threatened to block such a move and are pushing for an independent vote on the Ukraine package.

Andrew Desiderio and Ben Pauker contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.