26 January 2023

China Gives Immediate Relief To Debt-Ridden Sri Lanka – Analysis

P. K. Balachandran

China’s EXIM Bank says in a letter to Sri Lanka that the latter need not pay back the principal and interest due on EXIM bank’s US$ 2.8 billion loan that were due in 2022 and 2023.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Export-Import Bank of China has told Sri Lanka, through a letter, that it is going to provide an extension on the debt service due in 2022 and 2023 as an “immediate contingency measure based on Sri Lanka’s request.”

At the end of 2020, China’s EXIM bank had loaned Sri Lanka US$ 2.83 billion which is 3.5% of the island’s debt, according to an IMF report released in March last year.

According to Reuters, which had seen a copy of the letter, the EXIM bank said: “You will not have to repay the principal and interest due of the bank’s loans during the above-mentioned period.”

“Meanwhile, we would like to expedite the negotiation process with your side regarding medium and long-term debt treatment in this window period,” it added.

“The bank will support Sri Lanka in your application for the IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to help relieve the liquidity strain,” the letter further said.

Sri Lanka owed Chinese lenders $7.4 billion, or nearly a fifth of its public external debt, by the end of last year, calculations by the China Africa Research Initiative showed, according to Reuters.

India’s Offer

A Major App Flaw Exposed the Data of Millions of Indian Students


A SECURITY LAPSE in an app operated by India’s Education Ministry exposed the personally identifying information of millions of students and teachers for over a year.

The data was stored by the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing app, or Diksha, a public education app launched in 2017. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the government was forced to shutter schools across the country, Diksha became a primary tool for allowing students to access materials and coursework from home.

But a cloud server storing Diksha’s data was left unprotected, exposing millions of individuals’ data to hackers, scammers, and virtually anyone who knew where to look.

Files stored on the unsecured server contained the full names, phone numbers, and email addresses of more than 1 million teachers. According to data in the files, verified by WIRED, the teachers worked for hundreds of thousands of schools located in every state in India. Another file contained information about nearly 600,000 students. While the students’ email addresses and phone numbers were partially obscured, the data included the students’ full names and information about where they went to school, when they enrolled in a course through the app, and how much of the course they completed.

According to a UK-based security researcher who identified the exposure, there were thousands of files like this on the server. (The researcher asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.)

After initially discovering the exposure in June, the researcher contacted the Diksha support email, alerting them to the data breach, identifying the source, and offering to share more information. They received no response. “There's zero chance that it hasn't been accessed and downloaded by a bunch of other people,” the employee says of the exposed data.

An Inflection Point In US Trade Policy – Analysis

William Reinsch*

December 2022 highlighted how much US trade policy has changed in recent years. It is tempting to blame the changes on former US president Donald Trump, whose protectionist views were strongly held and clearly stated. Many observers have been surprised by the Biden administration’s continuation of many Trump policies, albeit with different rhetoric, which culminated in the December rejection of two World Trade Organization (WTO) decisions that went against the United States.

The change is due to several developments in the global economy that have been underway for some time. The first is the confluence of trade and national security. US public opinion has shifted markedly against China over the past decade and China is now viewed as both an economic and security threat.

This perception, combined with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has made it difficult to have a conversation about trade without also discussing its impact on US national security. Much of the debate has concerned sanctions and export controls, but the Trump tariffs on China, especially steel and aluminium tariffs, have also been a major cause of controversy and, in the latter case, the source of WTO litigation.

The second change is the belief of many in the Biden administration that traditional free trade agreements have benefitted large corporations and their executives at the expense of workers. The administration is determined to rectify that inequity. So far this has meant avoiding traditional trade negotiations that include market access and instead promoting re-shoring, or at least ’friend-shoring’, to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act is a good example of this, providing substantial incentives for bringing manufacturing back to the United States in sectors like semiconductors, batteries and critical minerals.

Plus ça Change? Prospects of a Nuclear Deterrence Multipolarity in Southern Asia

The key variable in an emergent Southern Asian nuclear multipolarity is the India–China relationship and the extent to which nuclear weapons become more prominent in respective national security belief systems in New Delhi and Beijing. This Policy Brief addresses the prospect of such a transition in Southern Asia. It first assesses the existing boundaries of nuclear deterrence, then evaluates four trends that are pushing the region towards deterrence multipolarity. Next it identifies two possible fulcrums: developments that would tip the region from the status quo into a new system. Finally, it surveys the rather barren landscape of existing CBMs before identifying possible avenues to improve stability and reduce potential sources of conflict. CLICK HERE TO READ POLICY BRIEF

US Help Won’t Solve Pakistan’s Terrorism Problems

Riaz Khokhar

Earlier commentary on The Diplomat raised useful points regarding how the resurgence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threatened U.S. interests in the region and suggested that Washington support Islamabad’s counterterrorism capabilities to turn the tide of a terrorist wave.

But it could be argued that the United States, Europe, and other countries and international organizations were already helping Pakistan improve governance, infrastructure, economy, and counterterrorism capacities in the newly merged districts (NMD), the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). So long as Pakistan lacks the political will to root out terrorism on its western borderlands, any international efforts would be in vain.

Pakistan integrated the former FATA region into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018 and replaced its colonial legacy with Pakistan’s legal, administrative, and policing structures. These modern practices would serve as a deterrent against the prospects of the imposition of antiquated Shariah rules in the region by violent extremist organizations.

The provincial government launched the 10-year Tribal Decade Strategy (2018-2028) with the pledge to allocate 100 billion Pakistani rupees annually and another three-year Accelerated Development Program to improve public service delivery and fill the development gaps in the former FATA. These were great initiatives.

In 2018, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched a five-year “Merged Areas Governance Project” (MAGP) in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and British Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). These programs promoted awareness among people in the newly merged districts about the importance of the alternative dispute resolution mechanism, administration model, and policing system through training and workshops.

Resurgence of Terrorism in Pakistan

Abdul Basit

Security officials guard a blocked road leading to a counter-terrorism center after security forces started to clear the compound seized earlier by Pakistani Taliban militants in Bannu, a northern district in the Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.Credit: AP Photo/Muhammad Hasib

Pakistan has witnessed a renewed spate of terrorism in recent months, particularly after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) called off its ceasefire and asked its fighters to resume countrywide attacks. Since the Afghan Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, there has been a 55 percent increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Terrorism’s resurgence has brought into sharp focus the fragility of Pakistan’s counterterrorism gains.

While Pakistan will have to adopt a more proactive counterterrorism policy, an analysis of factors underlying the resurgence of terrorism is important, as a comprehensive understanding of the problem will pave the way for informed policymaking.

The foremost among the factors contributing to resurgent terrorism in Pakistan is its myopic Afghan policy of supporting the Taliban, which enabled the group to claw its way back to power. Pakistan backed the Taliban against the U.S.-supported regimes in Kabul, seeking to corner India and rein in the TTP with the former’s help.

However, the Taliban’s return to power had a rejuvenating effect on the TTP. The group celebrated the Taliban’s victory as its own. The TTP and the Taliban have longstanding battlefield, political, ethnic, and ideological linkages. Hence, instead of offering any help to Pakistan, the Taliban regime termed the TTP as Pakistan’s internal matter. The Taliban only offered to help facilitate negotiations to reach a political settlement, provided both Pakistan and the TTP agreed to resolve their differences.

A New U.S.-Pakistan Relationship Is Emerging

Touqir Hussain

U.S.-Pakistan relations are on the mend. It isn’t clear how far they will go or where they are headed, but both sides are keen to move forward after a decade of contentious engagement that brought the relationship to one of its lowest points in history.

Troubled Engagement

For the past two decades, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship derived its strengths and weaknesses primarily from the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan provided the U.S. military with critical logistics support and valuable intelligence, for which it received significant American aid and security assistance. But Washington’s failure in Afghanistan rendered Pakistan’s help futile. And as Pakistan suffered major blowback from the war, it made American aid to Islamabad inconsequential.

Pakistan’s successful efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table also became immaterial, as the Trump administration’s deeply flawed, one-sided deal helped the Taliban win the political battle without a military victory. Then, former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s jubilation over the Taliban’s victory and criticism of U.S. policies in the American media added insult to injury, provoking backlash in Washington. Senate Republicans vented their anger by once again blaming alleged Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan for the failure in Afghanistan and threatening to sanction Islamabad.

Yet, cooler heads prevailed, and the damage was contained. At a Congressional hearing in September 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that going forward, Washington will look not just at “the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that”.

Reimagining the Relationship

Secretive Agenda for Pakistani Military Visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Simon Henderson

Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at The Washington Institute, specializing in energy matters and the conservative Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Official mentions of “military and defense cooperation” could include sharing of nuclear and missile technology.

Just six weeks after being appointed Pakistan’s chief of army staff—the head of the country’s all-powerful military and custodian of its nuclear weapons—Gen. Asim Munir flew to Riyadh on January 5 for talks with Saudi defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman al-Saud. On January 9, he traveled to the United Arab Emirates for talks with President Muhammad bin Zayed and his senior national security officials.

According to a brief Saudi Press Agency account, the January 5 meeting “emphasized the strength and durability of bilateral relations between the two fraternal countries, and discussed military and defense cooperation, and ways to support and enhance them, in addition to discussing the most important regional and international issues of common interest.” Unmentioned was the widely held assumption that Pakistan’s “Islamic bomb” project—historically funded by Saudi Arabia—came with a promise that the resulting nuclear weapons and delivery systems would be provided to the kingdom if it ever needed them.

This theory has been bolstered over the years by their bilateral diplomatic and military activity. In 1999, a year after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test, Riyadh sent its defense minister to visit the country’s uranium enrichment plant. Both governments have also exchanged high-level visits soon after leadership changes, allegedly to reaffirm or adjust past understandings on nuclear issues and other matters. Now that Saudi rival Iran is reportedly close to being able to make at least a crude nuclear bomb, General Munir’s visit has added relevance.

The trip also included a meeting earlier today with Prince Khalid’s brother, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader. Saudi national security advisor Musaid bin Muhammad al-Aiban was present for that discussion as well. Yet few other details have been released about the multiday visit.

Big Powers Battle for Influence in Bangladesh

Shafi Md Mostofa

Bangladesh is emerging as an important site of big power competition.

The country has witnessed a flurry of visits from U.S. and Chinese officials in recent weeks. On January 14, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu was in Dhaka, where he held a series of meetings with political parties, senior officials, and civil society leaders. The previous week, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, the senior director for South Asia at the White House’s National Security Council, was in Bangladesh on a four-day visit. She met Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen on January 9.

A day after Laubacher’s meeting with Momen, newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang stopped over at Dhaka to meet his Bangladeshi counterpart at the airport. This was his first-ever visit abroad as foreign minister.

The visit broke with Chinese diplomatic tradition. It is customary for Chinese foreign ministers to make an African country the destination of their first foreign visit each year, but this year, the new foreign minister touched down in Dhaka first. Although Qin was heading to Africa and the meeting with Momen was not an official visit, the Chinese foreign minister’s short halt in the Bangladeshi capital – he met Momen at the airport for less than an hour and in the middle of the night – was significant and did not go unnoticed in diplomatic circles in Dhaka and abroad.

Soon after Qin’s visit, a high-level delegation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by the deputy head of the International Department of the CCP Central Committee, Chen Zhou, arrived in Bangladesh. The delegation held lectures interpreting the spirit of the 20th CCP National Congress.

A U.S.-China War Over Taiwan: How Bad Could It Get?

James Holmes

STRAIT OF MALACCA (June 18, 2021) The Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) transits the South China Sea with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67). Reagan is part of Task Force 70/Carrier Strike Group 5, conducting underway operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rawad Madanat)

Beware, China. And Taiwan, and Asia, and America. Just after the holidays, a team from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a hefty report entitled The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan. It is jam-packed with insight. One hopes it finds avid readership among the uniformed services, their political masters, and Congress.

The report details the design and results of an unclassified wargame set in the Taiwan Strait in 2026, toward the end of the much-discussed “Davidson window,” which postulates a Chinese attack on Taiwan by 2027. The game overseers ran twenty-four iterations, changing different variables—political and strategic decisions, alliance politics, strategy and operations, weaponry and sensors available to the combatants—to identify cross-cutting themes, and to compile findings and recommendations applicable across a variety of likely circumstances.

On the whole the CSIS game struck a more upbeat note than games conducted by the armed forces themselves, which tend to prophesy bitter defeat. The First Battle of the Next War observes that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generally lost or fought to a stalemate under most plausible scenarios. The coauthors attribute the disparity between think-tank and Pentagon games to the fact that the CSIS hosts factored history into the game’s conduct alongside more traditional statistical methods.

Amid Signs of Softer Foreign Policy Tone, Is China About to Shift Its Russia Policy?

Joseph Webster

Beijing has hinted in recent weeks that it will dampen its “wolf warrior” rhetoric and seek to reduce tensions with the United States and, especially, Europe. While Beijing’s shifting posture is notable, the adjustment appears tactical rather than fundamental. Barring a surprising volte-face from the Chinese government, Beijing will very likely continue its policy of supporting Moscow rhetorically and substantively while simultaneously balancing its bilateral economic relationships with Washington and Brussels. If Moscow appears to be on the verge of defeat, however, Beijing’s Russia policy will become more unpredictable.

Analysts have noted China’s recent diplomatic shifts. Chinese officials claim on background that Beijing seeks to improve diplomatic and economic ties with Western countries and can point to several actions that reinforce this narrative. While Beijing’s quasi-apology tour does seek to ease economic pressures on China, it will have little impact on its Russia policy and indeed aims to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.

Personnel changes reflect the new, softer emphasis in Chinese foreign policy messaging. Former Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang sounded conciliatory themes in an op-ed after his elevation to foreign minister. Meanwhile, wolf warrior extraordinaire and former Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has been moved to a less prominent position in the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

While notable, these diplomatic personnel moves will have little-to-no substantive impact on the conduct of Chinese foreign policy. Top U.S. national security officials have stated that even China’s top diplomats, the now-retired Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, are “nowhere near, within a hundred miles” of Xi’s inner circle.

While Beijing’s diplomatic rhetoric can usually be ignored, other, more fundamental reasons suggest it may genuinely seek a reset – albeit on its own terms. China’s economy is facing significant and growing impediments over the immediate and long terms. Gold-standard economic analysis suggests the Chinese economy grew by under 2 percent in 2022, while 2023 GDP growth could fall as low as 0.5 percent. Over the longer term, China’s economy faces demographic headwinds, a wall of debt, stark educational inequalities, and more.

A U.S.-China War Over Taiwan: How Bad Could It Get?

James Holmes

STRAIT OF MALACCA (June 18, 2021) The Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) transits the South China Sea with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67). Reagan is part of Task Force 70/Carrier Strike Group 5, conducting underway operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rawad Madanat)

Beware, China. And Taiwan, and Asia, and America. Just after the holidays, a team from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a hefty report entitled The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan. It is jam-packed with insight. One hopes it finds avid readership among the uniformed services, their political masters, and Congress.

The report details the design and results of an unclassified wargame set in the Taiwan Strait in 2026, toward the end of the much-discussed “Davidson window,” which postulates a Chinese attack on Taiwan by 2027. The game overseers ran twenty-four iterations, changing different variables—political and strategic decisions, alliance politics, strategy and operations, weaponry and sensors available to the combatants—to identify cross-cutting themes, and to compile findings and recommendations applicable across a variety of likely circumstances.

On the whole the CSIS game struck a more upbeat note than games conducted by the armed forces themselves, which tend to prophesy bitter defeat. The First Battle of the Next War observes that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generally lost or fought to a stalemate under most plausible scenarios. The coauthors attribute the disparity between think-tank and Pentagon games to the fact that the CSIS hosts factored history into the game’s conduct alongside more traditional statistical methods.


Jeff Martini, Sean Zeigler and Gian Gentile 

In 2016, as it was pushing ISIS from its Euphrates valley strongholds in Iraq, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS weighed how best to speed up the military campaign. The coalition ultimately chose to expand its military involvement in support of Iraqi forces, introducing what were described as “enablers” and “accelerants” that would, indeed, prove crucial in dislodging ISIS from Mosul the following year. These contributions are the subject of our newly released operational history of Operation Inherent Resolve. By focusing on US ground forces, the report sheds light on a less appreciated dimension of the fight to defeat ISIS in Iraq. In doing so we challenge the narrative that the concept known as “by, with, and through”—the US military’s reliance on local allies to prosecute ground fighting—does not entail combat by US forces.

Rather, the report demonstrates that defeating ISIS hinged on a ground fight, requiring the grueling liberation of territory kilometer by kilometer. And while Iraqi surrogate forces bore the brunt of frontline fighting, US forces were also engaged in on-the-ground combat operations that hastened the defeat of ISIS. Appreciating such contributions will be necessary to distill the right lessons from an operation like Inherent Resolve, so that we might correctly apply those lessons to future irregular warfare.

A Less than Propitious Start

Beginning in August 2014, through early 2015, the coalition focused on defending Baghdad from ISIS’s advance by generating sufficient Iraqi forces to produce a counterattack. During this early phase of the campaign, coalition forces won back scant ground. Indeed, it took nearly two years from the coalition’s initial military intervention for Iraqi forces to liberate Fallujah, in mid-2016. The slow turning of the tide added to already prevalent doubts that victories in the Euphrates River valley would culminate in a broader expulsion of ISIS from Iraq.

Why ‘Economic Security’ Became Magic Words in Japan

David E. Adler

Japan made global headlines in December with its new National Security Strategy, which dropped the country’s post-World War II pacifist posture to call for counterstrike capabilities.

Less visible but in many ways more instructive for U.S. policymakers are Japan’s economic security policies, which aim to shore up its national interests from an economic perspective. These policies were initially conceived by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party in 2019, with a formal recommendation toward developing Japan’s “economic security strategy” published by the party’s Strategic Headquarters in late 2020. Implementation began over the last two years. It includes funding for supply chain resiliency, the promotion of critical industries of the future, and the involvement of the corporate sector. What is truly noteworthy about economic security in Japan is that it consists of nothing less than a reorganization of the government centered on this novel threat.

The United States has only recently awakened to the national security threat posed by its economic dependence on China. The United States is in many ways in an economic war with China, one that requires a more expansive conception of security than just the military security that the U.S. defense establishment was designed for. Conversely, policymakers are increasingly aware of what is known as the “China shock” and the loss of manufacturing jobs to China. However, they are only beginning to fully grapple with the national security implications of deindustrialization.

Ukraine is not a proxy war

Lawrence Freedman

Germany’s baffling reluctance to authorise the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine has highlighted Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s confusion over what is at stake in this war, but also Ukraine’s dependence on this sort of decision-making. This has been a difficult couple of weeks for Ukraine, with many civilian deaths and its hold on Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk, weakening. President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that only with a major package of support can Russian forces, apparently indifferent to casualties, be overcome as they seek to consolidate their occupation of Ukrainian territory.

The tank issue dominated reporting of the Ukraine Contact Group’s meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where 50 countries, including all 30 members of Nato, met to discuss future levels of support for Ukraine. Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defence, urged the members to “dig deeper” and, leaving aside the tank issue, by and large they did.

The package of support measures announced is impressive. The US package, worth some $2.5bn, included 59 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 90 Stryker Armoured Personnel Carriers, air defence systems and tens of thousands of rockets and artillery rounds. On 19 January, nine of Ukraine’s more robust supporters, including the UK, announced a raft of new measures with lots of ammunition, training and anti-aircraft guns, as well as 600 Brimstone missiles from the UK, 19 French-made Caesar howitzers from Denmark, and Sweden’s Archer artillery system. The Poles are waiting for German permission before donating a company of Leopard 2 tanks with 1,000 pieces of ammunition. The statement from the nine explained: “We recognise that equipping Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is as important as equipping them to defend what they already have. Together we will continue supporting Ukraine to move from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. By bringing together Allies and partners, we are ensuring the surge of global military support is as strategic and coordinated as possible. The new level of required combat power is only achieved by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, beneath air and missile defence, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires enabling targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes in occupied territory.”

Is Cold War Inevitable?

Michael Hirsh

Even at the advanced age of 94, George Kennan was still arguing that the Cold War hadn’t been inevitable—that it could have been avoided or, at least, ameliorated. A decade after that 44-year conflict ended, Kennan, the somewhat dovish father of the United States’ Cold War containment strategy, contended in a letter to his more hawkish biographer, John Lewis Gaddis, that while Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was alive, an early way out might have been possible.

The so-called Stalin Note from March 1952—an offer from Moscow to hold talks over the shape of post-World War II Europe—showed that the United States had ignored the possibilities of peace accomplished through “negotiation, and especially real negotiation, in distinction from public posturing (italics original),” Kennan wrote in 1999.

Those words still resonate today. Because public posturing is mostly what we’re seeing as the United States finds itself spiraling toward a new kind of cold war with both China and Russia. Yet almost no debate or discussion about these policies is taking place in Washington. Especially when it comes to the challenge from China—which has replaced the Soviet Union as the major geopolitical threat to the United States—politicians on both sides of the aisle see political gain in out-hawking each other by calling for a tougher stance against Beijing. What is emerging as a result is a long-term struggle for global power and influence that could easily outlast the first Cold War. This, despite President Joe Biden’s insistence after a November 2022 summit meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that “there need not be a new Cold War.” When Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes his first visit to Beijing in a few weeks, it will be an attempt to repair diplomatic relations that have been all but suspended since former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year.

The US and its allies want Ukraine to change its battlefield tactics in the spring

Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt and Katie Bo Lillis

US and Western officials are urging Ukraine to shift its focus from the brutal, months-long fight in the eastern city of Bakhmut and prioritize instead a potential offensive in the south, using a different style of fighting that takes advantage of the billions of dollars in new military hardware recently committed by Western allies, US and Ukrainian officials tell CNN.

For nearly six months, Ukrainian forces have been going toe-to-toe with the Russians over roughly 36 miles of territory in Bakhmut, which lies between the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Heavy shelling has left the city almost completely destroyed.

“It is a brutal and grinding fight,” a senior Western intelligence official said last week, with each side exchanging anywhere from 100-400 meters of land per day and exchanging several thousands of artillery rounds almost daily. “[Bakhmut] is less attractive militarily, in terms of any sort of infrastructure, than it might have been if it had not been this destroyed.”

Now, ahead of what is widely expected to be a brutal spring of fighting, there is a tactical opening, US and Western officials say. In recent weeks they have begun suggesting that Ukrainian forces cut their losses in Bakhmut, which they argue has little strategic significance for Ukraine, and focus instead on planning an offensive in the south.

That was part of a message delivered by three top Biden officials who traveled to Kyiv last week.

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, said the US wants to help Ukraine shift away from the sort of pitched battle of attrition playing out in Bakhmut and focus instead on a style of mechanized maneuver warfare that uses rapid, unanticipated movements against Russia, sources familiar with their discussion said.

The hundreds of armored vehicles the US and European countries have provided to Ukraine in recent weeks, including 14 British tanks, are meant to help Ukraine make that shift, officials said.

Convincing Zelensky

An Air Battle Is Raging Over Bakhmut

David Axe

A Ukrainian air force Sukhoi Su-25 over Bakhmut.VIA SOCIAL MEDIA

Russian and Ukrainian pilots are braving enemy air-defenses to fly close-air-support and air-defense sorties over Bakhmut, arguably the locus of fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in mid-January.

Videos that have circulated on social media in recent days depict Russian air force Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes and Ukrainian Su-25s and Sukhoi Su-27 interceptors roaring low over the ruined city, which remains under Ukrainian control despite eight months of relentless Russian attacks.

It’s obvious neither side controls the air over Bakhmut. It’s equally obvious both sides are, despite the risk, trying hard to gain local air-superiority. Russian air-defenses compel Ukrainian pilots to fly at rooftop height. Ukrainian air-defenses compel Russian pilots to fly just as low.

It’s Russia’s battle to lose. Ukrainian brigades steadily have dug in, in and around Bakhmut, since Russian forces—led by the shadowy mercenary firm The Wagner Group—first attacked the city last spring.

Bakhmut lacks obvious military value. For Wagner, the city perhaps is a symbol. In seizing the ruins of the nearly lifeless town, which lies 10 miles southwest of Russian-occupied Severodonetsk—one of Donbas’s bigger cities—Wagner apparently aims to establish itself as an alternative to the regular Russian army.

For the Ukrainians, Bakhmut is an opportunity to bleed Wagner of its fighting strength. For months, the mercenary firm has hurled battalion after battalion of under-trained troops—ex-convicts, mostly—at Ukrainian defenses in the Bakhmut sector.

“Their tactic is to send people to die,” Oleksandr Pohrebyskyy, a sergeant in the Ukrainian 46th Air Mobile Brigade, told Ukrainian Pravda.

The Ukrainians have killed thousands of Wagner fighters and stubbornly held on in Bakhmut, as the cost of many hundreds or thousands of casualties of their own.

All is not well for Ukraine


The delivery of tanks, advanced air defense systems and potentially long-range ground-launched bombs may be a response to Ukraine’s dire requests, but it also brings with it a new load of problems.

These hastily and urgently provided supplies indicate that all is not well in Kiev and that it is closer than ever to losing the war with Russia. These are not one-to-one replacements for equipment lost: Most of the delivered supplies aim to shift the fortunes of the war in favor of Ukraine.

At least one of the projected weapons, a 100-mile ground-launched long-range bomb known as ATACMS, also would shift the war from Ukrainian to Russian territory.

There is little doubt that putting this sort of weapon in Ukrainian hands will result in a bigger war in Europe. Russia will try to attack the transit centers for these supplies, most likely Poland, although retaliation could also conceivably include attacks on railroads and roadways in Germany.

The US decision to ship upgraded nuclear bombs to Europe also will convince the Russians that tactical nuclear war may be NATO’s response if Ukraine collapses. Compared with the US and NATO, Russia has a massive arsenal of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Ukraine’s forces are falling back in the Donbas region and, if the retreat continues, will soon lose the strategic town of Bakhmut. The Russian wave, in the Pentagon’s view, is a sure thing and the US has asked Ukraine to abandon the area.

Challenger 2 vs Leopard 2: The new 'lethal' tanks set to completely change Ukraine war


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Challenger and Leopard tanks have all the attributes to completely change the course of the Ukraine war, military experts have told Express.co.uk. Ukraine has consistently called on its Western allies to provide it with modern tanks to help its army expel Russian forces from its territory. Defence analysts have estimated that Kyiv will need at least 300 tanks, if it is to be successful in its campaign against Putin.

Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert told the Associated Press that Kyiv's victory over the Kremlin would depend to a large extent on the West's willingness to supply his country with "modern tanks and planes."

With HIMARS slowly becoming less effective, as Russia's army repositions its military supplies and forces further away from the front lines and out of range, tanks are becoming ever more crucial to helping Kyiv achieve further breakthroughs on the battlefield.

The heavy armoured vehicles will allow Ukraine's army to retake fortified positions in key cities along the front line.

Britain has already pledged to supply Ukraine's army with 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.

And now it appears that Germany will green-light Poland's request to send 14 of its Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

In an interview with the French TV station LCI, Berlin's Foreign Secretary Annalena Baerbock said her government would "not stand in the way" of Poland, if it were asked for permission to dispatch the Leopards.

Ukraine's battlefields look like World War I but with a new and terrifying addition that leaves troops with almost nowhere to hide

John Haltiwanger

A Ukrainian paratrooper takes shelter in a trench from a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher attack on July 5,2022 in Seversk, Ukraine. Laurent van der Stockt/Getty Images

The conflict in Ukraine has emerged as the first major war involving drone use on both sides.
Experts say that drones have made artillery even more lethal, and are changing the face of warfare.
The debate over whether drones would matter in a conventional war is now over, one expert said.

Trench warfare, relentless artillery, gains measured in mere meters, and heavy casualties on both sides. The battlefields of Ukraine resemble those of World War I, but with a new and terrifying reality — the incessant buzzing of drones, harbingers of death and destruction that are constantly watching from above.

The Ukraine war has essentially become "World War I with 21st century ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance]," Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider.
Ukrainian soldiers work in their artillery unit in the direction of Marinka, 15 January 2023. Diego Herrera Carcedo/Getty Images

Can Joe Biden Overcome America’s Toughest Challenges?

Ahmed Charai

The controversy caused by the discovery of top-secret documents at the home, garages, and university offices used by President Joe Biden, following on the heels of an FBI raid on the home of former President Donald Trump, is legitimate. American justice acts independently of who is being investigated. This equal justice underlines that the rule of law is supreme, no matter which party is in power. This is how democracy ought to work.

However, this case, despite its legal and political freight, should not distract our attention from the real threats facing the United States and the global order of liberal states.

The first of these challenges is surely climate change. It is literally an existential threat to the whole world.

Biden pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030. He also announced plans to spend $2.3 billion to build electric infrastructure strong enough to survive the warming climate and its projected increase in violent storms, surging floods, and rising seas. The president’s decision to create an international fund to help poor countries fight the effects of climate change, which they did little to cause but will suffer disproportionately from, is fair.

This could also benefit rich countries since it will reduce the waves of expected climate refugees, which Al Gore estimates in the tens of millions per year. Such a human tidal wave would swamp or sink even the largest nations.

American leadership is needed here, since two of the world’s largest polluters, Russia and China, have shown no interest in reducing fossil-fuel use, which provides jobs and growth for their own people, but puts the rest of the world at risk. Only America, alongside its allies, has the weight to pressure these time-zone-spanning nations into seeing their enlightened self-interest.


UK reveals capture of Russian equipment, instructs industry to develop new countermeasures


A Royal Marine operates during a joint, multinational boarding demonstration. (UK MoD)

LONDON — The UK has recovered Russian military equipment lost to Ukrainian forces and handed it over to national intelligence agencies and industry partners in order to identify weaknesses and develop new defensive aids and countermeasures.

The approach is part of a much wider effort by London to support Ukraine through military aid packages, training, co-ordination of logistical supply chains, conducting information operations campaigns and the sharing of intelligence with the public to counteract false Russian claims of a “just war,” said a senior UK MoD official here at the International Armoured Vehicles conference in London.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with conference rules, declined to discuss which specific systems have been captured and passed over to intelligence groups and industry, but the revelation provides new evidence of the ways in which the UK is actively gaining first-hand insight to Kremlin technologies.

The official said that being able to “undermine the credibility” of the Russian systems will lead to the creation of market opportunities for “alternative solutions,” a clear hint that industry has been instructed to interrogate the Russian equipment and design superior countermeasures. The UK is also ensuring Ukrainians benefit from the newfound knowledge.

“We are providing advice and assistance at arm’s length to Ukrainian leaders and planners, it feels to me… that this is a truly integrated and multi-domain approach,” added the UK representative.

Almost a year into the war, Ukraine has “confounded” the expectations of the “commentariat,” according to the official, a reference to defense analysts predicting a Russian victory prior to invasion. The conflict has also showed that the impression of Russia as “strategically savvy” largely linked to holding an arsenal of modern equipment and capabilities has been discredited, he added.

How Microsoft is helping Ukraine’s cyberwar against Russia

Preston Gralla

One of the big surprises in Russia’s war against Ukraine has been how well Ukraine has fended off Russian cyberattacks. Ad hoc groups of white-hat hackers have helped, as have a number of nations and the US government.

Less well known is that tech companies, including Microsoft, are part of the effort. That aid ranges from giving advice to identifying attacks, offering fixes for them, and providing Ukraine with free tech and security services.

Microsoft isn’t just trying to help defend a country under siege from an aggressive, more-powerful neighbor. Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine can also get loose in the wild and do damage to enterprises and organizations that rely on Microsoft technology. (Russia could also deliberately target private companies with those attacks.)

By helping Ukraine, Microsoft also helps its customers — and it happens to be good PR, as well.

So just what kind of help does Microsoft give, and how might it help you or your organization? Here’s what we know.
Cyberattacks, information warfare and the safety of the cloud

In April 2022, Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit released a 21-page overview of Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine up until that date, and detailed what Microsoft had done to help.

The day before the ground invasion began, Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, “launched destructive wiper attacks on hundreds of systems in Ukrainian government, IT, energy, and financial organizations,” according to Microsoft.

The software giant warning Ukraine where Russia plans to strike

Peter Hartcher

They call them “hunters”. An international network of cyber sleuths, reporting to a US headquarters, study their systems maps day and night, searching for signs of new Russian attacks on Ukraine’s networks.

Often, Russian cyber targeting of a facility is prelude to a missile strike, so it’s a matter of urgency to let the Ukrainian authorities know what the hunters are seeing.

For instance, on February 28, a media company in Kyiv was hit with a disabling Russian cyberattack. The day after, a Russian missile slammed into a TV transmission tower.

“We were able to successfully give Ukraine enough insight so they could continue to message their people [through TV broadcasts despite the assault],” says a person with overview of the program. “They’ve proved immeasurably helpful to Ukraine.”

But these hunters don’t work for the US government. They are employed by Microsoft. The company says it was concerned that Ukraine was missing out on key intelligence and decided to complement the work of government agencies.

The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Centre monitors 24 trillion signals daily, received from devices and cloud services worldwide, according to the company. It decided to offer Ukraine the benefit of this trove.

The Clash Over Whether to Send German Tanks to Ukraine Is a Pretty Big Deal


Western defense ministers ended their conference at a U.S. air base in Germany on Friday afternoon still unable to persuade Germany to send its best battle tanks, the Leopard 2s, to Ukraine.

The failure marked a rare and potentially damaging jolt to what has been a rapid flow of Western arms—and, still more unnerving, a solid show of Western unity—to help the Ukrainian army fight off the Russian invaders.

The whole episode signals just how much Europe has changed in the 11 months since Vladimir Putin’s invasion—and also how much, in some ways, it hasn’t changed.

Even just a few years ago, most Western leaders were content that Germany—given its militarist past under imperial and Nazi rulers—sought little role in foreign wars. Now President Biden, most European allies, and many members of Berlin’s government are upset that Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, isn’t seeking a role that’s much bigger.

Scholz, who took his post just two months before the invasion, has stepped up Germany’s involvement in this war to a startling degree. Almost immediately after Russia’s troops crossed into Ukraine, he bumped up Germany’s defense budget by $100 billion (which the legislature, the Bundestag, approved) and, in the months since, agreed to send many types of weapons to Ukraine. Germany is 2nd only to the U.S. as a supplier of arms and economic aid. But he balked at the Leopard 2 tanks.

His reasons are complicated: unease over nightmarish images from history of German tanks rolling through the plains of Europe (though now they’d be helping to stave off an invasion, not mounting one); the Social Democratic Party’s fear of alienating Russia or of provoking Putin to escalate the war further; and public opinion, which closely reflects these fears, is evenly split over whether or not to send tanks.

Is South Korea Considering Nuclear Weapons?

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

In a rather surprising move, South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol publicly suggested the possibility of Seoul developing its own nuclear weapons in the face of growing nuclear threats from North Korea. He made the comment at an official policy briefing by South Korea’s foreign and defense ministries on January 11. He reportedly suggested that South Korea could pursue its own nuclear bomb if the United States fails to deploy nuclear weapons in order to address the North Korean nuclear threat, saying this “would not take long” given the “technological prowess” of the South.

According to another report, Yoon reportedly stated, “It’s possible that the problem gets worse and our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own. If that’s the case, we can have our own nuclear weapons pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”

Yoon’s office fairly quickly clarified that South Korea had “no plans” to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby highlighted the Korean clarification and added that both Washington and Seoul are in the process of making “improvements in extended deterrence capabilities.” It is possible that Yoon’s statement was intended to get a fresh reiteration from the United States on its commitment to augment its efforts in beefing up the extended deterrence capabilities.

Such comments are demonstrative of the growing skepticism among U.S. allies on the credibility of U.S. security guarantees. Japan has also had such worries, and in fact there have been occasional comments from Japanese leaders that suggest that Japan is not entirely happy with its non-nuclear commitment.

Tech and Geopolitical Cycles

George Friedman

There have been seemingly endless reports of massive layoffs in the tech industry. Partly they are due to economic circumstances, of course, but overlooked in the reports is the inherent maturity of the tech industry. By maturity, I mean two things: The rate of genuine innovation has broadly declined, and the industry seems to have prioritized the need to productize over the need to discover new technological possibilities.

At a certain point, the imagining of new products built around the microchip, whose importance cannot be overstated, became difficult. More precisely, the appetites of the market became increasingly satiated. New versions of older products did not present radically desirable capabilities but rather minor enhancements to very useful products. Sometimes, change was introduced for change’s sake. Tech was reaching the technical limit of amazing people and raising in them the urgency of acquiring new versions. Tech wasn’t obsolete, but neither was it extraordinary.

This cycle is baked into industrial capitalism. The automobile was built around the internal combustion engine, and its mass production fundamentally changed the world. Patterns of land use, the possibilities for locating homes, the very culture of civilization and the meaning of distance were transformed. The internal combustion engine changed production and distribution of goods and human relations. It also became a symbol of social status. Different brands, essentially built on the same technology, assumed and sometimes defined a new identity.

The auto industry learned how to market, and how to make the public desire a new car. The new version often boasted greater improvements. Automatic transmissions, power breaks, windshield wipers and so all drove business, and the turnover of cars was stunning. The annual display of new models became a significant event, even as trading in your year-old car for a new one became difficult.

Hacktivism Is a Risky Career Path

The IT Army of Ukraine saw a huge influx of first-time hackers. But what happens to them after the war?

IN 2023, THE international community will be faced with the question of how to decommission the IT Army of Ukraine. Governments around the world will be keen to revert to the status quo from before the Russian invasion of Ukraine—and before hacktivism was legitimized. This may be easier said than done.

With a quarter of a million subscribers to the IT Army of Ukraine Telegram channel, and a bilingual website providing attack instructions, target statuses, command tools, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) bots, it’s not hard to see why governments have warned their citizens against joining. The problem is not that the cause is unjust but that there is no legal protection for civilians engaged in offensive cyber operations.

History provides a valuable lesson here. In a WIRED article, journalist Matt Burgess rightly pointed out that “a government-led volunteer unit that’s designed to operate in the middle of a fast-moving war zone … is without precedent” in the IT space. We do have precedents for land wars involving international volunteers. For the International Brigades who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s—immortalized by Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell—legal protection lasted only as long as they were active combatants. Following their disbandment by order of an international committee, their treatment back home very much depended on their countries of origin. Welcomed as heroes in some countries, in others they were prosecuted by the authorities, barred from military service, or threatened with loss of citizenship. Their continued protection was not assured.

Answering calls to target Russian websites and networks may similarly see IT Army of Ukraine volunteers flagged as suspect, and even prosecuted for cybercrime in due course. The justification of acting in support of a good country against an evil oppressor does not translate to criminal law. DDoS is DDoS is DDoS.