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US considering Patriot missiles for Ukraine
RT.com, Nov 30 2022

The US Army test-fires a Patriot surface-to-air missile.

The US government is mulling over whether to provide Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine’s armed forces, the DoD said, weeks after Kiev explicitly requested the pricey weapon system. Speaking during a Tuesday press briefing, an unnamed senior Pentagon official was asked if Washington had plans to ship Patriots to Ukraine, but simply replied:

I’m just going to say that all capabilities are on the table.

Pressed on whether that would include Patriot missiles, the official acknowledged the weapon is “one of the air defense capabilities that is being considered.” USAF Brig-Gen ‘Pat’ Ryder later elaborated on those remarks at a separate press conference, saying that while air defense is a “priority” for Ukraine and that Washington is now discussing a “wide variety of capabilities,” there are no immediate plans to transfer Patriot batteries. He suggested that could later change, adding that such weapons are not “plug-and-play” and would require significant training and maintenance support.

Stoltenberg also highlighted the possibility of shipping Patriots to Ukraine during an alliance meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday, but likewise pointed to complications related to maintenance and training. Moscow has vocally opposed the deployment of Patriots and any supporting NATO personnel to Ukraine, with deputy head of Russia’s Security Council Medvedev warning that such shipments would become “legitimate targets” for Russian forces. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba first floated a request for the air defense system earlier this month, saying:

I am convinced that the time for ‘Patriots’ has come.

Blinken later confirmed the discussions, but made no mention of Patriot missiles. While several allies have supplied Kiev with large numbers of MANPAD systems such as US-made Stingers and Polish Thunderbolts, Ukraine has repeatedly called for heavier air defenses. To date, only a handful of countries have met those requests, with Washington recently providing National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), while Slovakia previously transferred its lone S-300 platform on the condition the Pentagon would replace it with a Patriot battery.

NATO affirms ‘open door policy’ for Ukraine and Georgia
RT.com, Nov 29 2022

Stoltenberg at a press conference in Bucharest, Nov 29 2022

NATO has reiterated its 2008 pledge to admit Ukraine and Georgia, both neighbors to Russia, into the Western alliance, insisting NATO will continue to expand its presence across Eastern Europe in response to Moscow’s ongoing military offensive. Following meetings in the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers issued a statement reaffirming the 14-year-old promise to someday grant membership to Kiev and Tbilisi, first made at an alliance summit in the very same city back in 2008. Joined by counterparts from the two NATO aspirants, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova, the foreign ministers said:

We firmly stand behind our commitment to the alliance’s Open Door Policy, and we reaffirm the decisions we took at the 2008 Bucharest Summit and all subsequent decisions with respect to Georgia and Ukraine.

The officials went on to condemn Russia’s military action in Ukraine as “the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades” and vowed to continue aiding Kiev “for as long as necessary.” The statement also announced that NATO will create a “new baseline for our deterrence and defense posture by significantly strengthening it and further developing the full range of robust, combat-ready forces and capabilities” in Europe. In remarks at the opening of Tuesday’s summit, Stoltenberg outlined how the alliance would bolster its military presence, saying it had “doubled the number of NATO battlegroups from four to eight” and is now working on ways to quickly scale up those units and deploy “prepositioned equipment.”

While Stoltenberg stressed that NATO is “not a party to the conflict in Ukraine,” he said the bloc is providing “unprecedented support” to Kiev to ensure it “prevails as an independent sovereign state.” He noted that Western assistance long predates the start of Russia’s offensive in February, pointing out that NATO forces have trained “tens of thousands of troops” since 2014, helping to make Ukraine’s military “much bigger, much better equipped and much better led.” The NATO chief also declared that the alliance’s “door is open” to new members, citing the latest admissions of Montenegro and North Macedonia, as well as recent applications by Finland and Sweden. However, when pressed on when Ukraine might be finally granted membership, Stoltenberg suggested the issue would not be settled for some time. However, he provided no details on the progress of Kiev’s formal membership application, filed in September, saying merely:

The main focus now is on supporting Ukraine, ensuring that (Russia) doesn’t win, but that Ukraine prevails.

Despite NATO’s professed ‘Open Door Policy,’ the alliance requires aspiring members to meet certain criteria before joining, including upholding a democratic political system and market-based economy, fair treatment of minority groups, civilian control of the military and some level of compatibility with existing NATO forces, among other things. Whether Ukraine has met those requirements remains unclear, as Western officials have been reluctant to discuss any exact timeframe for when NATO will make good on its 2008 pledge.

US may declare ‘Putin ally’ a terrorist – Bloomberg
RT.com, Nov 29 2022

PMC Wagner headquarters in St Petersburg, Nov 2 2022

The Biden administration is considering labeling the Wagner Group a foreign terrorist organization as a way to put more pressure on Russia, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous insider sources. Wagner, a private military company that has been active in several African countries as well as in the Ukraine conflict, has been under US sanctions for years. Designating Wagner as terrorists could “handicap” the group’s operations by allowing the US to criminally prosecute its members and go after their assets around the world, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s sources, who were described as “two people familiar with the matter,” said the final decision had not been made yet. The designation could be a way for the White House to appease domestic critics clamoring to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, the outlet said, adding that the US government has resisted calls over concerns of potentially endangering “humanitarian transactions” with Moscow.

The proposal appears to have originated at Lawfare, a Democrat-leaning “national security” blog, specifically a June article authored by two former CIA officers, James Petrila and Phil Wasielewski. They argued:

The US goal should be to deny the organization’s members the ability to travel internationally, destroy the group’s financing, derail its recruitment efforts, and discourage foreign governments from employing it, thereby ending Wagner Group’s utility to the Kremlin and, therefore, its existence.

The Russian government has consistently denied any formal links to the group, established by Yevgeny Prigozhin in 2014. Western intelligence and political activists have declared Prigozhin a key “ally” of Putin and accused him of “meddling” in US presidential elections in 2016 and ever since. Prigozhin’s satirical “admission”in response to such claims was taken at face value by major news agencies earlier this month. Petrila and Wasielewski claim that the Wagner Group’s activities “align with the Kremlin’s covert and overt foreign policy goals,” pointing to their alleged deployment since 2014 in places like Syria, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic. The group emerged from the shadows earlier this year, getting involved in Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. Its fighters are reportedly playing a major role in the current fighting around Bakhmut/Artyomovsk, a key stronghold of Ukrainian government forces in Donbass.

EU country urges Ukraine to strike Russia
RT.com, Nov 29 2022

Edgars Rinkevics, Foreign Minister of Latvia

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics urged NATO to “allow” Ukraine to use its Western-supplied weaponry for strikes deep into Russian territory. The top diplomat made the remarks in an interview with Bloomberg on the sidelines of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday. In particular, the weaponry should be used to attack sites used by Moscow to stage missile strikes against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, Rinkevics suggested. He said:

We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or air fields from where those operations are being launched.

While Moscow has repeatedly warned the West against “pumping” Ukraine with assorted weaponry, suggesting such behavior could ultimately result in a direct conflict between the US-led NATO alliance and Russia, Rinkevics brushed off such concerns. The bloc “should not fear” escalation, he said. Latvia, along with other Baltic states, has been among the most vocal supporters of Kiev in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The country’s top officials have repeatedly toured Kiev to show their support, with the latest visit coming over the weekend when Rinkevics, alongside his colleagues from Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland met Zelensky.

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