This has been the point of Zelensky’s lobbying for a no-fly zone all along, right? He knew NATO would never agree to do that, the opinion of a few excitable hawks here in the U.S. notwithstanding. If war between Russia and NATO is in the cards, it’ll have to be Putin who throws the first punch.
But by insisting incessantly that the west do something to “close the skies” over Ukraine, he made a huge weapons package from the U.S. an obvious consolation prize. That was the goal of his address this morning to Congress, to goose American resolve after the White House refused to send Poland’s MiG-29s to Ukraine. Biden is trying to feel his way forward on giving the Ukrainians enough materiel to win without giving them so much that Russia begins treating NATO is now a co-belligerent. But the adoring reception Zelensky got from Congress and the flattering media coverage of his speech that’ll follow left the White House with little choice but to ante up. With American voters already heavily in favor of doing more to help Ukraine, a guy with a 40 percent approval rating is in no position to say no.
NEW: Here’s the detailed list of the $800M in military equipment President Biden just announced the US is providing Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/q2C9sG8f0K
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) March 16, 2022
“Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems” is mil-speak for Switchblade drones. All in all, it’s quite a haul — so much so that it more than doubles in one fell swoop the number of Javelins and other anti-armor systems that the U.S. had previously sent to Ukraine.
I wonder what U.S. intelligence assessments are at the moment of Russia’s battlefield capabilities. On the one hand, Biden warned Americans today to brace for a long war:
NEW: President Biden describes new assistance package to Ukraine:
• 800 anti-aircraft systems
• 9,000 anti-armor systems
• 7,000 small arms
• 20 million rounds of ammunition
“I want to be honest with you: This could be a long and difficult battle,” Biden says. pic.twitter.com/nZoIqaw4zL
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 16, 2022
On the other hand, a major weapons package is something we might expect the U.S. to endorse when it’s feeling emboldened, because it has reason to believe that Putin is in too weak a position to respond militarily. Show him that Ukraine is willing and now able to fight for the long haul and it might make the idea of a near-term peace deal more appealing to him. I think that’s the tacit purpose of today’s announcement, in fact: Ideally none of these weapons is ever used because the mere possibility that they might be ends up convincing Russia that the cost of dragging out this conflict now far exceeds the cost of exiting.
But here’s where I remind you that this is an exceptionally risky calculation to make about a country with an “escalate to deescalate” policy. The bleaker things look for Russia on the battlefield, the greater the chance that tactical nukes are taken out of mothballs. The White House’s decision to ship many truckloads of bombs and bullets to the Ukrainians is a sign that it believes Putin lacks the nerve to do anything about it. Does he?
Meanwhile, a new weapon has entered the battlefield:
A deepfake of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling on his soldiers to lay down their weapons was reportedly uploaded to a hacked Ukrainian news website today, per @Shayan86 pic.twitter.com/tXLrYECGY4
— Mikael Thalen (@MikaelThalen) March 16, 2022
According to Vice, the fake Zelensky says, “Dear Ukrainians! Dear defenders! Being president was not so easy. I have to make difficult decisions. At first I decided to return Donbas. It’s time to look in the eye. It didn’t work out. It only got worse. Much worse. There is no more tomorrow. At least in me. And now I decide to say goodbye to you. I advise you to lay down your arms and return to your families. You should not die in this war. I advise you to live, and I’m going to do the same.”
It’s not a very good fake, which makes me think it’s not a Kremlin product. Perhaps we’ll see one of those if Russia ever manages to get its hands on Zelensky and he ends up incommunicado. Although, given how media savvy his government has been, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zelensky has already recorded a message to be played in the event of his death or capture encouraging Ukrainians to fight on.
The real Zelensky posted a new video this afternoon announcing some good news. The mayor of Melitopol who was kidnapped days ago by Russian forces is somehow free:
🇺🇦 says that mayor of Melitopol was released “after a special operation”. Zelensky speaks to him& jokes: “we are happy they took you.. “You seem to have a very lively voice”, he says.
Mayor:”Thank you for not dropping me”.
Z: “We don’t drop our own”. pic.twitter.com/ciOm6NfQMd
— Ani Chkhikvadze (@achkhikvadze) March 16, 2022
How did the Ukrainians know where he was being held? Was that intelligence another present from Uncle Sam, which has had unusually good insight into Russian operations since before this fiasco began?
Here’s more from Putin’s nutty speech to the nation today, in which he talks about Russia being “purified” of traitorous insects who are more loyal to the west. By arming Ukraine to the teeth, we’re gambling that this fine fellow won’t do something drastic and disproportionate to regain his control over events. How lucky do you feel?
I have translated and added subtitles to the latest video speech by Vladimir Putin from two hours ago. Please don’t let it go in vain – I want everyone to see what a speech of true fascism looks like.
No further comment needed, it’s all here, in his speech pic.twitter.com/QEzsG9BODX
— Michael Elgort 🤍❤️🤍🇺🇦✡️ (@just_whatever) March 16, 2022