Blinken Ukraine mission: Restore hope as Russia pursues scorched-earth campaign to regain lost ground

OPERATION RESTORE HOPE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Ukraine with a singular message: “You are not alone.”

“The United States has been by your side from day one. We’re with you today. And we will stay by your side until Ukraine’s security, its sovereignty, its ability to choose its own path is guaranteed,” Blinken said in a wide-ranging address before a university audience in Kyiv. 

“After the delay in approving the latest U.S. assistance package to Ukraine, a delay that left you more vulnerable to Russia’s attacks, some Ukrainians may be wondering whether you can count on America to sustain its commitment,” Blinken said. “The $60 billion aid package that was approved by our Congress with overwhelming support, across both political parties and both houses of Congress, I think demonstrates that you can.”

Blinken’s upbeat comments and fulsome praise of Ukraine’s “extraordinary courage and resilience” in the face of Russia’s renewed attacks along a new northern front came as President Volodymyr Zelensky again pleaded for the weapons he needs to stop the heavy bombardment that is making Ukrainian towns and village uninhabitable, forcing thousands to flee their homes. 

“​​It’s not a simple period for Ukraine and a tough period for the east of our country,” Zelesnky said before meeting privately with Blinken. “The point is the air defense, the biggest deficit for us,” he said. “Really, we need today two batteries for Kharkiv, for Kharkiv region, because the people are under attack. Civilians and warriors, everybody, they are under Russian missiles.”

“The assistance is now on the way. Some of it’s already arrived, more that will be arriving,” Blink assured Zelensky. “And that’s going to make a real difference against the ongoing Russian aggression on the battlefield.”

RUSSIA’S NEXT MOVE UNCLEAR: The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, which tracks the vicissitudes on the battlefield on a daily basis, said that as of yesterday, it appeared the pace of Russian offensive operations north of Kharkiv has slowed and the new front may be gradually stabilizing as Russian troops have taken heavy losses.

“Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets noted that growing Russian losses in this direction are leading to a decrease in the overall pace of offensive operations,” the ISW said in its overnight assessment. “Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Maj. Gen. Anatoliy Barhylevych suggested that Russian forces have lost up to 1,740 soldiers in this direction over just the past day, which would be a very high rate of losses.”

“The pattern of Russian offensive activity in this area is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces are prioritizing the creation of a ‘buffer zone’ in the international border area,” the group’s latest posting said, citing comments from Ukrainian Gen. Kyrylo Budanov that Ukrainian reinforcements have begun defending against Russian advances.

“Russian forces will likely focus on consolidating new positions and building out a lateral salient in Kharkiv Oblast by merging the Lyptsi and Vovchansk efforts and creating a ‘buffer zone’ in the border area, as opposed to pushing further into the oblast,” the ISW concluded.

PUTIN TO VISIT XI: Ahead of his two-day state visit to China, which begins tomorrow, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to China’s Xinhua News Agency in which he cited the “unprecedented level of strategic partnership” between Moscow and Beijing and embraced Chinese President Xi Jinping’s formula for ending the war in Ukraine on Russia’s terms.

“We commend China’s approaches to resolving the crisis in Ukraine,” Putin said, referring to the 12-point plan China’s Foreign Ministry released more than a year ago. “Beijing proposes practicable and constructive steps to achieve peace. … Unfortunately, neither Ukraine nor its Western patrons support these initiatives. They are not ready to engage in an equal, honest, and open dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests.”

“Instead, Western elites are stubbornly working to punish Russia, isolate and weaken it, supplying the Kyiv authorities with money and arms. They have imposed almost 16,000 unilateral illegitimate sanctions against our country. They are threatening to dismember our country,” Putin complained. 

“Russia stands ready for negotiations,” he said. “​​We are seeking a comprehensive, sustainable, and just settlement of this conflict through peaceful means.”

“For decades, Putin has caused unspeakable grief for the people of Ukraine. He’s inflicted every kind of degradation and harshness,” Blinken said in his Kyiv speech. “There’s one thing that Putin has always underestimated but that Ukrainians understand to their core, and that’s the fierceness — the fierceness with which free people will defend their right to shape their own destiny.”

BLINKEN PLAYS ‘ROCKIN IN THE FREE WORLD’ IN WAR-TORN UKRAINE

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HAPPENING TODAY: President Joe Biden meets with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanders of U.S. combatant commands in the Cabinet Room of the White House at 4:30 p.m., followed by a dinner for the senior military officers and their spouses at 6:30 p.m. 

BIDEN APPROVES ISRAEL AID, MINUS 2,000-POUND BOMBS: Amid all the controversy surrounding Biden’s decision to withhold 2,000-pound bombs for fear Israel will use them in urban areas risking civilian casualties, the administration is moving ahead with a $1 billion package that includes tank ammunition, tactical vehicles, and mortar rounds.

The administration notified Congress of the transfer yesterday, the Washington Examiner confirmed after reports by several media organizations, citing congressional sources.  

The weapons package is now going through the congressional review process. It’s not clear when the military aid will arrive in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel moved tanks into the eastern part of Rafah, pushing deeper inside the city limits, as an estimated 450,000 people have fled the area in a mass exodus. 

“When we talk about a Rafah operation that we would take issue with, we’re talking about an operation that is major, that is a direct invasion into Rafah, that is targeting and invading into the urban and dense centers,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters yesterday. “I will leave it to the [Israel Defense Forces] to speak to their own operation. We have yet to see a major operation into Rafah.”

BIDEN GREENLIGHTS $1 BILLION WEAPON SHIPMENT TO ISRAEL WEEK AFTER WITHHOLDING BOMBS

PIER PRESSURE: The Pentagon said the $320 million floating pier and causeway, assembled by U.S. Army engineers, is ready to be moved into place off the coast of Gaza to open a new avenue for the delivery of humanitarian support to famished Palestinian civilians.

“It’s still off the Port of Ashdod and has not been attached to the beach,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at yesterday’s Pentagon briefing. “In the coming days, I think you can expect to see it operational.”

“Clearly, land routes would be optimal, but as, you know, we continue to see challenges in terms of getting aid in via ground, we’re going to continue to employ this method to work with the international community to get aid in to the people of Gaza,” Ryder said. “What I think you’ll end up seeing is as this pier becomes operational, other groups coming, wanting to participate.”

“The U.S. government and other international donors are providing aid commodities for delivery from Cyprus to the beach in Gaza by way of U.S. and partner-nation military and civilian vessels,” he said. “What it is we’re trying to accomplish here, it’s trying to get humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible to the people of Gaza, whether that be by land, sea, or air.”

The Pentagon has downplayed the risk to American forces operating the pier, noting the U.S. has Navy ships in the area. “We do have naval vessels, destroyers in the region that can provide assistance,” Ryder said. “We’ve said all along, force protection is going to continue to be of paramount concern. … We do believe that we have the pieces and parts in place so that when we do begin operations, we’re confident that we’ll have the security in place that we need.”

NETANYAHU ALLIES CALL FOR ISRAEL TO ANNEX GAZA: ‘THE HOLY LAND’

THE RUNDOWN: 

Washington Examiner: Biden greenlights $1 billion weapon shipment to Israel week after withholding bombs

Washington Examiner: Netanyahu allies call for Israel to annex Gaza: ‘The Holy Land’

Washington Examiner: Blinken plays ‘Rockin in the Free World’ in war-torn Ukraine

Washington Examiner: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis calls Biden’s tariffs on China ‘horrible news’

Washington Examiner: White House pressed on whether Chinese tariffs will impact consumers, hike prices

Washington Examiner: Jerome Powell says ‘influx’ of migrants under Biden alleviating labor shortage

Washington Examiner: Opinion: What Biden has learned from Trump on China and foreign policy

Washington Examiner: Opinion: The arsenal of democracy is running low on gunpowder

Defense One: Ukrainians Plead with White House to Lift Missile-Use Restrictions

New York Times: Russia Detains Senior General, Widening Military Purge

New York Times: Israeli Military Leaders See Danger in Lack of a Plan to Govern Gaza

Wall Street Journal: Hamas Shift To Guerrilla Tactics Raises Specter Of Forever War For Israel

New York Times: Yahya Sinwar Helped Start the War in Gaza. Now He’s Key to Its Endgame.

AP: British prime minister warns of ‘axis of authoritarian states’ in pre-election speech

Washington Times: Navy Admiral: U.S. Warships In Red Sea Operating At A WWII-Level Pace

Inside Defense: Cost-Effective Method Of Battling Houthis Poses Challenge, Pyle Says

Bloomberg: US to Boost Output of Bombs Designed to Hit Underground Nuclear Facilities

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Allvin: What Ukraine and the Middle East Have Shown USAF About Airpower

The Telegraph: Britain to Deploy Homegrown Hypersonic Missile by 2030

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Draft NDAA Would Let the Space Force Absorb Guard Units—with Restrictions

Breaking Defense: HASC Pushes for Reciprocity Guidance for Cloud Computing in Draft NDAA Language

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Top Lawmakers Want to Slash F-35 Production, Put Funds Toward Test Capacity

Air & Space Forces Magazine: House Defense Bill Would Slow F-15E Retirements, Add Future F-15EXs

AP: Military Hearing Officer Deciding Whether to Recommend Court-Martial for Pentagon Leaker

Air & Space Forces Magazine: T-6 Instructor Pilot Dies After Ejection Seat Goes Off on the Ground

Breaking Defense: ‘No Silver Bullet:’ Military Will Need Multiple Systems to Back Up GPS

Defense News: Space Force Should Consider Alternative Launch Sites, Lawmakers Say

National Defense Magazine: V-22 Woes: Lessons Learned From The Harrier Experience

USNI News: Marines Fly AV-8B Harrier At Cherry Point Air Show In Final Public Performance

Defense News: Opinion: It’s Time to Rebalance Funding Toward the Air Force and Space Force

The Cipher Brief: After $130 Billion in U.S. Aid, Why Israel Can ‘Stand Alone’

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: The U.S. Military’s Recruitment Problem – and What to Do About It

THE CALENDAR: 

WEDNESDAY | MAY 15

9 a.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute China Center conference: “The Pernicious Impact of China’s Anti-Secession Law,” focusing on “Taiwan’s right to self-determination,” with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR); former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Hudson fellow; Robert Tsao, founder of United Microelectronics Corporation; and Vincent Chao, former director, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S. Political Division https://www.hudson.org/events/pernicious-impact-chinas-anti-secession-law

10 a.m. 192 Dirksen — Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing: “A Review of Select Department of Defense Acquisition Programs,” with testimony from William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology; Nickolas Guertin, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition; and Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics http://appropriations.senate.gov

10 a.m. 138 Dirksen — Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee hearing: “A Review of the 2025 Budget Request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation,” with testimony from Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, and Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers http://appropriations.senate.gov

10 a.m. 419 Dirksen — Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing: “The Future of Arms Control and Deterrence,” with testimony from Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security http://foreign.senate.gov

10 a.m. 608 Dirksen — Senate Budget Committee hearing: “Budgeting for the Storm: Climate Change and the Costs to National Security,” with testimony from retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, former assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and environment; Erin Sikorsky, director, Center for Climate and Security and the International Military Council on Climate and Security; and Rick Dwyer, executive director, Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance http://budget.senate.gov

10 a.m. 2167 Rayburn — House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing: “Reviewing and Examining the Francis Scott Key Bridge Federal Response,” with testimony from Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, deputy commandant for operations, Coast Guard; Maj. Gen. William “Butch” Graham, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, Army Corps of Engineers; Shailen Bhatt, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; and Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board http://transportation.house.gov

11 a.m. 1763 N St. NW — Middle East Institute book discussion: “Battle Ground: Ten Conflicts that Explain the New Middle East,” with author Christopher Phillips, professor of international relations at Queen Mary University of London https://www.mei.edu/events/book-talk-battle-ground-ten-conflicts

1 p.m. — U.S. Navy Memorial virtual discussion with Vice Adm. Richard John Cheeseman, deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training, and education and chief of naval personnel, Navy, part of the “SITREP” series. https://navymemorial.swoogo.com/cheeseman_sitrep/5683942

2:30 p.m. 216 Hart — Senate Intelligence Committee hearing: “Update on Foreign Threats to 2024 Elections,” with testimony from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Jen Easterly, director, Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; and Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director for the FBI’s National Security Branch http://intelligence.senate.gov

4 p.m. 232-A Russell — Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee hearing: “Army Modernization in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2025 and the Future Years Defense Program,” with testimony from Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology; Army Gen. James Rainey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Futures Command; and Army Lt. Gen. Karl Gingrich, deputy chief of staff (G-8) http://www.armed-services.senate.gov

4:30 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute discussion: “Flipping the Cube: Transforming the Defense Budget Structure,” with former Pentagon Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Jamie Morin, vice president of Defense Strategic Space, Aerospace Corporation, and former Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association https://www.hudson.org/events/flipping-cube

THURSDAY | MAY 16

9:30 a.m. 216 Hart — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: “The Posture of the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2025 and the Future Years Defense Program,” with testimony from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti; and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith http://www.armed-services.senate.gov

9:30 a.m. HVC-210, Capitol — House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party hearing: “All Roads Lead to Beijing?” with testimony from David Trulio, president and CEO, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute; Daniel Runde, senior vice president, Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Brad Parks, executive director of AidData, William & Mary Global Research Institute https://selectcommitteeontheccp.house.gov

9:30 a.m. — Henry Stimson Center virtual discussion: “Connecting the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific: Northeast Asia’s Growing Cooperation with NATO,” with former European Union Ambassador to South Korea Michael Reiterer, professor, Brussels School of Governance Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy; Bo Ram Kwon, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses associate research fellow; Yuki Tatsumi, director, Stimson Center’s Japan Program; and Jenny Town, director, Stimson Center’s 38 North and Korea Program https://www.stimson.org/event/connecting-the-atlantic-and-indo-pacific

10 a.m. — Center for a New American Security virtual discussion: “One Year In: Defense Innovation Unit 3.0 and the Path Forward,” with Douglas Beck, director, Defense Innovation Unit https://www.cnas.org/events/virtual-event-one-year-in-diu-3-0

2 p.m. 310 Cannon — House Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability Subcommittee hearing: “Security Risk: The Unprecedented Surge in Chinese Illegal Immigration” http://homeland.house.gov

2 p.m — Government Executive Media Group virtual discussion: “The role of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in modern conflict, how the Air Force is training ISR operators, and how emerging tech is improving operations,” with Air Force Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and cyber effects operations, and Dave Gold, Americas field chief technology officer at SentinelOne https://events.defenseone.com/defense-one-service-branch-spotlight-air-force

2 p.m. 2212 Rayburn — Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe hearing: “Closing the Skies, Liberating Ukraine,” with Michael Ryan, former deputy assistant secretary of defense; former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, senior director, Atlantic Council; and Nataliya Bugayova, nonresident fellow, Institute for the Study of War https://events.defenseone.com/defense-one-service-branch-spotlight-air-force/

 3 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW — American Enterprise Institute in-person and virtual discussion: “No Invasion Necessary: A Discussion of How China Can Employ a Coercion-Based Strategy to Take Taiwan Without a War,” with Dan Blumenthal, senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Frederick Kagan, senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Kimberly Kagan, president, Institute for the Study of War; and Bonny Lin, director, China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies https://www.aei.org/events/no-invasion-necessary

FRIDAY | MAY 17

10 a.m. — Center for a New American Security virtual discussion: “Developing Drone and Counter-Drone Capabilities,” with Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo org/events/virtual-event-developing-drone-and-counter-drone-capabilities

10 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual discussion: “The upcoming 2024 NATO Summit and allied strategies to counter renewed Russian retaliation amid Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine and efforts to modernize the alliance’s capabilities,” with Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of the U.S. European Command and supreme NATO commander; Michael Andersson, head of strategic affairs and international affairs at Saab and board director, Atlantic Council; former Supreme NATO Commander retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, executive chairman emeritus of the Atlantic Council; and Andrew Michta, director and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Scowcroft Security Initiative https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/road-to-washington-general-christopher-cavoli12 p.m. 555 13th St. NW — Washington Space Business Roundtable discussion: “Integrating the growing U.S. commercial space sector into our national security space architecture,” with Col. Richard Kniseley, senior material leader, Space Systems Command Commercial Space Office https://www.wsbr.org/events/wsbr-may-luncheon-with-colonel-richard-kniseley

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