Here's an excerpt from today's report:Russia-NATO SITREP: TENSIONS BUILD IN EUROPE, UK SAYS RUSSIA ALREADY ON THE GROUND IN UKRAINE
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, Russia continued its movement of military assets to its Western and Southern Military District. Additional movements from the Eastern Military District to Belarus include multi-domain forces known as Combined Arms Armies. Specific units are the 5th, 29th, 35th, and 36th Combined Arms Armies which have motorized rifle, air defense artillery, tanks, artillery, rocket forces, and electronic warfare components alongside standard infantry formations. The transfer of units from the East is for participation in “snap military exercises” from 9-20 February, but their position outside traditional training areas indicates they may be used in an expeditionary manner. This morning, the Russian Ministry of Defense released videos of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division mobilizing for “snap exercises” in the Rostov region, around 30 miles from Ukraine. Notably, the video showed soldiers drawing live ammunition from the arms rooms.
According to the Congressional Research Service, an estimated 50 to 60 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTG) are staged near the border with Ukraine. Open-source analysis of Russian military movements posted to social media places that number closer to 70 or more BTGs. Estimated total Russian forces within striking distance against Ukraine likely exceed 130,000 troops and continue to grow.
In addition to the conventional military buildup, Russia is actively targeting NATO members through economic and diplomatic means. Russia’s state-owned gas agency, Gazprom, released a statement on 24 January detailing the lack of natural gas stores and transfers within Europe. According to their release, the continent has a mere 26% of storage capacity filled. Notably, the statement singles out Germany’s storage levels while celebrating “a new absolute record” in gas supplies to China. Gazprom’s manipulation of gas flows will continue to divide and isolate NATO members, particularly Germany, which shut down half its nuclear reactors and is transitioning to renewables supplemented by natural gas. Russian officials stated they would shut down all European gas flows if the U.S. decides to remove SWIFT access, a key bargaining chip for U.S. negotiators.
Before the arrival of Russian military units to Belarus, Russian forces were faced with crossing the Eastern frontier of Ukraine up to the Dnieper River. The massive equipment transfer to Southern Belarus makes that geographic feature less of an obstacle as forces will have a northern approach to Kyiv with limited restrictive terrain crossings. Additional sightings of Russian PP-2005 pontoon bridging vehicles indicate the troops are prepared to execute limited bridging operations, potentially in a low-visibility manner inside Belarusian territory. The Russian transfer of Iskander-M ballistic missile units to Belarus provides a range of options for offensive strikes against Ukraine or defense to Union State military units advancing from Russia or Belarus. The missiles have a published range of between 500-3500km (310-2,175 miles) with a high degree of accuracy, can be loaded with either conventional or nuclear warheads, and feature in-flight maneuverability to evade defenses. Belarusian President Lukashenko cites aggression from NATO and Ukrainian troop concentrations near Belarus as the justification for participation in snap Russian military exercises bringing in the majority of the equipment from Russia.
Despite all the military movements and saber-rattling, an offensive against Ukraine is unpopular with Russian citizens. This leads the Pentagon to believe Russia will either attempt to goad Ukraine into military action against its separatist regions or attempt a false-flag operation to frame the invasion as defensively necessary. In mid-January, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russia appears to be preparing for “what we call a fαℓѕє fℓαg operation — an operation designed to look like an attack on … Russian speaking people in Ukraine, again, as an excuse to go in.” British intelligence believes the Russians will attempt a regime change in Ukraine, replacing President Zelenskyy with former Member of Parliament, Yevhen Murayev. The UK also named former Ukrainian officials Serhiy Arbuzov, Andriy Kluyev, Vladimir Sivkovich, and Mykola Azarov as being part of a Russian plot to execute a regime change. British Defense Secretary Wallace told Parliament that “advance teams” from Russia have already infiltrated Ukraine. Wallace said, “We are becoming aware of a significant number of individuals that are assessed to be associated with Russian military advance force operations that currently are located in Ukraine.” This mirrors Russia’s actions in 2014, where special operations forces attempted to secure key strategic targets and disrupted Ukrainian efforts to repel Russian forces by opening multiple contact points within Ukrainian territory.
Potential Courses of Action and Impacts:
Most Dangerous Course of Action: Following an undetermined provocation, Russia initiates a multi-front invasion from Belarus, the Black Sea, and Ukrainian separatist regions. Russia will execute a strategic bombing campaign against military and civilian targets throughout Ukraine, including the capitol. A simultaneous attack against Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia would likely originate from Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad territory. Russia will likely execute cyber attacks against Ukraine and NATO members, including financial processing services, utilities, cellular communication systems, GPS systems, and oil & gas networks. Following large-scale combat operations, Russia will seek to replace the Ukrainian government with a pro-Moscow administration. Russia will likely require formal European acceptance of the Union State to include Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine’s separatist/annexed regions.
Most Likely Course of Action: Following an undetermined provocation blamed on Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian forces will enter Ukraine from the Belarusian territory. Russian forces will re-enter Ukraine from its own territory and Ukrainian separatist regions. The kinetic provocation will not extend past Ukraine’s borders, and Russia will tacitly accept NATO members’ indirect involvement in supplying arms to Ukraine. Russia will likely require formal European acceptance of the Union State to include Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine’s separatist/annexed regions. Limited cyber attacks against European and U.S. targets will temporarily affect access to financial systems alongside regional utility disruption executed by proxy groups.
Indo-Pacific SITREP: CHINA FOCUSED ON PRIMARY CONFLICT ZONE; EAST CHINA SEA
Over the past six months, China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA Navy) has maintained a continuous deployment of naval combatants, destroyers, and missile corvettes, in the waters east of Taiwan. The PLA Navy vessels are kept on rotations and patrol as far west as the southern Ryukyu Island chain, what Japan calls the Nansei Islands. The deployed forces generally consist of two naval combatants, destroyers, and corvettes, in addition to China Coast Guard large cutters. This enhanced presence is the first continuous deployment into the Pacific’s first island chain for China and the first into the contested territorial waters of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands.
Future Potential Conflict Zone
Both Taiwanese and Japanese defense experts believe the PLA Navy’s recent sustained naval presence east of Taiwan means China is preparing for a potential future war over Taiwan. China views control of the first island chain, which contains both Taiwan and Japan, as critical to its ability to project power farther into the East China Sea and the Western Pacific.
The presence of PLA Navy combatants on the east coast of Taiwan is a significant threat to Taiwan’s fortified positions on its east coast. These airbases and hardened shelters are where Taiwan plans to reposition its air force and key military units during pre-invasion fires by the PLA. Additionally, the extensive patrols into the southern Ryukus mean China is likely intent on seizing the Nansei islands, such as Ishigaki and Yonaguni and the Senkaku islands, which China also claims. Ishigaki and Yonaguni host Japanese Self Defense Force hardened missile and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) bases, Japanese Coast Guard bases, and will soon be the site of U.S. Marine infantry battalions deployed from Okinawa. This area east of Taiwan, southwest of Okinawa, and west of the Philippines is the most likely location for armed conflict between China, the U.S., and Japan.
High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)
In addition to the continuous patrols by PLA Navy destroyers and corvettes, in November, during a virtual democracy summit hosted by the U.S. in which Taiwan officials participated along with other Pacific allies, China deployed two Type 71 amphibious transport dock ships east of Taiwan in the vicinity of the Japanese island of Yonaguni. Like the U.S. Navy Landing Platform Dock, these ships are amphibious assault ships carrying helicopters, armored assault vehicles, landing craft, and infantry. This past week, as the U.S. and Japan conducted freedom of navigation exercises in the Philippine Sea, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) launched a 39 aircraft strike package exercise into the Taiwan Air Defense Interdiction Zone (ADIZ) in the vicinity of Taiwan’s Pratas islands.
Potential Courses of Action:
Most Dangerous Course of Action. China’s most dangerous course of action is a full-scale invasion of Taiwan and the surrounding islands in the first Island chain. These islands would include the remainder of the Paracels, the Pratas, Senkaku, and southern Ryukyu islands. China would likely initiate the conflict with an engineered case for war to be quickly followed up with a multi-domain assault, including cyber-attacks and information operations. China would then employ long-range precision fires to isolate Taiwan from reinforcing the U.S., Australian, and Japanese military forces and hit Taiwanese military and key government nodes and military outposts on the surrounding islands, including the Japanese Self Defense Force and U.S. Marine bases on Ishigaki and Yonaguni islands. Heavy airstrikes from PLAAF strike packages would be used on Taiwan and Japanese defensive positions to support follow-on assault forces. The PLA would then launch a combination of amphibious and airborne assaults on Taiwan and the surrounding islands as well as special operations raids on Taiwanese political and military officials.
Once consolidated on their objectives, China would replace the current Taiwan leadership with a pro-China reunification government and give an ultimatum to the population to accept the new status quo and cease hostilities. China will likely try to minimize heavy fighting in the built-up urban areas of Taipei and limit the damage to civilian infrastructure. Expect China to use the seized islands surrounding Taiwan to create a security zone and blockade Taiwan until order is restored. China could achieve its major military objectives in less than five days. The U.S. could expect indications and warnings of 7-10 days. Unless the U.S. has significant forces prepositioned in close proximity to Taiwan, a full-scale invasion of Taiwan is essentially a fait accompli. This MDCOA could be conducted coincident to, or in echelon with, a Russian invasion of Ukraine but is not required for success. In fact, due to the overwhelming amount of military forces available to China, all of which are based in close proximity to Taiwan, the MDCOA gains very little from timing with a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Most Likely Course of Action: China’s most likely course of action remains a limited invasion of islands surrounding Taiwan combined with a follow-on blockade and coercive political solution to reunification. Expect gray zone activity such as cyberattacks and increased information operations to precede military actions, followed closely by amphibious and airborne assaults and seize the islands surrounding Taiwan in the Pacific first island chain. These include the remainder of the Paracels, Pratas, Senkakus, and possibly southern Ryukyus. U.S. and Japanese military units in the south Ryukyus and any U.S. or allied naval forces in proximity to Taiwan could be hit with long-range precision fires and manned aircraft strike packages, although in this MLCOA China would attempt to avoid direct conflict with the U.S. China might also bypass islands like Ishigaki and Yonaguni that host U.S. and Japanese military outposts to avoid prematurely escalating the conflict.
With Taiwan essentially surrounded, China could put a sea and air embargo and give Taiwan’s government terms for reunification. This could be timed with Russian actions against Ukraine to complicate the U.S. decision matrix in formulating a response. Given current circuмstances, this would likely occur in echelon to a Russian invasion of Ukraine sometime immediately after the Beijing Olympics. In this scenario, China would bet that the U.S. would not come to Taiwan’s aid and seek a negotiated settlement … perhaps the return of a portion of the Senkaku or Nansei islands to Japan in exchange for a free hand in bringing Taiwan under China’s control. In this coercion-by-embargo scenario, China’s goal would be to force the U.S. hand on Taiwan publicly. Washington’s expected lack of military response would undermine and demoralize any Taiwanese ideas about resistance and lead Taiwan to accept a Chinese reunification proposal sprinkled with insincere guarantees of limited autonomy. This is the most likely course of action because it avoids all-out armed conflict in the Pacific and keeps commerce flowing between China and the West. Executing this COA in the next 60-90 days capitalizes diminished leadership in Washington and exploits the humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and chaos resulting from a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the MLCOA, China could achieve its primary military objectives in less than 24 hours. In this scenario, due to the high mobility of airborne and amphibious forces, the U.S. could receive as little as 24 hours to a probable maximum of 10 days of indications and warnings. Clearly, this short timeline could preclude any reinforcing actions by the U.S. or other Pacific allies. If the U.S. or its allies intervene, expect China to use its anti-access and area denial capabilities to attack naval formations and military bases in the conflict zone. Should Taiwan refuse to accept terms for reunification, expect China to move to the MDCOA above.
Impacts and Mitigation:
Unfortunately, the U.S. outsourced nearly half of its manufacturing to China over the past two decades. A large portion of our consumer goods and spare parts for durable goods are now manufactured there. Any conflict with China in the Pacific will likely result in significant supply chain disruptions in the U.S. and Europe.
U.S. businesses can front-run this potential conflict by seeking suppliers outside of Asia. Those with manufacturing concerns in China should seek alternate manufacturing means and locations in geographical areas not subject to Chinese control or manipulation. U.S. consumers should anticipate significant disruptions in supply chains and build up at least 90 days’ worth of essential food and supplies. A 90-day buffer on your critical supplies allows you to adapt to shortages and find new sources and alternate supplies.
Taiwan produces 40% of the world’s high-end microchips. This means that a large portion of that market may be unavailable for an extended period starting around the commencement of hostilities. As we witnessed during the most recent microchip shortage in 2020-21, there was a significant decrease in the availability of new automobiles, agricultural equipment, and industrial machinery that relied on these chips – plan accordingly.
Overall, expect cyberattacks on critical infrastructures like power grids and financial networks – so have an alternate electrical power source and available cash for emergencies. Currently, China is deeply embedded in Left-wing organizations like Black Lives Matter, ANTIFA, Code Pink, and a host of social justice NGOs. China has also developed significant “friends” in politics, academia, and the entertainment industry. If China executes the most dangerous course of action, expect increasing civil unrest across the country, but particularly in cities and areas along political seams (red/blue lines). Citizens and businesses should have a realistic security plan and be prepared to provide for their own defense. – M.M.
Additional Mitigation Considerations:
Cyber attacks on the Homeland are likely to happen if the scenarios above occur. State-sponsored cyber attacks can impact the power grid, water distribution, telecommunication, and navigation. Water supply risk considerations are a primary concern. Evaluating your water storage capacity while ensuring you have an alternate water source with proper filtration is critical. This requires intentional examination of your current water usage and the water supply you and your family would need if your source were disrupted due to regional power outages.
Power disruptions can be mitigated through power generators (gas or electric). Solar panels are a common method of alternate small-scale power generation required to power smaller electronic items needed for communication. I’ve personally witnessed houses in the Midwest that have small wind turbines on their property to offset solar generation on cloudy days. Power generation is a necessary consideration to enable communications as well.
Telecommunication and internet disruptions are seen in both manmade and natural causes. Off-grid communication capability considerations should be evaluated based on local, regional, and global needs. Local communication gaps can be filled with radios or off-grid message tools (meshtastic/goTenna) that have a limited range but have the benefit of decentralization. Regional communication needs require more power, and ham radio options with repeaters that require a license can fill this gap. Ham radio does offer farther-reaching options through the High Frequency band. Satellite communications is a distant-range communication option but often comes with a subscription requirement. Lastly, navigational dependencies through GPS is also a consideration when evaluating downline impacts from cyberattack. Having paper and online maps of the local and regional area with a reliable compass is important if one is expected to navigate in unfamiliar areas during times of disruption. – D.F.