Defense & National Security — Putin annexation reverberates

Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed four Ukrainian territories on Friday, a move that reverberated quickly across the West.  

We’ll recap the international fallout. Plus, we’ll talk about who the prime suspects are in the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Subscribe here.

Russia annexes four Ukrainian territories

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed treaties of annexation for four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, escalating a conflict with Kyiv and its Western allies who called the move illegal. 

Putin made the announcement in a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, before a crowd of seated supporters with Russian flags as his backdrop — which a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described as a “Kremlin freak show.” 

Which territories? Putin signed “accession treaties” for the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall, after Russia held fake referendums in Ukraine.

“This is the will of millions of people,” Putin reportedly claimed in a speech before hundreds of dignitaries. “People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.” 

‘Flagrant violation’ of UN charter: The United States and its allies have rejected Moscow’s referendums. 

“This so-called referenda was a sham — an absolute sham — and the results were manufactured in Moscow,” President Biden said at an event with Pacific island leaders on Thursday.

“And the true will of the Ukrainian people is evident every day as they sacrifice their lives to save their people and maintain the independence of their country and in defense of freedom as well.” 

Biden vowed to never recognize Russia’s claims on eastern Ukraine at the event on Thursday, denouncing Putin’s move as a “flagrant violation” of the United Nations charter. 

Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions: After Biden’s statement, his administration announced a new round of sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian territories, targeting government and military officials and their family members.

The departments of Treasury, Commerce and State each announced separate sanctions intended to target decisionmakers in Moscow, allies of Putin and entities that support the military-industrial complex in Russia 

Read the full story here.

Ukraine pushes for expedited NATO membership

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country will file an expedited application to join NATO after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties to annex parts of eastern Ukraine. 

In a statement, Zelensky called Ukraine and NATO “de facto” allies and said his country would seek formal membership in the alliance. 

“De facto, we have already proven interoperability with the Alliance’s standards, they are real for Ukraine — real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction,” Zelensky said. 

“Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure. Under a procedure consistent with our significance for the protection of our entire community. Under an accelerated procedure,” the statement continued. 

Zelensky’s statement Friday didn’t make clear when exactly Ukraine would file for NATO membership. However, it acknowledges that all members of the alliance will have to approve of its bid.

Read more here.  

Russia, Putin prime suspects in pipeline sabotage

Russia is the prime suspect in the apparent sabotage of pipelines transporting natural gas to Europe, which has left foul methane gas spewing into the Baltic Sea. 

Experts say damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines is a cynical use of a “gray zone” aggression that leaves few good options for retribution.  

The blame game begins: Russia has worked to cast blame on the U.S. by circulating out-of-context clips of President Biden lambasting the Nord Stream pipelines — which were opposed by the Obama and Trump administrations.

  • Moscow held up a since-deleted tweet from a Polish politician, Radek Sikorski, that appeared to sarcastically thank the U.S. over the pipeline attack.
  • Sikorski, a former Polish minister of defense and foreign affairs, is a well-known, outspoken Kremlin critic who for years has railed against European politicians that pursued construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany. He traveled to Washington in April 2021 to urge President Biden to impose sanctions to halt the pipeline’s construction. 

Stopping short of blaming Russia: Top European and NATO officials are bluntly assigning sabotage, even as they stop short of directly blaming Putin ahead of an investigation.   

  • “The sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines is of deep concern. NATO is committed to deter and defend against hybrid attacks,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier tweeted.
  • “Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.” 

Will there be a response? Europe and the U.S. are unlikely to take any action against Russia related to the pipeline sabotage absent the conclusion of an investigation.  

“They’re going to be doing a forensic investigation, presumably, trying to ascertain what caused” the damage to the pipelines, said Scott Savitz, senior engineer at the RAND Corporation. 

The time needed to carry out the investigation depends on sea conditions and the human and machine resources needed and available to collect what Savitz said should be “incontrovertible” evidence.  

Read more here.  

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

  • The Wilson Center will hold a discussion on “Ukrainian Attitudes of War and Peace: Complex Dilemmas of Wartime” at 10 a.m.
  • The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “Countering Violent Extremism, Terrorism, and Antisemitic Threats in New Jersey” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a conversation with Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander on “Russia’s Operations in Ukraine” at 12:30 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you next week!