Daily on Defense: Gates says tide turning in Ukraine, Biden calls Putin a ‘crazy SOB,’ Trump says he means his NATO threat

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BY JAMIE MCINTYRE

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GATES: PUTIN FEELING 'PRETTY SMUG': In a sobering assessment of the state of the Ukraine war as it approaches the two-year mark, former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Robert Gates predicts that there is little chance of a negotiated peace agreement or significant Ukrainian military gains this year.

Gates suggested Ukraine’s military objectives for 2024 should be to halt any further Russian advance and use long-range missiles and drones to continue to attack strategic targets in the four Russian-occupied provinces as well as Crimea, but he said retaking significant territory until additional U.S. weapons and ammunition arrive seems unlikely.

"Realistically, it’s going to be very difficult in the foreseeable future for Ukraine to get back those four provinces and to get back Crimea," Gates said in a Washington Post Live discussion Wednesday. And a negotiated peace with Russian President Vladimir Putin is equally unlikely. "I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that Putin is prepared to negotiate," Gates said. "It takes two to negotiate, and so, essentially, if you’re pressing Zelensky and the Ukrainians to negotiate, then there has to be some expectation of some give on the other side."

"I think he’s feeling, actually, pretty smug," Gates said of Putin. "The Russian economy has recovered from the initial months of sanctions. They’ve actually got a pretty good cash balance, thanks to selling oil and gas, and they’re getting a lot of consumer goods from China and from Central Asia and Turkey and elsewhere."

"He’s feeling like things are going his way inside Russia in terms of the economy and control," Gates said. "So I think that the Russians are feeling that the tide has turned and that while there’s still a lot fighting to be done, that the initiative has passed to them."

RUSSIA HAS 'REGAINED MOMENTUM' IN UKRAINE, FORMER PENTAGON CHIEF WARNS

THE LOSS OF AVDIIVKA: There was not much left of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka by the time Russian forces captured it after months of fierce fighting, but the victory gives the Russians a foothold to push the front lines forward. 

"At this point, it’s actually not so much a stalemate but that the Russians have regained momentum. And it’s not breakthrough kind of momentum, but it is the sense that they are now the ones pressing the offensive," Gates said. 

"Everything I’m reading is that the Russians are sort of on the offensive all along at various different places along the 600-mile frontier, and they have more and more supplies coming in,” he added. “I’ve read that for every artillery shell that the Ukrainians fire, the Russians are firing 10, and so the Ukrainians now are facing this shortage of ammunition, artillery. They’re facing shortages when it comes to air defense and so on."

"Russian forces are conducting a cohesive multi-axis offensive operation in pursuit of an operationally significant objective for nearly the first time in over a year and a half of campaigning in Ukraine," the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment. "The design of this offensive operation is worth careful consideration regardless of its outcome as a possible example of the Russian command's ability to learn from and improve on its previous failures at the operational level."

Gates said the Russian military has a history of poor performance followed by a recovery. "They have suffered enormous losses, 315,000 or so killed and wounded, half to two-thirds of the tank force that they had before the invasion, and armor and so on," Gates noted. "Meanwhile, they have got their defense industries back up and running and producing a lot of stuff. They’re getting a lot of drones from Iran, building a facility with Iranian help inside Russia to build drones, getting ammunition from North Korea for artillery, and so on." 

COSTS OF WAR: THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED MOST DURING UKRAINE-RUSSIA CONFLICT

UKRAINE'S BEST BET: With its ground forces suffering a shortage of soldiers and ammunition, Ukraine needs to continue to score big wins to keep the Russians off balance, modeled on the successful use of seaborne drones to sink almost a third of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

"If you want to give the Russians pause, if you want to interrupt that sense of momentum that they have, why not be able to do things like drop the Kerch Strait Bridge? That would have a big impact on the Russians, I think, psychologically as well as militarily," Gates said. "Giving the Ukrainians the ability to strike some of these strategic targets in Crimea, as they have attacked the Black Sea Fleet successfully, I think is really important and could at least psychologically change the tenor of where we are at this point."

"Use this year to make sure that Russia cannot go any farther to the east than they already are and to strengthen Ukraine [so] that the Russians come to see the futility of trying to accomplish what their current goals are," Gates said.

"The European governments have pledged a lot of military support for the Ukrainians," Gates noted. "The problem is the Europeans just don’t have much in their stockpiles. … So while the Europeans have extended an economic lifeline to the Ukrainians, the only real military lifeline is the one from the United States, and as we all know, that one is, shall we say, on pause right now."

PRO-RUSSIAN BLOGGER BELIEVED TO HAVE 'SHOT HIMSELF' TO PROTEST WAR LEADERSHIP

Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre

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HAPPENING TODAY: President Joe Biden continues his political campaigning in California before returning to Washington this evening. At a fundraiser at a private home in San Francisco last night, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "crazy SOB" and took issue with former President Donald Trump comparing his prosecution for fraud and other legal troubles to the persecution of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last week in an Arctic prison camp.

"Some of the things that this fellow's been saying, like he's comparing himself to Navalny and saying that because our country's become a 'communist country,' he was persecuted, just like Navalny was persecuted. I don't know where the hell this comes from," Biden said, according to an account by the Associated Press. "I mean, if I stood here 10, 15 years ago and said any of this, you'd all think I should be committed. It astounds me."

On the subject of Putin, Biden ranked the threat from the Russian president and his plan to put anti-satellite nuclear weapons in space just below climate change. "We have a crazy SOB like Putin and others, and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate."

RUSSIA ORDERS NAVALNY MOURNERS TO 'REGISTER FOR MILITARY SERVICE'

TRUMP DOUBLES DOWN ON NATO THREAT: In part two of Laura Ingraham's interview with Donald Trump taped after his Fox News town hall Tuesday in South Carolina, the former president did not shy away from his threat not to defend NATO members that don't meet their goals for military spending.

"You’re getting slammed from some of your old adversaries about your NATO comments," Ingraham said before running video clips of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. "Does this mean you’re not going to defend NATO countries if they haven’t paid their 2-point-whatever percent?"

"Yeah, sort of, it does," Trump replied, "We have 28 countries. And they were taking advantage tremendously. … My parents, my grandparents came from a place called Europe. So, I love it. But they are very smart and they took advantage. They’ve taken advantage of us on trade, and they’ve taken advantage of us on NATO."

"In my opinion, we were paying for Europe’s military, almost 100%, not 40% or 20%. They weren’t paid up," Trump continued. "They should be paying at least on an equal basis. They should actually be paying more. And the reason they’re not is because nobody is asking them. … Do you think Biden is calling these guys and saying, listen, fellas, you got to pay up, pay up, get your ass moving, pay up? Not going to do it. He’ll go, uh, uh."

NATO announced last week that 18 of the 31 current NATO members will meet the 2% of GDP defense spending goal this year and that NATO's European members together are now spending $380 billion on their militaries, which, for the first time, amounts to 2% of their combined GDP.

OPINION: GIVE $100 BILLION OF FROZEN RUSSIAN ASSETS TO UKRAINE

THE RUNDOWN: 

Washington Examiner: Russia has 'regained momentum' in Ukraine, former Pentagon chief warns

Washington Examiner: Costs of war: The moments that mattered most during Ukraine-Russia conflict

Washington Examiner: Pro-Russian blogger believed to have 'shot himself' to protest war leadership

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Give $100 billion of frozen Russian assets to Ukraine

Washington Examiner: Russia orders Navalny mourners to 'register for military service'

Washington Examiner: Shutdown showdown: Freedom Caucus gives Johnson terms for spending fight

Washington Examiner: Key House Republicans targeted in six-figure ad buy to support aid for Ukraine

Washington Examiner: US vetoes UN resolution for immediate ceasefire in Gaza, pushes for 'final solution'

Washington Examiner: Netanyahu rebuffs 'considerable pressure' to stop Hamas war

Politico: Pentagon Slashes Weapons Programs to Stay Under Debt Deal

Bloomberg: US Failed to Plan Upkeep for Weapons Sent to Ukraine, Watchdog Says

AP: Desperate for soldiers, Ukraine weighs unpopular plan to expand the draft

Reuters: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds Of Ballistic Missiles

Reuters: Russia Lacks Ammunition Production Needed For Ukraine War, Western Officials Say 

Washington Post: Ukraine suffered losses during chaotic withdrawal as Russia seized Avdiivka

New York Times: A British Nuclear Missile Test Fails, Again

Washington Post: The American citizens fighting and dying for Israel in the Gaza war

Reuters: Israel Intensifies Strikes On Gaza’s Rafah, Killing Large Family In Home

New York Times: Biden Mulling Plan That Could Restrict Asylum Claims at the Border

AP: Ship Ablaze In Gulf Of Aden As Israel Shoots Down Fire In Suspected Yemen Houthi Rebel Attacks

Reuters: Ship Abandoned In Red Sea Faces Unknown Fate, Sources Say

New York Times: In Taiwan, Visiting Lawmakers Say U.S. Support Is Firm

Air & Space Forces Magazine: 'Connectivity Is the Only Way': In Final Months at AMC, Minihan Presses to Modernize

Defense News: Pentagon Achieves 'Minimum Viable' Version of CJADC2, Hicks Says

DefenseScoop: Lockheed Martin Readies Next Tech Demo of Space-Based JADC2 Capabilities

Aviation Week: Boeing Boasts Near Mach 3 Top Speed For F-15EX

Breaking Defense: Turkish 5th-Gen Fighter KAAN Completes Maiden Flight

Breaking Defense: Boeing Turns to Drone Inspections of Military Planes, Still Negotiating Wedgetail Price with US

Air & Space Forces Magazine: B-52 Flies with Philippine Fighters over the South China Sea

Space News: Former US Space Force Chief Jay Raymond Joins Board of Directors of Impulse Space

Military.com: ​​Troops at 5 Bases to Be Part of 'Test Moves' Under New Private Management of Household Goods Shipments

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Changes Coming This Year For Distance Learning Enlisted PME

Washington Post: Opinion: Michael O'Hanlon: Ukraine remains stronger than you might think

THE CALENDAR: 

THURSDAY | FEBRUARY 22 

8 a.m. — 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Maryland — Conservative Political Action Conference Foundation annual conference runs through Feb. 24. https://www.digital.cpac.org/us/events-dc2024

8:30 a.m. — The Foundation for Defense of Democracies "Morning Brief" discussion on the latest developments from Israel with Jonathan Schanzer, FDD senior vice president, and John Spencer, chairman of Urban Warfare Studies, West Point https://www.fdd.org/fddmorningbrief

9:30 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “Is North Korea Going to War?” with Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation; Sue Mi Terry, senior adviser at Macro Advisory Partners; Victor Cha, CSIS Korea chairman; and Mark Lippert, CSIS Korea chairman https://www.csis.org/events/north-korea-going-war

11 a.m. — Washington Institute for Near East Policy virtual forum: “From War to Peace? Trip Report from a Middle East Study Tour,” with former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican; former California Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat; Robert Satloff, WINEP chairman in U.S. Middle East Policy; Michael Singh, WINEP managing director; Dana Stroul, WINEP research director; and Ghaith al Omari, WINEP senior fellow https://washingtoninstitute-org.zoom.us/webinar/register

11:30 a.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies virtual discussion: "Strengthening America's Asian Border: A Discussion with Northern Marianas Governor Arnold Palacios," with Cleo Paskal, FDD nonresident senior fellow; Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs; and Craig Singleton, director, FDD China Program https://www.fdd.org/events/2024/02/22/strengthening-americas-asian-border

1 p.m. — ​​Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program for a virtual discussion: "Ukraine in the Balance: A Battlefield Update on the War in Ukraine," with Michael Vickers, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence and CIA operations officer; Emily Harding, director of the CSIS Intelligence, National Security and Technology Program and deputy director of the CSIS International Security program; Eliot Cohen, CSIS chairman in strategy; and Seth Jones, senior vice president, chairman, and director of the CSIS International Security Program https://www.csis.org/events/ukraine-balance-battlefield-update-war-ukraine

2:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies in-person and virtual discussion: "The Two-Year Anniversary of Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion of Ukraine," with Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and the Stuart Center at CSIS https://www.csis.org/events/victoria-nuland-two-year-anniversary-russias-invasion

2:30 p.m. — Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress virtual discussion: "The War in Ukraine After Two Years," with retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, professor of practice and senior fellow, Merrill Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies; Nora Bensahel, visiting professor of strategic studies, Merrill Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies; Michael Kofman, senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Joshua Huminski, director, Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence and Global Affairs https://www.addevent.com/event

FRIDAY | FEBRUARY 23 

8 a.m. — 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Maryland — Conservative Political Action Conference Foundation annual conference runs through Feb. 24. https://www.digital.cpac.org/us/events-dc2024

10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion: “Delivering for the Warfighter: The Importance of Executing Space Acquisition Programs,” with Frank Calvelli, assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisition and integration, and Kari Bingen, director of the CSIS Aerospace Security Project https://www.csis.org/events/delivering-warfighter-importance

10 a.m. — Brookings Institution virtual discussion: “Does the West’s Ukraine Policy Need a Reality Check?” with Asli Aydintasbas, Brookings visiting fellow; Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings chairman in defense and strategy; Steven Pifer, Brookings nonresident senior fellow; and Angela Stent, Brookings nonresident senior fellow https://www.brookings.edu/events/does-the-wests-ukraine-policy-need-a-reality-check

11:30 a.m. 7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Virginia — Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Northern Virginia Chapter discussion, with Scott Kiser, director of the Air Force Office of Small Business Programs. https://afceanova.swoogo.com/afceanovaluncheonFeb2024

TUESDAY | FEBRUARY 27

9:30 a.m. 2401 M St., NW — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group breakfast conversation with Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George. RSVP: Thom Shanker [email protected]

9:30 a.m. — Stimson Center virtual discussion: "Japan's National Security Strategy: The Role of Alliance and Partnerships," with Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki, visiting scholar, MIT Security Studies Program, and professor, Waseda University, and Yuki Tatsumi, senior fellow and director, Stimson Center Japan Program https://stimsoncenter.zoom.us/webinar/register

3 p.m. — Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance Deterrence Center virtual forum: "Nevada National Security Site: a Premier National Security Asset and its NNSA Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Stewardship Mission," with retired Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, president, Mission Support and Test Services; David Funk, vice president, enhanced capabilities for subcritical experiments, Mission Support and Test Services; and Melissa Hunt, director, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation for Global Security, Mission Support and Test Services https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nnsa-nevada-national-security-site

WEDNESDAY | FEBRUARY 28

9 a.m. — Counter Extremism Project webinar: "CEP Webinar: Violent Extremism And Terrorism In The Sahel," with Riza Kumar, research analyst, Counter Extremism Project; Anna Wasserfall, policy adviser for West Africa at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung; Delina Goxho, associate fellow at EGMONT, Royal Institute for International Relations; and Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior Director, Counter Extremism Project https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register 

THURSDAY | FEBRUARY 29

1:30 p.m. 291 Wood Rd., Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland — Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program and U.S. Naval Institute Maritime Security Dialogue in-person and virtual discussion: "DoD's Warfighting Concept" with Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. Christopher Grady and retired Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer, CEO and publisher, U.S. Naval Institute https://www.csis.org/events/dods-warfighting-concept

QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I think he's feeling like things are going his way inside Russia in terms of the economy and control, and I think he believes that at this point, the West has done all they can do to make life more difficult for him and that, in fact, as the West begins to fracture, that his position will only get stronger."
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's assessment of Vladimir Putin's state of mind as the Ukraine war enters its third year
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