On multiple occasions this week AlertsUSA subscribers were notified via text messages to their mobile devices regarding ongoing escalation of tensions between NATO and Russia over events in Ukraine. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists is picking up steam, as is the level of brutality, in several cities across the Eastern and Southern portions of the country.
Late this week Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a military exercise involving Russia's nuclear forces. At least threes intercontinental ballistic missiles were reported to have been launched, including two from submarines in the Northern and Pacific fleets and the third from the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia which successfully flew to target on the Kura testing range on the Kamchatka peninsula nine time zones away.
The exercises are reported to have involved all branches of the Russian military. Russian news wires said that the exercises simulated dealing a massive retaliatory nuclear strike in response to an enemy attack.
Despite repeated Russian claims that forces having been pulled back from the Ukrainian border, late this week the U.S. Mission to NATO published satellite imagery showing the opposite is true.
Under the auspices of joint training exercises NATO continues to move troops and the machines of war into Baltic member states, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. Social media outlets were on fire this week with reports, photos and videos of armored vehicles being transported by train across several NATO member states.
U.S. Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe this week stated that NATO will have to consider permanently stationing troops in parts of Eastern Europe as a result of the increased tension between Russia and Ukraine.
Additionally, NATO announced this week that they have sent advisers to Ukraine to work with authorities on improving the safety and integrity of nuclear power plants, gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure amidst the growing violence and chances of direct armed conflict with Russia. Ukraine has 15 nuclear power reactors in operation, accounting for nearly 44 percent of the nation's electricity production.
Radioactive Materials Seized at Border
Ukraine's State Security Service is reporting the seizure of approximately 1.5 kilos of a radioactive substance (possibly Uranium-235) from a foreign-registered automobile driven by Russian citizens.
The security service says that based on information acquired during the investigation they have not excluded the possibility that the group in possession of the material intended to create a radioactive "dirty bomb" to be used to further destabilize the socio-political situation in the country. (Original article in Russian / English Translation).
NOTE: As pointed out here, U-235 would make for a pretty weak dirty bomb given the long decay rate, though the panic such a device would likely cause could be profound, particularly given Ukraine's tragic experience with the reactor accident at Chernobyl (only 75 miles from KIev).
Sanctions Having No Impact
The U.S. Senate is growing increasingly impatient with the Obama Administration's response to the crisis in Ukraine and are calling for a increased military reinforcements of NATO member states in central and Eastern Europe as well as implementation of much more severe sanctions on Russia.
According to Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, measures targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle have had zero impact on Moscow.
“Since the sanctions went in place last Monday, the [Russian] stock market has risen almost 4 percent. They [Russians] are laughing it off. It has no effect whatsoever on Russia’s behavior.”
AlertsUSA continues to closely monitor the growing tensions in the region and will immediately notify service subscribers of changes in the overall threat environment, major escalations or the outbreak of hostilities, as events warrant.