Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Russian, Chinese militaries make moves 

As China and Russia were in the midst of new war games on Thursday, Beijing sent 39 aircraft and three warships on military drills toward Taiwan in a show of force against the self-governing democratic island nation.  

We’ll share what’s happening and the White House’s latest assessment of the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Ukraine. Plus: The next step in the passage of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package. 

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 Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below.

Putin turning to mercenary group for military support  

The White House on Thursday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner, a Russian mercenary group, for military support
10 months into his invasion of Ukraine. 

The White House estimates that Wagner currently has 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts from Russian prisons, according to downgraded information shared by national security spokesman John Kirby. 

Recruiting challenges: The owner of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and other officials within the company have been recruiting convicts from prisons to fight on the front lines because they are experiencing challenges in recruiting other Russians, Kirby said. Some of those prisoners have “serious medical conditions,” he added. 

Additionally, Prigozhin is reportedly spending more than $100 million per month to fund Wagner’s operations inside Ukraine, with his private army fighting alongside Russian forces. 

An unwelcome ally: Kirby also said North Korea completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, and Wagner paid for the equipment. That delivery follows another one last month from North Korea that included infantry rockets and missiles sent to Russia for Wagner to use. 

“North Korean officials have said publicly that they would not support Russia’s war in Ukraine — and yet here they are delivering arms to Wagner, in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said that the U.S. plans to raise violations from North Korea with the Security Council. 

Sanctions coming: Also, the Department of Commerce plans to designate Wagner as a military end user to ensure it can’t access equipment anywhere in the world. He said that further sanctions against Wagner would be announced “in the coming weeks.” 

Read the rest here 

China sends warplanes, ships toward Taiwan

China sent 39 aircraft and three warships on military drills toward Taiwan on Thursday in a show of force against the self-governing democratic island nation. 

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said officials detected the aircraft and vessels around 6 a.m. and were closely monitoring the military drills. 

What was sent: Thirty of the Chinese aircraft crossed over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the ministry added in a Twitter post

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the formal name for China’s forces, sent various warplanes in a southwest direction toward the southeastern region of the island before doubling back. 

A big uptick: The PLA has recently conducted several drills around Taiwan, but Thursday’s military activity was the largest in several months. 

Read the rest here 

RUSSIA AND CHINA HOLD JOINT NAVAL EXERCISES

Russia and China this week began a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea, the latest drills between the two countries as Moscow continues to be a global pariah for its war in Ukraine. 

Russia deployed a Varyag missile cruiser, the Marshal Shaposhnikov destroyer and two corvettes of Russia’s Pacific Fleet while China sent two destroyers, a diesel submarine and several other ships for the drills that began on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported

The drills: Russian and Chinese aircraft also took part in the military exercise, expected to last a week and involve firing exercises and anti-submarine drills, the Russia Defense Ministry said.  

“The main goal of the drills is to strengthen naval cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China and to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region,” according to a statement from the ministry, as reported by the AP. 

Strengthening ties: Moscow and Beijing have strengthened their military cooperation since Russia first attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, triggering international condemnation and strict sanctions intended to cripple Russia’s economy. 

China so far has refused to criticize Russia over the invasion and has knocked the Western sanctions, while Moscow in turn has supported Beijing as tensions between it and the United States have grown over Taiwan. 

Read that story here 

Senate passes $1.7T omnibus spending package

The Senate on Thursday voted to pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus package that funds the federal government through September, provides Ukraine with $45 billion in military and economic aid and sets aside $38 billion for emergency disaster assistance. 

It also includes reforms to the Electoral Count Act in response to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, clarifying that the vice president does not have the power to overturn the results of a presidential election. 

The vote: The package passed with a large bipartisan majority, 68-29, wrapping up the Senate’s legislative business in the 117th Congress a few days before Christmas. 

A win: The omnibus bill represents one of several major bipartisan legislation accomplishments of President Biden’s first two years in office, along with the
$1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, to address gun violence; and the $280 billion Chips and Science Act, to improve U.S. competitiveness with China.   

How it breaks down: It spends $858 billion on defense programs, a 9.7 percent increase, and $772.5 billion on nondefense, non-veterans-related programs, representing a 5.5 percent increase.  

  • It also includes $118.7 billion for Veterans Affairs medical care, a 22 percent increase, and $59 billion for programs authorized by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Congress passed last year.  
  • It provides $19.8 billion to arm and equip Ukrainian force and NATO allies and $12.9 billion to stabilize the Ukrainian economy and make up for shortfalls. Passage came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for continued American support.

Up next: The House is expected to take up the legislation as soon as Thursday evening and vote to send it to Biden’s desk before government funding runs out at the end of Friday.   

Read that here 

Also from The Hill

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 tomorrow!

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