Feed aggregator


On the House Floor -

Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 350) to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism; providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 7688) to protect consumers from price-gouging of consumer fuels, and for other purposes; and providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 7790) making emergency supplemental appropriations to address the shortage of infant formula in the United States for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2022, and for other purposes. (05/18/2022 legislative day)

‘Pharma Bro’ Shkreli freed from prison for halfway house

Politico -

NEW YORK — Convicted pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was freed Wednesday from prison after serving much of a seven-year prison sentence for lying to hedge fund investors and cheating investors in a drug company.

His attorney, Ben Brafman, said Shkreli, 39, was released early from a prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. The move was confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“I am pleased to report that Martin Shkreli has been released from Allenwood prison and transferred to a BOP halfway house after completing all programs that allowed for his prison sentence to be shortened,” Brafman said.

Shkreli was moved to a halfway house overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ New York Residential Reentry Management Office, the bureau said in a statement.

The Bureau of Prisons said Shkreli’s projected release date from federal custody was Sept. 14.

Brafman said he has encouraged Shkreli to make no statements, and the lawyer planned no comments beyond confirming Wednesday’s moves.

Shkreli was sentenced to the seven-year term after a 2017 conviction for lying to investors about the performance of two hedge funds he ran, skimming money for himself from those funds, and defrauding investors in a drug company, Retrophin, by hiding his ownership of some of its stock. He was also ordered to forfeit $7.3 million.

Shkreli was originally due to be released from prison in September 2023.

Dubbed “Pharma Bro,” Shkreli gained fame and notoriety after buying rights to Daraprim, a drug used to treat an infection that occurs in some AIDS, malaria and cancer patients and raising its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

Shkreli defended the decision as capitalism at work, saying insurance and other programs ensured that people who need Daraprim would ultimately get it.

During the campaign for the presidency in 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton called it price-gouging and future President Donald Trump, a Republican, called Shkreli “a spoiled brat.”

Shkreli resigned as chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals — later Vyera — in 2015, a day after he was arrested on securities fraud charges.

Earlier this year, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote to return $64.6 million in profits he and his former company gained by raising the price of the drug. She also barred him from the pharmaceutical industry for life.

He also once regularly attacked critics on social media and once offered a bounty to anyone who could give him one of Hillary Clinton’s hairs. He also was known for owning a rare, one-of-a-kind album by the Wu-Tang Clan which was sold to satisfy some of his court debts.

Gates’ Investment in Startup Firm Is Not Related to Baby Formula Shortage

FactCheck -

Quick Take

A fund backed by Bill Gates has invested in a startup working to develop lab-manufactured breast milk, but it won’t reach the market for several years. Yet, social media posts make baseless claims that Gates is behind the current baby formula shortage — which stems from supply-chain issues and the shutdown at a major manufacturing plant.

Full Story

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund backed by Bill Gates that invests in climate-friendly technologies, in 2020 led a $3.5 million round of financing for BIOMILQ, a startup working on reproducing human breast milk using mammary cells.

The company’s product hasn’t yet made it to market — a June 2021 blog post noted that “we’re only in our first trimester.”

But the two-year-old investment is being cited in social media posts to make unfounded claims that Gates engineered the current baby formula shortage because he is invested in a rival product.

The shortage is actually due to supply-chain constraints exacerbated by a major manufacturer’s recall and plant shutdown, as we’ve reported, and there’s no evidence Gates or Breakthrough Energy Ventures is related to it.

Breakthrough “invested in BIOMILQ as a low-carbon alternative to dairy production,” a company spokesperson told FactCheck.org in an email. The claim that the fund is behind the formula shortage “is false,” she said.

CNN, in a report earlier this month, said BIOMILQ is at least three years away from commercial availability.

Gates is chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which counts high-profile investors Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg among its board members. The fund is part of Breakthrough Energy, which funds technologies with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

A frequent target of conspiracy theories, Gates is again being falsely blamed for a national crisis.

One tweet said Gates “has been investing heavily in synthetic soy breast milk.” The tweet, from an account called LivePDDave, goes on to ask two leading questions: “He wouldn’t have anything to do with the baby formula shortage, would he? Create a problem (like Covid) and then step in with a ‘solution’?” The second question could be a reference to any number of false claims about Gates, including the debunked claim that he plotted to create the pandemic in order to depopulate the world through vaccines.

The baby formula claim is also making the rounds on Facebook, with one post falsely claiming Gates has already opened a “synthetic breastmilk plant.” 

Another widely shared post misleadingly questions the timing of events. “Pfizer says do not breast feed. Baby formula runs scarce. Bill Gates promotes new artificial breast milk technology. All within 2 weeks.”

Conservative commentator Candace Owens repeated the claim. “Doesn’t Bill Gates have the best luck?” she tweeted. “Just like with the COVID vaccine — he makes an investment, and then suddenly there is a pandemic or shortage and everyone must line up for his product. Of course he’s invested in lab breast milk!”

But as we’ve written, the U.S. shortage of baby formula has been driven largely by a product recall and subsequent plant shutdown by Abbott Nutrition, a major manufacturer of formula, and ongoing supply-chain issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts.

Abbott Plant Cleared to Restart

Abbott said on May 16 that it reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to take steps to resume production, and formula shipments could resume six to eight weeks later. House Democrats, meanwhile, introduced legislation that would provide $28 million to help the FDA boost staffing and avoid future shortages.

Abbott in a May 13 blog post acknowledged its role in the baby formula shortage. “We know that the recall has worsened the industry-wide infant formula shortage, and we have been working to get as much product into the hands of parents as we can,” the company said. Abbott said it has shipped “millions of cans” from a facility in Ireland as it works to address FDA concerns and restart operations at the Michigan plant.

The nationwide out-of-stock percentage for baby formula stood at 43% in the week ended May 8, up from 2% to 8% in the first half of 2021, according to pricing provider Datasembly. At the end of April, the figure was 40%.

‘Perfect Storm’ Created Crisis

The shortage is the result of a “perfect storm of multiple factors,” said Jason Miller, associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

Only a handful of plants in the U.S. make baby formula, with four companies accounting for about 45% of industry shipments, Miller told us in a phone interview, citing government data. That means “any large plant shutting down causes issues.”

Moreover, “these plants turn inventory very quickly,” so there’s not much stock on hand in the event something happens, Miller said. Once people realized there was a shortage of formula, there was probably some “hoarding,” similar to the toilet-paper situation in the early days of the pandemic, he said. “All of a sudden, you have a recipe for shortfalls like we’re seeing,” he said.

The shortage is likely to last awhile even after the Abbott plant reopens, Miller said. “Americans have to understand this isn’t a product you just throw in a vat and magically it’s produced in two hours,” he said. “There are numerous quality checks conducted repeatedly.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


Roy, Aditi. “Altbreastmilk company Biomilq raises $3.5 million from Bill Gates’ investment firm.” CNBC. 16 Jun 2020.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures press office. Email to FactCheck.org, 17 May 2022.

Chan, Milly. “Lab-grown ‘Human Milk’ May Be Just Three Years Away.” CNN. 3 May 2022.

Fichera, Angelo. “Video Targets Gates With Old Clip, Misleading Edit.” FactCheck.org. 5 Mar 2021.

Fichera, Angelo. “New Coronavirus Wasn’t ‘Predicted’ in Simulation.” FactCheck.org. 29 Jan 2020.

Datasembly. Press release. “Nation-wide Out-Of-Stock is now at 43% for the week ending May 8th.” 10 May 2022.

Abbott Labs. Press release. “Abbott Enters Into Consent Decree With U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Its Sturgis, Mich., Plant; Agreement Creates Pathway to Reopen Facility.” 17 May 2022.

House Appropriations Committee. Legislation. “Making emergency supplemental appropriations to address the shortage of infant formula in the United States for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2022, and for other purposes.” 17 May 2022.

 Abbott Labs. Newsroom: Nutrition, Health and Wellness. “Abbott Provides Infant Formula Update.” 13 May 2022. 

 Reuters Fact Check. “Fact Check-Bill Gates Investment in Lab-Produced Breast Milk Company is Unrelated to Baby Formula Shortage, Contrary to Posts Online.” 13 May 2022.

 Miller, Jason. Associate professor of logistics, department of supply chain management, Michigan State University Eli Broad College of Business. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 17 May 2022.

 Whyte, Liz Essley. “FDA Eases Baby-Formula Import Rules to Boost Supplies.” Wall Street Journal. 16 May 2022.


The post Gates’ Investment in Startup Firm Is Not Related to Baby Formula Shortage appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Biden’s Cuba and Venezuela policy shifts leave Florida Democrats dismayed

Politico -

President Joe Biden hemorrhaged South Florida Hispanic voters in 2020 — one reason he lost the state to Donald Trump during the last election.

Two moves by his administration this week — easing sanctions on Venezuela and loosening restrictions on Cuba — signal he's likely not interested in improving his standing with the key demographic. And Florida Democrats, already reeling from a tough electoral environment for the party, are disheartened.

“It’s frustrating, no question. And I'm sure it will be used [against Democrats],” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami), who is running for governor. “It’s very clear they still don’t have a political side in the Biden White House.”

Biden’s 2020 underperformance in the state was most evident in Miami-Dade County, which has the highest concentration of Hispanic voters in the state. He won the county by 7 percentage points, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 30-point margin over Trump in 2016.

Over a roughly 24-hour period, the administration announced Biden is expanding the number of flights to Cuba and ending restrictions on money that immigrants can send to people on the island, a vestige of Trump’s hard-line Cuba policy. The administration on Tuesday said it would ease sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government if he commits to talks with U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as the country’s leader by nearly 60 nations, including the U.S.

Taddeo, in an interview, said she supports Biden reinstating the family reunification program, a long-time campaign promise, but has major issues with the U.S. relaxing restrictions on sending money to the island given the Cuban government’s involvement in banking and investment. She added that she has seen no concessions from the Cuban government, as many participants from last year’s historic anti-government protests remain in prison.

On Venezuela, she said: “To remove sanctions and allow oil companies to go in there, are we doing that with Russia next?”

Administration officials have long emphasized that they will not shape their foreign policy based on what plays best politically in South Florida. That has left Democrats in the state navigating the political radioactivity of the issue on their own. The area is home to a huge concentration of Hispanic voters and Latin American exiles who fled leftist violence or dictatorships in Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is running for Senate against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said she is “encouraged” by policies to reunite families — the Biden administration on Monday announced plans to restart a Cuban family reunification program after bipartisan calls to do so. But she remains concerned about allowing U.S. investment in private companies based in Cuba, concern sparked by news that the U.S. Treasury Department last week allowed a company headed by the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council to invest in a Cuban firm.

“Allowing investments in the Cuban private sector and easing travel restrictions will only serve to fund the corrupt dictatorship,” Demings, who once was being considered as Biden’s vice president, said in a statement.

Florida’s massive Hispanic population and long-standing role as one of the nation’s largest swing states have long given it a big voice in foreign policy, but the state continues to shift to the political right and national Democrats no longer see it as essential to winning the White House. Already the Democratic Governors Association has signaled it’s holding off funding Florida Democrats.

Cuban-born Florida International University professor Guillermo Grenier, who conducts the state’s highly watched Cuba poll, called the two administration decisions “marginal changes,” and said they might be a nod to the fact that 2022 is setting up to be a bad election cycle for Democrats.

“I think that [Biden] and his advisers realize that the fate of the state does not hinge on isolated policy changes here or there,” he said via email. “It might be that they are calculating that the national dynamics are guiding the 2022 elections and there will be little movement based on marginal changes that affect south Florida constituencies.”

The Cuba measures specifically include expanding flights, easing travel restrictions and lifting limits on sending remittances to people on the communist-run island. The administration is also increasing consular services and reestablishing a family reunification program suspended in 2017. The changes all come after a lengthy review of U.S.-Cuba policy that was largely started following the historic anti-government protests on the island last July.

On Venezuela, the Biden administration has moved to ease some economic sanctions to encourage further discussions between Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition government. The changes will allow for U.S. oil company Chevron to begin talks with Venezuela’s government over potentially restarting oil production.

The top two Democratic contenders challenging Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, supported Biden’s moves. Crist said it could be a “game changer for freedom and democracy in Cuba,” while Fried said she supports the “relentless pursuit of greater connectivity to, from and among the Cuban people.”

Some Democrats note that Clinton won the Hispanic-rich regions of the state by wide margins in 2016 despite the fact that President Barack Obama loosened restrictions and became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island since 1959. Obama, who won Florida twice with Biden on his ticket, campaigned on a platform that included further opening relations with Cuba.

“Obama ran on opening up travel to Cuba and easing restrictions on remittances,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who ran Obama’s Florida campaign and runs a pro-Biden super PAC. “He also spoke to the immigrant experience. What he didn’t have to deal with is a small, but loud chorus of people waxing on about European socialism or screaming to defund the police.”

Schale’s super PAC, Unite the Country, did mail pieces during the 2020 Democratic primary pushing back on language used by some progressives to advocate for policy changes like “defunding” the police but hijacked by Republicans who have effectively used that message to brand all Democrats as extreme.

“During the primary, my PAC sent mail that specifically called out ‘revolution’ talk from the far left,” Schale said. “And as you can imagine, there were people who don’t live in Florida who didn’t appreciate it.”

In 2020, Trump made inroads among Latinos across the country, but his most significant gains were in South Florida — not just among Republican-leaning Cuban Americans. Venezuelan Americans, Nicaraguan Americans and Colombian Americans — all growing Hispanic groups in Miami — also shifted farther right.

The Biden administration has largely steered clear of Cuba and Venezuela policy since the start of Biden’s presidency, leaving largely intact Trump’s hard-line policies. When it has made any changes — or even indicated a potential change — criticism has been swift and loud in South Florida, with Republicans taking to the airwaves and organizing events condemning the administration.

Earlier this year, Republicans and top Democrats in the state piled on the administration over talks it held with Maduro to potentially ease sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports. A few months earlier, Biden officials were dragged for their plan to remove Colombian rebel group FARC from a list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The move now, in a midterm election where Democrats are likely to suffer losses anyway, could also be the equivalent of ripping off a political Band-Aid ahead of Biden’s own reelection, Grenier said.

“He might also think that acting now will give the waters time to settle by 2024,” he said. “Plus, he [Biden] won the presidency without the state.”

‘A glowing red orb’: Wild UFO theories move from the shadows to Congress

Politico -

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) says he doesn’t believe that a secret cabal of government officials and contractors are hiding a captured alien spaceship.

But he wants to make sure — so that we can all move on to more serious business.

One of the most eye-popping moments during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on UFOs on Tuesday was when the Wisconsin Republican pressed Pentagon officials on claims that a “glowing red orb” once shut down nuclear weapons in Montana and that a recently leaked document revealed that other-worldly vehicles — and possibly even extraterrestrial bodies — are being kept from government leaders and the public.

Gallagher was quickly dubbed a hero on #UFOtwitter for having the guts to finally hold national security officials accountable. Others expressed surprise that a sitting congressman was willing to go there, given the lack of corroborating evidence in the public domain and the overall topic’s pop culture saturation with science-fiction fantasy over fact.

But the retired Marine Corps officer who also sits on the House Armed Services Committee says it’s time to set some of these wild theories to rest.

“The quicker DoD can disconfirm certain hypotheses that they should be able to easily disconfirm, the better we can focus time and energy on more plausible hypotheses,” he told POLITICO on Wednesday.

During the hearing, Gallagher asked Ronald Moultrie, the top Pentagon intelligence official, and Scott Bray, the deputy director of naval intelligence, whether they were aware of an unverified 2002 document known as the “Wilson-Davis memo.”

The document, which emerged publicly in 2019, purports to reveal a secret meeting with the then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency outlining a labyrinth of secret government programs hidden from top officials and congressional oversight committees about crashed UFO materials and efforts to reengineer the technology.

The claims have been hotly debated among ufologists but never corroborated. The DIA director at the time, Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, has reportedly denied it all. Numerous national security experts and researchers have also dismissed it as a hoax.

But one of the other primary individuals cited in the document, astrophysicist Eric Davis, has not directly addressed it in public, only fueling suspicions that there might be something to it.

And Davis alluded to the possibility of some of the claims contained in the alleged memo as recently as last year in an interview in The New York Times.

Davis, who is now a senior project engineer at the government-funded The Aerospace Corporation, has declined several POLITICO requests for interviews.

“There’s nothing we can offer or help out with on your request,” a spokesperson for the federal think tank said on Wednesday.

As for Moultrie and Bray, they told Gallagher that they were unfamiliar with the Wilson-Davis document.

But in a separate line of questioning by Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), the witnesses denied any knowledge of UFO material in government custody.

"Are we holding materials organic or inorganic that we don't know about?" Himes asked.

"When it comes to material we have, we have no material," Bray responded.

The fact the document was even broached — and then entered into the official hearing record — was shocking to those who have followed the saga.

“In my work in museums, provenance is everything,” said Taras Matla, a researcher at Harvard University’s Galileo Project and associate director of the University of Maryland Art Gallery, where he specializes in art and UFOs. “There’s some indication that the Wilson memo was, indeed, drafted by Dr. Davis. However, there is zero supporting evidence that the content is true or that they even met in Las Vegas on that day. Admiral Wilson denies the meeting occurred.”

Nevertheless, he said he believes it contains information “that warrants more investigation” and said Davis should come forward.

“Now that this is a part of the record,” Matla said, “I think Dr. Davis has a responsibility to explain himself to Congress and the public.”

John Greenewald, founder of The Black Vault, which has obtained declassified national security documents, including on “unmanned aerial phenomena,” also described Gallagher bringing up the document as a “face palm moment.”

“I feel these types of fringe stories hurt the overall conversation,” he said in an email. “The UAP topic has some amazing, and officially verifiable, information that warrants a closer look more so than that ‘memo’.”

But he also maintained that if Gallagher or others feel differently, “I fully support putting people that come up in these types of stories under oath and getting their side.” 

Gallagher also raised eyebrows by asking about a high-profile report of a "glowing red orb" that was reportedly observed over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 1967, "in which 10 of our nuclear ICBMs were rendered inoperable."

Government documents made public in the ensuing years also suggest that a technical malfunction, however rare, could have been responsible.

"I have heard stories, I have not seen official data on that," Bray responded.

"I would like you to look into it," Gallagher said.

"We'll go back and take a look at it," Bray agreed.

“I was happy to hear Congressman Gallagher bring that up,” said Robert Salas, an Air Force missile officer at the base at the time who has spoken publicly since 1996 about the pair of reported incidents that took place eight days apart.

“I’m hopeful they will give me a call so I can give them a briefing,” he said on Wednesday. “Even at my own expense, I’d come to Washington with supporting documents and even bring a couple of witnesses with me.”

The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, which required the Pentagon to establish a more permanent and comprehensive effort to collect and analyze UFOs reports, singled out UAP incidents “associated with military nuclear assets, including strategic nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships and submarines.”

But Greenewald isn’t sure how reopening a case from more than 50 years ago will help solve the much more modern UAP mystery.

“People like me would love for the DoD to turn into instant ufologists knowing everything going back to the 1940s. That’s just not what this is all about nor is that who they are,” he said.

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra tests positive for Covid-19

Politico -

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive for Covid-19 during a trip to Germany for a G7 health summit.

Becerra tested positive Wednesday morning ahead of a meeting with other health ministers, spokesperson Sarah Lovenheim said in a statement.

“He is fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, and is experiencing mild symptoms,” she said.

Lovenheim added that Becerra last saw President Joe Biden on Thursday. “Biden is not considered a close contact” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said. Becerra “remains fully engaged with the duties of HHS Secretary while in isolation in Berlin, and looks forward to resuming in-person meetings, as soon as possible.”

Becerra last Thursday traveled to Bali, Indonesia, to co-chair a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and arrived in Berlin on Monday. The health secretary was slated to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, on Saturday for the 75th World Health Assembly, where he was scheduled for a series of bilateral meetings on health partnerships.

Words That Matter: 'White Supremacy Is a Poison'

Real Clear Politics -

The president and first lady went to Buffalo in their dark mourning suits to lay a bouquet of white flowers, offer condolences and speak to the families of those who were killed and injured on Saturday when they went to their neighborhood supermarket. The program, with its local officials and Washington delegation, didn't indicate that Jill Biden would speak.

The Supreme Court Leaker Must Pay

Real Clear Politics -

Nearly two weeks after Politico published Justice Samuel Alito's draft majority opinion in the term's big abortion case, we still don't know who the leaker is. That's unfortunate, to say the least, not because our tabloid curiosity hasn't been satisfied but because this is the most serious threat to the Supreme Court's integrity in living memory.

Biden, Dems Deserve Blame for Sky-High Inflation

Real Clear Politics -

Last week, CPI data released by the Labor Department shows inflation is running rampant. The Consumer Price Index surged 8.3% since last year - surpassing economist expectations - and remains around a forty-year high. To top it off, gas prices also hit a new high this week, at $4.43 per gallon.

Biden resists Ukrainian demands for long-range rocket launchers

Politico -

Ukrainian officials are growing frustrated with the Biden administration’s resistance to providing U.S.-made long-range rocket systems, a weapon Kyiv says is critical to outgunning Russia in the heavy artillery duels raging across the Donbas.

Officials across the Ukrainian government have pleaded with the U.S. for months to send the Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS. But three people familiar with the issue say the Ukrainians are concerned that the White House is holding back over worries the weapon could be used to launch strikes inside Russia, thereby expanding and prolonging the conflict.

“There was momentum on it at Ramstein, but that seems to have cooled,” said one congressional staffer with knowledge of discussions last month in Germany, where 40 nations gathered to discuss the next steps in arming Ukraine. “There's definitely a frustration building” in Kyiv over these new caveats being placed on military aid, this person said.

The weapon has been near the top of Ukrainian requests for months, and military and civilian leaders in Kyiv have made their case to their American counterparts directly on multiple occasions.

A Biden administration official who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal deliberations told POLITICO that the two countries remain “in active discussion” about the weapon, but that even with the $3.8 billion worth of military aid the U.S. has sent Ukraine since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, not everything Kyiv asks for can be sent quickly.

“We have to make decisions about what weapons systems provide the biggest bang for the buck,” with the money Congress allots to the Ukraine effort, the official said. Over the past several weeks as the latest funding package began to be whittled down, the administration decided “it was more effective and efficient to send the 90 M777 [howitzers] because you can send more of them” and more munitions for the price than a much smaller number of MLRS.

The U.S. has quietly provided older, Soviet-era multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine over the past several months after scouring the warehouses of allies who still operate the older weapons. But the more precise, more powerful American systems are what Kyiv is looking for to blunt Russian advances in the Donbas.

But worries persist in the White House that sending the system or its cousin, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, could be seen as an escalation by the Kremlin, given the weapon's longer range and greater destructive power than traditional artillery such as howitzers, or the older Soviet rocket launchers.

The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System was first produced for the U.S. Army in 1983, and was designed specifically to quickly fire 12 rockets and drive off quickly to reload before Soviet artillery zeroed in. It is still in use by over a dozen countries, and depending on the munition used, its range generally stretches from 20 miles to 40 miles, with the most advanced rockets being able to travel over 100 miles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion so far has been a story of battlefield humiliation, with a string of failed offensives that have left thousands of troops dead and torn apart armored units. Those losses, and Putin’s long-cultivated unpredictability, have given rise to some wariness that the weapons — which can fire rockets farther than anything the Ukrainians currently possess — could move the needle closer to Russia resorting to the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that Putin could slide into “a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory” if the war drags on “or if he perceives Russia is losing in Ukraine.”

Officials in Kyiv have complained that the longer the West dithers over sending the full complement of weapons it needs, the direr the consequences for Ukraine’s civilians and allows Russia more time to conduct sham local elections in areas it controls.

“With this in mind, we want to defeat the enemy and liberate our territories as soon as possible,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the European Union Foreign Affairs Council Tuesday. Ukraine wants to buy weapons quickly, he added, including “tanks, armored vehicles, long-range fire weapons systems (MLRS, heavy artillery, aircraft, missiles),” according to prepared remarks.

Speaking at a virtual G-7 leaders’ summit this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was more specific, telling the leaders his country “must receive all the weapons and all the defense equipment that will allow the defeat of tyranny — in particular the M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS multiple launch rocket systems and other weapons that Ukraine requested from your powerful states.”

Longer range, bigger punch

Produced by Lockheed Martin, the MLRS would allow Ukrainian troops to fire from relatively safe standoff distances and quickly pack up and move before Russian drones and artillery could spot their location.

It’s a very different weapon than the M777 howitzers the Biden administration dispatched to Ukraine over the past several weeks, which Russian troops have started to target with loitering munitions along their static firing lines. Those cannons have a range of about 18 miles but can fire one only shell at a time and must be towed behind a truck to move from location to location.

The howitzers are already in the fight and have made a difference in targeting Russian supply bases and columns in the East, but the rocket system would be a leap in firepower as the war evolves into a struggle between heavy artillery, mortars and airstrikes.

“From the Russian point of view, it presents a real threat that their artillery can be taken out before it can even get in range to shoot,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russia specialist at nonprofit research institute CNA.

Overall, Ukrainian troops have performed better than most analysts predicted, pushing the Russians back from the capital of Kyiv and retaking the northeastern city of Kharkiv over the past several days. Over the weekend, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense shared a video of a group of soldiers posing at the Russian border to the east of the city. “We have made it. We are here, Mr. President,” one of the soldiers said.

The Biden administration has already supplied the Ukrainian military with $4.5-billion worth of weapons and supplies, including $3.8 billion since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. The aid in those first weeks consisted mainly of shoulder-launched anti-armor and anti-air missiles and ammunition.

As the war has changed, however, and Ukrainian forces have gone on offense in some areas to retake territory captured by Russia, the U.S. and U.K. have also pivoted, stepping over self-imposed limitations on providing only defensive weapons to those clearly capable of offensive operations.

Those packages have included howitzers, missiles, armored vehicles, radar systems, tanks, and kamikaze and surveillance drones rushed to the front as the fight moved from close combat in the suburbs of Kyiv to artillery battles in the Donbas.

The new weapons are more in tune with the stand-off fights in the East, where the Ukrainians are trying to push Russian forces out of artillery range of towns and cities.

A British intelligence assessment released Tuesday warned that “in the coming weeks, Russia is likely to continue to rely heavily on massed artillery strikes as it attempts to regain momentum in its advance in the Donbas.”

The state of U.S. weapons transfers to Ukraine is in flux. The president's drawdown authority — the amount of equipment he can draw from U.S. stockpiles to send to Ukraine — has fallen to about $100 million, a hefty sum but one that limits what can go next until more funding is freed up.

But more funding could start flowing as soon as this week, as Congress is expected to vote on a $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine and Eastern Europe, opening the floodgates to about $20 billion more in U.S. military support for Ukraine.

U.S. reopens embassy in Ukrainian capital

Politico -

KYIV, Ukraine — The United States has reopened its embassy in Ukraine’s capital, three months after fears of what became a brutal Russian invasion prompted its closure.

The decision to send a small contingent of U.S. diplomats back to Kyiv as part of a soft reopening of the embassy is intended to signal that the United States stands with Ukraine against Russia. It is a move U.S. lawmakers from both parties, as well as Ukrainians, have been hoping to see for weeks. But Biden administration officials had hesitated, in large part due to ongoing security concerns, even as other countries reopened their missions.

The American embassy’s reopening was confirmed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Wednesday, after the U.S. flag was once again raised at the facility. He called it a “momentous step.”

“The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” Blinken said. “We stand proudly with, and continue to support, the government and people of Ukraine as they defend their country from the Kremlin’s brutal war of aggression.”

Blinken said the Biden administration has “put forward additional measures to increase the safety of our colleagues who are returning to Kyiv and have enhanced our security measures and protocols.”

A person familiar with the embassy’s reopening plans told POLITICO that it would resume functioning only in a limited capacity and that consular services will not be offered.

Wednesday’s reopening ceremony was delayed for about an hour due to an air raid warning in Kyiv, underscoring the threat that persists more than a month after Russian ground forces retreated from the area around the Ukrainian capital.

Chargé d’affaires Kristina Kvien, currently on leave, was not present at the reopening ceremony, where a small contingent of diplomats raised the American flag over the embassy’s gated compound.

The person familiar with embassy operations said that U.S. Marines are not present at the embassy; the compound is being guarded by diplomatic security and Ukrainian national guard and police forces.

Diplomatic security has been a hot-button issue in the United States for years, largely due to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Republicans used that tragedy to launch multiple investigations of Democratic leaders.

But some top officials in President Joe Biden’s administration, including Blinken, have said the U.S. government needs to shed what many have called a bunker mentality when it comes to its diplomacy.

Nahal Toosi reported from Washington, D.C.


Subscribe to Kitsap County Democratic Women aggregator