Overnight Defense & National Security — Russia throws curveball with troop withdrawal

Russian troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Dec. 14, 2021.

Russian troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Dec. 14, 2021.

It’s Tuesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Russia announced on Tuesday that it will withdraw some of its troops from the Ukrainian border, but Kyiv, Washington and NATO all appeared skeptical of the news.

We’ll dive into the report, plus the Pentagon’s strategy for promoting competition in the defense industry.

For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Send tips to [email protected].

Let’s get to it.

Russia announces withdrawal of some troops

Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that it is pulling back some troops from the border with Ukraine.

Moscow has amassed upwards of 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, sparking fears that the Kremlin could soon launch a military incursion against Kyiv. Russia has denied these accusations

Details on the drawdown were sparse, however, and Kyiv, Washington and NATO all expressed skepticism of the announcement.

Outstanding questions: It was unclear from the announcement just how many troops would be withdrawing after exercises.

The announcement also didn’t mention the troops in Belarus for military exercises, which are scheduled to end Sunday.

No one’s convinced yet: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was skeptical of the announcement from Moscow.

“We in Ukraine have a rule: we don’t believe what we hear, we believe what we see,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “If a real withdrawal follows these statements, we will believe in the beginning of a real de-escalation.”

NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg similarly said the alliance had not seen “any de-escalation” on the ground but expressed “cautious optimism” because Moscow offered to engage in diplomacy.

In a speech given on Tuesday afternoon, President Biden said an invasion remained “distinctly possible” because U.S. officials haven’t been able to verify Moscow’s claims.

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“Indeed, our analysts indicate they remain very much in a threatening position. And the fact remains right now Russia has 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine … An invasion remains distinctly possible,” Biden said. “That’s why I’ve asked several times that all Americans in Ukraine leave now, before it is too late to leave safely.”

Room for diplomacy: As the US and NATO allies ramp up warnings of a Russian military incursion, there’s still an ongoing push to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would be willing to engage in discussions about confidence-building measures including limitations on intermediate range missiles in Europe and transparency surrounding military drills, according to The Associated Press.

But Putin added that the West would need to meet some of Russia’s demands.

Read today’s coverage of Russia’s announcement:

Russia announces withdrawal of some troops near Ukraine

NATO secretary says it sees no effort of Russian de-escalation on Ukrainian border

Biden: Russian invasion of Ukraine remains ‘distinctly possible’

Putin says Russia ready to talk to US, NATO on missile limits


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Pentagon looks to boost competition in defense industry

The Pentagon unveiled its strategy to address competition within the defense sector, including new methods of strengthening oversight among company mergers and lowering barriers to entry for small businesses.

In a report released on Tuesday, the agency said it will “confront the challenges posed by industry consolidation and work to ensure sufficient domestic capacity and capability in priority industrial base sectors.”

The effort comes as part of the Biden administration’s overall strategy to promote competition across a variety of sectors.

An executive order: President Biden signed an executive order in July aimed at boosting competition, which among other things was aimed at making broadband services more affordable and limiting noncompete agreements for workers.

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The report released on Tuesday was required under that executive order, as it directed the Pentagon to review the state of competition within the defense sector and take actions to align with the goals of the order.

The cost of consolidation: According to the report, the Pentagon has grown reliant on a small number of contractors over the past three decades.

For instance, the number of tactical missile suppliers have sharply declined from 13 to three, and the amount of fixed-wing aircraft suppliers has dropped from eight to three. Currently, 90 percent of missiles come from three suppliers.

The strategy: In the report, the Pentagon said it would strengthen its oversight over mergers, particularly working with the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice when a proposed merger would impact the defense industry.

The department also said it would address limitations with intellectual property rights, and work to attract new entrants into the industry through small business outreach and the use of other acquisition authorities aimed at reducing barriers to entry for new businesses.

The Pentagon says it would take steps to ensure supply chain resilience in five sectors: casting and forgings, missiles and munitions, energy storage and batteries, strategic and critical materials and microelectronics.

Read the full story here.


Top Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are demanding the Biden administration release all documents on the country’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a letter to several administration officials, committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), ranking member of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, asking for “documents, communications, and information” about the planning and execution of the withdrawal from January 2021 to the present.

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Leaked documents: The letter comes after Axios earlier this month obtained notes from a National Security Council meeting held on Aug. 14 that showed the administration still scrambling to plan for the withdrawal just before Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The notes from the Aug. 14 meeting, titled “Summary of Conclusions for Meeting of the Deputies Small Group,” showed among other things that administration officials had just began planning the transit process for evacuees after leaving Kabul.

“The Biden Administration had the warning signs that the Taliban were planning on seizing Kabul. Nevertheless, it appears the Biden Administration waited until August 14 – one day before Kabul fell – to begin contingency planning,” Comer and Grothman wrote. “What ensued was a U.S. military withdrawal that has drawn apt comparison to the fall of Saigon.”

Ongoing scrutiny: The withdrawal was officially completed on Aug. 31, and the U.S. managed to evacuate 124,000 people. But the process has come under intense scrutiny due to the chaos surrounding it.

Republicans have previously signaled interest in records that would shed light on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Comer and Grothman said the ongoing consequences of the withdrawal, especially after the release of the meeting notes, “necessitate Congressional oversight.”

“The longer-term consequences continue to unravel. Americans are still stranded in Afghanistan and our allies’ lives remain in danger,” they wrote. “The country is facing widespread starvation as it slides into economic collapse. As Afghanistan fails, it risks further destabilizing the region.”

Read the full story here.



Well, that’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you on Wednesday.