Russia-Ukraine ‘crisis’ in the Sea of Azov; Fracas at the border; Climate change already hurting US; DOD’s drone strategy passes key test; And a bit more.

Crisis in the Sea of Azov. More than four years after it illegally seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Russia seems to be trying to enforce naval territorial claims extending from that 2014 seizure and into the Ukraine-hugging Sea of Azov.

For your eyes only: view a map of the region in question, via Reuters here; watch purported video of the incident, here; or view current marine traffic congestion around the Kerch Strait, here.

The crisis erupted,” Reuters reports, “when Russia’s border patrol boats belonging to Russia’s FSB security service seized two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors on Sunday. They had been trying to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea.”

“The Ukrainian navy said six of its seamen were wounded” in the exchange the Associated Press reports. So far this morning, “The fate of the Ukrainian seamen was not immediately clear. Klimkin insisted that they should be treated as prisoners of war while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say what legal status they have.”

Says Russia: Ukraine staged this whole thing. According to Moscow’s foreign ministry, “It’s obvious that this painstakingly thought-through and planned provocation was aimed at igniting another source of tension in the region in order to create a pretext to ramp up sanctions against Russia.”

Says Ukraine: The incident is “unprovoked and crazy,” NPR’s Lucian Kim reports.

Next for Russia: “The FSB said it had opened a criminal case into what it called the ships’ illegal entry into Russian territorial waters.”

In Kiev, President Petro Poroshenko wants parliament to implement martial law for 60 days, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports in a live blog tracking the latest in these Ukraine-Russian tensions.

For the record: Ukrainian citizens are marking the 85th anniversary of the Stalin-era famine known as the Holodomor, in which millions of people died of starvation. RFE/RL notes up top in their tracker.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reportedly called up Poroshenko today to offer his “full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” according to Reuters.

Happening in about an hour: NATO’s Stoltenberg will brief the press on the latest from the alliance. Catch that live, here.

BTW: At least five bridges have collapsed in Russia since early October, killing at least one man this morning. That story, here.


From Defense One

White House Expands Border Troops’ Authorities, Raising Questions // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The defense secretary insisted on Wednesday that he will not be arming troops with guns, or detaining migrants long-term.

The US Military’s Drone Swarm Strategy Just Passed a Key Test // Patrick Tucker: DARPA-funded drones worked together despite heavy electronic-warfare defenses.

Special Report: Is the US Ready to Escalate in Cyberspace? // Ben Watson: A barrage of cyber attacks have hit U.S. companies and institutions over the past decade. At long last, the United States says it’s ready to strike back.

The US Military Is Trump’s Favorite Prop // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: President Trump sent troops to the border even though they’re prohibited by law from stopping immigrants. He still hasn’t visited U.S. troops in a combat zone.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. It’s dangerous to go alone! Take The D Brief with you every morning. And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, which created the Department of Homeland Security.


Happening today at 1 p.m. EDT: U.S. Southern Command’s top officer, Adm. Kurt Tidd, will be relieved by Adm. Craig Faller at SOUTHCOM HQs in Doral, Florida. Catch that event live at DVIDS, here.  

The Taliban ambushed and killed about 20 Afghan police in the western province of Farah today, bringing the number of Afghan security forces killed in Farah during November to more than 100, RFE/RL reports.

Afghan officials are considering delaying the April presidential election by three months, AFP reports from remarks today by Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman.
Reason given: All of them, according to one official. “The economic, security and weather situations are forcing us to make some changes to the timeline of elections,” said Independent Election Commission chief Abdul Badi Sayyad.
In addition to economics, security and weather, Afghanistan’s electoral commissions — the ECC and the IEC — are reportedly “struggl[ing] to tally votes cast in the recent legislative poll and resolv[ing] thousands of complaints,” AFP writes, referring to October’s parliamentary election.
Oh, and about that last election: It “was more than three years late, [and] was marred by chronic disorganisation and deadly violence,” AFP notes.
Word of possible delay is likely to excite some U.S. officials. You may recall America’s special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad wanted a delay of those April presidential elections so he could negotiate some kind of settlement with the Taliban, The Wall Street Journal reported back in mid-November. More from AFP, here.

Fracas at the border. “Hundreds of migrants tried to evade the police and cross from Tijuana, Mexico, into San Diego” on Sunday afternoon, the New York Times reports. “The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency responded by firing tear gas and closing the border in both directions.” No injuries were reported. Read on, here.
Thousands of Central American migrants who have fled violence in their home countries have been waiting in and around Tijuana, many in disease-ridden camps, to apply for asylum in the United States.
The nation’s busiest border crossing was reopened on Sunday, but not before President Trump threatened to close it permanently. ABC has more, here.
ICYMI: Trump granted expanded police powers to the U.S. military, but SecDef Mattis said their use would be very limited. Katie Bo Williams, here.

Climate change is already hurting the U.S. “Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the U.S., and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date,” NPR reports, here.
Issued by the White House the day after Thanksgiving, the fourth National Climate Assessment wraps up years of research and analysis by hundreds of the nation’s top climate scientists, including ones from more than a dozen federal agencies.
From the report’s summary: “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
Instead, the U.S. government is encouraging the mining and burning of coal. Why do Washington and other governments continue to foster this particularly damaging source of energy? Politics, energy-industry money, it’s cheap — and the NYT has a deeper dive, here.

Trump lied about the CIA’s assessment of the Khashoggi murder, say lawmakers who have seen the classified intel reports. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have each publicly denounced President Trump’s assertion that the CIA has not concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Via Axios, here.
The quote, via CNN: “Trump said Thursday that the CIA ‘did not come to a conclusion’ about the crown prince’s involvement in the murder.”

POTUS demands action to reduce deficit, pushes new deficit spending. The Washington Post cites 10 unnamed White House officials in its look at the president’s newfound concern about the federal budget’s sea of red ink. here.

Trump’s Thanksgiving calls to troops deployed abroad:

  • On the conference call, broadcast live by CNN: “We’re all doing well economically, better than anybody in the world. We’re the hot nation in the world. It’s nice to know you’re fighting that’s doing well and that’s our country.”
  • Speaking to the CO of the USS Ronald Reagan, the president reiterated his concerns about the Navy’s use of electromagnetic catapults in new aircraft carriers. “Steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic — I mean, unfortunately, you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly,” Trump said. “What would you do?” Capt. Pat Hannifin, articulating the Navy’s view, responded by telling Trump that EMALS would lessen the burden that steam-powered systems exact on carriers and was within sailors’ power to operate successfully. “You sort of have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plants that we have here as well, but we’re doing that very well,” Hannifin said. Via Washington Post, here.
  • Speaking to a Coast Guard commander in the Persian Gulf: “We’ve been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals…how are you finding things in the region?”

And finally today: The 2018 word of the year award goes to “misinformation,” according to Dictionary.com’s way of seeing our vocabulary.
Why not “disinformation,” you might ask? “[T]o serve as a ‘call to action’ to be vigilant in the battle against fake news, flat earthers and anti-vaxxers, among other conduits” of misinformation, said Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary.com, to the Associated Press. Read on, here.

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