Trump-Putin G20 drama; NATO’s Black Sea options; Nuclear diplomacy; Exosuit, demo’d; And a bit more.

Will they or won't they meet in Argentina? On Thursday, after the president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the Russia probe, Trump tweeted that he would no longer be meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of this weekend’s G20 summit in Argentina. Tweeting from Air Force One, the president cited Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s naval vessels on Sunday.

The cancellation appeared to have taken Russian officials by surprise, and preceded a sharp drop in the value of the Russian ruble on Thursday.

Then things got muddy. On Friday morning, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said (via Russian state media) that Putin might have a brief impromptu meeting with Trump. Asked about that, a White House official told Politico’s Andrew Restuccia: “There is no scheduled pull-aside.”

Here’s Reuters’ 9 a.m. headline: ‘Russia rejects Trump's canceled meeting, Kremlin ready for contact’

Trump reacts to Russia probe news. POTUS was up at 5 a.m. this morning tweeting about it from South America. USA Today has all that, here.

Lingering issues for G20 leaders in Buenos Aires this weekend:

  1. "a bitter trade dispute between the United States and China";
  2. "the escalation of conflict between Russia and Ukraine";
  3. and "questions about how to handle the awkward presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman." More via Reuters, here.

The Associated Press has its own rundown of what to expect today and tomorrow — including desired debates from the European Council to discuss “Syria and Yemen and Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Here’s a G20 VIP visit scorecard via The National’s Joyce Karam:

  • Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping: yes
  • Trump and Putin: no
  • Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: no
  • Trump and MBS: no
  • MBS and Putin: yes
  • MBS and French President Emmanuel Macron: yes
  • Erdogan and MBS: unclear
  • Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: yes
  • Trump and Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: yes

Let’s return briefly to Trump’s cancellation of that Putin visit. The condition Trump named in his tweet — “the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia” — will remain in place for the forseable future, Reuters reports from both Kiev and Moscow today. That’s because Ukraine has “banned Russian men of combat age from entering the country, a move introduced under martial law after Russia fired on and captured three Ukrainian naval ships off Crimea last weekend.”

The age of Russian men who can’t enter Ukraine: anyone between 16 and 60.

For it's part, "Russia says it will deploy a new division of Pantsir medium-range surface-to-air systems on the Crimean peninsula by the end of the year." And that's intended to go along with "a new battalion of advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, [Russia's] fourth such battalion," deployed in northern Crimea, according to Interfax news agency.

Q. What are NATO and Washington’s best options for countering Russian naval aggression in the Black Sea? Tune in to this week’s of Defense One Radio podcast — new episode posts around noon EDT today — to hear retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe, explain his recommendations to our own Patrick Tucker.

Come for the talk about Russia in 2018; stay for the chat with Martin Pfeiffer (a/k/a @nuclearanthro) about nuclear weapons in the 1950s and early 1960s. There’s even some news about Space Force in between.

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From Defense One

Agencies Will Soon Have a Cyber Hygiene Score—And Will Know Where They Rank // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The AWARE score will be based on data from agencies’ continuous monitoring tools and will give the Homeland Security Department a holistic view of the government’s cybersecurity posture.

The Senate Takes a Step to Void America’s Blank Check to the Saudis // Daniel DePetris and Kate Kizer: Washington can continue to work with Riyadh, but it need never again accept flagrant violations of human rights, international norms, or U.S. national interests.

The Pentagon Must Pay More than Lip Service to Innovative Companies // Rep. Ken Calvert, D-Calif. The military has poured billions of dollars into the Small Business Innovation Research program — yet resists putting its fruits to use.

Families Are Still Being Separated at the Border, Months After 'Zero Tolerance' Was Reversed // Ginger Thompson, ProPublica: Immigration lawyers say border agents are again removing children from their parents. The explanation? They’re protecting kids from criminal dads and moms. Immigration advocates say it’s zero tolerance by another name.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Reagan Forum preview; The Air Force wants your ideas; More foreign arms sales eyed…

What Elizabeth Warren’s Speech Says About The Left’s Foreign-Policy Debate // Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: The senator from Massachusetts will deliver a speech on Thursday that demonstrates her differences with other progressives—particularly with respect to China.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 1961, U.S. Special Forces medics deployed to Vietnam as advisors originally intended to help Montagnard tribal groups in the highlands near Pleiku.

Nuclear diplomacy. Remember John Bolton’s intent to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty? Here’s Washington Post with an update on that drive:The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to convince European allies that its looming withdrawal from a landmark arms-control treaty on account of Russian violations is the right course of action.”
Writes arms-control advocate Kingston Reif, via Twitter: “Administration officials are trying to convince European allies of the merits of withdrawing from the INF treaty — after Trump announced the decision to withdraw without consulting allies, most of whom oppose withdrawal. Brilliant!”
Related: Trump nominee backs New START extension. After INF, the next arms-control treaty on National Security Adviser John Bolton’s chopping block is New START, which limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads apiece, and which is slated to expire in 2021.
But in a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, a Trump nominee responded to a question with support for extending the treaty. William Bookless, tapped to be Principal Deputy Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, eventually managed to tell lawmakers, “I think the New START treaty has contributed to a stable, international nuclear security environment. I would lean toward extending it.” (Via Defense Daily’s Dan Leone.)

Israeli jets reportedly struck Iranian-supported forces in Syria again this morning, The National’s Joyce Karam writes, calling this “the first publicised Israeli attack in Syria since the downing of a Russian jet last September.”
The quick read: “The strikes targeted the region of Al Kisweh, south of the Syrian capital, hitting Iranian militias’ targets” around 10 pm Damascus time, according to Jordanian media channel Al-Hadath.
As has been alleged before between Syria and Israel, Syria claims to have shot down an Israeli plane involved in these strikes, and as usual, Israel denied that.
Worth noting: “The attack followed US warnings on Thursday of increased Iranian presence in Syria. Briefing Congress at the time of the attack, US Special Representative James Jeffrey told the House Foreign Affairs committee that Washington wants to see Iranian proxies leave Syria.” More here.
Extra listening: ICYMI, you can hear our interview with Ambassador Jeffrey in episode 29 of Defense One Radio.

Today marks:

  • 31 days since Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a 30-day deadline for a ceasefire in Yemen. (ICYMI, Oct. 30: “We want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on the ceasing of dropping bombs that will then allow [Special Envoy Martin Griffiths] to get them together in Sweden and end this war.”)
  • One year since the last North Korean nuclear test, writes Ploughshares’ Catherine Killough, with notes on why it matters.

So China’s not happy the U.S. sailed another ship through the South China Sea, Reuters reports from Beijing. “Not happy” is our paraphrase of Chinese officials’ “stern representations” lodged with the U.S. after the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville sailed near the Paracel Islands on Monday to challenge China’s “excessive maritime claims,” Reuters writes off a statement this week from the U.S. Pacific fleet.
About those stern representations, “China foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told a daily news briefing the U.S. ship had entered Chinese waters without permission and China had made its position known with its 'stern representations.' The Chinese army said it had sent ships and planes to watch the U.S. ship and to warn it to leave.” A tiny bit more, here.

And finally this week: Check out the exosuit that CNAS’s Paul Scharre told us about in episode 27 of Defense One Radio. Scharre got the suits makers over at Lockheed Martin to demo the project before an audience in Washington on Thursday. And Reuters was on location filming it all.
If you wanna learn more, you can read over Scharre and his colleagues’ report on emerging military tech over at the CNAS site, here.
Have a great weekend, everyone. We’ll catch you again on Monday!