The D Brief: Ukraine requests NATO entry; US, Iran talk, indirectly; Army wants Arctic cars; Open Skies planes, mothballed; And a bit more…
Ukraine: Give us a path into NATO. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy upped the pressure on Western leaders on Tuesday, asking NATO “to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the Western military alliance, after days in which Russia has massed troops near the conflict-hit Donbass region,” Reuters reports.
Predictably: “Zelenskiy’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Moscow, which said Kyiv’s approach to NATO could further inflame the situation in Donbass, where violence has increased in recent days.” Read on, here.
Catch up on Russia's military maneuvers, and how they’re being received, in this piece by Defense One’s Patrick Tucker.
Russia continues to expand its Arctic bases. CNN maps the progress over the past few years, here.
Putin signs law allowing himself to keep office until 2036. Monday’s formality ends a year of setup in which the Russian legislature crafted a bill that forbids any leader from serving more than two terms, not counting any terms already or currently being served, like Putin’s three-and-part-of-a-fourth. The law also grants him immunity from prosecution, the Guardian reports.
Russia is slowing Twitter traffic into the country because Twitter is not deleting things fast enough, Reuters reports. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, “said that on average, Twitter was removing illegal content within 81 hours of receiving a request. That is still much longer than the 24 hours demanded in law...Moscow has traditionally taken a more hands-off role in policing the internet than neighbouring China. But as friction has grown this year over the arrest and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, it has signalled a tougher line.” Read on.
From Defense One
Putin Ups Efforts to Intimidate Ukraine and Its Allies // Patrick Tucker: But experts say the mass mobilization does not suggest an imminent offensive.
US Army Wants Face Recognition at Base Gates // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: It's seeking a camera that can do the job through a rainy windshield at night.
The Pandemic's Tornado Phase // Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic: Some communities won’t see the storm, others will be well fortified against disaster, and the most at-risk places will be crushed.
DOD Workers Want to Keep Teleworking, Despite Early Hiccups, Survey Finds // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The DoD Inspector General surveyed more than 56,000 employees about telework during the pandemic.
U.S., Iran holding first “indirect talks” on returning to nuke deal. The European Union is hosting meetings aimed at producing agreements on how both countries might return to compliance with the deal, ABC News reports.
Pre-talk maneuvering: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently tweeted that the sanctions imposed by then-President Trump, who pulled the United States out of the deal, are illegal and that they must be removed before Iran changes its nuclear activities. But Robert Malley, who will help represent the U.S. in the talks, says, “It’s not going to work that way.” In an interview with NPR, Malley said Zarif’s stance would mean Iran is “not serious" about rejoining the deal.
Still, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 and the nearly three years of sanctions that followed, crushing Iran’s economy, have deepened Tehran’s wariness of American promises. The U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani last year heightened that mistrust.”
After the U.S. pullout, Iran resumed various nuclear activities. Here’s a primer (from last year) on “breakout time.”
Pentagon, State Department back Jordan’s king. Just days after what was characterized as a coup attempt by a Jordanian prince, the family claims all is well, including with the aggrieved prince. “It should have remained a family matter,” a mediator told the WSJ, calling the whole thing a “regrettable incident was the result of the clumsy actions of a senior security official and misrepresentation by a government official.”
Oh, really? “Jordan banned all news outlets and social media users on Tuesday from publishing any content related to King Abdullah’s half-brother Prince Hamza after the latter was accused of plotting to destabilise the country,” Reuters reports. Hamza has signed a letter declaring his loyalty to King Abdullah II but also vows to “defy” his house arrest, BBC reports.
“The king has our full support,” said Ned Price, State Department spokesman, on Monday. Across the Potomac, where Abdullah is very much liked and has received several full-honors receptions, the Pentagon’s John Kirby said, “We are watching the situation closely” and noted the “very strong military-to-military relationship with the kingdom.”
Back stateside: a former president and his allies push lies about his electoral defeat and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Reuters: “Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists ‘trying to make Trump look bad,’” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found. “Since the Capitol attack, Trump, many of his allies within the Republican Party and right-wing media personalities have publicly painted a picture of the day’s events jarringly at odds with reality.” Read on, here.
CNO: We still don’t know whose drones swarmed warships off California. In July 2019, the destroyer USS Kidd was buzzed by up to a half dozen small aircraft as it steamed near California’s Channel Islands. The incident was investigated by the Navy, Coast Guard, and the FBI. But little was known publicly until March, when The War Zone published a timeline based on the deck logs of Kidd and other nearby vessels, obtained by FOIA.
On Monday, Adm. Mike Gilday was asked by reporters whether the Navy had ID’d the aircraft. “No, we have not,” the CNO responded. “I am aware of those sightings and as it’s been reported there have been other sightings by aviators in the air and by other ships not only of the United States, but other nations – and of course other elements within the U.S. joint force.”
The Air Force is mothballing its Open Skies spy planes that flew over Russia for six decades. Last year, Trump pulled out of the treaty, which since 2002 has helped 34 countries to keep tabs on each others’ militaries. Biden’s team is reviewing that decision, but an Air Force spokeswoman said, “the two aging OC-135B planes were no longer needed,” according to the Wall Street Journal, and so they will be sent to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, adjacent to the Pima Air & Space Museum, in Arizona.
Money or politics? One Nebraska congressman said the planes are old and costly. One former Trump NSC official said, “We are safer each day that we are denying the Russians the opportunity to overfly America’s infrastructure.” And U.S. officials have long noted that Russia has not always complied with its obligations for overflights, and that spy satellites give the United States surveillance capabilities that Moscow lacks.
But others — including NATO’s European allies and at least one former CIA chief — say the treaty helped preserve strategic stability by allowing all concerned to keep tabs on each other, and did not divulge sensitive information. Tweeted Michael Hayden of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw: “This is insane. I was the director of CIA.”
Lastly today: Army seeks new Arctic transport. The service intends to replace its Small Unit Support Vehicle, a boxy, tracked contraption first ordered in the early 1980s, with a newer vehicle that can better support operations in warming northern climes. Two vendors have received contracts to deliver prototypes by June 14, Defense News reports. Service officials aim ultimately to buy 163 of the new snowcrawlers.