Today's D Brief: US ships to the Black Sea; Budget rollout today?; Fewer troops decline vaccine; 5 possible futures; And a bit more.

The U.S. is sending two Navy vessels to the Black Sea in “a show of support for Ukraine amid Russia’s increased military presence on Ukraine's eastern border,” Reuters and CNN report. (Read about that buildup in a separate explainer from Reuters, here.)

FWIW: The ships can only stay for 21 days before they have to turn around in line with the 1936 Montreux Convention. And that means, according to input from Turkey’s foreign ministry, those U.S. ships will exit the sea on May 4 and 5. 

On Thursday, Germany’s chancellor “demanded that [Russia’s] build-up be unwound in order to de-escalate the situation” in a call between Angela Merkel and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. That’s according to Reuters reporting Thursday from Berlin. 

Russia: It’s Ukraine’s fault. “Vladimir Putin noted provocative actions by Kyiv which is deliberately inflaming the situation along the line of contact,” the Kremlin announced in a typical fit of whataboutism. (ICYMI: A roundup of recent relevant Russian military moves.)

A Kremlin official offered some vague tough talk Thursday, likening Kiev’s government to “children playing with matches” — a possible reference to Ukraine’s president asking NATO this week for a pathway to membership in the alliance, preferably sooner than later — and saying that if thousands of people are massacred by Ukraine’s army during a future offensive in its east, Russia’s military “will have to step in” since some people living across its border still have Russian citizenship. A bit more from Reuters, here; or AP, here.

Meanwhile in space, Russian and American astronauts just traveled to the International Space Station together today in a Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that took off from Kazakhstan at about 4 a.m. ET. The three astronauts orbited the planet twice, which took about three hours, before they began docking procedures. “The three will work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science,” AP reports from Moscow. 

From Defense One

Space Force to Absorb USAF Command to Run Launches, Research // Patrick Tucker: The Space and Missile Systems Center will become Space Systems Command.

Fewer Troops Are Declining the COVID Vaccine. We May Never Know Why. // Elizabeth Howe: Defense leaders say education efforts and seeing peers get vaccinated are reducing the reluctance.

Beware ‘Just Say China’ Politics // Kevin Baron: Republicans screamed for more spending to counter China. Democrats are claiming their infrastructure bill does just that. It’s a dangerous game.

American Support is Needed to Resolve a POW Crisis in the Caucasus  // Amb. Varuzhan Nersesyan: Azerbaijan is illegally holding some 200 Armenian troops and civilian captives.

White House Wants Industry Input on New Software Security Rules // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: The administration wants to make sure the private sector has the ability to weigh in on procurement standards in an impending executive order.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1865, Confederate Gen. Robert Lee surrendered his nearly 27,000 hungry and treasonous troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union at the now-famous Appomattox Court House. Some four million enslaved Black people were freed by the collapse of Lee’s army, and the rest of the Confederacy, over the next four weeks. But it would take less than two years before embittered, violent white men reignited a new campaign of terror deliberately targeting Blacks across America’s South, setting the stage for the almost century-long Jim Crow era

Biden budget bump? Expect a $715 billion 2022 defense budget topline, Politico reports ahead of today’s anticipated board budget rollout. That would be “a modest increase from the current level but below the level projected by the Trump administration in its final budget, according to three people familiar with the proposal.” A bit more, here.

Northern Ireland has erupted in violence as Brexit-related economic pain, a pandemic and rising crime have all converged, leaving more than 70 police wounded over the past week, according to the Associated Press
More than 600 people attacked as “Police were pelted with Molotov cocktails, masonry, bottles and fireworks during rioting Wednesday night in west Belfast,” the Wall Street Journal reported off a police briefing Thursday. What’s more, “A bus was hijacked and set on fire,” and “school-age children were involved in the rioting, which spilled over into clashes between groups from Protestant and Catholic districts.”

After three months, Iran has released a South Korean oil tanker that Tehran captured in January for alleged environmental violations. “South Korea paid $100,000 for the release of the ship—lower than Iran’s asking price of $14 million,” the Wall Street Journal reports, citing an unnamed Western official.
Why this matters: “The detention was seen by Middle East experts as Tehran’s attempt to force Seoul, an American ally, to release the estimated $7 billion that banks in South Korea froze in 2019 to comply with U.S. sanctions restricting financial transactions with Iran.” More here.
Iran nuclear talks latest: To be continued. As in, officials from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain will meet again next week in Vienna to continue hammering out a way forward for Tehran and the U.S. to return to some kind of agreement on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
AP’s status report: Positive atmosphere, little progress in Iran nuclear talks.” Tiny bit more via Reuters, here

Myanmar’s military junta is now snatching satellite TV dishes from stores and asking people to turn them over to police, AP reports from the country’s largest city of Yangon. Meanwhile, “all non state-owned daily newspapers have stopped publishing and online news sites have come under severe pressure.”
Across the country, “At least 598 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces since the takeover” on Feb. 1, AP reports. (Reuters puts that figure at 614, including 48 children. More here.)

Back stateside, 3M Co. is facing a lawsuit from more than 200,000 service members and veterans who allege the company knowingly sold the Army defective earplugs for several years.
“The service members blame 3M for hearing loss and tinnitus, alleging that the company knew for years that the second version of its Combat Arms Earplugs had a tendency to come loose and let in more sound than specified,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The plaintiffs “claim that 3M didn’t give the military adequate instructions on how to use the earplugs and that the technique to create a proper fit wasn’t intuitive.”
Background: “The lawsuits began building in 2018, after 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million, without admitting to any liability, to settle allegations brought by the U.S. Justice Department that it failed to disclose deficiencies in the earplugs,” the Journal writes. “The settlement followed a whistleblower complaint filed by an earplug competitor that received internal 3M documents in unrelated patent litigation.” Continue reading here.

South Dakota’s attorney general is about to be promoted to a colonel in the Army Reserves, he said in a Facebook post Thursday, The Daily Beast reports.
Why bring this up? AG Jason Ravnsborg “is facing criminal charges after running over and killing a man” this past September, and “allegedly while reading political news on his cellphone during a drive home from a GOP party,” TBD writes.
Updating: The Pentagon police officer we mentioned yesterday is now facing two counts of second-degree murder after he shot two people he believed to be attempting to steal a car at 5 a.m. in the morning Thursday in Takoma Park, Md. 

Finally this week: Take a glimpse at five possible scenarios of the future, as crafted by America’s National Intelligence Council and released publicly Thursday. The five possible futures are: 

  1. Renaissance of Democracies: “The world is in the midst of a resurgence of open democracies led by the United States and its allies. Rapid technological advancements fostered by public-private partnerships in the United States and other democratic societies are transforming the global economy, raising incomes, and improving the quality of life for millions around the globe. In contrast, years of increasing societal controls and monitoring in China and Russia have stifled innovation.”
  2. A World Adrift: “The international system is directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored. OECD countries are plagued by slower economic growth, widening societal divisions, and political paralysis. China is taking advantage of the West’s troubles to expand its international influence. Many global challenges are unaddressed.”
  3. Competitive Coexistence: “The United States and China have prioritized economic growth and restored a robust trading relationship, but this economic interdependence exists alongside competition over political influence, governance models, technological dominance, and strategic advantage. The risk of major war is low, and international cooperation and technological innovation make global problems manageable.”
  4. Separate Silos: “The world is fragmented into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength, centered on the United States, China, the EU, Russia, and a few regional powers, and focused on self-sufficiency, resiliency, and defense. Information flows within separate cyber-sovereign enclaves, supply chains are reoriented, and international trade is disrupted. Vulnerable developing countries are caught in the middle.”
  5. Tragedy and Mobilization: “A global coalition, led by the EU and China working with NGOs and revitalized multilateral institutions, is implementing far-reaching changes designed to address climate change, resource depletion, and poverty following a global food catastrophe caused by climate events and environmental degradation. Richer countries shift to help poorer ones manage the crisis and then transition to low carbon economies through broad aid programs and transfers of advanced energy technologies.”

More urgent, however, is this particularly stark warning: “The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic marks the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political and security implications that will ripple for years to come,” the report’s authors write.
And looking ahead to 2040, “the physical effects from climate change of higher temperatures, sea level rise, and extreme weather events will impact every country,” the report warns.
In the in-between time, it’s not unreasonable to expect: “Privacy and anonymity may effectively disappear by choice or government mandate, as all aspects of personal and professional lives are tracked by global networks.” Read over the full report (PDF) here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!