Today's D Brief: Russia to draw down near Ukraine; Indonesia hunts for sub; Panel pushes change in sex-assault cases; SecDef calls climate crisis “existential threat”; And a bit more.

Russia says it’s withdrawing troops from its tense border region with Ukraine, claiming Moscow’s training exercises that drew the world’s attention are finally ending. “I think the goals of the readiness test are achieved fully,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted in state-run media TASS as saying — with a May 1 date for Russian troops returning to their barracks. 

A “partial pullback,” is how the New York Times described Thursday’s developments, noting that Shoigu’s “order specified that troops departing from one large field camp about 100 miles from the border with the eastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas should leave their armored vehicles there until the fall.” 

Involved: Russia's 58th and 41st armies, “as well as several airborne divisions," according to the BBC. Those units are expected to begin their return trips today, and will run through the end of next week. 

Worth noting: Russia “didn’t get any obvious concessions from Ukraine and they didn’t get any obvious concessions from the West,” said Sam Greene of Kings College London to the Times. Russia did, however, “show they were willing to make a lot of people very nervous.” 

Another POV: "I think Moscow believes that its message was delivered, and this coercive demonstration served its purpose," CNA's Michael Kofman told NBC News.

The early U.S. reax: “We’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday. 

The view from Kyiv: “The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted Thursday. Ukraine “is always vigilant,” he added, “yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. [I am] Grateful to international partners for their support.”

Said Russian President Vladimir Putin, in public remarks on Wednesday: "We really don't want to burn any bridges, but if someone takes our good intentions for indifference or weakness, and if they intend to burn or destroy those bridges themselves, they should know that Russia's response would be asymmetrical, quick and tough.” Read more at DW.

What timing: NATO will begin its annual DEFENDER-Europe exercises on Monday, with activities planned through the second week of June, the U.S. Army’s European command said Thursday. 

Some 28,000 forces from 26 nations will join drills spanning “more than 30 training areas in 12 countries,” according to U.S. Army-Europe

Involved: Nighttime airborne operations; Nighttime air assault operations; High Mobility Artillery Rocket System live fire; Multiple Launch Rocket System live fire; Medical exercise and “joint large scale medical evacuation” drills; more airborne operations; and additional unspecified “Air and missile defense live fire.” More here.

From Defense One

The Bloated Pentagon Budget Isn’t Just Wasteful. It’s Racist // Diana Ohlbaum: In this era of racial reckoning, national security policy and defense budgets cannot be exempt from the scrutiny of their effects on communities of color.

Why the US Military Is Leading the Charge on 5G // John Breeden II, Nextgov: It’s not unlike the way that the armed forces invested in radar technology during World War II.

The Original Sin of the War in Afghanistan // Jonah Blank, The Atlantic: How Biden viewed the start of America’s post-9/11 wars may inform his future decisions on the use of force.

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 1941, the Greek city of Athens was evacuated and its King George II fled to Crete after the Nazis invaded Greece following two stalled invasion attempts by Mussolini’s Fascist Italian military. The king wouldn’t stay in Crete long because the Nazis invaded that island the next month, sending George II fleeing yet again to Egypt, and later to the UK. 

Time is running out for Indonesia’s lost submarine. Contact was lost on Wednesday with the 44-year-old KRI Nanggala-402 as it prepared for drills in the Bali Sea with 53 aboard, including the head of the Indonesian submarine fleet, Reuters reports.
The latest: The Indonesian navy has found an oil slick and an object with "high magnetic force" spotted "floating" at a depth of more than 50 metres, Indonesian Navy Chief of Staff Yudo Margono said Friday. 
The U.S. is sending help. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday: “We are deeply saddened by the news of Indonesia’s lost submarine, and our thoughts are with the Indonesian sailors and their families. At the invitation of the Indonesian government, we are sending airborne assets to assist in the search for the missing submarine.”

Happening today behind closed doors: The U.S. military's top officials are meeting for a "Senior Leaders Conference," a meeting that will also include Secretary of State Antony Blinken — and a planned drop-in by POTUS46 just before 3 p.m. ET, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement Thursday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host the meeting, which includes the Joint Chiefs Chairman as well as service chiefs and combatant commanders. These meetings, Kirby said, allow "leaders an opportunity to discuss issues that affect the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military departments, the combatant commands, and interagency efforts. The Secretary looks forward to these discussions, as they provide valuable advice and assistance in developing the strategic direction of the department.”

The U.S. military could soon dramatically change how it handles alleged sexual assault cases. On the anniversary of the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, the Pentagon on Thursday announced it was considering a move many consider essential in preventing deaths like hers from happening again: removing the chain of command from sexual assault and sexual harassment investigations, according to Defense One’s Tara Copp.
The potential shift is one of several recommendations delivered to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday as part of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault. Read more of Copp’s reporting here

Within a year, the Pentagon wants “climate exposure assessments” on all of its major U.S. installations. And within two years, it wants similar assessments completed on all of its major overseas installations. That’s one of the big takeaways for the military as the White House detailed its new climate policy agenda on Thursday, aka “Earth Day.”
Those future reports will rely on what the Pentagon calls its Defense Climate Assessment Tool, which uses open-source data to create “hazard indicators” using data from flooding, droughts, heat stress, tornados and more. Already data for some 1,400 U.S. military bases around the world have been incorporated into the DCAT, which you can read more about here.
Here’s a quick service-by-service assessment from the latest DOD data (PDF):

  • “The Air Force installations are often located in areas where long-term aridity or recurring short-term drought are anticipated to increase, driving more wildfire risk.” 
  • “Army installations have a similar pattern of exposure butare more frequently located in areas where exposure to heat, drought, and riverine flooding increase with time.” 
  • “The Navy has a significant exposure to coastal and riverine flooding, but there is great variability: some installations are highly exposed, and some are not.”

“Our core task is to keep our people safe,” Secretary Austin said Thursday, adding that the climate crisis is an “existential threat," and that "no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis.” Read over his full remarks here.

In odd security and tech news, a Jan. 6 Capitol rioter reportedly took to the dating app Bumble to brag about his involvement in the failed insurrection. The Washington Post reports today his potential date turned him into the FBI, and now he’s facing criminal charges

And finally this week: Big Osprey oops in the UK. A U.S Air Force CV-22B tilt-rotor aircraft made international headlines Thursday after it departed the make-shift helipad at a hospital in Cambridge.
The landing appeared to be safe and ordinary, but the departure was an entirely different story — sending the helipad’s rubber mats soaring laterally thanks to the powerful thrust of the Osprey’s rotors. Fortunately no one was injured, but the Addenbrooke Hospital was forced to divert some cases to nearby facilities until the helipad is restored. Read more at the Telegraph, here. Or catch video of the incident on YouTube, here

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