Today's D Brief: Black Sea security; Moscow locks down; Social media and extremism; How violent crime is changing; And a bit more.

From Bratislava to the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomed his Slovakian counterpart, Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad, to the U.S. military’s headquarters this morning around 10 a.m. ET. Slovakia, which joined NATO in 2004, hosted U.S. troops as they travelled from Germany to Hungary during exercises in May designed to deter Russia’s military.  

ICYMI: Slovakia irked China this week when, along with the Czech Republic and Lithuania, it hosted a 66-member delegation of Taiwanese officials. That three-country trip yielded 18 different memorandums of cooperation in areas like “industrial innovation, research and development, as well as the space industry and internet security,” Agence France-Presse reported this morning from Vilnius.

BTW: “U.S. Engagement in the Western Balkans” is the focus of a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing that began at 10 a.m. ET. Livestream it here.

This afternoon, security around the Black Sea is the focus of a Zoom-based webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and featuring Laura Cooper, who is officially performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. That gets started at 4:30 p.m. ET. Registration and details, here

Black Sea security was also the focus of a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Wednesday. Catch it in reruns, or read over opening statements from guests, including Dr. Alina Polyakova of the Center for European Policy Analysis, here.

From the region:Vaccine reluctance in Eastern Europe brings high COVID cost,” the Associated Press reports from Ukraine, where “only 16% of the adult population is fully vaccinated—the second-lowest share in Europe.”

Related reading:Moscow locks down as Russian COVID-19 deaths surge to new highs,” via Reuters reporting from the capital, where residents begin “a week-long nationwide workplace shutdown” on Saturday.

From Defense One

Pentagon to Skip Global Climate Conference, Despite 'Existential Threat' // Jacqueline Feldscher: Former defense officials called it a “missed opportunity.”

‘It Did Circle the Globe’: US Confirms China’s Orbital Hypersonic Test // Tara Copp: “Maybe the nuclear game has just changed,” one analyst said.

Air Force Will Miss Its COVID Vaccination Deadline by a Few Percent // Elizabeth Howe: The service’s Nov. 2 goal is nearly a month earlier than those of its sister services.

Why the World Should Help Afghanistan // M. Ashraf Haidari : Taliban leaders have condemned Afghanistan to a perpetual humanitarian crisis with global consequences. Here’s what must be done.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1922, Italian fascists staged an insurrection and took over the government in Rome, where the party ascended in popularity for at least 18 years—until dictator Benito Mussolini entered World War II on the side of the Nazis. Over the next three years, Il Duce's popularity sank with each mounting defeat until at last the Allies began bombing Rome in July 1943, turning Italians sharply against their dictator as well as their fascist-friendly King Victor Emmanuel. Two years later, Mussolini would be shot dead near Lake Como; the following year, the monarchy was abolished in a referendum, and Italy officially became a republic. 

The African Union has suspended Sudan and the U.S. and World Bank have both halted millions in aid to the country after the military coup earlier this week in Khartoum halted Sudan’s slow lurch toward democracy.
Reminder: “The military has been at the heart of power in Sudan since independence in 1956, staging repeated coups that snuffed out occasional experiments with civilian control,” Reuters reports today, with some sources alleging Sudan is turning now to Moscow for assistance—with an eye on its veto power in the UN Security Council.
“Russia already appears to be shielding Sudan's military in a possible Security Council statement,” Reuters writes, citing “two diplomats with direct knowledge of negotiations on the text.” Those officials “said Russia had suggested the 15-member council express concern at developments in Sudan, rather than condemn the takeover.” Read on, here.

SecDef Austin called up his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday. In that call, Austin and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reportedly chatted about “dispute resolution” regarding “Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program, which was finalized on September 23,” according to the Pentagon’s terse readout. (Tiny bit more on that dispute resolution meeting Wednesday in a separate Pentagon statement, here.)
Dive deeper: The meeting comes less than two weeks after the ambassador of Turkey to the United States called for rapprochement between the two countries. Read that on Defense One, here

Confirmation hearings for three top Pentagon officials are being held today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That includes John Sherman, who’s been nominated as the Pentagon’s next chief information officer; Ashish Vazirani is also slated to become the next deputy under secretary for personnel and readiness; and the Army could get a new top lawyer in Carrie Ricci. That began at 9:30 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream via SASC, here.

How exactly do social media platforms amplify domestic extremism? That’s what the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is looking into today in a hearing that began at 10:15 a.m. ET. Review the panel of witnesses or catch the livestream, here.
Also: Two top White House cyber officials are speaking at CSIS early this afternoon. That’d be National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger. That begins at noon ET. Details here

Blindsided? The U.S. failed to predict the rapid collapse of the Afghanistan government despite “nearly two dozen intelligence assessments from four different agencies,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning.
Why this matters: “The summaries of the reports, which start in April 2020, provide the most detailed picture to date of what the U.S. intelligence community was telling Mr. Biden, and President Donald Trump before him, as each president sought to end the war.”
Said our favorite pessimist, Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The intelligence community needs to take a long, hard look at how it provides assessments to senior leadership,” especially since agency analysts he knows saw what was coming “and for whatever reason that didn’t make it to the top.”
Said a White House official of the evidently overly-optimistic assessments: “They’re not oracles.” Continue reading, here.
Related reading: The UN’s aid network into Afghanistan is rapidly collapsing now, too, Reuters reports today from Kabul. Story, here.

Lastly today: The pandemic has changed “the politics of violent crime,” Politico reports after reviewing some national trends that have taken shape in the past 18 or so months.
You’ve probably heard that murders in America rose 30% since the pandemic began. Those FBI numbers were made public in September (here). You may not have known that in the same time, “as violent crimes increased nationally, property crimes and burglaries decreased,” Politico reports. Some contributing factors include job losses, strained family connections, “Heightened stress and uncertainty,” all of which may have “led more people to purchase firearms.” Read on, here.