Today's D Brief: Ukraine preps for conflict; EU preps sanctions; Putin's gamble; C-ISIS to Africa; And a bit more.

All eyes remain on Russia as America’s military chief hosts his Lithuanian counterpart at the Pentagon today. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is slated to welcome Defense Minister Dr. Arvydas Anušauskas, who’s been in his post for exactly a year now, early this afternoon around 1 p.m. ET.

By the way, Anušauskas is an accomplished historian who has published a book about “The Anti-soviet Resistance in the Baltic States.” 

FWIW: Lithuania was once part of the largest and arguably one of the most tolerant republics in Europe—known as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea—for more than 200 years, ending in 1795. During this time, its kings were elected, and the republic codified just the second constitution in modern history, behind the U.S., in 1791. At its best, “When the system worked well, the Commonwealth was a powerhouse,” the BBC remembered in a recent episode of “In Our Time.” However, “Its neighbours exploited its parliament's need for unanimity, though, and this contributed to its downfall.” Listen to the rest of that history, here.

Lithuania’s top diplomat has a bold prediction about Russia today: “We are convinced that Russia is actually preparing for all-out war against Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Monday in Brussels. “If it’s an unprecedented attack,” he continued, “that means that the answer has to be unprecedented from the Western countries, as well.”

Landsbergis is joined by other EU foreign ministers discussing potential new sanctions against Russia for renewed aggression in Ukraine, according to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 

On the table for the EU: Possible “Measures against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany to prevent it from becoming well as targeting more Russian state-owned defense and energy companies or canceling natural-gas contracts,” RFE/RL reports. Read on, here

New: Ukraine wants missile defense systems from Santa this year. And if it can get them before Christmas, then that’s even better, Kyiv’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Politico’s Paul McCleary over the weekend. That could include the Iron Dome system, or Patriot launchers. “We need to cover our nuclear power stations. We need to cover our airports. We need to cover our capital,” Reznikov said.

Related reading:Despite appeals from Ukraine, Biden admin holds back additional military aid to Kyiv amid diplomatic push,” via NBC News, reporting Friday. Coverage continues below the fold.

From Defense One

Finland Chooses F-35 Over Super Hornet, 3 European Fighters // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s the second win this year for the F-35 in a European fighter competition.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 93: Outlook 2022​​ // Defense One Staff : We continue our look-ahead to next year, featuring interviews with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, and more.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Super Hornet loses again; Vax mandate, blocked; Rare earth plans; and more...

Putin Is Taking a Huge Gamble // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: His decision to assemble an invasion force along Russia’s border with Ukraine suggests that we are about to enter a dangerous new phase of international relations.

Diplomacy Alone Can’t Save Democracy // Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic: Domestic actors, not global summits, drive democratization.

Nuclear Command-and-Control Satellites Should Be Off Limits  // James Acton and Thomas MacDonald: Blowing up some satellites causes problems. Blowing up these could cause nuclear war.

Welcome to this Monday 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 2002, the 15-member European Union announced that it would soon expand to include 10 more nations—Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. 

New D.C. think tank report on Russia’s tactics: Autocrat Vladimir Putin “may have no intention of invading Ukraine at all,” five analysts at the Institute for the Study of War write in part one of a new report on recent developments in Eastern Europe. Instead of an invasion, “Putin may be attempting a strategic misdirection that impales the West in a diplomatic process and military planning cycle that will keep it unprepared to meet his preferred, wily, and more subtle next move.”
While the U.S. and allies scramble “to defuse and de-escalate this crisis that he invented,” the authors warn in part two, “Putin is much more likely to send Russian forces into Belarus and possibly overtly into Russian-occupied Donbas.”
But a “full-scale Russian invasion of unoccupied Ukraine”? That “would be by far the largest, boldest, and riskiest military operation Moscow has launched since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan,” ISW warns. Such an operation would also “be far more complex than the US wars against Iraq in 1991 or 2003,” the authors add, and call such hypothetical “a marked departure from the approaches Putin has relied on since 2015, and a major step-change in his willingness to use Russian conventional military power overtly.”
For the months ahead, observers can expect “oscillations in the policy discourse between a focus on the de-escalation negotiations and Putin’s military activities and escalatory rhetoric outside that process.” This is because Putin seems to be “setting conditions for a future in which he has moved forces into Belarus and overtly into occupied Donbas but has not invaded unoccupied Ukraine, and in which the West is so relieved by the latter that it simply accepts the former.” There’s much more where all of that comes from, beginning with part one of ISW’s analysis here.
One big idea: “The United States should consider an out-of-cycle, division-level military deployment to Eastern Europe to reassure allies and bolster the defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman wrote late last week in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. “This kind of deployment would signal that Russia’s aggression will result in the sort of NATO security posture Russia most wishes to avoid.”
His bigger point: “Putin needs Ukraine to be a failed state,” Vindman writes. But “U.S. support for Ukraine could also help drive a wedge between China and Russia. Preventing Mr. Putin from invading Ukraine demonstrates the strength of the West’s commitment to opposing autocracy and makes Russia a less potent partner to China in their mutual efforts to undermine the Western rules-based international order.” Read on, here.
One last thing: The predicted takes comparing late 2021 to 1938? They’re already here. POTUS43 speechwriter Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute offers the latest such take via the Washington Post, here.

After winding down its counter-ISIS war in Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition is turning to Africa with a new “focus group” (not that kind of focus group) monitoring terrorism trends across the continent. Stars and Stripes’ Chad Garland has a bit more, here.
ICYMI: “Civilian Deaths Mounted as Secret Unit Pounded ISIS,” the New York Times reported Sunday, extending their work on the last days of the U.S. military’s large operations against ISIS leaders inside Syria. 

And lastly today, D.C.-area refugee agencies are overwhelmed by the thousands of Afghan refugees who have flooded into the D.C. area after the fall of Kabul. It’s partly because, of course, no one accurately predicted the speed of Kabul’s fall. But it’s also because those agencies had seen cuts in funding and personnel—as well as historically low numbers of refugees—during the Trump administration, according to the Washington Post, reporting Sunday. For example, before the evacuation from Kabul, one local group “had the staffing level to serve 500 people a year.” But “Since the historic airlift out of Kabul in August, more than 3,700 Afghan evacuees have been resettled in the District, Maryland and Virginia.” Read on, here.