Today's D Brief: Russian military tries to quell Kazakh unrest; The legacy of Jan. 6; The extremists of Jan. 6; And a bit more.

While awaiting possible orders to re-invade Ukraine, Russia’s military is now growing a bit distracted with violent protests in Kazakhstan, where the Kremlin has just dispatched paratroopers to crush demonstrations sweeping through the old Kazakh capital of Almaty, the nation’s largest city of about two million people.

Internet service has also been cut across Kazakhstan, Reuters reports. And that, of course, makes verification during these tumultuous times especially challenging. But according to an official with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are all headed to Kazakhstan. However, Reuters notes the CSTO official “did not disclose the overall size of the force.”

If you’re just now catching up, anger over rising fuel prices triggered protests across the country, which led to the government’s resignation earlier this week. Then on Wednesday, “protesters reportedly stormed the airport in … Almaty, forcibly entered government buildings, and set fire to the city's main administration office,” as well as a presidential residence, according to CNN. “Police reportedly fired on some protesters at the residence in Almaty before fleeing,” according to the Associated Press, reporting from Moscow. Kazakh authorities say at least eight police and soldiers have been killed in the unrest, and another 300 officers have been injured. 

Ring, ring: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called up his Russian counterpart this morning. According to the Pentagon, Austin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu “discussed risk reduction near Ukraine’s borders.” And that’s all we get from Austin’s press shop. For what it’s worth, Austin also rang up his British counterpart, Ben Wallace, to chat about Ukraine developments Wednesday evening. Tiny bit more on that from the Pentagon, here.

Ukraine latest: America’s top diplomat says it’s up to Moscow to de-escalate tensions with Kyiv if any of the three multinational meetings over the next two weeks are to yield any progress toward peace. 

“The real question is whether Russia is serious about diplomacy, serious about de-escalation,” said U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken in Washington on Wednesday. He was flanked by his German counterpart, new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, visiting the State Department for the first time since assuming her post along with a new Berlin government in the latter half of 2021. “I think if [negotiations with Russian officials are] going to bear fruit,” Blinken said, “if they’re going to show real progress, that will require de-escalation. It’s very hard to make actual progress in any of these areas in an atmosphere of escalation and threat with a gun pointed to Ukraine’s head.”

As for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe, “It’s not [yet] operational,” Blinken emphasized a few times during Wednesday’s presser. “And if Russia renews its aggression toward Ukraine, it would certainly be difficult to see gas flowing through it in the future. So some may see Nord Stream 2 as leverage that Russia can use against Europe. In fact, it’s leverage for Europe to use against Russia.” Read over the full exchange, here.

The latest from Moscow:Russia’s Demands on Ukraine Must Be Addressed Urgently, Russian Official Says,” the Wall Street Journal reports Thursday morning. 

From Defense One

Six Things Veterans Can Do to Strengthen Our Democracy // Joe Plenzler, William Braniff, and Anil Nathan: Work to inoculate our communities against disinformation, increase civil participation, and collaborate to build our nation’s vital institutions.

Defense Giants Should Stop Funding Election Deniers // John Carl Baker: If it turns out that antidemocratic action is not a red line for the defense industry, we need to start asking more serious questions.

One Year After Jan. 6 Attack, Push For Quick Reaction Force Is Dead On Capitol Hill // Jacqueline Feldscher: Experts also warn changes at DOD won’t speed up how quickly Guardsmen could respond to future incidents.

Is Russia’s Su-75 ‘Checkmate’ Aircraft a Case of Vapor Marketing?  // John V. Parachini and Peter A. Wilson: There’s less than meets the eye to the proposed fighter-bomber that made a splash at a recent industry show.

How to Disable Putin’s Energy Weapon // David Frum, The Atlantic: Only by integrating Europe into a better network of energy security can NATO truly protect its members.

Cyberspace Solarium Commission to Reboot as a Non-Profit // Lauren C. Williams: After two years and a handful of legislative changes, the congressionally mandated group is dissolving—and returning to its work in a different form.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. 

“Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm?” U.S. President Joe Biden asked in remarks delivered this morning, exactly 12 months after supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. “At this moment we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be,” Biden said. “Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.”

BTW: There were more threats to members of Congress last year than any year prior, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger told senators Wednesday.
Remember: At least 138 police were injured in the violent insurrection of Jan. 6. One officer died hours after rioters attacked him with chemical spray; four others present died by suicide several weeks later.
Dive deeper:The Capitol Police and the Scars of Jan. 6,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday.
There were about 10,000 threats to lawmakers in 2021, Manger said. (For comparison, USCP recorded only about 3,900 such threats in 2017.) To better address those threats, Manger said he hopes to hire about 280 new officers each year until 2026, which is about twice the usual rate of hiring, USA Today and the Washington Post reported from that Wednesday hearing on the Hill. 

This week we learned: “Of the Capitol breach defendants with links to organized extremist groups, most (54) were affiliated with the Proud Boys” when compared with all other groups, according to a new analysis from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, based at the University of Maryland. 
Rewind: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said at one of the presidential debates back in September.
As for the Proud Boys charged in the riot, 14 came from Florida and New York; others came from Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Read over the rest of START’s report, here.
You may remember: After Jan. 6, lawmakers clamored for a military quick reaction force to protect against possible future violence, especially since it took National Guardsmen three hours to respond. But now one year after the riot, that idea of a special military unit has fizzled on Capitol Hill, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reported Wednesday.
Background: “Last March, the Capitol Security Review Task Force recommended that Congress establish a quick reaction force within the D.C. National Guard to respond to crises at the Capitol,” Feldscher writes. Shortly afterward, in May, the House passed a $1.9 billion supplemental funding bill that included $200 million to establish a military quick reaction force. However, that language was not in the version the president signed in July. What now? Feldscher explains, here

In related extremism developments: Armed pro-Trumpers are demonstrating slightly more often, and they’re bringing those guns to legislative grounds more often, too, according to a 2021 review from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. For a bit more specificity on those protests, here are a few highlights from ACLED’s data: 

  • “The percentage of armed pro-Trump demonstrations increased last year. In 2021, 8.8% of pro-Trump demonstrations were armed (32 of 364) compared to 6.2% in 2020 (80 of 1,282).”
  • “The percentage of armed pro-Trump demonstrations that took place at legislative grounds increased in 2021, with 81.3% (26 of 32) reported at these sites compared to 33.8% (27 of 80) in 2020.” And “These demonstrations turned violent or destructive 13.6% of the time in 2021 (six out of 44), up from 11.4% of the time in 2020 (eight out of 70).”
  • “Of all named groups identified at armed demonstrations since 2020, the vast majority (81.9%) are right-wing actors.” And “the top three named actors present at armed demonstrations since 2020 are the Boogaloo Boys and their affiliates, the Three Percenters and their associated groups, and the Proud Boys.”

Read over the full ACLED year-in-review, here.

Meanwhile OCONUS, U.S. Forces Japan re-introduced some Covid-related restrictions for troops, families and workers, as infections surge again across Japan. The organization in charge of all U.S. bases in Japan now mandates mask wear in public areas on base while in “restriction of movement” until the receipt of a negative Covid test, and requires a Covid test when arriving to Japan via military aircraft. A test before leaving for Japan and a strict 14-day quarantine upon arrival was already required.
Some bases have added additional measures; e.g., officials at Okinawa, Kadena Air Base are requiring masks inside all base facilities, regardless of testing or vaccination status. Service members and families there are also bracing for the likelihood of increased restrictions on off-base restaurants and bars.
Three prefectures with U.S. bases “have requested quasi-emergency measures as Japan faces what some are calling a sixth wave of coronavirus infections,” and one official has blamed Americans for spreading Omicron, Reuters reported Thursday from Tokyo. 

And lastly today: Revisit an old Civil War-era tale of lost gold buried somewhere in the forests of northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s there that a group called Finders Keepers has sued the FBI for records related to “what, according to legend, was an 1863 shipment of Union gold that was lost or stolen on its way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia,” AP reported Wednesday.
According to AP, the case does seem a bit fishy. “After meeting with the treasure hunters in early 2018, the FBI brought in a contractor with more sophisticated instruments. The contractor detected an underground mass that weighed up to nine tons and had the density of gold, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed last year.” The folks from Finders Keepers had “accompanied the FBI to the site in Dent’s Run, about 135 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, but say they were confined to their car while the FBI excavated.” Continue reading, here.