Today's D Brief: Ukraine to world: Calm down; N. Korea's new missile test; ISIS prison battle in N. Syria; Afghans stuck in UAE; And a bit more.

Ukraine’s military chief wants everyone to calm down today after the White House alerted thousands of U.S. troops on Monday that they could be rushed to Eastern Europe to help protect regional allies, should Russia choose to invade Ukraine again anytime soon.

“No need to have your bags packed,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday. “As of today, there are no grounds to believe” Russia will invade Ukraine, Reznikov said, and added, “Don’t worry, sleep well.”

For Ukrainians anyway, “The tactic of soothing the population seems so far to be working,” the Wall Street Journal reports from the capital. “There have been no bank runs. The currency has lost only a little value against the U.S. dollar, compared with earlier crises that sent locals running to ditch their hryvnias.”

However, Reznikov took a different line in an interview Monday evening, the Associated Press reported Tuesday from Kyiv. In that discussion, he admitted there are “risky scenarios” of Russian military escalation that “are possible and probable in the future.” Other Ukrainian officials—like Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Oleksiy Danilov—are even less confident Russia will invade again soon. “The buildup of Russian troops isn’t as rapid as some claim,” Danilov said today. 

About those U.S. troops on high alert: They number about 8,500, and they’re “prepared to respond to a range of contingencies, including support to the NATO Response Force if it is activated,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Monday. “It’s very clear that the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Kirby said.

For the record: No Marines are among the 8,500 U.S.-based troops on heightened alert, a senior Marine Corps official said Monday.

Bigger picture: The call-up builds on other Western responses to the Russian moves, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports. Those include the Pentagon’s announcement last week that the Truman carrier strike group would be conducting large-scale naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. And on Monday, NATO officials said the strike group was operating under alliance command, a post-Cold War first. The United Kingdom has flown anti-tank weapons into Ukraine as well.

Speaking of tanks and opportunities, top GOP House lawmakers want to rush a possible sale of 250 Abrams tanks to Poland, Defense News reported Monday. 

New in diplomacy: French President Emmanuel Macron wants to try his hand at mediating between Moscow and Kyiv. He’s called a meeting with the presidents of both countries later this week in Paris. 

From Defense One

Pentagon Puts 8,500 Troops On ‘Heightened Alert’ Over Russian Threat To Ukraine  // Tara Copp: The force would not seek to stop an invasion, but to protect NATO’s Eastern flank.

FTC ‘Highly Likely’ to Block Lockheed’s Plans to Buy Aerojet Rocketdyne, Companies Say // Marcus Weisgerber: Antitrust regulators are unhappy with Lockheed's proposal to sell rockets to its competitors.

What If Moscow Cancels Airline Overflight Rights? // Elisabeth Braw: The interconnected world gives Russia tools that the Soviet Union never had.

Only Putin Knows What Happens Next // Tom Nichols, The Atlantic: He alone can make the choice to bring Europe back from the brink of a major war.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1995, Russia nearly launched a nuclear attack on the U.S. after a research rocket flew from northwestern Norway, causing a brief panic in Moscow.

For the fifth time this month, North Korea just fired off a few more rockets in an apparent new test. Two suspected cruise missiles are believed to have been involved this time, which South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reminds us “does not run afoul of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.”
Worth noting: “North Korea has never started a new year with so many weapons tests,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Dive deeper: Read more about North Korea’s cruise missile program via this September analysis from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The war on ISIS is still taking place, and the group’s fighters broke into a prison in northern Syria last Thursday, triggering a riot among the 3,000 or so inmates held there, AP reports today from Beirut.
The group has taken hostages from the U.S.-backed forces, and only nine have been freed so far. “The clashes with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have killed dozens from both sides,” AP writes.
Location: al-Sinaa, or Gweiran prison, in northeastern Syria. The assault is now in its sixth day, and has focused on one wing of the prison where an estimated 200 fighters are still resisting. Read on, here.

Hundreds of Afghans who helped the CIA are stuck in the UAE and growing increasingly miserable after what has now been nearly five months of vetting and resettlement efforts from U.S. officials, the New York Times reported Monday. And some officials think those Afghans may have to wait another five months before finally being able to board a flight to the U.S.
The problem: Afghans say the conditions at the UAE facility are “strained and increasingly unpleasant, adding to their sense of being forgotten.”
A more specific problem: The food is “sometimes spoiled,” according to a person at the facility who gave the Times “pictures and videos showing moldy eggs, spoiled meat, rice served with shreds of paper mixed in, and rotting potatoes. The person said some children had food poisoning this month, forcing a temporary halt in meal service.”
Said a White House official: Conditions at the UAE are “as good as or better than those of refugees still at American military bases, which have also been strained because they were not designed to house large numbers of refugees for a long time.” Continue reading, here.

Can the U.S. support Afghan people without legitimizing the Taliban regime? That’s one of the key questions under consideration this afternoon at a virtual event organized by the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington.
Involved: Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., in conversation with Richard Fontaine of CNAS. A panel discussion will follow, featuring Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament; Matin Bek, former chief of staff to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; and Lisa Curtis of CNAS, moderated by former U.S. Ambassador Kelley Currie. That all begins at 2:30 p.m. ET. Details and registration here.

A military junta is apparently in charge of Burkina Faso, after the group removed the West African country’s president, suspended the constitution, dissolved the national assembly, and closed the borders, Reuters and AP report. The coup Monday was the third in the region in 18 months, AP writes, in a country that was “once a bastion of stability.” ECOWAS, the region’s political bloc, said in a statement Tuesday that the president resigned “under threat, intimidation, and pressure from the military,” Reuters reported. More than 1,000 people took to the streets to celebrate the coup.

First F-35 accident of 2022. An F-35C Lightning II pilot and six sailors were injured Monday during a landing accident aboard the USS Carl Vinson currently sailing in the South China Sea. The aircraft impacted the flight deck and then fell into the water, but the pilot was able to safely eject and was rescued by a helicopter, the Navy said Tuesday. The pilot and two other sailors were MEDEVAC’d to a medical facility in Manila, Philippines, and the other four sailors were treated aboard the aircraft carrier. The sailors have recovered or are in stable condition. The impact to the ship’s flight deck was “superficial” and flight operations have resumed, according to the Navy.
Rewind: A British pilot had to eject from their F-35B Lightning II over the Mediterranean Sea during flight operations back in November. And the year before that, an American Air Force pilot also had to eject from their F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base in May 2020 primarily due to “excessive landing speed.”

And lastly: AUSA Huntsville expo canceled for COVID. The Association of the United States Army’s 2022 Global Force Symposium and Exposition that had been scheduled for late March in Huntsville, Ala., has been canceled, the organization announced Monday.
“We don’t like making this decision, but know it is the right one for the Army, industry, and members of the public who were planning to attend,” said retired Army Gen. Bob Brown, AUSA president and CEO. “We really wanted to have this important event focused on Army transformation and sustainment,” he said, but “the continued spread of COVID-19 in the United States makes it impossible for AUSA to hold an in-person event that we are certain doesn’t pose a risk to attendees.”