Today's D Brief: Russia changes its tone; Cyber warning from the UK; FBI's new weapon; New DOD targeting office; And a bit more.

Russia says it won’t start a war, and that it doesn’t want a war in Ukraine. That’s according to Moscow’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who spoke Friday in an interview broadcast across Russia. “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Lavrov said. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.” Reuters has video of that interview here.

Review the latest known disposition of Russia’s forces around Ukraine via a nifty, large map produced by the New York Times’ graphics team on Thursday.

The Brits warn Russian cyberattacks could be coming should Russia choose to invade Ukraine again. And “UK organisations are being urged to bolster their cyber security resilience in response to the malicious cyber incidents in and around Ukraine," Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement Friday. Reuters has more from London.

Russia’s dictator and France’s president spoke by phone today, Agence France-Presse reports from Moscow. But, short of a promise to “carefully study” the U.S. replies to Russia’s ultimatums, which were delivered Wednesday, nothing new seems to have emerged from the long chat Friday, as Moscow described it. 

U.S., EU presidents say they’re in lockstep when it comes to Ukraine’s energy security, especially when it comes to liquefied natural gas. Already, the U.S. is the European Union’s largest supplier of LNG, the two presidents said in a joint statement this morning. More to that, here.  

Biden rang up President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine on Thursday. In that call, Biden promised “the United States along with its allies and partners [will] respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” the White House said in a readout. POTUS46 also casually reminded Zelenskyy that the U.S. has given Kyiv “over half a billion dollars in development and humanitarian assistance in the last year, and is exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military build-up.”

Biden also met with his Norwegian counterpart, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, at the White House on Thursday. Ukraine-related drama dominated their discussion, which also touched on climate change, the pandemic, and Afghanistan. A bit more from the White House here. 

SecDef Austin has been calling a few of his pals in Europe this week, including his counterparts in Romania (on Thursday) and Poland (on Wednesday). In both calls, the leaders shared their “support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and they also emphasized the “importance of maintaining NATO unity,” according to the Pentagon. 

“If [Russia’s] aim is to have less NATO at their borders, they’ve achieved exactly the opposite,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday morning at an event organized by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C. “We are working hard for the best peaceful political solution, but we also prepared for the worst,” he said. “From the NATO side, we are ready to engage in political dialogue. But we’re also ready to respond if Russia chooses an armed conflict confrontation.”

Get to better know America’s Ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, courtesy of this profile in the New York Times. She is the first person to hold the post in nearly a year, and arrived just in time for “the most serious crisis to face the Western alliance since the Cold War,” the Times’ Steven Erlanger reports from Brussels. 

This afternoon: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will brief the press for the first time since November. He’ll be joined by Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley around 1 p.m. ET from the Pentagon. Catch that live on DVIDS, here

From Defense One

Pentagon Names Army Units Tapped for Possible European Deployment // Caitlin M. Kenney: Defense spokesman cautions that these units have only been alerted, not activated, as tensions continue around Ukraine.

After 20 Years of Civilian Drone Strike Deaths, Pentagon Creates An Office to Stop More  // Tara Copp: The military keeps repeating mistakes and is not ready for future fights because the lessons learned have not been instilled throughout the DOD, an independent review found.

Blame Houthis, Not Saudis, for Lingering Yemen War, White House Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: “It takes two to get to a ceasefire and end the war and right now the onus is on the Houthis,” Brett McGurk said.

Putin’s No Chess Master // Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic: Some believe Putin has not only Ukraine, but the whole West, exactly where he wants it. A more balanced consideration is in order.

Welcome to this Friday 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. On this day in 1964, a Soviet MiG-19 shot down an unarmed U.S. Air Force T-39 trainer jet as it flew over East Germany, with an apparently malfunctioning radio; all three occupants perished in the incident.

A viral “open letter” begging the DOD to fix its outdated and broken computers has reached top military leaders, including Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who “share[s] some of the frustrations” the writer outlined, Task & Purpose reported Thursday.
“Before buying another plane, tank, or ship, fix our computers,” Michael Kanaan, director of operations for the Air Force-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, wrote in the widely shared Twitter post. “Want innovation? You lost literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of employee hours last year because computers don’t work. Fix our computers.” 

This week in #LongReads: Like Israel, the FBI now has “the world’s most powerful cyberweapon,” Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times report this weekend in the Times’ magazine.

Apropos of nothing: Russia’s military has a special drone factory for large aircraft, and its defense chief just dropped by for a visit on the outskirts of Moscow on Thursday. Photos and sparse detail from Kremlin messaging, here.

For just the second time, a new Justice Department unit has arrested a man for threatening an election worker. The first case, made public last Friday, charged a 54-year-old Texas man with a similar offense, though his target was an election worker in the state of Georgia. This time, the threats came from a 50-year-old Nevada man who targeted an employee at the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office; that employee happened to have been a former U.S. Marine. (For the record, a third person was charged in New Hampshire back in Dec. 2020; but this occurred before the DOJ mobilized specifically for this threat to American democracy.)
The recent arrests were the work of the Justice Department’s newly-established Election Threats Task Force, which began work last June. According to the Department of Justice, “The task force engages with the election community and state and local law enforcement to assess allegations and reports of threats against election workers, and investigates and prosecutes these matters where appropriate, in partnership with FBI field offices and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the country as warranted.”
“Dozens of similar cases” are under investigation across the country, including an alleged incident in Vermont. Reuters has more, here

What’s it like to walk the beat with Taliban cops on the streets of Kabul? The NYTs tagged along during a recent 12-day stretch, spanning Kabul and Wardak provinces, and turned in a fascinating report on how Afghan life is changing since U.S. and allied forces exited last August.
In our opinion, the photographs alone (from NYT’s Victor Blue) are worth the price of admission for this dispatch. Dive in, here.

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