Today's D Brief: 2K paratroopers arrive in Europe; German chancellor in DC; Macron to Moscow; New Navy command; And a bit more.

The week begins anew with Russia still commanding the world’s attention as Moscow maintains its threat of a Ukraine invasion using 100,000-plus troops that have surrounded the country for the past several weeks. That’s at least partly why Germany’s new chancellor is visiting Washington today; and it’s entirely why France’s president flew to Moscow, with plans to visit Kyiv on Tuesday. 

What might lie ahead: As many as 50,000 civilian deaths, and up to five million refugees. Those are some of the worst-case scenarios that a new Russian invasion could trigger, according to U.S. officials who briefed lawmakers behind closed doors on Thursday. Elements of that briefing began showing up in leading U.S. media outlets over the weekend, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Associated Press. And since thousands of Russian troops have set up temporary camps just 50 miles or so from Ukraine’s capital city, U.S. officials also said they believe Russia is capable of blitzing Kyiv and deposing its democratically-elected leader in a mere two days. 

Russia’s reax: “Another masterpiece of U.S. propaganda war,” Moscow’s Deputy UN Ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, tweeted Sunday, emphasizing the lack of evidence in Washington’s claims.

The U.S. assessments are notably stark and pessimistic (“grim,” is how the Times described them); and officials on both sides of the Atlantic caution that no one truly knows what Russia’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin, will ultimately choose. The easiest path would seem to be to stick to Moscow’s exercise script, and draw down its troops after the current drills with Belarus. But few Russia-watchers in the U.S. anticipate a notable Russian drawdown any time soon.

Russia formally begins new military drills with Belarus on Friday, Feb. 10. That’s also when Germany plans to host four-way talks in Berlin—featuring France, Russia, and Ukraine. About a week later, defense ministers from the NATO alliance plan to meet in Brussels. But for some U.S. officials, those dates probably still feel very far away.

“Any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine; or it could be a couple of weeks from now,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Fox News Sunday. “Or Russia could choose to take the diplomatic path instead,” said Sullivan. “The key thing is that the United States needs to be, and is prepared for any of those contingencies in lockstep with our allies and partners. We have reinforced and reassured our allies on the Eastern Flank, we have united the West, we have provided material support to Ukraine, all of President Biden's direction, and we've also offered Russia a diplomatic path if they choose to take it.”

At least one western assessment still eyes the next three weeks with particular caution. As previously rumored, “optimal conditions” for another Russian invasion “are believed to come between mid-February and the end of March, when Ukraine’s flat, open terrain and the rivers crisscrossing it are frozen and armored vehicles can maneuver easily,” the Washington Post reported Saturday, echoing New York Times reporting from December. 

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

About 2,000 U.S. paratroopers arrived in Germany on Friday. The soldiers—from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division and its 18th Airborne Corps—landed in Wiesbaden (photos here and here) before being routed to Poland and Romania as part of the White House’s efforts to reinforce NATO allies in response to Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s borders. About 1,000 are headed to Romania, and 1,700 or so are headed to Poland. Another 300 will remain in Germany.
New: The Brits are sending 350 troops to Poland, too, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Monday, calling it a “bilateral deployment to show that we can work together and send a strong signal that Britain and Poland stand side by side.”
This afternoon: U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are expected to brief reporters in a joint press conference from the White House’s East Room. That’s slated for 3:15 p.m. ET.
Biden rang up his French counterpart on Sunday. The two chatted about “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up on Ukraine’s borders, and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a White House readout.
By the way: French President Emmanuel Macron is facing elections in April; so this week’s diplomacy in Moscow and Kyiv could help or hinder his prospects for reelection. The New York Times reports he’s in Russia today looking for “a concrete signal of de-escalation” from Putin.
Reuters’ preview:Russia plays down hope of breakthrough ahead of Macron-Putin talks.”
Another POV: “Pipeline diplomacy with Moscow has built an interdependence that will take years to unwind,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
A concerned view from Moscow? CNN reports today that “some Russian officials think Putin is underestimating the costs and difficulties of a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to alleged U.S. intelligence intercepts. Story here.

And finally today: The U.S. Navy is promoting safety with a new command. The Navy took a step toward better safety oversight Friday with the establishment of the Naval Safety Command, following several major incidents including the devastating fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. The new two-star led command will collect, analyze, and report data to the fleet, and implement the Navy and Marine Corps’ safety management system, in an effort to reduce risk for sailors and foster critical thinking, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports.
“It will move us away from reactively managing safety to proactively managing risk by making sure accountability for risk is held at the appropriate level,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said during the ceremony. “We are charging our senior leaders to empower all hands to self-assess, self-correct, and to learn.”