Today's D Brief: Russia attacks, invades Ukraine; Zelenskyy's plea; EUCOM maneuvers; 'The world has changed'; And a bit more.

Claiming to rid Ukraine of “Nazis,” Russia’s military launched an invasion of its neighbor from at least three different directions on Thursday, beginning with missile strikes and an air assault targeting Kyiv’s airport (CNN) that started at about 5 a.m. local time. 

At least 75 Russian aircraft were used for this “initial onslaught,” and “more than 100 Russian-launched missiles of various types were used,” U.S. defense officials told reporters Thursday morning. That includes short-range, medium-range, cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and sea-launched missiles from the Black Sea. This is, of course, a developing situation; so accurate casualty estimates aren’t expected anytime soon. 

New: The Pentagon is sending 6 F-35 jets to NATO’s eastern flank, spread evenly across Estonia, Lithuania, and Romania. Otherwise, U.S. troops are preparing to receive refugees on the Polish border, the New York Times reports. 

Ukraine’s President says: “This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” Volodomyr Zelenskyy tweeted at 10 a.m. ET. He also said Russia is attempting to take over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, home of the 1986 disaster. (Zelensky addressed Russians in a televised statement overnight, pushing back against Putin’s absurd claims of Nazis running Ukraine’s government. Politico has more on that futile plea.) 

“A full-scale attack from multiple directions” and “the most blatant act of aggression in Europe since WWII” is how Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the ongoing invasion on Twitter. “The Ukrainian defense has not collapsed,” he added. The “Ukrainian army took the fight. Ukraine stands with both feet on the ground and continues to defend itself.”

U.S. President Joe Biden met with his National Security Council, and later with G7 leaders in a virtual call this morning at the White House. His secretaries of state and treasury were also in attendance on that G7 call. 

  • Coming soon for POTUS46: Scheduled public remarks at 12:45 p.m. ET. 

A bit more below the fold…

From Defense One

Russia Launches Heavy Attack Deep into Ukraine; Putin Warns World Not to Interfere  // Defense One Staff: Biden: “The world will hold Russia accountable.”​​

More Cyber Attacks Disable Ukrainian Websites // Patrick Tucker: Wednesday’s denial-of-service attacks on government, financial sites resemble earlier ones attributed to Russia.

An Exiled Russian Dissident Watches Putin Invade Ukraine // Kevin Baron: “Russia doesn’t need to invade Ukraine for there to be justification for sanctions today,” said a confidante of Alexey Navalny on a low-profile visit to Washington.

U.S. Troops In Poland Preparing to Support Americans Leaving Ukraine // Caitlin M. Kenney: The State Department has the lead, but soldiers are building facilities and standing ready to give other assistance.

‘They Could Go At Any Hour Now’; US Official Warns of Larger Russian Invasion of Ukraine  // Tara Copp: Russian troopships, 120 battalion tactical groups “have uncoiled,” hinting at a far deeper incursion.

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. On this day in 1917, U.S. officials received the Zimmermann Telegram, which Germany secretly pitched to Mexico one month prior. 

The view from Brussels: “This is a grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country.”
What U.S. lawmakers are saying: 

  • “Putin alone has chosen violence over reason” and is “driven by nothing more than personal ambition,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Armed Services Committee chairman. “We are witnessing the start of a long, bloody, ugly conflict that Putin cannot win,” Reed tweeted;
  • “Putin’s massive, shameful breach of international protocol is shocking and devastating” and “the biggest threat to democracy since the Soviet Union fell,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.;
  • Putin is motivated by “fear of allowing a neighboring independent, sovereign nation to pursue democracy and freedom,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow,” he added; 
  • “An appalling and illegal assault on a sovereign nation and democracy” and “a dark and dangerous moment,” is how Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., described Putin’s invasion; 
  • “A crisis of Putin’s own making” and “an unacceptable affront to Ukraine’s sovereignty and to democracies everywhere,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; 
  • “The last few hours have laid bare for the world to witness the true evil that is Vladimir Putin,” said Republican Reps. Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael McCaul of Texas, and Mike Turner from Ohio. “Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone.”
  • Putin is “a corrupt and paranoid dictator who harbors grand ambitions of forming a new Soviet empire,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “Putin's regime must be held accountable for starting this unprovoked war against a free and sovereign democracy and spilling the blood of innocent people.” There have been many more statements, but we just simply couldn’t post them all. One additional common thread, though, is that everyone wants more sanctions against Russia as soon as possible.

Some big questions that loom presently include: 

  • What is the Russian endgame? Is it “Regime change and then puppet government?” asks Georgetown University’s Caitlin Talmadge, noting that the “difficulties of indefinitely occupying a nation of 41 million should be apparent after Soviet experiences with Warsaw Pact [countries] and Afghanistan.” For what it’s worth, she adds, “At the strategic level, Russian invasion gives off big Schlieffen Plan energy,” referring to the German military’s 1905 plans to invade France and Belgium. “It is like committing suicide for fear of death, bringing about the very problems it is supposed to solve, and generating new ones like risks of inadvertent escalation.”
  • Will Russian citizens have the stomach for a violent conflict? Some of that question is reportedly already being answered by swift arrests of the selectively outspoken in Moscow. And already Russia’s communications regulator clamped down on information coming out of Russia, according to Reuters
  • “What does our relationship with Russia look like post this outrageous and horrible invasion?” asks Dmitry Alperovitch. “The reality is that a full break in diplomatic relations is not in anyone’s interest. Iranian nuclear weapons program, Climate Change and other problems are still with us and will require us to work with Putin—no matter how despicable that might seem at this moment. We need to start thinking through now what America’s objectives and priorities are once this war is over.”

The wonks say: “The primary factor we got wrong is Putin went crazy,” said AEI’s Fred Kagan in an online event Thursday morning. The Russian autocrat somehow “fundamentally changed” over the course of the pandemic, Kagan said. “Americans need to know that the world has changed,” he added, emphasizing the clear Russian threat to NATO members in the Baltics.
“The [U.S. and allied intelligence community] got this right and deserves a round of applause,” said Michael Kofman of CNA. “If I had a dollar for every inane comment I heard regarding failed intelligence in Iraq, as though mistakes meant that our intel and analytical community doesn't get things right. It got this one, 100%.”

This week, the U.S. military carried out airstrikes against alleged al-Shabab militants in Somalia for the first time since August 24, Carla Babb of Voice of America reported Thursday. The U.S. strikes followed an attack on “partnered forces” located about 40 miles northwest of the capital city of Mogadishu, U.S. Africa Command officials said in a statement. It’s unclear how many people were targeted in the airstrikes, and AFRICOM didn’t specify how many may have been killed since their “battle-damage assessment is still pending” as of Thursday morning.
And just like AFRICOM has said many times before, no civilians are believed to have been killed in the airstrike. More here.

And lastly today (for now): Hundreds of people who lived or worked at Fort Ord in California believe that their health problems could be linked to toxic water at the former garrison, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Background: Fort Ord was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation in 1990, four years before it started the process of closing, and the AP reviewed documents that reveal the “Army knew that chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades,” but still “downplayed the risks.” More, here.