Today's D Brief: Russia's Ukraine invasion escalates; Mariupol assault begins; Last stand on Snake Island; The 'new Hitler of our time'; And a bit more.

With rockets and tanks and aircraft, Russia is attacking Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, as well as dozens of other cities inside the democratic country Vladimir Putin chose to invade this week so that—as he put it Thursday—Russia can cleanse Ukraine of alleged “Nazis.” 

Many observers expect Kyiv to fall in a matter of days as Russian troops continue to pour into Ukraine, and others are obviously mobilizing as an alleged occupation force from places like Chechnya. U.S. lawmakers heard that assessment from White House officials in a conference call Thursday evening, the New York Times reports.

New: An amphibious assault of the port city of Mariupol appears to have just begun, U.S. defense officials told reporters Friday morning. Follow Defense One’s Tara Copp on Twitter for the latest from the Pentagon.  

At least 137 Ukrainians were killed on the first day of the invasion, President Volodymir Zelensky said Thursday evening. That includes a modest contingent of 13 border guards on a small, 42-acre island in the Black Sea, near Romania. “Lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths,” Russia’s navy said over radio communications. “Otherwise, you will be bombed.” 

“Russian warship,” Ukraine’s border guards replied, “go f--- yourself.” They were all killed moments later. CNN has the verified audio from that tragic episode, here.

Today, thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing across the country’s borders, Reuters reports from Slovakia and Poland. But military-aged males have been called up for conscription, even if those men are found on a bus, as this alleged video would seem to illustrate. 

Echoes of London, circa Sept. 1940: “Thousands of residents of Kyiv spent the night in underground subway stations that had been converted to bomb shelters,” the Wall Street Journal reports from the capital. 

Feeling overwhelmed with all the news? The Associated Press feels your pain. So they’re doing what they can to help sort fact from Russian disinformation in a developing column you can read, here.Coverage continues below the fold…

From Defense One

The Battle for Ukraine: What We Know So Far // Kevin Baron and Caitlin M. Kenney: Ukrainians fought back as Russian armor pushed toward cities, U.S. says. And more Americans are deploying to NATO’s eastern front.

World Leaders Vow Retribution as Russian Forces Press Deeper into Ukraine // Kevin Baron: "This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” says Ukrainian president, as NATO, UN members begin to enact responses.

Biden ‘Prepared to Respond’ If Russia Cyberattacks US // Frank Konkel: The White House also announced sanctions to limit Russia’s access to cutting-edge technologies.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 95: Vlad the Invader // Defense One Staff : Now that Putin has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, what are the smartest responses to a bellicose and revanchist Russia?

US Defense Firms Could Take Hit as West Sanctions Russia // Marcus Weisgerber: The country plays a small but important role in both supply chains and sales.

US Politicians Use Russia’s Invasion to Attack Putin—and Biden // Jennifer Hlad: While most politicians blamed the Russian leader for the attack, some Republicans criticized the U.S. president for failing to deter it.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, in Pictures // Defense One Staff: Photojournalists captured these images from the first day of Russia’s full-scale assault on its southwestern neighbor.

Russia's War in Ukraine Draws Protests Around the Globe // Defense One Staff: Putin's fulminations and false flags couldn't stop masses of people from urging their governments to take a tough stance.

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 1932, Adolf Hitler obtained his German citizenship after seven years of statelessness, allowing him to run in elections later that year. He ascended to the role of führer about 18 months later. 

Ukraine’s top diplomat is gathering evidence for alleged war crimes, including “today’s Russian attacks on a kindergarten and an orphanage,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Friday morning. “Together with the General Prosecutor’s Office we are collecting this and other facts, which we will immediately send to the Hague. Responsibility is inevitable,” he added.
“The new Hitler of our time” is how Daria Kaleniuk, of Ukraine’s Anticorruption Action Center, described Vladimir Putin to Valerie Hopkins of the New York Times, reporting from Kyiv on Thursday. “Nobody believed Germany would invade a European country,” she said. “And no one believed Putin, the new Hitler of our time, would invade a peaceful nation. The first civilians have already been killed, and there will be more suffering.”
What seems to lie ahead: “an audacious thunder run to capture key cities on the way to Kyiv, where [Russia] hope[s] to isolate and eventually decapitate the Western-backed government and install new leadership loyal to Moscow,” the Washington Post reported Thursday evening, citing defense officials and analysts. 
What also seems to lie ahead:Russia's economic defences likely to crumble over time under sanctions onslaught,” Reuters reports from London.

Ukraine’s military has a message for citizens: “If you can kill a Russian, do it,” according to a video message posted to social media on Friday. “If you can damage enemy equipment, do so. If you can help the Armed Forces as a volunteer—do it! It all depends on each of us.”
Video of an elderly Ukrainian woman talking to Russian troops has gone viral. In it, she confronts the soldiers and asks what they’re doing inside Ukraine. The soldier replies that they are merely conducting “exercises,” and that to continue speaking to Ukrainians like this old lady “will lead to nothing.” See for yourself, here.
NATO heads of state met in an emergency virtual session this morning. Around noon ET, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is planning to speak to reporters about how that proceeded, and what the alliance plans to do next. Catch that live, here.
We now know a bit more about China’s acquiescence to Russian bellicosity, especially in the face of U.S.-provided evidence. Ed Wong of the New York Times reports today that U.S. officials briefed their Chinese counterparts on Russia’s buildup around Ukraine more than a half dozen times over a recent three-month stretch. 
Especially notable: “After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord—and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions,” U.S. officials told the Times.
Related reading: 

So how should U.S. officials approach Russia (and China) now? Defense One’s Ben Watson spoke with three specialists from the Washington policy community on Thursday, including Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security, for our latest episode of the Defense One Radio podcast.
Fontaine’s advice: Keep up the sanctions and economic pressure; keep up the movement of weapons and arms to the Ukrainians; and if this thing turns into an insurgency, the U.S. and its allies need to be prepared to defend NATO territory immediately.
Also on the podcast this week: Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab; and Dmitry Gorenburg, senior research scientist at CNA. Listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. (We also transcribed this week’s episode, if you’re in a hurry.)

Meanwhile back stateside: Inhofe is done. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has long served as the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is expected to announce his retirement very soon, Politico and the New York Times reported Thursday. The 87-year-old from Oklahoma was last elected to a six-year term in 2020. The expected timing of the announcement—before March 1—would ensure that his seat would be filled by special election in 2023, instead of 2024, the Times explained, while staying in the seat until January will mean the governor doesn’t simply appoint an interim replacement. Several Republican senators are still trying to talk him out of the decision, Politico wrote, though Inhofe has missed “more votes than usual recently” and “told reporters in December his wife has been sick.”

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