Today's D Brief: Russian losses mount; Moscow's info clampdown; Why NFZs are a bad idea; Iran's failure to launch; And a bit more.
Four to six weeks. United States officials think it could take an invading Russian military about that long to achieve a “tactical seizure” of its outgunned democratic neighbor Ukraine. That includes one week to surround the capital city of Kyiv, and another 30 days of violence and threats before it falls to the increasingly isolated bully from Moscow, according to CBS News. U.S. lawmakers were given those estimates at a briefing Monday in Washington.
But more broadly, Western officials are expecting something more like a 10-year battle for the entire country, with most Ukrainians spending nearly all of that time in insurgency mode. “Given the durability of the Ukrainian resistance and its long history of pushing Russia back, the U.S. and Western powers do not believe that this will be a short war,” David Martin of CBS reported Tuesday. Indeed, “Lawmakers at the Capitol were told Monday it is likely to last 10, 15 or 20 years—and that ultimately, Russia will lose.”
“Said one female store owner in Kyiv to CNN: “I’m not scared anymore. I know Ukraine will win. The two things a Ukrainian woman needs to know is how to make borscht and Molotovs.”
Meanwhile, Russia appears to be taking incredible battlefield losses, possibly around 1,500-2,000 troop deaths so far, according to conservative estimates Western officials offered the New York Times on Tuesday. “For a comparison, nearly 2,500 American troops were killed in Afghanistan over 20 years of war.”
What’s perhaps more alarming for Moscow, the Times’ Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt write, “Russian memories are long—and mothers of soldiers, in particular, American officials say, could easily hark back to the 15,000 troops killed when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, or the thousands killed in Chechnya.”
That could help account for the Kremlin’s aggressive clampdown on information coming into and out of the country, as evidenced by the shuttering of independent-leaning news outlets this week like TV channel Dozhd TV and radio station Ekho Moskvy, which were shut down for allegedly spreading “false information regarding the actions of Russian military personnel as part of a special operation” in Ukraine. Britain’s Independent has a bit more.
New: Google has removed labels from its Ukrainian maps after alleged tagging of gas stations, hospitals, and schools that could possibly have aided Russian air force and artillery missions, Buzzfeed News reported Tuesday. (And on this note, a crowdsourcing app has attracted attention to the possibility of gathering intelligence at locations inside Ukraine. That firm, Premise, caught wind of the allegation and temporarily shut down operations inside Ukraine over the weekend. Read more in a follow-up from the Wall Street Journal, here.)
By the way: A dizzying number of tech firms have stepped up to help marginalize disinformation from Russian state-sponsored media like Sputnik and RT. That includes YouTube, which is now blocking those two outlets across all of Europe. Meta on Tuesday decided to reduce the visibility of Russian state-run outlets in its search results across Facebook and Instagram. And Apple suspended product sales inside Russia—as well as removing RT and Sputnik from its App Store. Reddit had to close two channels Tuesday (r/Russia and r/RussiaPolitics) because of rampant misinformation, Mashable reported Tuesday.
Read about many more regulator moves taken in response to Russia’s invasion via the Media Manipulation Casebook from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, here.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart Tuesday. Austin and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov spoke about Ukrainians’ “courageous efforts to defend their sovereignty and territory in the face of Russia’s unprovoked and vicious invasion,” according to the Defense Department’s readout. “The leaders committed to continuing their close coordination during this war that Russia alone has started,” the Pentagon said.
For the first time, the U.S. Army has activated its prepositioned stock of vehicles and equipment staged in eastern Europe, Army Times reported Tuesday. “Included in the equipment issue are tracked vehicles like the M1 Abrams main battle tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle. Also included are Paladins, generators, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and more.”
Who wants a no-fly zone for Ukraine? Other than Ukraine’s president, very few people who know anything about prior NFZs are advocating for it. The latest public figure to quash talk on the matter was Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who tweeted Tuesday, “There’s been a lot of loose talk from smart people about ‘close air support’ and ‘no fly zones’ for Ukraine.”
“Let's just be clear what that is—the U.S. and Russia at war,” he said. “It's a bad idea and Congress would never authorize it.” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp have more on all that, here.
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
‘Battle Between Democracy and Autocracy’ Leads Biden’s First State of the Union // Jacqueline Feldscher and Caitlin M. Kenney: President says Putin “will pay” even more for Ukraine invasion—but mentions no other foreign policy priorities.
Five Reasons Why Russian Forces Are Struggling in Ukraine // Patrick Tucker and Tara Copp: From logistics to shoddy information warfare, the invasion force has made many missteps, experts say.
Here's Why a Ukraine No-Fly Zone's a No-Go // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: NATO officials say it’s off the table, but there could be a “nuanced option.”
Where Are Russia’s Drones? // Samuel Bendett: The Ukraine invasion offers scant evidence of the Russian military’s hard-won prowess with unmanned aircraft.
The Air & Space Brief: Ukraine-ISS impact; Fighter jets to Ukraine; Will Starlink save the day? // Tara Copp:
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 537 CE, the Ostrogoths surrounded Rome, whose defense was led by a general named Belisarius. For more than a year, they besieged the city before declaring a three-month truce to evacuate personnel for diplomatic talks. Eventually those broke down and the Goths retreated. But they would besiege the city yet again 10 years later, and this time their invasion would succeed.
Unsurprisingly, China says it won’t sanction Russia over its invasion, Beijing’s top banker and financial regulator announced Wednesday. “We will not participate in such sanctions, and we will continue to maintain normal economic, trade, and financial exchanges with relevant parties,” said Guo Shuqing. He also said he’s unsure how sanctions will impact China’s economy, but he’s got people watching the matter. A tiny bit more at the Wall Street Journal.
Related reading: See how China uses oil and gas surveys and exploration to clamp down on competing territorial claims in the waters of the South China Sea. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has that one at its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, here.
ICYMI: For Singapore, Russia’s invasion is a deadly serious matter of one country attacking another “without provocation,” Ambassador Burhan Gafoor told the UN on Monday. “This is a matter of principle for all small states and a matter of fundamental importance for all members of the General Assembly,” Gafoor said in his six-minute remarks.
“For a tiny city state like Singapore, this is an existential issue,” he continued. “A world order where 'might is right', or 'the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must', would be profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states…We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of 'historical errors and crazy decisions.’” More here.
Germany’s top diplomat echoed that sentiment in her remarks Tuesday at the UN. “Russia’s war is one of aggression. And it is based on lies,” said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “Yesterday’s certainties are gone. Today, we face a new reality that none of us chose. It is a reality that President Putin has forced upon us.”
“Russia’s war marks the dawn of a new era. It’s a watershed moment,” said Baerbock. “Almost every country represented here in this room has a larger, more powerful neighbor. This is about all of us, ladies and gentlemen.” Read the rest, here.
By the way: The UAE is exceedingly sympathetic to Russia, so far. Officials there have adamantly refused to label the invasion an invasion. And have even pressured media outlets like The National to keep staff from doing so either.
- “U.S. Diplomatic Push for Ukraine Falters in a Middle East Influenced by Russia,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- “Some Russian oligarchs speak out, cautiously, against war,” via the Associated Press, reporting Tuesday;
- “Russia billionaires move superyachts to Maldives as sanctions tighten,” via Reuters, citing ship-tracking data;
- “Ukrainians rush to buy rifles, shotguns as police relax rules,” via Reuters, reporting from Kyiv on Tuesday;
Iran appears to have failed to launch something into space yet again, according to satellite imagery reviewed by Dave Schmerler of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
“There is a big burn mark at the site and the gantry may have been damaged,” noted Jeffrey Lewis of Middlebury. He suggested the incident may have involved “Possibly another Zuljanah SLV [satellite launch vehicle].” Read more on that program, here.
Uncharted waters. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Polar Star sailed as far south as it’s possible to sail on Feb. 17—even further south than the current Guinness World Record holder, SeaPower magazine reported Tuesday.
The cutter was underway in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica, surveying the ice shelf, when it reached a position of “78 degrees, 44 minutes, 1.32 seconds south latitude,” or about 500 yards from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, SeaPower reports. The mission included sailing in waters that are now navigable but were previously charted as part of the ice shelf.
Related reading: “Climate Change Is Harming the Planet Faster Than We Can Adapt, U.N. Warns,” the New York Times reported Monday.
And lastly: After almost exactly two years of a full-blown global pandemic, the Pentagon is gradually opening back up again. Today, officials announced masks are no longer required indoors, as officials bumped the “Health Protection Condition” from Charlie to Bravo.
Says Defense One’s Tara Copp, reporting from the Pentagon this morning: “It is a glorious thing to be here without a mask!”
The new changes also mean building “occupancy is now up to less than 50%, versus 25%, gathering size has increased, and there’ll be more options for seating in the food court,” according to defense officials. Read more, here.