Today's D Brief: Russians take Kherson; Putin says he won't stop; +1M refugees so far; F-35 recovered; Border wall breaches; And a bit more.

We’re now one week into Vladimir Putin’s remorseless invasion of Ukraine. And on the seventh day, the autocratic Putin reportedly phoned French President Emmanuel Macron for an hour and insisted that Russia’s invading forces will not be turning around, as most of the free world demands while it watches and waits for the violent fall of Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv.

Armed Russian forces have entered government buildings in Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson, north of Crimea and just across the Dnieper River, but they hadn’t yet taken down the Ukrainian flags there, NPR reported as the sun rose over America’s east coast. According to the New York Times’ Michael Schwirtz reporting late Wednesday from Kherson, “The mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, told me he met today with the Russian commander who plans to set up a military administration.”

The port city of Mariupol is under intense attack, where electricity and phone service have been largely cut, hampering emergency medical responders, the Associated Press reports. 

The number of refugees from Ukraine now tops one million, United Nations officials said Thursday. “And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine,” High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “International solidarity has been heartwarming,” he added. "But nothing—nothing—can replace the need for the guns to be silenced; for dialogue and diplomacy to succeed. Peace is the only way to halt this tragedy.”

The second try at peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials is supposed to happen today, though no one seems to have expressed much optimism over the expected outcome—especially when Putin starts the day with that message to Macron. Ukraine officials are seeking “humanitarian corridors” to facilitate the flow of citizens away from danger areas, which could be hard to pinpoint given Russia’s often indiscriminate bombing methods. Reuters has more.

Surprisingly, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Wednesday that 498 of its troops have been killed in the ongoing “special military operation,” and another “1,597 of our comrades were injured,” according to state-run news agency RIA. Most Western estimates, while also admitting it’s impossible to know the true numbers, have suggested at least 1,500 Russian troops have died in the invasion’s first week. 

Pentagon postpones weekend ICBM test; Inhofe heated. Citing recent nuclear rhetoric from Russian officials (like Putin and his top diplomat Sergei Lavrov), the U.S. military announced Wednesday that it is delaying the upcoming test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“In an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention in engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued, the secretary of defense has directed that our Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch scheduled for this week to be postponed,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon. 

“We did not take this decision lightly, but instead, to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power,” Kirby said. “Our ability to defend the homeland and our allies and partners remains fully intact and ready,” he added, and emphasized that U.S. military leaders “recognize at this moment of tension how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation, and take steps to reduce those risks.”

“Disappointing” is how outgoing 87-year-old Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe described the Pentagon’s decision in a tweet Wednesday. (Inhofe is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also announced last month that he’s retiring later this year, which is four years before his term expires.) “In the face of Russian bluster, he tweeted Wednesday, “deterrence means projecting strength and resolve—not sacrificing readiness for hollow gestures.” 

Meanwhile in Russia, Putin’s education ministry is conducting a nationwide online lesson all about “why the liberation mission in Ukraine was necessary.” It’s reportedly an information space where up is down and black is white, writes Ilya Lozovsky of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. He unpacks the “lesson” so far, via Twitter, here.

New: The Russians have been banned from this summer's Farnborough Air Show in England. “It's one of the largest military and commercial aviation trade shows in the world with thousands of corporate and government attendees,” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports

“Following the ongoing events taking place in Eastern Europe, we have made the decision to suspend Russian participation at the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow, taking place in July,” Farnborough International said in a brief statement posted on the event website Wednesday. “Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine, and everyone affected by the current situation. We continue to hope for a timely and peaceful resolution.”

Ordinarily, Russian firms “have a sizable presence at the air and trade show, with a large corporate chalet for wining and dining clients, as well as pavilions inside the mammoth exhibit hall,” according to Weisgerber. “Billions of dollars in deals are usually announced by more than 1,500 exhibitors.” Read on, here.

One last thing: That 40-mile Russian convoy bearing down on Kyiv? It’s apparently stalled further, U.S. officials say. The New York Times has more, here.

Related reading:   

From Defense One

Air Force Special Operations Looks To Reinvent Itself On the Cheap // Patrick Tucker: Cargo planes that drop cruise missiles from pallets and land on water show how air special operators are trying to trick out what they’ve already got on the tarmac.

Russia Banned from 2022 Farnborough Air Show // Marcus Weisgerber: The July trade show is the year’s biggest for European manufacturers and customers of airliners and military aircraft.

It’s ‘Effectively Impossible’ To Kick Russia Out Of The UN, But There Are Other Options  // Jacqueline Feldscher: Diplomats could remove Russia from the human rights council or refuse to recognize a Russian-backed government in Ukraine, experts say.

‘The Convoy Is Stalled’: Logistics Failures Slow Russian Advance, Pentagon Says   // Tara Copp: Ukraine says captured Russian troops say they were sent with only three days of food.

Give Putin a Way Out of This // Steven Keil and Liana Fix: A drawn-out war in Europe that grows increasingly brutal each day is not in anyone’s interest—including Moscow’s.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Does Not Put Beijing in a Bind // Gabriel Alvarado: Not yet, anyway. The U.S. and its allies should trumpet Chinese leaders’ decision to partner with a pariah state.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1878, Bulgaria regained its independence with the end of the Russo-Turkish war, ending almost 500 years of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria.

The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is almost ready for its first deployment. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the new Ford-class carriers, has completed its planned incremental maintenance and is heading into its last few months of training and certification before a planned deployment this fall. The ship’s inaugural deployment is four years late—it was originally supposed to deploy in 2018, but experienced a variety of delays, including some related to the amount of new tech on the ship, like their weapons elevators. During the recent maintenance period, the 11th and final weapons elevator was handed over to the crew.
By the way: The Navy finally grabbed that crashed F-35 from the bottom of the South China Sea. “The wreckage was recovered from a depth of approximately 12,400-feet,” 7th Fleet officials said in a statement Thursday, 37 days after the accident occurred. “The aircraft was recovered using a CURV-21, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which attached specialized rigging and lift lines to the aircraft. The ship's crane lifting hook was then lowered to the seafloor and connected to the rigging, and then lifted the aircraft to the surface.” More here.

Vaccine exemption review coming soon for DOD. The Pentagon’s inspector general will examine how the military services have been granting COVID-19 vaccine exemptions and related punishments. “The move comes after at least three different federal cases filed by vaccine-refusing service members resulted in judges putting a hold on the services disciplining their members for refusing the shot, citing the exemption process as particularly problematic,” reported Wednesday. Though roughly 18,500 troops have asked for vaccine exemptions, only a handful of the requests have been granted. More than 3,500 troops have been booted for declining the vaccine. 

And finally: America’s southern border wall has been breached “3,272 times over the past three years,” the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported Wednesday after submitting a FOIA request to officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
One reason this matters: The “damage has been more widespread than previously known, pointing to the structure’s limitations as an impediment to illegal crossings,” Miroff writes.
Said the CBP: “No structure is impenetrable, so we will continue to work to focus resources on modern, effective border management measures to improve safety and security,” spokesman Luis Miranda told the Post.
Take a look at some of the repaired sections in a series of photographs by Miroff himself over at WaPo, here.