Today's D Brief: Russians attack nuclear complex; NATO rejects NFZs in Ukraine; Moscow blocks western media; 50+ dead in Peshawar bombing; And a bit more.

Russian invading forces in Ukraine threatened Europe’s largest nuclear plant in an apparently quite reckless and brazen overnight attack whose fires were finally extinguished before they could spread to the reactor complex Friday morning. 

Location: Zaporizhzhia power plant, in Enerhodar, Ukraine, which is a couple dozen miles northwest of Melitopol. The Associated Press reports Russian troops have taken control of the plant, but that local staff continue to run it. Three Ukrainian troops were reportedly killed in the Russian assault, and two others were wounded, according to Rafael Mariano Grossi of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. 

By the way: Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors spread across four plants throughout the country; so this episode may not be the only one of its kind in the coming days and weeks. 

The overnight fires at ZPP prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to phone his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as POTUS46’s national nuclear security administrator, Jill Hruby, on Thursday evening, the White House said in a statement. According to Ukraine’s emergency services Friday morning, “None of the plant’s six reactors, one of which is currently operational, were affected, and there was no radiation leak,” the Wall Street Journal reports from Kyiv.  

At least 200,000 more Ukrainians are believed to have fled the country in the past 24 hours, raising the number of refugees counted so far to 1.2 million people, United Nations officials said Friday. Relatedly, the EU just extended temporary protection to Ukrainians fleeing the country in an “unprecedented” decision Thursday, as UN officials described the move this morning.

New from NATO: “We are not going to move into Ukraine, either on the ground or in the airspace,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday in Brussels. “We understand the desperation but also believe if we did that we’d end up in something that could end up in a full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries.”

That also means no “No-Fly-Zones” from the alliance, no matter how crafty you think your idea might be at this stage of the conflict. “We are not part of this conflict,” Stoltenberg said. 

  • Nearly two dozen nations have pledged and delivered weapons to Ukraine so far, according to this running tally from the Forum on the Arms Trade.

That “40-mile-long” Russian military convoy that's largely idling in place north of Kyiv? On Thursday evening, Maxar combined its most recently usable imagery into a 3D video for a better sense of the convoy's density.

Russia just blocked access to the BBC, Voice of America, Germany’s DW, and more, Reuters reports from Moscow. All of the outlets have carried out “deliberate and systematic circulation of materials containing false information,” according to Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor. 

And if you’re spreading “fake news” about the Russian military? It’s 15 years in jail for you, according to a new law passed in Russia’s parliament Friday. The law is set to take effect on Saturday. More from Reuters again, here.

Poland says it just detained an alleged Russian spy, whom Polish officials refer to as “a Spanish citizen of Russian origins, identified as a GRU agent.” More from Warsaw, here

Belarusian troops have not and will not join Russia’s invasion, said Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic “president” who’s held power in Minsk for the last 28 years, according to Reuters. (Recall, of course, that Lukashenko is a man who rigs elections and jails the spouse of opposition leaders after he’s scared those leaders and their children out of the country.) “

New today: Microsoft says it’s suspending sales of its products inside Russia, joining other companies like Apple, which did so earlier this week as well. 

Related reading: 

From Defense One

US, Russia Agree to Deconfliction Hotline As Putin’s Attack On Ukraine Escalates  // Tara Copp: Russia has fired almost 500 missiles at Ukrainian targets.

US Barring Russian Citizens From Piloting Planes Over United States  // Tara Copp: The move is part of Biden’s ban on Russian-flagged airlines moving through U.S. airspace.

Russia’s Invasion Will Boost 2023 Defense Budget, Top Democrat Says // Marcus Weisgerber and Jacqueline Feldscher: Rep. Adam Smith: Putin’s war “fundamentally altered what our national security posture” needs to be.

Send in the Quadcopters: Arm Ukrainian Citizens with Simple Drones // Zak Kallenborn: Ukrainians are already using consumer-grade drones to spot Russian forces. We should send more of them.

The Naval Brief: Ukrainian port cities threatened; F-35C recovered; Cyber vigilance; and more... // Caitlin M. Kenney: 

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 1861, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered his First Inaugural address, wherein he appealed to the “better angels of our nature” at the onset America’s Civil War. 

At least 56 people have died and another 194 were injured in a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Friday. The bomber first shot at police outside the mosque, killing a police officer and injuring another, then ran inside the mosque and detonated a bomb vest during Friday prayers, the Associated Press reports from Peshawar. No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for attack, the AP added. 

And lastly this week: The Air Force’s commander in the Pacific doesn’t think China will use the ongoing war in Ukraine to launch a similar invasion of Taiwan, but he’s still watching Chinese president Xi Jinping “like a hawk,” Air Force Times reported Thursday.
“I haven’t seen anything so far, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t talked about it internally and doesn’t mean that they won’t try something,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said at the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium in Orlando. Some military experts have warned that China may take advantage of the fact that the West’s attention is focused on Ukraine to make a move on Taiwan. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. Defense One will continue to monitor and report on the Ukraine crisis, so check our website for updates. And we here at The D Brief will see you again on Monday!