Today's D Brief: DOD halts Polish jet transfer; Finland's DM at the Pentagon; Patriots, VP Harris to Poland; And a bit more.
Pentagon quashes Polish-jets-to-Ukraine idea, sends Patriots to Poland instead. A day of whiplash aviation developments out of Warsaw came to an end Tuesday evening when the U.S. military poured cold water on Poland’s pitch to donate its Russian-made MiG-29 jets to the United States so that the U.S. could replace them with American-made jets—and then secretly whisk the Polish MiGs off to Ukraine’s struggling air force, somehow. It was an apparent aircraft-laundering plan borne of desperation while seemingly every eastern European nation clamors to find the most prudent response to the Russian military’s violent invasion of Ukraine.
From the U.S. military’s POV, the plan “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday evening. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” Kirby said.
Rewind: The back-and-forth followed a weekend where U.S. officials floated the idea of Poland sending its Soviet-era fighters to Ukraine, but was likewise rejected by Poland, Defense One’s Tara Copp and Marcus Weisgerber report, and emphasize that the “counteroffer on Tuesday underscored NATO member nations’ desire to avoid direct conflict with Russians in Ukraine.”
Recall that Russia’s military recently warned against any nation providing Ukraine with aircraft, and that doing so would mean Russia will view such supporting nations as a co-combatant with Ukraine. And these are the same sort of concerns that cause informed analysts to caution against a “no-fly zone” for Ukraine—since enforcing such a measure will invariably draw more than just Kyiv into an open shooting war with Moscow.
From the White House’s perspective, “There were some logistical questions—important ones—that were still under discussion about where those planes would take off from and land, and then there are questions that are probably best, best suited for the Department of Defense about the procurement of planes to backfill, because typically that takes a couple of years,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday aboard Air Force One.
SecDef Austin’s hotline. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rang his British, French, and Slovak counterparts on Tuesday. Ostensibly, the call was “to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how Allies can strengthen NATO's Eastern Flank,” according to a short Pentagon readout.
Finland’s military chief, Antti Kaikkonen, is dropping by the Pentagon today. He’s expected to arrive at around 1:30 p.m., the Defense Department says.
About those Patriots to Poland: It’s just two of the systems, and “This defensive deployment is being conducted proactively to counter any potential threat to U.S. and Allied forces and NATO territory,” U.S. European Command said in a statement. Stars and Stripes has a tiny bit more about that “repositioning,” here.
New: VPOTUS Kamala Harris is traveling to Poland and Romania. “This fighter jet situation is a messy deal, and Harris will have to go there and smooth things out,” former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Daniel Fried told the Associated Press. According to the White House, “We have been in dialogue with the Poles for some time about how best to provide a variety of security assistance to Ukraine,” a senior official told CNN. “And that's a dialogue that absolutely will continue up to and as part of the vice president's trip.”
In other concerning diplomatic news: The Saudis and Emiratis are shunning the White House, as the de facto leaders of the two countries have been reportedly avoiding President Joe Biden’s phone calls during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. One big concern reportedly informing these Gulf leaders’ reluctance to chat: “Both governments are also concerned about the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, which doesn’t address other security concerns of theirs and has entered the final stages of negotiations in recent weeks.” More at the Journal, here.
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
Poland Offers Fighter Jets for Ukraine, But US Rejects Swap-and-Send Idea // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: Warsaw said it would send its MiG-29s to a German air base, leaving delivery to Ukraine up to the U.S. and NATO.
Concern Rising That Putin Could Use Nuclear Weapons // Patrick Tucker: Russian “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine suggests Putin is thinking the unthinkable.
Russia’s Rocket Barrages Reveal Bad Planning, Cruelty—and the Absence of Crucial Skills // Patrick Tucker: “Everybody is surprised by the lack of combined arms capability in the Russian army,” said one general-turned-analyst.
How the Ukrainian Military Went from 'Decrepit' to Surprisingly Strong // Liam Collins, The Conversation: Four factors have turned the country's defensive capabilities around since Russia first invaded in 2014.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Marcus Weisgerber. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, an estimated 300 Soviet aircraft bombed the German-occupied Estonian capital of Talinn after Russian sabateurs disabled the city’s water pumping station, which exacerbated the effect of incendiary bombs. An estimated 800 people were killed, and about 20% of the city burnt to the ground as a result of this particular two-day air campaign. Soviet occupation of Estonia would continue until 1991, when the country regained its independence as the Soviet Union dissolved following Moscow’s costly invasion of Afghanistan.
Developing: Electricity to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant has been severed, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday after the country’s state-run energy firm, Ukrenegro, announced the development on Telegram and Facebook. Russian forces seized the facility, located north of Kyiv and close to the border with Belarus, on Feb. 24. More than 200 Ukrainian “technical personnel and guards” have been stuck at the facility since the Russians took over, and “the same shift has been on duty” ever since, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement Tuesday.
“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity,” Kuleba warned on Wednesday. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” which is why Kuleba is calling “on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply.”
Across Ukraine, “eight of the country’s 15 reactors were operating” as of Tuesday, the IAEA said in its statement. That includes two reactors “at the Zaporizhzhya NPP controlled since last week by Russian forces.” And the latest indications suggest that radiation levels at the sites are “normal.” More from the IAEA, here.
Internet coverage has been significantly reduced in Kherson, Ukraine, today, according to NetBlocks, which flagged the outage on Twitter shortly after 9 a.m. ET. That “incident comes amid reports some 400 citizens were detained by Russia's National Guard” inside Kherson, the monitoring firm said.
McDonalds finally suspended operations inside Russia, as did a bevy of other popular companies like Adidas, Starbucks, Coke, and GE. NBC News has a bit more on that developing angle, here; the Associated Press has more, here.
New: Aerospace and defense giant Raytheon Technologies is suspending activities in Russia, joining many other Western companies. “Raytheon Technologies is suspending all sales and support services to Russia’s civil aviation industry,” a company spokesman told Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber on Wednesday. Raytheon’s Pratt & Whitney, which makes aircraft engines, and Collins Aerospace, which makes aircraft parts, both supply Russia’s commercial aviation sector; both firms have suspended operations inside Russia. And earlier this week, U.S. planemaker Boeing suspended titanium purchases from Russia. Titanium is a critical metal used in building aircraft.
And Chinese firms trying to get around U.S. export controls on Russia? The U.S. Commerce Department is ready to cut them off from U.S. equipment and software—as Washington did with Chinese telecom Huawei in 2020—Secretary Gina Raimondo said Tuesday in an interview with the New York Times.
President Biden is set to chat with Secretary Raimondo later today. Among the topics expected to dominate that discussion: “supply chains, and addressing bottlenecks like semiconductor chips,” the White House said in its public schedule.
- “Venezuela Releases Imprisoned Americans After Talks With U.S.,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday evening;
- “Russian ‘dumb bomb’ air strike killed civilians in Chernihiv – new investigation and testimony,” via Amnesty International, reporting Wednesday;
- “In the Ukraine Conflict, [pro-Russian] Fake Fact-Checks Are Being Used to Spread Disinformation,” via ProPublica, reporting Tuesday;
- And “Canada's MDA providing Ukraine with satellite imagery to fight Russia,” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday.
The VA is adding nine respiratory cancers to the list of illnesses the organization will assume are service connected, for troops who served at bases or in areas with burn pits, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and President Joe Biden said Tuesday at an event in Ft. Worth, Texas. That will mean that about 12,500 veterans will finally get the benefits they’re owed, McDonough said, but “this is just the beginning.”
As you may recall, President Joe Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer that the president believes was linked to exposure to toxic burn pits while deployed to Iraq. Biden noted that it took the VA decades to formally recognize that a variety of medical conditions were linked to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and he “refuse[s] to repeat the mistake when it comes to the veterans of our Iraq and Afghan wars.” While “we don’t yet know enough about the connection between burn pits and each of these diseases so many of our veterans are now facing,” Biden said he’s “committed” to finding out everything he can.
The Defense Department and VA also are building “a more comprehensive” database of troops who may have been exposed, he said, and there are two bills moving through Congress that will do more, including extending the eligibility period for VA care for burn-pit related health problems, mandating research on the issue, and adding even more conditions to the “presumptive service connection” list.
“No other generation has been deployed, redeployed, and redeployed, and redeployed,” Biden told the group gathered in Ft. Worth. “It takes nothing away from the World War I and World War II and Vietnam generations. But it’s one thing to serve and come home, and then go back, and go back, and go back. So, we owe you.”
Today on Capitol Hill: House lawmakers are discussing Taiwan’s future and related U.S. security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
Testifying for that one: Army Gen. Paul LaCamera of U.S. Forces-Korea; Navy Adm. John Aquilino of Indo-Pacific Command; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner.
“The conflict between the Chinese Communist Party and American democracy will be one of the greatest tests this nation has ever faced,” said the leading Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, in his opening statement. “We all know that China is not going to give us 10 or 20 years to prepare for conflict. We simply cannot procrastinate further,” he said.
“We want to know what you need to secure the Korean peninsula in the coming decade,” Rogers added, and emphasized, “This Committee is ready to make bold investments in our defense.” That all began at 9 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream here.
Elsewhere in D.C., Space Command’s Army Gen. James Dickinson is slated to talk about “Navigating the new strategic realities of space” in a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council. That gets started at 1 p.m. ET. Details here.