Today's D Brief: New US, UK sanctions hit Russia; Putin widens strikes inside Ukraine; 1,000+ Russian vehicles lost; And a bit more.
The Russian military expanded rocket and artillery strikes to several western Ukrainian cities on Friday, day 17 of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of democratic Ukraine. More than 2.5 million refugees have fled the country in desperation and fear over what might lie ahead; another 2 million are estimated to have been displaced from the invasion so far, Matt Saltmarsh of the United Nations’ refugee agency announced Friday.
And that “40-mile-long” Russian convoy that had been stalled northwest of Kyiv for nearly a week? The latest satellite imagery (from Maxar, in this case) suggests considerable elements within it have dispersed, apparently to the surrounding regions around Ukraine’s capital city. Several artillery trucks can be seen staging along woodlines, and others are visible bunched up at intersections outside Kyiv. Other imagery reveals shopping centers that have been completely burnt to the ground, as well as residential complexes with massive chunks blown away from artillery strikes. More here.
New: The U.S. is suspending normal trade relations with Russia, President Joe Biden announced Friday morning from the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Biden also announced bans on imports of Russian vodka, seafood, and diamonds. The moves are being taken in conjunction with similar decisions from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom as well as the European Union, said Biden. “Putin is the aggressor, and Putin must pay the price. He can’t threaten the very foundations of international stability and then ask for help from the International Monetary Fund.” Read more in a White House fact sheet, here.
The British have also announced new sanctions on Russian lawmakers, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said Friday. The sanctions cover “386 members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, for their support for the Ukrainian breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk,” and they “will ban those listed from traveling to the UK, accessing assets held within the UK, and doing business here,” according to the British Foreign Ministry.
Panning out: “The UK has sanctioned more than 500 of Russia’s most significant and high-value individuals, entities, and subsidiaries, bringing the total now covered by the UK’s sanctions list to over 800,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s office said Friday. “This includes travel bans and asset freezes applied to 18 of Russia’s leading oligarchs, with a combined worth in excess of £30 billion.” More here.
Update: Moscow appears to have lost more than 1,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment inside Ukraine, each of which has been documented on an open, verifiable list online, here. More than 400 of those have been captured by Ukrainian forces.
That includes more than 180 tanks and more than 100 armored fighting vehicles. Ukraine’s documented losses are very likely much higher than the numbers suggest (293 as of Friday); but the incentive is, of course, much higher for Ukrainians to publicize Russian losses than the other way around. Read more on all those battlefield statistics, here.
Some Russian troops around Kharkiv are reportedly raising a white flag, only to shoot Ukrainian soldiers when they come closer to apprehend the Russians, according to the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville.
“They fight like it's 1941,” another Ukrainian told the BBC. “They have no maneuverability, they just come to the front and that's all. They have a lot of people, a lot of tanks, a lot of vehicles, but we are fighting for our land, and we are protecting our families. it doesn't matter how they fight because we fight like lions and they won't win.”
- Speaking of 1941: Kyiv authorities have dragged out an antique tank trap from a World War II museum and placed it on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. Photo here.
But another Ukrainian warned the BBC: “If Kharkiv falls, then all of Ukraine falls.” And Kharkiv could fall soon as Russians continue their effort to encircle the eastern city.
These kinds of Goliath-over-David outcomes are increasingly ones that observers from afar ought to brace themselves for, Elisabeth Braw of the American Enterprise Institute cautioned in an interview Thursday with Defense One. Despite the flood of apparent Ukrainian small victories in the wider information war—the “ghost of Kyiv” pilot and the “Tiger of Kharkiv” feline, e.g.—observers would seemingly be wise to brace for a lot more tragedy and bloodshed inside Ukraine, Braw warned.
“We also have to come to the reality that if we spread this misinformation, these fantastical tales,” she said, “they take attention away from the real fight, the real battle on the ground where Ukraine is squaring off against Russia, where it does need to win.” Much more in that interview, which you can hear (or read the transcript), later today.
Big picture take: “We may be seeing just how hard it is to wage a successful information war when you are very clearly the villain,” Charlie Warzel of The Atlantic wrote on Tuesday.
On the other hand, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins has a darker warning: “Every day of this conflict is a reminder that despite Russian disinformation being incredibly pathetic, there's always going to be people dumb enough to fall for it or shameless enough to share it.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
Why the US Won’t Give Patriot Interceptors to Ukraine // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: The Pentagon is still hunting “alternative options” to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against Russia’s brutal strikes.
US Officials Not Ready to Dismiss Russia’s Anti-Aircraft Missiles, Despite Shortcomings in Ukraine // Marcus Weisgerber: The U.S. has invested heavily in expensive stealth aircraft that can evade detection from Russian interceptors.
Biden to Tap Colombia As Next Major Non-NATO Ally // Caitlin M. Kenney, Jacqueline Feldscher, and Tara Copp: The longtime security partner would be the 19th country and third in South America to receive the designation.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Tara Copp. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day 21 years ago, the Taliban detonated 15-century-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
When it comes to Russia’s misinformation, Tucker Carlson is (perhaps unwittingly) doing Putin’s work—and the Pentagon has begun pushing back. On Thursday, two senior defense officials held a briefing to discuss the work at 46 different Ukrainian laboratories that the U.S. has spent $200 million funding over the past 16 years. Workers at those labs have studied pathogen detection and disease outbreaks since at least 2005, according to a Defense Department fact sheet (PDF).
Rewind: This week, Russian and Chinese allegations that the labs were something far more sinister were echoed by Fox’s Tucker “just asking” Carlson. “The Pentagon is lying about this—why?” he asked in an opinion page Wednesday on the cable TV network’s website.
The White House has been watching these narrative lines with alarm, and quickly pushed back after they traveled from the social media accounts of Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, then to Carlson’s evening talk show on Fox.
The Pentagon is deeply concerned for Ukrainians, and about the spread of Russian and Chinese disinformation. “We have picked up indications that the Russians could be making these claims, these false claims about U.S. and Ukrainian work in, in biodefense, as a way of creating a pretext of their own to perhaps, perhaps use these kinds of agents in an attack,” a U.S. defense official told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon, including Defense One’s Tara Copp.
Why try to set the record straight? “We're doing this because the Russians and the Chinese felt it somehow important for them to put out a bunch of lies,” the defense official said. “They just flat out lied,” he added. “And they decided to go public, both countries, with this ridiculous notion that we are helping Ukraine develop bio weapons.”
Facebook and Twitter deleted a post from Russian embassies on Thursday. Those posts alleged an expectant mother was an actor and was not in fact wounded by Russian strikes on a maternity hospital in Mariupol this week—a strike that, if true, would constitute another of many apparent Russian war crimes. “FAKE,” is what Russia stamped in red over the woman’s photo as she emerged from the wreckage; that stamped image has since been deleted from its original Russian source on those social media platforms.
According to Twitter, “We took enforcement action against the Tweets you referenced as they were in violation of the Twitter Rules, specifically our Hateful Conduct and Abusive Behavior policies related to the denial of violent events,” an official told Reuters.
SecDef Lloyd Austin rang his Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts Thursday. For Bucharest, Austin “commended Romania’s intent to host a humanitarian assistance logistics hub and discussed the planned French-led multinational battlegroup in Romania,” the Pentagon said in a readout. And for Bulgaria, the two chiefs discussed “plans to form a Bulgarian-led multinational battlegroup on its soil,” and “ways to advance Bulgaria’s defense modernization efforts, including delivery of Bulgaria’s F-16s.” Tiny bit more in that readout, here.
According to former U.S. President Donald Trump, “The problem with Putin is he’s got a very big ego. If he ends [his Ukraine invasion] now, it’s going to look like a very big loss for him, even if he takes a little extra territory.” That’s what POTUS45 told Sean Hannity of Fox on Thursday evening (short clip here; full interview here).
- “China amplifies unsupported Russian claim of Ukraine biolabs,” via the Associated Press, reporting Friday;
- “Putin says Russia to use Middle East volunteer fighters,” Reuters reports Friday;
- “Britain to send world's most advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine,” via The Telegraph, reporting Wednesday;
- “TikTok Struggles to Find Footing in Wartime,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday;
- And “Russia’s war on Ukraine has some Christians wondering: Is this the end of the world?” via the Washington Post, reporting Thursday.
And lastly this week: India tested a missile this week that accidentally landed in Pakistan, officials in New Delhi announced Friday—hours after the object drew alarm from officials in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
A “technical malfunction” is what led the Indian missile off course, Indian officials said Friday. The object flew at a speed of “40,000 feet and three times the speed of sound” and traveled 77 miles into Pakistani airspace, according to Islamabad. It departed “the northern Indian city of Sirsa [and] crashed in eastern Pakistan, near the city of Mian Channu,” Reuters reports. Story here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!