Today's D Brief: Russia attacks W. Ukraine base; China's dilemma; 'WWIII' messaging; Blueprint for a takeover; And a bit more.

American and Chinese officials are meeting in Rome today as millions of Ukrainians brace for another week of attacks from invading Russian forces. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is headlining that trip for the U.S. side, which dispatched officials over the weekend to allege (via the New York Times, e.g.) Russia wants China to supply it with an array of military and economic assistance—since sanctions are beginning to choke off the Russian economy. 

Sullivan warned China against accepting Russia’s request in an interview Sunday on CNN. “We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Sullivan said. “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world.”

Bigger picture consideration: “If China agrees to this reported request from Russia and supplies arms to Moscow, Ukraine would become the first proxy war in the US-China rivalry,” said M. Taylor Fravel of MIT.

Which side should China choose? One Chinese scholar says the U.S. And his essay laying out that argument (which seems unlikely to land easily in Beijing) here.

Update: Russia warned it may try to attack weapons shipments coming into Ukraine from NATO and EU members—especially since those anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons seem to be inflicting considerable damage to Russia’s invasion force. “We have warned the US that pumping weapons [into Ukraine], which they have orchestrated, from a number of countries is not just a dangerous move, it also turns these convoys into legitimate targets,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday on state-run TV. (BTW: This is a reiteration of a point Russian officials announced one week prior.)

New: Putin widened Russia’s attacks, striking a western Ukrainian military base in Yavoriv that had been used as an international training facility and hosted U.S. troops just last month. Nearly three dozen people died in that attack and 134 others were injured in Yavoriv, which is about 25 miles northwest of Lviv, and about a dozen miles from the Polish border. 

White House reax: “If Russia attacks, fires upon, takes a shot at NATO territory, the NATO alliance would respond to that,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday on “Face the Nation” from CBS News. “If there is a military attack on NATO territory it would cause the invocation of Article 5, and we would bring the full force of the NATO alliance to bear in responding to it,” Sullivan added. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, on Friday: “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War Three, something we must strive to prevent.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Monday: “To those abroad scared of being ‘dragged into WWIII’,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted this morning. “Ukraine fights back successfully. We need you to help us fight. Provide us with all necessary weapons. Apply more sanctions on Russia and isolate it fully. Help Ukraine force Putin into failure and you will avert a larger war.”

Said one British MP, retired Army Capt. Tobias Ellwood: “Please can we STOP referencing WW3 to justify dismissal of tactical options. It exudes weakness, a lack of self-confidence and the absence of the Cold War statecraft skills that illustrate our grasp of the escalatory ladder. It also emboldens Putin to commit more war crimes.”

Biden rang his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Sunday. The two leaders “reviewed recent diplomatic engagements and underscored their commitment to hold Russia accountable for its actions and to support the government and people of Ukraine,” according to the White House’s readout

A bit more below the fold…

From Defense One

The ‘No-Fly Zone’ Test // Peter W. Singer: Want to put U.S. or allied aircraft over Ukraine? Answer these questions first.

Can Russia’s War Revive the Anti-Nuke Movement? // Jacqueline Feldscher: Amid aging leaders and new politics, arms-control advocates are using Putin’s invasion to renew attention to nuclear weapons.

Russian Jets Flying 200 Sorties a Day, But Firing from Their Own Airspace, Pentagon Says  // Tara Copp: Ukraine is also being conservative with its airpower.

Putin’s Propaganda Machine Is What America’s Far-Right Wants  // Kevin Baron: National security leaders must learn to fight disinformation at home, too.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Arms donations revelations; Russia’s SAMs; $100M hypersonic bet; and more

Defense One Radio, Ep. 96: The impact of Russia’s Ukraine invasion // Ben Watson: We assess the economic uncertainty stemming from Vladimir Putin's invasion of democratic Ukraine.

Ukraine War Could Put Food Security on Pentagon’s Plate  // Jacqueline Feldscher: Global leaders from UN to Congress warn low supplies, high prices could spark conflict elsewhere.

How to Stop Putin Without Starting WWIII // Paul Scharre: The greatest risk the United States and European countries face right now is mission creep from their own desire to do more.

The Army Brief: Russian bombardments; Deployment funding; Base attack investigation findings; and more... // Caitlin M. Kenney: 

Welcome to this Monday 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 1988, Vietnamese and Chinese naval forces clashed over control of the contested Johnson Reef, in the southern Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. More than 60 Vietnamese troops were killed in the encounter, which was an early signal of China’s growing determination to control that particular body of water, along with every rock, reef, and island it could either find or create through sand-dredging. 

Blueprint for a takeover. Russia appears to have installed a puppet mayor in the southern city of Melitopol. The Ukrainian mayor was abducted by Russian troops on Friday; now Galina Danilchenko is messaging to the locals on behalf of Moscow.
For now in Melitopol, “a committee of the people's chosen ones” are in charge, Danilchenko said Sunday, and urged Ukrainians there to “adjust to the new reality.” She also called protests in the city an “extremist” act, according to Max Seddon of Financial Times. Seddon also shared video of Russian troops driving through Melitopol blasting a message to locals that a curfew is now in place, weapons are forbidden, and “non-sanctioned protests” are not allowed.
Among the first items on Russia’s agenda for Melitopol: Begin broadcasting Russian state-run TV, because of an alleged “sharp deficit in reliable information,” Danilchenko said, and added, “Adjust your TV sets and get the truth!” More from Times of Israel.
And Russian troops are patrolling through the eastern city of Kherson, where locals are not interested in their armed occupation and the apparent occasional shots fired into the air, as heard in this video curated by researcher Rob Lee.
Ukrainians also protested Russian occupation in the southern city of Berdyansk on Sunday, as this video illustrates. 

  • RIP, Brent Renaud. Russian troops apparently shot and killed an American journalist over the weekend. He was 50-year-old documentary filmmaker and journalism instructor Brent Renaud. CNN has more.

Ukraine’s president wants to appeal to U.S. lawmakers in a video address Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday. That’s slated for 9 a.m. ET. A bit more from CNN’s Jeremy Herb, via Twitter.
Russia’s Putin spoke to his French and German counterparts on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, he accused Ukraine of using civilians “as human shields, [and] putting heavy armaments in civilian areas near hospitals, schools, kindergartens.” More in the Kremlin’s readout, here.

Iran attacked Iraqi Kurdistan with ballistic missiles. No injuries were reported, though the Sunday barrage near the new U.S. consulate building damaged homes and a local television station, the Associated Press reported. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the attack was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two of its members, NBC reported.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan condemned the attack. “We will support the government of Iraq in holding Iran accountable, and we will support our partners throughout the Middle East in confronting similar threats from Iran,” he said in a statement.

And lastly: China seems to be facing its “biggest Covid-19 crisis since Wuhan” with a new surge of infections in several high-profile locations like Beijing, Shanghai, and the tech hub city of Shenzhen, according to the South China Morning Post, reporting Sunday. An outbreak appears to have formed in northeastern China's Jilin city, which lodged more than 2,200 cases over the weekend as officials admitted control measures were “not robust enough,” according to Agence France-Presse.