Today's D Brief: Russian attacks on Kyiv intensify; 70s-era missile tech is back; 80s-era Soviet disinfo is, too; N. Korea's 'monster' ICBM; And a bit more.
The prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic are taking a train to Kyiv, which would make them the first foreign leaders to visit Ukraine since Russia’s invasion nearly three weeks ago. “The aim of the visit is to express the European Union’s unequivocal support for Ukraine and its freedom and independence,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala tweeted.
Developing: A NATO-wide head of state meeting in Brussels could happen as soon as this week, U.S. officials told reporters Monday.
More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday. People in an estimated 2,000 cars are trying to flee the port city of Mariupol, the Associated Press reports. The imaging firm Maxar photographed dozens of cars stuck on the way out of Kyiv on Monday, too.
Kyiv has been hit with a new wave of intense strikes, President Volodymir Zelenskyy says. Additional imagery from Maxar on Monday evening showed extensive damage to homes northwest of Kyiv.
And Russian troops are allegedly looting stores and killing civilians in southern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports from the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. “They just brazenly come in, without any shame, and take whatever they want,” a 64-year-old woman told the Journal.
Update: Russia reportedly wants China to sell it surface-to-air missiles, drones, armored vehicles, logistics vehicles, and “intelligence-related equipment,” according to Financial Times.
CNN says Russia needs MREs from China, too, which would seem to reflect the Kremlin’s apparently very bad supply and logistics situation, as former U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explained in a Twitter thread Monday evening.
- Related reading: “China Signals Disinterest in Providing Weapons to Russia for Brutal Ukraine Campaign,” via U.S. News and World Report.
Russia appears to have carted out secretive 70s-era missile tech to evade air defenses in Ukraine. (Imagery here, and here.) In the 1970s, similar devices were known as “penetration aids,” and they looked like darts that would detach from a ballistic missile when the missile detects it has become the target of air defense systems, the New York Times’ John Ismay reports.
“Each is packed with electronics and produces radio signals to jam or spoof enemy radars attempting to locate the Iskander-M, and contains a heat source [much like a flare] to attract incoming missiles,” a U.S. intelligence official told Ismay.
Why this matters: “Because they’re highly secret,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies told the Times. “If you know how they work, you can counteract them,” he said. “That suggests to me that the Russians place some value on keeping that technology close to home and that this war is important enough to them to give that up.” Continue reading, here.
This week in useful data visuals, check out an incredibly lengthy feature rolling up “Weapons of the war in Ukraine.” It comes from a team of at least four editors at Reuters, and covers everything from Kalibers to barricades, NLAWs to Bayraktar drones.
Coverage continues below the fold…
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Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1917, the last emperor of Russia, Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, abdicated his throne after an estimated 1.7 million of his countrymen had died fighting World War I, which helped send food prices soaring and triggered famine and riots.
The EU just unveiled new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday. That includes a ban on Russian steel, luxury goods, and a “far-reaching ban on new investment across the Russian energy sector, with limited exceptions for civil nuclear energy,” according to the European Commission. A few new oligarchs have been added as well, including former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Reuters has more.
For your ears only: Review the impact and outlook of the current sanctions on Putin’s regime in our latest episode of Defense One Radio podcast, here.
If you haven’t already noticed, Russia is pumping out a lot more disinformation lately, and a disturbingly large amount of it is being amplified by far-right personalities and media here in the states.
The latest on the “useful idiot” front: Russian state-run media reportedly ordered producers to use Tucker Carlson clips as much as possible, according to a 12-page memo obtained by the progressive outlet Mother Jones on Sunday. Those orders allegedly instruct Russia’s propagandists that, “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally.”
More: On Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called out U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who has been pushing some of the same lies advanced by the Kremlin—including the ill-informed uproar over “Lugar labs,” as it was known in a previous iteration (h/t Adam Rawnsley of The Daily Beast). Read Romney’s warning, via Twitter, here; then feel free to review Gabbard’s angry response (here) before pivoting to Tucker Carlson’s newest enthusiastic embrace of Gabbard’s fascination with “biolabs,” via Fox entertainment on Monday evening, here.
By the way: Russia pushed fears over “biolabs” in Georgia back in 2018, as journalist Michael Weiss recalled and linked to via Twitter, here.
Let’s be clear: “Biolabs” is an incredibly common focus of Russian disinformation that goes back many decades. Several of those 20th-century campaigns were quite successful, as the authors of “The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World” recount. Read over those passages via Twitter, here.
So, is the Russian effort working this time? In many ways, it appears that it is—certainly if you consider Tucker and Tusli above, as well as Google searches for “war crime” versus “biolab” over the past 30 days, as researcher John Scott-Railton noted Monday.
Worth noting: “‘Biolabs’" weren't a talking point until Russia's first line of propaganda—about Zelenskyy being a ‘nazi’—failed spectacularly,” Ben Collins of NBC News reported Monday. He also shared a chart that tracked use of “biolabs” across 15 high-profile far-right social networks. There is a clear spike in the data the very day Russia’s invasion began. What happened next involved several converging groups and conversations online, including QAnon followers, anti-vaccine activists, and the pro-Trump Reddit forum TheDonald, which had to change its name to PatriotsDotWin after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Once all that began to take off, Collins writes, Moscow realized that it had “finally found a pretext—well, posttext—for the Ukraine war, a gift from the American far-right.”
The headline for that fascinating deep dive: “QAnon, Ukraine and 'biolabs': Russian propaganda efforts boosted by U.S. far right,” via NBC News, reporting Monday.
Advice: U.S. defense policy officials need to understand the links between Russian propaganda and the American right wing, Defense One’s Kevin Baron argued in an opinion piece Monday. “America’s right-wing partisans wish they had what Putin has: control of the information and messages that flow to the body politic. That’s not an accusation; it is their goal,” Baron writes. More, here.
- “Germany to buy 35 Lockheed F-35 fighter jets from U.S. amid Ukraine crisis,” via Reuters, reporting Monday from Berlin;
- “A Chechen strongman claims he has joined Russian troops outside Kyiv,” the New York Times reported Monday after Ramzan Kadyrov made the unverified allegation on social media;
- “A Scholar of Stalin Discusses Putin, Russia, Ukraine, and the West,” via the New Yorker’s interview with Princeton University’s Stephen Kotkin;
- “Putin’s Thousand-Year War,” via Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh, reporting Saturday;
- “‘They’re lying to you’: Russian TV employee interrupts news broadcast,” via The Guardian, reporting Monday;
- And “Producer who crashed Russian TV broadcast with antiwar message can’t be found, lawyers say,” via the Washington Post, reporting Tuesday.
North Korea could be about to test a “monster” new ICBM, Reuters reported Monday. The country has started testing its largest intercontinental ballistic missile yet, and may do a full launch of the missile soon in what would be the country’s first full ICBM launch since 2017. The world first saw the ICBM in a military parade in October 2020, and many noticed it was “considerably larger” than the one that had been test fired in November 2017.
Show of force: As tensions mount and the North Korean test looks more and more likely, fighter jets from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier showed off their capabilities with an “air demonstration” in the Yellow Sea and the U.S. air defense artillery at Osan Air Base in South Korea increased the intensity of its certification exercises.
The head of the Texas National Guard has been replaced after months of complaints from troops and pressure from lawmakers about terrible conditions for those serving at the border, Military Times reports.
Outgoing/incoming: Army Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris had led what is known as the Texas Military Department for three years; her replacement is Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Suelzer.
And lastly: Today on Capitol Hill, America’s outgoing Middle East commander and Africa Command’s top general are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That one began at 9:30 a.m. ET; catch the livestream here.
This afternoon, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief Gen. James McConville are expected to speak about challenges in the Pacific region during a virtual event hosted by the Hudson Institute. That’s slated for 2 p.m. ET. Details here.