Today's D Brief: SecDef Austin at NATO; Zelenskyy appeals to lawmakers; ~$1B in new US aid to Ukraine; Despair in Mariupol; And a bit more.
NATO’s military leaders are in Brussels reviewing European defense as Ukraine’s president addressed the entire U.S. Congress for about an hour this morning, which is day 22 of Russia’s invasion of democratic Ukraine.
Big picture: Russian strategists expected to topple Kyiv’s government in three days; instead, Moscow still doesn’t have air superiority, it’s suffered alarming equipment and personnel losses, and Russian troops don’t seem to have made significant progress in about two weeks, Pentagon officials told reporters Tuesday. But some of that could be changing very soon, according to the British military, which said Tuesday evening that Russian troops are now redeploying “from as far afield as its Eastern Military District, Pacific Fleet, and Armenia.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Belgium late Tuesday evening, shortly after White House officials announced plans for President Joe Biden to visit Europe next week to discuss what might lie ahead for Ukraine, as well as ways to possibly contain or manage the decline of Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin. For Biden, those meetings will take place at NATO headquarters and at a summit of the European Council, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
New: The U.S. is about to send nearly $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine, White House officials said Tuesday. The funds are expected to come from the $13.6 billion for Ukraine that’s been set aside in the $1.5 trillion omnibus budget bill Biden signed Tuesday.
The weaponry reportedly includes Soviet-era air defense systems like SA-8s, SA-10s (aka “S-300”), and SA-14s, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Wednesday. The batch of new U.S. military aid also includes Javelin and Stinger missiles.
- Related reading: “Ukraine Needs Ground-Based Air Defenses Way More Than MiGs. Here Are The Best Options,” via The Drive, reporting March 10.
Zelenskyy repeated his calls for a no-fly zone in remarks to Congress, but he also admitted he doesn’t expect that to happen. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” he said, and referenced anti-tank and air-defense weapons. “Remember Pearl Harbor? Remember September 11?” Zelenzkyy said. “Our countries experience the same every day right now.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
The DOD needs a Joint Wargaming Center // Lt. Col. Gabe S. Arrington: The recent explosion of wargames obscures several flaws in the current system.
A Civil War is Brewing In Russian Tech Circles // Patrick Tucker: Russian entrepreneurs and investors who have known each other for years are finding themselves on opposite sides of Putin’s war.
A Private Company Has Evacuated 6,500 People From Ukraine // Jacqueline Feldscher: Global Guardian is now evacuating Ukrainians who work for Western companies and their families.
Biden's Nuclear Spending Plans Just Got More Complicated // Marcus Weisgerber: How much will Russia’s war on Ukraine change America's aging nuclear arsenal?
Pentagon May Boost Troop Presence In Somalia // Jacqueline Feldscher: It’s “not effective” to try to deter terrorists there from bases in neighboring countries, U.S. Africa Command leader says.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1984, the CIA’s Lebanon station chief, William Buckley, was kidnapped by Hezbollah militants as he left his apartment that morning in Beirut. A former Green Beret, Buckley is believed to have been tortured for 15 months before passing away in captivity, possibly from a heart attack. Efforts to help recover him became part of what later was known as the Iran-Contra affair, as the New York Times recounted in 1991.
Ukrainian and Russian diplomats met today for the fourth time since Putin greenlit his invasion to “denazify” Ukraine’s leaders. In a vague bit of optimism from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Wednesday: “The negotiations are difficult for obvious reasons, but nonetheless there is a certain hope for reaching a compromise.” For Ukraine’s part, President Volodymir Zelenskyy is reportedly signaling certain concessions, including some wiggle room on hopes of joining NATO. “For years, we have heard about the supposedly open door, but we have also heard that we should not enter, and this is true and we must admit it,” he said Tuesday.
According to Zelenskyy’s chief advisor, “Our position at the negotiations is quite specific—legally verified security guarantees; ceasefire; withdrawal of Russian troops,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Wednesday, linking to an interview with PBS Newshour. “This is possible only with a direct dialogue between the heads of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” Reuters has more on the diplomatic front.
Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan rang his Russian counterpart Wednesday, the White House announced. In the call, “Sullivan clearly laid out the United States’ commitment to continue imposing costs on Russia, to support the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, in continued full coordination with our allies and partners,” National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne said. Sullivan also “warned [General Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council] about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.” More here.
Developing: Ukraine troops launched a counteroffensive against stalled Russian forces around Kyiv, the Wall Street Journal reports from the capital. Suburbs and outlying towns like Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel are where some of the fighting is heating up; but there are also counteroffensives reportedly happening “south and east of the southern port of Mykolayiv, moving in the direction of Kherson, the only Ukrainian regional capital occupied by Russia since the war began,” according to the Journal.
In terms of proximity to Kyiv, the Pentagon said Tuesday that it “estimate[d] Russian forces are still about 15-20 km to the northwest [of the capital] and about 20-30 km to the east,” a senior defense official told reporters.
One general’s forecast: “Russia does not have the manpower or firepower to encircle the Ukrainian capital, let alone capture it,” former U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges wrote Tuesday at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “It is a very large, dense major urban center on the banks of one of Europe’s largest rivers. It is a difficult, complex urban terrain.”
What’s more (or less, in a more practical sense), “There is no suggestion that the Russians have big units lurking in the woods somewhere (and the Pentagon has said it sees no signs of significant reinforcements.) So it’s apparent that the notional 900,000 strength of the Russian military is a hollow number.” And that presents an opportunity to influence the next tranche of 130,000 conscripts Moscow is expected to call up on April 1. CEPA has more from Hodges, entitled, “The Next 10 Days Will Decide This War.”
ICYMI: Alleged Russian drones are crashing in Romania and Croatia, and appear to have been spotted above Poland, the Wall Street Journal reports from Brussels.
- “'Why? Why? Why?' Ukraine's Mariupol descends into despair,” via the Associated Press, reporting from southern Ukraine;
- “‘I’m Not Scared of Anything’: Death and Defiance in a Besieged Ukrainian City,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday from the port city of Mykolaiv;
- “International Law Goes to War in Ukraine,” via Yale Law School’s Oona Hathaway, writing in Foreign Affairs on Tuesday;
- “Desperate and Dangerous: Managing Putin,” via former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, writing for CEPA;
- “Russia’s novel weapons systems: military innovation in the post-Soviet period,” via The Nonproliferation Review from back in August; the piece is now in front of the paywall at Tandfonline;
- “Talking to kids about nukes: Parents, experts suggest truth,” via the Associated Press, reporting Wednesday.
Today on Capitol Hill, service and Defense Department officials will testify about the health effects of exposure to airborne hazards, including toxic fumes from burn pits, at a Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing at 3 p.m. And the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee will get an update from Assistant Defense Secretary for energy, installations, and environment Paul Cramer and other officials at 2 p.m. Watch that here.
Also today, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will talk with David Ignatius on “Washington Post Live” at 1:30 p.m. Register here to watch that.
And lastly: That Maryland couple who tried to sell nuclear secrets to a foreign nation? That nation had been kept a secret for months, but Julian Barnes of the New York Times learned the answer Tuesday.