Today's D Brief: Alleged Russian war crimes, troop deaths mount; UNSC emergency meeting; $800M in US arms to Ukraine; And a bit more.

Global concern is growing over apparent Russian war crimes from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Focus on that issue sharpened Wednesday after a likely Russian attack on a theater in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, had gathered over the last several days in an attempt to stay safe from Russia’s artillery and air strikes. 

The word “Children” had been written in large Russian letters on the pavement both in front of and behind the theater before the shells hit the building Wednesday, as satellite imagery from Maxar revealed. Recall that Russia attacked a hospital in Mariupol on March 9, killing three civilians, including a child. USA Today has more, here. Early Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv reported "Russian forces shot and killed 10 people standing in line for bread in Chernihiv...We are considering all available options to ensure accountability for any atrocity crimes in Ukraine." The Associated Press has the latest today from Mariupol, including some hints of survivors from that theater attack. 

The International Court of Justice called on Russia to stop its Ukraine invasion, ICJ president Joan Donoghue said Wednesday after a 13-2 vote, with Russian and Chinese delegates dissenting. “Many [Ukrainians] have no access to the most basic foodstuffs, potable water, electricity, essential medicines, or heating,” Donoghue said. “A very large number of people are attempting to flee from the most affected cities, under extremely insecure conditions.”

Caveat: “Although the ICJ's verdicts are binding,” the United Nations noted Wednesday, “the court has no direct means of enforcing them.” 

The UN’s Security Council will meet in an emergency session this afternoon triggered by growing civilian casualties from Russia’s “war of choice,” as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described it Tuesday (that echoes a description from Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin in late February). 

New: Biden, Xi to chat about Russia’s invasion on Friday, the White House announced this morning. “This is part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the [People’s Republic of China],” Psaki said in a statement. “The two leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries, as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern,” she added. 

By the way: China’s ambassador to Ukraine visited officials in Lviv on Tuesday. “We have seen how great the unity of the Ukrainian people is,” Ambassador Fan Xianrong reportedly told Lviv’s military chief Maxim Kozytsky. 

ICYMI: President Joe Biden authorized $800 million in new military support for Ukraine, he announced Wednesday from the White House. That includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; 2,000 Javelin and 1,000 light anti-armor weapons; 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems; 100 "switchblade" drones (according to Politico’s Paul McCleary); 100 grenade launchers; 5,000 rifles; 400 machine guns; and 400 shotguns; more than 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition—and a lot more. See a video clip of some of the aid, as shared on social media Wednesday by the Department of Defense.

“This could be a long and difficult battle,” Biden said. “But the American people will be steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin’s immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations…And we’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead.”

Biden also said the U.S. is working to find “longer-range anti-aircraft systems and the munitions for those systems.” Some of that could come from Slovakia’s S-300 inventory, according to CNN, which reported Wednesday that SecDef Austin is headed to Bratislava later this week, likely to discuss those S-300s, among other matters.

Speaking of Slovakia, check out this video clip reportedly from Slovak intelligence, which seems to show an alleged Russian “diplomat” recruiting someone for disinformation work in the region. It’s nifty how the apparent Russian has multiple wads of cash bundled and ready to go in his pockets just for this sort of work.

Coverage continues below the fold…  

From Defense One

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Ukraine 'Doing a Fantastic Job' of Blocking Russian Reconnaissance, Top Marine Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: “I'm not sure [the Russians] have a good picture of what's in front of them”

Biden Sends $800M In Weapons To Ukraine After Zelenskyy’s Emotional Appeal // Jacqueline Feldscher: The latest military aid includes anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, plus guns and drones to help Ukrainians fight Russia.

The DOD Needs a Joint Wargaming Center  // Lt. Col. Gabe S. Arrington: The recent explosion of wargames obscures several flaws in the current system.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1973, Sal Veder of the Associated Press photographed U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Stirm and his family as they welcomed him back to the states after five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Veder won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, which came to be known as “Burst of Joy.” 

An estimated 7,000 Russian troops have been killed inside Ukraine so far, and those are conservative U.S. estimates, according to the New York Times, reporting Wednesday. To put that in perspective, consider the article’s lede: “In 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed. Now, 20 days after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers, according to American intelligence estimates.” That 7,000 estimate? It’s more deaths than the U.S. suffered in both Iraq and Afghanistan over a two-decade period. More at the Times, here.
Review one of the most decisive defeats of Russian troops so far in this war, according to a graphic account unearthed by the Wall Street Journal’s seemingly omnipresent reporter Yaroslav Trofimov, who traveled to the south-central Ukrainian city of Voznesensk, which is where a vicious two-day battle beginning March 2 appears to have cost Russia “nearly 30 of their 43 vehicles—tanks, armored personnel carriers, multiple-rocket launchers, trucks—as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter.”
“We didn’t have a single tank against them, just rocket-propelled grenades, Javelin missiles and the help of artillery,” a Ukrainian commander told Trofimov. “It was a surprise for them. If they had taken Voznesensk, they would have cut off the whole south of Ukraine.” More here.
Reinforcements watch: Japan says four large Russian amphibious warfare ships are heading west, and “it is possible” that they’re headed for Europe, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Reuters Thursday in Tokyo.
A train load of Russian armor was also spotted moving in the direction of Ukraine from Siberia on Wednesday. See that short clip, via Twitter, here.
And remember that the Brits reported apparent Russian reinforcements on the move “from as far afield as its Eastern Military District, Pacific Fleet, and Armenia” on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy is pleading with German lawmakers today as he continues making the rounds to Western elected officials and parliamentarians in democracies around the world. “You're still protecting yourself behind a wall that does not make it possible for you to see what we are going through,” Zelenskyy said. And referring to Berlin’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, he added, “Dear Mr. Scholz, tear down this wall.” Germany’s Deutsche Welle newspaper has more.
Putin admitted “a temporary rise in inflation and unemployment” is coming, he told Russians in a televised address Wednesday. “Our economy will need deep structural changes in these new realities, and I won’t hide this—they won’t be easy,” he said, and referred to the onslaught of sanctions in response to Russia’s Ukraine invasion “economic blitzkrieg.” Meanwhile, “Russia could also be on the cusp of defaulting on its debt for the first time since 1998,” the Wall Street Journal reports. CNBC and CNN have a bit more on what that might mean.
Worth noting: Putin also seemed to lay out a chilling pseudo justification for the genocide of Ukrainians in his remarks Wednesday. “The collective West is attempting to splinter our society, speculating on military losses, on socioeconomic effects of sanctions, in order to provoke a people's rebellion in Russia,” he said.
“Any people, and particularly the Russian people, will always be able to tell the patriots from the scum and traitors and spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths,” Putin said (emphasis added). “I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion, and readiness to meet any challenge.” Business Insider and Bloomberg have more.
Related reading: 

A new law bans former U.S. spies from working for foreign governments right after their U.S. gigs or contracts are up, Reuters reported Wednesday, capping a 2019 investigation from the outlet that traced the work of a secretive team of hackers.
Fine print: The ban doesn’t last terribly long—just 2 and a half years. Read on, here.

Crypto convergence with the American far right. As domestic extremist groups have been “deplatformed” from banks and payment providers like PayPal after events like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, those groups’ use of cryptocurrency has spiked, according to a new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
FDD’s advice: To cut off the funding flow to these dangerous domestic extremists, the U.S. government should designate more violent white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations, and also move to increase regulation of the cryptocurrency industry, among other measures, the report argues. Read more, here.

And lastly: Some Afghan evacuees stuck in UAE are volunteering to return to Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati reported Wednesday. In many cases, “Afghan evacuees often were the primary breadwinners for extended families left behind and hoped to quickly begin working in order to send money home,” she writes.
“I told [U.S. officials] of course my life will be in danger,” one such man told the Journal. “They said, you can’t go unless you sign [a paper stating he wouldn’t be at risk back in Afghanistan]. So I had no other option.” According to the State Department, “The United States remains in active conversations with bilateral and international partners about third country resettlement for those Afghans who may ultimately not be able to travel to the United States.” But Foggy Bottom wouldn’t or couldn’t say much more. Continue reading, here.