Today's D Brief: Refugee, humanitarian 'crisis without precedent' hits Europe; Cyber warning; Russians fire on protesters; And a bit more.

Russia’s Ukraine invasion, day 28: More people have fled their homes, and faster, than in any other conflict in recorded history. That’s according to the latest metrics from the United Nations’ refugee agency, which is tracking more than 3.5 million Ukrainians and others who have fled in just 25 days, almost a tenth of the democratic country’s antebellum population. Another 6.5 million are displaced inside Ukraine—for a total of 12 million people stranded because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. 

More than 2 million have fled north to Poland, which is more than 5% of Poland’s own population; Slovakia has taken in almost the same percentage of Ukrainians relative to its smaller population (250,000 refugees for a nation of 5.4 million people). The refugee crisis is putting a huge strain on Moldova’s healthcare system, according to Health Minister Ala Nemerenco.

“Obviously, this is a humanitarian crisis without any precedent,” she said. But “the resources of the country are limited and we wouldn’t want this to become a burden for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova.”

What might lie ahead: Given the UN’s metrics, it would seem that about 8 million more people would flee Ukraine if a ceasefire is reached anytime soon, Alex Nowrasteh of the American Enterprise Institute tweeted Monday. He called the current situation “the most rapid refugee exodus ever recorded.”

With its invasion stalled, Russia may soon resort to wider cyber attacks, or even worse, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Monday—days after U.S. officials briefed leaders from more than 100 companies on the elevated cyber threat. Biden’s message was motivated by “evolving intelligence that the Russian Government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks,” he said in a statement. 

The White House also released advice for private sector companies to better protect against cyber attacks, including “Mandat[ing] the use of multi-factor authentication on your systems,” updating patches, and backing up data. More on all that, via the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, over here.

New: The U.S. sent Ukraine some old Soviet air defense systems secretly acquired around the end of the Cold War, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

By the way: Russian air sorties have increased notably, a senior defense official told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. In addition, Russian forces have shifted to using more unclassified communications systems "because their classified communications capabilities is—well, for one reason or another, it's not as strong as it should be,” the official said. However, Russia still retains a “significant majority” of its ballistic missile capability and “more than half” of its air-launched cruise missile capability, according to the Pentagon.

Coverage continues below the fold…


From Defense One

State of Defense 2022 // Defense One Staff : Our annual service-by-service look at where the U.S. military is, and where it's going.

White House Bureaucracy Is Costing Ukrainian Lives, Senators Say // Jacqueline Feldscher: Lawmakers are urging Biden to send more aid and enforce sanctions as quickly as possible to help Ukraine beat Russia.

It’s Time for a Protected Humanitarian Airlift into Lviv // Barry Pavel and Philip Breedlove: Russia has no right to dictate who may fly into and out of Ukrainian airspace.

Russia Speeds Up Air War Over Ukraine, As Some Munitions Run Low or Malfunction // Tara Copp: Russian bombers, fighter jets flew 300 sorties over the last 24 hours, Pentagon says.

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 1960, the laser was patented by Bell Labs. 


Snapshot of an invasion: “Several bodies lay covered in dirty blankets,” Reuters reported Sunday from the southern coast city of Mariupol, which has been under siege for more than two weeks. Most of the city is now “an eerie wasteland of windowless charred apartment blocks…Some people trudged past carrying their belongings in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. A boy pushed a supermarket trolley past a bombed out car.”
Russian forces fired at protesters in Kherson on Monday, the New York Times reports. Kherson was the first major city to fall to the Russians nearly three weeks ago, on March 2. Protests against the Russian occupation have been happening fairly regularly since. “While Russian troops previously had fired into the air to disperse crowds in the region, Monday saw an escalation in the violent response—including sustained use of gunfire for nearly a minute, shooting directly at the crowd, and the use of flash-bang type grenades,” the Times reports. “At least one man appeared to be seriously injured, bleeding from the leg as he was carried away from the square.” More here.
Other Russian troops are going door to door as they steal phones from Ukrainians in apartment buildings in Hostomel, north of Kyiv, the Times reported separately Monday. “Don't be mad at us, but if we find your phone, you will be shot on the spot,” they warned one resident in Hostomel. 
On the diplomatic front, any Ukraine-Russia deal to end the war must be decided by Ukrainians in a referendum, President Zelenskyy said Monday in an interview with Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne. “The people will have to speak up and respond to this or that form of compromise.” But it’s too soon to know what contingencies could be up for negotiation—some items floated include bartering over the Crimean peninsula and the two separatist enclaves Russia annexed in 2014—much less what might make it into a referendum.
The EU is about to formally establish a 5,000-troop rapid reaction force, possibly as soon as Thursday. The decision comes after a meeting of top military chiefs and diplomats in Brussels on Monday. The actual force, though, isn’t expected until 2025. The effort is part of a wider “Strategic Compass” that EU leaders advanced after initial discussions in November. 
For the record, “The force will replace the existing EU battlegroups that the bloc has had since 2007 but never used,” Reuters reports. And EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned against viewing the new force as replacing NATO, but rather as a complement to the alliance, “which remains the foundation of collective defense for its members,” Borrell said in a statement Monday.
For your eyes only: Review the latest NATO reinforcement efforts across eastern Europe, in troops and select equipment numbers, via this map from the alliance, shared Tuesday morning on Twitter.
ICYMI: Russia claims to have used a hypersonic missile in Ukraine, but the alleged evidence provided does not line up with the claim, The Drive reported over the weekend—suggesting (as Ankit Panda and Valerie Insinna pointed out on Twitter) the missile may have been aimed more at distraction than battlefield effect.
Speaking of information wars, the Kremlin has introduced lessons on the anti-Ukrainian propaganda letter “Z” into classrooms from kindergarten to high school, the Washington Post reported Monday after reviewing recordings of the classes. “Children are told that Ukraine never truly existed as a country and was once just a tiny piece of land called Malorossiya,” the Post reports. “A slide show of maps follows, claiming that modern Ukraine is a construct of the Soviet Union and areas such as the Crimean Peninsula—which Russia forcibly annexed in 2014—accidentally fell into Kyiv’s hands after the Soviet collapse in 1991.” More here.
Forget the West; pro-Russian elements are advancing pro-invasion memes in social media across Brazil, India, China, Africa, and Asia, researcher Carl Miller pointed out late last week on Twitter.
Log jam north of the border? Ukrainian officials say Belarusian railway workers are helping sabotage lines southward into Ukraine from Belarus. Tiny bit more via Atlantic Council non-resident fellow Hanna Liubakova, via Twitter.
Food (crisis) for thought: “Russia and Ukraine account for 30% of the world’s wheat exports, 17% of corn, 32% of barley & 75% of sunflower seed oil,” the New York Times’ Jack Nicas reported Monday from Brazil. But now all that food is stuck, including 15% of the world's fertilizer, which originates in Russia. Story here.
Related reading: 

And lastly today: When it comes to COVID and the military, is no news good news? For the first time since last July, the Pentagon didn’t publish COVID-19 case numbers last week, Military.com noticed Monday. DOD spokesman John Kirby told the outlet that there are no plans to “slim down our flow of information,” but did not say how often the numbers will be released going forward. More than 680 military-affiliated people have died from COVID to date.
Meanwhile, the Navy has been following through on its promise of removing unvaccinated sailors from the service, and has now booted 544 troops, USNI reported Monday. The only service that has separated more troops for refusing the vaccine is the Marine Corps, which has removed 1,174 Marines. Read more, here.

NEXT STORY: State of Defense 2022

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