Today's D Brief: Biden to Europe; NATO's next moves; Budget wars begin in DC; State of Defense 2022; And a bit more.

The four-week mark. Russia’s embattled military has been trying to invade and overtake Ukraine for a month now. On day 29 of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, his navy in the Black Sea has reportedly begun escalating its shelling of Ukrainian cities, and U.S. President Joe Biden is traveling to western Europe to meet with NATO allies in Belgium, and later in Poland.

Big picture framing: “On this trip we will make clear that the West is united in our defense of democracy,” Biden tweeted Tuesday before his departure. “Putin thought he would divide us, but we are stronger than at any time in recent history. We stand with Ukraine and we will continue to ensure Putin pays a heavy economic price for his actions,” Biden said.

Developing: A new slate of sanctions on Russia from the U.S. and its European allies. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Biden is preparing to announce sanctions on more than 300 members of the Russian State Duma as soon as Thursday.” As with previous recent sanctions on Moscow, these will be coordinated with Washington’s EU and G7 allies, U.S. officials told the Journal. According to the New York Times, Biden and his pals have already done so much sanctions-wise that they’re left with “a relatively short list of announcements they can deliver on Thursday after three back-to-back, closed-door meetings.” 

New: NATO is adding battlegroups around Ukraine, including staging them inside Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary—joining ones already in place across Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. "Along with our existing forces in the Baltic countries and Poland, this means that we will have eight multinational NATO battlegroups all along the eastern flank, from the Baltic to the Black Sea," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Wednesday in Brussels. More, here.

On the Ukraine invasion’s naval front, Russia had “about 21 ships” in the Black Sea on Tuesday, a Pentagon official told reporters. Twelve of those are surface combatant vessels, and the others are believed to be amphibious tank-landing ships. Some of those ships appeared to fire cruise missiles toward Ukraine on Tuesday, as U.S. Naval Institute News explained.

On the information front, Russian state media are allegedly doctoring videos from Ukraine in an effort to drain the morale of Kyiv’s military. That’s according to the British military, which called on YouTube to address the allegations in a tweet Wednesday morning. More here.

New: Poland just booted 45 Russian diplomats it says were actually spies. One of those expelled “is an officer of the Russian secret services whose activity has been unveiled during an investigation that resulted in the arrest of a Polish national on suspicion of spying” just last week, officials in Warsaw said. “The detained Pole heard charges of espionage and has been remanded in custody for the period of three months.” A bit more here.

In curious imagery from Ukraine, a guided missile landed at a zoo in Mykolaiv, to the south. An apparent cluster munition hit the same zoo about two weeks ago. Imagery via Jake Godin of Newsy, here

In tactical imagery, we have several newer shots of alleged Russian armor and artillery positions throughout Ukraine, as well as just north of the border, inside Belarus. See those, here

The more things change… While reviewing the Russian military’s casualty lists, you may notice many non-ethnic-Russian names. There’s a reason for that, writes Kamil Galeev, formerly of the Wilson Center. Put simply, it’s a recruiting and staffing approach as old as time; and this Russian iteration is hardly an exception. Galeev explains using demographic maps, charts, and a bit of history, via Twitter, here.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Senators mull the unthinkable: Putin detonating a nuclear bomb,” NBC News reported Tuesday, anchoring the story on remarks from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. 

White House reax: “We take it as seriously as one could possibly take it,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday. Read more at NBC, here.

Russian reax: We’d only use nukes if facing an “existential” threat. Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “We have a concept of domestic security and it's public, you can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov said. “So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept. There are no other reasons that were mentioned in that text.”

On the energy front: “It’s been a month since the war started, but Russia is actually shipping more natural gas through Ukraine and Moscow is still paying Kyiv in full for transiting the fuel to Europe,” according to Bloomberg, reporting Tuesday. 

Recommended reading:

And here were a few headlines from Russia’s state-run TASS, on Tuesday: 

  • “Nationalists hold hostage over 4.5 million Ukrainians, 7,000 foreigners — Defense Ministry”;
  • “Russian legislators to open probe into operations of Pentagon-run Ukrainian biolabs,” which is really one of the “hits” of Russian propaganda for decades. 

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.

What We Learned from Russia’s Assaults on Nuclear Plants // Ernest J. Moniz and Richard A. Meserve: Governments, international organizations, and nuclear plant operators have a lot of work to do.

Biden Travels to Europe To Ensure the West Will ‘Stay United’  // Jacqueline Feldscher: Experts say the NATO alliance has proven as relevant and necessary as ever.

US Needs More Arms Factories, Says Chief Weapons-Buyer Nominee // Marcus Weisgerber: Bill LaPlante also said he wants to speed up deliveries of weapons and equipment to Ukraine.

Russia’s Mercenaries Don’t Want to Control Africa. They Want to Loot It // Marcel Plichta: U.S. policymakers should focus less on what the mercs are doing on the continent than what the United States could do.

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 1775, Virginia-born farmer and attorney Patrick Henry famously declared to delegates of the Second Virginia Convention, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” That speech would help inspire Virginia to send troops for America’s war of independence, which began the following month. But according to historian Thomas Kid, on the day of his death 24 years later, Patrick Henry owned 67 slaves, which was in fact more than he owned when he delivered his famous line at the St. John’s Church in Richmond.


The budget wars begin on Capitol Hill. Top defense policy Republicans want Pentagon spending to jump 5% above inflation, according to a letter (PDF) from pretty much all GOPers in the House and Armed Services Committees. That includes all the senators, and all but one on the House side; Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz did not sign the letter.
“Since the publication of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and particularly over the past year, the threats to our national security have grown exponentially,” the lawmakers write. “Each day the Chinese Communist Party more clearly shows us that its interests are diametrically opposed to ours. Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has already left us and our NATO allies less secure, and his appetite and erratic behavior is likely to grow.
“There is much more work to do in Eastern Europe to secure the peace,” they argue, and emphasize “new battlefields such as cyber,” their desire to invest more in America's nuclear forces, and they want more money for “air and sealift, space, missile defense, munitions, and electronic warfare.” Read over the full text of that GOP message, here.
Read more:Ukraine crisis could derail drive to limit U.S. defense spending,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday.

Don’t miss our new, big feature: State of Defense 2022. When Defense One began working on its annual State of Defense special report this year, military planners were focused on the Pacific, the service branches were looking at how best to adapt to changing threats, and Vladimir Putin was still just amassing forces outside of Ukraine. Putin’s invasion has changed the calculus; as Kevin Baron writes, “How much any of [the service branches] will be forced to change what weapons they need, where they position their people, or how much they need to spend, is now largely in the hands of a madman in Moscow.” Read the full report, with detailed information about each of the service branches, here.

And join us tomorrow for Defense One’s virtual Intelligence Summit, which kicks off at 10 a.m. with an interview with Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, director of ISR for the U.S. Space Force, and includes interviews with former acting CIA director Michael Morell and a panel discussion about the intelligence community in space. See the full schedule and register to watch now.

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