Today's D Brief: Ukraine’s opening position; Biden goes off-script; Russia alters war aims; Attacks in Saudi; And a bit more.

Ukraine’s democratic leader says he’s ready to negotiate an end to Russia’s invasion. That’s the latest ahead of three days of planned peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials, which are set to begin Monday in Turkey. 

Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy insists on his country’s pre-invasion territorial integrity ahead of the talks in Istanbul, according to Reuters. The New York Times reports explosions were heard on the edges of Ukraine’s capital city on Monday, but it’s unclear just yet how many may have been injured in the apparent Russian attacks. 

When it comes to negotiations, what would “neutrality” look like for Kyiv? We asked Paul Poast that and several other questions in our latest episode of the Defense One Radio podcast. Listen to that one, or read a transcript, here

By the way: Russia seemed to dramatically scale back its military goals in Ukraine, according to remarks from top officials Friday— who said the “first stage of [Russia’s] operation” has largely concluded, and now Russia will pivot to its “top goal, [which is] the liberation of Donbas.” The Associated Press has more from Kyiv. 

Drama in Poland. Polish President Andrzej Duda met with U.S. President Joe Biden in Warsaw on Saturday. Biden also met with Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw. The trip managed to renew speculation Poland may still try to send some of its old MiG-29 jets to Ukraine, which is a possibility Western officials have reluctantly tossed around for several weeks, often at the urging of President Zelenskyy. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Saturday that he believes U.S. officials “have no objections to the transfer of aircrafts,” he said in a statement to Agence France-Presse. “As far as we can conclude, the ball is now on the Polish side. We will look further into this matter in our conversations with Polish colleagues,” Kuleba said. So more to follow from that front, apparently. 

Biden also made headlines for calling Russia’s leader a “butcher” and for going off his script when he said, “For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Outlets like the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times seized on the dramatic line, and speculated whether official U.S. foreign policy had suddenly been altered by those nine words into one of unapologetic regime change.

U.S. officials, including State Secretary Antony Blinken, walked back Biden’s nine words in remarks shortly afterward—but not before a fair amount of finger-wagging and tsk-tsking from writers in outlets like the Atlantic, Axios, and the National Review, e.g. 

Related weekend reading: 


From Defense One

Russian Forces Halt Kyiv Advance as Kremlin Says Donbass Was Only Goal All Along // Tara Copp: Pentagon official rebuts Moscow's claims about war aims, casualties; adds that Russian precision munitions are failing at high rates.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Budget Day preview; LaPlante’s confirmation; rockets delivered; and more.

Work Urgently, Lockheed’s New Space Chief Tells His Team // Marcus Weisgerber: Robert Lightfoot wants to meet the Pentagon’s desire to move quickly.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 97: Putin's long war // Ben Watson: Two experts look to history for some clues about the possible future of Russia's Ukraine invasion.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1854, France and Britain threw their support behind the fledgling Ottomans and declared war on Russia during the conflict we’ve since referred to as the Crimean War


The White House is releasing its new budget today, which officially launches the annual mad scramble for more federal money than the U.S. spent last fiscal year. Stay tuned to Defense One for breaking coverage today, which will start with the lifting of budget embargoes at 1:30 p.m. and continue around 2:45 p.m. ET, when POTUS46 is set to address the topic live. Catch that live on C-SPAN, here.
The Defense Department is set to brief reporters on the new documents as early as 1:25 p.m. ET, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. Catch that via DVIDS, here. Read more in the Pentagon’s preview, here, or catch it live at Defense.gov.
The White House says its new budget will help “reduce the deficit by more than $1.3 trillion this year, [which would be] the largest one-year reduction in the deficit in U.S. history.”
Says one critic: This $800 billion-plus budget “far exceeds what is needed to provide a robust defense of the United States and its allies,” said William Hartung of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. it is substantially more – adjusted for inflation – than spending at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars, and over $100 billion more than peak spending during the Cold War.
His cost-saving recommendations: (1) Scale back Washington’s “policy of global reach by reducing the U.S. military presence in the greater Middle East and (2) relying more on allies to provide for their own defense in Europe and East Asia.” That “would free up hundreds of billions of dollars in the years to come,” says Hartung. 

U.S. officials canceled planned talks with the Taliban late last week after the group reneged on its plans to allow girls to attend school, Reuters reported from Kabul this weekend.
Along similar lines, the Taliban on Monday announced all government employees must wear beards (which kinda rules out women in service) and each employee must conform to a strict dress code. Reuters once again has more on that apparent regression from Kabul, here.

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen attacked at least four Saudi locations on Saturday, including oil facilities in Jeddah and other locations across Jizan, Najran, and Dhahran. The following day, the group vowed to stop attacks on Saudi positions and cities for three days, calling it a “sincere invitation…to rebuild trust,”  Reuters reported Saturday from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The White House called the attacks “acts of terrorism aimed to prolong the suffering of the Yemeni people,” according to a statement from White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Saturday. The attacks “were clearly enabled by Iran in violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the import of weapons into Yemen…
“It is time to bring this war to a close and relief to the Yemeni people but that can only happen if the Houthis agree to cooperate with the United Nations and its envoy working on a step-by-step process to de-escalate the conflict,” Sullivan said, and emphasized, “The United States stands fully behind those efforts, and we will continue to fully support our partners in the defense of their territory from Houthi attacks.”
Related reading:Ukraine war threatens food supplies in fragile Arab world,” via the Associated Press, reporting Monday from Beirut.

And lastly today: The Philippine Coast Guard is upset over alleged unsafe actions by China’s Coast Guard around the Scarborough Shoal, in the South China Sea, on March 2, calling it “a clear violation of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.”
What happened: “The incident involved a CCG vessel with bow number 3305 that conducted close distance maneuvering over an area of approximately 21 yards (19.2 m) in the direction of Philippine vessel BRP Malabrigo,” Reuters reported Sunday from Manila.
Panning out: The incident was the fourth of its kind involving China over the past 10 months, according to Philippine Coast Guard commandant Adm. Artemio Abu. A bit more, here.
From the region: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is dropping by the Pentagon today, likely around 2 p.m. ET. Recall that Singapore, like Japan and Australia, joined the sanctions regime aimed at curbing Russia’s economy in the wake of Putin’s Ukraine invasion.

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