Today's D Brief: Russian strikes pound Kyiv, Chernihiv; Germany's warning; Putin's money crunch; S.Korea's ICBM skepticism; And a bit more.

Russia’s military is still attacking Ukrainian cities even as negotiations continue in Turkey. Some of that shelling is hitting the capital of Kyiv, where Russia claimed it would “drastically reduce” its hostilities, according to remarks Tuesday from Kremlin officials in Moscow. 

“A nearly endless rumble of artillery audible in central Kyiv today—at times loud enough to startle birds to take fight,” U.S. Air Force veteran Nolan Peterson reported on Twitter on Wednesday from the capital. “Clearly there has been no let up in fighting on the city’s periphery,” he added. 

Chernihiv is another city Russia claimed to be departing soon as it allegedly shifted its efforts to invasion offensives in the south and the east of Ukraine. Chernihiv’s mayor told CNN Wednesday morning (afternoon local time) that the city is under “colossal attack,” and more than a dozen civilians have been taken to the hospital from those ongoing attacks. Reuters and the Associated Press have more. 

News: Russia has launched several hypersonic missiles at Ukraine, America’s top military commander in Europe told senators with the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. 

“There have been multiple launches. Most of them have been directed at military targets,” said Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters of the U.S. military’s European Command. As far as why, Wolters told lawmakers, “I think it was to demonstrate the capability and attempt to put fear in the hearts of the enemy. And I don't think they were successful.” After all, as our colleague Patrick Tucker reported Tuesday, “Hypersonic missiles are designed to thwart the world’s most sophisticated air defenses, so it’s unclear why Russia is using them against the Ukrainian military, which doesn’t have the sort of defenses that would merit the use of an advanced, experimental, and very expensive weapon.” More, here.

Wolters is on the Hill again today for another hearing, this time before the House Armed Services Committee. He’s joined by the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Celeste Wallander. That one started at 10 a.m. ET. Catch it live via HASC, here.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht is at the Pentagon this morning for a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Lambrecht arrived about an hour after sunrise, at 8 a.m. ET.

New: German officials are asking citizens to begin conserving their natural gas usage, since the country may have little choice but to rely on Russian sources until at least 2024, the Associated Press reports from Berlin and Warsaw. “We are in a situation where, I have to say this clearly, every kilowatt hour of energy saved helps,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Wednesday. He also said he thinks Germany might be able to cut its reliance on Russian oil and coal as early as the end of this year. 

Poland says it will stop using Russian coal possibly as soon as May. And Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday he expects his country to stop using Russian oil by the end of December. Meanwhile, “Poland is expanding an [liquid natural gas] terminal to receive deliveries from Qatar, the U.S., Norway, and other exporters,” AP reports. And “A new Baltic pipeline bringing gas from Norway is expected to open by the end of the year.” More, here.

Updated economic outlook for Russia: Things are improving slightly for ordinary Russians, but the country’s overall forecast is still very dim, according to Elina Ribakova of the Center for a New American Security. “Russia's domestic banking system is gradually stabilizing,” she tweeted Tuesday, with illustrative data from the Bank of Russia. “Severe bank runs triggered by the war and sanctions appear to have moderated,” she said. 

That could mean the Kremlin doesn’t have that much money to be flexible. Or, as Ribakova put it, “Russian banks barely survived the bank runs and don’t have cash sloshing around to pay for military spending. Especially if [an] oil embargo gets implemented.”

A second opinion: “Sanctions against Russia have been unprecedented in speed, the scale of targets, and international cooperation,” tweeted Eddie Fishman, also of CNAS, on Tuesday. “But they are NOT comprehensive. They remain a 7/10 or 8/10 in intensity, not a 10/10.” He explains what more can be done—using charts, tables and graphs—here.

Four European countries booted more than 40 Russian diplomats and officials Tuesday over allegations they were spying or conducting influence operations on behalf of the Kremlin. The Belgians expelled 21; the Dutch kicked out another 17; Ireland booted four; and the Czech Republic said it expelled one as well. North Macedonia booted another five on Monday for similar reasons. 

100-plus and counting: Recall that Poland kicked out 45 Russian diplomats last week; and Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia collectively expelled another 20 the week before that, bringing the latest totals to more than 110 Russian expulsions since Putin’s Ukraine invasion first began.  

Extra reading: 

From Defense One

Russia’s Kyiv Pullback is ‘Not a Real Withdrawal,’ Pentagon Warns // Tara Copp: As Putin is repositioning forces to the Donbass area, “nobody should be fooling ourselves,” U.S. spokesman says.

Boeing Poised to Score Billions in Biden’s Pentagon Budget Request // Marcus Weisgerber: Meanwhile, Lockheed stands to lose. But don’t count Congress out.

New Budget Would Modify Planes, Pursue Hybrid Vehicles To Tackle Climate Change // Jacqueline Feldscher: The Pentagon’s 2023 proposal aims to reduce C-130 drag, modify KC-135 engines, and design a fuel-sipping airframe.

Russia Has Fired 'Multiple' Hypersonic Missiles Into Ukraine, US General Confirms // Patrick Tucker: The stunt, likely meant to intimidate Ukraine and allies, has not had the effect Moscow intended.

Let’s Correct a Misperception About Nuclear Modernization // Rep. Doug Lamborn and Rep. Jim Cooper: An article left the impression that a new fuze would vastly increase the capability of our nuclear arsenal. It’s simply not the case.

China Tops Threats in New Defense Strategy // Jacqueline Feldscher: An unclassified fact sheet outlines the Pentagon’s long-awaited capstone strategic guidance.

The Air & Space Brief: Space seeks 40% budget boost, Mars Rover gets mothballed, Air Force to cut 150 planes  // Tara Copp

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 1867, the U.S. purchased the territory of Alaska from Russia, which had just come off a costly loss in the Crimean War; Russia netted just $7.2 million from the sale, or about $133 million in 2020 dollars. 

South Korea’s military has serious doubts about the North’s alleged mega-ICBM test last week. According to Reuters, officials in Seoul now believe North Korean officials likely misled the public last week to distract from an embarrassing launch failure the week prior that sent rocket debris over the capital city of Pyongyang. And that would seem to suggest that the rocket North Korea fired—it traveled quite high on what’s known as a “lofted” trajectory—was one they’d already known could fly on such a high-arched path.
Early indicators: “Open-source analysts noted discrepancies in video and photos released by North Korean state media” after the launch next week, and said factors like shadows and weather indicated they were from a different test, Reuters writes. 

Get to better understand China’s online influence machine across Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube via a new, long-ish read from a trio of Associated Press reporters.
Bottom line: “The country has quietly built a network of social media personalities who parrot the government’s perspective in posts seen by hundreds of thousands of people, operating in virtual lockstep as they promote China’s virtues, deflect international criticism of its human rights abuses, and advance Beijing’s talking points on world affairs like Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
Where this data comes from: New research on disinformation from a firm called Miburo, which was started by Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army infantry officer and special agent with the FBI. “So why should we care about a couple hundred influencers pumping out CCP propaganda?” Miburo asks in part one of its recent analyses of China’s influence operations. “The simple answer is that these influencers possess powers of persuasion that many other forms of propaganda employed by the CCP have been unable to achieve.”
Reminder: “Research on how information spreads and sticks,” the authors warn, “tells us that audiences are more likely to believe a piece of information when: It is heard or seen first, it is repeated multiple times, it is delivered by a trusted source, and it faces no rebuttal.” China’s “influencers tick all four of these boxes,” they write in part two of their research.
One big success that China has located: What Watts described as the “Chinese lady influencer.” Several of these amplify Russian propaganda and whataboutism narratives. AP’s reporters say they’ve “identified dozens of these accounts, which collectively have amassed more than 10 million followers and subscribers…The personalities do not proactively disclose their ties to China’s government and have largely phased out references in their posts to their employers, which include CGTN, China Radio International, and Xinhua News Agency.” Continue reading at AP, here; or via Miburo, here.

And don’t missNew Zealand’s Australia-Friendly Response to China-Solomon Islands Security Deal,” via The Diplomat, reporting Tuesday.

Lastly: This afternoon in Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks is scheduled to speak at The Hill's virtual Future of Defense Summit at 1 p.m. ET. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth is expected about a half-hour later, followed by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro just before 2 p.m. ET. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Stefanie Tompkins rounds out the two-hour affair with remarks slated for 2:40 p.m. ET. Details and registration, here.