Today's D Brief: Russia's Ukraine invasion grinds on; New UN war crimes panel; Norway's anxiety; Moscow's dismal economic forecast; And a bit more.
All eyes remain on Russia’s battered, invading military in Ukraine as Moscow’s forces seem to be regrouping for possible future offensives instead of reducing hostilities around cities like Kyiv and Chernihiv, to the north. Indeed, NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg announced Thursday that, “According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing, but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply, and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities.”
Russia’s invasion has displaced nearly 13 million people so far, including 4 million who have fled to neighboring countries and another 6.5 million displaced internally. The United Nations has documented nearly 1,200 civilian deaths from the invasion (including 104 children), though officials cautioned Wednesday that the true number is likely much higher.
Ukraine and Russian officials concluded their latest round of talks Wednesday in Turkey, but delegates failed to reach an agreement. However, the two sides agreed to resume talks online Friday. “We don't believe fancy word constructions,” Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Wednesday. “We believe in what happens on [the] battlefield,” he added.
FWIW: Turkey’s top diplomat reportedly said today “that some of Russia’s initial justifications for the invasion—such as the disarmament and vaguely defined “denazification” of Ukraine—were no longer really on the table,” according to the New York Times.
By the way: “If you want to see how Russia uses peace talks and ceasefires, just look at Syria. They're only ever used to reorganise and prepare for the next offensive,” Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat tweeted Wednesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden called Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the seventh time that the two leaders spoke since the invasion began. The last time they got on the horn was 11 March, according to White House readouts. Biden told Zelenskyy that the U.S. would soon send $500 million “in direct budgetary aid.” NBC News has a bit more, here.
New: The United Nations just named a commission to investigate war crimes in Ukraine, the New York Times reported Wednesday. It’s a three-person panel with a 12-month tasking so far. Learn more about the expected course of war crimes investigations from Ukraine via Candace Rondeaux of New America, speaking in our latest Defense One Radio podcast, here.
Norway is encouraging citizens to “dust off” Cold War-era nuclear bunkers and to stock up on medicine for children in case Russian troops dangerously botch their occupation of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear complex, which Moscow’s forces seized on Feb. 25. According to the UK Times, a Norwegian military source said this week that “Everyone has been warned so if they are using [those bunkers] for storage now, they need to make a plan for taking things out.” Citizens may only get 72 hours notification, and that small window is spiking demand for a thyroid-blocking medication known as Jodix.
“Ukraine has the most production of nuclear power in Europe,” said Norwegian Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen, “and if an accident happens, as with Chernobyl, we will all in western Europe be affected by that if the wind goes in this direction.” More, here.
Denmark just threw its enthusiastic support behind any Finnish bid to join NATO, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday, via Reuters. “If or when Finland would choose to seek membership of NATO, Denmark would of course support it very strongly,” she said during a visit to Estonia.
What lies ahead: Russia’s economy is expected to shrink by about 10% this year, and Ukraine’s could contract by 20%, according to the latest insight from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And, “In contrast to its outlook for Ukraine, the bank doesn’t expect a rebound in 2023 and sees prospects beyond then remaining weak,” the Wall Street Journal reports. What’s more, the ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service predicted wider pain for the region, warning Thursday, “Across Europe, the security threat will amplify the economic shock, weighing on consumption and investment, with those geographically closer to the conflict most exposed.” More, here.
The big picture: “A Russian dictator, backed by an authoritarian Chinese leader and enabled by the silence of the Saudis, is killing thousands, seizing land, [and] destroying a nation,” according to Axios’ Wednesday evening Finish Line newsletter.
That’s one takeaway from a recent study of the world’s democracies (PDF here) that helped inspire Axios to consider what has clearly been a broader decline in participatory governance from 2011 to 2021. And that’s an apparent shame, too, judging by the positive metrics Axios dug up on how democracies yield vast improvements in health, wealth, and education for their citizens when compared with life under autocracies. More from Axios, here.
More Ukraine headlines:
- “Biden Is Expected to Tap Oil Reserves to Control Rising Gasoline Prices,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Thursday;
- “Soaring Cost of Diesel Ripples Through the Global Economy,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday;
- “Russia drafts 134,500 conscripts but says they won't go to Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Thursday;
- “As Russia sees tech brain drain, other nations hope to gain,” via the Associated Press, reporting Thursday from Lithuania;
- And “U.S. warned firms about Russia's Kaspersky software day after invasion,” also via Reuters on Thursday.
From Defense One
Ukrainian Hackers Take Aim at Russian Artillery, Navigation Signals // Patrick Tucker: Group says it has found several ways to keep lost units lost.
Navy Picks HII’s Remus 300 for Lionfish Underwater Drone Program // Caitlin M. Kenney: Pencil-shaped vehicle is built to cooperate with other nearby drones.
Biden’s Nuke Review Omits ‘No First Use’, Kills Naval Cruise Missile // Tara Copp: The president, who pledged during the campaign to use nuclear weapons only in response to a similar attack, declined to set that as U.S. policy.
Confederate Names and Symbols on Hundreds of Military Roads, Structures, Ships Under Review // Bradley Peniston and Caitlin M. Kenney: Congress’ Naming Commission has revealed what else besides base names may get relabeled or removed—right down to a water tank.
Pentagon Delays Department-wide Cloud, Again // Brandi Vincent and Lauren C. Williams: Officials say they didn't expect to need so much time to choose among four bids for a $9 billion cloud contract.
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 1917, the U.S. bought the Danish West Indies from Denmark for $25 million, and renamed them the U.S. Virgin Islands.
One sailor died and two others were rescued with non-life-threatening injuries after an E2-D Advanced Hawkeye crashed north of Chincoteague Island, Va., Wednesday evening, the Shore Daily News and USNI reported. The plane, which is based out of Naval Station Norfolk and assigned to an East Coast Airborne Command and Control Squadron, was doing a routine exercise when it crashed around 7:30 p.m., according to WAVY.com.
The Defense Department has not fully implemented 18% of the nearly 200 requirements Congress has imposed since 2004 to address sexual assualt, according to a new GAO report. Many of the requirements that have not been met are related to oversight, evaluation, and reporting on the military’s sexual assault prevention and investigation efforts, Stars & Stripes reported.
One example: From 2005 to 2021, the Pentagon “often omitted information about retaliation complaints and investigations of those complaints,” Stripes’ Chad Garland writes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other members of Congress have amplified servicemembers’ concerns about the issue of retaliation against those who report sexual assault; a Human Rights Watch report in 2015 detailed some of the retaliation those victims experienced.
In COVID developments, a large clinical trial has found the anti-parasite drug ivermectin failed as a treatment for coronavirus infections, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan encouraged use of the drug, which is more commonly prescribed for horses, as did a large number of Americans, despite supporting evidence that it actually worked.
It’s a puzzling page in medical history, but similar odd and desperate treatments cropped up more than 100 years ago (see Forbes and CNN, e.g.) when the 1918 flu swept around the world, likewise killing millions of people.
Said one doctor to the New York Times: “At some point it will become a waste of resources to continue studying an unpromising approach.”
- “Association of County-Level Prescriptions for Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin With County-Level Political Voting Patterns in the 2020 US Presidential Election,” via the Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 18, 2022;
- Or read the Washington Post’s write-up of that research, entitled, “Study: Trump counties more likely to seek ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine prescriptions.”
By the way: 93% of U.S. military bases around the world have lifted COVID travel restrictions, according to the latest figures (PDF) from the Defense Department. That leaves a few state-side depots still affected, as well as more than a half-dozen facilities in Japan, a few in Guam, Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, and a few air bases in South Carolina, Indiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada.
And finally today: The U.S. appears poised to carry out its newest ICBM test launch, possibly as soon as Sunday, according to Dutch scientist Marco Langbroek. He noticed new navigational warnings from U.S. officials for the “Eastern North Pacific” on April 3 (likely in this vicinity).
The last one (scheduled long ago) was postponed out of an abundance of caution since it would have happened about a week after Russia invaded Ukraine. “In an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention of engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued, the secretary of defense has directed that our Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch scheduled for this week to be postponed,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said at the time. “We did not take this decision lightly, but instead to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power,” he added.