Today's D Brief: Russian atrocities alleged in Ukraine; Tightening sanctions on Moscow; China's wide embrace of Putin; And a bit more.
Russia’s military is facing near-global outrage over alleged atrocities from its retreating forces in suburbs around Kyiv. After Ukrainian troops pushed the Russians out of neighborhoods like Bucha, reporters began sharing ghastly images and video clips showing dozens of civilian bodies abandoned in the streets, many of them apparently executed at close range, some seemingly killed with their hands bound. Ukrainian newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda reports more than 330 bodies have been recovered so far. The Associated Press reports the number is greater than 400.
Reports began trickling out of northern Kyiv at least as early as Friday, with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen locating a couple that had been shot dead as their 6-year-old sat in the car with them. Ukraine troops happened to have been monitoring from a drone above and captured the killings earlier in March; Bowen found their bodies and their car burned in an apparent attempt to cover up evidence of the atrocity (including placing burning tires on piles of bodies, though many of the tires did not burn because of heavy rains, which meant the bodies didn’t fully burn either; Jeremy found the husband’s body with a wedding ring still on his charred, black hand). Bowen explains best he can in the BBC’s Friday episode of its Ukrainecast program; or watch a five-minute report on his findings, via Twitter, here.
“This is genocide,” said Ukraine's President Zelenskyy to CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday (Zelenskyy is reportedly in Bucha today). Read over a transcript of that interview with Margaret Brennan here. The prime ministers of Poland and Spain agreed. Germany’s Deutsche Welle has more.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday that Russia’s leader should face a war crimes trial, but he stopped short of calling the developments genocide. “We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight. And we have to gather all the detail so this can be an actual—have a war crimes trial,” Biden told reporters Monday. Video, here. AP has more, here.
America’s top diplomat condemned the apparent developments in Bucha, and said Sunday evening that the U.S. is “pursuing accountability using every tool available, documenting and sharing information to hold accountable those responsible.”
Russia’s reaction: “We categorically deny any accusations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov told reporters Monday. Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday on Telegram that its troops pulled out of the respective area on March 31, and that the photographed dead allegedly showed signs of dying after that date, which Kevin Rothrock of the Meduza newspaper called, “A very wicked denial.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief disagreed strongly, and said Monday, “the Russian authorities are responsible for these atrocities, committed while they had effective control of the area. They are subject to the international law of occupation.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
What Lessons is China Taking from the Ukraine War? // Peter W. Singer, Ma Xiu, and Thomas Corbett: From battlefield concepts to geopolitics, Beijing is sure to be watching with avid interest—and some chagrin.
State Department Official: Belarus President Vulnerable Due to Putin’s War // Patrick Tucker: Russia’s close ally in his war against Ukraine is on wobbly footing.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Defense budget proposal slammed; Shanahan appointed to CAE board; Spring conference season is upon us; and more.
Inflation Is the New Sequestration // Mackenzie Eaglen and Dustin Walker: Congress must shore up the Pentagon’s eroded buying power.
Welcome to this Monday 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 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an incendiary speech about the Vietnam war sometimes referred to as the Riverside Church speech, for its venue in New York City. Exactly one year later on this same day, King was shot dead in Memphis, Tenn.
Germany’s top diplomat says Ukraine’s allies will “tighten sanctions” against Russia after observing the images and video from Bucha. Those images are “unbearable,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted Sunday. “Putin's rampant violence is wiping out innocent families and knows no bounds,” she added. “Those responsible for these war crimes must be held accountable. We will tighten sanctions against Russia and who support Ukraine even more in their defense.” However, Germany’s finance minister reportedly said today that “cutting off Russian gas is not an option right now,” according to the New York Times Ukraine breaking news page.
There’s no doubt about it, China’s Communist Party leaders won’t be quitting Russia anytime soon, the New York Times reported separately Monday in a roll-up of a few parallel influence operations inside the “middle kingdom.” The chief examples include a CCP-produced documentary on Putin’s alleged heroism, university classes pumping out a “correct understanding” of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and the usual CCP newspaper “commentaries blaming the United States for the conflict,” according to the Times’ Chris Buckley.
Beijing’s motivation is both pragmatic and ideological. After all, China and Russia share a border more than 2,600 miles long. Dithering on a partnership with an ally so close would be disastrous in the short-term and almost certainly beyond. But cozying up to an ally so near and so similarly autocratic? To do otherwise seems on its face to be absurd, especially given the expansionism of the two autocracies over the past 15 years, amid virtual impunity on the world stage (Putin’s Ukraine invasion, with the recent wall of sanctions drawn up by the West, is the lone exception partly inspiring this trend-spotting report). These include Russia’s excursions abroad in Georgia, Crimea, Syria, and the rest of Ukraine; as well as China’s sand-dredging and flag-planting throughout the South China Sea since 2009. But, of course, those events have not happened in a vacuum; both countries have dramatically escalated their information operations aimed at external audiences as well over the past decade-plus, including diverse mis- and disinformation from Moscow and the rapid, global rise of China’s Western-facing social media app, TikTok. Indeed, according to that CCP documentary, “The most powerful weapon possessed by the West is, aside from nuclear weapons, the methods they use in ideological struggle.”
So what, as Lenin wrote, is to be done about this? Like Russia under Putin, China under Xi Jinping seems to be girding for the long haul, and digging in on its ideological positions. Consider this punctuating point from close to the end of Buckley’s reporting: “Chinese leaders have been debating why the Soviet Union fell apart ever since it dissolved in 1991. More than his predecessors, Mr. Xi has blamed the Soviet Union’s breakup on lack of ideological spine and Western political subversion.” In other words: get used to it, folks (in the West, especially). Continue reading, here.
Russia is working hard to win over the world’s Spanish-speaking population, the Associated Press reported Friday. Why this matters: “As one of the world’s most-spoken languages, Spanish is of obvious interest to any government or organization intent on shaping global public opinion,” AP writes. “But Russia’s focus on the Spanish language goes further, reflecting the historic and strategic importance of Central and South America during the Cold War,” an analyst from the Atlantic Council said. More, here.
Some obscure NATO bases are increasingly bustling, including a Romanian one on the Black Sea coast, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday on location at the Mihail Kogălniceanu base.
For the record: “The alliance has deployed 40,000 troops on its eastern flank, along with significant air and naval assets,” the Journal reports from that base just north of Constanza. Said one rattled local, “We are a target now. Why do they come here to disturb us?” Story, here.
Sidebar: Your D Brief-er spent several weeks at this base during a special operations exercise in August 2011 called Jackal Stone. During that trip, 100-plus U.S. soldiers were shaken down at the local airport for $100 each in unexplained luggage fees. Only the commander traveling with the group and your D Brief-er were exempted, because we’d skeptically waited at the back of the ATM line; by the time it became our turn, the cash had run out and the airport staff declared it was time to depart. It was only on our connection in Bucharest that the airline staff informed us the fees were not necessary.
- “China’s Bet on Sending Its Exports Through Russia Hits Setback,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Saturday;
- “A Tanker’s Giant U-Turn Reveals Strains in the Market for Russian Oil,” via the New York Times, reporting Saturday;
- “Russia war could further escalate auto prices and shortages,” via AP, reporting Monday from Detroit;
- And “Russia imposes visa restrictions on citizens of 'unfriendly countries',” via Reuters.
Unprecedented 2-month truce begins in Yemen. The UN-led truce is being called the first step in ending the nearly seven-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands and caused a hunger crisis affecting millions, Reuters reported Saturday. “If the international community and parties can work together, this could be built into a lasting ceasefire and inclusive political process that ultimately gives shape to a new Yemen,” U.S. special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking told Reuters.
POTUS46 praised the truce in a statement Friday, emphasizing the terms’ “halt to all military activities by any party inside Yemen and across its borders, the entry of fuel ships into Hudaydah port, and the renewal of commercial flights to and from Saan’a to agreed destinations.”
“These are important steps, but they are not enough,” Biden said. “The ceasefire must be adhered to, and as I have said before, it is imperative that we end this war.”
From the region: Israel and the UAE signed a free trade agreement Friday as well.
Lastly: Three U.S. soldiers are among 12 people charged in a gun trafficking ring in Chicago that allegedly supplied weapons to gangs, the Associated Press reported Sunday. The soldiers, stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, are accused of legally buying guns in the local area and then reselling them to members of the Gangster Disciples gang, the AP writes. If convicted, they could spend up to 20 years in prison. A bit more, here.