Today's D Brief: Milley: Putin's invasion a 'historical turning point'; New alleged atrocities emerge; Czech tanks to Ukraine; EU bans Russian coal; And a bit more.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, day 42: “We are witness to the greatest threat to the peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world in my 42 years of service in uniform,” America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, said in an ongoing hearing on the Pentagon’s latest $773 billion budget request on Capitol Hill. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening to undermine the global peace and stability that my parents—and generations of Americans—fought so hard to defend.”
“With the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has created a dangerous, historical turning point and has invaded a free and democratic nation and its people without provocation,” Milley said. “Shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies, we have bolstered NATO’s Eastern Flank and imposed wide-ranging costs on Russia, demonstrating our willingness to defend the international, rules-based order.”
Milley’s advice: “The United States needs to pursue a clear-eyed strategy of maintaining the peace through unambiguous capability of strength relative to [China] and Russia,” which, of course, Milley argues the White House’s budget request addresses. “This requires we simultaneously maintain readiness and modernize for the future. If we do not, then we are risking the security of future generations.” Catch the full hearing via DVIDS, here.
New findings: An alleged “torture chamber” was found in Bucha on Monday, according to CNN’s on-the-ground reporting by Fred Pleitgen. He explains in a graphic, seven-minute video segment that blurs the numerous bodies of people who were apparently executed in a basement. Another CNN veteran, Ben Wedeman, braved artillery attacks in southern Ukraine before his team of producers crawled along the ground as they got the F outta dodge on Monday—lucky to be alive. Their team arrived at those front lines in two cars; but the shelling damaged their Mitsubishi SUV, so they all crammed into the smaller Renault and raced north to relative safety.
Developing: There are worse alleged atrocities in Borodyanka than the world has seen from Bucha, according to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova. Both are located northwest of the capital city. The images from Bucha began emerging Friday and over the weekend; but, “In terms of people, in terms of victims, the worst situation is in Borodyanka,” Venediktova reportedly said Tuesday.
French officials have now opened three investigations into potential war crimes against its citizens in Ukraine. The probe will reportedly review allegations in three cities beginning on the first day of the invasion, and up until March 16, the New York Times reports. Spanish and German investigators have initiated their own probes as well—in addition to the International Criminal Court of Justice. And United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday called for an investigation into what happened in Bucha. The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet again today about developments in Ukraine; President Volodymyr Zelenskyy briefed the members on the latest, beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
On the sanctions front, European Union leaders are proposing a ban on Russian coal imports, which are believed to be worth about $4 billion. There aren’t too many options left for sanctions; but gradually closing in on Russia’s big money-makers—coal, oil and gas—are widely seen as among the last major moves EU officials could make. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explained the new measures in a press conference today in Brussels. The bloc is also implementing a “full transaction ban on 4 key Russian banks, among them VTB, the second largest Russian bank,” she said. Additional bans cover “advanced semiconductors, machinery, and transport equipment.” More here.
New: Five European countries just booted another 100-plus Russian diplomats. That includes 35 based in France; 30 in Italy; 25 from Spain; 15 in Denmark; and three in Sweden. Germany also declared 40 Russian diplomats “undesirable persons” on Monday, which al-Jazeera reports “is tantamount to expulsion.” One week ago, more than 110 Russian diplomats had been expelled from around Europe since the invasion began; now that number appears to be nearly doubled.
Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev replied angrily, and alluded to wider conflict: “If this continues, it will be fitting, as I wrote back on 26th February, to slam shut the door on Western embassies. It will be cheaper for everyone. And then we will end up just looking at each other in no other way than through gunsights.”
In a new first, the Czech Republic has been sending Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. “So far, the Czech Republic has sent slightly more than a dozen modernized, Soviet-designed T-72M tanks,” the Journal’s Drew Hinshaw and Yaroslav Trofimov write. Howitzer artillery and amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles have also been sent to Ukraine from the Czech Republic. “These weapons supplies were funded by the Czech government, and private Czech donors who have chipped in to a government-backed crowdsourced fundraising campaign to arm Ukraine.” More here.
Contingency planning: NATO foreign ministers are meeting for two days to discuss Ukraine, beginning today in Brussels. “I’m afraid that we will see more…more mass graves, more atrocities, and more examples of war crimes,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday at NATO headquarters. He also echoed other alliance officials’ recent predictions that Russia appears to be regrouping in the hopes of intensifying its Ukraine offensives in the east and in the south, in places like Mariupol.
“We are seeing a new face of the war,” he added, noting the Russian withdrawals from around Kyiv. “What we are facing is a new concentrated operation in the Donbas” and in southern Ukraine, to link up with its annexed Crimean peninsula. “This whole buildup will take some time, this repositioning will take some weeks” to materialize, as NATO officials predict.
For what it’s worth, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday declined to rule out a possible NATO peacekeeping force that could deploy inside Ukraine, though that is hard to imagine at this stage given the caution NATO has shown when it comes to potential direct confrontations with invading Russian troops. “The one thing that the United States has made clear throughout this is that it is not our intention to send U.S. soldiers to fight Russian soldiers in Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “But in terms of the supply of capabilities, in terms of other steps to support the Ukrainians and to do our best to protect civilians in Ukraine, we continue to look at every possible option, including in consultation with our partners on that. And I’ll leave it at that.”
“We need to continue to put unprecedented pressure on President Putin,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Tuesday. “That’s the reason why we’re on the right side of history…but meaningful dialogue [with Russian officials] is not an option right now,” he said, citing the Kremlin’s persistent denials—in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, as Bellingcat explained and the New York Times illustrated Monday using comparative satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies—that its troops were responsible for the apparent war crimes that began surfacing over the weekend from Bucha, outside Kyiv.
Brace yourself: “Internet conspiracy theories are all Russia has to defend the actions of its army, so let's not pretend Russia has sophisticated disinformation campaigns,” said Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat. “It's the diplomatic equivalent of shitposting, and we should treat them with the lack of respect they deserve.”
For your eyes only: Russian troops appear to be sending stolen goods from Ukraine back home to Russia via a parcel office in Belarus. Bellingcat’s Aric Toler reviewed some of the alleged closed-circuit footage from Belarus seeming to show as much on Monday; he even ran some of the troops’ faces through a facial recognition program called FindClone. Some of the troops even carried their “goods” in a shopping bag that can only be found inside Ukraine.
- “Ukrainian villagers describe cruel and brutal Russian occupation,” via the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan and Michael Robinson Chavez, reporting from southern Ukraine on Monday;
- “Ukraine War Sanctions Hit Home for Everyday Russians,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- “Ensuring Ukraine prevails is now the only moral choice,” via the Chatham House’s Keir Giles, writing Monday;
- And “The Battle for the Mural — and the Future of Belarus,” via the New York Times, reporting on March 30 in a piece that Thomas Rid of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies called “an intimate glimpse into the normalised absurdities of authoritarianism.”
From Defense One
Defense Firms Should Hire Ukrainian, Afghan Refugees, Navy’s Top Admiral Urges // Marcus Weisgerber: Adm. Mike Gilday touts shipbuilding apprentice programs as perfect landing spots.
China Should Heed Lessons from Russia’s Ukraine Invasion, US Official Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: “Your adversary’s probably stronger than you think it is,” warned the assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs.
Top Marine Defends Corps’ Lighter Direction // Bradley Peniston and Caitlin M. Kenney: Gen. Berger responded to retired four-stars’ critiques by saying he’s building the right force to deter China.
Top Navy Admiral: Fleet Size Doesn’t Always Matter // Marcus Weisgerber: CNO Gilday says U.S. shouldn’t become like the Russians, with a big but incapable force.
Missing in Action: Russian Cyberattacks // Erik Gartzke and Nadiya Kostyuk, The Conversation: Their general absence from the Ukraine invasion suggests that cyber and military operations serve different political objectives.
Sea-Air-Space 2002 Conference Wire: How Big a Fleet? // Marcus Weisgerber: Naval leaders were pressed on plans to shrink the fleet and lighten the Marine Corps.
Space Symposium 2022 Conference Wire: Who's Missing? // Jacqueline Feldscher: It's Russia, of course.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1951, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were sentenced to death for espionage.
More Americans were killed in road rage incidents last year than ever before, according to a new report from a nonprofit known as Everytown for Gun Safety. “Road rage injuries and deaths have increased yearly since 2018,” the authors write. But in 2021, “an average of 44 people per month were shot and killed or wounded in road rage shootings—double the pre-pandemic average.”
Related reading: “Why People Are Acting So Weird,” via Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan, writing on March 30. (TLDR: Reported stress and alcohol consumption during the ongoing pandemic are both on the rise; the report from Everytown echoes those considerations as well.)
America’s cyber capabilities are under the microscope this morning at the Senate Armed Services Committee. Cyber Command’s Army Gen. Paul Nakasone is joined by Army Gen. Richard Clarke of Special Operations Command and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Christopher Maier. That began at 9:30 a.m. ET. Catch it live or in re-runs via DVIDS, here.
Also happening now: A top Pentagon official is speaking about the future of Syria at the Wilson Center. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul headlines that one, which began at 10 a.m. ET. Details here.
Now or never message on climate. Nations must immediately take drastic measures to significantly reduce emissions in the next eight years and “stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s” in order to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The report was approved by 195 countries and outlines strategies to stop global warming. “This is a climate emergency,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. More, here.
BTW: More water contamination has been found in Hawaii. More fuel was spilled from the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel complex in Honolulu as workers were removing water from the tanks, and testing of the Navy’s water system has shown mercury, lead, beryllium, and petroleum contamination at various sinks and homes on base, Military.com reported Monday. The Red Hill tanks were shut down earlier this year after a spill in November that sickened thousands of troops and their families; the recent spill was “no more than” 30 gallons of fuel and water, Military.com reports.
And lastly today: Four U.S. airmen were recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the Kabul evacuation. Task & Purpose seems to have been among the first to notice the news, which was posted on DVIDS last week.
On the receiving end: Air Force Lt. Col. Dominic Calderon, 1st Lt. Kyle Anderson, and Master Sgt. Silva Foster, from the 301st Airlift Squadron; and Senior Airman Michael Geller of the 517th Airlift Squadron. Staff Sgt. Dennis Gonzales-Furman, of the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was also recognized for his role as the aircrew’s flying crew chief during their mission in Afghanistan.
Related reading: “Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony,” via the Associated Press, reporting Tuesday from Las Cruces, N.M.; and “Afghan evacuees lack a clear path for resettlement in the U.S., 7 months after Taliban takeover,” via The Conversation on March 31.