Today's D Brief: 50 killed at Ukraine train station; Invasion’s next phase; US troops injured in Syria; Navy’s $4B drone plan; And a bit more.

Ukraine is bracing for a new and perhaps even more brutal phase of Russia’s invasion that’s likely to resemble World War Two-levels of destruction, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned at NATO headquarters Thursday. He spoke from Brussels as several new allegations of war crimes continued to pile up, especially from the suburbs around Kyiv like Bucha, which Russian troops occupied for many days before retreating last week. Now Russia has set its sights more squarely on key cities and infrastructure across Ukraine’s southeastern Black Sea coast, as well as the traditionally resource-rich eastern Donbas.

“The battle for Donbas will remind you, and I regret to say it but this is true, the battle for Donbas will remind you of [the] Second World War, with large-scale operations, maneuvers, involvement of thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, artillery,” Kuleba said Thursday. “This will not be a local operation, based on what we see in Russia's preparations for it. Russia has its plan, we have ours. And the outcome will be decided on the battlefield.” Reuters shared a video of Kuleba’s warning shortly afterward.

The latest: A Russian strike hit a crowded train station, killing at least 50 people Friday in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. “These were precision missiles aimed at people trying to seek humanitarian shelter,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement. The Associated Press has more.

New: German spies intercepted Russian military chatter about killing civilians in Bucha, the site of several apparent war crimes discovered over the past week or so northwest of Ukraine’s capital city. Germany’s Der Spiegel published the findings Thursday, which “now appear to refute Russia’s denials” that its troops were behind the alleged atrocities in Bucha, Der Spiegel reported—one day after the content of the intercepts was briefed to parliamentarians in Berlin. 

“In one of them, a soldier apparently told another that they had just shot a person on a bicycle,” Der Spiegel writes. “That corresponds to the photo of the dead body lying next to a bicycle that has been shared around the world. In another intercepted conversation, a man apparently said: First you interrogate soldiers, then you shoot them.” CNN and the Washington Post both followed Der Spiegel’s lead on that report Thursday as well.

Worth noting: The Germans allege Russia’s Wagner paramilitary force “played a leading role in the atrocities.” Similar allegations seem to be emerging from Mariupol, though those are much harder to verify at the moment because of the ongoing siege there. Der Spiegel has more. 

Amnesty International allegedly has new evidence of “deliberate killings” by Russian troops around Kyiv, the human rights group said in a report Thursday. And that’s not all: “To date, Amnesty International has obtained evidence that civilians were killed in indiscriminate attacks in Kharkiv and Sumy Oblast, documented an airstrike that killed civilians queueing for food in Chernihiv, and gathered evidence from civilians living under siege in Kharkiv, Izium and Mariupol.” Details here.

Microsoft says it disrupted Russian state-sponsored hackers targeting Ukraine this week. The group was known as Strontium, and “On Wednesday April 6th, we obtained a court order authorizing us to take control of seven internet domains Strontium was using to conduct these attacks,” Microsoft announced Thursday. Strontium was targeting Ukrainian media, as well as “government institutions and think tanks in the United States and the European Union involved in foreign policy.” And perhaps unsurprisingly, “The Strontium attacks are just a small part of the activity we have seen in Ukraine,” Microsoft said. A bit more, here.

The U.S. military updated its public tally of arms sent to Ukraine, including this week’s $100 million addition that pushes the number of Javelin anti-tank missiles to more than 5,000 since the invasion began in late February. The U.S. has now also sent more than 1,400 Stinger missiles—along with “over 7,000 other anti-armor systems,” according to the Pentagon’s latest fact sheet, published Thursday. 

FWIW: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, again on Thursday, which is at least the sixth time the two men have spoken since Russia invaded. 

Update: The Kremlin said Thursday that it has lost 1,351 troops to its war in Ukraine. That update from Kremlin spokesman Dmtri Peskov (in an interview with the UK’s Sky News and repeated on state-run TASS) is still far below public U.S. intelligence estimates, which typically start around 7,000 dead Russian troops. 

New: Russia was just suspended from the United Nations Human Rights Council in a 93-24 vote Thursday. The decision is more an expression of global outrage at the apparent atrocities carried out by Russia’s military inside Ukraine than it is a decision with immediate, tangible impact on Moscow’s actions. Still, U.S. President Joe Biden called the vote “a meaningful step by the international community further demonstrating how Putin’s war has made Russia an international pariah.” America’s Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said there are important values at stake for everyone around the globe. “Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose—whose very purpose—is to promote respect for human rights,” she said. “Not only is it the height of hypocrisy, it is dangerous.” 

Who voted in support of Russia? China; North Korea; Iran; Syria; Algeria; Belarus; Bolivia; Burundi, Central African Republic; Congo; Cuba; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Mali, Nicaragua; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan; Vietnam; and Zimbabwe. 

For the record: This is not the first time a country was suspended from the council, the UN said Thursday. “Libya lost its seat in 2011, following repression of protests by ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later overthrown.” More here.

Apropos of nothing: Check out the interior of a luxury apartment in St. Petersburg reportedly owned by Vladimir Putin’s former mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh. You can rent it at the low, low price of $9,000 per month. The BBC’s Andrey Zakharov located the place, and shared photos on Twitter Thursday. 

Related reading: 

And there’s also this from Russia’s state-run media: 

From Defense One

What Would Ukrainian ‘Victory’ Look Like? GOP Lawmaker Asks // Elizabeth Howe: Defense Secretary Austin was just the latest government official to be accused of swerving questions about how the war in Ukraine will end.

For a Lasting Peace, Europe Must Embrace Russia // John Nagl and Paul Yingling: The U.S. and the West should follow six principles to bring Russia into a “Europe whole and free,” as G.H.W. Bush envisioned in 1989.

Hicks: Today’s Russia Problem Mustn’t Distract from Tomorrow’s China Problem // Patrick Tucker: An increasingly complex security environment is complicating the Pentagon’s efforts to ease tech firms’ frustrations.

Space Symposium 2022 Conference Wire: Tracking Hypersonics // Jacqueline Feldscher: Satellites that can spot maneuvering missiles were among the hot topics at the conference's Day 3.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1911, Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity while working with mercury wire in a liquid helium bath at the world’s first low-temperature laboratory at Leiden University. Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery. Today, superconductivity is used in many military applications, including electric power production, ship propulsion, radars, mine detection, and communications systems.

Four U.S. troops were injured in a rocket attack on a coalition base in southeastern Syria early Thursday morning, officials at the ISIS-focused ​​Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve announced later in the day.
Two projectiles struck two “support buildings” at the base, known as the Green Village, which is located in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province. AP reports Thursday’s attack was the first at that base since January. This recent attack allegedly involved five rockets, which a Syrian war monitor said were launched “from positions where Iran-backed fighters are based,” according to AP. Tiny bit more, here.

Chinese state-sponsored hackers targeted at least seven major hubs for India’s power grid in a months-long campaign that followed a violent border clash between the two countries’ militaries nearly two years ago. China’s access in this latest breach was likely achieved through “compromised and co-opted internet-facing DVR/IP camera devices for command and control,” researchers at Recorded Future wrote in a report on the incidents published Thursday.
The targets included what are called State Load Dispatch Centers, all of which are close “to the disputed border in Ladakh, where Chinese and Indian troops clashed in June 2020, leaving 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese dead,” AP reports.
China’s reaction was a very Russian bit of whataboutism. “I would like to advise the company concerned that if they really care about global cybersecurity, they should pay more attention to the cyberattacks by the U.S. government hackers on China and other countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday.
India’s reaction: “We have seen reports,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi. “We haven’t raised this issue with China.”
The apparent fact that this campaign, extending from a previous one with similar characteristics, stretched on for about 18 months or so suggests those grid points are “a long-term strategic priority for select Chinese state-sponsored threat actors active within India,” Recorded Future said. That’s partly because the breaches would seem to yield “limited economic espionage or traditional intelligence-gathering opportunities,” and instead are “likely intended to enable information gathering surrounding critical infrastructure systems or [are] pre-positioning for future activity.” More in RF’s report, here.

Over the next five years, the U.S. Navy expects to spend more than $4 billion on unmanned vehicles. But the service doesn’t have a clear grasp on what sort of “digital infrastructure” these platforms will need to function properly. That’s according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, published Thursday. This is particularly important, the authors warn, “since uncrewed systems are key to the Navy's future.” 
There are other due-outs the Navy has for these systems, as well, including “establish[ing] criteria to evaluate prototypes and develop[ing] improved schedules for prototype efforts.” Read over GAO’s seven recommendations to help remedy these issues, each of which is directed squarely at the office of Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, here

Cuba appears to be hemorrhaging citizens at a much higher rate these days: a four-fold increase over last year, and a twelvefold jump from 2020, the Washington Post’s Christine Armario and Nick Miroff reported Thursday.
By the numbers: “more than 32,000 Cubans were taken into U.S. custody along the Mexico border, double the number who arrived in February,” the Post reports, citing unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. This suggests that the CBP “is on pace to apprehend more than 155,000 Cubans during the current fiscal year,” which would be “the highest numbers since the 1980 Mariel boatlift,” when about 125,000 Cubans arrived.
Unlike the human flow northward 42 years ago, the Post reports that most arrivals are flying to Nicaragua, “which dropped its visa requirement for Cubans last fall, then traveling overland to either Del Rio, Tex., or Yuma, Ariz., where they surrender to U.S. border agents to begin the asylum-application process.” And seeking asylum is a right under U.S. law.
Why are so many Cubans leaving? It’s likely a combination of factors that include soaring inflation, food shortages, “a government crackdown on dissent, widespread poverty and a lack of opportunities,” the Miami Herald reported one day before the Post published its CBP numbers. And the U.S. Coast Guard has taken notice of this spike as well, having “interdicted 1,067 Cubans since October, up from 838 interdictions in the previous year,” according to the Herald. Most interdicted in this way are sent back to Cuba; though there are some exceptions for medical needs and asylum-seekers. More from Miami, here.

Lastly this week: Updated Army Covid vaccination stats. The U.S. Army has had 2,879 active duty soldiers refuse to get the Covid vaccine, and the service has separated 176 soldiers for vaccine refusal, the service said in a release Thursday. Otherwise, an estimated 97% of the active-duty army and 87% of the reserves are fully vaccinated.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!