Today's D Brief: Arming for Donbas; Robots in Ukraine; Chinese missiles to Serbia; Indian DM at the Pentagon; And a bit more.
Moscow and Kyiv’s militaries are preparing for a fierce battle in Ukraine’s east, where invading Russian forces have turned their attention after a bloody and embarrassing retreat from around Kyiv. Over the weekend, Russian equipment was spotted moving by rail and by road toward Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. That includes an alleged eight-mile convoy spotted in satellite imagery. CNN has more on that, which was seen east of the city of Kharkiv. The Wall Street Journal has more on preparations from both sides.
Big picture: Officials in Moscow have said for the last few weeks that they intend to capture and hold Donbas as well as port cities across Ukraine’s southeastern Black Sea coast—though observers are increasingly skeptical the Kremlin has enough forces available to achieve such a long-term feat of outright theft and occupation on the international stage. Meanwhile, documented atrocities continue to mount, pointing to Russia’s apparent indiscriminate targeting of civilians across Ukraine. The New York Times has the latest on the growing allegations, here.
For your eyes only: Take a ride on one of Ukraine’s medical evacuation trains with Agence France-Presse photojournalists, who released a batch of imagery from the Lviv-bound line over the weekend.
New: Russia appears to have begun using ground robots in eastern Ukraine, including its Uran-6 mine-clearing unmanned vehicle in the Donbas, according to recent footage curated by analyst and former U.S. Marine officer Rob Lee. Russia-backed fighters in Donbas also showed off some of the ways they’re allegedly using expensive DJI Matrice 300 RTK drones in the east as well. Lee shared that footage Monday on Twitter, here. Other Ukrainian drones continue to deliver especially clear footage of strikes against Russian forces, as this clip posted Sunday illustrates.
How Ukraine is thwarting Russia’s drones: Using pieces of foam mat carried above their heads as they walk from place to place in this 21st-century battlefield. That’s according to Financial Times’s Tim Judah, reporting Sunday from Hostomel, outside Kyiv.
Slovakia sent an S-300 air defense system to Ukraine late last week, (video here) and the U.S. military “repositioned” one of its Patriot missile systems, along with a crew of U.S. service members, to Slovakia in response. That repositioning “aligns perfectly with our previous efforts to bolster NATO’s defensive capabilities and to demonstrate our collective security requirements under Article 5 of the NATO treaty,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Friday. The move also “complements the NATO multinational battlegroup in eastern Slovakia, which includes air defense elements from Germany and the Netherlands,” he said.
By the way: China just discretely sent missiles to Russian ally Serbia over the weekend. Open-source intelligence analysts spotted the deliveries—using six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes—and posted imagery on Twitter Saturday. The delivery reportedly involved medium-range HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems the Serbian military agreed to buy in 2019, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Saturday. The delivery will make Serbia “the first operator of the Chinese missiles in Europe,” according to the Associated Press. Tiny bit more from AP, reporting separately Monday from Beijing, here.
Today: SecDef Austin welcomed his Indian counterpart to the Pentagon at about 9 a.m. ET. Later in the afternoon, Austin and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh will join Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, at the State Department for a joint press conference around 5 p.m. ET.
President Joe Biden will also be meeting virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at around 11 a.m. ET. The two plan to discuss “ending the COVID-19 pandemic, countering the climate crisis, strengthening the global economy, mitigating the destabilizing impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House’s daily schedule.
Reminder: Since the invasion began, India has refused to vote against Russia at the United Nations, most recently on Thursday. That April 7 decision expelled Russia from the UN’s human rights council—with 93 nations in favor, 24 against (including China, Iran, and North Korea) and 58 nations abstaining. India also abstained in general assembly votes cast on March 2 and on March 24.
Get to better know Vladimir Putin in an excellent podcast series from the BBC’s Radio 4 called simply “Putin.” In it, you’ll learn many details you’re unlikely to have known previously, including that Putin spent his early 1980s honeymoon in Ukraine—with stops in Crimea, Kyiv, and Lviv.
Back stateside, “Republicans have directed their anger at Biden, not Putin; while Democrats have directed theirs at Putin, not at Trump and Republicans,” University of Maryland Political Scientist Shibley Telhami reports off new survey data (PDF) gathered during the second half of March. That’s one reason that the president has so far seemingly not benefited from a “rally around the flag” effect from Russia’s botched invasion, Telhami writes.
How has online use of NUKEMAP changed since Russia invaded Ukraine? “Unsurprisingly it looks like a lot of the users have been in Europe, more so than usual,” said creator Alex Wellerstein in an update Saturday. Another point: “the countries that host NATO nuclear weapons (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands) definitely seem to have an inflated usage patterns, as does Poland, Ukraine, and Russia,” he writes, adding that’s “Not surprising, but interesting to see.” More here.
- “China’s Echoes of Russia’s Alternate Reality Intensify Around the World,” via the New York Times, reporting Monday;
- “Rouble falls sharply as Russia relaxes some capital controls,” via Reuters, reporting Monday;
- And “The AP Interview: Zelenskyy seeks peace despite atrocities,” via AP, reporting Saturday from Kyiv.
From Defense One
The Pentagon Must ‘Campaign’ Against China, Not Hope for a Goal-Line Stand // Dan Patt and Bryan Clark: To dissuade aggression, the U.S. military must continuously persuade its adversaries to doubt their chances of success.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Trade show whirlwind; LaPlante confirmed; Bath Iron Works boss quits; and a lot more
Don’t ‘Sustain' the Endless Counterterrorism War in Yemen. End It. // David Sterman: The Biden administration needs to be clearer about its strategy for countering terror groups.
The Army Brief: Ukrainian training; Defending vaccine mandates; Sick horses; and more... // Caitlin M. Kenney:
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 1951, POTUS33 Harry Truman fired his Korean war commander, five-star Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who increasingly tried to expand the war into China. Twenty-two years later, Truman explained his decision to Time magazine: “I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals.”
Update: The French military hit a wedding in Mali with a U.S.-made bomb back in early January 2021, killing 22 people—including 19 civilians who were mostly men over the age of 40, Bellingcat investigators reported Monday morning. The UN investigated the strike less than two months later; but the following month, France’s military chief dismissed the findings, which alleged that at least 16 of the 19 people immediately killed were civilians, and denied any wrongdoing.
The munition used was a Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, according to Bellingcat. It’s unclear if the U.S. State Department classified the attack as an end-use violation, or views it instead as a one-off “accident,” as it were. (The Saudis have used the same munition on at least two similar occasions, including an incident in which 33 people were killed at a Yemeni wedding in April 2018.)
Why it matters: “Developments like these raise further questions about the efficacy of oversight into [U.S.] arms sales, as well as yet more concern for the impact of foreign forces and their missions on the people of the Sahel,” Bellingcat writes. Read on, here.
Taiwan is reportedly preparing to defend against a Chinese attack on nuclear facilities, Japan’s NHK news reported last Thursday. Roughly 500 people participated in an exercise in southern Taiwan last week based on a scenario in which Chinese missiles hit a nuclear power plant and civilian facilities; Taiwan’s defense minister told local authorities to include a response to military attacks in their disaster drills, after Russian attacks on nuclear power facilities in Ukraine.
Lastly today: The next pandemic is already on the Pentagon’s mind, Lita Baldor of the Associated Press reported Monday. About 24,000 U.S. troops were deployed for the coronavirus pandemic, Baldor writes, a number that includes almost 6,000 medical personnel. And over the course of those deployments, the military adapted to the changing mission—recall that in the early days of Covid, hospital ships were sent to New York and Los Angeles and troops transformed convention centers and parking lots into hospitals and testing centers all over the country. Over time, they pivoted to sending smaller medical teams to hospitals to relieve and work alongside overwhelmed and overworked civilians. Now the Pentagon is taking the lessons they learned to heart—rewriting the pandemic and infectious disease plans and examining the makeup of the medical force. Read more, here.