Today's D Brief: Urgency in Mariupol; More atrocities outside Kyiv; Spies in Poland; 'Putin's price hike'; And a bit more.

Will the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol fall to the Russians? That’s one of the more urgent questions on the minds of Ukrainian military officers, now 48 days into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his democratic neighbor. What does Ukraine need at this point? Kyiv’s military chief spelled out his latest requests—including air defense systems, artillery, drones, and more—in a tweet Monday evening. 

New: Ukrainian investigators are probing a possible chemical weapons attack Monday in Mariupol, Pentagon officials and the Associated Press report Tuesday morning. “We want to be very careful here before making a proclamation” one way or the other, a senior defense official told reporters (including our colleague Tara Copp) Tuesday at the Pentagon. The alleged agents used could be similar to tear gas, or could be phosphorus, or something else—it’s simply too soon to know. 

Elsewhere, Russia has sent more air defense systems to Ukraine’s eastern battlefields as it has begun a newly-intense phase of strikes against Kyiv’s troops as well as residential houses in the area, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Disturbing stories continue to pour out of Russian-held parts of Ukraine, like this account of rape and murder unearthed by the BBC approximately 45 miles east of Kyiv. “At gunpoint, he took me to a house nearby. He ordered me: ‘Take your clothes off or I'll shoot you.’ He kept threatening to kill me if I didn't do as he said. Then he started raping me,” she said. And her husband? “He had tried to run after me to save me, but he was hit by a round of bullets,” she said; he died two days later because they could not access a hospital due to the density of fighting and the occupying Russian forces. “Down the road from Anna's house, we heard another chilling story,” the BBC reported. Continue reading, here

“Hundreds of cases of rape have been recorded, including underage girls and very young children, even a baby. It is true and it happened,” the Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Tuesday.

There’s still more from Bucha. Like the BBC, the New York Times discovered similar details in a report published Monday entitled, “Bucha’s Month of Terror.” In one instance, “a group of women and girls were kept in a basement of a house for 25 days. Nine of them are now pregnant.” Other women’s bodies were discovered shot in the head with condom wrappers on the floor around them. 

“Two things that are notable” in the Times account, former U.S. Marine Rob Lee noted on Twitter. One “is that the conduct of Russian soldiers became worse after they suffered casualties and [secondly,] they were contract soldiers, not conscripts.”

In photos: Alleged saboteurs seem to have damaged a small section of railroad inside Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, just east of Ukraine. Belgorod, you may recall, is where a fuel depot is located that appeared to have been hit in a strike of some kind on April 1. Ukraine’s military later denied any involvement in the incident. 

New: The Polish just arrested “one Russian citizen and two Belarusian citizens charged with espionage,” officials in the National Security Department announced Tuesday. The Russian had been living in Poland for the past 18 years, and was caught allegedly gathering “information concerning the military readiness of the Polish Armed Forces and of the NATO troops,” according to Polish authorities. The other two from Belarus were arrested two days prior, on April 4; they were allegedly gathering intelligence on “facilities of strategic and critical importance for Poland’s defense.” A bit more, here.

Finland and Sweden could apply for NATO membership as early as this summer. And the Kremlin is very uncomfortable with this prospect. So it sent spokesman Dmetri Peskov out to warn the two Nordic countries against such a move on Monday, saying NATO “remains a tool geared towards confrontation.” Some observers, like Tom Nichols, had jokes in response to Peskov’s warning. 

Update: The U.S. military in Europe is about to get a new commander, and that could very likely be Army Gen. Chris Cavoli, who currently leads U.S. Army Europe. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Cavoli has the blessing of President Joe Biden. If confirmed by the Senate, he could take over as soon as this summer as the man in charge of U.S. European Command, as well as NATO forces in Europe.

America’s top special operator will be replaced soon, too. Army Gen. Richard Clarke presently leads the Tampa-based Special Operations Command. POTUS46 has reportedly chosen Army Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina’s Joint Special Operations Command next. The Journal’s Nancy Youssef and Gordon Lubold have more on both generals, here.

Back in the states: “Putin’s price hike” is how the White House is describing widening global economic pain, which sharpened on news Tuesday that inflation hit 8.5% in March, which is the highest since December 1981, the Associated Press reports. 

Context: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove a March surge in oil and gasoline prices,” the Wall Street Journal reports; steel prices have surged as well. And those higher prices have been spread across supply chain logistics worldwide, and eventually on to consumers. But people have also been spending more recently than was common during the first two years of the pandemic; and they’ve been spending money on more services than they did before the pandemic, which has put additional stresses on the broader economy. 

The bright side? U.S. unemployment remains at “near 50-year lows and job openings [are still at] near record highs,” AP reports. But with Covid surging again to record levels in Shanghai, China, home to nearly 25 million people, the economic outlook doesn’t seem to be positive anytime soon. Coupled with Russia’s invasion and the associated fuel price spikes, “Those pose risks that the so-called normalization of supply chains takes longer to materialize,” an analyst told the Journal.

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Biden Asks India to ‘Do More’ to Stop Russia and Help Ukraine // Jacqueline Feldscher: In a virtual meeting, the president pushed India’s Modi to cut Russian energy purchases, while the White House kept a diplomatically polite facade.

After Losses, Russia Regroups for the Donbas and Names ‘Butcher of Syria’ Head of Ukraine Ops // Tara Copp: A convoy of artillery, aviation support is heading toward Izium. ‘We’re all bracing ourselves’ for what’s next, Pentagon says.

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 1945, POTUS32 Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away at a relatively modest home known as the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Ga., at the age of 63. 

Space security will be a major theme this afternoon at the Pentagon when Defense Intelligence Agency's John F. Huth and DIA Senior Defense Analyst for Space and Counterspace Kevin Ryder unpack the latest report entitled, “Challenges to Security in Space Report—2022.” DVIDS is carrying that one live at about 2:15 p.m. ET, here.

In a new first, Taiwan just issued a 28-page “war survival handbook.” The book “details how to find bomb shelters via smartphone apps, water and food supplies, as well as tips for preparing emergency first aid kits,” should China attempt to invade, Reuters reported Tuesday from Taipei. Officials on the island say they “are providing information on how citizens should react in a military crisis and possible disasters to come,” a spokesman said.
The contents are drawn partly from similar pamphlets produced by Sweden and Japan; and Taiwan’s features “comic strips and pictures with tips to survive a military attack, such as how to distinguish air raid sirens and ways to shelter from missiles.” Read more at Fortune, Agence France-Presse, or NBC News.

The U.S. Navy is exercising with Japan over near North Korea. The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is currently underway in waters off the Korean peninsula, Reuters reported Tuesday from Seoul. For the record, “this is the first time since 2017 that a carrier group has deployed to the waters between South Korea and Japan,” according to Reuters. And it also comes at a time when observers expect some sort of provocative action from Pyongyang, which could include another underground nuclear detonation. 
And ICYMI: US arrests alleged yakuza leader on drugs, weapons charges,” CNN reported late last week.

And lastly today: Cops pulled over a robot car in San Francisco last week. But when the officer approached the unmanned taxi from the driver’s side door, the car’s AI accelerated and briefly fled the scene like a fugitive. The encounter was captured on camera (because smartphones, natch).
The apparently offending vehicle was a GM Cruise, and it may not have had enough lights on for the hour it was working; although the initial alleged offense remains unclear. Read more over at, here.