Today's D Brief: Russian flagship out of commission; Hackers target undersea cables; Problems at DOD's new $1.3 billion hospital; And a bit more.
It’s day 51 of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion: The flagship for Russia’s Black Sea fleet has been inexplicably disabled, and its 510-sailor crew forced to abandon ship Wednesday after some sort of fire engulfed key portions of the 610-foot long vessel.
Involved: The Moskva, a guided-missile warship built in 1983 that’s been traveling off Ukraine’s coast since it was documented in Maxar satellite imagery at port in Sevastopol on Sunday. The BBC reminds us that, “Earlier in the conflict the Moskva gained notoriety after calling on Ukrainian border troops defending Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender—to which they memorably radioed a message of refusal which loosely translates as ‘go to hell.’” That incident has since been immortalized in the form of a Ukrainian postage stamp you can see here.
Russia says: A fire erupted onboard the ship Wednesday and ignited ammunition, which caused a large explosion and forced commanders to tow the vessel out of the area, according to state-run media RIA. “The vessel is seriously damaged. The entire crew have been evacuated,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement after smoke was seen billowing from the Moskva.
Ukraine says: The ship was hit with Kyiv’s Neptune missiles, and that bad weather and the exploding ammunition slowed Russia’s efforts to put out the fire. Ukraine also says the ship is sinking, but that’s not as obviously apparent yet as the clouds of smoke pouring out of the Moskva.
- For the record: Neither country’s claims can be independently verified; but Ukraine’s military has a far better track record of honesty in this conflict. And as Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall Street Journal tweeted, “Either way, it is gone as a military asset in this campaign.”
One way to look at these developments: “Russia lost half its naval firepower off Ukraine and can’t restore it without going to war with NATO,” Forbes and Daily Beast writer David Axe tweeted Wednesday. Bellingcat’s Aric Toler joked, “You know a war is going well when you lose a fleet's flagship while fighting a country without a navy.” He added, “(Yes I know Ukraine still technically has a navy but you get the point).”
Meanwhile, a barrage of Russian missiles is reportedly hitting Ukraine’s Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Thursday, according to Reuters.
Elsewhere, “Russian forces will likely capture Mariupol in the coming week,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War predicted Wednesday, after “Russian forces forced Ukrainian troops to abandon the Ilyich metal plant” north of the city, “further constricting the two remaining pockets of Ukrainian defenders.”
- In photos: See Mariupol before and after Putin’s invasion, via Twitter, here.
Update: The White House authorized $800 million in new arms to Ukraine on Wednesday. That includes counter artillery radar systems, helicopters originally intended for Afghanistan, and—in a new first—howitzer artillery systems, along with a metric shitton of artillery rounds (40,000 or so, as our colleague Marcus Weisgerber tweeted). Unspecified naval drones for “coastal defense” were also included in this latest donation, as were armored personnel carriers. An increase in intelligence-sharing is expected as well, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Nearly all of it is intended to help blunt Russia’s expected offensives in Ukraine’s Donbas region and along the Black Sea coast in the coming days and weeks, President Biden said in a statement published shortly after his latest phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy.
And that meeting of U.S. arms makers at the Pentagon on Wednesday? “We had a good, honest, candid discussion with these CEOs, about the systems that they're producing, about the rate at which they're being produced, about the possibility for accelerating some of those production lines and expanding them, based on the heavy draw on our inventory to support Ukraine,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said at a Wednesday briefing.
Background: “In most cases, these weapons [donated to Ukraine] take months, if not years, to replace, which has prompted U.S. officials to begin discussions with companies about production capacity and lead time needed to resupply stockpiles,” Weisgerber reported Wednesday. More here.
The economic pain from Russia’s invasion continues to mount, but the first post-invasion earnings announcements aren’t expected for another few weeks, the Wall Street Journal reports, expecting write-downs and write-offs “of assets ranging from oil wells to car factories and consumer loans.”
- “The Secret of Ukraine’s Military Success: Years of NATO Training,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday;
- “Finland, Sweden move ahead toward possible NATO membership,” via AP, reporting Wednesday from Helsinki;
- “Pencil Cases and Air-Raid Sirens: School at War for Ukraine’s Children,” via the New York Times, reporting Wednesday from Krakow, Poland;
- And in “Maps: Russia has advanced into the center of Mariupol, tightening its grip on a key target,” also via the Times.
From Defense One
Pentagon, Industry Leaders Meet to Talk Replenishing Military Weapons Stockpiles // Marcus Weisgerber: Top-level Pentagon meeting comes as the U.S. prepares to send more sophisticated and lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Lockheed Martin Hopes the US Has Turned the Corner on Hypersonics // Patrick Tucker: March test ‘one of the biggest steps we've seen’ in development of new hypersonic weapons, company officials say.
US Rushes $800M In Weapons, Helicopters to Ukraine as Russia Coils for New Offensive Into the Donbas // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: “We cannot rest now,” says Biden, as Pentagon officials describe “a sense of urgency” to field the most advanced arms it’s offered Ukraine yet, as quickly as possible.
Marine Amphibious Vehicle with Drones Considered For Future Marine Recon Unit // Caitlin M. Kenney: The concept study will be completed in 2023.
Collins Aerospace Creates Group to Make Hypersonic Weapons, Next-Generation Aircraft // Marcus Weisgerber: The Advanced Structures unit will specialize in using composite materials to make lighter, more versatile systems.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 1561, alleged UFOs were spotted above the now-German city of Nuremberg. What we call the enlightenment wouldn’t begin for another 100-plus years, and so some at the time thought they were witnessing a kind of alien battle in the sky; however, what they witnessed that day was most likely an atmospheric optical phenomenon known as parhelion, also known as a mock sun.
Hackers attempted to breach an undersea communications cable near Hawaii, but Homeland Security officials say they thwarted the would-be attack last week, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, reporting Tuesday. The line linked internet, cell phone, and cable services from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland; hackers were reportedly able to access information at a private company servicing Oahu, but investigators say they prevented further access, and—working with international partners overseas, were able to arrest a suspect. Details of who was allegedly behind the hack have been withheld pending prosecution.
“We tracked it from Asia, we tracked it to Oceania, and then working with partners in that region, we were able to actually get access to some electronic devices,” a Homeland Security official said. “It could have been something to just create havoc, in other words, just shut down communications. Or it could have been used to target individuals ransomware type schemes.” Tiny bit more at HawaiiNewsNow, here.
The U.S. wants to hit North Korea with a raft of additional sanctions at the United Nations because of Pyongyang’s numerous missile tests since the calendar year began. But few expect the measures to pass at the Security Council, given Russia and China’s veto power there, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The proposed measures include a ban on cruise missiles, or “any other delivery system capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Current UN sanctions extend only to ballistic missile launches. It would also dramatically cut North Korea’s allotted crude oil exports, and it would entirely ban tobacco exports to Pyongyang—whose leader has been photographed multiple times with a ciggie in hand.
Alleged North Korean hacker group Lazarus would also be affected by the U.S.-proposed sanctions, which call for an asset freeze on the group’s members.
Related reading: “US cryptocurrency expert jailed for helping North Korea evade sanctions,” via the BBC, reporting Wednesday.
For the outrage-inclined: Far-right Republican lawmaker from Georgia, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, made headlines this week when she said joining the U.S. military today is like “throwing your life away,” because she doesn’t like the president’s foreign policy. She was speaking on Lou Dobbs’s podcast last Saturday as she continued her frequent rhetorical attacks against Covid vaccinations and anti-racism training.
Dobbs referenced the collapse of Kabul last August, provoking Greene by asking, “Can you imagine explaining to a recruit, you're gonna be just fine, just like those Marines in Kabul?” (For the record, your D Brief-ers know of no recruiters who speak this way, or so loosely regarding the realities of life in the military.) She replied, “Not my son and I know a lot of young people don't want to have anything to do with that. It's like throwing your life away.”
The Department of Justice has settled four civil cases filed after the June 1, 2020, demonstrations in Lafayette Square. You may recall law enforcement violently clearing a path for then President Donald Trump—who was accompanied by then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley—so he could walk through the crowd of largely peacefully demonstrating protesters for a photo op.
As part of the settlements, the U.S. Park Police will “update and clarify their policies” about demonstrations, according to a DOJ release. Those updates include requiring officers “to wear fully visible badges and nameplates, including on outerwear, tactical gear, and helmets,” implementing guidelines on non-lethal force and de-escalation tactics; issuing “clearer procedures” for giving warnings to disperse; and strengthening planning before events and coordination on site between the USPP and other law enforcement. The U.S. Secret Service will, within 30 days, change its policies “to provide that the fact that some demonstrators have engaged in unlawful conduct does not ordinarily provide blanket grounds for use of force, crowd dispersal, or declaration of unlawful assembly.” Read more from WTOP and the Washington Post.
Lastly today: The U.S. military’s newest hospital, which cost $1.3 billion and opened nine months ago, has no drinkable water, Military.com reports. Officials at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, on April 7 declared the water unsafe to drink, after sediment and discoloration were found in water throughout the building in March. Hospital officials believe the problem is with the building’s internal plumbing system.
Employees and patients at the hospital can use the water to wash their hands or shower, but not to sterilize medical supplies or for surgery, Patricia Kime writes. A hospital spokesperson told her that the hospital has postponed all elective surgeries and is sending new trauma patients elsewhere, and that equipment is being sterilized “in various locations off site.” Read on, here.