Today's D Brief: More arms to Kyiv; Europe's Ukraine repair shops; Future of Yemen; Taiwan's early scare; And a bit more.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion, day 56: A localized, humanitarian ceasefire may have been reached in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. It reportedly began at 2 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET), according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk; and it’s intended to allow women, children, and the elderly to evacuate the besieged city. But it’s too soon to know for sure if this will work out as stated, since similar deals for fleeing Ukrainians have collapsed in the recent past due to Russian artillery shelling, including in Mariupol.
European Council President Charles Michel is in Kyiv today, which he called “the heart of a free and democratic Europe,” to illustrate his support for Ukraine.
For now anyway, Germany’s new chancellor is perfectly fine not giving Ukraine heavy weapons like tanks or armored personnel carriers, Olaf Scholz told reporters Tuesday in Berlin. However, he said he’s asked German arms dealers to draw up a list of what weapons they can manufacture for Kyiv. “Ukraine has selected what it needs from this list and we are providing the money they need to buy it,” Scholz said Tuesday.
For the record, “Scholz has also significantly ramped up the financial aid Germany is providing to Kyiv,” Financial Times reports. That includes “A special fund to help crisis-hit countries invest in their military [that] is being increased from €225mn to €2bn, with the bulk going to Ukraine.”
But as a percentage of GDP, Germany is being out-donated by Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Sweden, the U.S., the Czech Republic, Croatia, the U.K., France, and Italy, according to data compiled by the German-based think tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Christoph Trebesch, Kiel’s research director said in a statement, “It is remarkable that the U.S. alone is giving significantly more than the entire EU, in whose immediate neighborhood the war is raging.”
Hey, rich people: Ukraine wants you to buy its military some jets. That message has been spreading since it seems to have first launched on April 12, via Ukraine’s Anton Gerashchenko. “Address the wealthy leaders of the world business and elites representatives that support Ukraine to privately buy planes,” he tweeted, sharing a YouTube link for that campaign, here.
Developing: Ukraine’s European allies are repairing damaged jets, and some partnered nations are helping provide spare parts, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. “I would just say without getting into what other nations are providing that they have received additional platforms and parts to be able to increase their aircraft fleet size,” he said, and added, “I think I’d leave it at that.”
Czech defense firms will repair damaged Ukrainian tanks, like T-64s, Prague’s defense ministry said Tuesday. Reuters has a tiny bit more, here.
The Netherlands just pledged “armored vehicles” and “additional heavy materiel,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted Tuesday. And the British and Canadian prime ministers on Tuesday both pledged to send Ukraine more artillery soon.
Developing: The U.S. is preparing yet another $800 million batch of arms for Ukraine, CNN reported Tuesday. “If approved, the latest package of $800 million would mean the US has committed approximately $3.4 billion dollars in assistance to Ukraine since Russia's invasion began.”
On the information warfare front: After shutting down access to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, Russia has created RuTube, Fiesta, and Yappy for its citizens to avoid information from the outside world, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- “Ukraine war refugees top 5 million as assault intensifies,” via the Associated Press, reporting Wednesday;
- “Civilians who escaped the besieged steel plant in Mariupol described a harrowing life underground,” via the New York Times, reporting Wednesday;
- “Russia defence ministry seeks greater secrecy on military deaths in Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday;
- And “German wildlife park renames Putin the pig,” via Reuters again, this time from the Bavarian municipality of Mehlmeisel.
From Defense One
Inflation, Supply Problems Could Push F-35 Cost Higher Than Expected, Lockheed Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Negotiations continue on three batches of jets—Lots 15 to 17—that were expected to be finalized last year.
Russia’s Invasion a ‘Game Changer’ for EU Membership, French Ambassador Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: The war on Ukraine “changes the history of our continent,” the ambassador said.
NATO Will Need a Transition Plan If Finland, Sweden Ask to Join // Barry Pavel and Hans Binnendijk: Putin will threaten the applicant countries and seek to derail the process.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1946, the League of Nations formally came to an end, which gave rise to the United Nations.
Yemen update: The Houthis are stronger; but now what? On Sunday, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times traced the recent rise of Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the group runs what Hubbard calls “a repressive proto-state” in the north, with “a vast arsenal that includes an array of cruise and ballistic missiles and kamikaze boats.”
Bigger picture: A two-month ceasefire is currently in effect (except maybe not so much in Marib; more on that below). That ceasefire started two weeks ago, and is the most promising sign from Yemen in several years. It grew out of an initial 3-day ceasefire that immediately followed a series of Houthi drone and rocket attacks across Saudi cities. And that’s partly where Hubbard’s update comes in handy, shining a light on the Houthis’ “covert military aid from Iran, according to American and Middle Eastern officials and analysts.” (See also this December report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies all about the Houthis’ growing strike capabilities outside Yemen.)
Apart from wider-reaching aerial attacks from the Houthis, not too terribly much has changed in overall control since our #LongRead on Yemen’s future from 2018. By then, the Saudi- and UAE-led war on the Houthis had largely stagnated around the increasingly elevated approaches stretching out from Sada’a, the Houthi-held capital city in the northwest. In the four years since, the Saudis haven’t taken Sada’a, and the Houthis haven’t taken Aden, in the south.
There’s been a bit of scramble and tussle over oil-rich Marib, and those front lines are still hot, according to Al-Jazeera, reporting Monday. “While the fighting has not been at the intensity of past Houthi offensives in Marib, it raises questions as to the group’s intentions, even with the UN and the international community more optimistic that a peace deal to end Yemen’s war can be reached,” AJ writes.
You may also recall that since 2018, the U.S. has stopped some, but not all, of its air support to the Saudi coalition. That reduction in U.S. support reflected lawmakers’ concern over mounting civilian casualties using American precision-guided munitions. It also followed the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, an assassination widely believed to have been orchestrated with the knowledge of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But the Pentagon just launched a Red Sea task force to patrol the waters in partnership with allied navies, as our colleague Caitlin Kenney reported last week. Known as Combined Task Force 153, the group is expected to “focus on international maritime security and capacity-building efforts specifically in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb, and the Gulf of Aden,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of Naval Forces Central Command said last week. “These are strategically important waters that warrant our attention and any destabilizing activity, including threats to commercial traffic and coastal infrastructure, really can have profound global impacts,” he said. That unit officially started work on April 17. More here.
By the way: “Yemen is still one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world,” said Ebtihal Ghanem, economic recovery and development manager at the International Rescue Committee. “More than half of Yemen’s population is unable to access food for survival, and the rate of poverty and hunger is increasing every day,” he said in January.
- “Yemen’s Cease-fire Is Challenging Popular Notions of How Wars End,” via Erica Gaston of the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, writing in the World Politics Review on Monday;
- “How U.S.-Saudi Relations Reached the Breaking Point,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- And “US awaits final $17 million repayment from Saudis for air refueling in Yemen war,” via Air Force Times, reporting April 8.
Taiwan TV accidentally broadcast that the island was under attack from the Chinese military. It happened early and on the news ticker at the bottom of the screen, Reuters reported Wednesday from Taipei. The alert said a train station had been set on fire by “Chinese agents” and that Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen declared a state of emergency. Neither of those things are true.
A correction aired at 10 a.m. local, when an anchor urged citizens to “please don't be overly panicked. We hereby clarify the information and apologize.”
- The incident recalls the accidental missile alert sent to Hawaiians near the height of the “fire and fury” days of the former Trump administration, back in January 2018.
By the way: For the first time, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, on Wednesday. The call follows up on a conversation between President Biden and China’s Xi Jinping about a month ago, on 18 March. The two discussed vague security-related issues, but also “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” according to the Pentagon’s short readout.
And later this evening, Austin has a dinner planned with the President and First Lady in the White House’s Cabinet Room. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, and POTUS46’s Combatant Commanders are also invited.