Today's D Brief: Austin, Blinken to Kyiv; $165M in non-US ammo; Macron wins reelection; Covid spreading in China; And a bit more.
America’s military chief and top diplomat traveled by train to Kyiv this weekend—and left shortly before a new wave of Russian rockets and missiles hit at least five rail facilities across central and eastern Ukraine overnight and into Monday, according to Ukraine’s railroad chief.
From Poland, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and State Secretary Antony Blinken rode the rails for a three-hour chat Sunday with President Volodymir Zelenskyy, whose soldiers have been battling Russian invaders for more than eight weeks. This Kyiv meeting came quickly on the heels of the latest $800 million shipment of U.S. arms to Ukraine, which was announced Thursday by the White House and the Pentagon.
SecDef Austin said talks involved unspecified “things that would enable us to win the current fight and also build for tomorrow,” he told reporters in southeastern Poland on Monday. “We talked about security force assistance and we talked about training,” said Austin, “and we also talked about the key things that we’re going to discuss in the session that I’ll conduct tomorrow at Ramstein [Air Base, in Germany] with a number of ministers of defense and chiefs of defense.”
New: The U.S. just approved a $165 million sale of non-U.S. ammunition to Ukraine, “along with more than $300 million in financing to buy more supplies,” the Associated Press reports, traveling with the secretaries.
What are the U.S. military’s goals in Ukraine? “We want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory,” Austin said Monday. “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. It has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.” And more broadly, he added, “We want to see the international community more united, especially NATO, and we’re seeing that.”
SecState Blinken: “Where the contours of the war goes from here, how much death and destruction continues, obviously that’s of deep concern,” he told reporters Monday, standing beside Austin. “We want to do everything we can to help the Ukrainians bring this to an end on the possible terms as quickly as possible. Much of the work that we’re doing is enabling them to strengthen their hand both on the battlefield right now, but also, eventually, at a negotiation if there is one.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
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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. It’s ANZAC Day, in which we’re called to remember the sacrifices of our Australian and New Zealand allies in operations going back to the First World War’s disastrous Battle for Gallipoli.
New: U.S. diplomats are planning a return to the Kyiv embassy next week, Blinken said after his chat with Zelenskyy on Sunday. And speaking of diplomats…
President Joe Biden just nominated a new ambassador to Ukraine, veteran diplomat and current ambassador to the Slovak Republic, Bridget Brink. She’s kept an eye on developments along Russia’s margins for the past several years, including at the National Security Council, the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and at the U.S. embassies in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Tbilisi, Georgia, according to the White House. If her nomination is approved by lawmakers, she will replace Kristina Kvien, who is the Chargé d’Affaires and current acting ambassador to Ukraine, where she has served since 2019. A bit more on Ambassador Brink, here.
In a new first, a special U.S. Marines’ air defense unit is now deployed to Lithuania, NATO officials announced Monday as part of their Russia-focused air policing mission in eastern Europe. They’ve brought with them the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (also known as the “G/ATOR”), which can track cruise missiles, rockets, and drones. A bit more about that system from the Marine Corps, or from manufacturer Northrop Grumman.
French voters elected the EU-friendly Macron to a second term on Sunday as the Parisian incumbent defeated his far-right antagonist Marine Le Pen, who had been reportedly “surging” (relatively speaking) in the polls weeks ahead of the vote.
By the way: There are at least nine other notable elections happening this year across Europe—including in Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Austria, Sweden, Latvia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, and also German state elections, which would seem to suggest the timing of Putin’s “war of choice” was deliberate on several levels.
Russia’s invasion will likely hurt its arms exports for “years to come,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday after comparing public data from Moscow and Kyiv to determine “Ukrainian forces in two months have destroyed the equivalent of at least two years of Russian tank production.”
Big picture: NATO needs to prepare for a new Russian offensive after the Donbas. That’s one of several warnings by Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of the Royal United Services Institute in a new report (PDF) published Friday. What’s more, “As Europe enters summer, high energy costs will harm businesses, but there will be a delay between this and job losses. By autumn, there is a risk that recession will coincide with cooling temperatures while citizens will struggle to heat their homes.”
And all that could very likely dampen support for Ukraine just as “engagement with Russian disinformation may rise, and Russia’s diplomatic efforts to evade sanctions may gain traction through Western disunity.” Read more from RUSI’s Watling and Reynolds, here.
- “Seeking arms for Ukraine, the U.S. is scouring Eastern European factories,” via the New York Times, reporting Monday from Poland;
- “Russia investigates large oil depot fire in region near Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Monday;
- “U.S. Withholds Sanctions on a Very Close Putin Associate: His Reputed Girlfriend,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Sunday;
- And “Putin accuses West of 'terror', tells prosecutors to be tough,” also via Reuters, reporting Monday.
First Shanghai, and now Beijing: Chinese stocks suffered their worst selloff in more than two years as strict Covid policies were added in Beijing, which investors fear is putting untold additional weight on China’s economic growth, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Beijing began mass Covid testing Monday of its business district, after the virus reportedly spread undetected through the city for a week. Most of Shanghai remains in a lockdown that has stretched on for weeks.
The drop was one of many for Asia-Pacific markets, according to CNBC. “It’s no surprise and it makes all sorts of logical sense that the market should be concerned about the Covid situation, because that clearly is impacting economic activity. It’s impacting earnings potential for many parts of the market,” Timothy Moe, chief Asia-Pacific equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC.
And lastly: On Saturday, a U.S. Air Force two-star general was convicted of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law in 2018, Air Force Times’ Rachel Cohen reported from the court martial.
Involved: Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley, whose sentence is expected today. The proceeding was the first full court martial of an Air Force general. Cooley was the commander of the Air Force Research Lab when he was charged in 2020. The military judge found Cooley guilty of forcibly kissing his sister-in-law, but not guilty of two other specifications in the charge of abusive sexual contact. More, here.