Today's D Brief: Germany steps up; UN chief in Moscow; Lavrov's nuclear warning; Updated BFV's first home; And a bit more.

Top NATO officials are meeting in Germany today while the chief of the United Nations is in Moscow for an in-person conversation with Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin. This is day 62 of Putin’s invasion of democratic Ukraine, which is why NATO defense chiefs are at Ramstein Air Base today for the first official gathering of what’s being called the Ukraine Security Consultative Group. 

America’s military chief is hosting the meeting at Ramstein, which comes two days after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s face-to-face chat with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy on Sunday. Austin was joined this morning by his top officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley. Austin’s public affairs team shared a few photos of the session on Twitter, here. Austin plans to begin taking questions from reporters at around 11 a.m. ET. Catch that live via the Pentagon, here.

New: Germany says it will begin sending Ukraine some heavy weaponry, including an anti-aircraft tank called the Cheetah (or “Gepard”), Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced from Ramstein. The tank has been out of service since about 2010; but now about 50 of them are headed to Kyiv soon, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Our tanks are in good shape, and they can be delivered very, very quickly,” a spokesman for the manufacturers, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH, said Tuesday.

And Germany will begin training Ukrainian soldiers on German soil, Berlin’s Ambassador to the U.S., Emily Haber, announced Tuesday. 

Speaking of Germany, Moscow just booted 40 German diplomats, which followed Berlin’s decision to expel 40 alleged Russian spies on April 4. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock replied to the news from Moscow in a statement Monday. “We expected today's step, but it is in no way justified,” she said, and emphasized, “The 40 members of the Russian missions in Germany whom we expelled three weeks ago had not worked as diplomats for one single day while in Germany. Rather, these individuals had striven systematically for years to undermine our freedom and cohesion in our society.” 

Speaking openly from Moscow, UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday called Putin’s “special military operation” an “invasion of Ukraine [that] is a violation of its territorial integrity and [is] against the Charter of the United Nations.”

In the hopes of evacuating a greater number of civilians from Ukraine, Guterres pitched the formation of what he called a “Humanitarian Contact Group,” which would unite officials from “the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United Nations, to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective.”

He also singled out the urgency of evacuation throughout Mariupol, which Russian forces have besieged for several weeks, with the last holdouts still reportedly inside the Azovstal steel plant. “The United Nations is ready to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives in Mariupol,” he said. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War suspect “Russian officers may assess they will be unable to starve out the remaining defenders [in Mariupol] by May 9.” Otherwise, “Continued Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine took little to no additional territory in the past 24 hours,” they wrote Monday evening. 

Russia’s top diplomat is now warning that “The risk [of nuclear escalation] is serious, real. It should not be underestimated,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on state-run television Monday evening. “Under no circumstances should a third world war be allowed to happen,” but, he said, “NATO is, in essence, going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy.”

How Kyiv interpreted Lavrov’s rhetoric: “Russia loses last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine. Thus the talk of a ‘real’ danger of WWIII,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Monday. “This only means Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine. Therefore, the world must double down on supporting Ukraine so that we prevail and safeguard European and global security.”

Update: Russia is believed to have already used 70% of its precision-guided missiles, according to Christo Grozev, who is Bellingcat’s lead investigator focusing on the Kremlin. And if Grozev’s sources are correct, “the resource that can work with these missiles is also limited,” he told Ukraine’s 24 TV in an interview on Sunday. “Our intelligence suggests this is about 30 to 40 people. After all, Ukraine is working not only to shoot down and destroy missiles, but also to identify persons who can program these missiles. Therefore, I won’t be surprised if not only hardware but also so-called software runs out in Russia.”

Officials in Moldova are on edge after a series of apparently provocative attacks in the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transnistria. Two radio towers were reportedly damaged, and a third attack allegedly targeted a military unit in Transnistria. “From the information we have at this moment, these escalation attempts stem from factions from within the Transdniestrian region who are pro-war forces and interested in destabilising the situation in the region,” President Maia Saudu said at a Tuesday news conference, according to Reuters.  

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

It Will Be Years Before Raytheon Can Build New Stinger Missiles // Marcus Weisgerber: The U.S. has been sending its Stingers to Ukrainian forces battling Russia.

NGA Will Take Over Pentagon’s Flagship AI Program // Patrick Tucker: Agency also sending new special spy drones to Eastern Europe.

GEOINT 2022 Conference Wire: NGA's Takeover // Patrick Tucker: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will take control of a seminal AI effort, and more from Day 1.

US Looks to Shift Ukraine from Soviet to NATO Weapons // Tara Copp: “It would just be easier if we were using similar systems,” said one expert, as U.S. officials mull long–term efforts to resupply Ukraine’s arsenal.

What Does Musk's Purchase of Twitter Mean for Disinformation? // Patrick Tucker: His free-speech values could undermine the site's efforts to stem foreign influence operations.

How Much Can US Howitzers Help Ukraine? // Caitlin M. Kenney and Kevin Baron: Everybody’s talking about the fabled long-range guns. Here’s why.

Lockheed Is Delivering F-35s Late—But the Pentagon Is Also Buying Them Too Quickly, GAO Says // Marcus Weisgerber: More than one-quarter of recent jets are arriving behind schedule, but ahead of planned components that will require costly retrofits, the watchdog says.

GEOINT 2022 Conference Wire: In the Spotlight // Patrick Tucker: The Ukraine war has put space imagery and mapping at the center of discussion.

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 1954, the first clinical trials of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine began in Virginia’s Fairfax County. 

America’s top diplomat is discussing the State Department’s budget request this morning on Capitol Hill. State Secretary Antony Blinken is coming off a trip to Kyiv on Sunday to sit down before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which began livestreaming at 10 a.m. ET, here.
Also on the Hill today: 

  • A review of “the health of the defense industrial base” with former Pentagon weapons buyer, Ellen Lord. That one started at 9:30 a.m. ET; catch it streaming, here.
  • Missile Defense Agency chief Navy Vice Admiral Jon Hill is behind closed doors this morning discussing his agency’s budget request before senate appropriators; other senate appropriators are discussing the Justice Department’s budget request, which is not behind closed doors, and began at about 10 a.m. ET. See that one live, here.
  • “Mistreatment of Military Families in Privatized Housing” is the focus of a Senate Homeland Security hearing, featuring two different witness panels. That one also began at 10 a.m. ET. C-Span has that one, here.
  • And some Senate Armed Services committee members are discussing “Navy and Marine Corps investment programs” this afternoon starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. 

The U.S. Army’s new Bradley Fighting Vehicle has found its first home: The 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, at Fort Stewart, Ga.
What’s new? These models are known as the “M2A4 variant,” and they feature “enhanced mobility and power generation…to regain speed performance and increased power in the turret,” and that would allow the vehicles to hold new complementary systems up top, the Army said in a news release over the weekend. “Now it can keep up with M1A2 Abrams tank acceleration requirements,” according to the Army.
Rewind: You may recall we discussed the future of Army vehicle programs in a podcast episode this past fall. The Army is currently sitting on about 4,500 Bradleys.
What lies ahead: The Army wants to buy at least 700 of these new Bradleys by the end of 2029, and at a cost of about $4.3 million apiece. More here

And lastly today: We have a recommended #LongRead that’s a holdover from last week. Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker turned in an epic review of NSO Group’s groundbreaking surveillance software, which is now allegedly in use by “all types of governments.”
It’s called “How Democracies spy on their citizens,” and it concerns some brazen techies whose work has spun up politicians the world over, from Washington to Riyadh—and with an uneasy eye to present and emerging capabilities from Chinese state-backed hackers. “NSO will not exist tomorrow, let’s say,” Shalev Hulio, CEO of NSO Group, said to Farrow. “There’s not going to be a vacuum. What do you think will happen?”