Today's D Brief: US citizen released from Russia; Gazprom cuts off Poland, Bulgaria; DJI halts Russia, Ukraine sales; WH C-UAS plans; And a bit more.
Russia cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday, raising concerns over a wider severance across Europe in the weeks to come, particularly in Germany and Italy. But already, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Natural-gas prices in Europe rose by 3.1%...after earlier leaping more than 20% on Wednesday, as traders weighed increasing risks to already-tight supplies.”
“Gazprom’s announcement is another attempt by Russia to blackmail us with gas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared Wednesday after the stoppages had been confirmed. “The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end,” she added. But detailed plans for replacing Russian gas have yet to be announced; Germany, for example, said it planned to keep paying for Russian gas through the end of the year. So this is widely seen as a wedge issue the Kremlin can use to try to cleave Western unity and possibly achieve some sanctions relief in the fall. The Associated Press and Reuters have more.
New: Detained former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed has been released from Russian incarceration, and the White House has decided to release a convicted Russian drug trafficker (Konstantin Yaroshenko) in exchange, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning.
“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”
Poland says it detained two more alleged spies, one from Russia and another from Belarus, just last week, Warsaw’s intelligence agency announced Wednesday. “Both foreigners, while acting on behalf of the Russian intelligence services to the detriment of Poland, carried out the reconnaissance of the Polish Armed Forces’… in the immediate vicinity of the Polish-Belarusian border,” according to Poland’s counterintelligence service, SKW. Each could face a prison term of up to 10 years.
New: Chinese drone-maker DJI says it’s “temporarily suspend[ing] all business activities in Russia and Ukraine,” according to a short statement released Tuesday. The news comes about a week after scores of its drones were filmed in the hands of Russian-backed troops inside Ukraine and posted to social media. Researcher Faine Greenwood has been monitoring these developments and sharing instances she’s found of their use in the ongoing invasion—see here, here, and here, e.g. Lately, it seems far more have been routed to Russia-backed forces, often via alleged donors. But Ukraine’s forces also used them early in the conflict for surveillance and alleged help in targeting locations for artillery. Indeed, as CNA’s Sam Bendett tweeted, “This is actually a big announcement,” but he added, “the fact remains that both sides in this war get these drones from strictly commercial and volunteer channels.”
Speaking of off-the-shelf drones, the White House just asked Congress to pass new legislation “to expand where we can protect against nefarious [unmanned aerial systems] activity, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully,” according to a policy fact sheet distributed Monday.
Review some of the more urgent risks from UAVs in our Sept. 2020 podcast episode, “The next big thing(s) in unmanned systems,” which featured some very unusual activity over a nuclear power generating station in Arizona.
The new White House plans recommend eight significant changes for lawmakers to consider, including drawing up a list of “authorized detection equipment...to avoid the risks of inadvertent disruption to airspace or the communications spectrum,” and—like our podcast pointed out—the White House would like to develop “a Federal UAS incident tracking database as a government-wide repository for departments and agencies to have a better understanding of the overall domestic threat.” There’s also a call to establish a National Counter-UAS Training Center for training across federal agencies. Read more, here.
By the way: Here’s another rifle designed to shoot down drones, and this one’s being used in Ukraine to take down Russian UAVs with minimal damage. Does it work as alleged? That’s not clear. But since at least the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS, the U.S. Army has been trying to find a great counter-drone defense for dismounted soldiers, and that search is still ongoing, as Popular Science reported last June.
Surprise, surprise: Security Council reform at the United Nations. From now on at the largely symbolic governing world body, a meeting of the 193-nation General Assembly will be automatically convened after a veto is cast among any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, America’s Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced Tuesday after the UN adopted the U.S.-backed measure in a consensus vote.
What this means: The five permanent members—the U.S., U.K., France, China and Russia—will have to provide a slightly more robust justification in a newly-mandated, UN-wide “debate on the situation,” and it must happen within 10 working days of the veto.
There have been 41 security council vetoes in the 21st century: 27 from Russia; 14 from the U.S. (with 12 of those in support of Israel in the context of “the Palestinian question,” as it’s noted in UN records); and 13 vetoes from China, aligning with Russia each time. Review the full record, going back to Feb. 1946, here.
Most recently, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning its Ukraine invasion on the second day of Putin’s “special military operation” (China abstained from voting). According to Germany’s Deutsche Welle, “The Security Council format has long been criticized for struggling, or typically failing, to agree on anything that displeases any of its five permanent members. Russia's invasion of Ukraine only served to put this longstanding issue in much sharper focus.”
From Defense One
Hiring for the Foreign Service Is Getting an Overhaul // Eric Katz: The nearly 100-year-old test will play less of a role in picking candidates.
Navy: Just One Shipbuilding Option Gets Closer To Desired Fleet // Caitlin M. Kenney: A 3-star clarifies the three paths described in the Navy's recent longterm fleet plan.
GEOINT 2022 Conference Wire: AI Grows Up // Patrick Tucker: Tracking the growth of small artificial-intelligence programs, and more from Day 2.
The Security Dimension of the Abraham Accords // Bilal Y. Saab: A year and a half later, a look at what’s changed, what hasn’t, and what still might.
Sweden, Finland Gave Up Neutrality a Long Time Ago // Elisabeth Braw: Their collective-defense rights as EU members suggest a way forward for Ukraine.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan—often remembered as the first European to travel across the Atlantic and to Asia—and several men in his crew were killed by natives on the modern-day Philippine island of Mactan. The surviving Europeans completed their return trip to Spain the following year; Spanish conquest of the islands would begin in earnest about four decades later, in 1565.
North Korea’s newest nuclear promises were delivered at a nighttime military parade Monday evening in Pyongyang. It was the standard fare, in terms of rhetorical substance. (E.g., “The nuclear forces, the symbol of our national strength and the core of our military power, should be strengthened in terms of both quality and scale” and “at the fastest possible speed,” said leader Kim Jong-un.)
But this time Kim showed up in his “white military marshal’s uniform bedecked with golden buttons and epaulets,” the New York Times reported Tuesday from Seoul. One analyst said this signals Kim’s “hardline stance” regarding the incoming administration of Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul, which is viewed as more hawkish than his predecessor.
For a closer look at Kim’s rhetoric, Joshua Pollack of the Nonproliferation Review shared this thread on Twitter Tuesday.
A female suicide bomber killed three Chinese teachers and a Pakistani citizen just outside of Karachi University's Confucius Institute on Tuesday. “A separatist group, the Baloch Liberation Army based in southwestern Balochistan province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, claimed responsibility for the blast,” according to Reuters, reporting Tuesday from the coastal city, which is home to a Chinese development project under Beijing’s Belt and Road program.
“The blood of the Chinese people should not be shed in vain, and those behind this incident will surely pay the price,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
You may recall another suicide bomber struck a bus last July, killing 13 people, including nine Chinese workers at a power plant in western Pakistan that’s also part of the Belt and Road program. More from Reuters, here.
Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today: “Recent Developments in China’s Nuclear Capabilities,” featuring two State Department officials along with a briefer from the Pentagon. That one’s slated for 2:30 p.m. ET.
Also on the Hill today: Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall joins Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond to talk about the Air Force’s latest budget request before the House Armed Services Committee. That started at 10 a.m. ET. Details and livestream, here.
Pentagon CFO Mike McCord is talking about the wider military budget before lawmakers with the House Budget Committee. That began at 10:30 a.m., and is being carried live on the Pentagon’s livestream, here.
This afternoon, America’s top special operators are discussing global events and associated readiness issues at the Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. That one includes U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga; Air Force Special Operations Command’s Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife; Naval Special Warfare Command’s Navy Rear Adm. Hugh Howard III; and the Marine Corps’ Maj. Gen. James Glynn. That gets underway at 2:30 p.m., via DVIDS, here.
The future of U.S. naval power is the focus of a House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee budget hearing, featuring several top Navy and Marine officials, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Details here.
And nuclear energy, along with related weapons programs, are under the microscope at the same time before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Lineup and livestream, here.
From Joint Staff to VCNO? Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti could be the second woman to become the vice chief of naval operations after she was nominated Monday by President Joe Biden. If confirmed she would be promoted to admiral. Franchetti is currently the director for strategy, plans, and policy of the Joint Staff. Franchetti’s experience includes commanding 6th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Korea.
Rear Adm. Richard Cheeseman was also nominated to be the service’s next chief of personnel. If confirmed, he’d be promoted to vice admiral. He’s currently the commander of Carrier Strike Group Ten in Norfolk, Va., and previously served as the director of surface warfare assignments.
The world of the American far-right has been changing rather a lot lately. And that makes now a good time to explore “The Women of January 6th: A Gendered Analysis of the 21st Century American Far-Right,” from the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Some of the findings include:
- “Women represent 13% of the total 766 federal cases and were on average older than their male counterparts at 44 years of age.”
- Eight out of every 10 cases “brought against women included information connected to social media,” which reflects how “Social media and the online environment has given women new on-ramps and ways of acting as spokespeople for far-right movements, often making their messaging appear more palatable to mainstream audiences.”
- And “Gendered frames have been leveraged by women as they navigate the judicial system,” researchers Hilary Matfess and Devorah Margolin write. This includes defense counsel “narratives emphasizing their client’s naivety, vulnerability, and traditionally feminine roles. The effect of these appeals can be to depoliticize women’s activities in support of far-right movements.”
Why this issue matters: “Women’s actions on January 6th have represented a break from the norm, and our historical understanding of women in the far-right in the United States,” the authors write, and recommend, “More attention needs to be paid to these actions to better understand if they are a unique manifestation or a possible new trajectory for women’s contributions.” Find the full report in PDF form, here.
And lastly today: Some Afghan evacuees in the D.C. area are struggling to pay their rent. Many have run out of aid, lost touch with resettlement agencies, or been unable to find jobs, the Washington Post reported Monday. “It is a multilevel problem,” Minoo Tavakoli told the Post. Tavakoli is part of a group of Maryland volunteers who stepped up to help Afghans who can’t reach the caseworkers who helped them resettle.
The Afghan evacuees received between $1,025 and $1,225 from the State Department when they arrived last fall, and that was meant to cover basic expenses for about three months. All are eligible for food stamps—though some say they haven’t gotten those yet. But documentation delays and mix ups have caused problems for those job hunting; and some of the resettlement agencies have not been able to provide enough support to all the Afghans they were charged with helping. More, here.
Relatedly, in California, at least six Afghan families were pressured to move out of a Sacramento-area apartment complex and asked to pay rent they had already paid to a previous landlord, after the property was purchased by another company, the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday. The landlord did not pursue eviction through the court system, but did tell the families they would have to leave within days if they didn’t repay the rent. “Nobody speak English, and nobody know about the culture in America,” one of the tenants told the Bee. “If it’s Afghanistan, we solve our problem in there, where we know culture. … But right now, we don’t know what (we should) do.”
And in Germany, some Afghans have been moved out of their housing to make room for Ukrainian refugees, Foreign Policy reported last week. “We regret that this caused additional hardships to the Afghan families,” a spokesperson for Berlin’s Senate Department for Integration, Labor, and Social Services told FP. But, he said, Afghans who were moved out “were given other ‘permanent’ accommodation of equivalent quality, excluding shared bathrooms and kitchens.”