Today's D Brief: Russia adds troops in E. Ukraine; Moscow's 'paranoid fortress thugocracy'; WH $33B request for Kyiv; And a bit more.
Russian cruise missiles struck Kyiv as the UN chief visited Thursday. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was also in town at the time, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted after the missiles hit the capital city. Russia’s military on Friday said it just launched cruise missiles from a diesel submarine based in the Black Sea; if true, Reuters reports it would be a first during the invasion, which began more than 60 days ago.
By the way: A journalist from the U.S.-backed outlet Radio Liberty died in those Kyiv strikes. Her name is Vira Hyrych, and her apartment building was struck in those attacks on the night of April 28, Radio Liberty reported Friday. The Kremlin said it targeted rocket manufacturer Artem in those Kyiv strikes; but many of Russia’s strikes don’t seem to have been terribly accurate. And at any rate, U.S. defense officials have recently said they believe Russia has already used most of its precision-guided munitions during this conflict.
Russian airstrikes continue to hit inside Mariupol and in the eastern Donbas, U.S. military officials said Thursday, and noted, “you don't continue to do that if you think you've won the battle of Mariupol.” Overall, Russia forces are making “slow and uneven and, frankly, we would describe it as incremental progress in the Donbas,” a senior defense official told reporters. An allegedly “insignificant” number of Russian-backed elements have been spotted departing Mariupol and seem to be heading northward, the official said; and those units are heading northwest, “sort of in the direction of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast.”
The U.S. estimates Russia now has 92 “functional” battalion tactical groups, each with somewhere between 600 and 800 soldiers. That’s an increase from the 76 or so BTGs estimated to be inside Ukraine about 10 days ago.
However, “The Russians have not overcome all their logistics and sustainment challenges,” and “they're only able to sustain several kilometers or so [of] progress on any given day,” according to the Pentagon official, who emphasized that logistics is “pretty much the most obvious thing that we're seeing them trying to learn from.” They’re also seemingly “trying to better integrate air-to-ground operations in the Donbas,” the defense official said, but cautioned that “command and control…is not optimal yet.”
In Kyiv’s defense, more than half of the M777 howitzers from the U.S. have now made it to Ukraine. And training continues for other items like Q-64 mobile radar systems and M113 armored personnel carriers.
New: The U.S. just revived the WWII-era “lend-lease” act to ease the process of loaning military hardware to European allies, and not just to Ukraine. The legislation, introduced in January, passed the Senate unanimously in early April, and its support was almost as unanimous in the House on Thursday.
417 House lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while 10—all Republicans—voted no. The ten voting against were: Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona; Dan Bishop of North Carolina; Warren Davidson from Ohio; Florida’s Matt Gaetz; Marge Greene from Georgia; Tom Massie of Kentucky; South Carolina’s Ralph Norman; Scott Perry of Pennsylvania; and Wisconsin’s Tom Tiffany.
Don’t miss our coverage of the White House’s new $33 billion request to help Ukraine’s military. Our colleague Jacqueline Feldscher on Thursday unpacked that legislation, which has a fairly small upcoming window for passage, here.
Coverage continues below the fold…
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$33B Request Will Help Ukraine Fight Russia In The ‘Longer Term,’ Biden Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: Politics threaten to derail the request on Capitol Hill.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1944, New Zealand-born journalist and celebrated Allied special operator Nancy Wake parachuted behind lines in Nazi-occupied France. When a local resistance leader found Wake tangled in a tree, he told her, “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year.” She replied, “Don't give me that French shit.” Four decades later, she published an autobiography entitled, “The White Mouse,” which was a nickname given to her by the Gestapo. She passed away in August 2011 at the age of 98.
What if the war in Ukraine doesn’t end? That’s the last of four scenarios taken up by two scholars in a special analysis published in Foreign Affairs. And one of the first considerations is that, quite simply, time would seem to be on Russia’s side. This is for the same reasons pointed out early by Lulu Garcia-Navarro back in mid-March—i.e., will the current Western unity buckle under the weight of inflation and high gas prices, or will Russian society destabilize first because of the West’s sanctions?
“A long-term war in Ukraine would also have consequences on a global scale,” scholars Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage warn. “Western politicians should take on this challenge proactively and explain why support for Ukraine is not just altruistic but actually fundamental to European security and to the future of free societies. This campaign in support of Ukraine will not be cost-free. But if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will be emboldened to expand the perimeter of Russian aggression.” Read on, here.
On the cyber front, Russia has been using hackers to collect “digital dossiers” on Ukrainians, which one analyst described as “Fantastically useful information if you’re planning an occupation.” This includes breaches at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and “a national database of automobile insurance policies,” which allegedly involved “up to 80% of Ukrainian policies registered with the Motor Transport Bureau,” according to AP, reporting separately on Thursday.
Big picture Q: What sort of thinking seems to be guiding the Kremlin? Putin-watcher Mark Galeotti calls it “paranoid fortress thugocracy” in a lengthy thread analyzing a recent interview from a key Russian official, Nikolai Patrushev. For Patrushev, Russia has Europe in a bind, as “Rising inflation and declining living standards are already affecting the wallets and moods of Europeans,” and “large-scale migration adds new challenges to old security threats,” he said in his interview. “After all,” said Patrushev, “only a tenth of the refugees from Ukraine have been vaccinated against coronavirus infection, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, rubella and measles.” This is all notable, according to Galeotti, because Patrushev’s thinking would seem to indicate a hardening of the Kremlin position. “By doubling down on the civilisational and existential dimension of the conflict, [Patrushev] is adding his voice to those who advocate escalation, not just on the battlefield, but also at home,” Galeotti writes. Read the rest, here.
According to a new poll, six in 10 Americans say misinformation about Russia’s invasion is a “major problem,” and it’s Moscow’s fault for making matters so murky, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Curiously, just 44% of Americans under the age of 30 see it as a problem, which contrasts with 65% of those older than 30. Read more, here.
- “West’s Resolve to Block Russia Grows Amid Fears of a Protracted War,” via the New York Times, reporting Friday;
- “Russia’s Long Disdain for Ukrainian Nationhood,” via the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov, who combed through a bit of history to file that report Thursday;
- “American killed fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in Ukraine,” via CNN, reporting Thursday;
- And “Russia's Ukrainian quagmire providing tough lessons for China,” via Reuters, reporting Friday from Hong Kong and Beijing.
The Chinese economy could be quietly facing its worst crisis in three decades, according to an influential private equity chief based in Hong Kong, Weijian Shan. He said as much in a recent recording obtained by Financial Times, which published the message on Thursday.
“Market sentiment towards Chinese stocks is also at [its] lowest point in the past 30 years,” Shan said. “I also think popular discontent in China is at [its] highest point in the past 30 years,” he added. Reuters has more on Shan and why his opinion carries a significant amount of weight in Beijing, here.
See what four consecutive weeks of Covid lockdown looks like in Shanghai, China’s fourth largest city, with this striking multi-media feature from New York Times, published Friday.
Lastly today, U.S. Army soldiers celebrated an Italian woman’s 90th birthday with a cake. But this was no ordinary cake. It was meant to replace the one that American soldiers ate 77 years ago.
Background: Meri Mion was about to turn 13 when the 88th Infantry Division fought its way into Vicenza, near Venice, on April 28, 1945. According to the Associated Press, Meri and her mother hid in the attic of their farm that night while German troops fought nearby. The next morning, on Meri’s birthday, her mother baked a cake “and left it on the windowsill to cool.” That’s the cake that was apparently taken and eaten by U.S. soldiers who had been welcomed into the town with bread and wine, AP writes. Story continues, here.