Today's D Brief: Ukraine says drones sank Russian boats; USMC general’s lament; Dozens die in Kabul blast; DHS disinfo backlash; And more.
Ukraine’s military claims it sank two more Russian boats in the Black Sea. The vessels were allegedly patrol boats this time around, and Ukraine says it used Turkish TB-2 drones for the early morning strikes. That would be a notable contrast with Kyiv’s new Neptune anti-ship missile, which Ukrainian officials said was used to sink Russia’s much larger Black Sea flagship, Moskva, about three weeks ago.
That development follows news that Russian forces are seeking “permanent control” over territory seized across southern Ukraine. And the Kremlin is working to steal these lands “either as nominally independent ‘People’s Republics’ or by annexing them to Russia,” according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, writing Sunday evening.
Scenes from an occupation, week 10: The Russians severed cell phone and internet service across most of occupied southern Ukraine “by cutting fiber-optic cables and turning off power at base stations,” the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported Sunday from the Zaporizhzhia region. But this phase of Moscow’s invasion is stretching well beyond just the information realm; indeed, Trofimov reports, “occupation authorities are swiftly integrating these areas into Russia, appointing collaborationist administrations and introducing Russian documents, education programs and currency.” That even includes “issuing newlyweds with Russian Federation wedding certificates” in the port city of Berdyansk.
The occupied cities of Melitopol and Volnovakha “are beginning to transition to using the Russian ruble,” ISW analysts say. That transition has allegedly already begun in Russian-occupied Kherson, according to British intelligence officials. And this seems to suggest “that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely intends to retain control over these areas and that his ambitions are not confined to Donbas,” according to ISW. Otherwise, Russian-backed forces still appear to be largely conducting reconnaissance in the south and have not yet made any documented advances. Read more, here.
By the way: The Brits estimate Russia is using nearly “65% of its entire ground combat strength” to invade and occupy Ukraine so far. And a quarter of those units are now believed to be “combat ineffective,” not unlike the fate of the Moskva in the shallow depths of the Black Sea. This includes “some of Russia’s most elite units,” and that attrition will “likely take years” to rebuild, according to the Brits.
On the bright side for Ukraine: Some civilians are being evacuated from the besieged and flattened city of Mariupol, President Volodymir Zelenskyy tweeted Sunday. The deal was forged with the help of United Nations officials, and involves plans to send about 100 civilians from the Azovstal Steel Plant and to Zaporizhzhia, Zelenskyy said.
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
‘We Should Have Been There’: Marine General Laments the State of the Amphib Navy // Caitlin M. Kenney: A failure to deploy in February illustrates the low readiness of the nation’s amphibious warships, a Marine three-star tells Defense One.
The Backlash to DHS's Anti-Disinformation Board Shows How US Law Is Falling Behind the Problem // Patrick Tucker: Legal ambiguity may have crippled DHS’s new board from the start.
The Army Wants to Change How It Manages Cyber Risk // Lauren C. Williams: The service is working to stand up a risk management council in the coming month.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: The longest earnings call intros; High price tag for new USAF fighter; Poland to get UK missile; and more.
Lend-Lease Bill Could Help Ukraine Negotiate Peace With Russia // Jacqueline Feldscher: The bill will cut red tape to get weapons to Ukraine quicker.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1982, the British Royal Navy sank Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano, killing 323 crew members about 60 miles off Argentina’s coast. The incident is believed to be the only time a nuclear-powered submarine sank a vessel in combat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moscow just changed its public war aims again, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov newly alleging Russia is “liberat[ing] the world from the yoke of the West,” according to state-run media RIA on Friday.
But “Nazi Ukraine” is still what some key Russian officials are calling the country they’ve invaded, including a Moscow-appointed administrator for the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, speaking to RIA on Thursday. “It’s out of the question to return the Kherson region back to Nazi Ukraine,” he said. “Kyiv will no longer be able to force its ugly Nazi policies upon our land,” he told RIA.
And Lavrov himself can’t stop with the Nazi rhetoric, which has gotten out of hand for leading Israeli officials—including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his top diplomat. On Monday, Bennett demanded an apology from Lavrov, who told an Italian broadcaster in an interview on Sunday, who asked how Russia can justify its purported “de-Nazification” of Ukraine when President Volodymir Zelenskyy is Jewish. Lavrov replied, “Hitler also had Jewish origins,” and that “For a long time now we've been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”
“Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday evening. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism,” he added. Haaretz has more.
New: Russians have allegedly stolen ancient gold artifacts from Ukrainian museums, the New York Times reported Saturday from Kyiv—zeroing in on one particular apparent heist of Scythian gold from the Melitopol Museum of Local History.
In video: See the flooded suburbs north of Kyiv, around the Dnipro River, in this two-minute report using drone footage, via the Agence France-Presse.
Tomorrow in the United States: President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit a Javelin-manufacturing facility in Alabama operated by Lockheed Martin.
- “Russia struggles to turn Black Sea rule into amphibious attack,” via AFP, reporting Monday;
- “Poland urges EU unity to slap sanctions on Russian energy,” via the Associated Press, reporting Monday from Brussels;
- “Poland ready to help Germany stop using Russian oil, says minister,” Reuters reports from Warsaw; see also this explainer from Reuters showing who is and isn’t buying Russian crude oil;
- “Taiwan considers alternatives after U.S. informs of howitzer delay,” also via Reuters, reporting Monday from Taipei;
- “Russia Turns on Spending Taps to Blunt Economic Impact of War and Sanctions,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Monday;
- And “Why the Debate Over Russian Uranium Worries U.S. Tribal Nations,” via the New York Times, reporting Monday from Arizona.
Another explosion at a mosque in Kabul killed at least 66 people on Friday. A suicide bomber struck as “worshippers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr—an act of religious remembrance practised by some Muslims but seen as heretical by some hardline Sunni groups,” Reuters reported from the Afghan capital.
UN offers sympathy and condemnation. “Attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including mosques, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “It was not immediately clear who was responsible,” Reuters continued. “Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in recent weeks in blasts, some of which have been claimed by Islamic State.”
ICYMI: “Islamic State claims deadly bomb blasts on minibuses in Afghan city,” via Agence France-Presse, reporting Thursday from Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north.
Back stateside: A Marine 3-star laments Navy amphibs’ unreadiness. On Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl—commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration—told Congress that the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit had been ordered to head to Europe a few weeks early in February as Russia was massing forces on Ukraine’s border. The Marines were ready to go, Heckl said—but the three U.S. warships that were supposed to take them could not answer the call.
Heckl elaborated in a later interview with Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney. “When you get within X number of days of your deployment date, you’re placed basically on a [prepare-to-deploy order] and the Kearsarge ARG failed that as well. Which is basically a violation of orders from my perspective as a Marine, right?” He said he’d never seen the like in his 35 years in the Corps.
The general implored lawmakers to build more amphibious ships. “If we don't have intervention from Congress, we will absolutely go down to 24 or 25 amphibs in the next three to four years. Period. So, you can do the math there. We simply will not have Marine Expeditionary Units and ARGs out, or even available,” he said. Read on, here.
And lastly: This afternoon, U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will talk about “The future of American air power” in a discussion with Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. That’s a 1 p.m. ET event. Details and registration, here.