Today's D Brief: Russia targets Ukraine's rail system; New N.Korea test; Japan's DM at the Pentagon; DCIA to Jeddah; And a bit more.
After a day spent targeting the western city of Lviv and at least six Ukrainian railroads, Russia’s missile forces turned their attention to ammunition depots and anti-aircraft systems across Ukraine’s east. Moscow’s Defense Ministry also claims it shot down more than a dozen of Kyiv’s drones across the country since Tuesday. It’s impossible to know how truthful Moscow is; but Ukrainian officials acknowledged Tuesday that six separate railways had been struck, in what seemed like an effort to slow or halt the flow of new weapons to Ukrainian forces battling a Russian-backed offensive in the eastern Donbas.
Russian forces are also reportedly storming the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol, where hundreds of Ukrainians have been holed up for weeks, refusing to surrender. Several people were able to begin evacuation procedures from the steel plant on Sunday, but it’s unclear who remains—or how many Russian elements are entering the facilities.
Ukrainians have pushed Russian forces well out of the huge eastern city of Kharkiv, U.S. military officials told reporters Tuesday. That Ukrainian push could “unhinge the Russian positions northeast of Kharkiv and could set conditions for a broader operation to drive the Russians from most of their positions around the city,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their latest daily report. And that could further “pose a dilemma for the Russians—whether to reinforce their positions near Kharkiv to prevent such a broader Ukrainian operation or to risk losing most or all of their positions in artillery range of the city.”
POTUS46: “This fight is not going to be cheap, but caving to [Russian] aggression would even be more costly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday during a visit to Lockheed Martin’s Javelin anti-tank missile factory in Troy, Ala. Biden dropped by the Troy factory to raise support for the White House’s new $33 billion war supplemental bill that would continue U.S. assistance to Ukraine for months to come. The U.S. has committed more than 5,500 Javelins to Ukraine, which has successfully used them against Russian tanks and armored vehicles.
“You’re allowing the Ukrainians to defend themselves, and quite frankly, are making fools of the Russian military in many instances,” Biden told the workers at Troy. “You’re making it possible for the Ukrainian people to defend themselves, without us having to risk getting into a third world war by sending in American soldiers fighting Russian soldiers,” he added.
For the record: Lockheed jointly makes the Javelin with Raytheon Technologies, our colleague Marcus Weisgerber reports. And workers at Troy can build up to 2,100 Javelin missiles per year, according to Lockheed.
Biden also used the visit to tout the American defense jobs and urge Congress to pass the CHIPS act, which would make investments in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. Each Javelin requires more than 200 semiconductors, according to White House officials, who added, “Boosting domestic chip manufacturing isn’t just critical to making more in America or lowering prices—it’s also a vital component of our national security.”
Skim over a running tally of the heavy weapons the U.S. and others have sent Ukraine so far, via this review from the New Lines Institute think tank in Washington, published Tuesday.
In recommended #LongReads this week, don’t miss Soviet-born journalist Peter Pomerantsev’s latest writing in The Atlantic. His tease: “A Ukrainian family spent three weeks in a cellar with Russian soldiers. When I interviewed them I found their strange relationship has lessons for how to win the war.”
- “Russia Must Pay Reparations, Zelensky Says,” via the Wall Street Journal;
- “Russia’s War Has Been Brutal, but Putin Has Shown Some Restraint. Why?” via Julian Barnes of the New York Times, asking a question few others mulled after viewing the devastation in Mariupol;
- “Russia beats final deadline to avoid debt default,” via the BBC, reporting Tuesday;
- And “Russians plunder $5M farm vehicles from Ukraine—to find they've been remotely disabled,” via CNN, reporting Sunday.
From Defense One
New Marine Aviation Plan Reflects Changes Under Force Design 2030 // Caitlin M. Kenney: Littoral regiments will get an anti-air battalion, among other changes.
Reversing Roe Would Harm Military Readiness, Abortion-Rights Advocates Warn // Jacqueline Feldscher: “If a woman is considering enlisting, I would highly encourage her to rethink that choice,” said one veteran.
DHS Manipulated Report on Russian Election Interference During the Trump Administration, Watchdog Says // Patrick Tucker and Courtney Bublé: A 2020 report to state and local governments was delayed and altered, a new IG report finds.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Marcus Weisgerber. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1776, Rhode Island became the first of the original 13 colonies to renounce its allegiance to Britain’s King George III.
Defying UN sanctions yet again, North Korea launched another ballistic missile up and into the Sea of Japan off its eastern coast early Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. This apparent test was Pyongyang’s 14th of the calendar year, and comes ahead of another anticipated nuclear weapon demonstration, which would be the North’s first since 2017.
This latest rocket is believed to have flown about 500 miles up in the air at a top speed of Mach 11 before crashing into the water almost 290 miles away. “This is roughly comparable with the Feb 26 and Mar 4 launches described by North Korea as suborbital tests of a recon satellite system,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell tweeted afterward.
Read more: “Defense chief nominee vows stronger alliance, deterrence against N.K. threats,” also via Yonhap, reporting Wednesday.
In related nuclear surveillance news, get a slightly better handle on new comparative imaging techniques that appear to shine a new light on North Korean weapons development. PhysicsToday has the story, here; Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey has more background and context, via Twitter, here.
By the way, American nuclear weapons are the focus of a hearing this afternoon before the Senate Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. That gets started at 4:30 p.m. ET. Details and guest list via SASC, here.
Japan’s military chief is visiting the Pentagon today. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi will be greeted by an enhanced honor cordon ceremony beginning around 11 a.m. ET, according to the Defense Department. The meeting comes amid a much wider regional concern about the rise of Communist China’s growing navy and economic clout in the months and years to come.
ICYMI: Japan is taking an increasingly assertive role in regional security. And that includes a new pact for defense tech and equipment transfers with Thailand that was signed on Monday in Bangkok. This new deal follows relatively recent and similar agreements Japanese officials have reached with their counterparts in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Details of the Thai deal are fairly scant, according to Reuters and Japan’s Kyodo news, which both have more here and here, respectively.
What lies ahead: POTUS46 plans to visit Japan and South Korea in about two weeks, beginning May 20. His National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan paved the way for some of those meetings in a call Tuesday with his Japanese counterpart, Akiba Takeo. Both Japan and South Korea are under new management, as it were; Tokyo’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida assumed office in October, and Seoul’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol is set to assume office on May 10. Kishida is later expected to take part in the first-ever in-person meeting of so-called Quad leaders—including India, Australia, and the U.S.—on the last day of that regional visit for Biden.
And next week, the White House is hosting a special summit of ASEAN partners in Washington. That event “will build on President Biden’s participation in the October 2021 U.S.-ASEAN Summit,” which included “$102 million in new initiatives to expand our engagement with ASEAN on COVID-19 recovery and health security, fighting the climate crisis, stimulating broad-based economic growth, promoting gender equality, and deepening people-to-people ties,” the White House said in a mid-April preview.
- U.S. State Secretary Antony “Blinken to unveil 'no surprises' China strategy pre-Asia push,” via Politico, reporting Monday ahead of Blinken’s Thursday speech at George Washington University;
- “Poll: Distrust of Asian Americans is rising,” via Axios, reporting Wednesday;
- “Beijing closes 10% of subway stations to stem COVID spread,” via AP, reporting Wednesday from the Chinese capital;
- And “China’s Economy Appears to Be Stalling, Threatening to Drag Down Global Growth,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Sunday.
And finally: CIA Director William Burns flew to Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago to try and improve the Washington-Riyadh relationship, according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday from Dubai. The Journal described the U.S.-Saudi relationship as at its “worst point in decades” following the brutal assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a murder and dismemberment operation that’s widely believed to have been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS.
MBS reportedly isn’t fond of the negative attention from that murder, and he’s apparently chosen to shun the Biden administration and cozy up to Moscow amid global fuel price shocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to one U.S. official, the Burns-MBS chat in mid-April “was a good conversation” and had a “better tone than prior U.S. government engagements.” Little else seems to have emerged from that episode in Jeddah. Continue reading, here.