Today's D Brief: Ukraine bill heads to Senate; UK signs pact with Sweden, Finland; Biden on 'Putin's price hike'; Kremlin's expanding plans; And a bit more.

House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation to give Ukraine nearly $40 billion in military aid over the next several months. The supplemental funding bill advanced in a 368-to-57 vote late Tuesday. It now heads to the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to pass in the evenly split upper chamber. “We cannot afford any delay in this vital effort,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senate leadership to get this bill to the President’s desk quickly and keep assistance flowing to Ukraine without interruption.”

Today, President Joe Biden is headed to an Illinois family farm “to discuss the impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on food supply and prices at home and abroad,” the White House says in its daily schedule. “Putin’s price hike” is how WH officials continue to describe the economic impacts of the invasion, which disrupted global grain supplies and have shifted moods dramatically across Europe, especially in Germany, Finland, and Sweden.

By the way: Ukraine says Russia is stealing its grain, vegetables, and sunflower seeds and shipping it all overland—with military ground escort—to Russian-occupied Crimea, according to the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, “In the past week, Egypt has turned away two Russian ships that were carrying stolen Ukrainian wheat, Ruslan Nechai, Ukraine’s chargé d’affaires in Egypt, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.”

Poland and Lithuania have stepped up in the hopes of helping export Ukraine’s non-occupied farm products to markets outside Kyiv since the Russian navy is still blockading the Black Sea; but those three-country negotiations aren’t finalized yet. 

The EU is still working desperately to finalize a bloc-wide embargo on Russian oil, but Hungary remains the “spoiler” for that plan, the New York Times reports from Brussels. And the Associated Press just published an explainer on what Hungary may be up to.

America’s intel chief says Vladimir Putin is ready for a “prolonged” war in Ukraine. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said as much to lawmakers Tuesday in a hearing on worldwide threats. What’s more, she said, “The current trend increases the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means.” And in an echo of a line we’ve noted many times since March, Haines said she thinks Putin “is probably counting on U.S. and E.U. resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation, and energy shortages get worse.”

New: The Kremlin is seemingly working to annex another part of Ukraine, this time in southern Kherson, which is almost 350 miles south of Kyiv. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters Wednesday that “the residents of Kherson should decide” if they want to become part of Russia via a referendum, according to state-run RIA. 

An advisor to Ukraine’s president replied sternly on Twitter, saying, “The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what games with words they play.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting Sweden and Finland today. On Tuesday, officials at 10 Downing Street announced the two Nordic countries had just signed defensive pacts with the UK. “What we are saying, emphatically, is that in the event of a disaster or the event of an attack upon Sweden, then the UK would come to the assistance of Sweden with whatever Sweden requested,” Johnson said during his stopover in Sweden. 

“We face a new reality. But we face it together,” Johnson tweeted Wednesday afternoon (Finland time). Reuters has more.

Britain’s military chief is visiting the Pentagon this afternoon. Defense Minister Ben Wallace is expected to arrive at the building at 3 p.m. ET, when he’ll meet Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The two have spoken in-person twice before, first in London last April; and again the following July in Washington. 

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Lockheed Secretly Worked to Block Airbus’ Influence in Washington—While Teaming on Major Pentagon Bid // Marcus Weisgerber: Internal email reveals U.S. company’s pressure to deny Europeans’ application to powerful trade group.

Congress’ Plan For Ukraine Aid Surpasses White House Request by $7B // Jacqueline Feldscher: Lawmakers boosted funds for replenishing American weapons’ stocks and supporting European Command operations.

Russia has Fired Between ‘10 and 12’ Hypersonics into Ukraine, Pentagon Says // Tara Copp: The invading force have “blown through” its stockpile of precision guided munitions.

Intel Leaders Predict ‘Stalemate’ in Ukraine Unless Something Changes // Patrick Tucker: Putin’s losses on the battlefield haven’t changed his ultimate goal.

Four Ways China Is Growing Its Media Influence in Southeast Asia // Peter W. Singer and Daniel Shats: Beijing is trying to burnish its image in the region. What if it took aim at America’s instead?

Marines Are Learning from the Ukraine Conflict—But Are Wary of Adjusting Force Design Based on It // Caitlin M. Kenney: Education, training, concepts, and equipment purchases are changing, but not Force Design 2030.

The Air & Space Brief: New stockpile assumptions; Precision guided munitions pressures; EU names Russia in Viasat attack  // Tara Copp: 

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1998, India detonated three nuclear bombs in a series of tests that its prime minister said solidified New Delhi’s formal status as a nuclear state. Neighboring Pakistan responded by conducting six underground nuclear tests less than three weeks later.  

U.S. military leaders are defending their $773 billion defense budget request before House appropriators this morning on Capitol Hill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is joined by Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, and the Pentagon’s Chief Financial Officer Michael McCord. That one just started at 10:30 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream here.
Navy leaders are already discussing their service’s budget request before the full House Armed Services Committee. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is joined by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. Livestream here.
Nuclear weapons and missile defense programs are in the spotlight this afternoon at a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing planned for 2 p.m. ET. Catch it live here.
Service vice chiefs will discuss military readiness at 4:30 p.m. before a House panel. Lineup and livestream, here.
And the Space Force is the focus of another late afternoon hearing with lawmakers from the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Force. Details here.

The White House quietly extended national emergency declarations for Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and the Central African Republic on Monday. The reasons given for the respective countries are as follows: 

  • In Syria, the Assad regime has spent years (going back to at least May 2004) allegedly “supporting terrorism, maintaining its then-existing occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining United States and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.” 
  • In Yemen, “the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Yemen and others [are threatening] Yemen’s peace, security, and stability,” and have been doing so since at least November 2011.
  • In Iraq, there remain unspecified “obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq.”
  • In CAR, there has been “a breakdown of law and order; intersectarian tension; [and] the pervasive, often forced recruitment and use of child soldiers” since at least May 2014. “Widespread violence and atrocities” have also been carried out in the years since, “including those committed by Kremlin-linked and Yevgeniy Prigozhin-affiliated entities such as the Wagner Group.”

If those sound like a few of America’s so-called “forever wars,” Marine Corps veteran and celebrated author Phil Klay has some thoughts to share with you. Klay sat down with Defense One Radio this week for our newest podcast that dives into many themes in Phil’s new book, which is a collection of his recent nonfiction entitled, “Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War.” Subscribe to Defense One Radio for that episode in the coming days; and you can pre-order Klay’s new book, which comes out next Tuesday. 

And lastly: Hats off to the staff of the New York Times for their eight-part, Pulitzer-winning coverage of the U.S.-led airstrike campaigns across Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Times staff was praised for their courage and relentlessness and for “challenging official accounts of American military engagements” in those three countries.
Why it matters: “This project was born out of the belief that every American deserves to be informed about the wars waged in their names,” said investigative reporter Azmat Khan of the Times.