Today's D Brief: Finland warms up to NATO; Stalemate in E. Ukraine; Russia sanctions gas firms; ASEAN in DC; And a bit more.
As an apparent stalemate sets in across Eastern Ukraine, Finland’s leaders say it’s time to join NATO. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” said President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin in a joint statement Thursday.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security,” and “as a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” the two wrote after parliamentarians took up the issue in a formal debate that began after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days,” Marin and Niinistö said. The Associated Press calls Thursday’s announcement from Helsinki “a historic realignment” that could still take weeks to formally materialize.
Russia’s reax was predictably indignant: “NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov, who promised “corresponding symmetrical responses on our side” in retaliation.
Asked what Finland’s president would tell Moscow, he told reporters Wednesday, “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
NATO foreign ministers are meeting over the weekend in Berlin. Alliance Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana is chairing the event, which is an informal meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council—and possibly includes a few new agenda items related to Nordic security.
New: Russia just sanctioned a few European energy companies, including a Polish firm (EuRoPol GAZ) and “a major Gazprom unit that the German government took control of last month” known as Gazprom Germania, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Big picture: “Given the very small transit volumes in recent weeks, the impact should be small,” said Berlin-based analyst Janis Kluge. “But gas is definitely part of the battlefield now,” he added.
Even bigger picture: “The Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who is in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Tuesday. “The Kremlin likely calculates that a victory over Ukraine will compel most of the Soviet successor states to align themselves more closely with Moscow, but a military setback for Russia or a lengthy drawn-out campaign in Ukraine probably will have the opposite effect.” And that’s more or less what we’re witnessing with the changes sweeping Finland and Sweden. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War detail the latest on the apparent stalemate developing in the east. And the Wall Street Journal has more on how the east has largely become a long-range artillery war now.
- BTW: Get to better know the Russian military’s command structure, via a new report from ISW’s Mason Clark, Karolina Hird, and Kateryna Stepanenko. Dive in, here.
On Capitol Hill, senators could pass the White House’s $40 billion Ukraine aid bill as soon as today, Montana Democrat Jon Tester said Wednesday, according to Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley. “Unless somebody screws it up, it will be tomorrow,” Tester said.
- “Video shows Russian soldiers killing 2 civilians before they ransack a business,” via CNN, reporting Wednesday on an alleged war crime that occurred outside Kyiv on March 16;
- “Intelligence-sharing with Ukraine designed to prevent wider war,” via the Washington Post, which largely repeats New York Times reporting from May 4;
- And “Shell to Sell Russian Retail Stations, Lubricant Business to Lukoil,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Thursday.
From Defense One
Lawmakers Seek To Flex Dormant Foreign-Policy Muscle On Capitol Hill // Jacqueline Feldscher: “Right now we have an unbroken streak of one,” a Senate aide told Defense One.
Training, Logistics Snafus Show How US Advisors Could Help Ukraine, Volunteers Say // Patrick Tucker: Time, effort, and materiel are being wasted for lack of a little expertise, say two U.S. volunteers recently returned from the war-torn country.
Does the West Want Ukraine to Win or Not? // Kevin Baron: The relative trickle of advanced weapons to Kyiv suggests Western leaders would be fine with a stalemate.
Navy Leaders Defend Plan To Cut the Fleet Amid GOP Criticism // Jacqueline Feldscher: “We think at this point we’re throwing good money after bad,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told the House Armed Services Committee.
Marine Corps Wants Loitering Munitions for its Infantry Units // Caitlin M. Kenney: Commandant highlighted the weapons’ unpredictability and psychological effects on the enemy at Marine expo.
Army Suicide Numbers for 2022 ‘Significantly Lower,’ Army Secretary Says // Elizabeth Howe: A proposed $99 million gym in Alaska is at the top of the service chief's unfunded priorities list.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 1942, the Nazi sub U-507 attacked and sank the unprotected U.S. tanker ship, Virginia, just a mile and a half from the Mississippi River’s entrance, near New Orleans. More than two dozen sailors perished in the attack, and others were recovered, including many with serious burns, after about 30 minutes at sea. The Germans’ U-507 had recently taken advantage of the unprotected waters off the U.S. coast by sinking eight vessels during the two weeks prior. U-507 would attack more en route to the Brazilian coast, where in August it sank another seven large boats, killing over 600 people—and triggering a formal declaration of war from Brazil. The U.S. Navy eventually located the Nazis about 300 miles off Brazil's coast in mid-January 1943; the crew of U.S. Navy PBY Catalina attacked and sank the sub using several depth charges, killing all 56 onboard.
The King of Jordan is dropping by the Pentagon this morning. And that trip comes ahead of a White House visit Friday, which will be King Abdullah II’s second in-person chat with President Biden since the latter took office nearly a year and a half ago.
And in what seems to be a first for Bangkok, Thailand’s 2014 coup leader—former four-star general and army chief, now Prime Minister and military chief—Prayut Chan-o-cha is dropping by the Pentagon this afternoon.
POTUS46 is hosting a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders this evening at the White House. The event, known as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Special Summit, is the first time so many leaders from the group will converge in Washington. Planned discussions include “maritime cooperation” as well as “key challenges ahead in technology, post-COVID recovery, [and] issues associated with climate and energy,” White House officials told reporters Wednesday.
Next weekend: Biden travels to South Korea and Japan on a five-day trip starting May 20. “In each country, President Biden will hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts: newly elected President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan,” the White House said in a preview.
Biden also plans to meet with “Quad” leaders in Tokyo. That quartet includes Australia, Japan, India, and the United States.
North Korea just declared a national emergency due to a Covid outbreak. The extent of the outbreak is not known, but the cases are the first to be acknowledged by Pyongyang, which is not known to have initiated any vaccination programs for its citizens, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.
Shortly afterward, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. They flew for about 220 miles at an altitude of about 50 miles, and seemed to have been from the North’s “super-large multiple rocket launchers,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. More here.
The White House is officially marking the loss of one million Americans to Covid by lowering flags at government buildings to half-staff for five days. “One million empty chairs around the dinner table,” Biden said in a somber statement noting the toll on Thursday. “Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic.”
“To heal, we must remember,” the president said. “We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible. In remembrance, let us draw strength from each other as fellow Americans. For while we have been humbled, we never give up.”
- “1 million Covid-19 deaths explained in 4 charts,” via Politico, reporting Wednesday;
- And “WHO says 15 million deaths linked to Covid-19, almost three times the official toll,” via France24, reporting just one week ago.
Budget discussions on the Hill, cont. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger are speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning about the sea services’ budget request and future plans. That hearing began at 9:30 a.m. Catch that one, here.
And Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville are testifying before the House Armed Services Committee about their service’s budget request. That hearing began at 10. Livestream, here.
And lastly: After a record-setting year for the National Guard’s stateside deployments, a group of senators is moving closer and closer to creating a new Space National Guard, The Hill reported Wednesday. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation this week on the issue, with Feinstein saying in a release that not creating a Space National Guard when the service was established was “a mistake.”
ICYMI: “DoD inspector general finds nothing improper in U.S. Space Command basing decision,” via SpaceNews, reporting Wednesday.