Today's D Brief: SecDef Austin calls Russia's DM; Possible NATO expansion irks Erdogan; River-crossing disaster; And a bit more.

It’s been almost 80 days since the beginning of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s botched invasion of democratic Ukraine, and America’s military chief finally spoke with his Russian counterpart for the first time in nearly three months. In that call, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” according to a short readout from the Pentagon. Just one day before, Austin called his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday to get an update on "the situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine" and regarding the flow of weaponry to Kyiv, according to that readout.

Also new: Turkey’s own autocratic leader is mucking up plans for Finland and Sweden to join the Russia-focused NATO alliance. Leaders in Helsinki announced their intent to request alliance membership on Thursday; Stockholm’s top diplomat followed suit Friday, according to a review shared with Swedish lawmakers and on Twitter.

“Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a deterrent effect in northern Europe,” the report concludes. “If both Sweden and Finland were NATO members, all Nordic and Baltic countries would be covered by collective defense guarantees. The current uncertainty as to what form collective action would take if a security crisis or armed attack occurred would decrease.”

Russia’s reax to NATO’s Nordic expansion: Should the two nations join the alliance, Moscow’s response “will depend on the degree of advancement of the alliance’s military infrastructure to Russia’s borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov said Thursday. “This is key,” said noted Russia-watcher Dmitri Alperovitch. “Finland joining NATO is unpleasant but tolerable for Moscow if there is no NATO build up on their border.”

About Turkey’s apprehension: “We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don't hold positive views,” Turkish President Recep Erdogan told reporters Friday in Istanbul. “Furthermore,” he said, “Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organisations,” though he didn’t elaborate on that point, other than saying, “​​They are even members of the parliament in some countries. It is not possible for us to be in favour,” according to Reuters. AP has similar coverage, here.

Update: The global energy forecast is improving, according to a revised assessment from the International Energy Agency, published Thursday. The topline read: “New embargoes on Russian oil supplies” across the European Union and G7 members, e.g., “would speed up the redirection of trade flows” to places like India and China. But the short- and mid-term consequences may not be that bad. That’s because “Over time, steadily rising volumes from Middle East OPEC+ and the U.S. along with a slowdown in demand growth is expected to fend off an acute supply deficit amid a worsening Russian supply disruption,” the IEA writes in its latest monthly report. 

What’s more, “Excluding Russia, output from the rest of the world is set to rise by 3.1 [million barrels per day] from May through December.” A fair bit of that optimism is riding on the hope that China emerges from its Covid lockdowns sooner than later, sending drivers back out of the road; China, after all, is the world’s second-largest oil consumer (behind the United States). 

The next date to watch: 15 May. That’s when many of the world’s major trading firms face a “deadline to halt all transactions with [Russian] state-controlled Rosneft, Gazprom Neft, and Transneft,” according to IAE. Read more here. See also this Reuters chart breaking down who’s really increased their Russian oil purchases since the invasion began (hint: the answer would appear to be found in the lands where “Ashoka the Great” roamed nearly 2,000 years ago.)

The EU says it will help Ukraine break Russia’s blockade in Odessa. The plan is to free up a path for Ukraine’s grain to get to the world’s markets without having to transit the Black Sea. Russia has allegedly taken $100 million worth of Ukraine’s grain so far, Kyiv’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday. France24 and the New York Times have a bit more on that bloc-wide effort. 

When it comes to warfare, “Artillery was the big killer during both World Wars. And so it is today,” the BBC reports in a 12-minute video special on the future of conflict, as derived from what we’ve seen of Russia’s Ukraine invasion so far. There are also lessons on fusing intelligence and incorporating drones into artillery targeting—some of that resulting from America’s war on terror, and some of that coming from the resourcefulness of the Ukrainians themselves.

For your eyes only: Take a look at the aftermath of a devastating attack on Russian forces attempting a river crossing this week in eastern Ukraine. Officials in Kyiv also claim to have hit another Russian vessel in the Black Sea—this time a logistics ship known as the Vsevolod Bobrov. The Associated Press reports it was allegedly hit while trying to deliver air-defense systems to Ukraine’s Snake Island. 

  • Maxar released new satellite imagery from across Ukraine on Thursday evening. Review that slate, including a dramatic batch from Snake Island, here.

You may occasionally wonder: Why does this Russian invasion matter? To answer that question, it’s worth revisiting the frank remarks of America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto on April 26: “If this is left to stand, if there is no answer to this aggression, if Russia gets away with this cost-free, then so goes the so-called international order, and if that happens, then we're entering into an era of seriously increased instability,” Milley said. “What's at stake is the global international security order that was put in place in 1945. That international order has lasted 78 years, it’s prevented great power war, and underlining that entire concept is the idea that large nations will not conduct military aggression against smaller nations, and that's exactly what's happened here, an unprovoked military aggression by Russia against a smaller nation.”

Just one small U.S. agency seems to have accurately predicted the strength of Ukraine’s resistance, according to reporting Friday from CNN. That agency is the State Department’s intelligence unit, known as the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (an agency that also dissented in the runup to the ruinous Iraq invasion 20 years ago). Worth the click over at CNN, here.

Additional reading: 


From Defense One

The Naval Brief: Weapons in the sky; Fleet cuts; Ukraine lessons learned; and more... // Caitlin M. Kenney: 

The Middle East’s Indifference to Ukraine Is a Warning // Jon B. Alterman: What looks like international solidarity against a lawless invasion is something far more transactional and fragile.

Raytheon Technologies Invests in Hypersonic Aircraft Startup Hermeus // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s the first investment by the aerospace and defense giant’s new venture arm.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Jacqueline Feldscher. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.


New: The Coast Guard will play an increased role in training sailors from Southeast Asian nations, White House officials said Thursday. The new initiatives, which will cost $60 million, include creating a Coast Guard attache position at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, deploying a Coast Guard cutter to Southeast Asia for security cooperation and training, and deploying additional Coast Guard personnel to the Indo-Pacific, according to a White House fact sheet. This new partnership, as well as increased cooperation in other areas like education, climate, and global health, is part of the administration’s effort to “step up our game” by working more closely with ASEAN nations bilaterally and as a group, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.
“We are not asking countries to make a choice between the United States and China,” the official said. “We want to make clear though that the United States seeks stronger relationships…We recognize that in order to do that, we need to be responsive to desires from countries in the region to work in areas that are important to them.”
By the way: The Coast Guard has a trail-blazing new commandant, Adm. Linda Fagan. She made history as the first first woman to hold a four-star admiral’s rank; she’s also the first woman to lead the Coast Guard; and she’s the first woman to lead any U.S. military service. “Admiral Fagan’s confirmation as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard signals to women and girls across our nation they have a place in protecting their country at the highest level,” President Biden said in a statement Thursday. 

The U.S. Army is preparing to overhaul its forces in Alaska, and will likely replace its Stryker brigade there “with a more mobile infantry unit better suited for the frigid fight,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from Anchorage. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told AP’s Lita Baldor during a trip to Alaska that the service is “trying to get to a place where we have Arctic capable forces—forces that can survive and operate in that environment.”
The new plan would involve converting the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team into a light infantry brigade, Baldor writes, while the Strykers would be replaced by vehicles that are better for the Alaskan terrain. More details, here

The U.S. Treasury Department just opened the door for new investments in certain parts of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces. However, these deals are only for agriculture and construction projects, not oil extraction, as had been drawn up during the Trump administration, The National reported Thursday. The Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister noticed the update Thursday as well.
What’s officially going on: The U.S. has just “issue[d] a general license to facilitate private economic investment activity in non-regime-held areas liberated from ISIS in Syria,” said Under Secretary for Political Affairs Ambassador Victoria Nuland during a trip this week to Morocco. 

And lastly: A secretive U.S. Navy vessel took on water and sank while moored on Dec. 7, the service released last week while declining to provide any details about what type of vessel it was, its name, where it sank, or what may have caused the sinking, Navy Times reported Thursday. The vessel was reportedly testing some type of experimental technology, but—perhaps unsurprisingly—the Navy would not say what type of technology it was. An official did say the vessel was “immediately recovered and restored,” Navy Times writes. A bit more, here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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