Today's D Brief: Hypersonic success; Turkey bristles at NATO bids; GOP’s Ukraine support cracks; US passes 1M COVID deaths; And a bit more.
Turkey’s autocratic president is still mad at Sweden and Finland. So officials from the two Nordic nations are headed to Ankara to talk about their upcoming request to join the alliance. Their bids would require approval from every NATO member—including Turkey.
According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who is facing re-election next year, there are too many northern Europeans of Kurdish descent. Indeed, six members of Stockholm’s Riksdag (parliament) are Kurds, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Erdogan has been engaged in a fierce counterinsurgency campaign against the stateless Kurds for nearly a decade, with tensions peaking around the time of the attempted coup in Turkey back in the summer of 2016.
A further reason Erdogan is heated: Sweden and Finland joined other European countries in sanctioning Turkish defense firms after Erdogan’s military carried out an offensive inside Syria in 2019.
Shifting moods: Three days ago, the message from Ankara was that Turkey isn’t “closing the door” on Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids. On Monday, however, Erdogan said more directly, “We will not say ‘yes’ to those who apply sanctions to Turkey to join security organisation NATO.” Of the talks this week in Ankara, he said, “Are they coming to convince us? Excuse me but they should not tire themselves.”
Regarding Kurds in Sweden, the country’s Ambassador to the U.S., Karin Olofsodtter, said Monday at an event in Washington, “We have a very strong anti-terrorist agenda. And a lot of their accusations, or most of the accusations [that] are coming out in detail from Ankara, are simply not true.” The Washington Examiner has more from that event.
In damage-control mode, NATO’s chief spoke with Turkey’s top diplomat Monday. “Turkey is a valued ally and any security concerns need to be addressed,” alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted afterward. “We must stand together at this historic moment,” he added. That conversation came three hours after Stoltenberg welcomed Sweden’s decision with a call to its prime minister Monday. “Sweden is one of our closest partners,” Stoltenberg tweeted after that chat, and said “membership would strengthen the security of Euro-Atlantic area and Sweden at a critical time.”
ICYMI: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart for the third time in a week on Sunday. Austin last chatted with Kyiv’s Oleksii Reznikov late last week, just before Austin reached his Russian counterpart for the first time since before the invasion began. Austin called for an end to hostilities in that Friday call with the Kremlin’s Sergei Shoigu. Review the latest Reznikov readout from the Pentagon, here.
New: Ukrainian troops ended their “last stand” in Mariupol, as hundreds of them “turned themselves over to Russian hands,” the Associated Press reports from southern Ukraine. A few still remain inside, however; their numbers are reportedly unclear.
The fall of Mariupol “would give Russia its biggest victory yet after multiple setbacks — both military and diplomatic,” AP writes. Reuters reports five buses of Ukrainian troops were taken to the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk. “Russian defence ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant in daylight, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.”
Big-picture Q: why is Russia’s military performing so poorly in Ukraine? Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times offered this answer on Monday: “[T]o Russia’s detriment, much of the military culture and learned behavior of the Soviet era endures: inflexibility in command structure, corruption in military spending, and concealing casualty figures and repeating the mantra that everything is going according to plan.”
Back stateside, Republican support for Ukraine is fracturing after 11 senators voted against a procedural vote on the White House’s new $40 billion aid bill for Kyiv. The 11 GOP lawmakers include Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty; John Boozman of Arkansas; Indiana’s Mike Braun; Idaho’s Mike Crapo; Missouri’s Josh Hawley; Utah’s Mike Lee; Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis; Roger Marshall from Kansas; Kentucky’s Rand Paul; and Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville.
Hawley was the lone dissenting voice who tweeted about his no-vote Monday evening; the other 10 are almost exclusively focused on midterm issues like immigration, inflation, and abortion. For Hawley, who supported false claims about the 2020 election, the $40 billion is just too much money, especially compared to donations from other European allies. (However, as a percentage of each nation’s economic output, Hawley is quite mistaken. Estonia leads the way in terms of contributions relative to GDP, and by a long shot, according to the German-based think tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.)
“Spending $40 billion on Ukraine aid—more than three times what all of Europe has spent combined—is not in America’s interests,” Hawley tweeted Monday evening, declining to spell out how the survival of democratic Ukraine in the face of an autocratic Russia is outside of America’s interests. According to the junior senator from Missouri, the proposed U.S. aid “neglects priorities at home (the border), allows Europe to freeload, short changes critical interests abroad and comes w/ no meaningful oversight,” Hawley wrote on Twitter. “That’s not isolationism. That’s nationalism,” he added.
Sweden’s military chief is headed to the Pentagon Wednesday. SecDef Austin is expected to meet Stockholm’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist just before noon ET.
- “On a Russian talk show, a retired colonel stuns his colleagues by pointing out that the invasion isn’t going well,” via the New York Times—regarding this video that made the rounds on social media Monday;
- “ICC Sends 'Largest-ever' Investigative Team To Ukraine,” via Agence France-Presse, reporting Tuesday;
- “India halts Ka-31 helicopter deal with Russia,” via Defense News, reporting Monday;
- And U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet “Yellen calls on allies to step up funding for Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday from the Brussels Economic Forum.
From Defense One
Another US Hypersonic Missile Hits Mach 5 in Test, Air Force Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Three different U.S. weapons have now demonstrated successful hypersonic flight.
Sweden and Finland’s NATO Membership Coming ‘As Soon as Possible,’ Deputy Secretary General Says // Patrick Tucker: NATO leaders also are expected to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank with new plans at next month’s Madrid summit.
Biden Orders US Troops Back to Somalia, Reverses Trump Withdrawal // Jacqueline Feldscher: “This is a step that rationalizes what was essentially an irrational arrangement that we inherited,” a senior administration official said.
Russian Sub Fired Missiles at Lviv Training Center, Ukraine Says // Tara Copp: The use of such weapons could indicate munitions shortages, expert says.
Ending Production of This Warship Is a Mistake // Bryan McGrath: The Navy’s new shipbuilding plan would replace all but three more LPD-17s with a vague plan to get started on a replacement class.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1987, and near the end of Iran-Iraq war, an Iraqi jet attacked the U.S. Navy's guided-missile frigate USS Stark with two missiles, killing 37 American sailors. Iraqi officials later said their pilot made a mistake and thought he was attacking an Iranian vessel in the Persian Gulf.
One million Americans have died from COVID-19, according to federal statistics released on Monday. That, of course, is only the officially confirmed number; many others have died because “the tsunami of Covid cases at times rendered health systems incapable of meeting other needs,” as STAT News put it.
The U.S. actually passed the 1-million mark around the beginning of 2022, according to the World Health Organization’s estimate, which puts the global toll at 15 million over the past 2.5 years. And BTW: “That figure is 2.7 times higher than the 5.4 million deaths that governments around the world reported to the global health agency for that period.” Read on, here.
What’s next? STAT identifies “six mysteries” of COVID that scientists are still working to unravel.
U.S. to station troops in Somalia once more, reversing Trump’s withdrawal. The contingent will number fewer than 500, including special operators to train local forces to fight al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, D1’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports. “This is a step that rationalizes what was essentially an irrational arrangement that we inherited,” the senior administration official said. “We have lowered the risk, in the view of our experts, to our personnel and increased their efficacy.”
Timeline: In 2017, then-President Donald Trump expanded the American military’s mission in east Africa. In November 2020, Trump lost his re-election bid and fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Weeks later, the lame-duck president ordered “the majority” of the 750 American troops stationed in Somalia to move to neighboring countries, including Kenya and Djibouti.
That “created more risk and less efficiency for the special operators, the senior administration official said. American troops faced greater danger each time they moved in or out of the country and wasted valuable time at the beginning and end of each rotation packing and unpacking equipment.” Read on, here.
A third type of U.S. hypersonic weapon has now been successfully flown. On Saturday, the Lockheed Martin-built AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon achieved Mach 5 after three failed test flights, the Air Force announced Monday.
Join the club: With its successful flight, the ARRW—yep, pronounced “arrow”—joins two test weapons developed under DARPA’S HAWC program: a Lockheed version and a Northrop Grumman version. D1’s Marcus Weisgerber adds a bit of context, here.
U.S. Army and Air Force leaders are testifying before lawmakers this morning on Capitol Hill. For the Army, it’s Secretary Christine Wormuth and Chief Gen. James McConville who are discussing the service’s annual budget before House appropriators in a hearing that began at 9:30 a.m. ET (livestream here). Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, along with service chief Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Space Force Gen. John Raymond; that one also concerns the service’s annual budget request, and began at 10 a.m. ET before Senate appropriators (catch it live here).
This afternoon, Army Futures Command officials will review vehicle modernization programs with the House Armed Services’ Tactical and Air Land Forces Subcommittee. That one starts at 2:00 p.m. Lineup and livestream here.
Air Force officials are discussing modernization efforts, too, before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 2:30 p.m. Details and livestream here.
And America’s nuclear forces are the focus of a late afternoon hearing before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. That one begins at 4:30 p.m. ET. Full lineup and livestream, here.
And lastly today: President Biden just nominated four folks to fill vacant ambassador postings abroad. Sadly, your D Brief-ers were not among the new distinguished nominees; and the posting we requested (Bahamas) may at last be filled for the first time in 11 years. That nod went to Calvin Smyre, a nearly five-decade veteran of Georgia state politics, according to a White House announcement Friday.
Hungary, Uruguay, and ASEAN could get new U.S. ambassadors as well. Former U.S. official at the United Nations, David Pressman, was nominated as ambassador to Hungary. Current State Department official and Iraq war veteran Heide Fulton was nominated to fill the Uruguay posting; and Yohannes Abraham, currently working at the National Security Council, was selected as Washington’s ambassador to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The Washington Post has a bit more on Abraham’s pick, here.
Here are a few key U.S. postings that remain vacant: Ukraine; Romania; Estonia; Croatia; Denmark; UK; Saudi Arabia; UAE; Qatar; Niger; Afghanistan and more.