Today's D Brief: NATO bids are in; Swedish DM at the Pentagon; Russia says it has lasers in Ukraine; The military and the metaverse; And a bit more.

Sweden and Finland formally applied to NATO in Brussels on Wednesday. Klaus Korhonen and Axel Wernhoff, Finland and Sweden's respective NATO ambassadors, handed the letters to alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who called the applications “an historic step…at a critical time for our security.” 

“Every nation has the right to choose its own path,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday. “You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes…Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO,” he said. 

And in a nod to Turkey’s very vocal reservations, Stoltenberg stressed, “The security interests of all allies have to be taken into account, and we are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.”

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist is dropping by the Pentagon this morning. Hultqvist’s tenure as Stockholm’s military chief stretches back almost a decade, during which time he’s visited America’s last four defense secretaries at the Pentagon. His Wednesday meeting is slated for about 11 a.m. ET. 

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan is still trying to shake more Kurds out of northern Europe, including nearly three dozen that Turkey wants repatriated from Sweden and Finland. “So you won't give us back terrorists but you ask us for NATO membership?” Erdogan said on state TV Wednesday. “NATO is an entity for security, an organization for security. Therefore, we cannot say 'yes' to this security organization being deprived of security,” he said. Reuters has more.

Turkey’s top diplomat is in New York City, where he’ll meet with his U.S. counterpart on the sidelines of a two-day United Nations meeting concerning food security and migration. On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to address the delegates, and the State Department says he’s expected to speak on the war in Ukraine, which is kind of hard to disentangle from global food security in the months ahead. More on that issue and its growing ramifications below.

New: Russia says it’s using lasers to shoot down drones in Ukraine. Reuters reports the comments came from a Russian official named Yury Borisov, who is a deputy prime minister in charge of military modernization; Borisov told Russian state TV that the new weapon is called “Zadira,” about which Reuters reports virtually nothing is known. More about Russia’s known satellite-blinding lasers, including one called “Peresvet,” here.

Update: Nearly 1,000 Ukrainians have surrendered at Mariupol’s steel factory, the New York Times reports, citing an estimate from Russia’s military. 

  • Listen to a 25-year-old Ukrainian soldier’s account of what life was like inside the factory in the Times’ latest podcast, “The Daily.”

For Germany’s 83 million people, “permanent price increases” and “possible shortages” could be coming this winter, according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday from the European Union’s largest buyer of Russian gas. The winter warnings come from Berlin’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who confirmed to the Journal what many Putin-watchers have said for years: “Russia is using energy as a weapon.” Habeck is one of several Berlin officials racing to expedite Germany’s transition away from Russian energy. And he has an intense interest in the topic, especially since the economic hit from cutting Russian gas could be as much as a 6% reduction in GDP. 

Putin’s invasion has brought Germany much closer to Norway and Greece, which both stepped up to provide four of the world’s five available floating liquid natural gas terminals. But only one of those is expected to come on line before the end of the calendar year, hence the warning above from Habeck. Read on, here. Or read similar coverage from the Associated Press, here.

Georgia’s prime minister and top military officer are visiting NATO HQs today in Brussels. And those visits were scheduled for shortly after the new Nordic membership applications were formally received by Stoltenberg. Georgia’s top military officer discussed Black Sea security and Russia’s ongoing invasion in Ukraine, according to Georgian news.

The world’s poorest countries will face enormous pressures soon, the New York Times reported in a globe-trotting #LongRead Tuesday. That’s because Russia’s war in Ukraine is tightening global credit lines; and that’s compounding the worldwide effects of inflation as China’s economy has hit the brakes due to another Covid outbreak. “Many poor countries now confront an uncomfortable choice—increasing spending to aid their populations while adding to their debts, or imposing budget austerity and courting social conflict,” the Times reports. Indeed, just last week, “public rage over rapid inflation amid a spiraling debt crisis in Sri Lanka triggered the downfall of the government.” 

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, or Ghana could be next, according to a report last week from Oxford Economics, which added that Nigeria and Egypt are also at risk from surging costs. “We will undoubtedly see more unrest in some countries, the question is where and to what extent,” the authors warned. 

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Trump Allies Slam Biden For Ukraine Aid Amid Inflation, Supply Chain Shortages // Jacqueline Feldscher: Senators voted no because of problems domestically, a lack of oversight, and a high price tag.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 100: Phil Klay // Ben Watson: A conversation about veterans, citizenship, and the American way of war.

Could Ukraine Offer a Template for Better US-Gulf Security Relations? // Bilal Y. Saab and Melissa Horvath: The outpouring of aid to Kyiv shows that a formal defense alliance is inessential to effective wartime assistance.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Jacqueline Feldscher. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1974, India became the sixth nation to successfully test a nuclear weapon, and the first outside the five nuclear-armed members of the United Nations Security Council. 

Navalny aides press the D.C. policy community. Top executives from Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation are in Washington this week meeting with administration officials at the National Security Council, State Department, and Justice Department about their proposal to sanction 6,000 mid-level government officials in Moscow, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports. The list includes the “workhorses of the regime,” who average about 45 years old, Leonid Volkov, the foundation’s chief of staff, told a small group of reporters Tuesday night.
Volkov emphasized the need for more sanctions; but he also underscored the need for an off-ramp if Russian officials resign their positions, publicly condemn the war in Ukraine, or distance themselves from Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Punishment is the secondary goal of the sanctions, he said. The top goal is stopping the war.
The foundation’s list is already working, according to Volkov. Since it was published about three weeks ago, between 30 and 40 officials on it have contacted Volkov asking how to be removed. And some have already taken action, with a few people making public statements condemning the war while others have resigned their positions on the board of state-run companies.

On Capitol Hill today: Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is joined by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger as they testify on this year’s budget request before House Appropriators. That began at 10 a.m. ET. Livestream here.
There are nine other hearings and events scheduled for today that feature Pentagon officials—including keynotes from Deputy SecDef Kathleen Hicks, testimony on immigration and veterans, as well as missile defense and special operations. The Defense Department has more on all that, here.

Lastly today: Get a better grasp on the U.S. military’s burgeoning metaverse. WIRED has a new roundup of various Pentagon virtual- and augmented-reality projects.
Read more: War on the Rocks described the technology’s “full potential” for the Pentagon back in February; Breaking Defense discussed the topic in April; and Defense News just published an op-ed Wednesday warning about the allure of fancy new training tech.