Today's D Brief: Russia presses offensive in E. Ukraine; Kyiv vs. Kissinger; Cavoli's confirmation; US rejects Afghans in Kosovo; And a bit more.
For Ukraine, giving the invading Russians any territory in exchange for peace is simply out of the question. “Children are dying here, soldiers are stopping shrapnel with their own bodies, and they’re telling us to sacrifice territory. It will never happen,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych on Wednesday.
The suggestion was floated this week in Davos by 98-year-old former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. “In my view, movement towards negotiations and negotiations on peace need to begin in the next two months so that the outcome of the war should be outlined,” Kissinger said Monday. “Ideally, the dividing line should return the status quo ante.”
“I get the sense that instead of the year 2022, Mr. Kissinger has 1938 on his calendar, and that he thought he was addressing an audience not in Davos, but in erstwhile Munich,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Wednesday evening in a video address. A Ukrainian parliamentarian said much the same thing Tuesday morning. “It's a pity that the former US Secretary of State believes that giving up on part of the sovereign territory is a way to peace for any country!” Inna Sovsun tweeted, and added, “Truly shameful!”
But it’s not just Ukraine’s leaders who feel this way. “A poll released Tuesday by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology showed that 82 percent of Ukrainians say they don’t want to give up territory to Russia,” the New York Times reported this week.
Germany’s chancellor seemed to agree on Thursday. “Putin must not win his war, and I am convinced he will not win,” said Olaf Scholz in Davos. “There will be no dictated peace,” he added. “Ukraine will not accept this, and neither will we.”
Coverage continues below...
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‘Collaborative, Portable Autonomy’ Is the Future of AI for Special Operations // Patrick Tucker: Creating autonomous teams in contested environments will be a challenge of technology—and policy.
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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 1908, a team of engineers working for financially-distressed British businessman William Knox D'Arcy drilled about 1,200 feet into the ground in western Iran, and at about four in the morning, struck a major source of oil for the first time in the history of the Middle East. That strike almost instantly changed D'Arcy's fortunes, whose company would later become British Petroleum; and it dramatically changed the next century for virtually every kingdom in the Middle East.
The latest Ukrainian battlefield assessment: Encirclement efforts by Russian forces continue around two eastern cities in Luhansk, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk, which are linked by a river. But those operations don’t seem to be “well synchronized in time and space with an impending direct Russian assault on Severdonetsk,” according to the Institute for the Study of War. Those cities may not be cut for “several days” yet, and Ukrainian troops presumably isolated there—should the encirclement be successful—could hold out for at least a few days afterward, ISW warns.
“The fighting has reached its maximum intensity,” said Ganna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, on Thursday. “Enemy forces are storming the positions of our troops simultaneously in several directions. We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us.”
An attack on Severodonetsk could happen as soon as Sunday, since Russia reportedly sent 10,000 new troops nearby. “Russian forces have also reportedly reached mortar range of Severodonetsk,” according to ISW. Reuters has been traveling with Russian troops over the past several days, and you can read over the latest dispatch, here.
Russia has also renewed attacks on Kharkiv today, the city’s governor said Thursday on Telegram. “The city restarted its metro service on Tuesday and asked the hundreds of people who had used the underground as a bomb shelter to free up the train carriages,” Reuters reports separately from Kharkiv. The Associated Press sends this one-minute video report from Kharkiv.
For Putin’s domestic agenda, “Russian psychologists have already noticed a precipitous increase in patients suffering from chronic anxiety, depression, and panic attacks,” writes Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, in Foreign Affairs on Thursday. “Increasingly frequent clashes with reality are starting to force Russians out of the comfort zone of Putin’s propaganda,” he argues in an essay entitled, “Putin Against History.”
New: NATO’s likely new military commander just finished testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing that’s expected to send Army Gen. Chris Cavoli to a different office in Germany, where he’ll serve as America’s next Supreme Allied Commander of European forces. He’s been serving as commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa since October 2020. His hearing began at 9:30 a.m. ET. (Video link here.)
Cavoli would replace U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, who assumed the posting in May 2019. Cavoli was educated at Princeton and Yale, and speaks Russian, French, and Italian. And he’s also served as Russia director on the Joint Staff.
“If confirmed, you will take command in the midst of the greatest test of the NATO alliance since World War II,” said SASC Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., in his opening remarks. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “drastically altered the European security landscape,” Reed said. However, “Unlike the threat from Russia—for which there is little disagreement among our European partners as to the size and scope of the issue—our allies have a range of views on the challenges posed by China.” Watch the livestream to catch Cavoli’s response to those and other concerns from lawmakers, here.
- “Russia’s Economy Is Tanking—but the Ruble Is Soaring,” via the Wall Street Journal with a quietly ominous economics explainer;
- “Russia slams sanctions, seeks to shift blame for food crisis,” via the Associated Press, reporting Thursday from Kyiv.
Lastly: The U.S. has rejected entry to 16 Afghans who evacuated their country when the Taliban took over last August. Axios first reported these probable rejections at the U.S. military’s holdover base in Kosovo nearly two weeks ago; the Wall Street Journal updated that with the 16 likely rejections on Tuesday. Stars and Stripes followed that up Thursday with reporting that those 16 have indeed “been deemed ineligible to enter the U.S.”
About 70 Afghans refugees are still at Kosovo’s Camp Bondsteel, which is down from about 200 there at the start of the year. “Many relocated to the United States, while some left after applying for asylum in other countries,” Stars and Stripes reports.
For the record: By the end of March, “Approximately 2,800 Afghans remained at facilities in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar,” according to a recent Defense Department inspector general report. “Future arrivals to the United States will be processed through a non-DOD facility operated by the Department of Homeland Security,” the authors added. Read more, here.