Today's D Brief: Russia progressing slowly in E. Ukraine; Incendiary use spreading?; US mulls long-range rockets; Iran's new ship; And a bit more.
Russia’s invading forces are “steadily” inching their way forward in eastern Ukraine, pummeling Kyiv’s troops with artillery, tank, and mortar strike after strike as they attempt to surround and sever supply lines to two cities, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. That’s according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, writing Thursday evening.
New: Russian-backed forces just took full control of the city of Lyman on Thursday, which the New York Times reports is the second “midsize” Ukrainian city to fall to Russia—with a prewar population of around 20,000 people. At least 10 other Ukrainians died Friday when a Russian missile hit a military facility in the centrally-located city of Dnipro, Agence France-Presse reports.
Russia has also dropped a terrifying rain of possible incendiary munitions, according to footage allegedly from Donbas on Thursday. A different slowly-descending mushroom cloud of incendiaries seems to have been deployed over Kharkiv this week as well. What are incendiaries? Human Rights Watch says they’re “among the cruelest weapons used in contemporary armed conflict…Individuals who survive an initial attack often experience organ failure, lowered resistance to disease, lifelong disability, muscle weakness, and psychological trauma.”
In a possible sign of desperation, Russia appears to be turning to 50-year-old T-62 tanks for its Ukraine invasion, the British military said Friday after imagery of the machines traveling by rail surfaced on social media this week. “The T-62s will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield highlights Russia's shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment,” the UK Ministry of Defence tweeted Friday morning.
On the other hand, Ukrainian volunteers are increasingly struggling with the intense realities of war, and several are allegedly deserting in fear over a perceived lack of support and low supplies. They said as much to the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan, reporting Thursday from a hotel in Ukraine’s east. Indeed, “Hours after The Post interviewed [two of these volunteers], members of Ukraine’s military security service arrived at their hotel and detained some of their men, accusing them of desertion.”
- Listen to the deafening sounds of the battlefield via this clip shared on social media Thursday.
The view from Oslo: “Our relationship with the current leadership in Russia will never be the same,” Norwegian deputy defense minister Bent-Joacim Bentzen said Thursday while standing beside his U.S. counterpart, Kathleen Hicks, on the American Navy ship USS Porter. “The invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security situation in both Europe and in Norway,” he said. “Events in one region are going to influence dynamics in the other, therefore we have to reassess how we look at Nordic defense and defense cooperation,” Bentzen said, referring to Sweden and Finland’s recent applications to join NATO alliance.
Will Norway send naval strike missiles to Ukraine? Bentzen wouldn’t confirm the status or possible direction of those talks, he told reporters Thursday.
“The reality is Ukraine is going to survive as a nation,” Hicks said. “It will have military means to protect itself, and we want to make sure as part of the community of democracies that we're there to support that.” Hicks later traveled to the UK, where she met with British Defense Minister Ben Wallace.
Developing: The U.S. could soon send Ukraine “advanced long-range rocket systems,” including HIMARS, CNN reported Thursday. “This is a big deal and it is a significant factor in whether Ukraine will be able to retake terrain from Russia over the summer,” said Russia-watcher Rob Lee. However, the longer range of these weapons is causing some U.S. officials to hesitate before transferring them to the Ukrainians. “One workaround could be to provide Ukraine with shorter-range rocket systems,” CNN writes; but it’s not clear what that might be just yet. Read more about those deliberations, here.
Bigger picture: The U.S. will keep sending weapons to Ukraine through the end of the calendar year, State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron in an interview Thursday that you can hear on our Defense One Radio podcast. “In terms of the resources we're providing Ukraine that Congress passed, the president signed this $40 billion package of assistance—about $20 billion of that is going to be insecurity assistance for the Ukrainians,” Chollet said. “And that will give us now a runway of at least till the end of the year, I would think in terms of resources to provide the Ukrainians; and now we're of course providing them evermore sophisticated systems. And so we do expect that their capabilities are going to only increase.
“And at the same time, the Russian military attriting quite rapidly,” he said. “I mean, they are burning through a lot of their capability. They're having a hard time restocking some of that capability. So our sense is that over time, the Ukrainian military is going to continue to get stronger; but the fight is going to remain quite tough.” Listen to that conversation in full, here.
- In video: The BBC on Thursday spoke with an indignant Russian woman whose sons were conscripted for the Ukraine invasion, and now she has no idea where they are.
New: The U.S. just seized a Russian ship carrying Iranian oil; and the contents are now headed stateside in a different vessel, Reuters reported Thursday from Greece. “It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian nexus,” Reuters reported, and noted, “Iran and Russia are facing separate U.S. sanctions.”
- “Sanctions confront Russian economy with crisis of consumer shortages,” via the Washington Post, reporting Thursday;
- “EU may clinch summit deal to embargo Russian oil shipments,” Reuters reports from Brussels;
- “Treasury to Study How Russians Could Use Hedge Funds, Private Equity to Evade Sanctions,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday;
- “Putin’s Powerful Orthodox Church Ally Helps Cement Russian Support for War,” also via the Journal, reporting Wednesday;
- And “How Does It End? Fissures Emerge Over What Constitutes Victory in Ukraine,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday.
From Defense One
Has Ukraine Broken the Russian Military? // Tara Copp: With thousands of troops dead, Russia seems desperate for new soldiers—allowing enlistees as old as 50, U.S. defense official says.
Why Are Spare Parts on the Unfunded List? Senator Asks Navy's Top Officer // Caitlin M. Kenney: Sailors are cannibalizing parts to keep equipment operational.
World Leaders Tout Self-Reliance Amid Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine // Jacqueline Feldscher: “Freedom is more important than free trade,” the NATO leader said at the conference.
Boeing’s F/A-18 Outshines Lockheed’s Flashy Hypersonic Jet in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ // Marcus Weisgerber: But can the Super Hornet’s star turn keep the production line open?
Finland, Sweden Would Contribute Militarily to NATO on ‘Day One,’ General Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: Alliance applicants would bring expertise in deterring Russia and advanced naval capabilities in the Baltic Sea.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1941, the British Navy sank the Nazi German battleship Bismarck about 300 miles west of France, in the North Atlantic.
Iran is working on a new ship for its navy, the Associated Press reported Friday, about a year after Tehran’s biggest warship mysteriously sank in the Gulf of Oman last June.
According to new satellite imagery, the vessel will be “a large, floating base from which to run the small fast boats that largely make up its fleet designed to counter the U.S. Navy and other allied forces in the region.” Read more, here.
Related reading: “Biden envoy makes the case for Iran nuclear deal as prospects fade,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
And lastly this week: Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequel has finally hit theaters nationwide. Don’t miss Defense One’s review this week from Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber.
Here are a few other headlines and coverage for the film:
- “‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Gets Rapturous Five-Minute Standing Ovation at Cannes, Crowd Raves for Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer,” via Variety, reporting last week;
- “[S]tudio paid U.S Navy more than $11,000 an hour for fighter jet rides—but Tom Cruise wasn’t allowed to touch the controls,” via Fortune, reporting Thursday;
- “Star Jon Hamm Talks Importance of Being Film’s Thorn in the Side,” via the Hollywood Reporter, writing Wednesday;
- “Still Top Gun? What Tom Cruise’s new movie tells us about American power,” via Financial Times, reporting Friday;
- “‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Loses Chinese Investor Due to Pro-U.S. Messaging,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Friday;
Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Tuesday!