The D Brief: Russian refinery hit; Ukrainian grain terminals attacked; Putin’s rock-bottom approval ratings; China’s Taiwan swarm; Suspicion in Syria; And a bit more.

Russian military strikes reportedly hit Ukrainian grain terminals in the port city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, just hours after alleged drones strikes hit a Russian oil refinery in the Rostov oblast, about five miles east of Ukraine, according to a video that surfaced online. Reuters has a bit more about the refinery, here.

About the grain terminals: They are owned by Canadian agribusiness Viterra and U.S. grain trader Bunge Ltd., and at least one person was injured in the attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal

Bigger picture: “Russia’s invasion has left about 18 million metric tons of grain stranded in Ukraine, heightening fears of a global food crisis after months in which the war has already driven up the cost of food world-wide,” the Journal writes. 

New: Global confidence in Vladimir Putin has plummeted to 20-year lows, according to new international polling data from the Pew Research Center published Wednesday. What’s more, “A median of just 9% have confidence in Putin to do the right thing in world affairs,” and “his already low ratings dropp[ed] over the past year in all countries where trends are available.” (Note: The survey did not ask questions related to the invasion of Ukraine.)

Unlike in the Trump era, even U.S. Republicans are growing cold toward Putin, “with overwhelming majorities of both Democrats and Republicans now lacking trust in the Russian president,” according to Pew’s findings.  

Opinions of NATO have improved in five of 11 member nations surveyed since last year—Germany, the UK, Poland, the U.S., and the Netherlands. Opinions appear to have largely stayed the same in four other nations—Belgium, France, Canada, and Spain—while perceptions of the alliance declined in Greece and Italy. Greece is the only alliance member where a majority of respondents (64%) view NATO negatively.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more Swedes are fond of NATO than ever recorded previously by Pew, which registered a 79% favorability rating for the alliance there. And another standout, Malaysia, is “an exception to the overall trend, as it is the only country surveyed where a majority expresses confidence” in Vladimir Putin. Otherwise, double-digit declines were found in all 17 other nations. Read over the full dataset (PDF) here.

Recommended reading:

From Defense One

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Cancel Russia’s UN Contracts // Orde Kittrie: Congress should insist that U.S. taxpayer dollars not fund UN procurement from Russia.

Leonardo DRS to Merge with Israeli Radar-Maker RADA // Marcus Weisgerber: The deal would beef up the air-defense offerings of the U.S. arm of the Italian company, and into the top 50 largest defense firms.

Biden to Ban Most Land Mines, Undoing Trump’s Loosened Restrictions // Jacqueline Feldscher: Advocates applauded the move, but urged a ban on the weapons on the Korean peninsula.

The Air & Space Brief: Refueling strategy in a China conflict; SBIRS to stay; $817B for DOD // Tara Copp 

Major Pentagon IT Projects Lack Plans to Secure Networks, Supply Chains: GAO // Lauren C. Williams: Watchdog also noted cost increases among most of the Defense Department's top 25 IT efforts.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1633, and at the height of Europe's “Thirty Years’ War” over religion, the Roman Catholic Inquisition forced astronomer Galileo to recant his documented assertion that planets revolve around the sun, which was a hypothesis first put forward by Copernicus about 100 years prior. Inquisition officials silenced Galileo’s heliocentrism and sentenced him to house arrest, where he died nine years later at the age of 77. Europe’s religious wars eventually ended in 1648, which helped usher in the “age of enlightenment” shortly afterward, vindicating Copernicus and Galileo in the process. 

China’s air force sent more than two dozen aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone Tuesday, a day after China sent only one aircraft into the same zone on Monday, according to the Defense Ministry in Taipei. Twenty-nine aircraft of nine different kinds participated in the drills Tuesday, which included 17 fighter jets, 6 bomber planes, and an anti-submarine aircraft. 

China conducts these seemingly antagonistic exercises nearly every day, but the last time so many participated was May 30, when 30 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone from the southwest before heading back to the mainland. The last drill of comparable size occurred on Jan. 23 when 39 different Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s ADIZ altogether, and from the southwest again, as is most common. 

U.S. State Department reax: “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure, and intimidation against Taiwan,” a spokesman told Focus Taiwan news agency on Tuesday. “We have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability,” the unnamed spokesman said. 

Speaking of economic pressure, China has already banned Taiwan’s pineapples and wax apples. Now it’s banning imports of Taiwanese grouper fish, “in an apparent attempt at turning the economic screws” on Taipei, the New York Times reported Wednesday from the island, which is about a week after the ban took effect. The ban is expected to cost about $50 million, which is about how much Taiwan earned from exporting the fish to China last year. Island officials told the Times they may file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Continue reading, here.

From the region: 

The U.S. military detained an airman believed to be linked to a bomb attack at an American base in Syria that wounded four service members on April 7. CNN’s Barbara Starr has been tracking this story for several weeks, and filed the latest update Tuesday. The New York Times reports the airman was an explosives expert. 

No identification is being released yet about the arrested airman; “It is too early in the process for a charge sheet,” a defense official told CNN. 

And lastly today: At least 1,000 people are dead and 1,600 more injured after a massive earthquake in southeast Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. The Afghan defense ministry is leading search and rescue efforts, but “wind and heavy rain [are] preventing helicopters from landing,” so casualties are expected to keep climbing, The New York Times reports from Kabul.  

The disaster is also a test for the Taliban government, AP reports, and the group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, asked for “the international community and all humanitarian organizations to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort to help the affected people.” Most international aid groups left the country when the Taliban took control in August, and millions of Afghans were already facing worsening hunger and poverty, even before the quake.