Today's D Brief: Russia’s long war; Moscow threatens Lithuania; Stoltenberg in Paris; Iran plays chicken in the Hormuz Strait; And a bit more.
White House officials are bracing for a long war in which Russia refuses to give up parts of Ukraine that it’s invaded so far, “but neither side will gain full control of the region” as Western weapons continue to flow into Ukraine, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Latest: U.S. officials are increasingly looking to Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk oblast as a region Russia may struggle to occupy; the neighboring Luhansk oblast is already almost entirely under Russian occupation.
By the way: Ukraine says Russia wants to completely seize Luhansk by Sunday, June 26, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War relay in their Monday evening assessment.
However, Russia’s pace has slowed, possibly “signal[ing] a lack of infantry soldiers or extra caution by Moscow after it experienced supply line problems in its disastrous first weeks of the war,” the Times reports. Read over the latest Ukraine update from the British military, here.
Russia says two Americans captured in Ukraine aren’t protected by the Geneva Conventions because they are “soldiers of fortune,” according to remarks Monday from Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov, speaking to MSNBC.
New: Russia’s leaders just threatened Lithuanian officials after the EU member banned the movement of some consumer goods to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which the Soviets annexed from Germany in 1945, and is presently surrounded by Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north, and by the Baltic Sea to the west. The first items being blocked include steel and iron, according to Reuters.
Officials in Vilnius say they’re just following EU sanctions protocols after Russia illegally invaded Ukraine. Moscow’s Foreign Ministry didn’t like that justification, and warned Monday that “If cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation via Lithuania is not fully restored in the near future, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.”
Context: “The region relies heavily on rail transit via Lithuania,” the BBC reports. And the EU sanctions impact about 50% of Kaliningrad’s imports, according to its regional governor. Russia, for its part, stages its Baltic Sea Fleet at Kaliningrad, and “has previously deployed nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad region,” the BBC reminds us.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is visiting Paris today, where he met with President Emmanuel Macron ahead of this weekend’s G7 Leaders’ Summit in Germany—and ahead of next week’s alliance-wide summit in Madrid.
Why Paris? “France leads NATO’s new battlegroup in Romania,” and French forces are already staffing similar battlegroups in Estonia and Lithuania, NATO officials said Tuesday. “France has also deployed fighter jets for patrols over the eastern part of the alliance, while the Charles de Gaulle carrier group helps to secure the Mediterranean,” according to NATO.
America’s attorney general is in Ukraine discussing war crimes investigations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, the Wall Street Journal reports from Merrick Garland’s unannounced trip Tuesday to Kyiv. The two last met about a month and a half ago in Washington, the New York Times reports.
- “What Hundreds of Photos of Weapons Reveal About Russia’s Brutal War Strategy,” via the New York Times, reporting Sunday;
- “Airbus Calls on West to Avoid Sanctions on Russian Titanium,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- “Denmark to stall retirement of F-16s because of Putin’s ‘aggression,’” via the Washington Post, reporting Tuesday;
- “A Second American Has Died in Ukraine. He’s Unlikely to Be the Last,” via Rolling Stone, reporting Monday;
- And the Associated Press goes inside “Ukraine’s secret, deadly rescue missions” in a report published Tuesday from Kyiv.
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Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1940, Italy tried but eventually failed to invade France.
Three small Iranian navy boats tried to play chicken with the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet’s Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement with three supporting images of the offending vessels.
What happened: One of the boats—described by the U.S. as “fast inshore attack craft”—came close to a U.S. Navy coastal patrol vessel, the USS Sirocco, “head-on at a dangerously high speed and only altered course after the U.S. patrol coastal ship issued audible warning signals to avoid collision,” American Navy officials said. At least one of the Iranian attack boats “also came within 50 yards of the [Sirocco] during the interaction, and [its crew] responded by deploying a warning flare.” The Navy’s expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County accompanied the Sirocco in the Strait.
The whole exchange lasted about an hour, according to the U.S. Navy, which said its ships “continued their transit without further incident” on Monday. Tiny bit more, here.
Update: The U.S. still has nearly 45,000 Afghan refugee applications to sort through. And out of the more than 46,000 applications received so far, “most…remain unresolved,” CBS News reported Monday. To date, fewer than 5,000 have been “fully adjudicated,” and about 4,500 of those have been denied.
- “MoD processes only two of 3,000 refugee applications from Afghans since April,” via The (U.K.) Times, reporting Monday (subscription required).
- “After months in Minnesota, some Afghan refugees face threat of eviction,” via CBS news, reporting Saturday.
- “UN urged to impose travel ban on Taliban leadership over oppression of women,” via The Guardian, reporting Sunday.
- And “‘We are at risk’: Taliban tracking 200 Afghans they claim are Canadian spies,” via The Globe and Mail, reporting Monday.
Canada says it will spend about $39 billion to begin tracking Russian and Chinese activity in the arctic. The money is expected to be spent over the course of 20 years, with an estimated $3.8 billion set aside for the next six years, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday from Ottawa.
“The threat environment has changed,” Canada’s military chief Anita Anand said Monday, referring to Russia’s Ukraine invasion. “Canada can no longer rely on its geography to protect Canadians…This has required us to devise and develop this new chapter in continental defense,” she said.
Included in this upgrade plan: “new, advanced air-to-air missiles that can engage threats from short, medium, and long-ranges, and that will be compatible with Canada’s modern future fighter fleet,” Ottawa’s Armed Forces said in a statement Monday. They also plan to acquire new radio and satellite communications equipment, which would all add up to deliver “the most significant upgrade to Canadian NORAD capabilities in almost four decades,” the military said. AP has a bit more, here.
And lastly today: The future of U.S.-China relations is the focus of an event this morning at the International Spy Museum, in Washington, D.C. The Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy Mieke Eoyang will join that panel discussion, which is slated to begin at about 11 a.m. ET. RSVP required; details here.