Today's D Brief: HIMARS arrive in Ukraine; Russian forces advance near Severodonetsk; Turkey’s fine line; Estonian PM’s warning; And a bit more.

It’s day 120 of Russia’s invasion of democratic Ukraine, and U.S.-made HIMARS long-range artillery units have finally arrived, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted Thursday morning. “Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them,” Reznikov wrote of the weapons, which have a range of 48 miles. 

On the battlefield: Russian forces are gradually advancing toward the river separating Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine’s east. Nearly all of the eastern Luhansk Oblast is under Russian occupation, and Moscow’s forces are still attempting to steamroll their way westward following wave after wave of intense artillery bombardment. “Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” the British military said Thursday. Russian-backed troops recently captured two villages near Severodonetsk—in Loskutivka and Ray-Oleksandrivka—and they appear to be preparing to cross the Siversky Donets River soon, according to the Ukrainian military’s latest public assessment. 

Ukraine and Russia have escalated missile strikes in and around the Black Sea, including attacks on occupying Russian elements on Ukraine’s Snake Island, as well as “a former natural-gas rig” upon which Russia had allegedly fixed jammers, according to the New York Times, reporting Wednesday. 

Lithuania’s leaders are heated over Russia’s “lie” about a blockade of Kaliningrad, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said in a rare statement Wednesday from Vilnius. The allegation from Moscow follows the implementation of European Union sanctions resulting from Vladimir Putin’s invasion nearly four months ago. Those “sanctions were agreed by all the EU member states on March 15,” Šimonytė said Wednesday. And after a three-month transitional period, the first of those—affecting steel and ferrous metals—went into effect this past weekend, beginning June 17. But in the bigger picture, “Steel and ferrous metal products account for only around 1% of the total rail freight to Kaliningrad via Lithuania,” Šimonytė explained. 

“All the other goods necessary for people living in the Kaliningrad Oblast—food, pharmaceuticals, etc.—are being transported,” she said. And just in case there was any question, “Passenger transit is also taking place, under a special agreement by the EU, Russia, and Lithuania,” Šimonytė said. The BBC has more about this stink caused entirely by the Kremlin’s invasion, here.

Coverage continues below…

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What Lessons Can We Learn From Russia’s War on Ukraine? // Gregory D. Foster: Better to learn now than to doom ourselves to repeat history.

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. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1942, Nazi Luftwaffe pilot Armin Faber had gotten disoriented during an air-to-air battle around the English Channel and headed north instead of south before landing his newly-issued Focke-Wulf 190 in what he thought was a Nazi-occupied air strip in France. It was in fact a British training site known as RAF Pembrey. As his aircraft slowed on the tarmac, the Brits leapt on his plane and took him prisoner at gunpoint. The Allies later conducted dozens of secretive tests on the captured aircraft, and sent Faber to prison in Canada. 

Estonia’s PM warns Putin doesn’t seem to want to stop his invasion anytime soon, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told the Associated Press in an interview published Thursday. “They have plenty of troops still who can come. They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don’t think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up,” Kallas said from Tallinn. 

“So far, it has been a negative surprise to Putin that we are still united,” she said, referring to the sanctions regime EU and G7 members have implemented to punish Moscow. “For us, it is important to not make that mistake again like we did in Crimea, Donbas, Georgia. We have done the same mistake already three times,” she said. “The only thing that Putin hears from this is that ‘I can do this because no punishment will follow.’” Read the full interview, here.

Meanwhile back stateside: “I’m doing everything I can to blunt the Putin Price Hike and bring down the cost of gas and food,” President Joe Biden tweeted Wednesday, referring to the rising cost of life in America and around the globe in the face of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. “I led the world to coordinate the largest release from global oil reserves in history, and I’m working to get 20 million tons of grain out of Ukraine to help bring down prices,” Biden said. 

“Since the start of the war in Ukraine this year, gas prices have risen by almost $2 a gallon in the United States, and sometimes more, around the world,” Biden said Wednesday. “But it wasn’t just Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It was the refusal of the United States and the rest of the free world to let Putin get away with something we haven’t seen since World War Two.”

Why it matters: “We could have turned a blind eye to Putin’s murderous ways, and the price of gas wouldn’t have spiked the way it has,” Biden said. But, he warned, “If we did stand by, Putin wouldn’t have stopped. Putin would’ve kept going, and we’d face an even steeper price.” 

Turning to the GOP, Biden asked, “For all those Republicans in Congress criticizing me today for high gas prices in America, are you now saying we were wrong to support Ukraine? Are you saying we were wrong to stand up to Putin? Are you saying that we would rather have lower gas prices in America and Putin’s iron fist in Europe? I don’t believe that,” the president said. 

And when it comes to short-term solutions, the president emphasized a three-month pause on federal and state gas and diesel taxes that White House officials have begun emphasizing. “Together, these actions could help drop the price at the pump by up to $1 a gallon or more,” Biden said Wednesday. “It doesn’t reduce all of the pain, but it would be a big help.” (The New York Times has more on how this idea was put into effect in Georgia just three months ago, and it’s a popular idea with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, among others; however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he isn’t enthused about it at all. The Wall Street Journal has more on the anticipated savings, here; AP has nonpaywalled coverage, here.)

Turkish officials are growing increasingly wary of publicly arming Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Ankara. Turkey’s indirect involvement has been particularly instrumental so far thanks to sales of its Bayraktar TB-2 drones. But its alleged recent purchase of grain from Russian ships has irked officials in Kyiv, who say that grain was stolen from Ukraine. “It is technically very difficult to determine the geographic origin of grain,” Turkish officials said in their defense. Read on, here. Reuters has more on the grain theft allegations, here.

Update: The drone flown Wednesday just before a refinery explosion in Russia may have been a Chinese-made Mugin-5 Pro, according to a few open-source researchers in Samuel Bendett’s Twitter feed. 

New: One of those dog-like robots is headed to Kyiv to help “remove mortar shells and cluster munitions,” Foreign Policy reported Wednesday. The robot is more commonly known as “Spot,” and it’s essentially the same model from Boston Dynamics that we’ve seen periodically for several years now (like this clip in Singapore from 2020, for example). The U.S. Army reportedly donated this one to a group called HALO Trust. The idea is to use a robotic arm to drag unexploded munitions to a safer location for dismantling. Read more, here.

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