Today's D Brief: Russia strikes Ukrainian mall; Moscow's missile escalation; US, Turkish strikes in Syria; Last Black Hawk order?; And a bit more.
Russian missile strikes hit a Ukrainian shopping mall at about 4 p.m., killing at least 18 people in the centrally-located city of Kremenchuk on Monday. “I didn't think they would hit a mall; it's a safe place,” one resident told the BBC. Watch video of the strike—and the varied responses from nearby civilians and their children—via several different surveillance cameras positioned around a nearby park and posted to social media on Monday evening, here.
G7 leaders called the strike an apparent “war crime,” and promised “Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a statement on day two of their three-day summit in southern Germany. Russia’s defense ministry denied that its missiles hit the mall, saying instead on Tuesday that the explosions there resulted from “detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons.” Ukraine's police countered by displaying "fragments of Russian X-22 cruise missiles found inside [the] shopping centre," The Guardian's Lorenzo Tondo reports.
Trendspotting: Russia seems to be burning through cruise missiles over the past several days, according to Ukraine’s top military officer, Lieutenant General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. “Four days ago, the enemy fired 53 cruise missiles from various platforms,” he said Tuesday morning on Facebook. “Three days ago, 26 missiles; two days ago, almost 40; and 12 in the last 24 hours.”
“We're not quite sure about the Russian objectives of the strikes,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday. “But it was more strikes over the last week than we had seen in recent weeks…It could be related to the G7. Certainly could be related to the Ukrainian movement of [long-range artillery systems known as] HIMARS in the theater, or it could be a larger portion of their long-term battle strategy here. I'm just not sure.”
Analysts say: “As Russian forces continue to burn through their supply of high-precision weaponry, such attacks [like the mall strike] that cause substantial collateral civilian damage will likely escalate,” according to the latest public assessment from the Institute for the Study of War.
Battlefield latest: “The most intense hostilities are conducted in the north of Luhansk and Kharkiv regions,” Zaluzhnyi said. “In this area, in the last 24 hours alone, the enemy carried out 270 artillery raids, using 45,000 rounds of ammunition, two missile [attacks], and 32 air strikes. The situation is very difficult but controlled,” he added, and asked for more weapons and ammunition from friendly nations. “I hope that, together with our partners, we will be able to overcome the aggressor and prevent the spread of this armed conflict to other countries,” he said Tuesday.
Zaluzhnyi also spoke with America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, as well as his British counterpart, Admiral Sir Antony David Radakin, on Monday evening. “I informed my American and British colleagues about the operational situation,” he said. “We have no right to hand over this war to our children. The enemy must be destroyed here and now, otherwise, it will not stop.”
Coverage continues below…
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Ukrainian forces seem to have attacked a Russian ammo depot about 10 miles west of Luhansk on Monday, according to video and imagery analysis shared on social media (here, e.g.). Maybe that was the result of a HIMARS strike; but it’s unclear just yet.
ICYMI: Russia’s military chief finally visited Ukraine for the first time since the invasion began. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov noted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s battlefield appearance over the weekend on Twitter, sharing video of the visit from Russian state media.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is flying to Spain today ahead of an alliance-wide NATO summit in Madrid, which begins Wednesday. Austin called up his Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian counterparts on Monday, the Pentagon announced in a short readout afterward.
Austin’s boss, President Joe Biden, is participating in the last day of the G7 leaders’ summit in Germany today. Later in the afternoon, he’ll fly to Madrid to join Austin for that NATO summit. The Associated Press has a preview interview with Spain’s prime minister, here.
What’s the outlook for Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO? Leaders of the two countries are set to meet their Turkish counterpart—since Turkey objects to expanding the alliance unless five conditions are met—during a meeting hosted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid this week. Turkish President Erdogan tossed a bit of cold water on that one with remarks Tuesday when he told reporters, “We do not want dry words, we want results. We are sick of passing the ball around in the mid-field. As of now, they are producing words.” Reuters has more context, here.
Get to better know 15 of Putin’s top propagandists via a who’s-who published Tuesday by Poland’s intelligence services. “Particularly active in this area are the hosts of political shows, broadcast with great frequency, who act on behalf of the Kremlin,” officials in Warsaw said. There are 10 men and five women on the list, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT television. More here.
- “Russia will soon exhaust its combat capabilities, Western assessments predict,” via the Washington Post, reporting Saturday;
- “G-7 leaders united behind Ukraine, aim at Kremlin oil money,” AP reports from Germany;
- “Russia to Bolster Border With Nuclear Weapons, Missiles if Sweden, Finland Join NATO,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday from Moscow;
- “Biden to announce extension of U.S. troop presence in Poland,” via NBC News, reporting Monday;
- “Russia publishes Pentagon coordinates, says Western satellites 'work for our enemy',” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday from Russian state-run media;
- And “On Front Lines, Communication Breakdowns Prove Costly for Ukraine,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday from Sloviansk.
The U.S. military says it killed an alleged al-Qaeda-linked leader in Syria on Monday. The man, Abu Hamzah al Yemeni, was the senior leader of “an al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist organization” called Hurras al-Din, according to U.S. Central Command. He was traveling alone at the time of the strike and there were no civilian casualties, CENTCOM said.
For what it’s worth: “Abu Hamza has been reported killed several times, most recently in Sept 2020 in a U.S. strike outside Binnish,” Middle East analyst Charles Lister tweeted Monday. “In the months since, it's emerged he faked his death—a practice used extensively and repeatedly by leading al-Qaeda figures in northwest Syria.” Lister has more to say about all this, here.
Also: Turkey’s president reportedly said again that he’ll launch a new military operation inside Syria soon, which is pretty much what President Recep Erdogan said on May 23 while protesting Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications.
- “EXPLAINER: What is behind Turkey’s Syria incursion threats?” via the Associated Press, reporting June 3;
- And “Turkish drone injures person in Syria’s Hasakah northern countryside,” via North Press Agency news, reporting Monday from northern Syria.
And lastly: U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth is speaking this morning at a Land Warfare Conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute in London. That’s slated for 11 a.m. ET. Details here.
Back in the United States, the Center for Strategic and International Studies is hosting an in-person and virtual event on national security and artificial intelligence that includes a panel discussion with the Pentagon’s deputy chief digital and AI officer, Margaret Palmieri, as well as the military’s AI assurance chief, Jane Pinelis. That begins at 4 p.m. Details and registration here.