Today's D Brief: Putin is sponsoring ‘terrorism’ in Ukraine, US lawmakers say; Former Japanese PM Abe assassinated; China’s new air incursion; Missile failure at Vandenberg; And a bit more.

Should the U.S. label Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism? Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Ukrainians in Kyiv on Thursday that he’ll attempt to bring that to a vote soon on Capitol Hill, two months after first introducing the resolution. Both Graham and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who co-sponsored that resolution in May, visited Ukraine this week and met with President Volodymir Zelenskyy on Thursday (photo here). 

Graham and Blumenthal say they’re expecting an insurgency to grow in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, the two lawmakers told Reuters. “Long-range artillery is very, very important. But so is the hand-to-hand insurgency that we are hoping to see in eastern Ukraine, in the territory that's already been occupied by the Russians,” Blumenthal said. 

Graham says the next 60 days could “turn the tide of this war in favor of Ukraine” if U.S. and allied weapons continue flowing to Ukrainian forces. Read more here.

Battlefield latest: Ukraine’s military says it blew up 12 Russian tanks and 5 armored personnel carriers Thursday using British-made NLAWs, U.S.-made Javelins, and Ukrainian artillery at an undisclosed location on the “eastern front lines.” For some context, Kyiv’s military separately said it destroyed 35 tanks overall on Thursday, which brings their alleged tally of Russian tanks destroyed to 1,637 over 135 days of war. (For a second opinion on those tank numbers, several collaborating open-source watchers most recently claim to have observed 848 Russian tanks that have been damaged, abandoned, or captured in the conflict to date.)

Russian artillery barrages resumed across multiple fronts Thursday, including around Kharkiv, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, and Bakhmut, as well as Zaporizhzhia, according to Ukraine’s armed forces. Russian forces are also newly “advancing in the direction of Veselaya Dolyna,” in the northeastern Sumy oblast, closer to Kharkiv; and Kyiv says Russian troops “led an offensive in the direction of Verkhnokamyansky [about six miles west of the occupied Luhansk city of Severodonetsk], with partial success” on Thursday. 

Putin’s UK ambassador says Putin's forces probably won’t ever leave southern Ukraine, he told Reuters Friday in London. “Of course it is difficult to predict the withdrawal of our forces from the southern part of Ukraine because we have already experience that after withdrawal, provocations start and all the people are being shot and all that,” Ambassador Andrei Kelin said. 

“Is escalation possible? Of course,” the ambassador said. “If the flow of weapons is organized in such a way that it endangers our strategic situation, our defense, we will have to take serious measures against that,” he said, and added, “If sanctions will continue to be imposed on Russia, we will make a big turn to China and the East.” Read the rest at Reuters, here

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is escalating his autocratic tough talk, claiming his troops “haven’t even started yet” in Ukraine, according to a speech delivered to parliament Thursday—and after Russia has already lost 25,000 troops, by some estimates, to its poorly-launched invasion. (One Ukrainian official said Friday the number of Russian troop losses is closer to 37,000.) “Everyone should know that, by and large, we haven't started anything yet in earnest,” Putin said, rejecting anyone who “want[s] to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say, let them try.” 

“At the same time, we don't reject peace talks,” said the aging leader who increasingly casts himself as a modern-day Peter the Great. “But those who reject [peace talks] should know that the further it goes, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us…The course of history is unstoppable, and attempts by the collective West to enforce its version of the global order are doomed to fail,” said Vladimir the underpants poisoner on Thursday.  

For the record: Ukraine’s conditions for peace talks include a nationwide ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Russian-backed forces, presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Sunday. But that’s not all for Kyiv, which also demands the return of “kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. [Ukrainian] sovereign rights recognition,” Podolyak wrote in his tweet, and punctuated it with, “The Russian side knows our conditions well.” The Associated Press has a bit more, here.

Additional coverage: 

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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. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1709, and after Europe’s harshest winter in 500 years, Sweden suddenly lost its status as a European great power when the army of Russia’s Peter the Great defeated a decimated Swedish force at the Battle of Poltava, in contemporary central Ukraine. 

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday by a Japanese military veteran apparently using a handmade weapon similar to a sawed-off shotgun (see here and here, e.g.). Abe was the country’s longest-serving leader, and he stepped down for health reasons in 2020.
Review some of the high points of Abe’s legacy in a helpful Twitter thread from Robert Ward of the Institute for Strategic Studies, here. Abe was campaigning ahead of elections this weekend when he was shot in the back while delivering a speech at about 11:30 a.m. local time in the city of Nara.
“Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday. “This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” he said. “As vice president, I visited him in Tokyo and welcomed him to Washington. He was a champion of the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people…his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure.”
BTW: Biden is visiting CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., this afternoon. There he plans to “deliver remarks to thank the workforce and commemorate the Agency’s achievements over the 75 years since its founding,” according to the White House. 

Taiwan says Chinese jets intruded deeper than normal while flying close to the island in airspace over the Taiwan Strait, Reuters reported Friday from Taipei. And this particular intrusion followed an apparent weeklong lapse (30 June through 6 July) in what have often been daily Chinese air force drills.
New here: The Chinese aircraft “intentionally crossed the median line of the strait in a provocative move” that uncharacteristically began from the island’s northwest, Taiwan’s defense ministry told Reuters, which described the line as “an unofficial buffer between China and Taiwan, and normally military aircraft stick to their respective sides.” The last time Chinese jets crossed it was in 2020 during a visit from U.S. officials. And this time it happened during a visit from Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, who spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen.
According to Sen. Scott, “the world has changed” after Putin’s Ukraine invasion. “We all have to put ourselves in a position that we can make sure we defend the freedom we all believe in,” he told reporters Friday.
China’s reax: “The Chinese People's Liberation Army is ready for war at all times, and will take all necessary measures to resolutely thwart the interference of external forces and the secessionist attempts of ‘Taiwan independence,’” said a spokesman for Beijing’s military, Wu Qian.
From the region:North Korean streets flooded as heavy rains exacerbate economic crisis,” Reuters reported Friday from neighboring Seoul.

The U.S. military suffered another missile test failure this week when a Minotaur II+ rocket exploded just after takeoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California late Wednesday evening. The test was the first of a “key component of America’s future land-based nuclear missiles,” Air Force Times’ Rachel Cohen writes. “The practice missile was carrying a Mark 21A reentry vehicle, or the part of a nuclear weapon that would hold a real warhead.”
Rocket debris fell on the launch pad area and started a fire, but no one was hurt and there was no danger to the rest of the base, local KEYT reported Thursday morning.
There are two more launches scheduled at Vandenberg over the weekend, according to the local Santa Maria Times, reporting Thursday as well.
Related reading:US Hypersonic Missile Fails in Test in Fresh Setback for Program,” Bloomberg reported June 29 from a test that day off the coast of Hawaii. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!