Today's D Brief: Putin’s re-expanding war aims; More HIMARS to Ukraine; Abe’s ‘unfinished legacy’; WH mulls new Saudi arms sales; And a bit more.
Russian military strikes are gradually widening across Ukraine’s Donetsk region as Moscow’s invading forces continue to flatten and prepare to occupy more land. It’s day 138 of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion, and his patchwork of soldiers are temporarily exhausted, but their officers show no signs of stopping the wider war anytime soon. Indeed, Putin just signed a decree on Monday fast-tracking Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians, not just those living in currently occupied lands like the Luhansk oblast and the Crimean peninsula, according to Russian state-run media TASS.
New: The Pentagon is sending Ukraine another four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, along with a few tactical vehicles, a thousand rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition, “demolition munitions,” counter-battery systems, and more. The Defense Department announced the new transfers in a statement Friday, which put the cost of the items at about $400 million—and that brings the total costs of all transfers during the Biden administration to about $8 billion.
The M142 HIMARS have been a “game changer,” Ukraine’s military chief, Oleksei Reznikov told the Wall Street Journal Sunday in Kyiv. But: “We need more. We need it quickly” because “the war is grim,” he told the Journal’s Vivian Salama.
Disinfo watch: “I know there's been some Russian reports that they have destroyed Ukrainian HIMARS systems; [but] that is not correct,” a Pentagon official said Friday. “And the ones that have already been provided are fully accounted for, the Ukrainians are still using them in the fight.” With this latest addition, the U.S. will have sent a dozen HIMARS to Kyiv’s forces; eight are already in-country.
About the incoming U.S. artillery ammo: It’s an improved kind that’s headed to Ukraine, a Pentagon official told reporters Friday. “It has greater precision” and “will save ammunition,” the official said, “so it's a further evolution in our support for Ukraine in this battle in [eastern Ukraine’s] Donbass” region. (These could be Excalibur rounds. Former U.S. Navy explosives technician John Ismay of the New York Times asked U.S. officials about it, but they declined to say.)
The Pentagon’s message to Moscow: “If the Russians think they can outlast the Ukrainians, they need to rethink that,” a defense official said Friday, “because this effort—we are already pivoting towards thinking about what the Ukrainians will need in the months and years ahead.” Another Pentagon official told reporters the flow of U.S. arms to Ukraine “is a steady drumbeat now and it is a long-term commitment…So we'll be ready for whatever the experts tell us is required for the battlefield. And if there is a peak or an ebb or flow I'm sure we'll work that in.”
A bit more below the fold…
From Defense One
US Sending More HIMARS to Ukraine // Tara Copp: Pentagon says latest $400M aid package includes precision rounds to “save ammo;” Russia may have paused to reset after tough Luhansk fight.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Shipyards need thousands of workers; Chinese company buys land near U.S. drone base; Boeing delivers 150th P-8; and more.
US Lawmakers Want to Give India a Pass For Buying Russian Missiles // Marcus Weisgerber and Jacqueline Feldscher: American officials have been urging allies to give up Russian-made weapons in favor of western arms.
Abe’s Unfinished Legacy: Leading Japan and its Military to Confront Modern Threats // Tara Copp: The assassinated former prime minister was still working to guide Japan out of post-war pacifism and into a more global stance with counter-strike capabilities to deter China.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. 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 1405, China’s Ming era admiral Zheng He led his first of what would become several major expeditions to explore, trade, and extract taxes from outlying regions extending as far as East Africa—and in ships estimated to be at least four times larger than those used by Christopher Columbus.
Pentagon officials say they assume Russia’s military plans to subjugate all of Ukraine. That assumption was reconfirmed just a few short days after Russian officials indicated the same, as we explained in the top of last Wednesday’s newsletter. “The specific military objectives were—as I said at the outset—to move to Kyiv, to overthrow the government and control it,” the U.S. defense official said Friday. “I think the objective remains the same, which is to prevent the existence of a sovereign, independent Ukraine. It's just the specific military objectives have shifted as they failed in that initial take on it and you know, I don't think those political objectives have changed; it’s the military means or operations have.”
Update: Russia is jamming the heck out of drones that the U.S. and allies have sent Ukraine, Defense Minister Reznikov said in that interview with the Journal. But overall, the war has settled into the long-range artillery that observers and U.S. officials predicted moving into the summer. Cities closer to Russia, like Kharkiv and Izyum, e.g., are getting hit particularly hard by Russian rockets and artillery. “Our antimissile systems can fight with their ballistic and cruise missiles—it’s not 100% but we can get them,” Reznikov said. “But we cannot close the sky against their MLRSs,” he added. A separate strike Saturday in the Donetsk city of Chasiv Yar has killed at least 24 people so far, according to Ukrainian officials. Carlotta Gall of the New York Times has more, reporting on location, here; Reuters has still more, here.
Otherwise, a “theater-wide operational pause” remains in effect for Russia, which means artillery and long-range strikes are still taking place, but ground offensives appear to have temporarily stopped, according to the analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, writing Sunday evening. Meanwhile, “Russian military leadership continues to form ad hoc volunteer units and private military company combat organizations partly comprised of older men and criminals to support operations in Ukraine,” which underscores some of the broader personnel problems outsiders have assumed Moscow is working through.
About Putin’s personnel crunch: “[T]he Kremlin is relying on a combination of impoverished ethnic minorities, Ukrainians from the separatist territories, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units to fight the war, and promising hefty cash incentives for volunteers,” Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times reported this weekend, leaning into the work of independent Russian analyst Kamil Galeev.
The British military elaborated slightly in its latest battlefield update Monday morning, which emphasized that the apparent “lack of scheduled breaks from intense combat conditions is highly likely one of the most damaging of the many personnel issues the Russian [military] is struggling to rectify amongst the deployed force.”
- “Russia’s replacement for McDonald’s says it’ll be out of fries for months,” the New York Times reported Monday;
- “Ukraine’s Herculean Task: Helping Millions Whose Homes Are in Ruins or Russia’s Hands,” also via the Times, reporting Thursday;
- “Ukraine War Fuels Widening Global Hunger,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday from Somalia;
- “Ukrainian soldiers train in UK as war with Russia rages on,” AP reported Sunday from London;
- “Explainer: What happens if Germany's Russian gas flows stop,” via Reuters, concerning some of the top concerns related to a recent 10-day maintenance effort for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline; the BBC has more, here;
- “Russian air defense systems capable of wiping out US Harpoon missiles, expert says,” via Russian state-run media TASS;
- “Ukrainian artillery outnumbered eight to one by Russia- foreign legion,” Reuters reported Monday from Kyiv;
- And “Ukrainian teen says Russian troops held him for 3 months, made him clean prison ‘torture room,’” via CBS News, reporting Monday morning from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Lastly today: The White House is considering selling lethal arms to the Saudis once again, Reuters reported Monday ahead of President Biden’s trip to the Middle East this week, including stops in Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Biden campaigned, in part, on just the opposite two years ago. But Russia’s Ukraine invasion has altered that initial calculus, as fuel prices have soared to record levels since March. “Saudi Arabia also won White House praise for agreeing in early June on a two-month extension of a U.N.-brokered truce in Yemen, scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Reuters notes.
Some of the items on Biden’s agenda include that seven-year-old Yemen war, as well as infrastructure and climate-related programs, “deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security,” according to a White House preview.