Today's D Brief: Zelenskyy calls Russian strikes ‘terrorism’ in central Ukraine; AI drones and 1950s tank grenades; Bunkers on the move; USN in South China Sea; And a bit more.
Nearly two dozen Ukrainians were killed in alleged Russian cruise missile strikes in the central region of Vinnytsya, south of Kyiv, on Thursday. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi told reporters that 21 people were killed in the alleged submarine-launched missile attacks, including three children, and another 91 were wounded. Here’s video of the immediate aftermath, shared on Twitter Thursday morning.
“This is terrorism, [the] deliberate murder of civilians to spread fear,” Zelenskyy’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted Thursday, adding, “Russia is a terrorist state and must be legally recognized as such.”
America’s top military officer rang his Ukrainian counterpart Wednesday evening. Kyiv’s Gen. Valery Zaluzhny says he highlighted Vladimir Putin’s “main effort” of invading forces “in the north of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, trying to push us out of our positions.”
Zaluzhny also said Ukraine has “manage[d] to repel massive enemy attacks” at several different locations around west-central Luhansk, including Izium-Slovyansk, Sviatohirsk-Slovyansk, Lysychansk-Soledar, Lysychansk-Siversk, and Popasna-Soledar. “I emphasized that the Ukrainian side is clearly aware of the responsibility for each weapon and will not allow it to fall into the hands of terrorists,” Zaluzhny said of his chat with Joint Chiefs Chairman U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley.
BTW: The two are last known to have spoken on July 1, and they’ve spoken at least 19 times to date since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February—three calls in March; six in April; five in May; three in June; and twice so far in July.
More below the fold…
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Welcome to this Thursday 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 1957, 31-year-old Egyptian military captain and nurse Rawya Ateya became the first female parliamentarian in Cairo’s National Assembly, and in the wider Arab world.
Russian jets are striking northern and central positions across Donetsk oblast, which is just west of the recently-occupied Luhansk oblast, Ukraine’s military says in its latest battlefield update. Russian forces appear to be trying several different probing offensives westward around Donetsk—for example, “in the direction of Verkhnokamyanske,” and toward Kodema and Vershyna, Ukraine says. Some of those are having “partial success” (around Kamyanka, e.g.); others (in southern Kharkiv, just north of Donetsk) have led to a retreat of Russian-backed forces.
Ukraine says Russian troops are running out of food in some occupied territories, though it’s unclear precisely where. Kyiv’s military also alleges “the staffing level of platoon commanders in the units of the 2nd Combined Arms Army of the Central Military District remains low,” and says this is because of “significant losses and refusal to participate in hostilities on the territory of Ukraine.” (It’s worth noting that we are unable to verify Kyiv’s allegations, though they have proven themselves to be far more credible than Russian officials.)
Remember that recent White House claim Russia wants Iranian drones? Other Iranian weapons appear to already be in Ukraine, according to the Ukraine Weapons Tracker team, writing on Twitter Wednesday. That includes the Iranian-made HM-16 mortar system.
Ukrainian developers are allegedly using AI to find and geotag camouflaged Russian equipment with off-the-shelf drones that have been refitted to drop 1950s-era tank grenades sporting 3D-printed tail fins. That’s according to some intriguing new reporting from journalist Marcin Wyrwał, whose work was flagged (and further explained) on Twitter Wednesday by drone researcher Chris Owen.
Russia appears to be reinforcing its western front with circular concrete bunkers, driven to the battlefield in the beds of military trucks like these photographed recently on Ukraine’s highways and posted to social media. The Economist’s Oliver Carroll said he’s seen similar ones already throughout the conflict zone; he elaborated slightly on Twitter here.
Today in Russian allegations: Moscow’s state-run media is trying to link U.S. intelligence to alleged artillery strikes on civilians in eastern Ukraine, according to TASS on Thursday, without any supporting evidence. Russia also claims to have destroyed “an artillery platoon of US-made M777 howitzers…in the Kharkov Region,” according to a separate report Thursday from TASS.
New: Russia wants to annex Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporozhye oblast by “early Autumn.” That’s when it plans to hold a referendum since Kremlin officials insisted Thursday that Ukrainians living there presently “want to become a territorial entity within Russia,” according to TASS once again, quoting Yevgeny Balitsky, “the head of the region’s military-civilian administration.” (In case you’re curious, autumn begins in about 10 weeks.)
For the record: The U.S. is ranked #11 in terms of support to Ukraine, by share of donor nations’ GDP, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (with data current as of July 1). In descending order, the top 10 include Estonia at the top, followed by Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Greece, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Portugal, and Denmark.
Italy’s military chief is at the Pentagon this morning. Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini dropped by at 10:30 a.m. ET for a chat with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and company. Austin met with his Dutch and Australian counterparts at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
- “Forty-five nations pledge to coordinate evidence of war crimes in Ukraine,” Reuters reports Thursday via The Hague;
- “Russia’s War Against Ukraine Has Turned Into Terrorism,” via historian Anne Applebaum, writing Wednesday in The Atlantic;
- “Russia jails opposition figure for criticizing its military,” via the Associated Press, reporting Wednesday on a man named Ilya Yashin;
- And “Bayraktar TB2 Drones Sales from Turkey Growing Despite Western Laws,” Propublica reported Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy just sailed through the South China Sea, passing by the Paracel Islands for the second time this year, officials from 7th Fleet announced Wednesday.
China’s navy quickly complained the U.S. had entered its “territorial waters,” according to CNN. But 7th Fleet officials called China’s characterization “false” and just “the latest in a long string of [People’s Republic of China] actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”
“The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here,” U.S. Navy officials said. “Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”
From the region:
- “Kamala Harris announces 2 new U.S. embassies [Tonga and Kiribati] in major Pacific push,” AP reported Wednesday, traveling with Harris to Fiji;
- “Pacific Nations Reproach China for Its Push to Extend Regional Sway,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from Australia;
- “China Set to Post the Slowest Growth in Two Years on Zero-Covid Policy,” the Journal reported separately Thursday from Singapore;
- And “China’s Surveillance State Hits Rare Resistance From Its Own Subjects,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday.
Lastly: Some closure on “One of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.” On Wednesday, a federal jury in Manhattan convicted a former CIA employee on nine criminal counts, including illegally sharing national security information. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams is the one quoted in the bolded line above; and he said the former agency employee, 33-year-old Joshua Schulte, acted on a grudge against the CIA when he turned over hacking tools to Wikileaks that have since been referred to as the “Vault 7” leak back in 2017. Now he could face as many as 80 years in prison for the combined charges, according to Courtroom News. The New Yorker profiled Schulte, who is also facing child pornography charges, just a month ago; find that #LongRead, here.