Today's D Brief: New post-strike analysis over Crimea; Sweden extradites Turkish man; Latvian PMs call out Russia; And a bit more.
We now have a much clearer picture of the destruction at a Russian airbase in occupied Ukrainian Crimea on Tuesday. Commercial satellite imaging firms like Planet Labs (at the BBC, e.g.) and Maxar (here) have released post-strike imagery over the past 48 hours, and what they reveal is pretty stunning—particularly when viewing Maxar’s before and after collection.
At least two big questions remain: What weapons or personnel were responsible for this kind of damage? And why were Russia’s sophisticated air defenses apparently not up to the task that fateful day? For Ukraine’s part, officials told the Washington Post Wednesday that their special forces were involved in the attack, but precisely how remains unclear.
Despite persistent public denials that the incident was anything more than an unfortunate accident, “Russian forces at the airbase likely know by now what happened but may not yet understand how or from exactly where Ukrainian forces conducted the attack,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their Wednesday evening assessment. Ukraine forces may have modified existing weapon systems for the Crimea strike, ISW says, but admits it is still very much an open question.
On the less noisy side of Russia’s illegal occupation, ongoing “forced passportization, ruble-ization, ‘filtration,’ and other ‘integration’ measures already underway in Russian-occupied areas are far more important and damaging to Ukraine” than holding referenda votes on whether or not to join the Russian state, effectively annexing oblasts like Zaporizhia and Donetsk, according to ISW.
ICYMI: Russia recently launched an Iranian satellite into orbit, which may have been a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Moscow since U.S. officials now think Russian troops have been receiving drone training from Iranian officials for the last several weeks, according to CNN, reporting Tuesday.
In a new first, Swedish officials have agreed to extradite a wanted Turkish man that officials in Ankara are seeking on allegations of bank card fraud, Reuters reported Thursday from Stockholm. “A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice declined to say if the man was on the list of people Turkey has demanded to have extradited” in order to get Ankara’s initial approval to allow Sweden and Finland to join the 30-nation NATO alliance. The man, reportedly in his 30s, is already facing a 14-year prison term in Turkey, according to Swedish broadcaster SVT.
“Our [NATO] alliance is closer than ever,” U.S. President Joe Biden said just before signing ratification documents from the Senate approving Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids on Tuesday. “It is more united than ever. And when Finland and Sweden bring the number of Allies to 32, we’ll be stronger than ever. And this will benefit all our people.”
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin dropped by Latvia this week. While there, he visited the Lielvarde Air Base, where he spoke to forward-deployed U.S. troops, according to a Pentagon readout. Lita Baldor of the Associated Press has more from that trip, here.
New: Latvia’s parliament just unanimously declared Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and asked allied nations to do the same, Agence France-Presse reports. Vladimir Putin’s invading forces use “suffering and intimidation as tools in its attempts to demoralize the Ukrainian people and armed forces and paralyze the functioning of the state in order to occupy Ukraine,” the parliamentarians wrote. Russia’s foreign ministry responded by calling the declaration “primal xenophobia,” and that, “It is necessary to call the ideologues nothing but neo-Nazis.”
- “Estonia bars entry to Russian citizens with Estonian-issued visas,” via Estonian Public Broadcasting, reporting Thursday from Tallinn on a policy set to be enforced beginning 18 August; by the way, not every Russia-watcher is enthused by the notion of banning Russian tourists in Europe, as Mark Galeotti tweeted Thursday in response to similar sentiment from Anna Arutunyan;
- “Big Mac is coming back: McDonald’s to reopen in Ukraine,” via AP, reporting Thursday;
- And “In My Homeland, the Smell of Death on a Summer Afternoon,” via Ukrainian reporter Natalia Yermak, writing for the New York Times on Monday from the eastern city of Lysychansk.
From Defense One
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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. 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 1972, the U.S. military’s last ground combat unit—the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment—departed Vietnam. The unit would be inactivated the following August, but American forces would remain in Vietnam until April 30, 1975, when the Saigon airlift carried the last few out of the capital.
Post-RIMPAC regional assessment: The U.S. Navy captain who command’s America’s USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier (CVN-72) said Wednesday that she has “no new concerns” about traveling in the Indo-Pacific. That’s despite China’s reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and the fact that the Lincoln was shadowed by Chinese navy warships during its time in the region around Hawaii for the recent U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercises, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports.
“We've been doing the same thing that we've been doing for 75 or so more years in the INDOPACOM area,” Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt told reporters Wednesday, ahead of the carrier strike group’s return home to San Diego on Thursday after seven months away.
Also during that deployment, sailors and Marines inspected and repaired F/A-18s and F-35s affected by the ejection seat issues that grounded the majority of the Air Force’s U.S.-based F-35s. But because CVN-72 was near Hawaii at the time, Bauernschmidt said, they had the people and parts necessary to make the fixes quickly and keep the aircraft flying. “It really was no impact to the mission of this warship at all,” she said.
Stay tuned: Kenney will join us to discuss her trip to Hawaii for RIMPAC in our newest Defense One Radio podcast, which will be released on Friday. Listen on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
From the region:
- “War Game Finds U.S., Taiwan Can Defend Against a Chinese Invasion,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- “South Korea, China clash over [the THAAD] U.S. missile shield, complicating conciliation,” Reuters reported Thursday from Seoul.
And lastly: The U.S. military launched three airstrikes in Somalia on Tuesday. Officials from U.S. Africa Command say the strikes killed four alleged al-Shabaab militants, according to a statement, and no civilians are believed to have been injured or killed in the attacks.
BTW: Somalia is an Islamic State “hotspot” in the Horn of Africa, according to an expert on African security who spoke to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. Martin Ewi of the Institute for Security Studies told the council the Islamic State “has expanded its influence beyond measure” in Africa, and continent may be “the future of the caliphate.” AP has more, here.