Today's D Brief: Russia adds 137K troops; New British arms to Ukraine; Moscow's economic forecast; US strikes Iran-backed troops again; New CODEL to Taiwan; And a bit more.

Putin needs a bigger army. Six months after his initial botched invasion of democratic Ukraine, Russian autocratic President Vladimir Putin has just signed a decree expanding the Kremlin’s military by 137,000. The new order, which goes into effect at the start of the calendar year, will raise the total number of uniformed Russian forces to over 1,150,000 troops, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, who shared a copy of the decree on Twitter Thursday. 

Putin “is planning for the long war,” Alperovitch warned, hours after Putin’s motorcade was spotted speeding toward the Kremlin late Wednesday evening for an apparent rare meeting with his advisors.  

Russia’s “maximalist” war aims have not changed, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday, according to the latest analysis from the Institute for the Study of War. And those initial aims included deposing Ukraine’s leadership in Kyiv, including its democratically-elected Jewish President Volodymir Zelenskyy, whom Putin claimed is a “Nazi.” Shoigu himself on Wednesday repeated the line Putin has said publicly to his fellow countrymen, claiming the invasion—they call it a “special military operation”—“is going according to plan, all tasks will be completed.”

Big picture: “The frontlines have remained remarkably static since Ukraine began fielding HIMARS in early July, with almost no Russian gains since,” writes Ukraine-watcher Nathan Ruser, who has produced some of the most detailed maps of the conflict since its initial days in late February. See his latest update on Twitter, here

Worth noting: Russian forces “have learned fast,” and have entrenched themselves much more deeply into the ground inside eastern Ukraine, Financial Times reports. “What we saw in the beginning, and what we are seeing now — it’s the difference between night and day,” one official said.

Inside Putin’s kingdom, car production has ground to a halt since the invasion began and sanctions gradually took hold, Reuters reports from the country’s western region. And that’s despite low unemployment numbers, which reportedly mask a growing number of furloughed and part-time workers in the sector. Perhaps more ominously, one economics professor in Moscow “said he expected unemployment to rise towards the end of the year, when he said it would likely become clear that sanctions were unlikely to be lifted in the near future.”

However, “Russia’s economy is doing better than even the most upbeat forecasts predicted, as sales of hydrocarbons have fuelled a record current-account surplus,” The Economist reported in half of a two-part analysis published this week. On the other hand, according to “a trio of measures—the freezing of oligarch assets, financial sanctions and trade restrictions...Our analysis suggests that they will, in time, start to seriously impair Russia’s economy,” according to part two

After six months of war in eastern Europe, we now have no fewer than 23 lessons we can review from the Ukraine invasion, thanks to a panoply of wonks at the NATO-focused Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C. Those include:

  • “Sanctions work, but they are messy and take time”;
  • “Decades of energy diplomacy can disappear with one brutal invasion”;
  • “Russia is not ten feet tall”;
  • “The [NATO] alliance is a uniquely valuable institution that requires enduring political and financial investment”;
  • “Today’s Ukraine is not tomorrow’s Taiwan”; and 18 more, here.

A Russian strike on another rail station killed 25 people Wednesday in Сhaplyne, which is between Donetsk and Dnipro. “The dead included an 11-year-old boy found under the rubble of a house and a 6-year-old killed in a car fire near the train station,” the Associated Press reported Thursday, citing local authorities. 

Developing: Russia has begun receiving “hundreds” of suicide drones from Iran, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported Wednesday, citing “Western intelligence officials.” Recall that the White House publicized this arrangement as it was allegedly unfolding in mid-July. 

New: The Brits have just committed to a new arms package for Ukraine, totaling around £54 million, and featuring “unmanned surveillance and anti-tank loitering munitions,” according to 10 Downing Street, whose outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kyiv on Wednesday. This new batch contains “850 hand-launched Black Hornet micro-drones, which are specifically designed for use in towns and villages, and are deployed to detect approaching enemy forces,” Johnson’s office said in a statement

Additional reading: 

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Whack-a-mole, Iran-backed forces in Syria edition: Shortly after the U.S. military launched precision strikes against alleged Iran-backed militants in Syria on Tuesday, at least two rockets were fired at U.S. forces around the Conoco gas field, east of Deir ez-Zor, Syria, Wednesday afternoon, according to the BBC’s Nafiseh Kohnavard. Three American troops were treated for “minor injuries” from the Wednesday rockets, NBC News reported.
The U.S. military responded with Apache gunship attacks on alleged militant positions outside Deir ez-Zor at about 7:20 p.m. local, Jennifer Griffin of Fox reported Wednesday evening. U.S. officials at Central Command said in a statement that two sites in Syria were hit, “destroying three vehicles and equipment used to launch some of the rockets,” and that “two or three suspected Iran-backed militants conducting one of the attacks were killed during the U.S. response.”
According to CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, “We have a total spectrum of capability to mitigate threats across the region, and we have every confidence in our ability to protect our troops and coalition partners from attacks,” he said in the statement.
Worth noting: CENTCOM said a drone attack on U.S.-backed forces at al-Tanf, Syria, in mid-August originated from Iraq, according to a Powerpoint slide made public Wednesday. U.S. officials also said that attack involved a KAS-04 drone, “which has been used now in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria,” according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. That drone has a 1,700-km range, he added—and called that attribution “a highly unusual public acknowledgement.”
Those Tuesday U.S. strikes demonstrate “the United States will not hesitate to defend itself against Iranian and Iran-backed aggression when it occurs,” the Pentagon’s number three official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, told reporters Wednesday. “Our response was proportionate and precise. It was designed to minimize the risk of casualties, and it responded to the nature of the attacks by Iran-backed militia groups. That being said, we cannot accept further attacks on our personnel,” said Kahl.
Bigger picture: “Iran's willingness to act with hostility against U.S. interests in the Middle East is neither new nor a secret,” said Lister. “It's been a long-running theme for 15-20 years. As we near a possible nuclear deal, concern is rising of what that'll do.”
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we will continue to take the measures necessary to protect and defend our people,” CENTCOM said. A bit more, here.
From the region:Afghan evacuees protest in UAE over slow resettlement,” via al-Jazeera, reporting Wednesday.
And don’t miss our latest Defense One Radio podcast, featuring former U.S. Marine special operator Elliot Ackerman, whose latest book, “The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan,” was just published by Penguin Press. Ackerman unpacks some of the toughest lessons for America and its allies after a two-decade long war that ended in shame with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban yet again one year ago. Listen on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Taiwan’s president is pitching a nearly 14% increase in defense spending this upcoming year, to just over $19 billion, Reuters reported Thursday from Taipei. That’s a major spike compared to previous years; defense spending growth has been below 4% since 2017.
“In the face of the Chinese communists' continuous expansion of targeted military activities in recent years and the normalized use of warships and military aircraft to raid and disturb Taiwan's surrounding seas and airspace, the military adheres to the principle of preparing for war without seeking war and defending national security with strength," Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement about the increase. Most of the additional money will go to operations costs, according to Taiwan’s statistics department minister.
Related: Gain a better understanding of “How China Could Choke Taiwan” with a blockade of the island, via a new special report from the New York Times, published Thursday.
“While China likely still lacks the ability to quickly invade and seize Taiwan, it could try to impose a blockade to force the island into concessions or as a precursor to wider military action,” the Times writes, adding that China’s recent military drills near Taiwan were not a full rehearsal for a blockade. More details about what an actual blockade would look like, here.
New: More U.S. lawmakers will land in Taiwan on Thursday evening for a visit, which will be the third visit of its kind this month, despite verbal protests from officials in Beijing. Reuters reported on the upcoming trip, but the names of those traveling haven’t been released.
From the region: S.Korea's Yoon orders update of war plans over N.Korea's threats,” also via Reuters, reporting Thursday from Seoul. 

And lastly: It’s back to school season, which means U.S. school districts are getting hit with ransomware, as tends to happen each year in August and September. Already that appears to include schools and colleges in Texas, Pennsylvania, and California.
“So far this [calendar] year, 22 districts with 395 schools between them have been impacted by ransomware, with at least 16 having data stolen,” according to Brett Callow with New Zealand-based antivirus software firm Emsisoft, who warned, “A spike in incidents in the weeks ahead [is] likely.” He also shared a comparative analysis for the 2021 calendar year, which you can review here.
For what it’s worth, “77 local governments and agencies were impacted by ransomware in 2021,” Callow tweeted Wednesday, but clarified that, “While it is hard to see this as a win, the fact is that it is an improvement on the 113 governments which were hit in both 2019 and 2020.” Read more at Emsisoft, here.