The D Brief: US helped Ukraine wargame; Milsat tech needs; Awards for Afghanistan evac; Taiwan downs drone; And a bit more...

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors arrived at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant today after shelling. The plant, staffed by a skeleton crew and under Russian control since March, was damaged by artillery fire according to recent satellite photos from Maxar. Both Russia and Ukraine accused the other of firing on the nearby town of Enerhodar just before the inspectors’ visit Thursday, Reuters and others reported. But Ukraine has welcomed the IAEA mission and Russia frequently uses false flag operations to paint the Ukrainians in a poor light.    

The inspection comes as Ukraine counteroffensive’s slow but steady start meets Russian propaganda efforts. The Ukraine counteroffensive to reclaim territory in the country’s south and west could take months. But Russian military bloggers are already calling it a failure. Yesterday, ISW warned against what the institute described as a Russian disinformation operation. 

Speaking of the counteroffensive… The U.S. helped Ukraine wargame their plan and determine the force levels they’d need, CNN reports. “The Ukrainians were initially considering a broader counteroffensive, but narrowed their mission to the south, in the Kherson region, in recent weeks, US and Ukrainian officials said.”

Another Putin critic falls from a window. Few things are more dangerous for critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin than standing near windows. On Wednesday, Russian media reported that Ravil Maganov, chairman of private Russian oil company Lukoil and a critic of Russia’s war on Ukraine, fell to his death from his hospital window. Maganov joins the ranks of Ivan SafronovOlga Kotovskaya, and others who experienced nasty falls after falling out of Putin’s favor.

“Mass illegal data collection exercise.” Russia has kidnapped hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to Siberia and elsewhere, and is collecting large amounts of digital data from their phones and electronic devices along the way, a State Department official told the Washington Post on Wednesday. The so-called “filtration” system, which includes more than 20 sites in Russian-held areas, is overseen by the Kremlin. 

Western leaders want a price cap on Russian oil. Finance officials from the G7 are expected to endorse a plan to cap the price of Russian oil, currently trading at around 20% below the global benchmark of $90, the Wall Street Journal reports. The hope, expressed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in June, is that capping Russia’s oil price would deprive the Russian war machine of funds without forcing a major, inflationary uptick in energy prices. But the plan’s success depends on countries outside of the G7 playing along. India, China, and even NATO-member Turkey have been increasing their buy of Russian oil. 

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

US Military Satellites Need to Get Smarter, More Self-Reliant // Patrick Tucker: Future satellites should understand their environment, act autonomously, and be less reliant on Earth for refuel, Space Command’s deputy commander says.

Poll: Half of Americans Say Sending Troops to Afghanistan Was ‘A Mistake’ // Jacqueline Feldscher: Less than one-quarter believe the two-decade conflict made America safer.

Defense Civilians To Get Average 4.6% Pay Raise in 2023 // Erich Wagner: Biden formalizes plan to raise federal workers' pay.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Patrick Tucker with Jennifer Hlad and Brad 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 1807, Aaron Burr was acquitted (on a technicality) of charges of treason related to a plot to annex parts of Louisiana for an independent republic. Disgraced, Burr fled to Europe. 

The troops who helped evacuate Afghanistan will get awards, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Wednesday. All units that assisted with the evacuation of some 124,000 Afghans and other civilians during August 2021 will receive the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and Austin has asked the military services to look into whether some individuals or units should also receive other awards as well. “No other military could have protected so many lives under such challenging circumstances in such a short amount of time,” he said in a statement. 

Lastly today: Taiwan downs drone. Taiwan’s military shot down a civilian drone off its western coast on Thursday, after troops tried to warn it away but it entered restricted airspace anyway. The action came two days after Taiwan first fired warning shots at a drone in its airspace; Taiwan’s president had just told the military to take “strong countermeasures” against Chinese provocations, Reuters reports

No biggie? “China's foreign ministry, which on Monday dismissed Taiwan's complaints about drones as nothing ‘to make a fuss about’, referred questions to the defense ministry, which had yet to comment,” according to Reuters.