Today's D Brief: Putin's resupply problems; Russia turns to North Korea for weapons; Zaporizhzhia report due; SecDefs warn the nation; And a bit more.

Russia’s invading forces are taking it on the chin when it comes to resupply operations inside occupied democratic Ukraine, particularly in the south, according to multiple accounts on day 195 of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation,” or “war of choice,” as U.S. officials describe it. 

The latest: “Precision strikes on manpower and equipment concentrations, command centers, and logistics nodes” are “tangibly degrading Russian logistics and administrative capabilities,” especially around the Dnipro River, according to Monday evening analysis from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. 

And a Ukrainian counteroffensive is disrupting Russian plans to hold sham votes in occupied territories like Kherson, ISW writes. For Kyiv, the idea is “to slowly chip away at both Russian tactical and operational level capabilities in Kherson Oblast, and in doing so will likely have significant impacts on the administrative and bureaucratic capabilities of occupation officials,” says ISW. And at least this week, that plan appears to be working. 

Developing: An explosion near Ukraine’s most troubled nuclear power plant has led thousands of people to evacuate areas around Enerhodar, near the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to the Wall Street Journal. Russian forces have occupied the facility since at least March, and have since traded accusations with Ukraine over whose artillery is more damaging to the plant and those inside Ukraine and Europe who rely on its energy. 

  • Later today, United Nations officials are expected to release a report from a harrowing mission last week inside Zaporizhzhia, some of which was reported elsewhere this morning inside the Journal

According to Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy, fresh Russian shelling damaged “the last power transmission line connecting the plant to the energy system of Ukraine,” he said in his Monday address to the nation. 

“I consider the fact that Russia is doing this right now, right on the eve of the IAEA conclusions, very eloquent,” Zelenskyy said. “Shelling the territory of the ZNPP means that the terrorist state does not care what the IAEA says, it does not care what the international community decides. Russia is interested only in keeping the situation the worst for the longest time possible.” Zelenskyy’s advice is for all the world’s leaders to officially recognize Russia as a “terrorist state,” with follow-on sanctions. “Ukraine has a very clear, transparent, and honest position,” Zelenskyy said. “While we controlled the plant, there was no threat of a radiation disaster. As soon as Russia came, the worst scenario imaginable immediately became possible.”

New: In part due to sanctions, Russia has allegedly been reduced to buying artillery shells and missiles from North Korea, the New York Times first reported Monday, followed by the Associated Press and Reuters, citing U.S. intelligence officials. And those orders are already in the thousands, though American officials wouldn’t elaborate on types desired or timing of the deliveries. But if true, it would be another violation of UN resolutions against the export of weapons by Pyongyang. 

Big picture: Russian defense stocks are hurting when it comes to resupply, as the recent acquisition of Iranian Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones suggest, the Times and AP remind readers. 

By the way: Russian drone activity in Ukraine remains active, though it has fallen in recent weeks, according to the British military’s latest daily war report. That includes 27 sorties by Russian UAVs “on the west bank of the Dnipro [River], compared to an average of 50 a day throughout August,” the Brits say, and note that, “In recent years, Russian doctrine has given an increasingly prominent role for UAVs, particularly to spot targets for its artillery to strike.” 

Why it matters: “In the face of combat losses, it is likely that Russia is struggling to maintain stocks of UAVs, exacerbated by component shortages resulting from international sanctions,” the British military says. Furthermore, “The [alleged] limited availability of reconnaissance UAVs is likely degrading commanders’ tactical situational awareness and increasingly hampering Russian operations.”

A second opinion: The war in Ukraine is “clearly logistically challenging” for Russia’s military, particularly for its air force, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, said Tuesday during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C. “And we’re going to continue to see how hard it is,” in the coming weeks and months, he said. 

Part of this difficulty can be attributed to the proliferation of small drones in the hands of both Ukrainian forces and Russia’s ragtag assortment of mercenaries and soldiers; but it’s also the result of the NATO alliance’s varied collaboration efforts assisting Ukraine in defense of its territory. 

Elsewhere in Washington today: President Joe Biden will hold a cabinet meeting shortly after 1 p.m. ET, which includes Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, according to the White House’s public schedule for the day.

New: Moscow just sanctioned Hollywood film stars Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, along with 23 other Americans, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and several senators (see the full list via Russia’s Foreign Ministry, here). All of them are now permanently banned from entering Russia, “based on the principle of reciprocity,” according to the foreign ministry. “The hostile actions of the American authorities, which continue to follow a Russophobic course, destroying bilateral ties and escalating confrontation between Russia and the United States, will continue to be resolutely rebuffed,” the ministry said in a statement.

For the record: More than 1,070 Americans are now banned from entering Russia—including National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson; retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges; former CIA Director Gina Haspel, and many more—according to Russia’s complete list, which you can find here.

An apparent honeypot scheme has allegedly lured more of the world’s gullible men, in this case Russian soldiers inside Ukraine, according to this account from the cyber front of Putin’s ongoing invasion—which Russian officers continue to insist is all going according to plan. 

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

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White House Asks Congress For $13.7B for Ukraine // Jacqueline Feldscher: The administration has used about three-quarters of the $40 billion Congress authorized in May.

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Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. 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 1976, Soviet air force pilot Viktor Belenko defected with his MiG-25 jet when he landed at the Hakodate Airport in Japan’s second-largest island of Hokkaido. 

Civ-mil alert from the SecDefs: The politicization of nearly everything about life in America is posing huge and disturbing problems for democracy, eight former Pentagon chiefs and five former Joint Chiefs of Staff warn in a letter published Tuesday by War on the Rocks.
The gist: “Socially, the pandemic and the economic dislocations have disrupted societal patterns and put enormous strain on individuals and families,” the 13 signatories write. “Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt.”
“Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better,” they warn, in an echo of some of the president’s words “on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation,” as the White House described it. There are no fewer than 16 points the men emphasize as the nation proceeds toward midterm elections amid another invasion of Europe by a major military superpower; and you can read over those 16 points, here.
Another echo: Defense One Radio listeners will recall former Marine officer Elliot Ackerman made a similar argument during his interview with us on 19 August. You can catch that episode—and that question at the 17-minute mark—here.
Recommended reading: Why I’ve stopped fearing America is headed for civil war,” via the Washington Post opinion pages on Monday. 

Fat Leonard on the run. The former U.S. Navy contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, aka Fat Leonard, is allegedly on the lam—three weeks before he was scheduled to be sentenced, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday. Francis cut off his GPS monitoring ankle bracelet Sunday and fled his multi-million dollar home in San Diego, where he had been on house arrest awaiting sentencing in the bribery and corruption trial that ensnared several top-ranking Navy leaders and officials, including four admirals, according to the U-T. Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 and admitted to defrauding the Navy of at least $35 million. 

And lastly: One of the Pentagon’s top Pacific security officials is headed to the region to meet with allies. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner will be visiting India and Vietnam—with stops in New Delhi to co-chair the Sixth U.S.-India 2+2 Intersessional Dialogue, and to attend another meeting known as the Maritime Security Dialogue. Afterward, he pivots to Hanoi, where he’ll lead the U.S.-Vietnam Defense Policy Dialogue. More details, including a list of defense officials tagging along, here.
Related reading:China drills improved Taiwan's combat abilities, President Tsai says,” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday from Taipei.