Today's D Brief: Ukraine doubles retaken land; Congress mulls ATACMS; Deadly Azerbaijan-Armenia skirmish; US-Iran talks ‘step backward’; And a bit more.

Ukraine’s snowballing counteroffensive continues to grow. On Sunday, military officials in Kyiv said Ukraine had clawed back 3,000 kilometers of territory previously held by Russia’s invading forces; by Monday evening, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said that number had doubled. 

“From the beginning of September until today, our warriors have already liberated more than 6,000 square kilometers of the territory of Ukraine in the east and south,” the president said in his nightly address, before adding, “The movement of our troops continues.” (It’s worth emphasizing that it’s simply impossible to verify Zelenskyy’s claims, given the fluidity of and dangers inherent in Russia’s ongoing invasion.)

Most gains have reportedly been achieved along the northeastern front, around Kharkiv, where Russians “largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians and have withdrawn,” according to Pentagon officials, speaking to reporters Monday. Slower gains are allegedly being made to the south, where Russian forces are believed to have concentrated a larger number of elements in defense of key territory including the port city of Mariupol and the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. 

In addition, Ukraine’s recent successes “may be impacting the will or ability of the Russian military command to use newly formed volunteer units in Ukraine in a timely fashion,” according to the latest report from the Institute for the Study of War. “The deployment of these newly formed units to reinforce defensive lines against Ukrainian counteroffensives would be an operationally-sound decision on the part of Russian military leadership; and the delay or potential suspension of these deployments will afford Ukrainian troops time to consolidate and then resume the offensive, should they choose to do so.”

One useful way to look at Kyiv’s rapid recent advances: “Ukraine gained more territory in the last week than Russia did in months,” the New York Times graphics team reported Monday in a series of before/after maps. 

Ukraine’s intention is to liberate “all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told Reuters on Tuesday. Relatedly, a close presidential advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, listed two dominant priorities for Kyiv in a tweet Tuesday morning. “First, Russia fights against civilians, so critical infrastructure facilities protection with air defense is obligatory,” he wrote. “Second, Luhansk/Donetsk liberation will cause [a] domino effect, collapse [Russian]-frontline and lead to political destabilization. It is possible. Weapons required.”

New: Congress is reportedly considering sending Ukraine long-range missiles known as the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported Monday that Ukrainian military officials have sent U.S. lawmakers a formal request to consider the weapon in possible future shipments of arms to Kyiv. 

Two reasons why it matters: ATACMS would give Ukraine the ability to strike targets inside occupied Crimea with much greater ease. But perhaps more practically, Ukraine may elect to strike ammo depots and command headquarters even farther back from the present front lines—possibly extending the success of long-range artillery strikes enabled over the course of the summer by the U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. 

Related reading: 


From Defense One

Some Russian Forces Appear to Be Fleeing Ukraine, Pentagon Says // Tara Copp: An inability to avoid certain strategic errors has eroded Russia’s hold on eastern Ukraine, officials said.

US Trails China in Key Tech Areas, New Report Warns // Patrick Tucker and Lauren C. Williams: Ex-Google, DOD leaders paint dire picture unless U.S. organizes to win technology races.

Get to Know the Middle Tier of Awesome…Er, Acquisition // Dan Ward, Pete Modigliani, and Matt MacGregor: Speeding good ideas into reality through rapid prototyping and fielding is awesome. Don’t let disbelievers muck it up.

Iran, US Seem Unlikely to Reach a New Nuclear Deal // Nina Srinivasan Rathbun, The Conversation: Both sides have said they want to return to 2015's JCPOA, but a number of sticking points remain.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1882, and as local sentiment in Alexandria was increasingly turning against European influence, a combined British-Indian army element defeated a numerically superior Egyptian force in a morning conflict northeast of Cairo called the Battle of Tell El Kebir. Many of the victorious troops then marched on to Cairo, before turning north to their ships in Alexandria. But a contingent of Brits would remain in Egypt as an occupying force for another seven decades, at last departing in 1956, at the conclusion of the Suez Crisis. The British occupation of Egypt would also lead to another curious relic: John Courage Amber, which was known in ad copy as “the official beer of the Royal Navy.” That absurd poster, first spotted by your D Brief-ers at a pizza joint in Kentucky 20 years ago, remains our favorite beer advert. 


Russia now has another war it’s trying to put down: Azerbaijan’s military allegedly opened fire on Armenia overnight with artillery and drone strikes. The initial attacks occurred “on the internationally recognized territory of Armenia itself, outside of disputed Karabakh,” according to Russia-watcher Neil Hauer, who called the attacks, “A major escalation by Baku.”
By the morning, 49 Armenian soldiers had been killed along with an unknown number of Azeris, according to Reuters and the Associated Press. These renewed tensions would seem to be the latest “in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994,” AP reports.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense confirmed the strikes in a statement, saying they were "small-scale" and "aim to ensure the security of Azerbaijan's borders," according to CNN.
Why Moscow cares:
Russia has about 2,000 peacekeeping troops nearby “as guarantor of an agreement that ended a six-week war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh two years ago,” Reuters reminds us. The Azeris leveraged an advantage in drone technology to come out on top in that relatively short war, which led to the deaths of more than 6,600 people and forced Armenia to concede a significant amount of territory, according to a post-conflict analysis published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Both U.S. and Russian officials urged de-escalation, while Turkish officials pointed the finger at Armenia. (AP notes that Turkey allied with Azerbaijan in the last flareup two years ago, and Ankara contributed to the Azeris’ edge in terms of drone technology.)
Related reading: 

Update: U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations take “a step backwards.” On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken criticized Tehran’s latest response to nuclear negotiations, which he said “makes prospects for an agreement in the near-term, I would say, unlikely.” Iran, which has demanded the International Atomic Energy Agency quit its investigation into undeclared uranium traces found at Iranian sites, rejected a European Union proposal that did not mention the UN nuclear watchdog. CNN has a bit more, here.
As before, prospects continue to dim for a replacement to the 2015 deal that the Trump administration derailed and Iran has since increasingly violated, writes University of Southern California professor Nina Srinivasan Rathbun, explaining how we got here and why “Iran’s standoff with the United States over its potential nuclear weapons program is unlikely to ease anytime soon.” Read more at Defense One, here.

And lastly: The Space Force could get a new leader soon since the Senate Armed Services Committee is considering the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Saltzman to succeed Gen. John Raymond as chief of space operations. That began at 9:30 a.m. ET; catch the livestream via SASC, here.

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