Today's D Brief: EU's von der Leyen in Kyiv; Putin, Xi in Uzbekistan; More Taiwan aid?; Iran hacker indictments; and a bit more.
The leader of the European Union visited Ukraine’s capital city Thursday, and that’s the third time Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has visited Kyiv since the Russian military invaded in late February. Her goals for the day and the next few weeks include “getting our economies and people closer while Ukraine progresses towards accession,” she tweeted Thursday morning, one day after her third annual address as leader of the 27-member bloc. (By the way, it took the last three nations that joined the EU at least 10 years, according to the BBC.)
“I want to make it very clear, the sanctions [against Russia] are here to stay,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday—clad in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag. “This is the time for us to show resolve, not appeasement,” she declared.
“Fifteen years ago, during the financial crisis, it took us years to find lasting solutions,” von der Leyen said Wednesday. “A decade later, when the global pandemic hit, it took us only weeks. But this year, as soon as Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, our response was united, determined and immediate. And we should be proud of that.”
“The Russian military is taking chips from dishwashers and refrigerators to fix their military hardware because they ran out of semiconductors,” she told the parliament. “We have cut off three-quarters of Russia's banking sector from international markets. Nearly one thousand international companies have left the country. The production of cars fell by three-quarters compared to last year. Aeroflot is grounding planes because there are no more spare parts…It is the Kremlin that has put Russia's economy on the path to oblivion.”
“This is not only a war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine; this is a war on our energy, a war on our economy, a war on our values and a war on our future,” she continued. “This is about autocracy against democracy. And I stand here with the conviction that with courage and solidarity, Putin will fail and Europe will prevail.” Catch the full, nearly hour-long address, here; or read a transcript, here.
Russia’s autocratic leader spoke with his Chinese counterpart today in the Uzbek city of Samarkand. It was the first time that Xi Jinping has traveled outside of China since the pandemic began more than two years ago. Putin, for his part, appeared to be on the defensive because of his Ukraine invasion, based on public statements in both state-run media TASS and according to Reuters.
Said Putin (emphasis added): “We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” the KGB veteran said in his opening remarks at their Samarkand meeting. “We understand your questions and concern about this. During today's meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
Said Xi (emphasis added): “We are ready to team up with our Russian colleagues to set an example of a responsible world power and to play a leading role in putting a rapidly changing world on the track of sustainable and positive development,” according to a readout provided to TASS.
Bigger picture: Russia’s “outlook remains bleak, economists say, as sanctions on critical imports and an exodus of Western companies are expected to degrade the long-term potential of the economy,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, “China has walked a careful line in its dealings with Moscow to avoid being ensnared in any potential sanctions and alienating other countries, such as those in Central Asia, where China is building economic ties.”
And by the way: “While Xi has now met Putin in person 39 times since becoming China's president in 2013, he has yet to meet Joe Biden in person since the latter became U.S. President in 2021,” Reuters reports from Samarkand. Read more via the Associated Press, also reporting from Uzbekistan, here.
New: Russian diplomats warn the U.S. risks crossing Moscow’s “red line” if it chooses to send “longer-range missiles to Kyiv,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday in Moscow. It’s worth noting, however, that Russian officials said the same thing about Western allies sending Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to Ukraine back in May, and about Sweden and Finland wanting to join NATO—and all three of those things happened anyway.
- “Ukraine Battles Flooding After Russian Strike on Dam,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Thursday from Russia’s apparent change in strategy—targeting civilian infrastructure more deliberately—after recent setbacks around Kharkiv;
- “Wagner Group: Head of Russian mercenary group filmed recruiting in prison,” the BBC reported Thursday after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s alleged appearance;
- And “Portugal investigates dark web sale of classified NATO documents,” via EURACTIV, reporting Wednesday.
From Defense One
Ukraine War Offers Clues to Future War, Joint Chiefs Chairman Says // Patrick Tucker: Don’t expect any more tank columns massing on highways like sitting ducks.
No Abortion Access for 40 Percent of Female Troops, Study Finds // Jacqueline Feldscher: RAND says it’s “not unreasonable” that the lack of abortion access will make women more likely to leave service.
Iran’s Attempted Drone Thefts Highlight Challenges of Protecting Unmanned Vessels at Sea // Caitlin M. Kenney: Navy may minimally-man some vessels to provide security, CNO says.
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More military aid to Taiwan could be coming soon. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that will direct $4.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan over the next four years, and another two billion the year after that, according to Roll Call. “The act also includes extensive language on sanctions toward China in the event of hostilities across the strait separating the mainland from Taiwan,” Reuters reports.
Warned one Chinese newspaper just hours before the bill advanced: “If passed, [it] would dampen any hope of improvement in bilateral ties.”
“The bill we are approving today makes clear the United States does not seek war or increased tensions with Beijing; just the opposite,” said Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., in a statement Wednesday. “We are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.”
On the Hill this morning: The possible new leader of America’s nuclear forces at Strategic Command is having his nomination considered before a panel of senators with the Armed Services Committee. Air Force Gen. Anthony J. Cotton is the officer in the spotlight; he currently leads the Air Force’s Global Strike Command. That hearing began at 10 a.m. ET; catch what remains via a livestream, here.
One other thing: More Senate staffers could get Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance under a change to the upper house’s Security Manual. The move seeks to end a situation in which some senators who serve on committees that deal in TS/SCI information lack personal staff with that level of clearance. Politico reports.
Three Iranian hackers are facing charges for attacking power companies, local governments and more with ransomware, according to the Department of Justice, which announced the indictments Wednesday.
The range of targets spanned “small businesses, government agencies, nonprofit programs and educational and religious institutions,” as well as “multiple critical infrastructure sectors, including health care centers, transportation services and utility providers,” according to the Justice Department.
The hacks began one month before the last general election, but are believed to have been motivated by financial gain—rather than state-sanctioned attacks, the Associated Press reported. Read on, here.
And lastly: Hundreds of Filipino workers stranded on Diego Garcia amid dispute with U.S. contractor. The short version: the Philippines government says KBR needs to pay the workers more and has suspended charter flights to the Indian Ocean base as a form of “emotional blackmail”; KBR denies it. But it gets more complicated from there. The Washington Post has more, here.