Today's D Brief: Russian officials rush to annex after Ukraine's successes; PsyOps under review; SecAF warns China; Space Force's new song; And a bit more.

The surprise success of Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive near Kharkiv “is panicking proxy forces and some Kremlin decision-makers,” and now several of those officials have announced what are likely to be sham referendum votes to annex Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War. Occupation officials in Luhansk and Donetsk want their votes to happen as soon as Friday; it’s unclear just yet exactly when the other two regions could proceed, according to Reuters

One notable complication: “Russian forces do not control all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts,” ISW warns. And this suggests Russian officials could soon find themselves “in the strange position of demanding that Ukrainian forces unoccupy ‘Russian’ territory” after the sham votes, “and the humiliating position of being unable to enforce that demand,” according to ISW.

Meanwhile in the motherland, and amid Russia’s stark manpower shortages, parliamentarians appear to be trying to walk a fine line between coercing reluctant soldiers into going to war against Ukraine without sending too many of those “refusenik” soldiers into penal colonies, since the latter could pose a huge political risk to the safety of Vladimir Putin’s regime. That, anyway, is the opinion of Russia-watcher Rob Lee after learning of recent legislation in Moscow’s lower body, the Duma. 

  • Developing: Russia’s autocratic President Vladimir Putin is now expected to address his countrymen in a rare speech this evening, according to Moscow-based business newspaper RBC. The focus will be on “referendums in the territories of the LPR, DPR, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions,” according to RBC.

Russia also seems to be having trouble treating its wounded soldiers from the Ukraine front, according to Mark Krutov of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Krutov on Monday found that employees of Russian energy giant Gazprom “are being forced to chip in at least RUB 1000 (17 US dollars) each to buy medications for Russian soldiers wounded in Ukraine—due to the ‘catastrophic lack of supplies in hospitals.’” In case you’re curious, “this is not the first ‘crowdfunding’ attempt of a kind” for Gazprom employees; but it is “the first mandatory one,” Krutov reported. “Everyone in the chat is obliged to provide proofs that they've sent money,” he tweeted

Trouble at sea? The British military says Russia “almost certainly” moved its KILO-class attack submarines from port in Crimea and over to Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai, southern Russia. “This is highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability,” the Brits say, since “In the last two months, the fleet headquarters and its main naval aviation airfield have been attacked.”

Slovenia said it’s giving Ukraine 28 M-55S tanks soon. Prime Minister Robert Golob announced the transfer Monday, which includes the involvement of Berlin’s military. “In exchange, Slovenia will receive 40 German military transport vehicles, namely 35 heavy 8x8 loading trucks and 5 heavy 8x8 water tanks,” Golob’s office said in a statement

Back stateside, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin welcomes his Norwegian counterpart, Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram, to the Pentagon this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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From Defense One

Air Force Secretary: ‘China Would be Making an Enormous Mistake to Invade Taiwan’ // Marcus Weisgerber: Frank Kendall said Russia’s botched invasion should give Beijing pause.

Russia Increasing Aggression Over Syria As Ukraine Losses Mount  // Tara Copp: “It’s a bit concerning,” CENTCOM air chief says, as Russia’s strikes put U.S. forces in Syria at greater risk.

CNO: Navy Is Equipping Ships with a Software Arsenal, Taking Lead on New Destroyer Design // Bradley Peniston: A Q&A with Adm. Mike Gilday, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations.

NATO Readies Strategy To Steer Use Of Autonomy  // Lauren C. Williams: The document, expected later this year, will include moral and ethical guidelines on how to best use autonomous technologies.

Troops Worry Most About Inflation, Not China or Russia, Air Force Secretary Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Frank Kendall said he’s reversing planned cuts to special duty pay.

L3Harris to Convert Embraer KC-390s for Aerial Refueling // Marcus Weisgerber: The three-year-old twinjet will be an “agile tanker,” L3Harris CEO says.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Jacqueline Feldscher. 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 2011, the U.S. Defense Department officially ended Directive 1304.26, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That policy was a Clinton-era compromise that banned openly homosexual Americans from serving in the military, but prohibited discrimination against closeted service members. President Barack Obama spearheaded the 2011 tolerance-widening initiative to end 1304.26, which was one of at least three progressive POTUS44 positions—along with a significant expansion of healthcare coverage, and the fact that Obama was America’s first Black president—that helped feed a major conservative cultural backlash within the country leading up to the 2016 general election.  

The Pentagon is examining its online psychological operations after more than 150 fake accounts suspected of being run by the military were removed by Twitter and Facebook, the Washington Post reported Monday. Military commands that conduct this type of information warfare—including U.S. Central Command—were instructed last week “to provide a full accounting of their activities by next month after the White House and some federal agencies expressed mounting concerns over the Defense Department’s attempted manipulation of audiences overseas,” writes WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima.
Internet researchers revealed in a report in late August that the fake accounts had been taken down, though they did not say the accounts were run by the military. Others “familiar with the matter” told Nakashima that some of the posts involved anti-Russia messages, but that the fake accounts did not attract as many followers as accounts that were open about being run by the U.S. military. Read on, here

The U.S. needs to prioritize north Pacific island nations if it wants to more smartly confront the long-term challenges posed by China, according to a new report published Tuesday by the U.S. Institute of Peace—with input from former U.S. Indo-PACOM commander, retired Adm. Philip Davison. The specific nations USIP examined includes the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Why bring it up now? Defense and economic compacts the U.S. signed with those three countries during the 1980s are up for negotiation again in 2023 and 2024, Reuters reports.
Among USIP’s suggestions for U.S. leaders: “The White House should commission a National Intelligence Estimate on China’s interests in the Pacific Islands region,” USIP advises; “The analysis could guide collaboration with other regional and international actors, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and France, to anticipate and take proactive steps to counter Beijing’s efforts to capitalize on regional perceptions of neglect and abandonment.” Read on, here.
Related reading: 

And lastly: The Space Force finally has an official song, but it’s not this surprise hit from 2018. Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond debuted the song at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space & Cyber conference Tuesday morning with a video, live military band performance, and a chorus on stage to sing the lyrics, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports.
The lyrics: We’re the mighty watchful eye, Guardians beyond the blue.
The invisible front line, Warfighters brave and true.
Boldly reaching into space, There’s no limit to our sky.
Standing guard both night and day, We’re the Space Force from on high.
Semper Supra, so named for the Space’s Force’s motto, was created by a former member of the Air Force band at the Air Force Academy and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard band. The name is Latin for “always above.” A few more details, here.