Today's D Brief: Russians flee after Putin’s mobilization; 2 Americans released in Ukraine prisoner exchange; Death toll rises in Iran; ‘Fat Leonard’ caught in Caracas; And a bit more.
The exodus continues for ordinary Russians. Shortly after Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s first war mobilization since World War II on Wednesday, prices for one-way plane tickets out of Moscow immediately skyrocketed—as we relayed Wednesday—and border crossings began surging across locations in Finland and Georgia, Reuters reported Thursday from the capital cities of Helsinki and Tbilisi. The BBC reports a 3-mile long wait for at least one border crossing into Georgia.
New: Protests against Putin’s mobilization erupted across at least 38 Russian cities, leading to the arrests of more than 1,300 people, according to a monitoring group called OVD-Info. “Now the courts are starting to consider the administrative cases brought against the protesters. And they are already imposing fines and arrests on them,” OVD says.
The UK’s forecast for Putin’s 300,000-man recruiting surge: “Russia is likely to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges of even mustering the 300,000 personnel,” many of which “are unlikely to be combat effective for months,” the British military tweeted Thursday in its latest Ukraine update. From London’s point of view, “Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power,” the military said. “The move is effectively an admission that Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine,” they added, and predicted, “Even this limited mobilization is likely to be highly unpopular with parts of the Russian population.”
- Behind the number: Independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports there is a “secret seventh paragraph” in Putin’s Wednesday decree that permits calling up one million Russians for Putin’s Ukraine invasion, according to a government source.
Britain’s POV on upcoming annexation votes across four occupied Ukrainian territories: “Sham referendums in Ukraine are a desperate Kremlin tactic to legitimize the illegitimate,” the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office tweeted Thursday—a day before the votes are set to begin—and noted, “The areas rejected Russian rule in the 2019 Ukrainian election. No one should recognise these attempts to annex Ukraine’s sovereign territory.”
The U.S. perspective: “If this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia's claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. “We will never recognize this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine,” he said. “These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system and lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter. We know that these referenda will be manipulated; we know that Russia will use these sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories either now or in the future,” Sullivan added.
“The bottom line is that Russia is throwing together sham referendums on three days’ notice as they continue to lose ground on the battlefield and as more world leaders distance themselves from Russia on the public stage,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “These are not the actions of a confident country. These are not acts of strength; quite the opposite.”
President Joe Biden brought a similar message to the floor of the United Nations on Wednesday, telling world leaders, “Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter—no more important than the clear prohibition against countries taking the territory of their neighbor by force…Now Russia is calling up more soldiers to join the fight, and the Kremlin is organizing a sham referenda to try to annex parts of Ukraine, an extremely significant violation of the U.N. Charter.”
“This world should see these outrageous acts for what they are,” Biden said. “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should not—that should make your blood run cold…Because if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences,” the president said, “then we put at risk everything [the United Nations] stands for. Everything.” Read the rest of his message to the UN on Wednesday here.
Ukraine’s president told world leaders that even though “Russia wants war…Russia will not be able to stop the course of history” because “mankind and the international law are stronger.” The Associated Press has a bit more, here.
New: Two detained Americans were released in a wide-ranging prisoner exchange Wednesday between Ukraine and Russia. The U.S. citizens were Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, “both military veterans from Alabama” who went missing around Kharkiv in June, ABC News reported Wednesday. Turkish officials brokered the deal, which included 215 people released by Moscow, according to the Wall Street Journal. “In return, Ukraine released 55 Russians and Viktor Medvedchuk, a confidant of Mr. Putin,” the Journal reports.
“It is not a pity to give Medvedchuk in exchange for real warriors,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Wednesday evening. As to the other 55, he said they “deserve neither pity, nor sympathy, nor any words at all,” because they are people “who fought against Ukraine, and those who betrayed Ukraine—those who we definitely do not need.”
188 of the released Ukrainians had fought in defense of the port city of Mariupol, including 108 from what’s known as Ukraine’s “Azov” regiment; their release infuriated military bloggers sympathetic to Putin’s invasion, as the Journal’s headline indicates. Read on, here.
Developing: The Russian government is allegedly having to switch over from Windows to Linux operating systems because of damaging Western sanctions, according to a report Tuesday from the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. One big worry? “Many systems will have to be rebuilt from scratch, and there are few Linux experts around,” researcher Janis Kluge tweeted.
- “No let-up in hostilities in Ukraine despite prisoner swap,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from Kyiv;
- “Russia’s military divided as Putin struggles to deal with Ukraine’s counteroffensive, US sources say,” via CNN, reporting Thursday, citing “sources familiar with US intelligence”;
- And don’t miss “‘They Are Watching’: Inside Russia’s Vast Surveillance State,” a special report published Thursday by the New York Times.
From Defense One
Ukraine: Russia’s Draft, Setbacks Mean It’s Time for More Advanced Weapons // Marcus Weisgerber: Kyiv’s winter wishlist includes long-range artillery, armored Humvees, kamikaze drones, and more.
USAF Puts HARMs on MiG-29s, Cruise Missiles on C-130s, Cargo in B-52s // Tara Copp: If the U.S. can’t give Western jets to Kyiv, it’s got a plan B.
War Is No Reason to Put Arms-Control Negotiations on Hold // Tom Z. Collina and Angela Kellett: The possibility that Russia might use nuclear weapons in Ukraine is just one of the nuclear dangers we must address.
In NYC, a Bronx Cheer for Putin, Trump, and the Aging UN // Kevin Baron: As the General Assembly met for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden warned against nuclear war and the UN’s growing irrelevance. Will he do more?
US Military: Bad Publicity Is Hurting Recruiting. Lawmakers: Fix Your Problems // Caitlin Kenney: As services miss end-strength and accession goals, senators at personnel hearing have some blunt suggestions.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with 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 1979, a U.S. nuclear monitoring satellite detected what seemed to have been a telling “double flash” halfway between Africa and Antarctica. The flash was never officially confirmed to have been a nuclear weapons test, though some independent researchers believe that’s exactly what happened—possibly resulting from a suspected joint Israeli-South African weapons program.
President Biden is meeting today with the new president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. That meeting is the last scheduled one for Biden’s time in New York City this week for the 77th annual United Nations General Assembly. Marcos spoke to the UN delegates in person on Wednesday, becoming the first Philippine leader to do so in nearly a decade. The award-winning Manila-based news site Rappler has more on his speech, here.
By the way: 50 years ago this week, President Marcos’s father placed the country under martial law before detaining, torturing, and killing thousands of his fellow countrymen over several decades until the dictator and his wife were eventually forced into exile in 1986. But today, the New York Times reported Wednesday in a special feature, “With the Marcoses back in the presidential palace, some survivors of martial law fear their stories will be lost.” And so the Times is retelling nine of those stories, here.
FWIW: Biden also met with the prime ministers of Japan and the UK, as well as the presidents of South Korea and France during his time at this year’s UN General Assembly.
The death toll in Iran has risen to at least 17—and possibly more than 30—since protests rocked the country after Tehran’s so-called “morality police” recently killed a woman for wearing a hijab “improperly”; at least three of the deceased are believed to have been members of Iran’s security forces, Agence France-Presse reports, citing state-run media with the low-end casualty estimate.
The woman’s father says Iranian authorities are lying about her death; they say she had a heart attack, while her family insists she had no prior heart problems, CNN reported Thursday. Mahsa Amini’s father also said the doctors wouldn’t let him see his daughter after her death, but when he did finally see her body, wrapped and covered except for her face and feet, she had bruising on her feet.
- “Iran's Revolutionary Guards issue warning as protests over woman's death spread,” via Reuters, reporting Thursday from Dubai;
- See also “Iran, U.S. clash at U.N. on nuclear deal, human rights issues,” from Reuters, reporting separately on Wednesday from New York.
And lastly: The fugitive known as “Fat Leonard” has been captured in Venezuela. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Leonard Glenn Francis was attempting to flee to Russia when he was apprehended by authorities at the Caracas airport, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Frances had reached Caracas from Mexico, Interpol said.
Leonard cut his GPS ankle monitor and fled house arrest in San Diego about two and a half weeks ago. “With his help, prosecutors secured convictions of 33 of 34 defendants, including more than two dozen Navy officers,” AP reminds readers. There’s even a podcast about his shenanigans and various illegal activities, which ran from about 2006 to 2013, when he was initially arrested during a sting operation at a hotel in San Diego. It’s unclear just yet when he might be extradited back to the U.S. Read more at AP, here.