Today's D Brief: Putin's wartime recruiting goes into overdrive; 'Sham' annexation votes begin; Jet-ski robots for the Pentagon; ISIS attack thwarted; And a bit more.
What a desperate military recruiting drive looks like: Russian officials are pulling badly needed men both young and old from the ranks of ordinary people traveling in planes, walking through train stations, and attending protests in countless cities and villages across the country—from Dagestan in the southwest, to Karbadino-Balkaria just north of Georgia; from Dalnerechensk in the Far East, all the way up to remote Arctic villages near Yakutsk. Some are so intoxicated by the experience that they’re apparently falling asleep on patches of grass next to their airplane’s runway.
At least five Russian airlines and ten different airports have reportedly been ordered to help facilitate the movement of personnel into Moscow’s military conveyor belt, according to Latvia-based independent news site Meduza, citing the Russian newspaper Kommersant. “A source close to Aeroflot Group suggested that mobilization would affect more than half of the company’s staff, as well as Pobeda’s and Rossiya’s, which are part of the same group,” Meduza writes.
Developing: The Russian-Georgian border has an automobile queue “several dozen kilometers long” with passengers allegedly fleeing Putin’s mobilization. (Lines weren’t observed to have been quite so long on Thursday.)
Using the last seven months of the invasion as a guide, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War expect Putin “to mobilize ethnically non-Russian and immigrant communities at a disproportionate rate,” they wrote in their Thursday evening assessment. Meanwhile, “The Kremlin’s heavy-handed approach to partial mobilization may successfully meet the Kremlin’s internal quota of mobilized personnel—but is unlikely to generate effective soldiers and is prompting significant domestic backlash for little gain.”
The bigger picture: “Reality is starting to hit home” for many ordinary Russians, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reported from Moscow in a two-and-a-half minute video published Thursday. “The war stepped out of the television and reached the big cities. It’s a big change,” another Russian told the Wall Street Journal Thursday in Moscow. (It’s worth noting that no reporters yet seem to be observing popular sentiment boiling to such a level as to significantly threaten any real aspect of Putin’s mobilization.)
The message from Kyiv: “55,000 Russian soldiers died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are wounded and maimed,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Thursday. “Want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. Run away. Or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are options for you to survive.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
Air Force Awards $985M Hypersonic Cruise Missile Contract to Raytheon Technologies // Marcus Weisgerber: The company and its partner Northrop Grumman were chosen over bids from Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The U.S. Military Is Buying Electric Jet-ski Robots // Patrick Tucker: Tests will see whether battery-powered personal watercraft can help with search-and-rescue
The Naval Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Sub training; Struggling to recruit; Chatting with the CNO; and more.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1779, Scottish-American naval captain John Paul Jones led a joint U.S. and French squadron in a skirmish with the British Royal Navy known as the Battle of Flamborough Head, which some historians refer to as the battle “where the Continental Navy got its sea legs.”
Russia and its proxy forces began holding their rushed referendum votes today for parts of Ukraine that Vladimir Putin wants to annex before a counteroffensive threatens occupied territory. The votes are being organized inside Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the east, and for its Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, hugging the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, to the south. Observe how some of that process is going via this two-minute video reportedly from Donetsk on Friday.
- Mapped: See where in Ukraine Putin is trying to annex today in an illustration from the Agence France-Presse graphics team published Friday. Read more of AFP’s reporting, here.
In case you had any doubt about Russia’s intent with these “votes” on occupied Ukrainian land, Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov cleared that up Friday, saying in state-run TASS, “Russia will regard Ukraine’s attempts to retake Donbass and other territories as attacks on its lands, if the referendums held there produce positive results.”
An echo from Stalinist history: “The Baltic States experienced similar [referendum and annexation] tactics in 1940” when the Soviet military overran those countries in eastern Europe, historian Roger Moorhouse tweeted Friday, excerpting from his own book, “The Devil’s Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941.”
On that note: “The last mobilization conducted by the Kremlin was in 1941,” Dmetri Alperovitch tweeted Thursday evening. “Putin’s future hold on power is now on the line,” he said, and added, “This is not yet the end but it may be the beginning of the end.”
What Ukraine’s president wants: Tanks. “For us, tanks today mean the salvation of our people,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Thursday. Then he promised, “We will win this war even without your tanks; but I want you to understand that we are fighting for our joint values, and I would want this to be our joint victory.”
Several members of Congress want the Pentagon to send Ukraine MQ-1C Gray Eagle or MQ-9A Reaper drones, according to a letter reviewed by the Wall Street Journal Thursday. Seventeen U.S. lawmakers signed the letter, which was sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday. To date, the White House has been reluctant to pursue this avenue of support for Kyiv out of fear the aircraft could be shot down and reverse-engineered, potentially revealing sensitive information.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces are attacking territory Russia has occupied for four months, according to the latest public account from British military intelligence. That would be the southern Donetsk town of Lyman, east of the Siverskyy Donets River, which Russia captured in May. “The battlefield situation remains complex,” the Brits say, “but Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory Russia considers essential to its war aims.”
- “‘Everyone will get snatched off the street’: mobilisation brings Ukraine war home to Russians,” via Polina Ivanova of the Financial Times, who unpacked some of her reporting in front of a paywall on Twitter, here;
- “The Russians risking freedom to protest against Putin's invasion,” via the BBC, reporting Thursday from St. Petersburg;
- "Moscow-held regions of Ukraine in ‘sham’ vote to join Russia," the Associated Press reports from Kyiv;
- And the “U.S. has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The U.S. military says it killed 27 al-Shabaab militants in a single airstrike in Somalia on Sunday. Several U.S.-supported forces—including African Union elements—were working in the central Hiraan region in what the U.S. military called the largest combined operation in five years.
Location: Buulobarde, about 80 miles north of the capital. Somali National Army elements reportedly came under attack from al-Shabaab fighters, threatening a wider movement of Somali and African Union Transition Mission in Somalia forces in the area, according to U.S. Africa Command. As stated so many times before, the U.S. military says it believes that it killed no civilians, and that all those killed in the airstrike were militants. More here.
ISIS fighters reportedly botched a series of suicide attacks in northeastern Syria, near the al-Hol refugee camp for displaced persons. The would-be attacks allegedly began falling apart just past midnight, early Tuesday morning when seven ISIS militants in two vehicles approached a checkpoint run by U.S.-backed fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“One vehicle, rigged with explosives and personnel wearing explosive suicide vests, prematurely exploded near the Um Fakik village, approximately 12 miles northeast of the intended target at al-Hol,” U.S. Army Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement on behalf of U.S. Central Command. “This explosion alerted Syrian Democratic Forces operating in the area, who then arrived within minutes and surrounded the second vehicle,” Buccino said.
The second vehicle contained two men with suicide vests, one of whom detonated after exiting, and the second man was shot before he could trigger his explosives, according to CENTCOM. “One ISIS fighter is now in Syrian Democratic Forces custody. Four ISIS fighters were killed in the engagement,” said Buccino. More here.
Don’t forget to register for the next event in our State of Defense interview series, which resumes next Tuesday with Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. That one starts at 2 p.m. ET; view the full agenda, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!