Today's D Brief: Russia’s growing pile of left-behind weapons; Iran denies its drones are hitting Ukraine; Kim’s birthday message for Putin; US hits ISIS in Syria (twice); And a bit more.

Ukraine is amassing a huge arsenal of abandoned Russian weapons, and not just rifles and small arms. “Over half of Ukraine’s currently fielded tank fleet potentially consists of captured vehicles,” the British military said Friday, and noted that, “Ukraine has likely captured at least 440 Russian Main Battle Tanks, and around 650 other armored vehicles since the invasion.” Indeed, “Russia has become the biggest (if involuntary) provider of heavy weapons for Ukraine,” Yaroslav Trofimov reported Wednesday for the Wall Street Journal

But apparent Iranian-made drones have been inflicting notable damage on Ukraine’s infrastructure lately. “At least half a dozen of the weapons, known as kamikaze drones, detonated in Bila Tserkva, about 50 miles south of Kyiv” on Wednesday, the New York Times reported. The Journal reported the attack began at about 1:30 a.m., and that they sounded like motorcycles in the sky as they approached. A resident told Reuters he heard a roaring sound followed by a piercing sound when they struck early in the morning. 

Iran denies any of its drones are in Ukraine. “Although some countries provided military support to Ukraine, we never sent and will never send any weapons to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine since we believe that the solution to this crisis is political and offering any arms support to the two sides delays the chance for peace,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told his Finnish counterpart in a phone call Friday. 

Kyiv’s reax: “For some reason, Iran claims that there are no Iranian-made drones in Ukraine,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his evening address Thursday. “People see them in the sky. We shoot them down. But we are told that there are allegedly no Iranian drones in Ukraine. Well, we’ll find ways to ensure that there aren't any left indeed.”

USAID’s Sam Power dropped by Kyiv on Thursday to meet with President Zelenskyy. “We discussed the existing and prospective programs of our cooperation, the implementation of our plan for the rapid reconstruction of Ukraine,” the president said in his evening address. Power arrived with a promise of $55 million “to help Ukrainians prepare for winter,” and to support war crimes investigations, she announced Friday morning. 

“We will stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes,” Power said in a statement. “We recognize the difficulties, the horrors, that are being inflicted on the people of this great country for no reason whatsoever. And we want to do everything in our power to help our partners on the ground get through, not only this winter, but so many aspects of this man-made crisis.”

Vladimir Putin turned 70 on Friday, and so his Orthodox patriarch offered a prayer for his “health and longevity,” and to “deliver him from all the resistances of visible and invisible enemies.” Reuters reminds us that “Putin has dominated Russia for nearly 23 years,” and “Changes adopted to the constitution in 2020 paved the way for him to rule potentially until 2036.” By that time Putin would be 84; but it’s not unthinkable that he could endure for that long. After all, Mikhail Gorbachev lived to the age of 91 before passing away only this year. 

North Korea’s dictator released a statement praising Putin for “reliably defending the dignity of the state and its fundamental interests from the challenges and threats by the U.S. and its vassal forces,” Moscow’s state-run media, TASS, reports. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, and South Africa also reportedly congratulated the Russian autocrat by phone on Friday. 

Turkey’s president wants to meet with Putin “in three or four days,” Recep Erdogan said after phoning his pal in Moscow on Friday, according to Russia’s TASS

Meanwhile, Kremlin palace intrigue deepens after the Washington Post reported Friday that an alleged “member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has voiced disagreement directly to the Russian president in recent weeks over his handling of the war in Ukraine, according to information obtained by U.S. intelligence.” 

There’s also alleged “anguish” among Russia’s elite as Ukraine’s military seems to have gained the upper hand since its counteroffensive began more than a month ago. That’s according to The Guardian, reporting Friday as well after speaking to 15 “former government and defense officials, members of the military, political observers, journalists, opposition members, and an inmate at a prison.” 

In case you missed the drama this week, “Two of Vladimir Putin’s most notorious lieutenants, [Wagner founder Yevgeny] Prigozhin and the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, have openly declared war against the defense minister, Putin loyalist Sergei Shoigu, and his top generals following a series of disastrous defeats that have left Russia’s army in retreat,” The Guardian reports. Prigozhin is allegedly a man with “no morals, no conscience, and no hobbies … He is a machine in the bad sense of the word,” according to a former senior defense official. 

Biden: Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling has brought the world closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s, U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly told an audience at a fundraiser Thursday evening in New York. 

“He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming,” Biden said, according to CNN. The BBC has a bit more, here

Related reading: 

From Defense One

US Scrambles Warships in Response to North Korean Missiles // Caitlin M. Kenney: North Korea fired two more ballistic missiles Thursday as U.S. ships from USS Reagan carrier strike group conduct exercise with South Korea and Japan.

Army Climate Plan Relies on Technology That Doesn’t Exist Yet // Elizabeth Howe: The most “complex” aspect of the implementation plan is “building a force to operate in the future that still has to operate in the present,” officials said.

The Naval Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Missile defense training; Repair or not repair LSDs; Bonhomme verdict; and more.

Fully Fund America’s International Affairs Budget // Patrick Murphy and Blair Milo: Few investments reap larger rewards than the less-than-1% we spend on diplomacy and development.

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 2001, and almost four weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and British militaries invaded Afghanistan

The U.S. military says it killed an alleged ISIS leader in an overnight raid this week in northeastern Syria, officials at U.S. Central Command announced on Thursday.
Targeted: Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, who was “known to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and fighters to support ISIS operations,” CENTCOM said. “One of his associates was wounded” and two other “associates” were taken into U.S. custody during the operation late Wednesday, which featured helicopter transit, according to the U.S. military.
Worth noting: “The raid was a rare operation inside Syrian government territory and just a few miles from a Syrian airfield where Russian troops are based,” the New York Times reported shortly afterward. The Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister called it “the first op[eration] in regime-held areas since Abu Ghadiya in Oct 2008.”
And a separate U.S. airstrike is believed to have killed two other ISIS leaders in the early evening hours Thursday. That included “Abu-Hashum al-Umawi, a deputy Wali of Syria, and another senior ISIS official associated with him,” CENTCOM said in a separate statement. The Times referred to the deceased from that operation as “an Islamic State deputy leader in Syria and a man responsible for the group’s prisoner affairs.”
It’s possible that both hits were the product of recent raids on an ISIS prison camp in the area known as al-Hol, which began in late August. During one 24-hour period in September, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces “arrested approximately 300 ISIS operatives, confiscated 25 kilograms of explosives and 25 hand grenades, and removed ISIS supply and logistics materials from the camp,” CENTCOM said about three weeks ago. In that operation, the SDF also “freed six women who were found chained and tortured by ISIS operatives,” and “Some of these six women were captured as children and held by ISIS for years,” according to CENTCOM. 

North Korea’s saber rattling continued Thursday as the country flew 12 warplanes in formation near the South Korean border, prompting Seoul to scramble more than 30 planes on their side of the border. The Associated Press has more on that episode, here.
ICYMI: U.S. Marine Corps fighter jets on Tuesday exercised with Japanese military planes in response to the North Korean launch of a ballistic missile over Japan; ships from the USS Reagan strike group responded to that launch by conducting missile defense exercises with ships from the South Korean and Japanese navies, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported Thursday. 

And lastly: Taiwan is looking for an internet service provider should the island come under attack from China, the Washington Post reported Thursday. Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, said the island needs a backup in case of “intense military aggression” or other crises—like a natural disaster—that could bring down existing internet infrastructure.
Where this comes from: Ukraine is using Starlink, the Elon Musk-owned a satellite broadband service, to fill in the gaps left by Russian destruction of phone lines and other infrastructure, after that country’s digital minister tweeted to Musk asking for help. 
“Taiwan took notice,” the Post writes, noting that the island will review applications for new satellite internet soon and is open to “any qualified service provider.” More from WaPo, here.
Related: China is sending police to the Democratic Republic of Congo to try to reduce kidnappings, since Beijing gets over half of its cobalt from the DRC, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. We’re off on Monday; so we’ll catch you again on Tuesday!