Today's D Brief: Russia attacks Ukraine's power plants; Kyiv prioritizes air defense; EU's sober moment on Russia, China; New CT policy at the WH; And a bit more.
In an apparent vengeance attack, Russia unleashed a flurry of lethal drones and missiles at civilian targets across Ukraine on Monday, including—for the first time in several months—in the capital city of Kyiv. At least 19 people were killed and more than 100 were injured on Monday in strikes that United Nations officials said could amount to war crimes. “More than 300 cities and towns lost power,” according to the Associated Press.
Those Russian attacks came two days after a mysterious and apparently quite elaborate explosion rocked the single bridge connecting occupied Crimea to Russia this weekend, dropping an entire lane into the waters linking the Azov and Black Seas. That Kerch Strait bridge cost Russia around $4 billion to build, and was one of Vladimir Putin’s crowning achievements when it opened in 2018, four years after the autocratic leader illegally annexed Crimea with his first covert Ukraine invasion back in 2014.
More Russian airstrikes and alleged Iranian drones hit Ukrainian cities and power plants far from the front lines on Tuesday, including in the western city of Lviv. Those strikes killed at least one person and destroyed homes, businesses, and even knocked out power across a portion of the city, according to the Financial Times and Newsweek.
Action: “We have to stress that intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives, amounts to a war crime,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters Tuesday. “We have seen the story of elderly people trapped in their homes. People with disabilities were also unable to flee. I mean, this is unconscionable,” she said.
Reaction: The past two days of strikes have elevated talk of Ukraine’s need for air defense systems, as Tyler Rogoway of The Drive explained in a useful 19-tweet thread on Twitter Monday.
“We are doing everything to get modern air defense systems,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy announced in his evening address Monday. “Now the occupiers already cannot oppose us on the battlefield, that is why they resort to this terror,” he said. “Well, we’ll make the battlefield even more excruciating for the enemy. And we will restore everything that was destroyed.”
Russia’s strikes Monday, which included a playground in Kyiv, “destroyed targets with no military purpose,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “They once again demonstrate the utter brutality of Mr. Putin’s illegal war on the Ukrainian people,” and “further reinforce our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Biden also spoke with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday. The two discussed “global energy markets and the importance of securing sustainable and affordable energy supplies,” as well as “regional stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans,” according to the White House’s readout.
- Speaking of energy, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, announced Tuesday, “Our prosperity has been based on cheap energy coming from Russia.” He also said the bloc’s dependence on China’s market power has been almost as destructive as Russian energy dependence. “The fact that Russia and China are no longer the ones that [they] were for our economic development will require a strong restructuring of our economy.” Looking to the future, Borrell warned, “The adjustment will be tough, and this will create political problems.”
Also: Scholz’s Germany chaired an emergency meeting of G7 leaders who met today to discuss the way ahead in Ukraine. Afterward, the leaders warned of “severe consequences” if Russia uses nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in Ukraine, the New York Times reported Tuesday from Brussels.
Update: After a miserable performance in September, Russia’s Ukraine invasion has a new commander—Colonel General Sergei Surovikin, a 55-year-old who had been in charge of Russia’s Southern Military District, which includes the North Caucasus region and the occupied Crimean peninsula. According to Michael Kofman of CNA, Surovikin is a “ruthless commander who is short with subordinates and is known for his temper,” he told the New York Times. An alleged underling of his concurred in remarks to The Guardian, calling him “very cruel but also a competent commander.”
As perhaps expected, Surovikin has experience in some of Russia’s highest-profile excursions, including Chechnya and Syria, where Moscow’s airstrikes devastated civilian infrastructure, as Human Rights Watch recounted in its own report on that conflict two years ago.
But few expect him to be able to turn Russia’s Ukraine invasion around in a short period of time; indeed, that former lieutenant told The Guardian, “Russia is short on weapons and manpower,” and that’s not believed to be something anyone can reverse overnight. But thanks to the conflict in Syria, he has significant experience working with Wagner contract soldiers, who have been operating inside Ukraine since long before the February invasion. Reuters has more, here.
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Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1910, 51-year-old U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt became the first POTUS to fly when he took off from Kinloch Field in St. Louis on a plane piloted by an accomplished young man named Arch Hoxsey. The two were aloft for only about three and a half minutes while the president attempted to carry on a conversation with Hoxsey, who told journalists afterward, “I heard him say 'war,' 'army,' 'aeroplane' and 'bomb,' but the noise was so great I could not hear the rest.” Said the president upon landing: “That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you [because of] your professional conquest of space.” Hoxsey would perish just three months later, on New Year’s Eve, while trying to break his own altitude record near Los Angeles. He was 26 years old. Roosevelt passed away in his sleep nine years later at the age of 60.
Join us this afternoon in Washington for drinks and networking at Defense One’s Cocktails & Conversation event, hosted during AUSA’s 2022 Annual Meeting and moderated by Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron.
- U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Lombardo, Director of Training, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7;
- And Aussie Army Maj. Gen. Chris Smith, Deputy Commanding General for Strategy and Plans, U.S. Army Pacific.
Government employees can sign up free; but tickets are priced at $50 for contractors, retirees, and private-sector employees. Details, agenda, and registration, here.
The Biden White House just made American counterterrorism strikes a bit more rigorous in the hopes of minimizing civilian casualties. The classified executive order went into effect late last week, and is known by its unclassified title, “Enhancing Safeguards for United States Signals Intelligence Activities.”
What’s new: Now, the president himself must approve placing a suspected terrorist on a list of those who can be targeted by U.S. equipment or personnel—that is, in drone, airstrike, or direct-action raids like the operations that killed Osama bin Laden and the leaders of ISIS in Syria. U.S. planners must also obtain “near certainty” that the strikes will not harm unintended targets, and it also elevates the priority of capturing targets above simply killing them from afar.
One near-term expectation, according to Charlie Savage of the New York Times, seems to be that “the United States intends to launch fewer drone strikes and commando raids away from recognized war zones than it has in the recent past.”
That means Iraq and Syria are exempt from the new changes; but “Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as the tribal region of Pakistan” are not, Savage reports. Read on, here; or read the White House’s message on the changes, here.
And lastly: The White House released a national strategy for the Arctic region on Friday. The strategy—an update to one released in 2013—outlines an approach to meet the goal of a “peaceful, stable, prosperous and cooperative” Arctic region. In contrast to the previous Arctic strategy, this one “addresses the climate crisis with greater urgency,” and also recognizes the increasing competition with Russia and China in the region.
“Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine has rendered government-to-government cooperation with Russia in the Arctic virtually impossible,” the strategy states. “Over the coming decade, it may be possible to resume cooperation under certain conditions. Russia’s continued aggression makes most cooperation unlikely for the foreseeable future.” Read the full strategy, here.