Today's D Brief: NATO defense chiefs discuss Ukraine strategy; G7's Ukraine peace plan; IMF's dismal forecast; Taiwan's defense planning; And a bit more.
The Pentagon-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group is meeting for a two day assembly in Brussels where defense officials from nearly 50 countries are converging to discuss the future of Ukrainian security. The meeting is happening on the sidelines of a NATO defense summit at alliance headquarters in Belgium, and as the White House is preparing to announce a new United States National Security Strategy, which is certain to involve Vladimir Putin’s invasion of democratic Ukraine and the future of U.S. partners and allies.
“The top priority will be more air defense for Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday in Brussels. Officials are also expected to discuss how to press regional defense industries in order to replenish weapon stocks donated to Kyiv’s forces since February.
Germany has begun sending air defense systems to Ukraine, including the first of four promised IRIS-T SLM units, which arrived Tuesday, according to Der Spiegel and Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. His German counterpart, Christine Lambrecht, told reporters in Brussels, “Ukraine urgently needs air defense systems and artillery and this is exactly what Germany delivers.” The units reportedly can protect an area up to 20 km in altitude and 40 km in diameter. Three more of the IRIS-T systems are expected to be delivered to Ukraine, but not until sometime in 2023.
Also in Brussels: The alliance’s Nuclear Planning Group will assemble over the next two days in what Stoltenberg called “a routine, long-planned meeting, where we will address how to continue to ensure that NATO’s deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.”
- Coming up next week: NATO is holding its annual nuclear deterrence exercise—allegedly featuring notional tactical nuclear weapons—known as Steadfast Noon. And before you jump to any conclusions, Stoltenberg reminded reporters Tuesday that this “is routine training, which happens every year to keep our deterrent safe, secure, [and] effective.”
For the record: “We are closely monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “We have not seen any changes in Russia’s posture, but we remain vigilant.”
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Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on a desk at the United Nations to angrily protest criticism of Soviet influence from a Philippine representative.
Developing: Europe’s largest nuclear power plant “has lost all of its external power for the second time in five days,” according to Rafael Grossi, who directs the International Atomic Energy Agency. He called this “a deeply worrying development” for the facilities near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya, and said it “underlines the urgent need for a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the site.” The problem is that that very “off ramp,” like so many in this war of choice, is something Russian occupation officials have opposed since at least April—and oppose still today, according to state-run media TASS.
Why Russia says it opposes a safety zone around the nuclear plant: Because it’s “an agreement with the Americans,” the acting governor of the Zaporozhye Region Yevgeny Balitsky asserted without supporting evidence on Wednesday. And using some classic Putin-era projection, Balitsky alleged that even if the zone is implemented, “in four days [Ukraine] will shell it again.”
But Russian and Ukrainian officials are talking to each other. That much is clear after Kyiv announced another prisoner exchange Tuesday, which led to 32 soldiers returning to Ukraine, according to Andriy Yermak, a top aide to President Volodymir Zelenskyy.
G7 leaders to Putin: “We will never recognise this illegal annexation or the sham referenda that Russia uses to justify it,” the presidents and prime ministers said in a joint statement Tuesday. And citing the UN Charter, they said, “Ukraine has the legitimate right to defend itself against Russian aggression and to regain full control of its territory within its internationally recognised borders.” They also promised “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic and legal support” for Ukraine and its people “for as long as it takes,” and vowed to help “Ukraine in meeting its winter preparedness needs.”
The leaders also highlighted “the negative impact of Russia’s aggression for global economic stability, including by continuing to cooperate to ensure energy security and affordability across the G7 and beyond.”
And they laid out a roadmap for peace in Ukraine, which includes “respecting the UN Charter’s protection of territorial integrity and sovereignty; safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future; ensuring Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction, including exploring avenues to do so with funds from Russia; pursuing accountability for Russian crimes committed during the war.” Unfortunately, none of those things appear to be matters that Putin has shown any genuine interest in.
Reminder for fearful pundits looking to deliver Putin some kind of “off ramp” in this war: There has always been a very efficient one openly available for the past 230 days—that is calling off the invasion, and ordering his troops back to their barracks and homes inside Russia’s own borders. Because even with his nuclear weapons, he’s still just an isolated neo-imperialist with a broken army.
Update: The IMF is still forecasting a dismal economic downturn, citing “the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a cost-of-living crisis caused by persistent and broadening inflation pressures, and the slowdown in China,” according to its latest assessment, released Tuesday. “Global growth is forecast to slow from 6.0 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and 2.7 percent in 2023,” according to that assessment, which stressed that, “This is the weakest growth profile since 2001 except for the global financial crisis and the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For those skeptical of Putin’s impact, the IMF declared, “Beyond the escalating and senseless destruction of lives and livelihoods, [Putin’s Ukraine invasion] has led to a severe energy crisis in Europe that is sharply increasing costs of living and hampering economic activity.” This is because “Gas prices in Europe have increased more than four-fold since 2021, with Russia cutting deliveries to less than 20 percent of their 2021 levels, raising the prospect of energy shortages over the next winter and beyond.” But “More broadly, the conflict has also pushed up food prices on world markets, despite the recent easing after the Black Sea grain deal, causing serious hardship for low-income households worldwide, and especially so in low-income countries.”
Big picture: “More than a third of the global economy will contract this year or next, while the three largest economies—the United States, the European Union, and China—will continue to stall. In short, the worst is yet to come, and for many people 2023 will feel like a recession.” Read the report in full (PDF) here.
- “Putin Has Never Cared About Red Lines,” argues Berlin-based Russian journalist Leonid Bershidsky in the op-ed section of Bloomberg;
- “Lukashenko says Belarus and Russia to deploy joint military group,” al-Jazeera reported Monday; Reuters has similar coverage, here;
- “Would Lukashenko really throw Belarus into a war Russia is losing?” Andrew Roth and Daniel Boffey considered Wednesday in The Guardian;
- And “Russia Adds Meta [formerly known as Facebook] To 'Terrorist And Extremist' Groups List,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
ICYMI: Taiwan is openly preparing for an eventual war with China as Xi Jinping is expected to win his third term as leader of China this month, Reuters reported Wednesday morning.
“Now we should be abandoning our illusions and preparing to fight. We really need to be prepared to fight,” a Taiwanese person “familiar with the government’s China policy” told Reuters. The Guardian has similar coverage, zeroing in on citizen soldiers, which you can find here.
- “Xi’s looming third term in China raises threat of war over Taiwan,” via the Washington Post, reporting Wednesday from Taiwan;
- “China's Communist Party leadership reshuffle: what to look for,” via Reuters, previewing the upcoming party congress meeting;
- “We must tackle China’s satellite-busting technology, says GCHQ chief,” via the UK’s Times, reporting Tuesday off a speech delivered by Jeremy Fleming;
- “UK Spy Chief Says Rise of China World's Top Security Issue,” Voice of America reported Tuesday off the same speech from Sir Fleming;
- “U.S. Suppliers Halt Operations at Top Chinese Memory Chip Maker,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday from Beijing;
- And don’t miss: “U.S. Military Teaches Living Off the Land to Feed Future Warriors,” also via the Journal, reporting last week from Colorado, where soldiers are learning how to properly butcher and cook animals in the event U.S. military supply lines are destroyed in a future war with, say, China or Russia.
Lastly: The U.S. Coast Guard recently rescued three fishermen who’d been floating in the Gulf of Mexico for 28 hours—and fighting off sharks—and you can watch video of the rescue at Task & Purpose. The Coasties had been searching an area the size of Rhode Island before one of the men was able to text a screenshot of their location on Google Maps, according to TODAY, which first reported the incident. When rescuers arrived, “they saw two of the fishermen clinging to a cooler and fending off sharks.”
“They had multiple lacerations on their hand, almost down to the bone, indicative of a shark bite and serrated edges indicative of a shark’s tooth puncturing their hands," said Lt. Katy Caraway, a co-pilot from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans. Crews found the other fishermen about a half mile away. All three had been wearing life jackets, though one of the vests was shredded by a shark. The men were taken to a hospital and were last known to be in stable condition.