Today's D Brief: Ukraine liberation forces near Kherson; Putin announces martial law in annexed regions; Israel under pressure; US-Taiwan weapons production?; And a bit more.
Russia’s military says it’s racing to evacuate citizens from occupied Kherson as columns of Ukrainian liberation forces are allegedly advancing closer to the region’s main city, publicly worrying Russia’s top commander.
“Our plans in the city of Kherson will depend on the tactical military situation that is already very uneasy,” Vladimir Putin’s new invasion chief Gen. Sergei Surovikin said Tuesday. But “The Russian army will above all ensure the safe evacuation of the population” of Kherson, he promised, and added, “Difficult decisions cannot be ruled out.” The Russia-installed official in charge of Kherson also urged people to evacuate on Tuesday, writing on Telegram, “Please take my words seriously, I'm talking about evacuating as quickly as possible.”
Big picture: “Four of the five generals with direct operational command of elements of the invasion in February 2022 have now been dismissed,” the British military said Wednesday, and noted, “Their replacements have so far done little to improve Russia’s battlefield performance.”
Also: “Russia is now visually confirmed to have lost 1,400 tanks since it started its invasion of Ukraine on February 24,” open-source watchers noted Tuesday evening on Twitter. Find the latest full and updated list of destroyed Russian military equipment inside Ukraine, here.
Developing: Putin just declared martial law in those four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. The five-point decree says the new clampdown will go into effect Thursday, Oct. 20, and extends across Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhye, and Kherson oblasts. However, the decree also says officials must “submit proposals on measures to be taken…within three days,” so—coupled with Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive around Kherson—this is likely an evolving situation. Read more via the Kremlin, here.
Coverage continues below…
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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 1864, the last Confederate threat to Washington, D.C., was quashed with the Battle of Cedar Creek, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
At least 70 people have been killed in the last 12 days from nearly 200 drone and missile attacks inside Ukraine, Emergency services spokesman Oleksandr Khorunzhyi told reporters Tuesday. That included strikes on “more than 140 private and multi-apartment residential buildings,” and it included alleged “kamikaze” attacks from apparent Iran-supplied drones, he said. Those attacks have crippled Ukrainian power stations and electricity infrastructure, as well as the country’s water supply network, in more than 1,100 cities and towns all across the country, as the BBC and the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Ukraine’s military said Wednesday that some of the drone attacks are now coming from the direction of Belarus; however, it also claimed to have performed fairly well against the machines—alleging to have shot down 38 of 43 on Tuesday.
EU: “Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union Commission, said Wednesday. “Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity, and heating with winter coming—these are acts of pure terror. And we have to call it as such. This is the moment to stay the course, and we will back Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Russia’s “kamikaze drone” acquisition timing, in review:
- Putin’s forces reportedly began receiving Iranian drones sometime in August, which was a little more than a month after the White House first publicized the alleged arrangement between Moscow and Tehran.
- The drones began striking inside Ukraine in mid-September, seemingly starting in the south around Kherson, as the Ukrainian military announced on social media with supporting photos. (For the record, Kyiv considers Sept. 13 to be the first time it was attacked with one of these drones, the military said Wednesday.)
- Seemingly associated attacks picked up about a week later, on Sept. 26, with Reuters reporting several alleged attacks around Odesa, which like Kherson, is in the south.
- The purported Shahed-136s began attacking Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, exactly two weeks ago today, according to Reuters, reporting Oct. 5. As of Oct. 19, Ukraine says it has shot down 223 of the purported Shahed-136 drones.
By the way: Iran has sent drone trainers to train Russian forces in occupied Crimea, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing U.S. intelligence officials.
Ukraine and Israel’s top diplomats are scheduled to talk Thursday. Officials in Kyiv, meanwhile, have been increasingly vocal about asking Tel Aviv for military help in recent weeks; the topic is almost certain to come up in discussions Thursday as well. According to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking Tuesday, “Iran is a red line for Israel, and after Iran has directly, in fact, become complicit in the crime of aggression against Ukraine, I think anyone in Israel who still has any hesitation about whether or not to help Ukraine, he must dispel these hesitations.”
New: Ukraine has officially requested Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, Haaretz reported Tuesday after Kuleba flagged the request in public remarks earlier in the day; Axios obtained an alleged copy of the request letter on Wednesday.
Why won’t Israel do more to help Ukraine? In part, because of the deal to contain Iran in Syria that officials in Tel Aviv and Moscow have worked out over the past several years, David Daoud of the Atlantic Council wrote back in April—five months before Russia’s invasion lost steam in September. But there is more, too, he argued. For example, “Israel—whose founding raison d’etre and continued vocation is the protection of the Jewish people—also worries that angering Putin will lead him to retaliate against Jews in Ukraine and Russia.”
Israel’s defense chief hasn’t spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart since April. The two were supposed to speak on Monday, but that call was postponed—which made the fifth time the two have had their planned chats postponed, according to Haaretz.
The latest official line from Tel Aviv: “Israel will not transfer weapon systems to Ukraine for a variety of operational considerations,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday. He didn’t elaborate on those considerations, but added, “Israel is maintaining a policy of supporting Ukraine through humanitarian support and delivery of life-saving and defensive equipment.”
“It’s just fear of Putin,” analyst Yossi Melman told the Washington Post last week. “It’s a shame,” he added. “We preach to the world about humanity and right and wrong, but when it comes to our international positions, it’s only our narrowest security concerns that are considered.”
Indeed, Russia’s Dmetri Medvedev warned Israel on Monday that arming Ukraine with any weapons would “destroy the political relations between the two countries.”
New: Germany just sacked its cybersecurity chief because of his allegedly close ties to Russian intelligence, Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Tuesday. His name is Arne Schönbohm, and since 2016 he’s been in charge of Berlin’s Federal Office for Information Security. But before taking that role, he’d helped start an advisory firm known as the Cyber Security Council Germany back in 2012; that council included a company called Protelion, “which was a subsidiary of a Russian firm reportedly established by a former member of the KGB,” the BBC reports. Protelion was ejected from that council last week—three days after a late-night satirical news show, “ZDF Magazin Royale,” highlighted Schönbohm’s prior links to the council.
Berlin’s Interior Ministry said Schönbohm is presumed innocent, but cited a loss of trust in his judgment, according to the BBC; it also promised a “thorough and vigorous” investigation into the allegations.
Back stateside: Lockheed Martin plans to boost HIMARS production to 96 units annually, CEO Jim Taiclet said this week. According to Politico, Taiclet said the company has “advanced fund[ing] ahead of contract, $65 million to shorten the manufacturing lead time.”
- “Chinese Economists Tally Cost of Putin’s War, Warn on Deep Scars,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday;
- “Where Have All the Men in Moscow Gone?” the New York Times reports from the Russian capital, where “there are noticeably fewer men at restaurants, stores, and social gatherings” since Putin called up several hundred thousand civilians for Russia’s military on Sept. 21;
- “Four Russians arrested [in Norway] on suspicion of photographing classified object,” the Barents Observer reported Monday;
- “‘A clear anti-Putin trend’ As the Russian mobilization devolves into chaos, people are, quite rationally, blaming the president,” via Latvia-based independent news site Meduza, reporting Tuesday;
- “F-16s intercept Russian bombers flying near Alaska,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday;
- “McCarthy signals GOP-led House likely to oppose more aid to Ukraine,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday off a recent interview with Punchbowl News.
The U.S. may one day jointly produce weapons with Taiwan under a plan that’s being considered now, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reports. The goal of the new plan is to “increase production capacity for U.S.-designed arms, speed their transfer and strengthen deterrence toward China,” according to Nikkei. A few more details, here.
ICYMI: China is recruiting British ex-military pilots by offering “large sums of money” to train Chinese troops, BBC reported Tuesday. A Western official told the outlet that the pilots are using their experience “to help develop Chinese military air force tactics and capabilities.”
That doesn’t break any current laws in the U.K., but…the British government is trying to stop the headhunting and “protect our national security,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Liz Truss told the BBC.
One last thing: China says it’s delaying the release of GDP and other economic data indefinitely, which would seem to suggest the numbers may be worse than expected, The New York Times reported Monday.
- “How a Tycoon Linked to Chinese Intelligence Became a Darling of Trump Republicans,” via the New Yorker;
- And “Japan rushes to rearm with eye on 2027—and China's Taiwan ambitions” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday.