Today's D Brief: Russia's Kherson withdrawal; Shoigu's dirty bomb threat; Surging US support for NATO; In need of a DOD IG; And a bit more.
Russian forces began retreating from portions of Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region, in the south, on Friday. And for Moscow, this was unwelcome news to start week 35 of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion. So Putin’s military chief, Sergei Shoigu, solicited calls from his counterparts in France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States on Sunday to claim Ukraine’s military is planning some sort of attack using a conventional explosive that includes radioactive material, but is not a nuclear weapon, since Ukraine doesn’t possess nuclear weapons. This kind of munition is often referred to as a “dirty bomb,” and it’s much more a staple of Cold War-themed video games than actual modern warfare. But the threat commands attention from western officials and understandably generates headlines 242 days into Putin’s faltering invasion of democratic Ukraine.
For the record: The U.S., UK, and France “reject[ed] Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” the three governments said in a joint statement Sunday, calling it “a pretext for escalation,” and adding that the three nations “remain committed to continue supporting Ukraine’s efforts to defend its territory for as long as it takes.” (Turkey, notably, did not join in the statement from its fellow NATO alliance members.)
A second opinion: “Shoigu’s calls—and Russian state media’s amplification of false dirty bomb threats—are likely intended to intimidate the West into cutting or limiting support for Ukraine as Russia faces continued military setbacks and the likely loss of western Kherson by the end of the year,” analysts for the Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said in their Sunday evening assessment.
Kyiv’s reax: “If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday. “During the upcoming week, this will be the number one task for our diplomats—to explain what is happening,” he said. “And I am sure: the world will be with us.”
About that Kherson withdrawal: It seems to have begun Friday from the occupied western region of the oblast, or province, and it involved the transfer of Russian “ammunition, military equipment, and some unspecified units from the Dnipro River’s west bank to the east bank via ferries,” according to ISW, citing Ukrainian officials. CNN reported Monday that the withdrawal is continuing; the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reports Russia is merely evacuating non-essential personnel as it reinforces strong points in the city, citing a recent interview with Kyiv’s military intelligence chief.
Faced with an alleged 4-1 overmatch of approaching Ukrainian troops compared to Moscow’s occupying elements in western Kherson, Russian military bloggers spent late last week preparing their readers for a “very, very hard” month ahead for one writer, while another predicted “there will be no good news in the next two months, that’s for sure.” By Saturday, Ukraine said that Russian elements had “completely abandoned their positions in Charivne and Chkalove...and Russian officers and medics have reportedly evacuated from Beryslav,” ISW reported. The British military also said this weekend that Russia had begun using a “barge bridge” to cross the Dnipro river eastward in retreat.
More on Russia’s improvised river crossing: “Although the use of heavy barge bridges was almost certainly included in Soviet-era planning for operations in Europe, it is likely this is the first time the Russian military have needed to utilize this type of bridge for decades,” the British said Saturday. And, “If the barge bridge sustains damage, it is almost certain Russia will seek to repair or replace damaged sections quickly, as their forces and crossing points over the Dnipro river come under increasing pressure in Kherson.”
The battlefield latest: Russia is still heavily reliant upon alleged Iranian-sourced “kamikaze” drones across Ukraine; however, “Ukrainian efforts to defeat the Shahed-136 UAVs are increasingly successful,” the British military said Monday, citing Zelenskyy’s recent claim that up to 85% of the drones are being shot down before they hit their target (Zelenskyy’s military intelligence chief puts that number closer to 66%). Moscow is “likely using them as a substitute for Russian-manufactured long-range precision weapons which are becoming increasingly scarce,” the Brits say.
Coverage continues below…
From Defense One
West Rejects Russian Claim that Ukraine Plans a False-Flag Dirty Bomb // Patrick Tucker: US, U.K., France release statement decrying Moscow’s Sunday allegation.
How the FBI Stumbled in the War on Cybercrime // Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden, ProPublica: In an excerpt from their new book, the authors reveal how unprepared the nation’s top federal law enforcement agency was to combat online crime.
The Military’s Network Warfare Experiment Scaled Up This Year // Patrick Tucker: The U.S. Army-led experiment attempted to create a lot more targets, challenges, and complexities to test out futuristic concepts.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: What outer space will look like in 2050; The Pentagon’s largest contractors; B-21 reveal date; and more.
After Six Years, It’s Time to Confirm a Defense Department Inspector General // Glenn Fine: IGs perform a critical role in holding powerful officials and government agencies accountable, and the Senate should confirm a Defense IG when it returns from recess.
Sensible Talk Aboard a UK Aircraft Carrier. But Does It Come Too Late? // Kevin Baron: New poll shows US, UK publics aren’t buying what national-security experts have been selling.
Welcome to this Monday 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 1945, the United Nations went into effect with the UN Charter, UN Charter, which included the promise to not use force to change the territorial integrity of other states.
New: Israel has allegedly shared intelligence with Ukraine that has been “useful for targeting the Iranian drones,” according to an official from Kyiv who spoke to the New York Times this weekend.
Ukraine’s counterdrone strategy “consists of three layers of protection,” writes Andrew Kramer of the Times. And those three layers are “fighter jets that patrol around the clock; ground-fired antiaircraft missiles; and teams of soldiers with machine guns who try to shoot the drones down as they fly past.”
Ukraine’s message to the armed forces of Belarus: “Don’t let your illegitimate dictator drag you into Putin’s genocidal war against Ukraine,” Kyiv’s military tweeted Sunday with a nearly four-minute video elaborating on the above. “The stakes are high,” Kyiv said, and added, “Your lives are at stake.”
Elsewhere in Europe: Italy’s under new management, but its approach toward Russia hasn’t changed, top diplomat Antonio Tajani made clear Saturday on Twitter, after speaking to his counterpart in Kyiv. “There is no peace without justice,” Tajani said, “And justice means the independence of Ukraine.”
According to recent survey data, 25% of Germans don’t see Russia as a military threat; and 51% don’t see China as one, either. It’s a somewhat intriguing finding (hat tip to Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations), especially when contrasted with U.S. threat perceptions—90% see China as a threat, and 92% view Russia this way.
Back stateside, more Americans support NATO (81%) than at any point since the Chicago Council began surveying citizens going back to 1974. That’s according to the latest polling data, which was gathered after speaking to more than 3,000 people over the last two weeks of July.
Also in that data: “Across the political spectrum, Americans agree Europe is now the most important region for US security,” the Council’s authors write, noting that figure is now at 50% of those surveyed—up 15% from two years ago. Read more, here.
- “Romanian defence minister resigns, pressured after Ukraine comment,” Reuters reported from Bucharest on Monday;
- “The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne is practicing for war with Russia just miles from Ukraine's border,” CBS News reported Friday from Romania;
- “The Hidden Corner of the Energy Market Where Russian Exports to Europe Are Booming,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Monday on “frozen Russian gas delivered by giant ships”;
- “France’s Nuclear Reactors Malfunction as Energy Crisis Bites,” the Journal reported separately on Sunday from Paris;
- “Shetland [Islands] Cut Off From the World After Undersea Cable Breaks,” the New York Times reported Thursday;
- And don’t miss this stellar headline from the satirical writers at The Onion, “Pentagon Warns Chinese Landmass Could Break Off And Zoom Across The Ocean To Get Us.”
New: Suicides among U.S. military active-duty troops dropped 15 percent from 2020 to 2021, but the overall trend is still upward, Military Times reported Thursday after the release of the Pentagon’s annual report on military suicide. The number of Reserve and National Guard suicides fluctuates from year to year, the report says, but the trend line since 2011 is basically flat.
By the numbers: A total of 519 troops died by suicide in 2021, according to the report. The rate of suicide deaths per 100,000 troops was 24.3 for active duty, 21.2 in the Reserves, and 26.4 in the National Guard. Most service members who died by suicide were men; the most commonly used method was a gun. Read the full report, here.
And lastly: The Pentagon will not reinvestigate old cases of civilian casualties, even as it works to prevent civilian injuries and deaths in the future, Politico’s Lara Seligman reported Thursday.
Background: The Defense Department in August released a new plan to prevent civilian casualties, but that is “a forward-looking document that focuses on how DOD will further refine our capabilities and processes to better mitigate and respond to civilian harm,” Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago-Santini told Seligman. “Provisions relating to reevaluation of past incidents of civilian harm are therefore outside the scope of this plan,” he said, though he noted the Pentagon will continue to review previous incidents if new evidence emerges.