Today's D Brief: Russians dig in near Mariupol, Kherson; Kremlin in damage control mode; Election day; 5G towers in NYC; And a bit more.

Russia’s invading forces are digging in for a rough battle ahead at several locations along Ukraine’s occupied south. And that includes the southern city of Mariupol, British military intelligence said Tuesday. Dozens of concrete pyramidal anti-tank obstacles called “dragon’s teeth” are being produced at two different plants near the strategic port city of Mariupol, which “forms part of Russia’s ‘land bridge’ from Russia to Crimea, a key logistics line of communication,” the Brits point out. Those tank barricades have also been reportedly sent to occupied Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, which also hug strategic waterways like the Black Sea and the Dnipro river. 

Big picture: “Russia is fortifying its lines throughout areas of occupation,” the British said Tuesday. Those occupying forces seem to be expending “significant effort to prepare defenses in depth behind their current front line, likely to forestall any rapid Ukrainian advances in the event of breakthroughs.” Otherwise, Russia-ordered evacuations have slowed from the occupied city of Kherson; but “tens of thousands of Russian troops, including its elite units” have stayed behind in the hopes of fending off an expected offensive from Ukraine’s military, according to the Wall Street Journal

“Russian troops are trying hard to convince everyone they are retreating, but at the same time we are seeing objective evidence that they are staying,” Ukrainian military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk told CNN on Saturday.

Speaking of deception: After months of denials, Iranian officials admitted Tehran has supplied Russia with armed drones used to attack Ukraine’s people and infrastructure over the past two months. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian confirmed the involvement in remarks to reporters Saturday, saying, “Some western countries have accused Iran of helping the war in Ukraine by providing drones and missiles to Russia. The part regarding missiles is completely wrong. The part about drones is correct, we did provide a limited number of drones to Russia in the months before the start of the war in Ukraine.” CNN and the Associated Press have more.

Damage control mode: Russia’s military is trying to quash rumors that it lost hundreds of troops during a single recent battle in occupied Donetsk. The allegations were made public in a military blog called the Gray Zone, which alleged some 300 soldiers were killed  in an “incomprehensible” assault on Pavlivka, about 90 minutes north of Mariupol. Reuters unpacks the “unusual denial,” here

Update: It’s taken nine and a half months, but “Russian forces have greatly depleted their arsenal of high-precision weapons systems and have suffered significant aviation losses,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote Monday evening. That first part—precision-guided weapons losses—has been speculated about for months among U.S. observers. The second part—Russia’s alleged aviation losses—touches on one of the big enduring surprises of this invasion to date: Moscow’s inability to control the skies over Ukraine. If both British allegations are true, that would seem to suggest Vladimir Putin’s forces “will likely struggle to maintain the current pace of the Russian military’s coordinated campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure,” ISW predicts. 

The view from Kyiv: “The protection of the Ukrainian sky is, of course, not one hundred percent, but we are gradually moving towards our goal,” Ukraine President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his evening address Monday, and noted his military recently received air defense systems to help defend against the onslaught of Iranian drones that have pummeled Ukraine’s electricity grid since mid-September. (U.S., Norwegian, and Spanish officials sent National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles Systems, or NASAMS, and  Aspide air defense systems, which arrived in Ukraine recently, as Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted Monday.) 

Looking to the east, Zelenskyy said, “The Donetsk region remains the epicenter of the greatest madness of the occupiers; they die by the hundreds every day. The ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the occupiers.”

The president also restated his pre-conditions for peace talks with Russia, which include “restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal, and guarantees that this will not happen again,” Zelenskyy said Monday night, calling them, “completely understandable conditions.”

ICYMI: Over 500 Russian prison convicts have been killed in Ukraine in just two months, according to The Insider, an independent news outlet that focuses on Russia, reporting Friday after having gotten “in touch with some of the relatives of those listed as killed in action” and “confirmed the information that their loved ones had gone to war from penal colonies and died in Ukraine.”

Back stateside, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called up his new Italian counterpart, Guido Crosetto, on Monday. The two discussed support to Ukraine, “including air defense,” according to the U.S. military’s readout (BTW: That Aspide system donated by the Spanish was manufactured in Italy). Austin also “thanked Crosetto for Italy's hosting of U.S. forces,” and “for his commitment to sustain Italian security assistance support to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression.” 

Related reading: 

From Defense One

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Former CISA Head: Election Lies Are a 'Risk to Democracy' // Edward Graham: Election misinformation is a “tactical and strategic" threat, as are the election deniers running for office, Chris Krebs said.

Welcome to this Election Day 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 1895, German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered what we now call the X-ray. He was initially so shaken by the image of his own skeletal hand that he kept his experiments quiet for several weeks, and eventually gathered them into a paper published in late December entitled, “Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen,” or, “On A New Kind of Rays.” Six years later, he would win the first-ever Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery. 

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 Senate seats are up for votes today, along with three dozen governorships across the U.S. Reuters pre-empted one of the more popular questions before voting began Tuesday, asking in an explainer, “when will we find out who has won?” The first answers to that question are expected to begin coming in around 7 p.m. ET, with the closing of polls on the east coast.
See who’s running for office in your district by plugging your address into, or find your local election office website via

And lastly: There are “mysterious towers” popping up all over New York City. Standing about 32 feet tall, these particular totems were built to accommodate the ever-changing needs of our mobile devices—in this case, the 5G speeds we’ve heard so much about for the past half-decade or so. New Yorkers are seeing them now as part of a plan “that involves installing 2,000 5G towers over the next several years [in] an effort to help eliminate the city’s ‘internet deserts,’” the New York Times reported last week.
The downside? Naturally, “Not everyone is impressed,” writes Dodai Stewart. “Before this tower came, I had fine service,” one resident said. “What, a call dropped every now and then? So what. You keep going.” Another called it a “monstrosity,” and said, “Who wants to look at something like that?”
About the 5G antenna itself: It’s “63 inches tall and 21 inches in diameter,” and includes a box “about the size of a filing cabinet or a night stand.” Said one engineering professor to the Times, “You’ll get used to it.” Story, here.