Today's D Brief: 'Over 100K Russians killed or wounded' in Ukraine, Milley says; ASEAN, G20 preview; Biden, on China, Musk; And a bit more.
America’s top military officer estimates Russia and Ukraine have both lost around 100,000 troops each, he told an audience Wednesday at the Economic Club of New York. That estimate includes killed and wounded troops, he said; and he suggested around 40,000 civilians have also died from the Russian invasion, which has shaken up energy markets around the world since it began over eight months ago, in late February.
“You're looking at well over 100,000 Russian soldiers killed and wounded,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley said. “Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side.” The last public Pentagon estimate of Russian casualties was delivered in August, putting the figures somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000.
In perspective: The BBC reports that “By comparison, 15,000 Soviet soldiers were estimated to have died in the 1979-89 Afghanistan conflict.”
Russia still has around 20,000 to 30,000 forces in the occupied city of Kherson, Milley said on the same day that Russia’s military chief announced a withdrawal of troops from the southern provincial capital, the only one Moscow has captured so far. “They made the public announcement they're doing it,” Milley said, referring to the withdrawal from Kherson. “I believe they're doing it in order to preserve their force to re-establish defensive lines south of the [Dnieper] river,” he said, noting with skepticism, “but that remains to be seen.”
Ukraine’s military says it advanced about four miles in two directions near Kherson, sweeping up about 100 square miles of previously occupied land, top officer Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said Thursday on Telegram. Reuters has a bit more.
The view from the White House: Russia’s apparent Kherson withdrawal is “evidence of the fact that they have some real problems,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday at the White House. And “it will lead to time for everyone to recalibrate their positions over the winter period,” he said. Additionally, Biden said, “I found it interesting they waited until after the election to make that judgment [about a military withdrawal from Kherson City], which we knew for some time that they were going to be doing.”
“My hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange,” the president said. And that includes former WNBA player Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia on alleged drug trafficking charges since February. “My intention is to get her home. And we’ve had a number of discussions so far. And I’m hopeful that, now that our election is over, there is a willingness to—to negotiate more specifically with us,” Biden said.
But Ukraine isn’t getting a blank check from the U.S., the president said, anticipating possible Republican opposition to helping Ukraine should the GOP retake control of the House, as expected following this week’s elections. “There’s a lot of things that Ukraine wants [that] we didn’t do,” Biden said. “For example, I was asked very much whether we’d provide American aircraft to guarantee the skies over Ukraine. I said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to get into a third world war, taking on Russian aircraft and directly engage.’ But would we provide them with all the rational ability to defend themselves? Yes.”
He also pointed out the limitations of HIMARS long-range artillery delivered by the U.S. “There’s two kinds of, in the average person’s parlance, rockets you can drop in those: one that goes over 600 miles and one that goes about 160 miles,” Biden said. “We didn’t give them any ones that go to 600 miles, because I’m not looking for them to start bombing Russian territory.”
Biden’s big-picture view of the war: It’s “the ugliest aggression that’s occurred since World War Two on a massive scale,” he told reporters. “And there’s so much at stake,” he added.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU is close to a deal for its own satellite internet, Reuters reported Wednesday—about eight months after the idea was initially floated during the early stages of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. The last meeting to hammer out requirements is expected to take place next Friday, Nov. 17, according to Reuters. Follow-up sessions are expected afterward to address how to finance the project.
The big benefit: “A space-based network could back up terrestrial networks in the event of major outages or disasters,” or wars and invasions, e.g., “and offer connections in places not covered by traditional service providers,” Reuters writes. The latest numbers thrown around include “up to 170 low orbit satellites [possibly launched] between 2025 and 2027.” More here.
Speaking of satellite internet, President Biden was asked Wednesday if he thought Elon Musk is a threat to national security because of his ownership of Starlink satellites over Ukraine as well as Twitter, with significant Saudi financing. “I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said. “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that it’s worth being looked at. And but that’s all I’ll say.” When asked how, the president replied, “There’s a lot of ways.”
- “Ukraine’s Battlefield Gains Likely to Slow After Swift Victories,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday;
- “Italy has been a strong supporter of Ukraine—but that is starting to change,” NPR reported Thursday from Rome;
- Italy’s new, right-aligned Prime Minister Georgia “Meloni tells NATO it can count on Italy in Ukraine,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from Rome as well;
- And “Russian Army Endorses Return of Soviet-Era School Military Training,” The Moscow Times reported Wednesday, citing the pro-Kremlin outlet Izvestia, which has long Soviet roots.
From Defense One
“Wonder Weapons” Will Not Win Russia’s War // Gian Gentile and Raphael S. Cohen: Russia’s turn to kamikaze drones is premised on a flawed strategy.
No ‘Specific or Credible’ Cyber Attacks Hurt Election's Integrity, CISA Says // Edward Graham: Despite “a handful” of DDoS attacks targeting state and local election websites and some technical glitches affecting voting equipment, CISA says it saw “no activity” that should undermine faith in the election results.
Russian Forces Retreat from Kherson, In Major Loss // Patrick Tucker: Retaking the city will put Ukrainian rockets in range of a new swath of targets in Crimea and elsewhere.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 1775, America’s Second Continental Congress passed a resolution directing that “two Battalions of marines be raised,” thus establishing the Continental Marines. That group was disestablished after the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The Marine Corps was then formally re-established in July 1798, but the original founding is celebrated as the service’s birthday. Happy birthday, Marines!
POTUS has a busy weekend of travel ahead as he flies to Egypt for a climate change conference, then to Cambodia for two other summits, and finally to Indonesia for a meeting with G20 leaders in Bali early next week. Biden will also drop by Guam and Hawaii on his way back, according to the White House’s public schedule for the days ahead.
From Biden’s POV, “These world leaders know we’re doing better than anybody else in the world, as a practical matter,” he said Wednesday, referring to “global inflation as a result of the pandemic and Putin’s war in Ukraine…So I think that the vast majority of my colleagues—at least those colleagues who are NATO members—European Union, Japan, South Korea, et cetera—I think they’re looking to cooperate and wanting to know how we can help one another.”
“The rest of the world looks to us,” Biden told reporters. “I don’t mean that we’re always—like we’re always right. But if the United States tomorrow were to, quote, ‘withdraw from the world,’ a lot of things would change around the world. A whole lot would change.”
When it comes to China, Biden says he’s trying hard to sidestep conflict. And while he expects Taiwan to come up, “I’m not willing to make any fundamental concessions,” he said of a planned meeting with Beijing’s leader, Xi Jinping, next week at the G20 conference. “What I want to do with him when we talk is lay out…what each of our red lines are, understand what he believes to be in the critical national interests of China, what I know to be the critical interests of the United States, and to determine whether or not they conflict with one another,” the president said. “And if they do, how to resolve it and how to work it out.”
But Biden isn’t too concerned about a potential China-Russia alliance. “I don’t think there’s a lot of respect that China has for Russia or for Putin,” he told David Sanger of the New York Times. “I don’t think they’re looking at it as a particular alliance. Matter of fact, they’ve been sort of keeping their distance a little bit.” Still, he said, “talk about [China’s allegedly growing arsenal of] nuclear weapons and location and the number of them and access is important to discuss.”
By the way: China doesn’t like being called an “increasingly disruptive, global power,” as Canada’s foreign minister Melanie Joly alleged Wednesday in Toronto. She made the remarks while previewing Ottawa’s upcoming Indo-Pacific strategy, which is expected to be announced sometime in December, Reuters reported Thursday. According to Joly, China’s “sheer size and influence makes cooperation necessary to address the world's existential pressures such as global health, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change and biodiversity loss,” she said ahead of her travels to the G20 meeting next week in Bali.
Beijing’s foreign minister struck back at Joly’s characterization of China, telling reporters Thursday that “The relevant remarks by the Canadian side contravene the facts, are filled with ideological bias, and shamelessly interfere in the internal affairs of China.”
Back stateside, three employees of a magnetics and rare earth firm in Louisville were arrested Wednesday and charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act. According to federal prosecutors, during a six-year period beginning in 2012, the three illegally sent about 70 drawings with “export-controlled technical data” to a Chinese company while also selling illegally-obtained, Chinese-made rare earths “to two U.S. companies which included them in components sold to [the U.S. military] for use in the F-16, the F-18” aircraft, and other unspecified defense equipment.
The drawings were “related to end-use items for aviation, submarine, radar, tank, mortars, missiles, infrared and thermal imaging targeting systems, and fire control systems for [the Defense Department],” the Department of Justice said in a statement. The accused—Phil Pascoe, age 60; Monica Pascoe, 45; and Scott Tubbs, 59—face up to 20 years in prison for each drawing, “up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud...and 10 years in prison for smuggling goods from the United States,” according to the Justice Department.
Background: The Louisville company they work for, Quadrant Magnetics LLC, announced in January that they planned to open a $95 million processing facility in northern Kentucky. Quadrant also has locations in California, Germany, Vietnam, and China, where it opened a manufacturing site 12 years ago in Hangzhou. Louisville’s NBC affiliate, WAVE, has more, here; or Louisville Business First has still more, here.
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Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you next week!