Today's D Brief: Zelenskyy's 10-step peace plan; Putin rails against history; 70 tons of explosives seized near Yemen; Brits depart Mali; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s president just laid out a new 10-step roadmap for peace with the invading Russian military, including the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. President Volodymir Zelenskyy delivered the plan in a video presentation to G20 leaders Tuesday in Bali.
“If Russia wants to end this war, let it prove it with actions,” Zelenskyy said to the assembly, which he referred to as the “G-19,” since Moscow’s leader did not attend. “We will not allow Russia to wait, build up its forces, and then start a new series of terror and global destabilization. It is now necessary and possible to stop the destructive Russian war.” Zelenskyy’s 10 steps involve “radiation and nuclear safety,” food and energy security, the release of all prisoners, and an official declaration that all hostilities are officially over.
One big problem: Russian officials haven’t indicated Moscow is interested in reversing its invasion anytime soon. And that remains the case despite significant setbacks around the Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts, in the northeast and south, from a Ukrainian counteroffensive that’s been gradually clawing back occupied territory since September. But in a predictable bout of projection, Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov insisted Tuesday that Ukrainian officials are the ones who will not negotiate a peace deal, saying, “We have repeatedly confirmed through our president that we do not refuse to negotiate. If anyone is refusing to negotiate, it is Ukraine. The longer [Zelenskyy’s team] continues to refuse, the harder it will be to reach an agreement.”
Left unsaid by Lavrov: Russian officials continue to allege annexed Ukrainian territory is now part of Russia, including four oblasts hastily annexed in late September—Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia; and that’s what Ukrainian officials would call a “non-starter” for peace talks. Meanwhile, Russia’s strongman leader Vladimir Putin declared those four regions were newly under Russia’s nuclear umbrella shortly after the “sham” referendum votes were counted. The following month, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov echoed that nuclear umbrella claim, declaring to reporters, “All these territories are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation and they are all protected.” In the four weeks since Peskov said that, Russian forces have been forced to retreat from the only Ukrainian provincial capital captured during their invasion, Kherson City, in a humiliating withdrawal that many observers expect won’t be received kindly by Putin—who hasn’t publicly commented on the development yet.
The view from the Kremlin: The world is awash with “distorted history” and “eroding values,” Putin said Tuesday, according to state-run media TASS. “The attempts by some countries to rewrite and turn inside out world history are becoming more aggressive and, by and large, have an obvious goal with respect to our society, which is at least to divide us, to take away our reference points and ultimately to weaken Russia and influence its sovereignty,” Putin reportedly said.
“This scenario, as we can see, has already been tested in some countries, including Ukraine, and in some other states,” said the man whose military has been invading post-Soviet republics for the past almost 15 years. He also said the same attempts to rewrite history are being tried in Russia today, “but we put up resistance in time and firmly enough to defend our interests.”
According to the Pentagon, “Since the Russians don't appear inclined to depart, the rest have occupied Ukraine, there's undoubtedly still tough fighting ahead,” a defense official told reporters Monday. “But the liberation of Kherson City is a significant accomplishment and a testament to the grit, determination and tenacity of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces as they fight to defend their nation.”
Coverage continues below…
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Welcome to this Tuesday 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 2012, China’s Xi Jinping first rose to power when he was appointed General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He was re-appointed to an unprecedented third term just last month, possibly setting the stage for a lifelong appointment as leader of the world’s second biggest economy.
The European Union's top defense and diplomacy leaders are meeting in Brussels, and that group includes NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. “I expect that we will, of course, discuss Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine during our meeting,” Stoltenberg told reporters beforehand. “We all welcome the progress that Ukrainian forces have made over the last days, in particular with the liberation of Kherson. This is due to the bravery and courage of the Ukrainian armed forces.
“I think it’s important that we do not make the mistake [of] underestimat[ing] Russia,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “Russia retains significant military capabilities, [and] a high number of troops. We have seen that Russia is willing to suffer high casualties and also we have seen the brutality not least in the areas that have been liberated, how that brutality has been exercised against civilians in those territories. So we need to continue to provide support to Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Notable: 94 out of 181 countries at the United Nations voted in favor of Russia paying reparations to Ukraine, according to the final tally Monday at the UN General Assembly; that included a few surprises, like Hungary, Turkey, Qatar, and Kuwait, each of whom voted against Russia. Fourteen nations voted with Russia and against the resolution—including China, Iran, and North Korea; while 73 others abstained, like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and India.
After the Second World War, “Seventy-seven years ago, the Soviet Union demanded and received reparations, calling it a moral right of a country that has suffered war and occupation,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the delegates gathered in New York on Monday. “This proposal is not about Russia alone; it will work for the benefit of all those who are being threatened now or might be threatened later by use of force.”
For the record, “General Assembly resolutions carry symbolic weight, but do not have the power to enforce compliance,” the BBC reminds us. Tiny bit more from Reuters, here.
New: The IAEA says it will send “nuclear safety and security missions” to three different Ukrainian sites with operating nuclear power plants, including the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The other two sites are at the Khmelnytskyi and Rivne Nuclear Power Plants.
IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi: “While the world is focused on the precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, we must not forget the other nuclear facilities located in a country at war,” the agency’s director general said in a statement Monday. “Our experience shows that this can change at any time and suddenly take a new dangerous turn,” he said, and added, “This is not the time to relax.”
- “Russian Oil Exports Hold Up Despite Impending EU Ban,” the Wall Street Journal reports from the global energy front, citing the latest monthly report from the International Energy Agency;
- “Chinese top diplomat praises Russia's commitment to settle Ukrainian issue diplomatically,” Moscow’s state-run TASS reported after Russia and China’s foreign ministers spoke in a phone call Tuesday;
- And “For Western Weapons, the Ukraine War Is a Beta Test,” Lara Jakes reported Tuesday for the New York Times.
The U.S. Navy confiscated 70 tons of explosives allegedly sent by Iran and bound for Yemen, the Bahrain-based U.S. Naval Forces Central Command announced Tuesday. The interception at sea happened exactly one week ago in the Gulf of Oman, which has been an active arms smuggling route for Yemen’s warring factions since at least 2015, when the Saudi and Emirati militaries intervened to halt advances by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, based in the capital city of Sana’a.
Involved: “[M]ore than 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate, a powerful oxidizer commonly used to make rocket and missile fuel as well as explosives,” U.S. Navy officials said Tuesday, calling the operation the “U.S. 5th Fleet’s first ever interdiction of ammonium perchlorate.”
It was enough material “to fuel more than a dozen medium-range ballistic missiles, depending on the size,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who commands NFCC. “The unlawful transfer of lethal aid from Iran does not go unnoticed; it is irresponsible, dangerous, and leads to violence and instability across the Middle East,” Cooper said in the statement. More here.
And lastly: The Brits are the latest to end their military mission in Mali ahead of schedule. You may recall that the French military quit in August after nine years of counterinsurgency (and relocated to Niger); and the U.S. quit, too, following a military coup that toppled then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. An 1,100-troop German contingent remains in Mali, but it’s unclear how much longer that UN peacekeeping mission will continue. Officials from the Ivory Coast, however, reportedly just announced on Tuesday that they will be pulling out their Mali-based contingent sometime in early 2023.
According to the British, “Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace,” said Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey to the House of Commons on Monday. The problem, he said, is that beginning about a year ago, “the Malian Government began working with the Russian mercenary group Wagner and actively sought to interfere with the work of both the French-led and UN missions.” And even though the British military is exiting Mali, investments in “humanitarian, stabilization and development assistance” will continue, he said. Read more from his Monday message to lawmakers, here.
What’s the future of U.S. counter-terrorism in Africa? Journalist Caitlin L. Chandler visited Niger recently to consider America’s new “over the horizon” strategy for fighting terrorism abroad, and filed this #LongRead for the December issue of Harper’s magazine.