Today's D Brief: Winter cold hits Ukraine; Russia's imagery problem; China's new missile; Iran strikes targets in Iraq; And a bit more.
The cold season has officially come to Ukraine. And officials are encouraging citizens in liberated cities to evacuate in the hopes of eking out an existence this winter elsewhere across the country—hopefully someplace with electricity and heat. The first snows fell across the capital city of Kyiv on Thursday. After a chilly weekend, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Monday promised “transportation, accommodation, [and] medical care” to evacuating residents in cities like Kherson, in the south, the Associated Press reports from Kyiv.
President Volodymir Zelenskyy kept an upbeat tone in a recent address to his fellow countrymen on Ukraine’s Day of Dignity and Freedom. “We can be left without money. Without gasoline. Without hot water. Without light. But not without freedom,” he said in a speech Monday. “It may be dark on our streets. It may be cold in our homes,” he continued. “There are many changes [from Russia’s invasion], but they have not changed the most important thing. Because the most important thing is not outside, but inside. And it remains unchanged. And that's why we will hold out. We will endure.”
An uplifting development: Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet terminals are helping facilitate food delivery from donors like Chef José Andrés, who shared his gratitude Sunday on Twitter after a train ride from Kyiv with supplies for the needy in the recently liberated southern city of Kherson.
According to the Brits, “Both Russian defensive and offensive capability continues to be hampered by severe shortages of munitions and skilled personnel,” they write in their latest daily assessment. It’s, of course, unclear how long this may persist since the alleged 300,000 or so mobilized civilians pressed into service since late September may help shift the momentum to Moscow’s advantage in the coming months.
Those donated MRAPs in Ukraine? They’re not performing so well now that the emerging cold season has turned the ground to muck in several locations, including this one flagged by Russia-watcher Rob Lee.
Last week we learned: Russia has started to buy commercial satellite imagery from “the usual commercial providers” via shell companies because Moscow can’t cut it on its own, according to Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute. That would “suggest their own capabilities at the sovereign level are not quite what they need,” Watling told Dmitri Alperovitch on his “Geopolitics Decanted” podcast late last week.
Read more: Watling and his RUSI comrade Justin Bronk published an overview of Ukrainian air defense capabilities and gaps in light of the Russian invasion; it makes for incredibly timely reading, considering how Russia’s air campaign has left a quarter of Ukrainians without electricity or heat heading into the winter.
See the locations of some Ukrainian electricity generation sites allegedly hit in recent Russian strikes via this map created using data gathered by Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute.
Late last week, the Pentagon hosted its second meeting of the National Armaments Directors for Ukraine, which involved officials from 45 nations across Europe and NATO, and was chaired by U.S. President Joe Biden’s top weapons buyer, William LaPlante. According to the Defense Department’s readout, LaPlante’s Friday meeting focused on four things (and note bullet point #2, in light of the two grafs immediately above):
- Ground-based, long-range fires;
- Air defense systems;
- Air-to-ground capabilities;
- And sustainment support.
How is Russia using bloggers to its advantage? Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War unpacked the matter in their most recent assessment Sunday evening. One quick takeaway: “The prominence of the milblogger community is likely a direct result of the Kremlin’s failure to establish an effective Telegram presence stemming from [Vladimir] Putin’s general failure to prepare his people for a serious and protracted war.” Read the rest, here.
- “U.S. Presses Allies to Tighten Up Sanctions Enforcement on Russia,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday;
- “Europe rushes to fill up on Russian diesel before ban begins,” Reuters reported Monday from London;
- “Iran will help Russia build drones for Ukraine war, Western officials say,” the Washington Post reported Saturday;
- “Videos Suggest Captive Russian Soldiers Were Killed at Close Range,” via the New York Times visual forensics team reporting Saturday;
- And see also, “Cold and dark: Kyiv readies for 'worst winter of our lives’,” via the AP, reporting Monday from the capital.
From Defense One
Ukraine Is Getting Nervous About Elon Musk // Patrick Tucker: Kyiv is looking for alternatives to Musk’s Starlink internet terminals and worrying about rising misinformation on Twitter.
Polish Military Chief Says Russia is Escalating on NATO’s Border // Patrick Tucker: After missile debris kills Poles, Ukrainian officials say “air shield” talks with allies are underway.
China Fired a New Missile After Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit, PacFleet Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: The weapon was part of a barrage of missiles and live-fire exercises meant to signal disapproval of the U.S. visit to the self-governing island.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Lockheed, Microsoft in ‘landmark’ partnership; Army restocks rockets; USAF funds hypersonic tests; and more.
Special Operators Lack ‘Seat at the Table’ in Post-Counterterror Pentagon, SOF Leaders Say // Elizabeth Howe: Even as U.S.-trained Ukranians show their mettle, SOF is getting lost in the transition to great power competition, says the assistant defense secretary for special ops.
Muhammad Ali’s Foreign Policy Lessons // Jon B. Alterman: Like the great boxer, America needs to know how to pick the time and place to engage.
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 2013, protests erupted in Ukraine’s capital city when then-President Viktor Yanukovych suspended signing a deal known as the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, which would have brought Kyiv economically closer to Brussels rather than Moscow.
Developing: Turkish jets are reportedly dropping bombs on northern Syria again today in retaliation for the deaths of two people earlier Monday in strikes from the Kurdish militia. The new attacks come a day after what the Wall Street Journal called a “broad series” of Turkish airstrikes Sunday in northern Syria and Iraq against the Kurdish militia; Turkey believes that group is to blame for the deadly bombing of a pedestrian street in Istanbul Nov. 13. Reuters has more, here.
And Iranian drones and missiles targeted Kurdish groups in northern Iraq on Monday, Reuters reported separately. The Iranian government has blamed “dissidents” in the region for stirring up unrest after the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was arrested by the morality police for wearing a hijab incorrectly.
U.S. Central Command head Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla condemned the “cross-border” attacks on Iraq in a statement Sunday, saying, “Such indiscriminate and illegal attacks place civilians at risk, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and jeopardize the hard-fought security and stability of Iraq and the Middle East.”
Update: More than 100 unmanned vessels will be deployed in the Persian Gulf by a task force led by the U.S., Kurilla said Saturday at the Manama Dialogues in Bahrain. AFP covered the announcement about Task Force 59; “at least 80 percent” of those drone vessels will come from partner forces, Kurilla said.
“Combined, these unmanned systems will operate on the same meshed network, feeding reams of data into an AI program that sorts it all out, makes sense of it, and pushes critical information to analysts in real time. Those analysts are sharing this information with partnered forces, all of whom share the same threat picture and the same information. This is where CENTCOM is headed with innovation.”
If this sounds familiar, it could be because our colleague Caitlin Kenney reported on this effort earlier this year. Find that, here.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is in Cambodia for the 9th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting. While there, he’s expected to meet in person with his counterparts from Cambodia, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines. He also spoke to the press for nearly half an hour while sharing a forum with his Indonesian counterpart, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Catch that in reruns, via DVIDS, here.
And lastly today: North Korean state media revealed the dictator Kim Jong-Un’s daughter for the first time ever in a batch of imagery published late last week celebrating Pyongyang’s latest ICBM test. Her reveal could signal the next leader for the isolated country, NKNews writes, citing a source who used to reside in North Korea.
- “Allies [U.S. and South Korea, that is] conduct joint air drill involving B-1B bomber after N. Korea's ICBM launch,” Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported Saturday;
- And “Seoul to attend UN Security Council meeting on NK's ICBM launch,” Korea Times reported Sunday.