Today's D Brief: Macron to the White House; NATO eyes Balkans support; China's growing military; US, Israel drill in the Med; And a bit more.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is in Berlin today speaking with German leaders, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht. On Thursday, Stoltenberg is set to keynote the Berlin Security Conference, which began today and features Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Wereschtschuk, the Pentagon’s Celeste Wallander, and Defense Minister Lambrecht.
Also in Berlin today: The defense chiefs for Finland, Norway, and Denmark discussing security challenges in the “high north” with former U.S. Army Europe commander retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. Review the full agenda for the Berlin Security Conference, here; or watch BSC’s YouTube channel live streaming today’s events, here.
We have new, detailed “testimony” of the first five months of Russia's Ukraine invasion via a new report from Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr Danylyuk, and Nick Reynolds of the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. Their goal, they write, is to make public “key lessons” for the Ukrainians and their allies like the Brits “based on the operational data accumulated by the Ukrainian General Staff, from the fighting between February and July 2022.”
Among their findings: “There is no sanctuary in modern warfare,” the authors write. “Survivability depends on dispersing ammunition stocks, command and control [units], maintenance areas, and aircraft.” We can thank the long reach of missiles—both precision-guided and “dumb”—for that reality.
There’s some myth-busting in this report, too, including this clarifier: “Despite the prominence of anti-tank guided weapons in the public narrative, Ukraine blunted Russia’s attempt to seize Kyiv using massed fires from two artillery brigades.” Another possible surprise: “90% of [aerial drone systems] employed are lost” to countermeasures and counter-drone guns in the hands of both Russian and Ukrainian forces. Dive into that report in full via RUSI, here.
The especially careful view from Estonia: “All NATO allies are aware that the beast [that is, Russia’s military] also wants to take control of the Western Balkans; and we need by practical, deliverable support to help these countries to survive,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters, reporting Wednesday from the last day of a NATO meeting in Bucharest.
That’s partly why NATO allies agreed to assist Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina however the alliance can help. “If there is one lesson from Ukraine, it is that we need to support them now,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday in Romania. “They are affected from Russian influence in different ways,” he said, “but better to support them now rather than see developments that go absolutely in the wrong direction as we saw with the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.” However, it appears to be too soon to know exactly how the alliance intends to help those three nations—each with breakaway regions or Russian-speaking populations openly supported by Moscow; but the European Union has scheduled a meeting next week in the capital of Albania to discuss the Western Balkans.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Polish counterpart Tuesday to discuss “the current security situation along NATO's Eastern Flank,” according to the Defense Department’s terse readout of that call with Warsaw’s Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.
New: SecDef Austin just welcomed his French counterpart, Sebastien Lecornu, to the Pentagon Wednesday morning at about 8:30 a.m. ET. Lecornu is in town as part of a nearly three-day official state visit to the White House by French President Emmanuel Macron—the first state visit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden since taking office almost two years ago.
For Biden-Macron, “I would expect discussions about Ukraine will be front and center to their conversations, as it has been through so many of the meetings and phone calls that they have had over the last year,” senior White House officials told reporters in a preview Tuesday. But Ukraine is not all. “Expect that they will also be discussing the challenges posed by China, as well as other challenges in Iran, in the Middle East, and the Sahel,” the official said.
New: Russia’s former leader Dmitri Medvedev warned NATO and the U.S. against sending Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine, saying on Telegram on Tuesday that “they would immediately become a legitimate target of our armed forces.”
Worth noting: As a Kremlin messenger, Medvedev’s public rhetoric has consistently been colorful (to put it nicely) and bellicose since the invasion began in late February; and the former president stayed in character on Telegram on Tuesday, insisting that NATO “must repent to humanity and be dissolved as a criminal entity.”
At any rate, the Pentagon poured cold water on the Patriot idea Tuesday when Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters, “Right now, we have no plans to provide Patriot batteries to Ukraine…And when and if there's something to announce on that front, we will.”
- “Russian action deemed unprofessional in encounter with USS George HW Bush strike group,” via Stars and Stripes, reporting Tuesday from Naples, Italy;
- “Inside Ukraine’s Blackouts: Fraught Operations, Candlelit Concerts, Anger With Russia,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday from Kyiv.
From Defense One
The Pentagon’s Lead Intelligence Agency Has an HR Problem // Lauren C. Williams: Too few human-resources staffers means a constant struggle to keep up with basic personnel record-keeping and more.
Turkish Airstrikes Have Slowed the Fight Against ISIS, Officials Say // Caitlin M. Kenney: SDF commander, Pentagon spokesman call on Ankara to cease “escalatory” actions.
The Air & Space Brief // Jennifer Hlad: B-21 rollout; Space Force standup; ‘New normal’ for Taiwan; and more.
China’s Increased Military Activity Near Taiwan a ‘New Normal’ Says Pentagon // Patrick Tucker: The Pentagon identifies 2027 as a key deadline for China military modernization, then 2035 and 2049.
When Macron and Biden Meet, Will it Be Love, Actually? // Kevin Baron: America needs to see eye-to-eye with its oldest ally.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1999, Europe's largest defense contractor, BAE Systems, arose from the merger of British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems.
One day after the U.S. Navy pissed off China by sailing through international waters in the South China Sea, Russia joined China’s air force in a joint patrol of strategic bomber planes over that very sea on Wednesday. South Korea’s military says it scrambled fighter jets in response to the patrol, which involved two Chinese and six Russian warplanes that allegedly entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone, according to Reuters.
Russia’s military celebrated its patrols with China, declaring afterward that “For the first time in the history of aerial patrolling, Russian aircraft landed at an airfield in the People’s Republic of China and Chinese planes landed at an airfield on the territory of the Russian Federation,” according to state-run media TASS.
Beijing’s military, by comparison, was not nearly so forthcoming about the joint patrols, as evidenced by the single-sentence release on the matter, here.
The view from the Pentagon: China’s military is trying to “change the status quo, and in fact, fabricate a situation that previously all would agree did not exist” by claiming its sovereignty extends to artificial islands dredged from the sands of the South China Sea—as Beijing alleged Tuesday following that U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operation near the contested Spratly Islands. That’s how Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder described it Tuesday after the U.S. military released its annual report on China’s military, including efforts to modernize its equipment and tactics (Business Insider) and add to its nuclear arsenal (CNN).
“The message not only to China, but to our allies and partners in the region,” Ryder said, is “that we are going to continue to abide by international law, we're going to continue to work closely with our allies and partners in the region to ensure a free and open Indo Pacific, and that we are going to deter China from coercion and from inappropriately establishing restrictions on areas that are free for international commerce international trade.”
Read more about what’s inside the Pentagon’s new China report via our colleague Patrick Tucker’s coverage Tuesday, here.
In other regional developments:
- “Protests Stretch China’s Censorship to Its Limits,” the New York Times reported Wednesday;
- “China vows crackdown on ‘hostile forces’ as public tests Xi,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Beijing;
- “Jiang Zemin, former leader who paved the way for China’s rise, dies at 96,” CNN reported Wednesday from Beijing as well;
- And don’t miss “Japan considers preemptive missile strikes to defend against an imminent attack,” via Stars and Stripes, reporting Tuesday from Tokyo.
And lastly: The U.S. and Israeli militaries are allegedly simulating attacks on Iran while exercising together in the Mediterranean Sea, the Times of Israel reported Tuesday. “Fighter jets and refuelers from the [Israeli Air Force] and the U.S. Air Force will take part in the exercise and simulate a number of scenarios in the face of regional threats,” Israel’s military said Tuesday on Twitter.
“This is a long planned exercise,” Pentagon spokesman Ryder said Tuesday. “And it's also not something that's unusual. We exercise with Israel and other countries in the region on a regular basis.”
The U.S. military in Syria is also exercising this week and using live 120mm mortar rounds near its garrison at An Tanf, near the border with Jordan and Iraq, Central Command officials announced Tuesday. The purpose is ostensibly to “validate weapons systems and maintain crew proficiency and readiness,” CENTCOM said. Tiny bit more to that development, here.