Today's D Brief: Kyiv, Moscow dig in for long fight; Russia salvaging old missiles; House GOP natsec forecast; US attack ISIS in Syria; And a bit more.

Waiting for a colder war: Ukraine’s military chief publicly signaled a relative freeze in ground operations until the winter’s coldest months, closer to February. That was Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov’s message Sunday when his Swedish counterpart visited the port city of Odesa, which was hit with a barrage of Russian missile strikes Saturday (BBC), cutting power to more than a million residents. 

“We have watched rain and very difficult conditions for offensives from any side,” Reznikov said according to a translation provided by Ukrainian newspaper Pravda, “Therefore, using the moment, when the ground is firmer, I am convinced that we will resume our counter offensives and the campaign on liberating our land.”

Ukraine has still liberated just 54% of the land Russian forces seized since late February. That’s according to the British military, which on Monday assessed that “Russia’s current minimum political objectives of the war remain unchanged.” That is, “Russia is likely still aiming to extend control over all of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts,” and the Russians will probably try “advancing deeper into Donetsk Oblast” in the days ahead, the Brits predict.

From London’s POV, the Russians are “unlikely to make operationally significant advances within the next several months” because of well known personnel shortages and some lesser-known tactical decisions around Donetsk, which are at times puzzling to some outsiders and scholars like Michael Kofman of CNA, for example. 

  • By the way: Kofman shared his latest read of the conflict on Dmitri Alperovitch’s “Geopolitics Decanted” podcast, which just published a new episode Monday. You can listen to that one, here

Ceasefire watch: “Russia and Ukraine are extremely far apart” when it comes to any potential cessation of hostilities, according to the Institute for the Study of War, writing Friday. And presently, “it is almost impossible to imagine a ceasefire being agreed to, let alone implemented, for some months, which would deprive Russia of the opportunity to pause Ukrainian winter counter-offensives and reset before spring,” they write. 

After all, Kyiv’s military chief said Sunday his goal “is very simple; it is the liberation of all temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to 1991 levels, when Ukraine’s borders were internationally recognised.” (It should be noted that retaking so much land—especially the peninsula—is a considerably ambitious goal, as our colleagues reported nearly one month ago.)

Russia is launching missiles manufactured in Ukraine back in the 1970s at Ukrainians in 2022, Kyiv’s deputy intelligence chief told the New York Times this weekend. That includes Kh-55 subsonic cruise missiles with no warheads—salvaged and redesigned, apparently, just to absorb Ukrainian air defense interceptors to clear the way, as it were, for subsequent attacks with missiles that contain live warheads. 

“According to our calculations, they have missiles for another three to five waves of attacks,” with a single wave deploying between 80 and 90 missiles, according to Ukraine’s Gen. Vadym Skibitsky. He also said he believes Russia’s defense industry is currently making around 40 precision-guided and cruise missiles per month. Continue reading, here

ICYMI: The U.S. military sent $275 million in more weapons to Ukraine, the Defense Department announced Friday. The new tranche includes more HIMARS long-range artillery rounds, as well as an unspecified “counter air defense capability.” 

The U.S. also recently sanctioned three Russian firms for their allegedly growing partnership with Iranian lethal drone advisors during Russia’s ongoing Ukraine invasion. The State Department’s Antony Blinken announced the measures Friday, almost three months after the first Iranian drone strikes began grinding away at Ukraine’s electricity grid. 

Involved: Russian Aerospace Forces, also known as the VKS; the 924th State Center for Unmanned Aviation; and Russia’s Military Transport Aviation command, aka the VTA. According to Foggy Bottom, “VKS was the intended beneficiary of the Russia-Iran agreement on transferring UAVs; the 924th State Center for Unmanned Aviation sent personnel to Iran for training on operating Iranian UAVs; and VTA was involved in the transfer of UAVs from Iran to Russia.”

New: For the first time in nearly 10 years, Vladimir Putin reportedly won’t participate in his usual year-end press conference with some 1,500 Russian journalists in attendance. That’s according to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking Monday from Moscow. “There won't be one before the New Year, but we expect that the president will still find an opportunity to talk to [reporters], as he does regularly,” Peskov said, according to state-run media, TASS

Related reading: 

From Defense One

How the New Republicans Could Reshape US National Security // Kevin Baron: From China to anti-extremism efforts, a GOP-led House will have its say.

For DOD, 2023 Is All About Proving It Can Build A Tactical Cloud  // Lauren C. Williams: The plan is to develop and deploy a prototype, possibly in the Pacific region, in the next six months. The newly awarded Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability will help.

‘Broken Culture’ Keeps Troops at Risk of Sexual Assault, Advocates Say // Jennifer Hlad: They wonder whether real change is possible before today’s leaders age out and leave.

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. On this day in 1937, and about six months after Imperial Japan invaded China, Japanese aircraft mistakenly attacked and sank the American Navy gunboat USS Panay, whose crew were helping evacuate fleeing Chinese and Americans while traveling on the Yangtze river. Three onboard were killed; 43 others were wounded. Somewhat remarkably, two newsreel cameramen were also on the Panay when it was attacked, and they managed to film portions of the incident and publish a 22-minute video report on what happened. Japan soon issued a formal apology, which reached the White House by Christmas Eve. The U.S. Navy screened the newsreel report for officials one week later, on New Year's Eve. By mid-May, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the Naval Act of 1938, which set aside $1 billion to grow the Navy by almost 75 ships and 950 aircraft. 

The U.S. military says it killed two more ISIS commanders in Syria during an early morning helicopter raid Sunday in the eastern part of the country.
Deceased: A militant named Anas, who was allegedly “involved in the group’s deadly plotting and facilitation operations in eastern Syria,” U.S. Central Command officials said Sunday. (There’s no word on the identity of the second person killed.)
“Extensive planning went into this unilateral operation to ensure its success,” Central Command said, and stressed that it believes no civilians were killed or injured in the operation. “The death of these ISIS officials will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks in the Middle East,” CENTCOM spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.  

And lastly: By space and by sea. The unmanned Orion spacecraft that took a 25-day trip around the moon and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday was retrieved by U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS Portland. The sailors hauled the space capsule into the ship’s well deck before heading back to U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where NASA engineers will pick it up to return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for “post-flight analysis,” USNI News reported. Orion’s splashdown was exactly 50 years after the Apollo 17 moon landing, according to NASA.
“With Orion safely returned to Earth, we can begin to see our next mission on the horizon, which will fly crew to the moon for the first time as a part of the next era of exploration. This begins our path to a regular cadence of missions and a sustained human presence at the Moon for scientific discovery and to prepare for human missions to Mars,” Jim Free, the associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said in a press release.