Today's D Brief: Ukraine thwarts drone attack on Kyiv; US mulls Patriot battery for Ukraine; American released from Russian captivity; Mike Rogers's culture wars; And a bit more.

For the first time in Russia’s ongoing 294-day invasion of Ukraine, President Volodymir Zelenskyy says his troops in Kyiv were able to shoot down all elements of an attempted aerial attack from Moscow’s military. That allegedly included 13 Iranian-made Shahed-136 and 131 drones fired “from the direction of the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov,” according to Ukraine’s military. “More than 10” of those drones were “detected by radar means” in two different waves before they were destroyed. “Wreckage from the intercepted drones damaged an administrative building and four residential buildings,” the Associated Press reports. Fortunately, no one appears to have died from the Wednesday attacks. 

It’s tempting to wonder whether Kyiv has acquired different or more sophisticated air defense elements. However, Ukraine has previously claimed to have shot down 60 or so rockets and drones in a single day. So it doesn’t necessarily follow that its troops have acquired new or more effective air defense systems from either the U.S. or Ukraine’s European allies. It could instead be that the 13-drone barrage was a more manageable quantity than prior attacks on Kyiv. 

By the way: The U.S. could soon send Ukraine a Patriot air defense battery, two U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday. Pentagon approval is expected later this week; but White House approval is unclear. The Kremlin responded Wednesday by telling reporters such Patriot batteries inside Ukraine would “immediately become a legitimate target for Russia’s armed forces.”

Reminder: Russian and Ukrainian officials are speaking with each other. That’s evident after more than 60 people were released from Russian captivity on Wednesday, according to Kyiv’s military. That included a U.S. citizen, 35-year-old Suedi Murekezi. “The occupiers captured him back in June, in Kherson,” Ukraine’s armed forces said. ABC News has more on Murekezi’s release, here

New: We now have a much more detailed picture of “the global supply chain that continues to feed Russia with Western computer components and other electronics,” according to a joint investigation published Tuesday by Reuters and the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI. “The investigation into this trade identified a galaxy of obscure importers and exporters, like Azu International, and found that shipments of semiconductors and other technology continue to arrive in Russia from Hong Kong, Turkey and other trading hubs,” the authors write. Dive in, here

Related reading: 

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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. On this day in 2012, twenty children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It remains America’s deadliest school shooting, and the fourth-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. 

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., just previewed his feisty culture-war playbook for Pentagon oversight in the months ahead. In a Tuesday statement that seems to signal the GOP’s core military strategy for the year ahead, the House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican worked hard to rhetorically turn the tables and blame America’s societal challenges—emerging from a pandemic, recovering from the Trump-era politicization of everything—on campaigns of tolerance and empathy championed by Democrats.
Rogers, who voted to overturn election results in 2020 and never served in the military, will chair the Armed Services committee when the 118th Congress takes over in early January, with Republicans in the majority across the lower chamber; so it’s especially notable how he and his GOP House colleagues telegraph their concerns about accountability and oversight of the Defense Department in 2023 and 2024.
Rogers: “Our troops should not be the vanguard for the left’s social agenda. Many of the orders issued by the current Secretary of Defense are damaging morale and unit cohesion. They’re hurting recruiting and retention. And they’re undermining readiness.” Pentagon leaders, he said, “should be devoting their attention to deterring China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a long list of others that seek to do us harm. Instead, they’re doing somersaults to satisfy the far-left’s political agenda.” And so Rogers has promised to investigate “where some of these policies came from and why they were implemented” over the course of the next Congress.
From Rogers’ POV (emphasis added), “The civilian leadership at DOD should be focused on building the world’s most lethal fighting force” instead of “pushing questionable policies on our troops just to satisfy the ideological agenda of a minority of Americans.”
It’s not clear what he’s referring to when he cites that “minority” concern; and Rogers didn’t specify, which is an understandable and politically expedient move for a man who studied political science in college and now holds a law degree. Could he be talking about equality or diversity? Again, he was not specific.
But if he’s referring to Covid vaccination requirements, which was a dominant Republican focus in last week’s defense policy bill negotiations, U.S. public opinion polling as recently as July found that “a narrow majority (55%) says vaccination against COVID-19 has been extremely or very effective at limiting the spread of the coronavirus,” where as “22% say this has been somewhat effective and 23% say it has been not too or not at all effective,” according to the Pew Research Center. (Partisan breakdowns for each survey response help account for some of Rogers’ stated sentiment; but his framing would still be false since, of course, the United States is not a country of just one political party.) Perhaps even more to the point, at least 80% of Americans received at least one Covid vaccine dose, according to new research published Tuesday.
The reality is that politics is pretty much just a game of perception; and those alleged perceptions frequently don’t even need to be linked to any truly comprehensive consideration of the facts. But we all know this already. White House and Pentagon leaders know this. And Congressman Rogers, with nearly 35 years in politics, certainly knows it as well.
As for what’s arguably his most substantive complaint, that Pentagon leaders “should be devoting their attention to deterring China, Russia, North Korea, Iran,” it is possible that in the months to come his colleagues will help him keep “the main thing the main thing,” as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey used to say, citing Stephen Covey’s classic book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” But if past is prologue, mark us down as skeptical—especially since House Republicans spent more time investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack than they did probing the attacks on 9/11, Watergate, or the JFK assassination.
Sidenote on morale: More than anything else, there is just one thing that really sank morale during your D Brief-er’s time in the Army, which ended 10 years ago. That was exercise. But every unit did it anyway, and the entire service was better for it.
Also: That preview from Rogers reminded your correspondents of a classic Dana Carvey character from 1990s-era “Saturday Night Live,” the Grumpy Old Man. “In my day, we didn’t have these fancy seat belts that would restrain you if your car crashed,” he told Dennis Miller when the decade had just begun. “In my day, if you stopped suddenly, you knew exactly where you were going: straight through the windshield. That was it. End of story, pull the curtain; close the shutters, good night. You were dead and you liked it!”
By the way: A team of researchers announced Tuesday that Covid-19 vaccines kept more than 18.5 million Americans out of the hospital and saved more than 3 million lives—and those are admittedly conservative estimates. “The vaccination program also saved the U.S. $1.15 trillion in medical costs that would otherwise have been incurred,” the authors write. Read more, here.
Last thing: Let us know what you think by sending us an email with your thoughts about what should be “the main thing” in the year ahead.