Today's D Brief: Putin’s ‘long war’; Biden’s new Africa pledges; Justice for Russian war crimes?; Toxic water on base; And a bit more.

Putin’s long war is already here, Ukraine’s military says. Russia’s military appears to be fully intent on “turn[ing] the conflict into a long-term armed confrontation aimed at exhausting Ukraine and our partners.” That’s what Ukrainian Army Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Gromov told reporters at a briefing Thursday. It’s not a terribly new message; but it’s one that Ukrainian leaders seem to sense needs to be repeated for the benefit of Ukraine’s allies and partners. President Volodymir Zelenskyy conveyed similar themes in his recent conversation with David Letterman for the latter’s Netflix show. 

“In the near term, the enemy's main efforts will be focused on the strategic task of establishing full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” Gromov said. That had been known previously, but we’re now beginning to see more and more evidence that Russia is actively digging in across occupied territories in an effort to stop any ground offensives like the ones that won back regions surrounding Kharkiv and Kherson, to the east and the south. For example… 

Check out numerous trenches and a range of obstacles the Russian military appears to be digging and emplacing according to an array of imagery obtained by the New York Times on Wednesday. Their tease: “Trenches are not new to Ukraine…But the pace and the scale of Russian construction over the last couple of months is unmatched,” including a notable assortment completed in just six days near the city of Bakhmut. 

One view from Washington: “Russian forces could most readily relaunch offensive operations along two main axes of advance in the coming months—along the Kharkiv-Luhansk border in northeastern Ukraine, or in Donetsk Oblast,” analysts at the D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War wrote Wednesday evening. They believe this because “Russian troops appear to be moving heavy equipment from rear areas in Luhansk Oblast to areas near the current frontline along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border and have reshaped and reconsolidated their force grouping along this line.” What’s more, “A recent drop in temperatures in this area to consistently below-freezing has allowed the ground to solidify, likely setting conditions for increasing the pace of offensive operations.” Troops withdrawn from the Kherson capital could be used for just such an offensive, ISW warns. 

There’s also the distracting specter and spectacle of Belarus. Belarussian President Alexander “Lukashenko’s regime is probably preparing for war, but at the moment all the necessary components are missing,” Gromov said. Russia has been sending its troops to the territory of Belarus since mid-October, as satellite images appeared to reveal about five weeks ago; but most Ukraine-watchers don’t view these developments as terribly ominous yet, given Minsk’s reluctance to overtly join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Last week, one battalion of [Russian] tanks each was moved to [Belarus’s] Obuz-Lesnovsky and Losvido training grounds,” Gromov said Thursday. “This week, the enemy dropped three MiG-31K aircraft carrying Kinjal hypersonic missiles, as well as an A-50U long-range radar detection aircraft, at the Machulischi airfield,” just south of Minsk. According to Gromov, this suggests Russia is planning to carry out more airstrikes on Ukraine from Belarussian soil. Still, he added, “the probability of the enemy conducting an offensive [ground] operation from the territory of the Republic of Belarus remains low.”

Ukraine also says Russia is forcing citizens in occupied areas into military service, this time in the Luhansk oblast; some from the coal mining city of Rovenki have allegedly already been sent to Russia’s 2nd Army Corps.

America’s military chief, its top officer, and the president’s top advisor rang their Ukrainian counterparts Tuesday. Compared to the Pentagon, Kyiv’s post-meeting readout was only slightly more forthcoming, and said the six men reviewed “the current situation at the front,” the “protection of critical infrastructure facilities,” and “ways of achieving a just peace in Ukraine” that “would envisage accountability for the aggressor state.” 

Worth noting: The entourage from Kyiv also “thanked the United States, President Joseph Biden, both houses of the U.S. Congress and the entire American society for supporting Ukraine and the invaluable contribution to the protection of the values of freedom and democracy in Europe and the whole world.”

The next day, Austin also discussed Iranian drones with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi during his visit to Washington for the White House’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. That bit about drones comes from the Pentagon’s terse, obligatory post-meeting readout

Today in Washington: Austin welcomes his Lithuanian counterpart, Arvydas Anušauskas, to the Pentagon at about 1 p.m. ET. 

And several experts are discussing how to smartly rebuild the Ukrainian economy, in a virtual event hosted by the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and the Center on the U.S. and Europe at Brookings. Yuriy Gorodnichenko of the University of California, Berkeley; and Vladyslav Rashkovan of the International Monetary Fund will discuss the findings in their new book, “Rebuilding Ukraine: Principles and Policies,” published by the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research. That two-hour event begins at 11:30 a.m. ET; register for the livestream, here

Recommended reading:

From Defense One

World Leaders Expected to Push for Ukraine War Crimes Trials at Munich Security Conference // Kevin Baron: “How do we get them in front of courts?” says the German ambassador who leads the annual event.

Russians Still Support the War But Are Less Certain What It’s About // Patrick Tucker: Majorities of those surveyed said that it's a good time for Moscow to begin negotiations.

Let’s Make It Easier to Share Top-Secret Data With Allies, Intel Leader Says // Lauren C. Williams: The Defense Intelligence Agency’s CIO wants to expand collaborative workspaces—and resist the urge to mark everything NOFORN.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, Jennifer Hlad, and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here

Biden pledges more security support for Africa. On the second day of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to get the United States more involved. As day three got underway Thursday morning, the State Department highlighted several new initiatives, including:

  • 21st Partnership for African Security: A $100 million, three-year pilot program to incentivize and bolster African efforts to implement and sustain security sector capacity and reforms. 
  • Civil Society Partnerships for Civilian Security: At least $2 million to develop a new initiative that facilitates civil society engagement in the security sector. 
  • Bolstering Peace, Security, Democracy, and Governance in the Sahel: “To support this effort, the United States is investing over $115 million in FY 2022 for economic and development assistance, with a particular focus on democracy and governance programming, and approximately $60 million to support the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.”
  • The first-ever U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities aims to respond to “early warning signs of atrocities as a core national security interest.”

Germany approves F-35 funds. Nine months after German Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht announced plans to buy 35 of the Lockheed Martin-led 5th-gen combat jets from the United States, and four months after the U.S. State Department okayed the deal, the German legislature on Wednesday approved the necessary funds: some $8.4 billion. The money will be drawn from the $107 billion defense fund Germany established after Russia invaded Ukraine. (German press release, Reuters

Toxic water at stateside bases. About 175,000 troops at 24 installations each year are exposed to chemicals in drinking water, according to a Pentagon report made public by the Environmental Working Group. Some of the bases with dangerous levels of Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances, or PFAS, are Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Military Times reported Thursday. (PFAS are known as “forever chemicals,” because they never break down.) 

And lastly: Facebook, er Meta was just sued for its alleged involvement in an apparent murder in Africa. The son of an Ethiopian man who was killed after being attacked on Facebook is suing the social media site’s parent company, Meta, saying his dad, Meareg Amare Abrha, would still be alive if Facebook “moderated posts properly.” Abrha had complained about threatening posts before his death; continued threats from the men who shot him prevented others from helping him until it was too late, the son told the BBC. Abrham Meareg says he wants to establish a $2 billion fund for victims of hate on Facebook—and he wants a personal apology.