Today's D Brief: Kyiv bracing for Russian offensive; WH thinks Ukraine can retake Crimea; The Army's new spy plane; $858B NDAA heads to Biden's desk; And a bit more.
At least half of Ukraine is without power after Russia launched another 76 missiles at its democratic neighbor on Friday. Ukraine’s military says 72 cruise missiles and four guided air-to-surface missiles were used in Friday’s barrage, which was trimmed down to 16 missiles after Kyiv says it shot down 60 of the projectiles with anti-aircraft and air defense weapons. Some of the missiles appear to have been visible from a passenger plane flying over Moldova on Friday; see that video shared on Twitter by European outlet Visegrád 24.
New: Ukraine says it thinks Russia will launch a new and wide-ranging offensive sometime around February, since that’s when some 150,000 newly mobilized troops are expected to become available for service. Ukraine’s defense chief said as much to The Guardian on Thursday, and Kyiv’s top uniformed officer said much the same in an interview this week with the Economist.
“I have no doubt they will have another go at Kyiv,” said General Valery Zaluzhny. That may come later, though, he predicted. Other large-scale offensives—possibly in the south, maybe from the east—are expected “in February, at best in March and at worst at the end of January,” Zaluzhny told the Economist.
“The enemy shouldn’t be discounted. They are not weak,” said Kyiv’s ground forces commander, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrsky. “They have very great potential in terms of manpower,” he added.
“I know that I can beat this enemy,” Zaluzhny boasted. “But I need resources. I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs [infantry fighting vehicles], 500 Howitzers.” (The Economist noted those figures alone are “bigger than the total armored forces of most European armies.”)
Meanwhile across the Atlantic: The White House isn’t keen on speaking about what might lie ahead, according to a Friday morning phone call with reporters. “We have seen nothing that tells us Putin has moved off his maximalist goals with respect to Ukraine,” said National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby. However, he stressed, “We aren’t seeing any indication that there is an imminent move on Kyiv, but we’re watching it closely.”
Big picture: “Nothing has shown us any indication that [Putin] is willing or serious at all about trying to end this war with diplomacy or some sort of negotiated settlement,” said Kirby. “In fact, everything the guy does tells us quite the opposite—continuing to buy drones from Iran, now looking to deepen that defense relationship with Iran, still looking for sources of ammunition from other places around the world,” and Friday’s barrage on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. “On every single front, you see a guy who is determined to continue to prosecute this war against Ukraine; and more specifically these days, against the Ukrainian civilian population.” In other words, all parties apparently continue to plan on this conflict lasting a long while.
Notable: At least one White House official reportedly says Ukraine now has the military capability to retake Crimea from the Russians. That’s according to NBC News, which reported that the assessment was recently shared with members of Congress—with the caveat that “A lot would have to happen militarily first.” Other U.S. officials reportedly fear a large-scale Ukrainian offensive targeting Russian forces on the Crimean peninsula could persuade Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons in response.
New: The U.S. just sanctioned key Russian railroad officials (for assisting in the mobilization process) as well as another oligarch, and Russia-appointed proxy authorities serving in occupied Ukrainian cities across Donetsk and Kherson. Details via the State Department, here.
This week in notable sleuthing, Reuters helped trace Russian drone components back to their apparent sources, which include a 41-year-old Florida man who sells circuit boards to Moscow that seem to be the same ones used to help drones hit their targets inside Ukraine. “Based on Russian customs filings and bank records, the investigation marks the first time a supply route for American technology has been traced all the way to a Russian manufacturer, whose weapon system is used in Ukraine,” Reuters writes up top. When reached for comment, the Florida man—a dual U.S.-Russian citizen—told Reuters, “I just don't think that whatever this is, it's a big deal that you should be writing this story.”
- “‘Wiped out’: War in Ukraine has decimated a once feared Russian brigade,” via the Washington Post, reporting Friday from Helsinki;
- “Trojanized Windows 10 Operating System Installers Targeted Ukrainian Government,” cybersecurity firm Mandiant announced Thursday—highlighting vulnerabilities created by officials linked to Kyiv downloading software from online torrents, whose risks have been known for years;
- And “Russia’s Influence Campaign in Africa Targets a U.S. Ally,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from Uganda.
From Defense One
US To Expand Ukraine Training Mission Early Next Year // Patrick Tucker: New program aims to train 500 Ukrainians a month in Germany.
Inside the Army’s Newest Spy Plane // Marcus Weisgerber: Already watching over Ukraine, Leidos’ ARTEMIS is part of the service’s growing fleet of contractor-owned intelligence aircraft.
Why Congress Can’t Stop the CIA From Working With Forces That Commit Abuses // Lynzy Billing: The Leahy Law prohibits the U.S. military from providing training and equipment to foreign security forces that commit human rights abuses, but it does not apply to U.S. intelligence agencies.
House Moves to Avoid a Friday Shutdown, But Hurdles Remain in the Senate // Eric Katz: Lawmakers are looking to create enough time to pass a full-year funding measure.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1944, the Battle of the Bulge began.
America’s new $858 billion defense policy bill is headed to the White House after passage in the Senate on Thursday evening. The bill ends the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, increases money to assist Ukraine and Taiwan, and gives troops a pay raise, among other measures, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The NDAA’s final authorization amount is $45 billion more than what President Biden asked for, with $19 billion of that increase going to inflation mitigation measures, according to Politico. Congress also added money to buy 11 new ships for the Navy—instead of just eight—and 69 F-35s for the military, up from 61 originally sought.
But with that vaccine mandate repeal included in the bill, will President Biden veto it? National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said Friday that it’s too soon to know for sure. “We still believe that the mandate has been good for the health and readiness of the force,” he said in a phone call with reporters. “The president supports Secretary Austin's continued efforts with respect to the vaccine mandate; he thinks repealing it is not the right decision for the troops.”
“Every single year the NDAA has things in it we support; and it has things in it that we don't support,” said Kirby. “And the president will judge this NDAA as a whole, just like he has in the past. And I'm not gonna get ahead of his judgment of it.”
In case you were wondering, 97% of the active-duty Army is fully vaccinated, according to data released by that service today. About 96 percent of active-duty Marines were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 1; 99% of active-duty members of the Department of the Air Force were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 6.
Reminder: Congress must still approve a funding bill before the measures included in the policy bill can go into effect.
New: Japan will significantly increase its defense spending and purchase missiles capable of hitting China, making the country—which has been pacifist since the end of World War II—the third largest military spender in the world.
The land of the rising sun is at a “turning point in history,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, calling the new strategy and beefed up spending “my answer to the various security challenges that we face.” The main challenge, of course, is China, which Japanese leaders worry has been emboldened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Reuters has a bit more, here; AP has this; the New York Times has this; or read the Wall Street Journal’s take, here.
Tokyo’s announcement garnered a hearty endorsement from Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, who said he welcomed the developments, “which reflect Japan’s staunch commitment to upholding the international rules-based order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The Pentagon supports Japan’s move to “acquire new capabilities that strengthen regional deterrence, including counterstrike capabilities,” according to Austin’s statement.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also praised Japan’s decision, calling it a “bold and historic step to strengthen and defend the free and open Indo-Pacific.”
That’s it for us this week. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to send us an email letting us know what sort of topics or concerns you’d like to see covered in the year ahead.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!