Today's D Brief: Zelenskyy visits frontline troops; Russians’ growing doubts; Jan. 6 charges for Trump?; Shutdown watch; and a bit more.

On day 300 of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, Kyiv’s president traveled to the embattled eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, where on Tuesday he spoke to members of several units defending the city from Russian attacks, including mechanized, motorized infantry, mountain assault, tank, artillery, and airmobile soldiers. 

“Bakhmut is the hottest spot on the entire front line, [which spans] more than 1,300 km of active hostilities,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Monday evening in an address to his fellow countrymen. “Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut,” he said. “But time goes by and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the wasted army of the occupiers.”

Developing: A top Ukrainian official thinks Russia is about to run out of missiles, which strikes your D Brief-ers as an incredibly bold claim. “If we count the massive attacks that have already been carried out, then they have at most two or three left, or they may be able to scrape together four,” National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda on Monday. “But after that, they will completely run out of missiles,” he predicted. However, “They still have S-300 [Soviet long range surface-to-air missile systems] missiles, which they are using now, unfortunately, over our cities. They have more or less enough of these missiles.”

And Iranian drones? They still have those, he said. But “we have learned how to fight them,” Danilov said. “Recently, there was a case when we shot down 100% of the drones they launched.” (That may have been the attack on Kyiv last Wednesday, in which 13 Iranian-made Shahed-136 and 131 drones were allegedly shot down before reaching their targets.)

Danilov’s perspective on Russian leader Vladimir Putin? “It is important that every day we do our part to make his life more and more and more horrible; and this is what is happening,” he said. “He is like a cornered rat...His life is a nightmare, because he wakes up in the morning—I don't know in which bunker—and he doesn't understand what he has to do next.”

By the way: The Russian public seems to be growing increasingly skeptical of Putin’s Ukraine invasion, according to the results of a recent phone survey conducted by opposition pollsters at the Russia-focused Anti-Corruption Foundation. Perhaps most notably, respondents who called Putin’s invasion a “success” declined from 23 to 14 points from October to November; the opposite opinion, meanwhile, gained 4 points in the same time, according to Leonid Volkov of the ACF. 

Russians also seem to be souring on the perceived strength of Putin’s army, which has been both transformed and gutted during Vlad’s tenure, as the New York Times detailed in a six-part feature over the weekend. “In August, before the mobilization [that Putin ordered on 22 September], 35% assessed the quality of [the] Russian army [to be] above average, and just 15% considered [it] to be below average,” Volkov notes. But the latest survey from November shows those numbers shifted from 35:15 to 20:28.

“Why are Russians losing faith in Putin’s propaganda narratives?” Volkov asked. “The answer is obvious,” he said. That is, “mobilization made them aware of what's actually going on. It reached out to almost every family in the country. It shocked those who believed in Putin's ‘stability’ for decades.” As a result, Russian citizens seem to be more open to alternative perspectives about what’s really going on than at any point in the conflict to date, he said. “That's why it is so important to talk to them,” Volkov stressed. “Putin's propaganda has reached the limit of its effectiveness,” he said, and the “Kremlin will face serious difficulties with the next wave of mobilization,” he predicted. Read more from his explanatory Twitter thread Monday, here

As things currently stand, Kyiv thinks early summer is about the earliest that the conflict could theoretically end. But that’s a very optimistic timeline, Oleksiy Danilov admitted to Pravda. “I wish it would happen sooner,” he said. “But since I am a realist, I understand that we are unlikely to have that celebration earlier than spring or summer.” But folks like Danilov aren’t sitting on their hands waiting on that day, or for the ones to follow. “We need to achieve victory not only in the war, but also after it, as we face many challenges,” he said. Read over his entire interview with Pravda, here

Two wonks’ dark forecast for Moscow: “Putin’s fall could translate into civil war,” warn Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Liana Fix and Catholic University Professor Michael Kimmage in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. “Russia has a history of regime change in the aftermath of unsuccessful wars,” they write. “A long war in Ukraine would probably spark a revolutionary flame in Russia.” 

Ukrainian troops are allegedly deploying a clever new counter-drone strategy, according to Sam Bendett of CNA, citing Russian sources on Telegram. The idea: “[A] group of drones fly at different heights during the night, but only one of them has a light. It attracts attention, provokes shelling from ground positions, while ‘dark’ drones record the data.” And that data is later used to hit the locations that fired at the lit-up drone. 

Additional reading:

From Defense One

B-2 Bomber Fleet Grounded Indefinitely // Jennifer Hlad: U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command ordered the stealth-bomber stand-down in response to Dec. 10 mishap.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Has a New Suitor. Will the Biden Administration Approve? // Marcus Weisgerber: L3Harris Technologies has entered a $4.7 billion deal to acquire the rocket manufacturer.

Space-Imagery Firm Maxar to Go Private // Ross Wilkers: With government contracts under its belt and a new constellation on the way, the company is to be acquired by a private-equity firm for $4B.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: What to watch for in 2023; $10B in M&A announced; NGA launches new recruiting effort; and more.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1989, the U.S. military invaded Panama to depose its dictator, General Manuel Noriega, who was captured on Jan. 3, 1990.

New: Former President Donald Trump should be charged with at least four crimes, according to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, which wrapped up its 18-month effort with a final public hearing on Monday.
Those crimes include: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the United States, inciting or assisting an insurrection, and conspiracy to make a false statement.
Reuters: “The Democratic-led select committee’s request to the Justice Department—after more than 1,000 witness interviews and the collection of hundreds of thousands of documents—marked the first time in history that Congress has referred a former president for criminal prosecution.” Read, here.
Watch: The committee released an 11-minute video recap of some of the testimony and evidence it gathered.

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to debate a $1.66 trillion funding bill ahead of a Friday deadline that could see the government shut down if no deal is reached between Democrats and Republicans. The “omnibus” bill’s text—at 4,155 pages—was released early Tuesday, and would fund the government through the 2023 fiscal year.
It includes $858 billion in defense spending, and almost $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies. It would also ban the social media app TikTok from government devices. The Hill has more on what’s in and what was left out of the omnibus, here.
The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program could soon get a two-year extension and an additional 4,000 visas, if lawmakers approve the funding bill as written. “This is about upholding the vow we made to the brave individuals who risked their lives and the safety of their families for the U.S. mission,” said New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who championed the legislation. “I appreciate the round-the-clock work of numerous lawmakers to see this through, which will protect the path to safety that we promised our Afghan allies who served beside U.S. troops and diplomats in Afghanistan,” she added. 

And lastly: The U.S. military in Syria captured an alleged senior ISIS official and five other militants over the course of three helicopter raids in eastern Syria since Sunday. “The capture of these ISIS operatives will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks,” said U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Michael Kurilla in a statement afterward.
The captured official is named al-Zubaydi, and he is “an Islamic State Syria Province Senior Official involved in the planning and facilitation of ISIS attacks in Syria,” according to CENTCOM, which said it believes no civilians were harmed during the three raids.
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