Today's D Brief: Zelenskyy goes to Washington; US sending Patriot battery to Ukraine; Putin wants a bigger military; Taliban ban women at universities; And a bit more.
From the frontlines to the White House in roughly 24 hours: Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy is visiting Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for his second unannounced trip outside of Kyiv in two days. On Tuesday, Zelenskyy ventured about 10 hours from the capital to the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russia’s invading troops and mercenaries have been trying to occupy since at least May. Just a few hours later, he caught a train to Poland, where soon after he hopped on an apparent Pentagon flight to the United States.
Zelenskyy has an afternoon visit planned with President Joe Biden, and he’ll later address a joint session of the House and Senate on Capitol Hill. Zelenskyy says his goals are to “strengthen [the] resilience and defense capabilities” of his military. “I will also have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings,” he tweeted just after midnight east coast time.
Context: U.S. lawmakers plan to vote soon on an omnibus spending bill with nearly $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine. The White House also plans to announce nearly $2 billion in security assistance for Kyiv during Zelenskyy’s visit, administration officials told reporters in a preview of the trip on Tuesday.
President Biden has also officially authorized giving Ukraine a Patriot missile battery, which can shoot down ballistic missiles. It will no doubt be a welcome addition for Ukraine’s struggling air defense needs following three consecutive months of intense bombardment from Russian missiles and Iranian exploding drones. “We will train Ukrainian forces on how to operate the Patriot missile battery in a third country,” White House officials said Tuesday. (The New York Times reports the training site is expected to be in Germany.) “This will take some time, but Ukrainian troops will take that training back to their country to operate this battery,” administration officials said.
Zelenskyy’s U.S. visit occurs as Republicans get ready to take control of the House next year, with some Republicans promising more pushback on Ukraine aid. However, “This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party,” White House officials said Tuesday. “This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
“This week is extremely important for Ukraine, in order to get through this winter and next year,” Zelenskyy told his fellow countrymen in his nightly address Tuesday. It’s additionally important, he said, “to gain the necessary support and for the Ukrainian flag to finally prevail on all sections of our border,” including the entire Crimean peninsula, he said. “Ukraine will leave nothing of its own to the enemy,” the president promised.
Coverage continues below…
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Russian leader Vladimir Putin just described the war in Ukraine as “extremely difficult” and “highly complicated.” That’s according to public remarks Tuesday that the Wall Street Journal called a “rare admission” of the setbacks and obstacles his military faces 300 days into an invasion originally intended to last less than a week. On Wednesday, Putin yet again blamed others for his decision to invade Ukraine, claiming it was “the result of the policy of other countries, third countries, who have always striven for this, the disintegration of the Russian world. To a certain extent they succeeded, and pushed us to the line where we are now,” he said according to Reuters.
New: Russia will likely soon begin increasing the size of its military, from 1.15 million troops to 1.5 million. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu pitched the plan to Putin in a televised exchange Wednesday. “I agree with your proposals,” the autocratic leader responded. However, “That target size would likely take years to achieve,” the New York Times noted in its coverage of the announcement.
A note on optics: “Putin is taking increasing pains to surround himself with military uniforms,” write analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. And the Russian leader is possibly doing this, they speculate, “hoping to evoke recollections of Joseph Stalin engaging with the Soviet STAVKA during World War II and to separate himself from the famous pictures of Putin separated by a very long table from Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov.”
The view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: “President Putin badly miscalculated the beginning of this conflict when he presumed that the Ukrainian people would yield and that NATO would be disunited,” White House officials told reporters Tuesday. “He was wrong on both those counts; he remains wrong about our staying power. And that’s what this [Zelenskyy] visit will demonstrate.”
Also new: The World Bank just approved another $610 million in aid to Ukraine; that’s on top of an estimated $18 billion in emergency financing that’s already been made available to Kyiv since the invasion began in February. The new money will be used for “restor[ing] access to essential health services and to provide budget support for child and family benefits, teacher salaries, and utility payments for government agencies,” the bank said Tuesday.
The Pentagon is ferrying energy infrastructure equipment to Ukraine to help repair the electrical grid, Department of Energy officials said this week. U.S. officials sent the first batch of about $13 million in related equipment to Kyiv last week. To date, DOE has set aside more than $53 million to help repair Ukraine’s grid. The Defense Department has a tiny bit more on that effort, here.
Lithuanian officials are searching their warehouses for energy gear, too, Reuters reported Wednesday from the Baltics. “The Ukrainians say they are fine to receive anything, including things that are not working or broken, as they can fix the equipment themselves,” a top official in Vilnius said. Energy grid equipment has already poured into Ukraine from Azerbaijan, France, Latvia, and Poland; that includes items like wires, insulators, transformers, circuit breakers, and more, according to Reuters.
- “‘We will find you:’ Russians hunt down Ukrainians on lists,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday in a terrifying #LongRead from Kyiv;
- “A Culture in the Crosshairs,” via the New York Times Arts Department, which helped identify 339 Ukrainian cultural sites Russia’s military has destroyed since the invasion began;
- “Russia's space agency to issue bonds for satellite programme,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Moscow;
- Don’t miss a Russian munitions assessment from the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Estimating Russia’s Kh-101 Production Capacity,” published last week;
- And Zelenskyy advisor “Andriy Yermak discussed ways to implement the Ukrainian Peace Formula with generals from the USA and Norway” on Tuesday; that delegation included former AFRICOM chief, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, according to Zelenskyy’s press team.
And lastly, from Afghanistan: The Taliban on Tuesday banned all girls and women from universities in the country, leading to some protests Wednesday, the BBC reported. “They destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future,” a Kabul University student told the British outlet.
The Taliban had already banned girls from middle and high schools, banned women from parks and gyms, limited job options, and mandated that women cover themselves from head to toe, as NPR notes.
Also on Tuesday, the Taliban released two Americans who had been held prisoner in the country; the State Department did not release the names of either American, but the New York Times reported that one is filmmaker Ivor Shearer.
Back in the U.S., advocates for legislation that would help Afghan refugees with the immigration process are disappointed that the provision was not included in the omnibus federal budget bill released this week, Military Times’ Leo Shane reports. “Supporters say without action, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees could be forced to return to Afghanistan,” Shane writes. Read more, here.