Today's D Brief: Zelenskyy thanks Americans, lawmakers; North Korea sent arms to Wagner, WH says; Breaking down the omnibus; Germany's year ahead; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s president is back in eastern Europe, fresh off a whirlwind trip to Washington on Wednesday where he was greeted with the sort of pomp typical of celebrated allied leaders like Winston Churchill. And like the former British prime minister did 81 years ago this week, Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening to directly thank the American people for the nearly $50 billion in military and humanitarian aid given to Ukraine so far. (Find the full text of his speech, here.)
“I hope my words of respect and gratitude reach every American heart,” he said in remarks that drew a parallel between Ukraine’s plight and the American colonies’ fight for independence, and garnered 18 standing ovations. Speaking of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, he cited the Battle of the Bulge and the allied fight against the Nazis, warning his American audience, “This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live.”
“Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn't fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,” the Ukrainian president said Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill. “And it gives me good reason to share with you our first joint victory: we defeated Russia in the battle for [the] minds of the world. We have no fear. Nor should anyone in the world have it.”
Perhaps more than any other message, Zelenskyy assured his American audience, “Your money is not charity,” but rather “an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something much bigger,” U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier in the day during a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart. “The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences,” Biden said.
Biden also announced the U.S. will send a Patriot air defense battery to Ukraine to help protect against Russian missiles, which have decimated Ukraine’s electrical grid since September. That was part of a nearly $2 billion package of new U.S. aid to Ukraine, including high-tech, precision-guided munitions known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
“We also know that Putin has no intention—no intention of stopping this cruel war,” Biden said Wednesday. “And the United States is committed to ensuring that the brave Ukrainian people can continue to defend their country against Russian aggression as long as it takes.”
As for what lies ahead, Biden said he wants a “just peace” for Ukraine, which includes “seek[ing] justice for Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine…And together, I have no doubt we’ll keep the flame of liberty burning bright, and the light will remain and prevail over the darkness,” he said.
From Zelenskyy’s POV, “I don’t know what ‘just peace’ is,” the former comedian said. “It’s a very philosophical description,” he replied, before adding, “For me, as the president, just peace is no compromises as to the sovereignty, freedom, and territorial integrity of my country, the payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression.”
Coverage continues below…
From Defense One
Zelenskyy to America: Our Fight Is Your Fight // Patrick Tucker: “Your money is not charity," the Ukrainian president said, but "an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
Omnibus Bill Would Add 3 Warships, Save 9 from Retirement // Caitlin M. Kenney: Lawmakers tinkered with the Navy’s shipbuilding plan in the proposed 2023 omnibus bill.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 114: Germany’s uneasy year ahead + 2023 preview with BAE’s Tom Arseneault // Kevin Baron and Marcus Weisgerber: We review the year that was and preview what might lie ahead for the U.S., Europe, and the wider global defense industry.
Lawmakers Omit R&D Tax Break From 2023 Spending Bill // Marcus Weisgerber: Company execs have credited the multibillion-dollar tax break with spurring innovation.
Runway Reopens, B-2s Still Grounded—But President Can Direct Them to Fly if Needed // Jennifer Hlad: Debris from damaged stealth bomber cleared from a Missouri runway more than 10 days after the mishap, USAF says.
Musk Has Reduced Twitter’s Ability to Spot Foreign Disinformation, a Former Data Scientist Says // Patrick Tucker: Staff layoffs are just one way the new CEO has undermined the platform’s three-legged approach to the problem.
Omnibus Spending Bill Would Ban TikTok on Government Devices // Natalie Alms: Congress may need to do more to ward off the national-security threat of the Chinese-made video app, one senator says.
The 2023 Omnibus' Cyber, Tech, and Space Provisions // Edward Graham and Kirsten Errick: The $1.7 trillion bill introduced on Tuesday aims to spur investment in cyber defense, space, and other cutting-edge tech.
Welcome to our final D Brief of the year, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1864, Union Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman “gifted” President Abraham Lincoln the newly-captured Georgia port city of Savannah, along with “150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” To this day, Savannah remains the third-busiest seaport in the United States.
U.S. officials think the next few months in Ukraine will be considerably more difficult than what has occurred so far. That’s according to the New York Times, which reported Wednesday that “the most likely scenario going into the second year of the war [is] a stalemate in which neither army can take much land despite intense fighting.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s manpower problems are so dire that Belarus is allegedly training Moscow’s newly mobilized troops, the British military says. “The likely use of Belarusian instructors is an attempt to partially remediate the lack of Russian military trainers, many of whom are deployed in Ukraine or have become casualties,” the Brits said Thursday, three days after Vladimir Putin traveled to Minsk to meet with fellow autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko.
“Although Russia and Belarus have an extensive background of military cooperation, the training of mobilized Russian personnel by Belarusians represents a role reversal” since “Belarusian forces have traditionally been considered by Russia as inferior to Russian forces,” the British Ministry of Defense said. And that would suggest this apparent new role of Belarussian troops as Russian trainers is “an indication of overstretch” from the Ukraine invasion, which begins its 10th month on Saturday.
Russia is also “recruiting prisoners with serious medical conditions” for its occupation force inside Ukraine, particularly for the Wagner mercenary group operating near the contested eastern city of Bakhmut, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “And in certain places, Russian forces are subordinate to Wagner’s command.”
Update: Wagner has an estimated 50,000 personnel inside Ukraine, Kirby said; that includes 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from prisons. And by now, this is no surprise since Russia has faced setback after setback since September or so when towns around Kharkiv and Kherson were liberated by Ukrainian troops, Kirby said.
New: North Korea has sent its first delivery of arms and munitions to Wagner’s fighters, Kirby also said Thursday. “Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner,” he said. As a result, the U.S. will add additional sanctions on the mercenary group in the coming days.
Cozy with the Communists: Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met with China’s leader in Beijing on Wednesday in what the New York Times called “a sign of the countries’ alignment amid Russia’s deepening international isolation.” That message seems to echo a similar one covered eight days ago by the Wall Street Journal, whose headline reads, “Xi Jinping Doubles Down on His Putin Bet. ‘I Have a Similar Personality to Yours.’”
Accountability watch: Eight Times reporters say they’ve uncovered the identity of the Russian military unit responsible for atrocities—including the killings of at least 36 Ukrainians—in the city of Bucha, just outside of Kyiv, during the early weeks of the war. That unit is the 234th Guards Air Assault Regiment; and the commander is reportedly a man named Lt. Col. Artyom Gorodilov.
“We didn’t just find evidence of this unit’s presence on [Bucha’s] Yablunska Street; we caught them in the act,” tweeted Times reporter Haley Willis. “Vehicle markings seen in [closed-circuit television feeds], calls made by soldiers from victims’ phones hours after their killings, and more evidence all place the unit at the scene at the time of the crimes.” Read the full report, here; or watch a nearly half-hour video of their findings, here.
- “How the AP estimated 10,300 new graves in occupied Mariupol,” via the Associated Press on Thursday, explaining a wider report published on the same day, here;
- “Russia’s Draft Patched Holes but Also Exposed Flaws,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday;
- “Russia’s resources for Ukraine war are unlimited despite ‘issues’, says Vladimir Putin,” Financial Times reported Wednesday;
- See also: “Kremlin-backed hackers targeted a “large” petroleum refinery in a NATO nation,” ArsTechnica reported Tuesday off a new report from cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, which did not specify the victim or host nation.
Lastly: South Korea and the United States may again stage combined joint live-fire drills to deter North Korea, six years after the last such exercise, Reuters reports. Live-fire drills were stopped under previous South Korean leader Moon Jae-in; President Trump halted all military exercises with South Korea in 2018.
As you may recall, South Korea participated in an exercise with a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in September, the first time that had happened since 2018; U.S. F-22s just flew with South Korean F-35s and F-15s on Tuesday.
Happy anniversary? The live-fire exercises would be part of a larger celebration of 70 years of partnership between the U.S. and South Korea—and would also be a response to growing aggression from North Korea.
That’s it for us this week—and this year. We’ll be off during the federal holiday break, which ends immediately after the New Year. If you haven’t already, send us an email letting us know what topics you would like to see covered in the months ahead.
Have a safe holiday! And we’ll see you again on Tuesday, January 3…