Today's D Brief: Russia makes gains around Soledar; C-UAS delays to Ukraine; US seizes arms bound for Yemen; HASC's Rogers gets started; And a bit more.

Russian forces are closing in on the eastern Ukrainian city of Soledar, which is near the hotly-contested city of Bakhmut, in the occupied Donetsk oblast. “The invaders have now concentrated their greatest efforts on Soledar,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Monday. “It is extremely difficult; there are almost no whole walls left” in the city, he said in an evening address to his countrymen. 

“The enemy is advancing literally on the bodies of their own soldiers and is massively using artillery, rocket launchers and mortars, hitting their own troops,” Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on Monday. “Currently, the enemy has deployed a large number of assault groups formed from the best reserves of the Wagnerites,” she said, referring to the mercenaries that have been trying and failing to take control of Bakhmut since May. 

Russian and Wagner elements “are likely in control of most of the settlement” of Soledar, the British military said Tuesday on Twitter. “Russia’s Soledar axis is highly likely an effort to envelop Bakhmut from the north, and to disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication,” the Brits said, and added somewhat optimistically, “Despite the increased pressure on Bakhmut, Russia is unlikely to envelop the town imminently because Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines in depth and control over supply routes.”

However, there are “200 km-long disused salt mine tunnels which run underneath the district” around Soledar, according to the British. And both the Ukrainians and Russians likely fear those tunnels “could be used for infiltration behind their lines.” 

By the way: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang up his British counterpart Ben Wallace on Monday. The two discussed developments in Ukraine, and plans to meet in-person in the coming months. Little else from that meeting was shared, according to the Pentagon’s short readout.

Developing: The U.S. military may send wheeled Stryker vehicles to Ukraine next, Politico reported Monday. The vehicles are “Not as good as a Bradley for a tank fight, but [they are] good to protect infantry and get up close to a fight,” a defense official said. Little else is known about the possible transfer presently; but you can read more in Politico

Delivering counter-drone systems to Ukraine is a lot more difficult than you might think it is, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Take the case of the Vampire counter-drone system from L3Harris Technologies Inc. The U.S. announced back in August that it was sending that system to Ukraine; but the $40 million contract wasn’t signed until just last month—and the first deliveries won’t even make it to Ukraine until the middle of this year. 

Update: Russia’s only aircraft carrier is reportedly in dire straits again, with “significant” corrosion allegedly affecting metal below the third deck; and the carrier’s holds are already filled with murky water, which threatens to help knock the vessel on its side if not moved with extreme caution. The carrier has been in repairs for months, and its situation doesn’t seem to be improving. Read more, here; or via Google Translate, here

In case you missed it: China reportedly demoted its top Russian diplomat “for the intelligence failure on Russia’s invasion” of Ukraine, Chinese officials told the Financial Times this week. That official is Le Yucheng, who was the vice-minister of foreign affairs until June, when he was appointed to a posting as deputy director of the State Administration of Radio and Television. 

Big picture consideration: “Neo-idealism” is emerging as a global “grand strategy” for international relations, and it’s getting a big boost from Russia’s Ukraine invasion, writes Berlin-based academic Benjamin Tallis of the German Council on Foreign Relations. (Full disclosure: He’s also written a book about the idea, as he noted Sunday on Twitter.) 

The idea: To elevate or emphasize above all else “human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic governance, liberal societies and, perhaps most importantly, the right of citizens in those societies to a hopeful future,” according to Tallis. Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy seems to be one of these kinds of idealists, according to the speech he delivered to both chambers of the U.S. Congress in late December. 

“Crucially, the new idealists see the struggle for these ideals, and making progress toward them, as an interest in itself—one which aids the pursuit of their societies’ other interests with regard to both security and prosperity,” Tallis writes. He also argues the implications for this go well beyond Ukraine, and touch Taiwan-China relations as well. 

We bring this up because, as Tallis notes, these values are “in stark contrast to nativist populism as well as to 'Realism' and some other approaches to [international relations],” he says. These idealists’ “focus on the future and progressive change sets them apart from those who seem stuck in the recent past,” Tallis argues. But will the ideas gain wider traction in the months ahead? Time will tell. Read more from Tallis, here

From Defense One

The US Army Can Be the Joint Force's Contact Layer in the Pacific // Maj. Gen. J.B. Vowell: Team a multi-domain task force with U.S. Army Forces Japan to keep tabs on China, boost deterrence, and—if necessary—fight until reinforcements arrive.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Canada to buy F-35; Modified 747 to launch Navy satellites; FTC considers banning non-compete clauses; and more.

5 Questions About the Storming of Brazil's Congress and the Military's Role // Rafael R. Ioris, The Conversation: A conversation with Rafael Ioris, an expert on Brazilian politics at the University of Denver.

It May Become Illegal to Stop Employees From Taking a Job with a Competitor // Edward Graham: Opponents of "noncompete agreements" say they stifle competition and innovation.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, 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 49 BCE, Julius Caesar “crossed the Rubicon,” triggering civil war in Rome.  

The U.S. military says it intercepted a shipment of more than 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles headed from Iran to Yemen in the Gulf of Oman. The rifles were being transported onboard a “stateless dhow” along “a route historically used to traffic weapons to the Houthis in Yemen,” U.S. officials from the Tampa-based Central Command announced Tuesday. If proven, the weapons could be a violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 and U.S. sanctions against Iranian officials.
At least three U.S. Navy vessels and their crews participated in the interdiction; that included sailors and personnel with the USS Chinook patrol coastal ship, Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Monsoon, and the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans.
“This shipment is part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. “These threats have our attention. We remain vigilant in detecting any maritime activity that threatens freedom or compromises regional security.” See images of the confiscated weapons, via CENTCOM, here.
Related reading:

Taiwan’s president is asking Germany to help keep “regional order” in the face of mounting threats from China. Tsai Ing-wen made the request to German leaders Tuesday during their visit to the island, Reuters reports from Taipei.
Democracies must stand together against “authoritarian expansionism,” she said. “We look forward to Taiwan, Germany and other democratic partners jointly maintaining the regional order and prosperity.”
Related reading: 

And lastly: President Joe Biden is in Mexico City today for a meeting of North American leaders, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
On the agenda: clean energy, and “supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal war,” the White House said in its daily schedule. After a photo at Mexico City’s National Palace, the president plans to fly back to the White House later in the evening.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, HASC chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., is now on the job. Rogers, the top House Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has assumed his new position, which now makes him the first congressman from Alabama to chair the defense committee, according to his press team.
As for what lies ahead with Rogers in charge of HASC, he promised to focus on the “unprecedented threats [to the U.S.] from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.” He also wants to probe what he says are “misguided policies that distract from the core mission of the Department of Defense.” These are typically understood to be pandemic-related policies like a Covid vaccine mandate, as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives, which Republicans deride as “woke-ism.”
According to Rogers, U.S. military officials “in charge of these initiatives will come before the committee to explain how they will protect our national security. We will leave no stone unturned in holding the Biden administration accountable,” he promised. Tiny bit more from his message on Tuesday, right here.
See also:Pentagon prepares for series of GOP-led investigations,” via CNN, writing Monday off what U.S. defense watchers have been told by GOP lawmakers for months is coming this calendar year.