Today's D Brief: Poland says it's sending tanks to Ukraine; Russia fires Ukraine war commander; USMC restructuring in Japan; What young shipmakers want; And a bit more.
Poland is sending 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, President Andrzej Duda announced Wednesday during a meeting with the presidents of Lithuania and Ukraine in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. “A company of Leopard tanks will be handed over as part of coalition building,” Duda said Wednesday, and noted with an apparent hint of optimism, “We want it to be an international coalition.”
Critical caveat: “The main decision-maker is Germany; without [the approval of] Berlin this statement will remain just that—a statement,” said security analyst Michael Horowitz, writing on Twitter.
Bigger picture: “By saying this publicly, Poland is putting more pressure on other possible members of this ‘coalition,’” Horowitz says. “The goal is to put more pressure on Germany to agree to the delivery of those tanks.”
Another thing: While 14 would certainly be welcome for Ukraine, it is still a far cry from the 300 tanks Kyiv’s military says it needs to clear Russia from occupied lands.
Britain is considering sending its Challenger II tanks to Ukraine, the New York Times reported Monday. However, so far just 10 of those tanks are under consideration—out of about 225 that London has in stock. “Still, sending Challenger IIs could ratchet up pressure on Germany to commit to sending its Leopard II tanks to Ukraine, as Kyiv wants,” since “Chancellor Olaf Scholz has maintained that Berlin would not be the first NATO ally to send such equipment into the war,” the Times writes.
And Sweden says it’s soon sending its Archer artillery system to Ukraine. Stockholm’s foreign minister was asked if he thought this would be seen as an escalatory move in Russia; he replied, “How can the war become more escalated than it already is? Rather, I think it's just the opposite. We have held ourselves back in this regard for far too long. We have not understood that if Ukraine does not get the military equipment needed to be able to win on the battlefield, this war will drag on, which will only benefit Vladimir Putin.”
New: Russia just appointed a new commander of its Ukraine invasion—Valery Gerasimov, who had previously been serving as chief of the general staff, which was sort of a second-in-charge posting alongside Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Both officers famously discussed the Ukraine invasion with Vladimir Putin seated at an especially long table back in the spring. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced the new role for Gerasimov on Wednesday on Telegram.
Wonk reax: “This appears to be a quite significant change,” said Russia-watcher Rob Lee. “I don't think this is because [prior invasion commander Gen. Sergey] Surovikin is viewed as a failure…As the unified commander in Ukraine, Surovikin was becoming very powerful and was likely bypassing Shoigu/Gerasimov when talking to Putin,” Lee wrote on Twitter.
Battlefield latest: “Russia is advancing for the first time since July” as its allied mercenary group claimed progress in the contested eastern city of Soledar, the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported Wednesday. Considering the Wagner Group’s alleged recent gains in Soledar, “the question for Kyiv is whether it has fallen into a trap of fighting a battle on Russian terms, sacrificing the troops it needs for the spring offensive,” Trofimov writes.
Said one Ukrainian commander around nearby Bakhmut: “So far, the exchange rate of trading our lives for theirs favors the Russians. If this goes on like this, we could run out.”
- “Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine,” Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday;
- “Russia launches criminal probes on prominent Kremlin critics,” the Associated Press reported Monday;
- “How Finland Is Teaching a Generation to Spot Misinformation,” via the New York Times, reporting Monday on location;
- And “Hackers hit websites of Danish central bank, other banks,” Reuters reported Tuesday from Copenhagen.
From Defense One
Pentagon Rescinds COVID-Vaccine Mandate // Bradley Peniston: The move was required by the 2023 defense policy bill. Troops who were ejected for refusing the vaccine may petition for a change in their discharge status.
As a Groundbreaking Unmanned Task Force Hits Stride, Navy Mulls the Next One // Caitlin M. Kenney: Task Force 59 has earned full operational capability while “normalizing this activity,” 5th Fleet’s commander said.
US Should Lower Barriers to Foreign Tech Talent, Experts Say // Lauren C. Williams: Efforts to prevent espionage are harming the country more than they’re helping—and the same is true of China, they say.
OK Boomer: What Today’s Young Shipyard Workers Want // Marcus Weisgerber: Chicken sandwiches and WiFi, for starters, says the head of Ingalls Shipbuilding.
Keep US Troops in Syria // William Roebuck: Four years after a terror attack claimed four U.S. lives, here’s a look at how the American presence remains useful.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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.
With an eye on China, the U.S. and Japan will announce this week that the U.S. Marine Corps is “repurposing” a regiment based on the Japanese island of Okinawa so that by 2025 it will be able to “rapidly disperse to fight in austere, remote islands,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday, based on interviews with several unnamed officials.
The announcement is expected as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits Washington; changes will include equipping the regiment with anti-ship missiles that it could fire at China in the event of a Taiwan conflict, the Post reports. (In case you’re wondering, Okinawa’s capital of Naha is only about 400 miles from Taipei.)
By the way: You may recall that Japan last month announced a new defense strategy that includes hiking defense spending, building up its military capabilities, and buying missiles that can hit China. The New York Times had a bit more about that back in November, here.
- “China Calls Military Flights a Response to US-Taiwan ‘Collusion’,” via Bloomberg, reporting Wednesday, three days after nearly 60 Chinese aircraft approached Taiwan as Beijing tries to maintain a “new normal” of pressure on the self-governing island;
- “China Likely to Name U.S. Specialist [Xie Feng] as Next Ambassador to Washington,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday;
- “Zhao Lijian: China reassigns combative ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat,” the BBC reported Tuesday;
- “China’s wolf warriors start 2023 in retreat,” Reuters reported Tuesday;
- “China clashes with its neighbors after reopening to the world with Covid surging,” NBC News reported Wednesday;
- “China suspends issuing visas in Japan and South Korea,” Reuters reported separately on Tuesday;
- “As China Reopens, Online Finger-Pointing Shows a Widening Gulf,” the New York Times reported Wednesday.
It’s now official: The Pentagon just rescinded its Covid vaccine mandate, which was required by the recent 2023 defense policy bill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the move in a memo (PDF) published Tuesday, after an estimated 96 percent of the military—including both Active and Reserve troops—have been fully vaccinated.
The revised policy means that no current troops will be “separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the Covid-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative, or medical grounds,” Austin said in his memo. According to defense officials, 99 percent of the Navy, Air Force, and Space Force have been vaccinated against Covid; while the Army was at 97 percent and the Marine Corps at 96 percent.
More than 8,400 service members have been ejected for refusing the vaccine. For them, the Defense Department is now “precluded by law from awarding any characterization less than a general (under honorable conditions) discharge,” according to the memo. Vets can petition their Military Department's Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military or Naval Records to individually request a correction or update, Austin said.
For the record: All other immunization requirements—17 overall, including nine that are required before basic training—remain in effect. Defense One’s Bradley Peniston has a bit more on the policy update, here.
Public service announcement: One of your D Brief-ers is getting his Covid booster this afternoon at a Walgreens pharmacy. You can schedule yours at a site close to you via the Vaccines.gov website, here.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, two prominent House election deniers are now national security committee chairmen. House Republicans appointed new chairs for the lower chamber’s four national security-focused committees on Tuesday, and two of them are among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results without a whiff of substantiating evidence:
- Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama is now in charge at the Armed Services committee;
- And Illinois Rep. Mike Bost, a Marine veteran, will now chair the Veterans Affairs committee.
The other two new chairman are seasoned lawmakers who held their fire on that tense day at the Capitol two years ago, and voted to uphold the election results:
- Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who now chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee;
- And Ohio’s Rep. Mike Turner, the new chairman at the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
A third election denier, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, will chair a feisty new House Judiciary subcommittee that says it will focus on what Republicans are calling “the Weaponization of the Federal Government.” Jordan alleges the federal government is biased against conservatives, and said on the House floor Tuesday that he’s only trying to protect the First Amendment—which is typically understood to mean “a right to free speech as long as you are saying what conservatives want you to say,” as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote in December.
It’s unclear just yet who will join Jordan on his new expedition; the committee has 13 member slots, eight of which will go to Republicans. The New York Times reports some Democrats like Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern are already referring to Jordan’s new team as “the McCarthy committee,” a reference to disgraced Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy’s infamous 1950s-era House Un-American Activities Committee.
With Democratic support, House Republicans also announced a special committee to investigate China—specifically regarding Beijing’s “economic, technological, and security progress, and its competition with the United States.” Wisconsin Marine veteran Rep. Mike Gallagher will chair that one.
“The [Chinese Communist Party] does not pose a danger to just Republicans or Democrats, it seeks to harm all Americans,” Gallagher said Tuesday on the House floor. “And we are going to counter this danger with a united front.”
And lastly: Looking for a new U.S. strategy toward Iran? Longtime Iran hawk—and avowed enemy of the Islamic Republic—Mark Dubowitz teamed up with Orde Kittrie of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies on a new 53-page document enumerating more than 200 different Iran-focused U.S. policy recommendations, including 73 for the State Department, 30 for the military, a dozen for Homeland Security, and nine for the White House’s National Security Council, which leads the list.
Number one for the Pentagon, according to Dubowitz and Kittrie: “The U.S. should ensure that it has a credible military option for preventing Iranian acquisition of a nuclear bomb, including by ensuring that its military has the capacity to destroy the Iranian nuclear development program if necessary.” Other recommendations include “increas[ing] the number of exercises that simulate surface, aerial, and subsurface responses to attacks involving fast-attack craft and other vessels owned or operated by the IRGC Navy.”
They also recommend cyber attacks “to disrupt the operations of key industries (e.g., the oil, gas, and financial sectors)” during labor strikes, “and [providing] financial support to laborers who go on strike,” since similar strikes allegedly “increased the power of protesters in the 1978-79 protests that toppled the monarchy.” Read over the strategy document in its entirety, here.
- “Iran executions quash protests, push dissent underground,” Reuters reported Wednesday;
- “Executions aren’t new in Iran, but this time they’re different,” CNN reported Wednesday;
- “Iran Activists’ Changing Language Shows Protests’ Grim New Turn,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday;
- And “US says Iran may be ‘contributing’ to war crimes in Ukraine,” the Associated Press reported from a White House briefing on Monday.