Today's D Brief: EU welcomes Ukraine's Zelenskyy; Russians advance in Luhansk; US debt politics on the Hill; Bye-bye, Iraq AUMF?; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s president says his military is defending “the European way of life” by standing up to the Russian military’s invasion, the one-year anniversary of which is just about two weeks away. “This total war that has been unleashed by Russia is not just about territory in one part of Europe or another,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Thursday to EU delegates gathered in Brussels.
“We are defending ourselves against the most anti-European force in the modern world,” Zelenskyy said. “We are defending ourselves. We, Ukrainians, are on the battlefield with you.”
“We can never match your sacrifices,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Layen after Zelenskyy spoke Thursday. “But we can stand up for you, and we have,” she said, emphasizing the EU’s €67 billion in support to Ukraine so far during the war. The BBC has more, here.
Battlefield latest: Russian forces are on the offensive in occupied Luhansk, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their latest daily assessment. “The commitment of significant elements of at least three major Russian divisions to offensive operations in this sector indicates the Russian offensive has begun, even if Ukrainian forces are so far preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains,” ISW said.
One key to Moscow’s success in recent weeks: A seemingly endless supply of bodies to throw at Ukraine in wave after wave. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal reporting Wednesday from Bakhmut.
Russian officials are also trying to move around funds to support their military industry and manufacturers, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Wednesday. “The Kremlin likely intends these measures to augment its overarching effort to gradually prepare Russia’s military industry for a protracted war in Ukraine while avoiding a wider economic mobilization that would create further domestic economic disruptions and corresponding discontent,” according to ISW. Read more, here.
New: The U.S. military is planning a special artillery training center in Europe, three-star Army Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski told Voice of America’s Carla Babb on Thursday during a trip to Poland. The training will center around the Pentagon’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which have been sent to Ukraine and helped push Russian forces back somewhat after the first few months of Russia’s invasion.
And the U.S. State Department just approved the possible sale of 18 HIMARS to Poland at an estimated cost of about $10 billion. (Since its appearance in Ukraine, the weapon systems has become so popular that you can now buy a custom-designed Lego toy over at Brickmainia.com; it’ll just cost you $185 plus shipping.) Read more at VOA, here.
Developing: Russia’s January oil revenues are down 40% compared to last year thanks to G7 energy sanctions on Moscow, Reuters reported Wednesday; that amounts to about $8 billion for that month alone, according to International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol, speaking Sunday during a trip to India. Shipping firms, however, are reporting sharply higher incomes as cheapened Russian gas is leading to a spike in tanker activity for firms based in China, India, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, and even some in Russia.
- “Ukraine's defiant city struggles to hold out as Russia pushes for a bloody victory,” NBC News reported Thursday from Bakhmut;
- “SpaceX Limits Ukraine’s Military Use of Starlink Satellite Business,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday; Reuters and CNN have similar coverage;
- And don’t miss “How a band of Ukraine civilians helped seal Russia's biggest defeat,” via Reuters reporting Thursday from liberated Kherson.
From Defense One
China Gears Up To Shoot Down US Drones // Peter W. Singer and Daniel Shats: Its military-industrial complex is already working on a list of technologies needed to fight off swarms of UAS.
Stop Holding Recruits to One-Size-Fits-All Standards // Lt. Cmdr. Stewart Latwin and Lt. Col. Ernest Cage: Yesterday’s approach won’t solve today’s recruiting crisis—or win tomorrow’s wars.
Memo Details Effort to Boost Production of Weapons Sent to Ukraine // Marcus Weisgerber: The Pentagon's top buyer offers a “targeted list” of weapons to help solve a problem decades in the making.
NSA Woos Laid-Off Tech Workers // Edward Graham: The intelligence agency is advertising "one of its largest hiring surges in 30 years" amid other new recruiting efforts.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 two years ago, in the wake of the deadly January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began.
Debt ceiling politics latest: The possibility of Washington defaulting on its federal debt this June could increase uncertainty for defense firms who already live with the unpredictability of the seemingly perpetual piecemeal funding from Congress known as continuing resolutions, an industry expert told House lawmakers Wednesday.
Background: Republicans say they are against raising the $31.381 trillion debt ceiling without cuts to government spending—and despite incurring $8.2 trillion in additional debt during former President Donald Trump’s four-year term. By comparison, the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, added $8.3 trillion to the debt during his eight years in office; and President Biden’s two years in office have so far grown the debt by $1.84 trillion.
A bit more history: As The Hill pointed out this week, “The GOP’s deficit concerns were virtually absent, however, under the George W. Bush administration, which inherited a multitrillion-dollar budget surplus and turned it into a multitrillion-dollar deficit—largely through tax cuts, a Medicare expansion, and funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, none of which were paid for.” And just as we pointed out above, “Republicans were mostly silent on fiscal matters again under former President Trump, who grew deficit spending substantially—largely with another tax cut package—even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday: “I think none of us really knows what would happen if we don't resolve the debt ceiling issue,” Eric Fanning, the president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, told House Armed Services Committee lawmakers. “But for our industry, and for our members, it adds another variable to the disruptive budgeting cycle,” he said.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s big challenge: He’s tasked the House Budget Committee with drafting a plan to balance the budget within 10 years—but they must achieve this without raising taxes or cutting Social Security, Medicare, or defense spending.
The most recent sticking point: “Republicans haven’t agreed on which cuts to pursue, and the party has long shunned the possibility of raising taxes,” the Wall Street Journal reported this week. “Many point to identifying government waste as a potential starting point, saying there is unspent money from the pandemic-relief bills that could go toward narrowing the deficit, though those cuts would represent only a small portion of the annual deficit.”
One House lawmaker’s forecast: “As we get closer to the actual default, cooler heads will prevail and we’ll get through this,” California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman predicted this week. “But [McCarthy] needs to kind of run this out for his caucus,” he said.
Big picture (for now): The U.S. is believed to have enough creative funding methods available to make it until early June, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaking last month.
- “Here are the spending cuts Republicans have pitched in debt limit talks,” The Hill reported Wednesday; Bloomberg has similar coverage here;
- “Debt ceiling fight: This time it's different. Here's how,” Reuters reported in an explainer from about two weeks ago;
- And “‘Hope is not a strategy’: Bank of America’s CEO warns corporate America must prepare for the worst around debt ceiling,” Fortune reported Tuesday.
Lastly: A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers want to end two still-active Iraq war authorizations, which are both more than two decades old, and were originally passed back when Iraq was run by dictator Saddam Hussein.
At issue: The 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs. A half dozen senate and house lawmakers teamed up to formally reintroduce the repeals in a new bill released Thursday (PDF); the effort is led by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who has spearheaded similar repeal attempts in the past, including in 2019. House lawmakers passed a 2002 AUMF repeal in June 2021; but the Senate has not yet passed similar legislation.
Involved in this latest bipartisan attempt: Kaine; Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young; and Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Chip Roy, R-Texas; Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.; and Tom Cole, R-Okla. Another two dozen lawmakers have co-sponsored this new legislation, including 20 senators (9 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and one independent), and four additional House lawmakers (two Democrats and two Republicans).
“Our bipartisan legislation will repeal these outdated and unnecessary war authorities,” Sen. Todd Young tweeted Thursday morning. “Congress must do its job and take seriously the decision to not just commit America to war, but to affirmatively say when we are no longer at war,” he said.
One motivating factor behind this latest repeal: “According to these laws that are still on the books, Iraq is still technically an enemy of the United States,” Rep. Roy said in a statement. Indeed, the bill would “enhance the relationship the United States now has with a sovereign, democratic Iraq,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement Thursday.
Worth noting: The bill “will not impact ongoing operations in the Middle East,” Roy added. But “This would be a first step towards a clearer, more focused military strategy, a more responsible government, and a stronger, more united country,” he said.
“We must be accountable to the American people and cannot abdicate this responsibility to open-ended AUMFs that give too much power to a President and don’t require Congress to take consequential votes,” said Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.
What might lie ahead: As written, it seems unlikely enough lawmakers will object to its passage, scuttling the bill’s chances of becoming law—especially since it leaves in place the 2001 AUMF authorizing U.S. military action abroad to eliminate terrorist groups who may have descended from or been inspired by al-Qaeda. Read over the quite terse new bill for yourself, here.