Today's D Brief: Russian missile flies over Moldova; SpaceX drops Ukraine military access; US tests ICBM; Lula to the WH; And a bit more.

Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian energy infrastructure targets on Friday, with some of the projectiles flying into Moldovan airspace along the way, according to Moldova’s defense chief. At least one missile traveled “over the town of Mocra in the Transnistrian region and, later, over the town of Cosauți in the Soroca district, heading towards Ukraine,” the military said in a statement, and emphasized that it “strongly condemns” the violation of its airspace, which occurred shortly after 10 a.m. local. 

Ukraine’s top military officer and its president (wrongly) alleged other missiles traveled over Romania en route to targets in Ukraine. But Romania’s military put out its own statement denying that allegation. “The closest point of the target's trajectory to Romania's airspace was recorded by radar systems approximately 35 kilometers North-East of the border,” Romanian officials said. Two of its aircraft were exercising at the time, however, and were forced to relocate elsewhere for a brief time around 10:40 a.m. local. “After about two minutes the situation was clarified and the two aircraft resumed their original mission,” Romania’s military said. 

In all, 71 Russian cruise missiles were fired into Ukraine, which said it shot down all but 10. Nearly three dozen S-300 air defense missiles were also fired into Ukraine; and another seven alleged Iranian-made drones were also used in the attacks Friday. Five of the drones were allegedly shot down, according to Kyiv’s military, writing on Facebook. 

Russian ground forces are closing in on the eastern city of Bakhmut. But about three hours to the south, “Russian units have likely suffered particularly heavy casualties around [the city of] Vuhledar as inexperienced units have been committed,” according to the British military, writing Friday on Twitter.  “Russian troops likely fled and abandoned at least 30 mostly intact armored vehicles in a single incident after a failed assault,” the Brits said. 

Russia probably has about 250,000 troops inside Ukraine, Michael Kofman of CNA wrote this week in an explanatory thread on Twitter that examines the likelihood of coming offensives from both Kyiv and Moscow in the weeks and months ahead. 

Developing: The Pentagon wants lawmakers to reauthorize “a pair of top secret programs” that paid “Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation,” Wesley Morgan reported Friday for the Washington Post. But even if those are greenlit once again, they aren’t expected to begin until at least next year. 

Meanwhile in Capitol Hill’s lower chamber, the GOP’s extremist wing is tired of helping Ukraine. Far-right Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and 10 likeminded co-sponsors submitted legislation Thursday instructing the U.S. to “end its military and financial aid to Ukraine” and reach some sort of peace agreement, Fox reported. Co-sponsors include Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona; Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, Georgia’s Marge Greene, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, Mary Miller from Illinois, Alabama’s Barry Moore, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, and Montana’s Matt Rosendale. 

Nine out of the 11 in Gaetz’s entourage voted to overturn the 2020 election results; Reps. Massie and Luna are the exceptions—but Luna wasn’t elected into office until 2022.

The U.S. and the Brits just sanctioned seven Russian cybercriminals who work in a group called Trickbot that dates back to at least 2016, according to the Department of Treasury. “During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Trickbot targeted hospitals and healthcare centers, launching a wave of ransomware attacks against hospitals across the United States,” Treasury said Thursday. “In one of these attacks, the Trickbot Group deployed ransomware against three Minnesota medical facilities, disrupting their computer networks and telephones, and causing a diversion of ambulances,” U.S. officials said. Details, here.  

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Decrying Starlink's 'Weaponization,' SpaceX Cuts Support for Ukrainian Military // Patrick Tucker: But Wednesday's explanation by the Elon Musk-founded company is at odds with its continuing work for the U.S. military.

When Lippy Generals Challenge Civilian Control // Gregory D. Foster: Was Air Force Gen. Minihan’s memo dangerous or just dumb?

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Lauren Williams. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1906, the British battleship HMS Dreadnought was christened—and promptly ushered in a new era of naval warfare featuring faster ships and larger guns. 

Brazil’s new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is visiting President Joe Biden in Washington today. The two are expected to discuss “climate change, safeguarding food security, encouraging economic development, strengthening peace and security, and managing regional migration,” according to the White House.
Lula delayed a recent Iranian request to dock two of its warships in Rio de Janeiro about three weeks ago, Reuters reported Thursday, citing U.S. sources. “That window has been scrapped, with the ships now authorized to dock between Feb. 26 and March 3,” according to Brazil’s foreign ministry. A Brazilian official told the wire service the delay has “Nothing to do with the U.S.” More here
In case you missed it: Brazil’s former president has been spotted in Florida wandering around a Publix grocery store and “eating fried chicken alone at fast-food restaurants,” according to Time magazine, reporting last week. Jair Bolsonaro “would like to take some time off, clear his head, and enjoy being a tourist in the United States for a few months before deciding what his next step will be,” his lawyer recently told the Financial Times. And he’ll most likely need that lawyer because he’s facing investigations for his alleged role in an attempted coup last month that looked an awful lot like the riot and failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol two years ago. He’s already scheduled public appearances with some of the dark stars of American far-right politics, including an event with Charlie Kirk at former President Donald Trump’s Florida golf resort last week. The Guardian has more on Bolsonaro’s surreal life as a (perhaps temporary) resident of Orlando, here.
Related reading: 

Is all the “spy balloon” drama really just a bunch of hot air? U.S. President Joe Biden doesn’t think the alleged spy balloon was a major security breach, he said Thursday. “It’s not a major breach,” he told Noticias Telemundo in an interview this week. “It’s a violation of international law. It’s our airspace. And once it comes into our space, we can do what we want with it,” Biden said. Reuters has more, here.
ICYMI: After the U.S. F-22 shot down the giant balloon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his Chinese counterpart—but as we noted earlier this week, the call on the special crisis line went unanswered. It’s not the first time a call from the U.S. on that line was not picked up, AP reported Friday. Read more about the history of the U.S.-China hotline, including details about what that hotline actually entails, here.
Related reading: 

The U.S. military just successfully test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile of 2023. Air Force officials fired an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM late Thursday evening off America’s west coast at Vandenberg Air Space Force Base in California.
“These test launches demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear deterrent,” Col. Bryan Titus said in a statement shortly afterward. 

  • See two images of the launch over at DVIDS, here

And lastly this week: The U.S. Army’s new modernization commander said he wants his organization to do a better job of communicating with industry, Defense One’s Lauren Williams reports. “I've gotten pretty steady feedback that we could do a better job of iterating and providing feedback and opportunities to collaborate,” Gen. James Rainey, the commanding general for Army Futures Command said during an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast event Wednesday. “In fairness, we've gone out and asked industry to do something, they brought it to us, we've been slow to provide feedback. Talk is cheap, but that's something I'm committed to doing a little better.”
Rainey, who took office in October, also said the command is “writing a new Army operating concept” so it can "translate that into what we think we need" across the strategic decision-making pipeline, then “go out and experiment, confirm what we need, write good requirements documents—not just material requirements,” and build the right type of leaders.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!