Today's D Brief: Spring thaw in Ukraine; State of the Army; UK, US seize Iranian weapons; And a bit more.
Winter may effectively be over in Ukraine. That’s because the muddy conditions known as “bezdorizhzhia” have begun to set in, making transportation considerably more difficult, the British military said Thursday. You can see how wet conditions have permeated a trench in this video, into which a Ukrainian soldier valiantly chose to dive to retrieve two submerged ammunition boxes.
“It is almost certain that by late-March, [transportation conditions] will be at its worst following the final thaw,” the Brits said on Twitter. “This will add further friction to ground operations and hamper the off-road movement of heavier armored vehicles, especially over churned-up ground in the Bakhmut sector.”
New: A far-right group of Ukrainian fighters seems to have carried out sabotage operations inside Russia, reportedly “firing on civilians in local villages Thursday,” according to the Associated Press, reporting from Kyiv. The culprits are known as the “Russian Volunteer Corps,” and they’re led by a well-known far-right figure named Denis Kapustin, investigative journalist Michael Colborne of Bellingcat reports. As AP notes, “the strategic purpose of such an attack” is far from clear, and officials in Kyiv have strongly denied any involvement. Russian leader Vladimir Putin reportedly canceled a trip to southern Russia Thursday in order to learn more about the attack in the western region of Bryansk.
Ukraine says Russia launched just two Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones Wednesday, and Kyiv’s military claims to have shot both down before they hit their target. This would seem to support the British supposition that Russia is running low on those drones, and will likely seek a resupply from Tehran soon.
Washington and Moscow’s top diplomats spoke today for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine just over a year ago. However, there was no “breakthrough” in those talks, which took place on the sidelines of a G20 meeting Thursday in New Delhi. Reuters has more, here; the Associated Press has this.
Back stateside, Senate Republicans could soon change their tune on support for Ukraine, the Washington Examiner reported Thursday. That’s because Elbridge Colby, a Pentagon official under former President Donald Trump, spoke to Senate Republicans at a conference lunch Wednesday. In that meeting, Colby “called for Republicans to shift their focus away from Ukraine and towards China,” according to the Examiner’s Juliegrace Brufke.
- German Chancellor Olaf “Scholz urges China not to arm Russia as U.S. explores sanctions,” Reuters reported Thursday from Berlin; Scholz is set to visit the White House Friday;
- See also “Scholz struggles to reset German defence policy,” which is behind the Financial Times’s paywall—and seemingly an early #take on German policy;
- “US seeks allies' backing for possible China sanctions over Ukraine war,” Reuters reported separately on Wednesday from Washington;
- And President Joe “Biden Challenged by Softening Public Support for Arming Ukraine,” Peter Baker of the New York Times reported Thursday, but offered no fresh poll numbers newer than what we’ve already covered from late January (from Pew, e.g.).
From Defense One
'Black Swan': Starlink's Unexpected Boon to Ukraine's Defenders // Sam Skove: Portable sat-comm gear feeds drone video to artillery batteries—and more.
DARPA Wants a High-Speed, No-Runway Aircraft // Patrick Tucker: Will it be a helicopter? A seaplane? Or a whole new thing?
From Balloons to Nukes, We Must Stop Inflating the China Threat // Tom Z. Collina: We are better off talking to Beijing than getting tangled up in a new arms race.
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 in 1793, Samuel Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Va., where his family owned a mansion along with enslaved people (he would pass away still owning a dozen enslaved people that written records would value at more than $10,500). Houston would serve in the War of 1812, and would help with the forcible removal of Native Americans from Tennessee. He'd later move to Texas, and help the U.S. annex the state in 1845. In his final years, he'd try unsuccessfully to keep Texas from joining the Confederacy before he passed away at the age of 70 in 1863. His legacy still looms over the state—whose largest city is named after him—and the Army, whose San Antonio base Fort Sam Houston retains his name.
Beginning very soon: Defense One’s State of the Army, the first installation in the annual State of Defense series. It kicks off at 11 a.m. with a keynote interview with Lt. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. The virtual event also features interviews with Jock Padgett, the chief technology officer for the 18th Airborne; and Army Deputy Chief Information Officer Maj. Gen. Jan Norris. Those interviews are at 11:45 a.m. and 12:50 p.m., Eastern time. Register here to attend State of the Army, and find details about the rest of the series, including next week’s State of the Navy.
The State Department just approved a $619 million sale of F-16 missiles to Taiwan, including 100 AGM-88B High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles designed to hunt air defense systems. Two-hundred AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles are also involved, along with guidance components, training missiles, and more. Details, here.
By the way: China’s Foreign Ministry circulated disinformation about the U.S.-Taiwan relationship this week. This latest instance involved Beijing’s top spokesperson Mao Ning, who asserted on Monday in a briefing with reporters, “It has even been revealed by the media that the U.S. government has a plan for ‘the destruction of Taiwan.’” She did not elaborate or cite the source of her allegations, which function much like former President Donald Trump’s “many people are saying” method of airing complaints that lack intellectual merit but are brimming with political convenience.
From the region:
- “Taiwan says 25 Chinese planes, 3 ships sent toward island,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Taipei;
- “Here are the countries that have bans on TikTok,” AP reported separately Wednesday (the list so far includes Taiwan, Canada, the European Union, the U.S., India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan);
- “China leading US in technology race in all but a few fields, [Australian] thinktank finds,” The Guardian reported Wednesday; Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have similar coverage; review the findings for yourself here;
- “Putin ally Lukashenko and Chinese leader Xi Jinping vow to deepen defense ties,” CNN reported Thursday from Hong Kong;
- And “South Korea’s Yoon renews hopes for improved ties with Japan,” AP reported Wednesday from Seoul.
American and British naval forces intercepted another illegal shipment of weapons from Iran, military officials at the Tampa-based Central Command announced Thursday. The Royal Navy ship HMS Lancaster seized the weapons from the ship during a routine maritime security patrol Feb. 23, after an American reconnaissance airplane detected it “traveling at high speed in international waters in the Gulf of Oman during the hours of darkness,” British officials said. It’s a route that’s historically used to illegally transport weapons to Yemen, U.S. officials at the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said in a statement Thursday.
Seized: Iranian versions of Russian 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, and medium-range ballistic missile components.
The incident is “seventh illegal weapon or drug interdiction in the last three months and yet another example of Iran’s increasing malign maritime activity across the region,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces said in that statement. “We will continue to work with our partners in pursuing any destabilizing activity that threatens regional maritime security and stability.”
The U.S. just sent 61 tons of weapons and ammo to Somalia, AP reported Wednesday from Mogadishu. The shipment was mostly small arms and included AK-47s, U.S. Africa Command’s Marine Gen. Michael Langley told reporters Thursday morning.
- “U.S. training Somali troops to fight Al Qaeda subsidiary al-Shabab,” NBC News reported on Feb. 8;
- And “U.S. Commandos Advise Somalis in Fight Against Qaeda Branch,” the New York Times reported on Feb. 27.
And lastly: The U.S. Marine Corps would like to introduce you to “OCRAP,” which is one of the service’s newest acronyms. It stands for Overseas C-sUAS and Approval Package—in true Marine Corps fashion, the acronym contains another acronym. That nested acronym stands for counter-small unmanned aerial systems. The Marine administrative message from which this delightful acronym came is about protecting USMC installations from small drones.