Today's D Brief: UN on Russian war crimes; Drone-downing video; DOD’s new arms-production team; Bank failure rattles defense firms; And a bit more.

Russia’s military has committed a “wide range” of apparent war crimes in Ukraine, including “attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children,” according to an investigation mandated by the United Nations and made public on Thursday. 

Some of the kidnapped children are at serious risk of never seeing their families again, the investigators said, and stressed that further “Delay in the repatriation of civilians may also amount to a war crime.” However, according to unaffiliated conflict researcher Stefan Schmitt, forced deportation “can be more challenging to prove than other kinds of war crimes,” he said, writing Thursday in The Conversation. And determining the fate of those child victims, Schmitt warned, “will take a separate effort, decades of work and cost a large amount of money, requiring the support of rich countries.”

New European polling results show strong support for Ukraine and the United States after a year of Russia invading Eastern Europe. The European Council on Foreign Relations released the new results Thursday after speaking with nearly 15,000 people across Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Estonia.

Three main points seem to be driving the changes in Europeans’ mood: “Ukraine’s success on the battlefield, the way the war has united both sides of the political spectrum, and the role of the US,” according to the report. 

Compared to just two years ago, “Europeans [now] clearly see the US as stronger or at least as strong as they previously thought,” the researchers write, and add that “The war in Ukraine has reminded Europeans of American military power, which has seemingly reassured them.” Additional “results suggest that many Europeans feel part of a renewed, strong West, led by the US,” the authors added. Denmark and Great Britain residents showed the strongest gains in terms of support for U.S.-led foreign policy. 

But notably, Europeans are expecting to live in a bipolar world “with rival camps led by the US and China, rather than a multipolar” world of some other configuration with Russia or European nations in a stronger position than they inhabit today. Much more in those findings, here

By the way: China’s foreign minister says he spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Thursday. According to Kyiv’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, “we discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity,” and Kuleba “underscored the importance of President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter. According to Beijing, “China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” Reuters reported Thursday. 

Coverage continues below the fold…

From Defense One

Russian Strike on US Drone Reflects a 'More Aggressive' Intercept Pattern, Milley Says  // Sam Skove: The MQ-9 UAV sank so deep into the Black Sea that it’s difficult to recover, the Joint Chiefs chairman added.

Pentagon Creates Cell to Oversee Expansion of Weapon Production Lines // Marcus Weisgerber: The move comes as the military looks to increasingly bulk buy munitions.

Who Else Would Trump and DeSantis Abandon?   // Kevin Baron: If Europeans aren’t worth fighting for, why would anyone think DeSantis or Trump would fight for Taiwan—or even our oldest treaty allies?

The Marines Are Launching a Software Factory // Lauren C. Williams: We talked with Lt. Col. Charlie Bahk about plans to start up at the Army’s facility in Austin, Texas.

Space Force to Spend $340 Million on New Training Infrastructure // Audrey Decker: The service’s budget proposal also includes $99 million in the next year for updated space launch ranges, and $1 billion more across the next five years.

Pentagon Mobilized to Support Tech Startups After Bank Failure // Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber: The failure of Silicon Valley Bank presents the Defense Department with warnings—and opportunities.

Extreme-Right Movements Have Learned from Our Counter-Terror Efforts // Jessica Davis: We need to adapt as well.

Interior Lines Will Make Land Power the Asymmetric Advantage in the Indo-Pacific // Gen. Charles Flynn and Lt. Col. Sarah Starr: The Army is building compact lines of maneuver, communications, and logistics.

Violent Far-Right Movements Aren’t Just a ‘Western Problem’  // Naureen Chowdhury Fink and Tanya Mehra: The focus on jihadist violence has often prevented states from finding and fixing other things that fuel violent extremism in the Global South.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1968, American soldiers carried out the systematic execution of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians—including women and children—in an incident known as the Mỹ Lai massacre

Hear from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger this morning about his ambitious reorganization of the force, the shifting threat from China, and the hotly debated amphibious-ship plans. That’s in an interview by Defense One’s Caitlyn Kenney. Then our own Jennifer Hlad talks with Brig. Gen. Joseph Clearfield, deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific. It’s all part of our month-long State of Defense series, and it goes live at 11 a.m. ET today. Register (it’s free!) here.

New in video: See for yourself what happened during the dangerous Russian jet intercept of a U.S. military drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday. The U.S. released footage of the encounter Thursday morning, and you can see it on DVIDS, here. The video feed dropped in two places—after the Russians dumped fuel on the drone, and after the other jet clipped the drone’s propeller, effectively destroying its ability to stay aloft safely. The video was edited for duration, but the events are presented in sequential order, the U.S. military said.
Here’s the timeline of events portrayed in the video, as relayed by the U.S. military’s Germany-based European Command: 

  • 00:00: [Start of video] A Russian Su-27 approaches to the rear of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9.
  • 00:05: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel as it passes.
  • 00:09 A Russian Su-27 passes over the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 while releasing fuel. As the Su-27 passes over the top of the MQ-9, it also disrupts the video transmission.
  • 00:11: The propeller of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9 can be seen and remains undamaged.
  • 00:22: A Russian Su-27 begins a second approach toward the MQ-9.
  • 00:26: A Russian Su-27 begins to release fuel on the approach toward the MQ-9. An Su-27 proceeds to pass even closer.
  • 00:29: A Russian Su-27 collides into the MQ-9 and the MQ-9’s camera feed is lost for about 60 seconds.
  • 00:39: The MQ-9’s camera feed has returned to working order. At this time the propeller can be seen again and one of the props can be seen damaged.
  • 00:42: [End of video]

The hotlines are open: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley spoke with their Russian counterparts by phone on Wednesday. For the defense chiefs, it was just the third time they’ve spoken since Russia invaded; those previous conversations occurred on May 13 and Oct. 21. For Milley, too, it was the third known call with Russia’s Gen. Valery Gerasimov since the invasion began; they last spoke on May 19 and Oct. 24. 
From the tactical front, Ukraine has been launching a specialized munition that sprays anti-tank mines into a local area that can be as many as 10 miles away. It’s known as the Remote Anti-Armour Mine system, or RAAM. “In some instances, Ukraine has launched the mines over and behind advancing Russian units, causing disarray when Russian vehicles attempt to withdraw,” the British military said Thursday.
The use of RAAMs may have helped slow Russian invaders trying to seize the Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, the Brits say. The Russians have attempted “repeated, extremely costly failed attacks [on Vuhledar] over the previous three months.” The Wall Street Journal’s video team has more on the devastation around Vuhledar over on YouTube, here
Developing: Poland’s president says Warsaw will send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine “in the coming days.” According to Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “The transfer would make Poland the first NATO member to have delivered the fighter jets.” Slovakia could be next. More, here.
Related reading: 

And lastly: The U.S. Coast Guard is failing to prevent and punish sexual assault aboard U.S.-flagged merchant ships, CNN reports. “When a mariner is accused of committing a crime on a US-flag ship, the responsibility for investigating falls on the agency’s law enforcement,” the news channel writes. “Hundreds of pages of the Coast Guard’s own records, as well as interviews with shipping company and union officials, current and former government employees and dozens of mariners, show that the Coast Guard has failed to use its power to prevent and punish sexual assault and misconduct for decades — despite growing evidence that this kind of behavior is a longstanding problem at sea.” Read on, here.
“Maritime Me Too” problems have surfaced at Maersk and elsewhere. “The statistics are staggering,” the Blank Rome law firm wrote in 2018. “Both onshore and shipboard, sexual harassment issues affect individuals of every gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Meanwhile, reports of sexual assault are up at the U.S. service academies. On Friday, the Pentagon’s office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response released the results of its annual survey of the more than 12,000 students at the various schools.
From the report: “Sexual harassment and sexual assault remain persistent challenges across the [academies], and the results from this year's report highlight critical challenges. In the survey conducted for [school year] 2021-2022, 21.4 percent of female cadets and midshipmen and 4.4 percent of male cadets and midshipmen indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact in the year prior to being surveyed (i.e., since June 2021). This is an increase compared to the 2018 rate”—an increase of 18 percent. NPR has more, here.
ICYMI: Read December’s three-part report by Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad on efforts to reduce sexual assault in the ranks.