Today's D Brief: Russia detains US journalist; Army’s new artillery rounds; 9 soldiers perish in KY helo crash; Space Force’s ‘virtual training ground’; And a bit more.
On day 400 of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, Russian authorities say they’ve arrested an American journalist on allegations of espionage, a charge that has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, 31, was arrested after speaking to someone inside a restaurant in Yekaterinburg, which is in the eastern Ural Mountains north of Kazakhstan and about 1,100 miles southeast of Moscow; his employer says he’s being detained until at least May 29. The New York Times says he’s “believed to be the first American reporter to be held as an accused spy in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Earlier this week, Gershkovich co-authored a report on the declining state of Russia’s economy, quoting one oligarch who said, “There will be no money next year” at least partly due to what Gershkovich described as “ballooning military expenditures” in the face of unprecedented Western sanctions resulting from Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
For the record, the Journal denies the allegations against Gershkovich. A Kremlin spokesman, however, claimed he was “caught red-handed,” but did not elaborate. Russia’s spy service, the FSB, released a statement saying Gershkovich was “acting on the instructions of the American side, [and] collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”
Expert reax: Russia appears to have again resorted to hostage-taking as a tool of statecraft, scholar Mark Galeotti wrote on Twitter on Thursday after hearing the news. However, he added, “On reflection, it's not so much the act of a state as a bandit gang.” What’s even more “deeply worrying and depressing,” Galeotti said, “is how quickly and eagerly Russia which, for all the cheap characterizations as a 'Mafia State' was actually something rather more complex, is being dragged into semi-medievalism by Putin and his thugs…And meanwhile poor Evan is presumably going to sit in prison until a swap with (real) spies can be arranged.”
Historical echo: Trace the similarities and differences between Gershkovich’s arrest and the 1986 arrest of U.S. journalist Nicolas Daniloff in an explanatory Twitter thread from Mark Krutov of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, here.
One big difference today? There are no known high-profile Russians in U.S. custody with which to arrange a prisoner swap. The European Union may have a possible candidate or three, Krutov and the investigative outlet Bellingcat both noted; but it’s impossible to know how the Kremlin will proceed. Moscow’s deputy foreign minister acknowledged the possibility of a swap on Thursday, saying, “Certain exchanges that took place in the past took place for people who were already serving sentences.” But first, “Let’s see how this story will develop,” he said, according to state-run media Interfax.
In ally news, Romania’s military chief Angel Tîlvăr is visiting the Pentagon this morning. And New Zealand’s new defense minister wants more military spending, citing “new challenges and greater expectations from regional allies,” Reuters reported Thursday from Wellington, on the southern edge of the North Island. “The frequency of climate change events or weather events will only grow…. And then there is working with partners to project a posture that is defensive,” Andrew Little told Reuters. A bit more to that, here.
- “Fugitive Russian father convicted of insulting army is detained in Belarus,” Reuters reported Thursday;
- “TikTok propaganda labels fall flat in ‘huge win’ for Russia,” the Associated Press reported Thursday;
- “Ukraine Goes Dark: Images From Space Drive Home the Nation’s Anguish,” the New York Times reported Thursday with satellite imagery;
- “Nuclear Plant at Risk as Ukraine and Russia Gear Up for Spring Offensive,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from southeastern Ukraine.
From Defense One
New Artillery Round Shoots Farther Than Some Missiles, Can Hit Moving Targets // Sam Skove: Similar rounds, like the Excalibur, have been shipped in large numbers to Ukraine.
SecDef to Senator: Your Abortion-Related Holds Are Hurting Readiness // Courtney Bublé: Lloyd Austin told Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., that holding up 160 promotions and appointments "creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be.”
Has Congress Learned the Lessons of the Iraq War? // William D. Hartung: Besides repealing the AUMFs, lawmakers ought to create new tools to curb U.S. military interventions.
Space Force Is Building a Virtual Training Ground for Space Conflict // Audrey Decker: In an interview, chief of space operations notes China’s efforts to jam and intercept orbiting satellites.
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 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia for about $7.2 million—or about $146 million in 2023 dollars.
Happening tomorrow: Defense One’s Kevin Baron sits down with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for an interview on the state of the joint force. That interview will air at 4 p.m. Friday; you can register here to watch it. State of the Joint Force is the last installment in this year’s State of Defense series; if you missed any of the previous events, you can watch those videos via the same registration link.
Developing: Nine Army soldiers died in an apparent Black Hawk collision Wednesday evening in southwestern Kentucky, near the Fort Campbell military base, home of the 101st Airborne Division. The division said the two HH-60s crashed during a “routine training mission” over Kentucky’s Trigg County around 10 p.m. CNN reported there were no survivors.
“This is truly a tragic loss for our families, our division, and Fort Campbell,” Brigadier General John Lubas said at a news conference Thursday morning. Louisville’s WLKY has a bit more, here.
And finally: Twenty years after the fiasco of America’s Iraq invasion, senators on Wednesday voted 66-30 to repeal the authorizations for military force in Iraq that were drawn up in 2002 and back in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm. The authorizations were used as recently as 2020 when then-President Donald Trump ordered a lethal strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as he traveled in a car near the Baghdad airport.
Next: The 2002 AUMF repeal appears likely to pass in the House, but it hasn’t formally happened just yet for the current slate of lawmakers in the lower chamber.
“Passage of this bill with strong bipartisan support takes us a step closer to restoring the proper role of Congress in authorizing military force and affirmatively stating when conflicts are over,” said Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young. “Passing this bill is an important step to prevent any president from abusing these AUMFs,” and it “reaffirm[s] our partnership with the Iraqi government,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in his own statement Wednesday.
“I finally have come full circle from my vote in the House of Representatives 21 years ago when I did not support the 2002 AUMF,” said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He also called the Wednesday vote in the Senate “significant, because for the first time in five decades, when Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, we are ending a war.”
Worth nothing: A different war authorization drawn up in 2001 against al-Qaeda remains in place. And no one is seriously talking about repealing that one, since terrorist groups claiming historical links to AQ (like ISIS, ISWAP, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram, e.g.) are still operating in several countries around the world, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, and elsewhere.
- “Al-Shabaab Has Lost Third of Its Territory, US Ambassador Says,” Voice of America reported Tuesday;
- “ISWAP Leader Executes Deputy After Nigeria Army Kills 41 Militants,” the East African reported Wednesday;
- “German Government Plans To Deploy Troops To Niger As Part Of EU Mission,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Berlin;
- “Matt Gaetz introduces Somalia war powers resolution, forcing vote on removing armed forces,” Fox reported Tuesday;
- “Matt Gaetz’s Legislative Aide [Derrick Miller] Is a Convicted War Criminal,” The Intercept reported Wednesday;
- And “Trump Asks Advisers for 'Battle Plans' to 'Attack Mexico' if Reelected,” Rolling Stone reported Wednesday.