Today's D Brief: Finland joins NATO this week; Macron, von der Leyen to China; Sea Air Space kicks off in DC; Afghans climb Yosemite; And a bit more.

A prominent Russian blogger was killed in an explosion at a bar in St. Petersburg on Sunday, prompting allegations of Ukrainian involvement from Russian law enforcement officials. The bomb was placed inside a small statuette, which exploded and killed the writer Maxim Fomin, 40, who worked under the name Vladlen Tatarsky. Nearly 30 others were wounded in the explosion; 10 of those were listed in serious condition, according to Russian authorities. 

A 26-year-old Russian woman has been arrested in connection with the attack. Authorities already have a videotaped confession by the woman, whose name is Darya Trepova. According to Moscow’s state-run media TASS, the Sunday attack was “masterminded by Ukraine’s special services and agents collaborating with Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation,” which is often a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for its videos publicizing the excessive wealth of Russian authorities. (The BBC has more on one of those videos, which looked into an alleged billion-dollar palace for Vladimir Putin, here.)  

Ukrainian officials blamed “domestic terrorism” for the Sunday attack, and denied any involvement. Reuters and the Associated Press have a bit more here and here, respectively.

What are some of the lessons so far from ground combat in Ukraine? Five experts will converge this afternoon at the Washington-based Atlantic Council to discuss “how the performance of the Russian and Ukrainian armies should shape the strategies, operating concepts, programs, and plans of the United States and its allies and partners,” according to the Council’s preview. That’s slated to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET. Details, registration, and livestream, here

Acquire a sharper understanding of Russian unconventional forces in Ukraine thanks to a new special report from three scholars at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. One apparent success of Russia’s more clandestine operators has been their ability to suppress dissent in occupied regions of Ukraine. This has often been achieved through intimidation and brutality, the authors write. Indeed, “Although crude and violent—having a terrible effect on the economy and quality of life in targeted areas—it does appear to be an effective method of constraining resistance activities to a manageable level and maintaining control.” 

And if it was not already clear, many of the old Soviet ways are still deeply embedded in Russia’s conventional and unconventional military culture. This includes “a systemic problem of overreporting one’s successes and concealing weaknesses to superiors,” which can lead “to a situation in which the Russians are difficult to deter because they have an unrealistic estimation of the likelihood of their success.” Read the full report (PDF), here

From the information warfare front: Twitter’s algorithm downranks content about Russia’s Ukraine invasion, developer Aakash Gupta noted Friday on Twitter after that algorithm was publicly released, as CEO Elon Musk promised weeks and months ago. 

The idea behind releasing the algorithm to the public, according to Musk, is to develop “a simplified approach to serve more compelling tweets” in a process that “will be incredibly embarrassing at first, but it should lead to rapid improvement in recommendation quality,” he tweeted in mid-March. However, as The Verge reported Friday, “Musk’s Twitter has promised to do many things (like polling users before making major decisions) that it hasn’t stuck with, so the proof will be in whether it actually accepts any community code.” Read more about what’s going on with the algorithm, via Gupta’s analysis, here.

New: Finland is expected to officially join the NATO alliance on Tuesday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a video statement on Monday. That’s expected to be the highlight of a two-day foreign ministerial that begins tomorrow at alliance headquarters in Brussels. 

And the European Union’s Ursula von der Leyen will be visiting China during a three-day trip starting Wednesday. She delivered a speech last week previewing her trip; and in it, she promised “The imperative for security and control now trumps the logic of free markets and open trade.” She also stated “China’s clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center.” For that reason, she said, the EU does “not want to cut economic ties with a vital trading partner; we need to focus on de-risking, not de-coupling” the relationship, she said. 

Von der Leyen will also be traveling with French President Emmanuel Macron. Reuters has a bit more on all that, reporting Monday from Beijing, here

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Ukraine Victory Unlikely This Year, Milley Says // Kevin Baron: “I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying it's a very difficult task,” says top U.S. general.

‘Lower the Rhetoric’ on China, Says Milley // Kevin Baron: We’re not on the “brink of war” with China, and Taiwan is not so easy to conquer, says the top U.S. general.

Milley: Don’t Send Uninvited US Troops to Mexico  // Kevin Baron: The top U.S. general recommends military training and law enforcement to stem drug and migrant flows—not special operators and other forces.

HII Hopes Key Acquisitions Put It at the Center of the Pacific Pivot // Marcus Weisgerber: The nation’s largest shipbuilder expects “mission tech” like AI and undersea drones to outpace revenue from surface combatants.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 121: Space Force chief Gen. Chance Saltzman // Jennifer Hlad: America’s Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Chance Saltzman, spoke to Defense One's Jennifer Hlad about Chinese satellite jamming, missile defense, and more.

Sea-Air-Space Conference Wire: Amphibs, Drones, and More // Caitlin M. Kenney: As the nation's largest naval conference opens just outside Washington, the leaders of the Navy and Marines disagree about just how and when to acquire amphibious warships.

Welcome to this Monday 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 1975, the U.S. and some of its allies began evacuating babies and children from South Vietnam as the eventual fall of Saigon appeared increasingly inevitable. Military Times revisited some of the redemptive and sordid legacies of that operation 40 years later in 2015, here

The Navy League’s Sea Air Space kicks off today, amid a rare public dispute between the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps about how much the Navy should spend on amphibious warships. Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney has more on what to expect, here, and be sure to visit to keep up with the latest news from the conference.

We now know where the U.S. military will place its four future bases in the Philippines. The Defense Department released the four new locations in a statement Monday morning as part of an expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Arrangement between Washington and Manila.
The new sites include: Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac Island in Palawan; and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan. The ostensible reasoning behind expanding the U.S. military presence in the region is to “allow [Philippine and U.S. forces] to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including natural and humanitarian disasters,” the Pentagon said in its statement.
The U.S. already maintains five bases across the island archipelago, including Fort Magsaysay, Antonio Batista Air Base, Lumbia Air Base, Benito Ebuen Air Base, and Basa Air Base. Time magazine mapped most of the basing locations in a graphic back in February that you can see, here

The U.S. Navy is performing anti-submarine drills with South Korea and Japan this week off the coast of the South Korean island of Jeju, in an effort to deter North Korea, Reuters reports. Those drills will include the USS Nimitz carrier strike group and will use “a mobile anti-submarine warfare training target to improve the capabilities needed to detect, track, and destroy North Korean underwater threats,” according to Reuters. 

Delayed recognition: More than 65 years after a group of Alaska Natives rescued the 11-person crew of a U.S. Navy P2V-5 Neptune maritime patrol aircraft that had been hit by two Soviet MiG-15 fighters in the Bering Strait, the members of the Alaska National Guard were finally honored for their heroism with medals. Though two of the 16 rescue crew members had previously received a Navy honor designation called “Wings of Gold,” none of the men had received any type of medal, the Associated Press reported. Read more about the rescue and the Alaska Heroism Medal, here.  

And lastly today: Three women who fled the Taliban when Afghanistan collapsed have stumbled onto an incredible opportunity at the base of the granite cliffs at Yosemite National Park in central California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Their experience has been made into a short film by the outdoor apparel manufacturer Patagonia, and you can watch that on YouTube, here. Climbing magazine previewed the film on their site Friday; you can read over that, here.