Today's D Brief: US tanks to Germany; China’s new envoy; Sub dispute ends; LCS fixes; And a bit more.

More than two dozen U.S.-provided Abrams tanks have arrived in Germany for training with Ukrainian troops. And those tanks have made their way to Grafenwoehr Army base ahead of schedule, the Associated Press reported Thursday after Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin confirmed the development in a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill.  

“We are doing everything possible to accelerate the delivery of these tanks,” Austin said, “and early fall is a projection” for when they could be ready to enter the battlefield, he told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. 

Developing: Ukraine’s anticipated spring counteroffensive is “actually a rolling spring-summer campaign” whose “first phase has already begun,” Luke Harding reported Friday for The Guardian. “Drones are destroying tanks; Russia’s military potential is being degraded; [and] a large-scale push is to come,” he says, citing a Ukrainian special forces colonel named Roman Kostenko. 

Dive deeper: The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War has more detail on the latest Ukrainian movements and alleged advances, especially around the long-contested city of Bakhmut, in the east. 

The EU’s foreign policy chief is warning diplomats to pursue some sort of middle path when it comes to China’s rise, advising EU states not to “block the rising power of emerging countries” by mirroring Washington’s approach. However, Josep Borrell wrote in a letter seen this week by the Financial Times, EU members should not fool themselves about Beijing’s true global ambition, which he warned “is clearly to build a new world order with China in its center.” That goal has not and likely will not change, Borrell said. 

And should Russia ultimately lose its war in Ukraine, that “will not derail China’s trajectory,” he predicted. “China will manage to take geopolitical advantage of it,” he said. That letter was delivered ahead of EU member talks in Stockholm where delegates are expected to update the bloc’s approach toward China and its ascendant economic clout, as well as its public diplomacy in regions like the Middle East and its awkward line in terms of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. FT has more on that letter, here.

Coverage continues below the fold…

From Defense One

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Navy Has Fixed the Gears of Nearly Half of Its Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ships // Caitlin M. Kenney: Eight ships have yet to get the combining-gear fix, including three the Navy wants to retire in two years.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1941, German engineer Konrad Zuse unveiled the Z3, the world's first programmable computer. Originally called the V3, it was renamed to avoid being associated with the Nazi regime's V-series of experimental missiles.

China is sending its new Russian-invasion envoy, Li Hui, to Europe next week to seek a political settlement for Moscow’s Ukraine annexation. Li is Beijing’s former ambassador to Russia, and his new title is “special representative for Eurasian affairs.” His planned stops, beginning Monday, include Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, and Russia, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters Friday in Beijing. 

“As the Ukraine crisis drags on and escalates, the world continues to experience the spillover effects of the crisis,” Wenbin said Friday, without explaining what he means by “escalation,” though his timing suggests Beijing may be leaning toward protecting Russian interests since Moscow’s invading soldiers and convicts seem to now be preparing to lose at least some occupied territory while Ukraine pivots from defensive to offensive operations—and because China’s Foreign Ministry last year claimed it was NATO’s fault that Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. 

“The voices for ceasefire and de-escalation are building in the international community,” Wenbin said Friday, and added, “China will continue to play a constructive role and build more international consensus on ending hostilities, starting peace talks and preventing escalation of the situation, and help facilitate a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

Also: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, this week for two days of talks in Vienna. Wang used to be China’s Foreign Minister, but was moved to a new office late last year; his new, longer title is Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission. According to the White House’s readout, the two men spoke about “global and regional security issues, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and cross-[Taiwan] Strait issues.” (For the record, China’s readout of that meeting was subtly different—but not too terribly so, as Yale Law School’s Moritz Rudolf detailed in a Twitter thread Thursday.) 

President Joe Biden is hosting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the White House on Friday. According to officials in Madrid, Reuters reports that Sanchez will recommend Biden pay more attention to the perspectives of Chinese and Brazilian leaders when it comes to the Ukraine war. Sanchez visited Beijing two months ago, and he hosted Brazil’s new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in April. Reuters has a bit more, reporting separately on Friday, here

New: Officials in Egypt have refused a U.S. request to close their airspace to Russian military flights, which ferry weapons from bases in Syria to Moscow’s forces inside Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal’ reported Friday. 

Why bring this up? Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq each agreed to curb Russian military flights through their airspace (see a map of the new routes, here). But Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is—perhaps unsurprisingly, as the New York Times explained last June—not as keen on irritating his pal Vladimir Putin. This is, after all, the 80th anniversary of the Moscow-Cairo relationship, and the two leaders spoke by phone just two months ago in part to celebrate that milestone. 

Worth noting: “Russia is building a $26 billion nuclear power plant in Egypt,” and 30% of Egypt’s tourists come from Russia, the Times reported. Read more from the Journal’s Friday reporting, here

In other allied news: Germany may soon buy 60 CH-47F Chinook helicopters at a cost of about $8.5 billion, the Pentagon's arms export agency announced Thursday. The deal comes with a wide range of associated equipment that’s all expected to “improve Germany’s heavy lift capability,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said. Details, here

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Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll be back again on Monday.