Today's D Brief: Dam-burst mystery; USAF moving bullied LGBTQ+ kids; UK PM in DC; S. Korea, burgeoning arms-maker; And a bit more.
It’s still unclear who is responsible for the dam collapse at the Russia-controlled Kakhovka reservoir in southern Ukraine on Tuesday. The British military, for one, is keeping an open mind, and is not yet pointing the finger at Russia’s military.
Review what’s known so far via a new slate of satellite imagery from the commercial firm Maxar, which released a batch of about 18 before and after images on Tuesday, here.
From Washington’s perspective, “[W]e cannot say conclusively what happened at this point,” John Kirby of the National Security Council told reporters Tuesday at the White House. “We’ve seen the reports that Russia was responsible for the explosion at the dam, which, I would remind, Russian forces took over illegally last year and have been occupying since then,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can to assess those reports,” Kirby added.
In any event, “We know there are casualties, including likely many deaths, though these are early reports, and we cannot quantify them right now,” Kirby said Tuesday. Meanwhile, “We’ll continue to work with humanitarian partners on the ground to supply aid” and “provide assistance to the many Ukrainians who have been displaced and forced to flee their homes for safety,” he told reporters at the White House.
Reax from the Hill: “Deliberately attacking civilian infrastructure, as such, would be a war crime, plain and simple,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said in a statement Tuesday. “If it’s found that Russia did indeed purposefully target and destroy the Kakhovka dam, those responsible must be held to account.” Menendez’s Democratic colleague from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, said much the same in his own tweet Tuesday.
Discord leaks latest: Months before it was attacked, U.S. officials allegedly knew about a Ukrainian special forces plan to sabotage the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, the Washington Post reported Tuesday from its trove of leaked U.S. military intelligence documents. The pipeline began leaking in late September, which is about a month after gas flows along the line ceased.
Worth noting: Information about the plot came from a single source, and the plan was reportedly linked to Ukraine’s top military officer, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, in order to shield President Volodymir Zelenskyy from culpability. According to the Post, “The source’s information could not immediately be corroborated, but the CIA shared the report with Germany and other European countries last June.” CNN has a little bit more, here.
There are three ongoing investigations into the Nord Stream incident—in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark; and the White House’s John Kirby said Tuesday that the U.S. won’t get in the way of those probes before making any official statements. He also emphasized that the document the Post used for its report “was not corroborated by U.S. intelligence agencies.”
Update: The drone attacks that targeted buildings in Moscow early last week may have been targeting Russian intelligence officials, NBC News reported Tuesday. That possibility was shared with NBC by a “senior U.S. official and a congressional staffer with knowledge of the matter,” and it was supported by input from Strider Technologies, which is “a Utah-based strategic intelligence startup that uses open-source data.” Story, here.
In case you missed it: We reviewed the evolution of drone tactics during Russia’s Ukraine invasion for our latest Defense One Radio podcast. CNA’s Sam Bendett unpacked his latest drone report from that conflict in a nearly 20-minute conversation you can hear on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Developing: Poland announced today that in just two months it will start receiving South Korean Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System launchers, including the KTSSM ballistic missile with a range of about 180 miles. The deal, which was finalized this past September, “involves the transfer of technology to permit Poland to eventually produce both the artillery rocket and the 290 km-range ballistic missile,” and that “opens up the possibility of Poland producing much, much longer range missiles,” Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies tweeted after the news.
Bigger picture: South Korea is emerging as one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, Reuters reported last week. Indeed, its “arms sales jumped to more than $17 billion in 2022 from $7.25 billion the year before…as Western countries scrambled to arm Ukraine and tensions rose in other hot spots such as North Korea and the South China Sea.” Read more, here.
Get smart on precision-guided JDAMs, or Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are GPS-guided bomb kits the U.S. military has used since the late 1990s—and which are now in the hands of the Ukrainian military defending against a Russian invasion. Thomas Withington of the London-based Royal United Services Institute just published an explainer on the missile systems following reports Russian jamming systems are possibly stymying the precision weapons in occupied eastern Ukraine.
The quick read: “Jamming is not causing the JDAMs to stop working, but it is risking their accuracy—arguably a key selling point of the weapon,” Withington writes. “This is a potential problem when comparatively small targets are being engaged,” he notes, and advises, “US [global navigation satellite system] engineers may have to rethink how they safeguard JDAMs for the wars of tomorrow, based on the conflicts of today.”
- “McConnell, McCarthy split on additional defense, Ukraine funding,” The Hill reported Tuesday; the Washington Post and Politico have similar coverage;
- “Ukraine Fears Military Recruitment Crisis in the War Against Russia's Army,” The Daily Beast reported Wednesday from Kharkiv;
- “Russia and Saudi Arabia’s Oil Partnership Shows Strain,” the New York Times reported Wednesday, including a few experts skeptical of the Times headline;
- And “Serbia backs ammunition shipments to Ukraine in westward pivot,” the Financial Times reported Tuesday in a seemingly notable about-face.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1975, Sony launched Betamax, the first videocassette recorder format, which eventually lost its entire market share to the now-obsolete VHS. Fun fact: When your D Brief-er was assigned to his first Army public affairs detachment in 2008, the unit still had several Betamax receivers, each one documented in its property book. Memorably, their list price was well over $1,000 each. Not a single soldier in the unit, including the commander but also detachment veterans across the base, had any clue how they worked, when they were last used, or who in their right mind would spend a thousand dollars for those dusty aged boxes of plastic and wiring. In 2012, the Betamaxes were still in the unit’s inventory.
New: U.S. military readiness is being undermined by anti-LGBTQ+ hate, Pentagon officials say. For example, the military has relocated some families whose children could not escape bullying at school, Assistant Air Force Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Alex Wagner revealed on Tuesday.
“When I'm forced to move families from installations, because their school will do nothing when their LGBT kid is being bullied—that worries me, because that's distracting from the mission, that's detracting from our readiness,” Wagner said at the Center for a New American Security’s annual National Security Conference. “If servicemembers are thinking and concerned about the experience their kids are having, they're not going to be focused on their jobs. They're not gonna be focused on their mission.” Wagner did not say how many families had been moved or on what installations. Defense One’s Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.
ICYMI: Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced or passed in recent years by right-wing lawmakers. (Find a list compiled by the ACLU, here.) The bills seek to limit the rights of young people who are already at greater risk of suicide than the general population.
A top Space Force general called these laws a threat to readiness. "That number is rising, and demonstrates a trend that could be dangerous for service members, their families and the readiness of the force as a whole," said Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber, and nuclear. Burt spoke Wednesday at a ceremony marking Pride Month. (Via Politico’s Lara Seligman.)
Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros: "Our LGBTQ+ and other diverse communities are under attack, just because they are different. Hate for hate's sake,” Cisneros added at the ceremony. “But we must stick together, and we must be prepared to confront any such challenge directly."
Cisneros spoke six days after the Pentagon banned drag shows on its installations after right-wing lawmakers pressed the issue.
And lastly: UK PM will visit the White House on Thursday. President Joe Biden is hosting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for talks on Ukraine, the climate crisis, and more on June 8. Sunak’s two-day visit to Washington is also expected to include meetings with lawmakers and business leaders.
Some context: “The meeting comes after the White House announced earlier this month that Biden was endorsing an international effort forged by the U.K. and other allies to train — and eventually equip — Ukraine with the F-16 fighter jets that President Volodymyr Zelesnkky has long sought,” the Associated Press reported in a preview last week. More, here.
Related: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin just visited his French and British counterparts in France on Tuesday, the 79th anniversary of the D-Day landings. “During their first in-person meeting in this trilateral format, the leaders reiterated their ironclad commitment to supporting Ukraine in its brave defense against Russia's unjust war, and were united in their intent to continue providing security assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces for as long as it takes,” the Pentagon said in a readout. More, here.