Today's D Brief: Ukraine’s African diplomacy; Air-defense aid; New secrets indictment; China’s latest hack; And a bit more.
Leaders from five African nations visited Ukraine Friday, where air defense systems were activated in the capital city of Kyiv by an apparent barrage of Russian missile and drone strikes targeting the region. Representatives from South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, Egypt, and the Comoros (a cluster of three islands in the southeastern portion of the continent) attended; South Africa, in particular, has long been a close ally of Russia. So officials inside Ukraine are sure to be paying close attention to Friday’s delegation.
The leaders bring with them a peace plan of sorts, which Reuters calls a framework document of “confidence building measures” intended to reduce violence in the country. “Those measures could include a Russian troop pull-back, removal of tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus, suspension of implementation of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant targeting Putin, and sanctions relief,” Reuters reported Thursday evening.
There are now at least five peace plans floating around for Russia’s Ukraine invasion, including the one put forward by Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy near the end of 2022. China has also submitted one, along with the Vatican, Indonesia, and the African delegation.
According to Ukraine’s top diplomat, “Russian missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Friday after the apparent missile strikes near Kyiv. And in a seemingly ironic reference to the visitors’ confidence-building plan, Kuleba added, “Putin ‘builds confidence’ by launching the largest missile attack on Kyiv in weeks, exactly amid the visit of African leaders to our capital.”
Bigger picture: This visit is Ukraine’s chance to address at least some concerns from nations referred to as a part of the “Global South,” which is often taken to mean low- or middle-income countries spread across Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Convincing the citizens of these countries, most of which have little to no interest in joining G7 sanctions against Russia, that Moscow’s invasion is bad for the world—and not just the majority-white population of Eastern Europe—would be an enormous boon for Ukraine’s ambitions of reclaiming the 17% of its country currently occupied by Russian forces. See, e.g., this Foreign Affairs essay from April entitled, “The World Beyond Ukraine.” (Foreign Policy, Vox, al-Jazeera, and others have similar takes on the topic.)
Ukraine has “a very violent fight” ahead that will “likely take a considerable amount of time,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday in Brussels—echoing warnings from several experts with a keen eye on the conflict (like Jack Watling, John Hardie, and others) while standing beside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The Washington Post has more from Milley and Austin’s remarks to reporters Thursday, here.
“Armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and ammo. This is what we need to protect our land, and help the Russians to find their way home,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said before that contact group meeting. “That is our plan for this summer and beyond—until we win,” he added.
If the U.S. stops militarily assisting Ukraine, the country’s president said Thursday, the world should expect “Russia will continue going toward Baltic countries, Poland, etc. They will start war with one of the NATO countries,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy told Richard Engel of NBC News. “And at this moment the United States will have to choose, the collapse of NATO or go to war,” Zelenskyy said. He also claimed that he thinks Russia will lose the wider conflict if Ukrainian forces succeed in their current counteroffensive. Read more at NBC News, here.
A second opinion: “This war is the most urgent and important issue on the [U.S.] national security agenda, and Western governments need to treat it as such,” said Gideon Rose of the Council on Foreign Relations, writing this week in Foreign Affairs. When it comes to Ukraine, he argues, the U.S. “is not acting as the world’s policeman or as a global bully but as the arsenal of democracy. And it has been doing all this effectively and efficiently, without firing a gun or losing a single soldier. The effort to date has been a model of how to blend hard and soft power in a single strategy.” More, here.
New: The Danes, Dutch, Brits, and Americans just launched a special air defense program for Ukraine to help speed up the process of sending missiles and related equipment to the embattled country. The ultimate idea is to “further ensure the success of counter-offensive operations in coming months,” the four nations said in a joint statement Thursday.
“Delivery of the equipment has already begun and should be complete within several weeks,” they said. “The package consists largely of Soviet-era missiles, supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s most pressing needs for systems to support offensive operations and protect critical national infrastructure,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in his own statement Thursday.
The U.S. may soon sell Spain about 150 more M982A1 Excalibur 155mm artillery rounds, which is on top of the 118 such rounds Madrid had planned to purchase from the U.S., according to the Pentagon’s arms export branch, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. That will bring Spain’s desired total to more than 270 rounds, which manufacturer Raytheon claims “is a true precision weapon.” The likely sale would cost about $50 million. Details, here.
Estonia’s top Defense Ministry civil servant had a blunt message for Western arms makers on Thursday: Shape up, or see Israel and South Korea replace you. Speaking at the Defense One Tech Summit, Permanent Secretary of the Estonian Ministry of Defense Kusti Salm said Israeli and South Korean arms makers, which face some challenges their NATO competitors don’t have, have nevertheless provided weapons faster and more cheaply amid a spike in global demand for weapons caused by the Ukraine war, Defense One’s Samuel Skove reports.
Why it matters: Estonia and its Baltic Sea neighbors have ratcheted up purchases of arms from Israeli and South Korean firms since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine 16 months ago. That includes self-propelled artillery, loitering munitions, and anti-tank missiles, all systems that are well-represented in the war in Ukraine. Continue reading, here.
Developing: In a new first, Israel is selling its Merkava tank to an unspecified country in Europe, as well as at least one other potential customer abroad, the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday, citing a source in the defense ministry. Israel is reportedly facing “record demand” for its military gear since much of Europe has been emptying its stocks to help Ukraine defend against a Russian invasion. Tiny bit more, here.
By the way: Israel’s military chief met with the Pentagon’s Lloyd Austin Thursday in Brussels. The two discussed Iran’s nuclear and drone export programs, and they talked about the war in Ukraine, according to the Defense Department’s readout, which ran a little long by Pentagon standards.
- “U.S.-trained Ukrainian pilot who died in combat had been eager to get back into the fight,” Politico reported Thursday, a week after the initial notice of Capt. Vladyslav Savieliev’s death was announced publicly by Ukraine’s air force;
- “Decoding the Antiwar Messages of Miniature Protesters in Russia,” via the New York Times, reporting Friday in an interesting multimedia presentation;
- “Think Ukraine’s Offensive Has Started? Wait for the Heavy Brigades,” says former U.S. Army Europe commander, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, writing at the Center for European Policy Analysis;
- “‘Mines Everywhere’: Ukraine’s Offensive Is Proving a Hard Slog,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday from eastern Ukraine;
- See also “Why the War in Ukraine May Not Deter China,” via the Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov, writing Friday as well.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to former Canadian Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor. Taylor had helped six Americans escape from Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979–81. His role in the events was minimized in the 2012 Hollywood portrayal conveyed in the Ben Affleck film, “Argo.” He explained a bit about that in an interview from nearly a decade ago, here.
Six felony counts of willful retention and transmission of national defense information. A grand jury on Thursday handed down the indictments on Thursday of the airman who posted secret documents to a Discord chat group. Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, 21, was arrested two months ago on a preliminary criminal complaint. The indictment “paves the way for a trial stemming from one of the most damaging national security leaks in recent history. If convicted, he could face up to 60 years in prison,” the New York Times reports.
As for another high-profile apparent willful-retention case: Judge Aileen Cannon, who will oversee the trial of former president Donald Trump on Espionage Act charges, said any lawyer who intends to participate needs to talk to the Justice Department, and promptly, if they want a top secret security clearance to review the details of the case. Read more at the Times, here.
Cybersecurity firm Mandiant says Chinese spies are behind another software hack with global impact. The security and firewall service Barracuda announced this month that it recently discovered it had been hacked going back to October. Identifying the culprit as “UNC4841,” the Mandiant said Thursday that it “assesses with high confidence that UNC4841 is an espionage actor behind this wide-ranging campaign in support of the People’s Republic of China.”
At least a third of the targets were “government agencies,” Mandiant said. And that included “users from ASEAN Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as foreign trade offices and academic research organizations in Taiwan and Hong Kong.”
Separately, the U.S. Department of Energy had at least two “entities” hacked in a different campaign that affected the global file-sharing database MOVEit, CNN reported Thursday. But don’t worry too much, because “this is not a campaign like SolarWinds, that presents a systemic risk to our national security or our nation's networks,” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly told reporters in a phone call Thursday. TechCrunch has more on the Russia-linked ransomware gang behind the MOVEit exploit.
In case you missed it: The U.S. Army’s big Louisiana base was renamed this week from Fort Polk to honor Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient who served in the New York National Guard’s 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment. The formal ceremony took place Tuesday; see photos from that event, via Twitter, here.
Fort Johnson is home, perhaps most notably, to the Joint Readiness Training Center, where soldiers train or are certified for overseas deployments. “Sgt. William Henry Johnson embodied the warrior spirit, and we are deeply honored to bear his name at the Home of Heroes,” said Brig. Gen. David Gardner, commanding general of Fort Johnson and JRTC. The base had previously been named for the treasonous Confederate Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk.
That leaves just two Army bases still awaiting formal name changes. Those include Georgia’s Fort Gordon, which is changing to Fort Eisenhower; and Virginia’s Fort A.P. Hill, which will take on the name of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker—an abolitionist, spy, and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
And lastly: U.S. special operations veteran Mike Vickers is dropping by Washington today for a noon event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Vickers—whose legacy was partly retold in the 2007 drama “Charlie Wilson’s War”—just published an autobiography of sorts called “By All Means Available: Memoirs of a Life in Intelligence, Special Operations, and Strategy,” which hits bookshelves on Tuesday.
He’ll be joined by Seth Jones, Eliot Cohen, and Emily Harding of CSIS for a group discussion of the many themes in his new memoir. You can register to attend the discussion here; or you can submit questions for the event, which is also streaming live via YouTube, here.
That’s it for us this week. We’ll be marking the Juneteenth federal holiday on Monday, which means we’ll be back again on Tuesday. Thanks for reading, and have a safe weekend!