Today's D Brief: Russian airstrikes target Ukraine; Xi, Blinken meet; Biden on AI; Navy’s stray-bullet barrier; And a bit more.
A large wave of Russian drone and missile strikes targeted Ukraine again on Tuesday, including three Iranian-made Shaheds that struck an unspecified “critical infrastructure facility” in the far-western city of Lviv, according to the region’s governor, writing Tuesday on Telegram. Fortunately, no one was injured in Lviv, and firefighters were called to extinguish the flames.
The drones began approaching Kyiv and other cities around 5 a.m. local time in a barrage of nearly three dozen munitions, 32 of which were allegedly shot down before hitting their targets, according to Ukraine’s military. “The main direction of attack of Iranian drones is [in the] Kyiv region; more than two dozen ‘Shaheds’ were destroyed here,” military spokesman Andrii Kovalev said.
Portions of the capital were left without electricity afterward. About a half dozen ballistic missiles and S-300 air defense rockets, meanwhile, were used to hit targets in the southern city of Zaporizhia; there were no initial reported injuries from those strikes, which hit “telecommunication infrastructure and agriculture and farming properties,” according to Reuters.
Counteroffensive latest: Ukrainian ground forces are inching their way further into Russian-occupied territory across “at least three sectors of the frontline,” with new gains reported around Bakhmut and the western Donetsk and western Zaporizhia oblasts, according to the latest analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, writing Monday evening.
One top defense official is warning Russia is working very hard to stop Ukraine from clawing back any land during the counteroffensive. “The enemy will not give up positions easily and we must prepare for the fact that it will be a tough duel,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Tuesday, writing on Telegram. Because of this, she cautioned observers, “It is not necessary to measure the result of the work of the defense forces exclusively by settlements and kilometers traveled, because there are much more criteria for the effectiveness of military operations.”
Despite this, Maliar said, Ukrainian troops are advancing near the occupied cities of Melitopol and Berdyansk. This is notable, the BBC reports, because “Melitopol and Berdyansk lie on a coastal route from Russia to Crimea seen as critical to the Russian military because the bridge over the Kerch Strait from Russia to occupied Crimea is largely avoided by supply lorries.”
The view from Berlin: “We should be prepared that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine can still last for a long time,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday during a press conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Still, he added, “Germany will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
New: Detailed analysis of Ukraine’s Kakhovka Dam “suggests Russia blew it up from within,” the New York Times reported over the weekend in a multimedia presentation featuring engineering diagrams overlaid with surveillance footage of the dam and its aftermath.
Bottom line: “The dam was built with an enormous concrete block at its base,” and “A small passageway runs through it, reachable from the dam's machine room,” the Times reported. “It was in this passageway, the evidence suggests, that an explosive charge detonated and destroyed the dam.”
Why Russia? In part “because the dam was built during Soviet times, Moscow had every page of the engineering drawings and knew where it was,” according to the Times. But also because Russian authorities occupied the dam when it was damaged. (The Associated Press came to a similar conclusion, writing separately on Monday in its own special report entitled, “Russia had means, motive and opportunity to destroy Ukraine dam, drone photos and information show.”)
We also have a new batch of before/after imagery to assess the situation around the dam, thanks to commercial satellite imagery provider Maxar, which released the seven images on Friday. Review that collection, here.
- “Schools in Occupied Ukraine Seek to Turn Children Into Loyal Russians,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Zaporizhia;
- “Britain to help Ukraine expand its cyber defences,” Reuters reported Sunday from London;
- “Russian soldier gets $12,000 for destroying German tank in Ukraine,” Reuters reported separately on Monday;
- And don’t miss the incredible story of how “Russia Sought to Kill Defector in Florida,” according to the New York Times, reporting Monday ahead of the June 29 publication of “Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West,” by Harvard scholar Calder Walton.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1942, Polish engineer Kazimierz Piechowski helped pull off a daring escape from the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp, along with fellow prisoners Eugeniusz Bendera, Józef Lempert, and Stanisław Gustaw Jaster.
Today: POTUS on AI. This afternoon on the west coast, President Joe Biden is planning to discuss “seizing the opportunities and managing the risks of Artificial Intelligence,” according to the White House’s public schedule.
Biden traveled to California on Monday for discussions on technology and climate with officials at Palo Alto. He’ll be discussing the challenges and opportunities presented by AI during one of his final stops in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon (morning local time).
As far as what Biden might say, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wasn’t terribly forthcoming in a brief preview with reporters Monday. “We remain committed to fostering responsible AI to benefit society,” and “working to mitigate the risk,” she said ahead of Tuesday’s visit to San Fran. “As we know, AI is a rapidly moving technology; so there’ll be more to share on this trip about that,” she added.
Biden's top diplomat visited Beijing for two days of talks with Chinese officials. From the outset, the White House and State Department had low expectations for the visit; and those included “establish[ing] better lines of communication, open[ing] channels of communication, both to address misperceptions, miscalculations and to ensure that that competition doesn’t veer into conflict,” according to Antony Blinken, who was the first U.S. state secretary to visit China since 2018.
Blinken met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday. Afterward, he told reporters, “We have no illusions about the challenges of managing this relationship. There are many issues on which we profoundly, even vehemently, disagree.” According to the Associated Press, which traveled with Blinken to Beijing, Xi told his U.S. visitor, “China respects the interests of the United States and will not challenge or supplant the United States. Similarly, the United States should also respect China and not harm its legitimate rights and interests.”
Xi’s top diplomat wasn’t as careful with his words during talks on Monday, and reportedly demanded U.S. officials stop “hyping the ‘China threat theory’” and “urged the United States not to project on China the template that a strong country must seek hegemony.”
Blinken had hoped to re-establish military-to-military talks between the two nations, but Chinese officials were not interested—citing 2018 U.S. sanctions against its current defense minister, Li Shangfu, for helping China acquire weapons from Russia.
Blinken heads to London next for talks with European officials and to attend the Ukraine Recovery Conference, which aims to drum up public and private financial support for Ukraine. Reuters has a bit more from the China leg of Blinken’s travels, reporting Tuesday from Beijing, here.
America’s first deepwater Arctic port will open by decade’s end. The $600 million facility under construction in Nome, Alaska, will give U.S. warships (and cruise liners) a place to tie up about 125 miles south of the Arctic Circle and about as far southeast of the Bering Strait, a key gateway to the Arctic Ocean for warships from the United States, Russia and China, AP reports.
What of Beijing’s Arctic ambitions? Five years ago, China declared itself a “near-Arctic nation,” though its ports sit thousands of miles by sea from Arctic waters. RAND has some thoughts about what its ambitions mean to the United States, here.
Meanwhile, the melting ice cap atop the world is shrinking by nearly 13% a decade, according to NASA measurements.
And lastly: The U.S. Navy put up 20 shipping containers to keep stray bullets out of its Gulfport, Mississippi, base. Now it’s consider replacing that temporary expedient with a concrete wall. “The hulking boxes were put in place last fall, after gunfire at a subsidized apartment complex across the street damaged five homes inside the Naval Construction Battalion Center; no one was hurt. The base responded by increasing patrols around its perimeter and making one of the most fortified areas of Gulfport even more so,” NBC News reports.
Homicides in the state’s second-largest city have jumped from about three a year a decade ago to about 10 over the past few years. Read on, here.
Still, and ICYMI, nationwide murder rates are way down this year. The reasons aren’t yet clear, but we appear to be emerging from a pandemic-long spike.