Today's D Brief: Putin scrambles; Unease in Minsk; Ukraine advances; Army narrows BFV replacement; China’s chip-export workaround; And a bit more.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is frantically working to rewrite the narrative of what exactly happened over the weekend after heavily-armed Russian Wagner mercenaries raced toward Moscow to kill or remove top military officials like longtime Putin confidant Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.  

Putin spoke publicly Monday evening and again Tuesday morning, apparently now keenly aware world leaders and certain global markets were growing anxious about potential instability inside the country, which happens to be the world’s most nuclear-armed nation and one of its largest oil exporters. 

“The main thing” to know now, Putin said Monday night in a nationally televised address, is that the events of the weekend “united everyone, [and] brought our people together,” he said. (Such unity was clearly not evident from residents of Rostov-on-Don, which Wagner seized briefly during its putsch toward Moscow.)

“An armed mutiny would have been suppressed in any event,” Putin claimed. A dozen of his soldiers reportedly perished after Wagner shot down six helicopters and an airplane sent to stop them racing to the capital. The Russian leader then thanked “our servicemen, law enforcement and special services officers who stood in the mutineers’ way,” and insisted that “as soon as these events started to unfold, in keeping with my direct instructions, steps were taken to avoid spilling blood.”

To Wagner’s mercenaries and convicts, Putin promised, “Today, you have the opportunity to continue your service to Russia by signing a contract with the Defence Ministry or other law enforcement or security agency or return home. Those who want to are free to go to Belarus,” he said, which seems to confirm that no one in the mutiny will face criminal charges, including, of course, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin—whose plane was reportedly spotted landing in Minsk on Tuesday.  

Putin also admitted Wagner has been fully funded by the Russian state for many months, which contradicts what his top diplomat insisted publicly back in May 2022, Mary Ilyushina of the Washington Post noted. In spite of this revelation, Putin added somewhat dejectedly on Tuesday, “I hope that no one stole anything or stole not so much, but we'll deal with all this.” He also briefly thanked his Belarussian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, for brokering the deal that diverted Wagner’s tanks and fighters away from Moscow and into Belarus.

So goes Belarus: “If Russia collapses, we will all be under its wreckage, and we will all die,” Putin’s fellow autocrat Lukashenko said publicly Tuesday in Minsk. 

Washington is exasperated: “Putin could have arrested the Wagner commanders for treason, but instead offered to forgive and integrate Wagner forces, which indicates his need for trained and effective manpower,” according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, writing Monday evening. “Putin’s acknowledgement that he made a personal promise, presumably that Wagner personnel who went to Belarus would be safe there, was remarkable,” ISW adds, but cautions, “The long-term value of that promise, Putin’s speech notwithstanding, is questionable.”

Prigozhin himself said Monday he never sought to unseat Putin, but was instead angry at the military for attacking his forces. That plea “clearly failed,” ISW writes. After Prigozhin spoke, Putin referred to the mutiny as a blackmail attempt organized by “traitors.” And that would seem to suggest Wagner will likely continue as an entity tied closely to the Russian state, “but it will likely not include Yevgeny Prigozhin,” ISW predicts. 

A second opinion: “This all seems far from over,” said Russia expert Michael Kofman of the Virginia-based CNA. Others agree. 

“[T]he greatest threat to Putin at this point comes not from Prigozhin, but from the potential that these events break the hermetic seal on the public consensus that there is no alternative to Putin,” said Professor Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis, writing Tuesday on Twitter. In the meantime, “Putin's support among the elite is not, fundamentally, ideological: it rests on their belief that he can, among other things, keep the system together and keep them safe from the people,” Greene says. “If that belief falters, they may begin looking for a more effective leader.” 

Meanwhile, in Beijing…  “It’s hard to overstate how much what happens in Russia has historically shaped thinking in China about their own country,” Joseph Torigian of the Wilson Center wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “The birth of the Chinese Communist Party, the anti-rightist movement, the Cultural Revolution, Reform and Opening, policy toward ethnic minorities—all of these were shaped by what some Chinese thought the Russians were doing right or wrong,” he says. 

But China is not Russia. Xi Jinping’s “war on corruption and the party’s control over the power ministries mean real differences” with the Russian system. “Moreover, the Chinese likely believe that Putin is still the best chance for stability in Russia and see supporting him as one of the core foundations of the relationship. Some Chinese commentators have noted that Putin did emerge victorious quickly and with little blood spilt.” 

Counteroffensive progress report: Ukrainian forces have reportedly advanced into territory occupied by Russian forces going back to the initial invasion of 2014, the British military said Tuesday. That includes “small advances east from the village of Krasnohorivka, near Donetsk city, which sits on the old Line of Control.” 

Panning out more widely, “Recent multiple concurrent Ukrainian assaults throughout the Donbas have likely overstretched Donetsk People’s Republic and Chechen forces operating in this area,” the Brits said. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Monday’s advances, which he said occurred “in all directions,” made for a “happy day” in Kyiv. 

Developing: The U.S. is expected to announce another batch of weapons for Ukraine later Tuesday, Voice of America’s Carla Babb reported Monday. That’s expected to include 55 more Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Strykers, as well as “a large number of Bangalore torpedoes for busting through obstacles.”

One big problem: The occupying forces have created “a vast swath of minefields protecting Russia’s defensive line, forming a killing field for Ukrainian troops advancing on the open steppe of the south,” the New York Times reported Monday from southern Ukraine. 

On top of this, “KA-52 Russian attack helicopters have been able to slip past air defenses, slowing Ukrainian movements while damaging or destroying Western-provided tanks and armored fighting vehicles,” Andrew Kramer and Eric Schmitt report. Meanwhile, at least 17 of the 113 Bradleys the U.S. sent to Ukraine have been damaged from use so far. Continue reading, here

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Kevin Baron. On this day in 2005, southern American writer and historian Shelby Foote passed away at the age of 88 in Memphis. Foote was one of the voices documentarian Ken Burns turned to for his 1990 PBS series, “The Civil War.” 

New: And the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle replacement winner is… The U.S. Army finally chose General Dynamics Land Systems and American Rheinmetall Vehicles as the two finalists for the long-running competition. Big Army will rename that Bradley replacement as the XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle, Doug Bush, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology, told reporters Monday. The program had been known as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, or OMFV.
For $1.6 billion, the two competitors, who already presented digital designs, will now build as many as 11 prototypes for testing, Defense One’s Sam Skove reports. However, prototype construction isn’t expected to begin until the first quarter of 2025, with the first of those now not anticipated until 18 to 24 months later. Read more, here

China is gearing up to evade America’s chip-export rules. Chinese technology firms are reportedly branching out to Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations amid a local renaissance in semiconductor manufacturing, at least partly to avoid U.S. sanctions. And “Unfortunately, the U.S. is underprepared for this challenge,” Matt Brazil and Peter Singer write for Defense One.
Why bring this up: “The U.S. Commerce Department has a lone export control officer stationed there to cover all of Southeast Asia and Australia,” Singer and Brazil warn. Continue reading, here.
Related reading: 

And lastly: U.S. officials are open to letting additional countries join the so-called AUKUS defense technology partnership, which links the U.S. with Australia and the United Kingdom, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported Monday. Potential new countries would have to show how they could contribute meaningfully, U.S. officials said this week.
“A variety of countries” are interested in joining the team, such as it is; and those include New Zealand, South Korea, and France, according to Kurt Campbell, the deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for the Indo-Pacific. “I think all three countries have made clear that under appropriate circumstances, we would be prepared to work collaboratively with other partners who bring capacity to the challenge,” Campbell said Monday. Story, here.