Today's D Brief: Russia bombs Lviv; Ukraine bombs Russian depots; WH mulling cluster bombs, ATACMS for Kyiv; And a bit more.

Russia unleashed its largest cruise missile attack on Ukraine’s western city of Lviv since Moscow’s full-scale invasion began nearly 500 days ago. At least four people were killed and more than a dozen others were sent to hospital, said Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, writing Thursday on Telegram. 

Ukraine’s military says it shot down seven out of 10 of those cruise missiles sent toward Lviv. More than 50 apartments were destroyed in the strikes, and almost three dozen other houses were damaged, according to the mayor. Lviv is just 43 miles from the Polish border. 

“There will definitely be a response to the enemy, a tangible one,” said Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy of those Lviv strikes, writing Thursday on Telegram during a rare visit outside his country’s borders, this time to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. That visit “was initially kept secret for security reasons, but diplomatic sources leaked the plans Tuesday to Bulgarian outlet,” Politico reported Wednesday. 

Ukrainian forces are still advancing incrementally as they push counteroffensive operations across five sectors along the front lines, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. A majority of documented advances are occurring around the destroyed eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian defense officials say Russian forces are “trapped in the city itself thanks to our fighters.” 

Ukraine also struck several suspected Russian arms depots in occupied territory, including one in the city of Makiivka which produced an enormous fireball captured on video this week. A top British defense official told the Financial Times on Tuesday that Ukraine is engaging in a campaign to “starve, stretch, and strike” Russian forces in the hopes of creating an opening for ground troops to exploit in the coming days and weeks. 

About that Makiivka strike: “This is a vivid example of the effective work of the Ukrainian gunners, who inflicted fire damage, and aerial scouts, who corrected the strike,” said Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, writing Thursday on Telegram. “A really large warehouse was destroyed, where a significant number of artillery shells and rockets for the BM-21 ‘GRAD’ anti-aircraft missile system were stored,” she added. 

“At this stage of active hostilities, Ukraine's Defense Forces are fulfilling the number one task—the maximum destruction of manpower, equipment, fuel depots, military vehicles, command posts, artillery and air defense forces of the Russian army,” said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, writing on Twitter Tuesday.

Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, is claiming today that “the West” is treating Ukraine as its own “colony,” which seems an odd but on-brand way for Moscow to project its own faults onto its democratic neighbor. Russia, after all, annexed Ukraine’s entire Crimean peninsula and installed its own officials to run occupied cities in Ukraine’s east and south. 

“It’s a tradition for colonial powers to behave like bandits toward the national and cultural heritages of the countries they view as their colonies. Undoubtedly, they consider Ukraine to be their colony, not just their fiefdom,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to state-run media TASS

“Almost all of Putin's army is on the territory of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy told CNN’s Erin Burnett during an interview this week in the port city of Odesa. Putin “no longer controls the situation in the [border] regions, the security situation,” Zelenskyy said. “And that's why the ‘Wagnerians’ went through Russia so easily” during the Wagner mutiny on June 23, “because there was no one to stop them.” He also said now is the time to put unspecified additional “pressure on Putin's regime and himself, when he is so weak.”

By the way: Where’s Yevgeny? Belarus’s autocratic leader says the convict-mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin isn’t in his former Soviet republic anymore, and that he’s probably in Russia now.

Why it matters: “If Prigozhin is able to return to Russia with impunity, it would raise new questions about Putin's authority in the wake of the brief mutiny that marked the gravest challenge to his 23 years in power,” Reuters writes in its Thursday dispatch from Minsk. After all, “Putin told Asian leaders this week that the episode had shown that Russian society is more united than ever,” and “The Kremlin has declined to engage in discussion of Prigozhin's whereabouts.”

“As long as Crimea is under Russian occupation, this means one thing: the war is not over,” Zelenskyy said to CNN. He also reiterated his military’s desire for F-16 fighter jets, saying, “F-16s help not only those on the battlefield to move forward. It is simply very difficult without cover from the air.”

  • View a few new images of Ukraine training its forces for war in the trenches via this collection posted to Facebook on Wednesday. 

Developing: “Russia is reportedly forming a new combined arms army as part of the Northern Fleet, likely in order to posture its preparedness against NATO,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote Tuesday evening. 

Context: “Russian army corps before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine existed only within fleets and largely performed the same functions as combined arms armies,” which suggests that this purported “new combined arms army is thus likely posturing ahead of the NATO summit on July 11-12 intended to show Russia’s military response to the accession of Finland and possibly Sweden to the alliance,” ISW added. 

Worth emphasizing: “[I]t is unclear where the Russian military leadership could find the personnel and equipment that would be needed for the new organization to generate a material difference,” ISW wrote. Read more, here

Coverage continues below the fold…

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1917, British army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence helped advise a group of Bedouin fighters in a battle for the Ottoman-held city of Aqaba, on the Red Sea coast of what is now Jordan.

After months of feet-dragging, the White House is on the verge of sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, according to NPR’s Tom Bowman on Wednesday, which is about a week after Politico suggested such talks were under way in Washington. Pressure has been growing for the U.S. to send Ukraine such weapons for about the past nine months, as Defense One’s Sam Skove reported back in April.
Cluster bombs are banned by most countries because the bomblets they scatter can accidentally kill civilians, either in the initial blast or long afterward.
For the record: “The New York Times has documented Russia’s extensive use of cluster munitions in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022,” the Times reported Thursday. But “Ukraine has also used them in efforts to retake Russian-occupied territories, according to human rights monitors, the United Nations, and reports from The Times.”
Four high-profile Republican lawmakers support the decision. In a March letter to President Biden, they argued that sending the weapons would help Ukraine push back Russian forces near Bahkmut and elsewhere while “alleviating pressure on U.S. and allied munitions supplies.”
That letter was signed by the Republican chairmen and ranking members of the House Armed Services, Senate Armed Services, House Foreign Affairs, and Senate Foreign Affairs committees. In it, they asserted that the U.S. military holds around three million DPCIM rounds that can be fired from 155mm howitzers already in use in Ukraine. Read more from Skove’s reporting, here.
ICYMI: The U.S. is also reportedly close to approving long-range ATACMS missiles for Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. That’s another weapon system that a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have been recommending for Ukraine, as Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported nearly two weeks ago.
Background: “Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, administration officials have offered a variety of explanations and excuses for not offering missiles that can strike out to 185 miles,” Tucker writes.
What’s more, Russia has said that such a transfer would lead Moscow to consider the U.S. a party to the conflict. However, the U.K. has since shared its Storm Shadow cruise missiles with Ukraine, and Russia doesn’t seem to have extended a similar threat to London. Read more from Tucker, here.
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