Today's D Brief: Ukraine wants long-range missiles; Russian shortages; Biden to Europe; Taiwan roundup; And a bit more.
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy is openly calling for the sort of long-range weapons President Joe Biden has so far been reluctant to share, though there have been recent indications Biden may change his mind soon, e.g. via the Wall Street Journal reporting last week.
“Without long-range weapons, it is difficult not only to fulfill an offensive mission, but also to conduct a defensive operation,” Zelenskyy said Friday after talks with Czech officials in Prague. “This means that you are defending your land and cannot reach the appropriate distance to destroy your enemy. That is, the enemy has a distance advantage,” he said.
“First of all, we are talking about it with the United States; it depends only on them today,” Zelenskyy said. He also said Ukrainian officials are discussing possibly acquiring longer-range artillery munitions “not only with the United States, but also with other partners.”
Developing: A possible U.S. decision on sending cluster bombs to Ukraine is expected as soon as today. We described the dynamics informing that decision in Thursday’s D Brief.
On Friday, a top Zelenskyy advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, welcomed the suspected developments, writing on social media, “In the great bloody war which has been ongoing for more than 16 months, and which will predetermine the future of the world…the number of weapons matters. So, weapons, more weapons, and more weapons, including cluster munitions.” Stay tuned to Defense One for related coverage throughout the weekend.
Russia launched 18 Iranian-made Shahed drones at Ukraine Thursday evening, and a dozen of those were shot down before reaching their targets, Ukraine’s military said Friday. The Russian army also “shelled peaceful settlements in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson regions,” according to Kyiv.
Russian forces have allegedly occupied a children’s recreation center in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhia region. Russian forces “set up a military base, where there are more than 800 Russian servicemen and dispersed Russian military equipment in close proximity to the residential buildings of local residents,” Ukraine’s military says.
Russia may be quietly suffering from personnel shortages in places like Zaporizhia, where some of Moscow's troops “have been on the frontlines since October 2022 without any rotations,” according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. At least one prominent Russian “milblogger stated that Russian forces have not been able to rotate these mobilized personnel out of these positions because there are no available personnel to replace them with.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Other Russian milbloggers accused Russian attack helicopters of striking already destroyed Ukrainian military equipment,” ISW writes, and those bloggers “suggested that the Russian MoD may be using these repeated hits to report inflated Ukrainian losses.” Read more, here.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov shared the latest battlefield assessments with Austin, and Austin updated Reznikov on the latest in planned U.S. weapons transfers, according to the Pentagon’s terse readout.
Next week, President Biden is expected to travel to the United Kingdom, Lithuania, and Finland. His staff has planned conversations with King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London first; then he flies to Vilnius, Lithuania, for the annual NATO summit on Tuesday and Wednesday. And finally on Thursday, he plans to visit Finland, for a U.S. and Nordic Leaders Summit in Helsinki.
Sweden-Türkiye latest: Officials from both countries failed to reach an agreement in talks held Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said afterward in Brussels. Leaders from the two countries will meet next on Monday in Vilnius, Stoltenberg said.
To be clear: NATO isn’t going to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance during next week’s summit in Lithuania, Stoltenberg said Thursday. Instead, he said will formalize “a multi-year program of assistance to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian armed forces and NATO.”
“The most important thing now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails” against Russian occupying forces, Stoltenberg told reporters. The Associated Press has a bit more, reporting Friday from Brussels.
- “Former U.S. officials have held secret Ukraine talks with prominent Russians,” NBC News reported Thursday of a meeting that took place three months ago in New York City;
- “Biden didn’t authorise secret US-Russia talks over Ukraine war, White House says,” the Guardian reported Friday about those above talks;
- “Russia’s Wagner fighters have not visited Belarus barracks: Minsk,” al-Jazeera reported Friday;
- See also: “No one came out of [Russia’s Wagner] mutiny a hero, Belarus leader tells BBC,” the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reported Thursday from Minsk.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1946, Howard Hughes crashed his experimental XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft in Beverly Hills, which nearly killed Hughes and amazingly did not harm anyone in the three houses his plane damaged while landing at the edge of the Los Angeles Country Club.
China has launched a misinformation campaign against Taiwan, officials in Taipei allege. The scheme involves publicizing an alleged “escape plan” should China’s military invade the self-governing island, Reuters reported Friday from Taiwan’s capital.
The so-called “escape plan” is believed to be an element of Taiwan’s upcoming annual Han Kuang military drills, which “will include for the first time the temporary shutdown of its main international airport in a simulation,” according to Reuters.
One big vulnerability for Taiwan: The island imports 97% of its energy, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday from Singapore.
And should a conflict erupt over Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea will be hit the hardest, according to a new report from the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. But “markets such as Australia, Hong Kong and many in South-east Asia [are] also facing severe vulnerability” should a war break out. Their proximity to Taiwan is a dominant factor in this new assessment; but “The hosting of US military bases in all three of these countries, in particular, also highlights their vulnerability to a pre-emptive Chinese attack.”
In terms of industry impacts, “We do not see any markets that would serve as a substitute for Taiwan’s critical role in semiconductor supply chains, although, in the long term, South Korea and (to a lesser extent) Japan may emerge as alternatives,” EIU’s analysts warn.
Panning out across the region, “India and Indonesia are the least exposed, but are not fully insulated from potential shocks,” EIU writes. Read more, (registration required), here.
The State Department last week approved an undisclosed amount of “various unclassified” 30-millimeter ammunition. The deal is worth more than $330 million. “This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that oversees foreign arms sales, said in a statement.
State also approved a $108 million deal for Taiwan that includes “spare and repair parts for wheeled vehicles, weapons, and other related elements of program support.”
- “Taiwan doesn’t see conflict as ‘imminent,’ but it’s preparing anyway,” NBC News reported Wednesday from Taiwan;
- “Taiwan’s Impossible Choice: Be Ukraine or Hong Kong,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday from Taiwan;
- “Lithuania defies China over Taiwan ties in new Asia strategy,” Politico reported Thursday;
- And don’t miss a special report from Reuters entitled, “Inside the subsea cable firm secretly helping America take on China,” published Friday.
And lastly this week: We say goodbye to Léon Gautier, who was the last surviving French commando from D-Day. Gautier passed away Monday at the age of 100. His death was announced by a man named Romain Bail, the mayor of Ouistreham, which is where Allied forces landed on June 6, 1944, the Associated Press reports. Gautier began living out his last decades in Ouistreham beginning in the 1990s.
Gautier was 21 at the time of the Normandy landings. Out of the 177 Frenchmen of the Kieffer Commando unit who entered in the first wave of Allied troops on June 6, “just two dozen escaped death or injury, Gautier among them,” AP writes. He’d also fought in the Congo, Syria, and Lebanon before joining the Normandy assault.
“It’s not easy to live with,” he said of his time at war. “The older you get, you think that maybe you killed a father, made a widow of a woman…I didn't want to do that. I'm not a bad man,” he told Reuters news agency in 2019.
On his 100th birthday, he felt just as strongly about the futility of war. “You kill people on the other side who never did anything to you, who have families, and children. For what?” The BBC has a bit more on Gautier’s legacy, here; and France24 has this remembrance.