Today's D Brief: Erdogan’s quid pro quo; Acting Marine commandant; Ukraine’s homemade missile; A German deployment first; And a bit more.

Developing: Erdogan creates an opening for NATO’s Nordic expansion. After more than a year of resisting, Turkey’s often recalcitrant President Recep Erdogan on Monday said there may be a way he would allow Sweden into the NATO alliance, which he has steadfastly opposed since Stockholm and Helsinki both applied mere weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

“First, come and open the way for Turkey at the European Union, and then we will open the way for Sweden, just as we did for Finland,” Erdogan said Monday in Istanbul. “Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the NATO member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters before departing for the annual two-day NATO summit, which begins Tuesday in Lithuania. 

Background: Turkey formally began membership talks to join the EU back in 2005, when Erdogan was prime minister. However, creeping authoritarianism inside Turkey, along with an increasingly aggressive foreign policy—e.g., striking Kurds in Iraq, invading northern Syria on several occasions, and naval disputes with Greece and Cyprus over energy exploration in the Mediterranean—have kept EU members reluctant to admit Ankara into the 27-member bloc. A failed coup attempt in summer 2016 also nearly upended Erdogan’s rule. 

“The prospects of Turkey joining the EU have been dim for a long time,” Madrid-based professor Ilke Toygür wrote last year for Carnegie Europe. Indeed, she went on, “Turkey comes nowhere near fulfilling the EU’s accession eligibility rules, known as the Copenhagen criteria—which stipulate that candidate countries have institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, and human rights as well as a well-functioning market economy.”

A second opinion: “Erdogan has introduced new demands and moved the target repeatedly throughout this process, but trying to put pressure on the EU over a NATO matter is rather spectacular,” Paul Levin, who directs the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, told the Associated Press. “What can be said is that if he were to actually condition Swedish NATO accession on a reboot of the Turkish EU accession process, then Sweden is unlikely to become a NATO ally anytime soon,” he predicted. 

White House officials are bracing for further delays in Sweden’s NATO bid. “If it happens after Vilnius, we’re confident it will happen,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Sunday evening. “We don’t regard this as something that is fundamentally in doubt. This is a matter of timing. The sooner the better,” he said. 

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to Erdogan by phone on Sunday, where Biden “conveyed his desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” according to the White House’s readout, which did not mention Erdogan’s EU demands.

Biden today is visiting the United Kingdom’s Windsor Castle for talks with King Charles III. That follows a morning meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street in London. The president will fly onward to Vilnius in the afternoon.

The latest with Ukraine’s desire to join NATO: Biden told CNN that Russia’s war in Ukraine must be over before the alliance will consider extending membership to Kyiv. “I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” he told Fareed Zakaria. 

Should NATO admit Ukraine now, that means “If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case,” Biden said. At any rate, he added, “I think it’s premature to say, to call for a vote, you know, now, because there’s other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization and some of those issues.” 

Germany agrees with Biden about waiting, the Telegraph reported Saturday, which marked the 500th consecutive day of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. “Berlin doesn’t want to see Vladimir Putin potentially test Article 5,” an alliance source told the British newspaper. The Financial Times has similar coverage of Berlin’s position, here. 

More coverage after the jump...

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Not subscribed yet? Fix that here. On this day in 2017, Iraqi security forces liberated the northern city of Mosul from ISIS, ending three years of occupation by the terrorist group. 

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy visited the storied Snake Island to mark 500 days at war. “I want to thank, from here, from this place of victory, each of our soldiers,” including “all the soldiers who fought for this island, who liberated it,” the president said Saturday. “And although this is a small piece of land in the middle of our Black Sea, it is a great proof that Ukraine will regain every bit of its territory…And let the freedom that all our heroes of different times wanted for Ukraine and that must be won right now be a tribute to all those who gave their lives for Ukraine. We will definitely win!”

  • Catch a short video of Zelenskyy traveling to Snake Island, posted on YouTube, here

One outsider’s perspective: “The fact that it was deemed safe for Zelensky to visit Snake Island says a lot about Russian naval and air power in the area,” an observer noted on social media. 

At the 500-day mark, “Let’s not forget what’s at stake,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement Saturday. “The people of Ukraine are fighting not just to repel an illegal invasion on their sovereign soil, but for every citizen of Europe and the world who believes in the values of freedom and democracy, their fight is our fight,” he added. 

The British military says Russia has suffered an average of 400 casualties every day for the past 17 months in Ukraine. That is “almost certainly” feeding “a crisis of combat medical provision” for Russia’s occupying forces. And that, in turn, has “likely undermined the normal provision of some Russian civilian medical services, especially in border regions near Ukraine,” the Brits said Monday. 

Tactical note: “Very slow casualty evacuation, combined with the inappropriate use of the crude in-service Russian combat tourniquet  is reportedly a leading cause of preventable fatalities and amputations,” the Brits allege. 

Update: Nearly 50,000 Russians are believed to have died inside Ukraine so far, the Associated Press reported Monday, citing independent Russian media outlets, Mediazona and Meduza, who teamed up with a researcher from Germany’s Tübingen University. 

Russian officials have acknowledged only about 6,000 deaths. But the researchers analyzed “inheritance records and official mortality data” to estimate “how many more men under age 50 died between February 2022 and May 2023 than normal,” according to AP. 

Zelenskyy says he sees an opening to end the war, according to an interview this weekend with ABC News. Hopefully by the fall, the president said, Ukrainian troops “will reach the administrative border with a temporarily occupied Ukrainian Peninsula, Crimea,” at which point “it's very likely that Putin will be forced to seek dialect with the civilized world, unlike it was before the full-scale invasion,” Zelenskyy told Martha Raddatz. 

“Six months ago, you said you would not cede any territory to Russia to end this war,” Raddatz said. “We're now 16 months in. Is your answer the same?” “Yes,” Zelenskyy replied. “No territory. Crimea is our territory.” 

Zelenskyy also had a message of gratitude for Raddatz’s U.S. audience. “I would like to say thank you to all Americans for what you have done, and I appreciate those who say that you've done enough,” he said. “Trust me, no matter what I appreciate help.” Read the rest at ABC News, here

Update: Russia’s military has lost 11,000 documented pieces of equipment during the war so far, according to several open-source monitors, writing Sunday. 

And Russia just released video footage showing top general Gerasimov for the first time since that failed June 24 mutiny. Reuters has more on that sighting from state-run media. 

  • Catch the latest edition of the BBC’s ongoing series, “Putin,” documenting the triumphs and travails of the spy-turned-autocratic leader. The BBC’s newest half-hour episode focuses entirely on the aftermath of the June 24 mutiny by Wagner’s Yevgeny Prigozhin. Find it on BBC Sounds, here

In weapons developments, Ukraine is building its own homemade rocket with a range of 87 miles. It’s called the Trembita. And according to the Guardian, “It can carry 25kgs of explosives, and it runs on diesel or petrol that you can buy in the local garage.”

One reason it matters for Kyiv: “It costs about $3,000 (£2,300) to build the rocket and another $7,000 to equip it with a modern navigation system,” which is “a fraction of the cost of Russia’s hypersonic and cruise missiles, Kinzhal and Kalibr, estimated to cost $1m to $2m each.” Story, here

The Pentagon also announced another round of weapons for Ukraine on Friday. Those include Patriot air defense rounds, Stinger systems, HIMARS artillery rounds, 31 more 155mm Howitzers—and the much-discussed DPICM, aka “cluster bombs” suspected last week to be headed to Ukraine. 

From the Pentagon’s point of view, “Russia has been using cluster munitions indiscriminately since the start of this war in order to attack Ukraine,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said at a press conference Friday in Washington. “By contrast, Ukraine is seeking DPICM rounds in order to defend its own sovereign territory.”

“Ukraine also has committed to post-conflict demining efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians,” Kahl said. And “The United States has already invested more than $95 million in Ukraine's demining activities, and we will provide more support to help Ukraine mitigate the impacts of cluster munition use by both sides in this conflict.”

“This is literally a gun fight,” and the Ukrainians are “running out of inventory,” John Kirby of the White House’s National Security Council said Sunday on NBC News.  

Kyiv’s reassurances: “These munitions will not be used on the officially recognized territory of Russia,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Monday on social media. “Ukraine will use these munitions only for the de-occupation of our internationally recognized territories,” he clarified. 

One perspective from Washington: “Ukraine's offensive is limited by the artillery ammunition available,” said Michael Kofman, who is leaving CNA soon for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing Friday on social media. “The U.S., and other countries, provided a significant amount for this operation,” and “Much of this was borrowed from South Korea,” he added. “While [the Ukrainian military] retains options, the offensive may culminate whenever the ammunition runs low. Extending that timeline is critical.”

Coming soon: The British military is sending 17 specialized firefighting trucks to Ukraine, the UK Defense Ministry announced Friday. Those are expected in the coming weeks. 

In more regional arms sales, Sweden will probably soon purchase 250 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles and six C-8 Guidance Sections for about $605 million. Raytheon will be the principal contractor for that pending deal, the Pentagon’s arms export agency announced Friday.

And France wants to buy 1,515 Hellfires for $203 million. Lockheed Martin will benefit from that one. Details, here

Additional reading: 

Happening now: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is speaking this morning during the change of responsibility ceremony for the new, acting Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Eric Smith, on Monday in Washington. 

Smith’s nomination to lead the Corps sailed through the Senate Armed Services Committee, but—like so many others—is held up by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s refusal to confirm military nominees at the wider Senate in protest of the Pentagon’s policies about servicemembers obtaining abortions. Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney wrote about the dynamic and circumstances Smith is stepping into, without full Senate approval, here.

Next for Austin: Catch a departure flight from Washington to Lithuania for the NATO summit in Vilnius, beginning Tuesday. 

Also happening Tuesday morning: The Senate Armed Services Committee  will consider Biden’s nomination of Air Force chief of staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr., to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That begins at 9:30 a.m. ET. 

Related: Top enlisted Marine to become the military’s top enlisted leader,” the Marine Corps Times reported Saturday. 

U.S. kills another ISIS leader, CENTCOM says. A July 7 drone strike had killed Usamah al-Muhajir, an ISIS leader in eastern Syria, U.S. Central Command officials said on Sunday. The strike was conducted by MQ-9 Reaper drones that “had, earlier in the day, been harassed by Russian aircraft in an encounter that had lasted almost two hours,” a CENTCOM statement said.

“ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond,” said CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla. “We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” he added.

By the way: During the month of June, the U.S. and its partners carried out 37 operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, CENTCOM said last week. That includes 30 operations across Iraq that detained seven alleged ISIS fighters and killed a dozen others. Seven other operations occurred in Syria, and led to 14 detained militants and one dead fighter, according to CENTCOM. 

U.S. bombs Somali terror group, AFRICOM says. On Sunday, U.S. Africa Command said American forces had conducted three “collective self-defense airstrikes overnight in a remote area near Afmadow, approximately 105 kilometers north of Kismayo, against al-Shabaab terrorists.” The strikes were requested by the Somali government in support of Somali National Army forces who were fighting the al-Shabaab group.

The British military is facing recruitment and personnel shortages, too, Sky News reported Saturday. The sea services seem to have the worst of it: “Intake in the 12 months to March 2023 plunged 22.1% for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines compared with a year earlier.”

The Navy may even become unable to keep a nuclear-missile sub at sea, Sky reports, adding context to the vague concerns expressed last month by the First Sea Lord.

New: German troops are heading to Australia for the first time, part of an effort “to demonstrate that we are reliable and capable partners that contribute to stabilizing the rules-based order in the region,” Army Chief Alfons Mais told Reuters in an interview published on Monday.

Up to 240 German soldiers will take part in the bi-annual, multinational Talisman Sabre exercise. The largest drills between Australia and the U.S., the exercise will run from July 22 to August 4. A bit more, here.

And lastly today: CIA head William Burns has thoughts on “What U.S. intelligence needs to do today, and tomorrow.” Harness AI but don’t abandon human spycraft, deepen world partnerships, don’t underestimate Putin’s fixation with Ukraine—Burns laid out all this and more in his Ditchley Foundation lecture earlier this month (transcript, video). The Washington Post has an essay version of it, here.