Today's D Brief: Erdogan relents on Sweden’s NATO bid; China’s show of force; Marines lack a confirmed commandant; Measuring military pollution; And a bit more.
Türkiye’s Erdogan stands aside, letting Sweden join NATO—and gets a White House green light for F-16s worth $20 billion. The Turkish president suddenly dropped his resistance to Sweden’s accession after a meeting with Stockholm’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday in Lithuania.
Erdogan’s reversal virtually ensured this year’s NATO summit would be viewed as a major success, paving the way to expand the Russia-focused alliance to 32 nations as Moscow continues its invasion of eastern Europe. The alliance recently added Finland, which requested membership in the weeks immediately following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But Erdogan blocked Sweden’s similar request, insisting Stockholm stop supporting Kurdish separatists who have been waging an insurgency with Ankara for decades.
As part of Monday’s talks in Vilnius, Sweden agreed to “actively support efforts to reinvigorate Türkiye’s EU accession process,” about which Erdogan demanded progress in remarks to reporters Monday in Ankara. The two countries also promised “to maximize opportunities to increase bilateral trade and investments,” while Stockholm vowed to create “a roadmap as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms,” according to a joint statement from Kristersson, Erdogan, and Stoltenberg.
Next up: Erdogan said he’ll forward Sweden’s accession to the Turkish parliament, known as the Grand National Assembly. However, those lawmakers aren’t scheduled to meet again until after the summer.
For the record: “Both Turkish officials and the Biden administration have rejected any suggestion that Ankara's approval of Sweden's NATO accession was being linked to the F-16 sale in the months of talks to address Turkish opposition,” Reuters reports.
President Biden “has placed no caveats or conditions on [the F-16 deal] in his public and private comments over the past few months,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday in Vilnius. “And he intends to move forward with that transfer in consultation with Congress.”
“I welcome the statement issued by Türkiye, Sweden and the NATO Secretary General this evening, including the commitment by President Erdoğan to transmit the Accession Protocol for Sweden to Türkiye’s Grand National Assembly for swift ratification,” Biden said in his own statement Monday. “I stand ready to work with President Erdoğan and Türkiye on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” he added.
Biden is in Lithuania for the NATO summit. He last visited Vilnius in March 2014, just after Russia initially invaded Ukraine, when he was vice president in the Obama White House. With his visit Tuesday, Biden is now just the second U.S. president to visit the Baltic nation, behind George W. Bush back in late 2002, according to White House officials.
Polish intelligence announced Monday that they’ve nabbed another suspected Russian spy. The arrest occurred on June 21, making that individual the 15th “to be charged with participation in an organized criminal group in connection with spying activities,” according to Warsaw.
A bit more: “The suspect came to Poland in 2019, established contact with the coordinator of the spy network, and received [a] systematic salary for carrying out tasks against Poland, which included surveillance of critical infrastructure [including] military facilities and seaports,” Poland says.
Counteroffensive latest: Ukrainian forces have allegedly advanced in the long-fought-over eastern city of Bakhmut, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Monday on Telegram.
“Our defenders have been keeping the entrances, exits and movement of the enemy through the city under fire control for several days,” she said. “This became possible due to the fact that, in the process of advancing, our troops took control of the main commanding heights around Bakhmut,” Maliar added.
Second opinion: “The persistent signaling of Ukrainian officials about Ukrainian operational intent in Bakhmut…suggests that Ukrainian counteroffensive actions in this direction may be credibly threatening the Russian hold on Bakhmut, although it is far too early to forecast the liberation of the city,” analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote in their Monday evening assessment.
- “A Stronger NATO for a More Dangerous World: What the alliance must do in Vilnius—and beyond,” by Jens Stoltenberg, writing Monday in Foreign Affairs;
- “Facing a Battle for Armored Steel, This Tank Maker Bought the Factory,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Germany;
- And “Ukraine's Zelenskiy says lack of timeframe for membership 'absurd',” Reuters reported Tuesday from Lithuania.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Not subscribed yet? Fix that here. On this day in 1921, former President William Howard Taft was sworn in as the country's 10th chief justice of the Supreme Court, making him the only person to ever hold both offices.
Nearly three dozen Chinese military aircraft and four warships traveled quite close to Taiwan on Tuesday, Taipei’s Defense Ministry announced shortly afterward.
Twenty-nine of those aircraft “crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait or entered our SW/SE ADIZ,” or air defense identification zone, Taiwan’s military said.
From the U.S. military’s perspective, that sort of activity from China isn’t just to show force, but it’s also an effort to exhaust Taiwanese defense capabilities and ability to respond. “Up until about maybe a year and a half ago, we never had a routine, consistent presence of the [Chinese] navy east of Taiwan. Now, they're there all the time,” one senior defense official told Defense One’s Patrick Tucker last week in Hawaii.
“It's just wearing out Taiwan's air force for the air stuff and the navy for all of this contiguous presence, because you can't really let it go unchallenged,” the U.S official said. “The Chinese have a lot more airplanes and a lot more capability to fly all the time. It's just running the poor Taiwanese air force into the ground.”
And regarding that tendency of China to cross the median line of the strait, “Between the beginning of August and the end of the year, I want to say that we're at about 200 centerline crossings,” or instances where Chinese vessels crossed into Taiwanese waters, the U.S. official said, which suggests China is using “clear and deliberate escalation…as a signaling tool.”
As for what might lie ahead, at least presently, sometime around 2027 looks like the most attractive date for an invasion based on a variety of factors, Tucker writes. Perhaps the most important is that China’s weapon modernization efforts are scheduled to reach a key maturity point then—about two years before Taiwan completes similar efforts designed to make an invasion too costly for China to attempt.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is in the midst of its largest-ever mobility exercise in the Pacific, Mobility Guardian 23, practicing how it would move troops and supplies around the expansive region during a war with China. Continue reading, here.
In other China-related news, a “Fox News regular who accused Hunter Biden of having nefarious ties to China is now being charged with having nefarious ties to China,” Business Insider reported Monday after federal charges were filed in the southern district of New York.
Involved: Gal Luft, 61, who stands accused of being an unregistered foreign agent, international arms trafficking, violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, and lying to federal investigators.
Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer touted Luft as a star witness in the GOP’s fevered campaign to paint the Biden White House as having corrupt ties to China. Comer even held a press conference in May promising to expose the early findings in his investigation, but Luft never showed up—and Comer has still not released any evidence of corruption.
The list of federal charges Luft faces is a globe-trotting escapade unto itself, spanning weapons sales in Libya, Kenya, the UAE, and even include trying to sell Iranian oil labeled as sourced in Brazil. The Department of Justice also says Luft “agreed to covertly recruit and pay, on behalf of principals based in China, a former high-ranking U.S. Government official (“Individual-1”), including in 2016 while the former official was an adviser to the then-President-elect” Trump. According to Luft, speaking to the New York Post last week, that person was former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who was a consultant for Luft's Maryland-based think tank as well as a senior advisor for Trump.
Read over the 36 counts Luft faces, which carry a maximum of 100 years in prison, via the Justice Department, here.
Tuberville blocks Marine confirmation, leaving Corps without a confirmed commandant. “Sen. Tommy Tuberville blocked the confirmation of Gen. Eric Smith to become the commandant of the Marine Corps, objecting to a motion by Sen. Jack Reed that would have avoided the service remaining without a confirmed leader for the first time in more than 100 years,” reports Defense One’s Caitlin M. Kenney. Read, here.
Lastly today: Researchers are finally getting a better understanding of militaries’ greenhouse-gas emissions. The world’s armed forces account for more than 5% of the annual release of heat-trapping gasses, but this pollution is neither bound by international treaty nor particularly well measured.
Now a slew of peer-reviewed studies is starting to address the latter problem, Reuters writes in a special report, while militaries’ own efforts are beginning to reduce their emissions. Read on, here.
Related: Virginia joins military-land conservation effort. A 4,600-square-mile swath of the state—from Marine Corps Base Quantico to Naval Station Norfolk and across the Chesapeake Bay—has been designated “sentinel landscape.”
Under a decade-old program of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and the Interior, “Sentinel landscapes are areas where conservation, working lands, and national defense interests converge. They are anchored by at least one high-value military installation or range and contain high priority lands for USDA, DOD, and DOI.” Pew has more, here.