Today's D Brief: More long-range arms for Ukraine; Biden in Finland; Navy picks interim CNO; Russia fires general; And a bit more.
President Joe Biden is in Finland today for meetings with regional officials, including his host President Sauli Niinistö, at Helsinki’s Presidential Palace. Following that U.S.-Nordic Leaders' Summit, Biden will then catch a flight back to the states after spending nearly four days in Europe, primarily for the annual NATO summit in Lithuania.
“If the whole world would be like the Nordics, we would not have that many problems,” Niinistö told Biden Thursday afternoon (local time), echoing what he said were previous remarks from President Barack Obama, according to Agence France-Presse’s Sebastian Smith, reporting from a room in the palace known as the “hall of mirrors.”
Biden will depart Europe with a NATO alliance evidently more unified than it was just one week ago, when it was uncertain whether Türkiye/Turkey’s mercurial President Recep Erdogan would continue to obstruct Sweden’s bid to join the alliance. Erdogan dropped his opposition Monday (as well as his long-standing beef with Greece); and in a subsequent development that Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan claimed was unrelated, the White House said it plans to move ahead with a $20 billion deal to sell Turkey F-16s that had been on hold since 2021. That deal now hinges on the support of key U.S. lawmakers, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D.-N.J.
When asked Wednesday if he thinks Menendez will approve that F-16 package, Biden replied, “I’m confident that Turkey will continue to support Sweden getting into NATO,” though Turkish lawmakers might not get around to the matter until October, according to Erdogan. “And I’m confident that we’ll be able to sell F-16s,” Biden said.
Biden was also asked if he’s planning on sending Ukraine long-range missiles known as ATACMS, which the Wall Street Journal reported in late June could happen soon, Biden said it’s something that’s on his mind. But Ukrainian troops “already have the equivalent of ATACMS now,” he said.
“What we need most of all [for Ukraine] is artillery shells,” Biden said. “And they’re in short supply. We’re working on that.”
And with a view to a possible end of fighting in Ukraine, reporters asked the president if “the issue of Crimea needs to be fully resolved,” Biden responded, “Seventeen other things need to be fully resolved too. Crimea is important, but there’s much more to deal with.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy departed the NATO summit without a formal invitation to join the alliance, as he’d wished—even though no observers seriously considered that development before an end to Russia’s invasion. But he does head back to Kyiv having secured access to U.S.-made cluster bombs that seemed off the table just two weeks ago, due to their at times indiscriminate effects. Zelenksyy had a message to observers about those weapons.
“I want to say to journalists…that it’s very simple, you know, to criticize, for example, clusters ammunition,” which he admitted was a “difficult political decision.” But, he added, “you have to know that Russia used such weapon from the first days, not only full-scale war—from those days of occupation of Crimea, from 2014 and ’15, in all our territories. In Donbas, they used it. And now they continuing [to do so].” Where were the complaints at that time, he asked reporters in Vilnius.
But that wasn’t his only message at the NATO summit. “I want to thank all Americans,” he said, acknowledging as much as $43 billion in U.S. support alone so far. “You have to know that you spend this money not just for fighting; you spend this money for our lives,” he said. “And for Europe and for all the world,” he added.
New this week: French President Emmanuel Macron publicly admitted giving Ukraine long-range missiles. “I have decided to increase deliveries of weapons and equipment to enable the Ukrainians to have the capacity to strike deeply,” he said Tuesday in Lithuania.
They’re SCALP cruise missiles, with a range of about 155 miles. A French source told Reuters Paris cobbled together about 50 SCALPs to send to Ukraine, similar to what Britain has already done with its version of the missile, the Storm Shadow.
For the record: “Deliveries [of French SCALPs] have been going on for some time, so [Macron’s statement] has been anticipated,” said Laurent Bili, France’s ambassador to the United States, said at a Wednesday event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The decision was made because we think it’s the right thing to do. We need to give Ukraine the means to win the war,” Bili said.
Meanwhile across the pond, three top-ranking Republicans heard Macron’s pledge and responded with a timeline of what they say is Biden’s reluctance to arm Ukraine with some of America’s most powerful non-nuclear weapons.
“The recent U.S. transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine and Britain’s ongoing provision of deep-strike Storm Shadows demonstrate that fears of escalation remain unfounded and that Ukraine continues to use advanced arms capably and effectively,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul from Texas, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker from Mississippi, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch of Idaho, in a joint statement Wednesday.
“It is time for the Biden administration to stop leading from behind,” they added. Defense One’s Sam Skove has a bit more on all that, here.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Not subscribed yet? You can do that here. On this day in 2008, U.S. and partnered Afghan forces fought off at least 100 Taliban fighters and associated insurgents at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan. Nine Americans perished in the predawn attack, and more than two dozen others were wounded. The U.S. and Afghan troops abandoned the base at Wanat three days later.
A Russian general has reportedly been fired for what he says was his candid, truthful portrayal of the war in Ukraine. His name is Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, and he previously commanded Moscow's 58th Combined Arms Army. The BBC reports he’d led troops in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia oblast.
His complaints were seemingly recorded on audio by Russian lawmaker Andrei Gurulyov, who is a former military officer. The audio was posted to the social media site Telegram, where he claimed, “The Ukrainian army could not break through our ranks at the front but our senior chief hit us from the rear, viciously beheading the army at the most difficult and intense moment.”
Popov said Russia’s military is sorely lacking in counter-artillery systems to help suppress Ukrainian attacks (reinforcing Biden’s remarks above about Ukraine’s overwhelming need for artillery shells), and Popov said the Russians need better military intelligence. According to the general, “The senior chiefs apparently sensed some kind of danger from me and quickly concocted an order from the defense minister in just one day and got rid of me,” he said in the audio, and added cryptically, “I await my fate.” Reuters has a bit more, here.
Speaking of Russian generals, the man previously in charge of Russian forces in Ukraine has still not been seen publicly since the failed Wagner mutiny of June 24. Now a Russian lawmaker claims the general, Sergei Surovikin, is “not reachable” because he is “resting.” Surovikin is believed to have known about the mutiny, but it’s unclear the degree to which he supported it. The BBC has more, here.
America’s top general said Russia is suffering from “a significant amount of friction and confusion” since the mutiny, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Thursday during a trip to Asia. “There's a lot of drama going on at the very senior levels. How that's all going to play out at the end of the day? I'm not so sure yet,” Milley said. “I don't think we're done with it. I think there's many more chapters to be heard on that.” Reuters has more.
- “Ground vehicles are the new frontier in Ukraine's drone war,” Reuters reported Thursday from Kyiv; we discussed this topic and the relatively limited uses of ground robots in a recent episode of Defense One Radio, featuring Sam Bendett of CNA;
- “G.O.P.’s Far Right Seeks to Use Defense Bill to Defund Ukraine War Effort,” the New York Times reported Wednesday from Capitol Hill;
- And “Thousands of Ukraine civilians are being held in Russian prisons. Russia plans to build many more,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from southern Ukraine.
Another U.S. service is set to be leaderless. The Navy is on track to become the second U.S. service branch without a confirmed top officer. On Wednesday, Navy officials announced that unless something changes, Adm. Lisa Franchetti—currently vice chief of naval operations—will serve as acting CNO after Adm. Mike Gilday retires in August, USNI News reported.
The Navy lacks a White House nominee to replace Gilday, though SecDef Austin has recommended Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo for the job. But even if Paparo were nominated, his confirmation would likely be blocked by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., whose blanket hold on top military promotions has the Marine Corps similarly leaderless. More, here.
And lastly: U.S. assistant secretary, Chinese ambassador talk at Pentagon. On Tuesday, Xie Feng was hosted by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner. Defense officials said the pair discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations, a range of international and regional security issues, and the “Department’s commitment to maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC.”
Related: Chinese hackers get State, Commerce emails. “Chinese hackers penetrated the email accounts of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other State and Commerce Department officials in the weeks before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken traveled to Beijing in June,” the New York Times reported Wednesday.
U.S. officials said that no classified email or cloud systems were penetrated, and that Raimondo appears to be the only cabinet-level official to be hacked. Read more, here.