Today's D Brief: Crimea bridge damaged; Mines slow counteroffensive; Projected nuke costs rise; ~$1M sex-assault settlement; And a bit more.
Russia’s bridge to occupied Ukrainian Crimea was attacked overnight, triggering traffic jams that threatened to slow Moscow’s efforts to resupply its military in the 17th month of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion.
Location: The Kerch Bridge. The Associated Press calls the $3.6 billion bridge the longest in Europe and a “conspicuous symbol” of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula when Putin initially invaded Ukraine with a covert force in 2014.
Until it’s repaired, “Russia will only have one ground supply line—the [coastal] highway on the Sea of Azov—to sustain (or evacuate) its tens of thousands of troops in occupied Kherson and Crimea if [Ukraine] manages to degrade/destroy the bridge,” said George Barros of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, writing Sunday evening on social media.
Ukrainian officials have not officially confirmed their involvement. Ukrainian Security Service spokesperson Artem Degtyarenko said in a statement Monday, “We are watching with interest as one of the symbols of Putin's regime once again failed to withstand the military load.”
Another Kyiv official was similarly coy in response. “The peninsula is used by the Russians as a large logistical hub for moving forces and assets deep into the territory of Ukraine,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence department, said Monday. “Of course, any logistical problems are additional complications for the occupiers,” he added.
On the other hand, Ukrainian media (Ukrainian Pravda and RBC Ukraine) cite their own security services saying special operations forces and naval drones were used in the apparent attack on the Kerch Bridge.
- Review previously known models of Ukrainian naval drones via H.I. Sutton’s work on the topic from mid-June, here.
New: Russia has withdrawn from a United Nations-brokered deal to export grain from Ukraine, which could raise food prices around the world. “The suspension of the deal sent wheat prices up about 3% in Chicago trading, to $6.81 a bushel,” AP reported Monday from London. Presently, though, “Analysts don’t expect more than a temporary bump to food commodity prices because places like Russia and Brazil have ratcheted up wheat and corn exports, but food insecurity worldwide is growing.”
Tactical update: An incredible variety and density of mines is dramatically slowing Ukraine’s attempts to reclaim occupied territory, several news outlets reported over the weekend. The dynamics have led Ukraine to change its approach almost entirely—with no more Leeroy Jenkins-style rushes straight at Russian bases, according to the New York Times, reporting Saturday from southern Ukraine. Consider the following:
- At least 22 of the original Bradley Fighting Vehicles that Washington sent to Ukraine have been lost, which is nearly one-third of the BFVs from the U.S.;
- Fifteen Bradleys were destroyed in a single village in Zaporizhzhia oblast on June 8 and 9 when Russian helicopters attacked as they were bogged down in a minefield;
- Ukraine’s 33rd Mechanized Brigade lost 30 percent of the Leopard tanks it was given by Germany; all but two were destroyed in their first week of use;
- Ukraine has only advanced 5 miles out of 55 required to reach the Sea of Azov, which would theoretically allow Ukraine to sever the land bridge to Crimea;
- “It is even slower near Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region,” the Times reports, “where the bulk of Bradleys and Leopards have been sent to an area of open fields with little cover. There, Ukraine’s army has advanced only about a mile.”
- Those circumstances (especially the helicopter/minefield episode) point to the need for F-16s or some sort of improved air supremacy situation as soon as possible.
“I couldn’t imagine something like this,” one Ukrainian private told the Times, reporting separately on the same topic this weekend. “I thought mines would be lain in lines. But whole fields are filled with them, everywhere.”
You may wonder: Why isn’t Ukraine using more M58 Mine Clearing Line Charges, like the U.S. used to clear IED-laden stretches of road/fields in Iraq/Afghanistan? Turns out, Ukraine has been using them since at least November (the Pentagon announced mine-clearing equipment headed to Ukraine back in September). It’s just that the U.S. has not yet shared nearly enough for the 55-mile task ahead, all the way to the edge of Crimea.
Best-case scenario: Each MICLIC can clear a path only 328 feet long, which means it would take a minimum of 16 MICLICs per mile. With 55 miles to go, that would require at least 880 MICLICs for a single advancing element. Indeed, as Ukraine’s military chief told the Washington Post in late June, “It takes a lot of them.”
And that’s just for a path merely 25 feet wide, maximum (so no turning around under this notional scenario), and with a mandatory 30 minutes between each use, per launcher—making everyone a bunch of very vulnerable sitting ducks.
Other options include Bangalore torpedo explosive charges used by the British, and German Wisent mine-clearance tanks, the Washington Post reported Saturday. But all it takes is knocking out one tank to put the entire advancing line in turmoil. “When the enemy sees even a Leopard tank in front of him and special engineering equipment, he will destroy the special equipment first,” one Ukrainian told the Post. “Because without it, all the others will not pass. And in just a couple of days of the offensive, several such vehicles were destroyed along with their crews.”
On top of all this, “The Russians are also able to drop more mines from drones, reseeding areas that the Ukrainians had cleared,” the Post reports. And so Ukrainian demining troops are limited to often literally crawling on their stomachs across these miles and miles of terrain in order to advance just a tiny bit toward their goals in this counteroffensive.
Coverage continues below.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that quickly here. On this day in 2014, Russian forces inside Ukraine used a Buk missile launcher from Russia's 53rd Air Defense Brigade to shoot down a passenger airliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people abroad. Bellingcat produced a six-part podcast explaining how they discovered who fired the missile that killed nearly 300 men, women, and children nine years ago today.
New: South Korea’s president promised to send demining equipment to Ukraine following an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday. South Korea famously has one of the world’s largest artillery arsenals in the world, bracing for a possible conflict with Pyongyang. But there were no announcements from Seoul regarding artillery for Ukraine. Reuters has a tiny bit more from President Yoon Suk Yeol's trip, here.
In video: Get a better understanding of the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system that’s protecting certain locations across Ukraine thanks to a four-minute video explainer produced Monday by the Wall Street Journal’s audio/visual team.
Germany: We’ll have the "best equipped" NATO army division in Europe in 2025. That’s what Army Chief Alfons Mais told Reuters, which noted: “At the moment, Berlin does not have a single combat-ready division, a military unit comprising more than 20,000 troops. It aims to have the first of three divisions operational by 2025, with the second to follow in 2027.”
Recall that Germany’s army had multiple very poorly equipped divisions that used painted broomsticks to stand in for machine guns just a few years ago.
Developing: British military chief Ben Wallace says he’s quitting as part of a cabinet reshuffle, he told the Sunday Times. That could come in September, says the BBC, which adds Wallace has served in the post for four years under three prime ministers.
- “Far From the Front, They Stand in Honor of Ukraine,” the New York Times reported Monday in a touching dispatch from the southwestern city of Chernivtsi;
- “Outnumbered with outdated kit: a day with Ukraine’s helicopter pilots,” the UK Sunday Times reported this weekend;
- “Ukraine’s Powerful Stryker Brigade Is Still Waiting For the Order To Join The Counteroffensive,” Forbes reported Saturday;
- “Changing Places: Europeans Grow More Assertive on Ukraine as Washington Shows Caution,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday from Lithuania in the wake of this year’s NATO summit;
- And “Kosovo buys Turkish Bayraktar drones,” Reuters reported Sunday from Pristina.
The projected cost of replacing America’s nuke triad is still rising, reports the Congressional Budget Office in its latest effort to calculate the price tag for planned new missile submarines, bombers, ICBMs, and the networks that tie them together. CBO estimates that plans for U.S. nuclear forces would cost $756 billion in 2023–32, which is $122 billion more than the office’s 2021 estimate for 2021–30. Read on, here.
Lastly today: The U.S. will pay a retired Army colonel almost $1 million to settle her sexual-assault lawsuit against John Hyten, the now-retired Air Force general who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kathryn Spletstoser, who served as Hyten's aide in 2017, said the general had “subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her,” and then “tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him,” Military.com reported.
Air Force officials ruled that that there was insufficient evidence to charge Hyten but also no evidence that Spletstoser was lying. In 2019, Hyten defended himself to the Senate and was confirmed to a two-year term as vice chief.
But on Wednesday, the U.S. District Court in California ordered the federal government to pay Spletstoser $975,000. “It is not uncommon for the U.S. government to pay out large sums of money to settle lawsuits, but a sexual assault case against such a high ranking military officer is far more rare,” Military.com wrote. Read on, here.