Today's D Brief: Belarus evac warning; NorK missile test; Russian bomber downed; Army SOF study; And a bit more.

The State Department says Americans should probably leave Belarus pronto. That warning comes just days after Lithuania closed two border crossings with Belarus, and it comes amid a “buildup of Russian military forces in Belarus,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. 

Advice: “U.S. citizens in Belarus should depart immediately,” and possibly via “the remaining border crossings with Lithuania and Latvia, or by plane,” the State Department said Monday. 

Russian forces are also attempting an offensive in the northeast of Ukraine, particularly around approaches to the city of Kupyansk, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Kyiv. 

Russia’s invasion troops occupied Kupyansk early in the war, but were later pushed back by Ukrainian forces during their counteroffensive around Kharkiv last summer. Ukrainian troops in Kupyansk “say the rate of Russian artillery attacks has markedly increased in recent weeks, though Russia has so far failed in its bid to take Synkivka and advance from the north.”

Ukrainian forces say they’ve retaken parts of the southeastern city of Robotyne from Russian troops. “In response, the Russians are continuously shelling Robotin with artillery,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar wrote Tuesday on Telegram. “Robotyne is 10 km (six miles) south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub,” Reuters reported Tuesday. 

New: A Ukrainian drone destroyed a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M supersonic bomber south of St. Petersburg on Saturday. “If true, this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory,” the British military said Tuesday. The BBC has a bit more.

Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley met privately with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday. “The general, who is visiting several European countries, said the pope was deeply concerned about the loss of life in Ukraine, particularly of civilians, since Russia invaded,” Reuters reported Monday, citing Milley’s spokesman. 

Back stateside, a group called Republicans for Ukraine is launching a $2 million U.S. ad campaign intended “to persuade GOP voters and elected officials to stand with the United States’ Ukrainian ally against Russia,” they said in a statement last week. Conservatives Bill Kristol and Sarah Longwell are spearheading the campaign, which will feature testimonials and target Fox News viewers as well as 10 billboards across Milwaukee for Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate. 

“The goal is to remind Americans of the importance of supporting Ukraine and not to abandon the fight for freedom,” the group said. Find their launch video on YouTube, here

The U.S. is on the verge of selling Poland 96 AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopters for about $12 billion. It’s part of a package announced Monday that includes almost 2,000 AGM-114R2 Hellfire Missiles and more than a thousand other munitions like Stinger 92K Block I Missiles. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has more details, here.  

And in the Middle East, Russia’s fighter jets are making dangerous head-on passes of U.S. jets in the skies over Syria, “including several high-speed, opposite-direction, close-aboard passes intended to force a reaction from our aircraft,” Col. Mike Andrews of the U.S. Air Force Central Command told Defense One’s Sam Skove on Monday.

Russian state media outlets, meanwhile, are accusing U.S. aircraft of doing the same. On Aug. 19, TASS said U.S. F-35s had flown dangerously close to Russian jets. Andrews denied that such an event occurred. “There has not been one incident where U.S. aircraft approached Russian aircraft and engaged in escalatory, dangerous, or unsafe behavior,” he said. Read more, here

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 here. On this day in 1791, the Haitian Revolution began, striking fear in the hearts of southern U.S. plantation owners and kicking off what would become more than 12 years of resistance against French colonial rule before the island finally won its independence in 1804. 

The U.S. Navy plans to exercise with its Japanese and Australian counterparts this week in the South China Sea. Afterward, delegates from the three nations will review the drills with Philippine officials in Manila, which has been trading accusations with Chinese officials over a Filipino naval presence at the contested Second Thomas Shoal, about a 100 nautical miles west of the Philippines, and more than 700 miles south of China's Hainan island. 

The Chinese Coast Guard has been trying to block the Philippines from resupplying those troops at the shoal, including by using a water cannon in an apparent effort to prevent ships from offloading food and supplies to the Philippine navy. Fortunately for Manila, two ships carrying supplies arrived to the shoal on Tuesday. The BBC has a bit more on that, here

For the upcoming drills, “The U.S. plans to deploy an aircraft carrier, the USS America, while Japan would send one of its biggest warships, the helicopter carrier JS Izumo,” the Associated Press reported Sunday from Manila. The Aussies plan to send their helicopter landing ship, the HMAS Canberra. The Philippines had planned to participate, but it later discovered its ships were too small to accommodate the aircraft involved.

The HMAS Canberra is already drilling with the Philippine navy just off the Palawan archipelago. That exercise marks “the first phase of the first-ever bilateral amphibious drill between the Philippines and Australia,” the U.S. Naval Institute News reported Monday. 

About 150 U.S. troops are also involved in those drills. “U.S. Marine Corps aviation from Marine Rotational Force – Darwin also supports [those Australian-Philippine drills], with an unspecified amount of MV-22B Ospreys seen embarked onboard Canberra,” USNI writes. Read more, here

Another thing: The U.S. is about to sell 22 long-range HIMARS artillery systems to the Aussies for just under a billion dollars. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the likely deal last week. Details, here

What, if anything, can the latest neuroscience research tell us about nuclear strategy? The New York Times looked into the question in a Monday #LongRead from science writer Sarah Scoles. 

North Korea tested what it says were nuclear-capable cruise missiles from a patrol ship on the country’s eastern coast, state-run media announced Monday. Seoul’s military is deeply skeptical of the North’s claims, with one source telling Yonhap the North Korean ship “was too small for such an important missile launch,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The source also claimed “the missile failed to hit an apparently preset target.”   

Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea kicked off their annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises Monday. Those are expected to run through the end of the month, and feature a “computer simulation-based command post exercise, concurrent field training and Ulchi civil defense drills,” according to Yonhap. 

Developing: North Korea says it will try again to launch a satellite into orbit, possibly as soon as Thursday. It sent notification to Japan’s Coast Guard, and said the test could come as late as August 31. (North Korea tried and failed to send a satellite into orbit on May 31.) South Korean officials condemned the planned launch as “a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit any launches utilizing ballistic missile technology.” 

Three possible maritime danger zones Pyongyang listed for the test include two located “west of the Korean Peninsula, while the third is to the east of the Philippine island of Luzon,” Japan’s Kyodo News reported Monday. 

In response, “The South Korean Navy has sent an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Yellow Sea,” and “the U.S. flew an RC-135V Rivet Joint reconnaissance plane over the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap reported Tuesday. 

Reminder: “A military spy satellite is among the high-tech weapons that the North has vowed to develop, along with solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and a nuclear-powered submarine,” Yonhap writes. 

From the region: 

Latest from Maui wildfire recovery efforts: More than 800 people are still missing, officials said Monday. The official toll was 115 dead as of Monday evening local time, making it already the deadliest U.S. fire in more than a century. That number is expected to grow as officials search the remaining 15 percent of the disaster area. (WaPo)

Speaking of searching: This illuminating video shows how the Coast Guard hunts for things at sea: “Why This Zig-Zag Coast Guard Search Pattern is Actually Genius.” 

Women face misogyny, barriers to promotion in special operations forces, U.S. Army study says. The study, which sought comments from 5,010 Army Special Operations Forces soldiers and civilians through surveys, group discussions, and interviews found that most respondents did not express such views. But many of those who did held leadership positions as senior enlisted soldiers and junior officers up to the rank of captain. The study was completed in 2021 but released Monday to comply with a FOIA request by Military Times. Defense One’s Sam Skove has more, here.

In case you didn't already know, Elon Musk fairly routinely ingests the hallucinogenic drug ketamine, Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker reported Monday in a new #LongRead that caps 12 months of research into the man on whom the U.S. depends for “the future of energy and transportation to the exploration of space,” as Farrow puts it—not to mention the Starlink satcom terminals so vital to Ukraine. The Daily Beast has more on that Ketamine angle, here.  

Related reading: 

Lockheed, Northrop split $1.6B satcomm purchase. The Space Development Agency issued contracts to build 36 satellites apiece as part of plans to build a mesh communications network in low-earth orbit. The satellites, which will begin launching in 2026, will be “the space backbone for the Joint All Domain Command and Control.” D1’s Patrick Tucker has a bit more, here.

Lastly today: Hats off to Senior Pentagon Reporter Jeff Schogol of Task & Purpose, whose pointed and occasionally zany questions at military briefings are the focus this week of C-SPAN’s podcast “The Weekly.” Check out that 13-minute episode on Apple, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.