Today's D Brief: Blinken in Kyiv; Russian pilot defects; Estonia on Ukraine’s needs; China’s runway fixers; And a bit more.

Washington’s top diplomat made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, in part to announce a new package of aid to Ukraine worth more than a billion dollars, but also “to discuss their ongoing counteroffensive…and above all, to reinforce the unwavering U.S. commitment to Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on the social media platform X. 

The U.S. will add another $275 million in military aid, U.S. officials told the Associated Press, traveling with Blinken. That reportedly includes those depleted uranium tank rounds for the Abrams tanks Ukraine is expected to use soon; and about $100 million of that military aid money “will be in the form of grants to allow the Ukrainians to purchase additional arms and equipment,” AP reports. 

In terms of available U.S. military aid, “As of August 29, there is approximately $5.75 billion in restored Presidential Drawdown Authority that remains available for Ukraine,” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Garron Garn said in a statement Tuesday. 

Forget the fevered debate in the states over ATACMS and F-16s; Ukraine’s military can likely make much better use of “medevac vehicles, basic [infantry fighting vehicles], armored vehicles like the M113, infantry mortars, ammunition for them, artillery, medical kits, stabilization equipment, MANPADs, and drones,” argues a Ukrainian soldier on social media. 

“The reality is that Ukrainian volunteers are tirelessly raising funds almost every day to purchase old, unarmored Toyotas in Europe just to secure one vehicle per company or even battalion for evacuating the wounded from the battlefield,” he said Wednesday. 

And “basic armored vehicles” are in huge demand since it’s dangerous business to simply go anywhere near the frontlines. “Acquiring these might not be as glamorous as boasting about Abrams tanks or F16s, but their importance is no less significant,” he said. “In a theater of war heavily influenced by artillery, landmines, and loitering munitions, the rate of equipment loss is far greater than many people realize. This is precisely why I've [written] this text, in an attempt to shed light on this pressing issue,” he said. Read more, here

Developing: A Russian missile attack killed 16 people in the eastern Donetsk city of Kostyantynivka, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Wednesday. “Russian terrorists have attacked a regular market, shops, and a pharmacy, killing innocent people,” he said on social media, and warned, “The number of casualties could rise further.” The BBC reports “Kostyantynivka sits close to the battlefield and has been hit on various occasions this year,” including on at least three different occasions since April. 

“Associated Press journalists at the site of the attack…saw covered bodies on the ground and emergency workers extinguishing fires at market stalls, with blackened and mangled cars nearby,” the wire service reported from the scene. 

Russia’s air force is putting tires atop parked bombers to thwart Ukrainian missile and drone attacks, The Drive reported Monday, after satellite imagery illustrating the defensive tactic was spotted and shared on social media last week. 

Post-invasion policies of the U.S. and Ukraine’s allies have squeezed “Russia's defense industrial base,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday. As a result, Russian officials like military chief Sergei Shoigu “are now going about looking to whatever source they can find for things like artillery ammunition,” including North Korea, where Shoigu visited in late July.

“I think it says a lot that Russia is having to turn to a country like North Korea to seek to bolster its defense capacity in a war that [Russian officials] expected would be over in a week,” Sullivan said. It’s remarkable, he added, “that in September of 2023, it is going to North Korea to get munitions to try to continue to grind out on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

Coverage continues below…

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1962, U.S. officials kicked off three weeks of civil defense drills to prepare for a massive Soviet nuclear attack. Less than a month later, the Cuban missile crisis would begin. 

Ahead of a U.S. visit, an Estonian defense leader laid out his view of Europe’s response to the Ukraine war. The key need is delivering artillery ammunition faster than the Russians, Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, told Defense One’s Sam Skove in Tallinn. “And then Ukraine will win the war. This is relatively simple.” 

However, “While Salm sees signs of hope that the EU can provide the right signals to arms manufacturers, he noted relatively low increases in defense budgets and a lack of broader EU legal reforms that would encourage more arms production,” Skove writes. Still, a plan to deliver 1 million shells should meet its goal by next summer, he said. Read on, here.  

Update: A Russian Mi-8 helicopter pilot defected to Ukraine last month, and he began speaking publicly about the ordeal over the weekend and on Tuesday. His name is Capt. Maksim Kuzminov, and he’s 28 years old. The defection occurred on August 9, and was reportedly coordinated with Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, HUR, going back at least six months.

Kuzminov says he received $500,000 for his actions, which delivered the Mi-8 to Ukrainian forces along with “documents relating to Russian military operations and instructions for airplane parts on board,” according to the Wall Street Journal. CNN has more, here

Streaming online Thursday from New York, a Ukrainian lawyer has organized an event to better understand the effects of an embargo on Russian oil and gas. Svitlana Romanko gathered at least three researchers and analysts to unpack what she says is “the strategic importance of the fossil fuel embargo and its potential to pave the way for a brighter future for Ukraine and the world.” You don’t have to be in the Big Apple to view the presentation; it’s being live-streamed on LinkedIn beginning at 10 a.m. ET. Details here

In a fairly unsurprising development, Russian leader Vladimir Putin still maintains his anti-semitic hatred of Ukraine and its leader Volodymir Zelenskyy. University of Chicago professor Konstantin Sonin explained on social media Tuesday, here

Related reading: 

The Pentagon is contemplating a two-year crash effort to develop and deploy thousands of AI-guided air, sea, and land drones, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall), putting some meat on a concept unveiled last week by DepSecDef Kathleen Hicks. ICYMI: D1’s Patrick Tucker covered the initial announcement

Service secretaries continue their campaign against the promotion holds levied by GOP’s Sen. Tommy Tuberville. A day after publishing an oped in the Washington Post, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth took to CNN to outline the various ways that Alabama’s senior senator is hurting national security. Watch, here.

FYI: Troops who want to use military transportation to get reproductive health care unavailable at their local station must disclose to their commander that they have a “non-covered reproductive health care need,” Pentagon officials said in response to a press-conference question. 

China’s military has been investing heavily in the ability to get its own airfields back up and running following a strike, Thomas Corbett of BluePath Labs and Peter Singer of New America reported Tuesday for Defense One

The work of these repairmen is probably taking place much quicker than you’d guess: “The crucial work of clearing a field is carried out by specialized engineering technical service groups,” Corbett and Singer write. “In exercises, [China’s military] says, these teams have been able to find and detonate unexploded ordnance in as little as 23 minutes.” But Beijing’s “adoption of a new kind of quick-drying concrete in 2013 increased the speed at which craters could be filled, with the fastest time for the procedure sitting at 25 minutes and 3 seconds during a competition.” 

Said one source: “The runway cutting was completed in 10 minutes, the pneumatic drilling took 30 minutes, mixing the concrete was completed in 8 minutes, filling was completed in 2 minutes, and the surface was completed in 1 minute, after 25 minutes the repair material was initially set, and after another 2 hours the concrete finally solidified completely for airfield use.” Continue reading, here

And lastly: Today in Washington, the Pentagon’s Mara Karlin, performing the duties of deputy defense undersecretary for policy, is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the British and Australian defense alliance known as AUKUS. Details and livestream, here

And U.S. Army Pacific’s commander Gen. Charles Flynn is discussing the “Army's Role in Campaigning against China,” at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. That began at 10:30 a.m. ET. Details and YouTube link, here.