Today's D Brief: Ukraine liberates village, hits Russian warships; China investigates military chief; USAF seeks new drone bases; And a bit more.

Ukrainian forces liberated a village called Andriivka, located about 6 miles south of Bakhmut, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Friday in a terse message on Telegram. “It was difficult, and the situation changed very dynamically several times yesterday,” she added. Reuters described Andriivka as “devastated,” but said the Ukrainian advances open a door for further progress south of Bakhmut. 

Ukraine’s military also says it shot down 17 of 22 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia Thursday, with all of the downed drones targeting “the direction of Khmelnytskyi,” which is a city about six hours east of Kyiv. “Fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile units, mobile fire groups of the Air Force and other components of the Defense Forces were involved,” according to the general staff. 

Khmelnytskyi is home to Ukraine’s Starokostiantyniv air base. “We understand what the enemy is looking for: where the command has hidden our bombers after the events that happened recently in the sea near Crimea," Air Force Col. Yuriy Ihnat said in televised remarks afterward. However, “As a result of Russian terrorist attacks, unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the civilian population,” the military said Friday, without elaborating. “Port infrastructure, private residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed and damaged,” the general staff added. 

Developing: Ukrainian airstrikes Wednesday appear to have hit two Russian navy vessels docked in the occupied Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. “The landing ship Minsk and Kilo 636.3 class submarine Rostov-na-Donu were hit while undergoing maintenance in dry docks” in the Sevmorzavod shipyard, the British military said Friday. With supporting satellite imagery, the Brits said, “open-source evidence indicates the Minsk has almost certainly been functionally destroyed, while the Rostov has likely suffered catastrophic damage.” 

Repairing the submarine will likely take many years, the Brits said. In addition, knocking out that sub “removes one of the [Black Sea Fleet]’s four cruise-missile capable submarines which have played a major role in striking Ukraine and projecting Russian power across the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.” CNN has a bit more.

Also: The Brits just declared Russia’s Wagner Group a terrorist organization, 10 Downing Street announced Friday. Anyone found actively supporting the group could now be subject to a 14-year prison sentence. Read more, here

New: Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy is expected to visit Washington next week, which is also when the United Nations annual conference is scheduled in New York City. Zelenskyy plans on attending the UN General Assembly first, then he’ll fly down to visit President Joe Biden as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Punchbowl News reported Thursday. 

Context: “Although most lawmakers still support aid for Ukraine, a growing chorus of right-wing Republicans, most of them in the House, has been trying to curtail assistance,” the New York Times reported Thursday. The Associated Press and the Guardian have more. 

New: The White House just appointed a special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery. Former commerce secretary Penny Pritzker was named to the new position, which the Times reported Thursday “signals the Biden administration’s concern about the country’s long-term economic survival even as its war with Russia grinds on.” 

German Foreign Minister Anna Baerbock visited Texas this week and brought a message of continued support for democracy inside Ukraine and around the world, she explained to Bret Baier of the right-wing talk network Fox on Wednesday. Why visit Texas? Perhaps because Germany is going through a somewhat similar energy transition, she said. Texas “has one foot in the fossil fuel economy of the past with its intensive use of oil and gas, yet at the same time is striding forth into the era of renewable energies,” she told reporters before visiting with Republican Governor Greg Abbott. 

“If [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin were to win this war, what sign would that be for other dictators in the world like Xi, the Chinese president?” asked Baerbock. “So therefore, Ukraine has to win this war. Freedom and democracy have to win. And we will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes,” she told Fox. 

Happening Saturday in northern Virginia: The U.S. Air Force Band will host three Ukrainian guest musicians for a joint concert at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall & Arts Center in Alexandria. The concert begins at 7 p.m. ET, and we would recommend where you can acquire tickets—but the event appears to already be sold out. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. (Did someone forward this to you? Sign up here.) On this day in 1942, an Imperial Japanese submarine torpedoed the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp at Guadalcanal.

New: China’s military chief Li Shangfu is under investigation for corruption, multiple news agencies reported Thursday Friday—including the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and others.

Background: “In July, the military's procurement unit took the highly unusual step of issuing a notice that it was looking to ‘clean-up’ its bidding process,” Reuters writes. “It invited the public to report irregularities dating back to Oct. 2017, when Li was at its helm.”

U.S. officials think Li has been fired, according to the Journal. China’ foreign ministry said Friday it had no information on Li’s status. 

It may take years for the military to recover from Senate holds, CNO nominee says. Adm. Lisa Franchetti—currently vice chief of naval operations and acting CNO—got her confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, though her nomination is expected to go no further under the blanket hold imposed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. Asked about the hold, which currently affects more than 300 senior officers and their commands, Franchetti said, “Senator, I think just at the three-star level, it would take about three to four months to move all of the people around, but it will take years to recover from the promotion—if confirmed—for the promotion delays that we would see forward.” D1’s Caitlin M. Kenney has more, here.

After Niger coup, Air Force looks for other countries to host drone base. The U.S. has resumed some drone operations from Nigerien bases in the wake of the July 26 coup, but only ISR flights for “force protection” and not counter-terrorism operations, said Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said Wednesday at the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference. 

Moving out? “There are several locations I'll say that we're looking at, but nothing's firmed up. We have talked to some countries about it,” Hecker said. D1’s Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.

Coming soon: You can hear more from Decker in our latest Defense One Radio podcast, which focuses on this week’s AFA conference and also features Defense One’s Lauren Williams and Marcus Weisgerber. That’s slated to go live this afternoon. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!