Today's D Brief: Abrams in Ukraine ‘soon’; China’s ‘11-dash line’; Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh; Energy markets, redrawn; And a bit more.

U.S.-provided Abrams tanks “will be entering Ukraine soon,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday during the latest Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base. The gathering was Ukrainian military chief Rustem Umerov’s first as defense minister, and it was the 15th of its kind since Russia’s full-scale Ukraine invasion began in February 2022. 

Austin’s promise would seem to follow the Pentagon’s updated estimate from March when officials predicted the Abrams would arrive by the fall. (Politico reported in late July that those tanks could start showing up inside Ukraine some time this month, which has just 11 days remaining.) 

But Ukraine still badly needs air-defense systems to protect its energy infrastructure against Russian attacks, which is why Austin pressed the delegates to inventory and share whatever stocks they have available ahead of “another winter war” in the coming months. He also stressed the need for Ukraine’s allies to share 155mm artillery ammunition. Tanks and armor come next, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley said in his last meeting with the contact group before his retirement.  

“To date, Ukraine has liberated over 54% of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Milley said Tuesday while standing beside Austin. But there are still about “a couple of hundred thousand Russian troops that remain in Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he said. 

For the U.S., Ukraine, and its allies, “The end goal remains crystal clear,” said Milley. And that goal is to “Support Ukraine until [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin’s unwarranted, illegal and ruinous war of choice comes to an end. Our commitment to Ukraine as a free, independent, and sovereign nation with its territory intact remains as ironclad as ever.” 

“Ukraine has not asked any other country to fight for them,” Milley said. “All they are asking for is help—help with material and training. And we collectively are all here to support Ukraine so they may remain free, independent, and sovereign.”

By the way: “Norway is now the biggest supporter of Ukraine, with aid to Ukraine amounting to 1.7 percent of its GDP,” according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. That’s largely a result of Oslo’s recently announced “Nansen Support Program,” which is worth €6.6 billion ($7.1 billion) over five years. 

And European Union members combined have pledged about $90 billion so far—more than the U.S.’s $75 billion, according to Kiel’s data, which runs to the end of July. 

“Ukraine’s fight is one of the great causes of our time,” Austin told the delegates in Germany. “It’s not just the fight for one embattled democracy; it’s also a fight for a world where autocrats cannot just rewrite borders by force. It’s a fight to avoid a grim new era of chaos and tyranny, and it’s a fight for a world where rules are upheld, rights are protected, and aggression is punished.”

“History will show the full folly of Putin’s reckless, cruel, and unprovoked invasion of his peaceful neighbor,” Austin said. “Just look at the 50 countries proudly represented around this table, standing together to defend Ukraine and the rules-based international order,” he continued. “And then look at the Kremlin, left alone with the likes of Iran and North Korea.”

What about the future of U.S. aid to Ukraine? It’s an especially timely consideration in the face of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, whose far-right members want to stop providing Ukraine with any more financial and military support. “I fully expect and hope that we’ll continue to enjoy bipartisan support from Congress; but we don’t take anything for granted,” Austin said Tuesday. “We’ll continue to work with Congress to make sure that they have a full understanding of our work here and they know the importance of this work.”

A second opinion: Should the U.S. government shut down because of an impasse over funding, which is set to expire at the end of the month, “Ukraine will continue to receive equipment and supplies that are already in the pipeline,” but [emphasis added] “a funding gap would probably stop any offensive actions, but not be fatal to Ukrainian resistance,” according to Mark Cancian of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, writing in mid-August. 

Coverage continues below…

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1957, U.S. officials conducted the world’s first-ever underground nuclear weapon test, which has been remembered as the “Rainier event.”

New: Russian officials claim to now be producing ten times more military hardware than before the Ukraine invasion, Reuters reported Tuesday from Moscow. That’s according to Bekhan Ozdoev of Rostec, which is a state-run corporation responsible for most of the country’s arms production. “We are going forward at cruising speed, smoke from all the pipes,” he claimed on Tuesday. 

Without giving details, Ozdoev said the country is now producing far more “tanks, armored vehicles, rocket launchers, artillery, the Iskander short-range ballistic missile, the Pantsir medium-range surface-to-air missile system and the hypersonic Kinzhal missile,” Reuters reports. Read on, here

How has the Ukraine war redrawn the world’s energy map? Aside from the well-known trends shifting Russian petroleum sales to China and India, the Wall Street Journal reports Algeria, Norway, Turkey, and Azerbaijan are the “unexpected winners” in a new global energy war. And that’s entirely due to purchasing trends out of the European Union since the bloc rejected Russian gas following the Ukraine invasion. 

Speaking of Azerbaijan, the country just launched another military operation inside the landlocked breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the country’s southeastern mountains. CNN and the BBC have the latest. 

Additional reading: 

Military units from all 10 ASEAN nations began their first-ever joint exercise in Indonesia on Tuesday. "This is not a combat operation because ASEAN is more focused on economics. The training is more about social activities," Yudo Margono, Indonesia's military chief, told reporters after the opening ceremony on the Indonesian island of Batam on Tuesday.

China’s new claim. ASEAN moved the exercise from its planned location in the South China Sea after China issued new, broader claims on international and disputed waters. On Aug. 28, the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources released the 2023 version of the country’s “standard map.” In place of the familiar 9-dash line demarking China’s territorial claims—some of which have been rejected by international courts—a new 11-dash line encloses a wider swath of territory, including all of Taiwan and areas claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India, all of which have objected to the new map. (NBC / Newsweek)

Lastly today: Bears raid doughnut truck on Alaskan joint base. Early Tuesday morning on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a driver left the back door of his truck open while he stocked the JMM Express convenience store with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. A mother bear and a cub made their way into the truck. 

Store manager Shelly Deano: “I was beating on the van and they’re not moving. I could hear them breaking open the packages and everything,” she said. “I was like, ‘They don’t even care.’” Base security eventually used sirens to annoy the bears into ambling away. 

Authorities on base “are aware of this and other wildlife situations throughout the past several months,” Capt. Lexi Smith, a spokesperson at the base, told the Associated Press. Have a bear-free day.