Today's D Brief: Presidents push Ukraine aid; Defense bill fails; Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire; Did F-35B eject its pilot?; And a bit more.

The presidents of Ukraine and the United States decried Russian conquest in eastern Europe in speeches before world leaders at the United Nations annual General Assembly Tuesday in New York City. 

“[F]or the second year in a row, this gathering dedicated to peaceful resolution of conflicts is darkened by the shadow of war—an illegal war of conquest, brought without provocation by Russia against its neighbor, Ukraine,” U.S. President Joe Biden said after several minutes praising international cooperation and institutions. 

“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Biden asked. “I’d respectfully suggest the answer is no. We have to stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” he told his colleagues from across the globe. “That’s why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and their freedom,” Biden said, and was met with applause in the assembly. 

Ukraine’s president launched his remarks with warnings about Russia’s nuclear arsenal, then said Russia is destroying plenty of things inside Ukraine without needing to use its nuclear weapons. “While nukes remain in place, the mass destruction is gaining its momentum” with Russia’s daily missile and drone strikes on civilians and infrastructure, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said.

“Each decade Russia starts a new war,” Zelenskyy said. “Parts of Moldova and Georgia remain occupied. Russia turned Syria into ruins…And the goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order,” he said. 

Zelenskyy reminded delegates that Russia has “weaponized” the world’s food supply by pulling out of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative. Moscow also weaponized Ukraine and eastern Europe’s energy production via its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia power plant; and Russian leader Vladimir Putin has allegedly weaponized Ukrainian children through kidnapping and deportation from occupied territories in the east and the south. 

Putin’s various efforts at “Weaponization must be restrained,” Zelenskyy said in his closing remarks. “War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land.”

“My fellow leaders, let me close with this,” Biden said before he departed the dais at the UN’s headquarters. “At this inflection point in history, we’re going to be judged by whether or not we live up to the promises we have made to ourselves, to each other, to the most vulnerable, and to all those who will inherit the world we create.” 

Supporting Ukraine now, Biden argued, amounts to an investment “in the future of every country that seeks a world governed by basic rules that apply equally to all nations and uphold the rights of every nation, no matter how big or how small: sovereignty, territorial integrity. They are the fixed foundations of this noble body, and universal human rights is its North Star. We cannot sacrifice either.” 

Bigger picture: Unlike his previous two UNGA addresses, Biden did not emphasize a global battle between democracy and autocracy, David Leonhardt of the New York Times noticed Tuesday. “The democracy-vs.-autocracy dichotomy has probably been most helpful in energizing Western Europe to come to Ukraine’s defense and persuading Japan and South Korea to strengthen ties as a counterweight to China,” Leonhardt writes. 

The problem is that not all of Washington’s allies are democracies; and even those that are are not always exemplary (e.g., Brazil, India, Israel, and Nigeria). Read on, here

By the way: Biden is set to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Brazilian President Lula da Silva in New York on Wednesday. 

And White House officials are mulling “a mutual defense treaty with Saudi Arabia that would resemble military pacts with Japan and South Korea,” the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing U.S. officials. But that may not be so easy because “Some senior U.S. lawmakers, including top Democrats, see the Saudi government and Prince Mohammed as unreliable partners who care little about U.S. interests or human rights.”

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress to announce a war on terrorism that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Did the Marines’ missing F-35B auto-eject its pilot? That’s just one of the outstanding questions about the aircraft that flew another 60 miles after the pilot ejected over South Carolina on Sunday.

Unlike the Air Force’s F-35As and the Navy’s F-35Cs, the B variant flown by the Corps has an auto-eject function on its Martin-Baker ejection seat “to better protect the pilot in case something goes wrong with the aircraft when it’s in hover mode,” AP’s Tara Copp reports. 

The pilot was “forced to eject,” one anonymously quoted Marine Corps official told Copp, but how and why remain among the unanswered questions. Read on, here.

Hard-right GOP lawmakers push federal government toward shutdown. “In one dramatic sign of defeat Tuesday, House Republicans were even voting against their own defense bill. During a rowdy afternoon vote, the usually popular bill was turned back from consideration, 212-214, after five hard-right conservatives helped sink it,” AP reported.

NYT: “In a development rarely seen in the House, five Republicans broke with their own party and refused to allow the usually broadly bipartisan military funding measure to be considered, registering their objections to Mr. McCarthy’s strategy in an escalating fight over federal spending. It left the chamber paralyzed for the moment, with little time before a Sept. 30 deadline to avert a government closure.”

A shutdown could slow weapons transfers to Ukraine, Taiwan. Past shutdowns have left the State Department “unable to process new licenses for any partner” and “unable to process new foreign military sales,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Mira Resnick told House lawmakers on Tuesday. “This is something we would like to avoid.” D1’s Sam Skove has more, here.

What defense employees can expect if the government shuts down. D1 sister pub GovExec lays out what we know about pay and benefits when the fiscal year arrives before Congress has passed a budget.

A Chinese blockade of Taiwan “would likely not succeed,” and it would probably force Beijing “to consider whether or not it was willing to ultimately start attacking commercial maritime vessels,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner official told lawmakers Tuesday. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph McGee agreed, and said it’s “much easier to talk about a blockade than actually do a blockade.” 

As for an all-out assault on the island, “There is absolutely nothing easy about a [Chinese military] invasion of Taiwan,” McGee said. “They would have to mass tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of troops on the eastern coast and that would be a clear signal” to the U.S. and its allies in the region. 

In DC events today, former Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is set to talk about Taiwan, Ukraine, the Middle East and more—along with former Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia—in an event hosted Wednesday in Washington by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. That gets started at noon ET. Catch the livestream here

Additional reading: 

Developing: Armenian separatists agreed to a ceasefire with Azerbaijan Wednesday after the latter launched a new offensive in the mountainous breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh this week. The Wall Street Journal calls it a “blow to Russia,” and “a capitulation that signals the end of decades of ethnic-Armenian rule in the enclave and the rapid decline of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union territories.” Reuters has the latest, here

And lastly: It’ll be two years before Lockheed Martin’s newish F-16 factory is at full speed. The company’s South Carolina facility is aiming for “four-per-month deliveries by the end of 2025,” OJ Sanchez, the Lockheed VP in charge of the F-16 and F-22 programs, told D1’s Audrey Decker.

The Pentagon has dispatched its increase-production team to have a look, Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said Friday. More, here.