Today's D Brief: Shutdown deal clouds Ukraine aid; Incursions spike near Taiwan; New drug tests for SEALs; Milley’s last message to troops; And a bit more.

Shutdown averted; forecast for U.S. aid to Ukraine grows cloudy. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill passed a stopgap funding bill on Saturday evening that keeps agencies open for 45 more days, averting at the 11th hour a government shutdown that just days earlier seemed all but inevitable. 

The final, House-backed bill scrapped $6 billion in aid for Ukraine that senators had sought; but it added $16 billion in disaster relief funds, Eric Katz of GovExec, a Defense One sister pub, reported Saturday.

POTUS: “This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday. “But I want to be clear: we should never have been in this position in the first place,” he added. 

However, the president cautioned, “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted. I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin welcomed the 45-day deal from lawmakers. But he also “urge[d] Congress to get back to regular order on appropriations…in order to advance our National Defense strategy and position our military to meet the complex challenges of this century,” he said in a statement Saturday. 

Austin also asked Congress “to live up to America's commitment to provide urgently-needed assistance to the people of Ukraine as they fight to defend their own country against the forces of tyranny. “America must live up to its word and continue to lead,” Austin said. 

Next, lawmakers will have to hammer out full-year appropriations for fiscal 2024. “Top-line funding levels were previously set under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, a law that raised the debt ceiling and set spending caps through fiscal 2025,” Katz reports. But House Republicans have since reneged on that deal, passing appropriations measures well below agreed upon levels. Meanwhile, the Senate has approved its bills only at the committee levels, but has done so with broad bipartisan support and in line with the agreement President Biden struck with McCarthy under the FRA earlier this year.

“The vast majority of both parties—I’ll say it again: Democrats and Republicans, Senate and House—support helping Ukraine in the brutal aggression that is being thrust upon them by Russia,” Biden said Sunday. 

“I want to assure our American allies and the American people and the people of Ukraine that you can count on our support,” Biden said. And to lawmakers, he said, “Stop playing games. Get this done.”

The view from Kyiv: “We don't feel that the U.S support has been shattered,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Monday during a visit from top European lawmakers in Kyiv, “because the United States understands that what is at stake in Ukraine is much bigger than just Ukraine.” 

“We have a very in-depth discussion with both parts of the Congress,  Republicans and Democrats,” Kuleba said. “But we are now working with both sides of the Congress to make sure that it does not [get] repeat[ed] again under any circumstances,” he added. Reuters, the Associated Press, and the New York Times have a bit more.

Developing: The UK is considering troops to Ukraine one day, but not anytime soon, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak clarified on Sunday after remarks from his new Defense Secretary Grant Shapps in an interview with the Telegraph. Shapps told the newspaper that British officials were discussing sending military trainers inside Ukraine, and he also encouraged defense firms to consider manufacturing some components inside Ukraine as well. “That's something for the long term, not the here and now,” said Sunak to reporters Sunday in Manchester, and noted for clarity’s sake, “There are no British soldiers that will be sent to fight in the current conflict…What the defense secretary was saying was that it might well be possible one day in the future for us to do some of that training in Ukraine,” Sunak said.  

Top Russian officials seized on the defense minister’s remarks; and, as is often the case with Soviet/Russian information operations, amplified them to rumors of an imminent third world war. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War rolled up that weekend drama beginning in paragraph three of their Sunday evening assessment, here

  • Extra credit: ISW also published a special report this weekend laying out, from their perspective, “How the War Must End.” (Note: It’s a lengthy but worthwhile read.) 

Developing: Ukraine may be attempting to turn its drone sights on Russia’s power grid. A substation was attacked late last week in the village of Belaya, about 16 miles from the border with Ukraine, al-Jazeera reported Friday. 

See also a special report tracing the supply chain for Ukrainian drones, from parts factories in China to the frontlines in Donetsk. The dynamics have given Beijing “a hidden influence” in Ukraine, which is especially notable now because, as the New York Times reports, “Chinese suppliers have dialed back their sales, as new Chinese rules to restrict the export of drone components took effect on Sept. 1.”

Russia’s military has apparently begun painting silhouettes of bomber planes near its tarmac at the Engels Air Base in an apparent attempt to fool satellite imagery, The Drive reported this weekend. 

And the Ukrainian company Metinvest is busy these days cranking out high-quality replicas of howitzers, radar stations and mortars—all of which draw Russia’s attention, luring Moscow into wasting ammunition, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

Is Russia about to test a nuclear-powered missile? The New York Times visual investigations team thinks so, and made their case Monday using satellite imagery over an arctic Russian base. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Monday 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. Today in 2018, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Within weeks, the CIA concluded that Crown Prince bin Salman had ordered the assassination. 

Check out this useful spreadsheet of Chinese military incursions near Taiwan’s maritime and air defense boundaries, collated by Washington-based defense analyst Ben Lewis. 

In September, Taiwan tracked 225 Chinese military aircraft inside its ADIZ, 29 more than September 2022, Lewis notes: the third-highest total on record.

Propaganda watch: To celebrate National Day on Oct. 1, the Chinese military released an animated short film showing “pieces of a scroll painting torn in two more than 300 years ago being reunited, in a show of the mainland's determination to bring self-ruled Taiwan into the fold,” Reuters writes.

ICYMI: China’s navy carried out its largest-ever carrier exercises in the western Pacific in mid-September. The New York Times reported the drills “appear[ed] to simulate a blockade of Taiwan.” 

Related reading: 

Navy special-warfare command will start random testing for performance-enhancing drugs. That’s on top of the service’s longstanding tests for various illegal drugs. “The 2022 death of a Navy SEAL recruit and subsequent investigations had focused attention on use of steroids and illicit drugs in NSW, which oversees the Navy’s elite special operations units,” writes Task & Purpose. 

Finally: Milley’s last message to troops: “The Constitution is our North Star and we will never turn our back on it.” Read the one-page memo—and handwritten postscript—from Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman, here.