Today's D Brief: Russia kills 51 in grocery; US jet downs Turkish UAV; Army’s big 155mm order; Immigration trends; And a bit more.
A Russian missile attack on a grocery store and cafe killed 51 people in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Thursday on social media, with supporting imagery of the post-strike scene. Reuters called it the deadliest attack in Kharkiv since the Russian invasion began 19 months ago.
“Russia needs this and similar terrorist attacks for one reason only: to make its genocidal aggression the new normal for the entire world,” Zelenskyy said. “We are now focused with European leaders, in particular, on how to strengthen our air defense, reinforce our troops, and protect our country from terror,” he added.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is visiting the White House on Friday to help commemorate German-American Day. The White House says the two leaders will reaffirm their country’s “strong ties…including our close coordination as NATO Allies on a range of important issues such as defending democratic values and our shared commitment to support Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia’s invasion.”
Despite a slight decline in poll numbers, six in 10 Americans still support aid to Ukraine, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs announced in a new report Wednesday. Among their findings:
- “Majorities of Americans still support providing economic assistance (61%) and sending additional arms and military supplies to the Ukrainian government (63%), down slightly from a year ago. About half of Republicans agree.”
- “A narrow majority of Americans say that the $43 billion in weapons, equipment and training that the United States has provided to Ukraine has been worth the cost (53% vs. 45% not worth the cost). Six in 10 Republicans say it has not been worth it.”
- “A slim majority support sending F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv (55%), but Republicans tend to oppose this idea (55%). Majorities across the board oppose sending cluster munitions given that several key NATO allies have banned them (61%).” Read over the full report (PDF), here.
Unsurprisingly, Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin is still lying about the origins of his Ukraine invasion in public remarks like his Thursday diatribe at a Russian forum known as the Valdai International Discussion Club. The forum’s ostensible theme was “Fair multipolarity: How to ensure security and development for everyone.” While there, Putin again wrongly claimed nations of the West started the war back in 2014; however, in reality Russian military troops invaded eastern Ukraine and Crimea that February dressed in uniforms without any insignia, before a Russian missile system shot down a civilian airliner flying over Ukraine that July, killing nearly 300 innocent people.
A second opinion: Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in order to “expand Russia’s power, eradicate Ukrainian statehood, and break up NATO—goals he still pursues,” analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War clarified in their daily assessment following Putin’s Thursday remarks.
Putin also used the occasion to announce Russia conducted a “final successful test” of its new nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile, and that work on Moscow’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile is “almost complete.” According to the BBC, the experimental Burevestnik missile, "first announced in 2018, has been hailed as having a potentially unlimited range” since it’s allegedly “powered by a nuclear reactor and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.”
- For what it’s worth, “Russia previously conducted 13 known [Burevestnik] tests between 2017 and 2019, all of which were unsuccessful,” the New York Times reported earlier this week, citing a report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative nonprofit.
New: Sweden says it’s sending Ukraine about $200 million in military aid, including artillery ammunition. “With this support package, Sweden strengthens Ukraines [heroic] efforts to retake lost territory and regain its freedom,” Defense Minister Pål Jonson wrote on social media Friday. “This new package includes 155 mm artillery ammunition, spare parts and ammunition for systems we have donated such as CV 90, and satcom equipment,” said Jonson.
Sweden is also considering eventually sending Ukraine some of its Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft. However, “Support in the form of JAS 39 Gripen would be conditional on Sweden first becoming a member of NATO,” Jonson said. More from Stockholm, here.
New: The U.S. Army just announced $1.5 billion in new 155mm artillery production contracts, service officials said Friday. The Army is racing to reach its goal of producing 80,000 projectiles per month by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2025. That process requires the eventual combination of casings, bulk energetics, propellant, primers and fuzes; and those components are made in different places around the country; some are even made in Canada, Poland, and India (IMT Defence, NitroChem S.A., and Solar Industries India Limited, respectively).
The U.S.-based firms involved in these new deals include BAE Ordnance Systems Inc. and Security Signals Inc., in Tennessee; Action Manufacturing Co., out of Pennsylvania; General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, and Day & Zimmerman—both based in Arkansas; American Ordnance LLC out of Iowa; and Armtec, based in California.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1958, the nuclear-powered attack sub USS Seawolf completed 60 continuous days underwater, setting a record.
An American F-16 jet shot down a Turkish drone flying near U.S. troops in northeastern Syria on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported, and noted “U.S. officials mounted a full-court press to ease relations with its fellow NATO member” immediately afterward.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder called it “a regrettable incident” in remarks to reporters Thursday at the Defense Department. According to Ryder, Turkish drones were seen around 7:30 a.m. local time Thursday conducting airstrikes near Hasakah in the northern part of the country. Some of the strikes took place “inside a declared U.S. restricted operating zone” about a kilometer away from U.S. forces, who then moved into bunkers, he said.
Around 11:30 a.m., a Turkish drone again flew into the restricted zone and headed towards U.S. forces. “U.S. commanders assessed that the [unmanned aerial vehicle], which was now less than a half a kilometer from U.S. forces, to be a potential threat, and U.S. F-16 fighters subsequently shot down the UAV in self-defense at approximately 11:40 local time,” Ryder said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talked with Turkish Minister of National Defense Yasar Guler on Thursday, urging “de-escalation in northern Syria and the importance of maintaining strict adherence to de-confliction protocols and communication through established military-to-military channels. Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney has more, here.
Elsewhere in Syria, an alleged drone attack killed at least 80 people who had gathered for a military graduation ceremony in Homs, the New York Times reported Thursday. Nearly 24 hours later, there are still no images of the wreckage or debris from the alleged drone, which Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute on Friday called “a little strange and certainly very unusual.” According to the Times, “Syria’s Foreign Ministry blamed it on ‘U.S. occupation-backed terrorist groups,’ in an apparent reference to the U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.”
Former President Donald Trump is reportedly in hot water again for allegedly discussing classified U.S. nuclear submarine technology with an Australian billionaire named Anthony Pratt, who runs one of the world's largest packaging companies, the U.S.-based Pratt Industries. Pratt afterward “allegedly shared the information with scores of others, including more than a dozen foreign officials, several of his own employees, and a handful of journalists,” ABC News reported Thursday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
“During his talk with Mr. Pratt, Mr. Trump revealed at least two pieces of critical information about the U.S. submarines’ tactical capacities,” the New York Times reported in a follow-up after ABC news. The critical information Trump allegedly shared “included how many nuclear warheads the vessels carried and how close they could get to their Russian counterparts without being detected,” according to the Times.
After targeting West Point’s race-conscious admissions policy, an anti-affirmative action group is now suing the Naval Academy over the same thing, Reuters reported Thursday. The litigant is the Virginia-based nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions, which is run by 71-year-old legal activist Edward Blum. He’s worked hard since the 1990s to remove race as a concept in U.S. law; he also helped overturn a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, as the New York Times pointed out in an interview with Blum this July.
“Look, there is bigotry today, there is discrimination today in the United States; there is antisemitism in the United States; there is homophobia in the United States,” Blum told the Times. “There’s all those things in Belgium and in Venezuela and in Russia and in China. Bigotry, antisemitism, homophobia is a human disease. It cannot be cured. It can be fought, but it cannot be cured, and trying to cure it with new discrimination only makes the situation worse.”
Why is the Biden administration building new sections of a border wall with Mexico? The new construction announced this week in Starr County, Texas, violates a campaign pledge the president made as a candidate in 2020. But on Thursday, he told reporters he was overridden by lawmakers on Capitol Hill—and that, at any rate, the money was allocated during former President Donald Trump’s time in office back in 2019 and had to be spent now.
“I’ll answer one question on the border wall,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “The border wall—the money was appropriated for the border wall. I tried to get to [lawmakers] to reappropriate it, to redirect that money. They didn’t. They wouldn’t. And in the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated. I can’t stop that.”
Reporter: “Do you believe the border wall works?”
Against the wall: Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena both told U.S. officials Thursday that they strongly opposed building more sections of a border wall with the U.S. “We believe in bridges, not in walls,” Barcena said at a press conference alongside his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Developing: The White House is also restarting a U.S. program to deport Venezuelan migrants back to their home country, the Associated Press reported Thursday from Mexico City. “The resumption of deportation flights comes not long after the administration increased protected status for thousands of Venezuelans who had previously arrived to the U.S., they must have entered the country before July 31 of this year to be eligible for temporary protected status,” AP writes.
Immigration is most certainly not just a North and South American problem. Hungary and Poland are angry at the European Union’s migration policy as Middle Eastern and African migrants continue their northward movement around regular border crossings, Reuters reports as EU officials met in Spain on Friday.
The EU is trying to overhaul its immigration policy, changing asylum and migration rules; and the terms of that possible new deal are now in the hands of the European Parliament. For a sense of the current scope of the EU’s problem, the bloc’s top migration official last week said there have been 250,000 “irregular arrivals so far this year,” which is “far below 2015, when more than a million people made it across the sea, overwhelming the bloc,” according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, Britain’s policy of deporting migrants to Rwanda is headed for review at the country’s top court next week. Background: “London's Court of Appeal concluded in June the scheme to send tens of thousands of migrants more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) to East Africa was not lawful, saying Rwanda could not be treated as a safe third country,” Reuters reported separately on Thursday. That review, which is set to begin Monday, is pitting government lawyers against counsel representing migrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam and Sudan.
What lies ahead: Expect much more uproar over immigration to Europe in the coming months since continent-wide parliamentary elections are slated for next June.
Big picture consideration: “In 2022 alone, [natural] disasters drove some 32.6 million recorded internal displacements—the highest figure in more than a decade,” the United Nations noted in a new report Wednesday. “This includes people forced to flee floods, monsoons, and other shock events; an additional unknown number moved in response to gradually deteriorating environmental conditions such as sea-level rise, coastal erosion, extreme heat, and climatic variability.”
But in the months and years to come, the UN cautions, “the world may actually be facing a future in which fewer people are able to move as a result of climate change because environmental changes can decrease the very resources needed to migrate.” And this vicious dynamic is referred to as “the immobility paradox.”
“For example, a farming household that regularly engages in seasonal migration to cities for off-season employment may no longer be able to do so because diminishing crop yields force them to redirect assets to meet their basic needs,” according to the UN’s latest report. And “In the case of severe drought, evidence from West Africa shows that households tend to allocate dwindling resources to basics such as food, water, and shelter rather than investing in migration.”
And addressing these dynamics requires regional collaboration, which both the U.S., with its dysfunctional immigration policy going back to at least the 1980s, and the EU’s current policy bind, remind us is no easy task.
Meanwhile some places have little choice but to prepare their citizens for a future elsewhere. “An oft-cited example of the latter is the previous Migration with Dignity program in Kiribati, a small Pacific Island facing sea-level rise, which sought to prepare migrants to prosper abroad through educational and vocational support,” the UN writes in its latest report.
Kiribati even went so far as to buy land in Fiji to move some of its people. However, “this plan has since been abandoned,” the UN adds with a hint of tragedy. And at any rate, Fiji “has spent several years trying to relocate particularly at-risk villages on some of its more than 300 islands.” Continue reading, here.
- “September shattered global heat record—and by a record margin,” the Washington Post reported this week; AP has similar coverage that’s not behind a paywall, here;
- “Study finds more people are moving into high flood zones, increasing risk of water disasters,” AP reported separately this week after the study was published in the journal Nature;
- “UK spacecraft maps heat variations across Earth,” the BBC reported Friday with some new satellite imagery;
- Watch “The Great Displacement: Climate Migration in America,” which was an event hosted in March by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace expanding on a new book of that same name by journalist Jake Bittle;
- And the Council on Foreign Relations last December explored similar issues in an issues brief entitled, “Climate Change Is Fueling Migration. Do Climate Migrants Have Legal Protections?”
That’s it for us this week. We’ll be back again on Tuesday for a week of Army-centric developments from the Washington-based annual Association of the U.S. Army conference. Have a safe weekend!