Today's D Brief: Macron’s warning; Ukraine’s oil attacks; Strikes in Yemen; F-35s on a California highway; And a bit more.

French President Macron warns his countrymen: Europe must be ready for war. Macron devoted nearly all of a 30-minute-plus interview Thursday to Russia’s war in Ukraine (the final four minutes were devoted to Israel’s war in Gaza).  

“If war spread in Europe, Russia would be to blame,” Macron told two French presenters from news organizations TF1 and France2. “But if we decided to be weak; if we decided today that we would not respond, it would be choosing defeat already. And I don't want that.”

“If Russia wins this war, Europe's credibility will be reduced to zero,” Macron said. “Deciding to abstain or vote against support to Ukraine, it's not choosing peace, it's choosing defeat. It's different,” he said. 

Macron also called the war in Ukraine “existential for our Europe and for France.” When asked by the presenters why he is so serious, he explained, “Two years ago we said we would never send tanks. We did. Two years ago, we said we would never send medium-range missiles. We did…Those who say, ‘Let's not support Ukraine’ do not make the choice of peace, they make the choice of defeat,” he said. 

You can catch the full interview in the original French, or in AI-dubbed English on YouTube.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On March 15, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a remarkable speech four days after Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act. He hailed the “end of urging us to get along with dictators; the end of compromise with tyranny and the forces of oppression.” He noted that Axis propagandists had predicted “that the conquest of our country would be ‘an inside job’—a job accomplished not by overpowering invasion from without, but by disrupting confusion and disunion and moral disintegration from within.” And he said, “The light of democracy must be kept burning...The time has come when we must provide the fuel in ever-increasing amounts to keep that flame alight.”

Ukrainian forces have attacked at least four oil refineries in Russia this week. “Since the beginning of the year, Ukraine has claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen such assaults, and local Russian authorities have reported five more,” the New York Times reported Thursday after several videos of the purported attacks emerged on social media (here and here, e.g.). 

However, “such disruptions do not mean Ukraine can truly undermine the Russian energy behemoth, which is at the core of its economy and war efforts,” Constant Méheut of the Times reports from Kyiv.

Russian elections began Friday, and are set to run through the weekend. Outsiders broadly expect Vladimir Putin to “win” another six-year term in office, potentially extending his rule into a fourth consecutive decade.

Reminder: Putin imprisoned his only significant election challenger in the Arctic, where Alexy Navalny died suddenly and mysteriously almost exactly one month ago.

Already there are numerous allegations of suspicious activity at polling stations around the country, including the alleged use of disappearing ink that dissolves when heat is applied, as demonstrated in this video; another person allegedly poured green ink into a ballot box; other voters are taking selfies with a cardboard cutout of fired Fox personality Tucker Carlson. The BBC’s Francis Scarr is gathering some of the more colorful windows into Russian voting in a thread on social media, here

On repeat: Russia’s leaders are still calling Ukraine’s Jewish president a Nazi. One in particular, former President Dmitry Medvedev, insists Ukraine must submit its “complete and unconditional surrender” before paying reparations to Russia for harming the invading forces and defending its territory. 

Putin repeated those false Nazi allegations both in January and again in February during his interview-turned-diatribe with right-wing propagandist Tucker Carlson. 

Medvedev also called for dissolving Ukraine in terms of United Nations definitions and as a matter of international law. Those were just a few key elements of his message Thursday, when he laid out on Telegram what he described as his “soft Russian formula for peace” in Ukraine. 

Another note on Putin: “Russia has been at war for 19 of his 24 years at the helm,” the European Parliament said this week in their own elections preview. And this time around, “Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will not be present, as was previously the case with the September 2021 parliamentary elections.” This is because “Recent changes to Russia's electoral laws make it virtually impossible to conduct any meaningful monitoring, and have significantly restricted the role of the media,” the parliament writes. 

For these elections, “The objective of the Kremlin, however, is not just victory, but a landslide result, both in turnout and percentage of votes,” said the European lawmakers. “This would legitimise Putin's legacy and his war of aggression, relegating the remaining opposition to an even more marginalised role, and allowing Putin to implement, unchecked, his vision for the next six years.”

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The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen nearly attacked another commercial vessel in the Red Sea on Thursday, British maritime authorities said. The incident occurred near the Houthi-occupied Yemeni port city of Hodeida, and involved the Panama-flagged, Vietnamese-owned tanker known as Pacific 01, the Associated Press reports. “The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” British officials said Friday morning. 

The Houthis fired four anti-ship ballistic missiles toward the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden Thursday, but those didn’t hit anything or injure anyone, U.S. defense officials at Central Command said

Separately, U.S. forces in the region “successfully engaged and destroyed nine anti-ship missiles and two unmanned aerial vehicles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” on Thursday, CENTCOM said, and noted, “these weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region.” U.S. forces also destroyed four aerial drones and a surface-to-air missile in Yemen on Wednesday.

Why Marine Corps aircraft deployed to an old California highway. The latest edition of Exercise Obsidian Iceberg is practice for Pacific conflicts that may see forces hopping around islands where airfields don’t exist. The War Zone has pics and a report, here.

It’s a Left Coast take on a longstanding Nordic tactic. E.g., last year’s Norwegian Air Force deployment of F-35s to a Finnish highway. 

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