The D Brief: US soldier detained in Russia; UK boots accused spy; Defense > offense?; Police kill SOF airman; And a bit more.

An American soldier has been detained inside Russia on charges of theft, authorities there announced Monday. His name is Gordon Black, and U.S. Army officials confirmed his detention in a statement Wednesday. He is a staff sergeant who had been assigned to Camp Humphries in South Korea, but was believed to be headed back to the states on Permanent Change of Station leave almost exactly one month ago. 

“Instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” Army officials said. According to Reuters, “The Russian interior ministry in Vladivostok said a 32-year-old woman had filed a complaint” against Black after an argument. She then “filed a police report accusing him of stealing money,” which led to his arrest last Thursday in a hotel after he’d purchased a plane ticket to the states. 

For the record, Army officials said that “Black did not request official clearance and DoD did not authorize his travel to China and Russia.” He’s expected to remain in Russian detention until at least July 2. 

Worth noting: Russian authorities are not accusing the soldier of espionage. “As far as we understand, this is a purely everyday crime,” state-run TASS said. 

Staff Sgt. Black can apparently be seen with a Russian woman thanks to videos posted to TikTok by Vladivostok native Aleksandra Vashchuk. “Most of the videos of the couple together in 2022 and 2023 appear to have been shot in South Korea, where Vashchuk says on TikTok that she had lived for more than five years,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

Another American has been detained in Moscow on charges of drunkenness and “petty hooliganism,” Russian officials announced separately on Tuesday. 

At least three other Americans are being held inside Russia: Journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, as well as 54-year-old Marine veteran Paul Whelan. 

The British just booted a Russian defense attaché on charges he’d been working as a spy for Moscow. His name is Maxim Elovik, and he’s a colonel in the Russian military, the Telegraph reported Wednesday, shortly after the expulsion was announced

The Brits also revoked diplomatic status for select properties and addresses in Sussex and Highgate on allegations those “are believed to have been used for intelligence purposes,” officials said Wednesday. 

And they reduced the length of time Russian diplomats can spend in the UK—all measures which British officials said “follow a pattern of malign activity carried out both here and abroad in the past year, which is believed to be linked to Russia.” It also follows recent charges against five Bulgarian nationals alleged to have been spying for Russia. “A sixth individual was later charged and legal proceedings for all are ongoing,” the British said Wednesday. 

“Since the illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s attempts to undermine UK and European security have become increasingly brazen,” British Home Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. 

“Together with our allies, we continue to send a powerful message to [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin that we will not tolerate his disruptive efforts and are not cowed by his threats,” Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in his own statement. “We will continue to stand up for freedom and democracy for as long as it takes,” he added. 

Back stateside, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is dropping by the Pentagon for talks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his team Thursday. Pistorius spent Wednesday meeting with United Nations officials in New York, including Secretary-General António Guterres. Pistorius is set to travel to Ottawa next for talks with officials there following his discussions with SecDef Austin. 

Welcome to this Thursday 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 this day in 1941, the Brits got their hands on a Nazi Enigma machine after capturing German submarine U-110. The allies later used this machine to decrypt German communications.

The U.S. Navy challenged what it says are “excessive maritime claims” around the world 29 times last year, and Chinese claims were challenged more than any other nation, Defense Department officials announced Thursday. 

Seventeen nations’ claims were challenged in what the Navy calls “freedom of navigation” transits in 2023. That included five instances involving Chinese claims around the South and East China Seas, with the Maldives as the second-most confronted nation on the Pentagon’s list (with three instances). Find the full report (PDF) here

The U.S. and Philippine navies practiced sinking a ship in the South China Sea this week during joint drills that involved more than 16,000 troops and end on Friday. They’re known as Balikatan, which is Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder.

“After being hit repeatedly by missile and artillery fire and bombs dropped by U.S. and Philippine warplanes during the combat drills, the mock enemy ship sank as black smoke billowed from its stern,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from the Philippines. 

“Philippine military officials said the drills were not directed at any country,” AP noted, in an echo we’ve heard often from U.S. officials as they look to expand joint operations in the Pacific with as many allies and partners as possible—all while trying not to upset officials in Beijing. 

The Philippine navy also notched a new milestone during this year’s Balikatan drills: They launched a SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship cruise missile from their vessel BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) for the first time. (h/t Aaron-Matthew Lariosa)

This week in notable data visuals: check out a Chinese navy regional tracker assembled and shared by Damien Symon Tuesday. 

Related reading: The DC-based Defense Priorities think tank recently produced what they describe as an explainer on the Chinese navy since, by the numbers, it is the world’s largest fleet. In short, there seem to be several conditions that must occur in concert and endure if the Chinese navy is to replace the U.S. Navy with its global reach in the future. See what those five conditions are, here.

Defense now outweighs offense, thanks to new tech. That’s according to Army Futures Command chief Gen. James Rainey. “Technology is dramatically increasing the strength of the defense, at the same time, it is dramatically complicating offense,” Rainey told reporters on the sidelines of the Ash Carter Exchange. This may mean Army units need to start using their tanks and infantry primarily to serve the needs of longer-range weapons such as artillery or rockets, Rainey added. His comments don’t represent an official shift in U.S. doctrine, but do mark a sharp change from the Army’s customary approach. D1’s Sam Skove reports, here

AI-powered F-16 impresses ride-along SECAF in dogfight. After flying for an hour in an X-62A VISTA, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said he can see a future where AI agents will fly in war—and will do it better than humans. Kendall spoke Wednesday during an AI and national security conference hosted by the Special Competitive Studies Project.The automated jet was up against a “very good” pilot with 2,000 or 3,000 hours of experience—and the contest was roughly even. But if the AI agent had gone up against a pilot with less experience, the human would’ve lost, he said. D1’s Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.

And lastly: Police burst into wrong apartment, kill US special-operations airman, lawyer says. Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, a special-missions aviator assigned to the Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was in his off-base apartment on May 3 when Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputies investigating a disturbance call from the complex knocked on his door. 

An attorney for the Fortson family said the airman looked out the peephole, saw no one, and got his legally owned handgun. The attorney said the deputies then burst through the door, saw Fortson with his gun, and shot him six times. The airman died at a nearby hospital; the sheriff’s office says it is investigating. Read the rest at AP or  

Related reading:Soldier fatally shot at Fairbanks bar was not involved in fight before shooting, charges say,” the Anchorage Daily News reported Monday.