The D Brief: Putin, rattled; Gaza pier ops, suspended; F-35 crashes; Army’s drone experiments; And a bit more.

Putin is rattled as NATO members warm to the idea of allowing Ukraine to attack bases deep inside Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday in Germany that he’s okay with Ukraine’s military using French-provided cruise missiles to strike Russian military bases used as missile launch points well beyond the front lines of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion. 

“We must allow them to neutralize military sites from which missiles are being fired, military sites from which Ukraine is being attacked,” Macron said while standing beside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who did not object. Ukraine “was attacked and it should be allowed to defend itself,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has also been speaking publicly about the idea. “Especially now, when a lot of the fighting is going on in Kharkiv, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves,” Stoltenberg told The Economist last week.  

Putin responded by alluding to Russia’s nuclear weapons, telling reporters Tuesday, “If these serious consequences occur in Europe, how will the United States behave, bearing in mind our parity in the field of strategic weapons?...It's hard to say; do they want a global conflict?” Putin said. Reuters has more.

Meanwhile in Moscow, authorities are on the brink of raising the country’s flat-rate tax for the first time in more than two decades. “Until now, it has been 13 percent for everyone, with a few exceptions,” Anastasia Stognei of the Financial Times reported Tuesday. “Now the Ministry of Finance is proposing that it should be between 13 and 22 percent,” she said. The changes, “which would come into force from next year, are expected to bring an additional 2.6 trillion rubles, or around $29 billion,” the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Driving those changes: “Given the runaway spending on the military-industrial complex, the government cannot solely rely on resource exports,” one Swedish banking expert told the Journal

You may recall from our latest three-part podcast series on rising defense spending around the globe, Russia is currently spending about 6 or 7% of its GDP on defense, which is about a third of its entire budget for the year, or around $109 billion. (For some perspective, the U.S. is spending about 13% of its budget on defense.) And for Russia, that 33% for the military is a proportion not seen since the 1980s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed.

Another troubling indicator: Russia’s “federal budget gap rose to $16.6 billion in the first four months of this year, nearly hitting the government’s deficit projection for the full year,” the Journal reports. Relatedly, “Stubbornly high inflation, at nearly 8% in April, is around twice the central bank’s target.” Reuters and the Associated Press have more. 

New: Sweden just announced a new military aid package for Ukraine, its largest yet at about $1.2 billion (€1,16 billion). It includes donated Airborne Surveillance and Control aircraft (ASC 890), AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, surplus tanks (unspecified just yet), and the country’s “entire stock of armoured tracked personnel carriers (PBV 302),” Defense Minister Pål Jonson said Wednesday on social media. 

“The Swedish Defence Research Agency will also be tasked with supporting Ukraine in establishing its own defence research institute,” Jonson said, and “Ukraine’s command and control capability will be strengthened in the package through a donation of terminals with subscriptions for satellite communications,” he added. 

Happening tomorrow, to mark the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day: The U.S. Navy SEAL Museum will unveil its first monument park overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on Thursday. The SEALs trace their origins to the Second World War, when amphibious units, known as scouts and raiders, were formed in August 1942 specifically for reconnaissance. The next June, demolition units were formed to clear beach obstacles at Normandy. Read more about the upcoming dedication ceremony, here

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Audrey Decker. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day 20 years ago, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., exactly one month after it opened to the public. (The bronze eagles under the Atlantic and Pacific pavilions are supported by a steel armature designed by the brother of one of your D Brief-ers.)

Choppy weather has sent portions of the Pentagon’s $320 million temporary pier to Gaza adrift on the Mediterranean Sea, defense officials said Tuesday, three days after Central Command officials initially flagged the development. The pier was open for less than two weeks before storms knocked it out late last week. 

How it happened: “On Saturday, May 25th, four U.S. Army vessels supporting the maritime humanitarian aid mission in Gaza were affected by heavy sea states, causing these motorized pier sections, which are used to stabilize the Trident Pier, to break free from their anchors due to a loss in power and subsequently beach ashore,” Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. 

Just one of the four Army vessels have been recovered, Singh said. The other three are expected to be recovered by Friday. 

“The rebuilding and repairing of the pier will take at least over a week,” she said. Afterward, the system will need to be re-anchored to the coast of Gaza. 

A second opinion: “Who’d have thought—maybe it would have been better to simply deliver aid via Gaza’s 7x land crossings?” wrote Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. All but two have been closed by the Israelis as they maintain their siege on Hamas-ruled Gaza. 

Additional reading: 

A brand-new F-35 fighter jet crashed Tuesday after taking off from an airfield in New Mexico. “An F-35B enroute from Fort Worth, Texas, to Edwards Air Force Base, California, crashed after a refueling stop at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The pilot safely ejected. Safety is our priority, and we will follow appropriate investigation protocol,” Lockheed said in a statement. 

Social media posts show the aircraft taking off from the airfield and crashing soon after into a hill. The cause of the crash is as yet unknown.

Another F-35B crashed in September, after a pilot ejected and the plane kept flying for 60 miles and went “missing” for a day until the jet’s debris was found outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Additional reading: 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is traveling to the Indo-Pacific region this week, with planned stops in Singapore and Cambodia before pivoting westward to Europe for talks with officials in France. 

A breakthrough could deepen U.S. troops' dependence on Chinese lithium-ion batteries. “In March, the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced a new manufacturing technique that enables a battery to charge more quickly and age more slowly, retaining its ability to hold a charge far longer. If China can further refine this technique and integrate it into standard lithium-ion battery manufacturing, this may improve the country’s substantial position in the critical field of advanced batteries,” write BluePath Labs’ Thomas Corbett and New America’s Peter W. Singer in the latest edition of The China Intelligence. 

Lastly today: “China’s military shows off rifle-toting robot dogs” is CNN’s headline on a story about a two-minute video made during “Golden Dragon 2024,” a joint exercise between the People’s Liberation Army and Cambodian forces. “During recent military drills with Cambodia, China’s military showed off a robot dog with an automatic rifle mounted on its back, essentially turning man’s best (electronic) friend into a killing machine.” Read that, here