The D Brief: US, allies OK Ukrainian deep strikes; Houthi targets, struck; SECDEF meets Chinese counterpart; Navy wants more tech contests; And a bit more.

The leaders of France, Germany, and the U.S. have authorized Ukraine’s use of long-range weapons to strike Russian military targets well beyond the front lines of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion. Several news outlets reported the development out of the White House Thursday, including the New York Times (calling it a “major shift”), Politico, and the Associated Press. State Secretary Antony Blinken confirmed the updated policy Friday at a press conference in Prague. 

“Over the past few weeks, Ukraine came to us and asked for the authorization to use weapons that we're providing to defend against this aggression, including against Russian forces that are massing on the Russian side of the border and then attacking into Ukraine,” said Blinken. “That went right to the President, and as you've heard, he's approved use of our weapons for that purpose,” he said. “Going forward, we'll continue to do what we've been doing, which is as necessary adapt and adjust,” he added. 

Caveat: U.S.-provided weapons can only be used in this new manner for “counterfire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them,” a U.S. official told AP. Ukraine is also reportedly not allowed to use long-range missiles known as ATACMS, with a range of up to 186 miles, to attack targets inside Russia. 

Kharkiv is home to Ukraine’s second-largest city, and it borders Russia, which has massed thousands of troops there over the past several weeks possibly signaling a coming offensive, possibly in preparation for an attempt to create a “buffer zone” in the area, possibly just a feint to draw Ukraine troops away from other highly contested regions of the country, including Donetsk to the east, or possibly a combination of all three. 

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his support for the policy change Thursday in Brandenburg, Germany. “How do we explain to the Ukrainians that we’re going to have to protect these towns and basically everything we’re seeing around Kharkiv at the moment, if we tell them you are not allowed to hit the point from which the missiles are fired?” he said in remarks to reporters. “We think that we should allow them to neutralize the military sites from which the missiles are fired and, basically, the military sites from which Ukraine is attacked,” said Macron. 

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz concurred, with his spokesman saying Friday, “Ukraine has the right…to defend itself against these attacks,” according to Le Monde. “To this end, it can also use the weapons supplied for this purpose,” said spokesman Steffen Hebestreit in a statement. 

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky also concurred, according to AP, saying Thursday in Prague, “Ukraine cannot fight against Russia with one hand tied behind its back. Ukraine must be able to fight against Russia’s barbaric invasion even on Russian territory. Political resolve must be backed by credible capabilities.”

His Norwegian counterpart Espen Barth Eide also agreed, telling national broadcaster NRK that Norway feels Ukraine “has a crystal-clear right under international law to attack Russia inside Russia as part of the defense of its territory.”

Russia’s reaction: “Ukraine and its NATO allies will receive such a devastating response that the alliance won’t be able to avoid entering the conflict,” said former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council. It’s worth noting that the formerly timid Medvedev has adopted an increasingly aggressive tone in recent years following Russia’s initial Ukraine invasion in 2014, and especially after Putin’s full-scale invasion of February 2022. 

Developing: Macron says he wants to send French army trainers to Ukraine, and he plans to make those intentions public when he hosts the Ukrainian president in Normandy along with President Biden and others on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Financial Times reported Thursday. 

New: Ukraine and Russia announced their first prisoner exchange in nearly four months on Friday. Reuters reports 150 people were freed after negotiations mediated by the United Arab Emirates. Read more, here

Update: The U.S. military said this week that it has identified North Korean missile debris found in Ukraine, confirming a United Nations report from April concerning an incident of Russia using such missiles back in January. Read more from the Defense Intelligence Agency, here

Beyond RT: Learn about the “Russian Propaganda Nesting Doll” and the “myriad pathways through which content from Russian state media website reaches audiences in Europe and the United States” in a new report released this week by the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy. 

Related reading: “Once a Sheriff’s Deputy in Florida, Now a Source of Disinformation From Russia,” which is a wild story published this week by the New York Times.

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, the destroyer USS England sank its sixth enemy submarine in less than two weeks, a feat unequaled before or since.

New US, UK strikes inside Yemen: Three days after another Houthi missile attack on a commercial vessel in the Red Sea this week, U.S. and British forces conducted a round of joint airstrikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets across Yemen on Thursday. A spokesman for the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists said the strikes killed 16 people and wounded at least 40 others across several locations, including the capital city of Sana’a, the southern city of Taiz, and the coastal province of Hodeidah. 

The Brits say they targeted two locations near Hodeidah, as well as “a number of buildings identified as housing drone ground control facilities and providing storage for very long range drones,” according to a statement from the Defense Ministry. They also targeted alleged Houthi “command and control” facilities at Ghulayfiqah, further south on the Yemeni coast. 

Expert reax: Can the Houthis take these hits and keep attacking? “Umm, yeah, all year long,” said Middle East analyst Mike Knights

The Americans and Brits have teamed up to target the Houthis four times prior this year: January 12, January 22, February 3, and February 24. By contrast, the Houthis are alleged to have carried out at least 197 different attacks on commercial and military vessels transiting the Red Sea as well as attacks targeting Israeli troops in their war against Hamas in Gaza just since November, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said after Thursday’s joint strikes. 

The idea with Thursday’s strikes was to degrade the Houthis’ ability to conduct future attacks, Sunak told reporters. However, considering the impact of past strikes and barring a major new military operation inside Yemen, it’s hard to imagine similar joint attacks will cripple Houthi capabilities all that much, as Mike Knights conceded. 

Worth noting: Unlike the four prior joint strikes, neither the U.S. nor the British credited additional allies—like Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, for example—for unspecified supporting roles.

U.S. forces in the Red Sea also say they destroyed eight aerial drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen Thursday afternoon. In an alleged response that seems to contradict CENTCOM’s portrayal, the Houthis claim to have attacked the U.S. Navy’s USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) aircraft carrier in the Red Sea on Thursday using “a number of winged and ballistic missiles.” According to the Houthi spokesman, “the hit was accurate and direct.”

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin met face-to-face with his Chinese counterpart Admiral Dong Jun on Friday for the first time in more than 18 months. The two spoke on the sidelines of this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. 


  • Austin’s concern “concern about recent provocative [Chinese military] activity around the Taiwan Strait,” including the SecDef’s desire, as his team described it, for China to “not use Taiwan's political transition—part of a normal, routine democratic process—as a pretext for coercive measures”; 
  • “The importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea”;
  • “Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine and the [Chinese military’s] role in supporting Russia's defense industrial base”;
  • “Recent provocations from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), including its direct contributions to Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine”;
  • And “the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication,” according to the Pentagon’s readout

China’s initial readout, by contrast, was notably terse and unrevealing.

The U.S. Navy wants more innovation contests. Two decades ago, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research agency touched off an industry-wide scramble for self-driving cars with a pair of annual events dubbed the DARPA Grand Challenge. The notion that militarily useful innovation can be crowdsourced has since taken broader root in the forms of contests, hackathons, and more. Now the Navy wants to push its own “structured challenges” into overdrive. A May 25 memo from acting Chief Information Officer Justin Fanelli directs the Department of the Navy to “adopt more broadly” the use of contests “to solve specific problems or explore innovative solutions.” Read on, here.

Pentagon bets $480m on AI-fueled intel platform. Starting June 1, a Palantir system will bring enhanced intelligence data to the Joint Staff and combatant commands. Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.

Lastly this week: The West needs to produce more critical minerals. Here’s how the Pentagon should help. Geological and technological obstacles will require subsidies to overcome, write two scholars at the Colorado School of Mines, here.