Today’s D Brief: Ukraine’s military chief’s view; Russian ship, sunk; China’s new hacking era; Big sale to India; And a bit more.

Rumors have been circulating this week over the fate of Ukraine’s top military officer, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, who has been on the job for nearly three years and has commanded Kyiv’s military for the entirety of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Beginning Monday, the Economist was among the first outlets to report speculation that Zaluzhnyi would soon be fired, followed by the Kyiv Post and others. But four days later, Zaluzhnyi is still on the job—and he just published an op-ed for CNN laying out his public advice for the war moving forward. 

More than 700 days into Russia’s invasion, Zaluzhnyi painted a picture of a man increasingly up against a wall, writing that his soldiers now have no choice but to work with much less “military support from key allies, [who are] grappling with their own political tensions.” He said international sanctions haven’t hurt Russia enough, and he noted that perhaps no other country has a larger manpower advantage than Russia, which has famously tapped this resource several times over the course of its history—perhaps most famously in the Second World War. Ukraine cannot do the same, Zaluzhnyi said, without resorting to “unpopular measures.” 

He also blamed “the partial monopolization of the defense industry” for “production bottlenecks – in ammunition, for instance” that are hamstringing Kyiv’s defense against the Russian invasion. But not everything is gloomy, he explained. 

Ukraine’s military has shown impressive progress when it comes to drones and the effects they can have on not just the battlefield, but also in striking inside Russia “to reduce the economic capabilities of the enemy, or to isolate, or wear him down,” he wrote. 

To that end, Zaluzhnyi proposed what he described as “a completely new state system of technological rearmament,” which he suggested “could be achieved in five months.” Zaluzhnyi’s overall plan as written for CNN is short on specifics, and perhaps only partly because what he’s calling for is a bold “new philosophy of training and warfare” that aims to somehow achieve more with much less. 

The arguably more urgent reality is that Ukraine has almost completely exhausted its partners’ donated supply of tanks and ammunition and extra military supplies. And despite the occasional encouragement back stateside from leading Republican lawmakers like Mitch McConnell, the GOP has chosen this election year as the time to stop supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia—preferring, as Kevin Roberts of the isolationist Heritage Foundation said this week in Washington, “Heritage will not now, nor ever, support putting a foreign nation’s border ahead of our own.” And Roberts stressed that opposition as he introduced NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who spoke Monday commemorating 75 years for the alliance. 

  • See also:What Republicans Used to Believe,” an essay by former Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib, writing January 18 (gift link). 

New: Ukraine says it sank another Russian ship this week using exploding drone boats. Moscow’s missile corvette Ivanovets was hit in the Black Sea Wednesday night, according to Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate, which published an alleged video of the attack on social media afterward. Officials said “six direct hits by naval drones” struck “the hull of the ship,” which then “rolled astern and sank.” 

The attack took place at least 130 miles from the nearest Ukrainian port, and involved at least three drones known as Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus (or MAGURA V5) unmanned surface vessels under the direction of Ukraine’s Group 13 drone unit, Howard Altman of The War Zone reported Thursday. You can see video of the drone, via a CNN report in July, here

Newly revealed: Russia imported $20 million in Taiwan-made precision parts over the past year, the Washington Post reported Thursday. “The computer-controlled machines are used for the complex and precise manufacturing that is critical in many industries, including weapons production,” the Post writes. One former Commerce official said the 60-plus apparent shipments likely violated certain Russian sanctions that took effect last January. Story, here

Related reading: 


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 this day in 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad finally came to an end, with Russia having absorbed enormous casualties.

We learned a tiny bit more about the explosive drone boat Houthis used to target ships in the Red Sea on Thursday. Initial mention of the attack came from CBS News; but details at the time were lacking. In the hours after, officials said the attack occurred at about 10:30 a.m. local, and unspecified U.S. forces in the region destroyed it, “resulting in significant secondary explosions,” according to the Tampa-based Central Command

Thursday was a busy day for the U.S. military in the Red Sea. Hours before that drone boat exploded in successive balls of fire, other U.S. forces shot down a flying drone over the Gulf of Aden just before sunrise. 

Another commercial ship was apparently targeted just before 1 p.m. by two more anti-ship ballistic missiles launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen. “The missiles impacted in the water without hitting the ship,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

China’s hacking has entered a far more dangerous phase, US officials say, by implanting malware that might be used to attack U.S. infrastructure. If triggered, it could disrupt water, power, and rail services, possibly causing widespread chaos or even injuring and killing Americans, directors of the FBI, NSA, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told lawmakers Wednesday.

China’s hacking has generally been more risk-averse than, say, Russia’s, better known for data theft and espionage. But Volt Typhoon, which Microsoft revealed last May, represents something far more threatening. 

A senior NSA official put the issue in starker terms. “They’re in places that they are not there for intelligence purposes. They are not there for financial gain. Those are two hallmarks of Chinese intrusions in other sets and other lanes,” the official told reporters last week. 

China is still undertaking those activities, “but this is unique in that it’s prepositioning on critical infrastructure, on military networks, to be able to deliver effects at the time and place of their choosing so that they can disrupt our ability to support military activities or to distract us, to get us to focus on, you know, a domestic incident at a time when something’s flaring up in a different part of the world and they don’t want us facing the foreign aspects of that,” the official said. D1’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.

India wants to buy 31 of General Atomics’ MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones from the U.S. for about $4 billion. The deal, which was announced Thursday, also includes 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles, 310 GBU-39B/B Laser Small Diameter Bombs, and more. 

“The proposed sale will improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said. India’s navy, you may recall, has been particularly busy around the coast of Yemen responding to ships under duress, as the Wall Street Journal noted last week.

And lastly: Cancer is hitting America’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at rates that recall Agent Orange, and “We’re not doing enough to support them,” says former Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller Ethan Brown, writing this week in Defense One

“The current silence is hauntingly similar to the indifference Vietnam veterans experienced following their service in Southeast Asia, which left more than 650,000 of them suffering from Agent Orange exposure and subsequent cancers and other exposure morbidities,” he writes. His advice? Continue reading, here

Read More

Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston