Today’s D Brief: Day 176 of Putin’s Ukraine invasion; Record arrests at America’s southern border; ‘Worst drought in 1,200 years’ hits US; Kabul bombing kills 21; And a bit more.


The head of the United Nations is visiting Ukraine today with Turkey’s president, both of whom helped broker last month’s Black Sea grain export deal with Ukrainian officials and representatives from Russia’s invasion forces. 

It’s day 176 of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of democratic Ukraine, and the past 30 days of fighting seem to have settled into a bit of a stalemate along lines that don’t appear to have moved much since July. Russia’s military is still lobbing missiles and artillery and carrying out airstrikes across Ukraine, including around the Sumy oblast, as well as Kharkiv (where at least 10 were killed in overnight shelling, according to the BBC), Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Zaporizhzhia, and elsewhere, according to Kyiv’s military.

Russian forces tried numerous separate assaults Wednesday, but allegedly none of them were “successful,” so the troops withdrew, said Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun. Those included an offensive “in the Mykolaivka-Vyimka direction,” as well as from Volodymyrivka, Pokrovske, Klynove, Semihirya, Holmivskyi, Lozove, and Yehorivka. 

For Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy, today’s visit by the UN chief was dominated by “Russia’s nuclear blackmail at the Zaporizhzhia” Nuclear Power Plant, which Russian forces have occupied since early March—and more recently have threatened to redirect eastward toward Russia. 

“This deliberate terror on the part of the aggressor can have global catastrophic consequences,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. “Therefore, the UN must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarization and complete liberation from Russian troops.” (Zelenskyy didn’t have as much to say about his visit with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, but you can read over his post-visit message, also via Telegram, here.)

BTW: Russian officials dismissed the UN’s request for a “demilitarized zone” around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facilities, claiming to do so “would make the power station even more vulnerable,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev. 

Moscow says it’s moved hypersonic missiles to Kaliningrad, along with three MiG-31I fighter jets, according to state-run TASS. There, the “aircraft with Kinzhal airborne hypersonic systems will be on round-the-clock combat alert at the Chkalovsk airfield,” according to Russia’s defense ministry. 

Officials in Helsinki say two Russian Mig-31s just violated Finnish airspace “near the coastal city of Porvoo on the Gulf of Finland,” Reuters reported Thursday. The alleged violation lasted about two minutes, but little else is known about the incident just yet. Tiny bit more, here

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Russia Is Training Drone Hobbyists to Fight in Ukraine // Patrick Tucker: The effort to replenish depleted Russian forces blurs the line between civilians and military combatants.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman Join Group Pushing 3D Printing to Small Suppliers  // Marcus Weisgerber: The White House-backed compact is also part of an effort to make supply chains more resilient.

What’s Appropriate on Social Media? DOD Spells It Out in New Guidance  // Kirsten Errick: The Pentagon’s first department-wide policy for official accounts also requires reporting fake accounts.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1774, Meriwether Lewis was born on a plantation that included two dozen enslaved people in central Virginia’s Albemarle County. Lewis would later serve for a brief stint in the U.S. Army, where he met fellow explorer William Clark, before leaving the service in 1801. Two years later, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the famous trip we now call the Lewis and Clark Expedition—intended to explore regions around the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, and to do so before French and British explorers. 

Qatar’s military chief is dropping by the Pentagon today for a chat with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah is expected around 11 a.m. ET, when he’ll be met with an advanced cordon, according to the Pentagon.
From the region: Syria denies it’s holding missing American Austin Tice, who was last seen publicly a decade ago when he was reporting from the country during Syria’s civil war. U.S. President Joe Biden said last week on the 10th anniversary of his disappearance, “We know with certainty that he has been held by the Government of Syria.” Syria’s foreign ministry on Wednesday called those “baseless allegations.” Reuters has more on that denial from Damascus, here.
Also from CENTCOM’s AO: An alleged suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Kabul on Wednesday, killing 21 people and wounding 33 others, the Associated Press reported from the Afghan capital. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but ISIS militants killed a pro-Taliban cleric last week in a separate bombing inside Kabul, according to the BBC. More here

America has arrested more migrants at its southern border than any fiscal year on record, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. With more than a month left, 2022 has already bested 2021’s record of nearly 1.7 million arrested—tallying up 1.82 million so far, and trends suggest more than two million will be arrested by the end of September.
What’s going on: “The pandemic hit Latin America’s economies harder than any region in the world, throwing millions of people out of work and creating a far greater supply of low-wage labor looking for jobs,” the Journal reports. “At the same time, the U.S. economy rebounded quickly, creating strong demand for the kinds of low-paying jobs that migrants normally take.”
Another contributor is the Trump-era Title 42 health law that originated in the 1940s. That law has led to nearly half of all migrants being quickly expelled, while others were allowed to seek asylum. But that law doesn’t penalize migrants for trying to cross the border more than once, and Border Patrol officials say about a quarter of those coming to the U.S. have attempted the trek more than once over the past year.
Also: Just over half of Americans polled think there is an “invasion” at the southern border, according to a new poll from NPR/Ipsos, whose researchers queried just over 1,100 people in an online survey over two days in late July.
For the record, “Studies have consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than native-born Americans,” NPR cautions. (See here, here, and here, e.g.) But still, “In the NPR/Ipsos poll, a plurality of Republicans answered incorrectly that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.” Read on, here

The “worst drought in 1,200 years” has drained America’s Colorado River so much we can see the impacts from space, Vox reported Wednesday. The “severe drought conditions” are also “exacerbat[ing] wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau in a statement on Tuesday. And the requisite damage from this three-year drought is hurting American farmers’ yields and leading to a significant income loss, according to a survey from the American Farm Bureau Association. CNN has more, here.
Europe is on the brink of its worst drought in 500 years, and conditions have already drained France’s Loire River, threatening to close four nuclear plants that together produce 20% of the country’s electricity, The Guardian reported Saturday and Reuters updated Wednesday.
Germany is bracing for factory shutdowns as the Rhine River is at record low levels right now, and one official said “shifting cargo from river to train or transport was difficult because of limited rail capacity and a lack of drivers,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday from Berlin. Low water levels on the Rhine typically occur every 20 years or so, one scientist told NPR on Wednesday; but the last time the river was this low was just four years ago.
China is facing its worst heat wave in 60 years, which has dried up key portions of the legendary Yangtze River, leading authorities to attempt cloud seeding to make up at least some of the differences in precipitation, CNN reported Wednesday.
The economic damage of these droughts for China is also piling up, with cities ordering rolling blackouts as factories are shutting down—impacting companies like Toyota and Apple provider FoxConn—while rice and tea yields are expected to be significantly lower this year as well, the New York Times reported Thursday. 

Admin note: We’ll be out of the office Friday. So be safe out there—especially on the roads, which were more deadly during the first quarter of this year than any other time in two decades (PDF). And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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