Today’s D Brief: Russian warships leave Crimea; Ukraine support slips; Security pact with Saudi?; Border wall, going up; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

Anxiety is growing in Washington over the future of military aid to Ukraine. Almost 600 days into Russia’s Ukraine invasion, U.S. officials in the White House are starting to look for additional, sometimes crafty ways to continue helping Kyiv’s military ahead of the cold winter season. 

While a leaderless House of Representatives remains paralyzed for another week or so, a new survey of American voters reveals a slight but notable erosion in support for giving U.S. weapons to Ukraine. In May, 46% of respondents were in favor; this week, that number declined to 41%, according to a survey published Thursday by Reuters/Ipsos. Similarly, “Some 52% of Democrats backed arming Ukraine in the most recent poll, down from 61% in May,” whereas: “Among Republicans, support for sending weapons to Kyiv fell to 35% from 39% in May.”

Said one think tanker to Reuters: “Better messaging would help, including making it clear to Americans that much of the money allocated for Ukraine stays in the United States, including in jobs at U.S. weapons producers.” 

That’s close to a line of reasoning articulated Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which argued, “GOP hostility to Ukraine is hurting American arms production.” In making their case, they write, “Money marked for Ukraine is tied up with America’s ability to defend itself, even if Mr. Biden has failed to explain this to the public.” 

How so? “The more weapons America can produce, the more the world’s Xi Jinpings have to think long and hard about provoking the U.S.,” they argue. And from that way of thinking, “the now empty Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which lets the Pentagon procure new weapons from industry, is a down payment on a larger U.S. industrial base.”

What’s more, “Arms production isn’t an American jobs program or economic stimulus, a fallacy that Republicans should reject.” But they described it as “puzzling to see conservatives who complain about ‘hollowed out’ U.S. manufacturing oppose money for producing missiles in Alabama or tanks in Ohio,” which is essentially “holding equipment and ammo as a partisan hostage.” 

Perhaps most importantly, they stress, “The war in Ukraine has revealed that the U.S. needs deeper reserves in everything from artillery to long-range fires. And it is a strategic gift to learn this lesson before U.S. troops are dying in a war.”

Biden: “It’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America that Ukraine succeed,” the president told reporters Wednesday in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. “I’ve spent two and a half years putting together coalitions that no one thought could be put together,” he continued. “And they’ve strengthened us across the board, not just as it relates to Ukraine, whether it’s Japan and South Korea or whether it’s what’s happening in Europe itself.”

That’s partly why, Biden said, he plans to soon deliver “a major speech…on this issue and why it’s critically important for the United States and our allies that we keep our commitment.” 

He’ll be briefed on the latest from Ukraine by his national security team this afternoon, according to the president’s public schedule. “This will be the President’s first national security meeting that includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown Jr. in his new role,” the White House said. 

Despite what he described as “dysfunction” among the GOP-led House of Representatives, Biden told reporters Wednesday “We can support Ukraine in the next tranche” of military aid. But beyond that isn’t very clear. However, he added somewhat mysteriously, “There is another means by which we may be able to find funding for that. But I’m not going to get into that now.” 

New: The U.S. gave Ukraine more than a million rounds of ammunition seized from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last December. “The munitions were being transferred from the IRGC to the Houthis in Yemen in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216,” U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday. The seized rounds were delivered to Ukraine on Monday using the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims process. CNN first reported the transfer. 

Developing: The Russian navy has pulled “the bulk of its Black Sea Fleet from its main base in occupied Crimea,” the Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove and Jared Malsin reported Wednesday. That includes the Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen frigates, three diesel submarines, five landing ships, and several small missile ships, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. 

Most were moved to Novorossiysk, which is a Russian port on the Black Sea. “Other vessels, including a large landing ship, a number of small missile ships and new minesweepers were moved to the port of Feodosiya, farther east along the Crimean Peninsula,” the Journal reports. 

The moves follow weeks of strikes from Ukrainian forces on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters, as well as missile attacks on a Russian submarine and a large landing vessel. Read more, here. 

In U.S. weapons sales, Spain could soon purchase four Patriot Configuration-3+ Modernized Fire Units (and associated components) for about $2.8 billion, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Wednesday. “Spain will use the PATRIOT to defend its territorial integrity and for regional stability,” DSCA said. 

Additional reading: 


Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1947, President Harry Truman delivered the first-ever televised presidential address from the White House. “An essential requirement of lasting peace is the restoration of the countries of Western Europe as free self-supporting democracies,” he said, and added, “Their most urgent need is food. If the peace should be lost because we failed to share our food with hungry people there would be no more tragic example in all history of a peace needlessly lost.”

Almost two dozen Democratic senators have serious reservations about the Biden administration’s efforts to normalize Israel-Saudi relations, which Riyadh wants to include a security guarantee. The lawmakers spelled out their concerns in a Wednesday letter that said: “A high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia—an authoritarian regime which regularly undermines U.S. interests in the region, has a deeply concerning human rights record, and has pursued an aggressive and reckless foreign policy agenda—aligns with U.S. interests.” 

The senators are trying to avoid participation in some kind of future Middle East war, especially since such security guarantees for the Saudis would require “the U.S. to deploy substantial new permanent resources to the region.” They’re also looking avoid antagonizing a new “regional arms race” by helping the Saudis develop “a civilian nuclear program, and to purchase more advanced U.S. weaponry.” 

The lawmakers also want certain protections for Palestinians, including “a commitment by Israel not to annex any or all of the West Bank; to halt settlement construction and expansion; to dismantle illegal outposts (including those that have been retroactively ‘legalized’); and to allow the natural growth of Palestinian towns, cities and population centers and the ability to travel without interference between and among contiguous Palestinian areas,” according to the letter. “These elements are essential to any sustainable peace in the Middle East and to preserving Israel’s own future as a Jewish, democratic state,” they write. 

Signatories include Foreign Relations Committee members Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Peter Welch, Tammy Baldwin, Tom Carper, Tammy Duckworth, John Fetterman, Martin Heinrich, Tim Kaine, Ben Ray Lujan, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Patty Murray, Jon Ossoff, Brian Schatz, Jeanne Shaheen, Raphael Warnock, Elizabeth Warren, and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Read over the full letter (PDF), here. 

New: The Biden administration is building portions of a border wall in South Texas, according to an announcement on the U.S. Federal Registry spotted Wednesday by the Associated Press. “Although no maps were provided in the announcement, CBP announced the project in June and began gathering public comments in August when it shared a map of the additional construction that can add up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the existing border barrier system in the area,” AP writes. 

According to Customs and Border Protection, “Congress appropriated fiscal year 2019 funds for the construction of border barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, and DHS is required to use those funds for their appropriated purpose,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday. Read more, here. 

And lastly: The legal wonks at Just Security just launched a “Trump Trials Clearinghouse,” which they promise to update as the former president’s five major cases, including four criminal trials, unfold over the coming months. 

Developing: Trump’s legal team wants to delay his classified-documents case until after the 2024 election. “Trump is facing 32 counts for violation of the Espionage Act for mishandling records as well as numerous other charges relating to obstruction of justice in blocking their return to authorities,” The Hill reminded readers Thursday. 

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