Russian occupying forces say they have abandoned Ukraine’s Snake Island, which they’d spent months trying to reinforce amid periodic strikes by Ukrainian forces. “During the night, as a result of a successful military operation with our missile and artillery units on Snake Island, the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and probably left the island,” Ukraine’s southern military command said in a statement Thursday morning.
“Currently, Snake island is consumed by fire, explosions are bursting,” the Ukrainians added, and included a photo seeming to illustrate as much. (Find video footage of apparent Ukrainian artillery strikes, via Russia-watcher Rob Lee, here.) Russia’s military confirmed the withdrawal in a video Thursday as well.
According to Russian state-run media, “the Russian military completed [its] tasks” on the island and withdrew “as a gesture of good will,” and not—as Kyiv insists—because they were attacked by Ukrainian forces, possibly operating near the coast and with new weapons provided by western allies.
Why it matters: Russia’s retreat from the island could erode its Black Sea naval blockade. That blockade has halted food and grain exports across Ukraine, including from the key port city of Odesa, “which is critical for Ukraine’s economy and for the global food supply,” Lee tweeted.
By the way, Russia “exported 80% more [wheat] in April compared with a year earlier, or 3.5 million metric tons,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing data from commodity-research firm AgFlow, which seems to suggest the impact of a coming “global food crisis” may be less damaging than estimated just weeks ago. However and in stark contrast with Russia, Ukraine is bracing for a 50% reduction in this year’s harvests because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The Financial Times has more on Russia’s apparent grain smuggling, via Planet satellite imagery, here.
POTUS46 today addressed the other big consequence of this invasion: “The reason why gas prices are up is Russia—Russia, Russia, Russia,” President Joe Biden said Thursday at the close of NATO’s annual summit, held this year in Madrid. (Find the obligatory leader photo here.) Watch Biden elaborate somewhat in a clip posted to Twitter by CBS News, here.
Coverage continues below…
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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. 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 25 years ago, the Brits transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong to the Chinese, ending 156 years of British rule. China’s autocratic leader Xi Jinping is visiting the city today; the BBC has more on that visit, here.
Coming soon: $800 million in new U.S. weapons to Ukraine, Biden said Thursday. That is expected to include air defense systems, artillery, radars, and HIMARS ammunition, all of which should be more formally announced “in the next few days,” according to the president.
Need a succinct big-picture war review? The Congressional Research Service just published a two-page summary of “Ukrainian Military Performance and Outlook” on Wednesday. Find a link via its author, Andrew Bowen, on Twitter, here.
Bowen’s TLDR: Ukrainian Armed Forces, or UAF, have executed “admirably against overwhelming odds. However, personnel sustainment and maintenance of increasingly Western equipment will be crucial for the UAF going forward…while most attention is on advanced artillery systems from the West, the UAF needs continued support in other critical areas such as communications, logistics (especially ammunition), medical support, and intelligence.”
Ukraine and Russia just carried out a prisoner exchange involving 144 Ukrainian soldiers who had been captured after the fall of Mariupol. “This is the largest exchange since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion,” Ukrainian intelligence officials said afterward. Most have serious injuries, and the oldest is 65 years old, the youngest just 19.
For what it’s worth, India has been buying post-invasion Russian gas using the Chinese yuan currency, which Reuters reported Wednesday could help blunt western sanctions “and bolster Beijing’s push to further internationalize the currency and chip away at the dominance of the U.S. dollar in global trade.”
- “25,000 of Vladimir Putin’s troops killed in Ukraine, says UK Defence Secretary,” via UK’s Evening Standard, reporting Wednesday;
- “Those 300,000 high-readiness NATO troops? ‘Concept,’ not reality,” via the Washington Post, reporting Wednesday;
- “Russia and China slam NATO after alliance raises alarm,” via AP, reporting Thursday from Madrid;
- “Russia’s Medvedev says sanctions could be justification for war,” via Reuters, reporting Thursday;
- “Deadly Mariupol theatre strike ‘a clear war crime’ by Russian forces,” via a new analysis from conflict and human rights researchers at Amnesty International;
- “Pope implicitly accuses Russia of aggression, imperialism in Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Thursday from Vatican City;
- And “Putin: Western leaders would look ‘disgusting’ topless,” via the Associated Press, reporting Thursday from Putin’s visit with regional leaders in Turkmenistan, where he maintained what you might call exaggerated social distancing, as illustrated in this photo.
Greece is on the verge of asking to buy 20 F-35s from the U.S., Reuters reports from Athens. “The relevant document has been signed,” a defense source said, noting Greek officials—provided everything happens as envisioned—are anticipating delivery as soon as 2027.
The military in Athens “also wants to proceed with the upgrade of F-16 fighter jets,” Reuters writes, which is the airframe Turkey is left to pursue since being ejected from the U.S. F-35 program after purchasing an air defense system from Russia against the wishes of Ankara’s NATO allies.
POTUS46: “We should sell [Turkey] the F-16 jets and modernize those jets as well,” President Biden said Thursday in Spain. “It’s not in our interest not to do that. I’ve not changed my position. And there was no quid pro quo for that,” he told reporters in Madrid. “But I need Congressional approval to do that,” he said, “and I think we can do that.” More from Reuters, here.
And lastly today: NATO is opening a center focused on climate change, and it’ll be located in Montreal, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported Thursday at the close of this year’s NATO summit. (Canada will also host another new NATO research center focused on innovation in defense systems acquisition, according to Canada’s Global News.)
NATO’s “Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence,” is what the new facility will be called. According to Canadian officials, the new center “will be a platform through which both military actors and civilians will develop, enhance and share knowledge on climate change security impacts. It will also allow participants to work together to build required capabilities and best practices and contribute to NATO’s goal of reducing the climate impact of our military activities.” A bit more, here.
Related reading: “Scientists Warn of ‘Significant’ Climate Effects of Frequent Space Launches,” via Vice news, reporting back in mid-May.