Zelensky makes personal appeal to Speaker Mike Johnson while warning Ukraine will lose without US help

ZELENSKY: ‘WE NEED HELP NOW’: Desperate for ammunition for his battle-weary troops, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reached out yesterday to the one man with the power to throw him a lifeline, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who, bowing to the wishes of out-of-office former President Donald Trump, has blocked a vote on a $60 billion aid measure that enjoys wide bipartisan support.

“I briefed Speaker Johnson on the battlefield situation, specifically the dramatic increase in Russia’s air terror. Last week alone, 190 missiles, 140 ‘Shahed’ drones, and 700 guided aerial bombs were launched at Ukrainian cities and communities. Ukraine’s largest hydroelectric power plant has gone offline. In this situation, quick passage of US aid to Ukraine by Congress is vital,” Zelensky posted on X.

“We recognize that there are differing views in the House of Representatives on how to proceed, but the key is to keep the issue of aid to Ukraine as a unifying factor,” Zelensky said, being careful to preface his message with profuse thanks to Johnson, both Democrats and Republicans, the American people, and President Joe Biden for their critical support of Ukraine.

In an interview that aired yesterday, Zelensky told CBS senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata that despite the ammunition rationing of the past few months, Ukraine has succeeded in blunting Russian advances for now.

“​​It is better than it used to be two or three months ago when we had a big deficit of artillery ammunition, different kinds of weapons,” he said. “We totally didn’t see the big, huge counteroffensive from Russia. … They didn’t have success.”

When D’Agata asked if Ukraine would lose without American support, Zelensky replied, “It’s true,” but he said worse than losing territory would be to lose the people who live on that territory who would lose their freedom under Russian rule. “People, honestly speaking,” are more important.

ZELENSKY BRIEFS SPEAKER JOHNSON AS CONGRESS STRUGGLES TO FIND PATH FORWARD ON UKRAINE AID

ISW: RUSSIA LIKELY TO EXPLOIT UKRAINIAN AMMUNITION SHORTAGE: “Ukraine is currently preventing Russian forces from making significant tactical gains along the entire frontline,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said last night in its latest battlefield assessment. “But continued delays in US security assistance will likely expand the threat of Russian operational success, including in non-linear and possibly exponential ways.”

Russian forces will likely continue to maintain the tempo of their offensive operations through spring 2024 regardless of difficult weather and terrain conditions in order to exploit Ukrainian materiel shortages,” the ISW said, warning that “pervasive shortages” are increasing the risk of a Russian breakthrough in “less-well-provisioned” sections of front lines and making the entire front line “more fragile.”

Zelensky told CBS he suspects Russia is gearing up for another big push around the end of May or in June. “We not only need to prepare, we not only need to stabilize the situation, because the partners are sometimes really happy that we have stabilized the situation,” Zelensky said “I say we need help now.”

JOHNSON’S POLITICAL DILEMMA: For Johnson to come to Ukraine’s rescue, Democrats may have to come to his rescue. The House speaker has expressed support for Ukraine, even as he has blocked the vote that would start the aid flowing again.

“We’ll turn our attention to it, and we won’t delay on that,” Johnson said when the House left for a two-week spring break recess. But Johnson suggested he would prefer the House craft its own version of an aid bill rather than simply pass the $95 billion Senate supplemental, which has money for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. He’s also raised the possibility of splitting the funding for Ukraine and Israel into separate votes in order to appease factions of members who support one but not the other. 

The problem is there are not enough Republican votes for any option and relying on Democrats puts his job in jeopardy.

Johnson also has a legislative sword of Damocles hanging over him in the form of a motion to vacate the chair that Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is using to threaten his speakership. “He should not bring funding for Ukraine,” Greene told reporters after she filed the motion.

All of the options have drawbacks. Suspending the rules to allow a vote on the Senate measure would require a two-thirds majority, 290 of the current 431 members. Even passing a House bill with a simple majority of 216 would require Democratic support, along with Democratic votes to save his speakership.

In his CBS interview, Zelensky made the same argument many pro-Ukrainian Republicans in Congress are making, that most of the $60 billion in aid for Ukraine will go to U.S. defense contractors.

“Let’s be honest: The money which is allocated by the Congress by the administration, in the majority of cases, 80% of this money — well, at least more than 75% — stays in the U.S.,” Zelensky said. “This ammunition is coming to us, but the production is taking place there and the money stays in the U.S. and the taxes are staying in the U.S.”

JOHNSON PROMISED DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT IN OUSTER FIGHT IF HE PUTS UKRAINE LOAN ON FLOOR

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DID PUTIN JUST THREATEN WAR WITH NATO? During a visit to a training base for Russian pilots this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the arrival of Ukrainian F-16s as inconsequential but at the same time seemed to suggest Russia would consider attacking any planes based in nearby NATO countries.

“This will not change the situation on the battlefield. We will destroy their aircraft just like we are now destroying their tanks, armored vehicles, and other equipment, including multiple launch rocket systems,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript. “Of course, we would see them as legitimate targets if they operate from the airfields of third countries.”

“F-16 aircraft can also carry nuclear weapons, and we will also have to heed this while organizing our combat operations,” Putin said. But when asked about Russian defense spending, Putin suggested war with NATO and the U.S. would be futile, noting the Pentagon’s budget is 10 times what Russia spends.

“The United States’s defense spending amounts to about 40% of the global figure, or more precisely, 39%, while Russia accounts for 3.5%,” Putin said. “Considering this difference, are we planning to fight NATO? This is nonsense.”

RUSSIANS: ‘PRETTY GOOD MANURE SALESMEN’: In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby had some choice words in response to Putin’s allegation that the U.S. and Ukraine played some part in the terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall that killed 143 people last week and wounded 80 others.

“I want to just take a moment to respond to the bull,” Kirby said, before stopping himself and substituting another eight-letter word, “the nonsense and the propaganda that we’ve been seeing coming from the Kremlin.”

“It’s abundantly clear that ISIS was solely responsible for the horrific terrorist attack in Moscow last week,” Kirby said. “In fact, the United States tried to help prevent this terrorist attack, and the Kremlin knows this. In advance of the March 22 attack, the United States government provided clear, detailed information to Russian authorities regarding the terrorist threat against large gatherings and concerts in Moscow.

“It reminds me of something my uncle used to say. He had a small farm and raised a few cattle in a place near Ocala, Florida. He used to say that the best manure salesmen often carried their samples in their mouths. Russian officials seem to be pretty good manure salesmen.”

RUSSIA PAYING EUROPEAN UNION POLITICIANS FOR INFLUENCE

BROWN STEPS IN IT: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. sparked a minor controversy when he told reporters at a Defense Writers Group event yesterday that the U.S. hasn’t given Israel every weapon it has asked for in its battle against Hamas in Gaza.

“Although we’ve been supporting them with capability, they’ve not received everything they’ve asked for,” Brown said. “Some of that is because they’ve asked for stuff that we either don’t have the capacity to provide or not willing to provide, not right now.”

The offhand comment got lots of play, especially in the Israel press, coming as it did after the U.S. declined to veto a United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza without condemning Hamas.

The kerfuffle prompted a spokesman for the chairman to issue what’s known as a “what the general meant to say” statement.

“Gen. Brown’s comments earlier today regarding providing military capability to Israel were solely in reference to a standard practice before providing military aid to any of our allies and partners. We assess U.S. stockpiles and any possible impact on our own readiness to determine our ability to provide the requested aid,” said Navy Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesman for Brown. “There is no change in U.S. policy. The United States continues to provide security assistance to our ally Israel as they defend themselves from Hamas.”

US EXPECTS ISRAEL TO HOLD OFF ON RAFAH UNTIL AFTER RESCHEDULED MEETING

THE RUNDOWN: 

Washington Examiner: Zelensky briefs Speaker Johnson as Congress struggles to find path forward on Ukraine aid

Washington Examiner: Russia paying European Union politicians for influence

Washington Examiner: US expects Israel to hold off on Rafah until after rescheduled meeting

Washington Examiner: House Republicans accuse Biden of ‘undermining’ Israel after UN ceasefire resolution passes

Washington Examiner: Xi Jinping woos Western businesses while spy agency airs warnings

Washington Examiner: Two Army Apache helicopters crash within 48 hours of each other

Washington Examiner: Cargo ship had engine maintenance in port before it collided with Baltimore bridge, officials say

Washington Examiner: House GOP to deliver Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate on April 10

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Biden needs to pressure Mexico into helping to stop illegal immigration

CBS News: Ukraine’s Zelensky warns Putin will push Russia’s war “very quickly” onto NATO soil if he’s not stopped

Defense One: Giving ATACMS To Ukraine No Longer As Risky, Says Joint Chiefs Chairman 

AP: Putin says he won’t start a war with NATO. But Western bases hosting Ukraine F-16s would be targets

Politico: DOD in Early Talks to Fund a Peacekeeping Force in Gaza

Bloomberg: U.S. Wants More Detail On Israel’s Rafah Attack Plan, General Says

Military Times: US Leaders Promise Security for Gaza Dock Mission amid Threat Concerns

Wall Street Journal: Gaza Talks Threaten Netanyahu’s Future

Stars and Stripes: Houthi Drones Target Navy, Coalition Ships In Red Sea A Second Day

Bloomberg: Russian Navy Enters Warship-Crowded Red Sea Amid Houthi Attacks

Inside Defense: CENTCOM’s Unfunded Priorities List Seeks $362M for Counter-Drone Mission, $44M for Maven

Air & Space Forces Magazine: CSAF: Without Unfunded Priorities Money, Air Force Readiness Will Suffer

Defense One: Sentinel Flight Test Delayed More Than Two Years

Defense News: Northrop Says Air Force Design Changes Drove Higher Sentinel ICBM Cost

Air & Space Forces Magazine: INDOPACOM Boss: China ‘Soon to Be World’s Largest Air Force’

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Advancing in Space, China Poses Growing Threat, USSF Leaders Warn

Aviation Week: UK RAF Seeking More Advanced Autonomous Collaborative Platforms

Breaking Defense: Hermeus Rolls Out New Uncrewed Aircraft as Company Edges Toward Goal of Hypersonic Flight

The War Zone: How Marine MQ-9s Will Adapt for a Pacific Fight, Pave Way for Future Drones

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Brown Endorses Air Force Re-Optimization: ‘The Right Thing to Do’

Breaking Defense: US Joins Austria, Bahrain, Canada, & Portugal to Co-Lead Global Push for Safer Military AI

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Space Force Aims to Bring In Full-Time Reservists This Summer, Saltzman Says

DefenseScoop: New DOD Strategy Aims to Improve Contractors’ Cybersecurity, Resiliency

Military.com: Troops Still Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep, and the Defense Department Isn’t Taking Responsibility, Watchdog Says

Dayton Daily News: National Air Force Museum Prepares Eclipse Event for Up to 30K

The Cipher Brief: Houthi Red Sea Attacks and the Impact on the Global Order

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: Moscow Terror Shows an ISIS Resurgence that Should Worry the U.S.

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: AI-Powered Adversaries are Gearing Up to Undermine Elections

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: In Gaza Ceasefire Talks, A Lesson from Yemen

THE CALENDAR: 

FRIDAY | MARCH 29

2 p.m. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies book discussion: Living U.S.-China Relations: From Cold War to Cold War, with author David Lampton, director of China studies at SAIS https://sais.jhu.edu/campus-events

MONDAY | APRIL 1

April Fools Day — Be extra skeptical today! Daily on Defense goes on spring break vacation for two weeks.

TUESDAY | APRIL 2

2 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Brookings Institution in-person and virtual discussion: “Nuclear challenges for the next U.S. administration,” with Robert Einhorn, senior fellow, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, Brookings; Amy Nelson, fellow, Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings; Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow, and Director, Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings; Caitlin Talmadge, nonresident senior fellow, Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings; and Melanie Sisson, fellow, Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/events/nuclear-challenges

WEDNESDAY | APRIL 3

6 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses reporters in “doorstep comments” at the stat of the meeting of foreign ministers at NATO Headquarters April 3-4 https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news Full agenda here

7:30 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken deliver remarks https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news

7:45 a.m. 2425 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia — Association of the U.S. Army “Coffee Series” in-person discussion, with Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo https://www.ausa.org/events/coffee-series/camarillo

8 a.m. 2401 M St. NW — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group breakfast discussion with Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander, Air Forces U.S. Central Command. RSVP: [email protected]

9:30 a.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW — American Enterprise Institute in-person and virtual discussion: “The Navy’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request,” with Assistant Navy Secretary Russell Rumbaugh and Todd Harrison, AEI senior fellow https://www.aei.org/events/the-navys-fiscal-year-2025-budget-request

11:45 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference at the end of day one of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news

THURSDAY | APRIL 4

4 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — NATO’s 75th Anniversary Celebration with speeches by the NATO secretary-general; chairman of NATO the Military Committee; and foreign ministers from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Belgium https://www.nato.int

5:30 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — Remarks by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba https://www.nato.int

11:25 a.m. EDT Brussels, Belgium — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference at the close of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters https://www.nato.int

THURSDAY | APRIL 11

TBA House Chamber — House of Representatives holds a joint meeting with the Senate to receive an address from Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida 

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