Early Edition: April 16, 2021

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news:

RUSSIA

Russia is weighing how to respond to the punitive actions the Biden administration announced Thursday, including a raft of new sanctions and the planned expulsion of Russian diplomats. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden “saw eye to eye” on the need to de-escalate tensions in U.S.-Russia relations, but “our U.S. counterparts’ liking for sanctions remains unacceptable.” Robyn Dixon reports for the Washington Post

As it unveiled new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, the Biden administration made public that the U.S. Intelligence Community had “low to moderate confidence” in reports last year that Russian spies were offering the Taliban bounties for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. A senior administration official told reporters the level of confidence is “based in part on detainee reporting and because of the difficult operating environment in Afghanistan.” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian

The sanctions announcement also included the eye-catching statement that Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate and ex-employee of Paul Manafort, “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” during the 2016 election. This was “an apparently definitive statement that neither Special Counsel Robert Mueller nor the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation made in their final reports,” Justin Hendrix writes for Just Security

CORONAVIRUS

The CDC has identified approximately 5,800 cases of Covid-19 among more than 66 million Americans who have completed a full course of vaccination, representing 0.008% of the fully vaccinated population. Robbie Whelan reports for the Wall Street Journal

The CEO of Pfizer said Thursday that people will “likely” need a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated. Berkeley Lovelace Jr. reports for CNBC

In Brazil, there are reports of health workers forced to intubate patients without the aid of sedatives, as a brutal COVID outbreak floods hospitals with critically ill patients. Diane Jeantet and David Biller report for the AP

COVID-19 infections surged to a new daily record in India on Thursday, with 200,000 cases reported. Sachin Ravikumar and Neha Arora report for Reuters

An Indian vaccine maker asked Biden on Twitter to lift the U.S. embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make vaccines. The request came from the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a critical supplier of the U.N.-backed COVAX facility. Aniruddha Ghosal reports for the AP

In the United States, it is a mixed picture as some areas see the pandemic beginning to ease while other regions are experiencing new surges in hospitalizations. “The national statistics don’t capture the intensity of the coronavirus emergency in the hotspots,” Joel Achenbach and Jacqueline Dupree report for the Washington Post.

With its vaccination rollout going slowly as infections surge, Iran has signed a contract for 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post. 

IRAN

Iran has started enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest level ever and a step toward the 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear bomb. Jon Gambrell reports for the AP

Nuclear talks resumed in Vienna on Thursday, with senior diplomats from Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia meeting, while senior American officials stayed in a nearby hotel, because the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times

HONG KONG

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was one of nine pro-democracy leaders sentenced to jail terms Friday after being found guilty of organizing and participating in protests in 2019. A Hong Kong court sentenced Lai to 12 months in prison. “The verdict comes as the mainland is increasingly cracking down on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms,” BBC News reports

On Thursday, Hong Kong’s police debuted the goose step, “the locked-knee marching style of the Chinese military, a departure from the bent-knee British-style long the norm in the former colony,” another sign the city is firmly under Beijing’s control. John Lyons reports for the Wall Street Journal

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

The Biden administration is in the final stages of vetting Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China. Hans Nichols reports for Axios

By unanimous voice vote on Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed Biden’s choice of Samantha Power to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development. Her nomination will now go to the full Senate for consideration. Reuters reports

The White House announced a number of nominations for senior State Department positions on Thursday, including the president’s intent to nominate nine diplomats for ambassadorships. Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood, and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.  

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK

The Justice Department claims a “quick reaction force” of armed supporters of President Donald Trump were waiting for orders just outside of Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. In federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Nestler said people affiliated with the Oath Keepers militia group “were in Ballston, monitoring what was happening at the Capitol and prepared to come into D.C. and ferry these weapons into the ground team that Kenneth Harrelson was running at a moment’s notice, if anyone said the word.” Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post

The Capitol Police inspector general told lawmakers Thursday that an order to hold back heavy riot-control weapons left the police at a serious disadvantage on Jan. 6. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

Another mass shooting took place in the United States Thursday night, this time at a FedEx facility near Indianapolis’ main airport, where a gunman killed eight people. The motive for the shooting is not immediately known and it’s believed the shooter killed himself when police arrived on the scene. It was “the country’s deadliest mass shooting since 10 people were killed March 22 in a grocery shooting in Colorado,” Jason Hanna, Alta Spells, and Madeline Holcombe report for CNN

Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will present a united front on Taiwan in a summit meeting today. David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt report for Reuters

Raúl Castro is expected to step down as first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party, the country’s most powerful role, when it meets this weekend in Havana. Anthony Faiola reports for the Washington Post

Recovered from the pandemic, China’s economy grew more than 18 percent in the first quarter this year. Jonathan Cheng reports for the Wall Street Journal

In Myanmar, the politicians ousted from power by the military in February, have formed a “shadow government,” and announced its leaders on Friday. Leading this government is Aung San Suu Kyi. AFP reports

Mark Lowcock, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council on Thursday that the U.N. hasn’t seen any proof that soldiers from Eritrea – accused of massacres and killings in the Tigray region of Ethiopia – have withdrawn. “To be very clear: the conflict is not over and things are not improving,” he said. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters

The French Parliament passed a controversial security bill on Thursday despite deep criticism from French journalist unions and civil liberties and human rights groups, Aurelien Breeden reports for the New York Times. Auriane Dirou analyzed the proposed law for Just Security

The Defense Department has confirmed that photos and video of “unidentified aerial phenomena” taken by Navy personnel in 2019 are indeed legitimate images of unexplained objects. Chandelis Duster reports for CNN.  

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).