Early Edition: April 26, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

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

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a leaked audiotape made public Sunday but from an interview in March, said that he has been forced to “sacrifice” Iran’s diplomatic affairs for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s operations, citing interference by former Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in U.S. airstrikes in January 2020, including efforts to undermine the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, London-based Iran International new reported: “Zarif said that Soleimani intervened in his meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, adding that Soleimani would never accept a demand by Zarif. ‘He would not accept to refrain from using the Iranian national airline for transportation to Syria,’ he said, possibly referring to transportation of arms and ammunition. Zarif said that under Soleimani’s pressures Iran air increased the number of its flights to Damascus six times more than usual.” Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.

Global military spending rose by 2.6% to $1.98 trillion in 2020, despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, when global GDP shrank by 4.4%, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report issued Monday: “Even though military spending rose globally, some countries explicitly reallocated part of their planned military spending to pandemic response, such as Chile and South Korea. Several others, including Brazil and Russia, spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 202,” the report said. U.S. military spending reached an estimated $778 billion in 2020, an increase of 4.4% over 2019. “The recent increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement,” said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, adding, “This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military.” Reuters reporting.

Up to 200 people have died following April 16 clashes between Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara, in the northern Amhara region, a senior official said Sunday, following previous reports that estimated around 50 deaths. Reuters reporting.

Fighting broke out in Somalia’s capital between security forces loyal to President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his extended stay in power and those that oppose his power. The clash in Mogadishu started as localized but quickly spread; whether there were casualties is unclear. BBC News reporting.

Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, along with 18 F-35B stealth fighters, two destroyers, two frigates and two support ships, will make visits to ports in Japan and South Korea, aimed at bolstering security ties in East Asia, the UK embassy in Tokyo said Monday. The flotilla of Royal Navy ships will have to sail through the contested South China Sea and will also stop in India and Singapore. “It will be joined by vessels from the United States and a frigate from the Netherlands and will carry out exercises with forces from Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, the UAE, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman and South Korea, the British government said in a news release,” reports Reuters.

The E.U. called out China for endangering peace and stability in the South China Sea and called on all parties to comply with a 2016 ruling by a five-judge tribunal constituted under the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague which rejected the majority of China’s claim to the region. Reuters reporting.

U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN

Vice President Kamala Harris was the last person in the room before President Biden made the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, she said in interview yesterday with CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” Alice Bice reports for POLITICO.

All U.S. forces are “now preparing to retrograde … officially, the notification date will be the first of May. But at the same time, as we start taking local actions, we’ve already begun that,” Army Gen. Scott Miller, commander of US Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, told reports in Kabul Sunday. The U.S. will “conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” and “ensure that the Afghan security forces are in the best possible security posture,” Miller said, adding, “we have the military means and capability to fully protect our force during retrograde, as well as support the Afghan security forces,” Miller said. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.

U.S. RELATIONS

Measures so far taken against Russia for its suspected cyberattacks on the U.S. are not enough to deter future attacks, warns Anne Neuberger, the White House’s deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, responsible for leading the White House’s response to the SolarWinds hack. “Two sources familiar with the internal investigation of the SolarWinds breach told CNN that the hackers from Russia’s SVR intelligence agency likely still maintain access to US networks despite the administration’s efforts to patch vulnerabilities that were exploited,” Alex Marquardt, Zachary Cohen and Geneva Sands report for CNN.

President Biden declared Saturday that the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a declaration that is likely to deepen tensions with Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey “entirely rejects” the accusation which is based “solely on populism.” Reuters reporting.

Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara, David Satterfield, to condemn the U.S. decision. “The statement does not have legal ground in terms of international law and has hurt the Turkish people, opening a wound that’s hard to fix in our relations,” the ministry said. John Bowden reports for The Hill.

Biden’s declaration is “simply outrageous” and “there will be a reaction of different forms and kinds and degrees in coming days and months,” said Ibrahim Kalin, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson and adviser. Reuters reporting.

ALEXEI NAVALNY

A secret court hearing in Moscow today considered a chief prosecutor’s request to ban Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s political and anti-corruption networks and designate them as extremist organizations, putting them alongside ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “The evidence to be used in the case is itself a state secret. Navalny’s attorney has been told he will get access to the file shortly beforehand, according to Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov,” reports Robyn Dixon for the Washington Post.

The headquarters of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as well as a network of nearly 40 regional offices were today ordered by the court to suspend their activities while a formal designation is considered, according to lawyers. “The suspension means that Navalny’s main political network in the country has been barred from operating ahead of parliamentary elections in September … The court also suspended a number of YouTube channels, Instagram and other social media sites associated with Navalny, stating that these websites contained extremist material and issued calls to participate in extremist activity and mass disorder,” reports Robyn Dixon for the Washington Post.

TRUMP

A GOP-backed recount of ballots from the 2020 president election in Maricopa County, Arizona, is again underway, as part of an audit into false claims that the vote was stolen from former President Trump. “After a brief pause on Friday ordered by a state court judge, the audit continues without clarity on who will do the counting, what it will cost and who will pay for the process, which is expected to last into mid-May,” Michael Wines reports for the New York Times.

The Justice Department and judges repeatedly noted last week that Trump-backed conspiracy theories and disinformation could still incite pro-Trump supporters to violence, it was revealed during court hearings where prosecutors and judges spoke on the unfounded claims made by Trump. Katelyn Polantz and Marshall Cohen report for CNN.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) further backed Trump’s response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, stating in an interview yesterday that the former president was not aware the Capitol was being stormed until McCarthy made contact, urging him to tell supporters to stop. McCarthy’s comments appear to contradict both earlier statements he made and a former Trump adviser who said the then-president was watching the riots live on television. Amy B Wang and Marianna Sotomayor report for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.07 million and now killed over 572,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 147.23 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.11 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

As India continues to hit new daily case records, the National Security Council said that the U.S. would provide vaccine materials, drugs, test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday that the department is “currently assessing the equipment we can both procure and draw from our own inventory in the coming days and weeks” to help India’s health-care workers, adding that assistance from the department will be offered to delivering supplies, including “oxygen-related equipment,” to India in the next days. Claire Parker, Paul Schemm and Sean Sullivan report for the Washington Post.

The E.U. is “ready to support” and is “pooling resources to respond rapidly to India’s request for assistance,” Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter. Mari Eccles reports for POLITICO EU.

Fully vaccinated Americans may be able to travel to the E.U. this summer, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the Times yesterday. Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports for the New York Times.

A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)