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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” former President Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, according to what appear to be leaked Kremlin documents. In the meeting on Jan. 22, 2016 attended by Putin, his spy chiefs and senior ministers, it was agreed that Trump as president of the U.S. “would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them ‘social turmoil’ in the U.S. and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position….There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier ‘non-official visits to Russian Federation territory,’” Luke Harding, Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh report for the Guardian.
The Senate yesterday passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in an effort to ban the import of products from China’s Xinjiang region. If passed by the House, the Act would create a “rebuttable presumption” assuming goods manufactured in the region are made with forced labor and therefore banned under the 1930 Tariff Act, unless otherwise certified by U.S. authorities. “Passed by unanimous consent, the bipartisan measure would shift the burden of proof to importers. The current rule bans goods if there is reasonable evidence of forced labor,” Reuters reports.
Biden is set to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House today, with both hoping to rebuild ties damaged under Trump. Reuters reporting.
Iranian negotiators involved in the indirect talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. in Vienna will not be resuming negotiations until Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office, a diplomatic source said on Wednesday. “The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran had conveyed this to European officials acting as interlocutors in the indirect U.S.-Iranian negotiations and that the current thinking is the Vienna talks will not resume before mid-August,” Reuters reporting.
The Biden administration is examining the possibility of setting up an emergency, rapid communication hotline with the Chinese government, similar to the so-called “red phone” set up between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which would allow President Biden, or his top national security officials, to immediately send encrypted phone calls or messages to President Xi Jinping and his officials, according to a U.S. official and another source familiar with early conversations about the device. The concept is still in its infancy and has yet to be formally raised with the Chinese government. Kylie Atwood reports for CNN.
A group of bipartisan Senate members have condemned Turkey’s continuing efforts to open the coastline of Varosha, Cyprus. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) were joined by 11 other Senate members in condemning Turkey’s actions in an open letter to the President Biden, where “the senators urged the Administration to utilize both bilateral and multilateral channels to pressure Turkey to halt its provocations in Varosha and to clearly articulate the consequences of Turkey’s illegal actions,” the Press Release states.
The U.S. is to evacuate Afghans who assisted the U.S. military in Afghanistan and is formally launching “Operation Allies Refuge.” “Flights out of Afghanistan for those who are already in the process of obtaining special immigrant visas (SIVs) will start in the last week of July, a senior administration official said in a statement. No further details on when the evacuations will start will be released, the statement said, citing ‘operational security.’ Officials also did not say where the Afghans would be sent,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration could house some Afghan interpreters in military bases in the U.S., while their visa applications are processed, officials have said. Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby said the Department was looking at “all options” to help the thousands of Afghan nationals seeking to emigrate due to fears of persecution from the Taliban, including the suitability of domestic and overseas facilities. Missy Ryan, Felicia Sonmez and Alex Horton report for the Washington Post.
Biden has previously told reporters that the “law doesn’t allow” Afghan translators to be evacuated to the U.S. while they wait for their visa applications to be processed, adding that this was why Biden’s administration were “asking the Congress to consider changing the law.” Analysis of how accurately Biden’s statement reflects the law is provided by Daniel Dale reporting for CNN.
Former President George W. Bush has said that ending the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is a mistake and the consequences will be “unbelievably bad.” “Bush voiced particular concern for what could happen to women and girls in Afghanistan when the U.S. troops withdraw. ‘I am afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,’ Bush said,” Kylie Atwood report for CNN.
At least 347 Afghans refugees have fled into Tajikistan over two days as Taliban fighters advance and foreign forces withdraw. State information agency Khovar, citing Tajikistan border guards, said yesterday that the refugees “fled from the Taliban to save their lives.” Al Jazeera reports.
The Afghan IT sector is being threatened by the continued conflict in the country. “As the Taliban makes sweeping gains across the country in the last two months, Afghanistan’s IT and other basic infrastructure have come under frequent attack,” Ruchi Kumar reports for Al Jazeera.
Haitian officials have accused several of the central suspects in the plot to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse’s of gathering in Florida and the Dominican Republic in the months prior to the assassination. Participants say the sessions in Florida were intended to plan a government once the president stepped down. Anatoly Kurmanaev. Frances Robles and Julie Turkewitz report for the New York Times.
The head of the Haitian presidential guard is in custody as the hunt for the masterminds behind the assassination of Moïse continues. It is not clear on what, if any, charges he is being held. “The justice [system] wants him to answer questions,” Bed-ford Claude, a Haitian prosecutor, has said. Widlore Merancourt and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
Haiti’s police chief has linked a Venezuelan businessman who owns a security company in Florida to the assassination plot. Léon Charles, head of the Haiti’s National Police, said Antonio Intriago of CTU Security travelled to Haiti numerous times as part of the plot and signed a contract while in Haiti but provided no other details and offered no evidence. DÁnica Coto and Evens Sanon report for AP.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development said yesterday that she was looking at providing more effective aid for Haiti. “We see the chaos, we see what isn’t working,” Samantha Power told a congressional hearing on the agency’s budget request. “I’ve looked into this, in part because of the recent events, to see how we would pivot now,” she said. Patricia Zengerle and Doyinsola Oladipo report for Reuters.
Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged yesterday the shortcomings in his government was to some extent to blame for protests. Canel however urged Cubans not to act with hate. “In a night time address on state television, Díaz-Canel for the first time was self critical and acknowledged that failings by the state played a role in the protests over food shortages, rising prices and other grievances,” AP reports.
Cuba has announced that customs on food, medicine and other essentials entering in country will be lifted. The announcement was made following the largest anti-government protests in Cuba in decades, however “the measure is only temporary and has been derided as ‘too little, too late’ by critics of the government,” BBC News reports.
The internet in Cuba has been turned back on, revealing scenes of the Cuban government’s crackdown on protesters. As access to the internet began to return yesterday, “images and videos circulated on social media that purported to show police officers breaking into Cubans’ homes and arresting suspected protesters. The lawyers’ group Cubalex estimates that 200 or more people have been detained or are missing,” Samantha Schmidt reports for AP.
President Biden’s administration review of former President Trump’s restrictive policies towards Cuba is still underway, according to two senior administration officials. “Biden promised in September 2020…that he would ‘try to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,’ but the review currently underway is unlikely to result in a return to the Obama-era policy of normalized relations with Havana, according to people familiar with the discussions,” Kaitlan Collins, Kate Sullivan and Natasha Bertrand report for CNN.
The review of the Trump-era Cuba policy could lead to an easing of restrictions on payments Americans can make to their families in Cuba, sources familiar with the review have said. According to the sources, whether to ease a travel ban between the United States and Cuba is also under consideration as well as whether to lift Trump’s designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Steve Holland reports for Reuters.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top general feared what former President Trump was prepared to do to remain in power after losing the 2022 election, including staging a coup or taking other illegal actions, that they discussed informal plans to stop him as well as each resigning, saying they faced a “Reichstag moment,” according to excerpts from the eagerly anticipated book, “I Alone Can Fix This,” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, Marshall Cohen and Elizabeth Stuart report for CNN.
More on “I Alone Can Fix This” by Reis Thebault for the Washington Post.
The special congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack will hold its first hearing on July 27, hearing from law enforcement officials, Democratic leaders announced yesterday. It remains unclear if Republicans will participate in the panel. “Democrats did not name any witnesses, but the panel could call law enforcement officials like Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police Department officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, all of whom attended the House vote on the panel’s creation and have been vocal about their experiences during the insurrection,” reports Nicholas Wu for POLITICO.
The National Guard’s training and maintenance will be significantly curtailed if Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a Capitol funding bill in the next few weeks to close a $521 million funding gap incurred by deploying thousands of Guard troops to the Capitol complex and D.C. following the Jan. 6 attack. “With the clock ticking to address the Guard’s looming budget crisis, Democrats have rejected the GOP’s push to narrowly target spending on the military and Capitol Police, arguing investments in hardening the Capitol to avert another attack can’t wait … Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of stuffing the package with extraneous items. They argue Congress should immediately address the time-sensitive funding needs of the Guard and Capitol law enforcement, where there is bipartisan agreement,” reports Connor O’Brien for POLITICO.
Michael Brown, President Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, the Undersecretary of Defense for acquisitions and sustainment, has withdrawn from consideration amid an investigation by the inspector general (IG) into his tenure as the head of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) which serves as an emerging technologies incubator. In Brown’s letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Brown “cited his concerns over the lengthy process of the [IG] investigation and his desire not to slow up the work of the department, but I would refer you to Mr. Brown for more comment on that,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a press briefing. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Newly unsealed court records reveal that the Trump-era Department of Justice fought to secretly obtain the records of three Washington Post journalists up until former Attorney General William Barr’s last days in office, while Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui who ordered on Tuesday for the records to be published called the Biden administration’s attempts to keep them sealed “puzzling.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s government to help Belarus weather western sanctions. The western sanctions were imposed on Belarus following Minsk’s crackdown on political opponents. “Support for Belarus against the backdrop of such stifling sanctions is on the agenda, and the government has been given instructions and it is working in this regard,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Reuters reporting.
The head of the U.K.’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, MI5 Director-General Ken McCallum, has said that the country faces growing threats from Russia, China and Iran – and that one in five counterterrorist investigations, excluding those in Northern Ireland, concern right-wing extremists. McCallum said the agency is doubling the resources it dedicates to the above countries, but did make clear that Islamist terrorism still constitutes the agency’s largest operational mission and that with the U.S. and NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan there could be new challenges. “McCallum said Wednesday that the agency faces daily threats and espionage activities that predominantly come ‘in quite varying ways from state or state-backed organizations in Russia, China or Iran’ that have to be managed alongside U.K. efforts at engagement with all three countries,” reports Stephen Fidler for the Wall Street Journal.
Ethiopia’s conflict in the northern region of Tigray is expected to heat up as Ethiopia’s prime minister signaled the end of a government ceasefire and the neighboring Amhara region said it would go on the offensive against Tigrayan forces. Reuters reporting.
The South African government has requested the deployment of around 25,000 reservist troops in response to ongoing unrest, rioting and looting following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. Jason Burke reports for the Guardian.
The foreign ministers of India and China met in Tajikistan on Wednesday to discuss their military standoff along their border. New Delhi stressed the standoff was profoundly disturbing their ties and warned that any unilateral change in the status quo by Beijing was unacceptable. AP reporting.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in hospital and may need emergency surgery, after suffering persistent hiccups for 10 days, his office has said. Bolsonaro is undergoing tests for an obstructing intestine and in a tweet, Bolsonaro said he would be “back soon, God willing.” “There have been concerns about the far-right leader’s health since he was stabbed in the intestines while campaigning in 2018,” BBC News reports.
Russia and China have circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would immediately strip the powers of High Representative Christian Schmidt of Germany who is overseeing the implementation the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, and would completely remove the position by July 31, 2022. AP reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 33.95 million and has now killed over 608,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 188.47 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.06 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.