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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
POLAND-BELARUS BORDER CRISIS
E.U. foreign ministers have imposed new sanctions against the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, specifically against “individuals and entities organizing or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the E.U.’s external borders.” These sanctions follow previous sanctions against Lukashenko himself for engaging in election fraud in claiming reelection victory in August as well as harshly suppressing dissent in the aftermath of such election. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
The E.U. has said that “there is no question of negotiating with the Lukashenko regime” over the plight of migrants at Belarus’s border with the E.U. The European Commission spokesperson said that the E.U. was currently focussed on getting aid to those stuck at the border and repatriating them. Reuters reports.
The number of migrants camped out on the Belarusian side of Poland’s eastern border has fallen, in a tentative sign of a de-escalation in the standoff between the E.U. and Belarus. “Officials from Poland’s Interior Ministry say Belarusian officials have sent buses to collect people from the sprawling tent city along Poland’s border. Belarusian officials confirmed that they provided buses to move some migrants away from the border and would be giving them shelter in warehouses,” Natalia Ojewska reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Hundreds of Iraqis who have camped for weeks at Belarus’s borders with the E.U. checked in for a flight back to Iraq on Thursday, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has said. Charlotte Bruneau reports for Reuters.
Just Security has published a piece on the crisis by Aurel Sari and Ben Hudson: “Stirring Trouble at the Border: Is Belarus in Violation of International Law?”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has imposed sanctions on 28 employees of Russia’s special services. The individuals will be banned for three years from using their assets in Ukraine, transferring capital, transiting goods or taking part in privatization auctions, according to the decree published on the presidential website. Reuters reports.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Russia of not engaging in the four-way peace talks on the war in eastern Ukraine, and trying to wreck the process by publishing confidential diplomatic correspondence. The Russian Foreign Ministry published on Wednesday a number of diplomatic letters it exchanged with Germany and France to try to show that its diplomatic stance on talks over east Ukraine has been misrepresented. “By its actions, Russia simply finishes off the Normandy format, demonstrates that it is not interested in its development, and of course undermines [Russia’s] remaining credibility,” Kuleba said in a televised briefing. Reuters reports.
A Russian internet entrepreneur has ended a four-year legal battle against Buzzfeed that was initiated in response to Buzzfeed’s publication of the Steele dossier. A similar defamation suit made by three other Russian tycoons remains on appeal after being dismissed by a New York judge in March. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
Sudanese security forces killed at least fifteen protestors and wounded many others yesterday after firing into crowds demonstrating against the Oct. 25 military coup in the capital city of Khartoum. This bloodshed comes in the wake of possible signs of progress in Sudan as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee met with Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Sudanese army chief, and Abdalla Hamdok, the detained civilian prime minister. Abdi Latif Dahir, Declan Walsh and Rick Gladstone report for the New York Times.
Sudan’s Finance Minister has said that it is “unrealistic” for the nation to return to its pre-coup transitional government, after the military seized control of the country last month. Gibreil Ibrahim, the finance minister of the deposed Sudanese government, told AP that instead negotiations have focused on convincing the country’s deposed prime minister to lead a technocratic Cabinet that runs day-to-day affairs. Ibrahim said however that time is running out for Hamdok, who is currently under house arrest, to take a post in the military-led government. Fay Abuelgasim and Samy Magdy report for AP.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has criticized Western efforts to end the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and claimed that unnamed enemies were engaging in a “sophisticated narrative war.” The comments appeared to be a response to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent comments on the conflict. Speaking to reporters after meeting with officials in Kenya, Blinken said the war in Ethiopia “needs to stop,” calling on both sides to enter talks without preconditions, and warned that there would be consequences for what he called “atrocities” in Ethiopia. Michael Crowley and Declan Walsh report for the New York Times.
The death toll of a weekend attack against a gendarmerie post in northern Burkina Faso has risen to at least 53, up from a previous estimate of 32. Al Jazeera reports.
The Speaker of Libya’s Parliament, Aguila Saleh, has announced his intention to run for president, joining Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator, and Khalif Haftar, a powerful military commander. Both Gaddafi and Haftar have been accused of war crimes. Al Jazeera reports.
Ten people were found dead in the lower deck of a severely overcrowded wooden boat less than 30 miles off the coast of Libya, Doctors Without Borders has reported. According to survivors the deaths were due to suffocation after having spent 13 hours on the cramped lower deck, where there had been a strong smell of fuel. Lorenzo Tondo reports for the Guardian.
American, British, and Australian officials have warned that hackers linked to the government of Iran are targeting critical sectors of the U.S. economy, including transportation, healthcare and public health. Al Jazeera reports.
Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60%, a level considered highly enriched and close to the 90% required for nuclear weapon development capabilities, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported. Kiyoko Metzler reports for AP.
President Biden will meet today with his counterparts Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a trilateral summit designed to rebuild trust between the three countries and also make headway on policy issues such as migration, trade, and regional economic recovery. Sabrina Rodriguez and Andy Blatchford report for POLITICO.
The vice Foriegn Ministers of Japan and South Korea pulled out of a joint press conference yesterday with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, after a disagreement over the Takeshima/Dokdo islands, which are administered by South Korea but claimed by Japan. The joint news conference was scheduled to follow a trilateral meeting between the three countries where regional tensions, including Chinese military activity in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, were discussed. Sherman however took questions alone, saying that “there are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that are continuing to be resolved,” but that the cancellation of the joint news conference was not related to the earlier trilateral meeting, which Sherman described as “constructive and substantive.” Justin McCurry reports for the Guardian.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that the Pentagon “must work harder” to reduce the civilian casualties that come from U.S. airstrikes and to reveal more information to the public about such military operations. Austin made the comments in response to the release of a report by The New York Times that detailed a 2019 U.S. airstrike in Syria that killed as many as 70 civilians, including dozens of women and children. The civilian casualties, one of the largest incidents in the war against ISIS, were not included in annual civilian casualty reports to Congress in 2019 or 2020. “Austin told reporters that the Defense Department is in the midst of two reviews that will scrutinize how it conducts airstrikes and assesses their potential harm to civilians. He also committed to adjusting Pentagon policies and procedures ‘to make sure that we improve,’” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The National Security Council (NSC) has sought to clarify that the U.S. will aim to have “conversations” with China about arms control, rather than “formal talks.” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said that President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed this week to “look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability,” emphasizing the differences between these discussions and those that have gone on between the U.S. and Russia for decades. “These are not arms control talks but rather conversations with empowered interlocutors,” an NSC spokesperson said of the discussions between the U.S. and China. Reuters reports.
China’s hypersonic missile test from the summer went “around the world,” Gen. John Hyten, outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said. The missle “went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, that impacted the target in China,” Hyten told CBS News. Hyten also said that he is “very concerned” about China’s military buildup. CBS News reports.
Taiwan has opened a de facto embassy in Lithuania, in a diplomatic breakthrough for the island and brushing aside strong opposition from China to the move. Reuters reports.
The Philippines warned China to “back off” after three Chinese ships fired water cannons at two Filipino supply boats within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Al Jazeera reports.
The U.N. envoy for Afghanistan has told the U.N. Security Council that the country is on the brink of a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Deborah Lyons pointed to food scarcity and Afghanistan’s collapsing economy, and warned that extremism could arise in Afghanistan due to the current conditions. Lyons said that the regional and global community must continue to help Afghanistan as it heads into the winter. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
The Taliban is asking the U.S. Congress to ease sanctions and release Afghanistan’s assets. The Taliban’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi posted an open letter addressed to U.S. lawmakers online saying, “American sanctions have not only played havoc with trade and business, but also with humanitarian assistance.” “Currently the fundamental challenge of our people is financial security and the roots of this concern lead back to the freezing of assets of our people by the American government,” the letter added. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
The last group of Afghan refugees housed at the Fort Lee military base in Virginia has been resettled, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced. “Overall, more 25,000 evacuees have been resettled as of Wednesday, DHS said, while a remaining 45,000 await resettlement at seven additional bases in Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A Greek trial for two dozen aid workers accused of espionage for their role in assisting migrants who arrived in Greece between 2016 and 2018 begins today. The conservative government in Greece, in line with an increasingly hostile climate in Europe towards migrants, is toughening its stance on migration and has indicated that it intends to avoid any repeat of the 2015-2016 crisis in which thousands of migrants arrived in Greece daily. Niki Kitsantonis reports for the New York Times.
British police have indicated that Emas Al Swealmeen, the man who set off an explosive device in a taxi outside of a Liverpool hospital earlier this week, had been purchasing components for the device for months. Al Swealmeen was the only person killed in the attack. Although the attack is being treated as an act of terrorism, Al Swealmeen’s exact motivations remain unclear. Megan Specia reports for the New York Times.
Mexico is sending at least 1,500 National Guard troops to Cancun following a rise in violence in the state of Quintana Roo, in the southeastern corner of the country. The announcement follows a rise in gang shootings in the area, including a Nov. 5 gang shooting at Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun, and a shootout in Tulum, close to Cancuun, on Oct. 20 which resulted in the deaths of an Indian woman and a German man. Reuters reports.
A British F-35, one of the newest stealth fighter jets in the U.K. military, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea yesterday morning during routine flight operations, the U.K. Defense Ministry has said. The pilot ejected and was returned safely to the ship, and an investigation of the incident has begun, the ministry said. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
Pakistan has passed new anti-rape legislation under which sex offenders convicted of multiple rapes could face chemical castration. The bill, which comes in response to a mass public outcry over a recent surge in rapes against women and children in the country, also states that Pakistan’s government must establish special courts nationwide to expedite rape trials and ensure sexual abuse cases are decided “expeditiously, preferably within four months.” Sophia Saifi reports for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former White House strategist Stephen Bannon moved to plead not guilty yesterday to criminal contempt of Congress charges, after Bannon failed to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Bannon was expected to plead not guilty at the arraignment scheduled for today, but his lawyers yesterday filed a motion to enter the not guilty plea and skip the arraignment. Rebecca Beitsch and Harper Neidig report for The Hill.
The federal judge presiding over Bannon’s criminal case, Judge Carl Nichols, has previously argued in court that presidential advisers should have absolute immunity against congressional subpoenas. However, Nichols’s track record on criminal cases pertaining to the Jan. 6 attack is largely consistent with rulings from other judges, and he has been critical of defendants involved in the attacks. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
Jacob Chansley, more commonly known as the QAnon Shaman, was sentenced to 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to a single felony count of obstructing an official proceeding before Congress. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges against Chansley at the conclusion of Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. Chansley originally faced six charges and a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, though the 41-month sentence is still the longest sentence for any individual prosecuted in connection with the attack to date. John Kruzel reports for The Hill.
REP. PAUL GOSAR
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) was formally censured by the House of Representatives yesterday for posting an animated video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and physically assaulting President Biden. The vote was largely along party lines with just two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), joining Democrats in favor of the censure. The censure of Gosar, which also resulted in him being stripped of his two committee assignments (the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee), was the first censure since 2010 and only the 24th in U.S. history. Jonathan Weisman and Catie Edmondson report for the New York Times.
Republicans lined up to denounce Gosar’s censure prior to the vote. There were accusations that the Democratic Party is “chilling debate” (Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)) and that they want to seize “totalitarian control” of the country (Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA)). Several Republicans also complained that the move was taking up valuable time when the U.S. was facing more serious problems. Niall Stanage reports for The Hill.
Ocasio-Cortez urged her colleagues in an impassioned House floor speech ahead of the censure vote to make clear that they will not tolerate any lawmaker promoting depictions of political violence. “Ocasio-Cortez rejected Gosar’s claims that the video was meant to be ‘symbolic’ of the debate over immigration and accused him and other Republicans of engaging in ‘nihilism’ that ‘conveys and betrays a certain contempt for the meaning and importance of our work here,’” Christina Marcos reports for The Hill.
The resolution to censure Gosar can be read on CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Senate advanced its version of the National Defense Authorization Act late last night after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) agreed to pursue separate legislation intended to improve U.S. competitiveness against China. Schumer has previously sought to unilaterally attach China legislation to the annual defense policy bill. Andrew Desiderio, Marianne Levine and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
The jury in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse will proceed with its third day of deliberations today. Michael Tarm, Scott Bauer, and Amy Forliti report for the Associated Press.
Defense attorneys for Rittenhouse asked the judge yesterday to declare a mistrial, arguing that the defense did not receive the same quality of a key drone video as the prosecution. Judge Bruce Schroeder did not immediately rule on the new mistrial request. Maya Yang reports for the Guardian.
Three MS-13 gang members were convicted of murder and racketeering charges yesterday at a federal court in New Jersey. The three El Salvadoran men committed the crimes related to murder, drug trafficking, witness tampering and extortion from September 2014 to October 2015, the Department of Justice press release stated. Brad Dress reports for The Hill.
Days after President Biden told world leaders at the COP26 climate summit that his administration is committed to slowing climate change with “action, and not words,” his Interior Department oversaw one of the largest oil and gas lease sales in U.S. history. The lease of eighty million acres of the Gulf of Mexico was put up for auction yesterday, wth environmentalists decrying the action. “Energy companies, led by Exxon Mobil Corp., only placed bids on a total of 1.7 million acres, and it’s unclear how much of that will later be developed,” Nathan Rott reports for NPR.
The U.S. recorded its highest number of drug-overdose deaths in a 12-month period, surpassing 100,000 for the first time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There were an estimated 100,306 drug deaths in the 12 months running through April, according to the latest CDC data. This marks a nearly 29% rise from the deaths recorded in the same period the previous year, indicating the U.S. is heading for another full-year record after drug deaths soared during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Jon Kamp and Julie Wernau report for the Wall Street Journal.
Almost entirely along party lines, Republican state lawmakers in Florida passed various pieces of legislation yesterday restricting the use of mask and vaccine mandates. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis argued that doing so was necessary to prevent overreach by the federal government. Patricia Mazzei reports for the New York Times.
China is making an example of the Chinese journalist jailed after reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, her former lawyer has said. The detention of Zhang Zhan is intended as a “warning to others,” Ren Quanniu, whose legal licence was revoked after he represented Zhang and members of the Hong Kong 12, has said. There are increasing calls from Chinese human rights lawyers and citizens for Zhang, who has been on a hunger strike for more than a year in protest at her persecution, to be released on medical grounds. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
A Defense Department official has reiterated the Pentagon’s message that it has the authority to mandate vaccines for troops in the name of medical readiness. The statements are a response to the refusal of the Oklahoma National Guard to comply with the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate. “Whether or not a governor enforces [the mandate] under his or her own authority is another matter, but [it] in no way relieves members of the National Guard from compliance with medical readiness requirements established by the secretary of defense and the secretaries of the military departments,” the official said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Covid-19 has infected over 47.42 million people and has now killed over 767,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 255.10 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.12 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.