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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.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to warn him of the “serious consequences” Russia would suffer if it invaded Ukraine and to urge him to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis. Blinken met with Lavrov on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Stockholm, a day after Blinken and other NATO officials discussed a potential alliance response, including economic sanctions, to Moscow’s military buildup along its border with Ukraine. “The best way to avert the crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergei,” Blinken told reporters before going into talks with Lavrov. Humeyra Pamuk and Anna Ringstrom report for Reuters.
Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine escalated yesterday as Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded “legal guarantees” that the NATO alliance would never expand eastward, a position NATO regards as untenable. “Putin, who has increasingly portrayed Ukraine’s deepening military partnership with the United States and other NATO countries as an existential threat, said that Moscow wanted to start talks with the West to reach an agreement that would block the alliance’s expansion,” Anton Troianovski reports for the New York Times.
The Kremlin has said that the probability of a new conflict in eastern Ukraine remains high and that Moscow is concerned by “aggressive” rhetoric from Kyiv and an increase in provocative actions. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “Moscow was worried about the possibility of a Ukrainian military move in eastern Ukraine, something that Kyiv has denied planning. Peskov also said that Russia viewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s pledge to return [the] annexed Crimea as a direct threat,” Reuters reports.
Russia has said that it has arrested three suspected Ukrainian intelligence agents including one accused of planning to carry out an attack using two homemade bombs which had been smuggled over the border, allegations that Kyiv has dismissed. Reuters reports.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with the E.U.’s top diplomat Josep Borrell today to “speed up work on specific economic restrictions which will be able to hit the Russian economy should Moscow decide to launch a new stage of aggression against Ukraine,” Kuleba said in a Tweet. Reuters reports.
President Biden’s administration is working with E.U. diplomats to align strategies in the face of Beijing’s “concerning behavior,” a State Department official has said. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will meet with her European counterpart, Secretary General Stefano Sannino, in Washington today as part of the U.S. and E.U. dialogue on China. The focus of the meeting will be to preview the U.S.’s forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy, in an effort to align Washington with the E.U.’s recently released Indo-Pacific strategy. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink said on Thursday that the U.S. remains committed to helping Taiwan defend itself amid threats from China. Chinese threats toward Taiwan increase the need for the United States to help Taiwan maintain a credible self-defense, Kritenbrink said during a visit to Singapore. “We intend to live up to our obligations, our rock solid obligations and commitments,” Kritenbrink added. Reuters reports.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is to halt all of its tournaments in China because it is not satisfied that Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is safe following an allegation of sexual assault against a retired senior Chinese government official. Joshua Robinson reports for the Wall Street Journal.
China is pressuring U.S. companies to speak up against campaigns to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng on Tuesday told a video conference of U.S. business executives to “make a positive contribution” to the Games, which open in February. Christian Shepherd reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. and South Korea have said that they will update their joint wartime contingency plans for North Korea. “During a visit to Seoul, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, alongside his South Korean counterpart, approved an update to the strategic guidance used for wartime operation plans, a document that hadn’t been updated since 2010. The precise nature of the review, or what might change, wasn’t immediately disclosed,” Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are asking the Biden administration to preserve a suite of documents related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “In a letter to the White House, Pentagon and State Department, Republican members of the committee indicated an interest in a variety of issues stemming from the withdrawal, from American citizens and residents left behind in the evacuation to the U.S. military equipment now in the hands of the Taliban,” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government to restart the “Remain in Mexico” program, which originally started during former President Trump’s administration. The program requires asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed. The governments are expected to announce the agreement today, according to officials. Implementation of the program, which is expected to be similar to the previous version, is expected to begin next week in San Diego and in the Texas cities of Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso, one official said. Nick Miroff and Kevin Sieff report for the Washington Post.
Mexico has announced a joint plan with the U.S. to send development and agricultural aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, in an effort to stem the wave of migration. The joint plan did not contain any specific funding commitments, and the U.S. Agency for International Development called the plan “a new framework for development cooperation to address the root causes of irregular migration from northern Central America.” AP reports.
BELARUS AND THE E.U.
The E.U. has proposed new measures that would extend the period that Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, E.U. member states bordering Belarus, would be able to detain asylum seekers while their applications are processed. Aid groups have warned that the rule changes may undermine the ability of migrants to seek refuge in the E.U., and would leave applicants in a state of limbo in increasingly unsafe conditions. Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk report for the New York Times.
Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has said it has linked Belarus’s main security service, the KGB, to fake accounts on its social media platforms that criticized Poland during the two countries’ recent border standoff. “More than 40 Facebook accounts, five Groups, and four Instagram accounts posed as journalists and activists from the E.U., particularly Poland and Lithuania, Meta said in an announcement Wednesday. The accounts posted criticism of Poland in English, Polish, and Kurdish, including pictures and videos about Polish border guards allegedly violating migrants’ rights,” Isabelle Khurshudyan reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The nine-nation Credentials Committee of the General Assembly has deferred a decision on applications from the new Taliban government in Afghanistan and the junta ruling Myanmar to occupy seats at the U.N. The deferral by the committee effectively denies, for now and possibly through much of 2022, seats at the U.N. for the two ruling authorities. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.
Israel has urged world powers to immediately stop talks with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, citing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s announcement yesterday that Tehran has started producing enriched uranium with more advanced centrifuges. Reuters reports.
Australia has adopted Magnitsky-style sanctions rules, following the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which will facilitate sanctions against individuals accused of human rights abuses. Mike Cherney reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. is predicting that a record 274 million people will require emergency humanitarian aid next year. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in its annual overview of future needs, is projecting a 17% increase in the number of people who will need urgent assistance in 2022, highlighting countries like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria, and Yemen which face a range of challenges including war, insecurity, hunger, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Jamey Keaten reports for AP.
Uganda yesterday deployed foot soldiers inside Congolese territory, intensifying a military assault against the Islamic State-linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who are accused of attacking civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Uganda launched artillery and airstrikes on bases in eastern DRC believed to be occupied by members of the ADF on Tuesday. The ongoing assault on the ADF by Uganda has the blessing of Congolese authorities, and has been described by Uganda as a joint effort with the DRC. Rodney Muhumuza reports for AP.
Argentina’s former President Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering Argentina’s secret services to spy on relatives of 44 sailors who died when the Ara San Juan submarine sank in 2017. Macri has been accused of violating Argentina’s intelligence laws by demanding a dossier on the victims’ families, who accuse the Navy of negligence over the sinking. BBC News reports.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a loyalist as Turkey’s new finance minister, after the incumbent minister resigned over clashes with Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies that have intensified a currency crisis in Turkey. “Nureddin Nebati, a former deputy finance minister, replaces Lütfi Elvan at the top of the finance ministry. The lira fluctuated on Thursday following the news, shedding 1.5% of its value against the dollar,” Jared Malsin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The killing of at least 65 protesters in Myanmar’s biggest city on March 14 was planned and premeditated, Human Rights Watch has said in a report released today. The report accuses “security forces of deliberately encircling and using lethal force against crowds in Yangon’s working class neighborhood of Hlaing Tharyar that were demonstrating against the military’s Feb. 1 seizure of power,” AP reports.
Rights groups are saying that Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands at violent protests along the Gaza frontier in recent years. Joseph Krauss reports for AP.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack has recommended that the House hold former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the committee’s inquiry, but agreed to delay a House vote on the matter as Clark made a last minute offer to be interviewed again. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the committee’s chair, said that the committee would move forward with the contempt referral, despite Clark’s offer of another interview. However, Thompson announced that the committee had set another deposition for Clark on Saturday, and that it would not seek a House vote on the contempt charge until investigators had determined whether he was willing to cooperate. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
Rep Liz Cheney (R-WY), the vice chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, suggested yesterday that former President Trump could be held responsible for any falsehoods exchanged with the committee. “President Trump continues to make the same false claims about a stolen election with which he has misled millions of Americans…He has recently suggested that he wants to debate members of this committee… Any communications Mr. Trump has with this committee will be under oath. And if he persists in lying, then he will be accountable under the laws of this great nation and subject to criminal penalties for every false word he speaks,” Cheney said. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
A coalition of news organizations have asked a federal court to release documents concerning former Trump White House adviser Stephen Bannon’s prosecution for refusing to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. The media coalition includes The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, NBC News and others. Bannon is fighting a proposal by prosecutors to keep the documents secret — including more than 1,000 pages of witness testimony, grand-jury proceedings and other information generated as part of the discovery process. Lawyers for the media companies have said that a protective order on all the discovery material was “overbroad,” and would limit what the public could learn about the government’s case. Paul Farhi and Elahe Izadi report for the Washington Post.
A federal judge has suggested that Trump and others who spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 should be held accountable for the attack on the Capitol that followed. “Though she did not refer to Trump by name, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said during a sentencing for riot defendant Russell Peterson that the former President and other speakers at the Ellipse riled the crowd and ‘explicitly encouraged them to go to the Capitol and fight for one reason and one reason only — to make sure the certification of the election didn’t happen,’” Hannah Rabinowitz reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) yesterday night blocked a quick deal for votes on amendments to the sweeping annual defense policy bill, the latest setback for hopes of passing the legislation this week. The agreement was to set up votes on 24 amendments to the Bill, after which the Senate would have been on a path to vote on passing the bill. Rubio blocked the deal after he failed to get his amendment, which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, included in the package that would get votes before a final vote in the Senate. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
The 15-year old suspect in the Michigan school shooting has been charged with terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder and an array of other charges. Four students died after Eric Crumbly fired rounds from a handgun at Oxford High School, Michigan on Tuesday. “The Oakland County prosecutor, Karen D. McDonald, acknowledged that her decision to charge the suspect with terrorism was not typical for a mass shooting prosecution, but she said it reflected the wider trauma suffered by the hundreds of students who fled gunshots, hid under their desks and will be haunted for years,” Jennifer Conlin, Mitch Smith, Giulia Heyward and Jack Healy report for the New York Times.
McDonald has also strongly suggested that she will charge Crumbly’s parents in connection with the shooting in Michigan. Officials have said that the father of the suspect bought the semiautomatic handgun used in the killings. “While it is unclear how Crumbley may have obtained the gun from his father, McDonald said that gun owners have a responsibility to secure their weapons — particularly when young people are involved,” Griff Witte, John Woodrow Cox and Mark Berman report for the Washington Post.
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Harris, is leaving her position at the end of the year, according to two administration officials familiar with the matter. Eugene Daniels, Christopher Cadelago and Daniel Lippman report for POLITICO.
The House yesterday passed three bipartisan bills intended to shore up network security and increase cyber literacy across the nation. The first bill, the Understanding Cybersecurity of Mobile Networks Act, would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to examine and report back on cybersecurity vulnerabilities in mobile networks. The second bill, the American Cybersecurity Literacy Act, would require NTIA to develop and roll out a cybersecurity literacy program to educate Americans about cyber risks. The third bill, the FUTURE Networks Act, would require the Federal Communications Commission to establish a sixth generation (6G) wireless technology taskforce to examine potential vulnerabilities and advantages in the future use of 6G technology. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has announced the establishment of its Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, which will provide input on efforts to enhance cybersecurity defense priorities. The committee will include 23 individuals from government, key industry groups across multiple sectors, and leaders in nonprofit groups and journalism. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis will join CISA Director Jen Easterly in establishing the committee. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Just Security has published a piece by Gavin Wilde discussing how “On Ransomware, Cyber Command Should Take a Backseat.”
The coronavirus has infected over 48.69 million people and has now killed over 782,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 263.65 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.22 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Former President Trump tested positive for Covid-19 on September 26, 2020 three days before his debate with now President Biden, Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has revealed in a new book. Trump returned a negative result from a different test shortly after the positive result. Trump announced he had Covid-19 on October 2, 2020. In a statement yesterday, Trump called Meadows’ claims “Fake News.” Martin Pengelly reports for the Guardian.
The first known case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. has been identified in a San Francisco resident who recently returned from South Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California health officials have said. Betsy McKay reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden intends to tighten up Covid-19 testing timelines for travelers entering the U.S. and extend a mask mandate on airplanes and other public transportation as part of an effort to combat the new Omicron variant. Stephanie Armour and Sabrina Siddiqui report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has described travel restrictions imposed over Covid-19 that isolate any one country or region as “not only deeply unfair and punitive – they are ineffective.” Guterres, speaking to reporters, blasted what he called “travel apartheid,” as the U.S. and other countries implement travel bans to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
Meta (formerly Facebook) has announced that it has removed hundreds of accounts, pages and groups linked to a Chinese effort to spread disinformation claiming that the U.S. is pressurizing the World Health Organization to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on China. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
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.