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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
U.S. intelligence has found that the Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive into Ukraine, involving up to 175,000 troops, as soon as early next year, according to U.S. officials and an intelligence document obtained by The Washington Post. “The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia’s snap exercise near Ukraine’s borders,” said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Shane Harris and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.
The Kremlin has described the state of U.S.-Russia relations as “lamentable,” the day before a scheduled video call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden over the tense situation in Ukraine. “Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said NATO and long-term guarantees of Russia’s security from the West, which Putin has said Moscow needs, would also be in focus on Tuesday’s call,” Reuters reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the U.S. and European allies are determined to “stand resolutely against” increasing and coordinated Russian aggression. During an interview with Reuters, Blinken “raised concerns that Russia is coordinating its destabilizing activities, including the building of forces on its border with Ukraine, the threat of holding back natural gas to Europe this winter and the support of Belarus’s weaponization of migrants on European borders,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Ukraine has denied accusations from Belarus that a Ukrainian military helicopter flew about 0.6 miles into its territory on Saturday. “Maybe someone made a mistake and is spreading accusations for manipulative purposes,” a spokesperson for Ukraine’s border guard said. The Belarusian defense ministry said yesterday that it had summoned Ukraine’s military attaché to protest against what it called repeated violations of Belarus’s airspace by Ukrainian aircraft. Reuters reports.
Belarus has condemned new economic sanctions from the U.S., U.K., E.U and Canada. “Tough, asymmetric, but appropriate measures will be taken by us exclusively as a response,” the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement a day after the latest sanctions against people and entities associated with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government were unveiled. Missy Ryan and Isabelle Khurshudyan report for the Washington Post.
A court in Myanmar has sentenced ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years on charges of inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols. The sentence is the first in a series of rulings that Suu Kyi is facing that together entail a possible maximum imprisonment of 102 years on a total of 11 charges. “This ridiculous ruling is a travesty of justice,” Charles Santiago, a Malaysian legislator and chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement. Sui-Lee Wee reports for the New York Times.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has denounced the four-year jail term handed down to Suu Kyi, calling the trial a “sham” and calling for Suu Kyi’s immediate release. Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.
Further reactions to the judgment, including from China and the U.K. are provided by Reuters.
Live reporting on Suu Kyi’s trial is provided by the New York Times.
At least three people are feared dead after an army vehicle plowed into a peaceful march by anti-government protestors in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, witnesses have said. Yesterday’s march was one of at least three held in Yangon, and similar rallies were reported in other parts of the country a day ahead of the expected verdict against Suu Kyi. Grant Peck reports for AP.
In response to the media reports of the protestors’ deaths, the U.N. has called on Myanmar to halt the use of excessive force against unarmed civilians. Reuters reports.
Classified U.S. intelligence reports are suggesting that China intends to establish its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea, raising the prospect that Chinese warships would be able to rearm and refit opposite the U.S. East Coast. Officials at the White House and the Pentagon, including Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, have urged Equatorial Guinea to rebuff Beijing’s overtures, according to U.S. officials. Michael M. Phillips reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden’s administration is expected to announce a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics this week. The move would mean that no U.S. government officials would attend the games and would allow the U.S. to send a message on the world stage to China without preventing U.S. athletes from competing. Kaitlan Collins reports for CNN.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has cautioned national security leaders and industry executives against over-hyping recent Chinese weapons tests, while also calling for deeper ties between the Pentagon and technology companies to counter China. During a speech on Saturday at the 2021 Reagan National Defense Forum, Austin said China’s recent hypersonic launch and its gains in nuclear weapons, cyber, and space should be met “with confidence and resolve — not panic and pessimism.” Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp report for Defense One.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that a move by China to invade Taiwan and take the island by force would have “terrible consequences.” Blinken said China had been trying to change the status quo over self-ruled Taiwan, and that the U.S. is “resolutely committed” to making sure the island has the means to defend itself. Blinken added that he hoped Chinese leaders would think very carefully about “not precipitating a crisis” across the Taiwan Strait. Reuters reports.
The governing body of tennis, the International Tennis Federation, has not followed the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in suspending tournaments in China because it “does not want to punish a billion people.” The WTA has halted tournaments in China because of continued concern for Chinese player Peng Shuai, who accused a top Chinese government official of sexual assault. BBC Sport reports.
Afghanistan is on the brink of a mass starvation as the humanitarian situation worsens in the country, four months after the Taliban took control. An estimated 22.8 million people in Afghanistan — more than half the country’s population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening food insecurity this winter. Christina Goldbaum reports for the New York Times.
22 nations, including the U.S., have demanded that the Taliban respect its pledge not to harm former Afghan government or security personnel. The joint statement followed a damning report from Human Rights Watch about killings and abductions by the Taliban of former Afghan security forces and government officials. BBC News reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The iPhones of at least nine State Department employees were recently hacked by an unknown assailant using spyware from Israeli company NSO Group, according to people familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning Uganda. Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn report for Reuters.
U.S. Cyber Command has taken offensive action to disrupt cybercriminal groups that have launched ransomware attacks on U.S. companies, a spokesperson has confirmed to CNN. “The spokesperson declined to specify what actions the command had taken. But it’s one of the first, unequivocal acknowledgements from Cyber Command since the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May that the command has targeted criminal gangs that hold the computer systems of US businesses hostage,” Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
The U.S.-backed political opposition movement in Venezuela is on the verge of breaking up after a major faction announced its withdrawal yesterday. “Julio Borges, a leading figure in the anti regime coalition, called for an end to the leadership of Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and dozens of allies have backed as Venezuela’s legitimate president since January 2019 in a strategy to remove strongman President Nicolás Maduro,” Kejal Vyas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia and India are expected to reinforce their defense ties this week during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India. The summit today in Delhi between Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also “comes as the U.S. considers whether to impose sanctions on India over its purchase from Russia of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, delivery of which is now under way,” Jeremy Page and Rajesh Roy and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration has released an updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, with a new focus on gender and racial equity and workers’ rights. “The new plan highlights underserved individuals, families and communities and is linked to broader efforts by President Biden to address inequities for marginalized groups, according to senior administration officials. It also focuses on ending forced labor in global supply chains, which the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated, officials said,” Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill.
Powerful associations and relatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have developed a multibillion-dollar operation making and selling captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine. A New York Times investigation has found that much of the production and distribution, which has turned Syria into the world’s newest narcostate, is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother. Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of President al-Assad’s extended family. Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad report for the New York Times.
Violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces erupted on the weekend, after a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli border police after he stabbed an Israeli man in the Old City of Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon, according to Israeli police reports. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.
The national security adviser of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has made a rare trip to meet his Iranian counterpart and Iran’s hard-line president in Tehran today. The UAE has long viewed the Islamic Republic in Iran as its main regional threat, and the rare visit comes as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are both negotiating with Iran amid efforts in Vienna to save the 2015 nuclear deal. Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell report for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Extremist gunmen have attacked a military camp in Niger near its southeastern border with Burkina Faso, killing at least 12 soldiers, Niger’s interior ministry said yesterday. Dalatou Maman reports for AP.
A mob killing of a Sri Lankan man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has sparked protests in both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Priyantha Diyawadanage, 48, a factory manager in the city of Sialkot, was beaten to death on Friday and his body set alight. More than 100 people have been arrested so far, said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who condemned the vigilante violence and described the incident as a “day of shame” for his country. BBC News reports.
A dissident former leader of Colombia’s Farc rebels has been killed in an ambush in Venezuela. Hernán Darío Velásquez, nicknamed El Paisa, was shot dead in Venezuela’s Apure state, local media reported. Velásquez’s death has not been officially confirmed and the Colombian army said it had no knowledge of the killing. BBC News reports.
Tribal clashes between Arabs and non-Arabs killed at least 24 people yesterday in Sudan’s western Darfur region, an aid group has said. The fighting grew out of a financial dispute between two individuals in a camp for displaced persons in the Kreinik area in West Darfur province. Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Gambian President Adama Barrow has easily won re-election, Gambian authorities have said, in the first vote for decades held without long-term leader Yahya Jammeh. In Gambia’s last election, Barrow defeated Jammeh, who was forced into exile after refusing to accept the result. BBC News reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Jeffrey Clark, a former Department of Justice official under former President Trump’s administration, has secured a delay for his deposition to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, initially scheduled for Saturday, due to a medical issue. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
A former D.C. National Guard official has accused two senior Army leaders of lying to Congress and trying to rewrite the history of the military’s response to the Jan. 6 attack. “In a 36-page memo, Col. Earl Matthews, who held high-level National Security Council and Pentagon roles during the Trump administration, slams the Pentagon’s inspector general for what he calls an error-riddled report that protects a top Army official who argued against sending the National Guard to the Capitol on Jan. 6, delaying the insurrection response for hours,” Betsy Woodruff Swan and Meridith Mcgraw report for POLITICO.
Federal prosecutors have accused two men of having ties to a Proud Boys leader and being among the first to breach the police line near the Capitol on Jan. 6. Marshall Cohen reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The longtime senator and Republican leader Bob Dole has died aged 98 years old. “Dole was a fixture on the Washington scene for more than half a century and a national leader of the Republican Party for nearly as long. As a legislator, and ultimately as leader of the Senate, he played a role on a staggering list of legislation touching every aspect of American society,” Gerald F. Seib reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden has led tributes to Dole from both sides of the political divide. Biden said Dole was a “dear friend” and “an American statesman like few in our history.” Former President George W Bush said Dole “represented the finest of American values,” while former President Obama called Dole a “war hero, a political leader, and a statesman.” In Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ordered the flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-mast in tribute. BBC News reports.
Former President Trump’s social media start-up, Truth Social, has raised $1 billion from unidentified investors as it moves forward with going public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (Spac). Trump, who remains banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, said that “$1 billion sends an important message to Big Tech that censorship and political discrimination must end.” Nikou Asgari and Sujeet Indap report for the Financial Times.
A proposal to change how the military prosecutes felony crimes is likely to be left out of this year’s defense authorization bill (the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA). Instead, the bill is expected to focus more narrowly on changing how the military prosecutes sexual assault and other related offenses. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
Senate leadership is facing bipartisan pushback over attempts to raise the U.S.’s debt ceiling by tying it to the NDAA. While the idea would take two items off Congress’s packed year-end to-do list ahead of a Dec. 15 deadline for taking action on the borrowing limit, both the House Majority and Minority leaders have warned that a defense bill that includes a debt ceiling hike would struggle to clear the House. Jordain Carney and Aris Folley report for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 49.08 million people and has now killed over 788,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 265.93 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.25 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
From former President Trump’s first positive Covid-19 test to the day he was hospitalized, he came into contact with more than 500 people, either those in proximity to him or at crowded events, not including rally goers, according to analysis done by the Washington Post. Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.
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.