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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.
U.S. diplomats are to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The White House said no official U.S. delegation would be sent to the Games because of concerns about China’s human rights record, and “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.” U.S. athletes however have the government’s full support to attend the Games. BBC News reports.
China has threatened President Biden’s administration with retaliation over the diplomatic boycott and has warned that the move could harm bilateral relations. “The wrong move of the U.S. has undermined the foundation and atmosphere for China-U.S. sports exchanges and Olympic cooperation. It has shot itself in the foot. The U.S. should understand the grave consequences of its move,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news conference. Zhao also said that China had made “solemn representation” to the U.S. and vowed to take “resolute countermeasures.” Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
Uyghur rights organizations have applauded the U.S.’s diplomatic boycott. Jonathan Franklin reports for NPR.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
President Biden will hold a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin today amid escalating tensions over Ukraine. According to a White House preview of the call, Putin and Biden “will discuss a range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues. Biden will underscore U.S. concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
Biden will make clear to Putin that there would be “very real costs” should Russia take military action against Ukraine, a senior administration official has said. “The official said that the U.S. believes Russia is putting in place the capacity to engage in military action but is unclear whether Putin has decided to carry out the plans,” Shannon Pettypiece reports for NBC News.
Putin is expected to demand that Biden guarantee that NATO will never expand into Ukraine – both in terms of membership and Western forces – during their video meeting today. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.
Biden spoke with the leaders of the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy yesterday, who agreed to use “all the tools at their disposal” to prevent aggression from Russia against Ukraine. The Western leaders discussed their “shared concern about the Russian military build-up,” according to the White House readout of the call. BBC News reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and reiterated Washington’s “unwavering support” in the face of “Russian aggression,” the State Department has said. Andrew Roth and Julian Borger report for the Guardian.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a high-level meeting yesterday with “key departmental leaders” to discuss the situation with Ukraine and Russia. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Five key things to know about the emerging crisis between Russia and Ukraine are provided by Jordan Williams and Laura Kelly reporting for The Hill.
Officials and experts are saying that there are several indicators fueling concerns that the Russian troops near the Ukrainian border may this time be a genuine indicator of Russian intentions to take military action against Ukraine. “Putin has deployed more than 90,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, matching the force that he sent and withdrew in the spring. But whereas those troops maneuvered in open daylight, now they have mostly been far less showy, moving under the cover of darkness. And Moscow’s rhetoric has noticeably hardened in recent months, saying it will not accept what it sees as a deepening of ties between Ukraine and the West,” Matthew Bodner, Dan De Luce and Alexander Smith report for NBC News.
Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying tanks and additional sniper teams to the frontline of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. A statement from Ukraine’s defense Ministry said that “the enemy increased the number of sniper pairs in readiness to inflict casualties on the personnel of the Joint Forces, destroy video surveillance elements and provoke return fire.” Reuters reports.
Just Security has published a piece by Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. analyzing “Putin’s Gamble on Ukraine.”
Israel carried out an airstrike on the Syrian port of Latakia today, causing a fire in a container storage area, Syrian state media has reported. “A Syrian military source told Sana news agency that warplanes flying over the Mediterranean Sea fired several missiles at the port’s container yard overnight. No casualties were reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the target was an Iranian weapons shipment. Israel’s military has not commented,” BBC News reports.
A U.S. airstrike targeting an al-Qaida leader in northern Syria wounded a family of six, including a 10-year-old child who suffered serious head injuries. The U.S. drone targeted a man on a motorcycle who Ahmad Qassim was trying to overtake in the car he was driving with his wife and four children. The U.S. military has said that it conducted a strike from a remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft Friday near the city of Idlib targeting “a senior al-Qaeda leader and planner.” An initial review of this strike indicated the potential for possible civilian casualties, which “was immediately self-reported to U.S. Central Command,” a spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that the military is “initiating a full investigation of the allegations and will release the results when appropriate.” Bassem Mroue reports for AP.
The U.K. Foreign Office’s handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized Kabul was dysfunctional and chaotic, a whistleblower has said. “Raphael Marshall said the process of choosing who could get a flight out was arbitrary and thousands of emails with pleas for help went unread. The then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slow to make decisions, he added,” James Landale and Joseph Lee report for BBC News.
Raab, now the U.K.’s Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, has rejected a number of the charges from the whistleblower over the U.K.’s management of the Afghan evacuation. Jessica Elgot and Patrick Wintour report for the Guardian.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Republican senators have introduced legislation which aims to disrupt the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying a salary to families of alleged Palestinian terrorists who are killed or imprisoned by Israeli forces, so-called “martyr payments.” The draft bill builds on the Taylor Force Act passed in 2018, that restricted U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority over the policy, and would open up foreign banks to U.S. sanctions if they are found to knowingly process the martyr payments. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Three more hostages from a group of 17 Canadian and American missionaries and their children kidnapped in Haiti have been released, the American Christian charity they were with have said. The latest releases bring the total number of people freed to five. The organization did not provide the names or ages of those released, or the circumstances of their release, including whether a ransom had been paid. Oscar Lopez and Maria Abi-Habib report for the New York Times.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad. The meeting came after more than two dozen families expressed frustration about their inability to get a meeting with Sulivan or President Biden. Participants on the video call have said that they did not get satisfactory answers to some questions, but they were encouraged by Sullivan’s commitment to follow up and be personally available to them and others. Zachary Basu reports for Axios.
A Russian government-linked hacking group which was behind the SolarWinds hack has only intensified its hacking efforts in the year since, research by cybersecurity group Mandiant has found. Mandiant “released findings showing how the group, known as ‘Nobelium’ or ‘UNC2452,’ has continued to target governments and businesses, zeroing in on technology solutions and services groups, along with technology resellers, and using new tactics to make it more difficult to trace the threat activity and maintain access to networks,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Microsoft has announced that a federal court has granted a request to allow Microsoft to seize websites being used by a Chinese-based hacking group that is targeting organizations in the U.S. and 28 other nations. “The hacking group, which Microsoft has dubbed ‘Nickel,’ was observed to be targeting think tanks, human rights organizations, government agencies and diplomatic organizations for intelligence gathering purposes,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces two years in jail after her four-year sentence on charges of incitement and breaking Covid-19 rules, issued yesterday, was halved by the country’s military, state media has reported. Helen Regan reports for CNN.
Dozens of Rohingya refugees in the U.K. and U.S. have sued Meta (formerly Facebook), accusing the social media company of allowing hate speech against them to spread. An estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017. The refugees are demanding more than $150bn in compensation, claiming Meta’s platforms promoted violence against the persecuted minority. BBC News reports.
Across Ethiopia thousands are enlisting with the Ethiopian armed forces to counter rebels from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front who are advancing toward the capital, fueling fears of a full-blown civil war in the country. Nicholas Bariyo reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Indian and Russian officials rejected U.S. pressure to downgrade their close defense ties yesterday, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in New Delhi and agreed to extend military technical cooperation for another decade. At the summit, “both sides said they were proceeding with delivery of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia to India despite the threat of U.S. sanctions on India. Agreements signed also included a contract for a joint venture in India to manufacture more than 600,000 Russian-designed AK-203 assault rifles, which will replace the INSAS model used by the Indian military for three decades,” Rajesh Roy, Jeremy Page and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Mark Short, the top aide to former Vice President Pence, has been cooperating with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The committee subpoenaed Short a few weeks ago and his cooperation may “signal a greater openness among Pence’s inner circle” to cooperating with the committee. Jamie Gangel, Michael Warren and Ryan Nobles report for CNN.
Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former President Trump’s personal assistant Nicholas Luna have been granted a delay in their depositions with the Jan. 6 select committee. A committee aide confirmed said that all three have been granted short postponements as they continue to “engage” with the committee. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The House is set to soon unveil a compromise version of the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), according to a congressional aide, with leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees closing in on a deal. However, House Democratic leaders might have a whip-count problem, with some lawmakers threatening to vote against the bill without sufficient military-justice provisions and language about combating extremism within military ranks. Andrew Desiderio, Connor O’Brien and Heather Caygle report for POLITICO.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) is seeking to avoid a public split between President Biden and Senate Democrats over the U.S.’s policies towards Russia and China. Schumer is looking to neutralize tough amendments to the NDAA on the two topics, including pushes for the U.S. to take tougher sanction stances in relation to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia and the human rights abuses of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China. Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill.
Department of Homeland Security officials advised in August against deporting Haitians back to Haiti, fearing the deportations could violate U.S. human rights obligations, according to an internal warning sent to officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. Hamed Aleaziz reports for BuzzFeed News.
The Justice Department has launched a lawsuit against Texas over the state’s plan to redraw its voting districts, saying that it would violate the Voting Rights Act by essentially making ballots cast by Black and Latino voters count for less than those of others. The lawsuit set out examples of where minority districts were eliminated or redrawn in such a way that minority voters in urban areas were newly counted in rural, predominantly white areas. Some aspects of the plan were also created “with discriminatory intent,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said at a news conference. Katie Benner, Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein report for the New York Times.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a key ally of former President Trump will resign from Congress at the end of this month to become CEO of Trump’s new Media & Technology Group, which is billing itself as an alternative to Big Tech. “Recently, I was presented with a new opportunity to fight for the most important issues I believe in. I’m writing to let you know I’ve decided to pursue this opportunity, and therefore I will be leaving the House of Representatives at the end of 2021,” Nunes told constituents. Scott Wong reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 49.27 million people and has now killed over 789,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 266.55 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.26 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.