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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.
President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday in a two-hour secure video conference that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would result in heavy economic penalties for Moscow and lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe. During the meeting, Biden reiterated that measures imposed in response to any Russian invasion would go well beyond the West’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea seven years ago and an invasion could end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream II gas pipeline to Europe. U.S. officials have said that Putin gave no indication of his ultimate intent during the call. David E. Sanger and Michael Crowley report for the New York Times.
The Russian government said Putin warned Biden during the video conference that Western military activity in and around Ukraine was approaching a “red line” threatening Russia’s security. The Kremlin statement said Putin had stressed that Russia should not be held responsible for tensions because NATO was making “dangerous attempts to take over Ukrainian territory and increasing its military potential” on Russia’s borders. “Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in getting reliable guarantees fixed in law to rule out the eastward expansion of NATO and the location in countries neighboring Russia of offensive weapons systems,” the statement added. The White House said President Biden did not make any guarantees to limit NATO expansion. BBC News reports.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said that the Biden administration still believes that Putin has not yet made a decision on whether to launch a military offensive against Ukraine. Speaking after the Biden-Putin call, Sullivan did not go into the specifics of U.S. intelligence, but added that the U.S. is coordinating with European allies “at a deep level of specificity” and said that during the call Biden “was crystal clear about where the United States stands on all of these issues.” Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin call are provided by Michael Crowley reporting for the New York Times.
In addition to Ukraine, Biden and Putin discussed “the U.S.-Russia dialogue on Strategic Stability, a separate dialogue on ransomware, as well as joint work on regional issues such as Iran,” the White House readout of the call said.
A Saudi man suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been in arrested in France. Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the government in Riyadh, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Khaled Aedh Alotaibi is believed to be one of the 26 Saudis wanted by Turkey over the murder and was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on an outstanding Turkish arrest warrant. A Saudi official has responded to the arrest, saying that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that those involved in the murder had been convicted in Saudi Arabia in 2019. BBC News reports.
The French police have acknowledged that they are currently not sure they have detained the correct man over Khashoggi’s murder. “It’s still possible that this is the right person, just as it’s still possible that it’s the wrong person,” a police spokesman said, adding that the man was still in detention and could legally be held until tomorrow morning. Rick Noack and Sarah Dadouch report for the Washington Post.
The Senate has given a bipartisan vote of confidence to the Biden administration’s proposed weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. Opponents of the sale have argued that it would embolden Riyadh’s human rights violations and hamper efforts to end Yemen’s bloody civil war. However, “in a 67-30 vote, the Senate…defeated an effort to block a $650 million sale of air-to-air missiles and related equipment to Saudi Arabia,” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
ANNUAL DEFENSE BILL
The House overwhelmingly passed a $768 billion annual defense policy bill (the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA) after lawmakers dropped proposals that would have required women to register for the draft, repealed the 2002 authorization of the Iraq war, and imposed sanctions for the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The measures in the bill provide significant increases for initiatives intended to counter China and bolster Ukraine, as well as for the procurement of new aircraft and ships. The 363-to-70 vote in favor of the bill yesterday sent the legislation to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with strong bipartisan support as soon as this week. Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
The head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), has called the revised NDAA a “missed opportunity” to deter Moscow. Amid growing concerns that Russia is preparing for a military offensive against Ukraine, “a provision in the sprawling annual legislation will modestly boost U.S. military assistance for Ukraine, but lawmakers declined to give Biden additional tools to push back on Putin,” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Efforts to repeal the 1991 and 2001 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) were dropped in the Senate’s year-end scramble to pass the NDAA. The NDAA was viewed as the best chance for Congress to repeal the AUMFs, however Republicans blocked a package of amendment votes last week. Andrew Desiderio and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
Language requiring certain critical organizations to report cyber incidents has been left out of the compromise version of the NDAA that the House voted on yesterday. “A cyber incident reporting provision, which established a new Cyber Incident Review Office at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was included in the version of the NDAA passed by the House in September… A Senate aide told The Hill Tuesday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the provision from inclusion in the NDAA compromise package during negotiations,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement yesterday that will overhaul how the military prosecutes sexual assaults and certain other offences, stripping military commanders of most of their authority to prosecute. Under the agreement, set out in the latest version of the NDAA, independent military prosecutors will replace commanders in determining whether those accused of sexual assault, rape, murder, domestic violence, and an array of other offenses would be prosecuted. However, commanders will maintain their authority to conduct the trials, choose jury members, grant immunity, and approve witnesses, which Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has said renders the new legislation insufficient. Jennifer Steinhauer reports for the New York Times.
Australia has announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, following the announcement of the U.S. diplomatic boycott. New Zealand has said that it decided months ago that its diplomats would not be attending. In July, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the Winter Olympics, however, an official response yesterday from the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, to a question about the boycott offered no support for the U.S. position. Steven Lee Myers and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times.
A member of Bloomberg News’s bureau in Beijing has been detained in China since late last year, with no information forthcoming on her case. Haze Fan was last seen on Dec. 7 2020, while being escorted from her apartment building by plainclothes security officials. Chinese officials said at the time that Fan was detained by the Beijing National Security Bureau on suspicion of national security law violations. Madeleine Lim reports for Bloomberg News.
A new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that China is “the world’s biggest captor of journalists,” with at least 127 reporters currently detained. The report said “China was conducting an ‘unprecedented campaign of repression’ worldwide against journalism. China has justified the arrests of reporters and citizen journalists by accusing them of provoking trouble,” BBC News reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the U.S.’s approach to the tensions in Ukraine and Taiwan in an interview with Defense One, rejecting the approach of “conveying red lines.” On Ukraine, Austin said: “I think conveying red lines only exacerbates the problem. I think we need to focus on finding ways to de-escalate and reduce tensions.” Likewise, in relation to Taiwan, Austin reiterated that: “we don’t want to see change in the status quo, especially, certainly a unilateral change in the status quo. We think that all tensions in that area should be resolved diplomatically first.” Tara Copp reports for Defense One.
Google has announced that it is pursuing litigation to disrupt a botnet run by operators based out of Russia. “Google filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on Tuesday against two Russian nationals, Dmitry Starovikov and Alexander Filippov, and more than a dozen other unnamed individuals for allegedly creating and running the ‘Glupteba’ botnet,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Germany’s former Chancellor Angela Merkel has handed over the chancellery to her successor Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Lawmakers approved Scholz’s chancellorship largely along party lines in a secret-ballot poll, with 395 voting in favor and 303 against. Scholz is a Social Democrat with ambitions to revive progressive politics across Europe, and it is the first time in 16 years that Germany will have a center-left government led by a new chancellor. Katrin Bennhold reports for the New York Times.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has lost an appeal against his conviction last year on charges related to his role in one of the world’s largest financial scandals. Malaysia’s appellate court has upheld Najib’s conviction on all seven of the charges in question, including abuse of power, money laundering, and criminal breach of trust. Feliz Solomon and Chester Tay report for the Wall Street Journal.
Militant groups increasingly are acquiring armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ranging from sophisticated Iranian-built models which are capable of long-distance flights to cheaper, off-the-shelf models operated by remote control and modified to carry small but powerful explosives. The proliferation of armed UAVs, particularly among paramilitary groups with close ties to Iran, has been described as a growing threat in the Middle East and beyond by officials and analysts. Joby Warrick, Souad Mekhennet and Louisa Loveluck report for the Washington Post.
An Indian army helicopter carrying the country’s military chief has crashed in southern Tamil Nadu state, the air force has said. Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati said that four people were killed and three others were injured and taken to a hospital. There has been no confirmation of whether Indian Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat was injured in the accident. The air force said in a tweet that an inquiry has been ordered into the accident. AP reports.
Soldiers have been accused of killing 13 people from a village in central Myanmar, 11 of whose burned bodies were discovered yesterday. “The incident occurred near the city of Monywa, after local militias opposing military rule carried out at least two bomb attacks on a military convoy. Locals say soldiers then swept through nearby villages, rounding up and killing six men and five teenagers. The military junta is yet to comment on the incident,” BBC News reports.
An Indonesian court has sentenced an Islamic militant to life in prison after finding him guilty of making bombs used in a 2005 market attack that killed 22 people. Niniek Karmini reports for AP.
A 14-year-old Palestinian girl has stabbed an Israeli woman near a contested East Jerusalem neighborhood, in the fourth lone wolf attack to take place in Jerusalem in the past three weeks. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.
Israel has announced the completion of an enhanced security barrier around the Gaza Strip designed to prevent militants from sneaking into Israel. AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Mark Meadows, former President Trump’s former chief of staff, has informed the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack that he will no longer cooperate with its investigation. In a letter to the panel, Meadows’ attorney said Meadows “was willing to appear voluntarily…for a deposition to answer questions about non-privileged matters.” However, from the information the committee supplied last Friday, Meadows and his attorney “have every indication…that the Select Committee has no intention of respecting boundaries concerning Executive Privilege.” Gloria Borger, Zachary Cohen and Annie Grayer report for CNN.
In a statement, the committee’s Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said that Meadows’ deposition scheduled for today would go ahead, and if “Meadows refuses to appear, the Select Committee will be left no choice but to advance contempt proceedings.” Thompson and Cheney added that even as privilege issues are litigated, the committee has “numerous questions” about records Meadows has turned over to the committee “with no claim of privilege, which include real-time communications with many individuals as the events of January 6th unfolded.” Teaganne Finn reports for NBC News.
The Jan. 6 select committee has formally subpoenaed the phone records of more than 100 people, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. Those subpoenaed include former Trump officials and Trump associates, including Meadows. “The records do not include the content of the calls but rather details about who called or texted whom, when and for how long, giving them the ability to draw a web of communications before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack,” Zachary Cohen, Jamie Gangel, Katelyn Polantz and Ryan Nobles report for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
More than 400 congressional staff members – including more than 50 Muslim aides – have sent an open letter to House leadership calling for Congress to “categorically reject the incendiary rhetoric that endangers the well-being of Muslim staff,” following the recent anti-Muslim remarks by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Ayman Mohyeldin and Dartunorro Clark report for NBC News.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) intends to introduce a resolution today to strip Boebert of her committee assignments. Nearly a dozen House liberals have co-sponsored the resolution. Marianna Sotomayor and Jacqueline Alemany report for the Washington Post.
Top Republican and Democratic lawmakers have struck a deal for a process to raise the debt ceiling in the Senate, with the House passing a bill late yesterday. The bill does not itself raise the debt ceiling but sets up a procedure for an additional vote on the issue that would require a simple majority in the Senate rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation. Andrew Duehren and Eliza Collins report for the Wall Street Journal.
A bipartisan commission appointed by President Biden has unanimously adopted a report detailing controversies over the Supreme Court and assessing proposals to address them. However, the report was not designed to, nor did it, produce consensus or any recommendations to resolve the political divisions concerning the judiciary that have intensified in recent years. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The report on the Supreme Court described public support for imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices, but found “profound disagreement” about the process for adding justices. Ann E. Marimow reports for the Washington Post.
Early results from South African lab tests suggest that the new Omicron Covid-19 variant can partially evade the protection provided by vaccines, however scientists have said that vaccination should still provide a defense against severe disease. Jason Douglas and Drew Hinshaw report for the Wall Street Journal.
The coronavirus has infected over 49.38 million people and has now killed over 791,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 267.29 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.27 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.