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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
The Russian Foreign Ministry has released publicly two documents that were given to the U.S. during a meeting in Moscow last Wednesday articulating Russia’s demands, including that the U.S. and NATO deny Ukraine membership to NATO and rollback military deployments. In a press release, the Russian Foreign Ministry said U.S. officials were “given detailed explanations” of the draft security agreements. A White House official told The Hill that “we are prepared to discuss matters of security and strategic concern with Russia…We are having discussions with European allies and partners, and will be in touch with the Russian government on next steps soon.” Jordan Willaims reports for The Hill.
Russia has said today that it urgently needs a response from the U.S. on its sweeping security demands and has warned of a possible Russian military response unless it sees political action addressing its concerns. Konstantin Gavrilov, a Russian diplomat in Vienna, was quoted by the state-owned RIA news agency as saying that: “the conversation needs to be serious and everyone in NATO understands perfectly well despite their strength and power that concrete political action needs to be taken, otherwise the alternative is a military-technical and military response from Russia.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by RIA as saying that Moscow had so far received no response from the United States. Reuters reports.
U.S. intelligence agencies are assessing that Russian President Vladimir Putin still has not decided on whether to invade Ukraine but is giving the possibility “serious consideration,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said. Sullivan conveyed the assessment, which is consistent with previous assessments, to the Council on Foreign Relations on Friday. “I have high confidence in our capacity to see what has been a significant Russian military buildup in the vicinity of Ukraine and in Ukraine itself, in Crimea and other places,” Sullivan added. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
CHINA, HONG KONG
China has hit back at the U.S saying that it has “no scruples,” after the Senate passed the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act on Thursday, which seeks to target the human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in the Xinjiang region in China. The bill requires companies to prove that imports from Xinjiang were not made with slave labor. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Friday that the measure “indicates that the U.S. has no scruples about smearing China by every means…China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese institutions and enterprises.” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Pro-Beijing candidates have claimed a victory in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election, the first such election since China made sweeping controversial changes to the city’s electoral systems. Voters mostly shunned the citywide poll in Hong Kong, with turnout being the lowest for a legislative election since the city’s return to China from British rule more than two decades ago. Dan Strumpf and Elaine Yu report for the Wall Street Journal.
A set of documents reviewed by the New York Times have revealed how the Chinese government, in its global online campaign to improve its image and undercut accusations of human rights abuses, manipulates Facebook and Twitter. The documents, which were part of a request for bids from contractors, reveal “in stark detail how Chinese officials tap private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics and provide other services for information campaigns. That operation increasingly plays out on international platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government blocks at home,” Muyi Xiao, Paul Mozur and Gray Beltran report for the New York Times.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has appeared in a new video saying that “I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me” and that she remains “very free.” Peng’s previous allegations of sexual assault against a former senior Chinese official and her subsequent apparent silencing by the Chinese state have prompted international outcry. Lily Kuo reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden’s administration is facing mounting pressure to ease sanctions and restart the flow of billions of dollars in aid and cash to Afghanistan, where a humanitarian and economic crisis is worsening. Three former U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan and four former U.S. ambassadors to Kabul, along with other former senior officials, have called on the administration to consider relaxing policies freezing the Afghan government’s foreign assets and cutting off U.S. financial assistance. “What is needed is the courage to act,” the authors said in a statement published by the Atlantic Council. Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan report for the Washington Post.
The Afghan national security adviser under former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that all trust in the U.S. was “gone” by the time the Taliban took Kabul in August. Speaking with CBS, Hamdullah Mohib shot back at the characterization of the Afghan government and its army as giving up when the Taliban took control, and reiterated “what happened was the rug was pulled under the Afghans’ feet… The decision to talk directly and engage the Taliban and make a deal with the Taliban that didn’t include the Afghan government was protested.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Pakistan convened a meeting of Muslim countries yesterday to explore ways to aid Afghanistan while navigating the difficult political realities of the Taliban-run government. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
The U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, has said that Afghanistan’s economy is in “free fall,” and has warned that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it.” UN News Centre reports.
The Myanmar military carried out a series of mass killings of civilians in July that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 men, a BBC investigation has found. The killings occurred in four separate incidents in Kani Township – an opposition stronghold in Sagaing District in Central Myanmar. It is thought that the killings were a collective punishment for attacks by militia groups demanding a return to democracy following the Feb. 1 military coup. Rebecca Henschke, Kelvin Brown and Ko Ko Aung report for BBC World Service.
A court in Myanmar has deferred the latest verdicts in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Dec. 27. The court had been due to rule on charges of possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies and a set of signal jammers, which carry maximum penalties of three years and a year in jail, respectively. No reason was given for the deferral. Reuters reports.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said that talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal (called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, are “not going well in the sense that we do not yet have a pathway back” into the deal. Sullivan said that the past few days of negotiations in Vienna have brought “some progress,” but Iran has “raced” its nuclear program since the U.S. pulled out of the deal in 2018 under then-President Trump, making negotiating a return to mutual compliance more difficult. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Tehran’s top diplomat in Yemen returned to Iran on Saturday per an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Houthi militants. In recent days, Houthi leaders requested that Riyadh temporarily lift its air blockade of Sana’a to let Hassan Irloo, Iran’s ambassador to parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthis, fly back to Iran. Saudi Arabia has cast Irloo’s departure as a sign of friction between the Houthis and Tehran, however Iranian officials said that their diplomat was leaving Yemen to get urgent medical treatment after contracting Covid-19. Dion Nissenbaum reports for the Wall Street Journal.
PENTAGON CIVILIAN CASUALTY FILES
A New York Times investigation, the “Civilian Casualty Files,” has found that the U.S. air wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have been plagued by flawed intelligence, poor targeting, and thousands of civilian deaths. A review of a Pentagon archive of the U.S. air war in the Middle East since 2014 has brought to light the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 civilian casualty deaths, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability in the Pentagon for civilian deaths. The documents lay “bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children,” Azmat Khan reports for the New York Times.
What to know about the Civilian Casualty Files investigation is provided by Michael Levenson reporting for the New York Times.
The published Pentagon files as well as the Pentagon records of cases in which military investigators deemed it “more likely than not” that a strike caused civilian casualties, are available at the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Two rockets struck Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq’s military has said. One missile was destroyed by the C-RAM air defense system and the other landed near a national monument. Security forces have started an investigation to detect the launch site. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Al Jazeera reports.
A left-wing millennial has been elected Chile’s next president after securing victory on Sunday over his right-wing opponent, Jose Antonio Kast. Gabriel Boric had 56% of the votes, compared with 44% for his opponent. Boric, 35, will become Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March. AP reports.
Two people were lynched this weekend in the northern Indian state of Punjab after they attempted to carry out acts of sacrilege inside Sikh temples, including one at the religion’s holiest site. Punjab is a Sikh-majority state and tensions are currently running high amid the backdrop of elections early next year. Sameer Yasir reports for the New York Times.
Protests on Sunday against Sudan’s military leaders resulted in the death of one man and wounding of over 100 people in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and other cities. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Khartoum on Sunday against the Oct. 25 military coup, drawing volleys of tear gas and stun grenades from security forces. Reuters reports.
Protests have erupted over Poland against a controversial media bill which the protestors say would limit media freedoms and threaten free speech. The legislation was rushed through the Polish parliament on Friday and protestors have been demanding that Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has yet to sign the legislation into law, veto it. “The legislation would tighten rules around foreign ownership of media, specifically affecting the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc, to operate,” the Guardian reports.
Women around the world are to take turns to fast for 24 hours in an attempt to put pressure on the U.K. government to secure the freedom of U.K.-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran. The campaign is led by FiLiA and follows the 21-day hunger strike Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband mounted outside the U.K. Foreign Office in London last month. David Batty reports for the Guardian.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The Senate will vote next month on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as part of a deal that allowed Democratic lawmakers to clear dozens of Biden’s State and Treasury nominees. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
The Senate early Saturday morning voted to confirm Rahm Emanuel to be Biden’s ambassador to Japan. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has said that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is looking into whether former President Trump committed a crime due to his involvement in the attack. Speaking to CNN, Kinzinger, who is a member of the committee, said “I don’t want to go there yet to say, ‘Do I believe he has (committed a crime),’ I think that’s obviously a pretty big thing to say. We want to know though, and I think we’ll – by the end of our investigation and by the time our report is out – have a pretty good idea.” Daniella Diaz reports for CNN.
Ali Alexander, an organizer behind the “Stop the Steal” rally has testified to the Jan. 6 select committee about communications that he had with Republican representatives leading up to the rally on Jan. 6. Alexander’s lawyers have revealed in a court filing that in the Dec. 9 deposition, Alexander told the committee that he had communications with Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ), Mo Brooks (AL), and Paul Gosar (AZ). Alexander said that he had “a few phone conversations” with Gosar and a text exchange with Brooks about his efforts in the run-up to Jan. 6, but that he only recalled having spoken to Biggs in person. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said he would oppose the Democratic party’s roughly $2 trillion education, healthcare, and climate package. The Democratic party has spent months drafting and revising the “Build Back Better” package to win Manchin’s support, which they need to pass the bill through the 50-50 Senate. Andrew Duehren, Lindsay Wise and Michael C. Bender report for the Wall Street Journal.
Analysis of how President Biden’s fragile alliance with Manchin unraveled is provided by Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim reporting for the Washington Post.
Manchin’s refusal to support Biden’s Build Back Better Bill, has thrown Biden’s ambitious climate-change plans into doubt and may mean that Biden struggles to meet his emissions-reduction target, according to independent analysts. “Failure to meet the target could undermine U.S. efforts to take a leadership role in international climate negotiations, complicating the Biden administration’s campaign to pressure other countries to deliver more-ambitious plans to reduce emissions,” Andrew Restuccia reports for the Wall Street Journal.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki yesterday accused Manchin of reneging on his promises. As recently as last Tuesday, Psaki said, Manchin had pledged to work with Biden administration officials to finalize a compromise agreement and had even shared his own outline for legislation that mirrored the size of Biden’s initial $1.85 trillion framework. Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson report for the New York Times.
State policymakers are considering new ways of eliminating racial discrimination in jury selection, as many juries in the U.S., including on high-profile trials, remain mostly white. Emmanuel Felton reports for the Washington Post.
The mayor of San Francisco has declared a state of emergency in Tenderloin, one of the city’s neighborhoods with the highest crime rates. Mayor London Breed’s announcement came just days after she emphasized the need for the police to clean up what she has described as “nasty streets.” Thomas Fuller, Shaila Dewan and Kellen Browning report for the New York Times.
Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, has warned that the U.S. could see 1 million daily Covid-19 infections as the Omicron variant rages, if Americans do not take Covid-19 seriously. Collins made the statement as he retired from his post this weekend. Emma Bowman reports for NPR.
The highly infectious Omicron Covid-19 variant now accounts for the majority of cases in London, U.K., and is surging across continental Europe, as European governments rush in new restrictions. The Economist reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 50.84 million people and has now killed over 806,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 274.75 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.35 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.