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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
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has said that NATO is to discuss Russia’s recent security proposals amid rising tensions with Ukraine, but that it will not let Moscow dictate the alliance’s military posture. Russia has demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy weapons and troops there. “We need to solve the current tensions on the diplomatic level but just as well by putting up a credible deterrence,” Lambrecht told reporters during a visit to German troops based in Lithuania. Reuters reports.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has encouraged Russia to de-escalate its buildup of troops near the border with Ukraine, during a phone call yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov. Sullivan “indicated U.S. readiness to engage in diplomacy through multiple channels” according to a White House statement. “[Sullivan] made clear that any dialogue must be based on reciprocity and address our concerns about Russia’s actions, and take place in full coordination with our European Allies and partners,” the White House said. “He also noted that substantive progress can only occur in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” the statement added. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Talks have begun between the U.S. and Russia on the security guarantees demanded by Moscow and it is possible that an understanding will be reached, the Russian state-owned RIA news agency has quoted Russian senior security negotiator Konstantin Gavrilov as saying. Russia has yet to decide what steps it will take if NATO refuses to consider its position, but Brussels understands that Moscow is not bluffing, Gavrilov said. Reuters reports.
Russia has expelled two German diplomats in response to a German judge finding last week that the Kremlin engaged in “state terrorism” in ordering the murder of a Chechen rebel in Berlin in 2019. The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had expelled the diplomats after Germany ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats last week over the incident and “as a symmetric response to the aforementioned unfriendly decision by the German government.” Max Seddon and Guy Chazan report for the Financial Times.
Saudi-led coalition forces have carried out an airstrike on an airport in the Yemini capital of Sana’a. Rebel forces in Yemen have controlled Sana’a for more than six years. The coalition claimed that the airport’s facilities were being used to launch cross-border attacks, and that it urged U.N. aid workers who have been using the airport for humanitarian operations to evacuate the area before the strike was carried out. BBC News reports.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard staged a major military exercise across Iran’s south yesterday, amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and the recent pausing of negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The Guard’s aerospace division, ground troops and naval forces joined in the five-day drill, with maritime forces set to maneuver in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Iranian state TV reported. Amir Vahdat reports for AP.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is to travel to Israel and the West Bank this week, as part of U.S. efforts to consult closely with Israel about nuclear talks with Iran while strengthening relations with the Palestinian Authority. “A senior administration official said Monday night that the visit to Israel was ‘long’ planned and meant to cap off the Biden administration’s first year in office and engagement with the Middle East,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
CHINA, HONG KONG, TAIWAN AND TIBET
China’s new electoral rules have “eliminated any meaningful political opposition,” the foreign ministers of the Five Eyes alliance (U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have said, following the results of the poorly-attended Hong Kong legislature vote. Prior to the vote, which saw more than 90% of the seats go to pro-Beijing candidates, China had made sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, including a rule that allowed Beijing to vet candidates. “Since the handover, candidates with diverse political views have contested elections in Hong Kong. This election has reversed the trend,” the Five Eyes said. The Group of Seven (G7) nations and the European Union also expressed concern over the election. BBC News reports.
China has rejected criticism from the West over the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, accusing Western countries of interfering with China’s affairs. The People’s Republic of China said that it “firmly opposed and strongly condemned” the joint statement from the Five Eyes ministers, which it argued “recklessly disregarded the facts and reversed the truth.” Daniel Hurst reports for the Guardian.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has named Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya as the U.S. special coordinator for Tibet, drawing warnings from China for the U.S. to stay out of China’s internal affairs. Blinken said that Zeya would lead U.S. efforts to preserve Tibet’s religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage in the face of human rights abuses by Beijing. “Beijing has consistently refused to deal with a U.S. coordinator on Tibet and denounced the move as political manipulation,” David Brunnstrom and Kanishka Singh report for Reuters.
China is expanding its grip on data about the world’s cargo flows, sparking concerns in Washington and among industry officials that Beijing could exploit logistics information for commercial or strategic advantage. China’s control over the flow of goods and information, including cargo that never touches its shores, gives Beijing privileged insight into world commerce and potentially the means to influence it, say cargo-industry officials. Shipping data has become a valuable commodity in light of shortages plaguing many industries and global backlogs in ports. Daniel Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called Taiwan a “wanderer” that will eventually come home to China and not a chess piece to be played with. A Taiwanese governing council responded to the statement saying that Taiwan “absolutely will not accept a path laid out by an autocratic political system.” Reuters reports.
China has barred entry to four people from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom following U.S. sanctions this month against Chinese people and organizations over human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The assets of the four banned individuals in China will also be frozen and Chinese institutions and citizens will be forbidden from dealing with them, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Tigrayan rebel troops are withdrawing from Tigray’s neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, where fighting has displaced more than 300,000 people since July. In a two-page letter sent to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, the leader of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, said he hoped that bringing his troops back into the Tigray region would be a “decisive opening for peace.” “We decided to withdraw from these areas to Tigray. We want to open the door to humanitarian aid,” a spokesperson for the TPLF said. A spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the TPLF’s announcement was a cover-up for military setbacks in the past weeks, adding that “there are still pockets in the Amhara region in which [the TPLF] remain as well as other fronts they are attempting to open the conflict.” Al Jazeera reports.
The French armed forces ministry has said that its forces have killed a leading member of the Islamic State in Niger, Soumana Boura. The French army said Boura was killed by an air strike by its “Operation Barkhane” unit that took place on Dec. 20. Reuters reports.
The Turkish Lira plunged nearly 9% yesterday to more than 17.86 against the dollar, a record low, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to cut interest rates further in defiance of business leaders. Jared Malsin and Caitlin Ostroff report for the Wall Street Journal.
An Egyptian court has sentenced three prominent activists, charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, to up to five years in prison. The case has drawn scrutiny of Egypt’s human-rights record and, in sentencing the individuals, the court defied international pressure to release them. Amira El-Fekki reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.K. Supreme Court has prevented Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from accessing $1.95bn of gold stored in the Bank of England (BoE), meaning that only the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who the U.K. technically considers as the legitimate Venzuelan leader, can decide what happens to the gold. Guaidó wants the gold to stay in the BoE’s vault, while Maduro had sued BoE to have the funds released, arguing that the cash will be used to fight Covid-19 in Venezuela. BBC News reports.
Japan has executed three death row inmates, marking the first executions Japan has carried out since 2019 and the first under Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Junko Ogura, Mayumi Maruyama and Sophie Jeong report for CNN.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
A group of 12 U.S. and Canadian missionaries who had been kidnapped in Haiti, made a daring overnight escape last week and walked for miles with children in tow over rough terrain, a U.S.-based missionary group has said. The latest account of events differs from the version given last week by Haitian police officials who said that the missionaries had been released and had been found by local residents. José de Córdoba reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Boeing and Airbus, the world’s two biggest plane makers, have called on the U.S. government to delay the rollout of new 5G phone services over safety concerns. Concerns previously have been raised that C-Band spectrum 5G wireless could interfere with sensitive aircraft equipment like radio altitude meters. In a letter, top executives from both companies warned that the technology could have “an enormous negative impact on the aviation industry.” BBC News reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former President Trump is becoming increasingly agitated at the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, is angry at his former chief of staff Mark Meadows for initially cooperating with the committee, and is anxious about criminal exposure as his former aides invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid giving testimony, according to sources. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
The Jan. 6 select committee is contemplating recommending that the Department of Justice (DoJ) pursue criminal cases against Trump and others, as it gathers evidence about Trump’s culpability around the Jan. 6 attack. Any criminal referrals the committee makes will not carry legal weight but it may increase public pressure and prompt the DoJ to take action. According to sources, the committee is looking in particular at whether there was wire fraud by Republicans who raised millions of dollars based on assertions that the election was stolen, despite knowing the claims were not true, and whether Trump and his allies obstructed Congress by trying to stop the certification of electoral votes. Michael S. Schmidt and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
The Jan. 6 select committee has asked to meet with Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) after witnesses testified to the committee that the lawmaker played an important role in the failed attempt by Trump and his allies to install Jeffrey Clark as an attorney general who would pursue false election fraud claims. Perry was among a group of Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 presidential-election results, and he led the objection to counting the votes from Pennsylvania and voted to object the results from Arizona. Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A federal judge in Washington, DC, has refused to dismiss conspiracy charges against Oath Keepers and associates of the group in relation to the Jan. 6 attack. Judge Amit Mehta’s ruling, which came after more than six months of deliberation, has paved the way for the 17 defendants to stand trial in the largest and most serious cases against the alleged attackers. Jessica Garrison and Ken Bensinger report for BuzzFeed News.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated that there will be a “full program of events” to mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack. In a letter to the Democratic caucus, Pelosi noted the House would not be in session the first week of January but said some members had expressed interest in being involved in commemoration activities. Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
Far-right radio host Alex Jones is suing Pelosi and the Jan. 6 select committee to try and stop the committee from requiring his testimony and obtaining his phone records as part of its investigation. The lawsuit also reveals that Jones has informed the committee of his intent to plead the Fifth Amendment, the privilege against self-incrimination, if compelled to appear before the panel for a deposition – currently set for Jan. 10, 2022. Jones also said he has informed the committee that he will raise First Amendment objections if asked about “constitutionally protected political and journalistic activity.” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
A Washington state man has been sentenced to 46 months in prison for assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon in a tunnel at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Devlyn Thompson pleaded guilty earlier this year. Holmes Lybrand reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Former President Trump has filed a lawsuit against New York State Attorney General Letitia James that seeks to halt her long-running civil inquiry into his business practices and prevent her from participating in a separate criminal investigation. The suit argues that James’s involvement in both inquiries is politically motivated and cites a list of James’s public attacks on Trump in the past. Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum report for the New York Times.
The Pentagon has issued a new report on “Countering Extremist Activity Within the Department of Defense.” The updated rules are a result of the Countering Extremism Working Group review that was initiated after the Pentagon learned that members of the military took part in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The new guidance does not include any new prohibitions, however it does put forward a clearer and sharper definition of extremist behavior with a two-part test. The first question is whether the conduct itself rises to the level of extremist activity, while the second assesses whether there was active participation, senior defense officials have said. Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr report for CNN.
Like the previous rules, the new guidance does not prohibit membership in an extremist organization, but officials have said it makes it very difficult to participate. Likewise, the Pentagon’s approach does not target particular ideologies or political leanings, despite the prevalence of right-wing groups that participated in the Jan. 6 attack. Instead, defense officials have said that the Pentagon’s approach focuses on addressing “actions” and will rely in large part on individual service members or outside law enforcement agencies to report concerning behavior. Karoun Demirjian and Alex Horton report for the Washington Post.
A group of Haitian migrants have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the U.S. government following their experience at the border in Del Rio, Texas, including interactions with Border Patrol agents on horseback. “The lawsuit specifically accuses the Biden administration of failing to prepare for the influx of migrants despite being aware of the immigrants’ imminent arrival. It also says that the government was responsible for physical and verbal abuse of the migrants as well as failure to provide due process because of Covid-19 policies, including Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of people for public health reasons,” Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
More than 29,000 Afghan evacuees still remain on U.S. military bases, in part, due to a shortage of affordable housing and the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 2,900 Afghans are also still overseas at a handful of U.S. military posts, waiting for a flight to the United States. Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has told reporters that “the door remains open” for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the re- negotiating parts of the framework for Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Manchin over the weekend announced that he would not vote for Biden’s agenda, leading to heavy criticism from the Democratic party and the White House. Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill.
The Apache log4j vulnerability in a hugely popular piece of computer code, which came to light on Dec. 9, has been described as the “most serious” vulnerability and security breach in decades. Key points to know about the breach and its impact on the cybersecurity community are provided by Tatum Hunter and Gerrit De Vynck reporting for the Washington Post.
Belgium’s Ministry of Defense was recently hacked by attackers exploiting the log4j vulnerability. A spokesperson for the ministry told Belgian newspaper De Standaard that the ministry had “discovered an attack on its computer network with internet access” last week and that the organization had taken steps to quarantine the impacted network areas. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The Justice Department has indicted and extradited to the U.S. from Switzerland a Russian national for allegedly hacking the networks of U.S. groups involved in stock market trading to profit from insider information. Vladislav Klyushin was arrested by Swiss authorities in March, and is set to appear in federal court in Boston. “Klyushin is alleged, alongside several Russian co-conspirators, to have hacked into the networks of two unnamed U.S.-based filing agents between January 2018 and September 2020,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The Omicron Covid-19 variant has now caused about 73% of recent Covid-19 cases in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said. In many parts of the U.S., Omicron now makes up more than 90% of cases, the CDC added. Sarah Toy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A group of 47 Republican lawmakers are backing 35 Navy service members who are suing the Pentagon and Navy over the military’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The lawmakers have filed an amicus brief in a Texas federal court supporting the lawsuit, which argues that the mandate violates religious freedoms. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 51.10 million people and has now killed over 807,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 275.51 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.36 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.