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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.
Following talks yesterday on Russia’s troop buildup on the border with Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia remain deadlocked on Moscow’s demand that NATO does not expand any further east. “We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said. Despite the deadlock, officials agreed to continue discussions on other high-stakes security issues. Sherman said U.S. negotiators put forward suggestions related to the scope of American military exercises and the placement of U.S. missiles in Europe. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.
Russia told U.S. officials that it has no intention of invading Ukraine, while also warning the U.S. not to “underestimate the risks” involved in Moscow’s confrontation with the West, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. “We explained to our colleagues that we have no plans, no intentions to attack Ukraine,” Ryabkov said. BBC News reports.
Sherman has said that she does not know yet whether Russia is prepared to de-escalate the situation at Ukraine’s border, describing her talks with Ryabkov as “frank and forthright.” “We will see whether in fact Russia understands that the best way to pursue diplomacy is for them to reduce those tensions and to de-escalate,” Sherman told reporters. Jennifer Hansler, Jeremy Herb, Kylie Atwood, Natasha Bertrand and Rob Picheta report for CNN.
The Kremlin has said that it is not optimistic after the first round of talks with the U.S. and that it will not let its demand for security guarantees become mired in tortuous negotiations. “There are no clear deadlines here, no one is setting them – there is just the Russian position that we will not be satisfied with the endless dragging out of this process,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Dmitry Antonov reports for Reuters.
Additional reporting on the U.S.-Russia talks is provided by Michael R. Gordon, William Mauldin and Ann M. Simmons reporting for the Wall Street Journal, and Anton Troianovski and David E. Sanger for the New York Times.
The number of Russian troops at Ukraine’s border has remained steady in recent weeks, but Russia has begun taking steps to move military helicopters into place, a potential sign of attack planning, U.S. officials have said. Julian E. Barnes, Michael Crowley and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
House Republicans have introduced legislation targeting Russia for its military buildup near Ukraine. “The Guaranteeing Ukrainian Autonomy by Reinforcing its Defense Act, or GUARD Act, would move to bolster Kyiv’s defense capabilities and reject some of Russia’s demands,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Ukraine’s security service announced yesterday that it detained a Russian military intelligence agent accused of planning an attack on the port of Odessa, Ukraine’s largest Black Sea port. The agent was detained while attempting to recruit someone to carry out the attacks. Reuters reports.
The Russian led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will start withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan in two days, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has told the country’s parliament. The CSTO troops will depart completely within 10 days, Tokayev said. Guardian staff and agencies report.
Kazakhstan’s parliament has elected Alikhan Smailov as the country’s new prime minister. Tokayev nominated Smailov, who previously served as Kazakhstan’s finance minister from 2018 to 2020 and in 2019 became the first deputy prime minister in the Cabinet which was dismissed by Tokayev during last week’s violent protests. Louis Westendarp reports for POLITICO Europe.
The U.N. has rebuked Kazakhstan after the country’s troops were spotted wearing blue helmets reserved for U.N. peacekeepers during a violent crackdown on protesters last week. U.N. insignia may only be used by countries when they are performing their mandated tasks as U.N. peacekeepers. A spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General told reporters that Kazakh authorities had said they would address the issue after the U.N. raised concerns. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
NORD STREAM 2
President Biden’s administration has deployed top officials to Capitol Hill to convince wavering Senate Democrats to vote against a Republican push, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), for sanctions on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Cruz’s sanctions bill, which is set to be voted on in the Senate this week, would cripple the pipeline, which is in the final stages of approval and will send cheap natural gas from Russia to Germany. Democrats have argued that Cruz’s plan would undercut Biden’s ability to use the pipeline as leverage in negotiations with Moscow on the Ukraine crisis. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Democrats, led by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), are drafting alternative legislation that would impose sanctions on Russia for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline only if it invaded Ukraine. It is not clear if the Biden administration backs the Menendez measure. Manu Raju and Ted Barrett report for CNN.
A Somali man who has been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge since September 2006 as a high-value prisoner has been approved for transfer with security assurances. The approval makes Guled Hassan Duran, who was captured in Djibouti in 2004, the only Guantánamo detainee who was brought there from a C.I.A. black site to be recommended for release. Duran cannot return to Somalia due to a congressional prohibition on the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and a Pentagon spokesperson refused to comment on the case. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
On the 20th anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, a group of independent human rights experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council has condemned the continued operation of the facility as a site of “unparalleled notoriety.” The experts called on the U.S. to close Guantánamo Bay, and declared that two decades of “practising arbitrary detention without trial accompanied by torture or ill treatment is simply unacceptable for any government, particularly a government which has a stated claim to protecting human rights.” UN News Centre reports.
An airstrike in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region yesterday killed at least 17 people, mostly women, and wounded dozens in the town of Mai Tsebri, two aid workers have said, citing local authorities and eyewitnesses. The latest reports follow an airstrike that killed 56 people, including children, in a camp for displaced people in Tigray on Friday. Reuters reports.
President Biden spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed yesterday about the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia and expressed concerns about recent airstrikes that have led to civilian deaths, the White House said in a readout of the call. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres has called for an end to the conflict in Ethiopia and has said that he is deeply saddened by reports of recent air strikes that have killed civilians in Tigray. UN News Centre reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The Pacific may be the part of the world most likely to see “strategic surprise,” U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell has said, apparently referring to possible Chinese ambitions to establish Pacific island bases. “Campbell told the Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies that the United States has ‘enormous moral, strategic, historical interests’ in the Pacific but had not done enough to assist the region, unlike countries such as Australia and New Zealand,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. Treasury Department is sanctioning six officials connected to the Nicaraguan government ahead of today’s inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. “The Office of Foreign Assets Control’s actions against the officials, done in partnership with the European Union, targeted officials of the Nicaraguan military; the Nicaraguan minister of defense; the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail…and the state-owned Nicaraguan mining company, Empresa Nicaragüense de Minas,” David Smagalla reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
North Korea has test-fired a suspected ballistic missile that may be an improved version of the missile it launched last week, South Korea and Japan have said. In a statement South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that their assessment was that the missile was more advanced than the missile fired last week, which North Korea dubbed a “hypersonic missile.” The latest missile launch drew condemnation from both Japan and South Korea. Justin McCurry reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. Mission to the U.N., along with France, the Irish Republic, Japan, the U.K., and Albania have issued a joint statement condemning last week’s missile test by North Korea. The group called for North Korea “to refrain from further destabilizing actions…and engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearization.” BBC News reports.
A group of Taliban officials met with leaders of several armed Afghan resistance groups in Iran over the weekend. Women’s rights and press freedoms were discussed during the meeting, which was the first direct interaction between Afghanistan’s new rulers and an alliance of Afghan militias that launched a short-lived uprising after the Taliban took power in August. The Taliban reportedly offered to let the resistance leaders return home safely, which a spokesperson for the resistance group later angrily rejected, saying that the meetings had “achieved nothing.” Pamela Constable reports for the Washington Post.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has closed its borders and ceased trade with Mali. The move is in response to the military leaders in Mali delaying presidential and legislative elections scheduled for this February until 2026, following two military coups in Mali in the past two years. In a statement ECOWAS said that it found Mali’s interim authorities’ proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule “unacceptable.” Delaying the elections “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage,” the heads of ECOWAS said in a statement. Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry maintained communications with the prime suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, new evidence suggests. Phone records seen by The New York Times, as well as interviews with Haitian officials and a principal suspect in the crime, reveal potentially incriminating details about Henry’s relationship with Joseph Felix Badio, a former justice ministry official wanted by the Haitian authorities on suspicion of organizing the attack that killed Moïse. Anatoly Kurmanaev reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Members of Congress, police officers, and government watchdog groups argued in federal court yesterday that former President Trump is liable for major financial damages for his role in inspiring the Jan. 6 attack, pursuant to an array of civil suits. During the hearing, which focused on whether the suits can move forward, lawyers laid out the case for holding Trump responsible for instigating the attack. The judge did not rule at the end of the nearly five-hour hearing. Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
During the hearing, Judge Amit P. Mehta focused on why Trump did not act more quickly to condemn the attack. Mehta pointed out repeatedly that Trump on Jan. 6, 2021 asked the crowd to march to the Capitol, but did not condemn the violence for two hours. Mehta suggested that the former president’s slow response and initial Tweet that “arguably exacerbated things” was evidence Trump agreed with the attack. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Four more people have pleaded guilty to charges connected to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand report for CNN.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack and former Vice President Pence’s lawyer have been discussing informally whether Pence would be willing to speak to investigators, but he has indicated that he remains undecided about whether to cooperate, sources have said. Pence’s testimony under oath would provide the committee with an opportunity to establish in detail the impact of Trump’s pressure on Pence to block the certification of the 2020 election result. It would also be vital to the committee in deciding whether it has sufficient evidence to make a criminal referral of Trump to the Justice Department, with there being “some early indications that federal prosecutors working on charging the Capitol rioters are looking carefully at Trump’s pressure on Pence,” Michael S. Schmidt and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
The Jan. 6 select committee has accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) of backtracking on his commitment to cooperate with the committee, after Jordan said Sunday he would refuse to voluntarily appear before the panel. “Jordan has previously said that he would cooperate with the committee’s investigation, but it now appears that the Trump team has persuaded him to try to hide the facts and circumstances of January 6th,” a committee spokesperson said yesterday. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Just Security has published a piece by Grayson Clary and Gabe Rottman titled ‘With Subpoena to a Photojournalist, Jan. 6 Committee Runs Needless Risks to Press Freedom’
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
In a speech today, President Biden is expected to endorse changing rules around the Senate filibuster to pass new voting rights protections. “Biden will not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to kill legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, according to a senior administration official who previewed the speech. But Biden will say he supports a filibuster ‘carve-out’ in the case of voting rights, the official said,” Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has vowed to remove Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from key committee assignments if Republicans win back the House in the upcoming midterm elections. Schiff and Swalwell serve on the House Intelligence Committee, while Omar serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Melanie Zanona and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 61.55 million people and has now killed more than 839,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 310.50 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.50 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.