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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.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday as the U.S. seeks to head off a potential Russian assault on Ukraine. The talks will try to break the deadlock with Russia, including in regard to Russia’s demand that NATO pledges not to expand eastward, a condition that the U.S. and Western Europe have rejected. “We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point want an attack in Ukraine, and what Secretary Blinken is going to do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Michael Crowley and Anton Troianovski report for the New York Times.
Blinken warned that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice,” as he landed in Kyiv today. Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and then travel to Berlin for talks with allies before going to Geneva to meet Lavrov. Simon Lewis reports for Reuters.
Russia has “almost completed” its buildup of forces near Ukraine’s border that could be used for an offensive against the country, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has warned. “The full strength of RFAF (Russian Federation’s Armed Forces) land group at the Ukrainian direction — (is) over 106,000 personnel. Together with the sea and air component, the total number of personnel is over 127,000 servicemen,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s latest intelligence assessment said. The assessment said Ukraine believes Russia is trying to “split and weaken the European Union and NATO,” as well as to limit the U.S.’s capabilities. Matthew Chance, Kylie Atwood, Emmet Lyons and Ami Kaufman report for CNN.
The U.S. is preparing financial sanctions on pro-Russian agents in Ukraine. The upcoming action against individuals in Ukraine rather than the Russian government may underscore President Biden’s administration’s interest in first exhausting diplomatic avenues with Moscow, officials have said. Vivian Salama and William Mauldin report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration is weighing how to help the Ukrainian military and government fend off a potential Russian invasion, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The U.S. is evaluating providing the Ukrainian Army with additional ammunition, mortars, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and anti-aircraft missile systems, which would likely come from NATO allies, a senior U.S. official said. Natasha Bertrand, Jim Sciutto, Katie Bo Williams, Barbara Starr and Alex Marquardt report for CNN.
The U.S. government approved $200 million in additional defensive security assistance to Ukraine in December, a senior State Department official has said. Reuters reports.
Russian troops arriving in Belarus for what Moscow and Minsk are saying will be joint military exercises are a “direct threat to Lithuania,” the country’s defense minister has said. Reuters reports.
Poland has raised its nationwide cybersecurity terror threat in the wake of a cyberattack on Ukraine last week. The higher threat level will be in place until 11:59pm on Sunday, Poland’s digital ministry said in a statement on its website, which added that the new alert level is a precautionary measure. Reuters reports.
Just Security has published an essay by Ira Helfand, M.D. and Daryl G. Kimball on how in ‘The US-Russia Crisis Over Ukraine: All Options Should Not Be On the Table’.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling for the U.S. government to accelerate efforts to transfer eligible detainees out of the detention center at Guantánomo Bay, Cuba. Following 20 years of visits to the detainees, “the ICRC is gravely concerned that the remaining people held at Guantánamo Bay have been behind bars for so many years with little or no clarity as to what will happen to them. The ICRC notes that some detainees remain in Guantanamo Bay today despite the fact they were deemed eligible for transfer more than ten years ago,” a statement from the ICRC reads.
Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya has come under fire for saying that he – and most Americans – “don’t care” about abuses against the Uyghur minority in China. Palihapitiya made the comments during a podcast discussing whether President Biden’s actions on the issue had helped him politically. Palihapitiya later clarified his stance on Twitter that “important issues deserve important discussions,” saying “I believe that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere.” BBC News reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Kazakhstan’s former president who ruled Kazakhstan for three decades has spoken out on the unrest that gripped the country earlier this month. In a video address, Nursultan Nazarbayev described the unrest as an assault on Kazakhstan. “The purpose of these organized riots and attacks on Kazakhstan was to destroy the integrity of the country and the foundations of the state,” he said. Valerie Hopkins reports for the New York Times.
Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen used advanced missiles and drones to target the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday, according to people briefed on the investigation into the attack. Although the Houthi rebels have hit the UAE before, this was the first time that the Emiratis publicly acknowledged the attack. Dion Nissenbaum and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Hong Kong activist Edward Leung who rose to prominence on the now-banned slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” and who inspired violent resistance among young protestors, has been released from jail. Elaine Yu reports for the Wall Street Journal.
China has warned foreign Olympic athletes against speaking out on politics at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympic Games. A member of China’s Olympics organizing committee warned that “any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.” Eva Dou reports for the Washington Post.
Israeli police have evicted a Palestinian family from their home and demolished the dwelling in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in a case that has drawn international attention. On Monday, a member of the family took to the roof of their house, threatening to blow it up with gas canisters if they were forced out. Police initially withdrew from the standoff, but returned before dawn today, saying in a statement that they were enforcing a court-approved eviction order of “illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs.” Reuters reports.
Nigeria’s interior minister has ordered prison guards to “shoot to kill” those involved in jailbreaks. Over the past year armed groups have attacked various prisons in Nigeria, enabling more 5,000 inmates to escape. During an address to prison staff in the southern city of Ibadan, Rauf Aregbesola said anyone who attempts to breach security “must not live to tell the tale.” BBC News reports.
Four alleged members of the Nigerian mafia have been arrested in southern Italy after a young sex trafficking survivor spoke out against them. Investigators in Palermo have said that the woman, who is also Nigerian, had been imprisoned, raped, blackmailed, and forced into prostitution by her traffickers to pay a debt. The men allegedly belong to the feared Black Axe, a cult-like criminal gang that emerged in the 1970s at the University of Benin. Lorenzo Tondo reports for the Guardian.
A new U.N. report on Belarus’s forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet and the subsequent arrest of a dissident journalist in May last year has raised fresh questions about the veracity of statements the Belarusian government provided at the time. The confidential report presents a timeline and statements from parties involved that, when taken together, cast doubt on Belarus’s account of events, including the claim there was a bomb threat which forced the plane to land in Minsk. Daniel Michaels and Benjamin Katz report for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The National Archives are intending to turn over four pages of documents relating to former President Trump’s White House to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. According to a letter from the Department of Justice to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, the documents were not covered by the DC Circuit’s administrative injunction preventing the Archives from disclosing certain documents, and the Supreme Court has not yet acted on Trump’s emergency request for an injunction to prevent the release of the documents. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
The Jan. 6 select committee has subpoenaed Rudolph Giuliani and three other members of the legal team that pursued a set of lawsuits alleging election fraud on behalf of Trump. “The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results or were in direct contact with the former president about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS), chair of the committee, said in a statement. Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.
Prosecutors have posed questions to a Jan. 6 defendant that were “focused on establishing an organized conspiracy” involving Trump and his allies to “disrupt the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6,” according to papers filed by the defendant’s lawyer. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, has accused former President Trump’s family business of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets for financial gain. In court papers released yesterday, James accused the Trump Organization of “fraudulent or misleading” practices. The filing came in response to Trump’s recent effort to block James from questioning him and two of his adult children under oath as part of James’s civil investigation into the Trump Organization. Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum report for the New York Times.
In the filings, James’s office said that, while it has not reached a conclusion about whether to take legal action against Trump and his company, the grounds for the investigation are “self-evident.” Corinne Ramey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats pushed forward yesterday with opening the debate on voting rights protection, despite the attempt likely being futile. Democrats are far short of the votes needed to win the bill’s passage in the face of Republican opposition, and lack the votes needed in their own party to change Senate rules to enact the legislation unilaterally. However, Senate Majority Leader Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said if Republicans again block the elections bill, as expected, he will put forward a proposal to shift the rules to allow the elections bill to pass on a simple majority vote after senators had exhausted their rights to talk, rather than the current 60-vote cloture rule. “If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed,” Schumer said. Carl Hulse reports with the New York Times.
U.S. airlines have canceled some U.S.-bound flights ahead of the launch of 5G wireless in the U.S., even though AT&T and Verizon have agreed to limit 5G signals within 2 miles of runways to address air safety concerns. President Biden thanked the wireless companies for the temporary concession, saying that “this agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled.” Drew FitzGerald and Alison Sider report for the Wall Street Journal.
The British gunman, Malik Faisal Akram, who took four people hostage inside a Texas synagogue on Saturday was in contact with another individual in the U.S. before the attack, according to officials. Currently, however, investigators do not believe that a second person was involved in the plot. Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Jack Douglas and William Booth report for the Washington Post.
The British gunman was checked against law enforcement databases before entering the U.S. but raised no red flags, the White House has said. Akram was not believed to be included in the Terrorist Screening Database, a listing of known or suspected terrorists maintained by the FBI and shared with a variety of federal agencies, two law enforcement officials have said. Akram arrived in the U.S. at Kennedy Airport in New York on a tourist visa about two weeks ago, officials said. AP reports.
A federal judge has approved a plan to restructure billions of dollars of Puerto Rico’s debt, allowing Puerto Rico to exit bankruptcy following a years-long string of litigation. Bryan Pietsch reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected close to 67.60 million people and has now killed over 854,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 334.28 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.55 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.