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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.
8,500 U.S. military personnel have been placed on heightened alert to potentially be deployed to Eastern Europe, the Pentagon has announced. NATO is currently weighing a possible activation of its response force to push back Russia should it seek to invade Ukraine. If NATO moves to activate this response force, or in the event of a “deteriorating security environment,” the U.S. “would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation, and additional capabilities into Europe,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a news briefing. The U.S. troops will not be authorized to enter Ukraine, Kirby added. Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO.
The Kremlin has accused the U.S. of fueling tensions after the announcement that the U.S. has put 8,500 troops on heightened alert. Reuters reports.
NATO member states are bolstering NATO’s eastern flank, putting their forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to the region. However, there was no indication from NATO yesterday that any additional forces would be used to support Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and Western officials have made clear that NATO forces would not engage militarily against Russia. “Denmark said it was dispatching a frigate to the Baltic Sea and would send four F-16 jet fighters to Lithuania. Spain is sending ships to join NATO forces in the Black and Mediterranean Seas and is considering sending jet fighters to Bulgaria. The Netherlands is deploying two F-35 jet fighters to Bulgaria from April. France has said it could send troops to Romania,” James Marson, Laurence Norman, Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
E.U. foreign ministers are struggling to portray a united front against Russia, as tensions persist on the issue of whether to supply weapons to Ukraine and engage in a proposed military training mission. E.U. ministers gathered in Brussels for a meeting that included a video-link conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Splits emerged between the E.U. and U.S. regarding the evacuation of diplomats from Kyiv, and although the E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted that all member states and allies were in agreement on the need for a package of high-impact sanctions, “that cohesion was largely made possible by not discussing any specific details about the draft measures,” David M. Herszenhorn and Lili Bayer report for POLITICO.
President Biden held a videoconference with European leaders yesterday afternoon to coordinate the trans-Atlantic response to the Russian troop buildup near Ukraine. The leaders discussed their concern about Russia’s military build-up, expressed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and “discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” the White House said in a readout of the call. A senior administration official said that while conversations are underway with NATO countries about sending troops to Eastern Europe, Biden has not yet ordered a deployment. Amanda Macias reports for CNBC.
Biden has insisted that there is “total” unity among western powers following crisis talks with European leaders on how to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine. “I had a very, very, very good meeting – total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters after finishing the video conference. The U.K. has also warned of “unprecedented sanctions” against Moscow should an invasion take place. Daniel Boffey, Andrew Roth, Julian Borger and Kim Willsher report for the Guardian.
Australia, Germany and the U.K. have said they will withdraw diplomatic personnel or their families from their embassies in Kyiv, following the U.S. announcement on Sunday. Daniel Hurst and Paul Karp report for the Guardian.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned that Russia may conduct cyber attacks against the United States as the crisis in Ukraine unfolds. A DHS bulletin on Sunday indicated that Russia could launch cyber attacks if it perceives U.S. or NATO responses to the crisis in Ukraine as a threat to its national security. Russia has a number of cyber tools at its disposal, ranging from “low-level denials-of-service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
The European Union has announced that it plans to send an additional 1.2 billion euros ($1.36 billion) in financial aid to Ukraine. Michael Schwirtz and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times.
A group of pro-democracy hackers known as the “Cyber Partisans” said yesterday that they infiltrated the Belarusian rail network in an effort to “disrupt” the movement of Russian troops into the country. The hackers “said that they had encrypted some of the railroad’s ‘servers, databases and workstations’ because it facilitates the movement of ‘occupying troops to enter our land.’ The group said it would return the network to ‘normal mode’ if 50 political prisoners in need of medical care were released and Russian military personnel were barred from Belarus,” Bryan Pietsch reports for the Washington Post.
A bipartisan group of senators met via video-link yesterday to try to work out a path forward on Russia sanctions legislation. The call included Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and ranking member James Risch (R-ID). Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Planned Russian naval exercises which will be within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but not its territorial waters, are “not welcome” or “wanted right now,” Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister has said. Niamh Kennedy and James Frater report for CNN.
Just Security has published an essay by Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. considering whether ‘As Putin Lines Ukraine Border with Russian Troops, Is There a China Factor?’
In an announcement on live television, the military in Burkina Faso said it has seized power and overthrown President Roch Kaboré. The military cited the deteriorating security situation as the reason for the takeover, a reference to Kaboré’s perceived failures to stem a growing Islamist insurgency. Kaboré’s whereabouts are unclear, but the military have said that all those detained are in a secure location. Emmanuel Akinwotu reports for the Guardian.
The military has suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, and closed the borders, the leader of the mutinous troops, Capt. Sidsoré Kader Ouedraogo, has said. Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.
Burkina Faso’s ruling People’s Movement for Progress party said earlier today that both Kaboré and a government minister had survived an assassination attempt. On Sunday, mutinying troops seized barracks, and gunshots were heard in the capital. The troops were demanding the sacking of military chiefs and more resources to fight militants linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) group and al-Qaeda. BBC News reports.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) yesterday condemned what they called an attempted coup in Burkina Faso. In a strongly worded statement, ECOWAS said it condemns the “extremely grave act” and “holds the military responsible for the physical wellbeing of the president.” BBC News reports.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has called for the military coup leaders in Burkina Faso to “lay down their arms” and has said that he is particularly worried about the whereabouts and safety of Kaboré. UN News Centre reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The fight to retake control of a prison in northeast Syria where ISIS fighters are holding hundreds of boys hostage is continuing. The U.S. has been providing airstrike support to Syrian Democratic Forces fighting to retake control of the prison from ISIS in what has become the biggest known American engagement with ISIS since the fall of its so-called caliphate three years ago. “The siege of the prison, which houses about 3,000 suspected ISIS fighters and almost 700 boys, has evolved into a hostage crisis with ISIS fighters still holding about a quarter of the prison and using the boys as human shields,” Jane Arraf, Sangar Khaleel and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
The U.S. military has said that forces at Al Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi engaged two inbound missile threats with interceptors, at the same time that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) army also engaged the missiles yesterday. The combined efforts prevented both missiles from impacting the base, the U.S. statement said, and the UAE earlier confirmed that there were no casualties from the missiles. Rory Jones reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A U.K. court has allowed Jullian Assange to appeal against his extradition to the United States. Assange has been given permission to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court to consider a narrow legal question, relating to a package of U.S. assurances over Assange’s treatment if he were extradited, that could open the door to a full appeal. Jason Douglas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Differences have emerged within the U.S. negotiating team on how tough to be with Tehran and when to walk away from the Iran nuclear negotiations, according to people familiar with the matter. U.S. officials confirmed over the weekend that Richard Nephew, the deputy special envoy for Iran who had advocated a tougher posture in the current negotiations, has left the team. “Two other members of the team, which is led by State Department veteran Robert Malley, have stepped back from the talks, the people familiar said, because they also wanted a harder negotiating stance,” Laurence Norman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
North Korea has launched two suspected cruise missiles today, South Korea’s military has said. The missiles were believed to be launched from an unspecified inland location and would constitute North Korea’s fifth weapons test this month, though cruise-missile launches aren’t covered by U.N. Security Council resolutions that govern Pyongyang’s weapons activity. Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A federal magistrate judge is weighing the release of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who prosecutors say was the mastermind behind a conspiracy to infiltrate the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson issued no immediate ruling, but sounded open to releasing Rhodes following an extended discussion with defense attorneys about potential custodians who could supervise him. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
Following the Jan. 6 attack, the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit began scrutinizing the backgrounds of people who meet with lawmakers, according to sources and written communications describing the new approach. “Examining the social media feeds of people who aren’t suspected of crimes, however, is a controversial move for law enforcement and intelligence officials given the civil liberties concerns it raises,” Betsy Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lippman report for POLITICO.
A pro-Trump social media influencer who called for “civil war” has been sentenced to three months’ home detention, three years’ probation and a $5,000 fine for disorderly conduct in connection with the January 6th attacks. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
A federal judge has ordered John Eastman, a lawyer who worked for former President Trump before the January 6th attacks, to respond to a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee to Chapman University for the Eatsman’s emails. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who were on the scene during the May 2020 killing of George Floyd started yesterday with opening statements. The former officers ignored their training and violated their legal responsibility to offer assistance to a dying man in their custody, a prosecutor said in opening statements, while defense attorneys for the three men said their clients did their best to manage a volatile situation. Laura Kusisto reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Further reporting on the opening statements in the federal trial regarding George Floyd’s killing is provided by Holly Bailey reporting for the Washington Post and Tim Arango reporting for the New York Times.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been granted her request for a special purpose grand jury to aid her investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials. The special grand jury can continue for a period “not to exceed 12 months,” and “may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit,” Christopher Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court, wrote in an order. Amy B Wang and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.
The Supreme Court has declined to hear House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)’s challenge to House proxy voting rules proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mariana Alfaro reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 71.70 million people and has now killed over 868,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 355.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.60 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.