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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, UKRAINE — U.S. FORCES AND EQUIPMENT
President Biden has made clear that no U.S. forces will be moving into Ukraine. Asked about what would lead to the deployment into Eastern Europe (but not Ukraine) of 8,500 troops the U.S. has put on heightened alert, Biden said it depends on “what Putin does or doesn’t do.” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The Pentagon has said the 8,500 U.S. military personnel who on Monday were put on “prepare to deploy orders” may be only a starting point, and that U.S. commanders could reposition some of the 64,000 troops permanently stationed in Europe. Two defense officials have said that elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division were expected to be among the first units sent to NATO’s eastern flank if Biden gives the order. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said there are no plans to increase the U.S. military presence inside Ukraine, where approximately 200 American troops are training and advising Ukrainian forces. Robyn Dixon, David L. Stern, Isabelle Khurshudyan, John Hudson and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
A U.S. shipment of 80 tons of military equipment arrived in Ukraine yesterday. The cargo is part of a $200 million lethal aid package from the Biden administration to bolster Kyiv against a potential Russian attack, and was the third shipment of the total package. The shipment contained “other anti-armor systems, grenade launchers, munitions, and non-lethal equipment essential to Ukraine’s front line defenders,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — RUSSIAN DEVELOPMENTS
Russia has announced a flurry of new military exercises spanning from the Pacific Ocean to its western flank with Ukraine. The drills involved tanks and drones, troops from regular infantry and elite paratroopers, with three navy ships taking part in joint drills with the Chinese fleet in the Arabian Sea, the Russian defense ministry said. Ivan Nechepurenko reports for the New York Times.
Russia is continuing to push anti-Ukraine and anti-West propaganda and misinformation out to the Russian public. State news broadcasters have been broadcasting a stream of accusations against Ukraine in recent weeks, including allegations that Ukrainian forces transported potential chemical weapons to the country’s east and towns held by Russian-backed separatists in the region. Polina Ivanova and Georgina McCartney report for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — SANCTIONS AND GAS
Russia is threatening to cut off gas to Europe if economic sanctions are imposed following an incursion into Ukraine, while the U.S. and its allies scramble to set up alternative energy supplies. President Biden’s administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday that further disruption to natural gas markets would only hurt his own country. The U.S. has “held discussions with major natural gas producers in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as domestically, about their capacity and willingness to ‘temporarily surge’ their natural gas output for European buyers. [Biden] plans to host Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House on Monday, where they will discuss channeling Qatari gas to Europe,” Steven Mufson and Michael Birnbaum report for the Washington Post.
Australia is considering supplying extra liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe after the U.S. and the U.K. raised fears the continent’s reliance on Russia for gas makes it vulnerable. The Australian resources minister, Keith Pitt, has said that Australia is “a leading and reliable global exporter of LNG” and “stands ready to assist with any request for further supplies.” Daniel Hurst reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. is “looking at the global flow of LNG – whether it’s from the United States or from Australia or from other places,” a senior Biden administration official said during a press conference yesterday. Further reporting on the U.S. efforts to find alternative energy supplies is provided by David E. Sanger reporting for the New York Times.
The U.S. is preparing to impose export controls on critical sectors of the Russian economy if Russia attacks Ukraine. Senior administration officials have said that the U.S. could ban the export to Russia of various products that use microelectronics based on U.S. equipment, software, or technology, with the aim of hitting critical Russian industrial sectors such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and aerospace. Kate O’Keeffe, Gordon Lubold and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden has said he will consider personal sanctions against Putin if Russia invades Ukraine. If Russia attacks Ukraine, Biden said, it would be the “largest invasion since world war two” and would “change the world.” He confirmed that he would consider adding direct sanctions on Putin to a raft of measures being drawn up. Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
Western allies remain undecided about what Russian actions would trigger heavy sanctions. There continues to remain widespread uncertainty amongst the E.U., U.S., and other Western allies about what would constitute an attack by Russia justifying the sanctions, short of a full-scale invasion, diplomats and officials said yesterday. David M. Herszenhorn and Lili Bayer report for POLITICO.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — EUROPEAN REACTION
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he will seek clarification on Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. Macron joined a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday, where the two leaders stressed their support for Ukraine and reiterated their position that Russia would pay a high price if it attacked Ukraine. Reuters reports.
Senior representatives of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine are to meet in Paris today in a bid to revive the stalled Ukraine peace process. However, with NATO firmly ruling out Russia’s key demands, including an end to NATO’s expansion eastward and removal of NATO forces and equipment from Eastern Europe, there are doubts about whether efforts to revive the Ukraine peace process can help de-escalate the crisis. Robyn Dixon and Bryan Pietsch report for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Kristina Kvien, has said that diplomats’ families at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv were evacuated out of an “abundance of caution.” “The decision was made because right now [President] Vladimir Putin and Russia have built up such military might on the border that they could take an action any day now,” Kvien said. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Ukraine’s leadership appears to be seeking to play down the threat of an attack from Russia, despite warnings from the U.S. that an attack could come imminently. Ukraine’s “posture has left analysts guessing about the leadership’s motivation, with some saying it is to keep the Ukrainian markets stable, prevent panic and avoid provoking Moscow, while others attribute it to the country’s uneasy acceptance that conflict with Russia is part of Ukraine’s daily existence,” Michael Schwirtz reports for the New York Times.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that NATO is willing to sit down with Russia to “listen” to its security concerns but the alliance will not “compromise on core principles.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) have freed 23 of its members from Islamic State (IS) militants inside a besieged prison in northeast Syria. The days-long siege of the prison by IS, which included U.S. ground troops and airstrikes assisting the SDF, appears to be drawing to a close. The fighting started last Thursday when “Islamist militant fighters set off a car bomb that prompted some prisoners to riot and overpower their guards, believing that the attackers had come to free them, officials from the SDF have said,” Louisa Loveluck reports for the Washington Post.
The SDF have said that another 250 militants have surrendered as the group’s fighters work to clear the last part of the prison from IS. At least 300 people also handed themselves in on Monday. Dozens were still thought to be holed up inside the prison though, along with guards held as hostages and several hundred children. More than 160 people have been killed in the fighting over the prison, including 114 suspected militants and 45 SDF personnel, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. BBC News reports.
The U.S. military joined the fighting by conducting airstrikes and provided intelligence and ground troops in Bradley fighting vehicles to help cordon off the prison. Jane Arraf and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
U.K. police have arrested two more men in the northern English city of Manchester as part of a U.S. investigation into the attack and hostage-taking at a synagogue in Texas earlier this month. Reuters reports.
The State Department approved a $2.2 billion sale to the Egyptian government for 12 C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft and related equipment and a separate $355 million sale for three SPS-48 Land Based Radars and equipment. “The proposed sale will improve Egypt’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing airlift support for its forces by moving supplies, equipment, and people, thus strengthening its capacity in the security and humanitarian arena,” press release for both sales said. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. A federal jury in Brooklyn found El Chapo guilty in 2019 of 10 criminal counts in connection with leading the Sinaloa drug cartel. Yesterday, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims of juror misconduct and arguments that El Chapo’s pretrial treatment in jail hampered his defense. James Fanelli reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. Navy is trying to retrieve one of its most advanced fighter jets from the South China Sea after the aircraft crashed during routine operations earlier this week. The aircraft landed onto the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and then fell into the sea as its pilot ejected, Navy officials have said. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Afghanistan is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis, as widespread hunger worsens along with the country’s crippled economy. “Over 22 million people, more than half the country’s population, are facing crisis-levels of hunger, the majority of them unable to guarantee when their next meal is going to be, according to the U.N. World Food Program,” Ruby Mellen and Júlia Ledur report for the Washington Post.
Crowds have celebrated the military takeover in Burkina Faso, with some citizens — fed up with the failure of their government and France to stop the violence in Burkina Faso caused by militants — calling for Russia to intervene. Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.
Canada’s foreign ministry has been targeted in a cyber attack that was first detected last week and interrupted some of the Canadian foreign ministry’s “internet-based services,” the Canadian government has announced. Canadian cybersecurity officials were working to restore internet services as of Monday night and “critical services for Canadians.” The foreign ministry was not affected by the incident, the government told CNN. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
Russian authorities have officially added imprisoned Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny and eight of his top allies to Russia’s registry of terrorists and extremists. Russian law requires that the bank accounts of those on the registry be frozen. AP reports.
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board has warned El Salvador against making bitcoin a legal tender and called for “strict regulation and oversight of the new ecosystem.” El Salvador in September became the first country to adopt cryptocurrency as legal tender. The IMF board “stressed that there are large risks associated with the use of Bitcoin on financial stability, financial integrity, and consumer protection, as well as the associated fiscal contingent liabilities,” the board’s statement said. Rachel Scully reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group, Stewart Rhodes, has pleaded not guilty to various charges of seditious conspiracy for his alleged involvement in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. “The not guilty pleas were expected at this early stage of the proceedings, and all of the defendants could still plead guilty if federal prosecutors offer plea agreements,” Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, whose actions were credited with saving countless lives, has spoken out publicly for the first time about his experiences during the January 6th attack. Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Federal prosecutors are reviewing fake Electoral College certifications that declared former President Trump the winner of states that he actually lost, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has said. Fake certificates declaring Trump’s victory were sent to the National Archives by Trump’s allies in mid-December 2020. “We’ve received…referrals. Our prosecutors are looking at those and I can’t say anything more on ongoing investigations,” Monaco told CNN. Evan Perez and Tierney Sneed report for CNN.
U.S. manufacturers and other companies that use semiconductors are running low on key chips, the Commerce Department has said. In 2019, companies typically maintained 40 days of inventory for such chips, however now for the same chips companies are operating with fewer than five days of inventory, the report said. “Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the survey results show the urgency for Congress to approve the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which includes $52 billion to boost domestic chip production,” Josh Zumbrun and Alex Leary report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 72.17 million people and has now killed over 872,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 358.90 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.61 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.