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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.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has regained control of a prison for Islamic State (IS) militants in a northeast Syrian city, SDF said yesterday. The siege of the prison began last Thursday and drew U.S. ground troops, as well as U.S. airstrikes, into the fray. Louisa Loveluck reports for the Washington Post.
At least 181 people reportedly have been killed in the clashes since IS tried to stage a mass breakout from the prison. Those killed include 124 militants and inmates, as well as 50 police, SDF fighters, and prison guards, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The U.K.-based monitoring group also reported yesterday afternoon that the SDF was mostly in control of the prison, but it warned that militants might still be hiding in cells and sections that had not been searched. BBC News reports.
Yesterday afternoon it continued to be unclear how many prisoners may have escaped during the fighting, as well as how many of the 700 boys held in the prison and used by IS fighters as human shields during the siege were killed. Ben Hubbard reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — U.S. AND NATO RESPONSES
The U.S. has delivered its response to Russia’s security demands, building on U.S. offers made to Moscow but stopping short of meeting Russia’s demands on Ukraine and NATO. The U.S. proposals expand on a recent diplomatic approach by the U.S. and its allies, and could lead to discussions on ways to avoid confrontations in the Black Sea and missile-related inspections on each side, according to U.S. officials and people briefed by the Biden administration. However, the proposals do not meet Russia’s core demands, including that NATO guarantees not to expand eastward and cuts military ties with Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union. William Mauldin and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.
NATO also delivered written responses to the Kremlin’s demands for security guarantees. The NATO and U.S. proposals set “out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. Both he and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said their responses were coordinated with Ukraine and each other, and strongly affirmed NATO’s commitment to an open-door policy for nations that want to join. Robyn Dixon, Karoun Demirjian, Bryan Pietsch and Rick Noack report for the Washington Post.
Blinken said the U.S. proposal suggested ways to improve “reciprocal transparency” between Russia and the West regarding “force posture in Ukraine” and military exercises conducted in the region, as well as the placement of missile systems in Europe. It also suggested steps forward on arms control, Blinken said. BBC News reports.
Further reporting on the written proposals from the U.S. and NATO is provided by Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger for the New York Times.
The Kremlin has said that, while there is room for continued dialogue with the U.S., Russia’s main security demands have not been met. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov added, however, that it will take time for Moscow to review the U.S. proposal and that it would not rush to draw conclusions in the interim. Reuters reports.
Russian officials warned yesterday that Moscow would resort to “retaliatory measures” if the U.S. and its allies rejected its demands. Vladimir Isachenkov and Matthew Lee report for AP.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
A National Guard conscript in Ukraine has shot dead five people and injured another five in the eastern city of Dnipro, Ukraine’s interior ministry has said. The motive for the attack is unclear and there was no immediate sign that it was related to the military buildup in the region. BBC News reports.
The gunman fled the scene, leading to a sprawling manhunt before a suspect was taken into custody, police have said. Western officials are concerned that Russia may point to any sign of instability inside Ukraine as a pretext for a military intervention. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. State Department has warned that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine. Germany’s ambassador to Washington, Emily Haber, also appeared to endorse this position, citing previous comments from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that “nothing will be off the table.” Martin Farrer reports for the Guardian.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is expected to tell President Biden today that Qatar will provide short-term emergency liquid gas to Europe to help replace any shortages if Russia cuts off supplies to Germany. “Qatar is looking to supply Europe through transferring excess gas in storage in east Asia. It is also hoping to return to the European market on a bigger scale as its own production levels rise, but wants to see an end to a European Commission antitrust investigation,” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
Representatives from Russia and Ukraine will meet for another round of talks in two weeks, according to the Kremlin. “Eight hours of talks between Russia and Ukraine, along with France and Germany, produced agreement to meet again in two weeks on the continuing tensions in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine between Kyiv’s forces and separatists backed by Russia,” Ilya Arkhipov, Kateryna Choursina and Peter Martin report for Bloomberg.
Major European and U.S. businesses are seeking to balance their commercial interests in Russia with increasing pressure from their home governments to isolate Moscow. For instance, in Italy, top Italian business executives joined a videoconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and in Washington, the oil industry’s lobby group has asked U.S. policy makers to target any new sanctions on Russia carefully so as not to harm the competitiveness of U.S. companies. Eric Sylvers, Alistair MacDonald and William Boston report for the Wall Street Journal.
Members of Congress are talking about how military hardware built in their home states can deter Moscow and build up NATO’s defenses, including by pushing for faster sales of tanks to Poland and highlighting the Navy submarine fleet’s role in countering Russia at sea. Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.
While Republican leaders are criticizing Biden for what they call a weak response to Russian aggression, the far-right of the Republican party is questioning why the U.S. would side with Ukraine at all. Driven by pro-Russian or anti-interventionist sentiment, the Republican right has become increasingly vocal in undercutting not only U.S. foreign policy but also the positions of the party’s leaders, including by suggesting that Biden is trying to bolster his son’s business interests. Jonathan Weisman reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
German prosecutors have arrested and charged a Russian citizen suspected of space technology espionage. The individual has been accused of passing information on aerospace technology, in particular the Ariane space launch vehicle, to Russian intelligence. The suspect worked as a scientific researcher at a Bavarian university until his arrest on June 18 last year, German federal prosecutors have said. Reuters reports.
Russian military forces will leave Belarus once joint exercises between Russia and Belarus are complete next month, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense has said. Reuters reports.
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles off its east coast today, according to South Korea’s military, in the nation’s sixth missile test this month. The missiles traveled for about 190 km (118 miles) to an altitude of 20 km, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “A U.S State Department spokesperson has condemned the launches as a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and the international community. The United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach and calls on North Korea to engage in dialogue, the spokesperson said,” Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
North Korea’s internet appears to have been hit by a second wave of outages in two weeks, possibly caused by a cyber attack, researchers have said. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The first U.S. chartered evacuation flight from Afghanistan since November left Kabul yesterday. The passengers on the chartered Qatar Airways flight, run by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs and paid for by the U.S. State Department, include more than 30 Americans, a source familiar with the matter has said. Courtney Kube, Dan De Luce and Mosheh Gains report for NBC News.
Croatia will buy 89 U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles as part of a plan to form an infantry brigade to aid NATO, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced on Twitter. Croatia’s government is expected to formally endorse the $196 million deal today. Plenkovic said the price includes a U.S. donation of $51 million. AP reports.
China is demanding that the U.S. ends its “interference” with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which are set to start next month. China’s statement appeared to refer to the diplomatic boycott of the Games imposed by Washington and other countries. China’s Foreign Ministry said Minister Wang Yi made the demand in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. AP reports.
An elderly Palestinian American man, who was found dead after being detained by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, suffered a stress-induced heart attack, according to the results of an autopsy released yesterday. The examination found evidence that Omar Assad, 78, had been tightly bound and blindfolded, with abrasions on his wrists and bleeding on the insides of his eyelids. Steve Hendrix reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A federal magistrate judge has rejected a bid for the pretrial release of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers right-wing militia group, who is facing charges of seditious conspiracy in relation to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson concluded that Rhodes posed too great a threat to be allowed to go free pending his trial. “The evidence shows [the] Defendant orchestrated a large-scale attack on the federal government with the purpose of intimidating, by violence, federal officials and disrupting official governmental proceedings incident to the transfer of power in the Executive Branch following a national election,” Johnson wrote in her 17-page decision. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden has signed an executive order making sexual harassment a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and enhancing the military’s response to domestic violence and wrongful distribution of intimate visual images. The order takes effect immediately and troops can now be charged under Article 134 of the UCMJ Justice, which allows prosecution of crimes outlined by the president. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Further reporting on the executive order is provided by Nancy A. Youssef for the Wall Street Journal.
Justice Stephen Breyer plans to retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term. Breyer’s retirement gives Biden an opportunity to nominate a justice and deliver on his promise to nominate the court’s first Black woman. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The city council of San Jose, California, has approved an ordinance requiring gun owners to insure their firearms and pay an annual fee of $25. The ordinance, which still needs final approval at a reading next month before it can take effect in August, appears to be the first measure of its kind in the United States. Omar Abdel-Baqui reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A Texan man who allegedly sold a pistol used to take hostages at a synagogue in Texas earlier this month has been charged with illegal gun possession, officials have said. According to a criminal complaint against Henry Williams, 32, it is illegal for him to possess a gun because he has a prior felony conviction for aggravated assault. Devlin Barrett reports for the Washington Post.
The White House has announced new measures to improve cybersecurity within federal agencies. According to a memo released by the acting director for the Office of Management and Budget, agencies will be transitioning to a “zero trust” approach that requires agencies to “verify anything and everything attempting to establish access.” Brad Dress reports for The Hill.
Facebook’s ambitious effort to bring cryptocurrency to the masses is being wound down. “The Diem Association, the consortium Facebook founded in 2019 to build a futuristic payments network, is winding down and selling its technology to a small California bank that serves bitcoin and blockchain companies for about $200 million, a person familiar with the matter said,” Peter Rudegeair and Liz Hoffman report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 72.901 million people and has now killed over 876,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 362.58 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.62 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.