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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.
A call between President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday “did not go well,” a senior Ukrainian official has said, with Zelensky and Biden disagreeing on the “risk levels” of a Russian attack. The White House, however, disputed the official’s account and warned that anonymous sources were “leaking falsehoods.” Matthew Chance and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
During the call with Zelensky, Biden warned that an imminent invasion by Russia in the next month is a “distinct possibility,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said. BBC News reports.
Biden’s administration has called a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday to discuss the crisis. “More than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border and Russia is engaging in other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine, posing a clear threat to international peace and security,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a statement. “This is not a moment to wait and see…The Council’s full attention is needed now,” the statement reads. William Mauldin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. and Germany have stepped up warnings to Russia that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will not go ahead if Russia invades Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the German parliament that her government was “working on a strong package of sanctions” alongside allies that would include Nord Stream 2. Meanwhile, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said that: “if Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward…I think the statements coming out of Berlin even today are very, very strong.” Agence France-Presse reports.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price has also said that the Biden administration was “working with Germany” to ensure it could withstand the loss of the pipeline. “I want to be very clear: if Russia invades Ukraine one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” Price told National Public Radio. “I’m not going to get into the specifics. We will work with Germany to ensure it does not move forward.” Martin Farrer and Kate Connolly in report for the Guardian.
European officials are scrambling to secure gas supplies they would need to keep their economies going if hostilities around Ukraine imperil natural gas from Russia. About 40% of Europe’s natural gas supply is under Moscow’s control. Drew Hinshaw, Laurence Norman and Bojan Pancevski report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon is defending its preparations in response to the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, following criticism that the U.S. is not doing enough. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby highlighted that the U.S. has provided millions of dollars in weapons to Kyiv and provided new details about U.S. military forces that could deploy to Eastern Europe to bolster security there. “I take issue with the idea that this is sort of 11th-hour, Hail Mary-pass-throwing stuff,” Kirby said, “we’ve been talking about this now for a couple of months, what we’ve been seeing on the ground.” Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – RUSSIAN DEVELOPMENTS
Moscow is sending medical units to the border with Ukraine in what appear to be final preparations for an invasion. While the move doesn’t provide any certainty about whether an attack will happen, it means that Russia has now moved to a level of readiness that it did not reach in past military buildups, according to Western defense officials. Vivian Salama, Daniel Michaels and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia has sent its strongest signal so far that it is willing to engage with U.S. security proposals and has reiterated that it does not want war over Ukraine. “If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations today. Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow report for Reuters.
Lavrov also said that Moscow would “retaliate” if its demands for a halt to NATO’s expansion eastward were not met. Speaking on Russian radio, Lavrov said there was “no room for compromise” on Russia’s key demands. Robyn Dixon, Andrew Jeong and Rick Noack report for the Washington Post.
The Kremlin has warned that there is “not much cause for optimism” that the West will satisfy Russia’s demands. The Kremlin however said that Russian President Vladimir Putin will take time to study the written responses submitted by the U.S. and NATO on Wednesday before deciding how to proceed. Anton Troianovski and Michael Schwirtz report for the New York Times.
Forces from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) traded fire from the rooftops with dozens of Islamic State (IS) fighters still fighting over an embattled prison in northeastern Syria yesterday. The U.S.-backed SDF announced Wednesday that it had regained full control of the entire complex, but when New York Times journalists arrived Thursday, the fight was continuing with the SDF confronting IS militants still fighting from inside. Jane Arraf and Sangar Khaleel report for the New York Times.
In a statement, the SDF has said that the fight is continuing for control of the prison. The SDF said that 60 to 90 militants were hiding in the northern section of the prison, which housed nearly 700 minors. It is unclear how these migrants were missed when the SDF previously announced that it had claimed victory. “Our forces have made a call for safe surrender to these terrorists, and in case they did not surrender, we will deal with them firmly,” the SDF said in a statement yesterday. Louisa Loveluck reports for the Washington Post.
Jordanian troops killed 27 suspected drug smugglers in a gun battle along a stretch of the Syrian border early yesterday. Officials said they seized a large trove of fenethylline and thousands of packets of hashish after a shootout and chase. It was the most serious incident in a string of recent clashes with smugglers and criminal networks operating out of Syria. Sarah Dadouch and Joby Warrick report for the Washington Post.
U.S. military personnel often lack the training and resources to properly investigate civilian casualties and to take steps to prevent future unintended deaths, a Pentagon study has said. The Defense Department “is not adequately organized, trained or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm,” a congressionally mandated report which was submitted to the Pentagon in February 2021 concluded. Michael R. Gordon and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has directed the Pentagon to expand its efforts to reduce civilian casualties that result from the actions of U.S. and partner forces. Austin’s directive comes after an independent examination found widespread inconsistencies in how the military investigates and responds to such incidents. In a memorandum to top Defense Department officials, Austin said the moment offers “new opportunities to improve our ability to mitigate and respond to civilian harm and to institutionalize these improvements.” Abigail Hauslohner reports for the Washington Post.
In the directive, Austin set out a series of measures that military officials say are intended to change how commanders in the field think about their jobs, fostering a culture in which they view preventing civilian harm as a core part of their missions. Eric Schmitt, Charlie Savage and Azmat Khan report for the New York Times.
At least three rockets have landed in the Baghdad International Airport compound and near an adjacent U.S. airbase, damaging one disused civilian airplane, Iraqi police sources have said. No other damage or any injuries have been reported, and there has reportedly been no disruption to travel. Reuters reports.
The U.S. Navy is continuing to race to salvage an F-35C fighter jet from the bottom of the South China Sea after it crashed on an aircraft carrier and went overboard. The fighter jet is the most advanced U.S. fighter and is packed with highly classified technology that would represent an intelligence boon for China if it were to obtain it. “Maritime experts have said it could take a US salvage ship more than 10 days to reach the site of the crash, potentially giving Chinese submarines the opportunity to find it first,” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Vice President Harris led a U.S. delegation yesterday at the inauguration of Honduras’ first female president Xiomara Castro, amid rising migration to the United States. “Castro, a leftist who won a landslide victory in November, campaigned on promises to help end the corruption, poverty and violence that have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants to the U.S. in recent years,” Tarini Parti and José de Córdoba reports for the Wall Street Journal.
China has expressed ire over a brief meeting between the U.S. and Taiwanese vice presidents in Honduras, during the inauguration of Honduras’ new president. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The new military leader of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, has promised a return to the normal constitutional order “when the conditions are right,” following a military mutiny that ousted President Roch Kaboré on Monday. In his first national speech since taking power, Damiba, who led the mutiny, blamed Kaboré for failing to contain Islamic militant violence in the country. BBC News reports.
Rights activists and journalists targeted by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in Hungary are mounting a legal campaign to challenge the Hungarian government’s alleged use of the technology. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which is representing six clients, said that it would include legal action both in Hungary and abroad, including pressing for an investigation in Israel and bringing lawsuits before the European Court of Human Rights. Claire Parker reports for the Washington Post.
A New York Times investigation has revealed how Israel for years reaped diplomatic gains around the world from sales of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, including sales to the U.S. However, by the time that the company delivered a version of its surveillance software to the FBI in 2019, the many abuses of Pegasus had been well documented. Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti report for the New York Times.
A North Korean defector has been indicted in South Korea on charges of spreading propaganda leaflets along the inter-Korean border, prosecutors and lawyers have said. Park Sang-hak, the defector, is the first person to be indicted under the new South Korean law, which critics say puts a policy of engagement with North Korea above human rights. Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
China has agreed that the U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet can visit Xinjiang, China after the Beijing Winter Olympics, the South China Morning Post has reported. China has been accused of widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its far western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labour. Reuters reports.
Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang, if it is to go ahead, must be “meaningful, with unsupervised access to a wide range of civil society actors and locations as well as high-level engagement with government officials,” her spokesperson has said, following the reports that China has agreed that Bachelet can visit Xinjiang. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A federal judge has instructed John Eastman, a lawyer who worked with former President Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, to speed up his production of documents to the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Eastman was unsuccessful earlier this month in stopping a subpoena to Chapman University, his former employer, for 19,000 pages of emails. Judge David Carter has now issued a more detailed production schedule laying out a timeline for how Eastman should review and process the documents requested by the Jan. 6 committee. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
National Intelligence Director Avril Haines has said that the intelligence community’s information classification system undermines national security and public trust. Haines, in a response to a letter from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jerry Moran (R-KN), criticized the intelligence community’s decision to broadly classify much of its information and documents. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
The last group of Afghan refugees have departed from military bases in Indiana and New Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
President Biden has praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as a model public servant and has reaffirmed his commitment to nominate a Black woman to fill Breyer’s seat. Biden pledged to make his announcement of Breyer’s replacement by the end of February. Catherine Lucey, Sabrina Siddiqui and Jess Bravin report for the Wall Street Journal.
A 5-4 Supreme Court cleared the way yesterday for the execution of death row inmate Matthew Reeves by lethal injection, reversing a lower court opinion. Reeves was executed at Alabama’s Holman prison less than two hours later. The lower court had agreed to block the execution because Reeves sought to be executed by an alternate method of nitrogen gas. Ariane de Vogue reports for CNN.
Police departments across the U.S. are losing officers and struggling to replace them amid a tight labor market, rising crime rates, and growing public scrutiny of law enforcement. Kris Maher reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) has joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) lawsuit against the Department of Defense concerning the vaccine mandate for the National Guard. Both governors previously expressed to the Pentagon their opposition to the mandate and are arguing that the mandate undermines their authority over their states’ National Guard. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 73.42 million people and has now killed over 878,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 366.58 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.63 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.