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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.N. Security Council is meeting today to discuss diplomatic options for easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated on Sunday that Russia still has a chance to “find a diplomatic way out” of a potential crisis in Ukraine. Thomas-Greenfield said, however, that a country doesn’t amass thousands of troops at a border without the intention to use them. ABC News reports.
Ahead of the U.N Security Council meeting, readers may be interested in a recent Just Security article by Richard Gowan, “Guide to the Chess Game at the United Nations on Ukraine Crisis.”
In addition to the U.N. meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet again after earlier negotiations to ease tensions were unsuccessful. The talks will come after President Biden said he may send troops to Eastern Europe to support NATO allies. The Biden administration will also give a classified briefing on the situation to all senators this week. Rachel Pannett, Robyn Dixon, Kareem Fahim and Shane Harris report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. and allies are coordinating to impose specific sanctions aimed at Russian elites or individuals close to President Vladimir Putin, should Russia invade Ukraine. “The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior,” a senior official has said. Steve Holland reports for Reuters.
The U.K. has also warned that any incursion by Russia into Ukraine will trigger sanctions against companies and people with close links to the Kremlin. The Kremlin has described the U.K.’s threat as “very disturbing,” and said that any such sanctions would amount to an attack on Russian businesses. Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Antonov report for Reuters.
The Senate is nearing a bipartisan bill that will impose economic sanctions on the Russian economy if Putin invades Ukraine. The sanctions would target major Russian banks and sovereign debt amidst continued concerns about a Russian invasion. Courtney McBride writes in the Wall Street Journal.
The United Kingdom is also considering tougher sanctions on Russia, as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss outlined a new plan to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine. Truss stated that the U.K will pursue diplomatic options, but may have to search for more “punitive” measures like economic sanctions if needed. Anna Schaverien reports in the New York Times.
Russia has reportedly moved blood supplies to the border with Ukraine, a key step in its military buildup, according to U.S. officials. Current and former U.S. officials noted that access to blood supplies and other casualty and hospital supplies is a critical indicator of military readiness. Phil Stuart writes for Reuters.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged calm and said that he believes a Russian invasion is not imminent. David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon write in the Washington Post.
The U.S. and allies are debating intelligence on the likelihood and timing of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. Officials in Washington, London, and within Ukraine’s national security establishment assess that an attack is imminent, while Zelensky is not persuaded that the intelligence backs up this assessment. European allies in France, Germany, and Norway are unsure of the timing of a potential attack. Shane Harris, John Hudson, and Ellen Nakashima report for the Washington Post.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is to travel to Moscow tomorrow to visit Putin. Orbán has developed a reputation for being Putin’s closest ally within the E.U., and his upcoming visit has drawn criticism from Hungary’s political opposition and is being watched carefully by other European countries. “I sincerely hope that Viktor Orbán is aware of what is at stake, and that he sticks to the E.U.’s message of unity,” Nathalie Loiseau, the chair of the European parliament’s subcommittee on security and defense, said. Shaun Walker reports for the Guardian.
The Russian navy has completed anti-submarine drills in the Norwegian Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry has said. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian police have detained a group of people suspected of preparing mass riots in Ukrainian cities to cause instability. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy has said that around 5,000 people were supposed to take part in riots and clashes with police in five cities in northern and central Ukraine. Reuters reports.
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces regained control of the Ghweran Prison in northeast Syria after a week of fighting against Islamic State (ISIS) combatants. This has been the most intense urban combat involving U.S. soldiers since ISIS fell in 2019 as fighting broke out this past week and spilled into neighboring residential areas. By Saturday, most of the gunmen had been killed or had surrendered. However, it was believed that some of the gunmen were still inside the prison holding teenage detainees hostage. While it is unclear what happened to the remaining gunmen in the prison, by Sunday, the U.S. Special Operations Joint Task Force stated that the militia had cleared the prison of active enemy fighters and had regained control of the prison. Operations continue in the neighboring areas to find ISIS sleeper cells. Jane Arraf and Sangar Khaleel report for the New York Times.
Syrian air defenses intercepted an Israeli missile barrage targeting the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Syrian state media have reported, citing a military source. The strikes targeted areas northeast of Damascus where the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group has a significant military presence and a weapons depot. Reuters reports.
An online industry specializing in fake passports with official visas and travel stamps is allowing people with links to ISIS in Syria to travel to the U.K., E.U., U.S. and Canada, a Guardian investigation has found. Vera Mironova and Bethan McKernan report for the Guardian.
YEMEN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
A U.N. report found that thousands of children recruited by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have died in the conflict. The experts called on parties to “refrain from using schools, summer camps and mosques to recruit children.” The report called for sanctions against those individuals that engaged in such actions. The report also states that the Houthis have evaded U.N. arms embargoes by relying on a network of global intermediaries to source critical components for weapons systems. BBC News reports.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The interception occurred as Israel’s President Isaac Herzog visited the UAE. The attack amid Herzog’s visit is seen as intensifying regional tensions in the Persian Gulf, as a new nuclear deal with Iran is being negotiated and the Houthi rebels continue to launch a strong offensive. Jon Gambrell writes for the AP.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have said that they fired a number of ballistic missiles at UAE capital Abu Dhabi, as well as firing several drones at Dubai. “We renew our warning to citizens, residents and companies to stay away from vital headquarters and facilities that will be targets in the coming period,” a military spokesperson for the group said in a television address. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Yesterday, North Korea is believed to have launched its largest ballistic missile tests since 2017. Pyongyang released photographs from space which it says were taken from the missile. Both South Korea and Japan have condemned what is now the seventh test this month. Experts have suggested a number of reasons behind the increased activity this month, including political signaling and a desire to bring the U.S. back to nuclear talks. The timing of the tests, coming just before the Winter Olympics in China and the South Korean presidential election, is also significant. BBC News Reports.
North Korea is now believed to be capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam with its Hwasong-12 missile. Hyung-jin Kim reports for AP.
The African Union has suspended Burkina Faso from all its activities in response to last week’s military coup in the country. Reuters reports.
Rwanda has re-opened a border crossing with Uganda closed three years ago. The border was closed when the Rwandan government accused Kampala of harassing its nationals and supporting anti-government dissidents; in turn the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni accused Rwanda of conducting illegal espionage in Uganda. “Officials from both sides hailed the reopening, allowing a resumption of trade and some people to move back and forth. But the comments of a Rwanda government spokesman to Rwandan television on Sunday signal the animosity still lingers,” Reuters reports.
A U.N. report has stated that the Taliban has killed “scores”of former Afghan officials and people who worked with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. The report is one of the latest warnings from the U.N. about the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for the establishment of a new human rights monitoring unit. Jonathan Landay reports in Reuters.
A recent survey and report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has found that foreign journalists in China have been subject to rising intimidation. Many journalists have already left the country due to the high level of harassment and intimidation. The government has been using online trolling, physical assaults, hacking, visa denials, and threats of legal action. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
Portugal’s center-left Socialist party won a surprise victory and achieved a majority in Parliament after snap elections held on Sunday. Prime Minister Antonio Costa secures a new mandate with this election victory, bolstered by a high voter turnout. Andrei Khalip reports for Reuters.
Protestors in Ottawa have shut down the city after the second day of demonstrations against a vaccine mandate for truck drivers going between the U.S. and Canada. Police in Canada are investigating incidents with swastika flags and a woman dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The BBC reports.
Two German police officers were shot dead while on a routing patrol in western Germany this morning. The motive for the attack is unclear and the perpetrators have fled. AP reports.
The U.K. is to deploy armed counter-terrorism officiers on British cross-Channel ferries for the first time this summer. The move will tighten security on the ferries, which are unguarded and seen as vulnerable, with passengers not individually searched or given body scans when boarding. Caroline Davies reports for the Guardian.
Myanmar’s deposed ruler Aung San Suu Kyi’s election fraud trial will start on Feb. 14, a source familiar with the court proceedings has said. Reuters reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
President Biden is hosting the ruling leader of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at the White House today, as the West looks to prepare for an energy crisis in Europe if Russia attacks Ukraine. Qatar — the world’s second-biggest exporter of liquified natural gas — is eager to help if Russia further disrupts the flow of energy supplies to Europe, but Qatar might only be able to offer limited assistance due to not having excess supply, according to experts. Aamer Madhani reports for AP.
Biden’s agenda for his meeting with Tamim will also include the Iran nuclear talks and relations with Afghanistan. Tamim is also to meet separately with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and to discuss arms sales and other military issues with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Reuters reports.
Biden has called for the release of U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who was taken hostage in Afghanistan nearly two years ago. “Frerichs, a civil engineer and contractor from Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped in January 2020 from the capital of Kabul. He is believed to be in the custody of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network,” AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
At a rally this weekend, former President Donald Trump stated that he would likely pardon people involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if he runs for President and is elected again. Daniel Wallis writes for Reuters.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) is under fire for his handling of the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops to the border. Governor Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, which sends National Guard troops to the border to arrest immigrants on trespassing charges. Abbott is facing criticism following a recent spate of suicides among National Guard soldiers. Elizabeth Findell reports for the Wall Street Journal.
An unsealed case in the Eastern District of Virginia has brought to light charges against a former Kansas teacher, Allison Fluke-Ekren, for material support to terrorism. Fluke-Ekren became a rare female leader of an all-female ISIS brigade, and was part of an alleged plot to plant explosives at a U.S. university that never came to fruition, according to the charges. The original criminal complaint was filed under seal in May 2019. Fluke-Ekren will appear in court on Monday. Rachel Weiner reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, and the U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, reportedly had a confrontation in the Situation Room but are trying to mend their relationship. Tai accused Sullivan of leaking to the press to undermine her authority during a National Security Council meeting. The dispute comes as the Biden administration tries to negotiate a digital trade deal as an alternative to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Hans Nichols writes for Axios.
A new poll shows that 76% of Americans want Biden to consider all potential nominees for Justice Stephen Breyer’s Supreme Court seat. Biden made a pledge during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, but only 23% of Americans believe Biden should automatically follow through with his pledge. Daniel Politi reports for Slate.
Ketanji Brown Jackson has emerged as the frontrunner nominee for Justice Breyer’s seat, writes Stefania Palma for the Financial Times.
China is facing a rise in COVID-19 cases ahead of the Beijing 2022 Olympics. The spike is the highest Beijing has seen in 18 months. Local officials have locked down some neighborhoods, as athletes begin to travel to China for the Games. BBC reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 74.33 million people and has now killed over 884,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 374.83 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.66 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.