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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 — BELARUS
The U.S. has warned that Russia could mount a major invasion of Ukraine, including through neighboring Belarus. At the U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. had seen evidence that Moscow intends to mass more than 30,000 troops at the Belarus-Ukraine border by early February and that 5,000 troops were already there. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
The State Department has ordered family members of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Belarus to leave the country and warned U.S. citizens against travel to Belarus due to an “increase in unusual and concerning Russian military activity near the border with Ukraine.” “U.S. citizens located in or considering travel to Belarus should be aware that the situation is unpredictable and there is heightened tension in the region,” the travel advisory added. Zachary Basu reports for Axios.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL
Russia and the U.S. traded barbs at the U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, with Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, saying that Ukraine will be responsible for its own destruction if it undermines existing peace agreements. Nebenzya also cast doubt on U.S. intelligence assessments that Putin has amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and said there was “no proof” that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent. Aime Williams and James Politi report for the Financial Times.
There can be “no alternative to diplomacy and dialogue,” the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the U.N. Security Council yesterday. Rosemary A. DiCarlo reiterated that any incursion by one State on another’s territory would be against international law and the U.N. Charter. UN News Centre reports.
Further reporting on the U.N. Security Council meeting is provided by BBC News and Rick Gladstone and Maria Varenikova reporting for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — OTHER DIPLOMACY
The U.S. has said it received a response from Moscow to its written proposals delivered last week. U.S. officials would not disclose the contents of the Russian letter, saying they would not “negotiate in public.” However, Russia’s state news agency RIA has reported today that Russia sent the U.S. follow-up questions rather than a response, and that Moscow is still working on an actual response. Julian Borger and Lorenzo Tondo report for the Guardian.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today in a bid to defuse tensions. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is traveling to Ukraine for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Johnson promised to work with Zelensky to find a diplomatic solution to arguments with Moscow and “avoid further bloodshed.” Ahead of Johnson’s visit, the U.K. government has announced that it is giving £88m (about $118m) to Ukraine to promote stable governance and energy independence from Russia. BBC News reports.
Along with Johnson, other foreign leaders scheduled to visit Ukraine this week include the prime ministers of the Netherlands and Poland, and the President of Turkey. Several foreign ministers, including from Germany and France, are also slated to arrive this and next week. “France and Germany, in particular, are pursuing negotiations that could give Putin a face-saving way to de-escalate, focusing on moves to advance the long-stalled Minsk-2 agreement on the role of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine,” Yaroslav Trofimov and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Putin is expected to visit Beijing for the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies on Friday and for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said the meeting, the first in person meeting between Putin and Xi in nearly two years, will be “a major event in international relations,” with the U.S. State Department calling last week on Beijing to use its influence to push for a diplomatic solution to Moscow’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders. Eva Dou and Mary Ilyushina report for the Washington Post.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is traveling to Moscow to meet with Putin today. “Obviously, we cannot avoid talking about the security situation in Europe, where Hungary’s position is completely clear…We are interested in peace,” Orbán said in a radio interview before his visit. Marc Santora reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE — OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries. In an address to Parliament, Zelenskiy reiterated that the move did not mean war with Russia was imminent, and he urged lawmakers to stay calm and united, not to sow panic or exploit a standoff with Russia for political gain. Natalia Zinets reports for Reuters.
The U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that Russian oligarchs and key supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin will be targeted by U.K. sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. Truss has, however, left the U.K.’s existing anti-corruption laws, which have previously been criticized, largely untouched. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
Live updates on the Russia, Ukraine crisis are provided by the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Somaliland is offering the U.S. military use of a seaport and airfield overlooking strategic maritime routes in exchange for steps toward recognizing it as a sovereign country. Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi is planning a visit in March to Washington, where he is expected to explore U.S. interest in using the facilities in Berbera, which sits on the Gulf of Aden. Michael M. Phillips reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Venezuelans taken into custody along the U.S. southern border will be sent to Colombia under a plan by President’s Biden administration to address the increasing numbers of migrants arriving in the United States. “The Department of Homeland Security said Monday that it will begin returning Venezuelans to Colombia if they had previously resettled in that country, expelling them from the U.S. under the pandemic-era health authority known as Title 42. The emergency provision allows authorities to bypass immigration proceedings without affording asylum seekers a chance to seek protection under U.S. law,” Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. and its European allies are on the cusp of restoring the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, officials from Biden’s administration have said. The officials however cautioned “that it is now up to the government in Tehran to decide whether, after months of negotiations, it is willing to dismantle much of its nuclear production equipment in return for sanctions relief,” David E. Sanger, Lara Jakes and Farnaz Fassihi report for the New York Times.
Biden has designated Qatar as a “major non-NATO ally” of the U.S., a designation that clears the way for greater security cooperation and investment in the Gulf nation. Biden informed reporters of the planned designation before a meeting at the White House yesterday with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar. Michael D. Shear reports for the New York Times.
At the Al-Nashiri case at the Guantanamo military commissions, the Biden administration has categorically rejected statements obtained through torture at any stage in the proceedings and has promised that the government will not seek to admit any statements Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Al-Nashiri made while in CIA custody. “This should be unremarkable, as it clearly reflects U.S. domestic and international legal obligations and Biden administration policy, but the position the Department of Justice took in its brief filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday is actually an about-face from the position prosecutors took before the military commission judge,” Tess Bridgeman writes for Just Security.
Israeli laws, policies and practices against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories amount to apartheid, Amnesty International has said in a new report. The report alleges that the Israeli state maintains “an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis.” An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson has said that Israel “absolutely rejects all the false allegations” in the report. BBC News reports.
Two Israeli military officers were removed from their positions immediately, and a third will be formally censured, for their role in the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man following his detention at a checkpoint in the West Bank last month. Yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces said that the death of Omar Assad was the result of “moral failure” and poor decision-making by the soldiers who detained him. Shira Rubin and Erin Cunningham report for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The military junta in Myanmar has threatened sedition and terrorism charges against anyone who shuts their business, claps or bang pots today, as the junta tries to stamp out any protests planned to mark the one-year anniversary of the military coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. “Activists plan to hold a ‘silent strike’ and have called for members of the public to stay at home between 10am and 4pm. At the end of the strike, people will clap or bang pots, an act that is traditionally thought to drive out evil spirits, and which is often used as a form of protest against the military,” Min Ye Kyaw, Rebecca Ratcliffe and a reporter in Yangon report for the Guardian.
Further reporting on the anniversary of the coup in Myanmar is provided by Richard C. Paddock for the New York Times.
The E.U. is to impose travel bans and asset freezes on five members of Mali’s junta after the military rulers went back on an agreement to organize elections this February, diplomats have said. The measures have the political support of all 27 E.U. governments and should take effect later this month. Robin Emmott and John Irish report for Reuters.
Ahead of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese authorities have moved to quash any sign of dissent. “Chinese authorities have detained activists in their homes and sent others to jail. Censors have shut down the social media accounts of prominent critics. Officials have warned Olympians that protest could bring prosecution,” Paul Mozur, Steven Lee Myers and John Liu report for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The chief of staff of former Vice President Pence has testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, sources have said. Marc Short was with Pence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and participated in a critical White House meeting on Jan. 4, 2021. Short testified before the select committee in person last Wednesday in a lengthy session, and had previously supplied a limited number of documents that were subpoenaed by the committee, according to sources. Jamie Gangel, Gloria Borger and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
New accounts have shown that former President Trump was more directly involved than previously known in plans to use national security agencies to seize voting machines and seek evidence of fraud after the 2020 election. The accounts show that Trump considered plans to use the agencies to seize voting machines, including by directing his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to ask the Department of Homeland Security if it could legally take control of voting machines in key swing states. Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
Trump’s advisers drafted two versions of an executive order to seize voting machines: one directing the Department of Defense to do so and another the Department of Homeland Security, sources have said. Zachary Cohen and Paula Reid report for CNN.
Some documents from Trump’s White House that were handed over to the Jan. 6 select committee had to be taped back together by National Archives staff because they had been ripped up. In response to questions from CNN, the National Archives said that “some of the Trump presidential records received by the National Archives and Records Administration included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.” The agency did not explain how officials know Trump himself ripped up the records. Ryan Nobles, Zachary Cohen and Annie Grayer report for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A deadly clash at a federal prison in Texas prompted the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to temporarily lock down all its facilities yesterday, prison officials have said. Multiple inmates were involved in an altercation at U.S. Penitentiary Beaumont in Texas. Four were hospitalized, and two died after being transported for medical attention, the prison bureau said. The bureau was “securing our facilities as a temporary measure to ensure the good order of our institutions” a spokesperson said, adding that the measure was expected to be “short-lived.” Dennis Romero reports for NBC News.
District Judge Lisa Wood has rejected a plea deal between federal prosecutors and two of the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was killed while out jogging. Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan were found guilty of Arbery’s murder in November. Wood said she was not willing to be bound to the clause that allowed the McMichaels to serve time in a federal, and not state, prison. Her ruling comes after Travis McMichael admitted for the first time that race was his motivation for chasing Arbery. BBC News reports.
Arbery’s family had asked the judge to block the deal, which would have allowed the McMichael brothers to serve the first 30 years of their sentences in federal, rather than state, custody. Under the deal for the federal hate-crime charges, the brothers would admit that they targeted Arbery in part because he was Black. Annabelle Timsit and Hannah Knowles report for the Washington Post.
The National Security Agency (NSA) failed to follow both court-approved and internal procedures designed to prevent officials from using a foreign surveillance law to inappropriately monitor Americans’ communications, the NSA inspector general has found. In a semi-annual report released yesterday, the inspector general raised concerns around NSA queries for U.S. persons, including officials not always following NSA procedural and policy requirements, and information not being consistently documented. Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN.
Covid-19 vaccines for children younger than five could be authorized by the end of February, far sooner than previously expected. Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, are expected to submit to the Food and Drug Administration a request for emergency-use authorization for the vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old. Laurie McGinley, Lena H. Sun and Carolyn Y. Johnson report for the Washington Post.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro has announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19. “Del Toro, who is vaccinated, said he tested positive on Monday morning and will work from home this week, according to a statement from his office,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 74.94 million people and has now killed over 886,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 378.72 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.67 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.