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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 – DIPLOMACY
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is prepared to keep negotiating on Moscow’s security demands, while warning about the possibility of a full-scale war. Following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, Putin said that the proposals made by Macron were “too early to speak about” but could create “a foundation for our further steps.” Macron in a joint news conference with Putin described the upcoming days as potentially decisive in diffusing the crisis. Anton Troianovski, Roger Cohen and Katie Rogers report for the New York Times.
Macron and Putin did not appear to reach a breakthrough during the five hours of negotiations at the Kremlin yesterday. “Right now the tension is increasing and the risk of destabilization is increasing,” Macron said after the talks. Macron is due to travel to Kyiv today to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He said he plans to brief Putin on the results of the discussions in a phone call. Andrew Roth and Julian Borger report for the Guardian.
French officials have said Putin has moved towards de-escalating the Ukraine crisis by promising not to undertake any new “military initiatives” and agreeing to withdraw thousands of Russian troops from Belarus after the completion of planned military exercises. Neither Putin nor Macron referred directly to such a deal at a news conference following their talks yesterday. Victor Mallet and Max Seddon report for the Financial Times.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said that the French assertions that Putin had promised Macron that Moscow would not carry out new military initiatives around Ukraine were “not right.” “Peskov said Russia and France had not yet been able to strike a deal on de-escalating tensions around Ukraine, but said de-escalation was needed and that the meeting had provided the basis for further work on that front,” Reuters reports.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany will not go ahead if Russia invades Ukraine, President Biden has said following a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Biden vowed that Germany and the U.S. would adopt a “united” approach, along with the rest of NATO, to tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.
Scholz in a joint news conference with Biden did not directly address the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, saying only that “we are acting together. We are absolutely united.” “Nord Stream 2, which runs alongside the older Nord Stream pipeline, is completed but is awaiting certification to come online, something German authorities have said was unlikely to happen until the second half of the year,” Noemie Bisserbe, Ann M. Simmons and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
Scholz did appear to reveal a gap between himself and Biden regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, declining to comment on his intentions for the Nord Stream 2 project in an interview with CNN. Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
The U.K. “will not flinch” over Ukraine and sanctions will be ready if Russia invades. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. Johnson has also said that the U.K. Government would ask for new powers to target “individuals and entities” linked to the Russian state. Lauren Turner reports for BBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – TROOP MOVEMENTS
A “couple hundred” of the 1,700 troops the U.S. military is sending to Europe have arrived in Poland, with the rest due to arrive in the coming days, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The first group of U.S. troops reinforcing NATO allies on the eastern flank have arrived in Romania, Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dancu has said. Reuters reports.
The U.K. is to send a further 350 troops to Poland in a move intended to show that the two countries stand together amid the Ukraine crisis. “The deployment was agreed bilaterally – meaning it takes place outside NATO’s structures,” Dan Sabbagh reports for the Guardian.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russian officials have expressed concern that a large-scale invasion of Ukraine would be costlier and more difficult than Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin leaders realize, according to U.S. sources describing intercepted communications obtained by the U.S. The Russian officials, who apparently include intelligence and military operatives, have also complained about their plans being discovered and exposed publicly by western nations. Natasha Bertrand, Jim Sciutto and Katie Bo Lillis report for CNN.
President Biden has advised Americans in Ukraine to leave the country, citing the risk of violence in the case of a Russian invasion. “I think it would be wise to leave the country,” Biden said, during a joint press conference with Scholz, clarifying he was not referring to U.S. diplomatic staff. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. has disclosed that it has barred former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández from entering the country. The State Department said yesterday that it included Hernández on its Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors list in July last year, citing alleged acts of corruption and illicit campaign financing. Anthony Harrup reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. has agreed to lift import tariffs on Japanese steel imposed by former President Trump’s administration. Yuka Hayashi reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. has approved a possible $100m sale of equipment and services to Taiwan to “sustain, maintain, and improve” the Patriot missile defense system used by the island. The U.S. defense security cooperation agency said yesterday that it had delivered the required certification notifying Congress after the State Department had approved the sale, which was requested by Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington. Reuters reports.
A government report expected today details how opioid trafficking into the U.S. has changed in recent years, with Mexico now a “dominant source” of fentanyl and synthetic opioids. In its report, the Federal Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking “warns that if the U.S. does nothing to change its response to the new challenges, more American lives will be lost,” Veronica Stracqualursi reports for CNN.
The protests in Ottawa that started 11 days ago as demonstrations against Covid-19 restrictions have become a rallying cry for powerful far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world. Catherine Porter, Ian Austen and Sheera Frenkel report for the New York Times.
In an effort to end the demonstrations, police in Ottawa are trying to prevent protesters, who have parked an estimated 500 heavy-duty trucks in Ottawa’s downtown, from obtaining fuel, food, and other supplies. The protesters, however, have vowed to stay in the capital until all governments in Canada drop mandates related to Covid-19 vaccination, as well as other economic and social restrictions. Paul Vieira reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The truckers protesting in Ottawa have been ordered by a court to stop honking their horns for the next 10 days. “Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought I’m aware of,” said Justice High McLean in yesterday’s ruling which handed an interim victory to residents in the area. BBC News reports.
Canadian President Justin Trudeau has demanded an end to the protests, saying that “it has to stop” during an emergency debate in Canada’s House of Commons. “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” Trudeau said, “but Canadians know the way to get through it is continuing to listen to science, continuing to lean on each other.” Al Jazeera reports.
Key points to know about the protests in Ottawa are provided by Sammy Westfall reporting for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Authorities in Ethiopia’s Oromia region have accused a rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Army, of killing more than 160 civilians and burying 87 bodies in a mass grave. BBC News reports.
Israel’s government has said it will investigate reports that Israeli police illegally used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware against Israeli citizens without a court order. Israel’s police are accused of illegally spying on a number of individuals, including a key state witness in the corruption trial of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “said the deputy attorney general was ‘looking quickly into’ the claims, while the public security minister, Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, said he would open an official inquiry,” Patrick Kingsley and Ronen Bergman report for the New York Times.
Barlev has said the inquiry into the use of Pegasus by Israeli police would “conduct an in-depth investigation into violations of civil rights and privacy during the years in question.” “This tool (Pegasus) and similar tools are important tools in the fight against terrorism and severe crime. But they were not intended to be used in phishing campaigns targeting the Israeli public or officials, which is why we need to understand exactly what happened,” Bennett said in a statement. BBC News reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The National Archives and Records Administration last month retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from former President Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. The material should have been turned over to the agency when Trump left the White House, Archives officials said yesterday. Trump’s advisers have said that the boxes contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence, and have denied any nefarious intent. Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger and Ashley Parker report for the Washington Post.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has criticized the Republican National Committee (RNC) for referring to the Jan. 6 attack as “legitimate political discourse” and has said that the RNC’s censure of Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) “crossed a line.” “There’s no debate to be had here: Jan. 6 was an armed insurrection. It was an attempt to reverse through violent means the outcome of a free and fair election, and it was fundamentally rooted in Donald Trump’s big lie that the election of 2020 was illegitimate,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Republicans have expressed their frustration at the RNC’s move, which has reopened the party’s divide over the Jan.6 attack. Manu Raju and Melanie Zanona report for CNN.
The House’s inspector general is considering calling for the House to launch a program aimed at identifying and deterring internal threats, including through “behavioral monitoring.” A draft document shows the extent to which congressional security has become a priority since the Jan. 6 attack, however it is likely that the monitoring recommendations will face significant pushback due to privacy concerns. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The latest national bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned that the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation is fueling the “heightened threat” environment in the United States. “The terrorism bulletin is in part a response to recent events, including a hostage attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and threats directed at historically black colleges and universities, as well as a shift in Russian influence campaigns related to Ukraine,” Geneva Sands reports for CNN.
A DHS official has said that the latest National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin contains the “highest degree of specificity” and emphasizes the targeting of religious and racial minorities. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
The government must pay over $230 million to the survivors and families of victims of a 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez had ruled last summer that the U.S. Air Force was mostly responsible for the shooting, since Air Force officials neglected to add the shooter, a former airman who had been convicted of domestic assault, to a federal database that would have barred him from legally buying the firearm he used. Dan Frosch and Elizabeth Findell report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Supreme Court has reinstated an Alabama congressional map that a lower court had said diluted the power of Black voters. The Supreme Court’s brief order, which included no reasoning, was provisional and stay’s the lower court’s decision as the case moves forward. However, it suggests that the court may be poised to become more skeptical of challenges to voting maps based on claims of race discrimination. Adam Liptak reports for the New York Times.
A second defendant has agreed to plead guilty for his participation in the foiled plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) in 2020. Kaleb Franks has signed a plea agreement to plead guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy charge about a month before the criminal trial is set to begin against his alleged co-conspirators. Lauren del Valle reports for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 76.85 million people and has now killed over 905,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 397.80 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.75 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.