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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.
France and several of its Western allies have announced that they will begin a “coordinated withdrawal” of their military forces from Mali. In a joint statement the countries said that they remained “committed to supporting Mali and its people in their efforts to achieve sustainable peace and stability,” but they accused the junta that recently came to power of obstructing the antiterrorist operations that the French Army has been running in the Sahel region. “The political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” the statement said. Ruth Maclean, Mady Camara and Aurelien Breeden report for the New York Times.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he “totally refuses” to call French military operations in Mali a “failure,” saying that the attitudes of Mali’s ruling junta had forced France to pull out. “We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share,” Macron told reporters. France 24 reports.
The exit will be conducted in a “coordinated manner” with Mali’s army and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, Macron said. France now has about 4,000 soldiers in West Africa, however “Paris could no longer fight alongside a nation that ‘neither shares the strategy nor its objectives,’ he said. Troops will shift to neighboring countries as the conflict deepens. French bases in Mali are expected to close in the next six months,” Danielle Paquette and Rick Noack report for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – EASTERN UKRAINE
Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces have traded accusations that each had fired across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine. The separatists accused government forces of opening fire on their territory four times in the past 24 hours,w hiel Ukraine has accused the rebels of firing shells, including some that struck a kindergarten that caused shell shock to two civilians. Reuters reports.
“Armed forces of Ukraine have rudely violated the ceasefire regime, using heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn,” rebel representatives from the Luhansk in the Ukrainian-Russian ceasefire control group said. However, officials from Ukraine denied attacking the separatist-held region, stating that they themselves came under artillery fire but did not retaliate. Arpan Rai reports for the Independent.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the shelling of the kindergarten by pro-Russian forces as “a big provocation.” “We need an effective mechanism for recording all ceasefire violations,” Zelenskyy said in a Tweet.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also Tweeted that “Reports of alleged abnormal military activity by Ukraine in Donbas are a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion.”
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – TROOPS
Tensions over Ukraine increased yesterday as Western officials accused Russia of lying about troop withdrawals from the Ukrainian border. A senior U.S. official has said that in fact Moscow had added more than 7,000 combatants and directly accused Russia of lying, saying there was fresh evidence it was mobilizing for war. Western allies expressed similar doubts about the Russian claims, with Britain’s chief of defense intelligence, Lt. Gen. James Hockenhull, saying that U.K. intelligence had identified Russian armored vehicles, helicopters and field hospitals moving toward Ukraine’s border. Andrew E. Kramer, Anton Troianovski and Michael D. Shear report for the New York Times.
“So far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground. On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues its military buildup,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, as defense ministers from the alliance’s 30 member states gathered in Brussels. “In recent weeks, and even in recent days, more Russian forces, not fewer, are at the border, and they’re moving, concerningly, into fighting positions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price also said yesterday. Yaroslav Trofimov, Thomas Grove and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
“Unfortunately, there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC. “On the contrary, we continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border,” Blinken said. He added that Putin could “pull the trigger” at any point. Libby Cathey, Morgan Winsor and Meredith Deliso report for ABC News.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has accused NATO of failing to “soberly assess the situation,” in response to Stoltenberg’s questioning of the alleged troop drawdown. Russia’s Defense Ministry meanwhile has also released a video purporting to show a train moving tanks and armored vehicles into Russia from Crimea along a bridge constructed between the two territories after Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014. The troops and equipment were returning to their bases after the conclusion of military exercises, the ministry said. John Hudson, Robyn Dixon, Emily Rauhala and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
Further reporting on the contradictory remarks is provided by Rachel Pannett for the Washington Post.
Satellite images show Russia has moved some of its military equipment that was deployed near Ukraine’s border, but other hardware has arrived and Moscow still has a lot of forces and equipment near the border, U.S.-based Maxar Technologies has said. Reuters reports.
Russia and Belarus will end their joint military drills on Feb. 20 as previously planned, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has also said that the matter of extending Russian troops’ stay in Belarus was not on the agenda, the state-owned RIA news agency has reported. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russia will send a reply to the U.S. on the issue of security guarantees today, the TASS news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying. Moscow will make the letter public, Lavrov added. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian officials have blamed Russia for a cyber attack that hit the country’s defense ministry and at least two banks on Tuesday. Russia has denied involvement in the cyber attack, which Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov has called “unprecedented.” Fedorov said that the IP addresses involved in the attacks were from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and the Czech Republic, adding that: “the key goal of this attack is destabilization, it is to sow panic, to do everything so that a certain chaos appears in our country.” Natalia Zinets reports for Reuters.
China’s top leaders have been weighing how far Beijing should back Russian President Vladimir Putin and how to manage the partnership between Beijing and the Kremlin. Behind closed doors, a topic of intense discussion in the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee led by President Xi Jinping, is how to respond to the Russian-Ukraine crisis and back Moscow without hurting China’s own interests, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Lingling Wei reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Vice President Harris is to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when she travels to the Munich Security Conference later this week. Harris is also slated to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, a senior administration official said. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
The U.S. sent F-35 fighter jets to Germany on Monday to bolster NATO defenses, the Air Force Reserve Command announced yesterday. “The deployment of U.S. F-35As to Spangdahlem Air Base [Germany] increases the defensive posture of the NATO Alliance and enhances our ability to operate together,” commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, said. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Russian government-backed hackers have acquired sensitive information on the development and deployment of U.S. weapons by breaching U.S. defense contractors over the last two years, U.S. security agencies have said in a public advisory. The information gathered is unclassified, but offers “significant insight into U.S. weapons platforms development and deployment timelines,” and also covers export-controlled technology, according to the advisory. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly confirmed one of President Biden’s Pentagon nominees, overcoming the opposition from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). Celeste Wallander, the chief executive of the U.S.-Russia Foundation, whose expertise on Russia could be critical amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis, was confirmed to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Mariana Alfaro reports for the Washington Post.
Iran’s supreme leader has said that Iran will further develop peaceful nuclear capacity to preserve independence, amid negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear pact. “We will sooner or later need peaceful nuclear energy. If we do not pursue it…our independence will be harmed,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a televised speech. “Diplomatic efforts by our revolutionary brothers in trying to get rid of the sanctions are also good but the main task is to neutralize the sanctions,” added Khamenei. Reuters reports.
Ottawa police yesterday ordered protesters to leave their encampments or face criminal charges. The impetus to end the protests was also amplified earlier this week after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police, said on Tuesday that four protesters in Alberta had been charged with conspiracy to murder RCMP police officers. Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.
“Anyone blocking streets, or assisting others in the blocking [of] streets, are committing a criminal offense and you may be arrested,” said the notice, which Ottawa police handed out to people at the protest yesterday. Paul Vieira and Kim Mackrael report for the Wall Street Journal.
Canada’s public safety minister has warned of ties between protesters occupying Ottawa and a group of far-right extremists who were charged earlier this week over the alleged plot to kill RCMP police officers. “Several of the individuals…have strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” the minister, Marco Medicino, told reporters yesterday. Justin Ling reports for the Guardian.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Taiwan has said that a Chinese plane that buzzed one of its remote islands more than a week ago could have been a test of its military’s response. “Military officials, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, confirmed that a Chinese turboprop Harbin Y-12 utility plane flew near Dongyin, a tiny patch of land that sits more than 100 miles north of Taiwan’s main island and 30 miles from mainland China. The officials said the plane didn’t enter Taiwanese airspace but did enter a ‘defense zone,’ which citing military secrecy they declined to define more precisely,” Joyu Wang reports for the Wall Street Journal.
An alleged plot by a foreign power to interfere with Australia’s parliamentary processes has stoked fears ahead of Australia’s upcoming election. A foreign agent had hired someone in Australia and equipped them with hundreds of thousands of dollars from an offshore bank account with the aim of “shaping the jurisdiction’s political scene to benefit the foreign power,” Mike Burgess, the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, warned in a speech last week in Canberra. Burgess did not identify the foreign power, however his speech has “instantly became fodder for fierce government attacks on the opposition,” Michael E. Miller and Frances Vinall report for the Washington Post.
The mobile phones of two more Polish citizens with close links to an opposition senator were targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to security experts. “Forensic analysis by Amnesty International found that both Magdalena Łośko, the former assistant to Polish senator Krzysztof Brejza, and Brejza’s father, Ryszard Brejza, received text messages in 2019 that researchers said were technically consistent with spyware attacks by clients of NSO Group using Pegasus,” Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports for the Guardian.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Justice Department is suing Missouri over the state’s far-reaching gun law, which discourages local officials from enforcing federal firearms measures. The law, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, has a provision which allows citizens to sue any local police agency for $50,000 for every incident in which they can prove that their right to bear firearms was violated, provided they were not flouting state law. The Justice Department has argued that the Act “impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement, and violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which prohibits states from overriding federal statute. Glenn Thrush reports for the New York Times.
A D.C. police lieutenant in the intelligence branch has been put on leave amid an investigation into alleged improper contacts with a prominent member of the extremist group Proud Boys. According to four law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case there is evidence suggesting communications between the officer and Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, who described himself as the former chair of Proud Boys. Peter Hermann and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post
J. Alexander Kueng, one of three former Minneapolis police officers on trial for violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the fatal 2020 arrest, has testified in his defense that he had deferred to Derek Chauvin because “it’s always the senior officer” who is in charge. Kueng also testified that he had never been given scenario training on how to stop another officer from using excessive force, that he had not been trained on the maneuvers which involved Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, and that he could not see how much pressure Chauvin was using. Holly Bailey reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
President Biden has directed the National Archives to release White House visitor logs to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, dismissing former President Trump’s request to shield the information under executive privilege. “The President has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified, as to these records and portions of records,” White House counsel Dana Remus said in a letter to the National Archives. Catherine Lucey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Jan. 6 select committee has requested the phone records of Timothy Enlow, the security operations manager of Free Speech Systems, LLC, a media company owned by far-right radio host Alex Jones. “The subpoena came to light in a court document filed Tuesday by Norman Pattis, an attorney for Jones. The radio host is asking that Enlow be added to the lawsuit he filed against the committee in December that seeks to block the panel from requiring his testimony and obtaining his phone records,” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Lawyers for the Oath Keepers leader and founder Stewart Rhodes have urged a federal judge to release Rhodes from jail while he awaits trial on seditious conspiracy charges relating to the Jan. 6 attack. In arguments, one of the defense attorneys questioned whether there was an actual conspiracy to prevent Biden from taking office when the Oath Keepers refrained from using weapons on the day to further that alleged goal. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Thousands of frantic text messages are playing a key role in piecing together the most vivid and comprehensive picture to date of the events surrounding the chaos at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Many of the messages were sent to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, including from Fox News host Sean Hannity and other Trump allies, urging Meadows to get Trump to put a halt to the attack. Jacqueline Alemany, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Tyler Remmel report for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 78.17 million people and has now killed over 928,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 418.08 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.85 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.