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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 – FIGHTING
Ukrainian forces have continued to stymie Russia’s advance toward major cities overnight. Russian forces remained about 19 miles to the north of Kyiv, according to the British government, and Ukrainian forces have managed to hold on to the airfield at Hostomel, a key strategic priority for the Russian advance. The British Ministry of Defense has said that heavy fighting continued around the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv, but that both cities remained in Ukrainian hands. Steve Hendrix and Isabelle Khurshudyan report for the Washington Post.
The Ukrainian military has said that Russian troops have repeatedly tried to storm the outskirts of Kyiv without success. Russian forces arrived near Obolon on the outskirts of Kyiv on Friday, but so far have not advanced into the center of the capital. BBC News reports.
Russia has made some progress in the south of Ukraine, taking the port town of Berdyansk. Fighting also continues in the strategically important port city of Mariupol in the south, on the Sea of Azov near Russia-annexed Crimea. BBC News reports.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is encountering “stiffer than expected” resistance from the Ukrainian military as well as unexpected difficulties supplying its forces, two senior U.S. officials have said. “This is due in part to the fact that Ukrainian air defenses have performed better than pre-invasion U.S. intelligence assessments had anticipated. In addition, Russia has yet to establish air supremacy over Ukraine, a senior defense official said, as the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense systems fight for control of the airspace,” Jim Sciutto, Oren Liebermann and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
The Russian military has announced an “open and safe” corridor for Ukrainian civilians to leave the capital, Kyiv. “We appeal to the people of Kyiv. All civilians in the city can freely leave the capital of Ukraine along the Kyiv-Vasilkov (Vasylkiv) highway. This route is open and safe,” the spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. The spokesperson’s “statement also included a baseless claim that the Ukrainian government was using Kyiv residents as a ‘human shield,’” Nathan Hodge reports for CNN.
At least 16 Ukrainian children have been killed and 45 have been wounded during the war, while Russia has suffered 4,500 casualties, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said in his latest address. International monitors have not verified these numbers. Yuras Karmanau, Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov and Dasha Litvinova report for AP.
In his latest address, Zelensky said that under martial law he will allow prisoners with combat experience to be released to help defend the country and “compensate their guilt.” Axios reports.
The U.K.’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said that Russia could start indiscriminately bombing cities in Ukraine as frustration with the campaign grows. Wallace said that the Russian army is behind schedule, are taking significant casualties, and are facing public pressure and protests back home. BBC News reports.
In cities and towns across Ukraine, residents have been preparing furiously for a possible attack from Russian forces. Since fighting began, wounded soldiers have been pouring into a large military hospital outside the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, while local residents across Ukraine have sought to build up their towns’ fortifications and prepare firebombs (Molotov cocktails) to use in the event of an attack. Michael Schwirtz reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – BELARUS
Belarus is preparing to join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, in a deployment that could begin as soon as today, a U.S. administration official said yesterday. “It’s very clear Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin,” said the official. The Washington Post reports.
Ukrainian intelligence suggests Belarus is showing “readiness to maybe participate directly” in Russia’s invasion, “in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border” into Ukraine, a Ukrainian government official has said. A second source also said that President Biden’s administration has also conveyed to Kyiv that Belarus is preparing to invade. Jake Tapper reports for CNN.
The E.U. is to expand sanctions against Belarus, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced. The E.U. is to “sanction those Belarusians helping the Russian war effort,” and “extend to Belarus the export restrictions we introduced on dual-use goods for Russia,” which will “avoid any risks of circumvention of our measures against Russia,” von der Leyen said. In announcing the sanctions on Belarus, von der Leyen said that Belarus’s leader Aleksander Lukashenko, “is complicit in this vicious attack against Ukraine.” Daniel Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A referendum in Belarus yesterday approved a new constitution which ends the country’s non-nuclear status, Russian news agencies have said. The agencies cited the Belarus central elections commission as saying 65.2% of those who took part voted in favor. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL AND U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. and its allies have vowed to block Moscow’s access to its foreign currency reserves in the West by freezing the foreign assets of Russia’s central bank, and to sever some Russian banks from SWIFT, a global messaging network that enables banks to communicate their financial transactions in a secure manner. In a joint statement from the European Union, the United States, Britain, and Canada, the countries announced they reached an agreement on what appear to be unprecedented measures to “ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.” Ellen Nakashima, Paul Sonne, Jeff Stein and Tyler Pager report for the Washington Post.
The E.U. is to finance the purchase and delivery of weapons for the first time in a show of support for Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced. Von der Leyen said the E.U.’s decision to finance arms purchases was a “watershed moment.” Daniel Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The E.U. has imposed a blanket flight ban on Russian planes, von der Leyen has announced. “We are shutting down E.U. airspace for Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft,” von der Leyen said. All such planes, including the private jets of oligarchs, will now be unable to land in, take off from or fly over any E.U. nation. Russian planes have also been banned from U.K. airspace. BBC News reports.
Canada has also shut its airspace to Russian aircraft, and the U.S. is considering similar action but has yet to make a final decision. Al Jazeera reports.
The E.U. is also to ban Russian state-owned television network Russia Today and news agency Sputnik, which von der Leyen said is to render them unable to “spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our Union.” Reuters reports.
Von der Leyen’s full statement from yesterday on the further measures announced by the E.U. is available here.
E.U. member states are in talks to supply Ukraine with fighter jets, at the request of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, E.U. foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said yesterday. “A person familiar with the talks later said that discussions are still ongoing. The person said any planes would be supplied directly by E.U. member states and not funded through an arrangement announced earlier for the E.U. to finance weapons deliveries to Ukraine,” Daniel Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has agreed to Ukraine’s request to hold an urgent debate this week on Russia’s invasion. The announcement came minutes after Kyiv’s envoy told the U.N. that some of Moscow’s military actions “may amount to war crimes.” The 47-member council adopted the proposal by a vote of 29 in favor (including the U.S.), with 5 against (including Russia and China), and 13 abstentions. Russia’s ambassador Gennady Gatilov told the talks that Russia had launched “special operations to stop the tragedy” in Ukraine’s Donbass region, and that Russia’s forces were not firing on civilian targets in Ukraine. Reuters reports.
In a foreign policy U-turn, Germany has agreed to increase its military spending and will send weapons directly to Ukraine. Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz has “announced that Germany would increase its military spending to more than 2 percent of the country’s economic output, beginning immediately with a one-off 100 billion euros, or $113 billion, to invest in the country’s…armed forces. He added that Germany would speed up construction of two terminals for receiving liquefied natural gas, or LNG, part of efforts to ease the country’s reliance on Russian energy,” Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times.
Further reporting on the German foreign policy U-turn is provided by Damien McGuiness for BBC News.
The U.S. is seeking to pry China away from its tight partnership with Russia over the war in Ukraine, U.S. officials have said. Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an opportunity to force China to choose between siding with Russia and maintaining valuable economic ties to Europe, the U.S., and other parts of the world, the officials said. “Punitive economic measures imposed on Russia, particularly export controls on certain technologies, would potentially hit China if its businesses and banks try to help Moscow, according to the officials,” William Mauldin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Thousands of pro-Ukraine protestors gathered at rallies across the U.S. over the weekend. “Many attendees expressed their love for their Ukrainian homeland. Some argued for more U.S. involvement in the conflict. Some vented their anger and called for harsher penalties against Putin. Other protesters wanted to make sure that the public’s awareness of the war didn’t fade,” Madeleine Ngo, Robert Chiarito, Joel Wolfram, Matt Berg and Eric Adelson report for the New York Times.
Lithuania’s government has announced that it will ask prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to investigate “war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.” The Guardian reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – NUCLEAR DETERRENT
Russian President Vladimir Putin has put his nuclear deterrent forces on “high alert,” in response to “aggressive comments” from “top officials in leading NATO countries.” Isabelle Khurshudyan, Drew Harwell, Robyn Dixon and Miriam Berger report for the Washington Post.
President Biden has taken the approach of seeking to de-escalate in response to Putin declaring yesterday that he was putting his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” Instead of matching the move and putting American forces on Defcon 3 — known to moviegoers as that moment when the Air Force rolls out bombers, and nuclear silos and submarines are put on high alert — Biden chose to largely ignore it, sending out aides to portray Putin as once again manufacturing a menace. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. reminded the Security Council yesterday afternoon that Russia was “under no threat,” and the White House made it clear that America’s own alert status had not changed. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad report for the New York Times.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday that Putin’s decision to put Russia’s deterrence forces on high alert is part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and “manufactured threats” from the Kremlin. Sam Fossum, Arlette Saenz and Devan Cole report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – RUSSIAN ECONOMY
Russia’s central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20%, the highest in almost two decades, and imposed some controls on the flow of capital as it acts to shield Russia’s economy from sweeping sanctions. “Facing the risk of a bank run, a rapid sell-off in assets and the steepest depreciation in the ruble since 1998, policy makers banned brokers from selling securities held by foreigners starting Monday on the Moscow Exchange. Exporters were ordered to start mandatory hard-currency revenue sales and stock trading was temporarily suspended in Moscow. In another decision that partially reversed a free-floating exchange rate regime in place since 2014, the Russian currency won’t be allowed to breach a certain range unless the central bank shifts the trading corridor, according to a statement,” Netty Idayu Ismail and Jana Randow report for Bloomberg.
The Russian stock exchange is to stay closed today, the Russian Central Bank has said, after Russia’s currency plummeted in the wake of sanctions. “Due to the current situation, the Bank of Russia has decided not to open a stock market section, a derivatives market section, or a derivatives market section on the Moscow Exchange today,” the statement from the bank read. Vasco Cotovio reports for CNN.
Further reporting on Russia’s ruble, financial markets and steps taken by Russia’s central Bank is provided by Caitlin Ostroff reporting for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Negotiators for Kyiv and Moscow have arrived in Belarus today for peace talks however expectations are low. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said yesterday that Ukraine had agreed to talks with Russia “without preconditions.” Ukrainian authorities have said that the main issue on their agenda is a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from Ukrainian territory. In his address yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he did not expect a breakthrough but said: “let them try so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war.” David M. Herszenhorn reports for POLITICO.
Russia is interested in coming to an agreement that is in the interests of both sides at talks with Ukraine, Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky claimed this morning. The Guardian reports.
Zelensky has warned that the next 24 hours will be “crucial” to Ukraine’s fate. Zelensky’s office called for an “immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine,” as high-ranking Ukrainian officials headed to the peace talks. Axios reports.
Zelensky today has asked the E.U. to allow Ukraine to gain immediate membership under a special procedure as it defends itself from invasion by Russian forces. “Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal. I’m sure that’s fair. I am sure we deserve it,” Zelensky said in a video speech shared on social media. Reuters reports.
Almost 6,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests in Russia since Thursday, the OVD-Info protest monitor has said. Reuters reports.
About 422,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the U.N. has said, and more than 100,000 people are displaced within Ukraine. A spokesperson for the U.N. has also said that the U.N. refugee agency is looking at reports of people being blocked from getting onto trains in Ukraine. BBC News reports.
Ukraine has filed a suit against Russia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), rejecting Moscow’s claim that it invaded Ukraine to prevent a genocide, and asking the court to order an immediate halt to Russian military operations. Kyiv is saying the two sides have a dispute over the meaning of the 1948 Genocide Convention, a treaty that Ukraine and Russia have both signed. Ukraine asked the ICJ, the U.N.’s courts for resolving disputes between nations, to rule on the disagreement over “the existence of acts of genocide” and Russia’s claim to legal authority to take military action in and against Ukraine. Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling report for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Confidential documents, leaked from internal investigations, have revealed how telecoms company Ericsson is alleged to have helped pay bribes to Islamic State in order to continue selling its services after the terrorist group seized control of large parts of Iraq. The investigations also found that Ericsson had put its contractors at risk and allowed them to be kidnapped by the militants, as well as uncovering allegations the company was involved in corruption in at least 10 countries. Ericsson entered into a $1bn settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2019 however, the leaked documents suggest a pattern of wrongdoing that is far wider than the company publicly admitted at the time. Rob Evans and Michael Safi report for the Guardian.
The internal investigation report identifies “bribes and kickbacks,” “fraud and embezzlement,” and the use of smuggling routes to bypass official Iraqi customs authorities. The report describes extensive management failures, and “an enterprise so out of control that auditors couldn’t figure out who pocketed payments totaling as much as $10.5 million, fake purchase orders used in creating an ‘uncontrolled slush fund’ and a dubious donation to a purported charity run by a ruling clan in the Kurdistan region of Iraq,” Greg Miller and Louisa Loveluck report for the Washington Post.
North Korea yesterday launched a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast in its eighth missile test of the year, the South Korean military has said. “The missile … flew 186 miles to the east, reaching an altitude of 385 miles, the South’s military said. No further details were immediately released, but the data suggested the missile was less powerful than the last one the North launched, four weeks ago,” Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
North Korea has said that it conducted a test for a reconnaissance satellite system yesterday. State news said that yesterday’s test involved cameras for a spy satellite that helped North Korea confirm “the characteristics and working accuracy of high definition photographing system, data transmission system and attitude control devices.” The agency did not mention a missile launch. Min Joo Kim reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
The first trial stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol is to open today. The trial, which will take place in Federal District Court in Washington, will begin this morning with jury selection. It is the first trial to reach the courtroom so it is likely to set the tone for the other trials that are scheduled to follow, setting the stage for prosecutors to “present a broad portrait of the violent chaos that erupted that day and seek to persuade a jury that the pro-Trump mob that [the defendant] is accused of joining struck at the heart of American democracy by disrupting the transition of presidential power,” Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, police departments across the country are seeking to encourage officers to step in to stop misconduct by other officers. Officers across the country had previously been told they must intervene to stop misconduct, but they had not necessarily been taught how to do so. However, more than 215 departments have now signed up for a Georgetown University program that teaches officers the philosophy and techniques of intervention. Shaila Dewan reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 78.93 million people and has now killed over 948,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 435.48 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.95 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.