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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
NATO estimates that up to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or are missing in Ukraine, a senior military official from NATO has said. NATO has calculated the figures based on information provided by Ukrainian authorities and obtained from Russia – both officially and unintentionally. “NATO estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion began on Feb. 24. Using statistical averages from past conflicts that for every casualty roughly three soldiers are wounded, NATO analysts reach their total figure,” Daniel Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukrainian forces have mounted successful counterattacks near Kyiv and appear to be retaking lost ground, the British Defense Ministry said Wednesday night. In an intelligence update, the ministry said that Ukraine is bringing “increasing pressure” northeast of Kyiv, where a long-stalled advance by Russian troops has left them facing “considerable supply and morale issues.” Ukrainian forces have probably retaken the towns of Makariv and Moschun, said the ministry. Ted Kemp reports for CNBC.
The Ukrainian Navy has said that a Russian ship has been destroyed in the occupied port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea, 45 miles southwest of the southern city of Mariupol. Tim Lister reports for CNN.
Two Russian soldiers have been caught complaining about the war in Ukraine, according to a recording released by Ukraine’s Security Service. One soldier can be heard telling his friend that Ukrainian forces “tore apart” a column of Russian forces sent along with his own unit, and he described disarray among the Russian military, with 50 percent of the unit suffering from frostbite on their feet. Allison Quinn reports for The Daily Beast.
Since Russia began its invasion at least 1,500 civilian buildings, structures and vehicles have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 953 civilians have been killed, including at least 78 children, according to the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights. A compilation by the New York Times of some of the evidence available has shown how in just a few weeks normal everyday life for many people in Ukraine has been completely obliterated by Russia’s invasion.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS, REFUGEES AND DEPORTATIONS
“Seven humanitarian corridors have been agreed on” between Russia and Ukraine today, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said in a daily video update. The humanitarian corridors include one that would take people northwest from close to the besieged port city of Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhzhia. Adela Suliman and Annabelle Chapman report for the Washington Post.
Mariupol’s city council has accused Russian forces of “forcibly deporting” thousands of residents “en masse” to Russia. The council said that in total as many as 15,000 people were being “deported illegally.” Chantal Da Silva reports for NBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. government has accused Russian forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine, a move that will formalize the continuing investigations into the alleged atrocities. “The designation, which doesn’t accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin or any other officials personally of war crimes, would entail the preservation by the U.S. government of information and potential evidence for future accountability, officials said,” Vivian Salama reports for the Wall Street Journal.
In announcing the accusation of war crimes, Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically pointed to Russian strikes against facilities that clearly are identified as civilian. Blinken cited a “careful review” of intelligence assessments and publicly available imagery, and said that the evidence appeared conclusive, although it would have to be formally reviewed by a court. Missy Ryan, Sudarsan Raghavan, Dan Lamothe and Joby Warrick report for the Washington Post.
Top Russian military and defense leaders have repeatedly declined over the past month attempts from their U.S. counterparts to speak, prompting fears that the world’s two largest nuclear powers may be “sleepwalking into war.” The Russians “have so far declined to engage” with the attempts to speak by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has said in a statement. John Hudson reports for the Washington Post.
The White House has assembled a team of national security officials to make contingency plans for how the U.S. and its allies should respond if Putin unleashes his stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine. “The Tiger Team, as the group is known, is also examining responses if Putin reaches into NATO territory to attack convoys bringing weapons and aid to Ukraine, according to several officials involved in the process,” David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Julian E. Barnes report for the New York Times.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advised President Biden to wait on sanctioning Roman Abramovich, a prominent Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned by the U.K. and E.U.. Zelenskkyy advised that Abromovich might provide important as a go-between with Russia to help negotiate peace, according to people with knowledge of the call. Vivian Salama, Justin Scheck and Max Colchester report for the Wall Street Journal.
The FBI is seeking to recruit Russian-speaking individuals, upset at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, by aiming social media ads at cellphones located inside or just outside the Russian Embassy in Washington. The ads, which appear on Facebook, Twitter and Google, and are carefully geographically targeted, are designed to capitalize on any dissatisfaction or anger within Russian diplomatic or spy services — or among Russian emigres to the United States — over the invasion of Ukraine. Devlin Barrett reports for the Washington Post.
Some right-wing conservatives have been echoing the Kremlin’s misleading claims about the war in Ukraine, and vice versa, giving credibility to each other’s assertions. For instance, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and conservative commentator Candace Owens have repeated Putin’s assertion that action against Ukraine was taken in self-defense, and right-wing commentator Lara Logan and far-right podcaster Joe Oltmann have mirrored Putin’s insistence that he is trying to “denazify” Ukraine. “As war has raged, the Kremlin’s talking points and some right-wing discourse in the United States … have coalesced. On social media, podcasts and television, falsehoods about the invasion of Ukraine have flowed both ways, with Americans amplifying lies from Russians and the Kremlin spreading fabrications that festered in American forums online,” Sheera Frenkel and Stuart A. Thompson report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
President Biden will be taking part in three back-to-back global summits in Europe today as world leaders gather to discuss their response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Biden will first be meeting the leaders of NATO, where whether, and how, to provide more robust weapons to Ukraine and how to shore up NATO’s own defenses in Poland and its eastern front will be on the agenda. Biden will then join the leaders of the Group of 7, with the group expected to confront the refugee crisis and discuss what more the world can do to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden will then join the leaders of the E.U. member states, where sanctions are expected to be on the agenda. Michael D. Shear and Matina Stevis-Gridneff report for the New York Times.
Biden’s trip marks a crucial opportunity for him to reassert the U.S.’s leadership on a global stage. Five key questions for the summits are provided by Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
Arriving for the NATO summit early today, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that allies “face the most serious security crisis in a generation.” “Stoltenberg expects leaders to take steps to bolster the eastern part of the alliance, including potentially permanently moving four new battle groups — a collection of combat-ready forces — to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. NATO leaders also will discuss ways to provide more assistance to Ukraine, he said,” Robert Wall reports for the Wall Street Journal.
As NATO members meet today, splits are emerging within the alliance and in Washington about how to deter the Kremlin from further escalation. “Some NATO policymakers in Europe worry that there has been too much public messaging about what the alliance won’t do … [and] with the threat of Russian nuclear and chemical weapons looming over the battlefields of Ukraine, a better approach, they say, would be not to rule out anything publicly,” Michael Birnbaum, Karoun Demirjian and John Hudson report for the Washington Post.
Biden is expected to announce today a major initiative with Europe to direct shipments of liquified natural gas to Europe, part of a broader effort to help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. Tyler Pager, Ashley Parker, John Hudson and Jeff Stein report for the Washington Post.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has crossed the “redline into barbarism.” “It’s now up to NATO to consider together the appalling suffering of the people of Ukraine…what more we can do to tighten the vice around Putin,” Johnson told reporters as he arrived at the NATO summit scheduled for today. Robert Wall reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Israeli government rejected requests in recent years from Ukraine and Estonia to purchase and use the Pegasus spyware tool, out of fear of damaging Israel’s relationship with the Kremlin. Both Ukraine and Estonia had hoped to buy Pegasus to gain access to Russian phones, however, Israel’s Ministry of Defense refused to grant licenses to NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, to sell to Estonia and Ukraine if the goal of those nations was to use the weapon against Russia. Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti report for the New York Times.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the war in Ukraine is not only a “horror unfolding before our eyes”, but also an “assault on some of the most vulnerable people and countries” across the world. First and foremost, Ukraine needed support, towards ending the war, and to help the millions who have fled, return home, Guterres said yesterday at the first meeting of a U.N. steering committee which will guide the creation of a new U.N. crisis response group to help mitigate the worldwide impact of Russia’s invasion. UN News Centre reports.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Germany to revolutionize its security doctrine, however, the war has also exposed how weak a link the German military is in NATO. Analysis is provided by Katrin Bennhold reporting for the New York Times.
Although companies from across the West are retreating from Russia, some of France’s biggest firms, including Renault, Société Générale and TotalEnergies, are continuing to stay put and maintain ties in Russia. Nick Kostov and Stacy Meichtry report for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russian climate envoy Anatoly Chubais has stepped down and left Russia, citing his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Chubais “is one of the few 1990s-era economic reformers who’d remained in Putin’s government and had maintained close ties with Western officials,” Bloomberg News reports.
On the one month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a direct appeal to citizens around the world to take to the streets in protest against Russia’s invasion of his country and “to support freedom, to support life.” James Waterhouse reports for BBC News.
Russia’s stock market jumped in its first limited trading session since the West unveiled punishing sanctions nearly a month ago. “The benchmark MOEX index added around 10%. [However,] the increase is unlikely to be interpreted as a sign that all is well with the Russian economy. Only 33 shares out of 50 shares on the index were allowed to trade,” Caitlin Ostroff reports for the Wall Street Journal.
European gas prices jumped yesterday after Putin said that “unfriendly” countries must pay for gas in rubles. Some European wholesale gas prices were up to 30% higher on Wednesday, and British and Dutch wholesale gas prices jumped. Nina Chestney reports for Reuters.
As the war in Ukraine continues, and Russia’s conventional forces suffer surprisingly heavy losses while its economy suffers, the prospect that Putin might resort to using weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, is increasing. Further, with limited contact between the Kremlin and Western capitals, the risk that Moscow’s intentions could be misread with catastrophic consequences, is growing more acute, according to numerous specialists. Bryan Bender reports for POLITICO.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
A consular official has been able to visit Brittney Griner, the women’s professional basketball player detained in Russia on drug charges after illegal vape cartridges were allegedly found in her possession, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said yesterday. Whilst supporters in Moscow and Washington have been wary of raising Grinders profile too high so as not to upset diplomatic efforts, others are calling for a more vocal pressure campaign. Jason Horowitz, Jonathan Abrams and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
North Korea has launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) since 2017, dramatically escalating tensions with President Biden’s administration. The data suggested that the missile launched on Thursday was more powerful than the Hwasong-15, the last ICBM North Korea tested, South Korean officials said. Ahn Young-Joon reports for the New York Times.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Moon Jae-in both “strongly condemned” the ICBM test, shortly after the suspected missile landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the coast of the northern island of Hokkaido. Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Min Joo Kim and Julia Mio Inuma report for the Wall Street Journal.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has issued a statement condemning the launch as “a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.” “The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilising actions” she added. Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin report for Reuters.
Whilst condemnation of the missile test from Washington and its allies is expected, it is unclear whether Russia and China will agree to impose more penalties on North Korea through the U.N. Security Council. The U.S., China and Russia, set aside their differences to impose devastating sanctions in 2017 after North Korea’s nuclear test and three ICBM tests. However, this time “the atmosphere surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine could act as a shield for the North, with Russia and China all likely to veto any American attempt to impose new sanctions,” Ju Peng reports for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Solomon Islands have signed a cooperation agreement with China which covers policing, and a proposal for a broader security agreement covering the military will be sent to the Solomon Islands’ cabinet for consideration, according to an official of the Pacific islands’ government. “The arrangements are likely to concern the United States, which said in February it would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands after senior U.S. administration officials expressed concern China wanted to create military relationships in the Pacific islands,” Kirtsy Needham reports for Reuters.
Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American State (OAS) has denounced Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship as “indefensible” for its assault on human rights and democracy. Arturo McFields Yescas spoke out during an online OAS session on Wednesday, in a startling declaration that spread quickly on social media and was commended by countries such as the United States. Tom Phillips reports for the Guardian.
The death toll from yesterday’s attack in central Somalia, in which a parliamentary election candidate was killed, has risen to 15 according to state-run television. Amina Mohamed, a vocal critic of the government, was killed by a suicide bomber in the city of Beledweyne, around 300 km (185 miles) north of Mogadishu, witnesses and relatives have said. Reuters reports.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he will not resign, rejecting opposition calls for him to step down ahead of no confidence move against him in his toughest challenge since coming to power in 2018. Pakistan’s parliament will convene on Friday to start proceedings into a no-confidence motion. It could take seven days before an actual vote to decide if Khan will be removed. Asif Shahzad reports for Reuters.
Myanmar’s junta chief authorised lethal attacks on unarmed civilians, according to an investigation by Fortify Rights and Yale Law School’s Schell Center. The investigators, in a 193-page report released today, analysed leaked documents and 128 testimonies from various sources including survivors, medical workers, witnesses and former military and police personnel, about the turmoil in Myanmar in the six months after the coup on Feb. 1 last year. Reuters reports.
Around 7,000 members of the Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram have surrendered in northeast Nigeria in the past week, according to local media reports. Al Jazeera reports.
In a statement issued yesterday, U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has expressed her “profound frustration and disappointment” following the Taliban’s U-turn over reopening girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan. “The de facto authorities’ failure to adhere to commitments to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade – in spite of repeated commitments towards girls’ education, including during my visit to Kabul two weeks ago – is deeply damaging for Afghanistan,” she added. UN News Centre reports.
Australia has accepted an offer from New Zealand to resettle some refugees it currently or formerly held in its widely criticized system of offshore detention centers. The arrangement — to take in 150 refugees a year for three years — was first offered in 2013 by New Zealand’s then prime minister, John Key. Natasha Frost reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has issued a scathing response to former President Trump’s decision to un-endorse him in the Alabama Senate race, accusing Trump of asking him to remove President Biden from the White House following the 2020 election. “The statement from Brooks, a Trump ally that spoke at his rally on Jan. 6 and was involved in efforts to block the certification of election results that day, seems to suggest that Trump asked for the lawmaker’s involvement in unwinding Biden’s victory even after the attack on the Capitol,” Dominick Mastrangelo and Rebecca Beitsche report for The Hill.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State has died of cancer aged 84 years old. Albright was a central figure in former President Clinton’s administration, first serving as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. before becoming Secretary of State in Clinton’s second term. Albright helped steer Western foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War. She “championed the expansion of NATO, pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe,” Caroline Kelly reports for CNN.
Mark F. Pomerantz, a senior Manhattan prosecutor who investigated former President Trump, believes that Trump is “guilty of numerous felony violations” and that it is “a grave failure of justice” and “contrary to the public interest” not to hold him accountable, according to a copy of his resignation letter. Pomerantz submitted his resignation last month after the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg (D), stopped pursuing an indictment of Trump. William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich report for the New York Times.
Bragg has asked his investigations chief, Susan Hoffinger, to oversee the ongoing probe into Trump and his business practices, following the abrupt departure of Pomerantz and Carey Dunne. Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
Paul Manafort, a former advisor to Trump, was removed from a plane at Miami International Airport before it took off for Dubai because he was carrying a revoked passport, officials have said. “Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that Manafort was removed from the Emirates Airline flight without incident Sunday night,” AP reports.
President Biden’s administration is expected to publish a final rule designed to streamline the asylum process today, in an effort to remove those fleeing persecution from an immigration court backlog that can leave them in limbo for years. Under the new rule, the Department of Homeland Security expects asylum processes will take several months on average, compared to several years under the current system. Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal report for The Hill.
In a letter to Biden yesterday, forty Republican members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees urged him to increase defense spending by 5 percent above inflation for the fiscal year 2023. The letter, led by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees respectively, states that “this is a crucial period for our national security,” and warns that failure to make investments may leave the U.S. unable to defend itself or its allies in the future. Jordan Willians reports for The Hill.
In the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Ted Cruz invoked Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to suggest King would have opposed race-conscious policies. Cruz’s comments “are part of a long tradition of conservatives’ involving Dr. King to oppose affirmative action and other race-based remedies,” Jennifer Schuessler provides analysis for the New York Times.
The attack of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson over her treatment of child sexual abuse cases raises new questions over the Republican Party’s stance towards QAnon. A White House spokesperson this week accused Senator Josh Hawley, who tweeted his alarm that Jackson had handed down sentences below the minimum recommended for possessing images of child sexual abuse, of pandering to the conspiracy theory’s believers, calling his comments an “embarassing QAnon signaling smear.” David D. Kirkpatrick and Stuart A. Thompson provide analysis for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 79.84 million people and has now killed over 974,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 475.90 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.10 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.