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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
Ukrainian peace negotiators and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month. The individuals have since improved, however they developed symptoms following the March 3 meeting that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, people familiar with the matter have said. Some of the people familiar with the matter said that they “blamed the suspected attack on hard-liners in Moscow who they said wanted to sabotage talks to end the war. A person close to Abramovich said it wasn’t clear who had targeted the group,” Yaroslav Trofimov and Max Colchester report for the Wall Street Journal.
Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia are to begin face-to-face talks in Istanbul today. However, as negotiators arrived in Istanbul yesterday, both sides played down the chances of a major breakthrough and a senior U.S. official said that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to compromise. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, a ceasefire was the most his country could hope for from the talks. “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” Kuleba added. Jon Henley, Shaun Walker and Pjotr Sauer report for the Guardian.
Russia is no longer requesting that Ukraine be “denazified” and is prepared to let Kyiv join the E.U. if it remains militarily non-aligned and does not seek to join NATO, as part of ceasefire negotiations. According to individuals briefed on the talks, the draft ceasefire deal does not contain any discussion of three of Russia’s initial core demands – “denazification,” “demilitarization” and legal protection for the Russian language in Ukraine. Max Seddon in Riga, Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv and Henry Foy report for the Financial Times.
French President Emmanuel Macron has clocked 17 phone conversations with Putin over the past four months, as well as one personal meeting in Moscow, he has also spoken 17 times to Zelenskyy however, up to now, Macron’s diplomacy appears to have achieved “very little,” Roger Cohen reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Ukrainian forces “continue to maintain circular defense of the city of Mariupol and defend and deter the advance of the enemy in the Chernihiv region” a report from Ukraine’s military intelligence said early today. The report added that Ukrainian forces continue to defend Kyiv and other towns including Motyzhyn, Lisne, Kapitanivka and Dmytrivka. Martin Farrer and Samantha Lock, and Shaun Walker report for the Guardian.
Ukraine officials have reported that Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian forces around Kyiv and northeastern Ukriane, while Russian forces move to encircle and cut off Ukrainian forces in the east. “Ukrainian counterattacks around Kyiv reportedly retook more ground, with the mayor of Irpin, a fiercely contested suburb on the northwestern edge of the capital, saying that most Russian troops had retreated, though fighting continued in some districts … Ukrainians also reported important progress in the Sumy region … [however] The Russian army is trying to cut off the major Ukrainian forces to the east of the River Dnipro, where the bulk of the army has been fighting Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas,” Andrew E. Kramer and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times.
Russia is increasingly focusing on grinding down Ukraine’s military concentrated in the east of Ukraine, in the hope of forcing Kyiv into surrendering part of Ukraine’s territory to possibly end the war. If Russia succeeds in encircling and destroying the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, “it could try to dictate its terms to Kyiv and potentially attempt to split the country in two,” Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau report for AP.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS, REFUGEES AND DEPORTATIONS
The mayor of Mariupol has said that evacuation corridors out of the besieged city have come largely under the control of Russian forces. Mayor Vadym Boichenko called for a complete evacuation of the remaining population of Mariupol, which was home to more than 400,000 people before Russia launched its invasion last month. “According to our estimates, about 160,000 people are in the besieged city of Mariupol today, where it is impossible to live because there is no water, no electricity, no heat, no connection,” Boichenko said in a television interview yesterday. Nathan Hodge and Julia Presniakova report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The Defense Department plans to accelerate production of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles so that it can refill its own stocks as it continues to send the systems to Ukrainian forces, defense officials have said. Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Oren Liebermann report for CNN.
President Biden has said that he was not calling for a regime change in Russia when he remarked that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” during a speech in Poland over the weekend, however he has defended his remark. Biden was expressing only his personal “moral outrage” at the “brutality” of Putin’s assault on Ukraine, having just visited some of the millions of refugees from the war, he explained yesterday. Lauren Gambino in Washington and Joanna Walters report for the Guardian.
A majority of Americans believe Biden has not been “tough enough” on Russia but are concerned about the U.S. being drawn into an all-out war, according to a poll published yesterday by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The results indicate that those polled believe the U.S. should continue sending humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine while increasing sanctions on Russia, even at the risk of damaging the U.S. economy. However, “47% said they are either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned that the U.S. will be drawn into a war with Russia, and 71% believed Russia’s invasion has increased the possibility of nuclear weapons being used anywhere in the world,” Jacob Knutson reports for Axios.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
A joint investigation team (JIT), supported by The European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, into alleged international crimes committed in Ukraine has been set up. “The responsible national authorities of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine signed a JIT agreement on 25 March to enable the exchange of information and facilitate investigations into war crimes, crimes against humanity and other core crimes. Participation in the JIT may be extended to other EU Member States, third countries or other third parties in due course,” a press release stated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his latest nightly address that he had had a “very active diplomatic day” yesterday after speaking with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. The Guardian reports.
Germany is being urged by economists “to stop Putin’s war machine” and ban Russian energy imports, in contrast to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s warnings that an energy embargo would wreak havoc on Germany’s economy and risk social unrest. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Video footage purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war is being investigated by the Ukrainian government. The unverified footage appears to show Ukrainian soldiers removing three hooded Russians from a van before shooting them in the legs. However, the Ukrainian military commander Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi has accused Russia of staging the videos. Daniel Boffey reports for the Guardian.
A Ukrainian internet service provider used by the country’s military suffered a massive cyberattack yesterday, Ukrainian officials have said. “The attack on Ukrtelecom PJSC was described by some experts as among the most harmful cyberattacks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. About 3:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Ukrainian officials said that they had repelled the attack, and that the company could restore services,” Robert McMillian and Dustin Volz report for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian authorities of disrespecting the families of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine by not agreeing to a scheme to have the remains of those killed in action returned to Russia. Shaun Walker in Kyiv and Pjotr Sauer report for the Guardian.
Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last remaining independent news outlets, has said it will cease operations until the end of the war in Ukraine. The news outlet received a second warning from the Russian state censor for allegedly violating the country’s “foreign agent” law. The warning came a day after its editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, spoke with Zelenskyy in a group interview with Russian journalists that was quickly banned by the state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor. Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, is in Ukraine for talks with senior government officials about ensuring the safety and security of the country’s nuclear sites. Grossi is to offer urgent technical assistance, including sending experts to key places, in a bid to avert the risk of a nuclear accident. BBC News reports.
Diplomats from Israel, the U.S., Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Morocco have met at a joint summit in Israel. The talks centered on shared concerns particularly over the potential for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and the militia it backs in Yemen, and food shortages brought on by the war in Ukraine which is being felt particularly in Egypt and Morocco. The New York Times reports.
Frustration with the U.S. not taking their concerns seriously brought together Israel and the four Arab states at the summit. “‘The summit is a demonstration that important countries in the region are coming together and have significant concerns that they don’t see the Biden administration addressing’” said Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American research organization,” Ben Hubbard reports for New York Times.
Discussions also focused on the need to maintain calm over the next weeks, when a convergence of religious holidays could raise tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Several of the Arab participants also publicly pressed Israel on the need to sovereign Palestine state, “signaling that while they had normalized ties with Israel, they had not abandoned the Palestinian cause,” Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The Honduran Supreme Court has ratified the U.S.’s extradition request for former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on drug trafficking charges. Following the ruling, Hernández’s legal team said that it is looking at the possibility of applying for a court injunction to try and prevent the extradition. Joan Suazo and Anatoly Kurmanaev report for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Workers have been observed in North Korea digging a new passageway at the Punggye-ri site where North Korea conducted all six of its previous nuclear tests, South Korean media have reported. The reports raise concerns that North Korea is preparing to detonate its first nuclear bomb in the more than four years, with a test possible coming as soon as next month when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is preparing to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather and state founder. Jeong-Ho Lee reports for Bloomberg.
U.S. and South Korean officials are reviewing whether North Korea tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week. A close analysis by independent analysts using satellite imagery, weather forecasts and state media footage has raised questions about North Korea’s claims that it was a successful test of the Hwasong-17, a huge new missile that the country revealed in October 2020, which experts believe is being designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads. Rather, the missile appeared to be a modified version of the Hwasong-15, an older model that is slightly smaller than the Hwasong-17 and was the last ICBM that North Korea tested, in 2017. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports for the Washington Post.
The leader of the Solomon Islands has confirmed that the island nation has drafted a security agreement with China, and that the deal is “ready for signing.” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, in fiery remarks to Parliament, criticized as “insulting” concerns from Australia and New Zealand that the pact could destabilize the region’s security. Yan Zhuang reports for the New York Times.
A two-day nationwide strike in India called by hundreds of thousands of workers to protest government economic policies has spread, throwing large parts of the country into confusion. Supporters of the strike have blocked roads and train tracks, and public transportation is absent from the streets of many towns. Sameer Yasir reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has voted unanimously in favor of recommending contempt of Congress charges against two former aides of former President Trump. Both Dan Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff for communications, and Peter Navarro, a former trade adviser to Trump who joined efforts to promote claims of election fraud, have been accused by the committee of refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas. The House will now soon vote on whether to refer Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for prosecution. Jacqueline Alemany and Amy B Wang report for the Washington Post.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that Trump “more likely than not” attempted to illegally obstruct Congress as part of a criminal conspiracy when he tried to subvert the 2020 election result on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District Court Judge David Carter’s “sweeping and historic ruling came as he ordered the release to the House’s Jan. 6 committee of 101 emails from Trump ally John Eastman, rejecting Eastman’s effort to shield them via attorney-client privilege,” Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
The House Jan. 6 select committee has expressed frustration with the Justice Department for not criminally charging former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows with contempt of Congress, as well as not taking other steps to support the committee’s investigation. As the panel prepared to refer Scabino and Navarro to Congress, members repeatedly urged the Justice Department to take more-aggressive action. Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden has proposed a $5.8 trillion budget that includes significant increases in funding for the military and police departments, along with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. The budget “reflects growing security and economic concerns at home and overseas, with Biden proposing a 7 percent increase in domestic spending that includes priorities like anti-gun violence initiatives, affordable housing and manufacturing investments to address supply chain issues that have helped fuel rapid inflation. The White House also for the first time proposed a discrete stream of funding for Veterans Affairs medical care,” Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Alan Rappeport and Emily Cochrane report for the New York Times.
The budget proposal is seeking $813 billion for military spending in fiscal year 2023, a roughly 4 percent increase compared to this fiscal year, as well as calling for $682 million in funding to go to Ukraine for efforts to counter Russia and shore up its security and economic interests. Amara Omeokwe and Andrew Duehren report for the Wall Street Journal.
A federal tax investigation into Hunter Biden is gaining momentum as prosecutors gather information from several of his associates about the sources of his foreign income, including from Ukraine, and his relationship with a company that handled some of his finances. In recent weeks prosecutors have sought information and grand-jury testimony about money Biden received several years ago from a Ukrainian natural-gas company and how he used that money to pay some obligations, a person familiar with the matter has said. Aruna Viswanatha, Sadie Gurman and James T. Areddy report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 79.99 million people and has now killed over 977,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 482.41 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.12 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
President Biden’s administration is to require COVID-19 vaccines for some undocumented migrants at the southwest border, and officials are to begin vaccinating undocumented migrants without proof of vaccination who are apprehended by border officials but not expelled under the public health order. “According to directions given to senior homeland security officials on Sunday, if single adults refuse to be vaccinated, they will be detained and put into deportation proceedings. If they request asylum and cannot remain in detention, they will be released with a monitoring device ‘with stringent conditions.’ If migrant families refuse vaccination, they will also be given monitoring devices with the same conditions,” Eileen Sullivan reports for the New York Times.
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.