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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
About 20 per cent of the Russian forces around Kyiv, and some forces near the Chernobyl nuclear site, are in various stages of moving north away from the capital, the Pentagon said yesterday, with some personnel crossing into Belarus. However, the Defense Department does not consider this movement proof that the Russian government is serious about its vow to scale back attacks on major cities. Instead, the Pentagon’s current intelligence assessment is that Russia intends to “refit these troops, resupply them and probably employ them elsewhere in Ukraine,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters. Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.
Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down their own aircraft top U.K. intelligence official Jeremy Fleming said during a speech at the Australian National University. Highlighting the challenges Russia is facing in its Ukraine invasion, Fleming, the director of the GCHQ intelligence agency, said that it must be clear to the regime that Russia has made a strategic miscalculation. Mike Cherney reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Credible reports indicate that Russian armed forces have used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least two dozen times since the start of the invasion, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said yesterday. In her update to the Geneva forum, Bachelet also told the Human Rights Council, that her Office had verified dozens of incidents in which medical facilities have been damaged, including 50 hospitals. UN News Centre reports.
The northern city of Chernihiv continues to be hit by Russian shelling, despite Russia’s pledge to dramatically reduce its military operations in the area, according to residents who have remained in the city. Hugo Bachega reports for BBC News.
The Pentagon believes that Russia currently has about 1,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that the Pentagon believes Wagner has been recruiting in Syria and Libya for more mercenaries to go fight. John Ismay reports for the New York Times.
In its latest intelligence report, the U.K.’s ministry of defence has indicated that heavy fighting will likely take place in Kyiv in the coming days. The Guardian reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS, REFUGEES AND DEPORTATIONS
Russia has declared a temporary humanitarian cease-fire in the besieged city of Mariupol, according to the head of Russia’s national defense control center, Mikhail Mizintsev. The cease-fire, which will begin at 10 am local time, is “purely for humane purposes,” and will allow civilians and foreign nationals to leave the city, Mizintsev told a briefing yesterday. Adela Suliman and Robyn Dixon report for the Washington Post.
45 buses are heading to Mariupol after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed Russia had agreed to open a humanitarian corridor for Thursday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said. Hugo Bachega reports for BBC News.
Teams from the ICRC are on their way to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol with aid supplies and stand ready to evacuate civilians, according to ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson. The Guardian reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden is considering a plan to release one million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for as long as 180 days, a move that would add a large amount of oil to the global market. The announcement could come today, according to an official, as Biden is set to deliver remarks on the administration’s actions to reduce the impact of Putin’s price hike on energy prices. Michael D. Shear reports for the New York Times.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers regarding the country’s economy and military situation, according to declassified U.S. intelligence. Putin’s advisers are scared to tell him the truth, the intel says. AP reports.
In a letter to the Biden administration, a bipartisan group of senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have urged the U.N. to expel Russia from the organization’s Human Rights Council. The letter, whose signatories include committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking member James Risch (R-Idaho), asked U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield to introduce a resolution to the U.N. General Assembly that would push for Russia to be removed from the council. Carolina Vakil reports for The Hill.
Russian security services have targeted U.S. citizens for “detention and/or harassment,” the U.S. State Department has said in an updated warning to Americans that cautions against all travel to the country. Richard Vanderford reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration is divided over whether to impose sanctions on Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity giant that officials warn could be used by the Kremlin as a surveillance tool against its customers. The White House’s National Security Council has pressed the Treasury Department to ready the sanctions as part of the broad Western campaign to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. However, sanctions experts within the department have raised concerns over the size and scope of such a move. Vivian Salama and Dustin Volz report for the Wall Street Journal.
The family of Trevor Reed, the former U.S. marine detained in Russia, met with President Biden yesterday after holding a protest outside the White House to bring attention to the case. The meeting, which the family said left them feeling “optimistic”, came as Reed started a second hunger strike in protest of his treatment by Russian authorities. Devan Cole, Donald Judd and Sam Fossum report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be in India on the same day in outreach efforts to the strategic nation, which has sought to stay mostly neutral throughout the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Annabelle Timsit reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. and Australia have criticised India for considering a Russian proposal that would undermine sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies. The proposal involves rupee-ruble-denominated payments using the country’s messaging system SPFS, and central bank officials from Moscow are likely to visit India next week to discuss the details. Eric Martin and Sudhi Ranjan Sen report for Bloomberg.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart yesterday, that Russia is committed to de-escalating tensions with Ukraine, according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website. Liyan Qi reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Australia has said it will apply an additional tariff of 35% to all imports from Russia and Belarus starting late next month after withdrawing the countries’ preferential trading status. Rhiannon Hoyle reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has addressed the Australian parliament via videolink, warning of the threat to global security if Russia is not halted in its ambitions against Ukraine. “If we don’t stop Russia now if we don’t hold Russia accountable, then some of the countries of the world that were looking forward to a similar war against their neighbours will decide that such things are possible for them as well,” he said. The Guardian reports.
The U.K. has announced further sanctions against prominent Russian media figures and military leaders. The latest names added to the sanctions list include TV host Sergey Brilev and Kremlin-funded TV-Novosti, which owns the Russia Today news channel, alongside Aleksandr Zharov, chief executive of Gazprom-Media, Alexey Nikolov the managing director of RT and Anton Anisimov, the head of Sputnik International Broadcasting. Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev has also been sanctioned. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukraine will resume peace talks with Russia online on Friday, senior Ukrainian diplomat David Arakhamia said in a telegram post yesterday, despite doubts among Ukrainian officials about the Kremlin’s sincerity in the discussions. According to Arakhamia, Ukraine stressed the need for a meeting between the leaders of the two countries at a venue not in Belarus or Russia, but Russian officials declined, saying the sides should first work out a more coherent draft agreement. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating in Russia has soared since he launched his invasion of Ukraine —to 83% from 71% last month—according to independent Russian pollster Levada Center. Evan Gershokivh reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth yesterday from the International Space Station, landing in Kazakhstan on a Russian space vehicle. During live-streamed comments before the flight, Vande Hei said the space station shows how humanity can cooperate and build connections, adding that “this is a very challenging time for international relations.” Micah Maidenberg reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
In talks this week with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Arab leaders have urged for the opening of U.S. consulates in both Jerusalem and the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The fate of the consulates already promised by the United States has hung over the Biden administration since its earliest days. However, Blinken has avoided any public commitment as to when, if ever those diplomatic missions might become a reality. Lara Jakes and Aida Alami report for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen began a unilateral cease-fire yesterday, saying it hoped to pave the way toward ending a seven-year war that has shaken the security of the Persian Gulf. Diplomats involved in the process have expressed hope that progress toward a broader truce could be made before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Shuaib Mlmosawa and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
Speaking at a summit in Riyadh, the top U.N. envoy for the Yemen, welcomed the Saudi-led coalition’s temporary ceasefire as “a step in the right direction.” The summit, which was aimed at building on the GCC’s unilateral declaration of a ceasefire ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, was not attended by the Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have been battling the coalition in support of the internationally-recognized Government, since 2015. UN News Centre reports.
Israeli forces have killed three Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including one suspected of carrying out a stabbing attack, during an army raid earlier today. The killings come amid heightened tensions over the past two weeks in Israel and the occupied West Bank, ahead of Ramadan. Al Jazeera reports.
Days away from a no-confidence vote in Parliament, a key ally of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has joined the opposition, giving his opponents the votes required to remove him from office. The announcement from Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan or M.Q.M.-P, issued a critical blow to Khan — prompting opponents to demand his resignation. Salman Masood and Christina Goldbaum report for the New York Times.
Gunmen have attacked a train travelling from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to the city of Kaduna, in an “unprecedented” act of violence that will heighten concerns about a breakdown of security in the country’s troubled northern region. The death toll is unclear but according to a local security official, two train staff and five security personnel have been killed. Garba Muhammad reports for Reuters.
The Solomon Islands has announced it is pushing ahead with a security agreement with China hours after Australia’s chief of joint operations, Lt Gen Greg Bilton, said the deal may force Canberra to change the way it conducts air and sea operations in the Pacific. Daniel Hurst reports for the Guardian.
The national security trial of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was arrested in 2021 on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, is scheduled to begin in Beijing under tight security and behind closed doors – with foreign journalists and diplomats denied entry. A court official told the Australian ambassador in Beijing, Graham Fletcher, that he could not be admitted because the case involved “state secrets.” “This is deeply concerning, unsatisfactory and regrettable,” Fletcher said, “we can have no confidence in the validity of a process which is conducted in secret.” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, has issued a decree dissolving parliament, which has been suspended since last year, after it defied him by voting to repeal decrees he had used to assume near total power. Speaking after an online session of more than half the parliament members, Saied accused them of a failed coup and a conspiracy against state security and ordered investigations into them. Tarek Amara and Angus Mcdowall report for Reuters.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK and FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP
Federal prosecutors have substantially widened their investigation in the Jan.6 attack, in order to examine the possible culpability of a broad range of figures involved in former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. “One of the subpoenas, which was reviewed by The New York Times, sought information about people “classified as VIP attendees” at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who had been involved in the “planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct, influence, impede or delay” the certification of the 2020 election,” Alan Feurer, Katies Benner and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md) told reporters yesterday that he expected a House floor vote on contempt of Congress charges against two Trump aides next week. The development comes after the contempt of Congress charges against Trump’s former trade adviser Peter Navarro and former deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino were advanced on Monday by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, attack. Caroline Vakil and Cristina Marcos report for The Hill.
In the run-up to the Jan. 6 attack, former vice president Mike Pence asked his top lawyer to draft a memo laying out the history of counting electoral votes, in a bid to establish how much power he had over certifying electoral votes. The memo anticipated and addressed some of the legal arguments that Trump and his supporters would soon use to pressure Pence to overturn the results when he led Congress in counting Electoral College votes. Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney provide analysis for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Justice Department is investigating a vast prescription drug-trafficking network that allegedly sold hundreds of millions of dollars of secondhand and fake medications including HIV treatments. Medicines used to treat HIV can be attractive to defendants because of their high value and lower risk than trafficking illegal drugs, which can carry steep mandatory minimum sentences and are more dangerous to transport, according to former Manhattan federal prosecutor Jennifer Beidel. Corinne Ramey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration is expected to lift the pandemic-related public health order this week that has restricted immigration for the past two years, a change that could more than double the number of migrants coming into the United States from Mexico. Eileen Sullivan reports for the New York Times.
A top legal analyst at CNN said it is possible President Biden’s son Hunter Biden could be indicted by the U.S. government following an investigation into his foreign business dealings. “This is a very real, very substantial investigation of potentially serious federal crimes,” Elie Honig said Wednesday morning on the network. “We are seeing federal prosecutors in Delaware do exactly what you would expect to see federal prosecutors do in this situation.” Dominick Mastrangelo reports for The Hill.
Apple and Facebook parent company Meta turned over user data, including addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses, last year to hackers pretending to be law enforcement officials. The hackers had requested the information via forged “emergency data requests,” which do not require court approval like typical warrants or subpoenas do. Bloomberg reports.
Facebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country, Targeted Victory, to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok. The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor. Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell report for the Washington Post.
More than seven years after American aid worker Kayla Mueller and others were taken hostage by Islamic State extremists in Syria and killed, one of their alleged tormentors, El Shafee Elsheikh, is facing a federal jury in Virginia on charges that carry a life sentence. Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan but grew up in London, allegedly supervised detention facilities for the terrorist group and was a member of a cell that murdered U.S. citizens including journalist James Foley and Mueller in Syria in 2014 and early 2015. Aruna Viswanatha reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A small U.S. Navy plane crashed yesterday evening along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, about 150 miles south of Washington D.C., killing one crew member and injuring two others, the Navy has said in a statement. Mikes Ives reports for the New York Times.
A Connecticut state judge yesterday found Infowars host Alex Jones in contempt of court and ordered him to appear for a deposition in the defamation case filed against him by families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, or face weekly fines starting at $25,000. The families sued the Infowars host in 2018 for repeatedly saying the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax and for falsely claiming that the families of the victims were actors and faked the deaths of their loved ones. Joseph De Avila reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The House on Tuesday approved The Better Cybercrime Metrics Act in a bipartisan 377-48 vote. The legislation will help U.S. law enforcement agencies better identify cyber threats, prevent attacks and prosecute cybercrime. Ines Kagubare reports for The Hill.
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey yesterday signed legislation that would require all Arizonans to provide proof of citizenship and residency to register to vote. The legislation has sparked criticism from voting rights advocates who have expressed concerns that it will potentially cancel thousands of voter registrations and make it more difficult for people to register, pointing out that such documentation is often not readily available when people are filling out voter registration forms. Kelly Mena reports for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.05 million people and has now killed over 979,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 486.99 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.14 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.