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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
Two low-flying attack helicopters swept over the southern Russian city of Belgorod today, firing rockets and blowing up a fuel dump, according to Russian media. Local governor Vyacheslav Gladkov immediately blamed Ukraine for the attack. Robyn Dixon reports for the Washington Post.
Eight tanks of fuel are on fire at the oil depot in Belgorod in Russia, and there is a threat of the fire moving to eight more, Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti has reported the emergency services as saying. BBC News reports.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said that the Ukrainian strike against a fuel depot in Belgorod has not created comfortable conditions to continue peace talks with Kyiv. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian officials are reporting gains made outside Kyiv and in the southern Kherson region. In the Kyiv region Ukrainian forces have “freed” the town of Vyshhorod, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Telegram. In the southern Kherson region, 11 towns and villages have been taken by Ukrainian forces, he added. BBC News reports.
Hundreds of Syrian fighters are en route to join Russian forces in Ukraine, effectively returning the favor to Moscow for helping President Bashar al-Assad crush rebels in an 11-year civil war, according to two people monitoring the flow of mercenaries. The first contingent of at least 300 soldiers from Syria has already arrived in Russia for military training. Ben Hubbard, Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS, REFUGEES AND DEPORTATIONS
Evacuations from the besieged city of Mariupol are planned for today after dozens of buses ready to transport civilians arrived in the city yesterday. Matt Viser, Dalton Bennet, Alex Horton and Paulina Villegas report for the Washington Post.
A small International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) convoy of just three vehicles has left Zaporizhzhia, travelling towards Mariupol with the aim of trying to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from the besieged city, after receiving security guarantees from all sides. Wyre Davies reports for BBC News.
Around 2,000 civilians are on evacuation buses heading from the coastal city of Berdyansk to the Ukrainian government-held city of Zaporizhzhia, carrying civilians evacuating from Mariupol. “The evacuation convoy left Berdyansk for Zaporizhzhia,” Mariupol city council have said, adding that they “expect the arrival of a record number of Mariupol residents.” Olga Voitovych and Maria Kostenko report for CNN.
Russian forces yesterday confiscated 14 tons of humanitarian aid from buses bound for Melitopol in southern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Russian forces also blocked 45 buses going to Berdiansk on Thursday en route to Mariupol, she added. CNN reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden yesterday announced that he will tap up to 180 million barrels of government oil reserves to help bring down prices. The oil release would be the administration’s third, and by far the largest ever, drawdown from the country’s emergency stockpile of roughly 568 barrels. Timothy Puki, Tarini Parti, Collin Eaton report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. yesterday announced further sanctions against nearly three dozen Russian companies and individuals that the Treasury Department said are helping Moscow evade the West’s economic pressure campaign and aiding the country’s defense and intelligence agencies. Among those blacklisted include Russia’s largest microchip manufacturer, Mikron, a firm named Serniya Engineering that the Treasury said oversaw a network of companies that procured technology and dual-use goods from abroad for the military and intelligence services, and supercomputer company T-Platforms. Some of the firms named in the announcement have been identified as shell companies set up to evade prior U.S. sanctions. Ian Talley reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has decided that U.S. military members deployed to Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will stay in position there for “a while longer,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing yesterday. Kirby added that the “security environment in Europe is going to be different,” no matter when the war in Ukraine ends, and that the Department of Defense doesn’t know what that looks like yet. Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
Biden does not have plans to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said yesterday, adding that “serious de-escalation” by the Kremlin would be required before any conversations between the leaders could take place. Grace Moon reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. has already sent Ukraine “about a half a dozen” lethal aid shipments as part of the Biden administration’s $800 million package passed earlier this month, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary John Kirby said yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Biden yesterday speculated that Putin has dismissed or put under house arrest some of his advisers, and could be “self-isolated” as the invasion of Ukraine continues. Amy Wang reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
French and German officials have rejected Russian demands to pay for gas deliveries in Russian rubles after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he had signed a decree requiring “unfriendly countries” to pay for natural gas in rubles through Russian banks. Brittany Shammas and Rick Noack report for the Washington Post.
The head of French military intelligence, Gen Eric Vidaud, is losing his job after failing to predict Russia’s war in Ukraine. French armed forces spokesperson Gen Thierry Burkhard declined to comment when contacted by the BBC, but in early March acknowledged that French intelligence had not been up to the level of U.S. or U.K. briefings, which were publicised to pile pressure on Putin. BBC News Reports.
The U.K. and its partners will send more lethal aid to Ukraine, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told reporters yesterday. The aid will include anti-aircraft assets, armored vehicles and long-range artillery. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Nikolai Kobrinets, has told a Russian state media outlet that Moscow won’t demand the E.U. lift its sanctions, despite the Kremlin having previously described the West’s actions as “economic warfare.” BBC News reports.
The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, will travel to Ukraine today according to a post on the official’s Twitter account. Details of Metsola’s trip and who she will meet with have not been revealed “due to security concerns”, according to a parliament official. BBC News reports.
Russian-backed hackers have tried to get inside the networks of NATO, U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations and the militaries of several Eastern European countries, a new Google report has found. The hackers, referred to as Calisto or Coldriver, launched phishing campaigns, sent using newly created Gmail accounts to non-Google accounts – meaning that the success rate of the campaigns is unknown. Ines Kagubare reports for The Hill.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has thanks Indian for taking the situation in Ukraine “in its entirety of facts”, following a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar. Esha Mitra reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced yesterday that two of his country’s top security officials had been dismissed from their roles as generals for being “traitors.” Zelenskyy did not elaborate on what had led to the two officials being dismissed, though he noted that under the Ukrainian army’s disciplinary statute officers who “have not decided where their homeland is, who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards the protection of our state, its freedom and independence” would “inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Russia and Ukraine have begun another round of talks via a video link, according to Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. Ivan Nechepurenko reports for the New York Times.
In an interview with the BBC, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the U.N., Dmitry Polyanskiy said that while it was too early to determine the specifics of a peace agreement with Russia and Ukraine, returning control of Crimea and the Donbas region to Ukraine was off the table. These comments pour cold water over Ukraine’s proposal to abandon its NATO ambitions and become a neutral state in exchange for security guarantees and freezing the status of occupied Crimea for 15 years. Nada Tawfik reports for BBC News.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said that Russian forces have transferred, in writing, the control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to Ukrainian personnel. Staff at the plant have said that Russian troops are no longer at the site. However, the IAEA has been unable to confirm this. BBC News reports.
The IAEA is looking into local media reports that some of the soldiers who have left the Chernobyl nuclear power plant are suffering from radiation poisoning. However, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, cast doubts on these reports, saying yesterday that the troop movement appeared to be “a piece of this larger effort to refit and resupply and not necessarily done because of health hazards or some sort of emergency or a crisis at Chernobyl.” Victoria Kim reports for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Hong Kong has responded with fury over what it described as “unfounded and ridiculous allegations” in key reports from the U.K. and the U.S that the territory’s democratic rights and freedoms were continuing to deteriorate. In a six-monthly update released yesterday, the U.K. said that “alternative voices in Hong Kong’s executive, legislature, civil society and media ha(d) been all but extinguished.” Similarly, the U.S. report covering the 12 months from March 2021 concluded that: “(Chinese) authorities took actions that eliminated the ability of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition to play a meaningful role in the city’s governance and effectively criminalized peaceful political expression critical of the central and local governments.” Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Israel and the UAE have concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement, Israel’s Economy Ministry and the UAE foreign trade minister announced today. The trade agreement includes 95% of traded products, which will be customs free, immediately or gradually, including food, agriculture and cosmetic products, as well as medical equipment and medicine, the Israeli Economy Ministry said in a statement. Maayan Lubell reports for Reuters.
The European Union is today holding its first summit meeting with China in two years, amid increasing tensions over Beijing’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, its record on human rights and its trade boycott of Lithuania for hosting a representative office of Taiwan. The summit meeting is virtual and will produce no joint statement or any precooked agreement, and there will be no joint news conference. Steven Erlander reports for the New York Times.
A Turkish prosecutor has asked a court in Istanbul to halt the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi nationals over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The prosecutor said the case should be transferred to Saudi Arabia, which has refused to extradite the defendants. The move comes as Turkey seeks to repair its relations with the Gulf Kingdom, and has been called a “betrayal” by Amnesty International. BBC News reports.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said today that his ministry will give a positive opinion on the prosecutor’s request to transfer the case regarding the killing of Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia. Ali Kucukgocmen reports for Reuters.
The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday that people in Afghanistan are “selling their children and their body parts” to provide for their families amid the country’s near economic collapse. The U.N. leader also made an appeal for $4.4 billion in funding for Afghanistan. A transcript of the Secretary-General’s remarks to the High-level Pledging Event on Afghanistan is provided by the U.N..
Speaking at a Peacebuilding Commission meeting on Wednesday, Guterres warned that the world is currently facing more violent conflicts than at any time since 1945, as 2 billion people worldwide are living in conflict-ridden areas. The Secretary-General also said an estimated 84 million people were “forcibly displaced because of conflict, violence and human rights violations” last year. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
Ten members of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet have resigned from their positions, along with three other top officials, in a move designed to help boost the far-right leader’s re-election prospects ahead of October’s general election. The officials are expected to campaign for office in advance of the vote in October, as well as campaign for Bolsonaro. According to Brazil’s electoral law, top officials must resign from their current posts before they can run for other positions. Al Jazeera reports.
Outraged by a new Taliban decree banning girls from school beyond sixth grade, international donors are caught between continuing the massive funding that has kept Afghans alive since last summer, or risking the starvation of a portion of the population in order to punish the militant government. “I want to say as plainly as possible, please don’t make the people of Afghanistan suffer twice,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N. humanitarian affairs chief, appealed to a conference of donor countries yesterday. “Please don’t reduce assistance because of this wretched decision that we heard last week.” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK and FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP
An official review has found that the White House phone records for Jan.6. 2021 are in fact complete, and that no pages were missing from the six-page phone log. The seven hours gap in the records, previously reported by the Washington Post, is likely explained by the use of White House landlines, White House cell phones, and personal cell phones that do not go through the switchboard, according to a source familiar with the matter. Zachary Cohen, Katelyn Polantz, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Ashley Semler and Jamie Gangel report for CNN.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va), a member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said in an interview yesterday that the panel’s interview with former President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had been “really valuable”, adding that he was able to verify and substantiate different accounts of the events surrounding the 2020 election. A video of the interview with Luria is provided by MSNBC.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) has called for a supreme court code of ethics, amid controversy regarding text messages Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. “The Speaker specifically said she would like Congress to pull out the section of H.R. 1, known as the For the People Act, that directs the Judicial Conference to issue a code of conduct for all justices and judges in the U.S.,” Mychael Schell reports for The Hill.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A federal judge in Florida ruled yesterday that sections of the state’s year-old election law were unconstitutional and racially motivated. The ruling targets the portions of the law that limited the use of drop boxes, placed strict rules on voter-registration organizations, and forbade some kinds of assistance to Floridians waiting in line to vote. Judge Walker’s order blocks Florida from making changes to those three functions for 10 years without federal sign-off. Reid J. Epstein, Patricia Mazzei and Nick Corasaniti report for the New York Times.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) said yesterday that he planned to vote against the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, despite voting to elevate Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit less than a year ago. In a lengthy presentation on the Senate floor, Graham painted Jackson — President Biden’s nominee for the court and the first Black woman to be put forward for the post — as dangerous and motivated by progressive bias. Annie Karni reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.10 million people and has now killed over 980,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 488.52 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.