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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 – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
Germany’s foreign intelligence service claims to have intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discuss carrying out indiscriminate killings of civilians in Bucha. The findings, first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel and confirmed by three people briefed on the information, further undermine claims by Russia that the killings were carried out after its soldiers had left the Kyiv suburb. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden announced yesterday that “major war crimes” were being discovered in Ukraine as Russian forces retreat from areas around Kyiv, citing scenes of brutal, cold-blooded executions as rationale for ratcheting up U.S. sanctions on Moscow. “Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable,” Biden told a union crowd in Washington. Kevin Liptak, Betsy Klein and Kaitlin Collins report for CNN.
Russian troops used villagers in northern Ukraine as human shields to try to protect themselves from a counter-attack from Ukrainian forces, the BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen has been told. Russian troops then went door-to-door to round up about 150 people at gunpoint and held them in a freezing cold school gym as protection for Russian forces, according to villagers from Obukhovychi, just south of the exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS, RESPONSE
The U.N. will hold a vote today to determine whether Russia should be kicked off the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over the reports of atrocities committed in areas of Ukraine that it had occupied. The resolution was introduced by the US after evidence of civilian killings emerged in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Russia has warned countries that attempt to throw it off the 47-member panel will be viewed as an “unfriendly gesture,” according to a letter to diplomats seen by Reuters. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said yesterday that the Justice Department was helping foreign prosecutors gather evidence of possible war crimes. He said a top department official in Paris had met this week with the French war-crimes prosecutor, and members of the department’s Criminal Division had met with their European counterparts to hash out a plan for collecting evidence on the information on the “atrocities that we have all seen in both photographs and video footage this week.” Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha report for the Wall Street Journal.
Britain, Canada and Australia have all so far declined to expel Russian diplomats, putting themselves at odds with 15 E.U. nations that have now evicted more than 200 in response to emerging evidence of war crimes committed in Ukraine. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Russian forces have withdrawn from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the city of Chernihiv to its north, the Pentagon said yesterday, as Moscow concentrates its invading forces in the eastern part of the country. Karoun Demirjian and Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.
A British Defense Ministry intelligence assessment added to a body of evidence from journalists on the ground and other Western intelligence agencies that Russian troops are refocusing their efforts on the east of Ukraine. Today’s intelligence update states that Russian troops are mainly focused on their “progressing offensive operations in eastern Ukraine,”, particularly in the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists are active. Annabelle Timsit reports for the Washington Post.
Although Russia is now concentrating its assault on eastern Ukraine, NATO has seen “no indication” that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aim of controlling the whole country has changed, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, before a meeting in Brussels of foreign ministers of NATO allies. Amy Cassidy reports for CNN.
Curfews have been announced in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, due to looting, a senior Ukrainian official, Vadym Denysenko, said today, adding that the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance remained a problem in areas recently wrested from Russian control. Kostan Nechyporenko reports for CNN.
The Ukrainian military has shared a drone video that appears to show trenches and tank tracks in the Red Forest, one of the most radioactive locations on Earth, in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. “Video proof – Russian command did order its soldiers to dig fortifications near the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in the radioactive Red Forest in March 2022,” the Ukrainian military tweeted, with a post of the video. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. has secretly removed malware from computer networks around the world in recent weeks, a step to pre-empt Russian cyberattacks and send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move, made public yesterday by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, comes as U.S. officials warn that Russia could try to strike American critical infrastructure. The malware enabled the Russians to create “botnets” — networks of private computers that are infected with malicious software and controlled by the G.R.U., the intelligence arm of the Russian military. It is unclear what the malware was intended to do, as it could be used for everything from surveillance to destructive attacks. Kate Conger and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
The Senate unanimously passed major legislation yesterday to revive a World War II-era program allowing President Biden to more efficiently send weapons and other supplies to Ukraine. The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, as it is known, would expedite the transfer of military equipment and other critical supplies to Ukraine by cutting bureaucratic red tape. It allows for the de facto gifting of equipment, with provisions stipulating that recipient countries would repay the U.S. at a later date. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Russia should be expelled from the Group of 20 for its actions in Ukraine, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said yesterday, whilst testifying to the House Financial Services Committee. The U.S. will boycott “a number” of G-20 meetings if Moscow attends, Yellen added. A video of Yellen’s testimony is provided by the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. Bryan Pietsch reports for the Washington Post.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Brussels, today at 10 a.m. EST, according to the State Department public schedule. Kuleba met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday morning at NATO headquarters. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
The Justice Department has charged a Russian oligarch who supported separatists in Ukraine with sanctions violations for trying to secretly acquire and run pro-Kremlin media outlets across Europe, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the indictment against Konstantin Malofeyev marked the first time the Justice Department had criminally charged a Russian oligarch since Russia invaded Ukraine. She warned there would be more to come. Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. has warned India that the consequences of a “more explicit strategic alignment” with Moscow would be “significant and long-term”, according to President Biden’s top economic adviser, Brain Deese. Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove report for Bloomberg.
Washington has trained a small group of Ukrainians in the U.S. to use Switchblade “kamikaze” killer drones, a senior defense official told reporters yesterday. The United States has said it will supply the unmanned aerial devices to help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion. Fewer than a dozen Ukrainians who were already in the United States for “professional military education” have been trained, the official said. They are expected to return to Ukraine soon. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
The Kremlin has said that Washington’s decision to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons and military assistance would probably damage the chances of successful peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. “Pumping weapons into Ukraine will not contribute to the success of Russian-Ukrainian talks,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters when asked about U.S. weapons supplies to Ukraine. Reuters reports.
President Biden’s administration yesterday announced a wave of new sanctions targeting Russia’s two largest banks, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughters, the wife and daughter of Russia’s top diplomat, and blacklisted members of Russia’s Security Council. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Speaking at Nato headquarters, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called on NATO allies to supply more weapons to bolster Ukraine’s war effort. Kuleba’s in-person plea comes as NATO foreign ministers are due to meet later today. The Guardian reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video yesterday night that the latest round of Western sanctions against Moscow does not go far enough, and renewed his calls for “a complete blockade” of Russian banks and oil. Reis Thebault reports for the Washington Post.
Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has expressed his hope that the bloc’s fifth round of sanctions against Russia will be agreed by today or tomorrow. The proposals include a ban on Russian coal imports and a full transaction ban on four key Russian banks. A potential embargo on Russian oil “will be discussed on Monday” at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, Borrell said. Niamh Kennedy reports for CNN.
Zelenskyy will meet with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday, according to Ukrainian presidential spokesman Sergei Nikiforov. Katharina Krebs and Nimah Kennedy report for CNN.
The U.K. is adding to its offer of lethal weapons in the belief that the next three weeks will be critical in determining the outcome of the war, according to reports made to the Times by a defense source. Options under consideration in the Ministry of Defence include sending a protected patrol vehicle, such as the Mastiff, or a vehicle like the Jackal, which can be used as a reconnaissance or long-range patrol vehicle. These could enable Ukrainian forces to push further forward towards Russian lines. Larissa Brown and George Grylls report for the Times.
The Ukrainian government has accused Hungary of helping Russia continue its aggression against Ukraine, amid a worsening row between the neighbouring countries. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign affairs also accused Hungary of strengthening Russia’s “sense of impunity” over alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces. Yesterday, Hungarian President Victor Orban told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Hungary would be prepared to pay Russia in roubles for gas imports – a move that other European countries have ruled out. BBC News reports.
Russia is facing its most difficult situation in three decades due to unprecedented Western sanctions, but foreign attempts to isolate it from the global economy will fail, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said today. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – REFUGEES AND HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS
In a television broadcast yesterday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshcuk urged people living in the eastern part of the country to evacuate following reports of renewed attacks on civilians. A 10-story building in Severodonetsk caught on fire amid mass shelling and at least five civilians died in the Donetsk region, local officials said. Ellen Francis, Andrew Jeong, Paulina Firozi, Kim Bellware, Lateshia Beachum, Meryl Kornfield, Reis Thebault and Bryan Pietsch report for the Washington Post.
Ten evacuation corridors have been agreed for Thursday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has announced. This comes after Vereshchuk said that 4,892 people were evacuated through evacuation corridors yesterday. Alex Hardie reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Apple has restored an app run by supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to its App Store, after criticism that it was acceding to unreasonable government demands for censorship. Apps are an especially critical form of communication in Russia now because the country’s censorship apparatus has not been able to block or modify content flowing from installed apps to users’ phones. Joseph Menn and Greg Miller report for the Washington Post.
Russia’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said today that it was taking punitive measures against Google, including a ban on advertising the platform and its information resources, for allegedly violating Russian law. The watchdog accused Youtube, which has blocked Russian state-funded media globally from using its platform, of becoming “one of the key platforms spreading fakes (fake images) about the course of (Russia’s) special military operation on the territory of Ukraine, discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”. Reuters reports.
The war in Ukraine is having a profound impact on a generation of children, Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s director of emergency programmes, told Euronews yesterday. Fontaine said that children will need support to overcome the psychological trauma of war and that UNICEF is currently working in the subway station of Kharkiv to help the children who have sought shelter there. He added that they’ve been trying to get aid to affected cities like Kharkiv, but that it’s not enough, and that health facilities need to be resupplied to make sure they have what they need to deliver babies and care for young children. Euronews reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
South Korea’s president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol said on Thursday that strong deterrence was crucial in the face of nuclear and missile threats from North Korea amid a renewed warning by U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera of a potential nuclear test as early as next week. Yoon, who has pledged to boost defence capability to counter the North’s threats, spoke to LaCamera during a rare visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, the command centre of the 28,500-strong U.S. military stationed in South Korea. Soo-hyang Choi reports for Reuters.
China warned on Thursday it would take strong measures if U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and said such a visit would severely impact Chinese-U.S. relations, following media reports she would go next week. Martin Quin Pollard reports for Reuters.
House Democrats expressed concerns yesterday about President Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In a statement and a press conference, 18 lawmakers raised concerns about the negotiations, with some expressing outright opposition to reviving the deal. “We understand that while the recent negotiations have not concluded, we feel that we can’t stay quiet about the unacceptable and deeply troubling turn that these results have reportedly taken,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) told reporters. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The parents of former Marine Trevor Reed urged the Russian government to provide proof of life for their son, saying they had not received any updates from him since last Friday. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said earlier this week that the U.S. was also concerned about the former Marine’s health. In a separate statement, the State Department emphasised that the release of Reed and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia, remained “an absolute priority.” Caroline vakil reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A court in Turkey has ruled to transfer the trial in absentia of 26 Saudis accused in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, in a move almost certain to end the case aimed at serving justice for a crime that caused global outrage. The Turkish decision was a blow to human rights advocates who had hoped the trial in Turkey would at least make public more evidence of who was involved and how Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Safak Timur and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
Former policeman and government security chief, John Lee, is poised to become Hong Kong’s next top official after declaring his intention to run for the job. Lee was on a list of Hong Kong and mainland officials slapped with U.S. sanctions in 2020 for their role in the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. He has been a staunch defender of a national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 that has been used to quash dissent, detain political opponents, and purge the legislature of lawmakers who are deemed disloyal to Beijing. Elaine Yu and Dan Strumpf report for the Wall Street Journal.
A military tribunal has convicted former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore of murdering his predecessor, Thomas Sankara, sentencing him to life in prison. The trial was conducted in absentia and it is unlikely that Compaore will spend any time in jail soon, as he has refused to return to Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast, where he has lived since a popular uprising pushed him out of power in 2014, has declined to extradite him. Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is likely to rule today on Pakistani President Imran Khan’s bid to block a no-confidence vote against him by dissolving parliament and calling for fresh elections. The court could order parliament to be reconstituted, call for new elections or bar Khan from power if he is found to have violated the constitution. It could also decide that it cannot intervene in parliamentary affairs. Asif Shahzad and Syed Raza Hassan report for Reuters.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has dismissed a move by the prime minister to expel Francisco Madeira, the African Union’s special representative in the country. Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble earlier said that Francisco Madeira had been declared persona non grata for engaging in “acts that are incompatible with his status”. In a statement, he said that the AU representative had 48 hours to leave the country. The counteraction by Farmajo comes amid a long-running fractious relationship between the president and the prime minister. Political tensions between the two have been blamed for delays in concluding parliamentary elections that have been running since last February. Emmanuel Igunza reports for BBC News.
Alioune Tine, the U.N. Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali, called yesterday for a full and independent investigation into alleged mass crimes committed in central Mali’s Mopti region late last month. Tine pleaded with all parties to ensure the “absolute protection” of civilians and an end to the current vicious cycle of violence. UN News Centre reports.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
The House has voted to hold two allies of former president Trump, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro, in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to subpoenas issued by a select committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. The 220-203 vote refers Scavino, the deputy chief of staff for communications in Trump’s White House, and Navarro, the former trade advisor, to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. Both men have cited executive privilege in declining to show up for depositions. Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that Steve Bannon could not rely on the “advice of counsel” defense when countering the criminal charges he faces for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee. Bannon has previously argued that his decision was based on the advice of veteran defense attorney Robert Costello, who told Bannon that former President Donald Trump had asserted executive privilege, and therefore he had no obligation to respond to the committee’s subpoena. However, delivering his ruling U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols said that the “advice of counsel” defense is not applicable in contempt of Congress cases. Bannon’s lawyers said the ruling would prevent them from making a key point within their argument but wasn’t a fatal setback to their defense. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
A federal judge yesterday found New Mexico man, Matthew Martin, not guilty of misdemeanor charges in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, saying the man reasonably believed police officers allowed him into the building. The verdict marks the first full acquittal among the hundreds of people charged in the breach. Sadie Gurman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke, a Black man, during an early-morning raid on an apartment complex will not face criminal charges, prosecutors announced yesterday. In announcing that charges would not be filed, Attorney General Keith Ellison was critical of the raid, and the police department’s misleading description of the victim as a suspect in the aftermath of the shooting. Ellison also pushed for more legislation to overhaul policing, and expressed exasperation at the slow pace of change, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Legal experts had previously expressed doubt over whether criminal charges would be brought as Locke was holding a handgun when the police entered the apartment. The gun was legally owed. Tim Arango reports for the New York Times.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said yesterday that Texas would set up checkpoints to stop commercial vehicles coming from Mexico and would charter buses to bring migrants released by federal agents north to Washington, ushering in a new phase in the political clash over immigration policy. National Guard troops, he said, would begin “mass migration rehearsals” this week, including with riot gear, to prepare for an influx of the type that overwhelmed officials in Del Rio last fall. The move by Texas comes as President Biden’s administration prepares to end Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allows migrants to be turned away at the border. J. David Goodman reports for the New York Times.
Special counsel John Durham introduced new evidence this week that could complicate lawyer Michael Sussmann’s attempts to have a criminal charge of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation dismissed. In a new filing this week, Durham produced a text message that Sussmann sent to then FBI General Counsel James Baker asking for a meeting in the weeks before the 2016 Election. Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI about his motivations for the meeting in which he presented evidence that former President Trump’s computer servers at his Manhattan address appeared to be communicating with a Russian bank. Byron Tau reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Senate will confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court today. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) locked in a deal — which requires the buy-in of all 100 senators — to hold an initial vote on Jackson’s nomination around 11 a.m. on Thursday. After that, Schumer said he expected a final vote to confirm Jackson to take place around 1:45 p.m., depending on how long senators want to speak before the vote. Jordan Carney reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.24 million people and has now killed over 983,129 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 495.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.17 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.