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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 – CHEMICAL WEAPONS ALLEGATIONS
Ukrainian forces and officials have accused Russia of dropping chemical weapons on the port city of Mariupol, causing troops and civilians to develop respiratory illnesses. “Russian occupation forces used a poisonous substance of unknown origin against Ukrainian military and civilians in the city of Mariupol, which was dropped from an enemy [unmanned aerial vehicle],” the Azoz Regiment, a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine with links to the far-right, wrote on Telegram yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The U.S. Defense Department is monitoring unconfirmed reports that Russia has used chemical weapons during its siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. U.S. intelligence has not been able to verify the accounts, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, but Western leaders have for weeks warned that Moscow could employ such tactics. Reis Thebault reports for the Washington Post.
All options would be on the table in how the West responds to any use of chemical weapons in Ukraine by Russia, U.K. armed forces minister James Heappey said today. U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said yesterday that Britain was working with its partners to verify the details of reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on Mariupol. Reuters reports.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that reports that chemical weapons had been used by Russian forces in Mariupol should be treated with “the utmost seriousness.” “I would like to remind world leaders that the possible use of chemical weapons by the Russian military has already been discussed. And already at that time it meant that it was necessary to react to the Russian aggression much harsher and faster,” he added. Bogdan Kobuchey and Ronald Popeski report for Reuters.
Mariupol’s deputy mayor, Serhiy Orlov has said that the city council has confirmed a “chemical poisoning” delivered by a Russian drone. The allegation has not been independently verified. Toby Luckhurst and Mariana Maglych report for BBC News.
Russian-back separatist forces did not use chemical weapons in their attacks on Mariupol, separatist commander Eduard Basurin has said, according to the Interfax news agency. Chantal Da Silva reports for NBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATIONS
Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general of Ukraine said yesterday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes, with “more and more” proceedings every day. Venediktova said Ukraine has identified more than 500 suspects, including Russian politicians, military personnel and propaganda agents “who wanted this war, who started this war and who continued this war.” “We want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine,” Venediktova said while acknowledging the role of the International Criminal Court. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
France has sent a unit of gendarmes to Ukraine to investigate potential war crimes, the first disclosed deployment of military personnel in Ukraine from a NATO country. The gendarmes, a police force that is part of the French army, are in Ukraine to assist local authorities in probing any war crimes around the capital of Kyiv, Etienne de Poncins, France’s ambassador to Ukraine, wrote in a Twitter post yesterday. Matthew Dalton reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
There are signs that the Kremlin has begun reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the eastern Donbas region, the Pentagon said yesterday. The expectation, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby added, is that the “same brutal tactics, that same disregard for civilian life and civilian infrastructure, will probably continue” as Russian military commanders concentrate on the Donbas region. Dan Lamothe, Kim Bellware and Mary Llyushina report for the Washington Post.
Ukrainian officials have reported further shelling by Russian forces and more civilian casualties in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Serhii Haidai, head of Luhansk regional military administration, said the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Kreminna, Novodruzhesk and Rubizhne had been targeted again, with 12 residential buildings struck in the last day. Yulia Kesaieva, Maria Kostenko and Tim Lister report for CNN.
The mayor of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol said yesterday that more than 10,000 civilians have died during the Russian siege and that the death toll could surpass 20,000. Mayor Vadym Boychenko also accused Russian forces of having blocked humanitarian convoys into the city in an attempt to conceal the carnage there from the outside world. AP reports.
There is “no evidence” suggesting that Russian forces have destroyed an S-300 air defense system supplied to Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official said yesterday. Russian officials have said they plan to invigorate their campaign to take out Ukrainian air defenses, which have partly survived despite weeks of Russian airstrikes and shelling. However, U.S. defense officials said they have not seen Russia follow through on this plan. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the current commander of U.S. Army Europe, is expected to be elevated to lead all U.S. and allied forces on the continent, U.S. officials said, marking the biggest change to NATO military leadership since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Pentagon is also set to name a new general to lead Special Operation forces, the officials said. Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden on Monday urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to increase his country’s reliance on Russian oil and gas, as part of a global effort by the U.S. to maintain economic pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. In the meeting between the two leaders, Biden offered to help Modi acquire oil and other energy from other sources. Michael D. Shear and Mujib Mashal report for the New York Times.
Alexander Dvornikov, the Russian general newly appointed to lead Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has a history of “utter disregard” for avoiding harm to civilians, as well as the laws of war, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said yesterday. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may use the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine as a pretext to order a new campaign to interfere in American politics, U.S. intelligence officials have assessed. Intelligence agencies have so far not found any evidence that Putin has authorized measures like the ones Russia is believed to have undertaken in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections in support of former President Donald Trump. However, officials believe he may see the U.S. backing of Ukraine’s resistance as a direct affront to him, giving him further incentive to target another U.S. election. Nomaan Merchant reports for AP.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he had a “direct” and “tough” conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday as he became the first Western leader to meet with him since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Following their 75-minute meeting in Moscow, Nehammer said that he had pressed for an immediate cease-fire and humanitarian corridors. “This is not a friendly visit,” he said in a statement. “I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression.” Loveday Morris reports for the Washington Post.
Putin has defended his decision to invade Ukraine, insisting that “there is no doubt” that the war would be successful. “What we are doing is helping people and saving people, on the one hand, and on the other hand, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself,” Putin said during a visit to a spaceport in the Russian Far East. Anton Troianovski reports for the New York Times.
Putin will meet his ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, for talks today about Ukraine and ways to “counter” pressure from sanctions by the West, Russian news agencies have reported. Amy Cheng, Jennifer Hassan, Adela Suliman and Annabelle Timsit report for the Washington Post.
New Zealand will send more than 50 soldiers to Europe to help distribute aid to Ukraine, in a rare move by the government to directly aid a partner during wartime. A majority of those soldiers will help transport the enormous amount of military equipment being donated to Ukraine. The rest will support the distribution of humanitarian aid. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphasized that soldiers would not enter Ukraine itself. Peter McKenzie reports for the New York Times.
Canada will impose sanctions on several dozen entities in the Russian defense sector that “have provided indirect or direct support to the Russian military and are therefore complicit in the pain and suffering stemming from Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine.” The additional sanctions, which were announced yesterday in a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, will be levied on 33 entities, including the Central Research Institute of Automation and Hydraulics and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Amanda Colette reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
At a Security Council session yesterday, the U.N. executive director for women Sima Bahous warned that reports of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine were increasing. Russia has denied the allegations against its forces of rape and sexual violence, saying that Ukrainian extremist militant groups, such as the right-wing Azov group, were responsible for committing the atrocities. Farnaz Fassihi reports for the New York Times.
Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children are now displaced due to the ongoing conflict, UNICEF has said. UNICEF’s emergency programs director Manuel Fontaine told the UN Security Council on Monday that the war was a “nightmare” for children. Fontaine said the UN had verified the deaths of 142 children with 229 injured as of Sunday, but that “the true figures are most certainly much higher given the scale of attacks.” Richard Roth and Yulia Kesaieva report for CNN.
Nokia will exit the Russian market according to an announcement made by the company today. It will continue to provide the “the necessary support” to maintain networks, and will be applying for relevant licenses to enable that support in compliance with current sanctions, the telecommunications company said. Providing such support is in line with concerns raised by western governments about the risk of a failing telecommunication network infrastructure in Russia and the importance of ensuring access for Russians to “outside perspectives.” Dylan Duan reports for NBC News.
Russia’s State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has raised the possibility of taking away the citizenship of Russians who speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a Telegram post, Volodin said there was currently no procedure in place to strip “such citizens of the Russian Federation” of their citizenship and ban them from entering Russia, “but perhaps it would be right.” Yuliya Talmazan reports for NBC News.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Trevor Reed, an American citizen detained in Russia for nearly three years, has an appeal hearing scheduled for today, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Reed had started a second hunger strike in protest of his treatment by Russian authorities, according to his parents, who met with President Biden last month. Regarding the upcoming court appeal, parents Joey and Paula Reed said in a statement they “have little hope for a successful judicial outcome,” but believe their son’s appeal rights should be pursued “vigorously.” Catherine Carter reports for CNN.
The U.S. sanctioned seven people in the Western Balkans yesterday, including former leaders of North Macedonia and the short-lived State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. “The people designated today constitute a serious threat to regional stability, institutional trust, and the aspirations of those seeking democratic and judicious governance in the Western Balkans,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. Nektaria Stamouli reports for POLITICO.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the U.S. is monitoring a reported rise in human rights abuses in India by officials. “We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and, to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” Blinken said yesterday in a joint press briefing with US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh. Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Shehbaz Sharif, veteran politician and leader of the opposition, has been elected as Pakistan’s new prime minister by Parliament, following the ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday. Shehbaz will remain in power until Pakistanis can elect a leader in a general election, which must be called no later than July 2023. Maite Fernandez Simon reports for the Washington Post.
Sri Lanka has said it will temporarily default on its foreign debts amid its worst economic crisis in over 70 years. Sri Lanka’s finance ministry said in a statement that it otherwise has an “unblemished record” of paying its dues since independence from the U.K. in 1948, but that “recent events … have eroded Sri Lanka’s fiscal position.” Sri Lanka is due to start talks with the International Monetary Fund next week about a loan programme to get its economy back on track. BBC News reports.
Brazil’s election authority, the Supreme Electoral Court, has invited the E.U. to supervise its upcoming general elections in October when President Jair Bolsonaro will seek re-election. Bolsonaro has questioned the validity of Brazil’s electronic voting system and made baseless allegations of fraud in the 2018 race, raising concerns that he may not accept the results of the October election. The E.U. plans to send a mission to Brazil in May to assess the viability of being an official election observer, a source familiar with the matter has said. Antony Boadle and Ricardo Brito report for Reuters.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Clement Nyaletsossi Voule has warned of the erosion of democracy in Brazil, calling on authorities to create and maintain a safe environment conducive to the exercise of the rights to peaceful assembly and association. He also pointed to the appalling levels of violence against human rights defenders, women journalists, indigenous peoples, and traditional communities, particularly those of African descent which are known as quilombolas. UN News Centre reports.
More than 9,000 Salvadorans have been arrested in the past two weeks after legislators gave President Nayib Bukele’s government emergency powers for up to 30 days to curb a record wave of gang-related killings. Santiago Perez and Juan Carlos Rivera report for the Wall Street Journal.
An estimated 20,000 people have fled violence in the past year in Michoacán state, roughly the size of West Virginia, as criminal gangs battle for control over Mexican territory. Thousands more have abandoned their homes in other states like Zacatecas and Guerrero. Whilst forced displacement is generally associated with armed conflict, it has become such a problem in Mexico that the country’s Senate is considering legislation to offer humanitarian aid to victims. Mary Beth Sheridan reports for the Washington Post.
At least 30 people have been killed during two days of attacks by gunmen in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Red Cross has said. The attacks are thought to have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), one of the deadliest rebel groups operating in the region. Will Ross reports for BBC News.
A Palestinian man stabbed a police officer with a kitchen knife and was shot dead in the Israeli port city of Ashkelon. The officer was hospitalised with light wounds. The assailant was a man in his 40s from the flashpoint city of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, police said. Agence France-Presse reports.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
Former police officer Thomas Robertson was convicted yesterday on multiple charges stemming from his role in the Jan. 6 attack, including obstruction of Congress’ session to count Electoral College votes. The most potent evidence in Robertson’s case likely came from co-defendant Jacob Fracker, who served on the police force with Robertson at the time of the Jan. 6 attack. Fracker pleaded guilty to his involvement in the breach and testified that Robertson was the driving force behind their actions that day. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A man accused of impersonating a Department of Homeland Security employee gave gifts to Secret Service agents not to gain influence but because they were his friends, his lawyer told a federal judge yesterday. Arian Taherzadeh’s lawyer, Michelle Peterson, said prosecutors have “jumped to the wildest conspiracy theories imaginable” in the unusual case, which became public last Wednesday. Prosecutors say the men posed as DHS employees and gave gifts including rent-free apartments and a drone to Secret Service members. However, no motive has been offered for their actions. Alexa Corse reports for the Wall Street Journal.
An American former member of Islamic State testified yesterday that El Shafee Elsheikh, accused of being part of a brutal cell that murdered U.S. citizens, held a senior role within the terrorist organization. Elsheikh faces charges of hostage-taking resulting in death and other counts stemming from the torture and killings of humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, journalist James Foley and others in Syria in 2014 and early 2015. Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha report for the Wall Street Journal.
Alaska man, Jay Allen Johnson, who pleaded guilty to threatening to murder two U.S. senators has been sentenced to 32 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Johnson left a total of 17 voicemails laden with threats for Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Alaska Republicans. Christine Chung reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. has ordered its consular staff to leave Shanghai, which is under a lockdown to contain a Covid-19 surge. The State Department said the order is an upgrade from the “authorized” departure issued last week that made the decision voluntary. The order covers “non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members from U.S. Consulate General Shanghai.” AP reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.45 million people and has now killed over 985.826 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 499.75 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.18 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.