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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
The director of the CIA said on Thursday that “potential desperation” to extract the semblance of a victory in Ukraine could tempt Russian President Vladimir Putin to order the use of a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon. However, he cautioned that so far, despite Putin’s frequent invocation of nuclear threats, he had seen no “practical evidence” to suggest such a move was imminent. David E. Sanger and Julian Barnes report for the New York Times.
Russia’s attempts to seize Popasna and Rubizhne in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Tavriya have been “unsuccessful”, said the latest statement from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ukraine has repelled eight Russian attacks in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the last 24 hours, it said, adding that they destroyed four Russian tanks, six armoured transport vehicles, four infantry fighting machines and an artillery system. BBC News reports.
Russian officials yesterday alleged that Ukrainian forces had carried out cross-border attacks on Russian territory, claims that a Ukrainian government agency said were made to stoke “anti-Ukrainian sentiment.” The village of Spodaryushino, near the border with Ukraine, had been shelled by Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, said in a statement on Telegram. He said there were no casualties or destruction of residential buildings, but added that residents in two villages, Bezymeno and Spodaryushino, had been evacuated. Nathan Hodge and Kostan Nechyporenko report for CNN.
Russia has struck what it described as a “military facility” on the outskirts of Kyiv, after threatening it would hit targets in the capital in response to purported Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, the Russian military said today. Nathan Hodge and Anna Chernova report for CNN.
City officials in Mariupol say Russian occupiers have begun exhuming bodies buried in the yards of residential blocks. Mariupol City Council said on Telegram that the occupiers are not allowing residents to bury people allegedly killed by the occupiers. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – BLACK SEA FLEET FLAGSHIP
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby yesterday confirmed an explosion aboard the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet — which Ukraine said was the result of a missile strike and Russia said was caused by an internal fire detonating ammunition. Quint Forgey and Myah Ward report for POLITICO.
The Russian warship Moskva has sunk, Russian state news agency TASS has reported, citing a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense.“During the towing of the cruiser Moskva to the port of destination, the ship lost its stability due to hull damage received during a fire from the detonation of ammunition. In the conditions of stormy seas, the ship sank,” the statement said according to TASS. Jorge Engels and Vasco Cotovio report for CNN.
Ukraine’s claim that it conducted a missile strike that sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet is believed to be credible, two sources familiar with U.S. and western intelligence told CNN, although officials as yet have no definitive proof. The US believes with “medium confidence” that Ukraine’s version of events — which Moscow disputes — is accurate, according to one source. Jim Sciutto and Katie Bo Lillis report for CNN.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has called the damage to the ship a setback for Russia regardless of how it was disabled. Either it was “just incompetence” or “they came under attack”, he said. “Neither is a particularly good outcome for them.” Joanna Slater, Dan Lamothe, Emily Rauhala and Karen De Young report for the Washington Post.
The loss of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship will make it more difficult to gain full control over Ukraine’s southern coast and the port city of Odesa, military analysts say. However, it’s unlikely to derail Moscow’s war campaign entirely. Michael Schwirtz reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Russia has sent a formal diplomatic note to the U.S. warning that U.S. and NATO shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine were “adding fuel” to the conflict and could bring “unpredictable consequences.” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden acknowledged yesterday that he might send a senior U.S. official to Kyiv, a day after reports emerged about a White House debate on the subject. “We’re making that decision now,” Biden told reporters. Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. is preparing new efforts to crack down on sanctions evasion by Russia, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said yesterday. “Where our focus will be over the course of the coming days is on evasion…I think we’ll have some announcements in the next week or two that identify targets that are trying to facilitate that evasion both inside Russia and beyond,” he said in an interview at the Economic Club of Washington. Reuters reports.
The U.S. Commerce Department has added 10 aircraft owned by Russian and Belarus entities to a list of airplanes that likely have violated U.S. export controls, in an action aimed at grounding more flights from the two countries. The department warned that anyone providing service to the aircraft on the list without U.S. authorization risks enforcement actions, including substantial jail time and fines. Yuka Hayashi reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The line between offensive and defensive assistance has been blurred in recent weeks, as Ukraine prepares to resist a new Russian military assault in the east with weapons and equipment the U.S. once considered too risky to provide. The shift in weaponry comes as Kyiv has made increasing pleas for military assistance in recent days, warning of potential Russian escalation and the potential for mass civilian casualties amid Russia’s expected offensive in the Donbas area. It also follows President Biden’s allegation that Russia was conducting “genocide” in Ukraine. Courtney McBride reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Russia has asked Brazil for support in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Group of 20 to help it counter crippling sanctions imposed by the West. In a letter seen by Reuters, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov asked Brazil’s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes for Brazil’s “support to prevent political accusations and discrimination attempts in international financial institutions and multilateral fora.” “Behind the scenes work is underway in the IMF and World Bank to limit or even expel Russia from the decision-making process,” Siluanov wrote. Reuters reports.
Moldovan MPs have passed a ban on Russian war symbols, including the letters Z and V and the St George ribbon. Fifty-three Moldovan MPs from the pro-European majority passed the bill, which introduces fines for making, distributing, wearing and displaying such symbols. The pro-Russian opposition – which appealed against the bill earlier this month – attempted to disrupt the vote. BBC News reports.
The Ukrainian parliament voted yesterday to formally declare that invading Russian troops carried out “acts of genocide” on its soil, with its chairman urging other countries to follow suit and denounce Moscow’s wartime conduct. “It is safe to say that the actions committed by the Russian armed forces are not just a crime of aggression,” said Ruslan Stefanchuk, head of the legislative body, “but aimed at systematic and consistent destruction of the Ukrainian people, their identity and deprivation of their right to self-determination and independent development.” Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
Russia’s repayment of foreign currency bonds in rubles could be considered a default if it does not reverse course and pay in dollars, Moody’s, the ratings agency, said yesterday. If Moscow is declared in default, it would mark Russia’s first major default on foreign bonds since the years following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Alan Rappeport reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – REFUGEES AND EVACUATIONS
The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region in the east of the country has urged residents in the area to evacuate. In a post on his Telegram channel, Serhiy Gaidai appealed for people to evacuate and “choose life” after he said one person was killed and five were wounded during Russian shelling in the town of Kreminna. BBC News reports.
The U.N. has called for parties in the conflict to provide safe passage to civilians out of the besieged city of Mariupol, following the announcement that two aid workers and their families had been killed there. CNN reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. envoy for North Korea will visit Seoul next week for meetings with South Korean counterparts to discuss the international response to the North’s recent intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) launches. U.S. Special Representative Sung Kim has said he is open to talks with North Korea at any time and without preconditions, but Pyongyang has so far rebuffed this offer. Reuters reports.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s anti-money laundering unit has warned financial institutions against efforts by kleptocratic regimes and corrupt public officials to launder their illicit gains, citing Russia as a particular area of concern. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in an advisory yesterday urged banks and other financial institutions to focus their efforts on detecting the proceeds of foreign public corruption. Mengqi Sun reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Department of Justice has charged a Russian lawmaker and two of his aides in an alleged propaganda conspiracy to advance Russian interests in the U.S. Deputy chairman of Russia’s Duma Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Babakov, Babakov’s chief-of-staff Aleksandr Nikolayevich Vorobev and Babakov aide Mikhail Alekseyevich Plisyuk are facing multiple charges for allegedly trying to have a U.S. citizen act as an illegal agent of Moscow, the department said in a press release. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
The head of the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has vowed to continue “leading” militias across the region at a time nuclear talks have stalled because of the force’s terrorist designation by the U.S.. In a speech to supporters in Tehran yesterday, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani said his Quds Force would continue to back any anti-US and anti-Israel movement in the world. Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Andrew England report for the Financial Times.
U.S. lawmakers visiting Taiwan on Friday made a public declaration of their support for the self-governing island democracy while also issuing a warning to China, who had publicly denounced the visit a day earlier. Taiwan “is a country of global significance, of global consequence, of global impact, and therefore it should be understood the security of Taiwan has a global impact for those who would wish it ill,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said. AP reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Clashes between Israeli riot police and Palestinians erupted at one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem today, culminating weeks of escalating violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank. The Israeli police fired sound grenades and rubber bullets during hours of clashes. At least 117 Palestinians were injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Israeli police said that several officers had also been injured. Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim report for the New York Times.
Police in India’s Madhya Pradesh state are bulldozing homes belonging to Muslims, in the aftermath of communal violence which broke out on April 10, the day of the Hindu festival of Ram Navami. This has sparked outrage, with critics calling it a thinly veiled attempt to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party, which is also in power in Madhya Pradesh. Concerns have also been raised about the “flagrant manner” in which these demolitions have been carried out, with experts saying there is no legal justification for them. Zoua Mateen reports for BBC News.
China has begun sending its most advanced fighter aircraft, the J-20, to patrol the East and South China Seas, Chinese state media has reported. The deployment is intended to “better safeguard China’s airspace security and maritime interests,” according to the state-run tabloid Global Times. Jessie Yeung and Brad Lendon report for CNN.
Tokyo has “conveyed its concerns” to Moscow over cruise missile tests conducted by Russia in the Sea of Japan, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in a press conference. Yesterday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said two submarines from its Pacific Fleet successfully test-fired Kalibr cruise missiles from an underwater position in the waters of the Sea of Japan. Yuki Kurihara, Emi Jozuka and Mayumi Maruyama report for CNN.
Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che has returned to Taiwan after serving a five-year jail sentence in China for alleged crimes against the state. Lee, who was arrested during a trip to Macau in 2017, had pleaded guilty to “subverting state power,” a charge that is frequently used against human rights activists. E-ling Chiu, secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, has said that Lee’s trial and prison conditions violated international law. Erin Hale reports for Al Jazeera.
The U.N.’s refugee agency has strongly criticised the U.K. government’s decision to send migrants to Rwanda for processing, saying that it is at odds with States’ responsibility to take care of those in need of protection. UN News Centre reports
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
Stephen Miller, a top White House adviser to former President Trump, was questioned for roughly eight hours yesterday by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Investigators asked Miller repeatedly about the use of the word “we” throughout Trump’s speech on the Ellipse, outside the White House, on Jan. 6, in an apparent effort to ascertain whether the former president had been directing supporters to join him in taking action to stop Congress from certifying his defeat. Miller argued that the language was no different from any other political speech. Maggie Haberman and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
An Ohio man who claimed that Trump was legally responsible for his decision to break into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 was found guilty on all charges yesterday. The most serious charge in the indictment accused the defendant Dustin Thompson of obstructing Congress’s duty to certify the final results of the election, a count that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A federal jury yesterday convicted British Islamic State fighter, El Shafee Elsheikh, of being part of a brutal cell that murdered American hostages. Jurors deliberated for just four hours before finding El Shafee Elsheikh guilty of eight counts, including hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiring to murder Americans outside the U.S. and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The Justice Department agreed not to pursue the death penalty against Elsheikh, paving the way for the British government to provide evidence for his prosecution in the U.S.. Elsheikh now faces a mandatory life sentence. Sadie Gurman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The man charged with the New York subway shooting Frank James was held without bail yesterday after prosecutors said he posed a continued threat. His lawyers, who said their client had called a tip line to surrender, asked a federal judge to ensure James received psychiatric care in jail. Troy Closson and Rebecca Davis O’Brien report for the New York Times.
New York City is considering the use of weapon-detection technology in its sprawling subway system in the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting and a surge in violent crime this year, officials say. Mayor Eric Adams has said in interviews since the shooting that cutting-edge screening technology could improve safety in the transit system without disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic. James Fanelli reports for the Wall Street Journal.
TikTok is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice over its handling of child sexual abuse material, according to sources familiar with the matter. Dealing with sexual predators has been an enduring challenge for social media platforms, but TikTok’s young user base has made it vulnerable to being a target. The investigations highlight how TikTok is struggling to cope with the torrent of content generated by more than 1bn users. Cristina Criddle reports for the Financial Times.
Three more Texas international bridges will see relief from state trucking inspections that have disrupted trade with Mexico, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said yesterday. Abbott and Chihuahua Gov. María Campos Galvan said in Austin that they had reached an agreement for Chihuahua to do safety checks on trucks in Mexico. The move should allow traffic to flow smoothly again over bridges that border the Mexican state, including in El Paso, where long delays and ensuing protests by Mexican truckers led to hours-long waits and the temporary closure of three bridges. Elizabeth Findell reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Local and federal authorities yesterday announced that charges have been filed against a suspect in the April 3 arson of an LGBT club in New York City. John Lhota, 24, of Brooklyn, was arrested on April 6. He faces a maximum of 40 years in prison for allegedly setting fire to the Brooklyn nightclub and hospitalizing two people, according to a statement made by the Justice Department. Brad Dress reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.57 million people and has now killed over 988.121 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 502.92 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.19 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.