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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 – MARIUPOL
Russia has claimed it has captured the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, with the exception of the Azovstal steel plant, where about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holding out. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the plant to be blockaded but canceled plans to storm it. The Guardian reports.
In a televised meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said that it would be “impractical” to storm the Azovstal steel plant and that the decision not to storm it was being made to safeguard the lives of Russian soldiers. BBC News reports.
Ukraine has proposed to hold a “special round” of negotiations with Russia in the besieged city of Mariupol, officials have said. Ukrainian negotiator and presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in a tweet yesterday: “Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded.” The Guardian reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said yesterday that Ukraine is ready to exchange Russian military prisoners for Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol. Speaking at a news conference Zelenskyy offered two scenarios that would lead to the “unblocking” of Mariupol. In the first scenario, he said the Ukrainian fighters there need “serious and heavy weapons” to stave off Russian troops and evacuate civilians, but he added, “So far we do not have enough of these weapons.” In the second scenario, the president said he was open to a diplomatic solution to exchange Ukrainian civilians for Russian military prisoners, but he claimed that “so far Russia does not agree to this.” Pauline Villegas reports for the Washington Post.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has demanded that Russia allow an immediate humanitarian corridor for civilians to escape the steelworks in Mariupol where many are said to be hiding. “There are about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers there. They all need to be pulled out of Azovstal today,” Vereshchuk said on social media. BBC News reports.
Four evacuation buses managed to leave the besieged city of Mariupol yesterday through an evacuation corridor, Vereshchuk has said. Olga Voitovych reports for CNN.
Responding to the news that Russia will no longer try to storm the Mariupol steel plant, former commander of U.K. Joint Forces Command General Sir Richard Barrons has said that battle is no longer “really relevant” to who controls the port city. Today’s announcements from Russia on Mariupol were intended to show there had been “some success” on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Easter, Barrons said. “And it allows the military not to expend much more resource on a battle for the steelworks which was military irrelevant and turn to what really matters now – the battle of the Donbas.” BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER FIGHTING
Russian forces did not secure any major breakthroughs in their offensive in eastern Ukraine yesterday according to Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War. However, Moscow did secure minor gains, taking parts of the key frontline towns of Rubizhne and Popasna, the think tank’s overnight assessment reports. BBC News reports.
The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region said Russian forces now control 80 per cent of the area in eastern Ukraine, part of the embattled Donbas. Regional governor Serhiy Haidai said in an update late yesterday that Russian forces had stepped up their attacks after taking control of the city of Kreminna and were now trying to “gain a foothold” in Rubizhne and Popasna. Adela Suliman and Amar Nadhir report for the Washington Post.
Kramatorsk, the capital of the Donetsk region, continues to be pummeled by rocket attacks as Russian troops advance from the Donbas region, according to the U.K. defense ministry’s latest intelligence update. The ministry also warned of “high levels” of air activity as Moscow carries out a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv is under intense bombardment, according to its mayor Ihor Terekhov. “Huge blasts, the Russian Federation is furiously bombing the city,” Terekhov said in a televised address. Around 1 million people remain in the northeastern city. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to test-launch a new intercontinental ballistic missile, declaring it a warning to the West, has fed concerns inside the Biden administration that Russia is now so isolated that Putin sees little downside to provocative actions. “We have been so successful in disconnecting Putin from the global system that he has even more incentive to disrupt it beyond Ukraine,” according to one senior U.S.intelligence official. David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times.
The Pentagon has said that the intercontinental ballistic missile test launched by Putin yesterday, does not pose a significant threat to the U.S. The RS-28 Sarmat, which NATO has dubbed “Satan 2,” is considered Russia’s most powerful ICBM: a super-heavy, thermonuclear-armed intercontinental-range ballistic missile. However, whilst the weapon sounds intimidating, the escalating threats Putin has made since his invasion of Ukraine should be more concerning, defense policy and strategy scholars have said. Lateshia Beachum, Mary Ilyushina and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. will announce a new round of security assistance to Ukraine “in very short order,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. Psaki said that Russia’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile would not change the White House’s posture in aiding Ukraine, vowing that the U.S. would proceed in providing both military and security assistance. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
The U.S. yesterday announced its latest round of sanctions against Russia, this time targeting a key commercial bank and “global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by U.S.-designated Russia oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev. In a news release, the US Treasury Department said it was also targeting “companies operating in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world,” noting it was the first time it has “designated a virtual currency mining company.” Jennifer Hansley and Kylie Atwood report for CNN.
President Biden yesterday praised Ukraine’s military for its tough defense against invading Russian forces. Addressing his top defense officials at the White House, Biden said he was “amazed” by what Ukrainians were doing with the assistance provided by the Pentagon. Their defensive capabilities are bolstered by the daily flow of military aid from NATO and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, he added. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Several finance ministers and central bankers including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Ukraine’s finance minister Serhiy Marchenko, abruptly left a Group of 20 meeting in protest yesterday when Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov started to speak. The U.S. Treasury Department said this week that it would make clear that it should not be business as usual for Russia in the global economy. Alan Rappeport reports for the New York Times.
The members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network – the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – have warned that “evolving intelligence” indicates Russia is poised to launch powerful cyberattacks against rivals supporting Ukraine. In a statement released yesterday, the 5 allied countries said that Moscow could also involve existing cybercrime groups in launching attacks on governments, institutions and businesses. The Guardian reports.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written separate letters to the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to request meetings with them in their respective capitals, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said yesterday. The announcement came a day after the U.N .chief called for a humanitarian pause in Ukraine ahead of Orthodox Christian Easter this weekend. U.N. News Centre reports.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has restated Beijing’s opposition to sanctions such as those imposed by Western countries on Russia. Addressing a regional economic forum, Xi condemned what he called “cold war mentalities”, unilateralism and hegemonism – terms China often uses to criticise U.S. policies. BBC News reports.
Xi also proposed a “global security initiative” that upholds the principle of “indivisible security,” a concept also endorsed by Russia, although he gave no details of how it would be implemented. Reuters reports.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that any negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine are unlikely to succeed. Johnson told reporters yesterday that dealing with Putin is like negotiating with a “crocodile when it’s got your leg in its jaws.” Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen have arrived in Kyiv for talks with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Peter Wise reports for the Financial Times.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has pledged to send more weapons to Ukraine during a trip to Kyiv. Reuters reports.
Ukraine estimates it needs $5 billion every month to cover essential government services and keep its economy functioning, raising urgent needs for nations to provide additional funding for the war-ravaged country, the head of the International Monetary Fund said yesterday. Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s managing director, said at a news conference that the estimate for the next three months was conveyed by Ukraine’s finance ministry officials, ahead of this week’s meeting of the IMF and the World Bank. Yuka Hayashi reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
A growing number of Kremlin insiders now believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “was a catastrophic mistake that will set the country back.” However, these critics see no chance the Russian president will change course and no prospect of any challenge to him at home, sources with direct knowledge of the situation have revealed. Some also said that they increasingly share the fear voiced by U.S. intelligence officials that Putin could turn to a limited use of nuclear weapons if faced with failure in a campaign he views as his historic mission. Bloomberg News reports.
Russia has fined Google 4 million roubles ($50,000) for failing to delete what it terms “fake” information about its “special operation in Ukraine.” Reuters reports.
The Soviet victory flag from World War II is beginning to appear across occupied parts of Ukraine ahead of Russia’s May 9 WWII Victory Day celebration. According to two European officials, Russian forces are feeling “self-imposed pressure” to achieve any semblance of a victory ahead of May 9 – a revered holiday in Russia. Paul P. Murphy reports for CNN.
The world’s transition away from fossil energy, rather than being just a means of tackling climate change, has become a matter of national and global security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to energy experts. However, a quick shift away from Russian energy will mean a need to re-evaluate more contentious energy alternatives, including nuclear power. Evan Bush reports for NBC News.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
An English court yesterday ordered the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S.. The order to extradite Assange, who is being sought by the U.S. in connection with charges under the Espionage Act, must now be signed by U.K. home secretary Priti Patel. Assange has four weeks to appeal to her directly, and he also has the right to take his case to the English High Court. Megan Specia reports for the New York Times.
Google’s YouTube has blocked the campaign account of Hong Kong’s only leadership candidate John Lee. A Google spokeswoman said the company acted under applicable U.S. sanctions laws without specifying which rules the account violated, in a move likely to stoke tensions between big tech companies and the city’s government. Selina Cheng and Dan Strumpf report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Militants in Gaza fired several rockets toward Israel overnight and early today and the Israeli Air Force said it retaliated by striking two military sites in Gaza. This exchange marks the most intense fighting between the two sides since the end of an 11-day war in May of last year. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Eleven people have been killed or wounded in a blast in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, health official Najeebullah Sahel has said. Earlier today another blast tore through a Shi’ite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-E-Sharif, killing at least five. Reuters reports.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for an explosion that it said killed or injured 30 people at a market where alcohol was sold in Taraba State, Nigeria. The attack marks an expansion of the area where the extremist group operates in the country. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
Alex Jones, the host of the media outlet Infowars and a key player in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement, is in discussions with the Justice Department about an agreement to detail his role in the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack. Through his lawyer, Jones said he has given the government a formal letter conveying “his desire to speak to federal prosecutors about Jan. 6.” His lawyer maintains that Jones has not engaged in any “criminal wrongdoing.” Alan Feuer, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner report for the New York Times.
A man charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack was arrested after allegedly bragging about his participation to an Uber driver, according to court documents unsealed this week. Jerry Daniel Braun was arrested on April 12 and charged with obstruction during civil disorder, entering and remaining in a building, and violent entry or disorderly conduct. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The U.S. Capitol was evacuated yesterday evening due to a miscommunication regarding a military parachuting demonstration at the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium. The United States Capitol Police sent out an alert Wednesday telling the U.S. Capitol Complex to evacuate due to a “probable threat” from an aircraft. The advisory was quickly rescinded, with the police saying there was no threat. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Lawyers for Hillary Clinton moved quickly yesterday to dismiss former President Trump’s lawsuit accusing her of masterminding a conspiracy against him. The court filing marks Clinton’s first response to Trump’s lawsuit, which claims that more than two dozen federal employees and political figures worked together to “vilify” him. Katelyn Polantz and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
One of President Biden’s top foreign policy aides who has worked on the administration’s response to the Russian invasion is heading to Vice President Kamala Harris’s office. Rebecca Lissner, currently a top planning official at the National Security Council, is joining Harris as deputy national security adviser – another indication that the Vice President is in the midst of a staff overhaul. Daniel Lippman reports for POLITICO.
A Justice Department inquiry has found “systemic failures” that led to widespread death at Mississippi’s largest prison. Officials at the Mississippi prison routinely violated the rights of prisoners by failing to provide mental health treatment, suicide counseling and protection from violence the department’s report said. Glenn Thrush and Katie Benner report for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 80.80 million people and has now killed over 990.366 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 507.13 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.21 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.