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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 – TRANSNISTRIA
Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria said today that shots were fired from Ukraine towards a village that houses an ammunition depot, the latest report to raise concern that Russia’s war in Ukraine might expand. The interior ministry said in a statement that several drones had been detected flying over the village of Cobasna overnight and that they had been launched from Ukraine. Reuters reports.
Moldova said it was placing its security forces on alert yesterday following a series of explosions in Transnistria, a breakaway pro-Russian enclave. The explosions have stirred concerns over the role that some 1,500 Russian troops stationed there could play in supporting Moscow’s campaign in neighbouring Ukraine. Matthew Luxmoore reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have both responded to reports of explosions in Transnistria. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is following the developments “with concern,” and “urges all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions that could escalate tensions,” a spokesperson has said. “Russia’s war against Ukraine is just the beginning,” Zelensky said. “The ultimate goal of Russia’s leadership is not just to seize the territory of Ukraine, but to dismember the entire center and east of Europe and deal a global blow to democracy,” he added. Bryan Pietsch reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – MARIUPOL
Russia has agreed “in principle” to U.N. involvement in the evacuation of citizens from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, following a meeting between U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Guterres also met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, telling reporters after the meeting that “it is clear that there are two different positions on what is happening in Ukraine.” UN News Centre reports.
The Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol continue to be subject to Russian airstrikes, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying there was no need to storm it after declaring victory in Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the city mayor, has said. “Air attacks on Azovstal are not subsiding. No ceasefire, but attempts to storm again and again. Despite the statements (by Putin),” Andryushchenko wrote on Telegram. Reuters reports.
According to a U.K. defense ministry intelligence update, most airstrikes in Mariupol probably involved the use of unguided free-falling bombs. These weapons reduce Russia’s ability to effectively discriminate when conducting strikes, increasing the risk of civilian casualties, it added.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER FIGHTING
The Ukrainian armed forces have acknowledged the loss of several towns and villages in eastern regions as Russia steps up its ground offensive. Heavy fighting is ongoing on three fronts, with Russian forces being reinforced and resupplied from bases inside Russia, according to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military on Wednesday. Despite the loss of territory, Ukrainian authorities said nine enemy attacks were repulsed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions alone, with Russian equipment destroyed — including nine tanks and 11 artillery systems. Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva report for CNN.
Russia reported a series of blasts in the south of the country and a fire at an ammunition depot today, the latest in a series of incidents described by Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, as “karma” for Moscow’s invasion. Without directly admitting that Ukraine was responsible, Podolyak said it was natural that Russian regions where fuel and weapons are stored were learning about “demilitarisation”. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has hit a strategic bridge linking the southern Odesa region with neighboring Romania. Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said the bridge across the Dniester Estuary where the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea was damaged in yesterday’s missile attack by Russian forces. He said there were no injuries. AP reports.
Ukraine has maintained control “over the majority of its airspace” some two months into Russia’s invasion, the U.K. defense ministry said in an intelligence update. “Ukraine retains control over the majority of its airspace. Russia has failed to effectively destroy the Ukrainian Air Force or suppress Ukrainian air defenses. Ukraine continues to hold Russian air assets at risk,” the update said. Hannah Ritchie reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Attorney General Merrick Garland said yesterday that he supports efforts to allow some of the proceeds from assets the Justice Department seizes from Russian oligarchs to go “directly to Ukraine.” “The government — we would support legislation that would allow some of that money to go directly to Ukraine,” Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee in response to a question about how the department handles proceeds from recovered Russian assets. “That’s not the current circumstance with respect to the fund,” he added. Devan Cole reports for CNN.
As Russia launched its invasion, the U.S. gave Ukrainian forces detailed intelligence about when and where Russian missiles and bombs were intended to strike, prompting Ukraine to move air defenses and aircraft out of harm’s way. According to current and former U.S. officials, that near real-time intelligence-sharing also paved the way for Ukraine to shoot down a Russian transport plane carrying hundreds of troops in the early days of the war, helping to repel a Russian assault on a key airport near Kyiv. Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Dan De Luce report for NBC News.
Lawmakers have said that they are prepared to quickly approve another package funding weapons and economic aid for Ukraine, as the U.S. shifts to a longer-term commitment to back Kyiv. The White House is expected to send a supplemental request to Congress for a second multibillion-dollar aid package by the end of the week, according to aides and lawmakers. Natalie Andrews, Andrew Duehren and William Mauldin report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. diplomats have begun traveling back to Ukraine as the U.S. prepares to reopen its embassy in Kyiv in the next few weeks, the State Department has said. “[U.S. diplomats] are making, for the time being, day trips into Lviv. That first day trip started today,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced yesterday that the U.S. and its European allies have formed a “contact group” that will meet monthly to discuss the strategy for Ukraine to defeat Russia. Austin made the announcement in remarks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany during a conference with 40 other countries to discuss aid to Ukraine. Rebecca Shabad reports for NBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Russia will halt gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria starting today, the first time it has followed through on a threat to cut off countries that don’t pay for their gas on new, wartime terms outlined in March by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move marks a major escalation by Russia, which has tried to bolster its currency by insisting customers pay for gas in rubles and introduces the possibility that more economies in Europe could be targeted. Drew Hinshaw reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The E.U. has accused Russia of “blackmail” after state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, shut off the supply of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. “The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. Emily Rauhala reports for the Washington Post.
Norway’s Vaar Energi has said that it can’t immediately boost gas output in response to Russia cutting off all gas to Bulgaria and Poland. Vaar Energi is currently producing as much natural gas as it can and doesn’t foresee further increasing its output in the short term, the company has said. BBC News reports.
Three Russian pilots suspected of bombing civilian buildings in the Kharkiv and Sumy regions are among at least seven Russian military personnel that Kyiv is preparing war crimes charges against, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office. The other individuals include two operators of a rocket launcher who allegedly shelled settlements in the Kharkiv region and two army servicemen suspected of murdering a Kyiv area resident and raping his wife. Antony Deutsch reports for Reuters.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will today call on the West to give warplanes to Ukraine as part of their long term military support. In a speech in London, she is expected to say that Britain and other Western powers should be ready to give the country backing “for the long haul.” She’ll also urge the West to cut off Russian oil and gas imports “once and for all.” James Landale reports for BBC News.
Chinese drone maker DJI says it is temporarily suspending all sales in Russia and Ukraine to make sure that its devices are not being used in combat or for military purposes. DJI in a statement Tuesday said that it was pausing sales “in light of current hostilities.” David Kirton reports for Reuters.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The State Department has announced it is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information on a group of Russian cybercriminals. In a press release yesterday, the department said its Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program is seeking information on six individuals who are allegedly connected to a criminal conspiracy involving malicious cyber activities affecting U.S. critical infrastructure. Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Liechtenstein’s draft resolution, which mandates a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly whenever a veto is cast in the Security Council, was adopted by consensus yesterday, according to a tweet posted by the General Assembly president. The resolution was cosponsored by 83 member states, including the U.S, and comes in the wake of Russia’s use of the veto in the Council after it called for Russia’s unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine. UN News Centre reports.
A court has sentenced Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to five years in prison after finding her guilty of corruption for accepting about $1.3 million in gold bars and cash from a close political ally. Her ouster has rattled other Southeast Asian nations and is expected to be a major point of discussion during President Biden’s meeting with leaders from the region in Washington next month. Richard C. Paddock reports for the New York Times.
Swedish authorities have extradited a Rwandan man to Kigali over genocide charges which he is alleged to have committed when he was a university student. The Rwanda prosecution said it received Jean Paul Micomyiza on Wednesday and commended Sweden for its willingness “to fight impunity.” Samba Cyuzuzo reports for BBC News.
The Speaker of Somalia’s Senate has been re-elected, a key step in enabling the country to hold presidential elections. Abdi Hashi Abdullahi was re-elected by the 54-seat upper house during a vote that took place in a highly secured compound in the capital, Mogadishu. Joice Etutu reports for BBC News.
The international community must remain focused on achieving a political solution to the conflict in Syria, U.N.Envoy for the country Geir Pedersen said yesterday during a briefing to the Security Council in New York. Recalling that Syria is “a hot conflict, not a frozen one”, he listed some of the threats resulting from the war, including an uptick in airstrikes, intensified clashes in the northeast, “regular incidents between or involving international actors,” as well as terrorism. UN News Centre reports.
Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition and his plans for a more hands-off approach to moderating content could clash with new laws in Europe meant to protect users from disinformation, hate speech and other harmful material. Europe’s Digital Services Act will require big tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook parent Meta to police their platforms more strictly or face billions in fines. “If his approach will be ‘just stop moderating it,’ he will likely find himself in a lot of legal trouble in the E.U.,” said Jan Penfrat, senior policy adviser at digital rights group EDRi. Kelvin Chan reports for AP.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, feared that several far-right members of Congress would incite violence against other lawmakers following the Jan. 6 attack. He identified several of these individuals by name as security risks during private conversations with party leaders, according to an audio recording obtained by the New York Times. McCarthy’s remarks represent one of the starkest acknowledgements from a Republican leader that the party’s rank-and-file lawmakers played a role in stoking the Jan. 6 attack. Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report for the New York Times.
The committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack may again seek to speak with McCarthy in light of comments he made in the audio recordings obtained by the New York Times. “We’ve invited him to come earlier before the latest revelation that was reported on tapes. So in all probability, he will be issued another invitation to come just like some other members,” Select Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said, noting a decision will be made “soon.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
The trial of former New York Police Department officer Thomas Webster, who allegedly assaulted a Washington police officer during the Jan. 6 attack, began yesterday. Webster’s trial is the sixth case connected to the attack, and the first to argue self-defense in front of a jury. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The youngest detainee at Guantánamo Bay, a Yemeni man who has spent his entire adult life in U.S. custody, has been cleared for release, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. However, he must wait for the Biden administration to negotiate a transfer deal with a country willing to provide security guarantees and rehabilitation. Diplomats have arranged just three transfers from the prison since President Biden took office despite an administration goal of closing the detention center. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
An Air Force major general, who was found guilty on Saturday of forcibly kissing a woman in 2018, has been sentenced to a reprimand and docked pay for five months. Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley avoided more severe penalties that could have been imposed, including dismissal, a reduction in rank or up to seven years in prison. Jesus Jimenez and Vimal Patel report for the New York Times.
The number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., including assaults, vandalism and harassment, rose to a new high last year, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). There were more than 2,700 reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2021, a roughly 34% increase from 2020 and the highest number on record since the ADL—a Jewish advocacy group that examines anti-Semitism in the U.S.— began tracking these figures in 1979. Omar Abdel-Baqui reports for the Wall Street Journal.
House Democrats will hold a hearing on Supreme Court ethics and the possibility of impeaching justices, following the revelation of controversial text messages from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas. A memo from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), the chairman of the House Judiciary courts subcommittee, distributed to members ahead of today’s hearing explores codes of conduct for federal judges outside the Supreme Court and summarizes legislative proposals to impose ethics requirements on Supreme Court justices. The memo also discusses Congress’s impeachment authority in the Constitution as one form of regulation of the conduct of Supreme Court justices. Emily Brooks reports for The Hill.
The Biden administration said yesterday that it will comply with an expected court order from a Louisiana judge that would block the lifting of Title 42, a Trump-era deportation policy used to expel more than one million migrants at the Southern border. The administration had announced that it would end the use of Title 42 by May 23. However, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana announced on Monday that he would side with Republican states to keep the order preserved. Eugene Daniels and Laura Barron-Lopez report for POLITICO.
COVID-19 has infected over 81.10 million people and has now killed over 991.959 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 511.09 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.23 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.