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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
The U.S. has credible evidence Russia executed Ukrainians who tried to surrender in the Donetsk region, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack said at a U.N. meeting yesterday. “If true, this would be in violation of a core principle of the law of war: the prohibition against the summary execution of civilians and of combatants who are hors de combat by virtue of surrender, injury or other forms of incapacitation,” she said at the U.N. Security Council meeting focused on accountability in Ukraine. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney urged countries at the U.N. yesterday to focus on international justice for war crimes in Ukraine so evidence does not sit in storage – as it has done for victims of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “Ukraine is today a slaughterhouse. Right in the heart of Europe,” Clooney told the U.N. Security Council meeting. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his support for a war crimes investigation during a visit to Kyiv and the suburb of Bucha, where he viewed an emptied mass grave.“When we see this horrendous site, it makes me feel how important it is to have a thorough investigation and accountability,” he said. Rachel Elbaum reports for NBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
A new report by Microsoft has revealed how Russia used its A-team of hackers to conduct hundreds of subtle cyber-attacks, many timed to coincide with incoming missile or ground attacks. The report demonstrates Russia’s persistent use of cyberweapons, upending early analysis that suggested they had not played a prominent role in the conflict. However, while these attacks had “some success,” the Russians were met with a robust defense from Ukraine, according to Tom Burt, who oversees Microsoft’s investigations into the biggest and most complex cyberattacks visible on its global networks. Kate Conger and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence claims to have carried out four missile strikes on Ukrainian military targets overnight, destroying two missile and ammunition depots near the settlements of Barvinkove and Ivanivka in eastern Ukraine. Russian air defence also shot down a Ukrainian Su-24 aircraft near Luhansk, a city in eastern Ukraine, according to a Telegram post by the ministry. It also claims to have neutralised 67 Ukrainian military facilities overnight and up to 40 armoured and motor vehicles. BBC News reports.
Russian strikes in civilian areas killed four people in the span of 24 hours, according to Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration. In Donetsk, National Police said that 22 settlements were fired upon, leaving at least 30 civilian facilities destroyed, including multiple residential buildings and a school. Ayumi Fujimoto, Artem Grudinin and Maria Ulianovska report for NBC News.
Russia has ramped up its offensive in Ukraine, with ground and air units exerting “intense fire” in all directions, Ukraine military spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun has said. “Russian enemy increases the pace of the offensive operation. In almost all directions, the Russian occupiers are exerting intense fire,” he said in an operational update. Mithil Aggarwal and Mariia Ulianovska report for NBC News.
As Russian shelling intensifies across eastern Ukraine, officials in Donetsk have posted photographs of one small hamlet in the region in which over two dozen homes have been hit. Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said on his Telegram that 27 houses in the village of Lastochkine had been damaged by shelling. He gave no information on casualties. Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva report for CNN.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a series of explosions temporarily knocked Russian channels off the air yesterday, according to reports by Ukrainian and Russian news outlets. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said missiles and rockets were fired at the city from the direction of the Ukrainian forces to the northwest. AP reports.
Ukraine can choose the “tactics” required to fend off Russia’s invasion, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said when asked whether the United States should support offensive operations by Ukraine against Russia. “My own view is that it’s vital that they do whatever is necessary to defend against Russian aggression,” Blinken told a Senate panel yesterday, following explosions in southern Russia and a fire at a Russian ammunition depot. John Hudson reports for the Washington Post.
U.K. defense secretary Ben Wallace said today that while it would be legitimate for Ukrainian forces to target Russian logistics to cripple their supply of food, fuel and munitions, they were unlikely to use British weapons to do so. Tensions between Britain and Russia increased this week when Moscow accused London of provoking Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia, saying there would be an immediate “proportional response” if it continued. Reuters reports.
U.K. defense secretary Ben Wallace has said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “trying to broaden” the conflict in Ukraine after a series of explosions rocked Transnistria in Moldova. “There is definitely a sense that . . . he is almost in desperation trying to broaden this, either with threats, or indeed potential false flags or attacks,” he said. Leke Oso Alabi reports for the Financial Times.
The Russian navy is still able to hit Ukrainian targets from the Black Sea despite the high-profile loss of its fleet’s flagship, the U.K. defense ministry has said in an intelligence update. Approximately 20 Russian Navy vessels are currently in the Black Sea operational zone, the update added.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed a mostly symbolic bill urging President Biden to sell the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs hit with sanctions and use the funds to provide additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The legislation is nonbinding, but its 417-to-8 passage reflects a bipartisan desire for the president to take a more aggressive stance regarding Russian assets seized in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
Biden is set to address Ukraine’s fight against Russia today, days after his administration sent two top-ranking officials to Ukraine. The president will deliver remarks on support for Ukrainians defending their country and their freedom against Russia’s brutal war,” according to a White House spokesperson. Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
Biden will request Congress fund a new supplemental aid package for Ukraine during his remarks from the White House today, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The extra funding is intended to last for the next five months, through the end of the fiscal year, the sources said. Carol E. Lee, Kristen Welker, Courtney Kube and Julie Tsirkin report for NBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The Canadian House of Commons has unanimously passed a motion recognising Russian aggression in Ukraine as an act of genocide. The motion, moved by New Democratic Party MP Heath McPherson, is not binding and does not require the Canadian government to take any action. Peter Zimonjic reports for CBC News.
The war in Ukraine will continue until “Russia decides to end it,” the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday. “The war will not end with meetings,” he told CNN during an interview. “The war will end when the Russian Federation decides to end it and when there is – after a ceasefire – a possibility of a serious political agreement. We can have all the meetings but that is not what will end the war.” Hannah Ritchie reports for CNN.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described war as “evil” and “an absurdity in the 21st century” during a visit to Borodianka outside Kyiv, where Moscow’s troops are accused of killing civilians during their occupation. Guterres is set to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. France 24 reports.
Finland and Sweden will be able to join NATO quickly should they decide to ask for membership, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said. “If they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed and I expect the process to go quickly,” Stoltenberg told reporters, adding he planned to speak with the Finnish president later in the day. Reuters reports.
NATO members have sent or promised to send at least $8bn in weapons to Ukraine, the alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg has said, amid discussions over how to increase the level of support for the country’s defence against Russia’s invasion. Nato itself does not provide weapons but the alliance’s 30 individual member states have been coordinating supplies of increasingly lethal and heavy weaponry in response to requests from Ukraine. Henry Foy reports for the Financial Times.
Russia has accused the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe of handing information on the location of Russian and pro-Russian forces to Western and Ukrainian intelligence. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova who made the allegation did not provide evidence for it. However, she said investigators from the self-proclaimed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, which is backed by Russia, would provide additional proof. Reuters reports.
The Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has confirmed that his country will use the payment scheme put in place by Moscow to pay for its oil and gas. Defending this decision, Szijjártó said: “85% of our gas supply comes from Russia, and 65% of our oil supply comes from Russia. Why? Because this is being determined by infrastructure. This is not for fun, we have not chosen the situation.” Several other countries are reportedly using the scheme. A European Commission document released last week advised that it “appears possible” to comply with the new Russian rules without getting into conflict with EU sanctions. Pamela Boykoff reports for CNN.
Moscow will launch a ‘lightning-fast’ response against countries attempting to interfere in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an address to lawmakers in St Petersburg yesterday. He added that the sanctions imposed by some countries against Russia were ‘rude’ and ‘clumsy’ and that Russia would move its attention to other investors. A video of Putin’s address is provided by the Guardian.
Japan has lodged a protest with Moscow over its decision to expel eight Japanese diplomats from Russia, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said. “We absolutely cannot accept Russia issuing this notice,” Matsuno told reporters, blaming Moscow for the breakdown in bilateral ties. Japan’s Embassy in Moscow also issued a statement yesterday calling the invasion “a clear violation of international” and “absolutely unacceptable,” adding that Russia’s killing of innocent citizens is a “war crime.” Emiko Jozuka reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Occupation authorities in the Russian-held Kherson region of Ukraine have said the area will adopt the rouble as currency, a sign that Moscow has no intention of returning the territory to Ukrainian control. Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Russian activist appointed this week as “deputy head of the military-civilian administration,” told Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti that authorities would allow a four-month transition period allowing the rouble and Ukraine’s hryvnia to be used. Max Seddon reports for the Financial Times.
Ukraine’s lead negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak has said there was no agreement between Kyiv and Moscow to set up a meeting between their presidents, despite efforts by Turkey to arrange such talks. Reuters reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Richard Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has been criminally charged for his alleged role in an undisclosed lobbying campaign for the Qatari government. Prosecutors accuse Olson, who served as an ambassador under President Barack Obama, of courting foreign work while in office and using his political influence to advance Qatari interests in Washington after leaving government. According to a criminal information filed this month, Olson received $20,000 monthly payments from an unnamed Pakistani American lobbyist for the work. Lachlan Markay reports for Axios.
Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was held in Russia for years on what his family considered to be bogus charges, was released yesterday. His release was secure through months of diplomacy, which ended with the simultaneous release of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to a lengthy prison term in the U.S. on cocaine trafficking charges. President Biden announced Reed’s freedom in a statement, calling it “good news” even as he alluded to the release of Yaroshenko, saying the negotiation “required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.” Michael D. Shear and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
Biden will travel to South Korea and Japan in May, the White House has said, amid ongoing tension with China and the continued nuclear threat from North Korea. The May 20-24 trip will be Biden’s first to Asia as president, and he is scheduled to meet with South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration has denied roughly 85 per cent of the applications it has processed from Afghans seeking to come to the U.S. through a program that allows for the temporary waiving of immigration requirements. Figures also show that the administration has only processed about 2,600 applications from Afghans seeking to enter the U.S. through the humanitarian parole process, raising questions about the administration’s ability to process applications from some 45,000 Afghans now scattered across the globe. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Several federal agencies and international organizations yesterday warned organizations to protect themselves against common vulnerabilities that tend to be “frequently exploited by malicious cyber actors.” The statement from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency urged organizations to manage and patch known exploited vulnerabilities, enable security features like multifactor authentication and use protective controls and architecture like securing networks and devices. The statement was signed by CISA, the National Security Agency (NSA), the FBI and cyber security groups in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A Colombian general and 10 others admitted yesterday to carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity during Colombia’s civil war. The general, nine other military officials and a civilian admitted to orchestrating the killings of at least 120 civilians falsely labelled as rebel combatants, in order to bolster the country’s argument that it was winning the war. The public admission of guilt was held by the country’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a court set up as part of a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Julie Turkewitz and Sofia Villamil report for the New York Times.
North Korean defectors working to promote human rights in the isolated country have sent propaganda leaflets including photos of incoming South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and aid parcels into the North. North Korean defectors in South Korea have for decades flown balloons carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid across the heavily fortified border. However, their campaigns were banned by the outgoing Moon Jae-in government which sought to improve inter-Korean ties. Yoon, who is set to take office on May 10, is expected to take a harder line with the North. Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK
A member of the far-right Proud Boys group has pleaded guilty to obstructing police officers when he joined the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. The plea agreement filed in federal court in Washington calls for Louis Enrique Colon of Missouri to admit to a single felony charge and cooperate with prosecutors. Jan Wolfe reports for Reuters.
Former Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman (VA), who has served as a staff member to the January 6 select committee, will leave that position in the coming weeks to work with a nonprofit organization in Ukraine. Riggleman’s upcoming exit is “amicable”, according to sources familiar with the matter. In a letter sent to the chair and vice-chair informing them of his decision he wrote: “It is my sincerest hope that this committee can produce a facts-based report on those responsible for January 6th, and identify processes and policies to prevent such activities in the future.” “The importance of the committee cannot be overstated,” he added. Ryan Nobles and Jamie Gangel report for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Minneapolis Police department routinely engages in racially discriminatory policing, according to an investigation released yesterday by the state’s Department of Human Rights. The police department, which has been under intense scrutiny since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest, has a “culture that is averse to oversight and accountability,” the investigation concluded. The investigation also found instances of racist and misogynistic language and found that officers had used fake social media accounts to target Black people and organizations. Shaila Dewan reports for the New York Times.
Congressional Democrats are debating whether to bar lawmakers from carrying firearms on the Capitol grounds. However, while House leaders are pressing to make the complex gun-free, top senators in the party are resisting the move. House Democrats have been pressing for the ban since the Jan. 6 attack, but this week, a gun charge against Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) – the second such charge for the first-term lawmaker – added urgency to the issue. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
Senior Trump administration officials overruled Pentagon staffers to provide a politically connected trucking firm with hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic aid after a concerted lobbying effort, according to documents released by House Democrats yesterday. In 2020, employees at the Defense Department decided that they should not certify that Kansas-based Yellow Corp. was critical to maintaining national security, which would mean the company could not qualify for a loan program created by Congress earlier in the pandemic. However, Trump appointees Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper ignored that decision, with Esper certifying the company as “critical to maintaining national security” for the purposes of the loan, according to the Democrats’ report. Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Stein report for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 81.18 million people and has now killed over 992.740 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 511.79 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.