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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 Pentagon has denied providing “specific targeting information” to Ukraine to sink the Moskva, a Russian guided-missile cruiser that was the flagship of Moscow’s fleet in the Black Sea. “We did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement yesterday. “We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out. We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship.” Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
The Pentagon also denied that the U.S. has shared intelligence with Ukraine to target Russian military officials after reports emerged on Wednesday saying U.S. intel had helped Ukraine kill a number of Russian generals. “The United States provides battlefield intelligence to help Ukraine defend their country,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. “We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military.” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The Ukrainian military reported fewer Russian ground attacks in the last 24 hours, but it said there was still persistent shelling of many places along the frontlines in the country’s east and south. The overall picture suggests relatively static frontlines, with Russian forces still unable to take towns and villages first attacked as long as a month ago. In today’s operational update, the General Staff indicated that Russian forces seemed to be regrouping and efforts to take territory were confined to a few areas such as Popasna in the Luhansk region. Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva report for CNN.
Russian forces have made “some small progress, particularly in the north part of the Donbas” region of Ukraine, Kirby said during a briefing yesterday. This small progress is not the progress that the US believes Russian forces “expected to make at this point,” in the region, Kirby added. Ellie Kaufman reports for CNN.
Russia’s Defence Ministry says its missiles have destroyed a large ammunition depot in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk. It also said its air defences shot down two Ukrainian warplanes – an Su-25 and a MiG-29 – in the eastern Luhansk region. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – MARIUPOL
Almost 500 civilians have been evacuated from Mariupol and the Azovstal steel plant, according to Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “The next stage is underway in rescuing our people,” he later added, thanking the U.N. for their help in the evacuations. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
Russian forces in Mariupol have continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steel plant for a second day, despite Russian statements claiming they would seek only to seal it off, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has said in its latest intelligence update. This effort has come at personnel, equipment and munitions cost to Russia. Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in the Donbas regions, the update adds.
Operations to evacuate civilians from Mariupol will continue but Russian forces have “not stopped” shelling the Azovstal steel plant, Zelenskyy said in his nightly address yesterday. “Women, many children remain there,” he said. BBC News reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a phone call yesterday that Russia was still ready to provide safe passage for civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the Kremlin said. It said Putin told Bennett in a “thorough exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine” that Kyiv should order Ukrainian fighters holed up in the vast Azovstal plant to put down their weapons. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
Experts and officials from the U.S. and Ukraine detailed the war crimes being committed by Russia at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Wednesday, but were less certain about whether those actions constitute genocide. “The State Department has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes across Ukraine based on a careful review of available evidence and information including open-source information, but also classified sources,” said U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack. Caitlin McLean reports for The Hill.
Top U.N. human rights official Michelle Bachelet told the Security Council on Thursday that her staff had documented scores of cases of Russian forces targeting male civilians around Kyiv. Some were beaten, detained or executed, and some had been taken to detention camps inside Russia and Belarus, Bachelet said. She also said that her office had recorded 180 cases of forced disappearance of local officials, journalists, activists, civilians and retired servicemen and eight cases of pro-Russian individuals who had disappeared. Farnaz Fassihi report for the New York Times.
Amnesty International says it has documented extensive war crimes by Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, including arbitrary executions, bombardments of residences and torture. “The pattern of crimes committed by Russian forces that we have documented includes both unlawful attacks and wilful killings of civilians,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, said in a statement today. “It’s vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice.” AP reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Former President George W. Bush announced yesterday that he had met virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “I was honored to spend a few minutes talking with President Zelenskyy – the Winston Churchill of our time – this morning. I thanked the President for his leadership, his example, and his commitment to liberty, and I saluted the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Bush said in a statement shared through his George W. Bush Presidential Center. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
First lady Jill Biden will visit Slovakia’s border with Ukraine on Sunday as part of her trip to Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the White House. At the border crossing, Ukrainian refugees can enter Slovakia and receive basic services before moving on to processing centers or transit hubs further inside the country, according to the White House.“On the tour, Dr. Biden will learn about the experiences of aid workers and refugees, and express gratitude to humanitarian staff. She will also visit a small Greek Catholic chapel that serves refugees, volunteers, NGO workers, and first responders,” a White House official said. Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview yesterday, but said he hadn’t expected the 10-week-old conflict to “drag on this way.” He also spoke out against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine but wouldn’t say if Russian President Vladimir Putin had plans to launch such a strike. Ian Phillips reports for AP.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a rare apology yesterday to Israel over recent antisemitic comments from Russia’s foreign minister connecting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to Judaism, according to the Israeli prime minister. The reported apology came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of using Nazi propaganda and antisemitic tropes to justify the invasion as Russian leaders repeatedly compared Zelenskyy to Hitler. Timothy Bella, Steve Hendrix and Mary Ilyushina report for the Washington Post.
World Health Organization states will consider a resolution against Russia next week, including the possible closure of a major regional office in Moscow, a document obtained by Reuters has shown. The resolution, to be considered on Tuesday, stopped short of harsher sanctions such as suspending Russia from the U.N. global health agency’s board as well as a temporary freeze of its voting rights, three diplomatic and political sources said. Emma Farge and Francesco Guarascio report for Reuters.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned today that the European Commission’s proposed phaseout of Russian oil imports would amount to “dropping a nuclear bomb on the Hungarian economy.” Orban called the proposal announced Wednesday “unacceptable,” lashing out at the E.U. and warning of soaring energy prices. Emily Rauhala and Quentin Aries report for the Washington Post.
Alina Kabaeva, a woman romantically linked to Putin, has been included in the sixth proposed package of EU sanctions against Moscow, according to two European diplomatic sources. The EU has not officially signed off on the draft proposal but could do so as early as this morning at a meeting of EU ambassadors — currently underway in Brussels. Luke McGee reports for CNN.
Germany will deliver seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, on top of five such artillery systems the Dutch government already pledged, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said today. Germany reversed its long-held policy of not sending heavy weapons to war zones last week following pressure at home and abroad for it to help Ukraine fend off Russian attacks. Reuters reports.
India and France have agreed to “intensify coordination” regarding responses to the war in Ukraine, according to a joint statement from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron. The pair met late Wednesday, concluding Modi’s three-day European tour, which included Germany, Denmark and France. Esha Mitra reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Civilians trying to leave Russian-occupied Kherson are being harassed and blocked by Russian forces, according to Ukrainian officials. Yurii Sobolevskyi, the deputy head of Kherson regional Council, told Ukrainian television: “The way out of the city has been complicated. There are some cases when people managed to get out, even by a bus, but most people get turned back. All the junctions are blocked.” Sobolevskyi claimed that “there are cases when they [Russian forces] commit abuses at the check-points: very thorough frisking, forcing men to undress, looking for tattoos.” Tim Lister reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
CIA Director William Burns last year told senior Brazilian officials that President Jair Bolsonaro should stop casting doubt on his country’s voting system ahead of the October election, sources have said. The previously unreported comments came in an intimate, closed-door meeting in July, according to two people familiar with the matter. Burns was, and remains, the most senior U.S. official to meet in Brasilia with Bolsonaro’s right-wing government since the election of President Biden. Gabriel Stargardter and Matt Spetalnick report for Reuters.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s son Laureano, an influential figure in the country’s leftist government, has reached out quietly to the Biden administration in recent months seeking to re-engage with the U.S., two Washington sources have said. The U.S. and Nicaragua have been at odds for years but relations took an especially hard hit when Daniel Ortega won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing rivals and cracking down on critical media. President Biden dismissed the election as a sham and imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan officials. Matt Spetalnick reports for Reuters.
A bipartisan super-majority of senators voted on Wednesday to endorse a Republican-led measure stating that any nuclear agreement with Tehran should also address Iran’s support for terrorism in the region and that the U.S. should not lift sanctions on an elite branch of the Iranian military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. While the measure itself is non-binding, it sends a symbolic message that any new nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. has to be stronger than the 2015 one. The vote also provides a preview of the bipartisan rebuke that’s likely to come if the U.S. and Iran clinch an agreement that doesn’t address Iran’s non-nuclear activities and removes the IRGC’s terrorist designation. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Dairo Antonio Usuga, the accused leader of Colombia’s Clan del Golfo criminal group, pleaded not guilty yesterday to U.S. drug trafficking charges and was ordered detained in New York pending trial, one day after being extradited from Bogota. U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon ordered Usuga’s detention at a Thursday afternoon hearing, saying the charges were serious and that the defendant posed a “significant risk of non-appearance” in future proceedings if bail were granted. Luc Cohen reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Two assailants, at least one of them armed with an ax, attacked passers-by in an Israeli town yesterday night, killing at least three. The attack followed a wave of violence by Arab assailants that had already killed 14 people in cities across Israel since late March, and came days after the leader of Hamas in Gaza Palestinian urged Arabs to “get your cleavers, axes or knives ready.” The Israeli authorities described the assault, in which several other people were wounded, as a terrorist attack. The New York Times reports.
Forces identified by witnesses as Russian have “summarily executed, tortured, and beaten civilians” in the Central African Republic since 2019, a report by rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alleged. Citing evidence from witnesses, as well as from “several Western governments, United Nations experts and special rapporteurs,” HRW attributed the crimes to “forces linked to Russia operating in the Central African Republic,” including “a significant number of members of the Wagner Group,” which is a private military security contractor with ties to the Russian government. Hannah Ritchie reports for CNN.
China is set to instal security official John Lee as the new leader of Hong Kong. Lee, formerly the city’s No. 2 official, is the only candidate in Sunday’s election. Well over half of the 1,500-member Election Committee that selects the chief executive have already endorsed him and he needs only a simple majority to win. Ken Moritsugu reports for AP.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Rudolph Giuliani, who helped lead President Donald J. Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election as his personal lawyer, has abruptly pulled out of a scheduled Friday interview with the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. According to Giuliani’s lawyer Robert Costello, Guiliani cancelled the meeting after panel lawyers informed him that he would not be able to record the interview. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
An Iowa man who brought his teenage son to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has admitted he was among a group that assaulted D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury whilst defending Congress. Kyle Young, 38, pleaded guilty yesterday in D.C. federal court to one count of assaulting a police officer, which carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison; prosecutors say the guidelines call for at least five. Rachel Weiner reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden has named Karine Jean-Pierre to be his new press secretary, elevating Jen Psaki’s top deputy to one of the White House’s most prominent roles ahead of November’s midterm elections. Jean-Pierre, who is 44 years old, will become the first Black woman and first openly gay person to serve as White House press secretary. Ken Thomas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden yesterday signed into law bipartisan legislation aimed at improving federal law enforcement’s collection of data related to cybercrime. The legislation, known as the “Better Cybercrime Metrics Act,” passed the Senate by unanimous consent late last year and passed the House at the end of March in a broadly bipartisan 377-48 vote. The law directs the Justice Department to take a number of actions designed to improve data collection on cybercrimes, including requiring the department to establish a new category in the National Incident-Based Reporting System specifically for federal, state and local cybercrime reports. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Former President Trump proposed launching missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs run by cartels, according to an upcoming memoir from Mark Esper, his former secretary of Defense. According to Esper, Trump raised the idea of bombing the drug labs at least twice in the summer of 2020, maintaining that U.S. involvement in a strike against its southern neighbor could be kept secret. Maggie Haberman reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 81.69 million people and has now killed over 996.964 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 516.194 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.25 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.