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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 southern Ukrainian city of Odesa was struck by three Kinzhal hypersonic missiles yesterday evening, according to a regional Ukrainian military official. However, the Pentagon assessed that Russian forces do not have the capability to launch a ground or maritime offensive against the Black Sea port. Moreover, Russian advances in the Donbas region remain “incremental” and “anaemic,” a senior U.S. defense official said in a press briefing yesterday. Amy Cheng, Andrew Jeong and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
Fires caused by missile strikes in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa have been extinguished, said the country’s State Emergency Service. One person died and five were hospitalised due to the strikes, Ukrainian officials have said. Tim Lister and Julia Presniakove report for CNN.
Russian forces continue to pummel the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where a local official says at least 100 civilians are still holed up with the last fighters defending the strategic southern city. “In addition to the military, at least 100 civilians remain in the (Azovstal) shelters. However, this does not reduce the intensity of attacks by the occupiers,” Mariupol mayoral aide Petro Andryushchenko wrote on Telegram. Natalie Zinets reports for Reuters.
The bodies of 44 civilians have been found in the rubble of a five-storey building in Izyum that was destroyed by Russian forces in March, according to a Ukrainian official. “The bodies of 44 civilians were found in the temporarily occupied Izyum from under the rubble of a five-storey building, which was destroyed by the occupiers in the first decade of March,” Oleg Sinegubov, head of Kharkiv regional military administration, has said. BBC News reports.
The U.S. remains concerned that Russia could annex the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and hold a sham referendum there, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday. “This is what Russian authorities and proto authorities have done in the past. They have sought to annex, they have sought to conduct sham elections to give their occupation this patina of legitimacy, and our concern remains that they will attempt to do so once again in territory in eastern Ukraine,” he said at a State Department briefing. Christian Sierra, Jennifer Hansler and Michael Conte report for CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has verified 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine since the start of the war, according to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Speaking from Kyiv after spending two days in Ukraine, Tedros said he was “deeply moved” by what he’d seen and heard. Tedros said attacks on healthcare facilities “must stop,” adding: “There is one medicine WHO cannot deliver, and which Ukraine needs more than any other, and that is peace.” Radina Gigova reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden yesterday signed a modern-day Lend-Lease Act, 81 years after the original version helped lead the way into World War II. The new lending program will waive time-consuming requirements, speeding up the delivery of military aid to Ukraine. Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane report for the New York Times.
The House of Representatives plans to vote early this week on a nearly $40 billion U.S. aid package for Ukraine to help the beleaguered nation fight against the Russian invasion and sustain its economy, according to Democratic aides. A senior Democratic aide said the hope is to bring the package to the floor as early as Tuesday for a vote. The package can pass the House with a simple majority, but in the Senate, it needs Republican support and at least 60 votes. The Senate hasn’t agreed to the package the House plans to vote on. Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have asked Congress to pass additional appropriations in order to further assist U.S. efforts to aid Ukraine by May 19. In a letter to House and Senate, Austin and Blinken said the administration needs the money by then “if we are to continue are security assistance at the current pace.” The officials said that they expected the $3.5 billion in drawdown authority that was passed in March as part of the $1.5 trillion government funding bill to be exhausted later this month. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Biden was “displeased” with leaks last week about U.S. intelligence that helped Ukraine target the Russian military, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. “The president was displeased with the leaks,” Psaki in a press briefing. “His view is that it was an overstatement of our role — an inaccurate statement — and also an understatement of the Ukrainians’ role and their leadership.” Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
Psaki yesterday called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that NATO was “creating threats next to our border,” “patently false and absurd.” Referring to Putin’s annual Victory Day address in Moscow Psaki said: “What we saw President Putin do is give a version of revisionist history that took the form of disinformation that we have seen too commonly as the Russian playbook…the suggestion that this war that was prompted by, directed by President Putin, was prompted by Western aggression or Western plans is patently false and absurd.” DJ Judd reports for CNN.
The Biden administration ramped up a national security probe into Russia’s AO Kaspersky Lab antivirus software earlier this year amid heightened fears of Russian cyberattacks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The case was referred to the Commerce Department by the Department of Justice last year, but Commerce made little progress on it until the White House and other administration officials urged them to move forward in March, sources familiar with the matter have revealed. “The probe, which has not previously been reported, shows the administration is digging deep into its tool kit to hit Moscow with even its most obscure authorities in a bid to protect U.S. citizens and corporations from Russian cyberattacks,” Alexandra Alper reports for Reuters.
The Biden administration said yesterday that it is lifting U.S. tariffs on Ukrainian steel for one year as a way to help the country in its war with Russia. The move comes as some Ukrainian steel mills have begun producing again, and the industry employs 1 in 13 Ukrainian people, the Commerce Department said.“Creating export opportunities for these mills is essential to their ability to continue employing their workers and maintaining one of Ukraine’s most important industries,” a Commerce statement read. Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced trip. He is the highest-ranking German government official to visit the country since the start of the Russian invasion. Baerbock – who was meeting local residents in Bucha, where Russia’s army has been accused of carrying out war crimes – is the latest in a string of foreign diplomats and leaders to visit the town near Kyiv. BBC News reports.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen failed to reach an agreement with Hungary yesterday to secure the country’s backing for an oil embargo on Russia. Officials had hoped to win approval for the sanctions package last week. However, after yesterday’s discussions, E.U. officials said work was still needed to address Hungary’s demand that alternative energy supplies will be available if they stop importing Russian oil. Laurence Norman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine pressed ahead yesterday with its effort to join the European Union, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meeting for a virtual conference to discuss the matter. The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive body, aims to deliver its opinion on Ukrainian candidacy to the E.U. in June, von der Leyen tweeted following the meeting. However, French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned that the process of allowing Ukraine to join the E.U. would likely take several decades. Peter Saidel reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine and the E.U. have discussed taking “immediate measures to unblock Ukraine’s ports for grain exports” after Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has forced its grain exporters to look for alternatives to move their cargo. Zelenskyy said he discussed preventing “a global food crisis triggered by Russia’s aggressive actions” during talks with European Council President Charles Michel on his visit to Odesa yesterday. BBC News reports.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said yesterday that Moscow wouldn’t stand idly by if Finland were to join NATO.“Our military will consider all necessary measures to safeguard [our] legitimate defense interests,” Grushko told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. Finland could apply to join NATO within weeks, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said recently. Mauro Orru reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Nordic region’s defense capabilities would be strengthened if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, allowing joint defense planning within the framework of the alliance, Sweden’s defense minister told Swedish radio today. “(If Sweden and Finland join NATO) there will be the effect that we use each others’ strengths and advantages and fully complement each other and also carry out operational planning,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist of the ruling Social Democrats said. Reuters reports.
The U.N. Human Rights Council (OHCHR) will hold a special session this Thursday to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression, according to an OHCHR press release. The meeting comes after Yeveniia Filipenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, wrote a letter urging it to consider “recent reports of war crimes and large-scale violations in the town of Bucha…and ongoing reports of mass casualties in the city of Mariupol.” BBC News reports.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a congratulatory message to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russia’s Victory Day holiday. In his letter sent yesterday Kim, “extended firm solidarity to the cause of the Russian people to root out the political and military threat and blackmail by the hostile forces.” BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Two Russian reporters appear to have posted at least 30 articles to a pro-Kremlin news site, lenta.ru, yesterday criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his government’s suppression of critics. Reporters Egor Polyakov and Alexandra Miroshnikova made several claims in their articles, including that Russian defense officials were “lying to relatives” about those killed in the sinking of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva and accusing Putin of launching one of the “bloodiest wars of the 21st century.” The articles were almost immediately taken down. Henry Klapper reports for CNN.
The Pulitzer Board has awarded a special citation to the journalists of Ukraine for their work reporting on the Russian invasion of their country. “Despite bombardment, abductions, occupation, and even deaths in their ranks, they have persisted in their effort to provide an accurate picture of a terrible reality, doing honor to Ukraine and to journalists around the world,” the board said in announcing the special citation for coverage of the war. Peter Saidel reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Haitian citizen, Joseph Joel John, was extradited from Jamacia to the U.S. on Friday to face criminal charges related to his alleged involvement in the assassination of the former President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, on July 7, 2021. John, 51, made his initial court appearance yesterday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis, who sits in Miami. John is charged with conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the U.S. and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap. John is the third individual to be charged and arrested in the U.S. for his role in the assassination plot. The United States Department of Justice reports.
China’s Foreign Ministry has rebuked the U.S. for changing the wording on the State Department website about Taiwan, saying “political manipulation” will not succeed in changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. The State Department website’s section on Taiwan has removed wording both on not supporting Taiwan’s independence and on acknowledging Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the country’s late former dictator, claimed a historic victory in the Philippines’ presidential election, winning more than twice as many votes as his closest competitor. To Marcos’s supporters, many of whom are too young to remember his father’s rule, the 64-year-old represents the antidote to a liberal elite that fell short on promises to meaningfully improve the lives of the poor. However, Macros’ opponents fear he could use his power to wage political battles against his family’s adversaries, shield allies from scrutiny and enrich his associates like his father did before an uprising ousted him 36 years ago. Feliz Solomon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned yesterday, bowing to months of protests in a significant blow to the fortunes of a family dynasty that has dominated the island’s politics for nearly two decades. Rajapaksa made the move hours after his supporters instigated fierce clashes with government opponents on the streets of Colombo, the capital. It was not immediately clear whether Rajapaksa’s decision to resign would satisfy the protesters, who have been demanding the resignation of his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 72, the president and currently the more powerful of the two. Skandha Gunasekara and Mujib Mashel report for the New York Times.
Yoon Suk-yeol, the new president of South Korea, has been sworn into office in Seoul. In his inaugural speech, he made promises to heal political and economic divides at home, to fight for international norms and to offer an ambitious package of economic incentives to North Korea. Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
Food insecurity in parts of Afghanistan has reached “catastrophic” levels, according to a U.N. report released yesterday. The analysis, conducted primarily by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme, found that 19.7 million Afghans are “facing high levels of acute food insecurity.” The almost 20 million people facing acute malnutrition represent 47 per cent of the country’s overall population and are concentrated mostly in northeast Afghanistan. Chloe Folmar reports for The Hill.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has urged authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to investigate the deadly armed group attacks in Djugu Territory, Ituri Province, on Sunday. At least 38 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the attacks carried out by the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo at the Blakete-Plitu mining site. The U.N. mission in the country conducted a medical evacuation on Monday, transporting severely injured civilians to medical facilities in the provincial capital, Bunia. UN News Centre reports.
U.K. opposition leader Keir Starmer has promised to resign if police decide that he broke coronavirus laws. The statement followed days of speculation about whether Starmer was in breach of the country’s strict Covid-19 regulations when he was pictured drinking a beer as he ate takeout Indian food during a campaign meeting in the northern city of Durham last year. Starmer’s promise raises the pressure on U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has already been fined for attending a birthday celebration at Downing Street, but has refused to quit. Stephen Castle reports for the New York Times.
Speaking yesterday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a new “European political community,” which would include both members and non-members of the E.U.. “This new European organization would allow democratic European nations adhering to our set of values to find a new space for political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, and the movement of people, especially our youth,” Macron said. “Joining it would not prejudge future membership in the European Union, necessarily, just as it would not be closed to those who have left.” However, Macron offered virtually no specifics about the proposal. David M. Herszenhorn, Hans Von Der Burchard and Maia De La Baume report for POLITICO.
Yesterday the Senate swiftly passed a bill to expand police protections for Supreme Court justices to include their immediate family members. The bill comes in the wake of protests following a leaked draft ruling that indicated the court could overturn Roe v Wade. The measure passed by unanimous consent, suggesting a clear pathway to passage in the House. Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday announced that it would make $40 million available to fund community policing efforts. The funding allocates up to $10 million for crisis intervention teams, $15 million for de-escalation training and $8 million for accreditation efforts, according to a statement by the DOJ. Another $5 million will go to projects known as COPS Microgrants, which allow local agencies to offer creative ways to fight crime, and up to $2 million will support training related to tolerance, diversity and anti-bias. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
QAnon followers are intercepting migrant children at the border and collecting information about their families, based on a conspiracy theory that they are falling prey to sex-trafficking rings. They are the latest in what over the years has developed into a cottage industry of dozens of armed civilians who have packed camouflage gear, tents and binoculars and deployed along the southern border. Miriam Jordan reports for the New York Times.
Donald Trump‘s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified for four hours yesterday about his claim that the former president orchestrated an altercation with demonstrators outside Trump Tower in 2015. Lawyers questioned Cohen about his recent assertion that Trump directed his bodyguard to “get rid of” a group protesting his derogatory comments about Mexicans early in the 2016 presidential race. Dareh Gregorian and Adam Reiss report for NBC News.
COVID-19 has infected over 81.97 million people and has now killed over 998.041 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 518.073 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.