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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
Ukraine has confirmed that hundreds of its fighters trapped for more than two months in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks have been evacuated. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 badly wounded soldiers were taken to the town of Novoazovsk, held by Russian-backed rebels. She said another 211 were evacuated using a humanitarian corridor to Olenivka – another rebel-held town. In his video address after midnight local time on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukrainian military, intelligence and negotiating teams, as well as the Red Cross and the U.N. were involved in the evacuation operation. Yaroslav Lukov and Matt Murphy report for BBC News.
Russian missiles targeted western Ukraine overnight damaging railway infrastructure close to the border with Poland, according to the head of the Lviv regional military administration. Maksym Kozytskyi said the location hit was near the town of Yavoriv, which is also home to a large military base. There were no reports of casualties. Andrew Carey, Tim Lister, Roman Tymotsko, Taras Zadorozhnyy and Sofia Harbuziuk report for CNN.
In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, around 3,500 buildings are estimated to have been destroyed during the Russian advance towards the Ukrainian capital, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has said in its latest intelligence update. The scale of the damage points to Russia’s preparedness to use artillery against inhabited areas, with little regard to discrimination or proportionality, the update says. Russia has likely resorted to an increasing reliance on indiscriminate artillery bombardment due to a limited target acquisition capability and an unwillingness to fly aircraft beyond its own frontlines.
Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian troops north and east of Kharkiv back close to the Russian border amid heavy fighting, the Pentagon said yesterday. “They are regaining ground and territory that the Russians had occupied north of the city,” Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said of Ukrainian troops. A senior Defense Department official also said that a Ukrainian counteroffensive had driven Russian forces to within three or four kilometers of the Russian border. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.
Russian forces’ bombardment of the city of Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region has killed at least 10 people and hit nearly every building of a hospital, the regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, said in a Telegram post. Checking for other casualties is “especially difficult because of the continued shelling,” he added, urging residents who have stayed in the city to remain in bomb shelters. Anushka Patil reports for the New York Times.
Vladimir Putin has become so personally involved in the Ukraine war that he is making operational and tactical decisions “at the level of a colonel or brigadier,” western military sources have said. The Russian president is helping determine the movement of forces in the Donbas, and continues to work closely with Gen Valery Gerasimov, the commander of the Russian armed forces, they added. Dan Sabbagh reports for the Guardian.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES
Leading U.S. senators of both parties have struck a deal over a draft bill that would expand a 1996 war crimes law to give American courts jurisdiction over cases involving atrocities committed abroad even if neither party is a U.S. citizen. The draft bill signifies the latest response to Russia’s apparent targeting of civilians in Ukraine, and would enable a person who committed war crimes abroad and later comes to the U.S. to be prosecuted for those actions by the Justice Department. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
U.N. human rights expert Morris Tidball-Binz yesterday called on the international community to step up its support for Ukraine’s investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of the Russian invasion. Tidball-Binz, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, welcomed the progress made so far by the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, and also praised the “swift mobilisation of the international community” in investigating gross violations of international human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law in Ukraine. OHCHR Media Centre reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE- NATO MEMBERSHIP
Finland “must apply for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to strengthen its security,” the country’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee has said. The committee’s recommendation marks the completion of another legislative step required for Finland to formally seek NATO membership. James Frater and Benjamin Brown report for CNN.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has signed the country’s application to join NATO, bringing Sweden a step closer to membership. Sweden’s government announced yesterday it would join neighboring Finland in launching a NATO bid, a historic shift for both countries. Emily Rauhala reports for the Washington Post.
The European Council “strongly supports” the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO, the bloc’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell has said. “They will receive a strong support I’m sure from all member states because it increases our unity and it makes us stronger,” Borrell told reporters ahead of a European Council meeting on defense in Brussels. Alex Stambaugh reports for CNN.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Finland and Sweden potentially joining NATO does not pose a direct threat to Russia, climbing down from threats to retaliate against the two Nordic countries. “As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states – none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said. Reuters reports.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that diplomats from Sweden and Finland intending to visit Turkey soon should not come since Ankara did not intend to approve their bids for NATO membership. “They are going to come here on Monday to try and convince us? Excuse us, but there is no need for them to tire themselves,” Erdogan said during a news conference in Ankara. “First of all, we would not say yes to those who impose sanctions on Turkey to join NATO, which is a security organization,” Erdogan said. Erdogan’s government has also accused the two countries of harboring “terrorist groups.” Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas report for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The Senate has overwhelmingly advanced a $40 billion Ukraine aid package that easily passed the House last week but had stalled in the upper chamber because of an objection from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Senators voted 81 to 11 to end debate on a motion to proceed to the legislation, setting up a final vote on the bill for later in the week. Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill.
Speaking at the Brussels Economic Forum, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called commitments from countries and multilateral lenders with regard to Ukraine inadequate. Yellen said that while the Ukrainian government was continuing to function, it required budget funding to pay soldiers, employees and pensioners and to meet its citizens’ basic needs. “What’s clear is that the bilateral and multilateral support announced so far will not be sufficient to address Ukraine’s needs, even in the short term,” she said. Sam Fleming and Andy Bounds report for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Switzerland’s neutral status is about to face its biggest test in decades, with the country’s defense ministry tilting closer to Western military powers in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The defense ministry is drawing up a report on security options that include joint military exercises with NATO countries and “backfilling” munitions, Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss defense ministry has said. John Revill reports for Reuters.
The Kremlin has said it would be “outright theft” for the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers and the E.U. to seize Russia’s frozen reserves and spend them on behalf of Ukraine. German Finance Minister Christian Lindner earlier expressed support for the idea of seizing Russian state assets to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine, saying that proposals to that effect were already being discussed among the G7 and in the E.U.. Reuters reports.
Russian deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko has said virtually no peace talks are going on at the moment, accusing Ukraine of withdrawing from the process. The Russian Interfax news agency reports that Rudenko told journalists in Nizhny Novgorod “No, the negotiations are not continuing. Ukraine has practically withdrawn from the negotiating process.” Reuters reports.
During a meeting earlier today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the situation on the front line of Ukraine’s war with Russia and the possibility of increasing sanctions pressure on Moscow. “Held productive talks with @Bundeskanzler. Discussed the situation on the frontline, further pressure on Russia, sanctions increase, the prospects of peace,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. Reuters reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
President Biden has signed an order authorizing the military to once again deploy hundreds of Special Operations forces inside Somalia. The move represents a reversal of the decision by former president Trump to withdraw nearly all 700 ground troops who had been stationed there, according to four officials familiar with the matter. In addition, Biden has approved a Pentagon request for standing authority to target about a dozen suspected leaders of Al Shabab, the Somali terrorist group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda, three of the officials said. Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
U.S. officials have announced plans to ease tough sanctions imposed on Cuba by Trump. Under new measures approved by the Biden administration, restrictions on family remittances and travel to the island will be eased. The processing of U.S. visas for Cubans will also be speeded up. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the move would allow Cuban citizens to pursue a life free from “government oppression.” BBC News reports.
The U.S. has warned that IT workers from North Korea are trying to get remote working jobs by hiding their true identities for the purpose of stealing money for Pyongyang. “The DPRK [North Korea] dispatches thousands of highly skilled IT workers around the world to generate revenue that contributes to its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes, in violation of US and UN sanctions,” the US State Department, US Treasury Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a joint statement issued yesterday. Annabelle Liang reports for BBC News.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The 100,000 officially registered disappearances in Mexico illustrate a long-standing pattern of impunity in the country, U.N. human rights experts have warned. In a joint statement issued today the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said that the figures represented an “unmistakable warning,” and noted that the scale of the disappearances may go beyond what is currently registered.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has suggested that the U.K. extradite suspects wanted for their alleged roles in the 1994 genocide, following a deal with the U.K. home office to process asylum seekers in Rwanda. Kagame told an audience of diplomats in Kigali, including the British high commissioner, that he hoped “that when the UK is sending us these migrants, they should send us some people they have accommodated for over 15 years who committed crimes [in Rwanda]”. British judges have previously blocked extradition on the grounds the suspects would not receive a fair trial in Rwanda. Jason Burke reports for the Guardian.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS, BUFFALO SHOOTING
House Democrats are planning to move on a domestic terrorism bill following the mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, NY. House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said that the group would consider the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act this morning. A vote in the House is expected this week. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
A cache of online postings suggests months of preparation and planning preceded Saturday’s mass shooting in Buffalo, and show how the suspect evaded a state law that could have prevented him from owning a gun. New York’s so-called red-flag law took effect in 2019, allowing judges to bar people believed to be dangerous from possessing firearms. Yet Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old man accused of killing 10 people on Saturday, was able to buy an assault-style weapon despite having been held for a mental health evaluation last year after making a threatening remark at his high school. Jesse McKinley, Jonah E. Bromwich, Andy Newman and Chelsia Rose Marcius report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Air Force announced yesterday that it successfully tested a hypersonic weapon over the weekend. The service said in a statement that a B-52H Stratofortress bomber released an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) off the Southern California coast on Saturday. The test comes as the U.S. races to develop hypersonic weapons, which can travel faster than the speed of sound, to counter adversaries like Russia and China. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
A Congressional panel is holding a public hearing today on unidentified flying objects for the first time in more than five decades. The House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation will hear testimony from defense officials on reports of “unidentified aerial phenomena” and the risks they pose to national security. The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. EST. A live stream of the hearing can be watched here. Joseph De Avila reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A Las Vegas man suspected in Sunday’s shooting that left one person dead and five others injured at a meeting of Asian churchgoers in Southern California was motivated by political tensions between China and Taiwan, authorities said yesterday. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes told reporters during a briefing that the shooting was “a politically motived hate incident.” Barnes said David Chou, a U.S. citizen from China, “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.” Antonia Planas, Andrew Blankstein, Jonathan Dienst and Dennis Romero report for NBC News.
Police in Dallas have arrested a suspect in connection with a shooting at a Dallas hair salon last week that injured three women of Korean descent, authorities said. The arrest came not long after the FBI said it had opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting. Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia suggested last week that the shooting at the Dallas hair salon could be part of a string of similar incidents targeting Asian businesses. Chantal Da Silva and Kurt Chirbas report for NBC News.
COVID-19 has infected over 82.61 million people and has now killed over 999.842 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 522.144 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.27 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout 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.