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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
One person has been killed and several injured in the shelling of a Russian village near the Ukraine border, according to Roman Starovoyt the governor of the Russian region of Kursk. In a post on Telegram Starovoyt said Tyotkino was targeted from Ukraine’s territory. BBC News reports.
Russian forces have killed 10 civilians in the Donetsk region, according to a Facebook post by regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko. “Russia is killing civilians! On May 18, the Russians killed 10 civilians in the Donetsk region: seven in Lyman and three in Bakhmut. Two children were killed: one in Lyman and one in Bakhmut,” Kirilenko said. Josh Pennington and Hira Humayun report for CNN.
In recent weeks, Russia has fired senior commanders who are considered to have performed poorly during the opening stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has said in its intelligence update. Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, who commanded the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, has been suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv. Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has also likely been suspended following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April. A culture of scape-goating will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralised model of command and control, as officers increasingly seek to avoid culpability by deferring key decisions.
Russian commanders, stymied by Ukrainian resistance and organizational problems, have shifted toward smaller unit attacks, a Pentagon official has said. These smaller units have also scaled down their objectives, focusing on certain towns, villages and even crossroads. However, Russian troops have made “appreciable gains” between the southern cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv toward the Black Sea and west of Donetsk, the official added. Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.
Russian troops are increasingly refusing to take part in combat in Ukraine, the Ukrainian defense ministry’s main intelligence directorate has said. In a post on the Telegram, it said several units of the 70th Guards Motorised Regiment have openly refused to take part in the war and demanded that they be returned to the areas where they are normally deployed. BBC News reports.
Russian forces trying to break through to Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, have suffered losses and retreated, according to reports by the Ukrainian military. Despite artillery and missile attacks by Russian forces on a wide front over the past 24 hours, there are no signs they have taken new territory. Tim Lister reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – MARIUPOL
More than 900 Ukrainian fighters from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant have been taken to a prison colony in Russian-controlled territory, Moscow has said. The defense ministry in Kyiv said it was hoping for an “exchange procedure… to repatriate these Ukrainian heroes as quickly as possible.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has refused to say whether they will be treated as criminals or prisoners of war. BBC News reports.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has registered hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war evacuated this week from the Azovstal steel plant. The organization said it started registering the combatants, including the wounded, on Tuesday, “at the request of the parties.” The statement said the team was noting details such as date of birth and closest relative to help “track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.” The Red Cross was not “transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” it added. Ellen Francis reports for the Washington Post.
Mariupol officials have warned of a possible “environmental catastrophe” following Russia’s siege of the city’s Azovstal steel plant. They said tens of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals stored there could leak into the Sea of Azov, and subsequently the Black and Mediterranean seas. The city’s mayor is calling for the immediate admission of international experts and U.N. officials to the site to ward off a disaster. Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
21-year-old Russian tank-unit officer, Vadim Shishimarin, admitted yesterday to fatally shooting an unarmed civilian in Ukraine’s first war-crimes trial since Russia’s invasion. The trial is expected to continue for several days while Ukraine presents evidence against Shishimarin. He potentially faces life in prison if the three-judge panel finds him guilty of violating Ukraine’s laws of war. Ian Lovett reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukrainian authorities have brought war crimes charges against two more Russian troops, the general prosecutor’s office has said. Prosecutors say the pair of soldiers operated a Russian truck-mounted rocket launcher — one man allegedly drove, while the other gunned — that fired on and struck civilian targets in the Kharkiv region. The trial is set to begin today. Reis Thebault and David Stern report for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE- NATO MEMBERSHIP
President Biden formally endorsed Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO yesterday, issuing a warning to Russia that the U.S. would help defend the countries in the interim before they become members of the alliance. “While their applications for NATO membership are being considered … the United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression,” Biden said. David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times.
Biden is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Finland and Sweden today as part of a show of support by the United States after the two nations submitted their formal applications to become NATO members. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters yesterday that the meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington will allow the three nations “to coordinate on the path forward” and “compare notes” on the move. Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
Sweden joining NATO will make the alliance “better at defending ourselves,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday. “Our two militaries routinely exercise together. Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant. And your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves… that’s especially important at this crucial time,” Austin said ahead of a meeting with his counterpart, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, at the Pentagon. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Finland does not want NATO to deploy nuclear weapons or set up military bases on its territory even if Finland becomes a member, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told an Italian newspaper during a trip to Rome. Marin also said the question of NATO deploying nuclear weapons or opening bases in Finland was not part of Helsinki’s membership negotiations with the Western military alliance. Reuters reports.
Progress on Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership bids will only be possible if concrete steps are taken to address Turkey’s national security concerns, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman has said. Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin yesterday held calls with counterparts from Sweden, Finland, Germany, Britain and the United States to discuss the proposed NATO enlargement, according to a readout from Erdogan’s office. Reuters reports.
Poland will assist Sweden and Finland, should they be attacked before obtaining NATO membership, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said. “I consider the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO as an important signal of strengthening security in Europe,” he said during a conference. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. Senate voted unanimously yesterday to confirm Bridget Brink as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, filling a position that has remained empty for more than a year. The move comes hours after the U.S. reopened its embassy in Kyiv after a three-month closure. Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced yesterday that Ukraine will be getting $215 million in emergency food assistance, with more aid expected in the future. “Today, given the urgency of the crisis, we’re announcing another $215 million in new emergency food assistance. And we’ll do much more,” Blinken said during a U.N. meeting on global food security. “We expect our Congress very soon to approve approximately $5.5 billion in additional funding for humanitarian assistance and food security,” he added. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Senior cyber coordinators from all NATO Allies met in Brussels yesterday for the first time. They discussed the new strategic environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its implications for the cyber threat landscape. They also reviewed progress in the area of cyber defense, including efforts to increase resilience to cyber threats. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Newsroom reports.
The Group of Seven (G7) nations are likely to agree on Thursday and Friday to a short-term financing package of some $15 billion to cover three months of Ukraine’s needs. “We have to secure the liquidity of the Ukrainian state,” German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the group, told reporters on entering the talks. “I am quite optimistic that we will be able at this G7 meeting to raise the funding which would allow Ukraine to defend itself over the next months,” he said. Christian Kraemer and Leigh Thomas report for Reuters.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry declared 85 European diplomats “persona non grata” yesterday in response to the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in several European countries. Among the diplomats expelled from Moscow are 24 from Italy, 27 from Spain, and 34 from France. Alex Hardie and Chris Liakos report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could soon cause a global food crisis that may last for years, the U.N. has warned. Speaking in New York yesterday Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war had worsened food insecurity in poorer nations due to rising prices. The conflict – combined with the effects of climate change and the pandemic – “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine,” he said. Matt Murphy reports for BBC News.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed decrees to extend martial law and mobilisation for another 90 days in the country, starting from 25 May. The documents have been submitted to the Ukrainian parliament and must be approved by at least half of the lawmakers. BBC News reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
President Biden will depart today on an alliance-boosting visit to Asia – his first trip to the region since his presidency began. Asia remains central to Biden’s foreign policy goals, and it’s hoped that his visits to two staunch U.S. allies – South Korea and Japan – will bolster partnership in the face of increased provocations from North Korea and China. Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
A U.S. citizen and four Chinese intelligence officers have been charged with spying on Chinese dissidents, human rights leaders and pro-democracy activists residing in the U.S., the Department of Justice said yesterday. The indictment accuses Wang Shujun, of Queens, New York, of using his status within Chinese diaspora and dissident communities to collect information about activists on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). Wang, 73, was arrested on March 16 and will be arraigned at a later date, the Justice Department said. The four MSS officials, who the department named as Feng He, Jie Ji, Ming Li and Keqing Lu, are still at large. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
One of the last remaining fugitives sought by a U.N. tribunal over his alleged key role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been confirmed dead, U.N. war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement yesterday. The announcement of the death of Pheneas Munyarugarama comes just days after the prosecutor confirmed the death of another one of the most wanted fugitives over the Rwandan genocide. There are now only four outstanding fugitives under the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) jurisdiction. The IRMCT continues to prosecute the remaining cases in the Rwandan genocide. Reuters reports.
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) newly-created disinformation board has been paused after its head Nina Jankowicz was subject to coordinated online attacks. Working groups within DHS focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information have been suspended. The board could still be shut down pending a review from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Yesterday morning, Jankowicz officially resigned from her role within the department. Taylor Lorenz reports for the Washington Post.
The House passed a bill mostly along party lines yesterday that seeks to create domestic terrorism offices throughout the U.S. government. The bill, dubbed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, passed in a 222-203 vote, with one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL), bucking party leadership recommendation and voting for the legislation. Four Republicans did not vote. The legislation specifically calls for the formation of domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and FBI that would be tasked with monitoring and scrutinizing potential terror activity. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Following the mass shooting in Buffalo last weekend, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul yesterday took a series of steps to strengthen New York’s gun laws and to investigate the social media platforms where the suspected gunman was radicalized. The measures included the creation of a new unit, led by the State Police, to track violent extremism online, and a directive requiring the State Police to use New York’s so-called red-flag law to seek emergency orders to seize weapons from people who are believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Hochul also asked the state attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate the role of several online platforms — including Discord, a chat application — where the suspect posted racist writings before the shooting. Jesse McKinley, Jonah E. Bromwich and Luis Ferre-Sadurni report for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 82.95 million people and has now killed over 1.00 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 525.490 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.28 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.