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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
Russian forces have bombarded areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas, killing at least 13 civilians in the past 24 hours, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai has said. Twelve were killed in the town of Severodonetsk, where a Russian assault has been unsuccessful, he added. Natalie Zinets reports for Reuters.
Ukrainian military officials have reported that some Russian troops withdrawn from the Kharkiv region have redeployed to western Donetsk, according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War. The Ukrainian General Staff said that 260 servicemen withdrawn from the Kharkiv region arrived to replace the significant combat losses suffered by the 107th Motorized Rifle Battalion near Donetsk. The Ukrainian Military Directorate intercepted a Russian serviceman’s call suggesting that some of the 400 servicemen from the Kharkiv region who had arrived elsewhere in Donbas were shocked by the intensity of the fighting there compared with what they had experienced in Kharkiv.
The Russian-installed governor of occupied Kherson in southern Ukraine has said the region will soon be fully integrated into Russia. Volodymyr Saldo, who was installed by Russian forces after they took control of the area in early March, wrote on Telegram that it would become the “Kherson region of the Russian Federation.” BBC News reports.
In a sign of Russia’s urgent need to bolster its war effort in Ukraine, Russia’s parliament is considering a bill to allow Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to sign up for the military. The website of the State Duma, parliament’s lower house, said the move would enable the military to utilise the skills of older professionals. “For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40–45,” it said. Mark Trevelyan reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – MARIUPOL
As many as 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers are likely to have surrendered from the Mariupol Azovstal steel plant, according to the U.K. Defense Ministry’s latest intelligence update. An unknown number of Ukrainian forces remain inside the factory. Once Russia has secured Mariupol, it is likely they will move their forces to the Donbas. However staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped before they can be redeployed. This can be a lengthy process.
Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, posted a Telegram video yesterday declaring that there would be no surrender from the troops still in Mariupol. “The commanders and I are on the territory of Azovstal, where a certain operation is taking place, the details thereof I will not be disclosing,” Palamar said in the 18-second clip. The suggestion that some soldiers would keep fighting comes despite the negotiated surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian troops in the port city this week. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
A joint statement has been issued by the attorneys general of the U.S., U.K. Australia, Canada and New Zealand, expressing support for Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, her office and Ukrainians “in ensuring accountability for war crimes committed during the Russian invasion.” The statement also vocalizes support for international investigations, “including at the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and in our own jurisdictions.” The United States Department of Justice reports.
A Ukrainian state prosecutor asked a court yesterday to sentence Russian solider Vadim Shishimarin to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian during the first war crimes trial arising from the Russian invasion. Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian tank commander, asked widow Kateryna Shelipova to forgive him for the murder of her husband, Oleksandr, in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28. “I acknowledge my blame … I ask you to forgive me,” he told Shelipova at the hearing. Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth report for Reuters.
The war crimes trial of Shishimarin has been adjourned until Monday. Shishimarin appeared before a Kyiv court on Friday for a third day of hearings. A defense lawyer defended his actions saying the soldier “was not aware of what is going on in Ukraine.” Saskya Vandoorne, Daria Markina and Katya Krebs report for CNN.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeated his allegation that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine – something for which “the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice.” Zelensky also said life had become “hell” in the eastern Donbas region – which had been “completely destroyed”. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE- NATO MEMBERSHIP
President Biden vowed yesterday to speed Finland and Sweden to NATO membership. In a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden with President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden, Biden said he was immediately submitting to the Senate the treaty language needed to make the two countries the newest members of the alliance. Formal accession to the alliance will also require the approval of the other 29 member nations. David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
U.S. officials are considering arming the Ukrainian military with advanced anti-ship missiles to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade. However, current and former U.S. officials have cited roadblocks to sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine, including lengthy training requirements, difficulties maintaining equipment, and concerns U.S. weaponry could be captured by Russian forces. There are also concerns that the provision of more powerful weapons could escalate the conflict. Mike Stone reports for Reuters.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart yesterday, the first such conversation between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Milley and chief of the Russian general staff, Valery Gerasimov, “discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler said in a readout of the conversation. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The Senate has voted to approve a new $40bn bill to provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It is the biggest emergency aid package so far for Ukraine. The package brings the total U.S. aid delivered to the country to more than $50bn, including $6bn for security assistance such as training, equipment, weapons and support. BBC News reports.
The United States has not redeployed Marine Corps guards to its reopened embassy in Kyiv, a senior defense official said yesterday. However, the official didn’t rule out the possibility of that changing in the future, saying the State Department would have the final say. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has criticized what he called a lack of support from NATO since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Before the war, Kuleba said, Ukrainians saw NATO as more forceful than the European Union. However, since the invasion, the trans-Atlantic alliance had failed to help Ukraine as an organization, he added. Erika Solomon reports for the New York Times.
China is buying record amounts of cheap Russian coal, even as Western nations sanction Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. In April, not only did the world’s second-largest economy buy more coal from Russia than ever before, it also eliminated import tariffs on all types of coal, a move analysts say will mainly benefit Russian suppliers. Laura He reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Following Russia’s retreat from Kyiv and the northeastern city of Kharkiv, more sober assessments of Russia’s invasion have started to emerge from Moscow, including from pro-Kremlin commentators on state television. The criticism on state television echoes fears Russians express in private over the fate of the conflict and their own country. Thomas Grove and Matthew Luxmoore provide analysis for the Wall Street Journal.
Russian-backed actors have launched numerous disinformation campaigns intended to demoralize Ukrainians and incite internal unrest, according to a report released yesterday by cybersecurity firm Mandiant. Mandiant said that the disinformation campaigns it identified occurred concurrently with disruptive and destructive cyberattacks that targeted Ukrainian government websites. “While some of this activity is known, or already been reported on, this report captures how known actors and campaigns can be leveraged or otherwise refocused to support emerging security interests, including large-scale conflict,” Alden Wahlstrom, senior analyst at Mandiant, said in a statement. Ines Kagubare reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
President Biden has arrived in South Korea in his first visit to Asia since his presidency began. The trip marks the beginning of a five-day tour designed to underscore his administration’s diplomatic and economic commitment to the region in the face of a rising China. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Seung Min Kim report for the Washington Post.
Former guerrilla Gustavo Petro looks set to win the Colombian presidency on May 29, raising concerns in Washington over its closest South American ally. Petro has vowed not only to upend the country’s investor-friendly economic model but also to rethink key tenets of Washington’s most important strategic alliance in South America, such as the “war on drugs”, a free trade deal and a U.S.-led push to unseat the revolutionary socialist government in next-door Venezuela. Gideon Long and Michael Stott provide analysis for the Financial Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The future of Israel’s government has been plunged into uncertainty after an Arab member of the coalition resigned, leaving it as a minority in parliament for the first time. In a letter announcing her decision, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of the left-wing Meretz party said: “Again and again the heads of the coalition have taken hawkish, rigid and right-wing stances regarding basic issues of utmost importance for Arab society.” Raffi Berg reports for BBC News.
A court in Kyiv has approved a request from the prosecutor general’s office to arrest former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for allegedly smuggling people across the border into Russia in 2014. Yanukovych, a longtime ally of Moscow, already faces a prison term of 13 years on a separate treason charge. He was voted out of office in 2014 by Ukrainian lawmakers for gross human rights violations and dereliction of duty. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
London’s Metropolitan Police yesterday concluded its four-month investigation into a string of British government gatherings during the pandemic, determining that 83 people violated their own lockdown rules across eight different dates. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not receive any additional fines beyond one disclosed earlier — which last month made him the first sitting prime minister found to have broken the law. However, he has been linked to at least five additional parties, bolstering critics who say the police let him off too lightly. William Booth and Karla Adam report for the Washington Post.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have ordered all female presenters on TV channels to cover their faces on air, the country’s biggest media outlet said yesterday. The order came in a statement from the Taliban’s Virtue and Vice Ministry, tasked with enforcing the group’s rulings, as well as from the Information and Culture Ministry, the TOLOnews channel said in a tweet. The statement called the order “final and non-negotiable,” the channel said. AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack have asked a Republican congressman to submit to questioning about a tour of the complex he gave one day before the attack. In a letter sent yesterday to Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), the top two members of the panel said investigators had obtained evidence that he had led a tour through parts of the Capitol complex on Jan. 5, 2021, when it was closed to visitors because of pandemic restrictions. The committee is trying to assess whether those involved in the attack had conducted a reconnaissance of the building prior to the events of Jan. 6. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
President Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr is in active discussions with the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about appearing for a formal transcribed interview, according to two sources familiar with the matter. One source familiar with Barr’s thinking has revealed that the former Trump official will likely cooperate. However, it appears that the committee has made no firm decision on whether to invite Barr to appear in the public hearings that begin in June. Jonathan Swan reports for Axios.
Congressional investigators have obtained a batch of official White House photographs, including images taken on Jan. 6, 2021, according to two sources familiar with the evidence. The previously unreported cache, which arrived via the National Archives, may provide the committee with real-time visual evidence of former President Donald Trump’s actions and movements during the Jan. 6 attack. Kyle Chenery and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
The number of sailors who deserted the Navy more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, while desertions in other military branches dropped or stayed flat. In the wake of several suicides among sailors assigned to the warship the USS George Washington, the new desertion figures highlight the lack of options for contract-bound sailors who are desperate to leave the military. Melissa Chan reports for NBC News.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby will move to the White House in a senior communications role, according to two people familiar with the personnel move. Kirby’s move to the White House comes after Karine Jean-Pierre took over as White House press secretary from Jen Psaki, who left the administration last week. Kirby’s exact title and role remain unclear. Some in the White House said Kirby would make regular appearances at the daily press briefing, while others said he would not share duties with Jean-Pierre and only appear alongside her. Tyler Pager reports for the Washington Post.
A group of Democratic congress members, including the House majority leader, yesterday proposed a binding plebiscite to decide whether Puerto Rico should become a state or gain some sort of independence. The draft proposal would commit Congress to accepting Puerto Rico into the U.S. if voters on the island approve it. However, even if the plan were to pass the Democratic-led House, the proposal appears to have little chance in the Senate, where Republicans have long opposed statehood. Danica Coto reports for AP.
The 18-year-old suspected of targeting and fatally shooting 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, wrote in what are believed to be his online journals that he learned how to illegally modify his rifle by watching YouTube videos. As of yesterday evening, many of the videos linked to in this Discord chat logs are still available on Youtube, despite appearing to violate the platforms community guidelines. Joshua Eaton report for NBC News.
COVID-19 has infected over 83.06 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 524.057 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.