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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
Russia shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, authorities said today, as Moscow’s forces sought to surround Ukrainian troops, outnumbering them in some places. Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin, Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control. Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder report for Reuters.
Russian forces were unsuccessful in several of their overnight assaults and troops retreated with losses from the village of Zolota Nyva after a failed attack, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces says in its latest update. Russia was also unsuccessful in attacking the cities of Mykolayivka and Kryvyy Rih, it says, adding troops have been focusing their efforts on taking full control of the town of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine. BBC News reports.
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying. “There are a lot of prisoners. Of course, there are more of them on the territory of Donetsk People’s Republic, but we also have enough, and now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000,” Miroshnik said. Reuters reports.
Police in Lysychansk are burying the bodies of civilians in mass graves, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai has said. About 150 people have been buried in a grave in one district, Haidai said, adding that the families of the people buried there will be able to carry out a reburial after the war. BBC News reports.
The eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk has been under “constant fire” for the past week and a half, according to the head of the local military administration Oleksandr Stryuk. Some 90% of housing has been damaged by the fighting, Stryuk said. About 12,000-13,000 people are still thought to be in the city – many of them sheltering in basements. BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
The U.S., along with the U.K. and the E.U., announced yesterday the creation of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to help Ukrainian authorities investigate and prosecute potential war crimes committed by Russian forces. According to a statement by the U.S. State Department, the group will be based largely in Poland and bring together multinational experts, including war crimes prosecutors and forensic specialists. They will advise and assist Ukrainian authorities with collecting and preserving evidence, drafting indictments and other tasks. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
A meeting between diplomats from Turkey, Sweden and Finland concerning Turkey’s objections to their bids to join NATO, had produced some “positive” signs but no immediate breakthrough, a senior Turkish official said yesterday. Ibrahim Kalin, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also suggested that unless Turkey’s demands were met, his government was in no great hurry to resolve the dispute. Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.
Russia is open to easing its blockade of Ukraine’s ports along the Black Sea if sanctions on Moscow are lifted, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko said yesterday. “Solving the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that were imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko said in comments carried by Russian state media. Alistair MacDonald, William Mauldin and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
A proposal to condemn the regional health emergency triggered by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine will come before a World Health Organization assembly today, prompting a rival resolution from Moscow that makes no mention of its own role in the crisis. The original proposal, backed by the U.S. and more than 40 other countries, condemns Russia’s actions but stops short of immediately suspending its voting rights at the U.N. health agency. The Russian document backed by Syria, which echoes the language of the first text, will also be decided on. If the Western-led initiative passes nearly unanimously, observers say it would send a powerful political message that is rare in the multilateral system. Jennifer Rigby and Emma Farge report for Reuters..
A senior U.N. official is due to visit Moscow in the coming days to discuss reviving fertilizer exports, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said yesterday. The talks are not linked to a resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments, Nebenzia stressed. “We are prepared to export fertilizers and grain from our ports to the world market,” he said, adding that when it came to Ukrainian grain exports – “I think that should be negotiated with the Ukrainians, not with Russians.” Michelle Nichlos reports for Reuters.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said attempts to “appease” Vladimir Putin were dangerous, in a press release ahead of her trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina today. “Russian aggression cannot be appeased. It must be met with force. We must be adamant in ensuring the victory of Ukraine with military assistance and sanctions. Now we can no longer take our foot off the gas pedal,” she said. BBC News reports.
European Council chief Charles Michel is “confident” that any issues over a proposed ban on Russian oil imports will be resolved by the next council meeting on May 30. Addressing a news conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Stockholm yesterday, Michel said that although he was “still confident” the bloc will be able to resolve any issues, it will require “a lot of dialogue.” Niamh Kennedy reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has condemned a new Russian decree that would expedite the process of obtaining Russian passports for Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied regions in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Authorities in Kyiv called the policy illegal and argued that it underscores Russia’s overarching goal to annex and integrate more Ukrainian territory. The move may be motivated by the Kremlin’s desire to exert more control over the occupation and forcefully conscript people in occupied areas to fight on Russia’s behalf, according to an assessment by the Institute for the Study of War. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday ordered an end to visa-free travel for Russian citizens, citing the need to improve border security in the wake of Moscow’s invasion. Russian citizens are currently allowed to visit neighbouring Ukraine without visas. Reuters reports
A new proposed Russian law would allow the government to seize western companies who try to leave the country following its invasion of Ukraine. The new law raises the stakes for western multinational companies seeking to distance themselves from Russia. This law comes after an exodus of major western companies, including Starbucks and McDonald’s, while increasing the pressure on those companies, such as IKEA, the largest furniture manufacturer in the world, who have remained in Russia thus far. John O’Donnell reports for Reuters.
Some pro-Russian milbloggers on Telegram continued to criticize the Kremlin for the treatment of forcefully mobilized Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) servicemen–contradicting Russian information campaigns about the progress of the Russian special military operation. Former Russian Federal Security Service officer Igor Girkin amplified a critique to his 360,000 followers from a smaller milblogger discussing a video wherein a DNR battalion appealed to DNR Head Denis Pushilin about the maltreatment of forcefully mobilized forces. The milblogger blamed Russian leadership, not Pushilin, for beginning the invasion with insufficient reserves and unprepared, forcefully mobilized forces. The Institute for the Study of War reports.
The war in Ukraine poses a threat to the transition to cleaner energy, according to business and government leaders at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Europe’s scramble to wean itself off Russian energy following the country’s attack on Ukraine will lead to new short-term investments in coal, oil and natural gas, energy and government officials said. However, some leaders at Davos also warned that the crisis may give producers an opening to invest in the kind of longer-term fossil fuel projects that Western governments have been discouraging, making it harder to reach the goals of the international Paris Agreement which seeks to keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius. Chip Cummins and Elena Cherney report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. announced another round of sanctions on Russian entities, this time for assisting Iran in circumventing their sanctions. The Biden administration accused the Russian government of helping Iran’s blacklisted military unit — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — sell hundreds of millions of dollars of oil around the globe, while the sanctions were targeted at those companies and individuals allegedly involved in the smuggling. One of the companies listed is a Russia-based entity called RPP Ltd. which the Treasury Department alleges was used by former Revolutionary Guard official Rostam Ghasemi to sell and transport Iranian oil. This comes as the negotiations over a new nuclear deal with Iran have stalled. “While the United States continues to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. Ian Talley reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel has announced that he will not attend the Summit of Americas. Díaz-Canel said yesterday that “under no circumstances” will he attend the Summit due to take place in Los Angeles in June. Earlier this month the Biden administration announced that it would not be inviting the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela to the summit. U.S. allies in the region have expressed disappointment with this exclusion, with the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announcing that he will not attend but will send his foreign minister in his place if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are excluded. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right wing populist up for re-election, announced that he will be attending the summit. Rafael Bernal reports for the Hill
Biden’s trip to Asia demonstrates a hardened U.S. position towards North Korea. Biden’s curt message for the North Korean leader (“Hello. Period.”) represents a departure from his predecessor’s approach to Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump met three times throughout his presidency. For some, the new policy resembles the Obama administration’s stance of strategic patience. “The Biden administration’s inaction towards North Korea increasingly looks like the so-called strategic patience 2.0 or even a strategic negligence,” said Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul. “It has been clear that President Biden has little confidence in Kim Jong Un.” Min Joo Kim and Michelle Ye Hee Lee provide analysis for the Washington Post.
A CIA-used forecasting model has predicted that U.S.-China relations will ease in the near future. According to a new model, the Biden administration will cut consumer tariffs in a move supported by the Chinese as well as instigate a new round of trade negotiations. The game theory forecasting model was developed by a graduate student at New York University and has been used in the past by the CIA. The model predicts a thawing in U.S.-China relations, most evident in new trade policy, and expects the Russia-Ukraine war to have an impact on the relationship. Bob Davis reports for POLITICO.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
China is seeking to expand its regional influence in policing, maritime cooperation and cybersecurity through a new agreement with Pacific nations, according to documents obtained by the New York Times. The documents outline how Beijing seeks to expand its alliances and access to the chain of islands in the pacific that are of geopolitical significance to China. It marks another step taken by the Chinese government to counter American influence in the region. Damien Cave reports for the New York Times.
China plans to launch combat drills in the water and airspace around Taiwan following President Biden’s commitment to defend the island. The announcement did not make clear if they had taken place already or if they were yet to come, but came just one day after China and Russia sent bomber jets over the sea in norteast Asia in their first joint military operation since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, the spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command, Senior Col. Shi Yi described the drills near Taiwan as a “solemn warning to the recent collusion between the United States and Taiwan.” Paul Mozur and John Liu report for the New York Times.
President Xi Jingping defended China’s human rights record during the U.N. visit to the country. In a video call with Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Xi said that there is “no need for ‘preachers’ to boss around other countries.” Bachelet, who will spend six days in China, plans to travel to the western region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of human rights violations against the Uyghur minority and other mostly Muslim minorities. Yesterday, Xi told Bachelet that China’s human rights development “suits its own national conditions.” Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
Israel has announced that it is responsible for the killing of a leading Iranian officer, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei. Khodaei, who served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds force, was involved in a plot to kill an Israeli diplomat in 2021, according to a U.S. General. Iran has pledged to retaliate for the assassination, with the commander of the IRGC saying in a speech that “We will make the enemy regret this and none of the enemy’s evil actions will go unanswered.” According to an intelligence official briefed on the communications, Israel has informed American officials that it was behind the killing. Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman report for the New York Times and Dov Lieber, Dion Niessenbaum and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal
Russian hackers have been linked to a new website which published leaked emails relating to Britain’s exit from the E.U., Google cybersecurity officials and the former head of U.K. foreign intelligence have said. Shane Huntley, who directs Google’s Threat Analysis Group, told Reuters that the website, known as “Very English Coup d’Etat”, was linked to what they knew as “Cold River,” a Russia-based hacking group. “We’re able to see that through technical indicators,” Huntley said. Raphael Statter, James Pearson, and Christopher Bing report for Reuters.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has demanded that new elections be held within six days, or he will march on the capital along with 3 million followers. Since his ouster last month, Khan has held rallies across the country, claiming his removal was the result of a U.S.-organized plot. Khan’s rallies and marches have led to clashes with police that have turned violent. The government has cracked down on Kahn’s supporters, arresting some 1700 on Wednesday. Munir Ahmed reports for AP.
The Gambian government announced yesterday that it would prosecute its former president for murder.“President Jammeh will face justice for the atrocities that he committed in this country,” the Minister for Justice, Dawda Jallow said. Jammeh ruled over the small African nation for over two decades in a period marked by violence and brutal oppression. Saikou Jammeh and Ruth Maclean report for the New York Times.
ROBB ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SHOOTING
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott dismissed calls for more gun regulation following Tuesday’s deadly school attack in Uvalde, stating that cities with stronger gun laws aren’t safer. “I hate to say this, but there are more people shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” Abbott said during a press conference yesterday. Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, both Democrats, said Abbott was feeding a false narrative about Chicago and Illinois. The governor noted that most guns used in Chicago crimes come from outside Illinois. Joseph De Avila reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden said yesterday that he will travel to Uvalde, Texas, in the near future to meet the families of the 19 children and two teachers killed during Tuesday’s school shooting. “Jill and I will be traveling to Texas in the coming days to meet with the families and let them know we have a sense of their pain, and hopefully bring some little comfort to a community in shock, in grief and in trauma,” Biden said at the White House during a signing event for an executive order on police reform. Maegan Vazquez and Nikki Carvajal report for CNN.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ( D-NY) signaled yesterday that the chamber will not quickly vote on a pair of House-passed background check bills, giving Democrats and Republicans time to negotiate a bipartisan deal to address the spate of recent mass shootings. “My Republican colleagues can work with us now. I know this is a slim prospect, very slim, all too slim — we’ve been burned so many times before — but this is so important,” Schumer said on the Senate floor yesterday. Scott Wong and Frank Thorp V report for NBC News.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former President Trump, watching television throughout the Jan. 6 attack, spoke approvingly of chants to “Hang Mike Pence” as he discussed them with his White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. The account of Trump’s comments, provided to the committee investigating the attack by at least one witness, are further evidence of how extreme the rupture between the president and his vice president had become, and of how Trump not only failed to take action to call off the attack but appeared to identify with the sentiments of those involved. Maggie Haberman and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
Rep. Jim Jordan (OH), one of five Republican members subpoenaed by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, has asked the panel to turn over the information it has collected on him. In a six-page letter, Jordan berates the committee on a number of points before asking that it “provide all documents, videos, or other material in the possession of the Select Committee that you potentially anticipate using, introducing, or relying on during questioning.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has warned immigrants against coming to the southern border amid a historical influx. Immigrants coming to the border would be sent back, Mayorkas said in a video released on Twitter. “Individuals and families should not put their lives at risk by taking the dangerous journey only to be sent back,” he said in the video. Mayorkas stated firmly that the U.S. border is not open and that, pursuant to Trump-era immigration laws that remain enforced, they are obligated to expel or remove immigrants coming to the border. This comes amid an unprecedented flow of migrants to the southern border, fleeing from violence, poverty and other hardships. Monique Beals reports for the Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 83.72 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 527.412 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.