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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 now controls one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Zelenskyy. Despite Russia’s progress, Zelenskyy says the fighting continues on the front line, which stretches “more than 1,000 kilometers.” The announcement comes as Ukraine receives new advanced weapons from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. Marc Santora, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Michael Levenson report for the New York Times.
Ukrainian forces took back control of twenty small towns and villages in the south of the country, an official said on Thursday. This success was part of a counteroffensive intended to recapture lost territory and tie up Russian forces at a time when Moscow is intensely focused on an offensive in the east. However, military analysts say the counterattacks Ukraine has launched in recent days in the Kherson region are unlikely to prove decisive at this point. Matthew Mpoke Bigg reports for the New York Times.
Russia says it will protect ships carrying grain from Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry said yesterday that grain can be exported from Ukraine’s ports in the Black Sea using humanitarian corridors. The announcement comes as concerns mount over a humanitarian crisis caused by a global grain shortage. U.S. intelligence reports previously indicated that a Russian naval blockade halted trade at ports in Ukraine. Brittany Shammas reports for the Washington Post.
Russia has achieved “tactical success” in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, but at a “significant resource cost,” according to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. In a tweet released today, the United Kingdom said Russia has control over 90% of the Luhansk region and is likely to gain complete control within two weeks. This offensive has required Russia to concentrate almost all of its forces on the region, however, meaning they have been unable to progress in other parts of the country. BBC reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Russia has accused a U.K. lawmaker’s son of helping to kill a Russian fighter in Ukraine. Ben Grant, a Royal Marines veteran and son of Helen Grant, a Conservative lawmaker representing an area southeast of London, allegedly helped kill sergeant Adam Bisultanov, the commander of a military unit from southern Russia, according to Russian state news agency RIA. The death is being investigated in Russia. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
China is cautious about appearing too supportive of Russia for fear of damaging relations with the West, according to Chinese officials. Russian officials have become increasingly frustrated as they continue to request greater aid from China, pursuant to its affirmation of a “no limits” partnership made weeks before the war in Ukraine began. However, China’s leadership wants to do so without running afoul of western sanctions and has set limits on what it will do. Cate Cadell and Ellen Nakashima report for the Washington Post
The E.U. has moved to unfreeze funds for Poland over its support for Ukraine. About $38 billion from the coronavirus fund that had been earmarked for Poland has been frozen for more than a year after the E.U. became concerned that Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party was undermining pillars of democracy, particularly an independent judiciary. However, in a major concession to Poland’s leadership, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said the executive body had endorsed a Polish plan to address concerns over the country’s judiciary that would unlock the funds. It was Poland’s staunch support for Ukraine that changed the relationship between Poland and the E.U. Monika Pronczuk reports for the New York Times
The chair of the African Union will meet with Putin today to discuss the Russian blockade of grain and fertilizer from leaving Ukraine. The purpose of the trip, organized after an invitation from Putin, is to ease the blockade that has worsened food insecurity across Africa. African Union chair and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, spoke to E.U. leaders earlier this week and called for a solution to free available grain stocks and avert the food crisis looming over Africa. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
The E.U. has removed a Russian Orthodox Church leader from its newest sanctions package in order to gain Hungarian support. The new package of sanctions required unanimous support from E.U. leaders, and Hungary insisted that Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill be removed from the list in order to gain its support. Kirill was included on this list initially after he made a number of statements in solidarity with Russian policies, prompting Pope Francis to warn the Patriarch against becoming President Vladimir “Putin’s altar boy.” RFE/RL reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Tensions mount between Congress and the Pentagon over monitoring legislation that provides billions in aid to Ukraine. Concerns are growing on Capitol Hill about the Biden administration’s ability to properly account for the unprecedented wave of cash and to track the thousands of U.S. weapons heading to Ukraine for its war with Russia. This comes as Congress earmarked another $40 billion for aid to Ukraine. Given the Pentagon’s recent track record concerning congressional oversight, it’s coming under increased scrutiny from members of both parties. Andrew Desiderio, Lara Seligman and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO
Russia’s long-time reliance on American technology has become its newest vulnerability. The United States has long supplied technology and munitions to the rest of the world, including Russia, some of which is being used in the war in Ukraine. The United States and dozens of countries have used export bans to cut off shipments of advanced technology to Russia, hobbling its ability to produce weapons to replace those that have been destroyed in the war, according to American and European officials. Ana Swanson, John Ismay and Edward Wong provide analysis for the New York Times.
The United States has imposed new sanctions on a yacht management company and its owners that cater to Russia’s elite. In an announcement yesterday, the Treasury Department said that the company, Imperial Yachts, is part of a corrupt system that allows Russian elites and President Vladimir Putin to enrich themselves. “Russia’s elites, up to and including President Putin, rely on complex support networks to hide, move and maintain their wealth and luxury assets,” said Brian Nelson, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. Julian E. Barnes and Michael Forsythe report for the New York Times.
In a speech yesterday, President Biden called on Congress to ban assault weapons and enact a federal ‘red flag’ law. Biden called for expanded background checks and raising the age to purchase a weapon from 18 to 21. The speech comes a week after nineteen people were killed in an elementary school in Texas and ten people were killed in a shooting in New York. Michael D. Shear reports for the New York Times.
The Biden administration has announced it will cancel $5.8 billion in student loans for former students who attended Corinthian Colleges. This amounts to the largest single action of debt cancellation ever by the federal government. The Education Department estimated that 560,000 student borrowers would be affected by the move involving the defunct, for-profit education company. Borrowers who attended Corinthian schools like Everest, Heald and WyoTech, located throughout the country and online, have been appealing to the federal government for relief for years, especially after the Corinthian’s declaration of bankruptcy in 2015. Gabriel T. Rubin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The New York state legislature passed legislation yesterday to raise the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle. The bill bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a rifle. The legislation, which also launches a licensing requirement, is the centerpiece of a package of gun control bills announced earlier this week by Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul. Having already passed the senate, the bill will now head to the governor’s desk. Marina Villeneuve reports for the Hill.
The far-right group, the Proud Boys, has destabilized and reshaped the crucial Miami-Dade Republican Party. The party that former governor Jeb Bush and others built into a powerhouse nearly four decades ago has been transformed from an archetype of the traditional establishment conservatism to an organization roiled by internal conflict as it wrestles with forces pulling it to the hard right. This tension comes at a crucial moment for the Republican party nationally, as primary voters weigh whether to wrench the party from its extremist elements or more fully embrace them. Patricia Mazzei and Alan Feuer provide analysis for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former President Trump and his allies in Congress are planning to counter the programmed televised Jan. 6 committee hearings starting next week. In conjunction with top House GOP leadership and conservative groups, Trump has begun pulling documents and coordinating a behind-the-scenes effort to counterprogram the Jan. 6 committee’s televised hearings this month. Alayna Treen and Andrew Solender report for Axios.
Republicans who texted Meadows with urgent pleas on January 6 maintain that Trump could have stopped the violence. According to text messages obtained by CNN, Republican members of Congress, former members of the Trump administration, GOP activists, Fox personalities and even Trump’s son had sent texts to Meadows on the day of the riot pleading with him to get the president to intervene. Seventeen months later, more than a dozen people who had texted Meadows that day, including former White House officials, Republican members of Congress and political veterans stood by their texts and said that they believed Trump had the power and responsibility to try to stop the attack immediately. Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart report for CNN.
Former Attorney General William Barr appeared before the January 6 committee yesterday. Barr is one of the highest-ranking officials from the Trump administration to have appeared before the Democratic-led committee. His interview comes a week before the committee begins a series of public hearings into the Capitol attack and the events that led up to it. In Barr’s interview, the committee pressed him about his sometimes tense interactions with Trump over the president’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to undermine the 2020 election results. Scott Patterson and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
President Biden plans to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, ending the nation’s “pariah” status. Biden, who promised to ostracize the Kingdom for its murder of Jamal Kashoggi, has decided to travel to Riyadh this month to rebuild relations at a time when he is seeking to lower gas prices at home and isolate Russia abroad. He will also meet with the leaders of other Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Peter Baker and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
Russia and China are not interested in working with the United States on North Korea, according to the U.S. nuclear envoy. This comes after Beijing and Moscow both vetoed a U.S. proposal for new sanctions. The U.S. Special Representative Sung Kim, in Seoul for meetings with South Korean and Japanese counterparts, said it was in the interest of China and Russia to cooperate with the United States, which is still seeking to engage with them to pressure North Korea. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
Foreign governments are aggressively targeting dissidents on U.S. soil, according to a new report released yesterday. The report, issued by the pro-democracy think tank and watchdog Freedom House, said it had recorded 85 new incidents of “public, direct, physical incidents of transnational repression” in 2021, bringing the total recorded between the start of 2014 and the end of last year to 735. The report further found that Iran, China, Egypt, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and others have targeted those in the United States and were “increasingly and more aggressively disregarding US laws to threaten, harass, surveil, stalk, and even plot to physically harm people across the country.” Adam Taylor provides analysis for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Nigeria will construct a new gas pipeline to Europe through Morocco. This comes as demand for African energy supplies have surged as European nations have sought to wean themselves of dependence on Russian oil and gas. Nigeria, an OPEC member, has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and the seventh largest globally. “This gas pipeline is to take gas to 15 West African countries and to Morocco and through Morocco to Spain and Europe,” said Timipre Sylva, the minister of state for petroleum resources. BBC reports.
Chad’s interim President Mahamat Idriss Deby declared a food and nutrition emergency today. The announcement comes as the chair of the African Union traveled to Russia to meet with Putin with the hope of releasing the grain that is blockaded in Ukraine. The United Nations has warned that 5.5 million people in Chad – more than a third of the population – will need humanitarian assistance this year. BBC reports.
The group of oil-producing nations known as OPEC Plus agreed on Thursday to a larger increase in supply than planned for July and August. It remains unclear, however, just how much the increase in supply will ease soaring oil prices. The amount of added crude oil that OPEC Plus committed to produce on Thursday is unlikely to cause gasoline prices to fall; in fact, the price of oil rose after the announcement. Stanley Reed reports for the New York Times.
Turkey officially changed its name to Türkiye yesterday. Erdogan’s government has portrayed the move as an economic branding exercise, designed to strengthen the country’s trade position on the world stage. Another possible motivation for changing the name may be pride. One recent article from state broadcaster TRT World noted that the word “turkey,” beyond its use as a proper noun, has some unflattering definitions. Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 84.44 million people and has now killed over 1.01 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 530.742 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.29 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.