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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 missiles hit an apartment building and a resort near Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa today, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens, Ukrainian authorities said. Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa regional administration, told Ukrainian state television a rescue operation was underway as some people were buried under rubble after part of the building collapsed. Iryna Nazarchuk reports for Reuters.
Russian troops have withdrawn from Snake Island in the Black Sea after sustained attacks by Ukrainian forces – including with powerful, newly arrived Western weapons. This represents a significant setback for Russian forces and possibly undermines their control over vital shipping lanes for grain in the Black Sea. The Russian withdrawal, coming only a week after the Kremlin bragged about repelling a Ukrainian attempt to retake the island, appears to be another instance of Moscow’s scaling down its military ambitions in the face of Ukrainian resistance. Marc Santora and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
Russian forces have been able to make small gains in the Lysychansk area, taking parts of an oil refinery, located on the outskirts of the city. “[Russia] is concentrating its main efforts on encircling our troops in the Lysychansk area from the south and west, establishing complete control over the Luhansk region,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said. The head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhii Hayday, made a similar analysis. Olga Voitovych and Petro Zadorozhnyy report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden vowed yesterday that the U.S. and NATO would support Ukraine for as long as necessary to repel Russia’s invasion, despite the damage to Western economies. Biden’s remarks underscore the problems faced by him and other NATO leaders in keeping their people committed to backing Ukraine, as economic crises, division at home and increasingly weary voters threaten to dampen support. “You can already see in the media that interest is going down, and that is also affecting the public, and the public is affecting the politicians,” said Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister. “So it is our responsibility to keep Ukraine and what Russia is doing high up on our agenda. We’ve seen this so many times — you have a catastrophe, you have a war, and it just continues, but it slides away.” Steven Erlanger, Jim Tankersley, Michael D. Shear and Alan Yuhas report for the New York Times.
The U.S. has not seen China evade sanctions or provide military equipment to Russia, a senior U.S. official has said. The statement comes after enforcement measures were taken earlier this week targeting certain Chinese companies – not the Chinese government “China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the enforcement measures. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The E.U. is trying to defuse tensions with Moscow after Lithuania invoked Western sanctions to block some Russian goods from entering the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Some E.U. countries, including Germany, are concerned that Lithuania’s enforcement of the sanctions could trigger a dangerous escalation from the Kremlin, in part because it targets commerce between two regions of Russia rather than Russian imports and exports, according to European officials. Yesterday, the European Commission said it was in close contact with Lithuania and other member states and working on additional guidelines on applying E.U. sanctions. An E.U. official said Kaliningrad wouldn’t be exempted from sanctions but the Commission would spell out the legal and administrative requirements to ensure sanctions were implemented in a proportionate way. Bojan Pancevski, Laurence Norman and Drew Hinshaw report for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia’s Deputy Security Council Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev said yesterday that sanctions against Moscow may be seen as an act of aggression and a justification for war. “I would like to point out once again that under certain circumstances such hostile measures can also qualify as an act of international aggression. And even as a casus belli (justification for war),” Medvedev said, adding that Russia has the right to defend itself. Reuters reports.
Hungary will speed up its defense development programme, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio today. “We must radically increase our defense capabilities,” Orban said. He reiterated that Hungary’s interest was for the war in neighbouring Ukraine to end as soon as possible, highlighting that Hungary, as a NATO ally, must stay out of the war. Reuters reports.
As the trial of U.S. professional basketball star Brittney Griner begins, the Kremlin appears interested in striking a potential deal which would see the release of a notorious Russian arms dealer. The vast disparity between the cases of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout – an arms dealer serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who planned to kill Americans – highlights the difficulty President Biden would face if he sought a prisoner exchange. Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.
The chances of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are worse after the U.S.-Iranian talks in Doha ended without progress, a senior U.S. official has said. “The prospects for a deal after Doha are worse than they were before Doha and they will be getting worse by the day,” said the official on condition of anonymity. Speaking at the U.N. Security Council, U.S., U.K. and French diplomats all placed the onus on Iran for the failure to revive the agreement after more than a year of negotiation. Iran, however, characterized the Doha talks as positive and blamed the U.S. for failing to provide guarantees that a new U.S. administration would not again abandon the deal as former President Trump had done. Arshad Mohammed reports for Reuters.
President Biden affirmed his support for the sale of a new fleet of F-16 jet fighters to Turkey yesterday. “We should sell them the F-16 jets and modernize those jets as well. It’s not in our interest not to do that,” Biden said at a press conference after the NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid. “There’s no quid pro quo with that, it’s just that we should sell. But I need congressional approval to be able to do that, and I think we can get that,” he said. Jared Malsin and Vivian Salama report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden will not directly ask Saudi Arabia’s leaders to increase oil production when he visits the kingdom next month. “No, I’m not going to ask them,” Biden said at a press conference in Madrid. “All the Gulf states are meeting. I’ve indicated to them that I thought they should be increasing oil production generically, not to Saudi Arabia in particular.” In response to a question about direct engagement with the Saudi leadership and how he would balance that with his pledge to address the kingdom’s human rights record, Biden emphasised that one-on-one engagement was “not the purpose of the trip.” Matt Berg reports for POLITICO.
The U.N. has called yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “a setback in our fight against climate change.” The ruling – decided by a majority of 6-3- effectively strips away the power of the EPA to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and was described by Biden as a “devastating decision.” Although the court ruling does not prevent the EPA from regulating emissions in the future, according to news reports, it makes clear that Congress would have to give clear consent for the agency to act. UN News Centre reports.
The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would hear a case that could radically change how federal elections are conducted by giving state legislatures independent power, not subject to review by state courts, to set election rules in conflict with state constitutions. In taking up the case, the court could upend nearly every facet of the American electoral process, allowing state legislatures to set new rules, regulations and districts on federal elections with few checks against overreach. Protections against partisan gerrymandering established through the state courts could essentially vanish and the ability to challenge new voting laws at the state level could be reduced. The theory underpinning the case – the so-called independent state legislature doctrine – could also open the door to state legislatures sending their own slates of electors. Adam Liptak and Nick Corasaniti report for the New York Times.
Just Security has published a piece by Helen White entitled “The Independent State Legislature Theory Should Horrify Supreme Court’s Originalists.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Biden administration could cancel the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program, which required authorities either to jail asylum applicants from Central America or deny them U.S. entry until their cases are resolved. The court – ruling 5-4 – found that the Biden administration acted within its discretion by ending the program. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Congress has never provided sufficient funding to detain the vast numbers of migrants seeking asylum. At the same time, the U.S. cannot unilaterally expel to Mexico the citizens of Central American countries covered by the policy. The lower court, in requiring the Department of Homeland Security to enforce the policy, “imposed a significant burden upon the Executive’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico,” the chief justice wrote. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden has endorsed making an exception to filibuster rules to pass legislation codifying Roe v. Wade into law. “The most important thing to be clear about is we have to codify Roe v. Wade into law and the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that,” Biden told reporters. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be provided an exception for this…to the filibuster,” he said. The filibuster could be changed with a simple majority vote, but not all Democrats in the 50-50 Senate are on board with such a move, saying it would fundamentally change the nature of the Senate and could backfire if the Republican Party takes control of the chamber. Andrew Restuccia and Ken Thomas report for the Wall Street Journal.
Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. While a formal investiture will take place in the fall, the chief justice said yesterday’s swearing-in allows Justice Jackson, the first Black female justice in the court’s history, immediately “to undertake her duties, and she’s been anxious to get to them without any further delay.” Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The State Department is offering up to $10 million to those who provide information on foreign interference in U.S. elections, officials announced yesterday. The Rewards for Justice program aims to gather information that leads to the identification or location of any foreign person or entity “who knowingly engaged or is engaging in foreign election interference,” department officials wrote in a statement. Information that hinders foreign election interference will also be accepted. “This conduct includes covert, fraudulent, deceptive, or unlawful acts … undertaken with the specific intent to influence voters, undermine public confidence in election processes or institutions,” officials said, adding that the acts must violate federal criminal, voting rights or campaign law. Matt Berg reports for POLITICO.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former President Trump’s political organization has paid for or promised to finance the legal fees of more than a dozen witnesses called in the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack. The arrangement drew fresh scrutiny this week after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson provided damning new evidence about Trump’s behaviour on the day of the attack. Hutchinson’s testimony came after she fired a lawyer paid for by Trump’s political action committee and hired new counsel. It is not known whether Hutchinson’s change in counsel led directly to her willingness to provide more detailed testimony. However, the episode has raised questions about whether Trump and his allies may, implicitly or explicitly, be pressuring witnesses to hold back crucial information that might incriminate or cast a negative light on the former president. Luke Broadwater, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
The two communications pointed to by the Jan. 6 committee this week as potential evidence of Trump’s efforts to influence witness testimony, were detailed to the panel by Cassidy Hutchinson, a source has revealed. The slides – the origins of which were previously unknown – both reflect conversations Hutchinson described to the committee in her final closed-door deposition, according to the source. The name redacted on the first slide was former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows – an intermediary for whom reportedly contacted Hutchinson on the eve of her March 7 deposition to say that her former boss valued her loyalty. The other slide quoted an unnamed witness, now known to be Hutchinson, describing multiple phone calls she received from allies of the former president. Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Thailand scrambled fighter jets near its border with Myanmar yesterday, over what it called an airspace violation during a combat operation. Thailand also ordered its defense attache to issue a warning to Myanmar’s military government. Two F-16 fighter jets were deployed when a radar detected a plane in Thai airspace in Tak province close to the Myanmar border yesterday, which was carrying out attacks on ethnic minority rebels, Thai air force spokesperson Air Vice Marshal Prapat Sonjaidee said in a statement. Reuters reports. Reuters reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 87.62 million people and has now killed over 1.02 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 547.540 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.34 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.