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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 taken over Ukraine’s second-largest power plant, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview posted on YouTube yesterday. “They have achieved a small tactical advantage by taking Vuhlehirsk,” adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said. The coal-fired Vuhlehirsk power plant is in the eastern Donetsk region, close to the border with Russian-controlled Luhansk. Arestovych added that Russian forces were attempting to consolidate gains in the area. The Russians are now “moving to strategic defense on all conquered fronts,” rather than taking over the Donetsk region “at this stage,” he said. Mohammed Tawfeeq reports for CNN.
Russian forces have made further incremental progress in the eastern Donetsk region, according to the Ukrainian military. In an operational update today, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said Russian forces were trying to advance toward Bakhmut from the south and east. Russian forces had “partial success” in the direction of Vidrodzhennia-Vershyna and were entrenched southeast of the settlement of Vershyna, the update said. However, the General Staff said attacks from four different directions toward Bakhmut were repelled. Tim Lister reports for CNN.
A Ukrainian counter-offensive has virtually cut off the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson and left thousands of Russian troops stationed near the Dnipro River “highly vulnerable”, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s intelligence update. Ukrainian forces have probably established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River, and had used new, long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges crossing the Dnipro, the update said. The loss of Kherson “would severely undermine Russia’s attempts to paint the occupation as a success,” the update added. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Turkey’s defense chief unveiled a new control center where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials are set to monitor exports of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea under an agreement reached last week. The grain export deal, which could free millions of tons of grain needed to alleviate a global food crisis, is clouded by uncertainty after Russia launched a missile attack on the port of Odesa, one of the key grain-exporting ports covered under the agreement. Many Ukrainian, including senior government officials, say they don’t trust Russia to uphold its end of the agreement and allow safe passage of grain shipments through the Black Sea. However, officials have said that they are pushing ahead with preparations for ships to begin sailing from Ukraine’s Black Sea. “This center has a meaning for the whole world, and this center will work for humanitarian purposes,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said at the facility yesterday. Elvan Kivilcim and Jared Malsin report for the Wall Street Journal.
Poland is set to buy almost 1,600 tanks and howitzers and nearly 50 fighter jets from South Korea. South Korea’s biggest ever arms deal will make it a major supplier of weapons flooding into Europe since the Ukraine war began. South Korean and Polish officials signed a framework agreement yesterday in Warsaw in a deal that Poland says is a key part of their efforts to rearm in the face of the war in Ukraine, where it has sent at least $1.7 billion in military aid. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
Russian space officials have informed U.S. counterparts that Moscow would like to keep flying its cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station until their own orbital outpost is built and operational. Taken together with remarks from a senior Russian space official published yesterday, the latest indications are that Russia is still at least six years away from ending an orbital collaboration with the U.S.. This represents a back-peddle from remarks made on Tuesday by the newly appointed director-general of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, who surprised NASA by announcing that Moscow intended to withdraw from the space station partnership “after 2024.” Joey Roulette reports for Reuters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that the U.S. had “put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” in talks with Russia to secure the release of the basketball star Brittney Griner and another detained American, Paul Whelan. A person briefed on the negotiations said that in June, the U.S. offered to trade an imprisoned Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, for Griner and Whelan, and that President Biden had backed the offer. Speaking to reporters at a news conference Blinken confirmed that the U.S. and Russia had “communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal,” and that he expected to raise it soon directly with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. However, he declined to confirm whether Biden has agreed to trade Bout, whose release the Kremlin has demanded for years, for Griner and Whelan. The New York Times.
Russia said today that whilst negotiations with the U.S. on exchanging prisoners are ongoing there is no deal to swap Griner and Whelan for Bout. Responding to Blinken’s comments, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters that no agreements had been made in this area, and indicated that talks on the issue had been going on for some time without producing a result. Reuters reports.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned that he is ready to use his nuclear weapons in potential military conflicts with the U.S. and South Korea. “Our armed forces are completely prepared to respond to any crisis, and our country’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilize its absolute power dutifully, exactly and swiftly in accordance with its mission,” Kim said in a speech yesterday, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea is likely to intensify its threats against the U.S. and South Korea as the allies prepare to expand summertime exercises which the North views as an invasion rehearsal, some observers say. AP reports.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has invited a small group of lawmakers on her official trip to Taiwan, including the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), told reporters yesterday. McCaul, the ranking member on the foreign affairs panel, said both he and Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), have been invited by the speaker on an upcoming trip to the self-ruling island that China sees as under its control. The Texas Republican has declined the invitation due to a personal obligation that conflicts with the visit. McCaul’s comments are the first on-the-record remarks confirming Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Scott Wong reports for NBC News.
A U.S. aircraft carrier and its strike group have returned to the South China Sea after a port call in Singapore, deploying in the disputed region as tensions with China rise. Officials with the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet confirmed the deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan to the vital trade route, which comes amid tensions over a possible visit to Taiwan by Pelosi. When asked for comment, China’s foreign ministry said the U.S. was once again “flexing its muscles” in the South China Sea. Greg Torode reports for Reuters.
The Senate yesterday passed an expansive $280 billion bill aimed at building up America’s manufacturing and technological edge to counter China. The legislation is centered around investing federal money into cutting-edge technologies and innovations to bolster the nation’s industrial, technological and military strength. The measure, which passed 64 to 33, reflects a rare consensus in a polarized Congress in favor of forging a long-term strategy to address the nation’s intensifying rivalry with Beijing. Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
The Department of Justice is investigating then-President Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 attack as part of its criminal probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the investigation. Prosecutors who are questioning witnesses before a grand jury — including two top aides to Vice President Mike Pence — have asked in recent days about conversations with Trump, his lawyers, and others in his inner circle who sought to substitute Trump allies for certified electors from some states won by President Biden, the sources have said. The prosecutors have reportedly asked hours of detailed questions about meetings Trump led in December 2020 and January 2021; his pressure campaign on Pence to overturn the election; and what instructions Trump gave his lawyers and advisers about fake electors and sending electors back to the states. Carol D. Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
A West Virginia man accused of conspiring to assault police officers during the Jan. 6 attack, including now-deceased Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, pleaded guilty yesterday to reduced charges. George Tanios, who was charged last year with 10 counts, including assaulting police officers and obstructing the certification of the election, pleaded guilty to one count of entering a restricted area and one count of disruptive conduct on restricted grounds. Federal Judge Thomas Hogan said the estimated sentencing range was zero to six months. Alexa Corse reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The man accused of opening fire on a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, IL, faces more than 100 felony counts after a grand jury handed up indictments in the case. Robert Crimo III was charged with 21 counts of murder – three for each victim killed – and 48 counts of attempted murder for those wounded by bullets or shrapnel. “Our investigation continues, and our victim specialists are working around the clock to support all those affected by this crime that led to 117 felony counts being filed today,” State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said yesterday. Ben Kesling reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Two officers involved in George Floyd’s death were sentenced to prison yesterday. Tou Thao, who kept bystanders away from Floyd, was sentenced to three and a half years, and J. Alexander Kueng, who helped hold him down, was sentenced to three years. Thao and Kueng are the last of the four officers involved in the death to be ordered to prison. Jeffrey C. Kummer and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs report for the New York Times.
At least 15 people, including 3 U.N. peacekeepers, have been killed and 60 others injured in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, during protests against the U.N.. Protesters have been demanding the departure of the peacekeeping forces, accusing them of failing to protect civilians from a recent surge of attacks by the militant groups that have terrorized the region for years. Two Indian police officers and one member of Morocco’s military were killed, and an Egyptian police officer was injured, when protesters breached the U.N. compound in Butembo, a city in the province of North Kivu, Farhan Haq, a deputy U.N. spokesperson said. The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, wants it known that any attacks against the peacekeepers “may constitute a war crime,” Haq added. Steven Wembi and Abdi Latif Dahir report for the New York Times.
Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Iran slogans have stormed the Iraqi capital’s government center and occupied the parliament building. The demonstrations come amid an attempt to name a new prime minister seen as aligned with Tehran. The protesters pulled down concrete walls and poured into the Green Zone, the fortified area where many government ministries and the U.S. Embassy are located. The demonstrators took over the parliament floor, sitting in the chairs of lawmakers and waving Iraqi flags in a show of Iraqi nationalism and opposition to Mohammed Sudani, the nominee of the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties to be the next prime minister. David S. Cloud and Ghassan Adnan report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 90.97 million people and has now killed over 1.03 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 573.885 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.39 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.