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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.
The deadly fighting which erupted on the streets of Baghdad in recent days has left 24 dead. The violence began on Monday when influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his retirement, causing his followers to storm the Green Zone. After coming under fire from government security forces, his supporters armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades emerged to retaliate. Yesterday Sadr sought to defuse the hostility, calling on his followers to stand down and leave the Green Zone. Though it was short-lived, the eruption of deadly clashes left some Iraqis shaken by the fear that the country might once again be descending into the cycle of seemingly endless factional violence. Jane Arraf reports for the New York Times.
Mikhail Gorbachev – the last leader of the former Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991 – has died at the age of 91. The man credited with introducing key political and economic reforms to the USSR and helping to end the Cold War had been in failing health for some time. World leaders paid tribute to Gorbachev yesterday, with President Joe Biden calling him “a man of remarkable vision” in a statement. “As leader of the USSR, he worked with President Reagan to reduce our two countries’ nuclear arsenals, to the relief of people worldwide praying for an end to the nuclear arms race,” Biden said, adding that Gorbachev’s reforms led to “a safer world and greater freedom for millions of people.” Susannah Cullinane and Laura Smith-Spark report for CNN.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS – CHINA
Taiwanese soldiers yesterday fired flares at three unidentified drones that flew near Kinmen County, a grouping of islands governed by Taiwan. All three drones later flew back toward the Chinese mainland, according to the Kinmen Defense Command. During a troop inspection yesterday, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said that she had ordered the island’s Defense Ministry to take “necessary and forceful countermeasures as appropriate” against what she called Chinese grey zone warfare tactics, including “drone harassments.” Gladys Tsai, Jorge Engels and Jennifer Deaton report for CNN.
China’s upcoming 20th National Congress will likely see China’s President Xi Jinping extend his hold on power for another five years. By seeking an unprecedented third term as China’s top leader, Xi breaks the convention set by his predecessors in the early 1990s. Whilst economic and political problems in the country have caused some to question his prospects of securing a third term, experts in elite Chinese politics have said claims about threats to Xi’s grip on power are overblown. The official announcement on the congress is scant on details, but it offered clues on the agenda, vowing to make solid progress in the pursuit of “common prosperity,” advance party building and promote “a community with a shared future for mankind” – all catchphrases put forward by Xi. Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
Japan plans to significantly increase military spending to counter what Tokyo sees as the rising threat from China. The defense ministry on Wednesday made a record ¥5.6tn ($40bn) budget request for the year to March 2024, compared with ¥5.4tn in planned spending for the current fiscal year. People with knowledge of internal ministerial discussions said the final budget would top at least ¥6tn after the inclusion of additional requests for military equipment to be made at the end of 2022. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to “significantly” upgrade defense capabilities after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised fears that China could make a similar move against Taiwan. Kana Inagaki reports for the Financial Times.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS – RUSSIA, UKRAINE
A team of international nuclear experts is making its way toward the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine today, after securing safety guarantees from both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. The group includes 14 experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog. The monitors intend to spend several days in the Russian-occupied nuclear facility and will seek to establish a permanent monitoring mission at the plant. Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora report for the New York Times.
Russia has completely halted gas supplies to Europe via a major pipeline, saying repairs are needed. The Russian state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, said the restrictions on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline would last for the next three days. Russia has already significantly reduced gas exports via the pipeline. It denies accusations it has used energy supplies as a weapon of war against Western countries. Matt Murphy reports for BBC News.
The U.S. Navy stopped an Iranian ship from seizing an American maritime drone in the Persian Gulf yesterday. The episode began Monday night when the U.S. Navy observed an Iranian ship towing the Saildrone Explorer, an unmanned U.S. vessel equipped with camera, radars and sensors. The USS Thunderbolt, a patrol coastal ship, and a Navy helicopter moved toward the scene. The Iranians dropped the tow line and eventually left the area, the defense officials said. Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of the U.S. naval forces in the region, said the Iranian actions, which took place in international waters, were “flagrant, unwarranted and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force.” The confrontation underscores the sharp tensions between Tehran and Washington amid negotiations over the possible revival of the 2015 deal that constrains Tehran’s nuclear program. Michael R. Gordon and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – MAR-A-LAGO SEARCH
Former president Trump’s team likely sought to conceal classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in defiance of a grand jury subpoena, a new Justice Department court filing has revealed. The government “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” Justice Department counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt wrote in the filing. “That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter,” he added. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
CNN provides the full Justice Department filing. A hearing to consider Trump’s request for a special master has been scheduled for Thursday.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – 2020 ELECTION PROBES
L. Lin Wood, a trial lawyer and supporter of former president Trump, has been asked to give testimony in the criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. In a phone call with the New York Times, Wood said that his lawyer had been informed that his testimony was being sought by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Wood said he would comply and go before the special grand jury that has been looking into efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse Trump’s election loss. He had been informed that he was a material witness but had not been informed that he was a target of the investigation. Richard Fausset reports for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
California’s Legislature passed a bill yesterday that would require the makers of social-media apps to consider the physical and mental health of minors when designing their products. The bill – the first of its kind in the U.S. – would require social-media companies to study products and features deemed likely to be accessed by minors to assess and mitigate potential harm before releasing them publicly. Those assessments would have to be given to the state attorney general, if requested, though the contents wouldn’t be subject to public disclosure. Companies found to violate the rules could face injunctions on their products and be fined up to $2,500 per affected child for each violation and up to $7,500 per child if the violation was intentional. Social-media companies have opposed the bill, arguing that differing state laws regulating their apps would make compliance difficult. Christine Mai-Duc and Meghan Bobrowsky report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 90.05 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 566.846million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.38 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.