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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 has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, according to a State Department summary of a recent U.S. intelligence review. “The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor,” the document said. It added, “The United States will use official liaison channels with targeted countries to share still classified information about Russian activities targeting their political environments.” Edward Wong reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. is considering options for a sanctions package against China to deter it from invading Taiwan, according to sources familiar with the matter. Taipei is also lobbying the E.U. to do the same. In both cases, the idea is to take sanctions beyond measures already taken in the West to restrict some trade and investment with China in sensitive technologies like computer chips and telecoms equipment, the sources said. Ben Blanchard, Yimou Lee, John O’Donnell, Alexandra Alper and Trevor Hunnicutt report for Reuters.
The Biden administration said today that it would transfer billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s frozen assets to a fund in Switzerland for safekeeping, as U.S.-Taliban talks falter over recapitalizing the Afghan central bank. The U.S. has said the Afghan central bank must meet several requirements for it to be recapitalized, including instituting standards to fight money laundering and terror financing and appointing a third-party monitor. “The Afghan Fund will hold these reserves until such a time that they can be responsibly returned to Afghanistan,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo wrote in a letter to senior Afghan central bank officials. Jessica Donati and Ian Talley report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. sanctions against two Paraguayan politicians, alongside a surge in assassinations and narcotics-related violence, have sparked concerns over the power wielded by organised criminal gangs in the country. With the South American nation preparing for presidential elections in April, Washington last month blacklisted vice-president Hugo Velázquez and former president Horacio Cartes for alleged corruption. The move reflects rising concern in Washington that Paraguay could be destabilized if its institutions and elites fall under the influence of organized crime, observers say. By publicly naming the pair, who are members of the governing conservative Colorado Party, Washington could be seen to be sending a message to the government that it needs to clean up public life ahead of the 2023 election. Lucinda Elliot provides analysis for the Financial Times.
The U.S. State Department strongly criticized Russia yesterday for making what it called “spurious allegations” that the U.S. operated clandestine biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. The department accused Russia of abusing the formal review process of the Biological Weapons Convention, by using a diplomatic meeting in Geneva last week as a platform to continue spreading disinformation to justify the war in Ukraine. Russia used its authority as a signatory of the treaty to convene the meeting to air its repeated unfounded claims that the U.S. was operating secret biological labs in Ukraine. The meeting in Geneva, which took place behind closed doors, ended on Friday without an official finding on the accusations, but delegates of 35 of 89 nations either dismissed the Russian claims or expressed support for the kind of research the United States and Ukraine were conducting, the State Department said in a statement. Only seven nations expressed support for Russia: Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela. Steven Lee Myers reports for the New York Times.
China’s leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the war in Ukraine and other “international and regional topics” at their meeting later this week, the Kremlin has said. The two will meet in Uzbekistan at a summit that will show an “alternative” to the Western world, the Kremlin added. Putin will also meet other leaders including those of India, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran – but his meeting with China’s leader “is of particular importance,” said Kremlin foreign policy spokesperson Yuri Ushakov. Frances Mao reports for BBC News.
As the war began Putin rejected a Ukrainian peace deal which would have satisfied Russia’s demand that Ukraine stay out of NATO, according to three people close to the Russian leadership. The architect of the deal, Ukrainian-born envoy Dmitry Kozak, told Putin that he believed the deal removed the need for Russia to pursue a large-scale occupation of Ukraine. However, despite initially backing the negotiations, Putin made clear when presented with Kozak’s deal that the concessions negotiated by his aide did not go far enough and that he had expanded his objectives to include annexing swathes of Ukrainian territory, the sources said. Reuters reports.
A nationwide military draft in Russia is not currently on the cards, the Kremlin has said. The politically risky proposal has gained prominence in public discussion amid Russian forces’ rapid reversal in northeastern Ukraine. Speaking with journalists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said that the potential for a mobilization “is not being discussed at the moment.” The statement reflected the Russian government’s difficulty maintaining control over debate as recent defeats have brought increased criticism, including from usually supportive conservative and nationalist voices. Ivan Nechepurenko reports for the New York Times.
The conflict in Syria is at risk of further escalation after several front lines across the country flared up in recent months, according to a new U.N. report. “Syria cannot afford a return to larger-scale fighting, but that is where it may be heading,” said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the U.N.’s Syria commission. The 50-page report found that despite many active battlefronts quieting in recent years, “grave violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law” had increased across the country over the last six months. In particular, the Commission had documented more Russian aerial bombardments over opposition-held areas. Reuters reports.
Kyrgyzstan’s border force reported fresh clashes on its border with Tajikistan, following an overnight firefight which left at least one dead. The two Central Asian nations – both formerly part of the Soviet Union and which remain allies of Russia – have had strained relations for years and border skirmishes are not uncommon. Reuters reports.
Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of new rounds of shelling this morning as hostilities reignited between the two longtime adversaries. Armenia’s Defense Ministry accused Azeri forces of launching combat drones in the direction of the Armenian resort of Jermuk overnight and renewing the shelling from artillery and mortars in the morning in the direction of Jermuk and Verin Shorzha village near the Sevan lake. The Azeri military, in turn, charged that Armenian forces shelled its positions in the Kalbajar and Lachin districts in the separatist Narongno-Karabakh regions. The Armenian government said it would officially ask Russia for assistance under a friendship treaty between the countries, and also appeal to the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations. Avet Demourian reports for AP.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – MAR-A-LAGO SEARCH
A key House panel has asked the National Archives to determine whether any of former President Trump’s White House records were still unaccounted for following the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search. In a letter to acting National Archivist Debra Steidel Wall, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) expressed deep concern, writing that Archives staff told the panel in an Aug.24 call that “the agency is not certain whether all presidential records are in its custody.” In the letter, Maloney also asked the Archives to get a written certification from Trump declaring he had turned over all records or classified material. Nicholas Wu reports for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that Twitter lacks the resources and motivation to search for and remove foreign intelligence threats within its operations. In his testimony, Zatko revealed how Twitter had received a specific warning from the FBI that the company may have had one or more Chinese spies within its ranks. The explosive detail linking the U.S. government warning to China had not been a part of Zatko’s publicly reported disclosure to the U.S. government. It remains unclear whether Twitter acted on the tip, but Zatko told Sen. Chuck Grassley that he and others inside Twitter understood that the company was a target for foreign intelligence agencies. Clare Duffy and Brian Fung report for CNN.
John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to examine the origins of the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, appears to be winding down his inquiry with no further charges in store. When Durham was assigned by the Justice Department in 2019, Trump and his supporters expressed a belief that the inquiry would prove that a “deep state” conspiracy including top Obama-era officials had worked to sabotage him. However, this has not transpired. Over the course of his inquiry, Durham has developed cases against two people accused of lying to the FBI in relation to outside efforts to investigate purported Trump-Russia ties, but he has not charged any conspiracy or put any high-level officials on trial. Now, the grand jury that Durham has recently used to hear evidence has expired, and while he could convene another, there are currently no plans to do so. Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage report for the New York Times.
A package delivered to a Northeastern University campus building in Boston detonated yesterday evening and injured a staff member who opened it, the university and police said. A search revealed a second similar package that was rendered safe by the bomb squad, the police department said. The FBI has offered support for the investigation, including the full support of the joint terrorism task force. Jon Kamp reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 95.38 million people and has now killed over 1.05 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 609.885 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.52 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.