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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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday praised China’s “balanced position” on the Ukraine war, though he conceded Beijing had “questions and concerns” over the invasion. The comments, which were made when meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping, appeared to be a veiled admission of the countries’ diverging views on the protracted military assault. “We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard,” Putin said in an opening speech of the meeting. “During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.” Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
Despite Putin publicly acknowledging Beijing’s concerns over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ties between the two countries remain strong, American officials have said. “What’s striking is Putin’s admission that President Xi has concerns about Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said a few hours after the two leaders met in Uzbekistan. However, those concerns shouldn’t be a surprise, he said, adding that the meeting was an example of China’s alignment and ties with Russia. Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong report for the New York Times.
China’s military leaders share a potential weakness that has undermined their Russian counterparts in Ukraine and could hamper their ability to wage a similar war, according to a new report from the U.S. National Defense University. The report identifies a lack of cross-training as a possible Achilles’ Heel within the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.). The 73-page report says that this “rigidity… could reduce China’s effectiveness in future conflicts,”, particularly in conflicts requiring high levels of joint-service action, and suggests P.L.A. forces would become bogged down by the same sort of problems that have bedeviled their Russian counterparts in Ukraine, “where the overall cohesion of forces was low.” However, analysts have warned against underestimating China’s capabilities and drawing comparisons with Russia. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
China is “willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country, play a leading role, and inject stability into a turbulent world,” according to a statement issued following Xi and Putin’s meeting. Scholars who study the between-the-lines messaging of the Chinese government’s public remarks have argued that this sounds like an implicit rebuke. Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the statement appeared to telegraph “a reproach to the Russians, that they’re not acting like a great power, that they are creating instability.” Shi Yinhong, a longtime professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said it was “the most prudent or most low-key statement in years on Xi’s part on the strategic relationship between the two countries.” Anton Troianovski and Keith Bradsher provide analysis for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATIONS
Ukrainian authorities have found 440 graves at a mass burial site in Izium, a city recently recaptured from Russian forces, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a Twitter post today. Earlier Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian and international journalists would be shown the site to see what had been uncovered. “We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to,” Zelenskyy said. Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications said on Thursday that some of the graves discovered at Izium were “fresh,” and that the corpses buried there were “mostly civilians.” Jonny Hallam and Brad Lendon report for CNN.
The U.N. human rights office plans to send monitors to Izium, a spokesperson has said. “They (the monitors) are aiming to go there to try to establish a bit more about what may have happened,” Liz Throssell told a Geneva press briefing. She said she could not confirm if the bodies were contained in one mass grave or in a series of individual graves. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian prosecutors working in the northeast of the country to document evidence of war crimes have compared the unfolding situation to some of the worst atrocities already documented in places like Bucha. “We have a terrible picture of what the occupiers did, in particular, in the Kharkiv region,” Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said in a statement this week. “In fact, now such cities as Balaklia, Izium are standing in the same row as Bucha, Borodianka, Irpin.” Marc Santora reports for the New York Times.
Ursula von der Leyen, the E.U.’s top official, yesterday reassured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that his country is still progressing toward membership in the bloc. During a wide-ranging meeting in Kyiv, von der Leyen told Zelenskyy that whilst the entry process will most likely be long and difficult, the possibility exists that Ukraine could join the E.U. ‘s internal market before acquiring full member status. “I note determination, huge progress on this path,” she said. “We will support you with all our capabilities.” Carly Olson reports for the New York Times.
Pope Francis has said it was morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian aggression. Speaking to reporters aboard a plane returning from a three-day trip to Kazakhstan, Francis expounded on the Roman Catholic Church’s “Just War” principles, which allow for the proportional use of deadly weapons for self defense against an aggressor nation. “Self defense is not only licit but also an expression of love for the homeland. Someone who does not defend oneself, who does not defend something, does not love it. Those who defend (something) love it,” he said. Philip Pullella reports for Reuters.
The White House has announced a $600 million security package for Ukraine, providing the Ukrainian military with another round of assistance during its counter-offensive against Russian forces. The equipment will be drawn from existing US stocks and inventories, and it will include additional arms, ammunition, and equipment, according to a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Together with our Allies and partners, we are delivering the arms and equipment that Ukraine’s forces are utilizing so effectively as they continue their successful counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion,” Blinken said. Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
President Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, the White House has announced. “He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day, on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at yesterday’s press briefing. The separate meetings are to be the first in-person encounter between Biden and the families and are taking place amid sustained but so far unsuccessful efforts by the administration to secure the Americans’ release. Eric Tucker reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Anti-monarchy protestors have faced police crackdown in the U.K., raising serious questions about the way in which forces handle dissent in the country. Protesters holding signs saying “not my King” have been arrested in some cases, as have individuals who have publicly criticized the monarchy. Liberty, a civil rights advocacy group, expressed its concern, saying in a statement: “It is very worrying to see the police enforcing their broad powers in such a heavy-handed and punitive way to clamp down on free speech and expression.” Christian Edwards reports for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
The Justice Department is seeking information about at least seven people in connection with a breach of a Colorado county’s voting system as part of efforts to subvert the 2020 election results, according to subpoena documents. The subpoena issued to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell earlier this week lists the names of people considered “subjects” in the investigation – including people involved in efforts to seize voting machine data in several states as Trump and his allies tried to overturn his electoral loss. It’s unclear if federal investigators have opened probes into what happened in other states, but the subpoena shows they are gathering evidence related to three potential crimes in Mesa County, Colorado: identity theft, intentional damage to a protected computer and/or conspiracy to commit either. The subpoena covers “all records and information” on Lindell’s phone that constitutes evidence against seven named individuals or any other unnamed co-conspirators. Lindell has not been charged with any crimes or wrongdoing. Zachary Cohen, Jeremy Herb and Evan Perez report for CNN.
A man who wore a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt inside the U.S. Capitol was sentenced to 75 days in prison yesterday for his role in the Jan. 6 attack. Robert Keith Packer was arrested the week after the attack and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful picketing and parading. The sentence matched what the government had requested. Ryan J. Reilly reports for NBC News.
Federal judge Aileen M. Cannon, yesterday rejected the Justice Department’s request to resume a key part of its investigation into Trump’s handling of sensitive government records. The department had asked Judge Cannon to lift restrictions on its use of documents with classification markings and set a Thursday deadline for her to respond before it said it would ask an appeals court to intervene. The department is now planning to appeal the decision, and top officials were meeting to discuss the timing of their filing, according to a senior law enforcement official. In her 10-page decision, Judge Cannon also appointed a special master suggested by the Trump legal team and agreed upon by the government: Raymond J. Dearie. Judge Dearie will now have the authority to sift through more than 11,000 records the FBI seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Charlie Savage, Alan Feuer and Glenn Thrush report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Internal documents have revealed increased tension between the White House and senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over how to handle immigration. The White House has recently hosted a series of high-level meetings on immigration, where DHS officials have presented options, including flying migrants to the country’s northern border with Canada to alleviate overcrowding on the U.S.-Mexico border. Some DHS officials have openly expressed frustration at those meetings with the White House’s reluctance to begin transporting migrants to cities within the U.S., according to the documents. The discussions come as the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is nearing 8,000 per day, with Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida sending migrants north as a political statement. Julia Ainsley reports for NBC News.
The FBI said yesterday that an arrest has been made in connection with a bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital last month. Catherine Leavy of Westfield, Massachusetts, was arrested without incident and charged with one count of making a false bomb threat by telephone, according to charging documents filed in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts. She faces up to five years in prison. The threat was part of a “sustained harassment campaign based on dissemination of information online” about trans health care at the hospital, Rachael Rollins, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said at a news conference. Brandy Zadrozny, Ben Collins and Tom Winter report for NBC News.
COVID-19 has infected over 95.60 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 611.079 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.