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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.
U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The U.N. Security Council met yesterday to debate how and whether anyone would be held accountable for the war in Ukraine. The meeting was a tense one with insults, accusations and talk of war crimes and nuclear holocaust dominating the discussions. It was the first time since the Russian invasion that Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, as well as the top diplomats of some key U.S. allies, were in the same room together. During the meeting, Blinken denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in the war. “Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” Blinken told the Security Council. “Tell President Putin to stop the horror he started.” Farnaz Fassihi reports for the New York Times.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid told the U.N. yesterday that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside his country. “An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children,” Lapid said. Lapid is the first Israeli prime minister to explicitly endorse the two-state solution at the U.N. General Assembly in several years. However, his aides say that he has no plans to launch peace talks soon. Dion Nissenbaum reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – SHAM REFERENDUMS
Voting has begun in staged referendums in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, with Kremlin-installed authorities announcing that a claim of public support for the annexation of Ukrainian territory was assured. The so-called votes, which are being orchestrated in parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of eastern and southeastern Ukraine controlled by the Russian military, are illegal under Ukrainian and international law and have been denounced by Western leaders. Moreover, declarations that the outcome of the votes is a foregone conclusion pose risks for Moscow as Russia does not fully control any of the four partially occupied regions, and is facing stiff resistance from local residents and from Kyiv. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Robyn Dixon, Siobhán O’Grady and Kostiantyn Khudov report for the Washington Post.
Any weapons, including nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories incorporated into Russia from Ukraine, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has said. Medvedev, who is also deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that referendums being organised by Russian-installed separatist authorities will take place and that “the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) republics and other territories will be accepted into Russia.” Once this happens “there is no going back” he said, adding that “strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles,” could be used to protect the territories. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
For several months, the U.S. has been sending private warnings to Russia’s leadership of the grave consequences that would follow the use of a nuclear weapon, U.S. officials have said. The Biden administration has decided to keep warnings about the consequences of a nuclear strike deliberately vague, so the Kremlin worries about how Washington might respond, according to the officials. The attempt by the White House to cultivate what’s known in the nuclear deterrence world as “strategic ambiguity” comes as Russia continues to escalate its rhetoric about possible nuclear weapons use. It was not clear whether the U.S. had sent any new private messages in the hours since Russian President Vladimir Putin issued his latest veiled nuclear threat on Wednesday. Paul Sonne and John Hudson report for the Washington Post.
A bipartisan group of 17 members of Congress are urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to provide advanced drones to Ukraine. In a letter dated Wednesday, the group told Austin that it was time to complete a security review of advanced drones requested by Ukraine “to better hold the territory they fought so hard to reclaim.” The Biden administration has been reluctant to provide the advanced drones for fear of escalation with Russia and because of concerns that sensitive technology could fall into the wrong hands if the aircraft was shot down. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Thousands of Russians received draft papers yesterday, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a call-up that could sweep as many as 300,000 civilians into military service. Russian officials had said that the call-up would be limited to people with combat experience. However, the net appears to be wider, with reports of young professionals with no military experience receiving draft papers. The decision has pushed many to flee, with military-aged men clogging up airports and border crossings, with the hope of escaping to distant cities like Istanbul and Namangan, Uzbekistan. Anton Troianovski, Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko and Alina Lobzina report for the New York Times.
The former rector to the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) has died, according to a statement from the organization, amid a recent string of mysterious deaths among top Russian officials and executives. Anatoly Gerashchenko “died in an accident” on Sept. 21, according to MAI’s website. Gerashchenko is at least the 10th influential Russian to have reportedly died by suicide or in unexplained accidents since late January, with at least six of them associated with Russia’s two largest energy companies. Josh Pennington and Jennifer Hauser report for CNN.
The U.S. Treasury and State departments yesterday announced new sanctions on Iran’s Morality Police and other senior security officials. The sanctions come as a response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody three days after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. “We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly.” “The Iranian government needs to end its systemic persecution of women and allow peaceful protest,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement. “The United States will continue to voice our support for human rights in Iran and hold those who violate them to account.” Kelly Garrity reports for POLITICO.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed an investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini, following widespread protests in which at least 17 have been killed. Speaking on a visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Raisi accused the West of hypocrisy for raising concerns over Mahsa Amini’s death, pointing to killings by the police in the U.K. and the U.S.. He also denied that Amini’s death was a result of police brutality, repeating the police’s assertion that she had suffered heart failure. Merlyn Thomas reports for BBC News.
Iran restricted access to the Internet in large parts of the country yesterday, as authorities try to curb a women’s rights protest movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. Blocks on social media platforms used to organize and share footage of protests such as Instagram and Whatsapp were tightened, and internet access through the country’s largest cellular operators was heavily disrupted. The latest shutdown has affected the daily lives of millions of Iranians. Many in Tehran said they faced problems while trying to access services such as cash machines, online payments and car-sharing apps. Benoit Faucon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – a U.N.-backed tribunal charged with prosecuting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime – held its final hearing yesterday. It rejected an appeal by Khieu Samphan, 91, the movement’s last surviving leader, upholding his conviction and life sentence for genocide, as well as his convictions for other crimes. During its 16-year run, the tribunal, which resulted in 3 convictions, drew criticism for its slow pace and high cost. It was also marred by corruption, succumbing to pressure from Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre, to limit the scope of the prosecutions. However, some have also praised the tribunal for creating, through research and trial testimony, an empirical record of the atrocities committed during the regime. Seth Mydans reports for the New York Times.
North Korea has denied a U.S. intelligence report that it was selling millions of artillery shells and rockets to Russia. “We have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them,” a senior official at the North’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. “We warn the U.S. to stop making reckless remarks.” Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has been caught on a hot mic insulting U.S. Congress members as “idiots.” Yoon had just met with President Biden at the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City. There, Biden had pledged $6 billion from the U.S. to the public health campaign, which fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria worldwide. The funding would require congressional approval.“It would be so humiliating for Biden if these idiots don’t pass it in Congress,” Yoon was overheard telling a group of aides as they left the event. South Korea’s presidential office yesterday denied that Yoon’s remarks were targeted at the U.S, saying that the name Biden was misheard for a similar sounding Korean word. Amy B Wang and Min Joo Kim report for the Washington Post.
Leaders of America’s biggest banks have said they would follow any U.S. directive on pulling business from China if Taiwan is ever attacked by Beijing. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Citi CEO Jane Fraser, and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan were all pressed on the subject Wednesday by U.S. Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, from Missouri, in a Capitol Hill hearing. The three U.S. lenders have a long history of operating in China. Michelle Toh reports for CNN.
During his first face-to-face meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, President Biden pledged to strengthen relations with the Pacific nation. “We’ve had some rocky times, but the fact is it’s a critical, critical relationship, from our perspective. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said at the start of the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. During the meeting, the leaders discussed tensions in the South China Sea, the long-standing security relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, and stresses to the global economy and food security caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. AP reports.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – MAR-A-LAGO SEARCH
Several top Republican senators raised new concerns yesterday about former President Trump’s handling of classified documents. Rejecting Trump’s claim that he could simply declassify documents by thinking about it, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (SD) told CNN that there was a process for declassifying documents which ought to be followed. Other Republicans who dismissed Trump’s claims included former ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), and Sen. Thom Tillis, a two-term Republican from North Carolina who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many Raju reports for CNN.
The Mar-a-Lago special master yesterday ordered Trump’s lawyers to state in a court filing whether they believe FBI agents lied about documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie told Trump’s legal team to state by Sept. 30 whether they believe any of the seized items were incorrectly described in the Justice Department’s 11-page inventory list, which said some of the documents were highly classified. Judge Dearie also told them to say whether they are claiming that any items on the inventory list were not in fact taken from the premises. Trump has made claims to this effect on social media and in television interviews. However, his lawyers have yet to make similar assertions in court. Judge Dearie’s order essentially demands that Trump’s lawyers back up their client’s claims. Perry Stein reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
House Democrats yesterday passed bills that would give millions of dollars in grants to police agencies. The bills aren’t expected to move forward in the Senate or become law. Rather the votes were designed to help vulnerable Democrats, some of whom are being accused of being antipolice in midterm campaign ads, to convey to voters that they want to combat rising crime rates and support law enforcement. Whilst the bills were supported by some Republicans, others questioned the majority party’s motives, suggesting that the votes were a campaign season stunt. Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A former contractor known as “Fat Leonard,” who was at the center of a Navy bribery scandal, was arrested in Venezuela this week after escaping house arrest earlier this month in San Diego. Leonard Glenn Francis, was arrested by authorities Tuesday in Venezuela, where officials believe he had flown without using an alias, said Omar Castillo, a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal. He was set to be extradited to the U.S. Alyssa Lukpat reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 95.97 million people and has now killed over 1.06 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 614.197 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.53 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.