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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 – SHAM REFERENDUMS
Russia will begin formally annexing up to 18% of Ukrainian territory today, with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to declare four occupied Ukrainian territories part of Russia. The annexation ceremony will take place in the Kremlin at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EST), Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Putin will give a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, he added. The ceremony comes after people in four occupied areas of Ukraine supposedly voted in huge numbers in favor of joining Russia, in five-day polls that were illegal under international law and dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a sham. Anna Chernova, Joshua Berlinger, and Rob Picheta report for CNN.
The U.S. and its allies are planning a number of measures aimed at increasing pressure on Russia following the planned annexation of occupied regions of Ukraine. New sanctions are to be announced on entities inside Russia, and those on the outside that contribute to its war effort, according to U.S. and E.U. officials. Long-term commitments are being made to ensure the continued flow of Western weapons to Ukraine. There may also be a vote later today on a U.S. introduced U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the annexations. “We expect that Russia will do what Russia always does — they will veto it,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in announcing the resolution this week. “We plan to have solid support for it.” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
Putin yesterday signed decrees that recognize the independence of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. The two decrees were published by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and each says the recognition of independence is “taking into account the will of the people” following referendums. The decrees come into force from the date of publication according to RIA Novosti. Uliana Pavlova and Karen Smith report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – NORD STREAM LEAKS
NATO has formally blamed sabotage for a series of leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines between Russian and Europe, saying that attacks on the infrastructure of its members would be met with a collective response from the military alliance. The statement, from the North Atlantic Council, the decision-making body of NATO, didn’t provide details or evidence. It also noted that the damage to the pipelines occurred in international waters. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg separately wrote on Twitter that the sabotage on the pipelines was of “deep concern.” Drew Hinshaw, Matthew Dalton, and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Ukrainian officials say 23 people have been killed and 28 injured in an attack by Russian forces on a civilian convoy leaving the city of Zaporizhzhia.“The enemy launched a rocket attack on a civilian humanitarian convoy on the way out of Zaporizhzhia,” Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, said on Telegram: “People were in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives, to deliver aid.” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said that a total of 16 missiles were launched by Russian forces at the area where the civilian convoy was struck. Olga Voitovych and Idris Ibrahim report for CNN.
Russian cruise missiles have hit the depot of a transport company in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, killing one person and setting fire to dozens of buses. Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said one person was killed and five were injured after Russian “Iskander” cruise missiles hit the city. “Fifty-two buses were burnt, and another 98 were damaged. Several high-rise buildings, a gymnasium, a store, and administrative buildings were damaged,” Reznichenko said. Olga Voitovych reports for CNN.
Russian forces could be nearly encircled by the Ukrainian military in the key eastern city Lyman, according to pro-Russian military bloggers. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has also assessed that “Ukrainian troops have likely nearly completed the encirclement of the Russian grouping in Lyman and cut critical ground lines of communication” in the area. “It is highly unlikely that any deployment of additional, newly mobilized, forces to Lyman will afford the existing Russian grouping significant defensive capabilities and prevent Ukrainian troops from collapsing the Lyman pocket,” the institute’s assessment said. A victory in Lyman would mark Ukraine’s most significant success in the Donbas region since Russia concentrated its forces there in the spring. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The Pentagon is working to form a new command to coordinate arming and training Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials. The proposal aims to streamline a training and assistance system that was created on the fly after the Russian invasion in February. The new command would be based in Germany and would be led by a high-ranking U.S. general, according to several military and administration officials. Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, the top American officer in Europe, recently presented the proposal to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, the officials said. Austin and his top aides are reviewing the plan and are likely to make a final decision in the coming weeks, senior U.S. officials said, adding that the White House and the Pentagon favored the approach. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.
A U.S. Army major and her spouse have been charged with conspiring to provide the Russian government with the medical records of Americans in the U.S. government and military. Maj. Jamie Lee Henry and Anna Gabrielian of Rockville, MD, were arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday. Henry was also charged with five counts of wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information, while Gabrielian faces two counts for the same offense. The efforts by Henry and Gabrielian to share health data with the Russians were related to the couple’s plans to aid the nation in its war with Ukraine, federal prosecutors said. Joseph De Avila reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Members of the International Telecommunication Union (I.T.U.) yesterday voted to appoint Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the U.S.-backed candidate, as the group’s secretary general. Bogdan-Martin, a nearly 30-year veteran of the I.T.U. born in New Jersey, beat her chief rival Russia-backed Rashid Ismailov by winning 139 votes out of 172. The contest has been viewed as geopolitically symbolic amid wider U.S. – Russian tensions, with some U.S. officials describing it as a turning point for the free and open internet. Last week, President Biden urged U.N. member states to support Bogdan-Martin, arguing her leadership of the I.T.U. will help make the internet “inclusive and accessible for everyone, especially in the developing world.” Brian Fung reports for CNN.
Just Security has published a piece by Mark Montgomery and Ivana Stradner titled “A Different Kind of Russian Threat – Seeking to Install its Candidate Atop Telecommunications Standards Body.”
The U.S. yesterday sanctioned firms in China, India, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates that it alleges have aided Iran. New sanctions target two Chinese firms that the U.S. contends facilitate Iranian petroleum trade, according to a release from the State Department. The State Department also sanctioned eight entities elsewhere in Asia for their involvement in Iran’s petrochemical trade. Officials said the moves to restrict Iran’s oil and petrochemical sales are a response to the country’s violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement that allowed Iran some relief from U.S. sanctions in return for controls on its nuclear program. Julia Mueller reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, told the Jan. 6 committee during a closed-door interview that she never discussed efforts to overturn the 2020 election with her husband. In a statement she read at the beginning of her testimony, a copy of which was obtained by the New York Times, Thomas called it “an ironclad rule” that she and Justice Thomas never speak about cases pending before the Supreme Court. “It is laughable for anyone who knows my husband to think I could influence his jurisprudence — the man is independent and stubborn, with strong character traits of independence and integrity,” she added. During her interview, Thomas also repeated her assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump, chair of the committee Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said. Her testimony could be included in an upcoming hearing, he added. Luke Broadwater and Stephanie Lai report for the New York Times.
Boris Epshteyn, an attorney and adviser to Trump, yesterday testified before a Georgia grand jury investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. According to Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis, who is conducting the investigation, Epshteyn “possesses unique knowledge concerning the logistics, planning, and execution of efforts by the Trump Campaign to submit false certiﬁcates of vote to former Vice President Michael Pence and others.” Her office highlighted an interview that Epshteyn did with MSNBC in January, when he said he was “part of the process, to make sure there were alternate electors for when, as we hoped, the challenges to the seated electors would be heard and would be successful.” It is not clear whether Epshteyn faces potential legal jeopardy in the case or is appearing solely as a witness. Danny Hakim and Sean Keenan report for the New York Times.
A federal judge, yesterday set aside a measure imposed by a special master asking former President Trump to certify the accuracy of the F.B.I’s inventory of the property it had seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence. The decision, included in a six-page order issued by Judge Aileen M. Cannon, was among several to ease demands by the special master, Judge Raymond J. Dearie, who was appointed by Judge Cannon herself. Under requirements he put in place in recent days, Trump’s lawyers would have been forced to test excuses they have made in connection with the trove of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago. Judge Cannon also rejected a swift timetable Judge Dearie had set to resolve the review of the documents, slowing the matter down. Charlie Savage and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden has declared an emergency in South Carolina hours ahead of Hurricane Ian’s expected landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Charleston today. The White House will dispatch federal assistance to supplement local response efforts, and the National Hurricane Center has warned of “life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds” in the Carolinas. Live reporting is provided by the Washington Post.
The families of three children who survived the mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school are suing the school district, city, law enforcement, and gun manufacturers in federal court. The civil lawsuit, filed in Texas’ Western District Court, alleges the school district violated federal constitutional rights by failing to protect students and teachers. It also alleges that Daniel Defense LLC, identified as the manufacturer of the gun used in the shooting, uses deceptive and reckless marketing to attract young, untrained adults. The lawsuit asks for damages for the families, the amount of which would be determined through a trial by jury. Jennifer Calfas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A former employee of the National Security Agency was arrested Wednesday on espionage-related charges for allegedly trying to sell U.S. secrets, the Justice Department has announced. Jareh Dalke, 30, attempted to transmit classified national defense information to a representative of a foreign government, the department said in a release. He faces charges related to three violations of the Espionage Act and made his first appearance in court yesterday. Convictions under the Espionage Act carry sentences of up to life in prison or potential death sentences, the Justice Department said. Mary Kay Mallonee and Katherine Dautrich report for CNN.
Supreme Court Justices often keep important details of their spouses’ work off their conflict of interest disclosure forms, a POLITICO investigation has found. This is particularly troubling in the cases of Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett, whose spouses’ careers all have the potential to closely intersect with the court’s work. The clients of Ginni Thomas, Jane Roberts and Jesse Barrett remain a mystery, fanning fears of outside influences and raising questions over the Supreme Court’s notoriously porous ethical disclosure system. Hailey Fuchs, Josh Gerstein and Peter S. Canellos report for POLITICO.
A suicide bomb attack on an education center in Kabul has killed at least 23 people, most of whom are believed to be young women. The explosion took place at the Kaaj education center, in a predominantly Hazara neighborhood – an ethnic minority group that has long faced oppression. Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, there have been multiple attacks against the Hazara community, 13 of which have been claimed by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province. Whilst Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid condemned the attack on Twitter, according to a report by Human Rights Watch “the Tabilban authorities have done little to protect these communities.” Masoud Popalzai, Rhea Mogul, and Irene Nasser report for CNN.
International warnings about efforts to “subvert democracy” in Brazil are growing just days before voters head to the polls for the presidential election. Right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that he may reject the results if he loses, as most opinion polls show him trailing his left-wing rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Experts also have raised concerns that Bolsonaro’s supporters could take to the streets in large numbers should he fail to be re-elected, and that political violence could break out. The U.S. Senate late on Wednesday passed a resolution backing a free election in Brazil and denouncing “efforts to incite political violence and undermine the electoral process”. The symbolic measure, adopted unanimously, calls on the U.S. government to “immediately” recognize the outcome of the Oct. 2 vote if it is determined to be fair by international observers. Al Jazeera reports.
Facebook algorithms amplified hate against the Rohingya minority prior to widespread violence committed against the group by Myanmar’s military in 2017, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The report also claims that Meta, the parent company of Facebook, knew that its algorithms were contributing to the spread of hateful content against the Rohingya, but that the social media giant failed to address the problem. “While the Myanmar military was committing crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, Meta was profiting from the echo chamber of hatred created by its hate-spiraling algorithms,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement announcing the report. Chloe Folmar reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 96.35 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 617.358 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.54 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.