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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 – ANNEXATION OF UKRAINIAN TERRITORIES
Russian lawmakers are poised to finalize the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions this week. Russia’s parliament is expected to approve the documents on Monday and Tuesday, after which Russia will consider the annexation of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk to be complete. The Washington Post reports.
In a rousing speech following Friday’s annexation ceremony Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Western “elites” of undermining faith, family, and Russia, and promoting “outright satanism.” He also made several references to “Anglo Saxon” misdeeds, implying an alliance between the U.S. and U.K. to undermine Russia. Sergey Radchenko, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies, called the speech “full of bile and hatred towards the West” that was more hostile to the U.S. than any diatribe by even Soviet-era leaders. “The point is to deflect and distract from domestic difficulties, the military failures, the mounting economic problems,” Radchenko said. Alan Cullison reports for the Wall Street Journal.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Andriy Yermak, head of the office of Ukraine’s president, in Istanbul yesterday. During the meeting, Sullivan told Yermak that any individual or entity that supports Putin’s annexation of four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine will face “severe” consequences. According to a statement from the White House, “Mr. Sullivan underscored the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He conveyed that the United States and its allies and partners will not be deterred by Russia’s flagrant violations of international law, including the United Nations Charter, and will impose severe costs on any individual, entity, or country that provides support to Russia’s purported annexation.” Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – UKRAINIAN COUNTER OFFENSIVES
Russian forces retreated from the strategic eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman on Saturday. The setback came just one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed the surrounding region, underscoring Ukraine’s resolve to continue to attack the territory Putin now claims sovereignty over. In a striking display of internal dissent, Russia’s retreat quickly sparked criticism among powerful allies of Putin, who blamed Russia’s military leaders for the recent losses, calling them incompetent. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew E. Kramer, Anton Troianovski, and Catherine Porter report for the New York Times.
Ukrainian forces liberated the village of Torske near Lyman in the Donetsk region yesterday, as they inch closer to taking back the Luhansk region, according to the Ukrainian military. Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesperson for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on national television that Ukrainian forces are also hitting Russian military units in Luhansk’s city of Kreminna “with fire.” “After overcoming Kreminna, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will go to Svatovo, Rubizhne, and further on they will be able to liberate the Luhansk region,” Cherevaty said. Mariya Knight reports for CNN.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday that Ukraine is “making progress” in the Kherson region of the country as they continue to counter Russia’s invasion. Austin attributed the progress to a “kind of change in battlefield dynamics,” brought about by the skill of Ukrainian soldiers and their strategic use of weapons supplied by U.S. and NATO allies, specifically their use of the high mobility air rocket systems, or HIMARS. Austin also said whilst it is “hard to predict” what will happen next in Ukraine, the U.S. will “continue to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians for as long as it takes.” Ellie Kaufman reports for CNN.
The Ukrainian military’s sudden and successful counter-attack in the Kharkiv region has left Russian forces controlling less Ukrainian land than they did in the initial days of the war. This is according to a CNN analysis of exclusive data from the Washington-based think tank, the Institute of the Study of War. Russia’s first massive push, which began on the night of February 23, allowed it to secure or advance on one fifth of Ukrainian territory, or about 119,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of the total 603,500 square kilometers Ukraine claims and considers “temporarily occupied,” the analysis shows. Seven months after launching an invasion, Russia controls roughly three thousand square kilometers less land than it did in the first five days of the war, CNN found. Natalie Croker, Byron Manley, and Tim Lister report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – NATO RESPONSE
The presidents of nine NATO countries from Central and Eastern Europe issued a joint statement yesterday supporting Ukraine’s bid for membership of the defense alliance. The presidents of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia and Romania expressed their firm support for “the decision of the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit regarding the future membership of Ukraine in the Alliance.” The statement also called for Allies to “substantially increase” their military aid to Ukraine. The statement noted that the leaders of these countries — which account for nearly a third of NATO’s members — “visited Kyiv during the war and witnessed with their own eyes the effects of Russian aggression.” Mariya Knight reports for CNN.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has warned of “severe consequences for Russia” if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. And this is a message that Nato and Nato allies convey clearly to Russia,” Stoltenberg told NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday. Western leaders and government officials believe the threat of nuclear force has grown since Friday, when Putin formally annexed swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine and declared it Russian territory. Courtney Weaver reports for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The head of the U.N.’s nuclear agency called on Saturday for the release of the director general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, who has been detained by Russia. Rafael Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement that the detention of director general, Ihor Murashov, “has an immediate and serious impact on decision-making in ensuring the safety and security of the plant.” The sudden arrest also put a psychological strain on the rest of the plant’s staff, he added. Erin Mendell reports for the New York Times.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue to suggest he might use nuclear weapons in Russia’s war with Ukraine – and that it is possible he could actually do so. “There are no checks on Mr. Putin,” Austin said in a CNN interview that aired yesterday morning. “Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, you know, he could make another decision. But I don’t see anything right now that would lead me to believe he has made such a decision.” Austin also condemned Putin’s threats of nuclear actions: “It’s an irresponsible statement … this nuclear saber-rattling is not the kind of thing we would expect to hear from leaders of large countries with capability.” David Cohen reports for POLITICO.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan yesterday met with the chief adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss progress on NATO accession for Finland and Sweden. Although Turkey agreed to lift its veto of Finland and Sweden’s accession in June, Ankara has since said the countries are not fulfilling their end of the deal to ensure mutual security. As of late September, just two countries are yet to ratify the NATO expansion: Turkey and Hungary, according to a tracker from the Atlantic Council. Julia Mueller reports for The Hill.
Venezuela has freed seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the U.S. releasing two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Those freed include five oil executives who were lured to Venezuela in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials and amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. AP reports.
U.S. CYBER SECURITY
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) yesterday urged federal officials to increase their efforts to protect consumers from cybersecurity breaches and investigate those responsible for such hacks. “I am calling on the Federal Trade Commission, first, to ensure that companies do everything they can to protect consumer data, and on the Department of Justice to fully investigate and go after the hackers that aim to harm Americans,” Schumer told reporters. Schumer also said he wants a stricter requirement for companies to report data breaches to make as many consumers as possible aware of any possible exposure. Aaron Pellish reports for CNN.
An elite Chinese hacking group has surged its activity this year, targeting sensitive data held by companies and government agencies in the U.S. and dozens of other countries, according to analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The findings highlight the biggest cyber-espionage challenge facing the Biden administration: combating a Chinese hacking program that the FBI has called more prolific than that of all other governments in the world combined. Whilst the Justice Department has aggressively sought to expose the alleged data-stealing campaigns through indictments, China-based hackers have often developed new tools or otherwise altered their operations, analysts say. China has repeatedly denied allegations of hacking and Beijing has in recent months stepped up its own accusations that Washington has conducted cyber operations against Chinese assets. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
Brazil’s top two presidential candidates will face each other in a runoff vote after neither got enough support to win outright in yesterday’s election. With 98.8% of the votes tallied, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had 48.1% support and incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro had 43.5% support, making a second-round vote a mathematical certainty. The tightness of the result came as a surprise, since pre-election polls had given da Silva a commanding lead. The election will decide if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office. AP reports.
At least 125 people were killed and more than 300 others injured at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java on Saturday after angry Arema Football Club fans ran onto the pitch. The tragedy has raised questions over the policing of the game after the use of tear gas by police resulted in a deadly stampede. Fans and rights groups want investigators to examine why tear gas was used on fans inside a stadium, in violation of guidelines set by FIFA, the sport’s governing body. “No one should lose their lives at a football match,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia. “The police themselves have stated that the deaths occurred after police use of tear gas on the crowd resulted in a stampede at the stadium exits. This loss of life cannot go unanswered.” Indonesian security minister Mahfud MD today announced that a “joint independent fact-finding team” would investigate the role of police and military in the incident. The team will include government officials, professional football associations, observers, academics, and members of the media, he added. Heather Chen reports for CNN.
The army officer who seized power over Burkina Faso in a coup in January conceded yesterday that he too had been ousted by mutinying soldiers. Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba officially resigned yesterday after the military assured his security, according to a statement released by religious and community leaders acting as mediators. The resignation appeared to end two days of tensions in the capital, Ouagadougou, between factions loyal to Colonel Damiba and the man who has now replaced him, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré. The coup was almost unanimously condemned by regional and international organizations like the United Nations, the African Union, and the European Union. The U.S. called “on those responsible to de-escalate the situation, prevent harm to citizens and soldiers, and return to a constitutional order,” according to a statement from the State Department’s spokesperson, Ned Price. Elian Peltier reports for the New York Times.
The Australian Government is set to rescue dozens of Australian wives and children of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters from refugee camps in Syria, following a secret mission by the country’s security intelligence agency, according to media reports. The government did not immediately confirm reports that 16 women and 42 children of dead or jailed ISIS fighters who have been held in camps for three and a half years would be repatriated. “The Australian Government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and Australia’s national interests, informed by national security advice,” a spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said in emailed comments. “Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.” Reuters reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 96.39 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 618.116 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.55 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.