RUSSIA, UKRAINE – KERCH BRIDGE EXPLOSION
Russia’s domestic intelligence service has announced the arrest of eight people in connection with the bombing of the Kerch Bridge which linked Russia to Crimea. Five are citizens of Russia, according to the agency, the F.S.B., and the others are Ukrainian and Armenian. In a statement, the F.S.B said that Ukraine’s military intelligence service, the G.U.R., had masterminded the blast, saying that the agency’s commander, Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, bore personal responsibility. A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ukraine’s intelligence services had carried it out, and other senior officials have not denied Ukraine’s role. Michael Schwirtz and John Ismay report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Wednesday, a Turkish official has said. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday that potential talks between Russia and the West might be discussed during the meeting, which will take place on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. During a televised interview yesterday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for a ceasefire “as soon as possible.” Wilhelmine Preussen reports for POLITICO.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán yesterday called for direct talks between the U.S. and Russia, saying that only former president Trump could end the war in Ukraine. Speaking at a panel discussion in Berlin, Orbán said President Biden had gone “too far” in calling Putin a war criminal and saying in March that he “cannot remain in power.” “That would make it very hard for [Biden] to make peace,” Orbán said. “This is going to sound brutal, but hope for peace goes by the name of Donald Trump.” Guy Chazan and Marton Dunal report for the Financial Times.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday asked the Group of Seven nations to help Ukraine establish an “air shield” against aerial attacks. Zelenskyy’s plea comes amid one of the fiercest bombing campaigns that Russia has waged against Ukraine since invading in late February. Zelenskyy also reiterated his demand for Russia to be declared a terrorist state and for further sanctions. “We must block its energy sector with sanctions, break the stability of Russian revenues from oil and gas trade. A tough price cap is needed for the exports of oil and gas from Russia – zero profit for the terrorist state,” he said. Joshua Berlinger and Tim Lister report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – NATO RESPONSE
Sending air defense systems to Ukraine will be top of the agenda at the gathering of NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week, the U.S. ambassador to the alliance said yesterday. “We are now shifting again to air defense,” Ambassador Julianne Smith said in a briefing organized by her office, noting that in previous phases, NATO’s response centered on what Ukraine needed at specific moments of the war, namely munitions and coastal defense. Air defenses will form the “crux of the conversation tomorrow,” the first of two days of meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The events will include a meeting of the NATO defense ministers, as well as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a gathering of military leaders headed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Lara Seligman and Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.
NATO countries are struggling to identify and secure enough air defense systems to meet Ukraine’s demands for more equipment, western officials have said. Whilst officials agree on the need for more air defense systems, sourcing them quickly is challenging. The U.S. and other powers are working to locate systems that could be moved, two senior western officials said, in the face of production shortages in the west and stretched inventories.“Countries have already provided some, but there is a shortage of production capacity,” said one of the officials, adding that some NATO members were facing years of delays for their own air defense platforms. Henry Foy and Felicia Schwartz report for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden told CNN yesterday that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “rational actor” who nonetheless badly misjudged his ability to invade Ukraine and suppress its people. Biden said in the interview that threats emanating from Russia could result in catastrophic “mistakes” and “miscalculation,” even as he declined to spell out how precisely the U.S. would respond if Putin deploys a tactical nuclear device on the battlefield in Ukraine. He also said that he had no plans to meet with Putin at next month’s Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, and warned of consequences for Saudi Arabia after it partnered with Moscow to announce a cut in oil production. Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
The Biden administration is working to deliver the first two of eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) that Washington promised to Ukraine last month. This is according to John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, who told reporters that the systems would provide short- to medium-range coverage over anywhere from 30 to 50 kilometers. “We are certainly interested in expediting the delivery of NASAMS,” Kirby said. “We think we’re on track to get those first two over there in the very near future.” The U.S. has used NASAMS to help protect the White House and other parts of the Washington area since 2005. Eric Schmitt, Katie Rogers and Michael Schwirtz report for the New York Times.
The U.S. is seeking the extradition of British businessman Graham Bonham-Carter, charged with conspiring to breach sanctions imposed by Washington on a Russian oligarch. According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bonham-Carter was arrested in the U.K. yesterday after being accused of making payments for U.S. properties purchased by Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs, and expatriating his artwork from New York City to London. His arrest followed an investigation carried out with “substantial assistance” from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency. He faces three charges each of which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. Cristina Gallardo reports for POLITICO.
U.S RELATIONS – SAUDI ARABIA
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA) introduced a bill yesterday that would suspend all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia for one year. Blumenthal and Khanna proposed the legislation in response to the decision by an enhanced configuration of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C. Plus) to cut oil production. If passed, the legislation would prohibit the exportation of munitions containers, weapon support, support equipment, spare and repair parts, technical and logistical support services, and related “elements of logistical and program support.” Jared Gans reports for The Hill.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has said that suspending U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia for a year could benefit both Russia and China. “You will see Saudi Arabia turn more and more to Russia and China. And how does that play out in terms of meeting our interests?” Smith told CNN’s “At This House” host, Kate Bolduan. “So it’s a lot more complicated than just saying, you know, we don’t like Saudi Arabia, and therefore we’re cutting it off.” Smith also said that the U.S. needs to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia with regard to issues such as human rights violations. Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S RELATIONS
The Biden administration is considering a humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans fleeing political instability and poverty, according to administration officials familiar with the proposal. If implemented, the program for Venezuelans would be similar to a humanitarian program offered to Ukrainians, which allows a family member or sponsor in the United States to apply on behalf of the refugee and commit to providing them with financial assistance while they’re in the country. It is hoped that the program will discourage Venezuelans from crossing the southwestern border illegally. Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno Youngs report for the New York Times.
The U.S. has put a visa restriction policy in place for members of the Taliban over the repression of women and girls in Afghanistan, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In a statement, Blinken said that despite previous assurances that the Taliban would respect the human rights of all Afghans, they have “issued and enforced a series of policies or edicts that effectively bar women and girls in Afghanistan from full participation in public life, including access to secondary education and work in most industries.” The visa restriction policy will apply to current and former Taliban members, members of non-state security groups, and other individuals believed to be involved in repressing women and girls in Afghanistan through restrictive policies and violence. Immediate family members of those sanctioned may also have their visas restricted, the State Department added. Sarakshi Rai reports for The Hill.
The Justice Department yesterday urged the Supreme Court to reject former President Trump’s request that it intervene in the dispute over classified documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in August. Calling the records “extraordinarily sensitive,” the Justice Department said the Supreme Court should let stand a federal appeals court order that blocked the special master’s access to those records while legal challenges play out. “As this Court has emphasized, courts should be cautious before ‘insisting upon an examination’ of records whose disclosure would jeopardize national security ‘even by the judge alone, in chambers,’” the Justice Department wrote in its filing, citing a past case. The Justice Department’s primary argument is that the appeals court was correct and that the Trump legal team was wrong to argue the Supreme Court should consider the issue. The full court could act on the matter within days. It would take five justices to agree to grant Trump’s request. Ariane de Vogue and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has asked an appeals court to reverse a ruling requiring him to testify before a special grand jury investigating efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. In his appeal, the Republican senator requested an oral argument to make the case that he should not be forced to appear as a witness in the Georgia investigation, even with the questions limited in scope, according to a court filing from Graham’s lawyers. Graham has argued that his role as a U.S. senator offers him considerable protection from being forced to testify. His attorneys cited the Constitution’s “Speech Or Debate Clause,” as well as “Sovereign Immunity,” and the “High-Ranking-Official Doctrine.” “All three roads independently lead to quashal,” Graham’s attorneys wrote. Sara Murray and Jason Morris report for CNN.
The Secret Service has handed the Jan. 6 committee more than 1 million electronic communications sent by agents in the lead-up to and during the Jan. 6 attack. While the communications do not include text messages, most of which were wiped as part of a pre-planned phone upgrade, they do include emails and other electronic messages, according to a Secret Service spokesperson. The communications may shed light on lingering questions, including contact agents may have had with individuals involved in the attack, their efforts to protect then-Vice President Mike Pence, and what occurred inside then-President Trump’s car when Trump allegedly ordered Secret Service agents to take him to the Capitol. Julia Ainsley reports for NBC News.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear an appeal from a Black death row inmate in Texas who was convicted by an all-white jury that included jurors who had expressed opposition to interracial marriage. As is its custom, the court gave no reasons for turning down the appeal. The court’s three liberal members dissented, saying that the jurors’ racial prejudice deprived the inmate, Andre Lee Thomas, of a fair trial. Thomas was convicted of murdering his wife, who was white, their son, and his wife’s daughter from an earlier relationship. Adam Liptak reports for the New York Times.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers made their closing arguments yesterday in the trial of Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, FL. Cruz pleaded guilty last year to 17 murders, as well as 17 attempted murders of people he injured in the shooting but who survived. The jury will now decide whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death. Patricia Mazzei reports for the New York Times.
A court in Myanmar has sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s deposed former leader, to three additional years in jail for corruption, extending her total prison term to 26 years. Wednesday’s verdict is the latest in a string of punishments meted out against the 77-year-old, a figurehead of opposition to decades of military rule who led Myanmar for five years before being forced from power in a coup in early 2021. Suu Kyi was found guilty of receiving $500,000 in bribes from a local tycoon, a charge she denied, according to the source. She is currently being held in solitary confinement at a prison in the capital Naypyidaw. Rhea Mogul and Jake Kwon report for CNN.
South Korea is capable of detecting and intercepting the variety of missiles recently launched by North Korea, the South Korean Defense Ministry said yesterday. However, despite this, North Korea’s advancing nuclear program continues to pose a grave security threat, Moon Hong Sik, acting spokesperson at the ministry, said. Moon said South Korea is still pushing to introduce spy satellites, various surveillance drones and additional sea-based reconnaissance assets to better monitor North Korea. Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung report for AP.
COVID-19 has infected over 96.772 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 622.744 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.56 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.