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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 – ATTACKS ON CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Russia is preparing a “false flag” operation to blow up a large hydroelectric dam in the south of the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned yesterday. Destroying the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in the city of Nova Kakhovka could potentially flood 80 towns, villages, and cities, including the strategically important city of Kherson. Zelenskyy said that the plot to attack the dam was aimed at framing Ukraine for the devastating humanitarian and ecological disaster that would ensue. He called for the creation of an international observation mission at the plant, saying it was imperative to prevent a potential catastrophe. Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – IRANIAN DRONES
Russian errors in operating drones purchased from Iran prompted the deployment of Iranian personnel to Crimea, a senior U.S. official said yesterday. John F. Kirby, a National Security Council official, said in a briefing that Iran had deployed drone trainers to Crimea after the Russian military had suffered “operator and system failures early on” with the drones. Kirby also warned that Russia may try to obtain other advanced weapons from Tehran. Julian E. Barnes and John Ismay report for the New York Times.
The E.U. and U.K. announced further sanctions against Iran yesterday, over Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones. In a phone call with the E.U.’s top diplomat, Iran’s foreign minister denied sending arms to either side, adding that his country “wants an end to the war and an end to the displacement of people,” according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Iran is now advising its citizens against all travel to Ukraine and calling on those already inside the country to leave. The Washington Post reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Following intense negotiations, E.U. leaders have agreed to a slate of measures aimed at bringing down energy prices. The 27 leaders began their meeting Thursday afternoon and ended in the early morning hours Friday. The negotiations centered on a set of complex measures that had to be adopted jointly because of the shared nature of the bloc’s electricity and natural gas markets. A centerpiece of the measures, and a point of contention, was a cap on natural gas prices, which have skyrocketed during the war in Ukraine. Details of the broad measures still need to be worked out. The bloc’s executive branch and policy engine, the European Commission, will put policies forward for E.U. energy ministers to review at a meeting in Brussels next week. Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports for the New York Times.
At least seven Russian citizens have been detained in Norway in recent weeks for flying drones and taking pictures near sensitive areas. One of those arrested was Russian-British dual national Andrey Yakunin, son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The younger Yakunin stands accused of flying a drone over Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, allegedly violating a rule that bars Russian citizens from flying drones in the country. Norwegian officials warned yesterday that there could be more arrests following an investigation by the domestic intelligence service. Emily Rauhala reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
A Russian fighter jet last month “released a missile” near a U.K. aircraft over the Black Sea, which Moscow blamed on a “technical malfunction,” the U.K. defense secretary said yesterday. Speaking to the House of Commons, defense secretary Ben Wallace said that on Sept. 29 a British unarmed surveillance aircraft on routine patrol in international airspace over the Black Sea was “interacted” with by two Russian armed SU-27 fighter planes for about 90 minutes. During that time, one of the Russian jets “released a missile in the vicinity” of the Royal Air Force aircraft, which completed its patrol and returned to base. Wallace said he communicated his concerns over this “potentially dangerous engagement” in a letter directly to his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and the Russian chief of defense staff in Moscow. Russia replied on Oct. 10 that they had conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the incident, and blamed the missile release on a “technical malfunction” of its SU-27 fighter. Cristina Gallardo reports for POLITICO.
There is a growing danger that Russia will open a new front in the war through its coordination with Belarus, using it to cut military supplies to Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian military official has said. “The threat of the Russian armed forces resuming the offensive on the northern front is growing,” Oleksii Hromov, a senior official in the military’s General Staff, said at a news conference in Kyiv. “This time, the direction of the offensive may be changed to the [western part] of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border to cut the main logistics arteries of supplying weapons and military equipment to Ukraine from partner countries.” Hromov said Ukraine’s defense forces were “taking measures to ensure reliable coverage of the state border of Ukraine and the city of Kyiv from the northern direction. In case the enemy decides to open the so-called second front, namely, to conduct offensive actions from the Republic of Belarus, we will be ready for an adequate response.” Tim Lister reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss announced her resignation yesterday, after six weeks in office. Truss will remain in office until the party chooses a successor, by the end of next week. The opposition Labour Party called for an immediate general election. But under British law, the Conservatives are not required to call one until January 2025. If enough Conservative lawmakers joined with the opposition, they could force an election, but with the party’s support collapsing in opinion polls, it is in their interests to delay any encounter with the voters. Truss leaves office as the shortest serving Prime Minister in British history. Mark Landler and Stephen Castle report for the New York Times.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has sparked controversy following the release of audio recordings where he can be heard boasting about his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Berlusconi says in the leaked audio that Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” on his birthday last month. He also says he had “re-established relations with President Putin” and goes on to boast that the Russian leader called him “the first of his five true friends.” His office confirmed with CNN that the clips were authentic – apparently having been secretly recorded during a meeting of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party in the parliamentary chamber on Tuesday. A party spokesperson denied Berlusconi was in touch with Putin, saying the former prime minister had been telling parliamentarians “an old story referring to an episode many years ago.” However, in the audio, Berlusconi can be heard saying Putin “was against any initiative” for war against Ukraine. Valentina Di Donato, Antonia Mortensen, Sugam Pokharel and Sharon Braithwaite report for CNN.
The U.S. has charged seven Chinese nationals over an alleged long-running plot to intimidate a U.S. resident into returning to China to face criminal charges. The case is related to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives. The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens accused of corruption, who had fled the country with large amounts of money. The U.S. Department of Justice said the Chinese government had taken such law enforcement actions on U.S. soil “in a unilateral manner without approval of, or coordination with, the U.S. government.” The Justice Department said the charges against the seven defendants included conspiring “to act in the U.S. as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China.” Two people have been arrested and detained, while the remaining five defendants are at large. If convicted of acting as agents of China, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Samantha Beech reports for CNN.
MAR -A- LAGO DOCUMENTS
Former President Trump is claiming that nine documents seized by the FBI from his Mar-a-Lago residence are his personal property, according to a letter to the special master overseeing a review of the materials. The letter, filed yesterday by the Justice Department, describes disputes over ownership and executive privilege claims involving a batch of 15 records that have undergone early review. The materials from the initial tranche that Trump maintains belong to him include six packages submitted to him when he was president supporting requests that he grant clemency to pardon-seekers; two documents related to his administration’s immigration policies; and an email addressed to him from a person at a military academy, it said. The Justice Department, in its letter, disputed the claim that any of these belong to Trump. It cited the Presidential Records Act, which says all documentary materials created or received by a president, his staff or his office in the course of official activities are government property that should go to the National Archives when a president leaves office. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
Kash Patel, a top adviser to Trump, appeared recently before the federal grand jury looking into the handling of documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Patel, who has been deeply involved in disputes over the classified records Trump kept from his presidency, spent several hours before the grand jury on Oct. 13. He is one of a handful of advisers who could have legal risk related to the Mar-a-Lago situation, according to court records and the sources, though it’s unclear if he is a target of the Justice Department probe. He has claimed in media interviews he personally witnessed Trump declassifying records before he left the presidency, and has argued he should be able to release classified information. He is also named in the affidavit that secured the Mar-a-Lago search warrant as having argued that Trump declassified records he kept from his time in the White House. It’s not clear if Patel answered the grand jury’s questions or declined to respond citing his Fifth Amendment protections. Katelyn Polantz, Zachary Cohen and Casey Gannon report for CNN.
Just Security has published a piece by Ryan Goodman titled “Trump Associate’s Stated Plan to Publicly Release “Declassified” Documents.” Drawing on six interviews given by Kash Patel, this article details Patel’s avowed plan to retrieve classified documents from the National Archives and publish them on his website.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Sen. Lindsey Graham must appear before the special grand jury that is investigating efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn Trump’s election loss in Georgia. The ruling means that Graham, at some date after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, will have to answer questions about phone calls he made to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, in the weeks after the 2020 election. The ruling does, however, put limits on the kinds of questions Graham could be asked. Lining up with a lower court decision the court ruled that the Speech and Debate Clause does shield Graham up to a point and that Graham would not have to answer any questions about his “investigatory fact-finding” efforts. However, any non-investigatory conduct covered by the subpoena, including his “alleged efforts to encourage Secretary Raffensperger or others to throw out ballots or otherwise alter Georgia’s election practices and procedures,” is not protected. The appeals court also noted that Mr. Graham, during the course of his testimony, would have the ability to raise issues about whether specific questions posed to him ran afoul of his constitutional protections. Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim report for the New York Times.
Former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon will be sentenced for contempt of Congress today, in relation to his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the Jan. 6 committee. Federal prosecutors are seeking six months in jail and a fine of $200,000. In court papers earlier this week, they said Bannon pursued “a bad faith strategy of defiance and contempt.” Bannon’s lawyers say a sentence that involves incarceration would be wrong, because he didn’t believe he was breaking the law. Rather, they say, Bannon was following advice from his previous attorney not to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee. Carrie Johnson reports for NPR.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Officials from Harris County in Texas have requested federal election monitors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. This comes after the State of Texas confirmed this week that it would send a contingent of election inspectors to the county during the November midterms. The state’s move drew criticism from some officials in Harris county, who accused the state of meddling in the county’s election. The skirmish over the inspectors, who will arrive as votes are being counted, highlights the recurring tensions between Republicans who hold power at the state level and officials in Harris County, which Democrats control. Neil Vigdor reports for the New York Times.
The Pentagon will reimburse service members who need to travel to obtain an abortion, the department announced yesterday. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo that the travel requirements of being in the military should not impact a person’s access to reproductive care. As a result, the department will provide leave and reimburse travel expenses for service members and their dependents. The memo lays out new privacy protections for service members, and also directs the Pentagon to establish protections for military providers so they won’t face criminal or civil liability from state officials, or risk losing their licenses, for performing official duties. The department will also work to develop a program to reimburse applicable fees for Pentagon healthcare providers who wish to become licensed in a different state to prevent that from happening. Nathaniel Weixel reports for The Hill.
The Pentagon has decided that an overhaul aimed at reducing risks to civilians will not include reinvestigating past incidents, according to a department spokesperson. The plan also will not involve reopening past cases in which civilian casualties were confirmed but the department did not make amends to the victims’ families, Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago-Santini said. The agency will, however, continue its policy of reviewing cases if new evidence emerges, he added. Outside groups focused on preventing civilian casualties said they were disappointed with the decision. The groups have long urged the Pentagon to provide better accounting of the incidents, many of which they say were improperly adjudicated or summarily dismissed. The groups have pressed the defense department to reopen previous cases as part of the overhaul, in part to learn lessons from past mistakes. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
COVID-19 has infected over 97.150 million people and has now killed over 1.07 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 626.980 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.58 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.