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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 – “DIRTY BOMB” ALLEGATIONS
A U.S. State Department spokesperson yesterday suggested that Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian government plans to detonate a so-called “dirty bomb” could be a pretext for Russia using such a weapon. “We have seen a pattern in this conflict, in this war, in the lead-up to this war, where the Russians have engaged in mirror imaging,” said the spokesperson, Ned Price. “The Russians have accused the Ukrainians, the Russians have accused other countries, of what it itself was planning. That is our concern.” However, Price also said that the U.S. had seen no changes regarding Russia’s nuclear arsenal. “We’ve not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons,” Price said. “But we’ve heard these very concerning statements and we wanted to send a very clear signal.” David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt and Edward Wong report for the New York Times.
Russia is expected to bring its allegation that Ukraine is preparing to use a “dirty bomb” to the U.N. Security Council today. Moscow sent a letter detailing its allegations about Kyiv to the U.N. late yesterday, and diplomats said Russia planned to raise the issue at a closed meeting with the Security Council. “We will regard the use of the dirty bomb by the Kyiv regime as an act of nuclear terrorism,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council in the letter. Michelle Nichol and Pavel Polityuk report for Reuters.
The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog says its inspectors have regularly visited two sites in Ukraine at the centre of Russian claims that Kyiv is preparing a “dirty bomb.” Inspectors would return in the coming days following a Ukrainian request, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi said in a statement. “The IAEA inspected one of these locations one month ago and all our findings were consistent with Ukraine’s safeguards declarations,” Grossi added. “No undeclared nuclear activities or material were found there.” BBC News reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. is considering sending older HAWK air defense equipment from storage to Ukraine to help it defend against Russian drone and cruise missile attacks, two U.S. officials have said. The HAWK interceptor missiles would be an upgrade to the Stinger missile systems – a smaller, shorter-range air defense system – that the U.S. has already sent to blunt Russia’s invasion. The Biden administration would use the Presidential Drawdown Authority to transfer the HAWK equipment which is based on Vietnam-era technology but has been upgraded several times. Mike Stone reports for Reuters.
A group of House progressives yesterday urged President Biden to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Russia in an effort to “seek a realistic framework for a cease-fire.” In a letter led by Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA), the chair of the Progressive Caucus, 30 House Democrats called on the Biden administration to “pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.”“We agree with the administration’s perspective that it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions,” the lawmakers wrote, adding: “But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict, we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia.” Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russian-installed officials in Kherson are forming territorial defense units to defend the illegally occupied city against recapture by Ukrainian forces. The units were announced yesterday by Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, who hailed the success of the city’s defense in a video address. In the address, he sat in front of a map dated March 18, which showed the extent of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine before it was driven out of the country’s north. “Everything is under control,” Stremousov said, adding that Russia would soon recapture territory it had lost. “Whoever doesn’t like our map, get used to it,” he said. Matthew Luxmoore reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. will today host an event exploring aspects of the creation of a Special Tribunal on the Crime of Aggression on the recommendation of the U.N. General Assembly. The event will take place in the margins of International Law Week, and includes speakers such as Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who is set to offer closing remarks. The event can be streamed on UN Web TV.
Just Security has published an article by Ambassador David Scheffer titled “Forging a Cooperative Relationship Between the International Criminal Court and a Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression Committed Against Ukraine.”
A court near Moscow is expected to rule on the appeal of American basketball star Brittney Griner today. Griner was previously sentenced to nine years in prison for trying to smuggle a small amount of hashish oil into Russia. Since she was sentenced in August, her lawyers have argued that the nine-year prison term – near the 10-year maximum for such a conviction – was too harsh for a first-time offense and was politically motivated. The court today can either leave the verdict as it is, reduce the jail term, or overrule it and send it back to the lower court. If the appeals court does not overrule the verdict, it will come into force and Griner will be sent to a penal colony. Ivan Nechepurenko reports for the New York Times.
Two Chinese nationals have been charged with paying thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry to obstruct a federal investigation into a major telecommunications company. According to charging documents, the two individuals attempted to cultivate a relationship with a U.S. law enforcement official and sought details of the investigation, including witnesses, evidence, and potential criminal charges. They also asked the official to secretly record trial strategy meetings. While the company was not named in the documents or by Attorney General Merrick Garland at a news conference yesterday, sources familiar with the investigation have reported it to be China-headquartered tech giant Huawei. “This was an egregious attempt by PRC [People’s Republic of China] intelligence officers to shield a PRC based company from accountability and to undermine the integrity of our judicial system,” Garland said. Bernd Debusmann Jr reports for BBC News.
A former U.S. military pilot and flight instructor who worked in China has been arrested in Australia and faces extradition to the U.S. Australian Federal Police arrested Daniel Edmund Duggan, 54, on Friday and he appeared in court the same day, court records show and two police sources and his lawyer confirmed. Duggan is a former U.S. citizen and the federal police were acting on a U.S. request for his arrest ahead of likely formal extradition proceedings, said one of the police sources. Details of the U.S. arrest warrant and the charges he faces are sealed. However, the arrest came the same week Britain warned dozens of former military pilots to stop working in China or face prosecution on national security grounds under new laws. Kirsty Needham reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Rishi Sunak has officially become the U.K.’s Prime Minister after meeting with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. He is the country’s fifth Prime Minister in six years and its third in seven weeks. He is also the first person of color, the first British-Asian, and the first Hindu to lead the U.K. He enters Downing Street at a moment of crisis for his party and the country, after Liz Truss’s shambolic 50-day tenure plunged Britain into even deeper economic turmoil. CNN reports.
Iranian authorities have announced charges against hundreds of people in connection with the recent protests that have swept the country. Judicial officials said that 516 people who had a main role in the protests would be brought to trial starting this week, including 315 in Tehran and 201 in a nearby province, according to official Iranian news agencies. Four defendants are charged with “war against God,” an offense that carries the death penalty. This is the first major legal action by authorities to suppress the unrest. “These individuals will be punished and this punishment will be a disincentive,” Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, was quoted as saying at a meeting of the country’s judicial council. David S. Cloud reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Five Palestinians, reportedly all gunmen, have been killed in a major Israeli raid against a militant group in the occupied West Bank. A sixth Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops who were attacked with stones in a protest against the raid, Palestinian medical sources say. The operation in the northern city of Nablus targeted the recently formed Lion’s Den group. The group was formed following near-daily arrest raids by Israeli forces targeting militants, concentrated in the northern West Bank. It is believed to number a few dozen members and has carried out attacks and attempted attacks around the Nablus area and as far afield as Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli military. Raffi Berg reports for BBC News.
Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in military airstrikes at a celebratory event in Myanmar’s Kachin state. Victims had been attending an event organized by the Kachin Independence Army to mark the 62nd anniversary of the armed ethnic rebel group’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), KIO General Secretary La Nan said. “We understand the intention of [the airstrikes] was largely to inflict chaos and massive pain to the public, in a large volume and with as much damage as they could inflict,” La Nan said. The military junta, which overthrew the government in a bloody coup last February, claimed yesterday that reports of civilian deaths from the airstrikes were “fake news.” The ambassadors of Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the strike. Sandi Sidhu, Jessie Yeung, Eyad Kourdi and Salai TZ report for CNN.
Following Brazil’s recent election, in which support for far-right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro was significantly underestimated, some of Brazil’s leaders want to make it a crime to incorrectly forecast an election. Brazil’s House of Representatives has fast-tracked a bill that would criminalize publishing a poll that is later shown to fall outside its margin of error. The House, which is controlled by Bolsonaro’s allies, is expected to vote on and pass the measure in the coming days. Whilst its prospects in the Senate, where opponents of Bolsonaro are in the majority, are less certain, the proposal forms part of a broader narrative, pushed by Brazil’s far-right, that the political establishment and the left are trying to rig the election. André Spigariol and Jack Nicas report for the New York Times.
Federal prosecutors investigating the handling of documents seized from former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are putting increased pressure on key witnesses to testify, according to two people familiar with the matter. Those under pressure to testify include Walt Nauta, a little-known figure who worked in the White House as a military valet and cook when Trump was president and later at Mar-a-Lago, and Kash Patel, a longtime aide and ally to Trump, who earlier this month refused to answer many questions before a grand jury hearing evidence about Trump’s handling of documents. The efforts to gain the testimony of Nauta and Patel demonstrate how department officials will have to make decisions in the coming weeks and months about whether to charge the witnesses, offer them cooperation agreements, grant them immunity or give up on trying to obtain their testimony, according to the people briefed on the matter. Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
Trump has withdrawn his claim that some of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago were protected by attorney-client and legal-work-product privilege. Trump has dropped the claim in relation to nine documents, according to a court filing yesterday from the Justice Department. Those records include several dozen pages titled “The President’s Calls” and contents of folders with labels that appear related to correspondence with the National Archives and Records Administration, according to sealed logs that were briefly made available on the public docket. The former president and the Justice Department are still fighting over whether some of the documents should be kept out of investigators’ hands for other reasons, including executive privilege or under the federal Presidential Records Act. It is also possible that additional attorney-client or legal-work-product claims could be raised, as Trump’s lawyers go through the remaining seized material – totaling more than 21,700 pages – to identify any documents that they believe the government isn’t legally entitled to use. Zoe Tillman reports for Bloomberg News.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
At least three people, including the suspect, have died after a shooting at a high school in St Louis, MO. Four teenagers also sustained non-fatal gunshot injuries or graze wounds and were in stable condition, St. Louis Interim Police Commissioner Michael Sack said at a news conference yesterday evening. The commissioner identified the suspected gunman as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, a graduate of the high school with no criminal record. Detectives were still trying to determine a motive, he said, adding, “There’s suspicions that there may be some mental illness that he was experiencing.” Scott Calvert reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Thomas Barrack, a close ally of former President Trump who stands accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), testified at his own trial yesterday. Barrack, who has pleaded not guilty, testified that his association with Trump proved disastrous for his investment business and that Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals while campaigning for presidency alarmed leaders in the Middle East and institutional shareholders in his publicly traded company. Federal prosecutors allege he provided nonpublic information about foreign policy positions and decisions of the Trump campaign to U.A.E. officials. At the same time, Mr. Barrack solicited and received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from U.A.E. sovereign funds, prosecutors said. Barrack said he didn’t do the bidding of U.A.E. officials and was acting on his own business and political interests. James Fanelli reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 97.198 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 627.631 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.