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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 – U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden yesterday renewed his warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that it would be an “incredibly serious mistake” to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. He also said that he was still uncertain if Russia was trying to put together a “false flag operation” in which it would detonate a dirty bomb and blame the Ukrainians. Biden’s comments made clear that he is far less concerned about a dirty bomb than about the possibility that a set of incidents could result in Russia detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon. The New York Times reports.
Progressive House Democrats yesterday retracted their call for Biden to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Russia over a Ukraine cease-fire. The call was first delivered in a letter from the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, which was followed by a clarifying statement to respond to a hail of criticism from other Democrats, and ultimately a complete retraction. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA), the chairwoman of the caucus and the letter’s principal author faulted unnamed aides for releasing the letter, which she said had been drafted several months ago “but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.” Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
Russia has notified the U.S. about its plans to carry out annual exercises of its nuclear forces, the U.S. government said yesterday. Talking to reporters, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that “in this regard, Russia is complying with its armed control obligations.” Washington believes that the decision to notify the U.S., which Russia is obliged to do under the New START Treaty, lowers the risk of miscalculation at a time of “reckless” Russian nuclear rhetoric. A transcript of Brig. Gen. Ryder’s comments is provided by the U.S. Department of Defense. Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali report for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
Russian-installed authorities in occupied Kherson are making life increasingly difficult for residents as they pressure them to leave, according to Yurii Sobolevskyi, a member of the ousted pro-Ukrainian regional council. “The occupiers are increasing the pressure on the local population of the Kherson region. Filtration measures and searches of cars and buildings have intensified, and public transport is limited,” said Sobolevskyi on Telegram yesterday. “And of course, the campaign for ‘evacuation’ continues, so that our people agree to deportation to the Russian Federation,” he added. Olga Voitovych and Jo Shelley report for CNN.
Poland is considering building “fortifications” along its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Krzysztof Sobolewski, general secretary of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), said yesterday. “We will have to strengthen our forces on this section of the border [with Kaliningrad]. Also, we will think about perhaps building additional border fortifications similar to those currently in place along the Polish-Belarusian section of the border,” Sobolewski told public-service broadcaster Polskie Radio, when asked about the possibility of Russia sending “refugees from Asia and Africa” to Poland via Kaliningrad. In September, Russian state media TASS reported that Kaliningrad was adopting an “open skies” policy, to “expand the geography of flights from the region and attract new air carriers” from the Middle East and Asia, prompting PiS politicians to revert to nationalist talking points about Moscow potentially using migrants as a tool for “hybrid warfare.” Josh Pennington and Hannah Ritchie report for CNN.
Police in Norway have arrested an academic working at the University of Tromsø in the Arctic Circle on suspicion of secretly spying for Russia, according to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. Norway’s police told NRK that the man, a researcher at the university, claims to be a Brazilian citizen but they suspect he could be using a false identity and could actually be a Russian citizen. “We have asked that a Brazilian researcher at the University of Tromsø be expelled from Norway as we believe he represents a threat to fundamental national interests,” said Hedvig Moe, the Assistant Head of the Norwegian Police Security Service. “PST (Norwegian Police Security Service) is worried that he may have acquired a network and information about Norwegian politics of the northern area. Even if this network or the information gathered bit by bit is not a threat to the security of the kingdom, we are worried that the information could be misused by Russia,” Moe added. James Frater Xiaofei Xu reports for CNN.
A Russian court yesterday upheld the nine-year prison sentence handed to American basketball star Brittney Griner for drug possession, rejecting her appeal. However, in the ruling, the court stated that the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated with her time in pre-trial detention taken into account. One day in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, so the basketball star will have to serve around eight years in prison. Griner took part in the Moscow Regional Court hearing via video call from a penal colony outside Moscow where she is imprisoned. AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to force the two top lawyers in former President Trump’s White House to provide additional testimony to a grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to reverse his election defeat. Prosecutors filed a motion to compel testimony from the two lawyers, Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, last week. They told Beryl A. Howell, a judge in Federal District Court in Washington who oversees grand jury matters, that their need for the evidence the men could provide should overcome Trump’s claims that the information is protected by attorney-client and executive privilege, people familiar with the matter said. Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel, and Philbin, who served as his deputy, initially appeared before the grand jury last month after receiving subpoenas, but declined to answer some of the questions prosecutors had about advice they gave to Trump or interactions they had with him in the chaotic post-election period, one of the people familiar with the matter said. The government’s filing asked Judge Howell to force the men to return to the grand jury and respond to at least some of the questions they had declined to answer. Katelyn Polantz, Sara Murray, and Evan Perez report for CNN.
Hunter Seefried, one of the first people to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has been sentenced to 24 months in prison for his role in the attack. Seefried watched another attacker use a police shield to shatter a Capitol window, triggering the break of the building. He then helped clear glass from the window frame, before entering the building. He was accompanied by his father, Kevin Seefried, who infamously wielded a Confederate flag inside the Capitol. He was also involved in the chase of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman through Senate halls, something which U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden said made Seefried’s “flagrant affront to our system of government” more “appalling.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The 19-year-old gunman who killed two at a St. Louis high school was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and what appeared to be more than 600 rounds of ammunition, Police Commissioner Michael Sack said yesterday. The gunman, Orlando Harris, also left behind a hand-written note offering his explanation for the shooting, which took place on Monday at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Sack read Harris’ note in which the young man lamented that he had no friends, no family, no girlfriend and a life of isolation. In the note, Harris called it the “perfect storm for a mass shooter.” Tenth-grader Alexzandria Bell and 61-year-old physical education teacher Jean Kuczka died and seven students were wounded before police killed Harris in an exchange of gunfire. AP reports.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is investigating whether a secretly recorded conversation between three City Council members and a labor leader that included racist insults and slurs was made illegally. The leaked audio, recorded last year and made public this month, prompted calls from across the nation for those involved to resign and highlighted racial tensions in Los Angeles. LAPD Chief Michael Moore told reporters yesterday that the department had “initiated a criminal investigation into an allegation of eavesdropping” related to the conversation. Chief Moore said that all four people captured on the leaked audio had approached the department on Friday to request an investigation. They told the department that they had been “unlawfully and surreptitiously recorded,” he added. Mike Ives reports for the New York Times.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito yesterday called the leak of his draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last spring a “grave betrayal” that put the lives of some of the high court’s conservative justices at risk. In his most extended and direct comments about the leak to date, Alito said it made the justices who were thought to be in the majority “targets for assassination” because it gave some people a reason to think they may be able to prevent the release of the final opinion “from happening by killing one of us.” He did not offer an update on the leak investigation, but his comments suggested the court has yet to find out who is responsible. Ariane de Vogue reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
South Korean authorities have launched an investigation after the decomposing remains of a North Korean defector were found in the capital Seoul last Wednesday. The defector was a woman in her 40s who escaped to South Korea in 2002, according to police and South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Police suspect that the woman had been dead for about a year before she was found. An official from the Unification Ministry said the case was “very sad,” adding the ministry would re-examine the crisis management system for North Korean defectors, and work on areas that needed improvement. South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare had previously warned there were “signs of a [welfare] crisis,” prompting local Seoul authorities to begin their own probe. Jessie Yeung and Yoonjung Seo report for CNN.
Delivering an opening address to Parliament yesterday, new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she has no sympathy for anti-democratic regimes, including fascism. Meloni’s ascent has attracted world attention because of her hard-line Christian cultural views and her party’s ties to earlier post-fascist movements. But in her address, Meloni made almost no mention of social issues, aside from suggesting that individual freedoms, including on abortion, would not be rolled back. Separately, she reiterated a priority that would be controversial in Italy: restructuring the nature of the presidency. The person in that position has largely a ceremonial role, except in times of crisis, and is chosen by a vote of politicians. Meloni’s party, Fratelli d’Italia, says the country’s political instability could be improved by making the president directly elected and giving that person some of the day-to-day governing duties — in a system that mirrors that of France. Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 97.279 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 628.749 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.