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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
A top Biden administration official has affirmed that there is no evidence that Ukraine is misusing U.S. aid. Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, highlighted Ukraine’s progress in rooting out corruption but added that U.S. officials continue to monitor how the funds are being used. Jared Gans reports for The Hill.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directly confronted senior Russian officials during a meeting of finance ministers of the Group of 20 (G20) earlier today. “I urge the Russian officials here at the G20 to understand that their continued work for the Kremlin makes them complicit in Putin’s atrocities,” Yellen said in a private session, according to remarks that were shared by a Treasury Department official. “They bear responsibility for the lives and livelihoods being taken in Ukraine and the harm caused globally,” she added. Alan Rappeport reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. has today announced new sanctions against Russia and its allies, as well as new export controls and tariffs aimed at undermining Moscow’s ability to wage war. Washington also said it would provide $2 billion in weaponry for Kyiv, which does not include F-16 fighter jets that Ukraine has requested. The announcement comes on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Steve Holland, Phil Stewart and Idress Ali report for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a position paper calling for an end to fighting in Ukraine while avoiding demands or words like “invasion” that could damage its relationship with Russia. The position statement, released earlier today, states that the “sovereignty, independent and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” It does not explain how Beijing believes that principle should apply to Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory, or to Ukraine’s demand that Russian forces leave. Chris Buckley reports for the New York Times.
The U.N. General Assembly yesterday adopted a resolution calling for lasting peace in Ukraine and reiterating its demand for Russia to withdraw its troops from the country. The nonbinding resolution passed 141 to 7 with 32 abstentions. Among the countries that abstained were Russia’s allies China, Iran, and India. Belarus, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Mali and Syria sided with Russia in voting no to the resolution. Two amendments offered by Belarus to alter the resolution in favor of Russia were rejected. Farnaz Fassihi reports for the New York Times.
Russian allegations that Ukrainian saboteurs would invade the breakaway region of Transnistria dressed as Russian soldiers are false and a “psychological operation,” Moldovan secretary of state Valeriu Mija said. Moldova, which is heavily reliant on Russian and Ukrainian energy infrastructure, has warned of Russia seizing power. Moldovan President Maia Sandu expressed mounting fears that saboteurs in the “service of Russia” will target the Moldovan leadership. Paul Kirby reports for BBC.
The Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group has taken complete control of the Ukrainian village of Berkhivka, on the outskirts of Bakhmut, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said earlier today. This claimed Wagner victory comes amid growing tensions between the group and the Russian military command. Prigozhin, who has become increasingly present in the Russian media, has previously accused members of the Russian command of “treason.” Reuters reports.
Nigerians will head to the polls tomorrow in what is set to be a historic presidential election. The race is the most transparent and the most closely contested since democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, with a third-party candidate running neck-and-neck in the polls with the candidates from Nigeria’s two main political parties. The election comes as the country faces significant challenges related to poverty, youth unemployment, and security. Rachel Chason and Adela Suliman report for the Washington Post.
A senatorial candidate for Nigeria’s opposition Labor Party was shot and burned in his campaign vehicle late Wednesday, local police said Thursday. The murder of the politician, Oyibo Chukwu, was one of multiple attacks targeted at members of other political parties late Wednesday, a police statement said, adding that investigations were ongoing. Nimi Princewill reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
North Korea test-fired four strategic cruise missiles in a demonstration of its nuclear capability yesterday. The missiles traveled 1,243 miles in figures of eight until hitting a preset target. Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith report for Reuters.
The head of the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group is working with rebels in Chad to destabilize the government. This is according to U.S. intelligence which has been shared with authorities in the central African country. The plot may also include plans to assassinate Chadian Transition President Mahamat Idress Déby, a key counterterrorism ally of the West, a senior U.S. official said. Benoit Faucon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The European Commission has banned staffers from using the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on their work devices due to security concerns. The decision by the executive arm of the E.U. follows a similar move in the U.S. and comes amid growing Western fears about Chinese technology, and the potential for Beijing to access user data or conduct influence operations. Emily Rauhala and Beatriz Ríos report for the Washington Post.
Israel’s powerful tech industry opposes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary. Tech executives and employees have joined tens of thousands of Israelis protesting legislation that would allow a simple parliamentary majority to override Israel’s Supreme Court, limit its jurisdiction, and give ruling coalitions the power to appoint judges. The sector is concerned that the measures will lead to a rollback of civil rights and an unchecked rightward political turn that will scare away investment and talent. Dov Lieber reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Oman yesterday opened its airspace to Israeli planes. The decision to end the ban indicates a further thawing of ties between Israel and Arab nations and marks another advance in Israel’s U.S.-backed efforts to end decades of regional isolation. Dion Nissenbaum reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. has transferred two brothers detained in Guantanamo Bay to Pakistan, the Defense Department announced yesterday. The brothers, who were detained for operating safe houses used by al Qaeda members but were never charged with a crime, were repatriated to Pakistan after it was determined that their detention was no longer necessary to protect against a “continuing, significant threat” to the U.S.. The release forms part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to close the prison facility. Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
India and South Africa are on a long-term course that is moving away from Russia according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken conceded that this realignment would take time given the historical ties the two countries have with Russia. India, whose military has relied on Soviet-era equipment, is now looking to modernize, which presents an opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to deepen ties. For example, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to pursue a $5.2 billion submarine deal during his visit to India this weekend. Kanishka Singh and Simon Lewis report for Reuters.
The U.S. is set to increase the number of its troops training Taiwanese forces on the self-governing island, U.S. officials have said. The U.S. plans to deploy between 100 and 200 troops to the island in the coming months, up from roughly 30 stationed there a year ago. The planned increase, which would be the largest deployment of forces in decades by the U.S. on Taiwan, comes as the two countries draw closer to counter China’s growing military power. Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
China’s foreign ministry has accused the U.S. of refusing to reply to a Chinese request for information on the balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month. Speaking in relation to the U.S. investigation into the Chinese balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the U.S. had “completely acted on its own and in a surreptitious manner.” China demanded the U.S. notify them on the progress of the investigation by the U.S. “refused to respond,” he added. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND 2020 ELECTION PROBES
A U.S. District Court judge has rejected a bid by POLITICO and the New York Times to obtain details of former President Trump’s efforts to block former White House aides from testifying before a federal grand jury investigating efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election. Chief Judge Beryl Howell in her opinion listed many precedents outlining how transparency is vital for the legitimacy of the judicial system. However, Howell was ultimately bound by a controversial 2019 federal appeals court decision limiting judges’ authority to disclose grand jury matters. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
A federal appeals court will decide whether Justice Department investigators probing the Jan. 6 attack were legally allowed to seize Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-PA) cellphone last year and whether they are allowed to access its contents. The Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal yesterday heard oral arguments from attorneys representing Perry and special counsel Jack Smith’s office. The arguments centered on whether the Speech or Debate Clause protects Perry for certain investigative steps. The panel pushed prosecutors to clarify their interpretation of the law before holding a sealed hearing about the matter. Robert Legare reports for CBS News.
The Jan. 6 attack tapes “belong to the American public,” said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, defending his decision to share the footage with Fox host Tucker Carlson. Carlson, who has previously defended those involved in the Jan. 6 attack, is one of a number of journalists and activists who argue the release of the footage is in the public interest. Democrats, however, have expressed concerns that the sharing of around 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage with Fox News is an “egregious security breach.” Mike Wendling reports for BBC.
The conservative non-profit American Accountability Foundation is attempting to have former Jan. 6 committee staffers blacklisted. In a memo released on Wednesday, the group’s president and founder urged “Hill staffers and colleagues” to cancel meetings with former Jan. 6 committee staffers who have since joined lobby firms. Hailey Fuchs and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
A Texas judge yesterday dismissed a petition alleging that former President Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell violated legal ethics rules with her work on Trump’s 2020 election reversal efforts. The petition, brought by the State Bar of Texas’ Commission for Lawyer Discipline, failed to prove that Powell had run afoul of Texas’ attorney code of conduct. The disciplinary commission has not indicated whether it will appeal. Tierney Sneed reports for CNN.
The Pentagon is investigating how a trove of internal U.S. Special Operations Command emails was exposed publicly online and leaked unclassified data for nearly two weeks without the military’s knowledge. The investigation follows an independent cybersecurity researcher’s discovery of three terabytes of Department of Defense unclassified emails sitting on the public internet. The Pentagon is looking into the root cause of the incident and “why this problem was not detected sooner,” Pentagon spokesperson Jessica McNulty said yesterday. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
Former President Trump is to be questioned in lawsuits brought by two former FBI agents against the Justice Department and FBI following an order by U.S. District Judge on Thursday. FBI Director Christopher Wray will also submit to questioning by lawyers representing the two former officials who allege they were the targets of an improper political pressure campaign by the Trump administration. The two former agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, were among a group of FBI employees who exchanged text messages critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Andrew Goudsward reports for Reuters.
Justice Department investigators are examining how a box containing classified records ended up at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence late last year, well after several rounds of searches of the property by federal agents. People familiar with the Trump legal team’s efforts to locate the documents describe a confusing chain of events that delayed the discovery of the box, including having its contents uploaded to the cloud, emailed to a Trump employee, and moved to an offsite location before ending up back at Mar-a-Lago. According to one person familiar with the matter, this haphazard handling of documents forms a core part of investigators’ inquiries. Katelyn Polantz, Paula Reid and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
The suspect in the mass shooting that killed 5 people and injured 17 at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub can be tried for hate crimes, a judge ruled yesterday. Anderson Lee Aldrich, who identifies as non-binary, faces more than 300 charges in relation to the November shooting. Their arraignment hearing is scheduled for Mar. 30. Kelley Manley and Jesus Jiménez report for the New York Times.
House Republicans yesterday failed to pass a bill that would have allowed Homeland Security to turn away migrants at the border if it was deemed necessary to maintain “operational control.” The bill failed due to concerns by moderate and Hispanic Republicans who fear it would hinder legitimate asylum claims. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is confident new legislation can be brought given the broad agreement within the Republican Party that the high level of immigration must be addressed. Melanie Zanona and Annie Grayer report for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 103.124 million people and has now killed over 1.12 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 674.186 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.86 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.