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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
Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Friday to join President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the “United for Justice Conference.” Garland held several meetings and reaffirmed the U.S.’s determination to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed in its invasion of Ukraine. Hannah Rabinowitz reports for CNN.
Two Ukrainian pilots are undergoing flight skills assessments in the U.S., according to people familiar with the program, despite administration officials saying there are no current plans to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. The program, which monitors how the pilots conduct their mission planning and execution in flight simulators, aims to evaluate how long Ukrainian pilots will take to learn to fly modern fighter jets, including F-16s. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
The U.S. will work in “lock step” with Germany to support Ukraine, President Biden announced on Friday following a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. During the meeting, the two leaders discussed their “commitment to impose costs on Russia for its aggression for as long as necessary.” Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The paramilitary organization, the Wagner group, pushed its forces toward central Bakhmut yesterday as remaining Ukrainian defenders retreated west of the Bakhmutka river. Ukrainian forces battled to retain control over the two remaining supply routes into Bakhmut, with heavy artillery exchanges ringing across the frontline. Wagner’s seemingly disposable penal battalions have emerged as a unique threat to Ukrainian troops and have managed to make progress in the region where Russia’s military has stalled. Yaroslav Trofimov reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Wagner group may lose its ground in Bakhmut if Russia’s military fails to resupply the organization with ammunition, the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has said. In a post yesterday, Prigozhin said an agreement was reached with the military on Feb. 22, with ammunition expected to be sent to Bakhmut the next day. The Russian military chiefs’ unfulfilled promise to resupply the organization with ammunition is the latest sign of rising tensions between the Kremlin and the Wagner group. The BBC reports.
At least one person was wounded in the southern Russian region of Belgorod today after Russian forces shot down three missiles. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region’s governor, did not say who had fired the missiles. Ukraine rarely publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia. Reuters reports.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Belarusian court on Friday. The Nobel Committee called on Belarus to free Bialiatski, whose detention on charges of financial crimes is widely viewed as politically motivated. The sentence is part of an ongoing and brutal crackdown on dissent that began in response to pro-democracy protests in 2020. Francesca Ebel reports for the Washington Post.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the onus for ending the war in Ukraine remains on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The comments, aired in an interview yesterday, come as Scholz reiterates his support for Ukraine, “there will be no decisions without the Ukrainians.” He added that Putin had misjudged “the strength of Ukraine” and the “unity” of “all the friends of Ukraine.” David Cohen reports for POLITICO.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
China will increase military spending by more than 7% this year, citing “escalating” threats. Beijing’s stated military budget currently stands at around $225 billion and has risen by about 10% yearly for the last decade. The National People’s Congress, which convened over the weekend, also announced a reduced economic growth target of about 5% this year, its lowest target for over three decades. George Wright reports for the BBC.
Taiwan should be on alert this year for a “sudden entry” by the Chinese military into areas close to its territory, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng warned today. China is “making such preparations,” Chiu said. China has recently stepped up its military activities around Taiwan, including almost daily air force incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone. Reuters reports.
South Korea does not need nuclear weapons to deter the threat from North Korea, according to Prime Minister Han Duck-soo yesterday. This assertion contrasts with recent opinion polls showing public support for South Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. Han insisted South Korea’s existing capabilities were sufficient to counter North Korea’s “preposterous ambitions.” Jessie Yeung and Richard Quest report for CNN.
South Korean companies will compensate people forced to work under Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin announced today. The agreement aims to end a dispute that has hampered U.S. efforts to show a united front against North Korea and China. President Biden said the announcements were “a groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies.” Josh Smith, Soo-Hyang Choi, and Sakura Murakami report for Reuters.
A massive fire yesterday razed parts of the world’s largest refugee camp, leaving 12,000 people without shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. There are no reports of casualties. However, with 2,000 shelters destroyed, it will be challenging to rehouse residents of this “mega camp,” said Hardin Lang from Refugees International. Joel Guinto and Marita Moloney report for the BBC.
A suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle into a police truck in southwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing nine police officers. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Reuters reports.
Thousands of Afghan women who secured divorces without their husband’s consent now face potential imprisonment and violent reprisals under the Taliban’s draconian interpretation of Islamic law. “One-sided” divorces under the previous government were granted to women attempting to escape abusive husbands. However, since the Taliban took over in 2021, power has shifted in favor of divorced husbands, especially those with Taliban ties. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
A legally-binding “high seas treaty” to protect marine life in international waters was agreed by nearly 200 countries on Saturday at the U.N. headquarters in New York. The treaty provides legal tools to establish and manage marine protected areas, aiming to protect 30% of global oceans by 2030. The treaty also covers environmental assessments to evaluate the potential damage of commercial activities and how to share ocean resources equitably. Laura Paddison reports for CNN.
Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the U.S. mission in northeastern Syria on Saturday to show confidence in American operations against the self-styled Islamic State militant group. More than 900 American troops in northeast Syria engage in counter-terrorism operations and train and advise the Syrian Democratic Forces. Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. has eased sanctions on the Syrian regime for six months to facilitate humanitarian aid after the deadly earthquake that struck Syria last month. Opponents of the decision warn that the easing of sanctions could precipitate the Syrian government’s reintegration into the international community after years of human rights violations. Whilst the State Department has said the Treasury Department has tools to prevent abuse of the sanctions relief, it has not explained what these are. Raja Abdulrahim reports for the New York Times.
U.S. national security and Pentagon officials are concerned that Chinese-made cranes operating at American ports, including several used by the military, could be a Chinese spying tool. The cranes contain sensor technology that can register and track the destination of containers. This technology has led to concerns that China could capture information about the material being shipped to support U.S. military operations worldwide. In 2021, FBI agents searched a cargo ship delivering these cranes to a Baltimore port and found intelligence-gathering equipment on board. Aruna Viswanatha, Gordon Lubold, and Kate O’Keeffe report for the Wall Street Journal.
Four U.S. citizens were assaulted and kidnapped after crossing the border into the city of Matamoros in northern Mexico on Friday, according to the FBI. The FBI is working with federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies to investigate the kidnapping. Matamoros is in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, for which the State Department has issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory due to crime and kidnapping. Polo Sandoval and Rebekah Riess report for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Hundreds of activists breached the site of a proposed police and fire training center in Atlanta’s outskirts yesterday, burning police and construction vehicles and setting off fireworks toward officers stationed nearby. The Atlanta Police Department said 35 people had been detained, adding that agitators also threw large rocks, bricks, and Molotov cocktails. The destruction occurred on the second day of what is supposed to be a weeklong series of demonstrations to protest the building of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Sean Keenan and Eliza Fawcett report for the New York Times.
President Biden yesterday commemorated the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Standing near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where on March 7, 1965, marchers advocating for voting rights were attacked by police, Biden warned that the right to vote “remains under assault ”by a conservative Supreme Court, a host of state legislatures, and those who continue to deny the 2020 presidential election result. The speech forms part of Biden’s campaign to urge Congress to pass voting rights changes, despite hardened political divisions on Capitol Hill. Matt Viser reports for the Washington Post.
Former President Trump has asked a federal judge to prevent former vice president Mike Pence from testifying before a grand jury about certain matters he claims are covered by executive privilege. The Justice Department is seeking Pence’s testimony in relation to efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Paula Reid, Kaitlan Collins, Jamie Gangel, Zachary Cohen, and Tierney Sneed report for CNN.
A former U.S. Army private was sentenced on Friday to 45 years in prison after he pleaded guilty last year to charges that he was involved in a neo-Nazi plot to kill members of his own unit. The former soldier, Ethan Phelan Melzer, passed sensitive information about his unit’s deployment to the Order of the Nine Angles, described by prosecutors as a “white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Satanist, and jihadist group.” The information he provided was intended to facilitate a mass casualty attack on his platoon. Michael Levenson reports for the New York Times.
House Oversight Committee chair James Comer announced that the panel will hold a hearing next Friday in its probe into the Biden family’s financial dealings. The hearing will investigate the Treasury Department’s failure to provide bank activity reports for President Biden’s son Hunter, his brother James Biden and several Biden family associates and their related companies. Annie Grayer reports for CNN.
House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Friday sent FBI Director Christopher Wray a letter requesting interviews with 16 bureau employees. Jordan, who is leading the probe into the alleged “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives, said he wants the FBI to work with the committee to arrange their interviews by March 8. Annie Grayer, Zachary Cohen and Sara Murray report for CNN.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed last week that she was among those targeted by a man who threatened to kill Jewish government officials. The alleged threat reflects both the alarming spike in antisemitism in the U.S. and the escalating threats against elected officials. Stephen Collinson provides analysis for CNN.
Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against Fox News could overcome the traditional free-speech defense for new media, legal experts have said. Defamation claims against media outlets are notoriously difficult to win. Dominion must prove that Fox acted with actual malice, by either knowingly publishing a false statement or showing a reckless disregard for the truth – a standard that has been hard to clear. Dominion’s case “tests the ability of defamation law to act as a tool for remedying wider disinformation,” according to University of Utah law professor RonNell Anderson Jones.“The Constitution fiercely protects speech for important reasons. It draws the line at deliberate, defamatory lies. That’s the meat of this case.” Erin Mulvaney provides analysis for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 103.647 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 676.041 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.88 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.