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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 U.S. intelligence and surveillance drone has been struck by a Russian fighter jet, forcing the U.S. to bring the drone down in the Black Sea, the Department of Defence announced yesterday. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said the Russian jet was operated in a “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner” while the U.S. drone was conducting routine operations in international airspace. Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, has said the Russian air force did not come into contact with the drone and added, “the unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern.” Reuters reports.
The U.S. is taking measures to ensure the downed drone does not fall into the wrong hands, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said yesterday. Kirby confirmed that Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, had been summoned to the State Department where U.S. officials walked Antonov “through the very significant and very real concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional conduct by Russian pilots.” Betsy Klein reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – EUROPEAN RESPONSE
E.U. ambassadors are today finalizing a €2 billion deal to jointly restock Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition supplies while refilling countries’ stocks, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Under the plan, the E.U. will, firstly, spend €1 billion to partially reimburse countries that can immediately donate ammunition to Ukraine. Secondly, governments will jointly purchase €1 billion in new ammunition to reduce costs. Jacopo Barigazzi reports for POLITICO.
Germany’s military upgrade will take 50 years to complete if it continues at its current pace, parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces Eva Högl said in a report yesterday. She also repeated a call for the special €100bn fund for military refurbishments to be tripled to €300bn, arguing that the existing figure would not compensate for the severe shortfalls in the armed forces. According to provisional NATO figures, Germany spent 1.44 percent of its GDP on defense last year, well short of the 2 percent target. Laura Pitel reports for the Financial Times.
U.K. and German fighter jets were scrambled yesterday to intercept a Russian refueling plane flying between St Petersburg and Kaliningrad. The Russian plane had failed to communicate with air traffic control in Estonia. While such interceptions are routine, it is the first time that U.K. and German air forces are conducting planned joint Nato air policing in the region. Christy Cooney for BBC News.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russia plans to create “stable pro-Russian groups of influence in the Moldovan political and economic elites,” according to an internal strategy document from Russia’s Presidential Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation obtained by Yahoo News. Pro-Europe Moldova has had an increase in anti-government protests fomented by Russia, something the White House expects to continue. The prospect of Russia using Moldova’s pro-Russia breakaway region of Transnistria as a staging ground for military escalation causes anxiety around the region and in Washington. Michael Weiss and Holger Roonemaa report for Yahoo News.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Nord Stream pipeline attack was carried out on a “state level” and dismissed as “complete nonsense” suggestions that an independent pro-Ukraine group was responsible. The German government has been careful about apportioning blame for the explosions. Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said last week the blasts could have been a “false-flag operation to blame Ukraine.” Reuters reports.
Russia continues to be India’s largest arms supplier, despite its share of Indian defense imports falling from 62% to 45% between 2017-2022, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) report. Sipri said that Russia’s position as India’s leading arms supplier was “under pressure due to strong competition from other supplier states, increased Indian arms production,” and “constraints on Russia’s arms exports related to its invasion of Ukraine.” The fall in Russia’s share coincides with calls for Delhi to take a tougher stand on the Ukraine war. India remains the world’s largest arms buyer. BBC News reports.
Once the battle for Bakhmut is over, the paramilitary organization Wagner group will “reload” and “shrink,” said Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin last week. Prigozhin has said he will open recruitment centers across Russia and build alliances with regional politicians. Analysts say these alliances could serve as a prelude for Wagner’s transformation into a political movement that will aid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of mobilizing Russian society for a long war. Anatoly Kurmanaev reports for the New York Times.
China and Russia yesterday criticized the recent nuclear submarine agreement between the U.S., U.K., and Australia as demonstrating a “Cold War mentality” that risks nuclear proliferation. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Wenbin said the agreement will involve “the transfer of large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapon states to a non-nuclear weapon state, which poses a serious nuclear proliferation risk and violates the purpose and object of the [nonproliferation treaty].” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited the pact and NATO’s increasing attention on Asia as evidence that the Anglo-Saxon world “is making a very serious bid for confrontation for many, many years to come.” James T. Areddy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to several African states in the coming weeks to counter Russian and Chinese diplomatic efforts in the region. The U.S. hopes to demonstrate that it is a resource in countering terrorism and insurgency and a potential source of investment and other economic support. “African leaders naturally want to partner with the U.S., but we don’t spend enough time meeting with them and asking them how they can help,” said Mark Green, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and the president of the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. “China and Russia are more nimble and more responsive to requests in Africa for assistance,” he added. William Mauldin and Nicholas Bariyo report for the Wall Street Journal.
A Mexican judge has indicted 5 men on kidnapping and homicide charges concerning the deadly incident involving 4 U.S. citizens in Matamoros, state prosecutor Irving Barrios said yesterday. 15 other people may have participated in the kidnapping and killing of the Americans, said a senior Mexican official with knowledge of the investigation. According to the State Department, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the incident and bilateral security cooperation. Juan Montes and José de Córdoba report for the Wall Street Journal.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – JAN. 6 ATTACK
The Justice Department has fired back at a bid by defense attorneys to have the sedition conspiracy case against members of the Proud Boys thrown out based on footage of the Jan. 6 attack aired by Tucker Carlson. A lawyer for Proud Boys defendant Dominic Pezzola filed a motion to dismiss the case last week, citing Carlson’s show and arguing that prosecutors withheld surveillance footage from the attack. Prosecutors responded that all but 10 seconds of Capitol surveillance footage, including the clips played by Carlson, had been released to Pezzola and all defendants in September 2021. Tom Jackman and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have opened investigations into last week’s collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, people familiar with the matter have confirmed. The probes, which are in their early stages, will examine, among other things, whether bank executives sold any stock prior to the collapse. The probes may not lead to charges or allegations of wrongdoing. Dave Michaels reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden yesterday signed an executive order aimed at reducing gun violence. The order is designed to move the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without the passage of legislation in Congress, where partisan divisions have left most gun-safety legislation stalled. Sabrina Siddiqui and Andrew Restuccia report for the Wall Street Journal.
North Carolina’s highest court, now controlled by Republicans, yesterday considered reversing a three-month-old decision that went against Republicans on redistricting and threw out voter ID laws. Ahead of yesterday’s arguments, critics excoriated the justices for reexamining the case so soon after ruling on it, contending that the justices were doing so for partisan reasons instead of legal ones. The North Carolina redistricting case is simultaneously before the U.S. Supreme Court, and what the North Carolina justices do will implicate how the nation’s highest court handles the matter. Patrick Marley reports for the Washington Post.
The FBI has said that it can find no records related to former President Trump’s November claim that he “sent in FBI and U.S. Attorneys” to stop “ballot theft” in Florida during the 2018 election. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent by NBC News, the FBI wrote that it had searched its Central Records System but was “unable to identify records.” The FOIA request was submitted a day after Trump described how he delivered a 2018 election win to now-Gov. Ron DeSantis by having the FBI intervene to stop election fraud in Broward County. Lewis Kamb reports for NBC News.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani will reportedly visit the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) tomorrow, further indicating rapprochement between Iran and Gulf countries. The U.A.E. sent an ambassador back to Iran in September, more than six years after downgrading ties with the Islamic Republic. Last week, Shamkhani took part in talks brokered by China, resulting in Saudi Arabia and Iran resuming diplomatic relations after being suspended in 2016. Reuters reports.
Anti-government protests broke out in several cities across Iran yesterday, spurred by an annual festival linked to the Persian new year. Unverified videos appear to show protests in Tehran, Rasht, Karaj, Gorgan, Arak, and several cities in the Kurdish region of western Iran. The renewed protests come after months of relative calm in the country. Babak Dehghanpisheh reports for the Washington Post.
The U.K. and Japan are set to dominate a three-nation advanced fighter jet Global Combat Air Programme, with Italy set to pay only a fifth of the overall development cost, two sources said. The project is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars before the new jet fighter enters service around the middle of the next decade. The defense ministers from the three countries will gather in Tokyo tomorrow for their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was agreed in December. Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly report for Reuters.
The U.K. National Cyber Security Centre is reviewing whether the Chinese-owned app TikTok should be banned from government phones, security minister Tom Tugendhat said yesterday. TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny over fears that user data could be used to undermine Western security interests. The U.S., Canada, Belgium, and the European Commission have banned the app. Kylie Maclellan reports for Reuters.
Clashes between Pakistani police and former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s supporters escalated outside Khan’s home today as officers failed to arrest the embattled opposition leader for not showing up to court on corruption charges. Khan’s supporters hurled stones and projectiles at police while people inside his residence lit fires after officers fired tear gas into the compound. Khan today signed a surety bond stating he would appear in court on March 18. However, the handwritten note did not say whether he would appear in person or send a representative to the Islamabad High Court. Sophia Saifi, Tara John, Vasco Cotovio, and Kathleen Magramo report for CNN.