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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 – FIGHTING
Russian forces yesterday fired around a dozen shells at part of a hospital in the city of Sievierodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, according to the regional military administration. There were no details on casualties, but 200 of the hospital’s 300 beds are no longer usable. Matthew Mpoke Bigg reports for the New York Times.
Russian forces have likely abandoned the objective of completing a large-scale encirclement of Ukrainian units from Donetsk City to Izyum in favor of completing the seizure of the Luhansk region, according to an assessment by the Institute for the Study of War. Russian forces are also likely fortifying occupied settlements in southern Ukraine, indicating that the Russians are seeking to establish permanent control in the region, the assessment adds.
Following exercise activity earlier this month, Belarus has announced the deployment of special operations forces along the Ukraine border, as well as air defense, artillery and missile units to training ranges in the west of the country. The presence of Belarusian forces near the border with Ukraine is likely to tie up Ukrainian troops so they are unable to support operations in Donbas, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has said in its latest intelligence update.
Russia is continuing to amplify its presence in Ukraine and has 105 battalion tactical groups devoted to the invasion, according to the Pentagon. However, those Russian forces are “not making any major gains” in the eastern Donbas region, a senior defense official said. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
Ukrainian troops defending the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, have repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia, according to Ukrainian officials. If confirmed, it would suggest a Ukrainian counter-offensive is having increasing success in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region had stalled. Reuters reports.
A video has shown white, brightly burning munitions cascading down on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, in what a British military expert has said looks like either an attack with phosphorus or incendiary weapons. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “delicate” negotiations were proceeding on rescuing Ukrainian servicemen holed up beneath the vast complex. A Ukrainian officer among the remaining defenders said 600 fighters remained, 40 of them seriously injured. Reuters reports.
Ukraine’s State Border Service says Russian troops opened fire across the frontier in the Sumy region today, adding that “border guards fought enemy saboteurs” who tried to enter Ukrainian territory from the village of Lokot. After several weeks of quiet, the border villages of Sumy have come under fire in recent days, and local authorities say the Russians have used both airstrikes and artillery. Olga Voitovych reports for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
Ukraine is preparing 41 war crimes cases against Russian soldiers, the country’s prosecutor general said on Friday evening. We have 41 suspects in cases with which we will be ready to go to court,” Iryna Venediktova announced during a live briefing on Ukrainian TV. “All of them concern Article 438 of the [Ukrainian] criminal code on war crimes, but different types of war crimes. There is the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the killing of civilians, rape and looting.” Tobi Raji reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE- NATO MEMBERSHIP
Sweden will jettison 200 years of military non-alignment and apply to join NATO alongside its neighbour Finland. In a momentous day for the Nordic nations, Finland said on Sunday that it would formally apply for NATO membership in the coming days, while the ruling Social Democrats in Sweden broke with tradition and said they would follow suit. “Europe, Sweden and the Swedish public are living a new and dangerous reality. The European security order that Sweden builds its security on is under attack,” said Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister and Social Democrat leader. “We Social Democrats think that the best thing for Sweden’s security is that we join Nato.” Richard Milne, Guy Chazan and Laura Pitel report for the Financial Times.
The head of NATO said yesterday that the security bloc would grant fast-track membership to Sweden and Finland. “President Putin wants Ukraine defeated, NATO down, North America and Europe divided,” the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said after meeting the foreign ministers of the alliance’s members in Berlin. “But Ukraine stands, NATO is stronger than ever, Europe and North America are solidly united.” Edward Wong and Anatoly Kurmanaev report for the New York Times.
NATO and the U.S. said yesterday that they were confident Turkey would not hold up membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military alliance. Turkey, which had surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about Finnish and Swedish membership, laid out its demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin. “I’m confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to go into details of closed-door conversations in Berlin but echoed Stoltenberg’s position. Humeyra Pamuk, John Irish and Johan Ahlander report for Reuters.
The Republican senators who met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the weekend also visited Helsinki as Finland takes steps toward NATO membership. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) was joined by Sens. Susan Collins (ME), John Barrasso (WY) and John Cornyn (TX) on the surprise overseas trip. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto tweeted a photo with the senators and wrote that he was “grateful” to have their support for his country’s admission to NATO. Colby Itkowitz reports for the Washington Post.
The West should have no illusions that Moscow will simply put up with the Nordic expansion of NATO to include Sweden and Finland, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said. “The general level of military tension will rise, predictability in this sphere will decrease. It is a shame that common sense is being sacrificed to some phantom provision about what should be done in this unfolding situation,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the state RIA news agency. Reuters reports.
Finland and Sweden’s move to join NATO has raised concerns about potential cyber retaliation from Russia. Russia will likely launch unsophisticated and small-scale cyberattacks as a form of protest against the expansion, experts have said. However, such attacks would not have the severity of cyber efforts Moscow launched against Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. Ines Kagubare and Ellen Mitchell report for The Hill.
A Russian energy supplier officially cut off electricity to Finland on Saturday ahead of the Nordic country’s announcement that it plans to join NATO. “It is at zero at the moment, and that started from midnight as planned,” according to Timo Kaukonen, the manager for operational planning for Finnish transmission system operator Fingrid. Agence France-Presse reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GROUP OF SEVEN RESPONSE
The Group of Seven (G7) nations demanded Russia end its “illegal war of aggression” and said they will never recognize altered borders stemming from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a joint statement issued Saturday. The G7 will also continue to call on Belarus to stop enabling Russia’s aggression and to abide by its international obligations, the statement added. Jacob Knutson reports for Axios.
Foreign ministers from the G7 have appealed to Russia to free up sea export routes for Ukrainian grain and agricultural products critical to feeding the world. “We must not be naive. Russia has now expanded the war against Ukraine to many states as a war of grain,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at a news conference on Saturday after the G7 meetings. “It is not collateral damage, it is an instrument in a hybrid war that is intended to weaken cohesion against Russia’s war.” Claire Parker reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged his Russian counterpart on Friday to consider a cease-fire in Ukraine during the first discussion between the two leaders since the Russian invasion began. Austin had not connected with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu since Feb. 18 despite repeated attempts by U.S. officials to do so, a senior U.S. defense official has said. The two men spoke for about an hour, and the official characterized their conversation as “professional.” Dan Lamothe and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) yesterday urged President Biden to name Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, which would lift sovereign immunity protections shielding the country from being sued for civil damages. “I think it’s a good idea, and I would support that,” he told reporters during a press call from Stockholm. “The president could do it on his own, and I would urge him to do it.” McConnell made his recommendation to designate Russia as a sponsor of terrorism after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The foreign ministers of Austria and Estonia have spoken about the prospect of an upcoming sixth E.U. sanctions package against Russia, with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg “confident” that the package will be “done in the next days.” The whole Russian military complex would be targeted in the upcoming sanctions, he added, speaking ahead of the E.U.-Canada Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Brussels. Benjamin Brown reports for CNN.
After more than three decades in Russia, McDonald’s is selling its Russian business as it looks to leave the country completely. Under growing employee and consumer pressure, many brands and restaurant chains have partly — or fully — paused their operations in Russia. However, few have left entirely because of concerns over the welfare of employees and the difficulties of re-entering after a departure. “Some might argue that providing access to food and continuing to employ tens of thousands of ordinary citizens is surely the right thing to do. But it is impossible to ignore the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine,” Chris Kempczinski, the chief executive of McDonalds wrote in a message to franchisees, employees and suppliers. Lauren Hirsch reports for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan became the president of the UAE on Saturday, formalising the position of one of the most influential leaders in the Arab world and a close partner of the U.S.. Sheikh Mohammed succeeds his older half brother, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died on Friday at 73 after leading the Persian Gulf country for 18 years. Ben Hubbard reports for the New York Times.
Vice President Harris will lead a presidential delegation to the UAE today, following the death of Sheikh Khalifa, the White House has announced. Harris will travel to the UAE to “offer condolences on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration and the American people on the passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” Harris’s press secretary Kirsten Allen said in a statement. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Lebanese people voted yesterday to choose a new government in the country’s first parliamentary election since the onset of a monumental economic collapse, and since the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion sparked widespread demands for accountability from those in power. A new government must negotiate an urgent economic rescue package with international donors and institutions while navigating a deeply divided political system. At the same time, the role that the Iran-backed militant and political group Hezbollah plays in the next government could determine the support Lebanon receives from the international community. Nazih Osseiran reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran-backed Hezbollah has been dealt a blow in Lebanon’s parliamentary election with preliminary results showing losses for some of its oldest allies and the Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces party declaring significant gains. With votes still being counted, the final results have yet to emerge. However, the results declared point to a more fragmented parliament sharply polarised between allies and opponents of Hezbollah – an outcome analysts say could lead to deadlock as factions hash out a power-sharing deal over top state positions. Laila Bassam, Timour Azhari, Maya Gebeily and Tom Perry report for Reuters.
Jerusalem police say they have opened an investigation into their handling of the high-profile funeral of Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. The investigation comes after images of Israeli police officers using batons to beat mourners sparked global condemnation. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.
Somalia’s former leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been elected president after a final vote that was only open to the country’s MPs. He defeated the current president, Mohamed Abudallahi Farmajo, who has been in office since 2017. The ballot was limited to Somalia’s 328 MPs due to security concerns over holding a wider election, and one of them did not cast a vote. The unusual circumstances highlight Somalia’s security issues as well as the lack of democratic accountability. Mohamud Ali reports for BBC News.
Authorities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are forcing young people to join their army’s fight against the central government by threatening and jailing relatives, according to captured fighters and residents. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, from the Tigray external relations office, told Reuters that some low ranking government officials had detained family members to force their relatives to enlist, but said such incidents were rare. Giulia Paravicini and Katharine Houreld report for Reuters.
Elon Musk’s vow to restore free speech to Twitter is likely to be complicated to implement in the U.S. and could create even bigger problems in places such as India. Musk has said he wants to remove many of the rules that currently govern the social media site and hew close to the laws of countries in which Twitter operates. However, critics warn that his approach is overly simplistic, and will likely prompt increased misuse of the site and leave it open to political manipulation. Naomi Nix and Gerry Shih provide analysis for the Washington Post.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS, BUFFALO SHOOTING
The man suspected of killing 10 people in an alleged hate crime at a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday was brought to a hospital by state police in June 2021 for a mental-health evaluation after expressing his desire to carry out a mass shooting, law-enforcement officials said yesterday. Payton Gendron, 18 years old, wrote while at high school about wanting to shoot people, a law-enforcement official added. Gendron appears to have been motivated by racist conspiracy theories he discovered on Internet message boards during the pandemic, according to a document posted online that police believe he wrote. Jimmy Vielkind, Nicole Friedman and Ginger Adams Otis report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Joe Biden will travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to meet with the victims of the mass shooting. The White House announced yesterday that the president would visit with the injured and the families of some of those killed in Saturday’s shooting. Jonathan Lemire reports for POLITICO.
The mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store has placed a national spotlight on a far-right conspiracy theory espoused by the suspected shooter. The so-called “great replacement theory” theory asserts that there is an intentional effort to replace white Americans with people of color by encouraging immigration. Gendron, cited the theory in a manifesto he published online, while authorities say he intentionally planned the attack in a location with a significant Black population. Eleven of the 13 victims killed or injured were Black. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday appealed for greater harmony after the racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo. Guterres was appalled by this “vile act of racist violent extremism”, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement. “The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms racism in all its forms and discrimination based on race, religion, belief or national origin. We must all work together towards building more peaceful and inclusive societies,” he said. UN News Centre reports.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A gunman opened fire inside a Southern California church on Sunday, killing one person and critically wounding four others. A group of churchgoers overpowered the gunman, hogtied him with an extension cord and confiscated two weapons before deputies arrived and took him into custody. Most of the victims were of Taiwanese descent, though officials are still investigating if they had been targeted. Eduardo Medina reports for the New York Times.
At least 17 people were wounded in a shooting in downtown Milwaukee on Friday night, according to the Milwaukee Police Department. Ten people were in custody in connection with the shooting, including 5 of the wounded who were armed. The police also said they recovered 10 guns from the scene. What led up to the shooting is unknown. Dan Simmons, Amanda Holpuch and Sophie Kasakove report for the New York Times.
A curfew banning unaccompanied minors will be enforced in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park after a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot there. Minors will not be allowed in the park after 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday without an adult. AP reports.
Two people were killed and three others were critically injured when a shootout erupted at a Houston-area flea market busy with families yesterday afternoon, police have said. Two men believed to be connected to the altercation were pronounced dead at the scene, and three other people were rushed to separate hospitals with critical injuries. Dennis Romero reports for NBC News.
The trial of Michael Sussman, a lawyer with ties to the Democratic Party who stands accused of lying to the FBI during the 2016 presidential election campaign, is set to begin today. Sussman is charged with making false statements to the FBI’s top lawyer during the 2016 campaign when he handed over data to the bureau purporting to show links between former president Trump and a Russian bank. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
COVID-19 has infected over 82.47 million people and has now killed over 999.602 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 521.544 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.26 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
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.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
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