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Early Edition: May 18, 2022


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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 launched two missiles at Dnipro today, according to a regional military official. One missile was shot down by Ukrainian air defense units and its wreckage fell and injured a woman. Matthew Mpoke Bigg reports for the New York Times.

Ukrainian military officials say the Russians have stepped up their efforts to destroy Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, bringing in 15 helicopters to reinforce the offensive. Ukrainian defenses around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk remain under intense pressure from artillery bombardments and air attacks, which have also increased in villages further south, such as Vrubivka. Tim Lister reports for CNN. 

In attempting to overcome Ukrainian resistance, Russia has made significant use of auxiliary personnel, including Chechen Forces, likely consisting of several thousand fighters primarily concentrated in Mariupol and the Luhansk region. These forces likely consist of both individual volunteers and National Guard units, which are routinely dedicated to securing the rule of Chechen Republic Head, Ramadan Kadyrov. The deployment of such disparate personnel demonstrates Russia’s significant resourcing problems in Ukraine and is likely to hamper their operations, according to a U.K. Ministry of Defense intelligence update

Ukraine is seeking a prisoner swap with Russia to return some 260 fighters from Mariupol who left the embattled steel plant under a negotiated surrender, but Russian officials are signaling that may not be guaranteed. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian State Duma, said Ukrainian “Nazi criminals” should not be a part of any prisoner exchange, while Russian law enforcement officials said they would investigate the Ukrainian troops for participation in war crimes. Russia’s prosecutor general has also asked a top court to designate the Azov Regiment — whose fighters helped defend the Mariupol complex — a terrorist group. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post

RUSSIA, UKRAINE – WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS

The International Criminal Court has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine to investigate potential war crimes. This represents the largest ever single field deployment by the Court since its establishment, Prosecutor Karim Khan QC said in a statement issued yesterday. 

Russian forces controlling much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in northeastern Ukraine from late February through March 2022 subjected civilians to summary executions, torture, and other grave abuses that are apparent war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. In 17 villages and small towns in Kyiv and Chernihiv regions visited in April, Human Rights Watch investigated 22 apparent summary executions, 9 other unlawful killings, 6 possible enforced disappearances, and 7 cases of torture. Twenty-one civilians described unlawful confinement in inhuman and degrading conditions. Human Rights Watch reports. 

The fall of Mariupol to Russian forces has sparked fears that evidence of further atrocities could be lost forever. Before the Kremlin took control of Mariupol, the city council accused Russian forces of trying to erase evidence, using mobile crematoria to dispose of bodies and identifying witnesses to any “atrocities” through filtration camps. The Kremlin has denied many of these claims, including using filtration camps to cover up wrongdoing and targeting civilians in Mariupol. Joshua Berlinger provides analysis for CNN. 

RUSSIA, UKRAINE- NATO MEMBERSHIP 

Finland and Sweden formally submitted their bids for NATO membership this morning. Finnish and Swedish envoys delivered letters expressing their nations’ interest in joining NATO to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. Stoltenberg has said that NATO would seek to admit both nations in a fast-track process. Johanna Lemola, Christina Anderson and Shashank Bengali report for the New York Times. 

In a speech at the Swedish parliament yesterday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto expressed confidence that Turkey wouldn’t stand in the way of plans to join the NATO military alliance. The remarks came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly said he would block the two Nordic nations from joining NATO, saying they have offered shelter to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a guerrilla group that has fought a separatist insurgency in Turkey for decades. An English transcript of the speech can be found here. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.

RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE

The U.S. is considering blocking Russia’s ability to pay its U.S. bondholders by allowing a key waiver to expire next week, an administration official said yesterday. Russia has so far managed to make its international bond payments despite Western sanctions, which have complicated the process of paying. However, this move could push Moscow closer to defaulting. Steven Holland reports for Reuters. 

RUSSIA, UKRAINE – GLOBAL RESPONSE

Russia’s minister of digital development said yesterday that the government has no plans to block user access to YouTube, the last major U.S. social media company still operating in the country. The announcement came after a series of fines and warnings issued by Russian regulators over the preceding months accusing the popular video-hosting platform of blocking Russian state media channels and failing to remove videos related to the war in Ukraine. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post. 

The European Commission is set to unveil a 210 billion euro plan for how Europe can end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027. The Commission also intends to use the pivot away from Moscow to quicken its shift to green energy. To wean countries off Russian fossil fuels, Brussels will propose a three-pronged plan: a switch to importing more non-Russian gas, a faster rollout of renewable energy, and more effort to save energy. The draft measures, seen by Reuters, include a mix of EU laws, non-binding schemes, and recommendations national governments could take up. Kate Abnett reports for Reuters. 

Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsk, raised the Israeli flag near Jerusalem’s embassy building in Kyiv yesterday, making Israel the latest country to reopen an embassy and dispatch envoys back to the capital. Israel’s reaction to the Russian invasion was initially mixed but appeared to harden this month after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy of supporting Nazism. Rachel Pannett and Steve Hendrix report for the Washington Post

Former Russian colonel, Mikhail Khodarenok appeared on Russian state TV yesterday, giving a rare public criticism of the conduct of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. A video of his comments is provided by CNN

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

The Biden administration said yesterday it would slightly loosen economic sanctions against Venezuela’s government. Amongst other things, the administration will now permit discussions between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and Chevron, the last major American oil company with significant operations in Venezuela. The hope is that this will help restart stagnant talks between Maduro and opposition leaders aimed at easing the country’s political and humanitarian crisis. Lara Jakes and Anatoly Kurmanaev report for the New York Times. 

The biggest factor that led to the collapse of the Afghan military in August last year was the U.S. decision to withdraw forces and contractors from Afghanistan through an agreement with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration and executed by the Biden administration, a U.S. watchdog report concluded. The withdrawal “destroyed” the morale of the Afghan military as it was dependent on U.S. military support, according to an assessment by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction which was made public yesterday. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis yesterday warned a joint session of Congress against supporting the Biden administration’s proposed military sales to Turkey. “The last thing that NATO needs, at a time when our focus is on helping Ukraine defeat Russia’s aggression, is another source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank,” Mitsotakis said without referring to Turkey by name.“And I ask you to take this into account when you make defense procurement decisions concerning the eastern Mediterranean,” he added. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill. 

A Pentagon investigation into a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of people has found that the military’s initial review of the attack was mishandled, but found no wrongdoing in the killings themselves. The inquiry, which followed a New York Times investigation describing allegations that top officers and civilian officials had sought to hide casualties from the airstrike, determined that military officials did not violate the laws of war or deliberately conceal casualties. In a two-page executive summary that the Pentagon released yesterday, General Michael Garrett challenged The Times’s report, saying commanders followed procedures to determine that no civilians were in the blast zone before the strike. Eric Schmitt and Dave Philipps report for the New York Times. 

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Hezbollah and its allies lost their parliamentary majority in Lebanon’s first election since the 2020 Beirut port explosion, in a setback for the Iran-backed militant and political group. With no alliance winning a clear majority in Sunday’s election, lengthy negotiations could ensue between the various factions in Lebanon’s sectarian-based political system over forming a government. In the past, power-sharing deals have often taken months or longer to hash out. Nazih Osseiran reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

Fighting broke out in Tripoli after one of the two rival Libyan prime ministers, Fathi Bashagha, entered the capital to claim the role. Bashagha retreated when he realised the scale of military opposition, later saying that he would base his government in the city of Sirte. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian. 

“Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said yesterday. She urged the Haitian authorities, with the support of the international community, to promptly restore the rule of law and protect people from armed violence. Between 24 April and 16 May, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged to be gang members were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince. OHCHR News reports. 

JAN. 6 ATTACK 

On the day of the Jan. 6 attack, a top Trump appointee at the U.S. State Department met with two activists who had been key to spreading the false narrative that the presidential election had been stolen. The meeting has been confirmed by the Trump appointee himself, Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic Univerity of America, who was then serving as an assistant secretary of state. The confirmation provides new evidence of the success that the president’s allies had in gaining access to top administration officials. Rosaline S. Helderman reports for the Washington Post. 

The Justice Department has asked the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack to hand over transcripts of the panel’s witness depositions as part of its investigation. The committee has not agreed to the request as the depositions were the property of the committee, a committee spokesman told CNN. Ryan Nobles, Evan Perez, Jamie Gangel and Annie Grayer report for CNN. 

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) is leading a resolution that aims to erase former President Trump’s second impeachment after the Jan. 6 attack. The draft resolution repeats numerous arguments to cast double on the integrity of the 2020 election and says that the incitement of insurrection impeachment charge “contains a subjective account of that which transpired at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.” Emily Brooks reports for The Hill. 

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS, BUFFALO SHOOTING 

Prior to the mass shooting in Buffalo, suspect Payton Gendron invited a small group of people to review his plan in an online chat room. The users joined the Discord chat room, known as a server, 30 minutes before he carried out the attack. None of the people he invited to review his writings appeared to have alerted law enforcement. Jonah E. Bromwich reports for the New York Times. 

President Biden strongly condemned racist conspiracy theories in a speech delivered yesterday following his visit to the site of Sunday’s mass shooting in Buffalo. “In America, evil will not win, I promise you; hate will not prevail, and white supremacy will not have the last word,” he said in the speech. Tarini Parti and Lindsay Wise report for the Wall Street Journal. 

OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The Justice Department sued longtime Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn yesterday to compel him to register as a foreign agent because of lobbying work it says he performed for the Chinese government during the Trump administration. The department said it had advised Wynn repeatedly over the last four years to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, and is suing now because Wynn refused to do so. Eric Tucker reports for AP

U.S. defense officials released videos of unidentified flying objects during the first Congressional hearing on the subject in more than half a century. The House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation heard testimony Tuesday from defense officials on reports of “unidentified aerial phenomena” and the risks they pose to national security. Joseph De Avila reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

The U.S. is in the middle of a great gun-buying boom that shows no sign of letting up as the annual number of firearms manufactured has nearly tripled since 2000, according to the first federal tally of gun commerce in two decades. The report, released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives yesterday also showed a sharp spike in the manufacture of firearms in the last three years, with buyers capitalising on the loosening of gun restrictions by the Supreme Court, Congress and Republican-controlled state legislatures. Glenn Thrush reports for New York Times. 

U.S. cyber officials testifying before a House subcommittee yesterday told lawmakers that they’ve made “significant progress” in improving and securing federal networks from cyber threats. Christopher DeRusha, the deputy national cyber director in the Executive Office of the President, said although officials are not yet at the level they’re aiming to be, they have implemented and prioritized on security measures that have the most impact on securing federal networks. The Hill reports. 

COVID-19

COVID-19 has infected over 82.72 million people and has now killed over 1.00 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 524.767 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.28 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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