Russia will focus on building infrastructure for its nuclear forces in 2023, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said. In a televised interview Shoigu said that Russia would also work to improve the combat capabilities of its missile forces and that facilities were being built to accommodate new missile systems. Russia already has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Reuters reports.
The E.U.’s executive arm has proposed the establishment of a specialized, U.N.-backed court to “investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.” Although there would be several procedural hurdles to overcome before such a court could be set up, the call reflected support among Western leaders for accountability for atrocities. “We are ready to start working with the international community to get the broadest international support possible for this specialized court,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. Carly Olson reports for the New York Times.
Poland will require Ukrainian refugees to begin paying for some of their government-provided housing and food by early next year, the Polish Prime Minister’s office said yesterday. The Council of Ministers adopted draft legislation to that effect, which is expected to pass easily in Parliament. The new measures, which are expected to come into effect on March 1, will apply to Ukrainian refugees who have stayed in the country for more than four months. Carly Olson reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. yesterday pledged to give Ukraine $53 million to repair its electrical grid, which has been crippled by Russian airstrikes. The commitment came as diplomats from more than 30 countries gathered in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, made clear that the alliance may one day expand to include Ukraine. Edward Wong and Steve Erlanger report for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Internet users in China will soon be held liable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful. The new rules come into force from Dec. 15, as part of a new set of guidelines published by the Cyberspace Administration of China earlier this month. China’s internet watchdog is stepping up its regulation of cyberspace as authorities intensify their crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger over the country’s COVID-19 strategy. Laura He reports for CNN.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said his country would tighten security cooperation with Iran. The announcement comes after Tehran strengthened its military presence along its western border to prevent the infiltration of Kurdish groups based in northern Iraq. “We will not allow the use of Iraqi lands to threaten Iran’s security,” Sudani said in a joint news conference with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Benoit Faucon and Ghassan Adnan report for the Wall Street Journal.
Israel plans to move one of its most troubled units out of the West Bank, the Israeli military said yesterday. The decision follows recent allegations of abuse and disciplinary action against soldiers accused of mistreating Palestinians. Dion Nissenbaum reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Saudi Arabia executed 20 men over drug convictions earlier this month, quietly resuming capital punishment for drug offenses after two years of reprieve. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had previously vowed to curtail the use of the death penalty. However, that commitment appears to have faded out of view as the country struggles to contain its illicit drug trade. Sarah Dadouch reports for the Washington Post.
Jury selection begins today for the trial of 10 men accused of involvement in the 2016 bombings in Brussels that killed 32 people. The defendants are variously charged with murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context, and leading or participating in the activities of a terrorist group over the twin bombings at Brussels Airport and a third bomb on the metro on March 2022, 2016. Philip Blenkinsop reports for Reuters.
China is on track to challenge the U.S. militarily and prevent it from intervening in a crisis with Taiwan, the Pentagon said in a report published yesterday. China’s goal of expanding its arsenal has included increasing its stockpile of nuclear warheads, the report added. The report also confirmed that in 2021 China significantly increased engagement with African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries. “A global [Chinese] military logistics network could disrupt U.S. military operations as the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] global military objectives evolve.” Nancy A. Youssef reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Venezuela has been exporting oil despite U.S. sanctions, using false documents to conceal the oil’s origin. Two of the oil tankers identified by Reuters as being involved in the scheme were designated this month by U.S. authorities for violating sanctions on Iran, one of Venezuela’s closest allies. The tankers were named by the Treasury as part of a “smuggling network” that has used forged documents to shop Iranian oil to finance Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. Marianna Parraga and Jonathan Saul report for Reuters.
JAN. 6 ATTACK & 2020 ELECTION PROBES
A jury yesterday convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes of seditious conspiracy for his role in masterminding a plot to subvert the results of the 2020 election. The jury also convicted Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, on the same charge. However, the three other co-defendants – Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – were acquitted of seditious conspiracy. All five, however, were convicted on additional felony charges, including obstruction of Congress. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
Robin Vos, the speaker of Wisconsin’s state Assembly, is scheduled to testify today before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Vos was subpoenaed by the committee earlier this year after he publicly revealed that former President Trump called him 20 months after the election to demand that he dismiss the results. Ryan Nobles, Haley Talbot, and Zoë Richards report for NBC News.
The Jan. 6 committee is “close to putting pens down” on its final report, according to committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). “The body of the report is complete and there is general agreement on that,” Thompson told reporters. The report is expected to be released before the end of this Congress. Annie Grayer reports for CNN.
South Carolina’s Supreme Court has unanimously ordered former White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in Georgia. “We have reviewed the arguments raised by [Meadows] and find them to be manifestly without merit,” South Carolina’s Supreme Court justices wrote in a brief opinion. Meadows was initially scheduled to appear for testimony today, and it’s unclear if that appearance is still on track. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Senate yesterday passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would enshrine marriage equality in federal law. The bill, which grants protections to same-sex and interracial couples, passed in a 61-36 vote, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats to vote for it. The bill will now return to the House for another vote before going to President Biden to sign into law. Amy B Wang and Mariana Alfaro report for the Washington Post.
House Democrats are set to hold their leadership elections today. Current House caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries (NY), who is running unopposed, is expected to succeed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the Democrats in the chamber next year. Rep. Katherine Clark (MA), is running as whip, and Rep. Peter Aguilar (CA) is expected to win the spot to lead the House Democratic caucus. Daniella Diaz reports for CNN.
The rate of gun deaths in the U.S. hit its highest level in three decades last year, according to a study published yesterday. The rate of women – particularly Black women – killed by guns has been growing faster than that of men. AP reports.
COVID-19 has infected over 98.676 million people and has now killed over 1.08 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 642.908 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.63 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.