News Roundup

News Roundup 6/30/2022

US News

  • Senator Van Hollen and Cardin, both from Maryland introduced the “Service to the Fleet Act,” a $632 million spending bill for the Coast Guard’s Baltimore-based shipyard. Forbes

Russia

  • Reuters reported on Wednesday that European officials are in talks on a possible compromise on goods traveling to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. AWC
  • Russia and Ukraine are reacting to Turkey lifting its weeks-long hold on Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids. Kiev views NATO opening the door for Helsinki and Stockholm as a new chance at entering the alliance. In contrast, Moscow considers the latest round of NATO expansion a threat to Russia. The Institute Newsweek
  •  Turkey will seek the extradition of 33 “terror” suspects from Sweden and Finland as a result of a memorandum the three countries signed that supported Helsinki and Stockholm’s NATO bids. AWC
  • President Biden has announced plans to bolster forces in Europe with intentions to permanently headquarter U.S. Army V Corps in Poland. The Hill, AWC
  • The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, immediately started to reap the rewards for lifting the block on allowing Sweden and Finland to join Nato when the Biden administration said it backed the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Guardian, AWC
  • Ukraine has announced the largest exchange of prisoners of war since Russia invaded, securing the release of 144 of its soldiers, including 95 who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. Guardian

China

  • As NATO leaders gathered in Madrid on Wednesday, the alliance released its new Strategic Concept document, which said China poses a “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security.” AWC
  • The US blacklisted five Chinese companies for allegedly supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. UPI

Korea

  • On the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, President Joe Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. While the summit’s focus is on Moscow, Washington is taking advantage of the gathering of world leaders to strengthen its military posture against Pyongyang. The Institute 

Middle East

  • Israeli operations have inflicted serious losses on Iranian intelligence. AWC
  • Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, has sold the ice cream company’s business interests in Israel to an Israeli company, caving to pressure over a planned ban on sales in illegal Israeli settlements. AWC
  • Indirect talks between US and Iranian officials in Doha aimed at salvaging the Iran nuclear deal ended without any progress, a senior administration official said. CNN

US, South Korea & Japan Increase Military Ties Over Concerns About North Korean Weapons Tests

On the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, President Joe Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. While the summit’s focus is on Moscow, Washington is taking advantage of the gathering of world leaders to strengthen its military posture against Pyongyang. 

Biden said the Madrid conference was an “opportunity to further coordinate our trilateral efforts, specifically with regard to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

In the leadup to the meeting between the leaders in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, Pyongyang claimed the US was attempting to create an “Asian version of NATO” to further its “sinister aim” towards North Korea.

President Biden stated the objective of the trilateral group is the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea has a nuclear arsenal of about 40-50 bombs. Pyongyang maintains a diluted “no-first-use” policy and claims its nukes protect it from Washington-based regime change operations. 

South Korea houses nearly 30,000 American soldiers that ensure the US would fight to prevent an invasion and places Seoul under Washington’s nuclear umbrella. The North Korean government, led by the Kim family, maintains Pyongyang will not abandon its nuclear weapons until the US abandons its aggressive posture. 

All three leaders said they were concerned with North Korea’s increased weapons tests in 2022, warning Pyongyang would soon conduct its seventh nuclear test. North Korea has already tested a record number of missiles in 2022

Prime Minister Kishida noted the trilateral meeting provided a much-needed forum to discuss upgrading defense ties. “The deterrence capabilities of the Japan-US and US-ROK alliances need to be upgraded as part of the essential effort to strengthen the trilateral partnership between Japan, the US, and ROK,” the Japanese leader said. 

Ukraine Sees Finland & Sweden NATO Membership as New Prospect to Join

Russia and Ukraine are reacting to Turkey lifting its weeks-long hold on Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids. Kiev views NATO opening the door for Helsinki and Stockholm as a new chance at entering the alliance. In contrast, Moscow considers the latest round of NATO expansion a threat to Russia. 

The most senior representative of the Ukrainian government in Madrid for the NATO summit, Igor Zhovkva, took note of the expedited process Finland and Sweden went through and indicated Kiev could follow a similar path. “We have noted this possibility,” Zhovkva told European Pravda

Gaining entrance into NATO typically takes years. Ukraine has been on the path to membership since 2008. However, the two Nordic countries will likely join NATO within months of expressing interest. 

Zhovkva said, “Today, during the war, it is difficult to say that Ukraine does not meet NATO standards, whether in terms of strategy or tactics of military actions. Ukraine is at war not with the world’s second army but not with the weakest one. And we prove every day that we are compatible with NATO standards.”

In a separate interview, Zhovkva expressed Kiev was still seeking protection under NATO’s article five mutual defense pact. “We still think that NATO guarantees are the best ever,” he said. 

After Turkey announced it was lifting its block on Helsinki and Stockholm, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the alliance was open to growth. He said the move “sends a very clear message to President [Vladimir] Putin that NATO’s door is open.”

Moscow has reacted harshly to NATO adding two countries. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that the move will lead to more destabilization. “We consider the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance a purely destabilizing factor in international affairs.” He added that Moscow views further expansion as part of “aggressive containment” targeting Russia. 

Ryabkov stated the Kremlin was also concerned about the forthcoming NATO document that will label Russia a threat. “A new strategic concept will be adopted, where Russia is going to be called a threat to the alliance. This has nothing to do with real life. It is the alliance that poses a threat to us,” he said. 

Ryabkov stated Moscow would take “compensatory measures.” in response.

G7 Countries Look to Combat Rising Russian Oil Revenue with ‘Price Caps’

Leaders in the Group of Seven (G7) have vowed to impose “price caps” on Russian oil, hoping they will stop Moscow from reaping the benefit of soaring energy prices and help Europe to wean itself off the country’s exports.

After wrapping up a summit in Germany on Tuesday, the G7 issued a final communique outlining how it would inflict “severe and immediate economic costs” on Moscow in retaliation for its attack on Ukraine, including on Russia’s energy industry.  

“As for oil, we will consider a range of approaches, including options for a possible comprehensive prohibition of all services, which enable transportation of Russian seaborne crude oil and petroleum products globally, unless the oil is purchased at or below a price to be agreed in consultation with international partners,” the body said.

Though the G7 nations – the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Canada – have brought a raft of sanctions aiming to “cripple” the Russian economy, some declaring full embargoes, those efforts appear to have backfired. Europe has curbed some of its imports, but Moscow has found other trading partners in Asia to compensate for the lost markets and its energy revenues are now surpassing pre-war levels

The Russian currency, meanwhile, took a significant hit soon after the sanctions spree kicked off, but has since recovered and is now among the best performing currencies against the US dollar this year.

The latest bid to slash Russian oil profits – which could see Washington pressure allies to pay below-market prices for the country’s fossil fuels – is the “brainchild” of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, according to the New York Times. In recent weeks, she has reportedly told world leaders that such price caps would be the best way to damage Moscow, reduce world oil prices and “avert a global recession.”

In a statement following Tuesday’s summit, Yellen said the caps would “further strengthen the existing sanctions” and “make sure that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will not be able to profit from the higher global energy costs that have resulted from his invasion.”

In the group’s final communique, however, leaders stopped short of committing to the idea, instead saying the European Union would work with international partners to “explore … ways to curb rising energy prices, including the feasibility of introducing temporary import price caps where appropriate.”

UN Will Cut Food Aid for Millions of Yemenis, Again

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) will drastically scale back its humanitarian aid to Yemen – where it provides emergency food assistance to more than 13 million people – citing funding shortfalls and soaring prices around the globe.

The WFP’s Yemen branch announced the decision on Sunday, stating that “critical funding gaps, global inflation and the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine” have forced the agency to make significant cuts, which it said would have “devastating impact” on Yemen’s poorest.

“WFP touches the lives of more than half the people of Yemen with over 19 million transfers covering a variety of monthly activities. 13 million people, who are considered the most needy, receive emergency food assistance,” it said.

“We are now being driven to scale back that support for 5 million of those people to less than 50% of the daily requirement, and for the other 8 million to around 25% of the daily requirement.”

In addition to slashing food rations, the org said 4 million people would no longer have access to “resilience and livelihood activities,” as well as “school feeding and nutrition programs,” due to the cuts.

The WFP warned in May that it had raised only a quarter of its $2 billion funding target, and that it would have to cut back aid to Yemen if it didn’t meet its goals, having already reduced food assistance for 8 million Yemenis last January. Two weeks ago, the agency also cut aid to 1.7 million people in South Sudan due to a deficit of nearly $500 million. 

Though Yemen’s hunger crisis is years in the making, the ongoing war in Ukraine has helped to drive up global food prices since late February, exacerbating problems in what was already the poorest nation in the Middle East. 

A $40 billion aid package for Ukraine passed by US lawmakers in May devoted $5 billion to help alleviate food shortages abroad, but while military hardware has freely flowed to the government in Kiev, the aid project has encountered inexplicable delays. More than a month after the measure was signed into law, the Joe Biden administration still has yet to distribute any of the assistance, with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) simply pointing to “logistical challenges.”

Despite those setbacks, Biden announced yet another food initiative on Tuesday after meeting with leaders of the G7, stating that the US would offer $2.76 billion in humanitarian and economic aid to countries in need, $760 million of which will be allocated to “sustainable near-term food assistance.” It’s unclear what proportion of those funds, if any, will be sent to Yemen.

While unmentioned in the WFP statement, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is the result of an eight-year blockade and bombing campaign waged by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with heavy backing from Washington. Several members of Congress have cosponsored a War Powers bill that would require the White House to end military support for Riyadh, though similar measures have failed to pass for two years straight.

Bipartisan House Bill Pushes to End US Intervention in Yemen

News Roundup 6/29/2022

Ukraine War

  • According to a report from CNN, White House officials are losing confidence that Ukraine will be able to retake all the territory Russia has captured since it invaded on February 24 as Russian forces continue to make gains in the eastern Donbas region. AWC
  • President Volodymyr Zelenski’s Deputy Chief of Staff Ihor Zhovkva, who is responsible for foreign policy, said in an interview in Kiev. “NATO is telling us we are not giving you anything.” Bloomberg
  • President Biden kicked off his three-day visit to a NATO summit in Madrid by announcing that the US plans to increase its military presence in Europe. AWC
  • Boris Johnson is expected to tell NATO members to “dig deep” and prepare for a more dangerous decade with increased threats. Sky News
  • Turkey has dropped its opposition to Finland and Sweden becoming members of Nato, paving the way for the Nordic countries to join the alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The three countries have signed a joint memorandum. FT AWC
  • The US Treasury Department on Tuesday announced new sanctions on Russia that target the country’s defense industrial base and enacted a ban on the import of Russian gold. AWC
  • Bulgaria said on Tuesday it was expelling 70 Russian diplomatic staff over espionage concerns. Reuters

Afghanistan

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday that the US will provide Afghanistan with nearly $55 million in humanitarian aid after an earthquake in the country killed at least 1,000 people, but US sanctions are still in place and are hampering recovery efforts. AWC

Middle East

  • Israel plans to ask President Biden to approve the delivery of a new laser-powered air defense system to Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, as part of an effort to build an anti-Iran alliance in the region. AWC
  • Indirect nuclear talks between the US and Iran began in Qatar. AWC
  • In late May, Iraq’s parliament passed a bill forbidding and criminalizing all ties with Israel. The bill forbids officials, media, and others from establishing relations with Israel, punishable by death. Iraqi President Barham Salih did not sign the bill, and this is being made a huge deal by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who says it is “very, very shameful” of the president to favor ties with Israel. AWC
  • Over the past 18 months, more than 100 people have been murdered in the al-Hol prison/refugee camp in US-occupied Syria. VOA

News Roundup 6/28/2022

US News

  • The Biden administration, reacting to a federal court ruling in Texas, has suspended an order that had focused resources for the arrest and deportation of immigrants on those who are considered a threat to public safety and national security. [Link]
  • A record low number of America’s youth are eligible for military service, and fewer are considering the military as a career. Every branch of the Department of Defense is struggling to meet its 2022 recruitment quotas. The military is rolling out new tactics to drive recruitment, including exploiting the new Top Gun movie, utilizing TikTok and removing the requirement that soldiers complete high school. [Link]
  • Lockheed Martin won a $2.3 billion contract to build 120 H-60M Black Hawks helicopters. [Link]
  • Senior Biden administration officials have quietly traveled to Caracas. [Link]

Russia/Ukraine

  • US officials said Monday that the Biden administration is preparing to purchase a Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) for Ukraine as part of a new weapons package that will likely be announced this week. [Link]
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the Western military alliance will increase the size of its rapid reaction forces nearly eightfold to 300,000 troops as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition.” [Link]
  • Biden reportedly plans to announce the extended presence of American troops in Poland. [Link]
  • The Times spoke with an intelligence officer and two sergeants in the Ukrainian special forces elite Shaman battalion who claimed Kiev had conducted covert operations inside Russia. The officers said they successfully carried out raids involving explosions to sow confusion and dissent among Russians. [Link]
  • The US is pushing a plan at the G7 summit that will put a “price cap” on Russian oil. [Link]
  • The leaders of the G7 nations pledged open-ended support for Ukraine. [Link]
  • Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. [Link]
  • Putin said Moscow will provide Belarus with nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in the coming months. [Link]
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to participate in this year’s Group of 20 Summit. [Link]
  • Any encroachment on the Crimea peninsula by a NATO member-state could amount to a declaration of war on Russia which could lead to “World War Three,” Russia’s former president, Dmitry Medvedev said. [Link]
  • France wants to explore talks on lifting sanctions on oil-producing nations Iran and Venezuela to ease global energy prices. [Link]
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, had told him two top OPEC oil producers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, can barely increase oil production. [Link]
  • Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration. [Link]

China

  • President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to speak in the next few weeks, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. [Link]

Korea

  • North Korea has accused the U.S. of creating an “Asia-style NATO” in an attempt to overthrow Kim Jong-un. [Link]

Middle East 

  • It was agreed among officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and several affiliated Arab states to make a show of “tight cooperation” for the next couple of weeks, to avoid any dispute that might mar Biden’s visit. [Link]
  • Iran and the United States will restart their stalled talks, aimed at restoring a landmark 2015 nuclear accord, in Qatar with mediation by the European Union. The Iranian envoy will arrive in Qatar on Tuesday. [Link]
  • Iran has submitted an application to become a member of BRICS. [Link]
  • According to CENTCOM, al-Qaeda affiliate leader Abu Hamzah al-Yemeni was killed in an unspecified US strike in the Idlib Province of northern Syria. [Link]
  • The United Nations’ World Food Program has said it has further reduced rations in Yemen due to critical funding gaps. [Link]

Sudan

  • Ethiopia on Monday denied Sudan’s accusation that its army had captured and executed seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian, instead blaming the killings on a local militia. [Link]

Pentagon Struggles to Recruit Young Americans, Army Waives High School Graduation Requirement

A record low number of America’s youth are eligible for military service, and fewer are considering the military as a career. According to a report from NBC News, every branch of the Department of Defense is struggling to meet its 2022 recruitment quotas. The military is rolling out new tactics to drive recruitment, including exploiting the new Top Gun movie, utilizing TikTok and removing the requirement that soldiers complete high school. 

The Pentagon assesses that less than a quarter of young Americans meet the Pentagon’s standards for recruits. Only 23% of citizens aged 17-24 are qualified to serve without a waiver, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said before Congress, noting that the number is declining. In recent years, 29% of 17-24-year-olds were eligible to serve.

NBC News obtained an internal Defense Department survey that found only 9% of qualified citizens want to join the military, the lowest result since 2007. One cause is young Americans do not believe enlisting is in their long-term welfare. Over half of the people polled thought they would have emotional or psychological problems after leaving the military. 

The Army is well short of its recruitment goal. With just three months left in the 2022 fiscal year, the branch has met only 40% of its objective. The Army is waiving the requirement that soldiers graduate high school. The Army is also involuntarily extending the assignments of “high-performing” recruiters.

The Navy is focused on using the new movie Top Gun: Maverick to influence young Americans to join. The first Top Gun movie was an effective tool to improve the image of the Navy and boost recruitment. Sailors and airmen set up tables in theaters during Memorial Day weekend to lure potential recruits. 

The Department of Defense is considering reversing the ban on TikTok put in place by President Donald Trump. hoping the site could help to propel the numbers. “We have to be where the recruits are, and TikTok is one of the biggest social media platforms in the world,” one defense official said. 

 

News

News Roundup 6/30/2022

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