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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — House Republicans will as early as today introduce Ukraine-related legislation that complicates the Biden administration’s negotiating strategy in the midst of sensitive talks with Russia over Ukraine, per a draft copy of the bill seen exclusively by NatSec Daily.
The Guaranteeing Ukrainian Autonomy by Reinforcing its Defense Act, or GUARD, has 10 co-sponsors, including the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees, as well as Rep. ELISE STEFANIK (R-N.Y.), the third highest-ranking House Republican.
If passed and signed into law — a big if, considering it likely won’t reach the House floor — the bill would among other things compel President JOE BIDEN to reimpose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline within 15 days; mandate that $200 million in defense aid to Ukraine go to air-defense capabilities and maritime vessels; and require the U.S. to determine whether or not Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism.
Rep. MICHAEL McCAUL (R-Texas), the HFAC ranking member, says these actions would punish Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN for his aggression and deter him from future provocations. “Vladimir Putin must take note that Congress will not stand for the reconstitution of Russia’s sphere of influence nor the abandonment of Ukraine and our other NATO allies and partners in Central and Eastern Europe,” he told NatSec Daily.
Asked if releasing such a bill critical of Biden’s policy right now weakens America’s position during talks, LESLIE SHEDD, the communications director for HFAC Republicans, told us “if anything, this legislation strengthens their hand in negotiations by adding teeth to deterrence. It would be wise for him to use this legislation at the negotiation table.”
But it’s not just House Republicans making their presence felt. A bipartisan group of nine senators today sent a private letter, also exclusively obtained by NatSec Daily, to Biden stating where Democrats and Republicans agree on Ukraine policy.
Sens. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.), JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.), CHRIS COONS (D-Del.) and others — all members of the Senate NATO Observer Group — don’t want Russia to “have veto power on NATO enlargement and expansion of the Alliance” and state that NATO “should consider an increased military presence on the Alliance’s eastern flank, including the Baltic states, Poland, and the Black Sea region to serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression.”
The House Republican legislation and the letter underscore how politics doesn’t end at the water’s edge, with both documents appearing during a crucial moment in the standoff.
Deputy Secretary of State WENDY SHERMAN just met in Geneva with her Russian counterpart SERGEI RYABKOV for eight hours to lower Ukraine-centered tensions. She was authorized to discuss the placement of missiles in Ukraine and the scope of regional military exercises, but not U.S. force posture on the continent or NATO’s open door to possible Ukraine and Georgia accession.
In a call with reporters Monday morning, she said “it was not what you would call a negotiation,” noting there wasn’t agreement text both sides haggled over. Monday’s talks were designed to share “preliminary ideas” on how to calm things down, Sherman stated.
For his part, Ryabkov told reporters that the Americans approached their ideas very seriously. But he was firm on the NATO point: “Ukraine and Georgia will never, ever become members of NATO.… We need ironclad, bullet-proof, water-proof guarantees.”
Asked if the Russians were using hard-line positions as a pretext to an eventual invasion, Sherman said the Kremlin continues to insist they’re invested in this diplomacy. “We will see if that is indeed the case,” she added.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– ACLU AD URGES BIDEN TO CLOSE GTMO: The American Civil Liberties Union will mark the 20th anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantanamo Bay with an ad in POLITICO’s print edition calling for the facility’s closure.
“For 20 years, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay has been a stain on our country,” reads the white text superimposed on a black stain blotting out the Fifth Amendment. “President Biden promised to end this shameful chapter of American history. He needs to finally close Guantanamo by ending indefinite military detention and the unconstitutional military commissions system.”
“The Guantánamo Bay military prison is a catastrophic legal, moral, and ethical failure. It is a global symbol of American injustice, torture, and abuse of power,” HINA SHAMSI, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.
A senior administration official told NatSec Daily that “we intend to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” adding “we are firmly committed to take all necessary diplomatic efforts to responsibly reduce the detainee population.”
As of today, there are 13 detainees eligible for transfer, 14 eligible for a Periodic Review Board, 10 in the military commissions process with charges pending or in pre-trial proceedings, and two have been convicted in those commissions.
NEARLY 8,000 DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry announced that a total of 7,939 people have been detained following the anti-government protests across the country last week, per The Associated Press’ DASHA LITVINOVA, and Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee now assesses that the unrest has “stabilized and is under control.”
A state news channel, citing Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry, previously reported Sunday that 164 people died as a result of the protests, including three children. Authorities declared a day of mourning Monday, and Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said peaceful demonstrations had been “hijacked by terrorist, extremist and criminal groups.”
Meanwhile, President KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV spoke Monday at a virtual summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russian-dominated military alliance which he sought security assistance from last week. Tokayev described reports of law enforcement violence against peaceful protesters as “disinformation” and pledged to release “additional evidence” of a “terrorist aggression” targeting the country.
Tokayev also claimed today that unknown actors planned a coup against him, though there’s little public evidence for that. Meanwhile, two Kazakh officials — one from the domestic intelligence agency and the other from the Interior Ministry — died under mysterious circumstances. One apparently suffered a heart attack and the other died by suicide.
CHINA PUTS HARD-LINER IN HONG KONG COMMAND POST: China’s Xinhua News Agency reports that Maj. Gen. PENG KINTANG — who previously was chief of staff for the armed police in Xinjiang — has been tapped by Beijing to lead the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, per The Wall Street Journal’s DAN STRUMPF and WENXIN FAN.
In Xinjiang — where the United States has accused China of perpetrating a genocide against ethnic Uighur Muslims — Peng oversaw counterterrorism efforts and helped train the elite Mountain Eagles squad. He boasted about his troops’ use of lethal force, and last year, Chinese President XI JINPING “honored an unspecified antiterrorism squad in Xinjiang that officials said killed 91 terrorists,” Strumpf and Fan write.
Peng is the latest prominent law enforcer to be dispatched to Hong Kong in the aftermath of the pro-democracy protests of 2019 and 2020, which resulted in China imposing a sweeping national security law over the semi-autonomous territory.
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OUSTED MYANMAR LEADER SENTENCED TO 4 MORE YEARS: Daw AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who was deposed as Myanmar’s civilian leader in a military coup last February, was sentenced Monday to four additional years in prison for having walkie-talkies in her home and flouting Covid-19 rules, reports The New York Times RICHARD C. PADDOCK.
Defenders of Aung San Suu Kyi “have said the walkie-talkies belonged to her security detail, and that the charges were bogus and politically motivated,” Paddock writes. She has thus far been sentenced to a total of six years behind bars and still faces at least seven more charges, with a potential maximum sentence of 89 years. She most recently was convicted last month of inciting public unrest and violating pandemic restrictions.
Amnesty International said the walkie-talkie charges “suggest the military is desperate for a pretext to embark on a witch-hunt and intimidate anyone who challenges them.” PHIL ROBERTSON, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, also condemned the “Myanmar junta’s courtroom circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges.”
MYANMAR JUNTA SAYS U.S. DIPLOMATS DEFIED COVID RULES: In more Myanmar news, the Southeast Asian nation’s military government is accusing a U.S. diplomatic passport holder and another U.S. embassy employee — aided by U.S. embassy staff — of breaking coronavirus protocols, reports Bloomberg’s KHINE LIN KYAW.
According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two U.S. nationals were transferred to U.S. embassy property for treatment after testing positive for Covid-19 last week. But embassy staff did not inform Myanmar authorities and disobeyed instructions to admit the patients to designated hospitals, the ministry charged.
Furthermore, the embassy’s actions violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the ministry alleged, adding in a statement: “The authorities concerned will continue to take necessary actions in due course in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 variants in the country.”
BIDEN’S REMAINING CYBER PICKS: Our friends at Weekly Cybersecurity look into Biden’s cyber-focused nominees still languishing in the confirmation process.
“Two nominees to lead cybersecurity-related Commerce Department offices are waiting for a Senate floor vote. Biden resubmitted LAURIE LOCASCIO’s nomination to lead [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] last week after the Senate failed to take up her nomination before Jan. 1. NIST received several new responsibilities through Biden’s cyber executive order last year, including writing security rules for software the U.S. government purchases,” our own SAM SABIN wrote.
“And ALAN ESTEVEZ, whom Biden tapped to lead the Bureau of Industry and Security, is still waiting for a Senate floor vote. BIS is at the center of much of the administration’s China strategy, such as its efforts to curb exports of technologies to Huawei and other Chinese tech titans over surveillance and other national security concerns. However, Estevez’s nomination was held because of an unrelated political spat over oversight of foreign firearm sales in December.”
Meanwhile, “An ongoing debate about whether a career official or a political appointee should run the Energy Department’s cybersecurity office is still holding up Biden’s nominee for the office,” Sabin notes. Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM is pushing for a career official.
NAVY SHIPBUILDING PLAN: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) do a deep dive into the highly anticipated Navy shipbuilding plan for FY2023.
“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Navy’s shipbuilding budget would need to average between $25 billion and $33 billion per year through 2052 to build 398 to 512 crewed and autonomous ships. (Congress mandated a 355-ship Navy in 2017.),” Morning D wrote. “But the service hasn’t been able to figure out a way to get there. And neither the Trump administration nor the Biden administration has come anywhere close to requesting the money needed.”
“It’ll be tough going to significantly increase the number of ships from the current 296, especially with an aging cruiser fleet and struggles at shipyards such as Bath Iron Works, which has been unable to get new destroyers into the fleet on time” Morning D continued, noting “In the fiscal 2022 NDAA approved in December, lawmakers authorized $27.3 billion for 13 new warships, an increase of $4.7 billion and five more ships than the Navy requested.”
ABRAHAM ACCORDS CAUCUS: A new bipartisan congressional caucus has formed to cheerlead the Trump-negotiated Abraham Accords, Jewish Insider’s MARC ROD reported.
The members from both chambers include Sens. JAMES LANKFORD (R-Okla.), JACKY ROSEN (D-Nev.), JONI ERNST (R-Iowa) and CORY BOOKER (D-N.J.), and Reps. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-Wash.), DAVID TRONE (D-Md.), ANN WAGNER (R-Mo.) and BRAD SCHNEIDER (D-Ill.).
“The bipartisan, bicameral Abraham Accords Caucus will provide a unique opportunity for world leaders to come together in our common pursuit of creating a better, safer and more prosperous world for our children and grandchildren,” Rodgers told Rod. “I am encouraged by the progress we have made, and I look forward to the amazing things we can accomplish together through our shared commitment to a better future in the name of peace.”
It’s still unclear what this group will specifically do, though Lankford said there may be trips to, and conferences in, countries party to the deals.
TWITTER FIGHT OVER RUSSIA: Former Obama administration official and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia MICHAEL MCFAUL caused quite the Twitter fight when he labeled the current negotiations over Ukraine a “hostage situation, not a normal negotiation between earnest equals.”
That led to a flurry of responses, including from GÉRARD ARAUD, the former French ambassador to the United Nations and the U.S. “Any negotiation is based on the balance of power between the two sides,” he tweeted in response. “You never make concessions out of good will but out of necessity.”
McFaul countered: “Not all negotiations start with a coercive predicate, let alone w/ a threat of war. & not all negotiations are zero sum.”
This spat reflects the growing conversation in Washington about how much to consider giving the Russians in exchange for a large invasion they have yet to launch. The Washington Post editorial board, for example, wrote that “The future of Europe hinges on the coming talks between the West and Russia.”
— ALLISON HOOKER has joined American Global Strategies as a senior vice president. She previously was a deputy assistant to the president and senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.
— OLGA TOKARIUK has joined the Center for European Policy Analysis as a non-resident fellow. She is a freelance correspondent for Agencia EFE, based out of Kyiv, Ukraine.
— The president has nominated the following Marine Corps colonels for appointment to the rank of brigadier general: ROBERT B. BRODIE, MICHAEL A. BROOKS JR., KEVIN G. COLLINS, FRIDRIK FRIDRIKSSON, MAURA M. HENNIGAN, GARRETT R. HOFFMAN, STEPHEN J. LIGHTFOOT, ANDREW T. PRIDDY, JAMES A. RYANS II and DAVID C. WALSH.
— The president has nominated Navy Vice Adm. FRANK D. WHITWORTH III for reappointment to the rank of vice admiral and for assignment as director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
— AMY ZEGART, The Atlantic: “How Fake Spies Ruin Real Intelligence”
— GABBY DEUTCH, The Circuit: “The General Who Coined the Abraham Accords”
— ROBYN DIXON, The Washington Post: “Russia’s Political Action Man Sets up Shop in Kabul, Hoping to Win Deals for Moscow”
— The East-West Center, 8:30 a.m.: “Exploring Trilateral Cooperation Possibilities in the Indo-Pacific: U.S.-South Korea-Philippines — with JULIO AMADOR III, CHIEW-PING HOO and JAE JEOK PARK”
— The Brookings Institution, 9 a.m.: “EU-Gulf Relations: Charting the Way Forward — with OMAR AL-UBAYDLI, SILVIA COLOMBO, COURTNEY FREER and ADEL ABDEL GHAFAR”
— House Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Security of the Capitol Campus Since the Attack of January 6, 2021 — with J. BRETT BLANTON, J. THOMAS MANGER and WILLIAM J. WALKER”
— House Oversight and Reform Committee, 10 a.m.: “Cybersecurity for the New Frontier: Reforming the Federal Information Security Modernization Act — with GORDON BITKO, JENNIFER R. FRANKS, ROSS NODURFT, GRANT SCHNEIDER and RENEE WYNN”
— Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “U.S. Policy on Afghanistan — with ANTONY BLINKEN and LLOYD AUSTIN”
— Senate Judiciary Committee, 10 a.m.: “The Domestic Terrorism Threat One Year After January 6 — with MATTHEW OLSEN and JILL SANBORN”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who also wants “ironclad, bullet-proof, water-proof guarantees” on our copy.