The Kremlin and the ‘Dirty Bomb’

Happy Wednesday! And depending on where you come down in the age-old security vs. privacy debates, happy 21st anniversary to the USA Patriot Act.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday that peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan authorities—brokered by the African Union—kicked off yesterday in South Africa and will run through Sunday. The negotiations come days after the Ethiopian army (and its Eritrean allies) made significant territorial gains in northern Tigray, putting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in a weaker bargaining position as leaders across the African continent push for an end to the conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions more.
  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced yesterday that security officials conducted a raid on a “hideout apartment” in the Palestinian city of Nablus on Tuesday that was allegedly being used as a headquarters and explosives manufacturing site by the fledgling Lion’s Den terrorist group, which the IDF holds responsible for the recent killing of an Israeli staff sergeant. Palestinian officials said the IDF killed at least six people and injured about 20 more, accusing Israel of “war crimes.” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, meanwhile, considered the raid a success for severely damaging the “terrorist laboratory” of Lion’s Den. “We will not relent even for a moment,” he added.
  • U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday that U.S. forces—in coordination with the Somalian government—conducted an airstrike near the Somali city of Bulobarde on Sunday, killing two members of the al-Shabaab terrorist group. The U.S. claims no civilians were injured or killed in the strike.
  • The Treasury Department imposed additional sanctions on Nicaragua’s government on Monday after President Joe Biden signed an executive order expanding the agency’s authority to “hold the Ortega-Murillo regime accountable for its continued attacks on Nicaraguans’ freedom of expression and assembly.” The additional sanctions target the Central American country’s gold mining industry and hundreds of President Daniel Ortega’s top supporters. 
  • A Russian court on Tuesday rejected WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal of her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession, but said it would recalculate the time remaining on her sentence by counting each day she’s spent in pre-trial detention as 1.5 days in prison. Griner will reportedly be moved from a Moscow-area prison to a penal colony elsewhere in Russia, and her best chance of returning to the United States remains a prisoner swap. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated in a statement released Tuesday that the United States believes both Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan are wrongfully detained, claiming the Biden administration has “continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring [them] home.”
  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal—chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—formally withdrew a letter on Tuesday the CPC had sent President Joe Biden just one day earlier urging his administration to “make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.” Jayapal said the letter was drafted several months ago and claimed it was “released by staff” without vetting, but Politico, citing a “source familiar,” reported Tuesday that Jayapal personally approved the letter’s release this week.
  • The yield on gilts (bonds issued by the British government) fell to levels not seen in weeks on Tuesday after Rishi Sunak was formally appointed British prime minister and pledged to prioritize economic stability and avoid saddling future generations with debt “we were too weak to pay ourselves.” Sunak expressed admiration for the boldness of his predecessor, Liz Truss, but said some “mistakes were made” and named a number of experienced Conservative policymakers to his Cabinet.
  • Nearly every corporate entity associated with Kanye West (now known as “Ye”) has cut ties with the outspoken rapper and fashion designer in recent days after multiple anti-Semitic outbursts on social media and in interviews. West’s net worth has reportedly plummeted with Adidas, Balenciaga, Creative Arts Agency, Gap, JPMorgan Chase, MRC Entertainment, Def Jam Recordings, and others severing ties with the rapper. He recently agreed to buy Parler—a right-wing social media platform—to “make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves.”
  • Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter—who served in the role in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017—died suddenly on Monday after suffering a heart attack, according to his family. He was 68 years old.

What’s Up With Russia’s ‘Dirty Bomb’ Claims?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images.)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu hit the phones this weekend, calling his counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey to warn that Ukraine is preparing to detonate a dirty bomb. But on the off chance that Shoigu actually hoped the messaging campaign would persuade his peers, he was disappointed: Most Western governments interpreted his words instead as a warning that Russia is preparing to detonate a dirty bomb.

“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” the American, British, and French foreign ministers said in a rare joint statement. “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia.”

Undeterred, Russia’s defense ministry doubled down on its claims Monday, posting a video of Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov—head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical, and biological weapons defense forces—claiming that Kyiv plans to launch a dirty bomb or low-power nuclear warhead on its own land, then blame the attack on Russia. Without providing evidence, Dimitry Polyanskiy—Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations—said on Tuesday the Kremlin had intelligence suggesting two Ukrainian facilities might be working on building a dirty bomb. “We will regard the use of the ‘dirty bomb’ by the [Kyiv] regime as an act of nuclear terrorism,” Vasily Nebenzya, another Russian representative to the United Nations, wrote in a letter to intergovernmental organization.

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