While China and Russia were in the midst of new war games on Thursday, Beijing sent 39 aircraft and three warships to military exercises in the direction of Taiwan to demonstrate its power against the self-governing democratic island state.
We will share what happened and the White House’s latest assessment of the Russian Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine. Plus: The next step in passing the 1.7 trillion US dollar omnibus spending package.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, and beyond. For CNNBreakingNews, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Did a friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below.
Putin turns to a mercenary group for military support
The White House said on Thursday that
10 months after his invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner, a Russian mercenary group, for military support.
The White House estimates that Wagner currently employs 50,000 people in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts from Russian prisons. This is according to downgraded information released by national security spokesperson John Kirby.
Recruiting challenges: Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and other company officials have recruited convicts from prisons to fight on the front line because they are struggling to recruit other Russians, Kirby said. Some of these prisoners had “serious illnesses,” he added.
In addition, Prigozhin is reportedly spending more than $100 million a month to finance Wagner’s operations in Ukraine, with his private army fighting alongside the Russian armed forces.
An unwelcome ally: Kirby also said North Korea had completed an initial arms shipment to Wagner, and Wagner had paid for the equipment. This shipment follows another delivery from North Korea last month, which included infantry rockets and rockets that were sent to Russia so Wagner could use them.
“North Korean officials have publicly stated that they would not support Russia’s war in Ukraine — and yet they are delivering weapons to Wagner here, in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the US plans to raise violations from North Korea with the Security Council.
Sanctions are imminent: The Department of Commerce also plans to name Wagner as a military end user to ensure that Wagner cannot access equipment anywhere in the world. He said that further sanctions against Wagner would be announced “in the coming weeks.”
Read the rest here
China sends fighter jets and ships to Taiwan
China sent 39 aircraft and three warships to Taiwan on Thursday for military exercises to demonstrate its power against the self-governing democratic island state.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense said officials discovered the aircraft and ships around 6 in the morning and were closely monitoring the military exercises.
What was sent: Thirty of the Chinese aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait centerline, the ministry added in a Twitter post.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the official name for China’s armed forces, sent various fighter jets southwesterly to the southeastern region of the island before doubling down on its retreat.
A big upward trend: The People’s Liberation Army has recently carried out several exercises around Taiwan, but the military activity on Thursday was the biggest in several months.
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RUSSIA AND CHINA HOLD JOINT NAVAL EXERCISES
Russia and China began a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea this week. This is the latest exercise between the two countries, as Moscow remains a global pariah in its war in Ukraine.
Russia deployed a Varyag missile cruiser, the destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov and two corvettes from the Russian Pacific Fleet, while China sent two destroyers, a diesel submarine and several other ships for the exercises that began Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.
The exercises: Russian and Chinese aircraft also took part in the military exercise, which is expected to last a week and will include shooting and anti-submarine exercises, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“The main goal of the exercises is to strengthen naval cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China and to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” the ministry said in a statement, as reported by the AP.
Strengthening ties: Moscow and Beijing have stepped up their military cooperation since Russia’s initial attack on Ukraine on February 24, which has led to international condemnation and severe sanctions intended to cripple the Russian economy.
China has so far refused to criticize Russia over the invasion and has lifted Western sanctions, while Moscow has in turn backed Beijing as tensions between China and the United States over Taiwan have increased.
Read the story here
Senate passes $1.7 billion omnibus spending package
The Senate voted on Thursday to pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus package that will fund the federal government through September, provide Ukraine with $45 billion in military and economic aid, and provide $38 billion for disaster relief.
It also includes reforms to the Electoral Count Act in response to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, clarifying that the vice president has no authority to overturn the results of a presidential election.
The vote: The package was passed by a large bipartisan majority of 68 to 29, ending the Senate’s legislative work in the 117th Congress a few days before Christmas.
A win: In addition to the
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the amount of 1 trillion US dollars, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to combat gun violence and the Chips and Science Act in the amount of 280 billion US dollars to improve US competitiveness vis-à-vis China, the omnibus bill represents one of several important bipartisan legislative successes in President Biden’s first two years in office.
How it’s broken down: It’s spending $858 billion on defense programs, an increase of 9.7 percent, and $772.5 billion on undefense programs, an increase of 5.5 percent.
- It also includes $118.7 billion for Veterans Affairs medical care, an increase of 22 percent, and $59 billion for programs approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year.
- It provides 19.8 billion US dollars to arm and equip the Ukrainian armed forces and NATO allies and 12.9 billion US dollars to stabilize Ukraine’s economy and compensate for deficits. The adoption came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for further American support.
Next up: The House of Representatives is expected to take up the legislation as early as Thursday evening and vote to send it to Biden’s desk before government funding expires at the end of Friday.
Read this here
Also from CNNBreakingNews:
- These are the last-minute changes the Senate made to the $1.7 trillion omnibus
WHAT WE READ
- The five key moments from Zelensky’s speech to Congress
- George and Laura Bush: Women and girls endure “terrible difficulties” under the Taliban
- The panel of January 6 publishes transcripts of the first 34 witness statements
- Zelensky to US lawmakers: “Your money is not charity”
- CNNBreakingNews: Statement: Zelensky reminds Congress how important it is to support resilience
- Military Times: Sailor jailed for fatal Japanese crash gets paid and benefits are restored
- Military.com: Evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine emerges in one liberated city after another
That’s it for today. For the latest coverage, visit CNNBreakingNews’ Defense and National Security pages. I’ll see you tomorrow!