Overnight Defense & National Security — Date set for US-Russia security talks

Overnight Defense & National Security — Date set for US-Russia security talks 1

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Date set for US-Russia security talks

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It's Tuesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: 

U.S. and Russian officials have agreed to sit down on Jan. 10 to discuss Ukraine and other security issues  

More on that, plus the Pentagon’s offense on vaccine mandates and a Hawaii official’s stark words on the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility.

For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Write to me with tips 

Let’s get to it. 


US, Russian officials to hold talks Jan. 10

Overnight Defense & National Security — Date set for US-Russia security talks 4

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U.S. and Russian officials have agreed to sit down to discuss Ukraine and other security issues next month, the National Security Council (NSC) said Tuesday.

In a statement to The Hill, an NSC spokesperson said the U.S. “looks forward to engaging with Russia” for a Strategic Security Dialogue on Jan. 10. 

The spokesperson also said the U.S. “understands” that that NATO is intending to hold a meeting of the NATO- Russia Council on Jan. 12, and that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Permanent Council will meet Jan. 13.

Where things stand: The talks come amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West as Moscow masses tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine, sparking fears that Russia may be plotting an invasion by early next year.

Moscow has denied intentions to invade Ukraine, and Reuters reported over the weekend that more than 10,000 Russian troops were withdrawing from several regions near Ukraine after conducting military drills.

Russia earlier this month submitted draft agreements to the U.S. and NATO demanding that the alliance stop its eastward expansion and for the alliance to roll back military deployments. 

Last week, both U.S. and Russian officials predicted that security talks would begin in January, though Tuesday’s statement is the first time a concrete date has been given. 

The U.S. has said that while some of Russia’s demands warrant discussions, there were other proposals that Moscow knew would be unacceptable.

What they’re saying: “President Biden’s approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: Unite the alliance behind two tracks: deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an Alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine. But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia,” the spokesperson said.

“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well. We will adhere to the principle of 'nothing about our Allies and partners without our Allies and partners, including Ukraine.' There will be areas where we can make progress, and areas where we will disagree. That’s what diplomacy is about.” 

Read the full story here.


Pentagon on offense vs GOP over mandates

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© AP-Matt Rourke

The Pentagon is on the offensive after a cascade of Republican lawmakers have pushed back over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members.

The issue has quickly snowballed since early last month, when Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) tipped off the battle over who calls the shots in enforcing the requirement for National Guardsmen.

Now, with Texas becoming the seventh state to declare they will not impose the mandate on their National Guard, the Pentagon is grappling with how to make sure its mandate is followed and how to prevent further states from piling on and resisting it.

The heart of the matter: The battle, at its core, comes down to the Pentagon’s murky authority over the National Guard while troops are under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the law that allows a governor to manage their state’s guardsmen unless they are called up for federal duty. 

The National Guard, which has dueling obligations to both the state and federal government, falls under federal authority when mobilized by the president, as stipulated by Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

Making things more complicated, even while under Title 32 guard troops are paid with federal dollars when they receive training or further education, a fact that means they must follow the mandate regardless of duty status, according to Defense officials.

Will consequences help? Defense officials hope the consequences of remaining unvaccinated, including separation from the military, will help dissuade service members from resisting the shot.

But one major question that has emerged in the midst of the fighting is how the Pentagon can now make sure National Guard members are flagged and processed for separation after they repeatedly refuse the shot in states with leaders that have made clear they won’t enforce such a move.

The Pentagon has struggled to answer that particular issue, but Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby with Kirby has said that it is the department’s expectation that the chain of command “will manage the mandatory vaccine requirement appropriately, and if they don't, then they too can be held to account under the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] for failure to obey a lawful order.”

Read the full story here.


Hawaii official slams Navy’s fuel facility

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© Associated Press/Michael Sohn

A Hawaii official says that the Navy’s Red Hill underground fuel storage facility is a “ticking time bomb” as both sides grapple with the fallout of a leak that contaminated an important source of drinking water.  

David Day, who has been overseeing hearings regarding operations at Red Hill, made the comment in a proposed order upholding a previous state mandate to defuel the facility, among other demands. 

“The weight of the evidence establishes that the Red Hill Facility, as currently situated, is a metaphorical ticking time bomb located 100 feet above the most important aquifer on Hawaii’s most populous island,” Day wrote.

A big leak: In late November, the Navy reported a release of about 14,000 gallons of a mixture of fuel and water at the Red Hill facility, which caused fuel contamination of one of the military’s drinking water sources. 

The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill, install a water treatment system at the facility, and to submit a plan to safely defuel the tanks at the facility.

The Navy has suspended operations at the facility while it conducts an investigation, but appealed the state’s order. Hearings were held on the order last week. 

The November incident caused a “humanitarian crisis and environmental emergency and disaster,” Day wrote.

“Continued operation of the Red Hill Facility, as it is currently configured and operated, poses an imminent threat to human health and safety or the environment,” he said. 

Read the full story here.




That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Wednesday.

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