March 5, 2021

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National Security 

Ukraine

  • President Biden recently stated, “we reaffirm a simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine.” Additionally, Secretary of State Blinken stated the U.S. welcomes Ukraine’s Crimean Platform, and looks forward to continuing to work with Ukraine, our allies and partners to end Russia’s occupation. Of note, Ukraine rescheduled its Crimean (de-occupation) Platform Summit from May to August. Comment: International support for the Summit, while initially tepid, has recently increased. But delaying until August risks giving Russia additional time to promote disinformation, exert diplomatic pressures, and reinforce its expanding military and civil presence on the peninsula.(Sources: White House, State Department)
  • This week, the DOD announced it plans to provide Ukraine with two additional littoral Mk-VI patrol boats, increasing its fleet to eight. These boats are part of the U.S./Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Comment: The Mk-VI boats should be most effective operating in the shallow Sea of Azov where Russia’s larger ships cannot move freely. However, the U.S. Navy has experienced persistent and high maintenance costs for these boats, which could restrict Ukrainian Naval sustained operations and reduce service life. (Sources: Departments of Defense and Navy)

Burma

A State Department spokesman stated on social media: “The international community condemns Burmese security forces’ brutal acts of violence against the people of Burma. The United States strongly supports the right to freedom of expression and the people’s aspirations for the restoration of the democratically-elected government.” Russia and China continue to oppose sanctions. Comment: U.S. influence on the Burmese military is mostly limited to asking its allies to impose sanctions or to force moderating behaviors. While U.S. Allies have been quick to condemn the coup, they have been reluctant to implement effective sanctions against the Burmese military junta. The situation could change if the death toll continues to rise, but probably not until China agrees to some form of limited sanctions. (Sources: Department of State, White House)

Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Ansarullah (Houthi) Sanctions

The Biden Administration this week has imposed an array of economic, commercial, and diplomatic sanctions and restrictions on:

  • Several senior Saudi Arabian officials and organizations for the killing of Adnan Khashoggi.
  • Russian senior officials directly linked to the poisoning and imprisonment of Aleksey Navalny, and for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction programs and chemical weapons.
  • Houthi military leaders who executed and threatened civilians and maritime infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  

None of these sanctions or restrictions directly impact Mohammed Bin Salman, Vladimir Putin, or with respect to Ansarullah, its military and financial backer, Iran. Comment: It appears the Biden Administration is taking an early measured and deliberate approach, through targeted sanctions, with a desire to affect positive leadership and governmental change. If these sanctions and restrictions do not obtain desired results, the Administration may consider selectively sanctioning key financiers, oligarchs, or other senior officials with more direct financial and personal relationships to these leaders. (Sources: Departments of Treasury, Commerce, State, and the White House)

Environment

Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

In February 2021, the EPA announced it is reproposing the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5). UCMR 5 will collect new data on the PFAS chemical toxins found in water systems of a certain size. PFAS is one of 29 other contaminants that do not break down over time, commonly known as forever chemicals. UCMR 5 collected data will help to better assess the frequency of PFAS chemicals in drinking water systems and at what levels. In a related action, the USDA, in concert with the FDA, are conducting tests on dairy farm cattle exposed to PFAS contaminated water. These tests will help to determine how the toxin is distributed through the body, how it is absorbed and excreted. Several states, through their independent testing protocols, have found PFAS chemicals in drinking water, ground water, and waste water. These findings have resulted in some states establishing more stringent PFAS regulations, below those established by the EPA. Comment: Continued state and local pressure to revise PFAS regulations and the UCMR 5 collection program will likely result in revised National PFAS standards and regulations. (Sources: EPA, USDA, FDA, U.S. State Testing Protocols)

Wildfires

As residential development expands into the forested landscapes, wildfires increasingly threaten homes, lives, and livelihoods through the wildland- urban interface (WUI). More than 46 million residences in 70,000 communities are at risk of WUI fires and this risk continues to grow by about 2 million acres each year. Climate change also contributes as fires occur more frequently, burn larger areas, at higher severity, and for longer than in the past. These fires can delay or destroy the ability of ecosystems to recover. According to FEMA, states with the greatest number of residences in the WUI are California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Comment: Public and private partnerships for wood and fire management can offer paths forward to WUI communities. However, communities will need to rapidly modify zoning requirements by reducing building densities and requiring fire resistant construction materials to building codes. (Sources: FEMA, USGS)

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