North Korea fires fourth round of ballistic missiles this week

North Korea fired its fourth round of ballistic missiles in the past week on Saturday local time, the State Department confirmed. 

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemns the launches, along with the five missiles North Korea launched on three other occasions since Sunday. 

The Associated Press reported that South Korean and Japanese officials said North Korea launched two short-range missiles toward its eastern waters. The South Korean military said it has enhanced its surveillance posture. 

Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missiles were fired off North Korea’s west coast within about 15 minutes of each other, the AP reported. They traveled up to 250 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan. 

The State Department spokesperson said the launches violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and threaten North Korea’s neighbors and the international community. 

“We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue,” they said. “At the same time, we will continue to work with allies and partners to limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.” 

North Korea fired one surface-to-surface ballistic missile on Sunday and two short-range missiles toward the East Sea before Vice President Harris arrived in South Korea. 

Harris visited the country at the end of a four-day trip to Asia, emphasizing the U.S.’s commitment to South Korea and condemning the North Korean government. North Korea fired two additional short-range missiles on Thursday after Harris left. 

The spokesperson said the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea and Japan remains “ironclad.” 

North Korea is rumored to be preparing for a nuclear test in October or November, which would be its seventh such test since 2006 and first since 2017.

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What happens next after Putin’s annexations in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move Friday to  annex parts of southern and eastern Ukraine amid Moscow’s war in the country has elevated the stakes of the conflict, threatening to bring the Kremlin’s struggling military campaign closer to the doorsteps of the West.  

The stunning move has prompted a flurry of activity across the globe, including new U.S. and Group of Seven (G7) sanctions targeting Russian government and military officials and their family members, international condemnation, calls for more weapons for Kyiv and a fresh push from Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).  

But Putin’s actions — an indication he has dug in his heels in his military campaign against Ukraine — have much broader and longer-term repercussions for the future, experts say. What exactly those will be, however, are hard to discern, with experts expressing a deep uncertainty over where the situation will go from here. 

“I think there will be continued warnings about breaking any of the red lines that have been put down. And there will be, I think, further strengthening of sanctions . . . Beyond that, it’s hard to anticipate exactly what might happen,” said career ambassador Thomas Pickering,  who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as well as Russia.  

Putin on Friday signed four “ascension treaties”  to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine after holding sham referendums in the areas. 

“This is the will of millions of people,” Putin told hundreds of dignitaries amid a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow. 

Much of the world, including members of the G7 and the European Union, have already vowed to never recognize the land grab, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the move a “farce.”  

“The entire territory of our country will be liberated,” Zelensky promised in a pre-recorded video released after Putin’s speech 

The annexations are the biggest territory grab in Europe since World War II and come as Putin has grown increasingly aggressive in his rhetoric due to a markedly successful Ukrainian counteroffensive earlier this month that took back large swaths of ground and forced Moscow’s forces to retreat. 

Putin continued that saber rattling in a speech laden with anti-Western sentiments, pledging to defend the newly claimed regions with “all available means,” a non-veiled threat to use nuclear weapons. 

Russia has dangled the threat of an attack with a nuclear weapon since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, but the new land steal has spiked fears over how Moscow will respond to attacks in these territories now declared part of the Kremlin.

“Would he actually go to the use of nuclear weapons? Nobody knows. But it remains obviously something that he’s unprepared now to take off the table,” Pickering told The Hill. 

Another question raised is whether the Russians will stick to their messaging that taking the eastern-most area of Ukraine known as the Donbass remains the limited objective of their invasion, as suggested in Putin’s speech. The Kremlin has focused on taking the area since its failed campaign to topple Kyiv, but it’s unclear whether Moscow will be open to ending the war should that be achieved.  

“Would that in its own way lead to discussions that could take place diplomatically over next steps that might tone things down? I think that’s a very optimistic view, but a moment not very likely given Mr. Putin’s dug in responses on every development that has taken place of upping the ante,” Pickering noted. 

Also undetermined is the renewed debate over whether NATO should allow Ukraine to join after the country on Friday announced it will file an expedited application to the military alliance, which Kyiv has sought to enter since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.  

The United States quickly urged that such a process “should be taken up at a different time,” according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan. 

“Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through practical, on-the-ground support in Ukraine and that the process in Brussels should be taken up at a different time,” Sullivan told reporters Friday.   

But Jonathan Katz, director of Democracy Initiatives and a senior fellow with The German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Ukraine’s NATO bid is a serious application in the wake of Putin’s speech and amid his ongoing desperate bids to make gains in a war that has become bogged down in its seventh month.  

“It is not far-fetched that Ukraine — which will need security guarantees going forward, given Russia’s unrelenting war and Mr. Putin’s unwillingness to end this cycle of violence against Ukraine — they will need to be given some type of security guarantee and NATO is the place to do that,” Katz said.  

“It must be taken seriously. . . . how can anyone think that Ukrainians, or the West, the transatlantic community, can be safe with Mr. Putin doing what he’s doing,” he added.  

The issue will likely come up at a meeting of defense ministers for the North Atlantic Council (NAC) Oct. 12 and 13 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.  

For now, U.S. and Western officials say they are focusing on crippling Russia through economic means, with the Biden administration on Friday announcing a new round of sanctions.  

The sanctions, which come from the departments of Treasury, Commerce and State and in coordination with members of the G7, are meant to target Moscow’s decisionmakers, Putin’s allies and entities that support Russia’s military-industrial complex. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the sanctions are a clear warning that there will be “costs for any individual, entity, or country that provides political or economic support to Russia as a result of its illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory.” 

One thing’s certain in the aftermath of Putin’s move: continued U.S. support to Ukraine. 

The House on Friday passed a stopgap spending bill to stave off a government shutdown that included another $12.3 billion in aid for Ukraine.  

News also broke Friday that the Pentagon was preparing to step up efforts to train and equip Ukrainian troops through a proposal to create a new command based in Germany, as The New York Times reported . Such a command, which would be led by a top U.S. general, would streamline the current patchwork of training and assistance given to the Ukrainian military by the U.S. and allies since Russia attacked the country in February, according to the Times. 

And House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Friday called for the U.S. and its allies to send Ukraine weapons it has so far held off from providing over fears doing so could escalate Russia’s ire. 

“I urge the Biden administration to finally provide longer-range artillery, like [Army Tactical Missile System]. And I also urge key allies to immediately transfer much-needed systems, including German Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles,” McCaul said in a statement.  

Earlier this week the administration pledged another $1.1 million in lethal aid to the embattled country, bringing the total Pentagon commitment to Ukraine to more than $16 billion since February.  

The latest dollars will go to contracts for weapons to be delivered over the next several years — a signal that the U.S. believes Russia will continue to threaten Ukraine and the region for years to come.  

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Biden blasts Putin, Russia over annexations, pipeline ‘disinformation’

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not intimidate or scare off the U.S. and its allies from helping Ukraine, President Biden said Friday in a public response to Putin’s ceremony earlier in the day that carried out an annexation of Ukrainian territory.

The annexation move was declared illegal by Ukraine, the U.S., many of its Western allies and the United Nations by officials who said it violated Ukrainian and international law.

“America and its allies are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats. He’s not going to scare us or intimidate us,” Biden said from the White House following remarks addressing the federal response to Hurricane Ian.

Calling Putin’s annexation ceremony in the Kremlin a “sham routine,” Biden committed to providing Ukraine with military equipment and reinforced NATO’s resolve to “to defend every single inch of NATO territory. Every single inch.” 

“Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch,” the president emphasized.

Biden made his remarks following House-passage of a short-term government funding bill that includes nearly $13 billion in assistance for Ukraine.

The president further said he’s in touch with allies over a coordinated effort to impose sanctions on “anyone who provides political or economic support to Russia’s fraudulent claims.”

Putin’s move to annex Ukrainian territory is being seen as a response to domestic criticism of his flailing war and a dramatic escalation. Putin has also used bellicose rhetoric describing Russia’s nuclear capabilities, raising fears that the Russian leader will take the unprecedented step of using the weapons.  

“Putin’s actions are a sign he’s struggling,” Biden said. “The sham referenda he carried out and this routine he put on… the sham routine that he put on this morning showing the unity and his people holding hands together — well the United States is never going to recognize this and frankly the world is not going to recognize it either.”

Biden also spoke to mysterious explosions on two natural gas pipelines that transit from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea, describing is as “a deliberate act of sabotage.”

Europe has vowed investigations but so-far withheld assigning blame, although experts point to Putin and Russia as the main suspect .

Russia has denied responsibility and sought to cast blame on the U.S., a strategy which Biden described as “pumping out disinformation and lies.”

“We’ll work with our allies to get to the bottom, exactly, precisely, what happened,” the president said.

“At my direction, I’ve already begun to help our allies enhance protection of critical infrastructure and at the appropriate moment, we’re going to send divers down to find out exactly what happened.”

Biden continued, “We don’t know that yet, exactly, but just don’t listen to what Putin is saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

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