News Roundup and Notes: May 19, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Syria

The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum reports on the efforts of a private group of Americans who attempted to supply moderate Syrian rebels with weapons from Eastern Europe last summer. The group, led by a former high-ranking Pentagon official, was subsequently asked by the CIA to halt the program.

The head of Syria’s air defenses was killed in clashes this weekend [Washington Post’s Albert Aji and Diaa Hadid]. While his death may boost the morale of the opposition, it is unlikely to affect the outcome of the war.

Guantánamo 

On Friday, a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to suspend the force-feeding of a Syrian Guantánamo detainee until a case hearing on May 21, while also calling on the administration to preserve relevant medical records and videotapes [MSNBC’s Geoffrey Cowley].

Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that “following completion of the spring military training programmes … in Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions,” Russian troops that took part in these exercises have been ordered to return to their usual bases.

Over the weekend, government officials and representatives from eastern Ukraine held a second round of talks in the city of Kharkiv [Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola and Fredrick Kunkle], while continuing clashes in Ukraine’s east killed at least one pro-Russian separatist [Kyiv Post’s Mark Rachkevych].

According to officials and analysts, Petro Poroshenko, the frontrunner in Ukraine’s May 25 election, has presented Moscow with the possibility of “a clear negotiating partner,” reportedly contributing to Putin’s softening stance toward Ukraine [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn].

CNN (Richard Allen Greene) reports that it is unclear who is in charge of governing in the eastern city of Mariupol, where steelworkers have been given credit for restoring order last week.

Europe’s Energy Commissioner said the EU will hold two more rounds of talks between Russia and Ukraine in order to resolve the dispute over gas prices by June 1 [Reuters].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former prime minister and a candidate in next week’s presidential election, Yulia V. Tymoshenko asks the U.S. for “material and moral” support ahead of the planned elections.

Boko Haram

At a summit in Paris over the weekend, the leaders of five African countries pledged to launch “total war” on Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram [Al Jazeera America]. The leaders met with U.S., French and British officials to co-ordinate on the efforts to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.

A suicide car bomb killed five people in the northern Nigerian city of Kano last evening, in an attack believed to be carried out by Boko Haram [Reuters’ Ibrahim Shuaibu].

The New York Times (Adam Nossiter) provides details of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s “long record of ferocious violence and harsh rhetoric.”

Other developments

Privacy advocates are worried that “last stage negotiations” between the Obama administration and House members could significantly weaken protections in the NSA reform bill before it moves to the House floor [The Hill’s Kate Tummarello].

FBI Director James B. Comey said in an interview that fighting terrorism should remain the focus of the agency and acknowledged that the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates “are both many more than … and they are stronger than [he] appreciated” [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt].

The Associated Press (Matthew Daly) reports that the Obama administration and Congress are “moving quickly” to deal with the allegations of severe delays at veterans’ hospitals. The VA’s undersecretary for health care resigned on Friday, while House Republicans have scheduled a vote on legislation that would grant VA Secretary Eric Shinseki greater power to fire or demote senior executives and officials at the agency. Meanwhile, a whistleblowing doctor tells The Daily Beast (Jacob Siegel) that secret waiting lists were also being used at the Albuquerque, VA hospital and that VA officials were destroying the records.

Despite “not achiev[ing] any tangible progress” in the last round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remains positive that a comprehensive agreement is still “possible” [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Behrouz Saeidi].

According to Pakistani officials, the government’s peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban have stalled due to splits within the militant group as well as “a lack of trust between [the Taliban] and the government sides” [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah].

The New York Times editorial board comments on the “two-pronged problem” facing the international community over South Sudan: “helping civilians at risk of famine and pressing Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar to end their senseless, ethnically driven war.” The editorial calls on Washington to increase pressure by expanding its sanctions list.

An internal UN study finds “a persistent pattern of [UN] peacekeeping operations not intervening with force when civilians are under attack,” despite being authorized by the Security Council to do so [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols].

The defense in the trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army leader, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity opened at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today [BBC].

Forces loyal to a former Libyan general attacked the country’s parliament on Sunday, suspending its activities [Al Jazeera]. Violence continued this morning, as Benina airport in the city of Benghazi came under fire.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).