News Roundup and Notes: March 3, 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.

Ukraine

The BBC has live updates on the developments in Ukraine. Russia is in de facto military control of the Crimea region, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said his troops will remain in Ukraine to protect Russia’s interest until the political crisis has been “normalized.” Meanwhile, Kiev has mobilized troops and called up military reservists to counter the intervention, reports CNN (Marie-Louise Gumuchian).

The G-7 leaders have decided to suspend their participation in the activities associated with the G-8 summit in Sochi in June. The statement of the leaders condemns Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of [its] obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine.” The UN Security Council also held an urgent meeting on developments in Ukraine this weekend, and called for direct dialogue between all the parties [UN News Centre].

President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for 90 minutes on Saturday, urging him to “de-escalate tensions by withdrawing [his] forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine.” And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew discussed the possibility of imposing economic sanctions on Russia with his British and French counterparts, according to a Treasury official [Politico’s Doug Palmer].

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday, during which he will “reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty”, said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki [Politico’s Reid J. Epstein]. In one of several interviews yesterday, Kerry said that the “willful choice by President Putin to invade another country” is an “incredible act of aggression” [CBS’s “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer]. Kerry said that all 10 foreign ministers with whom he had spoken “are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion,” including putting sanctions in place. Kerry also noted that that the latest move “puts in question Russia’s role in the world and Russia’s willingness to be a modern nation and part of the G8” [ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos].

The editorial boards of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post offer their take on the events. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin questions whether any of the administration’s plans to punish Russia will work. Slate (Joshua Keating) reports on the Wikileaks cable that anticipated the Russian invasion of Crimea. And CNN’s Leon Aron explains what motivates Putin and how he is likely to proceed.

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake et al.) notes that much like the Russian invasion of Georgia, the U.S. intelligence community has been caught off guard by Russia’s actions in Ukraine. According to former CIA director Michael Hayden, “This is less a question of how many collection resources we throw at Russia and more broadly about the analytic challenge of understanding Putin’s mind set.”

Afghanistan

In an interview with the Washington Post (Kevin Sieff and Douglas Jehl), Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that his country’s relationship with the U.S. “has been at a low point for a long time.” According to Karzai, “It began to deteriorate [in 2007] with the civilian casualties and the neglectful attitude toward my complaints about it.” On the war in Afghanistan, Karzai said, “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours.” He also stated that the threat of al-Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality.” And Karzai maintained he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. “without the launch of the peace process.”

The Associated Press covers the fate of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban since 2009, and questions whether he will be viewed as “a hero or deserter” if he is released.

Israel-Palestine

President Obama will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, as part of U.S. efforts to “keep Middle East peace negotiations alive” [Reuters’ Jeffrey Heller and Matt Spetalnick].

In an interview with Bloomberg (Jeffrey Goldberg), Obama said his message for Netanyahu will be: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Obama also added that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.” Meanwhile, on the eve of his trip to Washington, Netanyahu vowed to “stand steadfast” on Israeli interests in the face of international pressure [AP].

Syria

Fighters from the extremist Syrian rebel group, ISIS withdrew from strategic positions along the Turkish border on Friday, in apparent preparation for attacks by rival rebel factions and in “an effort to fortify their hold on the group’s power center in the eastern province of Raqqa” [McClatchy DC’s Mitchell Prothero]. The move came four days into the five-day ultimatum issued by rival group, Jabaht al-Nusra.

An ex-member of al-Qaeda, currently living in the UK, told the BBC (Sima Kotecha) that the UK government must clearly explain why it has not intervened in Syria or risk more Muslims becoming radicalized.

Pakistan

The Pakistani government announced yesterday that it was halting air strikes against Taliban militants in response to a month-long ceasefire announced by the insurgents, “paving the way for the resumption of peace talks” [AFP].

Earlier this morning, a group of armed men and suicide attackers targeted a court in Islamabad, killing at least 11 people, including a judge [Dawn]. A Taliban spokesperson denied the group’s involvement in the attack.

Surveillance

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn) reports that “[c]ries of lax Capitol Hill oversight are piling up” as Snowden’s leaks continue to feature in the media, “casting doubt on whether the legislative watchdogs can be trusted to oversee national security agencies that they’ve long defended.”

The Hill (Kate Tummarello) notes that legislation that would end the warrantless searches of email records—which was thrown off track amid NSA surveillance revelations—is “gaining steam.”

Iran

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that while “many claimed that sanctions on Iran would never work … we have proven exactly the opposite” [The Hill’s Cameron Joseph]. And a bipartisan group of senators have written a letter to President Obama calling for a “united and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime” that economic sanctions will continue “until Iran abandons its efforts to build a nuclear weapon” [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

Pentagon

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” (Bob Schieffer), Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended his proposed Pentagon budget cuts. Hagel reiterated that this is “the first budget that’s not a budget based on war footing,” and noted the need to “reset your posture” after every war. And The Hill (Kristina Wong) covers Republican lawmakers’ criticisms of the proposed cuts.

Other developments

Michael Lehnert, the retired general who built the Guantánamo detention center, told Al Jazeera (Rosiland Jordan) “we ought to be putting all our efforts into closing” the facility. Lehnert added, “Guantánamo has become a poster child and a recruiting post for al-Qaeda. It has become an example—a bad example—to the rest of the world that America does not support and follow the rule of law.”

The trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is set to open today in a Manhattan federal court, “kicking off what looks to be one of the biggest years for terrorism prosecutors since the [9/11] attacks,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Charles Levinson).

In the latest attacks launched by the militant group Boko Haram, at least 51 people were killed in two explosions in Nigeria’s northeastern Maiduguri city this weekend [Al Jazeera America].

Armed protesters stormed Libya’s parliament building while lawmakers were in session yesterday, calling for the dissolution of the interim body [AP].

North Korea has launched two short-range missiles into the sea off the Korean peninsula coast, according to South Korean defense authorities [Wall Street Journal’s Kwanwoo Jun].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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