News Roundup and Notes: March 4, 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

In a live address on Russian television, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated “we will not go to war” with Ukraine, but reserved the right to use military action as a last resort “for the protection of the Ukrainian people” [The Guardian’s Haroon Siddique]. Putin warned that sanctions would cause “mutual harm” and should be reconsidered. He also said that while ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was removed in an “unconstitutional coup,” he has “no political future.”

The Obama administration has formally announced a $1 billion aid package in energy subsidies to Ukraine, as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev in a show of support [AP’s Lara Jakes].

Earlier today, Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases [AP]. Tensions remained high in Crimea, however, with troops firing warning shots at Ukrainian soldiers.

NATO’s 28 members are meeting today, following a request by Poland under Article 4 of the organization’s Washington Treaty. Article 4 allows any member to request consultations when their “territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.”

Russia’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council last evening that ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovych asked Russia to send troops to Ukraine [Al Jazeera]. According to Yanukovych’s letter, “as the legitimately elected representative,” he believes Ukraine “is on the brink of civil war.”

China’s position on Ukraine appears ambiguous. While Russia has been keen to emphasize that China is in broad agreement with its policies, Beijing appears to have diverged from Moscow by stating it is looking to “maintain principles” [AFP]. And a statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed it respected the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and called for the resolution of disputes “through dialogue and negotiation based on respect for international law and norms.”

President Obama said yesterday that “Russia is on the wrong side of history” regarding Ukraine. He warned that if Moscow continues “on the current trajectory that they’re on,” the U.S. will be prepared to take “a whole series of steps—economic, diplomatic—that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the world.”

The administration has moved to “put on hold” all military-to-military activities with Russia, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences [DoD News]. An upcoming bilateral trade and investment engagement with Russia has also been suspended [Reuters’ Mark Felsenthal].

While the U.S. prepares to impose sanctions on high-level Russian officials, the New York Times (Peter Baker) notes that European leaders have “resisted … sweeping efforts to curb commercial activity and investment in Russia.” The Wall Street Journal (Bertrand Benoit and Andrea Thomas) reports on the “softer tone” adopted by Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel urging political dialogue between Kiev and Moscow within a “contact group” including that Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And Foreign Policy’s The Cable (Colum Lynch) also covers how U.S. is “increasingly isolated on Russia sanctions.”

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Laurence Norman) reports that the U.S. may have miscalculated by letting Europe take the lead in guiding Ukraine’s “westward political and economic drift,” and only providing a supporting role. And the Washington Post editorial board notes that part of the U.S. response now “must be to take steps to reassure Moldova and a host of other [former Soviet Republic nations] threatened by Russia’s act of aggression.”

Drones

AFP reports that a U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen yesterday killed two suspected al-Qaeda members, believed to have participated in an ambush earlier in the day that left seven soldiers dead, according to a local official.

Israel-Palestine

At yesterday’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama said “some tough decisions are going to have to be made” as part of the peace negotiations. Meanwhile, Netanyahu said the people of Israel expected him to “stand strong against criticism, against pressure … to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state.” Netanyahu maintained “it’s about time [the Palestinian people] recognize a nation state for the Jewish people.” Reuters (Jeffrey Heller And Matt Spetalnick), the Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee) and Washington Post (David Nakamura) have more details on the meeting.

Speaking at the AIPAC annual policy conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. had “no illusions” about the peace process [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere]. Kerry also made “an explicit turn” on boycotts, stating, “I believe we have to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary, unwarranted boycotts of Israel.”

And Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has said that the number of Israeli settlements being started in the West Bank more than doubled during 2013 [Al Jazeera].

Afghanistan

The New York Times editorial board notes that while it “seem possible, even likely, that [Obama] will find a way to retain a limited force [in Afghanistan] this year, serious questions remain about whether the country will ever be able to stand on its own.”

According to Afghan government statistics, more than 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed during the war in the past thirteen years, with most of the losses occurring during the last three years as Afghan forces took over greater responsibility for security [Washington Post’s Rod Nordland].

Surveillance

A new report from The Citizen Lab finds that an Italian computer spyware firm, whose tools foreign governments have allegedly used for spying on protesters and journalists, relies heavily on servers of U.S. internet companies  [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani].

UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has ordered an independent review of the data gathering capabilities of British intelligence agencies, and the legal framework in which they operate, reports The Guardian (Patrick Wintour).

Other developments

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) covers Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair’s court-martial for sexual assault, the results of which “could tip the scales in a high-stakes debate in Congress over the future of the military justice system.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that the U.S. has characterized China’s Kunming attack this weekend as “a terror act.” Psaki said that “based on the information reported by the Chinese media, this appears to be an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public,” but noted the administration did not have “any other independent information.”

Aid deliveries to the Syrian district of Yarmouk have come to a halt after a truce collapsed and clashes broke out between Syrian rebels and government forces [Al Jazeera].

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano has said that “measures agreed under the [interim deal] are being implemented as planned” by Iran [Al Jazeera America]. Amano added that the IAEA needed additional funds for its increased activities in Iran.

The New York Times (Somini Sengupta) covers UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendations to counter the situation in the Central African Republic, including deploying up to 10,000 soldiers and a civilian team to rebuild the state machinery.

Gunmen opened fire on a NATO supply convoy in northwest Pakistan this morning, killing two people, according to a Pakistani official [AP].

According to a statement of the African Union, South Sudan’s peace talks have broken down as the rival sides failed to reach agreement on the terms of a proposed deal [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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