News Roundup and Notes: March 7, 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

President Obama reacted strongly to Crimea’s proposed secession referendum yesterday, stating:

“The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.  Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.  In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also denounced the announcement, noting that “[t]his so-called referendum has no legal grounds at all” [AP]. Meanwhile, leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said this morning that they would support a vote by Crimea to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation [New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers et al.].

Fox News reports on the “continuing … war of words” between the State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Ministry responded to the State Department’s allegations of Putin’s “fiction”—covered in yesterday’s Roundup—by saying that Washington is unable to accept a situation that is “developing not according to their templates.” While Crimean Vice Premier labeled Ukrainian forces in the region as “occupiers.”

President Obama signed an executive order yesterday authorizing “sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, or for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.” The State Department also put into place further visa restrictions, “reflecting a policy decision to deny visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Secretary of State John Kerry said that he is working with his foreign counterparts to put together a “contact group” to support the diplomatic talks. And Reuters (Patricia Zengerle) notes the developments in Congress. In the “first formal response” by lawmakers, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine.

Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an hour, during which he urged a diplomatic solution, including direct talks and international monitoring. Putin issued a statement after the call noting that Moscow and Washington were far apart on the situation in Ukraine, but stressed that Russian-American relations “should not be sacrificed for individual differences, albeit very important ones, over international problems” [Reuters’ Lidia Kelly and Alissa De Carbonnel].

The EU warned that in the absence of progress with Russia through negotiations, it will decide on “additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit.” The Guardian (Dan Roberts and Ian Taylor) provides more details.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has told Yatseniuk that “in these difficult moments, NATO stands by Ukraine.” Rasmussen added that the current crisis is the “gravest threat” to European security since the end of the Cold War. And the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors warned of the “risk of violent conflict on the Crimean peninsula” following her visit to the region. She added that she found no evidence of violations or threats to the rights of Russian speakers.

The New York Times editorial notes that while the “Obama administration can certainly help allies by making more natural gas available to them,” the “effects of such exports would likely be modest and wouldn’t be realized for several years.” Former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili writes about the “striking similarities between the early stages of Russian aggression against Georgia and what is happening in Ukraine” [Washington Post]. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Garry Kasparov argues that the West should “sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad.” And The Economist reasons that while “[t]he West can punish Putin’s Russia for its belligerence,” it should only do so “if it is prepared to pay a price,” including Moscow’s threat of revenge against sanctions.

Military sexual assaults

Stars and Stripes (Chris Carroll and John Vandiver) reports that the Army’s top prosecutor for sexual assault cases, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse has been suspended following a sexual assault allegation. Two sources say the Army is investigating the allegations.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the military’s chain of command received support from more than half the Senate, but the 55-45 vote fell short of the required 60 votes. [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb and Ramsey Cox]. The Senate subsequently voted to end debate on Sen. Claire McCaskill’s alternative proposal for reform last evening, which is expected to pass on Monday.

Afghanistan

The U.S. military has offered its condolences after a NATO airstrike mistakenly killed five soldiers in eastern Afghanistan yesterday [Los Angeles Times’ Hashmat Baktash and Shashank Bengali].

The Washington Post (Tim Craig) reports that U.S. and coalition forces “are still struggling to get the Afghans to stand up to their most persistent foe: improvised explosive devices.” The U.S.-led force is deploying a “mini-surge” of equipment and trainers to combat the IEDs.

According to an Al Jazeera “Fault Lines” investigation, human trafficking and forced labor abuses “remain pervasive” at U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Israel

The New York Times (Mark Landler) covers how Obama and Kerry “have fallen into a good-cop, bad-cop routine with Israel” on the Middle East peace deal, “a strategy that may push through a deal but will bruise feelings along the way.”

And in a separate development, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif disputed Israel’s claims that Iran had sent a shipment of arms bound for militants in Gaza:

Other developments

The ICC has handed down its judgment against militia leader Germain Katanga this morning, finding him guilty of four counts of war crimes and one count of crime against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A former al-Qaeda trainee provided inside details at the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, testifying for the government about the organization’s camps and early sightings of Abu Ghaith [Wall Street Journal’s Christopher M. Matthews].

The Daily Beast (Brandy Zadrozny) has details of the U.S. military’s “black budget,” including of the Pentagon’s Military Intelligence Program, which includes all the intelligence programs that support operations in armed services.

The Washington Post editorial calls for the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The editorial notes, “It is time to examine the program with some historical perspective … and ponder how the United States can best defend itself in a dangerous world without violating dearly held values and principles.”

The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman) provides details on the major infiltration of a U.S. Navy network blamed on Iran. According to those familiar with the matter, the hacking operation was facilitated by a poorly drafted contract with computer-services provider H-P.

The New York Times (Charlie Savage) notes that the U.S. is unlikely to accept that the ICCPR applies to its actions abroad at next week’s UN Human Rights Committee hearing, “rejecting a strong push by two high-ranking State Department officials from President Obama’s first term.”

Egypt is the fourth Arab state to pull its ambassador from Qatar for its support of Islamists around the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

Reuters (Anthony Deutsch) reports that according to sources at the OPCW, Syria will miss a deadline next week to destroy its twelve declared weapons production facilities.

A string of bombings targeting shoppers across central Iraq and clashes near the insurgent-held city of Fallujah have killed at least 42 people [AP].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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