News Roundup and Notes: March 6, 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

Crimea’s parliament voted unanimously this morning to join Russia, and the government has scheduled a referendum on the decision for March 16, “in a dramatic escalation of the crisis” [Reuters’ Alissa De Carbonnel]. In Brussels, EU leaders have gathered for an emergency summit to seek ways to pressure Russia into de-escalating the situation.

No progress was reported following Secretary of State John Kerry’s direct meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov yesterday, but Kerry and Lavrov have agreed to continue the discussions [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung]. Kerry also told reporters that he had “zero expectations” that Lavrov would attend the meeting with Ukraine, which was scheduled for yesterday. Meanwhile, UN peace envoy Robert Serry was forced to cut short his visit to Crimea, after a group of armed militiamen threatened him in the capital city, Simferopol [Kyiv Post].

The New York Times (Coral Davenport and Steven Erlanger) covers how the Crimea crisis “is heralding the rise of a new era of American energy diplomacy,” as the administration tries to deploy the new supply of U.S. natural gas “as a weapon to undercut the influence of … Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.” Politico (Darren Goode and Matt Daily), the Wall Street Journal (Amy Harder and Michael Crittenden) and the Washington Post editorial board also cover this angle.

The Defense Department outlined its activities in relation to the situation in Ukraine yesterday. In particular, the Pentagon announced it was augmenting its participation in NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltics, which comes at the request of the U.S.’s Baltic allies [DoD News]. McClatchy News (James Rosen) has more details on this development. The State Department has released a fact sheet disputing “Putin’s Fiction” and rebutting ten “false claims” that Putin made about Ukraine. And NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also issued a statement announcing the suspension of planning for the first NATO-Russia joint mission.

DNI James Clapper defended the work of his intelligence agencies yesterday, with DNI spokesperson noting that “[r]eports that the Intelligence Community was caught off guard by events in Crimea are highly inaccurate” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. And Reuters (Mark Hosenball) reports that according to sources, it was the CIA—not the Pentagon—that forecast Russia’s move into the Crimean peninsula. Two national security sources said the CIA had specifically warned policymakers of this possibility shortly before the event.

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) notes that while the Senate tries to put together a sanctions bill to punish Russia, Democrats “don’t want to act until they know whether or not Europe is on board.”

The Economist warns that “[a]llowing Crimea to become Russia’s bit in Ukraine’s mouth, to yank whenever Mr Putin wants, is not a suitable solution.” And in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Henry Kissinger discusses how to end the Ukrainian crisis and outlines his notion of an “outcome compatible with the values and security interests of all sides.”

CIA spying probed

McClatchy News (Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins And Marisa Taylor) has learned that congressional aides removed classified documents, which the CIA contended they were not authorized to access, out of the CIA’s headquarters. The aides were involved in preparing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. According to the McClatchy investigation, the agency confronted the committee about the removal of the classified documents, after which panel staff concluded that the CIA had monitored their computers.

CIA Director John Brennan issued a statement last evening, blaming unidentified senators for making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.” He added, “I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch.”

Afghanistan

At least five Afghan soldiers have been killed in a NATO air strike in eastern Afghanistan this morning [BBC]. NATO has confirmed the “unfortunate incident” and said it is investigating the circumstances of the attack.

The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Qayum Karzai has quit his presidential race and endorsed the candidacy of former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, “shaking up the country’s election campaign a month before the historic vote” [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]. 

Israel-Palestine

The New York Times editorial notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “sounded two different notes about peace negotiations with the Palestinians” in Washington this week. The board notes, however, that if not a two-state solution, Israel may not have any other “just and durable choice.”

The Israeli army has said that its naval commandos intercepted a ship carrying a concealed Iranian shipment of arms to Palestinian militant groups based in the Gaza Strip [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash].

Syria

The Wall Street Journal (Naftali Bendavid) covers U.S. skepticism of Syrian efforts in removing chemical weapons from the country. U.S. representative to the OPCW, Robert Mikulak warned members “who might be flush with optimism over the new Syrian plan” that “what counts is not a plan on paper, but actual performance on the ground.” He added, “Now is not the time for complacency.”

In an online video, two men say they are from Los Angeles and are now fighting in the Syrian conflict, reports the Los Angeles Times (Raja Abdulrahim and Richard Winton). This could be the first time that individuals linked to the U.S. claim to be fighting on the government’s side.

A new report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria blames pro-regime forces of widespread attacks on civilians, leading to mass casualties, malnutrition and starvations, and also cites UN Security Council inaction as enabling the escalating violence [UN News Centre]. The New York Times (Somini Sengupta and Nick Cumming-Bruce) has more details.

Other developments

The Wall Street Journal (Christopher M. Matthews) provides details of the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. In opening statements yesterday, prosecutors accused Abu Ghaith of taking part in a global conspiracy and of providing “material support” to al-Qaeda.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that failure to fund the Defense Department above levels required by sequestration in fiscal year 2015 and beyond will compromise national security [DoD News].

The Senate will hold two “long-awaited votes” today on reforming how the military handles sexual assaults cases [Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn]. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who is being court-martialed for sex crimes, intends to plead guilty to adultery and some other charges, but will continue to fight allegations that he sexually assaulted a female captain [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

The Pakistani government has decided to form a new committee to mediate peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which is expected to be formed in the next two days [AFP and Dawn News].

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick) reports that “[t]ensions between Qatar and neighboring Persian Gulf monarchies broke out” yesterday, as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamists in the region.

Niger has extradited to Libya Muammar Gaddafi’s son, al-Saadi, who fled the country in 2011 and who was under house arrest in Niger ever since, reports the Associated Press.

North Korea has defended its recent missile firings as “ordinary military practice,” but South Korea said the North gave no warning for any of the tests [Wall Street Journal’s Jeyup S. Kwaak].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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