News Roundup and Notes: March 17, 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

Crimean leaders have declared a 96.77 percent vote in favor of breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia, in a vote likely to trigger immediate sanctions from the U.S. and the EU [Reuters’ Aleksandar Vasovic And Luke Baker]. The regional parliament has “made a proposal to the Russian Federation to admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic,” according to a statement on its website [The Guardian’s Luke Harding and Shaun Walker].

The government in Kiev described the vote as a “circus performance” and maintained it would not recognize the results [BBC]. And EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels this morning to decide on visa bans and asset freezes.

In a call between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama emphasized that the Crimean referendum “which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognized by the United States and the international community.” Obama noted that the U.S. is “prepared to impose additional costs” in coordination with European partners. A further White House statement called Russia’s actions “dangerous and destabilizing.” Meanwhile, Putin told Obama that “the decision to hold the referendum was in line with international law and the UN Charter, and was also in line with the precedent set by Kosovo.”

A joint statement of the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission states that the “referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognised” by the EU.

The UN Security Council failed this weekend to adopt a draft resolution urging countries not to recognize the referendum [UN News Centre]. Thirteen members voted in favor of the text, Russia voted against, and China abstained.

The Hill (Peter Schroeder) reports on calls from top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. needs to show strength against Putin’s actions in Ukraine. The Washington Post (Karen Tumulty) reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators, who visited the region this weekend, have also called for congressional action on aid and sanctions.

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake and Anna Nemtsova) covers how Putin “appears to be using elite commandos—Spetsnaz—to spearhead his stealth move into Crimea and, perhaps, beyond.” The New York Times (David E. Sanger) notes that Obama’s “strategy is now under greater stress than at any time in his presidency.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial calls for the West to meet “Putin’s military aggression with a renewed military deterrent,” including a quick move “to forward deploy forces to Poland, the Baltic states and other front-line NATO nations.” And The Guardian editorial notes that the East and West “appear locked on the path to a new and dangerous divide.”

Surveillance

The Intercept (Ryan Gallagher) compares the NSA’s position that it was not “impersonating U.S. social media or other websites” and that it had not “infected millions of computers around the world with malware” with the agency’s secret documents. 

CIA-Senate fallout

The Washington Post editorial calls on the CIA to cooperate with the Senate on the torture report and the agency’s internal review.

Rep. Adam Schiff, member of the House Intelligence Committee, has said he is “taken aback” by the response from CIA Director John Brennan to allegations that his agency spied on a Senate committee [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]. Schiff added, “I don’t think a confrontation with the Senate is in either his interest or the interest of the agency.”

Politico (Josh Gerstein) notes how “[t]he court battle over the House’s investigation of Operation Fast and Furious and the new showdown between the CIA and its Senate overseers have something in common: aggressive executive branch claims for secrecy.”

Afghanistan

In his final address before the country’s parliament this weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the Afghan military is ready to take over when U.S. troops withdraw at the end of the year [AP’s Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez]. Karzai also reiterated his position that he will not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. unless peace is first established.

The Washington Post (Tim Craig) reports that American and Pakistani officials are discussing the option of handing over to Pakistan the “$7 billion worth of armored vehicles and other equipment [in Afghanistan]” that the U.S. military is “struggling to get rid of” now that its war in Afghanistan is coming to an end.

British troops have completed withdrawal from all but two of its bases in Afghanistan’s Helmand province [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill].

The New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg) covers how some Afghan officials have begun offering “an unsupported, if not familiar, theory” regarding the Swedish journalist who was killed last week: “A spy war involving Western intelligence agents was to blame, rather than some homegrown cause.”

Syria

According to a report in Al Alam, the Syrian opposition is willing to give up claims over the Golan Heights in return for Israeli military and financial aid against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Haaretz].

Syrian military forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, gained full control of Yabroud yesterday, “after clearing out rebels holed up in the strategic Syrian town for months” [Al Jazeera]. Hours after the seizure, Lebanon was struck by a “retaliatory” car bombing, “highlighting the increasing security risk to Syria’s smaller neighbor” [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Suzan Haidamous].

Other developments

Alleged 9/11-mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has said that Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith had “nothing to do” with al-Qaeda military operations, according to court documents filed by the defense team [Reuters’ Bernard Vaughan].

U.S. forces have taken control of a tanker loaded with Libyan oil, “ending an odyssey by the ship … started a week ago when it left a Libyan port controlled by rebels,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Sarah Kent).

The legal defense team for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair said yesterday that the Army has agreed to drop the most serious sexual assault charges in exchange for an admission that he “maltreated” a junior officer and caused emotional distress [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

Secretary of State John Kerry urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday “to make the tough decisions that will be necessary” to reach a peace deal with Israel, according to a U.S. official [Reuters]. President Obama is scheduled to meet Abbas today to discuss the ongoing negotiations. In the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl argues that much like the warning given to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Obama, Abbas “should be met with equally dire predictions of Palestinian doom if he fails to accept the framework.”

A member of a so-called al-Qaeda “affiliate” group has been appointed as al-Qaeda’s No.2, according to remarks made by CIA Director John Brennan [NBC News’ Robert Windrem].

North Korea fired 18 short-range missiles last night, Seoul’s military said, “the latest show of force in response to the ongoing joint South Korea-U.S. military drills” [Yonhap].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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