News Roundup and Notes: March 18, 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

A “defiant” Vladimir Putin told his parliament this morning that Russia will move forward with procedures to incorporate Crimea into Russia [Reuters’ Vladimir Soldatkin and Steve Gutterman]. Putin announced he has signed an order “to approve the draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on adopting the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation.” The Guardian (Haroon Siddique) has live updates on Putin’s speech.

The White House and Treasury Department sanctioned eleven Russian and Ukrainian officials yesterday, including Putin’s top aides and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. President Obama warned that any “further provocations” from Russia “will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world.” He added, “we can calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or to de-escalate the situation.”

The EU also moved to sanction 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials following yesterday’s meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters the list was not “set in stone,” but would depend on “how Russia reacts to the referendum in Crimea which has been a mockery of any real democracy, and how they are reacting to the possibility of discussions and direct negotiations with Ukraine over the coming days” [BBC].

Politico (Edward-Isaac Dovere) covers reactions to the announcement of sanctions in Russia, which ranged from “apathetic to sneering.” For instance, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted on Twitter:

Russian President Vladimir Putin also responded to the sanctions by signing an executive order recognizing “the Republic of Crimea as a sovereign and independent state.” While Ukraine’s parliament authorized partial mobilization of the army, involving 40,000 reservists, to boost the country’s military force to counter Russia’s takeover of Crimea [Reuters].

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) reports that Russia is set to respond to Obama’s sanctions with its own sanctions list, targeting “top Obama administration officials and high profile U.S. senators,” according to diplomatic sources.

While welcoming sanctions, several U.S. lawmakers have called on Obama to go further to curb Russia’s actions in Ukraine [Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery]. And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney indicated that sanctions against Putin have not been ruled out [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. When pressed on Putin, Carney said the U.S. would “evaluate what the right step is as the situation evolved.”

The Washington Post editorial board writes that Western sanctions will “deliver only a slap on the wrist” to Putin. The editorial notes, “a fair measure of their adequacy was the reaction Monday of the Russian stock and currency markets: Both spiked upward in celebration.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board also covers Obama’s “unserious sanctions,” with “the most accurate assessment [coming] from financial markets.” And The Economist explores the differences between the approach of the U.S. and the EU to sanctions against Russia.

Israel-Palestine

Speaking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, President Obama said he would pursue the “elusive goal” of comprehensive peace between Palestine and Israel, but noted it would require “some tough political decisions and risks.”

The New York Times (Mark Landler) reports that Israel’s insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish state is an “unyielding block to a [peace] deal.” The Hill (Erik Wasson) covers the complaints of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that Obama “did not firmly press President Abbas on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.” And EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton outlined some details of the EU’s “unprecedented support” for Israel and Palestine if a final deal is reached [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Iran

Talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran are scheduled to resume in Vienna this morning. The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin) and Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman) report on how the crisis in Ukraine and tensions between the West and Russia could complicate the efforts toward curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Around 80 senators have signed a letter to President Obama, which sets out the terms of a final nuclear deal that they would find appropriate in order to relax U.S. sanctions against Iran [Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin].

In a separate development, the Los Angeles Times (Ken Dilanian) reports that the CIA’s chief of Iran operations was placed on administrative leave “after an internal investigation found he had created an abusive and hostile work environment that put a crucial division in disarray,” according to current and former officials.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people in northern Afghanistan today [AP]. No group claimed immediate responsibility, but Taliban and allied militant groups are active in the area.

The Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov and Margherita Stancati) reports on potential fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential race, noting that “[a]n election perceived as stolen could plunge the country into fresh conflict just as U.S.-led international forces withdraw, foreign aid shrinks and Taliban attacks persist.”

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry has announced the appointment of Daniel Rubinstein as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria.

A California man has been arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization [Justice Department]. According to the complaint, the individual “traveled to the Canadian border with the intent of continuing to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

Other developments

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick), Wall Street Journal (Nour Malas et al.) and Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño and Abigail Hauslohner) have more details on the takeover by U.S. Navy Seals of the Libyan oil tanker, preventing an attempted sale of the oil by Libyan rebels.

Prosecutors in the terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law have asked a federal judge to bar testimony by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, on the basis that defense lawyers were past the deadline of submitting new material [Wall Street Journal’s Charles Levinson].

The New York Times editorial argues that Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair’s sexual assault trial provides “yet another reason to overhaul the existing military justice system, which gives commanding officers with built-in conflicts of interest—rather than trained and independent military prosecutors outside the chain of command—the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try.” Meanwhile, the lawyer for the female accuser in Sinclair’s trial has said she is satisfied with the final plea deal, but stands by her testimony that he sexually assaulted her [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney writes that the “President’s failure to act [on foreign-affairs crises] when action was possible has diminished respect for the U.S. and made troubles worse.”

Kenyan police have arrested two men suspected of links to Somali militant group, al Shabaab [Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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