News Roundup and Notes: March 20, 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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed Germany’s parliament to outline her government’s position on the Crimean crisis this morning, ahead of the EU summit to “fix further phase-two sanctions that [the EU] agreed two weeks ago” [Deutsche Welle]. The Kyiv Post (Lily Hyde and Oksana Grytsenko) reports that Russian forces and Russian-backed Crimean “self-defense” units have taken over Ukrainian army bases in Crimea. And Ukraine is planning to withdraw its troops and their families from Crimea “quickly and efficiently” as more bases were taken over by local militias and Russian troops [The Guardian’s Harriet Salem and Shaun Walker].

Itar-Tass News Agency has quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that the “legal process [to incorporate Crimea into Russia] will be completed this week” [Reuters]. And Al Jazeera covers yesterday’s “tense” UN Security Council meeting, during which Russian and U.S. ambassadors traded threats.

In an interview with NBC 7 San Diego (Mark Mullen), President Obama said:

“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine. What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international correlation that sends a clear message.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated U.S. condemnation of “Russia’s use of force in Crimea” and stated that “[t]he Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces, whether they be regular uniformed troops or irregulars without insignias, inflict on Ukrainian military members in Crimea” [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Washington Post (Scott Wilson) covers Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Eastern Europe, where U.S. allies are “anxious about Russia [and] uncertain of U.S. commitment.” Speaking in Lithuania yesterday, Biden condemned Russia’s “dark path” and promised the U.S. stands “resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression.” And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reiterated his appreciation of “the restraint exhibited by Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that Russia’s military intervention is “a wake-up call, for the Euro-Atlantic community, for NATO and for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace” [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]. Rasmussen said his alliance is in “intensive consultations with the Ukrainians right now.”

As debate and analysis continues, the New York Times editorial explains why “[e]xpelling Russia from the Group of 8 … is the wrong way to punish President Vladimir Putin.” The Washington Post editorial covers Putin’s “Eurasian ambitions,” noting that “[t]he crisis in Europe has come about not because Western institutions expanded, but because they did not fulfill their post-Cold War promise of ‘a Europe whole and free.’”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Russian lawyer and opposition politician, Alexey A. Navalny writes that current sanctions are being “mocked” in Russia as they target government figures who “do not have major assets outside Russia and are irrelevant to Mr. Putin.” Instead, Navalny identifies those individuals who should be on the sanctions list. Sen. Marco Rubio, writing in the Washington Post, calls for further action to make Putin “pay,” including greater visa and financial sanctions as well as the diplomatic isolation of Russia.

Dmitri Trenin considers how “[n]either Moscow nor the West has a strategy for their new cold war, but Putin is reversing post-Soviet setbacks” [Al Jazeera]. The Daily Beast (Anna Nemtsova and Eli Lake) takes a look at Vladislav Surkov, “the Kremlin’s ‘gray cardinal,’ [who] is at the top of the U.S. sanctions list.” And The Economist covers Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Poland.

Surveillance

Politico (Josh Gerstein) notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department and the NSA “will meet the [March 28] deadline” set by President Obama to outline plans for reforming the NSA’s surveillance program.

Sen. Rand Paul announced yesterday his plans to push for the creation of a “bipartisan, … independent and far-reaching” committee to “investigate and reform those who spy on us in the name of protecting us” [The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe].

Sen. Ron Wyden has criticized senior NSA and CIA officials for the “pattern of deception,” and has called on intelligence officials to end their “culture of misinformation” [Oregon Live’s Bryan Denson].

The Hill (Kate Tummarello) reports that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board “is turning its attention to online spying.” The board is now preparing its report on the government’s Internet surveillance programs.

A federal judge has warned the Justice Department for repeatedly requesting overly broad searches of people’s email accounts, a practice he described as “repugnant” to the Constitution, reports the New York Times (Matt Apuzzo).  The warning came in a bribery investigation involving a defense contractor.

Iran

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has stated that Moscow “wouldn’t like to use [the Iran] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes,” but warned that depending on the actions of the West, it would be forced to “take retaliatory measures,” according to an Interfax news agency report [AP].

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said she is “personally skeptical that Iran will follow through and deliver” on a final nuclear deal, but said that the U.S. should “give space for diplomacy to work” [Washington Post’s Philip Rucker].

The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin) has details on the second round of Iran talks, which concluded yesterday “with all parties expressing satisfaction with the discussions, which were the most detailed so far on each of the main issues dividing them.” And the State Department provides a background briefing on the negotiations, which covered “sanctions, enrichment, civil nuclear cooperation, and Arak, as well as a variety of other topics.”

Syria

The OPCW has announced that Syria has now removed “more than 45 percent” of its chemical weapons outside the country [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

Rebel forces have seized a prison near Syria’s border with Jordan, fighting off regime forces and freeing dozens of inmates, according to activists [Reuters].

Other developments

The New York Times Magazine (Carlotta Gall) reports how documents collected from Osama bin Laden’s house in Pakistan and testimony from a Pakistani official reveal that Islamabad was aware that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, contrary to official accounts from Pakistan and the U.S.

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) and Wall Street Journal (Christopher Matthews) cover Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s unexpected testimony at his terrorism trial yesterday, recalling how he was asked by bin Laden to deliver his message on the 9/11 attacks.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department has not decided whether to launch a formal investigation into the possible crimes committed by CIA officials or Senate aides with regard to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning attempts to illegally export crude oil from Libya and imposing sanctions on vessels involved in such activities [UN News Centre]. Meanwhile, Libya’s interim government has requested the “international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism” [Al Jazeera].

Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about concerns regarding the Israeli Defense Minister’s criticisms of the Obama administration this week. The Hill (Rebecca Shabad) provides more details.

At least seven suicide bombers have attacked a police station in Eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 individuals [Al Jazeera]. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for this morning’s attack.

A suicide attack in Iraq’s Baghdad last night has killed at least 12 people [AP].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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