News Roundup and Notes: March 21, 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

The EU and Ukraine have signed a “landmark” political association agreement today, committing to the same deal former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich rejected last November [Reuters]. The EU has also imposed further sanctions on 12 Russian individuals over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, warning that any further steps would have “far-reaching consequences” [BBC].

Yesterday, President Obama signed a new executive order that provides the authority “to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy.” The Treasury Department announced further sanctions against “sixteen Russian government officials, members of the Russian leadership’s inner circle, including a Russian bank.” The New York Times (Mark Landler et al.), Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee et al.) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Will Englund) have more details. And The Hill (Erik Wasson) reports that Gennady Timchenko, a “crony” of Putin, evaded U.S. sanctions by selling off shares a day before Obama announced sanctions against him.

Russia has responded to the latest U.S. move by announcing its own list of sanctions against White House aides and top U.S. lawmakers, reports Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere. However, Russian President Putin said this morning that Russia should “refrain from retaliatory steps” against the U.S. and the West [Wall Street Journal’s Lukas I. Alpert].

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu has assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian troops along the Russia-Ukraine border “are there to conduct exercises only” and will not cross over into Ukraine. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby also said that the U.S. is working on Ukrainian requests for assistance, the focus of which “is on the nonlethal side of things, but it is very much still an active issue under consideration.”

The Economist explores “diplomacy and security after Crimea.” It notes, “The post-Soviet world order was far from perfect, but Vladimir Putin’s idea for replacing it is much worse.” The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin and Eli Lake) considers whether the Obama administration is gambling the Iran nuclear talks to punish Putin. And the Washington Post editorial welcomes President Obama’s recent sanctions, which were “far tougher than those previously taken,” but argues that Obama must not “hesitate to expand the range of sanctions” if the latest set do not work.

Surveillance

The Intercept (Ryan Gallagher and Peter Maass) reports that the NSA “tracks down the private email and Facebook accounts of system administrators … before hacking their computers to gain access to the networks they control,” according to a secret document provided by Edward Snowden.

President Obama will meet with “tech CEOs” today to “continue his dialogue with them on the issues of privacy, technology, and intelligence,” according to a White House official [Politico’s Tony Romm].

Google has announced increased security measures, which ensure that messages move safely between servers, “but also as they move between Google’s data centers—something [it] made a top priority after last summer’s revelations.”

Guantánamo

Uruguay has agreed to resettle some Guantánamo detainees, with media reports indicating it may take in five detainees [Miami Herald and News Services].

Rolling Stone’s John Knefel covers Guantánamo detainee Ali Ahmad Mohamed al-Razihi’s periodic review board hearing yesterday.

Iran

In its latest monthly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran continues to comply with the interim deal signed with the P5+1 last November [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

In a separate development, the New York Times (Eric Schmitt) reports that “Iran is building a nonworking mock-up of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” which U.S. officials believe may be intended to be blown up for propaganda value.

Other developments

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has requested the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to conduct an investigation into how Senate staffers obtained copies of internal CIA documents, which agency officials had not authorized for release to Congress [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Josh Gerstein].

At the conclusion of the military sexual assault trial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, the judge reprimanded Sinclair, but did not impose a prison sentence and allowed him to remain in the military [New York Times’ Richard A. Oppel Jr.].

According to officials, the Pentagon is considering retaking control over security clearance checks, “a process that has come under increased scrutiny since investigators found widespread problems that they said contributed to national security threats” [Washington Post’s Christian Davenport].

The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon) reports that the White House has canceled plans for a summit this month between President Obama and leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries “because of splits between Washington’s closest allies in the region,” according to diplomats.

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Cohen covers “America’s incredibly shrinking Navy,” noting that “[n]o commander in chief should be deprived of these meaningful options—even if the president has little intention of using them.”

Former U.S. envoy for Syria, Robert S. Ford has said, “It is hard to imagine that [Syrian President] Assad is going in the short term, and even in the medium term, to lose control” [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]. According to Ford, “Iranian and Russian financing and huge amounts of arms coming from both Russia and Iran” are important factors that have helped Assad stay in power.

At least nine people have been killed in an attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul last night, including a journalist and a Paraguayan diplomat visiting Afghanistan to observe the presidential election [Al Jazeera]. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Al Jazeera America reports that French troops have killed about 40 fighters in northern Mali, in a “[c]ampaign aimed at disbanding Al-Qaeda-linked … fighters”  who were trying to regroup after being expelled from the region, according to Mali’s defense minister.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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