News Roundup and Notes: April 14, 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

Ukraine’s interim president Oleksander Turchinov threatened military action this morning, after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in eastern Ukraine ignored his 9:00 a.m. deadline to surrender [Reuters’ Thomas Grove and Natalia Zinets]. Separatists have now seized government and security buildings in 10 cities. Russia’s foreign ministry has called the planned military operation a “criminal order” and has told the West to bring Ukraine’s government under control. The Kyiv Post has live updates.

The New York Times (Andrew E. Kramer and Andrew Higgins), Wall Street Journal (James Marson) and Washington Post (Kathy Lally) cover the weekend’s developments, which saw the conflict between Ukraine’s government and the pro-Russian activists escalate and turn bloody.

The UN Security Council met late yesterday in an emergency session over the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, with the West and Russia blaming each other for the crisis, reports the Associated Press. A senior UN official warned the Security Council that “the situation in Ukraine has seriously deteriorated…and as of now, [Ukraine] teeters on the brink” [UN News Centre].

The State Department provides evidence of Russian support for the destabilization of Ukraine, and has issued a fact sheet countering “10 more false claims about Ukraine” from Russia. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia of “additional consequences”:

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has warned on ABC’s “This Week” of a “ramping up” of sanctions against Russia [The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe]. Power said the activity in eastern Ukraine “bears the telltale signs of Moscow’s involvement.”

Senior administration officials have told The Daily Beast that while the Obama administration is moving to impose new sanctions, the U.S. and its European allies “can’t agree on how to hit the Vladimir Putin regime for its latest move onto Ukrainian territory.” The Wall Street Journal (William Maudlin) also covers how the U.S. is aiming to increase pressure on Russia “as Europe holds back.”

Haaretz (Barak Ravid) reports that U.S. officials are angry over Israel’s “neutrality” with regard to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Among other reasons, U.S. officials were disappointed by Israel’s absence from the recent UN General Assembly vote on the Crimea resolution.

The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kiev later this month, where he will “underscore the United States’ strong support for a united, democratic Ukraine that makes its own choices about its future path” [Politico’s Adam Sneed].

The Wall Street Journal editorial warns that with Russia’s “second military action in weeks,” which may already be underway, “the U.S. ought to drop its illusion that Mr. Putin is interested in diplomacy.” The Washington Post editorial writes that “[i]t may be too late to prevent war in eastern Ukraine.” It notes that if Sunday’s battle continues, the U.S. should reconsider Kiev’s request for non-lethal supplies and small arms. And The Economist covers how “the Kiev’s authorities’ hold on Donbas and much of the wider region of eastern Ukraine has disappeared.”

Surveillance

According to a Bloomberg News (Michael Riley) report, the NSA “knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence,” according to two people familiar with the issues. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden disputed the report [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Hayden said:

“Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before April 2014 are wrong. The Federal government was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL until it was made public in a private sector cybersecurity report.”

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Julian Sanchez writes that the NSA’s denial over Heartbleed “serves as a reminder that NSA’s two fundamental missions – one defensive, one offensive – are fundamentally incompatible, and that they can’t both be handled credibly by the same government agency.”

The New York Times (David E. Sanger) notes that President Obama has decided that the NSA should—“in most circumstances”—reveal any major flaws it discovers in Internet security. However, the administration announced an exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” which is likely to allow the NSA to exploit security flaws “both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.”

In a separate development, a new report from Mandiant finds that the Chinese government has expanded the scope of its cyber spying, despite the greater public scrutiny these operations received last year [The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck].

Israel-Palestine 

The Israeli and Palestinian teams held “a rare meeting” without U.S. mediator Martin Indyk yesterday, “as they try to salvage peace talks before a deadline of April 29,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick).

The Hill (Peter Sullivan) covers how Secretary of State John Kerry “is under fire from members of Congress and Israeli officials who say he is being too demanding of the Israelis and too sympathetic to the Palestinians.” Politico (Edward-Isaac Dovere) explores how “the Obama peace process went ‘poof.’” And in the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl explains why the U.S. “can’t produce a Mideast settlement by diplomatic blitzkrieg,” noting that “[a]lmost every positive development in Israeli-Palestinian relations has happened outside the ‘peace process.’”

Syria

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told ABC’s “This Week” (George Stephanopoulos) that revelations of a potential new chemical weapons attack in Syria were so far “unsubstantiated.” Power said the administration “will do everything in [its] power to establish what has happened and then consider possible steps in response.” The Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) and Washington Post (Bassem Mroue) provide more details about the alleged attack in Kfar Zeita, a village in Syria’s Hama province, over which the regime and rebel forces have traded accusations. And the OPCW has said that it can only investigate the new allegations if the claims are referred to it by a member state [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov].

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his troops were winning in what he called the “turning point” in the three-year long civil war [BBC]. Al Jazeera reports that regime jet fighters have reportedly launched “a fierce offensive against a string of opposition strongholds” around Damascus. And Reuters covers how the civil war has spread to the north of Latakia province, “a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority.”

Iran

Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has told reporters in Tehran that Hamid Aboutalebi remains the country’s UN envoy choice, and that Iran aims to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels [CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq and Laura Smith-Spark]. The White House said it has told Iran it will not issue a visa to Aboutalebi due to his reported role in the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis.

The New York Times (Rick Gladstone) notes that Iran has seen “little in the way of a boost from the sanctions relief [it] had been expecting” following the interim nuclear deal, according to trade lawyers and diplomatic analysts. And the Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon) reports that recent speeches made by senior leaders in Iran offer “few signs the government is conditioning Iranians for any major limitations on nuclear work.”

Other developments

Former Army interrogator Eric T. Fair, who has previously written about his role in conducting abusive interrogations in Abu Ghraib, writes that the U.S. “must open the book on the use of torture to move forward” [Washington Post].

The trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric accused of conspiring to kidnap Americans in Yemen, is set to begin today in New York with jury selection [Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Smith].

The Guantánamo military commission will hear testimony about the detention center’s secret Camp 7 lockup today, in a U.S. government effort to establish that one accused 9/11 conspirator is fit for trial [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The Guardian (Jamie Doward) reports that the UK government is under pressure to “come clean” about the role of its overseas territory, Diego Garcia, which was leased to the U.S. and allegedly used as a CIA “black site,” in the context of the Belhaj litigation.

The Washington Post (Stephanie McCrummen) takes a look at military sexual assaults, including how service members “face agonizing decisions about speaking up or silence.”

Al Jazeera reports that former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah appears ahead of rival Ashraf Ghani in the country’s presidential race, although a run-off vote is likely.

Deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s sons, Saadi Gaddafi and Saif al-Islam, are expected to appear in court today on charges of war crimes, alongside other Gaddafi-era officials [Reuters’ Julia Payne and Feras Bosalum].

According to the latest figures, Saudia Arabia now has the fourth largest military budget in the world [Al Jazeera].

Writing in the Washington Post, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls for “immediate help” in the Central African Republic, noting that the international community has “an obligation to act.”

Dozens have been killed in two blasts on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, believed to be carried out by Islamist militant group Boko Haram [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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