News Roundup and Notes: April 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.

Drone Strikes in Yemen

Over the weekend in Yemen, there were a series of drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda militants.  CNN reports that a high-level Yemeni government official called the strikes part of a “massive and unprecedented” operation targeted “high-level AQAP targets.”

The first strike, on Saturday, allegedly killed ten suspected Al Qaeda militants and three civilians in the Sawma’a area of the Yemeni province of al-Bayda [Reuters; BBC].  A second strike occurred Sunday, where twenty-five people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda were killed [Reuters]. Tribal members reported seeing a drone circling the area for two days.

Ukraine

Hours after the Ukraine government declared an Easter truce, three people were killed during a shootout at a checkpoint run by pro-Russian militants [New York Times; Washington Post]. The BBC reports that Ukraine has launched an investigation into the Easter-day shooting.

Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the shootout [Wall Street Journal], while Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said Russia was “outraged” by the attack. [The Hill’s Erik Wasson]

Jamie Dettmer [Daily Beast] writes that the shootout could be used by Putin as the pretext to invade eastern Ukraine. While Luke Harding [The Guardian] says that the shootout “all but shred[s]” the agreement reached last week between the EU, Russia, the U.S., and Ukraine.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Ukraine’s Prime Minister called Russia a “threat to the globe” and said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has dreams to restore the Soviet Union.”  On that same show, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said that he believes “we are going to lose eastern Ukraine” [MSNBC].

Ukraine’s government has said it believes that the actions of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine is being directed and organized by an elite Russian military intelligence unit know as the GRU [Wall Street Journal’s Philip Shishkin and James Marson].

Marred by corruption and with the treasury near empty, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense has turned to the public for help with a “Support the Ukrainian army” fundraising drive  [Washington Post’s Kathy Lally].

On the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, Ilan Berman writes about the true costs to Russia of the crisis in Ukraine.  A former Russian finance minister has projected that as much as $160 billion in capital will leave Russia this year.  While Dan Henninger [Wall Street Journal] writes the West hasn’t lost Ukraine, it has simply let is go.

In an attempt to reassure NATO’s Eastern members who are worried about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the U.S. will carry out small ground-force military drills in Poland and Estonia. [New York Times]

William Mauldin Carol Lee, and Jay Solomon [Wall Street Journal] write how the Ukraine crisis shows the underlying fault lines in US-Russian relations.

Afghan Presidential Elections

With over half the total votes counted, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has received 44.4% of the vote. Ashraf Ghani is in second with 33.2%, according to data released yesterday by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan.

It is likely, however, that neither candidate will receive the required simple majority to avoid a runoff election  [New York Times; Washington Post].

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

Glenn Greenwald has promised that more NSA revelations are coming, writes Erik Wasson [The Hill].

As we covered last week, in an op-ed on Friday in The Guardian, Eric Snowden defended his decision to participate in a live Q&A with Vladimir Putin.  Cathy Young [Daily Beast], though, dismisses his defense, thinking his motivations are irrelevant and that Snowden’s self-proclaimed “challenge” to Putin doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile, some of Snowden’s closest advisers have called the decision to join the Q&A a mistake [Daily Beast’s Noah Shachtman].

Iran

ICYMI: on Friday, President Obama signed legislation aimed to block Hamid Aboutalebi, the Iranian diplomatic chosen to be his country’s ambassador to the UN, from entering the U.S  [Associated Press].

Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi says that Iran will redesign its Arak heavy-water reactor, which would greatly limit the amount of plutonium the country can produce.  The move is seen as a concession to the West ahead of an informal July deadline to finalize a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities [Associated Press].

Syria

Martin Chulov [The Guardian] reports that France has information that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons recently against opposition forces.

As of Sunday, Syrian forces continue to blockade the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, where food packages have not been delivered for ten days. The Guardian reports that 18,000 people are facing starvation in the camp.

The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher writes about Christians in Homs, Syria who celebrated Easter amid explosions and gunfire and truce efforts that have broken down two weeks after a local Dutch-born priest was killed.

Four French journalists, who had been held hostage in Syria by the ISIS since June of 2013, were found blindfolded and bound on the Turkish border [The Guardian].

Other Developments

During his Easter Mass, Pope Francis called for peace and dialogue in Ukraine and Syria and for an end to terrorist attacks against Christians in Nigeria [Associated Press].

As Islamic militant violence grows in Nigeria and the UN announces it is sending peacekeepers to the Central Africa Republic to end vicious fighting between Christians and Muslims, The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” discusses whether these growing conflicts in central Africa indicate the region is on the brink of a religious war.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post editorial board writes that the approval of peacekeeping forces to the Central African Republic is a good step, but because the troops will not arrive until September a question remains as to how to protect the refugees until then.

Peter Sullivan [The Hill] writes on Obama’s trip to Asia this week and how the crisis in Ukraine creates another distraction from the administration’s plan to “pivot” to Asia.  While Politico calls the White House’s “pivot” a work in progress.

Islamic insurgents attacked an Algerian military convoy, killing 11 soldiers and wounding five others [Associated Press].

Internal disputes and an eruption of violent rivalries within the Pakistani Taliban threaten the Taliban’s ability to deliver on the peace deal currently being negotiated [New York Times’ Declan Walsh].

The Associated Press provides a look at statistics of Israeli and Palestinian minors accused of crimes in the West Bank to reveal a dual system of justice.

NPR’s All Things Considered reports on the U.S. Army training regimen that prepares soldiers for future combat and how the winding down of the conflict in Afghanistan changes its training mission.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).