News Roundup and Notes: April 29, 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 Treasury Department imposed new sanctions against Russia yesterday, targeting seven Russian government officials as well as 17 companies linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The White House also announced “a tightened policy to deny export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.” Politico (Jennifer Epstein and Josh Gerstein) provides details. The EU has also imposed new sanctions on 15 Russians, including deputy prime minister Dmitry Nikolayevich Kozak and a deputy chairman of the Duma [The Guardian’s Mark Tran].

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov told CNN (Josh Levs and Elise Labott) that the latest U.S. sanctions “will only intensify all the processes in Ukraine which it intends to change or stop.” Ryabkov warned:

“A response of Moscow will follow, and it will be painfully felt in Washington D.C.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the EU should be ashamed for “doing Washington’s bidding” by following the U.S., instead of “forcing the Kiev clique to sit at the table with southeastern Ukraine to negotiate the future structure of the country” [Reuters].

Republican lawmakers have slammed the new round of sanctions as weak and amounting to little more than a “slap on the wrist” [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad and Kristina Wong]. The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon et al.) reports that the move “fell significantly short of the expansive sanctions Kiev’s government and many members of Congress have been demanding.”

The Washington Post editorial board similarly argues that the President’s “half-measures give Vladimir Putin little to fear.” And the New York Times (Rick Gladstone) reports that Obama’s sanctions strategy “encountered a new complication” with Iranian state media reporting that Russia is negotiating an $8 billion to $10 billion energy deal with Iran.

Meanwhile, in a phone call with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu “reiterated his assurance that Russian forces would not invade [Ukraine]” [DoD News]. Hagel also “repeated his call for an end to Russia’s destabilizing influence inside Ukraine.”

Fox News (Maxim Lott) reports that the Ukrainian military “went through years of neglect under the now-toppled pro-Russian government, which ‘deliberately dismantled’ the military,” according to acting president Arseniy Yatsenyuk and experts.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the detention of the OSCE’s international observers, and demanded that they be released “immediately, unconditionally and unharmed” [UN News Centre]. And The Daily Beast (Jamie Dettmer) questions why the press played along with the parade by pro-Russian separatists of the kidnapped OSCE members over the weekend, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The White House has published a list of questions it asks in deciding when to disclose cyber vulnerabilities to the public, or whether to keep security flaws a secret to allow surveillance by American intelligence agencies [New York Times’ David E. Sanger].

The Washington Post editorial board argues why the Supreme Court “should begin laying out privacy protections for smartphones,” ahead of today’s consideration by the court of whether police can search the contents of a mobile phone without a warrant.

Drones

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports that the Senate has “quietly stripped” a provision from an intelligence bill that would require the administration to make public an annual report on the total number of individuals killed or injured through targeted killing operations overseas.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser has warned that Australian military and intelligence personnel working at the U.S.-run Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, reportedly involved in locating drone targets, could face charges of crimes against humanity [ABC News’ Mark Corcoran].

Israel-Palestine

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement yesterday, responding to reports that he had warned that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state.” Kerry said:

“I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.

… and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state … and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution.”

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) and Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon) provide more details. Lawmakers on both sides criticized Kerry’s reported comments on Israel [Politico’s Jonathan Topaz and The Hill’s Ramsey Cox].

The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner) provides details of “how nine months of Mideast talks ended in disarray.”

Sen. Rand Paul will introduce a bill this week, which aims to make U.S. aid to Palestine dependent on its recognition of Israel and a ceasefire, following the unity agreement concluded between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, last week [Politico’s Lucy McCalmont].

Syria

A letter signed by 35 international lawyers and addressed to the UN states that the “appalling situation [in Syria] has been compounded by an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law, which has held UN agencies back from delivering humanitarian aid across borders.” Outlining the legal position, the lawyers argue that “there is no legal barrier to the UN directly undertaking cross-border humanitarian operations and supporting NGOs to undertake them as well,” despite the Syrian government’s refusal to consent to such cross-border aid.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared his candidacy for June’s presidential vote, which opponents warned was a setback to peace prospects [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher].

Human Rights Watch finds that the Syrian regime continues to use unguided barrel bombs, despite the UN Security Council resolution passed in February calling for the end of such indiscriminate attacks.

Afghanistan

The Washington Post (Greg Miller et al.) explores the mystery surrounding the move of Haji Gulalai, Afghanistan’s “torturer in chief,” to the U.S. Afghan officials and former Gulalai colleagues say his U.S. connections helped him move to the outskirts of Los Angeles, but CIA officials deny that the agency played any role in helping Gulalai.

The New York Times (Azam Ahmed) reports on the range of possible reasons for the lull in the Taliban’s activities, including on Election Day.

President Obama’s Asia tour

At the close of his Asia trip, President Obama defended his foreign policy on Ukraine and the Middle East, stating that critics who repeatedly call for the use of military force “haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade.” The Hill (Justin Sink), New York Times (Mark Landler) and Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin) have more details on Obama’s comments, made at a news conference with Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Reuters (Matt Spetalnick and Mark Felsenthal) reports on how doubts still persist over Obama’s Asia “pivot” at the end of his week-long trip. CNN’s Kevin Liptak outlines the five takeaways from the trip, including the White House’s message to China that the U.S. is prepared to support its allies in the region’s territorial disputes.

And The Economist suggests that Obama’s “Asian hosts—in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines successively—got rather more out of the visiting American president than he got out of them.”

Other developments

In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus writes that the Senate’s probe into the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation methods “creates tension” for CIA agents, and argues that the agency’s officers and contractors should not go through “another round of investigations for what happened a decade ago.” Rather, Pincus states, “If more accountability is required, start with Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney.”

According to Saudi officials, DNA tests conducted on the remains of a Saudi national killed in last week’s drones strikes in Yemen confirmed that the body was not that of al-Qaeda bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri [CNN’s Paul Cruickshank].

Reuters (Julia Edwards) reports that the U.S. Justice Department will begin collecting data on stops, searches and arrests made in five U.S. cities to examine the racial bias within the criminal justice system.

Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris reports on the Federal Reserve System’s secret cyber security unit, the National Incident Response Team, which is “keeping trillions of dollars safe from hackers [and spies].”

A new report finds that Iran has improved capabilities to pull off hacking and cyber-spying on the U.S., although Russia and China remain the most serious threats [Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Clayton].

Al Jazeera covers the escalating violence in the build up to Iraq’s first nationwide election since U.S. withdrawal. Bombs killed at least 62 people yesterday as army and police personnel cast early votes.

The UN and the White House condemned the continued use of mass trials and sentencing in Egypt. However, the New York Times editorial board criticizes the administration’s “shockingly weak statement,” which provides no indication that it will consider last week’s decision to provide Egypt with 10 Apache helicopters and further aid.

CNN (Euan McKirdy) reports that  North Korea conducted live-fire exercises today near its disputed western sea border, causing alarm in neighboring South Korea. A South Korean defense ministry spokesperson warned that the South “will respond with counter fire” if provoked.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay called for a cessation of hostilities in South Sudan so that civilians may return home after being displaced for months due to ongoing violence [UN News Centre].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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