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News Roundup and Notes: April 28, 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

As clashes continue in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv Post reports that the mayor of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, has been shot, while violence has also spread to parts of Kiev.

President Obama told reporters in the Philippines today that the U.S. is imposing further sanctions against Russia [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Peter Baker]. Obama said, “[t]hese sanctions represent the next stage in a calibrated effort to change Russia’s behavior.” EU ministers are also meeting in Brussels to agree upon new sanctions [BBC]. On Friday, the G-7 leaders announced they had agreed to “follow through on the full legal and practical consequences of [Crimea’s] illegal annexation, including but not limited to the economic, trade and financial areas.” According to their statement, they pledged to “move swiftly.”

Senior administration officials said yesterday that the sanctions, which could come as early as today, will target Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and the industries under their control, including defense [Wall Street Journal’s Scott Patterson et al.]. However, the New York Times (Peter Baker and C. J. Chivers) reports that Obama’s national security team has “become entangled in a tense debate over how much emphasis to put on unity with European allies more reluctant to take stronger economic actions against Moscow.” And The Hill (Julian Hattem) covers how senators “on both sides of the aisle are calling for the Obama administration to beef up its sanctions regime against Russia over the country’s meddling in Ukraine.”

Pro-Russian separatists holding the team of inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have released one member for medical reasons [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark et al.]. The seven OSCE officers were paraded by the militants before news media yesterday [Washington Post’s William Booth and Griff Witte].

The Economist notes that while the most recent survey shows that many southern and eastern Ukrainians may not support the pro-Russian separatists, around half of the respondents also said they considered the current interim government to be illegitimate.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that “[t]he beginning of strategic wisdom is to understand that Mr. Putin’s Russia … is an authoritarian regime bent on rewriting the rules of post-Cold War Europe.” The board notes that “the longer the West waits to respond the higher the cost will be.”

In the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl writes that the Baltic states “swallowed by the Soviet Union in 1940 are a good place to see how the Ukraine crisis is transforming what for two decades has been the ‘post-Cold War order’ in Europe.” And in an op-ed in the New York Times, Keith A. Darden considers how the “absence of legitimate authority in eastern Ukraine has left an absence of transparent, agreed-upon facts — a breeding ground for suspicion and manipulative diplomatic games on the margins of the truth that may yet carry the region to war.”

Israel-Palestine

Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] is reporting that Secretary of State John Kerry told world leaders in a closed-door meeting on Friday that Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state” if there is no two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, according to a recording from the meeting. Rogin reports that “Kerry’s use of the loaded term is already rankling Jewish leaders in America—and it could attract unwanted attention in Israel, as well.”

Following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ comments calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history [Associated Press], Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reacted angrily [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]. Netanyahu said, “Rather than releasing declarations aimed at soothing international public opinion, [Abbas] must choose between Hamas and true peace.”

Netanyahu also said on CNN’s “State of the Union” (Candy Crawley) that Israel will not “negotiate with a government backed by Hamas unless Hamas changes its position and says it’s willing to recognize Israel.” Meanwhile, Abbas has signaled he is willing to continue negotiations with Israel [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash]. And Reuters’ (Patricia Zengerle) reports that American negotiators are not expected to give up on the peace process, notwithstanding the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The New York Times editorial board argues that the police should need a warrant for mobile phone searches as they contain “enormous amounts of personal information.” The board argues that the Supreme Court, which will consider the issue tomorrow, “should recognize that new technologies do not alter basic Fourth Amendment principles, and should require a judicial warrant in such circumstances.”

Afghanistan

A British helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing five NATO troops [Associated Press’ Rahim Faiez And Kay Johnson]. All five troops were British.

The Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati et al.) reports that Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, “the hard-line chief military commander of the Afghan Taliban, has stepped down … in a major leadership change that could facilitate the restarting of peace talks aimed at ending Afghanistan’s 13-year war.” However, The Daily Beast’s Sami Yousafzai reports that the news “raises fears that if the hardline Zakir was dismissed, as seems likely, he will try to make any peace settlement or truce impossible.”

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has the lead in Afghanistan’s presidential race, with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani coming in second [Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Mohammad Sharif]. A runoff election between the two candidates has been tentatively scheduled for June.

Guantánamo Bay

Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports that an Army psychiatrist anonymously testified via video feed at alleged USS Cole bomber al Nashiri’s pre-trial session yesterday. The doctor testified that medical records provided no CIA detention history on any of his patients, but that al Nashiri was offered a range of treatments for his mental health problems.

The Guantánamo Periodic Review Board has recommended the transfer of a Yemeni detainee, Ali Ahmad al Razihi, stating that his detention “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States” [The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn].

Syria

The Washington Post’s Liz Sly takes a look at the Syrian rebels who have been entrusted with the first American missiles. The rebels, from recently formed group Harakat Hazm, welcomed the shipment as “an important first step” and said they had been chosen for their moderate views and their discipline.

The head of the OPCW-UN joint mission, Sigrid Kaag said at a press conference over the weekend that almost 8% of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile remains on its territory. Kaag said there is hope that “having come this close to meeting the target date for the removal of chemicals weapons material—the Syrian Arab Republic will take the final step very soon.”

BBC reports on the “devastating effects of air bombardment on Syrian civilians” after a team of reporters gained access to rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

President Obama’s Asia tour

The White House has concluded “a very important” defense agreement with the Philippines. The 10-year deal “facilitates enhanced security cooperation … that will allow [the U.S.] enhanced rotational presence at facilities in the Philippines.” The Hill (Laura Barron-Lopez) has more details.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say the military has prepared a range of options for a response to any future provocations from China in the South and East China seas, “ranging from displays of B-2 bomber flights near China to aircraft-carrier exercises near its coastal waters” [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes].

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin writes that Obama’s Asia trip is raising questions about how much the U.S. “will use its renewed focus on the region to press for democratic reforms and protections for human rights,” particularly in Malaysia. Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim argues in the Washington Post that “the U.S. pivot to Asia should not merely be about trade and investment” and that the “values of freedom and democracy must remain paramount.”

Other developments

Reuters (Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel) reports that according to sources, the U.S. is “quietly expanding the number of intelligence officers in Iraq and holding urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad to find ways to counter growing violence by Islamic militants.” And the Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley and Ali A. Nabhan) covers how the “fledgling Iraqi military is outmatched [by Islamist militants] on [the] battlefield.”

Fox News (Jana Winter) reports that outgoing Federal Air Marshall Director Robert Bray has entered into a settlement agreement suspending any possible disciplinary action against him, in relation to the ongoing investigation into an alleged gun selling operation.

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Trevor Timm writes that the Obama administration’s latest media guidelines for intelligence agencies “would make Richard Nixon blush.”

A Yemeni official told CNN (Mohammed Jamjoom) that Yemen’s elite forces are conducting raids on al Qaeda hideouts and cells on the outskirts of the capital city, Sanaa.

Writing about “Abu Ghraib’s ghosts,” Juan E. Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, argues that “[t]en years later, the United States still hasn’t come clean on its torture record” [Politico Magazine].

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged “Muslims and the mujahedeen” in an interview to “capture Westerners—and especially the Americans, as much as they can—to exchange them for [al Qaeda] captives” [CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Greg Botelho].

The latest mass trial in Egypt has recommended the death penalty for 683 people, including Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood [BBC News]. The judge also commuted to life terms 492 death sentences of the 529 passed earlier this year in March.

Muhammad Gaddafi’s son has appeared via video link to answer charges before a court in Tripoli relating to the suppression of the Libyan uprising three years ago [New York Times’ Suliman Ali Zway and Kareem Fahim].

Peacekeepers have escorted 1,3000 Muslims out of the Central African Republic capital, Bangui, an area that has been torn apart by religious violence [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author

is Associate Editor at Just Security. Follow her on Twitter @RParekh88.