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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 2, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Protests Escalate in Kiev

Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets of Kiev on Sunday to denounce Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's decision to distance the country from the EU (Independent). Some protestors attempted to storm the presidential administration building with a bulldozer and were driven back with truncheons, tear gas, and flash grenades. Crowds defied a government ban on rallies that started on Sunday, and, in scenes that echoed the country's 2004 protests, began to chant for revolution (al-Jazeera). A senior Russian official said Moscow would provide Ukraine with cheaper natural gas and financial loans if the government in Kiev agrees to join Belarus and Kazakhstan in a Russian-led customs union (Bloomberg).


"The huge turnout of protestors in Kiev—and the subsequently harsh crackdown by the police against them—completely changed the political situation for Yanukovych, Putin, and all of Ukraine. The current political instability in Kiev undoubtedly rivals the 2004 crisis, which led to the Orange Revolution. Putin's seeming victory in convincing Yanukovych to rebuff the EU is looking more Pyrrhic with each passing day as an increasing number of Ukrainians express their anger at Yanukovych's decision to table the agreement with the EU," writes Yevgeny Kiselyov in the Moscow Times.

"In 2004, people protested against Yanukovych because he resorted to rigging the election to become president. Now he is president of Ukraine, and people protest against him because they have lost belief in Yanukovych intending to lead their country towards the EU. Demonstrations also continue out of fear that he might not only take from them the European prospect, but democracy, too," writes Bernd Johann for Deutsche Welle.

"If Moscow put the heavy hand on Ukraine to make a definitive choice between its own Eurasian Union and closer ties (through the Eastern Partnership) with the EU, that was in part because similar all-or-nothing language was coming from Brussels. Whether this reflected ignorance of Ukrainian realities or the fact that there were too many other distractions—from the euro crisis to the German elections—is not yet clear. But by insisting on a signature from Kiev by the deadline of late November, Brussels was asking for something that was always going to be difficult for Ukraine to give," writes Mary Dejevsky in the Financial Times.


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Biden Heads to Asia Amid China Air Zone Tensions

U.S. vice president Joe Biden will visit China, Japan, and South Korea this week amid tensions over China's newly declared air defense zone (AFP). The White House said the trip would emphasize Washington's "enduring presence as a Pacific power" and signal the U.S. pivot toward Asia.

This CFR InfoGuide explains the disputes in the East and South China Seas.

THAILAND: Thai police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and started using water cannons to push back against protestors calling for the resignation of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra (NYT).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explains in this op-ed why the political crisis in Thailand will likely escalate.



Pakistan Rejects Proposal for Taliban Office

Pakistan has turned down a request by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to allow the Taliban to establish an office in Pakistan, and instead both countries will focus on helping the Taliban open a political office in Turkey or Saudi Arabia to facilitate peace talks (Express Tribune).

This Council Special Report assesses Afghanistan's prospects after the U.S. military drawdown.

AFGHANISTAN: Four Afghan policemen were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a truck in their base in Wardak province southwest of the capital Kabul (Xinhua).



Egypt's Draft Constitution Tweaks Original Roadmap

Egypt's draft constitution was amended to allow for presidential elections before a parliament is voted in, reversing the original roadmap's order announced by the military in July (Reuters). Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen as a front-runner for president.

SYRIA: At least fifty-seven people were killed over the weekend in two days of air strikes by the Syrian military on al-Bab, a rebel-held town north of Aleppo (al-Jazeera).



France Sends More Troops to Central African Republic

Roughly two hundred French soldiers arrived in the Central African Republic to help restore order after a rebel takeover in March, and five hundred more are expected to join the effort soon (BBC). Some former rebel forces have left the capital Bangui as French troops arrived in the city.

NIGERIA: Top Nigerian military officers have been accused of colluding with a criminal network that is stealing about 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day (All Africa).



Croatians Vote to Ban Same-Sex Marriage

More than 65 percent of Croatians voted in a referendum Sunday to ban gay marriages in the European Union's newest member nation (France24). The country has taken steps to improve LGBT rights in recent years, but marriage equality remains a divisive issue in staunchly Catholic Croatia.

This CFR Backgrounder compares laws governing same-sex marriages in six countries.



Health Insurance Website Meets Deadline for Fixes

The Obama administration said it met its goal of improving its online health insurance marketplace, and after a series of technical fixes and upgrades the website now works more than 90 percent of the time, up from 43 percent in October (WaPo).

VENEZUELA: The crumbling economy in Venezuela is limiting Hugo Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro's ability to use the country's oil wealth to distribute foreign aid and maintain influence over other nations (AP).



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