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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 7, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Western Leaders Shun Winter Olympics

Russian president Vladimir Putin will host friendly heads of state from China, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who headed to Sochi just hours after attending a rally demanding the return of Japanese islands seized by Moscow. But leaders from France, the United States, Germany, and the UK won't turn up for the games (Reuters). Security in Sochi is tight to mitigate the risk of terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in the North Caucasus region. One measure, for example, includes tall fences topped with razor wire along the border with Abkhazia that extend offshore in the Black Sea (AP). Meanwhile, many Russians have expressed discontent over the cost of the Games, the most expensive Winter Olympics ever, as they struggle in an economy that expanded just 1.3 percent in 2013 (Bloomberg).


"Corruption, terrorism, human rights protests, high-level no-shows—all these represent ways in which the Sochi Olympics have embarrassed Putin. Yet in each case, the problem goes well beyond any connection to the Games. Each reflects a major tension in the system that Putin has created. And even if all goes well at Sochi, they suggest continuing challenges for the Western effort to create a cooperative relationship with Russia," writes Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

"The theme of these Games is simple: this is Putin's pop-culture reassertion of Russia, a worldwide media-saturated insistence on its modern power and capacities, all done with a flash and a reach that no diplomatic summit could ever match. Dissident Russian voices such as Alexei Navalny, Masha Gessen, and the members of Pussy Riot all call these 'Putin's Games'; they talk of a pharaoh intent on building, and displaying, his pyramids. In fact, minus the tone of derision, when you talk to Russian officials close to Putin, the explanation for his motives is not so different," writes David Remnick in the New Yorker.

"Following the disclosures by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, the global debate over electronic surveillance focused largely on the NSA… But a new player has appeared on the global stage: Russia's Federal Security System and SORM, Russia's system for intercepting telephone and electronic communications. Russia's total electronic surveillance system for the Olympics has put this country's intelligence agencies in the spotlight," writes Andrei Soldatov in the Moscow Times.


Pacific Rim

U.S.-Philippine Defense Talks Proceed, Slowly

Negotiations for an increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines may take longer than expected after talks hit an impasse in November over access and control of temporary U.S. military facilities (FT).

CHINA: The U.S. Senate confirmed Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who has held his seat since 1978, as the new U.S. ambassador to China (LATimes).


South and Central Asia

Pakistani Militants Added to U.S. Terror List

The United States added Malik Ishaq, the founding member and leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an organization that wants to kill or drive out minority Shia Muslims from Pakistan, to its list of global terrorists (Dawn).

This CFR Backgrounder examines the new generation of terrorists in Pakistan.

AFGHANISTAN: A Belgian Malinois army dog attached to a British special forces unit in Afghanistan has been captured by the Taliban after a long firefight (WaPo).


Middle East

UN Helps Syrians Leave Besieged Neighborhood in Homs

Six buses escorted by UN convoys have entered a rebel-held area in Homs that has been under siege by the Syrian military since June 2012 to evacuate the first group of civilians after a UN-negotiated cease-fire was reached between the Assad regime and rebels in the area (BBC).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Syrian conflict and the global response to the crisis.

IRAN: The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned an al-Qaeda operative based in Iran who allegedly facilitates the movement of money and fighters to groups battling against the Assad regime in Syria (Miami Herald).



Muslims Flee Central African Republic Capital

Thousands of Muslims fled their homes in Bangui, the capital of the majority-Christian Central African Republic, in a convoy of five hundred vehicles as crowds of Christians cheered the exodus. They headed toward Chad, a predominately Muslim country (AP).

CFR's John Campbell highlights three things to know about the crisis in the Central African Republic and what is needed for peace.

ANGOLA: A radio journalist is on trial in Angola, which has been ruled by the same president for thirty-four years, for allegedly asking questions about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station (Reuters).



Russia, United States Trade Barbs Over Ukraine

A Kremlin official accused Washington of "crudely interfering" in the escalating conflict between Ukraine's president, who is supported by Moscow, and Ukrainian antigovernment protesters. Meanwhile, the United States blamed Russia for leaking an intercepted conversation between two American diplomats (NYT).



Immigration Reform Difficult in 2014

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that immigration reform, a priority for President Barack Obama, would be difficult to pass in 2014 because Republican lawmakers and many Americans don't trust the president to enforce laws (Politico).

CFR's Edward Alden and Bernard Schwartz lead a conversation with professors and students on U.S. immigration reform.

UNITED STATES: Banking regulators are prepared to set limits on the amount of risk-taking by U.S. banks that will likely be stricter than the rules issued by international regulators (WSJ).



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