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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 28, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Two Airports Seized in Crimea

Ukraine's interior minister said Russian troops took control of the two main airports in Crimea, a charge denied by Russia. Forces patrolling one of the airports said they were Crimean militiamen (AP). Russian president Vladimir Putin broke his silence on Ukraine and ordered his government to continue talks with Kiev on economic and trade relations and to consider a humanitarian aid request from Crimea, which has a large ethnic Russian population (Reuters). Ukraine's new government started working on securing financing and invited the International Monetary Fund for talks about a bailout worth as much as $15 billion (Bloomberg).


"Certainly the organization formerly known as the KGB has some expertise in destabilizing foreign countries, particularly through the use of provokatsiya. One of those non-Slavic words that nevertheless appear in every Slavic language—prowokacja in Polish,provokace in Czech—a provokatsiya is technically a 'provocation.' But it has a narrower meaning as well: a political event or action that the authorities, through their secret services, create to serve their own purposes," writes Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post.

"The Kremlin is testing the Western response as much as Ukraine's. Mr. Putin saw that Washington and Europe did little to help Georgia when Russia invaded in 2008 and were phlegmatic during Ukraine's three months of protests. This week's moves suggest he is now contemplating a territorial carve up of Ukraine, which is one way to ensure it stays out of the EU and NATO," the Wall Street Journal writes in an editorial.

"Talk to almost anyone connected with Ukraine's new leadership and the message is the same. To withstand Russian pressure, stabilise its finances and build a modern economy, it needs huge financial help. Poland has been leading calls for the west to provide a new Marshall Plan," write Neil Buckley and Roman Olearchyk in the Financial Times.


Pacific Rim

Thai Government Rejects Debate With Opposition Leader

Thailand's labor minister, who oversees a state of emergency imposed last month, rejected a proposal for televised debate between the opposition leader and the prime minister, as protestors rallied in Bangkok to call on the prime minister to step down (Reuters).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explains in Businessweek why Thailand's political instability will become more violent.

CHINA: A centuries-old habit of paying bills with cash is being broken in China as preferences shift to virtual forms of payment faster than any other country (FT).


South and Central Asia

Al-Qaeda Plots Comeback in Afghanistan

Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari, al-Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan, is planning to rebuild the organization after the United States and international forces leave the country, according to U.S. officials (AP).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and expansion of al-Qaeda.

PAKISTAN: The debate over drone strikes has been rekindled as the Obama administration decides whether to kill a militant known as Abdullah al-Shami, who was born in the United States and is believed to be living in the barren mountains of northwestern Pakistan (NYT).


Middle East

Syria Leads U.S. Human Rights Report

The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report said the tragedy of Syria's civil war "stands apart in its scope and human costs," citing the chemical weapons attack near Damascus, the use of barrel bombs and Scud missiles, and the torture and murder of civilians.

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

IRAQ: A series of bombings around Baghdad killed dozens in predominately Shia neighborhoods. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks (al-Jazeera).



World Bank Stalls Loan Over Uganda Anti-Gay Law

The World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan planned to help Uganda's health care system after the country's president enacted a harsh anti-gay law (AFP).

ERITREA: African migrants from Eritrea and Sudan in Israel are increasingly choosing "voluntary departure" from the country rather than indefinite detention in the Negev Desert (All Africa). Israel offers migrants a $3,500 grant to voluntarily leave the country.



U.S. Says Putin Oversaw Human Rights Abuses

The Russian government under the rule of President Vladimir Putin has suppressed dissent, persecuted LGBT citizens, allowed killing and torture by police, and committed other human rights violations, according to a U.S. State Department report.



Maduro Extends Carnival to Fight Venezuela Unrest

President Nicolás Maduro declared an extended Carnival holiday season in an apparent bet that it will help calm civil unrest, while some opposition leaders called to cancel celebrations to mourn those who died during protests in February (WSJ).

UNITED STATES: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank will likely continue reducing its asset purchases even as it studies recent weakness in the economy that may be attributed to a harsh winter (LATimes).



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