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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 17, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Crimea Moves Toward Union With Russia as EU Prepares Sanctions

Crimea's parliament declared its independence from Ukraine and dispatched lawmakers to Moscow to discuss annexation by the Russian Federation on Monday, a day after Crimean voters overwhelmingly endorsed secession and annexation (AP). Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov said more than 70 percent of the population had cast ballots, but the United States, European Union, and the new Ukrainian government consider Sunday's referendum illegal, and it was boycotted by Tatars, the peninsula's Muslim ethnic minority (Moscow Times). EU officials met in Brussels late Sunday to discuss travel bans and asset freezes against Russian and Crimean officials, with a final decision expected Monday (WSJ). Meanwhile, Russian troops seized a natural-gas terminal just beyond the peninsula's border on the eve of the referendum (NYT).


"The outcome of Vladimir Putin's aggression in the Crimean Peninsula is not yet settled, but one thing is clear: He will have few indigenous allies, should he attempt to occupy and split away Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions. Instead of stirring pro-Russian sentiments, the actions of his military have advanced national unity among Ukrainian citizens and have led the country's new leaders to moderate their actions," writes Adrian Karatnycky in the Washington Post.

"History's dictators have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight. But Putin has no positive spin for his aggression—or his actions in general. The political culture Putin has created in Russia is based on the assumption that the world is rotten to the core," writes Masha Gessen in the Los Angeles Times.

"If Crimea actually secedes and agrees to be annexed by Russia, this could embolden other secessionist movements in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. When the United States and other European governments supported the independence of Kosovo, they were aware that it could set a precedent for other secessions, despite their arguments that Kosovo was a unique situation. … Just as the United States recognized the possible precedent set by Kosovo's secession, Russia may find that its support for Crimea's independence might trigger referenda or secession movements that it opposes, such as in Chechnya," says CFR's John B. Bellinger III.


Pacific Rim

Missing Malaysia Flight Strains International Cooperation

As the number of countries involved in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has grown from fourteen to twenty-five, the search has laid bare long-standing regional antagonisms (WaPo). Kuala Lampur has also rebuffed the FBI's offers of assistance (NYT) as foul play appears increasingly likely.

CHINA: China rejected a UN report accusing North Korea of crimes against humanity that was submitted last month to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. Its dismissal makes a Security Council referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court unlikely (Reuters).

This Backgrounder explains the China–North Korea relationship.


South and Central Asia

Pakistan Seeks U.S. Military Equipment After Afghan Drawdown

The U.S. military may hand military equipment that are too heavy and costly to ship out of Afghanistan to regional allies, including Pakistan, as it withdraws from Afghanistan this year. Heavy equipment, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, will help Pakistan combat the Taliban on its side of the border (WaPo).

PAKISTAN: An official reduced by ten years the thirty-three-year prison sentence of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who is suspected of helping the CIA identify Osama bin Laden's whereabouts under the guise of a polio immunization campaign (Hindu).

The United States must reorient its Pakistan strategy, argues CFR's Daniel S. Markey.


Middle East

Abbas Visits White House as Obama Pushes to Extend Talks

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Monday will meet with U.S. president Barack Obama, who is expected to press him to sign on to a framework agreement as a basis for continuing peace talks with Israel beyond the current April 29 deadline. Abbas is expected to resist some articles of the framework, including recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (Haaretz).

LIBYA: U.S. Navy SEAL commandos seized a tanker loaded with smuggled Libyan oil near Cyprus from militiamen who sought to sell it on the black market (FT) on Monday morning. The Libyan government's inability to control oil exports destabilized its transitional government.



Economists Caution on Sub-Saharan Growth

The IMF expects growth in sub-Saharan Africa to rise to 6 percent in 2014, making it second only to developing Asia in its pace of expansion. But global conditions—including the U.S. Federal Reserve's taper and a Chinese slowdown that has reduced commodity prices—may compound local conditions that are dampening expectations (FT).

RWANDA: A Paris court convicted Pascal Simbikangwa of genocide on Friday, sentencing the ex-intelligence chief to twenty-five years. It is the first genocide conviction for the former colonial power (AP).



Russian Arms Exports Surge

Russia's arms exports have resurged since hitting a post-Cold War low, now accounting for more than one-fifth of the global trade—nearly that of the United States. Germany trails them as the third-largest exporter, followed by China, which displaced France, according to the Stockholm-based research organization SIPRI (WSJ).



Venezuela Protests Met With Both Talks and Crackdown

President Nicolás Maduro has responded to a month of protests by projecting a conciliatory image while ordering police officers and soldiers to crack down on demonstrators (NYT). Cuba is preparing for a possible disruption in relations with its closest Latin American ally, on whom it relies for subsidies (Miami Herald).

EL SALVADOR: An electoral court confirmed the razor-thin presidential victory of Salvador Sanchez Ceren, from El Salvador's ruling left-wing party. He will be the first ex-guerrilla to serve as president (BBC).

CFR's Shannon O'Neil previews this year's elections in Latin America.



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