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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 18, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Putin Moves Forward With Crimean Annexation

Russian president Vladimir Putin moved quickly to recognize the breakaway Ukrainian territory of Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation, submitting legislation to begin the process of annexation shortly after the United States and European Union levied a first round of sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials (FT). Addressing a special session of the Russian parliament on Tuesday, Putin said, "In people's heart of hearts, Crimea has always been part of Russia," and highlighted the Crimean peoples' right to self-determination, citing Sunday's vote, which U.S. and EU officials call illegal (BBC). Meanwhile, U.S. vice president Joseph Biden arrived in Poland on Tuesday to reassure eastern European allies that the United States will remain a guarantor of regional security there (NYT).


"The attempt by the EU and America to co-ordinate their announcement on March 17th of sanctions against Russian officials served mostly to highlight their differences. America's list of seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials subject to visa bans and seizure of assets overlapped with the EU's 21 names. But the American list included, crucially, three figures from President Vladimir Putin's inner circle—among them Dimitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, as well as two presidential advisers, Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Glazyev—which the EU omitted," writes the Economist.

"The United States and Russia have both crossed a Rubicon in the Ukraine crisis, and Washington must now confront the likelihood that if the standoff continues, it will dramatically alter relations on a much larger map than Eastern Europe, inviting Russian recalcitrance in crisis zones as far afield as East Asia, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan," writes Michael Hirsh in The National Journal.

"Beyond depriving Putin of recognition of his spoils, the West needs to send a powerful message about the wages of 'sin'–in this case, unilaterally challenging the sanctity of borders. Targeting a few senior Russian officials for sanction should be only the beginning. And the Obama administration and international allies should stop citing international law and instead adopt more aggressive rhetoric noting that Russian expansionist aspirations are illegitimate and threaten peace on the continent," writes CFR's Stewart Patrick.


Pacific Rim

Thailand to Lift Bangkok State of Emergency

The Thai cabinet voted to temporarily lift a state of emergency that had been imposed amid mounting protests prior to last month's elections, in which twenty-three people were killed. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces legal challenges and leads a caretaker government (Guardian).

JAPAN: Tepco, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, is turning to unskilled and destitute workers to decommission the site, which may have contributed to a recent leak (NYT).


South and Central Asia

Possibility of Fraud Raises Election-Day Fears in Afghanistan

The main candidates in April's election have said they would sign a bilateral security agreement allowing some U.S. forces to remain in the country after December, but elections widely perceived as fraudulent could present a new source of instability (WSJ). Meanwhile, a suicide attack in the capital of the northern province of Faryab killed at least fifteen civilians, Afghan officials said (AFP).

This Backgrounder explains the Taliban's resurgence.

SRI LANKA: Two prominent rights activists, including a priest, were detained under an antiterrorism law that rights groups say has been used to silence criticism (Hindu).


Middle East

New U.S. Representative to the Syrian Opposition Named

U.S. secretary of state John Kerry named senior foreign service officer Daniel Rubinstein to succeed Robert Ford as special envoy to Syria. "The demands of the Syrian people who marched en masse in 2011 were simple: freedom and dignity," Rubinstein said in a video message in Arabic (NYT).

IRAN: Talks between Iran and six world powers resumed in Vienna on Tuesday amid questions of whether the crisis in Ukraine would test the unity of the P5+1 at the negotiating table. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif canceled a pre-talks dinner with the lead Western negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (Reuters).



Kenya Arrests Two Found Driving With Bombs

Police thwarted a potential attack in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, seizing a bomb-laden car and arresting two suspects reportedly of Somali origin. U.S. FBI agents were involved in the investigation (Daily Star).

This Backgrounder explains al-Shabab's origins and objectives.

SOUTH AFRICA: A platinum strike entering its eighth week is set to become the country's biggest stoppage since the end of apartheid, and has surpassed revenue and production losses from a 2012 strike (Reuters).



Greenpeace Activists Break Into French Nuclear Plant

More than sixty activists broke into a nuclear power plant in eastern France on Tuesday to highlight lax security, according to Greenpeace. President Fran├žois Hollande has promised to reduce France's reliance on nuclear energy (France24).



Fed Expected to Adapt Forward Guidance

The U.S. Federal Reserve will meet for the first time Wednesday with its new chair, Janet Yellen, at the helm. The central bank is expected to increase its taper of asset purchases to $55 billion per month and indicate its willingness to keep interest rates low (FT).

MEXICO: The Knights Templar cartel has diversified to the point that drug trafficking has been surpassed by iron ore mining and other activities as top sources of income. The trend could further entrench the criminal organizations (AP).



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