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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 20, 2014

Top of the Agenda

EU Considers Steeper Sanctions for Russia

European leaders are meeting in Brussels Thursday to consider imposing additional sanctions over Russia's moves to annex Crimea. German chancellor Angela Merkel advocated steeper sanctions and declared the G8 effectively dead in an address to the Bundestag (Deutsche Welle). Ukraine said Wednesday it was withdrawing from its military bases in Crimea, and prepared to evacuate some twenty-five thousand military personnel and their families from the peninsula in a move that amounts to a military surrender there even as Kiev rejects Russia's moves toward annexation (WaPo). Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Wednesday that talks on deploying monitors to defuse the situation had been obstructed by Russia, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon departed for Moscow and Kiev (Moscow Times).


"The things that President Obama and the European Union have done—relatively mild sanctions, the exclusion of Russia from an upcoming G-7 (formerly G-8) meeting, the shoring up of defenses in Poland and the Baltic nations, and presumably more actions of this sort to come—are proportional steps worth taking. But no one should suffer the illusion that any of this will prod Putin to send the troops in Crimea home (most of them were already stationed there) or give the land back to Ukraine. To pretend that it might—as some of Obama's rhetoric about 'costs' and 'consequences' has implied—works only to Putin's benefit; it makes him seem stronger (he's withstood the American sanctions!) than he really is," writes CFR Murrow Press Fellow Fred Kaplan in Slate.

"Mr. Putin has cynically raised nationalist fervor to a fever pitch; imperialist annexation is a strategic choice to bolster his regime's survival. Mobilizing the masses by distracting them from real problems like corruption and economic stagnation can take place only beneath the banner of fighting external enemies," writes Alexey Navalny in the New York Times.

"Deterrence requires a credible threat of military action. The various economic and diplomatic efforts to isolate Russia and compel Putin to pull back his troops are wise, and they are likely to have an effect. But soft and hard power are two sides of a coin. We need to recognize how military options fit into this strategy," writes CFR's Janine Davidson for the National Interest.


Pacific Rim

Michelle Obama Arrives in China for Weeklong Visit

Michelle Obama arrived in Beijing on Thursday for what the White House said would be a "politics-free" visit focused on education (SCMP). Political insiders say the trip was arranged in part to make up for the first lady's absence from last June's U.S.-China "shirt-sleeves summit," and highlights the unusually high-profile role of her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan (WSJ).

It will be a lost opportunity if Obama steers clear of politics, says CFR's Elizabeth Economy.

JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA: The leaders of Japan and South Korea may meet for the first time in nearly two years next week on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit at The Hague, according to unnamed sources in Seoul (Yonhap).


South and Central Asia

Pakistan to Improve Conditions for Journalists, Sharif Says

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists that he would establish a commission to improve conditions for journalists. A New York Times correspondent was expelled from Pakistan last year, and the country remains one of the deadliest for journalists (Express Tribune).

Julie Anderson blogs about protecting journalists in armed conflict.

AFGHANISTAN: Eighteen people were killed in coordinated attacks claimed by the Taliban in Jalalabad on Thursday (Pajhwok).


Middle East

Latest Round of Iran Nuclear Talks ‘Useful’

The second round of nuclear talks concluded in Vienna on Wednesday with both EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 negotiating bloc, and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif describing the talks as "useful and substantive." The talks, which aim for a permanent agreement by late July, will resume April 7 (NYT).

CFR's Global Governance Monitor discusses strengths and weaknesses of the global nonproliferation regime.

LIBYA: The UN Security Council took action on Wednesday against the illegal export of Libyan crude oil, but the government in Tripoli has little control over the country's oil-producing east (AP).



Ethics Probe Faults South Africa's Zuma

A public prosecutor released a report saying President Jacob Zuma misused state funds to refurbish his family's houses in violation of the executive ethics code (Mail & Guardian).

KENYA: The high court in Nairobi ruled that journalist Walter Barasa can be extradited to the International Criminal Court. He is suspected of bribing prosecution witnesses in the trial of Deputy President William Ruto, whose trial involves ethnic violence during the 2007 election (BBC).



Surge Seen in North African Migration to Italy

Italy's navy and coast guard rescued about 2,400 migrants coming from North Africa over a two-day period, authorities said Wednesday, adding that the number of migrants reaching Italian shores at the beginning of 2014 was ten times as high as the same period a year prior (NYT).



Fed Indicates Future Rate Hikes

U.S. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen indicated the central bank will keep short-term rates near zero into next year, but increased rates might come sooner and be higher than investors expected. After the announcement, stock prices fell and longer-term rates on Treasury bonds rose (WSJ).

COLOMBIA: President Juan Manuel Santos signed off on the impeachment of Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro, dismissing an injunction issued earlier on Wednesday by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. An ombudsman, citing mismanagement, initiated the move, but Petro says it was politically motivated (Colombia Reports).



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