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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 21, 2014

Top of the Agenda

West Escalates Pressure as Crimea’s Annexation Proceeds

Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yatsenyuk and European leaders signed on Friday part of the political and economic association pact with the European Union that helped trigger the months-long crisis in Ukraine. Shortly after, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law to formally annex Crimea and Sevastopol (WSJ). These moves follow escalating Western sanctions against Russia. U.S. president Barack Obama announced an expanded list of Russian officials and businessmen facing asset freezes and travel bans, including individuals close to Putin, and Bank Rossiya, while the European Union added twelve more Russians to its blacklist. The credit ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor's both cut Russia's outlook to BBB, the second-lowest investment grade, on news of the sanctions (Bloomberg).


"Putin won't back down, or be kicked out, until credible threats to his power create a split among his elites and advisers. Right now they have no incentive to bet against him. Putin protects them and their assets while the free world they enjoy living in has made no moves that would force them to choose between their riches and Putin. Changing that calculus is the only way to protect Ukraine and wherever Putin next creates enemies to feed into his propaganda machine," writes Garry Kasparov for the Washington Post.

"There are people who are not on the list who are already cringing at the anticipation of the blow: Russian liberals. They were largely horrified by their country's invasion of Ukraine and are happy to see Putin's cronies punished by the West, but they know that the Kremlin, unable to lash out at Washington, will take its fury out on them," writes Julia Ioffe in the New Republic.

"Far more important now are the deeper strategic changes that should flow from our new understanding of Russia. We need to re-imagine NATO, to move its forces from Germany to the alliance's eastern borders. We need to reexamine the presence of Russian money in international financial markets, given that so much 'private' Russian money is in fact controlled by the state. We need to look again at our tax shelters and money-laundering laws, given that Russia uses corruption as a tool of foreign policy. Above all we need to examine the West's energy strategy," writes Anne Applebaum for the Washington Post.


CFR's Global Conflict Tracker

The Center for Preventive Action's Global Conflict Tracker is an interactive guide to U.S. conflict prevention priorities in 2014. It provides an up-to-date overview of ongoing or potential conflicts. Take a look.

Pacific Rim

Court Nullifies Thai Elections

Thailand's constitutional court ruled that the February snap election called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is invalid. That vote came amid anti-government protests in Bangkok and an opposition boycott. A decision about a new vote was unclear (BBC).

JAPAN/NORTH KOREA: Japanese and North Korean diplomats agreed on Thursday to resume talks, which were last held in November 2012 (Asahi Shimbun). Representatives from the two countries will meet in Beijing on March 30-31, Japan's foreign ministry said (AP).

CFR's Scott Snyder blogs about North Korea's shadowy arms trade.


South and Central Asia

Kabul Hotel Attacked on Afghan New Year’s Eve

Attackers opened fire inside a Kabul luxury hotel, killing nine civilians, including four foreigners (TOLO). The attacks came on the eve of Afghan New Year's Day and two weeks before Afghans vote in a presidential election the Taliban has vowed to disrupt.

INDIA: A Mumbai court sentenced four men to life imprisonment for the gang rape of a telephone operator last July. Three of them may face the death penalty if convicted in a separate case for the rape of a photojournalist (Times of India).

This Backgrounder explains India's sexual assault laws and its justice system.


Middle East

Iran Finds Economic Recovery Elusive

President Hassan Rouhani has been unable to provide the quick fix for an ailing economy that many impoverished middle class voters hoped for. Tehran will begin phasing out energy subsidies on Friday, the start of the Iranian New Year, a decision economists say could increase utilities prices by nearly 90 percent (NYT).

SAUDI ARABIA: The White House canceled a summit between President Obama and Gulf monarchs that was to have taken place this month in Riyadh because of a rift between Qatar and other Gulf nations (WSJ)



UN Rights Chief Wars of Anti-Muslim Violence in CAR

Daily violence continues in the Central African Republic and thousands of Muslims remain in danger of attack Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday. The UN has said that current levels of aid and peacekeepers are inadequate (UNNews).

CONGO: The World Bank's board of directors has approved a $73 million package of technical assistance, including environmental and social impact assessments, to help in developing the Inga 3 hydropower project (Bloomberg) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.



Following PM’s Threats, Twitter Outages in Turkey

Twitter users in Turkey reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to block the network. The move comes ahead of municipal elections, which will be held at the end of the month (Today's Zaman).

CFR's Steven Cook discusses the upcoming municipal elections and Erdoğan's domestic standing.



Uruguay to Take In Guantanamo Detainees

President Jose Mujica says Uruguay has reached an agreement with the United States to take in Guantanamo detainees, and will consider them refugees (MercoPress).

VENEZUELA: Riot police and protestors clashed in Caracas on Thursday, following the government's moves against two mayors, who were detained, and one of whom was sentenced to ten months imprisonment for failing to dismantle barricades (BBC).



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