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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
May 2, 2014

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Top of the Agenda

Ukraine Offensive Meets Staunch Resistance

The Ukrainian army launched its first major assault on a separatist stronghold in the country's east on Friday, meeting strong resistance from rebels as it attacked Sloviansk at dawn. Two helicopters were shot down and two crew members killed, the Defense Ministry said (WaPo). A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said the offensive negated the Geneva agreement to de-escalate the conflict (FT), while Ukrainian security services said the presence of heavy weaponry undermined the rebels' claims that they did not have foreign backing. In Washington, German chancellor Angela Merkel will meet U.S. president Barack Obama at the White House (Deutsche Welle) for talks on a coordinated response to the crisis in Ukraine, among other issues. But with stiff resistance to heightened sanctions from her domestic business lobby, Merkel is unlikely to support the expanded, sector-wide sanctions the White House advocates if the situation escalates (WSJ).


"Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, may rail against police treachery but he has admitted that the security forces are 'helpless' in the east. It is not hard to fathom why. The police are paid little, unlike in Russia. Many were sent to Kiev during anti-government protests last winter and told they were fighting 'fascists.' Now these people are nominally their masters. The Russian media, widely watched and read in the east, plays up the activities of small far-right groups in Kiev and elsewhere. Many policemen openly sympathise with the anti-Kiev protesters," writes the Economist.

"Until now, Germany has shown little willingness to stand more firmly against President Putin, beyond sharp rhetoric. But as the crisis becomes harder to control, Germany may be forced into a tougher tone with Russia, and may shed its ambivalence about taking a more assertive role in the conflict. The [OSCE] hostage-taking 'gives a sense of immediacy. For first time, German citizens are directly concerned,' says Roland Freudenstein, deputy director of the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies in Brussels. He adds that it also raises questions about the limits of soft power in this conflict," writes Sara Miller Llana in the Christian Science Monitor.

"In the face of this assertive Russia, nothing would be more dangerous than American weakness. So when President Obama, in response to a recent question about whether his declaration that the United States would protect the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea risked drawing another 'red line,' gave an evasive answer including the hypothesis that America might not want to 'engage militarily,' he did something profoundly dangerous. In Asia, as in the Baltic, the Article 5 commitment to a joint military response to any attack on an ally is critical. The U.S. treaties must be words of truth that sound 'like a pistol shot,' or violent mayhem could spread well beyond East Ukraine," writes Roger Cohen in the New York Times.


Pacific Rim

Report on Missing Flight Highlights Communications Gaps

Malaysia on Thursday released a preliminary report on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight nearly two months after its disappearance. The release comes ahead of a meeting this month of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN regulatory body, which is expected to field calls for better tracking of commercial flights (Reuters).

NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un replaced the military's top political officer in a leadership shuffle thought to consolidate his power, as South Korea says Pyongyang is preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test (Bloomberg).


South and Central Asia

Militant Attacks in Northeast India Leave Ten Dead

At least ten people, including two children, were killed in two attacks in the northeastern state of Assam. Police attributed the attacks to Bodo separatists who want an independent homeland; the victims were Muslim migrants (BBC).

PAKISTAN: Journalist Hamid Mir testified on Friday before a judicial inquiry established to investigate the April 19 assassination attempt on him. Mir has accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of orchestrating the attack (Indian Express).

Aqil Shah discusses the case in Foreign Affairs.


Middle East

Saudi Arabia Says MERS Cases Nearly Double in April

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that twenty-six additional cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were reported this week, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 371. Public health officials worry that a Ramadan influx of pilgrims could spread the virus (Reuters).

CFR's Laurie Garrett examines some of the possible causes and proposes steps to prevent a global outbreak.

SYRIA: Syria's government and rebels agreed to a cease-fire on Friday that will allow rebel fighters to evacuate and bring the country's third-largest city under the control of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad just weeks before he seeks a renewed electoral mandate, the Associated Press reports.



Kerry Pushes for Peace in South Sudan

South Sudan president Salva Kiir agreed to meet with his political rival-turned-rebel leader, Riek Machar, for peace talks as early as next week, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry announced from the capital of Juba. Kerry warned that the country faces possible genocide or famine (AP).

NIGERIA: A car bomb in Abuja on Thursday left around twenty people dead, less than three weeks after another attack that suggested insurgent violence was coming to the capital. The World Economic Forum is meeting in Nigeria next week (This Day).

CFR's John Campbell blogs on the kidnapping of more than two hundred schoolgirls by the insurgent group Boko Haram.



Turkish Internet Censorship Draws Criticism

Protestors clashed with police who sought to enforce a ban on a May Day march on Thursday, but some critics of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan find his crackdown on the Internet more worrisome. They speculate that Turkey's policies could provide a template for other countries, while technology firms grapple with accommodating the laws in exchange for market access (WSJ).



White House Calls for Private-Sector Limits on Data Collection

The White House released a report on Thursday that recommends the government develop limits on the information companies gather on customers online. The report argues that regulations stem discrimination enabled by data, and recommends that privacy rights be extended to non-citizens (NYT).

COLOMBIA: At least thirty remained trapped after an illegal mine collapsed, killing three and leaving two injured (Colombia Reports).



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