from The Water's Edge

The World Next Week: Ukraine Protests Turn Violent, UN Report Condemns North Korea’s Human Rights Record, and the Sochi Olympics Come to a Close

Anti-government protesters carry logs to build barricades after violence erupted in the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. (Vasily Fedosenko/Courtesy Reuters)

February 20, 2014

Anti-government protesters carry logs to build barricades after violence erupted in the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. (Vasily Fedosenko/Courtesy Reuters)
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The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed the escalating conflict in Ukraine, the United States and South Korea’s joint military exercises, and the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics.


The highlights:

  • Western capitals head into the weekend debating how to respond to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The now two-month long stand-off between the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and anti-government protestors turned violent this week. A truce brokered late Wednesday night lasted barely twelve hours. Speaking at the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, President Barack Obama warned of “consequences if people step over the line.” But the United States and European countries have few cards to play in the crisis. Broad-based economic sanctions are out as they would only aggravate Ukraine’s economic crisis and punish ordinary Ukrainians. Sanctions such as visa bans that target top government officials and their supporters probably won’t be enough to compel Yanukovych to yield, especially when Moscow appears to be pressing him to stand firm. The critical question now is whether Ukraine’s security forces will enforce a continued crackdown on protestors, or whether they themselves will split into opposing camps.
  • U.S. and South Korean forces begin their annual two-month long military exercises on Monday. In the past, the exercises have triggered saber-rattling in Pyongyang. This year’s exercises come against the backdrop of a new 400-page report issued by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights. The report blasts North Korea for committing crimes against humanity on an “unimaginable scale,” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearance and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The accusations are no surprise; North Korea’s human rights abuses have been documented time and again. The problem is what to do about them. The United States and its allies have little leverage over North Korea. The one country that does, China, does not appear inclined to use it. Beijing dismissed the UN report as “unreasonable criticism.”
  • The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi come to a close this weekend. The Games have had their fair share of ups and downs: gorgeous new venues, unfinished hotels, a dazzling opening ceremony, slushy snow, and some superb feats of athleticism. If you love ice hockey, the quality of the play in both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the Sochi Games has been a gift.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is 2.5 million. My Figure of the Week is Matteo Renzi. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listeners Ian Mackinnon (@iemackin) and Carolina Ocampo-Maya (@com1980) who chose Leopoldo Lopez. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Unrest in Kiev: provides an issue guide to the crisis in Ukraine and a chapter preview of Pathways to Freedom about Ukraine’s democratic transition. BBC News reports that Ukrainian president Yanukovych has sacked army chief Volodymyr Zamana. The New York Times writes that President Yanukovych’s grasp on the country is failing. The Guardian writes that the United States and the European Union are considering sanctions against Ukraine.

North and South Korea: The Boston Globe discusses China and North Korea’s rebukes of UN accusations of crimes against humanity. has a backgrounder on the China-North Korea relationship. Scott Snyder writes about John Kerry’s most recent trip to Asia and answers questions about the new UN human rights report. CNN describes the horrors of North Korean prison camps. The New York Times writes that John Kerry has rejected delaying the joint military exercises with South Korea.

The End of the Sochi Olympics: has a historical look at politics and the Olympics. CFR Distinguished Visiting Fellow Raymond Kelly speaks on security challenges in Sochi. ABC News reports that security at the Olympics is “increasingly uneven.” The Washington Post asks what’s next for the Winter Olympics?