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Showing posts from February, 2014

Crimean Parliament Seized by Unknown Pro-Russian Gunmen

Gunmen storm Crimea's regional administrative complex in Simferopol and hoist Russian flag above parliament building

By Harriet Salem in Simferopol, Shaun Walker in Kiev, and Luke Harding

- "The Guardian" - Fears of a major regional conflict in Crimea pitting Russia against the west have intensified after unknown pro-Russian gunmen seized the government and parliament building in a well co-ordinated military operation.

According to witnesses, the men dressed in fatigues stormed Crimea's regional administrative complex in Simferopol at 5am on Thursday. They hoisted a Russian flag above the parliament building. About 120 men were holed up inside, armed with heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles, witnesses said.

They threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist's questions. Phonecalls to region's legislature rang unanswered, and its website was down.

It was unclear if the men were members of a pro-Russian self-defence militia formed…

Regional Leaders Attempt to Mediate Venezuela's Crisis

People at a rally supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Feb. 26. (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


Venezuela is teetering on the edge of a major political upheaval. Despite the country's large energy reserves, it is facing a shortage of foreign reserves, aggravated by widespread inflation and corruption that has spun beyond the government's control. Basic consumer goods are growing scarce, inflation is at a critically high rate (45 percent according to the central bank, but the true number is likely much higher) and the gap between the official and black market rate for the bolivar is widening.

As a result, Venezuela's typically fractured opposition movement is now widening its base, pulling in a growing number of Venezuelans who are simply fed up with living under economically volatile conditions and coping with high rates of violent crime. With Venezuela bracing for more violent protests, a quiet but potentially significant mediation effort le…

Ukraine Approaches Bankruptcy

People line up to get money from a bank machine in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Feb. 20 as a result of the financial panic caused by the protests in Kiev. YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP/Getty Images

Summary


The violent protests that have rocked Ukraine since the beginning of the year seem to have settled down after the Yanukovich government's retreat, but the situation in the country is far from resolved. While the new and yet-to-be-determined government will have to grapple with problems such as Ukraine's fundamental east-west divide, the issue of immediate concern is much more mundane: The country is perilously close to insolvency.

Analysis
The political upheaval of the past three months has aggravated the inherent vulnerabilities of the Ukrainian economy and has strained the country's limited foreign currency reserves. In addition to a monthly natural gas import bill to Russia that amounts to roughly $1 billion, in January the National Bank of Ukraine disbursed $1.7 billion…

Between Russia and Ukraine, a Standoff Arises Over Crimea

Protesters wave Russian flags in front of the Sevastopol city hall Feb. 24 in Ukraine. (VASILIY BATANOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


After being voted into office today, the Ukrainian interim government is already facing a standoff with Russia following the occupation of the Crimean parliament by a group of Russian supporters. The new government is absorbed with trying to avoid a deeper economic and financial crisis and trying to get the different factions that make up the interim government to work together on short notice. Kiev has little capacity to counter Russia's moves in Crimea and thus will try to avoid a confrontation between those in Crimea welcoming a Russian intervention and groups defending the unity of Ukraine. In fact, Kiev is unlikely to seek a confrontation even if Moscow further increases its military presence in Crimea.

Considering the upheaval in Ukraine's security forces and military in recent weeks, it is unclear how much control the government has over forces…

Saudi Arabia Overhauls Its Strategy for Syria

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at a news conference in Islamabad on Jan. 7. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


Saudi Arabia is running into trouble in its strategy to weaken Iran by supporting rebels who are trying to topple the Syrian regime. Riyadh is working to develop a more independent foreign policy doctrine after its biggest ally, the United States, opted not to engage in military action against Syria and opened talks with the kingdom's biggest enemy, Iran. Between a lack of sufficient international support for the Syrian rebels and the fact that Syria has become a major destination for jihadists of varying ideologies, Riyadh will find it difficult to achieve its goals in Syria.

Analysis
Saudi Arabia is looking for alternative means to remove the Syrian regime, following the divergence in Saudi and U.S. interests pertaining to the Levant. From Washington's point of view, ousting Syrian President Bashar al Assad is not worth the cost of supporting Sala…

Russia Reminds the World It Still Has a Military

Russia is using Ukraine to show its neighbors, and indeed the world, that it is still a military power to be reckoned with. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills to test the combat readiness of the armed forces across the Western and Central military districts of Russia. Some 150,000 troops, 90 aircraft, 880 tanks, 1,200 piece of military hardware and more than 120 helicopters participated in the exercises, which involve operations along Russia's western borders, including those with Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the drills are not related to the events in Ukraine.

"Routine" military drills might not be so concerning had they not preceded military invasion before. Russia performed several exercises in the North Caucasus before invading Georgia in 2008, and the type of exercises -- not to mention the rhetoric coming out of Moscow -- is too similar for Kiev to ignore. Russia already has military personnel sta…

Before the British Vote, Germany Tries to Keep the EU Intact

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the 2013 G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. (ALEXANDER VILF/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)

Summary


The European Union will eventually need to reform its treaties to satisfy some members' demands, but reform may not come soon enough for the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister David Cameron will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel in London on Feb. 27 to discuss the United Kingdom's plans to renegotiate its role in the European Union. If the ruling Conservative Party is re-elected in the British general elections in 2015, Cameron will want the British Parliament to repatriate some powers from Brussels and for national parliaments to have veto power on EU issues, all before the United Kingdom holds a referendum on its EU membership in 2017.

Germany, Europe's largest economic and political power, does not necessarily disagree with enhancing the union's democratic accountability but …

Russia: Using Crimea as Leverage in Ukraine

Pro-Russian demonstrations take place in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Feb. 23. (VASILIY BATANOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


As the crisis in Ukraine enters a new phase, the key to the country's political and security future may be held in an unsuspecting place: Crimea, an autonomous peninsular republic in southern Ukraine. The Crimean parliament will hold an extraordinary session Feb. 26 to discuss the situation in Ukraine amid signs that the autonomous republic is aligning even more closely with Russia than it was before the outset of protests. As one of Russia's strongest sources of leverage in Ukraine, Crimea will be an avenue through which Moscow influences its western neighbor. Already there are rumors that Russia could act militarily, but ultimately how far Russia goes will depend on how the political situation plays out in Kiev.

Analysis


Crimea has long been firmly within Russia's sphere of influence. More than 60 percent of the republic is populated by ethnic Rus…

Inside the Mind of James Clapper

By Glenn Greenwald

- "The Intercept" - - I’m going to have a story published later today about a new document, but until then, this new interview with (and profile of) Director of National Intelligence James Clapper by the Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake is worth spending a few moments examining. Last week, Lake published one excerpt of his interview where Clapper admitted that the U.S. Government should have told the American people that the NSA was collecting their communications records: as pure a vindication of Edward Snowden’s choice as it gets, for obvious reasons. But there are several new, noteworthy revelations from this morning’s article:


Thanks to rogue contractor Edward Snowden, the machinations of the shadow bureaucracy Clapper heads have for the last eight months been exposed one news story at a time. Clapper is often the guy who has to call newspaper editors to tell them not to print stories that they usually publish anyway.

This process of pre-publication notice to th…

The Brown Revolution of the Ukraine

By Israel Shamir

- I am a great fan of Kiev, an affable city of pleasing bourgeois character, with its plentiful small restaurants, clean tree-lined streets, and bonhomie of its beer gardens. A hundred years ago Kiev was predominantly a Russian resort, and some central areas have retained this flavour. Now Kiev is patrolled by armed thugs from the Western Ukraine, by fighters from the neo-Nazi -Right Sector, descendants of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian Quisling’s troopers, and by their local comrades-in-arms of nationalist persuasion.



After a month of confrontation, President Viktor Yanukovych gave in, signed the EC-prepared surrender and escaped their rough revolutionary justice by the skin of his teeth. The ruling party MPs were beaten and dispersed, the communists almost lynched, the opposition have the parliament all to themselves, and they've appointed new ministers and taken over the Ukraine. The Brown Revolution has won in the Ukraine. This big East European country of fif…