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Showing posts from February 28, 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…