Archive for March, 2014


March 31, 2014

Washington Times on March 30,2014, published a commentary by Guy Taylor on the Obama administration failing to seize on a rare strategic chance, presented by Russia’s increasingly aggressive military posturing around Ukraine, to expand the U.S. missile defense footprint in Eastern Europe, says a group of influential Republican lawmakers. Excerpts below:

Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee say the White House should “re-engage” a George W. Bush administration initiative that would have put ground-based missile interceptors in Poland along with corresponding radar in the Czech Republic — effectively establishing permanent U.S. military positions on the border of the former Soviet Union.

While the administration claims it is on track to implement a modified version of the initiative that includes missile defense sites in Romania and Poland, the lawmakers argue that the White House foolishly scrapped the most muscular aspects of the Bush-era plan in 2009 as part of President Obama’s attempt to appease Moscow into embracing his call for a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Russian President Vladimir Putin was deeply uncomfortable with the Bush-era plan, even though the defense system was intended to deter the threat of missiles from Iran, not Russia. Breathing new life into the initiative, particularly by pursing a “third site” in the Czech Republic, would be an effective way to punish Mr. Putin for his use of military force to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the senators said.

“After Poland and the Czech Republic had demonstrated real courage in standing with the U.S. and ignoring Russian pressure on the third missile defense site, it was a mistake to cancel the missile defense plans in those two countries in a naive attempt to pursue a reset policy of concessions with the Kremlin,” Mrs. Ayotte said.

The New Hampshire Republican told The Washington Times that “in light of Putin’s invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea and continued threats to the rest of Ukraine, as well as Iran’s continued work on an intercontinental ballistic missile capability, I believe it is more essential than ever to deepen our defense collaboration with our Eastern European NATO allies.”

Mrs. Ayotte’s remarks concurred with the statements from Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham.

Polish officials announced last week that they are accelerating plans to finance their own missile shield.

The White House should “restart the missile defense system that Obama canceled in order to placate Putin in the Czech Republic and Poland,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, told Fox News this month.

Mr. Graham acknowledged that the Bush-era plan was not focused on intercepting potential missiles from Russia, but he said during a March 2 appearance on CNN that the administration unwisely yielded to Russian pressure and abandoned the plan. “If I were President Obama,” the South Carolina Republican said, “I would re-engage Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense.”

The Bush-era plan was less effective, administration officials argue, than an alternative version the White House began implementing in 2009 under the guidance of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a Bush appointee.

“We haven’t canceled the program that would protect Poland and the Czech Republic,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email to The Times last week. Alternatively, she said, Mr. Obama revised the Bush-era plan based on “changes in U.S. technology and changes in the threat.”

Some analysts remain suspicious of the Obama administration’s handling of missile defense.

The Heritage Foundation issued a report last week arguing that the administration “unwisely canceled” the final phase of the plan last year that called for the deployment to Poland “of SM-3 Block IIB interceptors capable of shooting down medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.”

…a senior administration official told The Times on the condition of anonymity that while the SM-3 Block IIB program was designed to provide some protection to the U.S. homeland against potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles, it was “canceled last year due to funding and technology delays and because the potential threat to the United States was evolving — including the potential ICBM threat from North Korea.”

As a result, the administration is increasing the number of ground-based missile interceptors, from 30 to 44, that the Pentagon has positioned in Alaska and California.

The interceptors “have the advantage of being able to defend the United States from ICBMs from either Iran or North Korea,” the senior administration official said. “By comparison, an SM-3 IIB in Europe would not provide any protection against a potential North Korean threat.”

Still, Mrs. Ayotte was undeterred by the administration’s characterization of the situation. She said Washington should be working overtime “with our allies to increase the number of SM-3 missiles to be deployed in Poland and Romania and accelerate the deployment of the site in Poland.”

“The U.S. should also deploy additional Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense units, as well as more Aegis ships, to the European Command area of operations,” the senator said. “The U.S. should also consult closely with the Czech Republic to see how we can expeditiously further strengthen our military cooperation and extended deterrence.”

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.


March 30, 2014

Washington Times on March 28, 2014, published an AP report on Pentagon planning to more than triple its cybersecurity staff in the next few years to defend against Internet attacks that threaten national security, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on March 28. Excerpts below:

Hagel’s comments at the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Washington come as he prepares to visit China next week, where officials are likely to challenge him amid reports of aggressive U.S. cyber spying.

“The Department of Defense is on its way to building an elite, modern cyberforce,” Hagel said in a speech prepared for the retirement of Gen. Keith Alexander as head of the U.S. Cyber Command and NSA. “This force is enhancing our ability to deter aggression in cyberspace, deny adversaries their objectives, and defend the nation from cyberattacks that threaten our national security.”

The Pentagon has been recruiting outside talent for the work as well as encouraging people already in the military to train for the jobs. By 2016, the Pentagon should have 6,000 cyber professionals, Hagel said. That compares to some 1,800 by the end of this year.

Hagel said government and private businesses have a far better grasp of cyber threats than they did a few years ago, thanks in part to Alexander’s work as the first commander of Cyber Command.

Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the Navy’s Cyber Command, is awaiting Senate confirmation for a fourth star to allow him to succeed Alexander at Cyber Command. No confirmation is needed for his appointment as head of the NSA, but officials said on March 29 that Rogers will not step into either job until the Senate approves him as head of Cyber Command.

The U.S. accuses China’s army and China-based hackers of launching attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China says it faces a major threat from hackers, and the country’s military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.

Pending Rogers‘ confirmation, the current deputies of Cyber Command and the NSA, Lt. Gen. John Davis and Richard Ledgett, respectively, will be in charge.


March 29, 2014

FoxNews on March 27, 2014, reported that the US Congress spoke with one voice against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, passing legislation in the House and Senate giving help to cash-strapped Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia. Excerpts below:

The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote on March 27 at the same time the House was passing a different version on a 399-19 vote.

The votes were a show of solidarity with President Obama, who had already announced sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and others. The president spent several days rallying U.S. allies to stand firm against Putin’s aggression.

Lawmakers intended to get a final measure to the White House by day’s end.

Each bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine and impose penalties on Russia for its aggression.

The measure also would sanction those who are responsible for human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace and sovereignty of the Ukraine.

Targeting Russia, the bill also would freeze assets and revoke visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.

“Putin’s cronies should recognize that Putin may not be the right horse to be betting on any longer,” US Senator Menendez said.

The Senate bill authorizes $50 million in assistance to Ukraine for such things as improving democratic governance and anti-corruption efforts; supporting free and fair elections in Ukraine; and bolstering democratic institutions and civil society organizations.

The bill authorizes an additional $100 million to enhance security cooperation among the United States, European Union and countries in central and eastern Europe and further authorizes the president to provide defense articles and services, and additional security assistance to Ukraine and countries in the region.

Swift approval of the legislation came after Senate Democrats backed down and stripped International Monetary Fund reform language from the bill. The move signaled a retreat for Democrats and the Obama administration, which had promoted the IMF provisions.

But with tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border, Senate Democrats decided it was more important to denounce Russia, codify sanctions against Putin’s inner circle and support Ukraine rather than push now for the IMF changes.


March 28, 2014

The Kyiv Post on March 27, 2014, reported that the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly came to the support of Ukraine, with 100 votes in favor and only 11 against, a resolution that labels Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula as illegal. Excerpts below:

The United Nations General Assembly, consisting of 193 member states, met on March 27 to discuss the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Another 58 nations abstained.

The vote is hailed as overwhelming international support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security.

European Union representatives stressed that the 28-nation bloc remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and doesn’t recognize the Kremlin-orchestrated referendum on March 16, in which Russia and its leader in Crimea, Prime Minister Serhiy Aksyonov, claimed that 96 percent voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine and entering Russia.

The resolution also strongly condemns the use of violence towards Ukraine and “firmly believes there is no place for the use of force.”

The Canadian representative claimed that Russian intervention poses a great threat to international security and peace. Japan agreed with the draft resolution and pledged to support Ukraine.

Turkey, Georgia and Iceland condemned the violation of Ukraine’s territory and supported Russia’s isolation on the issue.

General Assembly resolutions have no legally binding force for governments, but represent world public opinion on the issue.


March 27, 2014

Time Magazine on March 27, 2014, reported that Moscow is sending additional troops to “reinforce” its border region with Ukraine, and U.S. security officials fear it may enter the country’s east to establish a land bridge to Crimea. Excerpts below:

A new classified intelligence assessment indicates Russian forces are more likely that previously imagined to invade eastern Ukraine.

Two U.S. security officials, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN that the current buildup is reminiscent of the Kremlin’s military maneuvering before going into Georgia and Chechnya, in terms of the numbers of units involved and their capabilities.

“This has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be,” one official told the broadcaster.

CNN reported that members of the House Armed Services Committee were feeling “urgency and alarm” at the developments.

Officials say the 30,000 troops at the restive frontier are “significantly more” than is reasonably needed for the “exercises” that is the official explanation for their presence.


March 26, 2014

Radio Free Europe on March 23, 2014, published an interview with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been one of the European Union’s most active voices when it comes to the bloc’s eastern neighbors over the past eight years. On the sidelines of the German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum on March 23, he sat down with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak to talk about the latest developments in Ukraine, his thoughts on possible Russian involvement in Transdniester, and what role the West can play in countries who find themselves pitted between Russia and the EU. Excerpts below:

RFE/RL: We have already seen Russia seize control of Crimea, which prompted a limited response from the West. Should broader economic sanctions be imposed on Russia and, if so, when?

Bildt: I don’t belong to those who believe that economic sanctions are necessarily that effective. They can certainly have disrupting effects on the economy, but whether you have the desired effect on the politics of the country is somewhat more debatable. I think it is important to deny Russia the objectives that it is seeking. [It is] difficult in the short-term to deny them Crimea, but I think this is a game for the future of Ukraine. This is what it is all about.

Then it is very important for us to do whatever we can in order to help Ukraine succeed because that is going to be decisive where Ukraine is two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now.

RFE/RL: The OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] has received the green light to send an observer mission to Ukraine. Do you think there is any chance of them going to Crimea and, if not, should the EU also send a mission?

Bildt: We were pressing for [a] mission very early. An EU mission could have been there by now, but an OSCE mission is good and now the decision has been taken. The Russians were delaying, delaying, delaying and, of course, they have restricted it so it is not able to go to Crimea. That is regrettable but now I hope it can be deployed as soon as possible — primarily in the east and the south, although the Russians are sort of insisting that it should be in other places as well.

RFE/RL: are you worried that Russia will try to annex Transdniester?

Bildt: I am worried by the overall situation. From March 1 [Editor’s note: a reference to the Russian Federation Council’s March 1 unanimous vote approving President Putin’s request to allow use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine], the president of Russia has the authority to use Russian armed force throughout the territory of Ukraine and we know that there has been a very significant build-up of Russian forces along the borders of Ukraine. We must ask ourselves why this is the case.

We also see signs in Transdniester. There were reports in Odessa’s media this morning about them catching some people that they consider to be Russian special forces in Odessa. So the south, the entire stretch from Crimea to Odessa should certainly not be neglected.

RFE/RL: The EU recently signed the political part of an Association Agreement with Ukraine with an eye on signing the rest of the agreement later. Could you not do the same for Armenia? They have been asking for an Association Agreement to be signed without trade provisions since September 2013.

Bildt: I think they are in a different league. The Association Agreement also sort of signals a sort of political affinity that is there in a number of areas. We saw, for example, the Armenians now coming out in support of policies versus Ukraine. So I don’t think they would qualify to be in the same league in terms of political affinity any longer.


March 25, 2014

FoxNews on March 24, 2014, published the Hague Declaration of the G 7 leaders. Text below:

1. We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission met in The Hague to reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

2. International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force. To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations. We do not recognize either.

3. Today, we reaffirm that Russia’s actions will have significant consequences. This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations. In response to Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to demonstrate our determination to respond to these illegal actions, individually and collectively we have imposed a variety of sanctions against Russia and those individuals and entities responsible. We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation.

4. We remind Russia of its international obligations, and its responsibilities including those for the world economy. Russia has a clear choice to make. Diplomatic avenues to de-escalate the situation remain open, and we encourage the Russian Government to take them. Russia must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, begin discussions with the Government of Ukraine, and avail itself of offers of international mediation and monitoring to address any legitimate concerns.

5. The Russian Federation’s support for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is a step in the right direction. We look forward to the mission’s early deployment, in order to facilitate the dialogue on the ground, reduce tensions and promote normalization of the situation, and we call on all parties to ensure that Special Monitoring Mission members have safe and secure access throughout Ukraine to fulfill their mandate.

6. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them. Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G-7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together. We have also advised our Foreign Ministers not to attend the April meeting in Moscow. In addition, we have decided that G-7 Energy Ministers will meet to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.

7. At the same time, we stand firm in our support for the people of Ukraine who seek to restore unity, democracy, political stability, and economic prosperity to their country. We commend the Ukrainian government’s ambitious reform agenda and will support its implementation as Ukraine seeks to start a new chapter in its history, grounded on a broad-based constitutional reform, free and fair presidential elections in May, promotion of human rights and respect of national minorities.

8. The International Monetary Fund has a central role leading the international effort to support Ukrainian reform, lessening Ukraine’s economic vulnerabilities, and better integrating the country as a market economy in the multilateral system. We strongly support the IMF’s work with the Ukrainian authorities and urge them to reach a rapid conclusion. IMF support will be critical in unlocking additional assistance from the World Bank, other international financial institutions, the EU, and bilateral sources. We remain united in our commitment to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine, to co-ordinate our technical assistance, and to provide assistance in other areas, including measures to enhance trade and strengthen energy security.


March 24, 2014

FoxNews on March 23, 2014, reported former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused President Obama of being “naïve” about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agenda and said he lacks the foresight to have prevented Putin from taking over a Ukraine peninsula. Excerpts below:

“There’s no question [about] the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And his faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face.”

“This is not fantasy land,” Romney, also a former Massachusetts governor, said. “They are not our enemy but an adversary on the world stage.”

He also said the United States should have worked sooner with allies to make clear the penalties that Russia could have faced if it moved into Ukraine.

“This shouldn’t have been a surprise,” Romney said, referring in part to unmarked Russian troops and military vehicles entering the region days before the takeover. “This had been prepared for some time.”

Romney acknowledged that more pre-emptive action had only the potential to prevent the invasion.

But he also blamed of Secretary of State John Kerry and former secretary Hillary Clinton, suggesting that the Obama administration’s so-called “reset” diplomacy was a mistake.

“They thought resetting relations with Russia, handing out gifts to Russia, would somehow make Russia change its objectives. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case,” Romney said. “Russia is not our friend.”

He also called for tougher sanctions against Russia, no cuts to the U.S. military budget and re-installing missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He called their removal in 2009 a “gift to Russia.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


March 23, 2014

Kyiv Post on March 22, 2014, published an Interfax-Ukraine report that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office has conducted 32 searches at the firms connected with ex-energy and coal industry minister Eduard Stavytsky and ex-agrarian policy and food minister Mykola Prysiazhniuk. Jewelry and millions of dollars in cash were seized. The chief accountant of the firms controlled by Stavytsky was detained. Excerpts below:

“When a search was being conducted in an apartment formerly owned by Stavytsky and, from March 15, by a legal entity, two safes and files of documents were discovered. A woman was caught in the act of destroying documents. Police had to use force after the woman offered resistance,” acting prosecutor general Oleh Makhnitsky said at a press briefing in Kyiv.

“Two safes and files of documents were seized. One of the safes was virtually stuffed with cash worth about $5 million. The other safe was filled with 50 kilograms of gold in bars, and with gold, platinum and diamond jewelry pieces,” he said.

“The worth of the finding is being determined, but it is tentatively estimated at several million dollars,” the acting prosecutor general said.

The searches were conducted in cooperation with the police and the national security service, he said. “This cooperation is yielding results,” Makhnitsky said.

Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Bahanets spoke about the searches, conducted in Prysiazhniuk’s apartment.

“About $300 and around 800,000 hryvni, plus several thousands euros in cash were confiscated,” he said.

Another search, conducted in the apartment of a former high-raking Agrarian Policy Ministry official close to Stavytsky, produced $1.7 million, 1.4 million hryvni and several thousand euros in cash, he said.

“The former civil servants managed to transfer a larger share of their assets to foreign bank accounts. What was found in the searches was cashed-in assets. We think the cash had been taken out of the country in bags in several flights,” the deputy prosecutor general said.

Interim interior minister Arsen Avakov added that searches at Naftogaz Ukrainy CEO Yevhen Bakulin’s offices and apartments “lasted all night long.” “Interesting things were discovered. We will announce the results of the searches when the Prosecutor General’s Office allows,” he said.

“Those were the first steps on the difficult path of cutting the corruption chain. We hope to work together publicly, to put an end to corruption and to teach a good lesson to all,” he said.

After the press briefing the speakers demonstrated seized bundles of cash, gold bars, jewelry and a large number of wrist watches.


March 22, 2014

FoxNews on March 21, 2014, reported that as Ukraine appears to have all but conceded Crimea to Moscow, Ukranians in Kherson, the province just north of the peninsula, are believed to be pushing a secession vote of their own in what a local leader angrily denounced as “treason.” Excerpts below:

The province has a huge Russian speaking population, and a vote – particularly with politicking from Russia – could go against Kiev as did last Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. In addition to a major push from ethnic Russian politicians, the proposal in Kherson could be boosted by the presence of Russian soldiers, pro-Moscow protesters and the kind of propaganda Ukraine accused Moscow of engaging in before the Crimea vote.

“We will not allow the country to be broken up further,” Mykola Mikolayenko, mayor of the province’s similarly named capital city, told a packed city council meeting on March 21, where a referendum had been expected to be introduced. “If [pro-Russia] city council members want Kherson to join Russia, they better think again. It won’t be tolerated. This is treason.”

A day earlier, Mikolayenko had told reporters of a mysterious phone caller who said members of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s party were planning to pass a motion during to hold a Crimea-style referendum.

Agents from Kherson’s Ukraine’s Security Service confirmed to that they had spoken to Mikolayenko about the phone conversation, from a woman who claimed to represent the Putin administration

Yuri Odarchenko, the province of Kherson’s new governor, issued a stern warning on March 21 about provocations planned by pro-Moscow groups and sought to assure Kherson citizens as Ukraine prepares to evacuate around 25,000 servicemen from Crimean bases that have been taken over by Russian troops and pro-Moscow militias.

Mikolayenko, a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, vowed to prevent a replay of the Crimean scenario. Council members from the pro-Russian Party of Regions boycotted the hour-long meeting, where several city residents criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and spoke out against separatism.

But even as the meeting continued, an estimated 70 suspected Russian cossacks arrived in Strelkovoe on the Arabat spit in Kherson’s eastern Henichesky region. The group urged locals there to hold a referendum similar to the one in Crimea last on March 16, which passed overwhelmingly despite being called illegitimate by Kiev and western nations.

The vast majority of residents of Kherson province are Russian speakers, with Ukrainian Surzhik (a mix of Russian and Ukrainian) spoken in rural areas. Almost three quarters of the population of 1.2 million identify themselves as Ukrainians and 20 percent consider themselves Russian, according to official statistics.

Kherson is key in the unfolding conflict is because it links Crimea to the mainland by rail and road and provides the contested peninsula with most of its food, fresh water and electricity. Emergency workers this week set up a large tent camp along the Kharkiv-Simferopol highway to assist people fleeing Crimea. The number of refugees leaving Crimea is expected to increase exponentially over the next several days. Air traffic in and out of Crimea has been suspended, as well as regular train service.