Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Jane Chong
Monday, February 24, 2014, 8:31 AM
Let's start with Ukraine. The Washington Post sums up the weekend's climactic events best: "[T]he Ukrainian parliament voted Saturday evening to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych from office and to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who went directly from a prison hospital bed to a stage at Independence Square to address an audience of ten

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Let's start with Ukraine. The Washington Post sums up the weekend's climactic events best: "[T]he Ukrainian parliament voted Saturday evening to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych from office and to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who went directly from a prison hospital bed to a stage at Independence Square to address an audience of tens of thousands." The vote came hours after Yanukovych fled his office; a warrant has now been issued for his arrest, says the Guardian. According to the New York Times, Yanukovych's own Party of Regions has turned against him, issuing a statement saying the former leader is responsible for "deceiv[ing] and robb[ing] the country." The interim leadership is already pledging to put Ukraine back on course for European integration, reports Reuters, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is in the country today to talk measures for shoring up the economy. The Post writes that the interim government faces major problems beyond the economy; "self-defense" militias have organized to defend barricades at Independence Square to ensure government changes aren't reversed, and all eyes are on the Russian reaction to the changeover.
Don't worry, Russia won't interfere in Ukraine, writes Dmitri Trenen in a NY Times op-ed disputing the "popular myth" that Yanukovych has been a Putin puppet. Trenen writes:
In reality, Putin has been very frustrated with his Ukrainian counterpart. To Putin, Yanukovych is unreliable, forever vacillating between the European Union and Russia . . . . Despite what he claims, it wasn’t the Kremlin that made him do that. Moscow had clearly signaled it did not want Kiev to sign the deal when it introduced de facto sanctions on Ukrainian products last year, but ultimately Yanukovych was guided by his own calculations, rather than Putin’s admonitions or advice.
Venezuela's also got a, uh, situation on its hands. The death toll continues to rise at student protests there. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern Friday about the government's "unacceptable" use of force and intimidation against citizens and political figures "who are exercising a legitimate right to protest." Reuters reports that at least eight people are dead as the turmoil continues, the worst to take place since the April 2013 election of President Nicolas Maduro.
And then there's Thailand. Anti-government protests also continue to roil Bangkok, with young children among those killed this weekend. A bomb killed three and wounded dozens in the popular Rachaprasong shopping district in Bangkok, according to the Associated Press.
Not to be forgotten, Afghanistan also had a grisly weekend. On Sunday morning Taliban insurgents slaughtered 21 Afghan soldiers in their bunks, in what is being called the worst single attack on government forces since 2010. See the NY Times story. The Taliban emailed a statement to the AP this weekend announcing the suspension of talks with the U.S. regarding a possible swap of five senior Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo for 27-year-old American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been imprisoned by the Taliban since 2009. The Washington Post examines the four options on the table as President Obama and top military commanders plan the Afghanistan pull-out: (1) leave 10,000 troops in Kabul, Kandahar, Bagram and Jalalabad until the end of 2015; (2) leave fewer troops in the country until 2016, with authorization to travel the country as needed, (3) leave 3,000 troops behind and restrict them to Kabul and Bagram, and (4) a complete U.S. withdrawal.
From the Department of Heightened Tensions Short of War, let's talk about Japan and China. American Marines and Japanese soldiers taking part in annual joint exercises called Iron Fist practiced how to invade and retake an island in Camp Pendleton, California last week. American military officials say the exercise had nothing to do with last fall's conflict between Tokyo and Beijing over islands in the East China Sea, but this New York Times story begs to differ. China, for its part, will be trying to embarrass Japan on its trip to Germany next month, by highlighting German atonement for the Nazi regime and contrasting it with the perceived lack of Japanese contrition for the atrocities it committed during World War II. So says Reuters.
On to Syria. In a move US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is calling "long overdue," the UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution demanding that the Bashar al-Assad regime halt attacks on civilians and allow humanitarian access to besieged areas. Here's the BBC coverage. The resolution is conspicuously missing any threat of sanctions should the Syrian government not comply; Syria has agreed to cooperate with the resolution as long as Syria's sovereignty is respected, reports the Irish TimesTime, meanwhile, is reporting that two suicide bombers killed a senior al-Qaeda operative on Sunday in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Fourteen months ago, the creation of a central command was seen as a major step forward for the rebel groups seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the Supreme Military Council's dysfunction has undermined the Syrian opposition's fight. The NY Times reports.
Moving out of the Levante to Israel, Matteo Renzi's Saturday swearing-in as Italy's fourth and youngest-ever prime minister is calling attention to his pro-Israel stance, and comments he has made about Iran as the Middle East's "main problem." Seventeen years ago, 17-year-old American-Israeli Samuel Sheinbein fled to Israel and fought extradition to the U.S. for the murder of another teenager. Sheinbein was killed on Sunday in a shootout with Israeli security forces, writes the Times.
Last week, Spain joined the U.S. on a short list of countries that have convicted internet users for threatening or inciting terrorism through social media. Alba González Camacho, 21, was found guilty after invoking the name of the defunct terrorist group known as Grapo and calling for the murder of various high-level politicians, reports the NY Times. The case bears some similarities to that of 22-year-old American Donte Jamar Sims, who was sentenced to six months in prison by a federal judge last year for tweets that stated his intention to kill President Obama.
At Guantanamo on Saturday, Military Judge James Pohl presided over a closed hearing on the CIA's treatment of alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, reports the Miami Herald.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Mark Karpelès, CEO of Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange, stepped down yesterday from the board of the Bitcoin Foundation, the second high-profile resignation this month.
And the New York Times editorial board wants to make sure President Obama's special adviser, John Podesta---commissioned last month to produce a report on privacy and big data---doesn't just "produce another report that goes nowhere." Writes the Times: "The president and the public need from Mr. Podesta and his team not only a thorough description of how businesses are collecting private data but also specific legislative proposals to give consumers more control of that information."
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Jane Chong is former deputy managing editor of Lawfare. She served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University.

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