Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Ukraine: Moscow-run intel units fomenting unrest

FP’s Situation Report: Ukraine: Moscow-run intel units fomenting unrest

Ukrainian officials say that Moscow-run intelligence units are orchestrating separatist unrest. The WSJ’s Philip Shishkin and James Marson from eastern Ukraine: "When a group of Ukrainian paratroopers were briefly detained by armed men in this eastern Ukrainian town last week, officials in Kiev said the move bore little sign of pro-Russian separatists working in isolation. Rather, Ukraine’s fledgling government says such well-organized actions are at the center of a covert effort by Russian intelligence officers to direct and organize parts of the pro-Russian separatist movement roiling eastern Ukraine.
"Authorities in Kiev allege a shadow war involving an elite Russian military intelligence unit that has participated in virtually every military conflict in which Moscow has been embroiled in recent decades, including wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia. The unit is known as GRU, the Russian acronym for the Main Intelligence Department of the Russian General Staff. The Kremlin rejects the accusation." More here.

Photos link masked men in East Ukraine to Russia. The NYT’s Andrew Higgins, Michael Gordon and Andrew Kramer on Page One: "For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as "green men" have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces. Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces – equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February." Read the rest here.

VP Biden lands in Kiev this morning.  From the WH: "While in Kyiv, the Vice President will meet with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Rada Speaker and Acting President Oleksander Turchynov, and key legislators representing different political parties and regions within the Rada to discuss the international community’s efforts to help stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy and to assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anti-corruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25th.  In these meetings, the Vice President will also consult on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine and on steps to enhance Ukraine’s short- and long-term energy security…"

Why Putin Isn’t Worried About Sanctions. Quartz’s Steve LeVine: "Europe is warning Russian president Vladimir Putin of reputational harm if he shuts off the natural gas flow to the West, but judging by the behavior of western oil chiefs, he is secure if he dismisses the admonishment as so much noise." More here.

Snowden’s camp acknowledges: staged Putin Q&A was a screw-up. The Daily Beast’s Noah Shachtman, here. 

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report and we’re back in the saddle. Thanks to Dan Lamothe for covering for us so well last week. Good luck to runners in Boston this morning – run fast! If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold and @njsobe4.

A drone strike targets al Qaeda in Yemen. CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom: "An operation targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is under way in Abyan and Shabwa, Yemen, a high-level Yemeni government official who is being briefed on the strikes told CNN on Monday. The official said that the scale of the strikes against AQAP is ‘massive and unprecedented’ and that at least 30 militants have been killed. The operation involved Yemeni commandos who are now ‘going after high-level AQAP targets,’ the official said. A day earlier, suspected drone strikes targeted al Qaeda fighters in Yemen for the second time in two days, killing ‘at least a dozen,’ the government official said.

"The predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, the official said. It’s the same area where scores of followers of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had gathered recently to hear from Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the terrorist network’s Yemeni branch and the global organization’s ‘crown prince,’ the official said. ‘It’s too early to tell how many militants were killed, but the number is at least a dozen,’ the official said. The targets included ‘foreign nationals,’ the official said, but he provided no details of what their nationalities were. Nor was it clear whether any high-value targets were among the dead and wounded, he said." More here.

Afghanistan heads towards a run-off but Abdullah Abdullah has widened his lead. The NYT’s Rod Nordland and Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "… Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, had received 44.4 percent of the vote so far, followed by Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, with 33.2 percent. Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government, was a distant third, with 10.4 percent of the vote, followed by Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a traditionalist Pashtun candidate and warlord, with 7 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining 5 percent. If that trend continues, neither Mr. Abdullah nor Mr. Ghani is likely to win more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election. The slow process of counting Afghanistan’s paper ballots, gathered from 34 provinces that are plagued by poor roads and communications, has been going on since the April 5 vote. But the election commission said the tally was expected to be completed by Thursday, when preliminary final results would be released." More here.

In Nigeria, a claim of responsibility from Boko Haram. CNN’s Vladimir Duthiers, Chelsea J. Carter and Greg Botelho: "Boko Haram’s elusive leader claimed responsibility for a bombing in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja that left dozens dead, but said nothing about the group’s reported mass abduction of schoolgirls that occurred the same day as the explosion. A man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau made the comments in a video posted online on Saturday, saying the group attacked a bus station in retaliation for the what he described as the government’s collusion with the United States in the killing of Muslims. ‘This is a prelude,’ said the man, who wore camouflage and held an AK-47 assault rifle, in the video." More here.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship runs deeper than Bandar. The LA Times’ Sherif Tarek: "Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s replacement last week as Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has fueled speculation about a shift in the monarchy’s shaky relations with the United States and its position toward the Syrian conflict – not to mention about the prince’s political future. Yet many political experts and pundits believe Bandar’s departure will barely affect Saudi foreign policies. And they say it’s possible the prince could return to the political scene stronger than ever. ‘The last person to be relieved of his duties [in 2012] as head of Saudi intelligence – Prince Muqrin [bin Abdulaziz] – has become for all intents and purposes a king-in-waiting,’ said Fahad Nazer, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. ‘Any pronouncements about the ‘end’ of Prince Bandar may be premature.’ Last month, Muqrin was appointed deputy crown prince, making it probable he will someday become king. According to the official Saudi Press Agency, a royal order announced Tuesday that Bandar, who had guided Saudi policy on the Syrian conflict, would step down from his post ‘upon his request.’ His deputy, General Staff Yousif bin Ali al-Idreesi, was named his successor." More here.

The Army’s ban on some popular hairstyles puts the Congressional Black Caucus at odds with the PentagonThe NYT’s Helene Cooper: "Black women and their hair have been a topic of discussion for years by people like Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton and Salt-N-Pepa. Now add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to that list. In reaction to a new Army regulation banning numerous hairstyles – twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows – popular with black women, the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Mr. Hagel to overturn the regulation on behalf of the 26,700 African-American women on active duty in the Army.

"The regulation comes at the same time as a new Army rule banning tattoos on the face, neck, hands, fingers and lower arms of recruits. Both regulations are among new grooming standards that critics say are meant to further weed people out of an Army reducing its size from its post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to as low as 420,000 in the years to come. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who is chairwoman of the black caucus, said she had been struck in recent visits to military bases by how many soldiers – black and white – said they felt they were being pushed out of the military. The new regulations, announced on March 31, have intensified that feeling, she said.

Fudge to Cooper: "One of the things they should not do is insult the people who’ve given up their time and put their lives at risk by saying their hair is unkempt… Now they want to downsize, these styles are not appropriate?’" More here.

In break with tradition, new British surveillance chief is an intel outsider. FP’s Shane Harris: "The United Kingdom’s global surveillance agency is getting a new leader. But in a move widely seen as an attempt to bring the organization to heel following months of embarrassing leaks about its operations, the new director is a political operative who is more James Carville than James Bond. Robert Hannigan, a career diplomat and former adviser to two prime ministers, was appointed director of the Government Communications Headquarters, the equivalent of the National Security Agency, earlier this week. Historically, all but two GCHQ directors have either climbed up the career ladder of the agency or had significant experience in signals intelligence." More here.

Shift changes for submariners to address fatigue. The WaPo’s Michael Melia in Groton, CT: "With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface. Research by a Navy laboratory in Groton is now leading to changes for the undersea fleet. Military scientists concluded submarine sailors, who traditionally begin a new workday every 18 hours, show less fatigue on a 24-hour schedule, and the Navy has endorsed the findings for any skippers who want to make the switch." Read the rest here.

Sen. John Walsh of Montana and the IAVA’s Tom Tarantino were on with Candy Crowley on CNN yesterday talking suicides. Crowley: "Joining me now, Senator John Walsh, Democrat from Montana, and the first Iraq War combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate. And Tom Tarantino, also a veteran from the Iraq War, currently working with the organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here. We’re now seeing – and these are rough figures, as we all know – on average, 22 veterans a day successfully, um, takes his own life. We have known these kinds of statistics for four or five years.  The president has taken note of it.  You know, hundreds – $100 million was put in just last year for awareness. What else is needed here?" Read the transcript or watch the vid here.

The future of the Pentagon’s R&D in an era of budget cuts. Defense News’ Zachary Fryer-Biggs: "Defense budgets had been in decline for a decade when soon-to-be-president George W. Bush laid out his vision for the US military… But with defense budgets once again in decline, there are remarkable parallels between Bush’s 1999 vision, outlined at the military college In Charleston, S.C., and Pentagon leaders’ R&D plan for the next few years. Overall, DoD wants to keep spending on… research, development, test and evaluation relatively close to the $63 billion the department will spend in 2014. That’s about $36 billion less than the amount that will be spent on procurement in 2014. But under the president’s 2015 budget proposal, that gap would close to about $26 billion next year, according to data compiled by As pressure increases on defense spending, leaders are trying to protect research and development funding. But look closer. Within that flat RDT&E budget, a radical shift is underway. Under the 2015 Future Years Defense Plan, DoD would halve spending on System Development and Demonstration, taking it from about $20 billion in 2009 to below $10 billion by 2018." More here.

Tom Donilon today in the WaPo on the eve of Obama’s trip to Asia: Obama’s rebalance to Asia is on the right course. Former National Security Adviser Donilon: "Questions have arisen in recent months about the sustainability of the United States’ rebalance toward Asia. The costly cancellation of President Obama’s trip to the region during the U.S. government shutdown last fall fueled that skepticism, which has only grown as urgent foreign policy challenges have required U.S. leadership in the Middle East and Europe. Yet the rebalancing of U.S. priorities and resources toward Asia remains the right strategy. This reorientation does not imply a turn away from allies in other regions or an abandonment of our commitments elsewhere. It represents a shift away from the war efforts in the Middle East and South Asia that have dominated U.S. national security policy and resources for the past decade and a shift toward the region that presents the most significant opportunity for the United States." More here.

Meantime, the growing Chinese military budget is cementing power perceptions in Pacific. Matthew Burke for Stars and Stripes: "China’s recent announcement that it would increase defense spending by 12.2 percent in 2014 is making some American allies nervous in a region where perception matters and the possible flashpoints are numerous.

Those countries, mainly Japan and the Philippines, have come to rely on the U.S. military for protection from a neighbor who seems set on creating instability by expanding and intensifying territorial claims to disputed waterways, airways and islands in the Pacific… In reality, America’s $495.6 billion defense budget dwarfs the $132 billion in spending planned by China this year, but some lawmakers in the region find little comfort in that fact, analysts say." More here.

Curious about what contracts the Pentagon puts out and for how much? Follow @DFNbot, created by @navybook’s Brad Peniston, which tweets the potential value of major contracts announced by the Pentagon each day.

Freed French journalists arrive home after Syria ordeal. France 24: "The four French journalists who were held hostage for 10 months in Syria returned home to France early on Sunday, where they were greeted by French President François Hollande and their families and colleagues. Four French journalists held in captivity in Syria for 10 months returned to French soil early Sunday, two days after they crossed the Syrian border into Turkey, where they were found by Turkish troops. The four men, whose release was first reported Saturday morning, were met by French President François Hollande and their families at Villacoublay airport, close to Paris. Hollande declared that it was ‘a joyous day for France.’" More here.