FP’s Situation Report: Centcom outlines plans to retake Mosul; Ukraine calls Russia’s bluff on peacekeepers; Russia slams Obama’s terror summit; and much more from around the world.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
U.S. Central Command develops plans to retake Mosul. In a highly unusual briefing to reporters about future battle plans, a Pentagon official said U.S. forces will train five Iraqi brigades to launch a spring offensive to recapture the city lost to the Islamic State last year. Planners have yet to decide if U.S. advisors or other American troops would be involved in the fight, FP’s Kate Brannen and Seán D. Naylor report.
More on the Islamic State below.
Ukraine’s call for peacekeepers puts Russia on the spot. With its request for U.N. peacekeepers to be sent to eastern Ukraine, Kiev is demanding that Moscow prove its commitment to the new cease-fire — and is hoping for Security Council support. In an exclusive interview with FP’s Reid Standish and John Hudson, Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Olexander Motsyk, called Moscow’s bluff: “‘If Russia is actually interested in peace as it claims, it has to support this resolution that would authorize the peacekeeping forces in Ukraine.’”
More on Ukraine below.
Russian official slams Obama’s counter-extremism summit. The head of Russia’s domestic security agency, Aleksandr Bortnikov, made a rare visit to Washington where he attended President Barack Obama’s summit on Thursday. But in New York, Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, used the occasion to blast the White House. FP’s Colum Lynch says Churkin “accused the United States of failing to seek Moscow and other capitals’ views on the event’s agenda, and said it snubbed Russia’s close allies, including Serbia, which was not invited to the conference.”
More on Obama’s summit below.
PRESS PACK: Ukraine
The New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn: “As violence continued to plague eastern Ukraine on Thursday, demoralized Ukrainian soldiers straggled into the town of Artemivsk, griping about incompetent leadership and recounting desperate conditions and gruesome killing as they beat a haphazard retreat from the strategic town of Debaltseve.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Shchetko and Gregory L. White: “European leaders on Thursday stood by the cease-fire they brokered a week ago for Ukraine, even as the U.S. said Russian equipment and troops continued to flow into the country and the Ukrainian military significantly raised its latest casualty toll.”
FP’s Elias Groll on a first-hand look at British warplanes intercepting Russian bombers: “The fascinating footage provides not only a great view of the intercepting jets — British Typhoons and French Mirage 2000s — but also a look at the quirky contra-rotating turboprop engines of the Russian TU-95 strategic bomber.”
ONLY IN SITREP: Ukraine Could Be Split like Germany during the Cold War
FP’s David Francis: Russia has created a dynamic in Ukraine similar to the one that dominated Germany during the Cold War, Stephen F. Szabo, executive director of the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Academy, told Foreign Policy.
“The best that we can hope for is to stabilize western Ukraine. We’re looking at a West Germany/East Germany situation,” where western Ukraine favors Europe and eastern Ukraine favors Russia, Szabo said. “We’re going to have two Ukraines.”
Szabo’s prediction is unlikely to please hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who continues to call for the White House to send weapons. But it does fall in line with earlier predictions by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recognized the parallels with German history earlier this month.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we hope the cold gives you an excuse to binge-watch this and catch up before next week’s Season 3 premiere.
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WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY
9:00 a.m. Deputy Secretary Blinken meets with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at the Department of State. 9:15 a.m. Secretary Kerry meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at the Department of State. 12:00 p.m. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Event hosts a panel on the “Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Foreign Terrorist Fighters.”
WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS
FP’s Keith Johnson on winners and losers in the energy game: “The swoon in oil prices is driving another big change in global energy markets — a collapse in the price of liquefied natural gas in Asia. That promises big implications for producers and consumers alike and could even have knock-on effects on Russia’s plans to shift more of its energy business to the east.”
EUobserver’s Valentina Pop: “The Greek government on Thursday submitted a request to extend the current bailout programme by six months, but Germany rejected the demand on the eve of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers.”
FP’s David Francis: “[B]ecause of the global nature of the economy, the United States is exposed to countries that in turn are directly impacted by what happens in Greece — Germany, most importantly — and a Grexit would add another level of uncertainty to a continent already rocked by the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Fidler: “What is in question is whether the Greek government can levy taxes or charges on its people—or can sell assets—sufficient to service its debts and still do all the other things Greeks expect it to do.”
LIBYA: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gets a cold reception from the Gulf and the West on Libya airstrikes.
The Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Benoît Faucon: “Mr. Sisi’s … involvement in Libya’s deepening crisis threatened to unravel already tenuous U.N. mediation efforts in the North African nation.”
Al Arabiya: “Gulf Arab states voiced support for Qatar Thursday in its row with Egypt, which accused Doha of supporting ‘terrorism’ during discussions about Cairo’s air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya.”
Breaking Friday morning: The Associated Press reports a car bomb killed at least 30 people in the eastern Libyan town of Qubba.
ISLAMIC STATE: Tensions grow within the militant group as it strives for shock value.
The Associated Press: The group “appears to be on the defensive in Syria for the first time since it swept through the territory last year and is suffering from months of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and the myriad factions fighting it on the ground.”
The Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham: “In late January, however, Islamic State fighters suffered a setback as Iraqi Kurdish forces seized a stretch of the key highway at the town of Kiske, west of Mosul.”
The New York Times’ Anne Barnard: “The Islamic State’s campaign of high-profile killings … is one-on-one slaughter with Hollywood production values, seeking to maximize emotional impact and propaganda value.
EUROPE: Illegal weapons are easy to find in Europe as its citizens debate whether radical Islam or violent tendencies led to attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.
The Washington Post’s Griff Witte and Karla Adam: “The flood of high-powered weaponry began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and continued through the 1990s as war raged across the Balkans.”
The New York Times’ Andrew Higgins: “Often the attackers invoke Islam. But just as often, well before they had found religion, the professed jihadists built up long track records as violent criminals.”
TERROR SUMMIT: Tensions rise over the White House’s approach to terrorism as Obama calls on allies to do more to stop the spread of extremism.
The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “While Mr. Obama has concluded that radicalism is fueled by political and economic grievance, he has found himself tethered to some of the very international actors most responsible for such grievances, dependent on them for intelligence and cooperation to prevent future attacks.”
The Guardian’s Dan Roberts: “Following similar calls to domestic critics of his foreign policy on Wednesday, the president insisted it played into the hands of terrorists to describe the struggle as a ‘war with Islam’ and demanded more vocal support from Middle East allies.”
YEMEN: After weeks of unrest, an agreement is reached.
Al Jazeera: “Yemen’s feuding parties have agreed on a ‘people’s transitional council’ to help govern the country and guide it out of a political crisis.”
IRAN: Iran allegedly falls short on full cooperation as nuclear talks resume today. Meanwhile, Bibi takes a swipe at Obama.
Reuters’s Shadia Nasralla: “Iran has still not addressed specific issues that could feed suspicions it may have researched an atomic bomb, a U.N. watchdog report showed on Thursday.”
CNN’s Brian Walker: “A final outcome to what has been a months-long series of negotiations is expected to have a lasting effect on Iran’s relations with the West.”
Politico’s Kendall Breitman: “Netanyahu claimed to know the details of the nuclear deal being negotiated between the two countries — despite a recent spate of reports claiming that the Obama administration has begun withholding information.”
AFGHANISTAN: The Pentagon tries to incorporate lessons learned as peace talks take shape.
FP’s Kate Brannen with lessons gleaned from Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster about previous wars: “In his current role, McMaster is committed to making sure the Army accepts and embraces the hard-won lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan by including them in training and doctrine manuals.”
The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Tim Craig on potential peace talks: “They will represent the first direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government since the war began in late 2001.”
CYBER: The State Department’s network is still under siege after three months of countermeasures; a new Snowden tidbit is revealed.
The Wall Street Journal’s Danny Yadron: “Each time investigators find a hacker tool and block it, these people said, the intruders tweak it slightly to attempt to sneak past defenses.”
The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley: “American and British spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world.”
NORTH KOREA: Human rights researchers catalogue a series of abuses by Pyongyang.
The New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun on North Korea exporting slave labor: “Around the globe, tens of thousands of North Koreans work long hours for little or no pay.”
USA Today’s David Jackson: “Jen Psaki is leaving her post as spokesperson for Secretary of State John Kerry to become the new White House communications director, President Obama said Thursday.”
AND FINALLY, please stay safe and warm as record-breaking cold settles in over the eastern United States. And please, no jumping out of windows into snow drifts.