Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: Obama’s big test in Crimea

Mike Morell: Putin only understands 'tough'; Stavridis' 10 ideas on crisis; Karzai in the WaPo: angry; The LCS and the fog of (budget) war; and a bit more.



For Obama, a big test in Crimea. The NYT’s Peter Baker: "The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin? It is no easy task. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. ‘In another world,’ she said.

"That makes for a crisis significantly different from others on Mr. Obama’s watch. On Syria, Iran, Libya and Egypt, the political factions in Washington have been as torn as the president over the proper balance of firmness and flexibility. But as an old nuclear-armed adversary returns to Cold War form, the consequences seem greater, the challenges more daunting and the voices more unified.

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who became under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, to Baker: "It’s the most important, most difficult foreign-policy test of his presidency… The stakes are very high for the president because he is the NATO leader. There’s no one in Europe who can approach him in power. He’s going to have to lead."

The BBC this morning: "Russia has vowed its troops will remain in Ukraine to protect Russian interests and citizens until the political situation has been "normalised"… Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was defending human rights against ‘ultra-nationalist threats.’ Russia is now in de facto military control of the Crimea region, despite Western condemnation of a ‘violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty’. Ukraine has ordered full mobilisation to counter the military intervention." More here.

The White House considers sanctions. FP’s John Hudson: "In response to Russia’s surprise takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, the Obama administration on Sunday floated an array of punitive measures aimed at isolating Moscow, including economic sanctions and visa bans. Though Secretary of State John Kerry called the Russian incursions a "brazen act of aggression," a senior administration official downplayed the likelihood of a U.S. military intervention, revealing the limits of Washington’s influence over the situation. Though [Secretary of State John Kerry] emphasized that "all options are on the table," a senior administration official pushed back against the use of military force in Ukraine in a phone call with reporters. "I don’t think we’re focused right now on the notion of some U.S. military intervention," the official said. "I don’t think, frankly, that would be an effective way to de-escalate the situation." More here.

The Ukrainian Navy rejects a deal to defect to the self-declared Crimean government. The Guardian’s Shaun Walker in Simferopol and Graham Stack in Sevastopol: "…On Sunday the recently appointed navy commander-in-chief, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, appeared on television to announce he was defecting to the Russian-supported Crimean authorities. But despite his appeals to officers on Monday, they said they would remain loyal to their oaths to serve Ukraine. Berezovsky has been accused of state treason by the new authorities in Kiev.

"Elsewhere in Crimea, Russia continued in its attempts to intimidate Ukrainian forces into submission as troop maneuvers against bases across the peninsula continued. At Ukraine’s naval command on Monday morning, officers lined up in the yard of their Sevastopol headquarters to be addressed by both Berezovsky and the newly appointed navy chief commander, Serhiy Haiduk.

The officers broke into applause as Haiduk read them an order from Kiev removing Berezovsky from his position, and told them that Berezovsky was facing treason charges. When Haiduk had finished his dry but compelling address, the officers spontaneously broke into the national anthem, and some were seen to cry. Berezovsky showed no visible sign of emotion.

Said Haiduk, the newly-appointed navy chief commander, of his men: "I know my men will stay loyal to their oaths… What Berezovsky has done is a matter for him alone. When he brought intruders in here, we did not offer armed resistance as would have been our right, in order to avoid any provocations the other side would like."

Lindsey Graham, on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, called Obama "weak and indecisive" on matters of foreign policy: "No. 1, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators – it is not your strong suit. Every time the President goes on national television and threatens Putin or someone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine."  More here.

CSIS’ Andrew Kuchins, this morning: "…To date, the Obama administration’s response, including Friday’s vague warning about "costs," has amounted to little more than a threat to boycott the G8 meeting taking place in Sochi in June. Did the president’s team forget that Putin did not even show up when Obama hosted the G8 in 2012? Was that not a crystal clear message about what Putin really thinks about the G8 in general, and Obama in particular? Regardless, the administration has clearly been caught flat-footed again by Putin." More here.

RT: @CBS This Morning: "The only thing Vladimir Putin understands is ‘tough.’ There has to be a ‘tough’ response. — Mike Morell, fmr. CIA deputy director"

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Former NATO commander Jim Stavridis has a few ideas about the kind of military planning that should be occurring right now. His bottom line is that NATO must move out now to deal with the crisis, and while action may provoke – doing nothing is worse. Stavridis, on FP: Idea One: Increasing all intelligence-gathering functions through satellite, Predator unmanned vehicles, and especially cyber; Idea Two: Using the NATO-Ukrainian Council and existing military partnerships with the Ukrainian military to share information, intelligence, and situational awareness with authorities in Kiev; Idea Three: "Providing advice to Ukrainian armed forces to prepare and position themselves in the event of further conflict; Idea Four: "Developing NATO contingency plans to react to full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to a partial invasion likely of Crimea. NATO contingency planning can be cumbersome, but in Libya it moved quickly; Idea Five: Assigning one of the NATO Joint Force Commands (either Naples, Italy, or Brunsum, Netherlands) into direct overwatch of the situation; Idea Six: Standing up NATO crisis centers to full manning, especially at SHAPE and the relevant Joint Force Command; Idea Seven: Ensuring that the Land and Maritime Component Commands (Northwood in the United Kingdom and Izmir, Turkey, respectively) are conducting prudent planning in their areas of expertise and feeding their analysis to the Joint Force Command; Idea Eight: Bringing the NATO Response Force, a 25,000 man sea, air, land, special forces capability to a higher state of alert; Idea Nine: Convening allies with cyber-capabilities (this is not a NATO specialty) to consider options — at a minimum to defend Ukraine if it is attacked in this domain (as Georgia was); Idea 10: Sailing NATO maritime forces into the Black Sea and setting up contingency plans for their use." Read the rest here.

Eugene Rumer and Andrew Weiss, in Politico: "…Post-revolutionary Ukraine is in bad shape. Its economy is wrecked. Government institutions broke down completely after the Yanukovych government disappeared overnight. Corruption and criminality, Ukraine’s twin scourges, remain basically intact. Thanks to Russia’s unexpected moves in Crimea, the West will now have to put Humpty Dumpty back together on its own. These tasks demand that the president designate a senior point-person for coordinating Ukraine policy in all its complexity. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, one of America’s ablest diplomats and an old Russia hand, is the obvious choice." More here.

The WaPo’s Kevin Sieff scores the first American newspaper interview with Afghanistan’s Karzai in two years, and it’s rather emotional. Sieff’s lede: "Hamid Karzai was in the midst of negotiating a security agreement with the United States when he met a 4-year-old girl who had lost half her face in an American airstrike. Five months later, the Afghan president’s eyes welled with tears as he described visiting the disfigured little girl at a hospital. He took long pauses between words. Sitting behind his desk Saturday night, the man who has projected a defiant image toward the West suddenly looked frail. "That day, I wished she were dead, so she could be buried with her parents and brothers and sisters" – 14 of whom had been killed in the attack – he said.

"In an unusually emotional interview, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been such a harsh critic of the 12-year-old U.S. war effort here. He said he’s deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, including those in U.S. military operations. He feels betrayed by what he calls an insufficient U.S. focus on targeting Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And he insists that public criticism was the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns. To Karzai, the war was not waged with his country’s interests in mind. ‘Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,’ he said in the interview, his first in two years with a U.S. newspaper."

Said Karzai to the departing WaPo journalists after the interview in Kabul: "To the American people, give them my best wishes and my gratitude. To the U.S. government, give them my anger, my extreme anger.” More here.

Sarah Chayes in Politico: Afghanistan is a money pit. Her BLUF: "… Corruption acts as an accelerant of just about any other problem troubled countries have, from environmental degradation to humanitarian crises. Taking acute corruption into consideration is, in other words, a matter of principle, but also of vital U.S. national interest. That goes for Afghanistan, too, even as the United States prepares for its withdrawal. As another Kandahar-area elder put it to me in 2009, ‘You ask us, why don’t we fight the Taliban when they’re killing people? But how can we work with this government? It’s only there to fill its own pockets. If government administration in this country is not reformed, it doesn’t matter how many soldiers the Americans send, security will never improve.’" More here.

The long view: There’s a new draft of a mining law before the Afghan parliament that could have a dramatic impact on if foreign governments invest in the country’s mining and oil sectors. Global Witness, an NGO, just put out a series of recommendations on how to address a number of shortcomings in the proposed law. A summary: "Natural resources threaten to become a new, major driver of instability in Afghanistan due to its potential $1+ trillion in mineral wealth.  Studies show countries with large oil finds are significantly more likely to see new internal conflicts and that conflicts where mineral wealth is involved can last five times longer than those without.  Unfortunately, there is already extensive evidence that illegal armed groups in Afghanistan, both pro and anti-government, already draw significant revenues from minerals.

"To that end, Global Witness and Integrity Watch Afghanistan have drafted a comprehensive national plan for management of natural resource management called ‘Building for the Long Term.’  The report sets out recommendations for the Afghan Extractive Industries Development Framework (EIDF), one of the key Afghan government commitments agreed at the 2012 Tokyo Conference. It highlights the need to make it illegal for formal security forces or informal armed groups to be involved in the extractives sector, and for requiring security forces protecting mine sites to operate in consultation with local communities and according to strict rules. In addition, it advocates enhancing protections in transparency, open and competitive bidding, and improving community relations  A new version of the Afghan Mining Law is being debated in parliament, but the current version leaves out these provisions." Read their report here.

Fog of War: the future is uncertain for the controversial littoral combat ship. Defense News’ Chris Cavas:  "Hardly anything is clear in Washington about what’s happening with the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. Details are embryonic, discussions are just beginning, the whys and wherefores still unclear, memos and specific directions yet to be issued, and sensitivities still raw. A memo issued Feb. 24 by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Navy’s leadership clarified his press conference remarks that day directing that "no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward." Hagel’s artfully-written dictum, however, has enough holes in every sentence to drive a battleship through, allowing for plausible deniability about a host of issues." More here.

A counter view to Gates’ contention about MRAPs. Newsweek’s Jeff Stein: "… [Retired Marine Maj. Franz Gayl] had serious issues with Gates’s account of one of the war’s darkest chapters, the Pentagon’s unconscionable delay in getting mine-resistant vehicles to young troops being shredded daily by insurgent land mines. In his memoir, Gates depicted himself as virtually single-handedly stampeding the military services into expediting the acquisition and delivery of the so-called MRAPs (for Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles) to replace the troops’ thin-skinned, deathtrap Humvees. In fact, the Marines in Iraq had been begging for the life-and-limb-saving MRAPs since 2005, Gayl discovered there, but bureaucrats at Marines headquarters in Quantico, Va. – some, perhaps, with an eye on future employment with contractors developing competing vehicles – had buried their request. And it wasn’t Gates who first clambered to rescue the beleaguered troops – but none other than Joseph Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware at the time." Read the rest of his bit here.

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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