National Security

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"

Welcome to Monday's edition of the Snow-is-the-Situation Report. 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? Please 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 do follow us @glubold.

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.

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Is Chuck Hagel's un-honeymoon over?

A power grab in Crimea; State's new HR report is out; Washington's strange alliance with Qatar; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Page One: Armed men take up positions in airports in Crimea and fears of secession rise. The NYT's Andrew Higgins Patrick Reevell: "Amid fears of a Kremlin-backed separatist rebellion here against Ukraine's fledgling government, armed men in military uniforms took up positions at two Crimean airports as Ukraine's interior minister warned of "a direct provocation," but there was no sign of any violence.  In Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, a large number of masked armed men were stationed at the international airport Friday morning. They were dressed in camouflage and carrying assault rifles, but their military uniforms bore no insignia. It was not clear who they were and they declined to answer questions.

"In Kiev, the speaker of Parliament, Oleksandr V. Turchynov... now the acting president of Ukraine, convened a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council to discuss the situation in Crimea. Announcing the meeting in Parliament, Mr. Turchynov said: "Terrorists with automatic weapons, judged by our special services to be professional soldiers, tried to take control of the airport in Crimea." More here.

Reuters' Alissa de Carbonnel and Alessandra Prentice, in Simferopol this morning: "...More than 10 Russian military helicopters also flew into Ukrainian airspace over the region on Friday, Kiev's border guard service said, accusing Russian servicemen of blockading one of its units in the port city of Sevastopol, where part of Moscow's Black Sea fleet is based. However, the fleet denied its forces were involved in seizing one of the airports, Interfax news agency reported, while a supporter described the armed group at the other site merely as Crimean militiamen." More here.

And three European countries freeze the assets of Ukrainian ex-leaders. Reuters: "Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein on Friday moved to freeze assets and bank accounts of up to 20 Ukrainians including ousted president Viktor Yanukovich and his son, after Ukraine's new rulers said billions had gone missing. The measures were announced as the crisis in Ukraine worsened, with armed men taking control of two airports in Crimea in what Ukraine's new government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, although Moscow denied involvement." More here.

The Explainer on Crimea (and what Tennyson's 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' has to do with it) ­- The WSJ's Stephen Fidler: "Even in a world of nuclear weapons, naval power is critical to projecting a country's power beyond its borders. So in Russian history, the Crimean peninsula and its port of Sevastopol have been a potent symbol of Moscow's ability to extend its influence via the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and beyond. Russia seized Crimea from the declining Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. In the mid-19th century, the efforts of Britain and France to constrain further expansion of the Russian empire sparked the Crimean War. The war became a watchword in Britain for military incompetence, thanks largely to the reports from the region by William Russell, a journalist for the Times of London who is regarded as one of the first modern war correspondents. The haplessness of British military commanders was immortalized in Tennyson's poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade.'

"During that conflict, Sevastopol resisted a lengthy siege, as it did again in World War II against the Germans. Though the city eventually succumbed in both conflicts, its resistance, historian Robert Service says, made it "prominent in the annals of Russian military valor."

Fidler's kicker: "In 1994, as part of an accord in which Ukraine gave up legacy Soviet nuclear weapons on its territory, Russia agreed to act as a guarantor of Ukrainian territorial integrity, along with the U.S. and the U.K. That guarantee-as pro-Russian activists occupy government buildings in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea-will make it difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to openly support Russian separatist efforts in the peninsula."

Memo to separatists: life under Putin's not so good, says State in a new report. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: "The State Department's 2013 report on human rights is out and it contains a scathing critique of life inside Vladimir Putin's Russia. The Russian government led by Vladimir Putin systematically suppressed dissent, persecuted LGBT citizens, ignored the rule of law, allowed killing and torture by police, and committed a long list of other human rights abuses last year, according to new State Department report." Read State's new report on human rights records of various countries, here. Read Rogin here.

Welcome to the It's Finally Friday's edition of Situation Report. 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? Please 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 do follow us @glubold.

Is Washington's un-honeymoon with Chuck Hagel over? Which is to say, is the negativity that has beleaguered the Defense Secretary since his troubling confirmation hearing a year ago, ebbing? Maybe for now. A day after his one-year anniversary at the Pentagon, and after this week's unveiling of a controversial new defense budget, he's received a number of accolades from distinctly different places. People may not be ready to accept a new narrative about Hagel, and it's unclear how much of the defense budget he'll be selling on Capitol Hill will go through. But according to a smattering of views, he may be enjoying a moment.

A NYT Editorial: "...The Pentagon's proposals to reduce the Army to pre-World War II levels and modify some benefits for troops and retirees may seem unsettling to a nation that prides itself on having the world's most capable military. But these ideas, part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's 2015 military budget, reflect a necessary and more prudent realism as America ends 13 years at war." More here.

Loren Thompson, writing on "Chuck Hagel is an unusually persuasive man, and he is passionately committed to getting his department the resources it needs to prepare for future challenges.  Doctrinaire proponents of budget cuts might find it hard to argue with a fellow Republican who was repeatedly wounded in Vietnam when he warns them their plans are putting today's warfighters at risk." More here.

From the WaPo's Walter Pincus: "The former Nebraska senator has prepared for an extended political fight. He's trying to set the terms of the debate by speaking out about the fiscal 2015 Pentagon reductions and sending top aides into verbal combat a week before President Obama's budget is released Tuesday....  On Tuesday, he recalled the teaching of Tom Osborne, the former University of Nebraska football coach who said the first quarter of a game was the time to build internally and the second was the time to play." The rest of that here.

Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Families Association in a statement about Hagel outreach: "We've never had this kind of access to leaders at this level in this stage of the budget process. I think they know things are hard, they want to reach out to the troops and they want to put the message out there that is how tough this budget situation is... "They didn't have to do this."

Retired Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan, from the Military Officers Association of America, in the WSJ: "The Military Officers Association of America, which led the recent charge to roll back the cost-of-living cut, is taking a wait-and-see approach on future proposals... Retired Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan, its president, praised Mr. Hagel for meeting with his group three times as part of his outreach to veterans associations, more often than other recent secretaries, and said he is willing to listen to the proposals." More here.

Lawrence O'Donnell, on MSNBC: "The Secretary of Defense was announcing an approach to military spending that is designed to meet the threats he believes the United States faces in the world today. And quite reasonably, he believes that requires less military personnel and smaller budgets than it did when were fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.

David Ignatius in the WaPo this week: "Hagel is trying hard to master one of the toughest management jobs in Washington, and he deserves good marks for his first budget."

From the Raleigh News and Observer: "In the end, Defense Department spending should be about defending the nation, not bolstering the economies of congressional districts or fattening the profits of defense contractors. Hagel is leading in response to what's in front of the United States - the end of two wars and their continuing costs. Congress should follow him." More here.

And you've probably seen this one from the Beloit Daily News in Wisconsin: "Such finger-pointing won't move the budget needle. Making tough decisions is the only way. Which brings us to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's sweeping announcement about proposed downsizing of the military. He said fiscal reality dictates that the military get smaller and more efficient, in synch with today's threat parameters - not fighting yesterday's wars, which the generals are notorious for doing. It's hard to argue with that thinking." More here.

But Gordon Adams holds a slightly counter view. Writing on FP, Adams:  "It's budget season in Washington. Every year at this time I am hopeful that the Pentagon might finally escape Wonderland and wake up... The bad news is that Hagel's current forecast is still not real. It could work, but the budget castles he designed for between 2016 and 2019 are built on quicksand, which is a real problem for defense planners over the next five years.

OK, so now for the unreal part -- the Wonderland adventure. The new Hagel budget still imagines that the Budget Control Act and its spending levels are higher than what they actually are, when, in fact, the Budget Control Act caps are lower than Hagel's numbers -- $115 billion lower over the next five years. He has not gone far enough. Even in 2015, when the Hagel budget accepts reality, he has added an asterisk. There's a little $26 billion boost he would like to get, as part of a White House proposed investment fund, that would be above the Ryan-Murray cap. This is the first step back into Wonderland -- this magical investment fund will not happen." Read the rest of Gordon Adams on FP here.

Speaking of which: a defense official says: don't blame us for the cuts, blame Congress. Defense News' Michelle Tan: "A senior defense official says the US Army and Defense Department are being unfairly vilified in the media over military budget cuts when Congress is really to blame. 'Congress is the one that passed the law that put sequestration into place,' the senior official told Army Times. The official requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. 'Sequestration is bad. We've got to get rid of sequestration. What the Army and DoD leadership is trying to do, within the constraints, is give you the best [military] we can. We don't want to cut.'" More here.

And here's the BLUF for retired Army colonel and military analyst Ken Allard, writing in the Washington Times about how shrinking the defense budget could alienate those who defend the country: "...I live in San Antonio, known as Military City USA, where support for the troops and cultural Christianity are traditional landscape features. But the mega-church I attend rarely questions the morality of living in a society so addicted to self-interest that only 1 percent of our citizens ever serve in uniform. When they're candid, church leaders will also admit that religious beliefs are not always matched by a corresponding commitment to personal service. It's odd how that kind of thing can be catching, since only 6 percent of our local electorate even bothered to vote in the last municipal elections. I sometimes wonder if Americans should start asking: Do we still deserve our freedom? And if so, then why?" More here.

BTW, the link to FP's Dan Lamothe's story on the Marine Corps' Jim Amos - "Tarnished Brass," was broken in yesterday's edition. Click here if you want to read the whole story. 

Post 2014 means post-Karzai: the coalition is OK with delaying a decision on Afghanistan until after Karzai leaves. The WSJ's Julian Barnes and Stephen Fidler with a Brussels dateline: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. military are prepared to wait until Afghan President Hamid Karzai exits office later this year before making decisions on a troop presence, according to a planning process described by officials Thursday. The scenario differs from a few months ago, when officials said they needed an immediate decision by Mr. Karzai on a security agreement or would be forced to plan for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from the country. Mr. Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, which would lay the groundwork for a foreign troop presence after this year's scheduled pullout."  Read the rest here.

The U.S. and Qatar have a strange alliance. Jonathan Schanzer, for Politico Magazine: "When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Qatar in December, he met with Qatar's emir and other senior officials and took time to tour the high-tech Combined Air Operations Center at the massive al-Udeid Air Base. It's not only the biggest U.S. airbase in the Middle East, but a very visible symbol of what Hagel touted as the close 'partnership' between the United States and the tiny hereditary kingdom with big global aspirations. America may dream of abandoning the entanglements of the Middle East but, for now, as Hagel put it, these ties with America's Persian Gulf allies are 'important, and probably more so than they've ever been.'

"Awkwardly, the U.S. Treasury Department just one week later designated Abd al-Rahman bin 'Umayr Nu'aymi, a Qatari national with links to the emirate's elites, a "terrorist financier and facilitator who has provided money and material support and conveyed communications to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. These two reports underscore the very strange alliance between Doha and Washington." More here.