TIME Iran

Kerry Pushes Back on Israeli Criticism of Iran Nuke Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at nuclear negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on March 4, 2015, in Montreux, Switzerland
Evan Vucci—AP U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at nuclear negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Montreux, Switzerland, on March 4, 2015

"We continue to be focused on reaching a good deal, the right deal," Kerry said

(MONTREUX, Switzerland) — U.S. officials sought Wednesday to tamp down expectations of a substantial preliminary nuclear deal with Iran by the March deadline while working to move past the political dust kicked up by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of an emerging agreement’s contours.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was well aware of the potential nuclear danger Iran poses to countries in the region and will endorse only an agreement that seriously and verifiably crimps Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms.

“We continue to be focused on reaching a good deal, the right deal, that closes off any paths that Iran could have towards fissile material for a weapon and that protects the world from the enormous threat that we all know a nuclear-armed Iran would pose,” Kerry told reporters at the end of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Iranian diplomat told NBC News on Wednesday, “We believe that we are very close, very close.”

The sides hope to have a progress report by late March allowing them to finesse details into a final pact by June. But a senior U.S. official appeared to walk back from the significance of that first stage, describing it as only “an understanding that’s going to have to be filled out with lots of detail” by the June final target date.

The official’s comments could be an attempt to stretch the interpretation of what should be achieved by March, allowing further negotiations even if nothing more is achieved than a vague declaration.

They contrast sharply with what the West laid down earlier.

Justifying an extension of the talks on Nov. 24, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond of Britain — one of the five powers backing the U.S. at the talks — said he expected “an agreement on substance” by March. Western and Iranian negotiators said then they would use the time between March and June only “if necessary … to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work.”

The U.S. official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department rules, said President Barack Obama will make a call on whether to continue into June once he sees the March assessment from U.S. negotiators.

Playing down the prospects of any lasting damage to U.S.-Israeli ties caused by Netanyahu’s speech to the joint houses of Congress Tuesday, the U.S. official said senior Israeli officials would be briefed by secure phone by top U.S. negotiators on the latest round.

Still the Netanyahu speech is likely to further embolden critics in U.S. Congress who fear the U.S. may accept terms too lenient on Iran. He told Congress Tuesday that the agreement taking shape is dangerous and would allow Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Last week, senators introduced legislation to give Congress a say over any deal, and Republicans are trying to get it passed even as the talks continue.

The American public appears divided. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows more than 6 in 10 Americans initially say that they favor Congress instituting new sanctions against Iran, while only 7 percent say they are opposed. Another quarter of Americans say they are neither in favor nor opposed.

But the new poll also finds that 31 percent of those who initially said they support new sanctions say that Congress should hold off if the administration says it would reduce the likelihood of a future deal. In total, about 4 in 10 Americans think Congress should go forward with sanctions even over the president’s protests.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Netanyahu offered no alternate negotiating tactic beyond urging the U.S. to walk away from the table, a point Kerry noted Wednesday.

If talks are successful, the deal being negotiated will “achieve the goal of proving that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain peaceful.” Kerry said. “No one has presented a more viable lasting alternative for how you actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

The focus of his comments to reporters at the Swiss resort town of Montreux reflected U.S. concerns about the potential damage Netanyahu’s speech could have on the negotiations by further empowering powerful Republican opponents in Congress.

Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s claims that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon. “Mr. Netanyahu has been proclaiming, predicting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within two, three, four years since 1992,” he told NBC News.

“There may be people who may have been affected by the type of hysteria that is being fanned by people like Mr. Netanyahu, and it is useful for everybody to allow this deal to go through,” Zarif said.

Kerry planned to meet with Arab Gulf state allies in Riyadh Thursday before sitting down with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany in Paris on Saturday to share the state of the negotiations.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to break up the NSA.

By Bruce Schneier at CNN

2. By prescribing appearances, sororities are contributing to a culture of segregation.

By Clio Chang in U.S. News and World Report

3. In Egypt, the U.S. still values security over human rights.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

4. Bartering for eggs is saving giant turtles in Cambodia.

By Yoeung Sun at Conservation International

5. How does Internet slang work its way into American Sign Language?

By Mike Sheffield, Antwan Duncan and Andrew Strasser in Hopes and Fears

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria’s Delayed Election Gives President a Convenient Time-Out

Nigeria cited security concerns in postponed ballot — but incumbent Goodluck Jonathan stands to benefit most from it

When Nigeria’s government first floated the idea of postponing upcoming presidential elections last month due to concerns about the country’s readiness, the proposal was widely derided as a cynical political ploy. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, once considered a shoo-in, was facing an unexpectedly strong campaign from former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. An Afrobarometer poll released on Jan. 27 indicated that the two were neck-and-neck. Delaying the election, pro-Jonathan pundits suggested, would give the president more time to make his case for why he should remain at the wheel. Opponents said it would enable his People’s Democratic Party, facing its first defeat after 15 years in power, to dig deeper into a sizable war chest—and state coffers—to outspend Jonathan’s rival.

Those calculations will now be put to the test. Late Saturday evening, Nigeria’s independent election commission bowed to pressure and announced that presidential elections, originally scheduled for Feb. 14, would be postponed until March 28. Nigeria’s widely-respected election commission head Attahiru Jega cited security concerns as the reason for the delay, saying that he had been informed that the country’s overstretched military forces would not be able guarantee voters’ safety. “The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs,” Jega said at the press conference. “Calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.”

To be sure, Nigeria’s military is facing a serious threat in the advance of Boko Haram, a 6000-strong Islamist insurgency that has taken control of a wide swath of northeastern Nigeria. In recent weeks the militants have driven entire units from strategic posts, laid waste to multiple villages, launched suicide bomb attacks, and advanced into neighboring Chad and Cameroon.

But in January, Nigerian military spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade assured TIME that the country’s army would be well up to the task of defending its citizens come election time. So what changed? According to Jega’s official statement, the combined heads of Nigeria’s security services indicated that the army was about to launch a major military operation against Boko Haram, and would not be available to provide backing to the police and other agencies during the next six weeks.

Still, some in Nigeria balked at the idea that the country’s entire military force, which had until recently deployed only one brigade during the whole course of the six-year insurgency, would be otherwise engaged on the day of elections. “The government knew of the security situation all along, so to postpone the polls under the pretext of suddenly now concentrating military and other security resources against the insurgency is absolutely untenable,” says Nnamdi Obasi, Nigeria Analyst for the International Crisis Group.

The United States, too, made it clear that it wasn’t buying it. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he was “disappointed” by the postponement, suggesting that the commission was forced to make the decision. “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “It is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.”

It also raises the question of what happens if the operation fails. The government is “asking for six weeks to deal with an insurgency it had failed to deal with in almost six years,” says Obasi. “What will happen to the national elections if the security situation in the northeast does not improve significantly in those six weeks?”

Obasi says the postponement is pure politics. “Jonathan and his ruling PDP were clearly in deep waters, so desperately needed to buy time and try to regain steam. The timing of the postponement, the untenable reasons advanced for it and particularly the underhand methods by which it was executed, all leave no doubt that it was driven by narrow political interests rather than national security considerations.”

While Buhari made it clear that he believed the postponement to be an underhanded attempt to bolster Jonathan’s chances at the polls, he also called for calm. “Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process,” he told supporters at a rally Sunday.

Delaying the vote, he implied with a good dose of bravado, would only make his candidacy more appealing to an electorate tired of Jonathan’s mismanagement and political shenanigans. “If anything, this postponement should strengthen our resolve and commitment to rescue our country from the current economic and social collapse from this desperate band.”

If the security situation does improve over the next six weeks, it is likely to have little to do with the efforts of the Nigerian military. Niger’s parliament is set to vote Feb. 9 on sending troops to aid Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram, and the African Union has pledged an additional 7,500. That influx of troops could help Jonathan’s chances at the polls. The incumbent’s campaign has been dogged by his poor record on security, something that Buhari, a former military dictator with a strong-arm reputation, has used to his advantage. Military successes would reverse Jonathan’s bad record.

But the delay could also backfire spectacularly, allowing Boko Haram more time to launch attacks. The militia has no horse in this race, and has threatened both Jonathan and Buhari. Boko Haram is just betting that as long as the country can’t agree on a leader, it won’t be able to agree on a counter-insurgency policy either.

TIME People

John Kerry Is in Trouble for Not Shoveling His Snow

US Secretary of State Kerry in Nigeria
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference within his official visit in Lagos, Nigeria on January 25, 2015.

The Secretary of State was fined $50

We all have excuses for putting off clearing our sidewalks after a storm, but attending the funeral of a deceased world leader seems like a particularly good one. Yet the city of Boston was unsympathetic when Secretary of State John Kerry failed to shovel the walk in front of his Beacon Hill residence after this week’s snow storm, fining him $50.

While Kerry was in Saudi Arabia attending the funeral of King Abdullah, a snow removal company did not remove the snow from his drive because it was blocked off by tape, the Boston Globe reports. Since the snow clearers thought it was police tape, they did not clear the walk. When they understood it was just a precautionary measure, they set to work shoveling the snow late Thursday morning.

Kerry’s spokesman Glen Johnson said of the incident, “Diplomats—they’re just like us,” and confirmed that the secretary will “gladly” pay the fine.

[Boston Globe]

TIME portfolio

The 32 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From fireworks in Munich to tiger cubs in London, TIME shares the most outrageous images from January 2015

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME Nigeria

Stable Elections in Nigeria Threatened by Boko Haram’s Latest Attacks

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.
Akintunde Akinleye—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.

Nigerian militants laid siege to military bases in the northern capital of Maiduguri on Sunday, raising questions about the army’s ability to combat the insurgency

As campaign season ramps up ahead of Nigerian general elections on February 14th, President Goodluck Jonathan has sought to downplay an insurgency in the country’s northeast that has been raging almost as long as he has been in power. The rise of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based militant Islamist group best known for vicious attacks on military targets and its penchant for kidnapping women and girls and conscripting men and boys, has stymied Jonathan’s government since the former vice-president ascended to the presidency in 2010.

The insurgency has killed an estimated 11,000, according to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker. Unable to defeat it, the Jonathan campaign has chosen to all but ignore it as the president asks his people for an additional four-year term. But that strategy backfired on Saturday night, as militants swept into the strategic northern capital of Maiduguri just hours after Jonathan stumped for support from city residents.

The militants, who reportedly infiltrated the city of two million disguised as travelers on local buses, laid siege to key military installations and battled into Sunday. The Nigerian army eventually beat them back, but the fact that they were able to penetrate the city undetected raises questions about the military’s ability to defeat the movement, and, as the country’s Commander-in-Chief, Jonathan’s commitment to the fight.

Even as the insurgents retreated in Maiduguri, others looted, killed and abducted residents in a string of attacks on unguarded villages about 200 kilometers away, according to local authorities. As with previous attacks, such as an assault on a military base and several nearby villages that started Jan. 3 and killed scores, the government response has been muted.

Amnesty International, which has been closely documenting Boko Haram’s expansion, warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in a statement released Sunday, noting that the capital had already seen a massive influx of rural residents fleeing the violence over the past several months. “These ongoing attacks by Boko Haram are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” said Africa Director Netsanet Belay. “People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn. The government’s failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.”

Boko Haram’s increasing boldness comes at a delicate time for Nigeria, which is just three weeks away from an election that promises to be the closest in the country’s short democratic history. Jonathan is up against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who has made security the main issue in his campaign platform. Elections in Nigeria are invariably accompanied by violence — the 2011 elections saw some 800 killed in post-polling fighting when Buhari lost to Jonathan — and fears are rife that Boko Haram could take advantage of the instability to sow further discord, or advance while the security services are distracted.

The United States has expressed concerns that the elections could usher in a new wave of violence, particularly if allegations of rigging by either side are widespread. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Lagos on Sunday to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to see clean elections. “This will be the largest democratic election on the continent,” Kerry said at a press conference following meetings with the two main candidates. “Given the stakes, it’s absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully — that they are credible, transparent and accountable.” But obstacles are rife: some 25 million registered voters have yet to receive their biometric voter identity cards. There is not yet a system in place for an estimated one million internally displaced to cast their votes. And the ongoing violence in the northeast could prevent voters in what is traditionally a Buhari stronghold from coming to the polls.

On Jan. 22, Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki suggested at a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at London’s Chatham House that the elections be postponed, but such a delay risks prolonging the instability and prevents a unified response against Boko Haram. On the same day, government spokesman Mike Omeri announced that Nigeria was considering bringing home some 3,000 soldiers deployed in international peacekeeping missions elsewhere in Africa to help secure the elections and combat the insurgency. But the military’s inability to combat Boko Haram has less to do with numbers than a longstanding history of alleged corruption within the leadership ranks, a lack of adequate weaponry and logistical supplies, unpaid salaries and poor training, according to several military analysts and frustrated soldiers. Dasuki, in his Jan. 22 Chatham House comments, defended the military leadership and instead blamed cowardice among the troops for Boko Haram’s advance. “We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight. We’ve had a lot of people who we believe joined because they wanted a job, not because they wanted a career in the military. And it’s most of them who are running away and telling stories,” he said.

While in Lagos, Kerry reiterated the U.S.’s continued backing for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. But that support comes with caveats: the Nigerian government must ensure that the upcoming elections will be fair and transparent. “Bottom line, we want to do more,” he said. “But our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency, and peacefulness of this election.” But doing more won’t help if Nigeria’s current leadership, both miltary and civilian, don’t want to do more to help themselves.

TIME Davos

Kerry and Hollande Call for Intensified Fight Against Terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.
Demotix/Corbis Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.

"This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms," Kerry says

Talk at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos turned to the fight against terrorism Friday, with French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraging the influential world figures gathered here to step up efforts to fight Islamist extremists.

Kerry told the audience that the fight against terrorism would include a military component but also needed to address the economic and educational conditions that can provide fertile ground for extremists. “This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms, workplaces, places of worship of the world,” he said. Kerry said he would be traveling shortly to Nigeria, whose government is waging a war against the increasingly emboldened Islamist group Boko Haram.

Hollande, who led more than one million people in a unity rally in Paris following terrorist attacks in the city this month that left 17 people dead, called on business leaders and governments to cooperate against extremists. “France has reacted and taken measures, but there also needs to be a global, international response,” he said. “It needs to be international and shared, shared between the states who have to bear responsibility on the front line, but also by businesses, particularly the largest ones, who can also take action.”

Hollande also signaled that France’s military involvement in Africa could grow. “In Africa, France is on the ground and it will continue to be so more than ever before,” he said. “It will be present to bring help to those countries who are having to deal with the scourge of terrorism. I’m thinking of the Sahel, in particular, but also the situation in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, who are under attack from Boko Haram. Now France cannot do everything, France cannot act alone. But whenever it can, it will, to lead by example.”

Speaking after Hollande and before Kerry on the main stage of the Davos conference center, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked for more help in his country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The cost of action will be high but the cost of inaction will be much, much higher,” said al-Abadi, who has been Prime Minister since September.

Al-Abadi said that in recent weeks there had been improved coordination between the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS and Iraqi ground troops who he said are currently fighting to control territory that would create a route for Iraqi government forces to try to take back the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. But he said Iraq was struggling under the burden of fighting a war while providing regular government services. “We need help,” he said.

In a sign of how longstanding enemies are finding themselves fighting on the same side in parts of an increasingly complex Middle East, the Iraqi Prime leader acknowledged to interviewer Charlie Rose that Iran is also providing Iraq with military aid. “They’ve helped us in the first stage,” he said. “They have been very prompt in sending arms, in sending munitions.”

TIME Saudi Arabia

Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah

President Obama meets King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah at Rawdat al-Khraim (Desert Camp) near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2014.

"An important voice who left a lasting impact on his country"

U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Friday, hailing the late monarch’s contributions to peace in the Middle East and the relationship between the two allies.

“As our countries work together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship,” Obama said in a statement. “The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy.”

Former President George H.W. Bush also released a statement calling Abdullah “a wise and reliable ally, helping our nations build a strategic relationship and enduring friendship,” according to CBS News.

Messages came in from leaders around the world, with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both expressing regret at Abdullah’s demise. Cameron, who visited Saudi Arabia in 2012, said he was “deeply saddened” and expressed hope that the “long and deep ties between our two Kingdoms will continue,” while Modi took to Twitter to commemorate “an important voice who left a lasting impact on his country.”

Abdullah’s spearheading of the Arab Peace Initiative, which was cited by both Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as one of his key achievements, was also included in U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s condolence message as “a tangible legacy that can still point the way towards peace in the Middle East.”

TIME

Morning Must Reads: January 22

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

U.S. Condemns Ukraine ‘Landgrab’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned pro-Russian rebels for participating in a “landgrab” in Ukraine after occupying new territory in violation of a September peace accord. Clashes between Ukraine loyalists and rebels have rapidly escalated

Sniper Screenwriter Opens Up

Jason Hall talks to TIME about American Sniper‘s controversial politics, fighting a Navy SEAL and why he and Clint Eastwood didn’t show Chris Kyle’s death

Refunds Asked for Cosby Shows

A total of 1,200 ticket holders requested refunds for two Bill Cosby comedy shows held in Denver last week, accounting for nearly 40% of tickets sold

FBI Completes Federal Probe of Ferguson Shooting

The FBI has completed its investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a U.S. official said on Wednesday. The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will file a federal civil rights charge against ex-officer Darren Wilson

Pressure Builds on Patriots Amid ‘Deflategate’ Scandal

Growing allegations that the New England Patriots used deflated balls in violation of league rules on their way to the Super Bowl has cast a cloud over coach Bill Belichick’s team during the run-up to the big game and set off alarm bells at NFL headquarters

Microsoft Shows Off Windows 10 and ‘HoloLens’

Microsoft took the wraps off a new version of Windows — and a gadget it calls the HoloLens. Executives said Windows 10 is designed to embrace the way people use computers today — offering a familiar experience as they switch back and forth between devices

House GOP Abruptly Drops Plans to Debate Abortion Bill

House Republicans abruptly decided on Wednesday to drop planned debate of a bill criminalizing virtually all late-term abortions after objections from GOP women and other lawmakers left them short of votes

U.S. Smokers Burn Up at Least $1 Million Over a Lifetime

American smokers burn up at least $1 million dollars on cigarette-related expenditures over their lifetime, according to a new study. The most expensive state for smokers is Alaska, where the habit costs over $2 million dollars on average

Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda Could Have Been Poisoned

Chile announced Wednesday that the death of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda will be reinvestigated to ascertain if the poet was poisoned in 1973 during the first days of the South American nation’s military dictatorship

Indonesian Divers Recover 6 More Bodies From AirAsia Crash

Indonesian divers retrieved 6 more bodies from waters around the sunken fuselage of the AirAsia jetliner that crashed last month. Divers were struggling against strong current and poor visibility to lift the fuselage and what appears to be the plane’s cockpit from the seabed

Two Massive Glacial Lakes Drained Away in Weeks

Two lakes underneath the ice in Greenland that previously held billions of gallons of water were rapidly drained, probably in a matter of weeks, researchers discovered recently. The discovery signals a shift that one prominent researcher describes as “catastrophic”

Lawyers Seek Prince Andrew Interview on Sex-Crime Claims

American lawyers for a woman who claims to have been trafficked for sex with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, have asked Queen Elizabeth’s second son to answer the charges in an interview under oath

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TIME Ukraine

John Kerry Slams Rebels as Fighting in Ukraine Spirals Further Out of Control

US-EU-KERRY-MOGHERINI
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press after a working lunch with E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on Jan. 21, 2015

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Moscow rebels have rapidly escalated this week

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned pro-Russian rebels battling the Ukrainian military for participating in a “landgrab” after occupying new territory in clear violation of a September peace accord.

After a brief lull in hostilities, fighting between forces loyal to Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels spiked drastically this week along several fronts. Insurgents appear to be seizing larger swaths of land thanks to heavy weaponry and the alleged presence of Russian regular forces.

“This is a very blatant landgrab, and it is in direct contravention to the Minsk agreements which they signed up to,” Kerry told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

The Minsk Protocol, which was signed by representatives from rebel militias along with Ukrainian and Russian officials, called for the orderly withdrawal of foreign fighters and heavy weaponry from the battlefields in southeastern Ukraine. However, the plan continues to be consistently ignored, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of combatants amid renewed fighting.

Earlier on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated claims that Russia continues to supply men and military hardware to insurgent militias battling the Ukrainian military.

“For several months, we have seen the presence of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. We are also seeing a substantial increase in the number of Russian heavy equipment in eastern Ukraine,” said Stoltenberg during a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg this week. “This does not contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict.

Following a meeting at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power lambasted the Kremlin via Twitter for their alleged role in backing the separatists and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for overseeing an “occupation plan” rather than backing the peace accords.

During a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Moscow of sending an estimated 9,000 troops across the border into his nation’s conflict-riven Donbas region.

“The country is facing the aggression not only regarding Crimea, but also regarding the significant part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. About 9,000 Russian [troops] are in the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told the assembled heads of state and economists.

However, Russia continues to deny that it is providing direct support to separatist fighters and balked at Washington’s efforts to contain the country through myriad sanctions.

“Only the people of Ukraine without any foreign interference must determine their future,” Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday. “For its part, Russia will continue to assist the creation of favorable conditions to settle Ukraine’s formidable problems in this spirit.”

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