Kerry Warns Russia Over Ukraine

Kerry says Russia violating Geneva agreement

With tensions smoldering in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. gave Russia a new warning Thursday. Saying Russia was using “the barrel of a gun and the force of the mob,” Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian intelligence and special ops of actively working to destabilize eastern Ukraine.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction. Not a single Russian official—not one—has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva Agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings,” Kerry said, adding that “if Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake.”


Australian Man Arrested After Drunken Hijacking Scare

One drunk man shut down a Bali airport for several hours

An Australian man is under arrest Friday after he allegedly caused a hijacking alert on a Virgin Australia flight headed from Brisbane to the Indonesian holiday island of Bali.

A Bali Air Force commander says the 28-year-old man was drunk and started pounding on the cockpit door. Crew members later seized and handcuffed the man, who was identified as Matt Christopher Lockley.

Airport officials said that the Bali airport resumed normal operations later in the day after being shut down for several hours.

TIME North Korea

State Media: 24 Year-Old American Detained in North Korea

North Korea has detained an American tourist who was seeking asylum in the country, according to reports that emerged Friday from the state news agency. The reports come as the U.S. and South Korea discuss sanctions in response to North Korea's nuclear program

North Korea this month detained an American tourist it claims was seeking asylum in the country, according to reports that emerged Friday from the state news agency.

The 24-year-old man, Miller Matthew Todd, reportedly tore up his tourist visa, and shouted “he would seek asylum” and “came to the DPRK (North Korea) after choosing it as a shelter,” according to reports citing North Korean state news agency KCNA. Todd was reportedly detained April 10.

In the eyes of the U.S. State Department, an American has to appear in person before a diplomatic officer in a foreign country and sign an oath to formally renunciate his or her citizenship.

The announcement came on the same day U.S. President Barack Obama held a joint press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul to talk about potential sanctions as North Korea reportedly prepares its fourth nuclear test.


TIME Yemen

Drone War Doesn’t Stop Al-Qaeda’s ‘Obsession’ With Striking U.S.

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda
People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda April 19, 2014. Stringer—Reuters

Experts say Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains focused on striking the United States, and targeted attacks by American drones and Yemeni commandos have so far failed to weaken the dangerous group

Al-Qaeda is so many places these days that it’s easy to overlook the one spot on the globe arguably most dangerous to the West. But the stony hills of southern Yemen stood out vividly in the video that surfaced on the Internet last week, as did the scores of jihadi fighters who gathered to chant and pray in a brazen open-air meeting. The leader of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, a former secretary to Osama bin Laden named Nasser al-Wuhayshi, sat on a rock and held forth on the importance of striking America—“the bearer of the cross.” Pick-ups carried black Qaeda flags fringed in gold, like the campaign standards of a regular army, all in the clear light of day.

“Many wondered, myself included, where were the drones during such a public display of al-Qaeda’s power?” Charles Schmitz, a Yemen specialist at Towson University in Maryland, tells TIME.

“Last weekend was the answer.”

The U.S. and Yemen launched joint attacks late Saturday that continued through Monday. The attacks served as a reminder of the persistent terror threat in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of bin Laden and a stronghold of al-Qaeda’s “old school”—militants focused not on sectarian warfare within Islam, but on “the far enemy,” meaning the West and, especially, the United States. Waves of American aircraft—identified by Yemeni officials as drones—targeted militants in vehicles, while Yemeni commandos poured from Russian-made helicopters steered by U.S. Special Operations pilots. The government of Yemen said 55 militants were killed, a sizable number that analysts said may also be significant.

“It’s significant if they’re senior people,” says Magnus Ranstorp, who directs research at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College.

DNA tests were underway to nail down identities, Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi told reporters on Wednesday. Initial reports indicated that the dead may include Ibrahim al-Asiri, the bomb-maker U.S. officials dubbed “the world’s most dangerous terrorist” because of his talent for getting explosives past security. Among al-Asiri’s innovations were the “underwear bomb” that a militant failed to detonate on an airliner over Detroit in 2009, as well as explosives hidden in computer printers shipped to the U.S. Earlier in 2009, al-Asiri dispatched his own brother on a suicide mission aimed at a Saudi interior ministry official.

“They are a serious terrorism threat, given the technical capability, the level of innovation in delivery,” Ranstorp says. “They almost have an autistic obsession with striking civilization.”

That alone distinguishes AQAP from other al-Qaeda branches, many of which are more interested in winning territory or waging sectarian war on Muslims they regard as apostates, often followers of the faith’s Shiite tradition. Qaeda fighters took over much of Yemen’s south in the security vacuum that followed the Arab Spring uprisings, only to be pushed into the mountains by government forces in 2012.

But the terror group remained focused on striking overseas. “AQAP appears to be the only one that’s still vectored toward, ‘We gotta hit the US, we gotta go after the Far Enemy,’ and that was al-Qaeda’s original banner,” says Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and officer at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Watts says there are indications that young members of AQAP, many of them Saudis who fought in Iraq, appear to be arguing for greater involvement in sectarian conflicts, and building a state based on Sharia law. And indeed, in the video that surfaced earlier this month, several militants speak of concentrating their attention within Yemen, where a Shiite uprising supported by Iran festers in the north.

But Watts says “the old guard” remains in control. “That’s the track record, and they’re the group that’s committed to external operations against the U.S. and the West,” he says.

That also explains the cascading U.S.-Yemeni joint strikes last weekend, which, based on the relative complexity involved, Watts says appeared to have been in the works for some time. U.S. Special Forces, both in Yemen and across the Bab-al-Mandab (Gate of Tears) in Djibouti, have worked closely with Yemen’s military and intelligence since 2001, and more openly since Hadi became president. But Schmitz, the Towson professor, says Yemenis harbor the same concerns about their sovereignty and civilian casualties that plagued the American drone campaign in Pakistan. And in Yemen, al-Qaeda has consistently bounced back, in recent months overrunning military installations, attacking the Ministry of Defense, and breaking 19 militants out of the capital’s central prison.

“These operations seem to show that al-Qaeda was alive and well,” Schmitz says. “In spite of five years of drone warfare and three years of direct confrontation with the Yemeni military in which many people have been killed, al-Qaeda shows great resourcefulness and resilience.”

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Threatens ‘Blockade’ of Pro-Russian Militants

Ukrainian soldiers guard a roadblock along the highway near Slovyansk, Ukraine April 24, 2014 .
Ukrainian soldiers guard a roadblock along the highway near Slovyansk, Ukraine April 24, 2014 . Scott Olson—Getty Images

Ukraine's interim government warned it may cut off supplies to pro-Russian separatists in a town in the country's east, despite Moscow's calls to stand down

The interim Ukrainian government in Kiev threatened to “blockade” pro-Rusian militants in the eastern town of Slovyansk on Friday, the New York Times reports, despite Moscow’s calls against engagement.

Slovyansk is one of three major eastern Ukrainian cities—the others are Donetsk and Mariupol— that have seen pro-Russian militant protests. Serhiy Pashynskyi, the acting head of the presidential administration of Ukraine, announced the blockade to prevent the militants supply chain, according to the Times. He also warned of new military movements overnight and that if Russia crosses the border, Ukraine will “eliminate the invaders.”

The announcement comes a little more than a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart in Geneva to quell the crisis, and a day after he warned the Kremlin of possible additional economic sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine faces an apparent no-win scenario: confront the separatists and risk an invasion of Russia’s 40,000 troops hovering on the border, or allow the instability to continue while trying to piece together a country desperate for foreign aid. Making matters more complicated, Ukraine is scheduled to hold its presidential election May 25.

Moscow Thursday announced that it would start military maneuvers along the border with Ukraine while continuing to deny that it is involved in the protests racking eastern Ukraine. Several hours later, Kerry accused Russia of violating last week’s diplomatic agreement, including a provision that would require pro-Russian militants to leave government buildings in Ukraine’s east. The President spoke Friday with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom to discuss the hazardous situation.

TIME Ukraine

Putin’s Crafty Approach Paying Off in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin waves in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, on April 18, 2014. Maxim Shipenkov—AFP/Getty Images

Firing up Russian military units bordering Ukraine stops Kiev’s moves against pro-Russian separatists

Russia got its way in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, halting a Ukrainian offensive to oust pro-Russian separatists from buildings they had been occupying.

Putin’s troops flexed their military might on Russian territory—thousands began conducting air and land training where they are massed near Ukraine—and that was sufficient to stop the Ukrainians in their tracks. U.S. officials complained that the Russian move was provocative. Perhaps so, but it had its desired effect.

The Ukrainians are plainly flummoxed: Continue their assaults to remove the separatists, and risk Russian tanks coming across the border into their country, or call them off in the hopes that will deter Russian action.

It shows just how craftily Putin has handled the Ukrainian crisis he created. He couldn’t do it without substantial support from residents in eastern Ukraine, aided and abetted, according to U.S. military officers, by Russian spetsnaz special-ops forces.

But given that fifth column inside Ukraine, he can play this game indefinitely, despite a demand from the Ukrainian foreign ministry that he explain the drills within 48 hours.

“We’re seeing all flavors of the Russian combined arms force,” Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “Our message remains, ‘Deescalate. Live up to commitments both in Geneva and international norms. Help bring this crisis to an end.'”

Putin seems to be using such ebbs and flows of military exercises on the Russian side of the Ukrainian frontier like a dimmer switch, turning it up when it suits his purposes and then down once it has had its desired effect.

It sows instability in Ukraine while enhancing Russia’s clout toward its neighboring nation. The trouble for Ukraine and the West is that there isn’t much they can do to stop it. Bullying doesn’t violate international law.

TIME russia

Obama Says He’d Save a Drowning Putin

At least they agree on one thing

It’s not exactly an olive branch, but it’s something: President Barack Obama said Friday he’d save Russian President Vladimir Putin if he were drowning.

“I’d like to think if anyone were out there drowning, I’d save them,” Obama said in a news conference in South Korea. “I used to be a pretty good swimmer, I grew up in Hawaii.”

Putin said near the end of his annual public question session last week that he thought Obama would save him if he was drowning. Despite their differences on matters of geopolitics, Putin called the American president “a decent and quite courageous person.”

[The Hill]







Pictures of the Week April 18 – April 25

From mourning the victims of the South Korean ferry disaster to the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, to Obama in Japan and the running of the Boston Marathon, TIME presents the best photos of the week.


Feel Good Friday: 14 Fun Photos to Jump Start Your Weekend

From a joyful reunion to a cute baby giraffe, Time's photo editors offer a selection of photos to brighten your day.

TIME Nepal

Climbers Start Leaving Everest As Sherpas Threaten to Strike

Mount Everest on Oct. 27, 2011.
Mount Everest seen in 2011. Kevin Frayer—AP

Some foreign mountaineers looking to ascend the world's highest peak in Nepal are divided between staying and going as Sherpas demand better compensation and improved safety conditions following a recent avalanche that killed 16 local guides

Some would-be Mount Everest climbers are packing up and heading home as some Sherpas threaten to strike after a deadly avalanche, the BBC reports.

The Sherpas, locals who do the heavy-lifting for foreign climbers seeking to make the treacherous ascent, are demanding better financial treatment and improved safety conditions in the wake of a disaster that killed 16 of their colleagues.

Top Nepalese tourism officials are attempting to negotiate with the Sherpas in an effort to save this year’s climbing season. The Everest climb is all but impossible for foreign visitors without the help, knowledge and labor of the experienced Sherpas, who currently make from $3,000 to $6,000 each season. The country’s tourism ministry expressed hope that the talks between the Sherpas and the Nepalese government might salvage at least some of the season, which generates about $3.3 million annually for Nepal in climbing fees alone.

More than 300 foreign climbers were set to scale Everest’s peak this year. However, last week’s fatal accident caused many to head home over concerns for their own safety regardless of the Sherpas’ threats to strike.

[BBC and Independent]

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