CIA Chief John Brennan visited Ukraine, White House confirms

As Russian forces move into Donetsk, policy makers around the world have wondered what the crisis will mean for the future of East-West relations. The rhetoric between the West and Russia has completely deteriorated to near-Cold War levels, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney giving his vocal support to Ukrainian military action against pro-Russian separatists, and influential Duma member Vladimir Zhirionovsky proposing a new partition of Ukraine with Poland, Romania, and Hungary (and banning McDonald’s from Russia). And recent confirmation from the White House that CIA Chief John Brennan visited Ukraine over the weekend has raised speculation on what exactly the US has planned if Russia continues its push into Donetsk.

Brennan’s visit surprisingly lends credence to one of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych’s more outlandish claims that the CIA Chief proposed the idea of military operations against separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russian intelligence and diplomatic counterparts were outraged by the visit, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanding an explanation about the nature of the visit.

Other such claims, such as those from former Ukrainian security services chief, Aleksandr Yakimenko, the head of Ukraine’s security service (the SBU), that his successor Valentin Nalivaychenko is part of the CIA’s human intelligence network within Ukraine, have yet to be corroborated. It should be emphasized that it remains unknown what the intention of Brennan’s visit was, and perhaps the main reason the public at large is aware of it now is because the White House decided to corroborate the report.

Despite these moves, the real source of concern for most leaders throughout the world remains the disrupted energy supply that has resulted from the crisis. Ukrainian leaders have quietly weaved together Western energy supplies to lessen its reliance on Russian pipelines. With Gazprom calling in Ukraine’s gas debts, and incoming power supplies to Crimea being shut off by Ukrainian authorities, and the problem of Germany’s main source of gas coming through Ukraine the situation has caused Western leaders to demand the cultivation of alternatives.

News Briefs:

  • Afghan deputy minister of Public Works Ahmad Shah Wahid was kidnapped on April 15 in Kabul. While kidnappings by the Taliban are relatively common in Afghanistan, this represents one of the highest-profile public officials kidnapped in many years. Occurring so soon after elections, experts believe this to be an indication that the Taliban is undeterred by its lack of success in disrupting the election.
  • An alternative North-South highway has begun construction in Kyrgyzstan, after the construction of another so close to the contentious border region between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan caused border clashes between the members of both militaries. The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is the general contractor for the project.
  • Chinese oil company Sinopec has agreed to purchase Lukoil’s stake in several oil projects in Kazakhstan for $1.2 billion dollars, the latest in a string of aggressive Chinese investments in Kazakhstan. With the completion of the CNPC Line D imminent, China looks to be doubling down on its energy investments in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia. Lukoil, however, will remain in Kazakhstan as it still manages projects in Tengiz and Karachaganak.
  • The Christian Science Monitor published an article on how the Ukrainian crisis belies a shift to Asian energy markets. With so much attention focused on Eastern Europe’s current energy problems thanks to Russia’s control over a quarter of its market, and US policymakers declaring the time right to begin exports of its own prodigious LNG resources, what most news sources are missing are the construction of pipelines through Central Asia from Turkmenistan and Russia to China.
  • Iran has opened a direct shipping corridor between its main port of Bandar Abbas and Dailan/Lianyunang in China after a meeting over the weekend. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mortez Sarmadi said the prospect was discussed as earlier as the last annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek last November between Hassan Rouhani and Xi Jinping. Iran is currently China’s third largest supplier of oil, providing roughly 12% of its total annual oil consumption. In related news, Iranian industrial minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh emphasized that Iran could be “reliable, secure, and long-term supplier of Gas to Europe,” perhaps capitalizing on their current disruption of supply from Russia.
  • Human Rights Watch has condemned the legislation that would allow Kazakhstan to take control of its media during “times of emergency.” The emergency restrictions that officially became law on April 12 are “unjustified and overreaching,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch declared in a April 15 statement. Protests against the legislation have continued in Astana, with six women who chained themselves to a fence outside the Prosecutor-General’s Office being arrested.
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