On Saturday, the US Congress unanimously approved another round of economic sanctions against Russia in what is now the fourth round of sanctions in six months. The law was passed as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act – and is now heading to President Obama for signature. A meeting yesterday between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that was scheduled before the news turned into a major event due to the new law. This legislation will take US involvement to a new level – authorizing the Obama Administration to provide lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, including weaponry, ammunition, and troop-operated surveillance drones. The full authorizing amount of the bill is $350 million in lethal aid, defense equipment, and training over the course of three years.
Additionally, the bill will allow the executive branch to use sanctions against energy and defense industries, naming specifically arms exporter Rosoboronexport and energy giant Gazprom, if it is determined that gas is being withheld from a NATO State or Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Ryabkov warned that Russia “will not be able to leave this without a response.” One of the most surprising elements of the bill was a provision granting major non-NATO ally status to Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – but this was removed in later drafts, deeming it potentially destabilizing.
Ukrainian officials, however, have hailed the new sanctions and aid packages as “historic decisions.” Thus far, one of the main complaints about Western support for the Ukrainian government has been the lack of lethal aid to the country. The main point of uncertainty, now that the bill sits in front of President Obama, is if it will be signed, or if veto power will be exercised.
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- The United States and the EU have confirmed that nuclear talks are to resume on December 17 in Geneva for a one day meeting to set priorities for the coming year. After the November 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement expired, negotiators artificially extended the deadline for an additional seven months, setting the new deadline sometime next July. Iranian lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi confirmed that several bilateral meetings between delegates will take place before the meeting on Wednesday.
- Police in northern Afghanistan on Friday confirmed that three commanders of the extremist paramilitary terrorist organization known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were killed in an overnight police operation in Baghlan province. One of the commanders, Qari Wali, was apparently responsible for making the suicide vests for suicide bombers. Officials also stated that the IMU operated in Afghanistan under the name Jundullah.
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