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ANALYSTS: RUSSIA UNLIKELY TO PULL BACK IN CRIMEA

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 06:21 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia is unlikely to pull back its military forces in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, analysts and former Obama administration officials say, forcing the United States and Europe into a more limited strategy of trying to prevent President Vladimir Putin from making advances elsewhere in the former Soviet republic.

It's an unsettling scenario for President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to show he has leverage over Putin in a deepening conflict between East and West. The threat of economic sanctions, along with a series of modest measures that include canceling trade talks with Moscow and suspending plans to attend an international summit in Russia, have so far done little to persuade the Russian leader to pull his forces back from Crimea.

"I'm not optimistic they're going to leave," said Michael McFaul, who served as Obama's ambassador to Russia until just last week.

McFaul, in an interview on MSNBC, said he was expressing his personal view, not speaking on behalf of the administration. White House officials have condemned Russia's military maneuvers in Crimea as a violation of international law and insist they would oppose any long-term occupation of the region.

"We would not find that to be acceptable," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

A senior administration official said it would be up to Ukraine's central government to decide the future of Crimea, where nearly 60 percent of the population identify themselves as Russians. The official said the U.S. would oppose any Russian efforts to formally annex Crimea or recognize its independence, steps that would echo Moscow's moves during its 2008 conflict with Georgia, another former Soviet republic.

Ukraine is in the midst of a monthslong political crisis sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine last week, Russian forces quickly moved into Crimea, despite Obama's warnings that there would be costs for violating Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Putin's fast and defiant dismissal of Obama's threats sparked a new round of criticism from the White House's Republican opponents. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused Obama of having "a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength anymore."

Obama and his advisers insist they still have an array of options at their disposal, the most stringent being economic sanctions that could go into effect as early as this week. The European Union appears to be treading more cautiously, but the bloc's 28 leaders are set to decide on initial sanctions at an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

But even with tough economic penalties, some regional analysts say it may already be too late to reverse course in Crimea.

"The idea that there's a contest over Crimea is a little silly," said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington. "It's in Russian hands and it was always on the verge of being in Russian hands."

Rojansky said the most pressing concern for the U.S. is instead to keep Putin from pushing into Russian-friendly areas of eastern Ukraine, where U.S. officials are warily eyeing ethnic skirmishes. Putin on Tuesday said he saw no reason for Russia to intervene there at the moment but added that he reserved the right to take that step if Russian speakers in the region were in danger.

The Crimean peninsula is separated from the rest of Ukraine by geography, history and politics. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to the republic where he began his political career, a transfer that hardly mattered until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and Crimea ended up in an independent Ukraine.

Crimea's port city of Sevastopol is also home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its thousands of naval personnel. Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president, extended the fleet's lease until 2042, but Russia fears that Ukraine's temporary pro-Western government could evict it.

The U.S. is not calling for a full Russian withdrawal from Crimea, the Obama administration official said, but does want Moscow's forces to return to their normal operating position at their base, where they have an agreement with Ukraine to keep up to 11,000 troops. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the situation by name and would speak only on condition of anonymity.

The situation in Crimea has drawn comparisons to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway territories of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Russia has continued to maintain a military presence in both, violating a cease-fire that ended its 2008 military conflict with Georgia and ignoring repeated condemnations from the U.S. and Europe.

Barry Pavel, who worked on the White House National Security Council under both Obama and President George W. Bush, said reasserting control of Crimea may be even more important to Russia than the Georgian territories.

"Russian nationalists consider this to be practically Russian territory," said Pavel, who now serves as vice president of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. "The chances of Russian forces ever leaving where they are are very low."

The long-term ramifications of Russia's remaining in Crimea are unclear, particularly as the rest of Ukraine works through its next steps following Yanukovych's ouster. But Heather Conley, a Europe analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it would be a dangerous proposition for the U.S. and Europe to allow Putin to view gains in Crimea as an opportunity to launch incursions elsewhere in the region.

"Then this does start looking like appeasement," she said. "If you believe that more is in the offing, you have to take a stand now."

DIPLOMATIC EXIT? UKRAINE PLAYERS CONVERGE ON PARIS

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 06:20 Published in National News

PARIS (AP) — Top diplomats from the West and Russia trying to find an end to the crisis in Ukraine are gathering in Paris on Wednesday as tensions simmered over the Russian military takeover of the strategic Crimean Peninsula.

A team of international observers headed to Crimea, Europe debated the size of its aid package to the nearly bankrupt Ukraine, and NATO prepared to take up the issue directly with Russia in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance originally created as a counter to the Soviet Union.

The envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain and France are not necessarily all at the same table, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everyone has been working non-stop for a diplomatic solution.

"We have a principle of firmness but at the same time of searching for dialogue," Fabius said as he stood alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, making his first trip abroad in the new post.

Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion after pro-Russian troops took over Crimea on Saturday, placing forces around its ferry, military bases and border posts. Moscow does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev that ousted the pro-Russian president.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Spain ahead of meetings planned with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, warned against Western support of what Moscow views as a coup. If you did that, he said, it would encourage government takeovers elsewhere.

"If we indulge those who are trying to rule our great, kind historic neighbor, we must understand that a bad example is infectious," Lavrov said.

Wednesday's gathering, originally scheduled to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, came after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to step back from the brink of war, but the crisis is far from resolved.

"This is my first trip to such an important venue where the Ukrainian future, maybe the future of the region, will be decided," Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister, said of the meetings in Paris. "We want to keep neighborly relations with the Russian people. We want to settle this peacefully."

On the flight from Kiev to Paris, Deshchytsia told reporters that Ukraine was unlikely to go to war to prevent Russia from annexing Crimea but said doing so wouldn't be necessary because Russia would be unwilling to suffer the resulting economic penalties and diplomatic isolation.

Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and the European Union's executive arm was supposed to decide Wednesday on a package of support measures to add to the $1 billion energy subsidy package aid promised by the U.S. Russian troops remain.

Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and President Putin warned in a press conference on Tuesday that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."

On Wednesday, members of Russia's upper house of parliament told state news agency RIA Novosti that they had introduced a bill that would freeze the assets of European and American companies working in Russia in reaction to any sanctions.

___

Associated Press writers Laura Mills in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Lara Jakes and Greg Keller in Paris, and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.

STUDIES SHOW BIG PROMISE FOR HIV PREVENTION DRUG

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 06:16 Published in Health & Fitness

Exciting research suggests that a shot every one to three months may someday give an alternative to the daily pills that some people take now to cut their risk of getting HIV.

The experimental drug has only been tested for prevention in monkeys, but it completely protected them from infection in two studies reported at an AIDS conference on Tuesday.

"This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I've heard recently," said Dr. Robert Grant, an AIDS expert at the Gladstone Institutes, a foundation affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

"Both groups are showing 100 percent protection" with the drug, Grant said of the two groups of researchers. "If it works and proves to be safe, it would allow for HIV to be prevented with periodic injections, perhaps every three months."

Until a vaccine is developed, condoms are the best way to prevent infection with the AIDS virus and many other sexually spread diseases. But not everyone uses them, or does so all the time, so public health officials have pursued other prevention options.

A drug used to treat people with HIV - Gilead Science's Truvada - also is used to help prevent infection in people who don't have the virus. A big study in gay men a few years ago found it could cut this risk by up to 90 percent, depending on how faithfully people take the daily pills.

The new research tested something that could make this type of prevention much more practical - a long-acting experimental drug made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC. The studies tested it in macaques exposed to a human-monkey version of HIV.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave six monkeys shots of the drug every four weeks; six others got dummy shots. All were exposed to the virus twice a week for 11 weeks.

The monkeys who got the fake treatment were readily infected "but the animals that received the long-acting drug remained protected," said study leader Gerardo Garcia-Lerma of the CDC.

The results mirror what was seen in the CDC's early research in monkeys on Truvada, the pill that's available for HIV prevention now.

In the second study, Chasity Andrews and others at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York gave eight monkeys two shots of the drug, four weeks apart, and dummy shots to eight others. The animals were exposed to the virus weekly for eight weeks. Again, all animals given the fake treatment were quickly infected and those on the drug were all protected.

To see how long a single shot would last, they did a second study. The single shot protected 12 monkeys for about 10 weeks on average.

The dose used in a single shot corresponded to what people would get from a shot every three months, researchers said.

"This is really promising," said Dr. Judith Currier, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research "supports moving this forward" into human testing, she said.

Currier is on the program committee for the meeting in Boston where the studies were presented - the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The New York study also was published online by the journal Science.

Grant said the long-acting drug is chemically similar to certain AIDS medicines sold now that are "extremely safe, well tolerated and extremely potent." A mid-stage trial testing the long-acting shots in people as a treatment, not a prevention, is already underway, he said.

---

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MMARCHIONEAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

 

 

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