Ukraine Crisis
September 3, 2014
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On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office announced that Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had spoken by phone, and "the result of the conversation was agreement on a permanent cease-fire in the Donbass," the term used for Ukraine's eastern regions. "An agreement was reached about mutual vision of steps that will promote peace." Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that in the conversation, Poroshenko and Putin had discovered that their views on how to stop the bloodshed in the region "coincide to a considerable degree."

Poroshenko's office didn't disclose any details of the peace plan, or explain how Putin could agree to end a battle he insists he isn't fighting. There was also no immediate reaction from the pro-Russia separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The separatists didn't abide by Poroshenko's last cease-fire.

The agreement was announced as President Obama landed in Estonia to demonstrate NATO's commitment to keep Moscow from attacking member states near Russia (Ukraine isn't a member of NATO), and a day before NATO meets to discuss how to handle Russia's aggression. Timothy Ash, an analysts at Standard Bank in London, is skeptical about the timing:

I guess for the Ukrainian military this gives them a chance to regroup after recent military setbacks, and bide time to see what NATO and the EU delivers over the next few days in terms of deterrents to Russia for further intervention. In the past we have seen Moscow looking to talk/sending peace signals just before important EU/G7/NATO meetings, and presumably to weaken momentum toward sanctions/countermeasures. Subsequently we then saw further intervention and escalation. [Ash, via the Kyiv Post]

Obama and other NATO nation leaders meet Thursday and Friday in Wales.

UPDATE: Poroshenko's office has retracted the statement about a "permanent cease-fire," saying the original language oversold the agreement between Putin and Poroshenko. Poroshenko's spokesman promised a revised statement later Wednesday. The updated stance from Kiev jibes better with Russia's version, delivered via RIA Novosti by Putin spokesman Peskov. "Putin and Poroshenko did indeed discuss steps which could facilitate a cease-fire between the militias and the Ukrainian military," he said. "Russia cannot physically agree on a cease-fire, as it is not a side in the conflict." Peter Weber

no word from edward scissorhands
5:37 p.m. ET

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said he's offered to return to the U.S. to serve prison time, but that the government has not gotten back to him with a formal plea deal.

"I've volunteered to go to prison with the government many times," he reportedly told BBC's Panorama in an interview set to air Monday. "What I won't do is, I won't serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations."

After leaking thousands of secret government documents revealing NSA processes, Snowden sought asylum in Russia in 2013. Without a plea deal, Snowden could face a life sentence under the Espionage Act if he returns to the U.S., The Guardian reports. Authorities could use a strict sentence as a deterrent to other potential government whistleblowers.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said a plea deal with Snowden would be a possibility, but former NSA head Michael Hayden told BBC he disagreed.

"If you're asking me my opinion, he's going to die in Moscow," Hayden said. "He's not coming home." Julie Kliegman

Legal battles
4:38 p.m. ET

Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) signed a bill Monday permitting doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who request them, The Los Angeles Times reports. California will join Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont in legalizing the practice.

To obtain the prescriptions, terminally ill patients must be mentally competent and expected to die within six months. The law will be enforced 90 days after the state legislature adjourns its special session on healthcare, which likely won't happen until at least January, the Times reports.

California resident Brittany Maynard, who had a brain tumor, raised nationwide awareness of the issue in 2014, but state legislators didn't pass a previous version of the bill. Ultimately, the 29-year-old moved to Oregon, where she died from legally taking a fatal dose of barbiturates.

Brown, who once studied to become a priest, faced criticism from religious advocates — including the Catholic Church — for his decision to sign the bill.

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," the governor said. "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others." Julie Kliegman

some personal news
3:49 p.m. ET

Top conservative blogger Erick Erickson is leaving his role as RedState editor-in-chief at the end of December, he announced in a blog post Monday. The departure had been rumored since August, when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution alluded to a possible "re-ordering of Erick Erickson's life."

Leon Wolf, a longtime RedState writer, will become the site's managing editor. Erickson, who has served as editor-in-chief for 10 years, wrote that he'll still contribute to the site and attend 2016's RedState Gathering. He cited his growing radio career as the reason for the shift.

"Right now, RedState is me and I am RedState. It's time for Erick to be Erick and it is time for RedState to have its own identity," Erickson wrote. "I think Leon is the best person to run that transition and make that happen." Julie Kliegman

Presidential polling
3:33 p.m. ET
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If Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina were to face off in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in Iowa right now, Fiorina would crush Clinton by double digits. A new The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll has Fiorina beating Clinton 52-38 — a margin of 14 points. And while Fiorina was the Republican who beat Clinton by the widest margin in Iowa, she wasn't the only Republican to lead Clinton in a matchup. Clinton also trailed Jeb Bush by 10 points and Donald Trump by seven points in Iowa.

While Clinton is still the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, her biggest competition, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), fared better than she did against Fiorina, Bush, and Trump in Iowa. Sanders only lags behind Fiorina by three points and behind Bush by two points; in a Trump matchup, Sanders leads by five points.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three points. Becca Stanek

3:11 p.m. ET
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed President Obama's plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, calling it "nothing short of crazy," The Associated Press reports.

"There is a reason the director of national intelligence said among those refugees are no doubt a significant number of ISIS terrorists," he told a crowd at a Michigan campaign stop Monday. "It would be the height of foolishness to bring in tens of thousands of people, including jihadists, that are coming here to murder innocent Americans."

But James Clapper, who Cruz refers to, has not said that. Rather, he's mentioned he's aware of the risk.

The Obama administration has also announced its plan to up its total refugee acceptance to 100,000 per fiscal year by 2017, a target designed to accommodate people fleeing Syria. As part of the September announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed background checks would be a part of the process in an effort to keep ISIS fighters from infiltrating refugee pools. Julie Kliegman

This just in
2:54 p.m. ET
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House Speaker John Boehner announced Monday that the floor vote for his replacement will take place on Oct. 29, just one day before he is set to step down as speaker and resign from Congress. However, Boehner announced, the vote for the other two GOP leadership positions — majority leader and majority whip — will be delayed until after a new speaker is selected, changing the original plan for House Republicans to vote for all leadership positions on the same day.

Boehner's announcement comes just a day after two members requested a delay in the voting process, saying that it would "be presumptive to schedule elections without a vacancy for those posts," The Washington Post reports. As Politico explains, this delay "gives more time for conservatives to find a candidate to run against [Louisiana Rep. Steve] Scalise and Georgia Rep. Tom Price."

The new speaker will be left with the decision of when to hold the votes for lower-level leadership posts. Becca Stanek

This just in
2:34 p.m. ET

Russia warned Monday that it could not stop "volunteer" forces from fighting in Syria, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's assurances that the use of ground troops was off the table. However, according to a statement from the former commander of the Black Sea fleet, Vladimir Komoyedov, "A unit of Russian volunteers, conflict veterans, will probably appear in the ranks of the Syrian army." Sending in unmarked ground troops has become a familiar Russian tactic, after unidentified Russian forces seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and were later caught fighting the Ukrainian army in the ongoing conflict there; Admiral Komoyedov suggests that it would be those very veterans who would be appearing to fight in Syria.

Last week, Russia began air strikes that supposedly target the Islamic State and Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front. Many sources, however, have reported that the strikes instead hit Western-backed rebels. Jeva Lange

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