Crisis in Ukraine
August 18, 2014

On Sunday, Ukraine's military entered the center of Luhansk, one of two rebel-held cities in Eastern Ukraine. Rebels reportedly still control parts of Luhansk, but Ukrainian forces posted photos of the Ukrainian flag flying at a city police station.

This is the latest setback for the pro-Russia separatists who declared autonomous "people's republics" in Luhansk and Donetsk, 90 miles away, in April but have been steadily losing ground over the past month. In besieged Donetsk, separatist fighters are reportedly starting to dress in civilian clothes and carousing drunkenly around at night; three senior leaders of the separatist enclaves, all Russian nationals, have resigned or left the country over the past week.

Western officials and analysts are nervous about Russia's response to the separatists' dwindling fortunes. If Russian President Vladimir Putin believes "the rebels are about to get routed, we do have a problem," Eurasia Group analyst Cliff Kupchan tells The New York Times. Moscow's purportedly humanitarian convoy of 280 trucks is still on the Russia side of the border, and Russia maintains that it is not arming the rebels.

The new separatist prime minister of Donetsk, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, said in a statement that Russia was sending him reinforcements, including 150 armored vehicles and 1,200 troops who'd spent the summer training in Russia, however. "They are joining at the most crucial moment," he added. And last Thursday night, reporters for Britain's The Telegraph said they witnessed "a column of armored vehicles and military trucks" crossing from Russian into a remote area near Donetsk; they call this "the first confirmed sighting of such an incident by Western journalists."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers met Sunday in Berlin with their French and German counterparts for talks on ending the fighting and paving the way for the Russian aid to make its way into Ukraine. "It was a difficult discussion but I believe and I hope that we made progress on some points," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Peter Weber

This just in
12:23 p.m. ET
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Australian officials said on Saturday that counterterrorism forces had arrested five men in the Melbourne area for plotting to carry out an ISIS-inspired attack on police officers during Australia's memorial day ceremonies, NPR reports.

At least two of the men were charged with terrorism-related offenses; the others were released after being questioned. Officials said two of the men planned to target police officers at ANZAC Day ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Australia's entry into World War I. Sarah Eberspacher

Quotables
12:04 p.m. ET
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Speaking at the Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire on Saturday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul attacked the Obama administration's role in the 2011 toppling of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, calling the operation "a mistake," The Guardian reports. 

"One thing that is probably true in the Middle East, every time we have toppled a secular dictator, a secular strong man, we've gotten chaos and the rise of radical Islam," the presidential hopeful said. "The president won't name the enemy but I will: it's radical Islam. Until we name it, we can't defeat them and I will tell you this: If I were commander in chief, I would do everything it takes to…defend the country against radical Islam."

Paul went on to criticize Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, asking, "Is she sort of above the rules?"

Read more on Paul's speech in New Hampshire, via The Guardian. Sarah Eberspacher

Watch this
11:39 a.m. ET

President Barack Obama announced in his weekly address that he will travel to the Florida Everglades on Wednesday, which is Earth Day, to bring attention to the dangers of climate change.

"Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have fallen in the first 15 years of this century," Obama says. "This winter was cold in parts of our country — as some folks in Congress like to point out — but around the world, it was the warmest ever recorded."

Florida has recently been in the news for how its legislators are addressing — or not — the problem of climate change. The Washington Post notes that Governor Rick Scott's administration reportedly tried to "ban" state officials from using the term, and presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio voted against an amendment that would have stated that "human activity significantly contributes" to climate change.

Watch Obama's prelude to his Wednesday speech on the topic, below. —Sarah Eberspacher

Quotables
11:06 a.m. ET
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Thirty years after three British scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, one of them says humans are still "inflicting major changes on the atmosphere."

"Then, it was chlorofluorocarbons; today it is greenhouse gases," Jon Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey told The Guardian. "The ozone hole story tells us that it is very easy to cause major changes to the atmosphere — it only took about 10 years to develop — but it is very difficult to restore equilibrium. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have learned that lesson."

In 1985, Shanklin, along with colleagues Brian Gardiner and the late Joe Farman, discovered manmade chemicals were depleting the ozone in the upper atmosphere, allowing cancer-causing radiation to reach the earth. Their work led to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that banned CFCs and has been called "the single most successful international agreement to date."

But Shanklin now notes that "the CFCs we put up there will take a long time to dissipate," and that the ozone layer is far from fully recovered.

Read the rest of the interview over at The Guardian. Sarah Eberspacher

Flip-flop
9:40 a.m. ET
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Speaking on Russia's state-run Rossiya channel on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin admitted that Moscow and Washington have "disagreements," but that "there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together," Reuters reports.

"I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured and balanced, so that the world order is more democratic," Putin said. "We have a common agenda."

His comments come two days after he told a Russian phone-in show that the United States wants "not allies, but vassals," and is behaving like the former Soviet Union in its overreaching foreign policy. Sarah Eberspacher

Foreign affairs
9:16 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File

A new report from the United Nations on Friday says at least 120,000 people have been displaced due to ongoing violence in Yemen (an Oxfam report put the minimum number closer to 121,000).

"This is in addition to the 300,000-plus Yemenis already displaced by previous violence," Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, said in a statement reported by NPR. "It's feared this figure could rise significantly if violence continues."

The number of displaced persons has escalated since Saudi-led airstrikes began against the Houthi rebels more than three weeks ago. Iran submitted a four-point peace plan to the U.N. on Friday, but Reuters reports that other international diplomats have dismissed the country's claims of brokering peace, saying Iran, which has backed the Houthi rebels in the conflict, is not a neutral party. Sarah Eberspacher

Watch this
8:41 a.m. ET

You can plan the perfect IMAX event to drum up interest for your teaser trailer, but sometimes (all of the time), the internet is going to ignore your carefully laid out plans.

Such was the case for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder, who countered an online leak of the upcoming film's trailer by releasing the real deal on Friday night. As his tweet accurately claims, Warner Bros.' version is neither blurry nor pirated. Watch Ben Affleck's Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman square off, sans IMAX, in the video, below. —Sarah Eberspacher

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