Russia

10 things you need to know today: July 30, 2014

A Palestinian wounded in an Israeli airstrike seeks treatment.

A Palestinian wounded in an Israeli airstrike seeks treatment. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Week

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis deepens, Obama unveils new sanctions against Russia, and more

1. Humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza
Israel continued its intensified bombing and shelling of Gaza on Wednesday, killing an estimated 40 people overnight and pushing the Gaza death toll to 1,270. The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israel knocked out Gaza’s only power plant, leaving the Palestinian enclave without power or sewer services. Israel says the campaign will continue until it stops rocket fire and destroys the tunnels Hamas militants are using to attack Israelis. [The Washington Post]

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2. Obama unveils new sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis
President Obama announced tough new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday over artillery strikes fired from Russia into Ukraine, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 earlier this month in a part of Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The measures targeted banks, the energy sector, a large defense firm, and other key contributors to Russia’s economy. The European Union imposed even tougher sanctions. [The New York Times]

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3. Yosemite fire threatens redwoods and limits park access
A wildfire in Yosemite National Park grew on Tuesday, expanding to 3,060 acres and temporarily cutting off access to some of the California park. The flames threatened a grove of giant redwoods and forced authorities to close three campgrounds at the height of the summer tourist season. The fire was the latest in a flare-up caused by extreme drought conditions affecting 80 percent of the state. [USA Today]

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4. Knife-wielding mob kills dozens in China
A mob armed with knives attacked ethnic Han and Muslim Uighur civilians in the latest in a series of violent outbursts in China’s tense Xinjiang region. Dozens of people were killed by the gang, according to local police interviewed by the official Xinhua News Agency. Dozens of the attackers also were killed, shot dead by authorities after targeting government offices and a police station. [Bloomberg News]

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5. European ransom payments now bankroll al Qaeda
European governments have quietly paid al Qaeda between $125 million and $165 million in ransoms for kidnapping victims since 2008, including at least $66 million in the past year alone, according to a New York Times investigation. The money, funneled through intermediaries, is sometimes disguised as development aid. Counterterrorism officials believe the payoffs now overshadow cash from big donors as al Qaeda’s main funding source. [The New York Times]

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6. Colorado high court orders halt to Boulder same-sex marriage licenses
The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Boulder County Court Clerk Hillary Hall to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples until the high court rules on the state’s gay-marriage ban. Hall began issuing gay couples licenses in June after a federal appeals court in Denver overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. She said she would comply but expected the stay to be brief, “given the avalanche of recent cases determining that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.” [NBC News]

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7. Massive water-line break floods part of UCLA’s campus
The main water line broke at UCLA on Tuesday, sending water shooting 30 feet into the air. Eight million to 10 million gallons of water flooded parts of campus — including Pauly Pavilion, home of UCLA basketball and other sports teams. Water also covered a stretch of Sunset Boulevardbefore the ruptured line was shut off after four hours. The 90-year-old line was nearly three feet wide and carried 75,000 gallons a minute. [Los Angeles Times]

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8. Court ruling keeps Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic open
A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked a Mississippi law that threatened to close the state’s lone abortion clinic, saying it would essentially end abortion in the state and place an undue burden on women. The court didn’t overturn the law, which required clinic doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, but the decision could doom it. Clinic supporters said the law amounted to an unconstitutional state ban on abortion. [The Clarion-Ledger]

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9. NCAA agrees to $70-million concussion lawsuit settlement
The NCAA has agreed Tuesday to settle a class-action lawsuit over head injuries in contact sports by creating a $70 million fund to monitor the health of athletes who suffer brain trauma. The governing body of college sports also said it would establish rules on how schools handle such injuries. Critics, including the plaintiffs, had said leaving the policies up to individual institutions put players’ health at risk. [ESPN]

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10. Ebola kills leading doctor fighting the virus in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s leading doctor fighting West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak died Tuesday afternoon from the virus. The physician, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, had treated more than 100 patients and was hailed as a national hero by his government. More than 670 people, including three nurses who worked with Khan, have died in the outbreak, which is already the largest ever recorded. [Los Angeles Times]

10 things you need to know today: July 29, 2014

Putin watches a parade to celebrate Russia's Navy Day on Sunday. 

Putin watches a parade to celebrate Russia’s Navy Day on Sunday. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

The Week

Judges rule Virginia’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, the U.S. and Europe tighten sanctions against Russia, and more

1. Court rules overturns Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban
A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional because barring gay couples from marrying amounted to a new form of “segregation.” The 2-to-1 decision, upholding a lower court ruling, extended a winning streak for gay marriage advocates in court. After the decision, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) said his state would end its “vigorous” defense of a similar ban. [The Washington Post]

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2. Washington and Europe tighten Russia sanctions
The U.S. and the European Union agreed to intensify sanctions against Russia for allegedly returning troops to the Ukraine border and sending heavy weapons to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The E.U. had been resisting tougher sanctions, but in the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, European leaders have rallied behind measures more severe than Washington’s. [The New York Times]

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3. Court says Donald Sterling can’t block Clippers’ sale
Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling lost a battle to block the team’s sale, when a California judge issued a preliminary ruling allowing Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, to proceed. Judge Michael Levanas said Shelly Sterling had the authority to negotiate the $2-billion sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after two doctors found Donald Sterling to be mentally incapacitated. [USA Today]

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4. U.S. accuses Russia of violating missile treaty
The Obama administration on Monday accused Russia of violating a 1987 arms control treaty by testing a cruise missile. The State Department said it had attempted to talk to Moscow about the issue for more than a year. Under the treaty, Russia is not supposed to possess or test missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Moscow said it dismissed the charge after an investigation. [CNN]

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5. Three law enforcement officers wounded in shootout with accused pedophile
Two federal marshals and a New York City detective were wounded Monday in a shootout with a fugitive child molestation suspect in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. The suspect, Charles Mozdir, died after being shot seven or eight times. Mozdir, 32, had been on the run for two years since a family friend accused him of molesting her son. Mozdir’s girlfriend reported him after seeing the case featured Sunday on John Walsh’s show The Hunt on CNN. [New York Post]

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6. Israel steps up strikes in Gaza
Israel hit Gaza overnight with the heaviest bombing of the three-week conflict. Israel targeted more than 70 sites, including government offices and other symbols of Hamas’ power. Israel also reportedly shelled Gaza’s only power plant, shutting it down. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “prolonged” fight, and a Hamas leader whose house was hit said the strikes would not break Palestinians’ determination. [ABC News]

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7. Texas man charged with sending envelopes with harmless white powder
A Rowlett, Texas, man was accused on Monday of sending more than 500 letters containing white powder to government offices, schools, and other locations since December 2008. The suspect — Hong Minh Truong, 66 — was charged with false information and hoaxes. One batch of the mailings included a letter stating, “Al Qaeda back! Special thing for you. What the hell where are you Scooby Doo.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

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8. Congress announces $17 billion deal to improve veterans’ health care
House and Senate Veterans Affairs committee members unveiled a three-year, $17-billion deal on Monday to fix the veterans health-care system. Senate Democrats wanted $25 billion to reduce wait times for care; House Republicans wanted $10 billion. “The United States Congress is in my view a dysfunctional institution,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate committee, “so I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished.” [Fox News]

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9. Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar for $8.5 billion
Dollar Tree announced Monday that it was buying rival discount retailer Family Dollar for $8.5 billion. The surprising move came three months after Family Dollar announced that it would close 370 stores and slash prices following the latest in a series of disappointing earnings reports. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn had pushed for the merger of the No. 2 and No. 3 discounters, calling it “a big win” for Family Dollar shareholders. [The Washington Post]

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10. Bad timing killed the dinosaurs
What really wiped out the dinosaurs was a run of terrible luck, according to a new study published in Biological Reviews journal. The dinosaurs might have survived the impact of a six-mile-wide asteroid that paleontologists believe was the biggest factor in their demise if big plant eaters — prey for big carnivores — hadn’t just entered a period of decline. “If the asteroid hit five million years later or earlier, the dinosaurs might still be around,” one of the researchers said. [National Geographic]

10 things you need to know today: July 26, 2014

Gaza residents are using the short cease-fire to salvage what belongings are left.

Gaza residents are using the short cease-fire to salvage what belongings are left. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Note: The Week was published online at 10:33 am this morning, hence the late post…

The Week

Israel and Hamas enter 12-hour cease-fire, the U.S. embassy in Libya evacuates its staff, and more

1. Israel, Hamas enter 12-hour cease-fire as death toll passes 1,000
Gaza residents are taking advantage of today’s 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to gather supplies, inspect damaged homes, and recover bodies from the rubble. Israeli forces are continuing to search for Hamas-built tunnels; meanwhile, the Palestinian health ministry reported that the death toll has passed 1,000. The lull in fighting comes less than a day after Israeli cabinet members “unanimously rejected” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s week-long cease-fire proposal. [The Associated Press, NPR]

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2. U.S. embassy in Libya evacuates staff
The State Department evacuated its staff from the U.S. embassy in Libya today due to “the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias.” The embassy, located in Tripoli, was already running with very few staff members. Heavily armed Marines drove the remaining personnel to Tunisia early this morning, with air support in the form of two American F-16 fighter jets, along with several unmanned drones. In addition to evacuating the embassy, the State Department issued a travel warning, urging U.S. nationals not to enter the country, and those already in Libya to depart. [BBC News, NBC News]

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3. Russia reportedly firing across border on Ukrainian forces
Russia is carrying out artillery attacks on Ukrainian soldiers and gathering more sophisticated weaponry along its side of the border, likely to be used by separatist insurgents in the neighboring country, according to reports from Ukrainian and American officials. As the Ukrainian military has made inroads on retaking militant-controlled areas of the country in the last few weeks, Moscow has answered with drone attacks and the sending of more high-powered weaponry, such as tanks and rocket launchers, to Pro-Russia separatists. American officials say the attacks are likely meant to keep Ukrainian soldiers away from the border, which then clears the way for Russia to interact freely with the militants. [The New York Times]

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4. Iran confirms arrest of four journalists
Iran confirmed the arrest of Jason Rezaian, a correspondent for The Washington Post, on Friday. Rezaian, 38, is a U.S.-Iranian dual national. He was reportedly detained on Tuesday, along with his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who works as a correspondent for the National, a United Arab Emirates-based newspaper. Two other American citizens working as photojournalists were also detained with the couple, according to Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, director general of the Tehran Province Justice Department. The reason for the reporters’ arrest is unknown, and because the U.S. and Iran do not have a formal diplomatic relationship, negotiating a release may be difficult. [The Washington Post]

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5. Australia, Netherlands to send police to Flight 17 crash site
Both Australia and the Netherlands are negotiating with Ukraine to send dozens of police to the debris field from downed Flight MH17. The Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens to last week’s tragedy, hopes to send 40 unarmed military police, while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he intends to send an additional 100 Federal Police, to bolster 90 Defense Force troops already on the ground. Both countries’ decisions come following a week in which Russian-backed separatists, blamed for shooting down the jetliner, first tampered with and then impeded Ukrainian officials’ attempts to secure the crash site. [NPR]

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6. Bose files lawsuit against Beats over headphone patents
Less than three months after Apple agreed to buy Beats Electronics for $3 million (that deal is pending regulatory approval), Bose is suing Beats for what it claims are five different patent violations. Bose filed the lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Delaware on Friday, claiming Beats’ Studio noise-canceling headphones are in patent violation for use of technologies such as “dynamically configurable ANR filter block technology.” Bose is seeking an award for damages, along with an injunction to stop Beats from selling the headphones. [Time]

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7. Emergency contraceptives still effective for overweight women
The European Medicines Agency announced that Norlevo, a European drug “identical” to Plan B One-Step, would be an effective emergency contraceptive even for heavier women after all. The new report came after the EMA warned last fall that Norlevo might not work as well for women with BMIs over 25. The agency now says there “isn’t enough data to support the previous warning to women about weight.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not issued any similar warnings about Plan B’s effectiveness. [Time]

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8. Pope Francis reportedly plans visit to United States in 2015
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Caput told mass attendees at a Thursday mass in Fargo, North Dakota, that Pope Francis has accepted an invitation to attend next September’s World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia. “Pope Francis has told me that he is coming,” the archbishop said, although the Philadelphia Archdiocese subsequently released a press release noting that the Vatican has not officially accepted the invitation, and probably will not do so until about six months before the event. Still, a spokesman for the Vatican said that Pope Francis is interested in making a trip to the U.S., and that he is also considering invitations from other cities. [Catholic News Service]

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9. New study shows Tylenol does not help ease back pain
Researchers published a new study which shows Tylenol and similar forms of acetaminophen may be no more effective than a placebo at treating back pain. Participants divided into three groups all reported similar variation in pain and recovery time, regardless of whether they were taking acetaminophen or a placebo. And, 75 percent of the participants reported being satisfied with their treatment results — including those given placebos. [Time, The Lancet]

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10. Russians lose control of gecko-filled satellite
Russian scientists sent a satellite filled with geckos into space on July 19, with the hopes of studying “the effects of weightlessness on lizard mating.” The geckos apparently put out a “do not disturb” sign, though, because Russian space firm Progress reported on Thursday that the scientists have lost control of the satellite, which is currently set to autopilot. While the scientists can still watch videos of the on-the-lam subjects, Progress said the satellite is not yet “responding to commands.” [Al Jazeera America]

10 things you need to know today: July 23, 2014

Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv. 

Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Pool)

The Week

Kerry arrives in Israel for ceasefire talks, appeals courts clash on ObamaCare, and more

1. Kerry arrives in Israel to push peace
Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Israel on Wednesday to push for a ceasefire in Gaza. He flew into the country’s main airport in Tel Aviv a day after the FAA suspended U.S. flights to Israel due to the threat of rocket fire from Gaza.The fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction that runs Gaza, has killed at least 31 Israelis and 650 Palestinians. [The New York Times, CBS News]

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2. Court confusion threatens a key part of ObamaCare
Two federal appeals courts handed down conflicting rulings Tuesday on a central component of ObamaCare — subsidies toward insurance premiums. The D.C. Circuit appeals court said only state-run exchanges, not the 36 federal-run ones, could award subsidies under the law — potentially eliminating assistance for 4.5 million people. The Fourth Circuit court then ruled all exchanges could distribute the subsidies. [Politico]

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3. U.S. concludes Ukrainian rebels — not Russia — shot down Malaysia Airlines plane
Evidence indicates that Ukrainian separatists allied with Russia — not Russia itself — fired the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board, U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday. Moscow, however, set up the tragedy by arming and training the rebels, the officials said. The European Union expanded sanctions against Russia for failing to rein in the rebels. [Fox News, The Washington Post]

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4. Border authorities arrest 200 in crackdown
U.S. authorities have arrested 200 people and confiscated $625,000 in a crackdown on human smuggling since a surge in illegal immigration over the U.S.-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday. The campaign, he said, shows that those entering the country illegally will be sent back, and “those who prey upon migrants for financial gain will be targeted, arrested, and prosecuted.” [Reuters]

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5. Justices rule Arizona execution can proceed
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared Arizona to carry out the execution of a murderer, Joseph Wood, who had demanded to know the maker of the two drugs the state plans to use to put him to death. Wood was convicted in 1989 of killing his estranged girlfriend and her father. He argued that the state’s refusal to provide information on where it got the drugs violated his rights. The drugs are in short supply due to a European export ban. [BBC News]

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6. Ex-CEO David Perdue wins Georgia GOP Senate primary runoff
Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue upset 11-term Rep. Jack Kingston in Tuesday’sRepublican Senate primary runoff in Georgia. That set up a general election duel for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat between Perdue and Michelle Nunn — daughter of former senator Sam Nunn and former head of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light volunteer group. Nunn is considered one of the few Democrats with a shot at snatching a GOP seat. [The New York Times]

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7. Apple profits rise
Apple reported earnings of $1.28 a share on Tuesday, beating analysts’ expectations of $1.23 a share thanks to strong iPhone sales. Its $7.7 billion net profit was a record for a June quarter. Revenue came in at $37.4 billion, slightly lower than the $37.98 billion forecast. The iPhone and iPad maker’s stock inched down on the news, but CEO Tim Cook said he “couldn’t be happier” about the company’s performance. [CNBC]

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8. Largest wildfire in Washington history forces evacuations
Firefighters in Washington made limited progress Tuesday against the biggest wildfire in the state’s history. The massive Carlton Complex fire 120 miles northeast of Seattle has already destroyed 200 homes, and continues to force new evacuations. The fire was started last week by a lightning strike, and has burned 380 square miles. [Reuters]

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9. Packer recalls fruit sold at Trader Joe’s, Costco, and other stores
California’s Wawona Packing Co. is voluntarily recalling peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots that were packaged between June 1 and July 12 due to possible contamination of Listeria monocytogenes. Wawona detected the problem through internal testing. The fruit was sold at Trader Joe’s, Costco, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., and Ralphs stores. [Los Angeles Times]

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10. Chinese city quarantined over bubonic plague cases
Major swaths of China’s northwestern city of Yumen have been sealed off after a resident died of the bubonic plague last week. Over 150 who came into direct contact with the victim were place under quarantine, although none has shown sign of infection. [The New York Times]

10 things you need to know today: July 10, 2014

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike. 

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike | (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The Week

Israel launches a third day of air strikes on Hamas, Utah asks the Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage, and more

1. Israel steps up its Gaza offensive as death toll rises
Israeli air strikes — intended to stop Hamas rocket fire — killed eight members of a family, including five children, in Gaza early Thursday, according to Palestinian officials. Israel’s three-day air offensive has killed at least 66 people, Gaza medical authorities said. Israel says it is targeting Hamas sites, including launchers behind a barrage of more than 320 rockets into Israel. The rockets have paralyzed businesses and sent thousands fleeing southern Israel but caused no serious casualties. [Reuters]

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2. Utah asks the Supreme Court to take gay marriage case
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced Wednesday that he was taking his state’s appeal of a ruling declaring its same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Reyes said he was seeking “clarity and resolution from the highest court” instead of appealing to the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. A panel of three of the court’s judges last month upheld a lower-court decision overturning the ban. It was the first federal appeals court ruling on gay marriage. [USA Today]

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3. Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin sentenced to 10 years in bribery scandal
A federal judge sentenced former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to 10 years in prison for public corruption on Wednesday. A jury in February found the two-term Democrat guilty of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and favors from businessmen seeking special treatment from his administration. Nagin, who was the city’s face in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, maintains his innocence. He is the first New Orleans mayor ever sent to prison for corruption. [CNN]

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4. Snowden asks Russia to extend his temporary asylum
Fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has officially applied to Russia toextend his temporary asylum in the country, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told Russia’s Interfaxnews agency on Wednesday. Snowden’s year-long Russian visa is set to expire on July 31. Snowden, 31, was trying to flee to Cuba after leaking secret documents on NSA mining of phone and internet records, but he got stuck in a Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport. [Los Angeles Times]

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5. Report finds 40 percent of colleges have not investigated a rape in five years
Many colleges are “failing to comply with the law” in investigating campus rapes, according to a report released Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). About 40 percent of U.S. colleges and universities have not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in five years, and one in five institutions allowed their athletic departments oversight of cases involving student athletes. McCaskill said that was a “big problem” because the departments want to protect athletes. [NBC NewsThe Washington Post]

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6. Obama urges Rick Perry to back $3.7 billion immigration plan
President Obama challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to rally his fellow Republicans behind a $3.7 billion White House proposal to address a crisis created by a wave of Central American immigrants who illegally entered the U.S. over the Mexican border. Obama said he told Perry the proposal to care for and deport the children would meet GOP calls for increased border security. Perry said later on Fox News that Obama could stop the “humanitarian crisis” by sending National Guard troops to secure the border. [The New York TimesFox News]

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7. Weakening storm hits Japan’s main islands
Typhoon Neoguri, once the strongest storm yet of the Pacific season, has slammed into Japan’s southernmost main island, flooding hundreds of homes with heavy rain. Authorities urged thousands of people to seek shelter from the storm, which has injured nearly 50 people and been linked to five deaths. The weakening storm, which first ravaged the Okinawa island chain, is expected to hit the country’s biggest island, Honshu, next, and reach the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday. [AFP]

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8. Colorado says annual legal pot demand will reach 130 tons
A day after Washington became the second state to allow legal marijuana sales, Colorado, where the nation’s first licensed pot stores opened in January, released a study estimating its marijuana demand at 130 tons per year. The projection was far higher than expected, and it came as tax figures showed that the state’s retail supply was growing. “The primary difference is caused by much heavier dosage amounts consumed by the state’s ‘heavy user’ population,” the Colorado Department of Revenue report said. [Reuters]

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9. Alleged prostitute arrested in connection with Google executive’s overdose
Police have uncovered a surveillance video they say suggests that a Google executive, Forrest Hayes, found dead on his yacht of an apparent overdose in November might actually have been a victim of manslaughter. Santa Clara, California, police have arrested Alix Tichelman, whom they describe as a high-end call girl, and accused her of injecting Hayes with heroin and callously leaving him to die on his yacht, Escape. Hayes was on the team working on the rollout of Google’s cutting-edge Glass eyewear. [ABC NewsMercury News]

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10. Argentina beats the Netherlands to advance to World Cup final
Argentina eliminated the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout on Wednesday to win a spot in the World Cup final against Germany. After 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, the teams remained locked in a scoreless tie. Then Argentina’s goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, confidently blocked two Dutch players’ penalty kicks, while his teammates Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, and Maxi Rodriquez blasted their shots into the net. Argentina and Germany now square off July 13 for their third meeting in a World Cup final. [BloombergThe New York Times]

10 things you need to know today: June 5, 2014

Minus Russia, the G7 downsizes.

Minus Russia, the G7 downsizes. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The Week

G7 leaders tell Russia to stop interfering in Ukraine, Bergdahl’s hometown cancels his welcome-home party, and more

1. G7 leaders show support for Ukraine at Brussels summit
President Obama and other Group of 7 leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday for talks expected to focus on pressuring Russia to stop supporting separatist unrest in Ukraine. The summit was supposed to be held in Sochi, Russia, but the group froze out Russian President Vladimir Putin after his government annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region. In a joint statement Wednesday, G7 leaders pledged to support Ukraine in the face of Russia’s “unacceptable interference.” [CNN]

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2. Bergdahl’s hometown cancels plans to celebrate his freedom
As the controversy continued over the prisoner swap that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former POW’s Idaho hometown on Wednesday canceled a rally that was to celebrate his return. Critics say Bergdahl deserted his unit in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban, andformer comrades called on Hailey, Idaho, to cancel the event. The town’s administrator, Heather Dawson, said it was unprepared for the crowds it expected. [Reuters]

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3. Application inconsistencies could affect ObamaCare coverage for some
Paperwork errors could jeopardize health coverage for two million people who enrolled for subsidized insurance through the ObamaCare website, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press. About 5.4 million people signed up through the federal exchange, and another 2.6 million enrolled through state-run websites. The people whose coverage could be at risk provided information that doesn’t match data already on record. [The Associated Press]

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4. Assad officially declared the winner of Syria’s presidential vote
Syrian election officials declared Wednesday that President Bashar al-Assad had been elected to a third term, as expected. Assad reportedly was credited with winning 89 percent of the vote. The balloting took place as the country’s three-year civil war continued, with rebels declaring it a “farce” and demanding that voters stay home. [Slate]

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5. Sprint nears deal to buy T-Mobile
Sprint is close to an agreement to buy T-Mobile for $32 billion. Sprint would pay about $40 per share in cash and stock — a 17 percent premium over T-Mobile’s share price at Wednesday’s closing. The merger of the nation’s third and fourth largest mobile phone carriers could still fall through, but analysts say the two companies need to join forces to compete with their larger rivals, Verizon Wireless and AT&T. [Bloomberg News]

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6. Canadian authorities hunt for man who gunned down three police officers
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police continued a search early Thursday for a man — Justin Bourque, 24 — suspected of killing three police officers in the city of Moncton, New Brunswick. Witness Vanessa Bernatchez, 19, said she and her family saw the gunman, dressed in camouflage and carrying two rifles, shoot one of the officers from behind. “He was just calm and cool…” she said, “as if he’d do it every day.” [Los Angeles Times]

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7. Montana judge suspended for blaming rape victim
The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Yellowstone County District Judge G. Todd Baugh suspended without pay for saying a 14-year-old sexual assault victim was as much to blame as her attacker. Baugh sentenced the man, former teacher Stacy Rambold, to 31 days in jail, but sparked eight formal complaints and angry protests by saying that the girl was “older than her chronological age” and as much in control as Rambold. [Los Angeles Times]

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8. Report says U.S. plans for a manned Mars trip will fail
The National Research Council released a report on Wednesday saying that a NASA plan — favored by President Obama — to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s won’t work. The authors of the 300-page study, which was mandated by Congress, instead argues that the U.S. should send astronauts back to the moon. NASA was pushing a moon mission under former president George W. Bush, but Obama said in 2010, “I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.” [The Washington Post]

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9. Last of the original World War II code talkers dies
Chester Nez, the last of the original Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II, died Wednesday in New Mexico. He was 93. Nez, then in 10th grade, lied about his age and joined the Marines with 28 other Navajo shortly after Pearl Harbor. The men were assigned to develop a code based on their language for the Pacific theater that could not be deciphered by the Japanese. The code was later used by 400 code talkers. [Voice of America]

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10. Sterling agrees to sell the Clippers for $2 billion
Disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has dropped plans to sue the NBA and agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, Sterling’s lawyers said Wednesday. Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, negotiated the sale to Ballmer last week. Resistance from her husband, who was banned from the league for life over racist comments, had threatened to spoil the deal. NBA owners still must sign off. [CNN]

 

Obama Says U.S. Will Boost Military Presence in Europe, Warns Russia

NBC News

WARSAW – President Barack Obama announced a major initiative to bolster U.S. military activity in support of NATO allies Tuesday as he kicked off a four-day trip to Europe.

He urged Congress to support a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” and said the White House was reviewing its military presence in the region as a result of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Obama also warned Russia it would face more sanctions if it showed further aggression, and called on Moscow to do more to tackled the pro-Russian armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

“The U.S. will position more equipment in Europe, we will be increasing our exercises with our allies in Europe,” Obama said at a joint news conference in Warsaw with his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski.

“We will be stepping up our partnerships with allies including Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as they build up their own defenses.”

Image: U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks upon his arrival in Warsaw

With an F-16 fighter in the background, U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks upon his arrival in Warsaw June 3, 2014. Obama is visiting Warsaw, Brussels, Paris and Normandy this week where he is expected to elaborate on the U.S. commitment to counter Russian moves against Ukraine and reassure nervous allies the United States has their backs. | KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

He said the initiative demonstrated America’s “unshakeable commitment to our NATO allies.”

Earlier, Obama met Polish and American troops and spoke to his host briefly about their security cooperation and the pall that events in Ukraine have cast on the region.

“As friends and allies we stand united together and forever,” Komorowski said.

Obama said he was starting his visit in Warsaw because America’s commitment to the security of Poland and its allies “is sacrosanct,” alluding to additional measures to increase the U.S. commitment to Poland’s security.

Image: Captain Tomasz Neuman, company commander of Polish 6 Airborne Brigade, and Captain Tadeusz Borawski, company commander of the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, speak in Poland

Captain Tomasz Neuman, right, company commander of Polish 6 Airborne Brigade, and Captain Tadeusz Borawski, company commander of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, talk after participating in joint training exercises at the Land Forces Training Centre in northwest Poland on May 1 | KACPER PEMPEL / REUTERS, FILE

 

The White House said Obama will call on Congress to support a “European Reassurance Initiative” of up to $1 billion to increase U.S. military rotations on the continent, plus boost exercises, training and the responsiveness of U.S. forces to reinforce NATO.

“These efforts will not come at the expense of other defense priorities, such as our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance,” the White House said in a statement.

The effort would involve increased participation by the U.S. Navy in NATO naval force deployments, including “more persistent deployments” to the Black and Baltic seas, it added.

Obama said further Russian provocation “will be met with further costs to Russia, including sanctions.”

He called on Russia to tackle the “flow of militants” across the border into Ukraine, and to use its influence with pro-Russia armed separatists to “lay down their arms.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

10 things you need to know today: April 28, 2014

A man surveys the destruction left by a tornado in Arkansas. 

A man surveys the destruction left by a tornado in Arkansas. (AP Photo/Courtesy of James Bryant)

The Week

Obama announces more sanctions on Russia, tornadoes kill 17 in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and more

1. West steps up pressure on Russia over Ukraine’s crisis
President Obama on Monday announced more sanctions against Russia over its threats against Ukraine. The sanctions will target people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, aiming to “encourage him to walk the walk, not just talk the talk” on deescalating the crisis, Obama said. European Union leaders are meeting Monday to discuss tightening their own sanctions against Russia for backing separatists in Ukraine. [The New York TimesBBC News]

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2. Deadly tornadoes hit central and southern U.S.
Two tornadoes from a powerful storm system killed at least 17 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma on Sunday. Authorities in Arkansas said the twister there killed 16. It touched down about 10 miles west of Little Rock, and stretched a half-mile wide. It obliterated buildings, including a $14 million intermediate school due to open in the fall. “There’s just really nothing there anymore,” Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said. [Fox NewsCNN]

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3. Syria misses the deadline for getting rid of its chemical arsenal
Syria missed a Sunday deadline for dismantling its arsenal of chemical weapons. International experts said, however, that Syria’s embattled government might be able to finish destroying or exporting the 7.5 percent of the arsenal that remains within a few days. Syria was originally supposed to get rid of the roughly 1,200 tons of chemical arms and components by February, but it got an extension after missing that deadline. [The New York Times]

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4. The U.S. strikes a military deal with the Philippines
The U.S. and the Philippines have struck a new defense cooperation agreement that could let a large American military contingent return for the first time since the Philippines evicted U.S. forces in the early 1990s. The framework will permit the U.S. to send troops, warships, and aircraft to Philippine bases, but won’t authorize the U.S. to establish new bases of its own. Protesters have rallied against the deal outside the U.S. embassy. [Los Angeles Times]

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5. Single-engine planes collide over San Francisco Bay
Two small planes collided over northern San Francisco Bay on Sunday. One of the pilots was able to land his plane, a single-engine Hawker Sea Fury TMK 20, safely. The other crashed his single-engine Cessna 210 into the water and went missing. The Coast Guard is still searching for the downed pilot. [The Associated Press]

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6. Egyptian court seeks execution of Muslim Brotherhood leader and supporters
An Egyptian court on Monday recommended the death penalty for Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 682 supporters. The Islamist group has been the target of a brutal crackdown since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, a former Brotherhood member. The sentences are not yet final, but the threatened executions were considered likely to increase the threat of violence ahead of elections scheduled for next month. [Reuters]

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7. New York congressman faces a federal indictment
Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-New York) reportedly plans to turn himself in to the FBI in New York early Monday to face charges connected to a Manhattan health-food restaurant he ran before entering Congress in 2011. The federal indictment stems from a two-year investigation into Grimm’s fundraising. The charges are expected to concern tax and fraud at the restaurant, Healthalicious, which has ties to an Israeli fundraiser. [The Washington Post]

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8. Assad reportedly plans to run in Syrian election
The speaker of Syria’s parliament announced Monday that President Bashar al-Assad has declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections. Opposition groups assailed the upcoming vote as absurd and farcical. There are six other contenders on the ballot, but Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is expected to be declared the winner. [The Associated Press]

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9. Playwright sues Valerie Harper for allegedly concealing her cancer
Broadway playwright Matthew Lombardo is suing actress Valerie Harper for $2 million, accusing her of hiding her terminal cancer diagnosis after she had signed on to star in his play, Looped. Harper, 74, dropped out of last year’s national tour of the show after she revealed that her lung cancer had spread to her brain. The suit was filed to counter one by Harper, demanding that she still be paid because she dropped out due to her health. [Daily News]

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10. Players and politicians protest Clippers owner Sterling’s alleged comments
Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks is drafting a resolution to condemn racist remarks attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The National Basketball Players Association demanded that the league bar Sterling from playoff games. Clippers players wore their warmups inside out, hiding the team logo, in a silent protest ahead of Sunday’s Game 4 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors. [Los Angeles TimesSporting News]

10 things you need to know today: April 25, 2014

Kerry said Russia was making a "grave mistake."

Kerry said Russia was making a “grave mistake.” | (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Week

Kerry warns Russia over Ukraine, conservatives condemn Nevada rancher, and more

1. Kerry warns Russia it’s running out of time in Ukraine
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia that it would be making a “grave mistake” if it failed to comply with an accord requiring it to reduce tensions between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists. Meanwhile, Russia launched military exercises near the border. A U.S. official said Russian leaders could face new economic sanctions as soon as Friday if Moscow does not stop threatening force. “The window to change course is closing, Kerry said. [The New York Times]

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2. Conservatives rush to slam rancher’s remarks on slavery
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy became a libertarian hero for his fight to graze his cattle on federal land, but his supporters rushed to denounce him Thursday for asking at a press conference if African Americans were “better off as slaves.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky.), one of Bundy’s most influential supporters, called the comments “offensive.” Fox News pundit Sean Hannity called them “ignorant” and “racist.” [Los Angeles Times]

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3. Israel ends peace talks over Palestinian unity deal
Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinians on Thursday after President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction agreed to form a unity government with its rivals Hamas. The U.S., which sponsored the talks, had been trying to extend them beyond an April 29 deadline for a deal. Israel’s security cabinet said the country would not negotiated with Hamas, “a terror organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.” [Reuters]

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4. Obama promises South Korea support as North Korean nuclear test looms
President Obama promised South Koreans on Friday that the U.S. would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with them against the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea. Obama, visiting South Korea on an Asia tour, said North Korea would only isolate itself further by pursuing nukes. The remarks came as North Korea reportedly prepared for its latest nuclear weapons test. Obama also offered condolences for South Korea’s deadly ferry disaster. [The Associated PressCNN]

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5. Eleven middle-school students and driver injured in bus crash
Twelve people were injured, three critically, when a bus carrying middle-school students slammed into trees and a lamp post in California on Thursday. The driver appeared to have suffered the most severe injuries. Rescuers had to cut him from the bus and pull him out through the broken windshield. A student said the bus went off the road in a turn. A California Highway Patrol spokesman said the driver might not have hit the brakes. [The Associated Press]

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6. Disorderly passenger triggers a hijacking false alarm
A drunk passenger caused a hijacking scare on Thursday when he tried to enter the cockpit of a Virgin Australia flight. The jet’s crew stopped him, handcuffed him, and put him into a seat in the rear of the Boeing 737-800. The plane landed safely and the passenger was arrested after Indonesian authorities initially interpreted the incident as a hijacking and briefly closed Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport. [The Age]

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7. Measles cases hit a 19-year high
The number of measles cases in the U.S. jumped to a 19-year high in 2014, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control. Measles was officially declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, but the CDC said 129 cases had been reported so far this year. Most involved unvaccinated people who were infected abroad. Among those unvaccinated, 68 percent had “personal belief” exemptions from school vaccination requirements. [WLTZUSA Today]

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8. Buffalo Bills cheerleaders suspend operations over lawsuit
The company that manages the Buffalo Bills’ cheerleading squad — the Buffalo Jills — has halted operations through next season, after five cheerleaders filed a lawsuit claiming they had to work hundreds of hours without pay and endured groping. The suit also says the company president — Stephanie Mateczun of Stejon Productions Corp. — made them take a “jiggle test.” Stejon is hiring lawyers and declined to comment. [The Associated Press]

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9. X-Men director Bryan Singer publicly denies sexual abuse allegation
X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer on Thursday made his first public statement about a lawsuit in which 31-year-old Michael Egan accuses Singer of drugging and raping him as a teenager, calling the allegations a “sick twisted shakedown.” He also said he was dropping out of an X-Men promotional campaign to avoid diverting attention from the film. [The WrapStar-Ledger]

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10. Ex-justice Stevens joins the majority favoring legal pot
Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens said Thursday that the federal government shouldlegalize marijuana. The “distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction,” Stevens told NPR. The general consensus is that prohibition against alcohol nearly a century “was not worth the cost,” Stevens said, and most Americans will eventually reach the same conclusion about pot. More than half already favor legalization. [NPR]

Ukraine Agitators ID’d As Russian Military – Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia

The New York Times

KIEV, Ukraine — For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across easternUkraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.

“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.

The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.

Ukraine Provides Evidence of Russian Military in Civil Unrest

The Ukrainian government provided these photographs last week to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna. Ukraine says the photographs document that the armed men who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine are Russian combatants. The State Department, which has also alleged Russian interference, says that the Ukrainian evidence is convincing.

The Kremlin insists that Russian forces are in no way involved, and that Mr. Strelkov does not even exist, at least not as a Russian operative sent to Ukraine with orders to stir up trouble. “It’s all nonsense,” PresidentVladimir V. Putin said Thursday during a four-hour question-and-answer session on Russian television. “There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine.” Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in at least 10 towns across eastern Ukraine also deny getting help from professional Russian soldiers or intelligence agents.

But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.

John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

And one country, Mr. Schindler noted in an article last year in which he coined the term, that particularly excels at special war is Russia, which carried out its first post-Soviet war to regain control of rebellious Chechnya back in 1994 by sending in a column of armored vehicles filled with Russian soldiers masquerading as pro-Moscow Chechens.

Russia’s flair for “maskirovka” — disguised warfare — has become even more evident under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer whose closest advisers are mostly from that same Soviet intelligence agency.

For nearly two months now, the shaky new Ukrainian government has been left to battle phantoms, first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine, where previously fringe pro-Russian political activists have had their fortunes lifted by small but heavily armed groups of masked men.

In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.

A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.

But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”

When a Ukrainian armored column approached the town last Wednesday and then swiftly surrendered, a group of disciplined green men suddenly appeared on the scene and stood guard. Over the course of several hours, several of them told bystanders in the sympathetic crowd that they were Russians. They allowed themselves to be photographed with local girls, and drove an armored personnel carrier in circles to please the crowd.