Genya Savilov//AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- At least 130 members of the Russian intelligence service and military are leading uprising efforts in Eastern Ukraine, the director of Ukraine's national security service said Tuesday.
In a Google Hangout sponsored by the Atlantic Council, security official Valentyn Nalyvaichenko explained there were as many as 30 special troops or officers of Russia's intelligence service, the GRU, working in the Slaviansk region, plus another 100 in Donetsk.
"They are not alone," he added, saying that they recruited pro-Russian locals.
The information was provided through three GRU officers detained and questioned by Ukraine, and Nalyvaichenko says they have already identified "two main organizers" responsible for unrest in the region. A criminal investigation has been launched.
The security chief also confirmed reports that a military plane in Sloviansk was hit by gunfire. Addressing Ukraine's response to the crisis, he explained Kiev's best option to "calm down the situation" is to obtain more funding from the central government to provide "more support to maintain normal life" for local authorities, according to the Atlantic Council.
Nalyvaichenko also cited reliance on international civilian mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help persuade pro-Russian separatists to stand down.
iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- The United States cleared Egypt to receive some military assistance, following a conversation Tuesday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.
The Obama administration approved the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters in support of Egypt's counterterrorism operations in Sinai, in hopes that it will help the country's government counter extremists threatening American, Egyptian, and Israeli security.
In a call with Fahmy, Kerry informed the foreign minister that Egypt is sustaining its relationship with the United States and upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Though he addressed the country's importance as a "strategic partner" for the U.S., Kerry said "he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition," according to a statement by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
In addition to the secretary of state's conversation, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy on Tuesday to inform him of the upcoming military assistance.
"This is one element of the president's broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terror threats, and is the United States' national security interest," a readout from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby explained.
Still, full certification that Egypt is on a path to democracy is needed for further aid. Hagel urged the Egyptian government to show progress on "a more inclusive transition" respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
iStock/Thinkstock(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) -- An American journalist has been reportedly detained by unidentified people in uniform in Eastern Ukraine.
Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter with Vice News, was captured. Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed "People's Mayor" of Sloviansk, announced the journalist's detention, according to media reports Tuesday from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The U.S. Department of State, aware of the incident, released a statement acknowledging reports of a U.S. citizen being detained in Ukraine, but did not specify Ostrovsky.
"The Department of State takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously and stands ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance," the statement read.
Vice News tweeted Tuesday: "We are aware of @SimonOstrovsky's situation and are working to ensure the safety and security of our friend and colleague."
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As fighting in the Central African Republic continues, the United States announced the appointment of a special representative to the area on Tuesday.
The Bureau of African Affairs reported the designation of Ambassador W. Stuart Symington as Special Representative for the Central African Republic. In his role, Symington will help shape and coordinate U.S. strategy to assist in ending violence in the region. He will also address humanitarian needs and aid in the establishment of "legitimate governance," according to a statement from the State Department.
Ambassador Symington served as the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda and Djibouti, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission in Niger. He is set to work with the African Union, European Union, and United Nations, among other partners, to address issues in the area.
Chaos and extreme violence have plagued the CAR following accusations of government corruption. Rebel groups have fought back in retaliation, and increasing tensions have resulted in the brutal deaths of thousands.
In an effort to combat the ongoing crisis, the United States committed up to $100 million this year to support African Union and French forces working to restore security for residents in the CAR. This is in addition to nearly $67 million in humanitarian aid and $7.5 million for conflict mitigation and human rights programs.
"Ultimately, however, the people of the CAR hold their future in their own hands," read a statement from the State Department. "We continue to urge all parties in CAR to end the violence, establish judicial mechanisms for ensuring accountability for those suspected of perpetrating human rights abuses, and move ahead toward an inclusive political transition process leading to democratic elections in February 2015 and a better future for all Central Africans."
Kim Doo-Ho/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Before he dove into the cold and murky waters of South Korea's southwest coast, Jung Cha-Woong gave his life jacket to a scared classmate, saving his friend’s life as the ferry they were on began to sink into the sea.
But 17-year-old Jung wasn’t so lucky. He was among the hundreds who didn’t survive the doomed ferry that capsized off the country’s coast on April 16, ABC News’ Joohee Cho reports. His family has since laid him to rest.
“I can’t believe it,” the teen’s mother wailed over and over, later collapsing over her son’s school desk, sobbing and unable to stand on her own two feet.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- Kim Jong-un’s baby photos surfaced Tuesday through Korean Central Television, North Korea's state broadcaster.
The youngest son of Kim Jong-il eventually became his father's successor as leader of the reclusive country.
The baby photos that surfaced on Tuesday foreshadowed his future as a four-star general and eventually army supreme commander of North Korea. Kim Jong-un is estimated to have been born in 1983 or early 1984 -- it is not known for sure.
In North Korea, parents sometimes adorn their children in military apparel and have them compete for badges in school.
U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is sending about 600 Army soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- all Russian neighbors -- for bilateral training exercises prompted by the situation in Ukraine.
Company-sized elements of about 150 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne based in Italy will be placed in each of the countries for infantry exercises that will take place between now and the coming months. The first group of troops will arrive in Poland on Wednesday.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that the goal is to a have “a persistent rotational presence in these exercises,” which will last about a month. The soldiers will then be rotated out with fresh troops for additional exercises that will last the rest of the year.
Kirby acknowledged that these are new exercises that have been developed with the four countries as a result of the situation in Ukraine.
“These exercises were conceived and added onto the -- added onto the exercise regimen as a result of what's going on in Ukraine,” he said.
He said the message was to the people of the four countries “that the United States takes seriously our obligations under Article 5 of the -- of the NATO alliance even though these aren't NATO exercises.”
As for a message to Russia, Kirby said the exercises send the same message: “We take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”
He called the exercises “a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe and the messages to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously.”
He said the U.S. encouraged other NATO countries to do the same.
As for Russian intentions for the Baltic region, Kirby said, “You need to ask [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin what his intentions are. What I'll tell you is that nothing we've seen out of Moscow, nothing we've seen out of Russia or their armed forces, is de-escalating the tension, is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe.”
Kirby also announced that in coming days the frigate USS Taylor will replace the destroyer USS Donald Cook that has been sailing in the Black Sea for exercises with partner nations. He was hesitant to use the term replace as he noted that the U.S. does not have a continuing presence in the Black Sea.
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Nearly a week after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea, the death toll has continued to climb.
As of Tuesday, at least 121 people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy, with 181 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.
The updated death count comes as South Korean prosecutors are considering charges of accidental homicide against the captain, third mate and helmsman of the ferry, which sank last Wednesday.
According to prosecutors, Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much that many of the missing could not have escaped.
Esther Lee(NEW YORK) -- Ed Marzec spent two years and more than $100,000 in an attempt to climb Mount Everest, only to get as close as a high altitude base camp where an avalanche killed his friend and crushed his ambition to reach the peak.
Marzec, 67, watched as a behemoth sheet of ice cracked on Friday and buried the Sherpa, his close friend, who was to lead him to the mountain’s top. At least 12 others were also killed in the avalanche, the most deadly climbing accident in Everest’s history. Three additional Sherpas are missing and presumed dead.
“We heard this crack and everyone’s head went up,” a tearful Marzec told ABC News in a phone call from the base camp in Nepal. “I saw a probably 150-foot section of ice just break loose and come straight down.”
“This huge piece of ice broke into other pieces -- the sizes of buses, houses, cars -- and there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t go forward, they couldn’t go back,” he said.
Four days after the avalanche, Marzec is still at base camp, determined to help the Sherpas' families and see to it that the government begins paying them a fair wage.
On Friday, the Sherpas had left ahead of Marzec and other foreigners to set up camp, carrying tents and equipment.
One of the bodies presumably buried in the ice belongs to Ash Gurung, 28, a Sherpa and father of two who had saved Marzec’s life on an earlier trek when the retired Los Angeles attorney slipped off a trail at Yala Peak in Nepal.
“All of a sudden I see this body jumping at me. He went out of his way, grabbed me and pushed me back on the trail. It saved my life,” Marzec said. “I was so shocked by this. Even your family members -- think about it, who would do that for you?”
Now Marzec is plagued by guilt.
“I think of my close friend, lying up there and I can see where he is at,” Marzec said. “I am looking from my tent and I can see the dark spot where he was buried under the ice.”
Marzec had hoped to become the oldest man to summit Everest.
“I’ve worked two years getting in shape, spent large amounts of money, but my sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice of those 16 men for all of us,” he said.
Sherpas told The Guardian they have decided to abandon climbing season this year after the horrific deaths.
Marzec respects their wishes and has shifted his focus to helping the families of the fallen Sherpas.
“That’s more important than just climbing the mountain,” he said.
Sherpas are boycotting for Nepal’s government to provide more insurance money and financial aid for victims' families.
Marzec has launched an online fund to raise cash for Gurung’s family, and another to support Sherpas who will be out of work this season.
“I’m sitting right here looking at bags in front of his tent that belong to Ash, and have all of his worldly belongings in them,” he said. “They’re taking them back to his wife and family. And it’s very difficult to deal with this and to see this.”
“Everest is a very raw place. There is no room for emotions. But this is hard for me,” Marzec added.
Samir Hussein/WireImage(SYDNEY) -- Prince William and Duchess Kate took a step back in time, at least for a photo opportunity, by posing Tuesday in front of Australia’s famed Ayers Rock, the same location where William’s parents, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, posed around 30 years ago on their own trip Down Under.
Prince William, 31, was just 9 months old when he traveled with his parents to Australia and New Zealand and now he is traveling to those countries with his wife, Kate, 32, and their son, 9-month-old Prince George.
After a photogenic zoo outing over the weekend, George stayed behind with his nanny in Canberra while William and Kate traveled to the sacred Aboriginal site of Uluru.
Kate, dressed in a taupe cap-sleeved dress by London-based designer Roksanda Ilincic, described the view as “absolutely stunning,” according to reports. William was dressed in khaki pants and a khaki shirt similar to the khaki outfit worn by Prince Charles three decades ago.
The couple was presented with an Aboriginal spear at Ayers Rock, a traditional gift, and later taken to tea with the Aboriginal elders before watching a traditional Aboriginal dance.
William and Kate will continue their side-trip alone, without George, by reportedly taking in a sunset walking tour and spending the night at the luxury resort Longitude 131, known for its eco-friendly, tent-like suites.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Vice President Joe Biden walked into a hornets' nest as he arrived in Kiev Monday for talks with leaders of Ukraine's government.
Biden's mission is to bolster U.S. support for Ukraine that includes new energy and economic help as it deals with a major threat from pro-Russian separatists in the east. Moscow's state-run media called the Biden visit a search for "a face-saving exit from its foreign policy catastrophe."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also described Ukraine's interim government as "illegitimate," adding that Washington is to blame for the crisis that began with the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich last February in a popular revolution. Yanukovich fled afterwards and is reportedly under Russian protection.
Lavrov remarked, "Instead of giving ultimatums and threatening us with sanctions, Washington should realize in full measure its responsibility for those people they brought to power in Kiev."
Meanwhile, there were further signs that separatists in eastern Ukraine have no intention of abandoning government facilities they've occupied in a dozen cities despite an agreement last week signed by the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Ukraine.
New disturbances were reported Monday in various cities, including Kramatorsk where the police chief was kidnapped by pro-Moscow forces.
All this is going on while tens of thousands of Russian troops remain deployed near the border of eastern Ukraine, easily within striking distance if Moscow gives the go ahead to invade its neighbor.
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Syria will hold presidential elections on June 3 despite the raging civil war that is believed to have killed at least 150,000 people.
Many expect President Bashar al-Assad, whose term ends on July 17, to announce his bid for another seven years in office. Assad is expected to win another term, largely because voting won’t happen in areas controlled by opposition forces.
Both the U.S. and the United Nations called the scheduled election a sham.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, “Calling for a de-facto referendum rings especially hollow now as the regime continues to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also concerned that another Assad regime would effectively end any chance of a diplomatic settlement to the three-year conflict.
In other developments, the Obama administration says it's looking into reports on the use of chlorine gas in opposition strongholds in Syria where dozens of people are allegedly seeking treatment for chemical poisoning.
"We are still establishing what happened and who is responsible. We're examining allegations that the regime is responsible," White House press secretary Jay Carney added.
The report comes as Syria is in the process of having all its chemical agents destroyed by the end of June as dictated in last fall's U,N. resolution that Damascus agreed to uphold.
iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA, Cuba) -- A shortage of supplies has Cuban heath officials worried, as the country's stock of condoms dwindles down. To address the issue, Cuba's public health system reportedly approved the sale of expired condoms, saying a particular shipment has the wrong dates printed.
Pharmacy workers are required to tell customers that the prophylactics are in "optimal" condition, but have the wrong expiration dates on them, the Vanguardia newspaper reports.
In 2012, the government agency tasked with certifying medical items noticed an error in the printed dates on "Moments" condoms imported from China. While it was ordered that the products be repackaged correctly, there were not enough workers to meet the demand.
Citizens worry the shortage will increase the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies in the country. Cuban bloggers report the state-run national center for sex education, Cenesex, ordered supplies to be provided to regions which need them most, including prevalent areas with HIV.
File photo. (Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock)(NEW YORK) -- Dozens of suspected al Qaeda fighters have been killed in a string of strikes against the terror organization’s Yemen affiliate over the weekend, Yemeni officials say. The strikes occured just days after the affiliate released a video of a large daytime militant rally.
A Yemeni official with the Supreme Security Committee told ABC News overnight that on April 19, an American drone strike took out 10 members of al Qaeda but also killed three civilians who were nearby. The civilians “were in a pickup truck that suddenly appeared next to the car that was targeted,” the official said.
The next day, the committee announced three additional aerial strikes that “completely destroyed” an al Qaeda training facility. Mohammed Albasha, a spokesperson for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C., tweeted from his personal account Monday morning that a preliminary assessment of the strikes showed two dozen militants had been killed without any civilian casualties.
Later, Albasha updated the count to 55 killed, many of them foreign fighters, purportedly including three high value targets. The HVTs, as they are known in counter-terrorism lingo, have not been identified.
The CIA, which in the past has operated lethal drone strikes in Yemen, had no comment on the anti-terrorist operations, nor did President Obama’s National Security Council.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, which also conducts drone operations in Yemen, declined to address the strikes directly.
“I can’t speak to specific operations... but as you know we’ve got a very strong and collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government,” Col. Steve Warren told reporters. “We work closely together with them on various initiatives in the counterterrorism realm, but I don’t have any specifics to comment on.”
The U.S. State Department, which would also only say the U.S. has a “strong, collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government,” told reporters Monday that according to the Yemenis, “these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities.”
The strikes came just days after al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), released a highly-produced propaganda video showing its leader, Nasir al-Wahishi, speaking before dozens of fighters, including other high-level AQAP targets.
An American official told ABC News then that such a large gathering was “atypical.” A State Department spokesperson denied that the video was necessarily a show of strength by the terror group, but said, “We know they’ve been gaining strength.”
Top U.S. officials have previously described AQAP as the most dangerous of the al Qaeda affiliates, more so than the terror group’s core cadre led by Ayman al-Zawahiri in southwest Asia.
Counted among AQAP’s members is Ibrahim al-Asiri, a devious bombmaker who is suspected of constructing explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges for the failed cargo bomb plot of 2010.
In a statement released on Monday, the Yemeni government said they are still in the process of determining the identities of those killed in the strikes.
Still, Albasha said, “AQAP will not vanish overnight. Threats of al Qaeda will not be eliminated with kinetic action. A holistic approach is needed.”
Bunyos/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against opposition forces?
The Obama administration says it's looking into reports of the use of chlorine gas in opposition strongholds in Syria, where dozens of people are allegedly seeking treatment for chemical poisoning.
"Well we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, in the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zita," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday.
French President Francois Hollande supported the claims on Sunday, but said officials are still looking for definitive proof.
"We are still establishing what happened and who is responsible. We're examining allegations that the regime is responsible," Carney added.