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News Wrap: Putin completes Crimea annex as EU signs agreement with Ukraine

March 21, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Two weeks on, and searchers today appeared no closer than ever to finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Hopes had been raised after a satellite spotted two large objects in a remote region of the Southern Indian Ocean, more than 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.

Search planes crisscrossed part of the area today, and Australia’s acting prime minister promised to continue the effort. But he cautioned that it’s difficult.

WARREN TRUSS, Acting Prime Minister, Australia: Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating. It may have slipped to the bottom. It’s also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chinese and Japanese aircraft will join the search this weekend. At the same time, people around the globe are poring over satellite photos, hoping to find clues to the plane’s fate. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the crowdsourcing effort right after the news summary.

The crisis over Ukraine played out in dueling pen strokes today. In Brussels, the European Union signed an agreement with Ukraine, including defense and trade cooperation. The E.U. also slapped sanctions on a dozen more officials in Russia and Crimea. At almost the same time in Moscow, the president of Russia completed the annexation of Crimea.

John Irvine of Independent Television News reports.

JOHN IRVINE: He had already had it sealed and delivered. So, today, Vladimir Putin signed for the parcel of land that is Crimea.

Whether the peninsula belongs in Russian hands or they have stolen it depends on your point of view. In Crimea itself, many Ukrainian soldiers have been sent packing. Russian soldiers, for weeks the enemy at the gate, are now looking out, not in. They have taken over most military bases here, today being the deadline for Ukrainian troops to leave.

At one barracks where the transition was still happening, the mismatch was obvious. The Russians had armor, and the Ukrainians very little. A Ukrainian colonel came out and told us that he’d been ordered to get his men to remove all their belongings. With the victor within earshot, the vanquished agreed it was a sad day indeed.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Ukrainian soldiers, because, in less than a month, they have gone from being a home guard to fallen forces. The land they swore an oath to defend has switched sides, and now they have got a choice, to do the same or to leave Crimea.

One place where a Russian siege is yet to cause complete capitulation is Sevastopol. By scuttling in strategic places, the Russians have insured that Ukrainian warships are kept in port, but getting the Ukrainians to surrender all of these valuable assets may yet take some time.

On the turncoat territory that is Crimean land, the Ukrainian cap no longer fits. Here, Ukrainian troops are yesterday’s men. Today, many accepted the offer to switch sides. He’s now a Russian soldier digging Russian soil.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Moscow this evening, fireworks marked the annexation of Crimea. But the celebrating masked concerns about sanctions, as Russian financial markets lost ground again. Russia did agree today to allow European security monitors in Ukraine for the next six months. It was unclear if they would be allowed into Crimea.

Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice voiced concerns about Russian military movements near Ukraine. We will have a report from Margaret Warner in Eastern Ukraine later in the program.

In Iraq, nearly 30 people died in a wave of violence today. Most of the attacks targeted security forces north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, west of the capital, a suicide bomber struck the funeral for a leader of an anti-al-Qaida militia.

The government of Turkey has apparently failed in a bid to block access to Twitter. Tech-savvy users found ways today to circumvent the effort. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called for banning the social media network. A Turkish newspaper editor says it’s because people have been tweeting links to recordings that implicate Erdogan in corruption.

OGUZ GUVEN, Online editor for Cumhuriyet newspaper (through interpreter): Because sound recordings and videos were spread through Twitter, more precisely, since communication through

Twitter is very strong, they see it as an enemy. Erdogan said before, “There is an evil called Twitter.” Yesterday, it was closed hours after he said that he would close it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The ban even sparked divisions within the government, as Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, tweeted his opposition to it.

First lady Michelle Obama formally began a weeklong goodwill visit to China today. She met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, accompanied by her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, and mother. The first lady also visited schools, spoke with students, and even played some ping-pong. Later, she toured Beijing’s Forbidden City.

American first ladies have visited China 15 times over the years, but Mrs. Obama is the first to be invited on her own.

Thailand will have to hold new general elections after the country’s constitutional court annulled last month’s results. The judges ruled all voting should have been on the same day. That wasn’t possible because of anti-government protests in some areas. The demonstrators, who continue to occupy part of the capital city, have demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down.

The bankrupt Bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox has been going through its pockets and turned up a fortune in the digital currency.

The Tokyo-based company says it discovered 200,000 Bitcoins thought to be missing. That has a value of about $120 million. The funds were in old format digital folders, or electronic wallets. Some 650,000 Bitcoins remain unaccounted for.

Wall Street faded on this Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 28 points to close at 16,302. The Nasdaq fell 42 points to close at 4,276. And the S&P 500 slipped five points to finish at 1,866. For the week, the Dow and the S&P gained about 1.5 percent; the Nasdaq rose 0.7 percent.