Thinking About Traveling to Crimea? Think Again.

Looking for adventure and planning a trip to Russian-occupied Crimea? The State Department has some advice for you: Don't go.

According to the department, Americans on the peninsula have been detained for questioning and may be subject to violence both in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. "Groups advocating closer ties to Russia have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in Crimea, where some U.S. citizens have reported being detained and questioned by armed men," the warning says. "U.S. citizens in areas where there are pro-Russian demonstrations should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings."

The warning comes on the heels of Russia's formal annexation of Crimea and amid reports of Russian troops massing along the Russia-Ukraine border. The State Department is asking Americans to reconsider non-essential travel to Ukraine and to defer any plans to visit Crimea.

Uncle Sam would also like any thrill-seekers hoping to hang out with Russian special forces in Simferopol and Sevastopol to know that they probably won't be bailed out by American diplomats. With Russian troops in firm control of Crimea, the State Department says it has a limited ability to provide consular services on the peninsula. The travel warning further cautions Americans against travel to eastern Ukraine, specifically advising against visiting the regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkiv.

There could, unfortunately, be good reason for avoiding those specific regions at this particular time. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Foreign Policy this week that the military alliance was increasingly concerned that Moscow might also invade eastern Ukraine.

"Our concern is that Russia won't stop here," Rasmussen said in the interview. "There is a clear risk that Russia will go beyond Crimea and the next goal will be the eastern provinces of Ukraine."

If the State Department get its way, there won't be Americans there to find out.



Why Turkey Banned Twitter

"Democratic life demands sacrifice": Seven Turkish newspapers, each of which theoretically makes its own editorial decisions, decided to pluck that line from a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer to use as their main front-page headline. It happened again earlier this month, when 10 Turkish papers all chose to feature another line from an Erdogan speech, in which he vowed that the people "will foil the games [played against his government] at the ballot box."

While Turkey's press is legally free, it is also controlled. Erdogan's government has imposed billion-dollar fines on media holdings hostile to the government, issued blunt instructions to editors about how to tailor their coverage, deported critical journalists -- and when all else fails, thrown reporters in prison, transforming Turkey into the world's leading jailer of journalists.

All of this helps explain why Erdogan took the extraordinary step today of blocking Twitter. This is not a government that tolerates media it can't control -- and there's nothing harder to control than millions of Turks self-publishing news about the country at a click of a button. While Twitter hasn't commented on the ban, the company took the unusual step of issuing guidelines for how to evade the ban, telling Turkish users that they can post tweets via cellular text-messaging. Fittingly, the announcement came from the Twitter feed of the company's policy arm:

"Twitter, schmitter!" Erdogan said at a campaign rally Thursday. "We will wipe out all of these...The international community can say this, can say that. I don't care. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is."

On Friday, the U.S. State Department condemned the government's decision to block access to the service. "An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of democratic, open societies," spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. "Today's shutdown of Twitter is contrary to Turkey's own expressed desire to uphold the highest standards of democracy."

Erdogan's crackdown on Twitter was likely precipitated by recent leaks of recordings that allegedly show corruption at the highest ranks of his government. One of those wiretapped conversations purports to be a discussion between Erdogan and his son about how to hide large sums of money. Another allegedly shows the prime minister browbeating an editor for not firing a critical columnist. These wiretaps appear to have been released as part of Erdogan's feud with Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are thought to include many top officials within the country's police force. Erdogan has denied the authenticity of the most damaging leaks and hasn't commented on others.

The Turkish government can pressure large swathes of the print media to ignore the leaks. However, there's nothing it can do to prevent Twitter users from sharing and commenting on the wiretapped conversations.

"The leaked tapes on corruption are being watched, reposted, and shared millions of times," said Engin Onder, a member of @140journos, a group of university students who report on protests across Turkey using Twitter to circumvent what they see as the failure of the country's mainstream media. "It's being said that new tapes are upcoming and can cause the governing party to lose significant votes [in local elections later this month]."

Because of the constraints under which the official media operates, Turks are devoted Twitter users -- the country ranks among Twitter's 10 most active markets in the world. And Erdogan's ban, predictably, incited a predictable backlash among devoted tweeps. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly started trending across the globe, while there was no large drop in tweets from Turkey, as users quickly found ways to circumvent the ban.  

Meanwhile, Turks passed around cartoons lampooning the state's fear of Twitter and Erdogan's intolerance toward dissent.

More importantly, the ban also appears to have exacerbated divisions within Erdogan's party. President Abdullah Gul, who visited the headquarters of Twitter in 2012, said a ban on the site was "unacceptable" -- and to add insult to injury, he made his comments via his Twitter account.

Gul isn't alone. Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara and another member of the ruling party, also continued to tweet. His first message after the ban was announced could've been interpreted as support or defiance -- whatever he meant, it was retweeted thousands of times by Twitter users within Turkey:

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