South Korea-North Korea: Another flare-up. The South Korean National Defense Ministry said today that a South Korean navy ship fired ten warning shots yesterday after three North Korean patrol boats crossed the Northern Limit Line, northwest of Seoul. The North's boats returned north without further incident.
In North Korea, however, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published on 21 May an "open report" of the Command of the Southwestern Front of the Korean People's Army (KPA).
"The Park Geun Hye-led military gangsters' provocative hysteria has reached an extreme phase."
"On 20 May alone, gangsters of the south Korean puppet navy perpetrated such a grave military provocation as firing at random at the warships of the Korean People's Army which were on regular guard duty in the southwestern waters of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea side and peaceable Chinese fishing boats."
"This was a deliberate, grave provocative act of firing bullets and shells perpetrated by the south Korean puppet hooligans despite the fact that they were well aware warships of the KPA navy were operating to check the illegal fishing operations of Chinese civilian fishing boats in the sensitive waters…."
"The Command of the Southwestern Front of the KPA sends the following open notice:
1. From this very moment, all warships of the south Korean puppet navy, big and small, which recklessly maneuver in the sensitive waters of the southwestern front, hot spots, will become without exception targets of the direct sighting firing by all strike means under the above-said Command."
"2. The south Korean side will face military strikes of the KPA without any warning at the moment the latter detects any trifle provocation near the maritime guard demarcation of its army and around the five islands in the West Sea of Korea…."
"3. We unhesitatingly clarify before the world our will to settle accounts with the villains of the South Korean puppet army right now if they are to fight us at any cost."
Comment: The North Korean government requires the navy to be largely self-sustaining. It does this by outright piracy; by fishing; and by stealing the catch of Chinese fishing boats and holding the boats and crews for ransom.
The South Korean patrol ship apparently caught the North Koreans as they attempted to herd a group of Chinese fishing boats back north where they could be shaken down.
The North southwestern command has made the same three points repeatedly. They contain no new threat or change in the security situation in the Yellow Sea. The North's leaders almost compulsively stir up trouble whenever international attention moves away from the Peninsula, as during the China-Russia summit.
China-Russia: Russian media reported that early on 21 May Russian and Chinese negotiators settled their differences and agreed on an interstate memorandum of understanding on gas deliveries from Russia to China along the eastern route. Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak and Chinese National Energy Administration Director Wu Xinxiong signed the document.
The overall value of the gas contract is reputed to be $400 billion, Gazprom's CEO Aleksey Miller told journalists on 21 May. "This is the largest contract for Gazprom. There is no such contract with any other company," Miller said.
Comment: While this contract is headline news for geo-political analysts today, implementation and its real impact are in the future. Some analysts wrote that the stated value of the contract is a placeholder so that pipeline construction can begin soon.
Even if natural gas started flowing today, the contract would help fill, but not satisfy, China's shortfall for natural gas. It also would not offset Russia's losses from a steep reduction in European demand for Russian gas. Russia is diversifying its energy customers and China continues to diversify its energy suppliers.
Thailand: Update. Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha met with pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship chairman Jatuporn Prompan and anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee leader Suthep Thaugsuban, among other political figures. The purpose of the meeting was to find a solution for the country, Prayuth said.
A delegate said the meeting was inconclusive. General Prayuth directed the participants to return home and think about what was discussed and to return on 22 May for another session.
No street demonstrations have been reported.
Ukraine: The third national unity roundtable talks took place in Mykolayiv (also known as Nikolaev), in southern Ukraine, northwest of Crimea. Ukrainian analysts reported no substantive outcome.
Meanwhile, the parliament in Kyiv approved a Memorandum of Understanding and Peace. It says the Ukrainian parliament supports fully the 17 April Geneva agreement among the US, European Union, Russia and Ukraine, for the first time. It contains five proposals for maintaining a united Ukraine. They include one on the nature of the government as a parliament with a strong president; three provisions on reforming state institutions and fighting corruption; and one that ensures greater authority for the regions.
Russian President Putin called it a useful step, mainly referring to the mention of the Geneva document, which the Russians claim the US, Europe and the Kyiv regime betrayed.
Comment: The Memorandum does not mention federalism or recognizing Russian as a second national language. It also omits the central condition in the 17 April document for de-escalating the crisis: the formation of a national unity government.
Libya: Update. News reporting is showing several trends. Regarding security, clashes between soldiers loyal to General Hifter and Islamist militias continue. Details about locations and casualties are not readily available.
A second trend is that Libyan armed forces units continue to rally in support of Hifter's Operation Dignity campaign to rid the country of terrorists. One news service reported that 60% of the Libyan armed forces, including most of the units in eastern Libya, have sided with Hifter.
A third trend is an emerging political contest between Hifter and the Libyan government. Hifter is not known to be a politician, but his success would require a program to fill the political vacuum in Tripoli. With that evidently in mind, today he said his High Military Council wants the Higher Judicial Council to appoint a civilian higher state council for governing civil affairs, specifically, for appointing an emergency caretaker government and for overseeing parliamentary elections.
Comment: Today's statement contains the first outline of a political program, but falls short as a plan for government, except for one point. Under Hifter's proposal, his Higher Military Council would retain responsibility for defense and security during a transition period. On politics, the General seems out of his depth in that he has presented no ideas for how to keep the Islamists from winning elections.
A fourth trend is for media analysts, some politicians, tribal leaders and Hifter loyalists to blame the tilt towards Islamic extremism on the Muslim Brotherhood. Politicians with Brotherhood associations have become targets for public criticism, if not worse.
Comment: The Brotherhood's linkage to the now suspended parliament has begun to receive increased attention, since Hifter began his operation. If Hifter's movement succeeds, he might look to Egypt as a model for handling the Brotherhood in Libya.
Tunisian reaction. A final trend is that neighboring countries are concerned that the continuing instability in Libya will drive extremists, militants and refugees to flee across borders. Tunisian authorities said they sent 5,000 soldiers to reinforce the border with Libya since the weekend. The Islamist Ennahda-led government in Tunis denounced Hifter for staging a coup.
Algeria closed its border, meaning its border crossing points, with Libya earlier this week.
There are no reports about security conditions on the Egyptian border.
Nigeria: On 21 May, Boko Haram militants killed 48 people in attacks against three villages near the site of the abductions in northeastern Nigeria. Yesterday, twin car bomb explosions in Jos, in north central Nigeria, killed more than 118 people. Most analysts judge this attack also was the work of Boko Haram.
Comment: Boko Haram appears to be mounting an offensive in that attacks on successive days are not its usual style. On the other hand, the past might not be a helpful guide for prediction because Boko Haram is changing, or has changed.
The attacks are very different in character and widely separated. They evidence a multiplication of fighting cells, diversity in tactics, and significant support among the northern population.
The attacks are not evidence of central command and control in that general guidance and cell phones are sufficient to achieve the effects. The largest worry is that the terrorist group is evolving into an insurgency. More frequent attacks aimed at seizing and holding territory will be indicators of that transformation.
A final point is that the attacks indicate Boko Haram remains defiant and aggressive in the face of international outrage and responses. Northern Nigeria is in trouble.
Mali: Update. Touareg rebels in Mali claimed they defeated government forces in heavy fighting for control of the northeastern town of Kidal. Several government soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, a rebel spokesman said.
Comment: The claim has not been confirmed. Nor has the Bamako government denied it.
The French combat forces left before they completed the task of restoring security. The Malian forces are not up to the task. The 2,500 peacekeepers from African states are not interested in combat. The Touaregs appear to be on the path of secession again.
End of NightWatch
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