Vladimir Putin Tries to Rebuild the Soviet Union

Posted: Mar 01, 2014 12:01 AM

North Korea: On 27 February North Korea fired four short-range missiles from one of the east coast firing ranges.

Comment: South Korean officials suggested the firing was protest against Allied exercises. North Korea batch produces most of its military equipment and periodically during the month it must test missiles and artillery rounds for quality control and sometimes for crew training. The North can manipulate the timing of the tests for the benefit of its propaganda, but the tests occur regularly regardless of the security atmosphere.

Thailand: The leader of the anti-government protest movement said Thursday he is willing to negotiate to end the political crisis, if the prime minister is willing to talk with him live, one-on-one, on every national television station.

Comment: This appears to be the first break in the political impasse. The timing suggests that the army chief's statement this week influenced the opposition leader's offer. The prime minister has not yet responded.

Pakistan: Pakistani news services reported that the security forces are poised to launch a full-scale offensive in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) if talks with the Pakistani Taliban fail. An unidentified senior government official said reinforcements would not have to be sent into the area because the troops already are deployed there and only would have to be repositioned for what he said would be a "very visible operation."

Comment: The government suspended peace talks after a Pakistani Taliban faction detonated a bomb in Karachi that killed 12 police officers last week and another group announced it had executed 23 paramilitary soldiers who were kidnapped in June 2010.

In the past week, Pakistan Air Force combat aircraft have attacked targets in Waziristan, in an apparent warning of additional military operations unless the Pakistani Taliban attacks stop and negotiates in good faith.

Large, visible punitive operations in the tribal agencies have had little success for many reasons. A key one is that they always must rely on local paramilitary forces for intelligence and combat support. That dependency invariably defeats operational security, undermines effectiveness and limits success.

The paramilitary forces are recruited from and live in the agency so they have little incentive to cooperate in operations against their own tribe or neighbors. A big military show that stalled would embolden the Pakistani Taliban and ensure no resumption of talks.

The environment for peace talks also is more complex than ever because every security development in Pakistan is influenced by the drawdown of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan this year. That will be another watershed event in South Asia.

For example, this is the last opportunity Pakistan will have to improve security conditions in the tribal agencies in the northwest while American forces are still capable of lending support.

For the Pakistani Taliban, the drawdown of NATO forces portends a cutoff of pilfered supplies. That is an incentive to engage in talks to stall for time and build up stocks.

Attacks during talks signal that negotiations with the government are not a sign of weakness. That message explains the targeting of government security personnel. The Karachi attack demonstrates that the Pakistani Taliban have support and arecapable of attacking outside the tribal agencies.

Iran: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today Iran is prepared to demonstrate to the US and other nations that its nuclear program is peaceful, but will not agree to shut down any of its facilities. Zarif said, "I can tell you that Iran's nuclear program will remain intact. We will not close any program."

Comment: The statement is another affirmation of the position Iran stated last week. Iran will not negotiate over its missile and defense programs, its facilities, and its right to enrich uranium.

Different Iranian leaders in a variety of venues have consistently conveyed the same message, which means they mean it. Nevertheless, some analysts are prone to dismiss the public statements as posturing and as not reflecting Iran's real negotiating position.

Ukraine: Crimea moving toward separation. Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament building in Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag. Reports on the number of men ranged from 60 to 120. Police made no move to remove them.

A local law enforcement official reported that about 150 members of Crimea's Berkut security force were deployed on the 27thto the Perekop Isthmus to prevent Ukrainian troops from entering Crimea.

Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said that the parliament still recognizes Viktor Yanukovych as the president of Ukraine. Yanukovych is scheduled to give a press conference on the 28th. He also said that the region will hold a referendum on greater autonomy from Ukraine on 25 May.

Sergei Askenov, the leader of Crimea's Russian Unity party, was elected prime minister of Crimea on the 27th.

Comment: Cumulatively, Crimean actions all point to a coming break with Kyiv and some form of union with Russia.

Russian actions. Foreign Minister Lavrov reassured the US Secretary of State that Russia would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russian fighter jets also patrolled the Ukraine border. Authorities announced that the fighter force in the west was on combat alert.

Comment: In providing reassurance, Lavrov did not elaborate on Russia's position about the situation in Ukraine. Lavrov's assurance is probably good one-day-at-a time. Thus if Crimea, officially an autonomous republic, votes to separate from Ukraine and requests Russian recognition and assistance, Lavrov can still say that Russia respects Ukraine's territorial integrity.

The Russian leaders, particularly Lavrov, feel betrayed by the Europeans and the US. They will at least even the score, if not gain an advantage. That is one interpretation of the events in 2008. Over Russian opposition, NATO states recognized Kosovo's independence from Serbia in February 2008. Six months later Russian forces entered Abkhazia and South Ossetia to defend them from a Georgian attack and to support their independence.

The Russians appear to be maneuvering to achieve a similar outcome now. This crisis affords President Putin and Russia the best opportunity since the collapse of the Soviet Union for recovering control of Crimea.

End of NightWatch


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