Vladimir Putin's Miscalculation on Ukraine

Posted: Oct 29, 2014 12:01 AM

North Korea-South Korea: Citing the South Korean government's response to Saturday's leaflet launch by a private activist group, the North Korean National Defense Commission announced its reconsideration of plans for a second round of high-level talks between the two Koreas.

"North Korea conveyed the message through the military communications line on the west coast and the Blue House Office of National Security received the transcript," the South Korean Ministry of Unification revealed in a statement. The message said, "You have showed us that you blatantly disregard consideration for our demands that intended to improve relations between North and South Korea," the message stated. "We will have to think about whether high-level talks can take place in this climate."

Comment: The North Korean senior-level trip to the Asian Games was a junket, nothing more.

Yemen: Fighting in central Yemen between Shiite Houthi rebels and an influential Sunni tribe in the town of Rada'a killed at least 250 people over three days of clashes, security officials said Monday.

Last week, the Houthis entered Rada'a, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa, with the cooperation of the local army battalion. The battalion commander reportedly is loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Comment: A Sunni tribe finally found the muscle to block the southward expansion of the Shiite Houthis, whom most analysts consider an Iranian proxy. The Houthis seem to have routed organized al-Qaida resistance at Rada'a, but a Sunni tribe rallied. Yemen is in the process of fracturing into north and south regions, as well as failing as a unitary state.

Ukraine: With 75 percent of the votes counted, two pro-European parties lead, according to Ukrainian press reporting. The People's Front party of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk remains in the lead with 21.94 per cent of the vote. It is closely followed by President Petro Poroshenko's Bloc, which won 21.52 per cent. The Self-Help (Samopomich) party led by Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyy is in the third place with 11.09 per cent. These three have similar outlooks and have the necessary votes to form a government.

The Opposition Bloc party, which includes politicians close to deposed President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, polled 9.61 percent. It is followed by populist MP Oleh Lyashko's Radical Party with 7.40 per cent. Former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's Fatherland came in last with 5.67 per cent.

Comment: Contrary to all exit poll results, the far-right Freedom party did not reach the 5 percent election threshold necessary to be represented. It obtained only 4.73 per cent.

The right's electoral failure is highly significant because right-wing parties provided many of the leaders and much of the manpower for the security ministries after Yanukovych's ouster. They essentially captured the so-called revolution. The election proved they had no legal basis for the power they wielded.

A second point is that Poroshenko has burned no bridges with Russia. He is a business man and Ukrainian business runs both east and west. It would be an error to conclude Ukraine is in the European Union camp. The underlying issues are economic. Ukraine will be in the camp of the bloc that gives it the best deals.

As for the pro-Russian political factions, their showing is not trivial. They could cast the deciding votes on legislation about which Poroshenko and Artsenyuk disagree. Had the Donetsk and Luhansk regions participated, the pro-Russian bloc would have been polled much better.

Factoring in the Russian-speaking regions and Crimea, this election outcome would have been highly consistent with past elections, such as that in 2012. Russians might have gotten control of all of Ukraine by proxy had it simply supported new general elections.

Poland: Poland's defense minister announced a significant eastward shift in Poland's military orientation over the next three years.

Defense Minister Siemoniak said, "The geopolitical situation has changed; we have the biggest crisis of security since the Cold War and we must draw conclusions from that….I believe that what happened to the east of Poland does not represent a threat to us for the next months, or two or three or five years. It is a need to draw conclusions for the decades to come," he added in explaining the large scope of the plans.

Understrength units will be brought to near full manning and trained. Defense spending will increase from 1.95 percent of GDP to 2 percent. At least three military bases in the east will expand from a current usage rate of 30% to near full usage of 90% by 2017

Comment: One analysis pointed out that Poland has not made a fundamental adjustment to its basing strategy since before it joined NATO in 1999. Most of its 120,000-member army is based along the country's western border, as it was when Poland was a member of the now defunct Warsaw Pact. This realignment will confirm that Poland no longer considers Germany its primary enemy.

For Moscow, this is one of the worst strategic outcomes of the confrontation over Ukraine because it will force Russian strategists to rethink their plans and recalculate their force ratios. Poland leads the eastern European members of NATO. Poland also has a real army.

With this force realignment Poland is taking real military steps that help ensure that Russian leaders are not tempted to poach in the Baltics because of NATO's supine response to Russian meddling in Ukraine.

Tunisia: The elections in Tunisia produced an upset in that a secular party outpolled the Islamist Ennahda party, which has dominated the government since 2011. Today the Islamist Ennahda Movement conceded defeat to Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia's Call), led by Beji Caid Essebsi.

"Nidaa Tounes is reportedly 10 to 12 seats ahead of us," Ennahdha's spokesman Zied Laadhari said. Official provisional results indicate that Ennahda won 68 seats in the 217-seat assembly, or 31 percent of the votes. According to preliminary results, Nidaa Tounes won 83 seats and 38 percent of the votes.

Laadhari added that Ennahda would accept the results whatever they are. Final results will be announced by the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), but no date has been reported.

Ennahda has called for a government of national unity. Zied Laadhari said the country would need all political forces in the face of the challenges of the next five years. He also said that Ennahda would not be an obstacle for the future government.

Comment: Nidaa Tounes won no clear mandate to govern, but it won the right to lead a coalition. The provisional results suggest Nidaa Tounes might be able to assemble a coalition without Ennahda. That would make Tunisia the first Arab Spring country that ultimately produced a secular government through a democratic process.

The vote enhances the Tunisian reputation for political balance and European-style sophistication. Even the Ennahda Movement has been forced to adopt more moderate policy positions in abid to stop the erosion of its popular support.

End of NightWatch


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