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NightWatch 20110518


For the Night of 18 May 2011

North Korea-Russia: On 17 May North Korean leader Kim Chong-il held talks in Pyongyang with a Russian delegation led by Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Mikhail Fradkov, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Comment: This is an unusual, even extraordinary, event for KCNA to report because of the difference in status between Kim and Fradkov and the disclosure of the identity of the Russian head of delegation. Intelligence and security-related topics are almost never mentioned in public media. Kim must need the assistance and extra resources of the Russian intelligence service for an unknown purpose, though many possibilities present themselves.

As a secondary matter, Kim probably wants the Chinese and the Americans to know that North Korea has other friends and is capable of resisting pressure to join talks. The Russians probably want to convey that their cooperation in future talks may not be taken for granted and that they are consequential in Korean affairs. They certainly have the capacity to act as spoilers. Still, these hypotheses do not fully explain such an unusual announcement.

China-Pakistan: Citing unidentified "media reports," Pakistan's Dunya news reported on 18 May that China will give 50 JF-17 aircraft to Pakistan on an emergency basis.

Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani, on the second day of his visit to China, and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao discussed bilateral relations and other strategic matters, including the US Abbottabad operation and its effects on the region.

Comment: The last time China made a special effort to help Pakistan on an emergency basis by providing combat aircraft was after the near-war with India in 2002. India began preparing for war almost immediately after the bombing of the Indian parliament by a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist group, the LeT, in December 2001. Pakistan followed.

India brought to full combat readiness and deployed 750,000 soldiers, hundreds of combat aircraft and both naval fleets to attack Pakistan in early January 2002. Pakistan's armed forces, under Musharraf as Chief of the Army Staff and leader of Pakistan, failed to complete their war preparations. Last minute US and British diplomatic intervention prevented war.

China has a history of responding quickly to Pakistani requests for emergency military aid. In 2002, China provided emergency combat aircraft to Pakistan after the threat of war with India eased. During the 1971 India-Pakistan general war, it provided emergency ammunition and other supplies by road to prevent the total defeat of Pakistan. It is once again honoring its longstanding alliance commitment.

The dominant issue in Pakistan's parliamentary and internal military debate about the Abbottabad raid was the lack of any response to an armed air intrusion. The air force chief admitted that radars on the Afghan border do not operate continuously, as they do along the Indian border, because of the expense and the assessed lack of an air threat from Afghanistan. Pakistan also maintains no fighter-interceptors on alert along the Afghan border because of the expense and shortage of resources.

The timing of the Chinese announcement indicates it is tailored to help correct the deficiencies in Pakistani air defenses along the Durand Line. The fighters signify that Pakistan has made a strategic reappraisal of the air threat from Afghanistan. The Pakistan Air Force now recognizes the need to defend that airspace. The Chinese also will have shared insights about and experience with radar surveillance and other air defenses in mountainous terrain. Other air defense equipment support is likely to be provided as well.

As NightWatch has reported on several occasions, the US relationship with Pakistan has been irreparably broken. A new, more arms-length relationship is evolving in which the US is a friend for some purposes and a potential threat for others.

One implication is that the operating environment for drones and other aircraft appears to be about to change. The drones and their crews have ably demonstrated their war fighting capabilities under conditions in which the US owns the airspace. That is an important benchmark. However, their performance in a non-permissive environment is a different, important benchmark, which has yet to be established. It is about to be, along the Durand Line.

The second implication is that, by acting quickly, China has drawn Pakistan more tightly into its sphere of influence, countering a decade of US aid and energy. Prime Minister Gilani said on 17 May on arriving, China is Pakistan's best friend.

NATO-Central Europe

Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan's committee for international affairs and inter-parliamentary cooperation approved an agreement on 18 May that will allow a NATO liaison office in Bishkek, according to sources at the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry, KyrTAg reported

Kazakhstan: The lower house of the Kazakh Parliament passed a bill on 18 May to send a military contingent to Afghanistan to join NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops for six months. The bill did not specify the number of troops or the location where the contingent would be going.

Comment: These developments hint at the deep seated suspicions Central Asian governments have about Russian and Chinese intentions in the region. These governments perceive the need for a counterweight. NATO is it, despite the distance from Europe. The political symbolism is critical.

Russia: President Medvedev's 18 May press conference.

On strategic weapons: President Medvedev said Russia will be forced to develop its strike nuclear potential if NATO and Russia are unable to forge a missile defense cooperation model. Medvedev said missile defense can block or reduce the strategic capability of other countries, adding that Russia has great strategic potential. He said Moscow remains ready to cooperate but requires guarantees the (NATO/US) missile defense capabilities will not be used against Russia.

On Ukrainian relations: Medvedev said that Ukraine must choose between a free trade area through the framework of the European Union and cooperation with Commonwealth of Independent States members. Should Ukraine choose the European bloc, he said Ukraine will find it more difficult to obtain economic and customs union opportunities with the CIS members.

Comment: The missile defense issue continues to nettle the Russians. Medvedev's statement about Ukraine contains the language of an ultimatum.

The key point in Medvedev's statement is the reference to blocs. In August 2008 Medvedev announced a new strategy that claimed a right to a Russian sphere of influence. That concept included countries that border Russia and breakaway territories that looked to Russia for protection, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The reference to blocs seems to represent a hard line evolution in his strategic thinking -- a backward step to the future.

Ukraine-Russia: As Russia expands its interest in Ukraine, the United States and the European Union's interest appears to be waning, Ukrainian Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council Rayisa Bohatyryova said. She said that while Russia strengthens its global position, it is attempting to bring Ukraine into its sphere as soon as possible.

She said she felt that her country should defend its national interests on the global arena, adding that that position should be resolved in cooperation with the opposition.

Comment: The pro-western political interests have failed to hold the gains they made in 2004 and 2005 and to stop the pro-Russian drift since the election of President Yanukovych in 2010. Ukraine is not moving towards full membership in the European family of states.

Yemen: President Saleh on 18 May again refused to sign a settlement agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Under the proposed and revised agreement, Saleh would have been guaranteed immunity from legal prosecution and would remain head of the ruling party while transferring power to his vice president within 30 days. Presidential elections would take place after 60 days.

The opposition Joint Meeting Parties was willing to sign the document, its leaders said. However, an opposition activist said that people on the streets of Yemen would have rejected the deal anyway. The more extreme activists want Saleh and his regime officials tried immediately after he steps down.

Comment: Saleh's actions in responding to the opposition continue to follow the Syrian model.

Syria:  President Bashar al Asad said Syrian security forces made mistakes during the anti-government protests and thousands of police officers are receiving new training, according to official Syrian media.

A nationwide general strike called by the opposition for 18 May went largely unheeded as schools, shops and transport operated normally in Damascus and other Syrian cities.

Comment: Asad's admission of mistakes signifies no change in strategy for suppressing unrest by force, but might portend some tactical adjustments. It is easy to show magnanimity in victory. The statement is a transparent attempt by government media handlers to restore public confidence in Asad as the solver of the people's problems and dispenser of justice. It also is another attempt to determine whether another small show of concern and compromise will erode the impulse to stage demonstrations. Significantly, he did not promise anything.

Egypt: Saad al-Katatny, a co-founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has said he expects the group's Freedom and Justice Party to officially begin activities on 17 June, after it submitted required registration documents to the Political Parties Affairs Committee.

According to al-Katatny, the party will begin to select its executive authority and senior leaders within one month after its registration, as stipulated by Egyptian law. Sources from the Political Parties Affairs Committee said the body will meet 22 May to examine the party's documents, with an official decision to be announced the 23d.

Officials from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces acknowledged that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) may win a majority in the upcoming elections. Two members of the ruling Egyptian military council and a senior general said in an interview with the Washington Post that the council is struggling to find political leaders among the people. They said they are dealing with "leading ideas, not leading persons." Ideas are posted on the Internet or Facebook and accepted by large numbers of people, who then protest on the following day, they said. The ideas are not deep enough because the young people behind them lack political experience.

Comment: The statements by the Brotherhood and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reinforce the conclusion that no revolution has taken place in Egypt. The cell-phone activists are political neophytes, according to the Army assessment. That is no surprise after more than 30 years of one-party government under Mubarak.

Only the well-established Brotherhood has the political acumen and organizational expertise to take advantage of the opportunities for political parties provided in the revised constitution. The creation of a Brotherhood-sponsored party that is formally separate from the Brotherhood itself is a brilliant move.

Despite the best intentions, Egypt appears fated to return to a one-party political system; this time under the Brotherhood because there are no other nationwide parties. The alternative to the Brotherhood-led parliament, at this time, would be cancellation of elections and perpetuation of Army rule during a period of "political tutelage."

End of NightWatch for 18 May.

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