For the night of 26 March 2014
Russia: President Putin met the CEO of Siemens at his residence outside Moscow today. Siemens promised to continue working with the Russian firm Gazprom and to continue doing business in Russia.
Comment: The Wall Street Journal published an insightful article describing how German firms have been working behind the scenes all month to maintain Russian economic ties. The Journal reported there has been no rush by German companies to leave Russia as the result of sanctions. German businessmen reportedly have informed the Berlin government that President Putin "will not cave in to sanctions."
Russia-Ukraine: According to unidentified sources in Crimea, a convoy of 10 Russian heavy equipment transporters moved formerly Ukrainian T-64 tanks to northern Crimea. Other press sources reported separate convoys moving about Crimea and a steady increase in the signs and symbols of Russian sovereignty, including the use of rubles in commerce.
Comment: The Russians and Crimeans appear to be adjusting Crimea's defenses, apparently as a precaution against a Ukrainian attack of some kind.
Press reports suggest sentiment is building in Transnistria, on Ukraine's western border, for integration with Russia. Russian media also reported that pro-Russian sentiment is building in Odessa, a key town between Crimea and Transnistria, where a pro-Russian rally was held over the weekend.
Several Russian commentators and one Ukrainian analyst have suggested that Russia's intention is to make Ukraine a land-locked country, seizing all oblasts along the southern coast. That would provide a land corridor from western Russia to Transnistria and would include Crimea.
News services have not reported military movements that would suggest preparations for operations of this nature. However, the US Defense Secretary warned again today about the Russian troop buildup along the eastern border of Ukraine.
Some Russian press coverage appears to be laying the foundation for additional operations to protect ethnic Russians. The main theme is that the regime in Kyiv is filled with "Nazis." That seems to resonate. Ukrainian power and water cuts to Crimea reinforce suspicion of the new Kyiv authorities and encourage impulses that favor annexing more of Ukraine.
Syria: Last Friday fighters from several conservative and hard-line Islamist rebel groups, including the al-Nusrah Front, attacked villages near Kasab in Latakia Governate, which is the heartland of Syria's ruling Alawite sect. Kasab itself is an Armenian Christian village. This week the rebels widened their foothold in Latakia, attacking a village on the coast and fighting southward from the Turkish border.
A Syrian army officer admitted the rebels hold Kasab and that the government lost 50 men killed in the past four days. He also said that the "terrorists" lost hundreds, most of whom he claimed were Chechens, Turkish special forces and other foreigners. He denied that the rebels have made much progress beyond Kasab, which he claimed was seized from Turkey with Turkish military assistance. The Syrian army is using air and artillery attacks to drive the rebels back into Turkey.
Fighting in northwestern Syria
A Latakia-based activist told the press that the rebels were hoping that the offensive would draw more government soldiers to the area, relieving some of the pressure on opposition fighters elsewhere in Syria.
Comment: The opposition success is more symbolic than substantive. Along the Turkish border, towns remain vulnerable to attacks out of Turkey. However, the rebel fighters tend to neglect and outrun their sustainment and resupply lines. In the far northwest, support must come from Turkey because the opposition holds no contiguous territory. That means that the government forces will drive these fighters back into Turkey, but Kasab will be damaged heavily in the process. The rebels will lose many of their better fighters.
This is at least the second time that Islamists have tried to create a diversion in Latakia Governate. The last failed and had no discernible impact on the fighting. This operation highlights the criticality of Turkey to the survival of the northern rebel effort.
Egypt: On 26 March, Field Marshal al-Sisi announced his candidacy for the office of president of Egypt. The opening paragraphs of his first campaign speech follow.
"Great people of Egypt"
"Today, I stand before you in my military uniform for the last time for I have made up my mind to retire as the Minister of Defense.... I have spent my whole life as a soldier of this homeland serving its hopes and aspirations and so I will continue."
"This is a very significant moment for me. The first time I wore the military uniform was in 1970 as 15-year cadet in the Air Force High School, almost 45 years ago. And I will always be proud of wearing the uniform of defending my country."
"These recent years of our nation's history have conclusively shown that no one can become president of Egypt against the will of the people or short of their support. Never can anyone force Egyptians to vote for a president they do not want. Therefore, I am here before you humbly stating my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt.... Only your support will grant me this great honor."
"I stand before you to say true and genuine words as always. I say to you that I will answer the demand of a wide range of Egyptians who have called on me to run for this honorable office. And I will always remain in the service of this country in any capacity desired by Egyptians."
Comment: The remainder of his speech addressed problems and promised hope for Egyptians as the result of "hard-work and self-denial." That stands in contrast to the Islamist socialism promised by Mursi.
The presidential election is expected by 17 July. Most analysts judge that al Sisi will win easily.
End of NightWatch for 26 March.
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