For the night of 22 April 2014
North Korea: The academic research group 38 North has published a useful update on recent activity at the North Korean nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, based on commercial satellite imagery. The report says that activity has increased, but concludes after several paragraphs that it remains low. It is spring time and activity should increase and be more visible to imagery.
The report attributes to media outlets the speculation that the increased activity could portend a nuclear detonation during President Obama's visit to Asia this week. The report eventually debunks that speculation and judges that a test does not appear imminent.
Comment: The South Korean defense ministry also reported increased activity and has taken steps to increase vigilance against a new form of nuclear test, which the North said on 30 March it would not rule out. Most analyses judge the preparations do not indicate a nuclear test will occur this week.
China's reaction. In response to a question about the 38 North report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman gave the following reply.
"Under the current circumstances, we call on all relevant parties to remain calm, exercise restraint, remain committed to advancing the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and resolving relevant issues through consultations and negotiations, and steadfastly safeguard peace and stability on the peninsula."
Comment: The spokesman's reply is as bland and pro forma as the Chinese get when they are conveying the message that nothing significant is happening in North Korea. The Chinese are aware of the activity and are not concerned.
Russia: In a report to the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) on 22 April, which was broadcast live by state news, Prime Minister Medvedev retaliated against US comments that suggested that Russian behavior is inconsistent with the 21st century.
"Colleagues, as we all understand, any imposed restrictions constitute a primitive path. That path leads nowhere. However, if some of our Western partners do nevertheless go down that path we will not have a choice. We will then manage, relying on our own resources. And we will win in the end."
Medvedev went on to say, "Foreign partners have shut some Russian banks out of international payment systems. Undoubtedly, that is a violation of the existing agreements with those systems. I think that it must not go unpunished. It is necessary to apply effort and resources to bring the relevant foreign counterparties to their senses. Let them not hide behind a force majeure clause and orders issued by presidents and parliaments. They must answer under the existing system of economic relations."
"However, for us that is an additional incentive to create a national payment system which would not be too dependent on the international political situation and would work across the country without interruptions."
Comment: Global economic integration has created numerous single points of failure without healthy redundancy. For example, West European dependence on Russian natural gas has created a split in the European Union over whether and how to respond to the Ukraine crisis, deftly described yesterday by Bloomberg.
The Russian leaders are not rushing to engage in economic warfare, but are using the crisis to build national pride, reinforce societal discipline and to move towards greater self-sufficiency within the Russian sphere of influence.
In an integrated economic system, imposing sanctions on a primary energy supplier could be interpreted as improvident and primitive. That is what a significant number of European Union members seem to have concluded.
US-NATO/Sweden: The first of 600 US soldiers began to arrive in Poland on April 22 for military exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, according to the Pentagon press secretary. Sweden also announced that it will increase its defense budget.
Comment: Everyone knows the deployments are symbolic, to boost eastern NATO's morale. What the Europeans and Russians remember vividly, however, is the magnitude of the US capability to respond, once riled, as the Germans experienced in World Wars I and II. Any increase in the US force presence in eastern Europe occurs against the backdrop of what have become cultural memories.
An important challenge is to maintain the ambiguity about whether this small force is all of or just the beginning of the US military response. The Baltic members of NATO and Poland want these kinds of tangible signs of reassurance that they did not choose unwisely when they chose to join NATO.
Ukraine: Acting Kiev regime President Oleksandr Turchynov called for a renewed offensive against pro-Russia activists in eastern Ukraine after a municipal official of his political party and another man were found dead.
Turchynov said, "These crimes are being carried out with the full support and indulgence of the Russian Federation. I call on the security agencies to relaunch and carry out effective anti-terrorist measures, with the aim of protecting Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine from terrorists.
Comment: Turchynov's call would seem to make irrelevant the 17 April Geneva document. Ukraine has yet to field an effective military force, except for the armed ultra-nationalist fighters who appear to be beyond the control of the Kiev regime. Turchynov has few resources and might have to rely on those groups for assistance.
End of NightWatch for 22 April.
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