For the night of 3 December 2014
Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran: The presidents of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan attended a ceremony at Etrek on the Iran-Turkmenistan border on 3 December to mark the completion of the final 32km section of a 914km north-south railway linking the three countries east of the Caspian Sea.
An agreement was signed by the presidents of the three countries in 2007 and construction began in 2009. The 146km section of the route from Uzen, Kazakhstan, to the Turkmen border was the first section of the route to be completed in 2012. The 82km Iranian section from Gorgan north to the Turkmenistan border opened last year. The line is 1520mm-gauge as far as Etrek, with the Iranian section of the route being standard gauge.
Comment: The new line is part of the International North-South Transport Corridor which links India by ship and rail to Europe, via Iran and Russia. According to the professional railroad blogs, this is Kazakhstan's firsts direct rail link to Iran and, ultimately, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
A transportation revolution is emerging in central and eastern Asia. One major effect of new railroad construction is that new lines enable land locked central Asian countries to use Indian Ocean ports. They also enable Asian countries to avoid international chokepoints including the Suez Canal and the Malacca and Singapore Straits, by using rail lines to Indian Ocean ports for exports and imports.
Another characteristic of the central Asian lines is that China is the eastern terminus of many of them. Almost all new central Asian railroads lead to China, whose rail construction initiatives are more successful and durable than Chinese diplomacy. The rail lines reduce Chinese dependence on maritime shipping that must transit chokepoints that the US Navy easily can control. These projects are a tribute to Chinese long term strategic planning for crisis or war management.
Ukraine: On 2 December, President Plotnitsky of the Luhansk Peoples Republic said that his self-proclaimed republic "has no major victories on the diplomatic front yet." He confirmed the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers' report which stated the Luhansk People's Republic and the Ukrainian government have agreed on the strict observance of the ceasefire agreement and a pullout of heavy armaments from the disengagement line.
The agreement emerged from consultations within the framework of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination of the Ceasefire, held in Luhansk on 29 November.
Comment: The Russian general mentioned in last night's NightWatch is General Lieutenant Olexander Lentsov. He is a member of the Russian delegation to the Joint Center, which became operational on 27 September. It is a joint OSCE, Russian, Ukrainian and separatists entity, one of whose primary missions is to demarcate the ceasefire lines.
Its significance is that it provides a legal basis for Russia to shape and oversee the implementation of the ceasefire. The Joint Center puts the Russians in a position to judge the effects of their own meddling in eastern Ukraine.
Libya: Libya's recognized interim government issued a statement on 3 December 2014 confirming that forces known as the Libyan National Army led by Major General Khalifah Haftar/Hifter are advancing towards Tripoli, and are now positioned on its outskirts, according to Libyan press.
The statement said that the aim of the operation is "to root out armed groups, outside of the state's control, who seized control of the city by force of arms and occupied the legitimate government's headquarters."
The statement also accused armed groups of "terrorizing the residents of the city, where kidnappings, assassinations, raids and attacks are rife." The statement made an example of a series of "systematic" assassinations of Libyan air force officers that were similar to assassinations of officers across all military and air force ranks in Benghazi during the last few years.
The government vowed to assure the safety of all those who lay down their weapons and surrender, emphasizing that they would be treated in a humane manner, in line with the law.
The statement added that government would not target individuals, regardless of their affiliations, but warned that those "who put the lives of innocent citizens at risk and damage public or private property" would be dealt with "forcefully."
The government called on the Libyan army to take the "necessary measures to guarantee the safety of civilian residents of Tripoli, safeguard public buildings and institutions and private property."
The statement addressed the "true revolutionaries who support legitimacy across Libya", calling on them to "prepare themselves to do their patriotic duty by assisting the army" in securing their neighborhoods and protecting institutions, diplomatic buildings and private and public property.
Comment: Hifter's primary area of operation has been Benghazi in eastern Libya, rather than Tripoli. Today's announcement implies that Hifter has agreed to shift focus to Tripoli to support the interim government that is exiled in Tobruk. This would represent a major tactical shift that must include support from Libyan army and tribal fighting groups in western Libya. Hifter has no known tribal support in the Tripoli area, but tribal allegiances change.
The statement also could be somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, it restates the interim government's determination to return to Tripoli as the national government. It also strongly endorses Hifter as the leader of the loyalist forces.
This might be the best chance for restoring a national government in Libya. The western tribes will switch loyalty if they sense a winner has arrived, just as they did when they abandoned Qadhafi.
End of NightWatch for 3 December.
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