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NightWatch 20141226

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For the night of 26 December 2014

Pakistan: On Thursday night, security forces killed a Pakistani Taliban commander who reportedly was involved in the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar on 16 December in which 149 people, died including 132 students and nine teachers.

On Friday, an official said the fighter was killed on the night of the 25th. "Commander Saddam was a dreaded terrorist, who was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces in Jamrud town of Khyber tribal region," top local administration official Shahab Ali Shah told a press conference in Peshawar. "Six of his accomplices were injured and arrested."

Shah said that Saddam is believed to have facilitated the school attack, although the extent or capacity of his alleged involvement was not yet known. "Authorities are currently interrogating the injured terrorists," Shah said.

Comment: Some news services said Saddam planned the massacre. .Jamrud is located about 21 kilometers west of Peshawar on the main road to Afghanistan. Nationwide, police have detained 300 people and made 4,000 raids in the crackdown since the 16th.

The speed with which security authorities have hunted down the terrorists connected to the mass murder seems to reflect the nature of the target - an Army-run school for the children of Pakistan Army families. With the right motivation, Pakistani security forces can execute counter-terror operations competently.

Russia: On 26 December, the Russian government published a revised military doctrine that describes NATO as a fundamental threat to Russian security. A few highlights follow.

According to Russia's new military doctrine, the creation and deployment of strategic missile defense systems, which undermine global stability and violate the balance of forces in the nuclear-missile sphere, are the main external military threats to the Russian Federation. The new doctrine stipulates that, "Prevention of a nuclear military conflict, as well as any other military conflict, constitutes the basis of the Russian Federation's military policy."

Other major external threats include the "USA's concept of Prompt Global Strike," plans to deploy strategic weapons in space, deployment of strategic non-nuclear precision weapon systems, build-up of NATO's military potential, NATO military infrastructure's approaching the Russian borders and NATO's expansion.

In addition, territorial claims to the Russian Federation and its allies, interference in their internal affairs, and use of military force in countries bordering on Russia and its allies, in violation of the UN Charter and other norms of international law, are listed by the military doctrine among the main external military threats to the country.

Russian media reported that despite the new anti-NATO edge, the Russian doctrine remains primarily defensive in nature, calling any military action by Russia feasible only after all non-violent options to settle a conflict have been exhausted. It judges that there is a "decreased likelihood of a large-scale war against Russia," but Russia reserves the right to counter-attack with nuclear weapons.

The new military doctrine also introduces the concept of "non-nuclear dissuasion," based on maintaining a high degree of preparedness of conventional military forces, as well as active participation in regional security organizations, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Comment: A fuller examination of the doctrine will follow. The points above are primarily threat-related highlights. NATO is described as a security threat, but not as an enemy or an existential threat to Russia or its constitutional order.

The concept of non-nuclear deterrence will be a challenge for Russia in the near future because of the collapse of the ruble and the oil market. They will rebound, but maintenance of a high state of readiness for conventional forces will lag for years. Even at its most powerful, the Soviet Union maintained few fully combat ready conventional forces.

The mention of Prompt Global Strike indicates the Russians acknowledge the value of advanced conventional capabilities as a substitute for some nuclear missions.

Russia-North Korea: The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed strong support for North Korea in denouncing the film, "The Interview."

At the weekly press briefing on 25 December, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said, "The very idea of the film is so aggressively scandalous that the reaction of the North Korean side is perfectly understandable; and not only North Korea's: we in Russia also view with concern another stage in the escalation of tensions in relations between the United States and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea because of the allegation of Pyongyang's involvement in the cyber attack on the website of the Sony Pictures company, etc."

"It is worth recalling that the US side has to date not presented any direct proof to justify its claims regarding such actions by Pyongyang. Moreover, I can remind you that Pyongyang has offered to conduct a joint investigation into the incident, which would have opened additional opportunities to alleviate tension. In effect, this step is a sincere commitment by the North Korean side to get to the bottom of this issue in every detail…."

Comment: The Russian statement is unusual because of the subject matter. One well-informed commentator suggested Russia took advantage of a cheap opportunity to needle the US. The statement certainly does that.

Another, not exclusive interpretation is that it is a pre-emptive strike against the US and the US film industry. It is a warning that movies about assassinations of heads of state are serious business because they do encourage some people to action.

Assassination threats against North Korean leaders are not trivial because they have been many, especially against Kim Chong-il. At least one also has been reported against Kim Jong Un.

The other aspect of the warning is that the US better not make an assassination film about Putin.

Ukraine: Crisis settlement talks in Minsk collapsed with no date set for their resumption. Dmitry Mironchik, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, told the media the talks broke down. He did not provide a reason.

Negotiators agreed only on a prisoner exchange involving 225 rebels and 150 Ukrainian troops. That was the least contentious of the issues. Ukraine's presidential office confirmed the release of 146 Ukrainian soldiers, with four to be released on Saturday. .

Comment: The talks were supposed to address practical solutions to establish peace on the ground in eastern Ukraine. They appear to have foundered on the larger issues of Ukrainian unity and separatist independence. The Kyiv government remains determined to recover the breakaway eastern regions. Those regions remain firm about their independence.

The failed talks signify that the parties are not ready to make the compromises necessary to settle the crisis. That attitude often is a condition for and portent of another test of military strength.

Ukraine-Crimea: The state railways company said that trains bound for Crimea's regional capital of Simferopol and the port of Sevastopol will run only to stations on the mainland near Crimea starting Saturday. The company said the move was taken to ensure "traffic safety."

Comment: The action is part of the Ukraine government's strategy to make Crimeans pay for seceding. Another tactic is manipulation of power supplied from Ukraine to Crimea. Russia has promised to fill any power shortage.

End of NightWatch for 26 December.

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