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NightWatch 20150317

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For the night of 17 March 2015

Russia: Exercise update. The Russian military exercises expanded on the 17th. The major commands in western Russia joined the drills. New participants included the Baltic Fleet at Kaliningrad, the forces in Crimea and forces in southern Russia. All went to full combat readiness for training.

In the Northern Fleet area, the Defense Ministry said the Fleet expanded the number of its combined-arms naval task groups from three to five. It also ordered them to expand their operational areas into parts of the Norwegian Sea.

Russian anti-submarine warfare aircraft prosecuted a simulated submarine hunt in the Barents Sea. Naval surface assets and air units participated in an air defense exercise in coordination with the anti-submarine warfare task group, on the 18th. Airborne units deployed to the Arctic as part of the exercise.

In Kaliningrad, Russian news said that Russia intended to send nuclear-capable Iskander missiles. The press said the missile units will be delivered by large landing ships. Russia also is redeploying combat aircraft to Kaliningrad Oblast.

In the Western Military District, an armored regiment also joined the training, according to the media. The report provided no location.

In Crimea, Russia deployed Tu-22 bombers. An engineering brigade south of Ukraine went on alert. One news report said 10,000 artillery troops in the south, north of Georgia, participated in the training.

One Russian news service reported that the Eastern Military District began a large communications exercise. Air defense training began on 12 March in the Far East. Last week Pacific Fleet surface combatants engaged in live firing drills in the Sea of Japan.

Comment: This is a large expensive exercise. The Russians must have been preparing it for quite some time, especially the command and control aspects. It appears to be a test of all forces that have the mission of blocking NATO expansion under the new doctrine, as well as those in other regions, such as the Far East, that would have a defense mission against US forces.

Lots of activity is occurring, but, except for the Northern Fleet, most of the action is by crisis reaction units. While expansive, this exercise involves only a fraction of the activity that would be associated with general mobilization or real war preparations, even in a limited theater. It is a showy, but important test of crisis reaction forces.

The main focus, however, continues to be the Arctic islands and the Barents Sea. The Northern Fleet and Command are rehearsing defense of Russian Arctic resource claims. The activity in Crimea and Kaliningrad seems mostly for demonstration.

Ukraine: On 17 March, the Ukrainian parliament passed changes to the legislation that authorizes greater autonomy for the eastern regions that have been in rebellion. The modifications specify that "the special order on local government" will only become effective after the eastern regions hold new local elections. The elections must comply with Ukrainian law and occur under international observation. The changes call for the withdrawal of all illegal armed groups.

In a separate action the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution that describes the eastern regions as "temporarily occupied territories."

The rebel leaders in the east rejected the legislation and the resolution.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kyiv government is ignoring the provisions of the Minsk ceasefire agreement that require it to hold negotiations with the rebels concerning local elections.

Comment: The effect of the requirement for local elections before the devolution of authority from Kyiv is legislative sleight-of-hand to negate the current autonomous status of the rebellious territories. It makes local government authority a grant from Kyiv, rather than a right won in battle.

Ukrainian Poroshenko repeatedly has said he would never accept Crimea's alienation nor the independent status of Donetsk and Luhansk. The parliament backs him in this, which ultimately dooms the ceasefire, but not yet.

Status of the ceasefire. The daily Ukrainian situation map shows the ceasefire continues to hold. This map is a product of the Ukrainian Defense and Security Council. The most active area is northwest of Donetsk. Some clashes also continue east of Mariupol, near the coast.

Nigeria: On 17 March, the army chief of staff said the Nigerian army had repelled Boko Haram from all but three local government districts in the northeast. He said the army is optimistic that it will liberate them soon.

Nigerian news services published that at the start of 2015, Boko Haram controlled some 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium.

Comment: The general's statement probably should not be taken literally. The Nigerians are taking credit for, and probably embellishing, the improvement in the security situation. Nevertheless, most evidence indicates Boko Haram has been damaged.

Boko Haram pillaged villages and towns in northeastern Nigeria for six years. A concerted military effort by about 12,000 soldiers from five countries with outside support took about ten weeks to contain it.

This fight is not over, however, because Boko Haram's terrorism overlays longstanding tribal and religious power struggles. The security conditions for elections later this month have improved, but there will be more attacks.

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End of NightWatch for 17 March.

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