North Korea: North Korea fired seven short-range rockets from its east coast range near Wonsan on 4 March, using multiple rocket launchers.
Three of the rockets were 240 mm multiple rockets which have a 55 kilometer range. Four rockets were 300-mm rockets which have a range of 155 km, according to the South Korean National Defense Ministry statement.
Comment: The timing of the launches, which are occurring during Allied exercises, is the only potentially unusual feature of these firings. This looks like crew training again, but on rockets instead of ballistic missiles.
Now if the missiles and rockets had been fired towards the Demilitarized Zone or over South Korea and into the water, those acts would have been provocative as well as unprecedented in the last 30 years.
Thailand: Political tension has eased because anti-government protesters complied with orders to stop blocking streets in Bangkok. Instead they have relocated to a central Bangkok park, freeing up traffic after having blocked intersections for more than a month.
Thai press reported that the protesters, who moved to Lumpini Park on the weekend after orders from their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, have taken their cause to the courts in order to bring down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.
"Bangkokians are able to go to work more easily, but the state of play in Thailand has not changed since protesters scaled back," said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Comment: Apparently authorities persuaded the opposition that their cause was not being helped by the economic drain from loss of tourism and from obstacles to moving goods and services in and around Bangkok.
The case against Yingluck and some associates is corruption. The significance of the resort to the courts is that if Yingluck is removed by a judicial process, she would have little recourse. Her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was overthrown by a military coup in 2006, but he fled Thailand and contended that he remained the democratically elected and rightful head of government. He has remained politically active and influential from outside the country.
The opposition against Yingluck apparently has sophisticated legal advice and a smart legal strategy. Their actions indicate they have learned from the mistakes made in failing to imprison Thaksin after he was overthrown.
The corruption case against Yingluck is reported to be solid. As a result of it, she has lost the support of rice farmers who are key constituents. She long since has incurred the hostility of the monarchists in Bangkok. Unlike her brother who fled Thailand, she could end up in prison, effectively ending her political career for a time.
Pakistan: At least six Pakistani soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the north-west. The military said another eight people were injured in the blast which destroyed a security convoy near Hangu, 110km (70 miles) south-west of Peshawar.
Comment: This was the first attack on security forces this month and the second since the Pakistani Taliban announced a month long ceasefire, two days ago. Talks are likely to continue, but the two attacks confirm that the tribal leaders with whom the government is negotiating do not speak for and cannot control many anti-government fighting groups.
Syria: Government forces, assisted by fighters from Lebanese Hizballah, are reported to have captured the last rebel stronghold in the Qaddoum Mountains that overlook the main highway from Damascus in the south to Latakia in the north.
Comment: If Syrian government and allied forces can maintain control of the highway from Damascus to the Alawite stronghold area in the northwest, they will have broken the back of the anti-government uprising in western Syria and disrupted the opposition supply lines from Jordan and Lebanon.
That would mean that strong rebel forces only remain in neighborhoods of Odessa in northern Syria, which are the targets of government air attacks.
Egypt: A court in Egypt has banned all activities by the Palestinian movement Hamas and ordered authorities to seize its offices and assets. A lawsuit filed by an Egyptian lawyer demanded the move because of Hamas links to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which it is an offshoot.
A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, condemned the court ruling. He said, "The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause. … It reflects a form of standing against Palestinian resistance."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a news conference he was not aware of the ruling, but added: "Whoever threatens Egypt's security should understand that there will be consequences."
Comment: The Egyptian government already outlawed the Brotherhood and all its affiliates. The court ruling is important because it concluded that Hamas is one of those affiliates.
If the Egyptian security forces act on the court ruling, smuggling in support of the Gaza Strip via Sinai should become much more problematic. That also should help stabilize Israel's southern border regions. This ruling and its consequences are good news for Israel.
Russia: President Putin said in a press statement that he has no intention of annexing Crimea. He was quoted on Wednesday as saying he does not want the "political tension" between Russian and Ukraine to detract from economic cooperation between the two countries. He denied that Russian soldiers are operating in Crimea. He described the armed soldiers without insignia as "self-defense militias."
Comment: Putin dissembled. Russian media have identified Russia military units operating in Crimea. In addition, some Russians soldiers told press interviewers the identify of their parent Russian units, as naval infantry or airborne. The soldiers seizing Ukrainian bases in Crimea are Russian military personnel.
That fact does not necessarily mean that Russia has annexed Ukraine. The Russian scenario is a bit more subtle and relates to Foreign Minister Lavrov's assertions to US Secretary Kerry.
Talks in Paris. According to Russian media reports, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia cannot give orders to pro-Russian armed forces in Crimea, which he described as "self-defense" forces, to return to base because they are not Russian forces.
After a conversation with US Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Lavrov derided the atmosphere for talks which features extensive western meddling in Ukraine. He said Kerry agreed to adhere to the 21 February national unity agreement by which Yanukovych remained president of Ukraine with limited powers and which called for early presidential elections.
Lavrov said, "And we have agreed that Ukrainians, all Ukrainians, should be helped to reach accords, or, rather, implement the accords that were reached on 21 February."
In a press conference, Secretary Kerry provided a completely different version of his talks with Minister Lavrov. Kerry did not repeat anything that Lavrov said.
Comment: It is not possible to square the circle of the two versions of the bilateral talks. Readers could wonder whether the two men were in the same room.
From the NightWatch personal experience, Kerry exaggerates, frequently having to backtrack from his grandiose rhetorical flourishes. Lavrov is a statesman in the old European school. He never departs from his brief.
Based on the divergent descriptions of what the two men talked about, there is no process and no basis for negotiations because the US and Russia have no agreed lexicon.
For example, the US assumes that Russia shares the American definition of what constitutes Ukraine. When Kerry talks about Ukraine, he reflexively includes Crimea and presumes Russia does so as well.
In fact nothing could be farther from the truth. Russia acknowledges that Crimea is an autonomous Republic attached to the Ukraine, but empowered to make its own decisions. No US official has acknowledged the unique political status of Crimea and the national city of Sevastopol.
When Lavrov talks about Ukraine, he apparently does not include Crimea. That is why President Putin can state that sending Russian troops into Ukraine would be a last resort.
When Lavrov talks about returning to the 21 February agreement on a national unity government in Ukraine, Lavrov does not necessarily include Crimea in the Russian understanding of Ukraine.
NightWatch judges that Kerry appreciates the Russian position, but is trying to persuade the Russians to accept the US definition of Ukraine. He will fail precisely because Crimea, as an autonomous republic, can decide its own allegiance.
As stated before in NightWatch, Russia has not claimed sovereignty over Crimea. Rather it appears to be waiting for the Crimeans to hold their referendum on secession and to request association with Russia.
The secession referendum in Crimea is the next major flash-point in the Ukraine crisis.No US officials have betrayed any awareness in public that this flashpoint is imminent.
If the Crimeans vote for independence from Ukraine and for association with Russia, what will the US and European states do? Will the West extend as much credit to a Crimean referendum as it gave to mob violence in Kyiv?
In short, based on the indicators, NightWatch judges that Crimea and the city of Sevastopol will be linked to Russia in some official fashion by the end of March.
Readiness exercise ended. The end of the Russian readiness exercise is a signal that President Putin and his advisors do not seek a larger crisis. They do not intend to annex eastern Ukraine, though they demonstrated that they could if they chose.
Good news: The US Defense Department reinforced US forces in Poland and the Baltics, as part of the US response to Russian actions against Ukraine. That is tonight's good news.
Special NightWatch comment: US media outlets have reported that one or more US intelligence agencies told the US President that Russia would not send military forces into Ukraine. NightWatch cannot attest to the truth of the allegations, but they were made by senior members of the US Congress and by prominent news services.
What it can assert with authority and has taught since the late 1990's, in classified and open source venues, is that US intelligence analysts should never fail to warn of Russian or other national conventional force war preparations, including China, Pakistan and India.
Warning of war and warning of attack are intelligence problems that US defense intelligence solved for all countries by the year 2000. Analysts around the world who did not know the solutions were invited to consult DIA/J2 at that time.
If the Ukraine crisis involved an intelligence failure, as alleged in the press, it means the current generation of analysts has not learned the lessons of the past 60 years of intelligence experience in strategic intelligence warning.
Erratum: Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang. It is not officially outside Xinjiang autonomous region. Thanks to a diligent, careful and Brilliant Reader for the reminder.
End of NightWatch
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