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NightWatch 20140825

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For the night of 25 August 2014

Thailand: Prayuth Chan-ocha has been officially appointed prime minister, following endorsement by the King.

General Prayuth received the written royal command in a ceremony at Bangkok's army headquarters on Monday morning.

He plans to name his cabinet and seek royal approval for the line-up by October, according to reports.

Comment: The King's approval is usually routine. In this instance, however, the King's approval may be interpreted to include approval of Prayuth's law and order and economic development agenda. Prayuth's junta ended the public protests and street clashes. Now he gets the responsibility to reform the political system so that they do not recur.

Afghanistan: The voter fraud audit missed the 25 August target for completion. The Independent Election Commission reported that 67% of the ballot boxes have been audited. It expects to complete the task in the next ten days, in time for the NATO summit in Wales on 4 and 5 September at which Afghanistan will be a featured topic of discussion.

Meanwhile President Karzai's office announced 2 September as the new date for swearing in a new president.

Comment: The two presidential camps have tempered their public statements lately, which explains the lack of international media attention. In addition, leaks of the proceedings appear to have stopped, reducing provocations. The audit will be challenged in meeting a 2 September deadline.

Israel: Update. The Israel Defense Forces retracted the accusation that Hamas used a UN facility from which to fire the mortar round that killed an Israeli boy.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have requested a new ceasefire with Israel. Israel has not responded to the request. It prefers to receive a request to surrender.

Ukraine: Security. The press service of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) claimed it captured ten Russian soldiers.

A joint operative group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the SBU…detained 10 servicemen of the 331st regiment of the 98th division of the Airborne Troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

"Russian servicemen were detained with personal IDs and weapons on them. They testified that a battalion of paratroopers was redeployed by train to Rostov Region on 23 August, and at about 0300 on 24 August the unit was raised on combat alert and received an order to move on as part of a column of dozens of infantry fighting vehicles. Only the officers had been informed that the Russian hardware was about to invade Ukraine,"

The SBU investigators have launched a criminal case over the illegal crossing of the state border by the armed Russian citizens.

Comment: The 331st regiment is a unit of the 98th Guards Airborne Division. Rostov is across the southeast border of Ukraine in the Donetsk Region and is one of the rail-served assembly points for units deploying from the Russian interior.

Those facts give the Ukrainian report some credibility, but the lack of details, such as the location and other circumstances of the capture of ten elite soldiers, means it could easily be a fabrication. Nevertheless, news services have reported multiple sightings of Russians or Russian-equipped rebels in southeastern Ukraine along the coast road that runs through the port of Mariupol.

In May, NightWatch wrote that Russian intentions could include creating a Russian land corridor from Rostov to Crimea, along the coast of the Sea of Azov. That option appeared to be subsumed into the secession by the Donetsk region, which includes the seaport of Mariupol. A land route would strengthen the Russian ability to support Crimea. To secure it, Russia needs to ensure that the Donetsk secession does not fail. The weekend reports suggest the Russian leadership has taken additional military action to prop up the rebels in Donetsk, at least.

Ukrainian military press claimed that Ukrainian forces destroyed two Russian tanks in a column of ten tanks, armored personnel carriers and trucks that was operating in the southeast. The Ukrainians claimed they blocked the road to Mariupol.

Meanwhile, Russian TV reported that the eastern Ukrainian rebels have launched a counter-offensive from Donetsk. In one location, the number of Ukrainian soldiers that reportedly are surrounded is now up to 7,000.

Comment: Most of the press allegations cannot be confirmed by open sources. The few credible details suggest the Russians have escalated their intervention and that the rebels are operating in areas that previously were free of fighting.

Politics. Today Ukrainian President Poroshenko announced snap elections for a new parliament, to be held on 26 October. He stressed that the "current composition of the parliament has been the mainstay of (former President) Yanukovych….Elections are the best way of cleaning things up."

Comment: Poroshenko said he announced snap elections because the parliament proved unable to form a government in the past 30 days. Poroshenko is correct in stating that the current parliament is primarily more pro-Russia than pro-West.

In his TV address, Poroshenko admits that he is cleaning house because parliament does not support the direction he and a handful of others are trying to take Ukraine. However, multiple, recent prior elections resulted in a similar composition of parliament, with members more favorable to Russia constituting a majority. No one knows what the electorate thinks of the recent changes in Kyiv because there have been no elections.

Thus, the elections will be the first test of the public's sentiment towards its new management and its pro-Western bias. Outside interests from Russia and the West will be meddling heavily in Ukrainian politics in the next two months. What is less clear is what Poroshenko and the right-wing paramilitary groups would do if the voters re-elect a pro-Russian majority in parliament.

Nigeria: International media reported that 480 Nigerian soldiers crossed into Cameroon, fleeing from a fight with Boko Haram militants. Clashes reportedly continued in the border town of Gamboru Ngala.

News services that the troops had joined thousands of citizens fleeing the fighting. The Nigerian government said they were conducting a "tactical manoeuver."

An army spokesman said Cameroon is accommodating the Nigerian soldiers in the Cameroonian town of Maroua, about 80km (50 miles) from the Nigerian border.

Boko Haram on Sunday released a video claiming that it had established an Islamic state in the towns and villages it controls in Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria.

Comment: Apparently an entire Nigerian battalion, or its eqquvalent, ran away from Boko Haram. That makes this the largest group of soldiers known to have fled.

End of NightWatch for 25 August.

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