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NightWatch 20150315

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For the night of 15 March 2015

Pakistan: Suicide bombers killed at least 14 people and up to 79 wounded in an attack against Christian/Catholic churches in Lahore on 15 March. A Roman Catholic church and a Christ Church in Lahore's Youhanabad area were hit by suicide attacks, a Punjab police spokesperson said.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group, claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group appeared to have timed the attacks to cause maximum damage because the two churches were packed for Sunday services when the bombs went off. A spokesman for the faction said it was the work of two suicide bombers.

"The Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaat-ur-Ahrar accepts responsibility for the suicide attacks on the churches in Lahore," Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Taliban faction, said in a statement emailed to reporters. "We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan such attacks will continue. If Pakistan's rulers think they can stop us, they should try to do so,"

Comment: At least one of the dead was a security guard who prevented one attacker from entering one of the churches, otherwise the death toll would have been larger. The Youhanabad area is a Christian region of Lahore that contains more a million Christians, according to Pakistani press services.

Pakistani terrorists from one faction or another have been conducting attacks against Shiites and Christians since the formation of Pakistan. They have changed nothing, except to harden hostility among religious sects.

Thus, a pair of kids brainwashed to kill themselves in a known Christian neighborhood are a pointless loss to Pakistan that achieved nothing for Pakistan or Islam.

Pakistani extremist factions justify the deaths of children in this fashion in a variety of ways. They call it raising awareness. They call it showing the government that they remain a threat. They call it making a statement of defiance against the established order and in favor of a new order based on Sharia. There are no innovations on these time worn themes.

Somehow the language of defiance and of awareness apparently needs to be expressed by children, who literally blow themselves apart. A witness said he saw the body parts of children flying through the air. Why do the teachers not do as they direct the children to do?

Russia: in the new Russian film about Crimea, President Putin said that, after the change of power in Kyiv in February 2014, Russia's Armed Forces were ready for any developments. Moscow also was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert, Interfax reported on 15 March.

"Immediately at the first stage of work, I had to guide our Armed Forces appropriately. Not simply guide, but give direct instructions, orders regarding the possible action of Russia and our Armed Forces in any developments of the situation," Putin said in the film, "Crimea: Road to the Motherland."

The film was broadcast on official state channel Rossiya 1 in Russia's Far East ahead of its broadcast in the European part of Russia later on 15 March. In the film, Putin said it was not clear from conversations with Western partners that they would not intervene militarily in the situation. "No, of course. This could not have been understood," Putin said.

Asked whether Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert, Putin said: "We were ready to do this. I was speaking with colleagues and spoke exactly as I am speaking to you now, frankly, that this is our historical territory and Russian people live there; they were in danger, and we cannot abandon them. But it was not us who carried out the coup d'etat (in Kyiv that ousted Yanukovich); this was done by nationalists and people with extreme beliefs."

Russia was ready for the most unfavorable development of events. "But I proceeded from the premise that it would not come to this. And there was no point in stirring up the situation unnecessarily," Putin said.

Interfax also quoted Andrey Kondrashov, one of Rossiya 1's main news presenters who made "Crimea: Road to the motherland", as saying that some military experts suggested that Putin, as supreme commander-in-chief, "use all available means to demonstrate Russia's readiness to protect its national interests" in Crimea.

He said that "Putin replied: Despite all the complexity and dramatic nature of the situation, the 'Cold War' has ended and we don't need international crises like the Caribbean one….Moreover, the situation did not call for such actions, and this would be contrary to our interests," Kondrashov said.

Comment: The film about Crimea is now known to include multiple astonishing statements by Russian President Putin. The most significant is that he considered placing Russia's nuclear arsenal on alert over Crimea. He said his justification was that he could not be certain that Western powers would not intervene.

This statement attributed to Putin is nonsense in part. Russian intelligence has the capability to know precisely the state of alert and, much more importantly, the state of readiness of NATO forces for an invasion of Ukraine. Russia knew that Poland was not ready to aid Ukraine, for example, and that Ukraine was too weak to prevent Russian annexation of Crimea. Putin also knew that NATO forces posed no threat that justified the slightest consideration of a nuclear alert.

What is worth stressing is that Putin, like his Soviet forbears - Andropov, Brezhnev and Gorbachev - reflexively thought of nuclear forces as relevant to the outcomes of many local crises. That is the pattern of Soviet leadership strategic thinking for the past 60 or more years. No one can ever know how an opponent thinks.

Putin admitted that he did not know Western intentions during his gambit to annex Crimea. He genuinely considered that the West might start a war with Russia over Crimea, but dismissed it. If that is the case, Russian intelligence failed its president massively. The anecdote also says a lot about Putin's confidence in his own judgement regardless of his intelligence.

Putin: Comment: Russian President Putin has not been seen in public since 5 March. Various Russian media have aired video imagery of Putin since then, but reliable international news services have proven beyond doubt that the imagery was taken in advance for later broadcast. In at least once instance,

Attachés of several types reportedly have been recalled to Moscow from embassies around the world. Russian officials have provided no explanation for Putin's ten day absence.

Several sources opined that Putin has been ousted. If that were the case and the leadership issue were settled, the winning group would have made an announcement. No group has claimed it overthrew or assassinated the Russian leader.

Multiple sources proposed that Putin was ill. His personal spokesman denied those allegations.

The behavior of Russian government agencies indicates that a leadership crisis is occurring, but has not been settled. The absence of a highest level military alert and of a closure of international airports indicates that a leadership change has not occurred. Restrictions on popular movement, increased security measures at international points of entry and a force-wide nuclear alert were the key indicators of an attempt to overthrow Gorbachev in August 1990.

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End of NightWatch for 15 March.

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