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NightWatch 20150318

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For the night of 18 March 2015

Russia-South Ossetia: On 18 March in Moscow, Russian President Putin and President Tibilov of South Ossetia signed an agreement on alliance and integration.

The agreement, also called a treaty, includes financial aid to South Ossetia; training for Ossetian government staff in Russian colleges; work on joint infrastructural projects and relaxation of the border crossing procedures.

At the signing President Putin said, "I would like to stress that the implementation of this agreement is backed by significant financial resources. An extra R1bn approximately (roughly $16m) will be allocated for South Ossetia in 2016 to be used for those purposes. The total amount of financial aid to the republic over the period of 2008-2014 has reached approximately R34bn (more than $544bn)."

The US State Department spokesperson said the US does not recognize the independence of South Ossetia nor the new agreement.

Comment: Russian military units fought a five-day conflict against Georgian forces in August 2008 in support of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia recognized their independence in August 2008.

Russia already had an agreement on alliance and integration. Today's agreement or treaty appears to consolidate the relationship, but South Ossetia has not joined the Russian Federation.

In some respects, Russian management of South Ossetia appears to have been the precursor for its handling of Crimea and of southeastern Ukraine, such as responding to appeals for help from a sympathetic population and using military forces to assist in the fragmentation of a pro-Europe state.

Thus far, it is a successful solution, but Russia is applying it deftly, not in cookie cutter fashion. All the political and military tools are the same, but President Putin is tailoring their application to each situation he targets.

Russia: Exercise update.

Northern Fleet: Russian sources reported a Russian nuclear-powered submarine is participating in the Barents Sea. Russian news published no other details on exercise activity.

Kaliningrad: A Defense Ministry source said that a motorized-rifle unit from the Western Military District will use ferries to deploy to Kaliningrad as part of the readiness exercise.

Crimea: A Defense Ministry source said that Russia will deploy 10 Tu-22M3 strategic bombers and a motorized-rifle formation from the Central Military District to Crimea as part of the large-scale readiness exercise.

Comment: South Ossetia is not participating in the exercise. However, the timing of the new agreement or treaty during the large exercise reinforces the message that the exercise is about blocking NATO expansion as well as readiness. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were the first places where Russia took a stand against NATO encroachment.

Russian press has not reported which, if any, of the deployments will be permanent. Russia has not paid much attention to Kaliningrad in more than six years when the missile deployment confrontation developed. The new attention to Kaliningrad is an ominous sign of Russian attention to the Baltic region, as a possible target for subversion.

Ukraine: Ukrainian President Poroshenko has signed the law "On amendments to Article 10 of the law of Ukraine 'On special self-government on some territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,'" according to a posting on the presidential website.

"The law, which parliament passed yesterday, has as its purpose the normalization of the socio-political situation and functioning of the bodies of local self-government on the listed territories by means of holding snap elections for district, municipal, town and village councils, as well as for town and city heads."

Russian reaction. Dmitriy Peskov, President Putin's press secretary, said, "Our assessment is quite logical. One should proceed from the understanding of who are the signatories of the Minsk accords. They include representatives of Kyiv and representatives of the DPR and LPR (Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic)."

"In this situation, representatives of the LPR and DPR indicate that there is a danger of breakdown of the Minsk-2 (agreement). And this is what we should be proceeding from. From our point of view, this is the main indicator of the danger which we can see now."

Comment: The message from Moscow is that preserving the ceasefire should be the starting point for political activity. At Minsk, Ukraine agreed to hold negotiations with the leaders of the breakaway regimes. Thus, Ukraine will be responsible for the breakdown of the ceasefire, in Moscow's view.

Tunisia: Five gunmen opened fire Wednesday at the National Bardo Museum, a prominent tourist attraction in Tunis. They killed 22 people.

Comment: Tunisian experts pointed out that this is the first deadly attack against tourists since 2002, when terrorists killed 21 people at a resort island. International news services reported that two days ago the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Ansar al-Sharia, another Islamist terrorist group, posted to the internet vague warnings of an attack in Tunisia.

The warning messages coincided with the death announcement of Tunisian-born Ahmed al-Rouissi, who was an ISIL leader in Libya and was wanted for murder in Tunisia. He died in an ISIL clash with Islamist militias in Libya last week.

The Tunisian government had hoped that tourism would increase this year since the worst of the political instability seemed to have passed after successful elections in December.

The attack represents a major breakdown in security and in intelligence. ISIL and other groups have clashed occasionally with Tunisian forces, usually against al-Qaida and on the Algerian border. The last significant clash occurred last July. These attack shows that the enemies of Tunisia now include ISIL and that it and its associated groups have a reach they had not previously demonstrated. The message is Tunisia is not safe for tourists. That is a major setback for economic recovery in addition to its security implications.

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End of NightWatch for 18 March.

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