MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

07 ianuarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 1 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Messages of ouverture... and closure.

II. RUSSIA. Strategic aviation became a priority.

III. UKRAINE. And the tomos has arrived.

IV. Developments to track this Week 1 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA. Messages of ouverture... and closure.

On the occasion of New Year’s Eve, President Vladimir Putin sent letters to various foreign leaders. Of course, the most important is the letter he sent to President Donald Trump, where he proposed a meeting to solve the current disputed issues. V. Putin wrote to D. Trump that "Russia is open for dialogue with the U.S.A. on the most wide-ranging agenda". V. Putin stressed that "Russia - US relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security". Also, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, declared that it was now up to the United States to decide whether to hold a new meeting in 2019. "The issue should be addressed to Washington. Both our president and his representatives have said that we are ready for the talks when Washington is ready for it".

Before Washington’s withdrawal from the INF, Moscow is seeking dialogue, holding some trump cards though: Russia early breached the INF and modernized its strategic nuclear armament; Russia also holds a well established position, where it alternates victimization and the danger of a new arms race with threats regarding the capacity of its enhanced strategic nuclear arsenal and its newly developed armament systems. Additionally, the US crosses one of its worst political periods, with the ”original” President D. Trump[1] left without the ”adults in the room” (the guard of generals is about to vanish), suspected for having cooperated with Russia during the electoral campaign, and at war with a part of his own legislature (the governmental blockage is still ongoing).

In his wording regarding the Russo-American relations, V. Putin makes exaggerations: first, in ensuring strategic stability and international security, it’s the US – EU – China relations which are most important. Russia is an economic dwarf holding nuclear weapons and conventional troops which can cause problems, but Russia lacks relevance in the equation of future global economic and political problems. Russia’s old modus operandi, which is maintaining a military force to be considered, might cease to work, even facing Russia’s today ally, China. It is true, the current level of Sino-Russian relations is encouraging for Moscow, but the common Sino-American relations are far more important than the Sino-Russian common interests. For example, let’s look at what is left of the BRIC grouping, which Russia saw as a counterbalance to the West: just China is left there, and China is now under economic siege by US sanctions.

On December 28th, an American citizen has been arrested in Moscow for espionage (although the arrest has been announced only on December 30th), which might additionally tense the bilateral relations. That will likely not happen, not only because they are already complicated (and so easily simplified by D. Trump), but also because that American citizen has apearantly been arrested for serious real reasons[2], not randomly, for an exchange. Although Moscow denied, an exchange cannot be ruled out, perhaps for the Russian spy Maria Butina, convicted in the US, and about whom V. Putin specified that the Russian intelligence agencies had no knowledge.

In a different development, the tragedy that shocked Russia during the New Year’s period, the colapse of a residential condominium in Magnitogorsk / Siberia, following a gas-pipe explosion, suggests Russia’s real situation: an old infrastructure and fragile buildings, after over two decades of using the crude export money for weapons and for improving the living standard of a corrupt establishment. These things are visible even through the veil thrown by the governmental propaganda.  


II. RUSSIA. Strategic aviation became a priority.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced its 2019 plans for the strategic nuclear forces. On January 4th, the commander of Russia’s strategic aviation, general Sergei Kobylash, declared that four more strategic bombers Tu 95MS are going to be modernized. The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, has previously declared, on December 18th, that the strategic nuclear forces have been 82% modernized. He added that, in the future, the focus will be the modernization of the strategic aviation: already in 2018, five strategic bombers have been modernized – one Tu 160 and four Tu 95MS, and in November 2018, one Tu 160 launched a KH 101 cruise missile, in Pemboy firing range. Additionally, MIG 31 aircraft carrying the Kinzhal hypersonic missile conducted 89 air patrols in the air space of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The strategic aviation became a priority for Moscow both for objective reasons (the aircraft are old, and Russia has no capacity to build new ones, but only to modernize the old ones) and for circumstantial reasons: the other two components of the nuclear triade are in a far better situation, with large modernization works already progressing (the Borei class nuclear submarines carrying the Bulava missiles overcome the hurdles, and the land ICBMs modernization is in full swing). In addition, the strategic aviation is the most flexible component, which can be used in escalating a conventional conflict by launching cruise missiles (especially the KH 101 stealth cruise missile), but also for show of force actions, deemed necessary in current circumstances. By bringing back Th 22M3 to the front stage, especially in the European operational theater, Russia gained advantage both in the substrategic armament field, and in the strategic domain (the air launched cruise missiles).

  It is doubtful that the Russian strategic aviation maintain its current force, since the financial resources begin to dwindle, on the backdrop of Russia’s current economic problems. Moscow lacks the capacity either to build new strategic aircraft, or to achieve mass production of a stealth fighter (the much heralded, maybe baseless, T 50, renamed Su 57). On the other hand, Russia’s capability to maintain old weapon systems operational, or to modernize them, should not be neglected.

III. UKRAINE. And the tomos has arrived.

On January 5th, in the presence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko,  the Ecumenic Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, issued the tomos recognizing the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

Again, same as one thousand years ago, a simple ceremony in the Saint George Cathedral in Istanbul marked both the official revival of the UOC, and the likely beginning of the schism within the Orthodox Church. Moscow will likely react by asking the Constantinople Patriarchy to refrain from recognizing the UOC and by paying attention not to put the other Orthodox Churches in the situation to make hard choices (either that church or Constantinople), because it might lose.

Of course, everything is politics, but Moscow, who has extensively used the church for its political purposes, has no right to complain. Moscow has on its side the churches in countries it controls, in the former Soviet space plus, very likely, the Serbian Orthodox Church (however, the Serbian Church needs to pay attention: one wrong move and the Montenegrin split can become reality). The rest of the orthodox churches are important for traditions, especially considering that those nations are now part of the Free World, beyond Moscow’s control.

 The consequences will be huge, ranging from a true religious war within Ukraine, with the Kyiv authorities acting firmly to crush the power of the ”Russian Church in Ukraine”, to the Russo-Ukrainian hybrid war soaring. However, the effect upon the whole Orthodox Church will be more important: Moscow will stand firm, but it should pay attention though, because a schism would cast it far away from Europe, where it always wanted to fly high, no matter what.

For Romania, the rebirth of the UOC is a somewhat positive development: from a geopolitical point of view, we have a neighbor progressing in its consolidation, a buffer between us and an aggressive Russia, even if Ukraine still suffers from the ”childhood illnesses”. On the other hand, a schism would not affect us much, we will very likely stick with the Constantinople Patriarchy, i.e. with most of the European orthodox churches. But things will be more complicated that at first glance, albeit because Moscow will react in rage to losing a crucial ideological argument of its foreign policy – the image of ”protector of orthodoxy”.   

In Donbass, the truce has not been observed, fire has been opened several times, resulting in casualties (even deaths), and a Ukrainian soldier was taken prisoner by the separatists. Not good signs for the beginning of the year!


IV. Developments to track this Week 1 of 2019.

  • EUROPEAN UNION. After Jean-Claude Juncker’s declarations and the streak of negative articles in many important European newspapers, Romania took over the presidency of the European Union. Let us hope that Romania’s presidency of EU will end better than it began, although Murphy’s laws say otherwise.

  • GERMANY. After the most humiliating cyber attack in the history of Germany, where the politicians’ personal data were made public, the authorities had to react. In fact, all Europe faces two problems which, although begin to become ”day by day normality”, are abnormal by definition: cyber-attacks and terrorist attacks.

  • UNITED KINGDOM. Although Teresa May wanted to avoid the vote regarding Brexit in the British Parliament, she cannot dodge this procedure. Her stratagem of postponing the vote until the last moment cannot oblige the British MPs to OK her plan. Teresa May embarked on a boat which might sail towards negative consequences for the UK so divided on the EU membership issue.

  • UNITED STATES. The big constant in the international affairs, the US, became the big variable. The Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, are determined to make Donald Trump’s life a nightmare, and the US President decided to act as a loose cannon and threw away the last generals who were softening the unpredictability of his decisions. Having said that, we will see how the blockage in government financing will end. Anyway, fear of impeachment started to surface in Donald Trump’s tweets, and uncertainty is the buzzword in Washington DC.

  • RUSSIA. There are hopes that the Russo-Japanese relations will consolidate, and perspectives of signing a peace treaty are rising again. Will Russia decide to return at least the small islands it promised to return, even if that is not enough for Japan? Russia needs an exit from its isolation and for setting a balance in the East, in its relations with China, by relaunching its relations with Japan.

  • SERBIA - KOSOVO. Priština made a whole series of tough statements which overstated the importance of a simplified procedure for border-crossing with Albania. In its turn, Belgrade made similarly tough statements. After these developments though, more optimistic declarations were made, regarding a possible agreement. Something needs to happen, hopefully positive, because tensions continue to soar, due to the taxes imposed by Priština.

  • CHINA. The Sino-American negotiations are to start this very week. Considering the recent belligerent declarations by President Xi regarding Taiwan, it is obvious that we start to deal with a different China. It not in vane that President Xi has larger powers than Mao, his ambitions seem to match his power.    

  • MIDDLE EAST. The US has warned IRAN to stop its program of ballistic missile development, and Iran responded by… deploying warships to western Atlantic Ocean! Although this action is purely symbolic, the naval deployment is an indication regarding the increasing tensions between the two countries. Having US slowing down its withdrawal from SYRIA, and ISRAEL decided to defend itself against Iran in Syria, the situation does not look as nice as President Donald Trump wanted when he announced the US troops immediate withdrawal from Syria.

[1] Donald Trump’s latest declarations regarding Europe, as well as his opinion regarding Russia’s intervention in Afghanistan are alarming, if anything can be still alarming from D. Trump.

[2] The case has been ”well dressed” by the FSB, given that the American citizen was apprehended holding a secret list of individuals. However, no information was provided about the… agent who gave him the secret document: nothing, no arrest, no information – an indication that an FSB collaborator was likely involved, and he accomplished his mission.