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26 martie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 12 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Vladimir Putin visits Crimea. Beefed up rhetoric on Crimea’s annexation five-year anniversary. Tu22M3 strategic bombers are deployed in Crimea. Moscow reacts to US bomber flights close to Russia.

II. HUNGARY. The compromise of suspending FIDESZ from EPP.

III. UNITED KINGDOM. Brexit is put off.

IV. ITALY joins China’s “Belt and Road” mega-project.

V. Developments to track this Week 13 of 2019.


  1. RUSSIA.

The celebration of Crimea’s annexation by the Russian Federation (fifth anniversary) has provided the opportunity for soared rhetoric by Russia, Ukraine, and the West. This only shows that the relations among these keep worsening. On this backdrop, a Russian official announced that Tu2M3 strategic bombers were to be deployed in Crimea; then, Moscow protested the US bomber flights IVO Russia’s frontiers. Behind these declarations, Russian and American efforts to reposition their military in Europe after the INF cancellation are visible.

Vladimir Putin visits Crimea. Beefed up rhetoric on Crimea’s annexation five-year anniversary. On March 18th, President Vladimir Putin marked the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation by visiting the peninsula. On this occasion, he inaugurated two power plants and attended a large meeting. Together with the Russian majority, V. Putin celebrated the “Reunification Day” and sent a message beyond any doubt: Russia considers the annexation legit and irreversible.  

The visit was an opportunity to outline the achievements: Crimea was connected to Russia by a bridge over the Kerch Strait; Crimea’s energy independence was enforced by building two power stations[1]; and Crimea’s economy was reinforced, not by tourism and investments, because the peninsula is subjected to sanctions, but by militarization and state appropriations in dual use projects (military and civilian) – the shipyards. There is information that Russia is working on changing the ethnic situation by bringing hundreds of thousands of Russians to consolidate the Russian majority. However, the peninsula remains under Western sanctions and isolated, rather a Kaliningrad type militarized area, than a region in economic strong progress.

The message sent in response by the US, EU, NATO and Ukraine was opposed to the Russian narrative: Crimea was occupied and then illegally annexed, and the sanctions will apply until this situation ends. Crimea’s problem went worse when “it got to sea”, as the Kerch Strait incidents were nothing but the beginning, and the problems might slightly spill towards the western Black Sea, towards Ukraine’s and Romania’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and territorial waters.

Transforming Crimea into a Forward Operating Base becomes a major security concern  for Ukraine and NATO, particularly for the frontline nation in the area, which is Romania, considering that Russia persists in its aggressive military behavior, and identifies the missile defense installations at Deveselu as a major threat.

Tu22M3 strategic bombers deployed to Crimea. On March 18th, Russian news agencies, spearheaded by RIA Novosti, published an article titled “Tu22M3 strategic bombers were transferred to Crimea in response to the US missile defense system in Romania”. This article stated: “The head of Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, and former Russian Air Force commander Viktor Bondarev commented on the Tu22M3 strategic bomber deployment to Crimea. He mentioned that the US missile defense system deployment to Romania brings a serious challenge and, in response, the Russian Ministry of Defense decided to deploy to an air base in Crimea, Gvardeyskoe, a squadron of Tu22M3 cruise missile capable strategic bombers. This step radically changed the balance of power in the region. He underlined that those bombers deployed to Crimea would be modernized in the next years to provide them with the capacity to destroy the American air and missile defense systems “anywhere in Europe”. The Tu22M3 and their cruise missile range allows them to attack across Europe, respectively to hit any target pertaining to enemy air defense and missile defense systems. Considering the upcoming upgrade to level M3M, and additional enforcing with new armament systems, the Tu22M3M strategic bomber will become a universal strike vector against all possible targets at thousands of kilometers distance. He added that, besides the Tu22M3 bombers, the air fleet in Crimea includes MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters. Bondarev declared that, at this moment, a strong contingent is deployed to Crimea, and it is constantly enforced. Namely, S-300, S-400, Buk-M2 and Pantsir-S1 air defense systems, as well as Iskander missile systems, both modernized versions were deployed to Crimea”. The two modernized versions of Iskander mean Iskander-M enhanced range ballistic missile, and Iskander-K, with cruise missile systems - that is precisely the SSC-8 cruise missile which breaches the INF.

“The missile defense and air defense systems in Crimea effectively assure protection against air threats, while the naval defense is provided by high-tech costal missile systems Ball and Bastion, capable of hypersonic missiles, plus the Kilo II class submarines” – added Bondarev. The hypersonic missile capability is exaggerated, they are supersonic at most. The Russian official declared that, in the same time as developing the military potential in the region, the focus was developing the costal defense. Bondarev ruled out any danger of having Russian warships arrested by the enemy, because the Iskander missile systems deployed to Crimea control all Black Sea littoral, Bosporus included. “Had not been for the quick return of Crimea, Sevastopol respectively, to Russia, this territory would be under US protectorate, and Russia’s warships would not be able to conduct their combat missions. Today, such course of action is out of the question”, declared the Russian official.

Bondarev’s statements surprised both by their contents (the deployment of Tu22M3 aircraft and the Iskander missiles in both marks), and by the detail that no further declaration came in support afterwards by any other Russian official: the whole issue, quite sensitive, was kept silent by the Russian top officials. This can be explained by two decisions, one tactical and one strategic. The tactical approach means Russia poses as victim coping with the US show of force by the B 52H bomber flights IVO Russian borders, and the strategic approach means that Moscow might gradually reduce these significant deployments to Crimea, if NATO also gradually takes certain measures.

Taking into consideration that Viktor Bondarev is an important political and military figure, lets take a closer look at the new information he provides: Russia deploys upgraded Tu22M3 strategic bombers aiming to hit any target in Europe (missile defense systems first), as well as the ballistic missile systems and the Iskander M and Iskander K cruise missiles, aiming to control the whole Black Sea littoral. This is remarkable: Crimea became a kind of southern flank Kaliningrad, but more dangerous, because Crimea is more than a simple stronghold whence its warships and submarines can launch Kalibr cruise missiles. It seems logical for Russia to exploit at maximum the strategic advantage it gained by shifting west from Novorossiysk to Sevastopol. There is a problem though: both Tu22M3 and Iskander become more vulnerable in forward position. In fact, such vulnerability is void, because the nation directly threatened, Romania (because Bulgaria and Turkey are not in the crosshairs), has limited air and naval capabilities.  

Viktor Bondarev’s declaration should be considered as a contingency plan to be implemented gradually by Moscow, as its confrontation with NATO, respectively US, escalates. This does not mean that V. Bondarev does not say valid facts to be considered right away[2]: very likely, Russia has deployed, or will temporarily deploy Tu22M3 bombers, plus Iskander M and K missile systems. However, gradual escalation is a feature of political and military planning, function of the adverse actions. This also explains the tactical approach of Moscow’s victimization facing the American B52 bomber flights IVO Russia’s European borders.

Moscow reacts to US B 52 bomber flights close to Russia. After the US deployed B52 strategic bombers to UK, and these conducted flights over Europe as far as the Russian borders, Russia reacted by drawing attention to the danger of such actions, and by stating that its fighter aircraft made a B52 bomber change its course over the Baltic Sea (incident denied by the Pentagon).

On March 21st, the US announced it deployed to Europe six strategic bombers B52 capable of carrying cruise missiles and other weapons, inclusive nuclear payloads, for “integration into theater and flight exercises”. That measure was seen as a military warning to Russia, five years after the annexation of Crimea, and in the context of the INF ending.

Then, Russia accused the US of escalating the tensions by conducting B52 flights IVO its borders. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had prepared two Su27 fighters to intercept an American bomber detected by the Russian Radar systems before it changed its course. Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov declared that, “in general, I will limit myself to only saying that of course such actions by the United States do not lead to a strengthening of an atmosphere of security and stability in the region that directly adjoins Russia’s borders”.

At political military level, the US sent a warning by massively and coordinately responding with actions in other operational theaters. At military level, there is the testing of Russian C4ISR and air defense (from air platforms and groung-based) systems to such American response: strategic bombers capable of launching long range cruise missiles.

Bottom line, both parties seek post-INF military solutions. For Romania, this period brings many uncertainties, as we are in the frontline and being eyed for hosting the missile defense instalations on our territory[3].

III. HUNGARY. The compromise of suspending FIDESZ from EPP.

The expulsion of FIDESZ from the European People’s Party (EPP) was put off, and the compromise of “suspension” was identified. Practically, this offers an armistice, at least for the duration of European Parliament elections, and it also offers time to Hungarian Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán for a possible reconsideration of his behavior. Most of all though, it offers time for political calculations both in his camp, and within EPP.

On March 20th, the Hungarian governing party, FIDESZ, was suspended from the  European People’s Parties’ group (EPP). The decision was voted by the representatives of member parties, in a meeting in Brussels. They accused FIDESZ of breaching the rule-of-law principles. As EPP president Joseph Daul announced, “The suspension entails: no attendance at any party meeting; no voting rights; no right to propose candidates for posts”. An EPP commission is to draft a report meant to clarify how much FIDESZ had breached the rule of law and disregarded the European values. Then, according to the conclusions of that report, a decision of excluding FIDESZ or not from the EPP will be taken.

Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán offered quite a performance, interested to save the appearances for the Hungarian domestic audience: first, he threatened to withdraw FIDESZ from EPP if suspension is even discussed, and then he declared that FIDESZ self-suspended itself from EPP. Finally, a decision of suspension was announced as being taken “in agreement”.

Suspension is a comfortable solution, without any severe consequences for Viktor Orbán, being designed as a trade-off by its supporters within EPP. However, it is also a warning for V. Orbán, and a proof that European Populars would no longer accept such dictatorial behavior.

Probably FIDESZ belonging to EPP will depend on more that just the Report conclusions and V. Orbán’s political behavior: it will depend on the European elections results obtained both by FIDESZ (which will clarify how strong FIDESZ is as a party in Hungary and in Europe), and by EPP, who expects (same as the Socialists) rather large losses to the populist and far-right parties. Viktor Orbán will likely need to moderate his anti-Brussels message, at least a bit, also his attack on the rule of law. In the opposite case, Viktor Orbán must settle with the idea that it would not be accepted in the EPP any longer.  

For Romania, there is the direct effect and the colateral effect: the direct effect means that Viktor Orbán may change his behavior after this suspension, for good or for bad, while the collateral effect is that, immediately after “the expulsion of FIDESZ from EPP was solved”, the (German) Manfred Weber (EPP parliamentary group leader and lead-candidate to succeed Juncker), as well as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the president of German Christian Democrats, reminded about the governing party in Eastern Europe which should be excluded by the European Socialists for acting, same as FIDESZ, “against the rule of law”. All this occurred on the backdrop of German Foreign Minister’s declaration that European funds should be hinged on the respect for the rule of law – to be heard by the triplet Hungary, Poland and Romania.


IV. UNITED KINGDOM. Brexit was putt off.

Prime-Minister Theresa May got her much desired postponement from the European Commission, but the situation remains complicated since at home it is not clear whether she can implement her plan. The uncertainty looms large, the differences widen, and the British politicians’ chances to find a compromise remain low.

This past week, the European leaders offered Theresa May what she asked for, a postponement of the Brexit, with two options: postponement until May 22nd, provided the British Parliament passes the negotiated agreement, or postponement until April 12th, if the provisional agreement does not get past the Parliament. There is no other option. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, declared that all options remain valid until April 12th, which is the deadline when Britain can choose to take part in the May 26th European elections. If this does not happen, the option of a further long-term postponement of Brexit becomes impossible.

All in all, the following courses of action are possible: Article 50 revocation and cancellation of Brexit; another referendum; Theresa May’s agreement plus a customs union accord; Theresa May’s agreement plus a customs union accord and access to the common market; a Canada type free trade agreement; and Blind Brexit – leaving the EU without any agreement.

This Week 13, a third vote in the British Parliament is to occur on Theresa May’s negotiated agreement with Brussels. Considering previous failures, an additional attempt seems to have slim chances of success. However, considering the time pressure and the lack of alternatives (the blackmail Theresa May has played from the beginning), but also the pro-Brexit Conservatives’ calculations, it cannot be ruled out that the negotiated agreement passes under certain conditions. That is more likely since, in case of another rejection, the Brits get into quick sands, and the options hitherto considered unlikely turn possible. Such option is another referendum.

On the other hand, nothing is sure. Not even British Parliament’s accord is sure now, although Theresa May said she would bring the document to the Parliament only if “enough support” was reliable. But this would be just another form of blackmail. Additionally, there is the Parliament Speaker’s threat, that he would not accept another vote on the same document, albeit with clarifications and assurances. This means constitutional crisis.  

So, last week, Theresa May was forced to request the EU an extention of Article 50, i.e. postponing the Brexit, and blamed it on the British MPs. Now, the pressure on Theresa May increased, and a new option surfaced: Theresa May might get support for “her agreement” from Conservative MPs on the condition she would be replaced as Prime-Minister, and the negotiations with the EU would be conducted by another prime-minister. Rumors are about maneuvers within the Conservative Party and the Cabinet about replacing Theresa May in office, but they were rejected by the Prime-Minister. The pressure from the society also increased: those opposing Brexit got momentum, as the street protests showed, as well as the public petition that collected millions of signatures.

This week’s vote, should it happen, will be decisive. Behind the hectic developments there are huge political and economic interests: an anti-European elite is prepared to pay the price of Brexit in exchange for later political and economic advantages, while another elite finds this completely unacceptable. However, the pro-Brexit camp holds majority in the Parliament, and this means that, as a last ditch move, Theresa May’s agreement might be accepted, but only in a package with her replacement as prime-minister. “The Moor has done his duty, the Moor can go". Otherwise, Britain enters a new phase, Brexit on quick sands, which may lead to a rough Brexit. However, the European hopes for a new referendum, and Article 50 revocation do not vanish. It is not the Brits who should ask themselves what they did wrong (this is obvious), but the (other) Europeans - what they did wrong to lose the UK. And particularly France, which had the toughest position during the discussions on Brexit postponement. Only then talks about new relations between UK and EU will begin, after the Brexit happens. Nevertheless, hope dies last.


IV. ITALY joins China’s “Belt and Road” mega-project.

After toying for so long time with illusions about its relationship with China, the European Union is thinking about measures to cope with the realities in its relations with this huge nation. It is about time to do so, and, despite the warnings it recevied, Italy is the one to sign its participation in the major Chinese investment project called “Belt and Road”.

Italy accepted to join the Chinese initiative “Belt and Road”, being the first G7 country to do it. The reason is the Italian populist government’s attempt to relaunch its economy at any cost, even by joining this initiative. On March 23rd, during his visit to Rome, the Chinese President Xi Jinping sign related documents with the Italian government. These are memoranda of understanding that open the way for Chinese structural investments in infrastructure, and boost the bilateral economic cooperation.

The rapprochement between China and Italy disturbed the US (who uselessly sent warning messages to the Italian government) and alerted a couple of important European nations. These are in search of clarification regarding their own relations with China, on the backdrop of mistrust about the ways of this country, ranging from breaching the copyrights and high-tech firm snatching, to economic espionage and technology theft.

There were differences even within the Italian government: Matteo Salvini, the leader of far-right party La Lega (governing partener with the Cinque Stelle party) has warned about the risk of having the Italian market “colonized” by China. The excuse of Di Maio, the Cinque Stelle’s leader, was that Italy only attempts to recoup lost ground. He also pointed that Italian exports to China are significantly lower than Germany’s and France’s. It is exactly these two countries which are more concerned regarding Beijing’s policy with EU. The most important moment during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Europe was the March 24th meeting in Nice with French president Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Europeans have tried to rethink their relations with China, seeking reciprocity, but they bumped into a blunt refusal. The latest European high-level meetings addressed the issue of relations with China, crucial for the future of EU, and China was finally identified as a strategic competitor. Maybe the Europeans will follow the American path, slowly and more circumspectly, because they have no choice facing China as a nation that does not abide by the rules in essential aspects of economic competition. The question is if this is not a bit too late, as the EU must find a common approach to this problem. Italy just showed that is not the case, at least for now.

However, there is a bright side of this new endeavour: the large European nations will think twice before transfering production to China, when they have Eastern Europe waiting for the exactly such opportunity. A first signal came from a German politician, who mentioned that investments must be directed to Europe in the first place.


V. Developments to track this Week 13 of 2019.

This Week 13 brings us close to important elections, but also to decisions with long-term effect on our future.

  • UNITED KINGDOM. The vote on Brexit to occur this week in London is the most important event for all Europeans. The decisions to be taken are decisive for Europe’s future, considering the political, economic and security impact of the Brexit. And let’s not forget the money and opportunities that UK is offering as EU member, and which Romania did not take much advantage of, in the good sense of the word.  

  • UKRAINE. The first round of the presidential elections, scheduled for March 31st, will decide whether Petro Poroshenko or Yulia Timoshenko steps to the second round, along the surprise leading candidate, Volodymyr Zelenski. Having P. Poroshenko out of the race would mean resetting Ukraine, but not for the good, because, regardless what he failed to do for reforming the society, he managed to consolidate internally and externally a country facing Russian aggression. Let us not forget that, between Romania and aggressive Russia there is only Ukraine and the Black Sea. However, last week’s actions, including the accusations against the US ambassador to Kyiv (critical on Ukraine’s recoil in anti-corruption) show that, regardless the name of the winner, Ukraine’s situation will not be easy, including in its relations with the West.

  • TURKEY. As if the degradation of its relations with the US was not enough, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used aggressive methods to ruin Turkey’s relations to other Anglo-Saxon nations as well. In the same time, the favors granted to Moscow by allowing Russian submarine transit through the Black Sea Straits raise question marks regarding the limits of the Montreux Treaty. The upcoming March 31st local elections are very important, especially considering that his party, AKP might lose in important cities. This is possible because President Erdoğan faces serious economic problems, that cannot be overcome with populist measures like state managed produce shops. Therefore, he resorted to an electoral campaign based on populist Islamism that peaked with using the terrorist attack in New Zealand. This led to the degradation of Turkey’s relations with New Zealand and Australia because he built an original scenario and lifted everything to a higher level of conspiracy: a white supremacy terrorist plot with historical, political and religious elements. Beyond revealing the way President Erdoğan thinks, in terms of crusade victim and keeping the West at arm’s length to the level of adversity, the new plunge in Turkey’s relations with the West tops an obvious political drift. The US already prepares to block the transfer of purchased F-35 aircraft to Turkey, and this will further strain the damaged bilateral relations. In addition, Turkey shows good relations with Russia, the latest proof being the original way to interpret the Montreux Treaty: a Russian submarine transited the Straits “to go for repairs” in the… Mediterranean Sea.

  • ISRAEL. Elections are upcoming there as well (April 9th), and they are crucial from the political alternance perspective. The election campaign raises interest also because the United States openly expressed support for incumbent Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But let’s begin with the shock that President Donald Trump generated by announcing the US would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces since 1967. The US president signed that document Monday, March 25th, at the White House, in the presence of Israeli Prime-Minister. Such recognition conflicts with the international laws, because an occupied territory cannot be annexed. Beyond that, Washington’s decision triggered negative reactions, ranging from those of Arab states, Turkey and Russia, to those of European nations. The US ceased to be an umpire in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Trump Administration became just an active supporter of the right-wing Israeli prime-minister. In this respect, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit was the living proof. Consequently, Netanyahu’s political party, Likud, surged back in the polls immediately after the initial announcement, and the current prime-minister has again chances to remain in office. However, another criminal dossier surfaced, the one where B. Netanyahu is involved in submarine purchase. Bottom line, the Israeli electorate will have to decide what is more important for Israel: either Israel’s recognition by as many Arab countries as possible, or the annexation of a territory which it already controls, the Golan Heights. About the Arab states recognizing Israel, such development is on-going, due to the need to counter the common enemy, Iran. In global perspective, the US action on Golan Heights can be perceived as mirroring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, also illegal in absence of the agreement by Ukraine. Of course, Israel can choose not to implement the annexation in national documents and keep the American blessing in the pocket until possible Arab protests dwindle, but an obvious detail in the Middle East is that the Syrian government is quite busy now to respond to the Golan Heights conundrum. Unless Russia has some ideas or Iran jumps the gun… Anyway, President Erdoğan just got himself another topic for his election campaign.

These gentlemen should sell tickets.

  • REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. There are signs that the Socialists and the Democrats, Igor Dodon and Vladimir Plahotniuc respectively, might reach a mutually beneficial agreement. The basis for such perspective is that their cohabitation can secure the protection of both parties’ interests in the “grey area” between European pressure for the rule of law and Russia’s sphere of influence. This week, we will see if Plahotniuc is willing to either risk new elections; chooses to offer a compromise to the Socialists, not the real power; or prefers the solution of recruiting available members of parliament. However, the answer is not political, but financial: how can he persist dominating the country by identifying a sponsor that can only be the EU or Romania?


[1] These power stations use Germany manufactured generators, and Siemens company argued that Russia had ordered them, but not for Crimea, which is subjected to sanctions. This attracted adequate high-level reactions at political level.

[2] Notably, two Russian generals who made declarations regarding the Tu22Me deployment to Crimea retracted their statements. Nevertheless, NATO protested the announced deployments.

[3] The motivation for Tu22M3 deployment to Crimea by the need to defend against the missile defense installations in Romania is exaggerated. The installations at Deveselu can be hit by Tu22M3 flown from their present home-bases, by launching cruise missiles. They can also be hit by the hypersonic missile Kinzal launched from MiG 31 aircraft. The Tu22M3 deployment has another rationale: the increase in Tu22M3 capacity to strike any target in Europe with the cruise missiles this aircraft can carry. However, let’s not forget that Tu22M3 aircraft are old, no matter how much they are upgraded.