MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

23 aprilie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 16 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA and NATO ceased any cooperation.

II. UNITED STATES - RUSSIA. Moscow reacts to THAAD System deployment in Romania.

III. UKRAINE. Events ahead of round two of presidential elections.

IV. TURKEY. Attempts to diminish the tensions with the US.

V. Developments to track this Week 17 of 2019.


  1.  RUSSIA and NATO ceased any cooperation.

Russia – NATO relations touched a new low, meaning that bilateral communication simply does not exist anymore. Tension escalation is surely part of Moscow’s arsenal of hostile measures. However, Russia announced this situation not for being worried, but aiming to drive a wedge into the Alliance unity, to widen the divergencies within NATO. Regardless Russia’s objective, the lack of communication is indeed an important risk factor.

On April 15th, the Russian deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Grushko declared that Russia ceased any cooperation with NATO:  “NATO has abandoned a positive agenda in its relations with Russia. This ceased to exist”. He warned NATO about a conflict with Russia stating that all normal people hope this will not happen’: “It would be a humanitarian catastrophe. I am sure this is understood in Washington and Brussels”.

Grushko’s statements come one day after many former and present US officials expressed their concern regarding the lack of communication between Moscow and Washington, which might lead to a nuclear war “by mistake”. Admiral James Stavridis, former SACEUR, warned that “it is important that we keep open the channels of communication with the Kremlin. Plenty of dialogue, especially military-to-military, can help reduce the chances of an inadvertent collision or incident in the air. Leaders... should continue their close, personal exchanges. There is no need to stumble backwards into a Cold War which benefits no one”[1].

The fact itself is quite dangerous, James Stavridis’s warning has a solid basis, and Aleksandr Grushko’s declaration reflects the way Moscow chooses to describe things. In fact, NATO has attempted to communicate with Russia, and the contacts in Brussels on INF stand to prove that. However, after Russia failed to provide any signal it would renounce the SSC-8 missiles, the fall of bilateral relations with the US came naturally, ant the path to conflict is now open. Both parties prepare the way ahead in a post-INF world. Russia seeks to deploy as many SSC-8 battalions as it can, and the Allies prepare their answer, which will not come easy, considering NATO’s internal divergences.

Aleksandr Grushko’s declaration is part of the strategy to break the Alliance, where reluctant allies’ concern about a US answer is increased by this doomsday scenario. One should keep in mind that Russia is the one to have compromised the balance, because the only additional nuclear missiles introduced into Europe were the Russian SSC-8, while NATO did not deploy yet no such weapon system, and it does not intend to deploy such offensive armament[2].


II. UNITED STATES - RUSSIA. Moscow reacts to THAAD System deployment in Romania.

Russia reacted promptly to the temporary deployment of the THAAD system to Romania and to the upgrade of the Aegis Ashore missile defense installations at Deveselu / Romania. Moscow’s questions are purely rhetoric, since defense measures were to be expected from NATO after Russia cancelled the INF by illegally deploying the SSC-8 missiles. The Alliance had to counter the Russian intermediate range missile systems.

Moscow declares its concern about the THAAD deployment to Romania. On April 13, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko stated that Russia is closely monitoring the US plans to temporarily deploy the THAAD system to Romania: "We are closely following this. There is a Russian saying ‘Nothing is more permanent than a temporary fix’ ”.

According to A. Grushko, Russia has two big questions related to the US announcement regarding the missile defense systems in Romania:  "what reasons are for THAAD deployment as it is and what modernization of facilities in Romania involves... Until now, we have been told at any political level that the anti-missiles, which are being deployed at a facility in Romania, are meant solely to counteract the missile threats coming from outside the Euro-Atlantic region and that, according to their physical characteristics, they have no capabilities to intercept strategic weapons operated by Russia... A question arises what types of work will actually be carried out at facilities in Romania?" Grushko said. "Since it is well known that the United States is currently enhancing missile interception technology and many no longer keep it secret that the US anti-missile system, including its European segment integrated into NATO, needs to be capable of intercepting missile systems operated by the Russian Federation. "The second question is how long the THAAD system will be deployed to Romania and which functions it will actually fulfil", the Russian official emphasized.

Earlier, the US European Command (EUCOM) specified that the THAAD system would be temporarily deployed to Romania "during a limited period of scheduled maintenance and updates on the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System".

Let’s try to offer answers to A. Grushko’s questions, precisely in order to describe the rhetoric feature of his questions and what they actually suggest. Although temporary, the THAAD deployment might become permanent both because the Iranian threat increases, and also for assuring a defense capability against Russian medium-range ballistic missiles MRBM[3] which will be deployed when INF becomes history. Certainly, the THAADs cannot intercept the intercontinental missiles, the ICBMs.

On the other hand, the US made no secret regarding a change in strategy, i.e. that the Aegis Ashore system interceptors deployed at Deveselu were to be upgraded to a level not mentioned before, the SM 3 Block IIA. By increasing the interceptor speed, the sensor capabilities, and command and control capabilities, the Aegis Ashore probability to intercept IRBMs will increase. Make no mistake, these are the IRBMs, not the strategic / intercontinental missiles (ICBMs), which are subjected to the strategic armament treaty stipulations. In fact, there is no reorientation of this system towards the strategic ballistic missiles in Russia.

It is worth mentioning that the THAAD and Aegis Ashore systems are complementary,  both in target features (ballistic missile speed and range), and in the interception altitude, i.e. the segment of target trajectory where the interception is supposed to occur.

Consequently, the upgraded THAAD – Aegis Ashore tandem will increase the interception capability against intermediate-range missiles, maybe Russian. This is a crucial element for NATO but will come true only if operationalized in this configuration, after the INF is history. Of course, the US will announce this situation both for maintaining credibility, and for ensuring a minimal level of trust with Russia. That is whatever is left of this trust, after Moscow has used this trust just to be able to act in a hybrid way (from annexing Crimea to breaching the INF).

Anyway, both their features[4] and especially their location make these two systems deployed in Romania not able to intercept the Russian strategic missiles – ICBMs, no matter how good the alert system / tracking systems would be. Let alone that in Romania’s region such systems capable of tracking Russian targets are not deployed, the same way such systems are deployed in Turkey and Israel to monitor launches from Iran. So, there is no danger to the strategic balance. As for the IRBMs, is it not natural for the US to prepare necessary defense measures[5] for the event that Russia does not abide by the INF and will probably deploy IRBMs as well, not only cruise missiles, as it already did?

It is obvious that, should that situation appear, we will witness a rise of Romania’s role in Europe’s anti-ballistic defence, because we host these systems and we will have a multi-layer missile defence. If we add the Patriot PAC 3 system that we are to purchase, it seems that Romania will benefit from an adequate air and missile defence. However, Romania’s problem does not come from above, “but from somewhere lower”: we lack aircraft and warships to make a real deterrence capability against the Black Sea region threats[6].


III. UKRAINE. Events ahead of round two of presidential elections.

Candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s victory in the second round of Ukrainian presidential elections was predictable, all the previous polls indicating him much ahead of the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. As the result is now well known, let us focus on the last week events, which are relevant for the next period, because, beyond manipulations, future intentions surfaced when the two candidates threw their ultimate arguments on the table.

First, what did Moscow do? Wisely, Russia did not escalate tensions in Donbass, but waited for the election result instead, acting like having no interference with these elections, since the forseable result was in the Kremlin’s interest: a newcomer like Volodymyr Zelenskiy offers a favorable perspective by comparison with Petro Poroshenko, described by Moscow as representing the “war party” just because he stood up against Russia.   

However, the Kremlin sent several messages, amongst them one in economy: the Russian Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree deciding that Moscow would stop several Russian exports to Ukraine starting June 1st, oil included. Regarding coal, Russian exports to Ukraine will continue only by special case by case approval. Thus, Russia is already putting supplementary economic pressure upon the next president in Kyiv.

Another message was political: through Vladimir Putin’s in-law, the Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, Russia sent a message suggesting its avasilability to open peace negotiations. What Medvedchuk did not say is the price Ukraine would pay: conceding sovereignty, and accepting that its domestic and foreign policy should be conducted from the Kremlin, resulting in giving up any pro-western orientation. Or else... Should such deal be accepted by Kyiv, Moscow will gladly “provide assistance” in destroying the weak democracy barely breathing in Ukraine. Russia already takes measures to strengthen its main tool in undermining Ukraine, that is the separatists in Donbass, by granting them Russian passports.

What did P. Poroshenko expect, in his attempt to even the large gap between him and V. Zelenskiy in the election campaign? He escalated and he warned. By capturing a GRU sabotage detail and presenting that as a great success in the fight against Russian subversion. Why did that happen during this last week of campaigning? This coincidence only diminishes Kyiv’s credibility, with the risk Kyiv is not believed, even when it is right. Probably influenced by Washington’s decision regarding the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Oleksandr Turchinov went as far as proposing that the Russian FSB and GRU intelligence agencies be declared terrorist organizations. It is not that arguments are missing, but where do we get to when declaring an adversary’s institutions terrorist organizations? Do the rules of war still apply? Russia turned the Ukrainian sailors captured during the Kerch incident as “just” common felons, not terrorists. However, it cannot be ruled out that Russia use the act of setting them free as an “opening move” in negotiating with the Ukrainian president V. Zelenskiy.

The warning part is real though. P. Poroshenko has capitalized on the decision issued by a court (only now!) that nationalizing PrivatBank was illegal. The main stockholder with PrivatBank was Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, whom V. Zelenskiy is linked to.  Using PrivatBank, Kolomoyskyi alllegedly siphoned billions of dollars. Although he already expressed his satisfaction regarding the result of presidential elections, and stated he would return to Ukraine, of course, after Zelenskiy takes office, Kolomoyskyi remains cautious because... the FBI opened an investigation involving him. Poroshenko warned that, should PrivatBank be returned to its original owners, Ukraine might get into a difficult financial situation, being threatened with bankruptcy. Well, this would be an exaggeration, but it includes a true core: PrivatBank would be returned to Igor Kolomoyskyi, which is a real danger for Ukraine’s financial stability. Anyway, Ukraine will be susceptible to bankruptcy, but for many reasons, not alien to Poroshenko either.

What did V. Zelenskiy do? He promised peace, prosperity, changes, and new names for decision-making positions in the government / state. In other words, he promised a new Ukraine that makes peace with Russia and becomes a prosperous pro-western democracy, all in the same Wednesday afternoon. He attacked the present state of play, which he presented as the recipee for success. But there is no guarantee he has solutions and the capacity to implement them.

On April 19th, the public debate between the two candidates was rather a show than a debate, with accusations and insults being exchanged, not ideas. Poroshenko failed to demonstrate that Zelenskiy is a dabbler, while Zelenskiy managed to reitterate his usual accusations against Poroshenko, the corrupt oligarch. Thus, Poroshenko lost his last chance to disparage Zelenskiy.

Eventually, Ukraine chose the unknown over stagnation. The question whether Ukraine will resist as a sovereign nation against Russia’s aggression becomes more accute, because Russia aims high, and the outcome is quite important for Romania and Eastern Europe in general.


IV. TURKEY. Attempts to diminish the tensions with the US.

It is well known that Turkey faces the perspective to be expelled from the US F-35 aircraft purchase and production program, and also to be exposed to US sanctions following the purchase of Russian air defense system S-400. Dealing with this problem, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attempted to gain President Donald Trump’s support, as the White House can veto the Congress decisions.

Mr. Berat Albayrak, President R.T. Erdoğan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s minister of finance was received by President Trump on April 15th. According to B. Albayrak, steps to improving the bilateral relations were discussed during that meeting in Washington. He conveyed to the US president a message from President Erdoğan, and he received an encouraging answer. Also according to B. Albayrak, President Trump allegedly showed understanding for Turkey’s necessity to purchase the S-400 system. B. Albayrak also met the US president son-in-law and counsellor Jared Kushner, and the US Secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. High-ranking Turkish officials expressed their confidence that this visit offered Washington the opportunity to better understand Ankara’s point of view[7].

Turkey’s hopes to avoid US sanctions cling to President Trump, but this has little arguments to counter the measures to be taken by the US Congress, especially since Ankara has too few high-level friends in Washington. The Turkish leadership considers that solving this dispute would not only end the political and military problem simmering between the two governments, but would also have a positive impact on the Turkish economy, which faces serious problems as result of President Erdoğan’s domestic and foreign policy.

In fact, President Trump can only delay the issue. It is little likely he would use his right of veto but, should he choose to do it, the effect would be only temporary, the situation between the two countries will not ressume previous level of cooperation.

What the Turkish president seems to fail understanding, is that the US cannot tolerate the regime he established in Turkey by principle, not because the US was not tolerant in general, especially under Trump Administration, but because this new political reality continuously generates political, economic, and military problems. The S-400 / F-35 issue is only one of many that keep towering, and there will be more. On the contrary, the US does not wish to lose an important ally such as Turkey, although President Erdoğan’s policy is quite different from a NATO member nation policy. The statements claiming that Turkey is a faithful ally by-pass the principle that NATO is an alliance of democracies united around western values. The geopolitical aspects have an important weight, but they cannot compensate the lack of the basic glue ensuring the Alliance unity.

The personal feature of the recent high-level meeting is worth noticing. There is a son-in-law, already seen as the Turkish president’s heir, who transmits a message directly to the US president, in the presence of the latter’s son-in-law. In general, there is a trend in non-democracies to consider that structural problems, linked to the political and economic base, can be solved by personal relations. Nevertheless, even under the Trump Administration, the US is still based on enduring principles and not on short-lived improvisations, which are so much prefered by autocrats.

Although an appeasement effect might occur, this visit will not change the course in Turkey’s relations with the US and the West, writ large. Such a change might happen only if President Erdoğan reconsiders his policy. However, this is not the case, and the way he reacted to losing the Mayor of Istanbul chair in local elections is relevant in this respect.


V. Developments to track this Week 17 of 2019.

  • REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Since it looks like the Kremlin chose to deny support for an alliance between the Socialists and Plahotniuc’s Democrats, we witness now an offer by the Socialists to the ACUM alliance. This democratic formation reacted politely, by forming a negotiation group. But how can an agreement be reached? The Socialists build on a pro-Russian platform where the germs of anti-democracy hide beneath (by plans to take over the Parliament speaker position, consolidate the president’s power and control the defense and foreign affairs ministries). Meanwhile, the ACUM alliance stands on a democratic political platform and now tries to take control of the state from the other non-democratic force (yet sovereign – Vlad Plahotniuc and his Democratic Party). It is hard to believe that the ACUM politicians, some experienced among them (Oazu Nantoi, Igor Muntean) will not see the trap laid to lead the R. of Moldova and the ACUM alliance to ruin. So, the result is predictable – a failure. This course of action might happen only if there is a European pressure on ACUM, with ideas from a western cabinet, to propose such a solution to counteract Plahotniuc’s maneuvers, and to calm Moscow as well. But this means playing with fire on the account of Republic of Moldova. There is an indication though: the meeting of an interesting troika of EU ambassadors with ACUM leaders. Maybe, even after being summoned “all hands” to Moscow, the Socialists seek a modus vivendi with a political force alike them, that led by V. Plahotniuc, but that is not accepted by the Kremlin though. And the problems start here: possible snap elections. And if V. Plahotniuc keeps silence, maybe he is still looking for his own henchmen, deputies he can control, to reach the critical mass he needs. Anyway, temporaryly jumping from the ”oligarch pan” to the ”dictatorship-with-geopolitic-support fire” is the danger that looms large in Chişinău nowadays.
  • UKRAINE. The exits polls point at Volodymyr Zelenski as winner of Ukraine’s presidential elections, with about 73% of the ballots. After the official results are published, the adventure of unknown will begin, and let us hope it will not be chaos, because this is the biggest danger. Russia will calculate the right moment to apply the maximum pressure in order to gain the political concessions it needs. For the moment, these are the favorable implementation of Minsk Agreements, i.e. Kyiv recognizing the separatists and granting them the power to influence / control Kyiv’s policy. All these are supposed to happen without any concession from Moscow, anything at all to be taken from what the separatists achieved in the political and military domains. First, Zelenskiy will have to respond to the expectations in domestic politics, to the urge for justice and pressing economic problems. Not much can be done but cutting straight through with tough reforms which the population might fail to endure. Therefore, we will see only partial measures. Where will those measures lead to? And let’s not forget that Russia might test Zelenskiy in the military field as well!      
  • SERBIA – KOSOVO. The idea of a conference organized by Germany and France to relaunch the bilateral talks and identify a solution to the Kosovar problem is shaking the boat. Rumors have it that a solution can be a ”double sovereignty” over the territory north of Ibar river in exchange for Belgrade’s recognition of breakaway Kosovo. Hard to believe that Serbia would accept that. In fact, Belgrade raises the prerequisite that the authorities in Priština should give up their super tariffs before any negotiation is resumed. Facing pressure, Serbia resorts to Russia. Up-front, the solution does not seem to be principled, but manufactured, looking favorable to Priština. And where did the big EU-mediated negotiation, and the “achieved progress” disappear?
  • CZECH REPUBLIC. The police have finished the investigation in the Andrej Babiš case, and the Czech prime-minister was accused of fraud on European funds through his firms, in which he involved members of his family (his son disappeared, for a while, in Crimea!). The test for the Czech justice system is to follow, respectively its capacity to show that the Czech state passed the transition trial, meaning the whole shebang, including the post-communist kleptocracy, as all are equal when facing the law. The political impact will be big, with immediate effects.       
  • BULGARIA. The negative signals regarding justice reached a new high level when the president of the High Court of Cassation in Bulgaria, Lozan Panov, started an open war with Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Sotir Tzatzarov. L. Panov accused the prosecution for being a stronghold of oligarch’s interests. This conflict comes after new cases of blatant fraud of European funds appeared (this time, only a deputy minister). In the same time, the governing party GERB was shook-up by obvious corruption cases, like purchasing underpriced houses. It is interesting to notice that, in the last case, the investigation was conducted by… the press. That was to be expected, since in Bulgaria, the reform in justice is sublime, yet completely absent, as a Romanian playwriter said. This contributes to this nation’s lagging in economy and politics. It is sad to notice, but we have, already, a duo that looks the same in performance – Bulgaria and Romania, different from the Visegrad Group nations. Bulgaria has an advantage though, low foreign debts, but let’s wait for the Socialists to gain power, and we will see what happens with this advantage after all.  

[1] The same James Stavridis recently published in Time magazine an article with a concerning title: “Why NATO Is Essential for World Peace”.

[2] The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, stated several times that NATO would not respond by deploying new nuclear missiles in Europe.

[3] Now, when INF becomes history, let’s recap the ballistic missile designation by their range: 1) SRBM – the short-range missiles (1000 km to 3000 km); 2) MRBM – medium-range ballistic missiles (1000 km to 3000 km); 3) IRBM - intermediate-range ballistic missiles (3000 km to 5500 km); 4) ICBM – intercontinental ballistic missiles (more than 5500 km). In fact, the INF treaty forbids the missiles with an operational range between 500 km and 5500 km, covering partly the SRBM domain, and the MRBMs and ICBMs in their full domains.

[4] The SM 3 Block IIA will likely possess a limited capability to intercept ICBMs as well.

[5] It is interesting that Russia seems to have accepted the US withdrawal from INF and drops the worn-out narrative claiming that US uses the INF withdrawal to gain the possibility to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles (to be later deployed to Romania) from the Aegis Ashore MK 41 universal launchers already at Deveselu.  The “danger” disappeared exactly when it should… become real, according to previous narrative. This is another proof that Moscow has forgotten that diplomacy is supposed to work for communicating truths, not disinformation.

[6] The speakers at Defense and Security Monitor ( conference held in Bucharest have conveyed, as much as publicly can be said, what needs to be done to secure a decent level of defense for Romania.

[7] Allegedly, Turkey has proposed the US to establish a NATO-led Turco-American commission designed to conclude  whether the purchase of S-400 systems jeopardizes the F-35 aircraft program or compromises the F-35 technology.