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21 aprilie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 16 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. ROMANIA / EUROPE / GLOBAL. Coronavirus pandemic. II. NATO. Defense Ministerial Reunion. III. EUROPE. Political and economic developments. IV. GLOBAL. Political and military developments. V. Developments to track this Week 17 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I.ROMANIA / EUROPE / GLOBAL. Coronavirus pandemic. Europe and the United States get closer to the pandemic peak, and countries will cross over according not only to decease dynamics, but also to the risks their governments decide to take in relaunching their respective economies.

·Romania. Covid 19 crisis continues, with known problems kept under control: new hotbeds, hospital contaminations, large number of health operator contaminated. However, general parameters are encouraging, and the number of tests, crucial in describing the real situation, is growing. Current situation shows the following parameters: 1) the doubling rate is growing (a positive trend) from 9.5 days to 15 days. The total number of contaminations is growing at a slow pace (continuing in April, Romania has: an additional 333 cases on April 13; 246 on 14; 337/15; 491/16; 360/17; 351/18); 2) the contamination number vs population ratio dwells at a controllable average of 41.4 cases for 100,000 inhabitants, but the health infrastructure is seriously hit; there are 8418 people confirmed contaminated, whence 1730 healed; 3) the number of deaths is relatively low, with 2.1 in 100,000 inhabitants, which means a total of 417 deaths until April 18th, plus 53 Romanians lost abroad to Covid 19. The number of tests reached 90,991, with a significantly rising daily rate. The growth in number of tests and identifying all epidemic hotbeds is the path to stop the pandemic crisis. Let us hope that, after the Orthodox Easter, we can speak about plateauing the number of daily new cases. Optimistic estimates are ponderated by authority predictions on reaching the peak sometime at the end of April.

·Europe. Western Europe is just about to cross over the peak, but still takes cautious social isolation measures, only slowly easing restrictions. Central European countries cautiously follow the same path, and they shifted focus on the relaxation pace and strategy, in view of relaunching the economy without reactivating the pandemic[1]. Eastern Europe countries still walk the rapid spread phase: 1) Russia (with a 6.5-day doubling rate, only a small growth from last week’s 4.5 days) and Belarus (6 days) remain on top of spreading rate. It is worth noting that Russia fights the pandemic, while Belarusian President Lukashenka persists in denying reality; Russia has significant problems in Moscow, where the doubling rate is bad, and has 56.6% of all new contamination cases; 2) the high rate growing group of countries: Ukraine (7.5 days) and Serbia with 6.5 days; 3) the medium growth group: Turkey (11.5 days), Republic of Moldova (12 days), UK (8.5 days), Romania (15 days), Hungary (16 days), Poland (16.5 days), Bulgaria (17.5 days); 4) the low growth rate group with France (28 days) and Spain (28 days). Germany, Italy, and Austria have such low rates that they can be considered out of the danger zone of pandemic spread. The situation remains complicated in Ukraine and Serbia, as well as in the Republic of Moldova. Hungary quit the danger quickly, as did Bulgaria (which was initially better, but problems persist in Sofia, where supplementary measures were taken). Farther East, in the Caucasus, only Georgia has a relatively low doubling rate (10.5 days). Soon after having crossed the peak, Romania should probably think about helping the neighbors, Ukraine, Serbia, and R. of Moldova, and if possible, Georgia, Turkey and Russia (the Kremlin will likely accept EU support, after showing signs of accepting aid from the United States). 

·Global. The United States has the largest number of victims, but it crossed the peak already, and debates focus now on the ways of relaunching the economy. China faces accusations regarding the fake reports on the number of victims (much lower than the real number) and reviewed its statistics (by 50% in Wuhan). Worse, Beijing is accused for hiding the outburst for six days: although secretly taking measures to respond the epidemic, Chinese authorities failed to warn the population and, according to Associated Press, reacted properly only when the first ‘exported’ case appeared in Thailand.


II. NATO. Defense Ministerial Reunion.

The April 15th North-Atlantic Council in Defense Minister format focused on one item only, i.e. the way the Alliance has reacted and will react in the Coronavirus crisis. Steps already made and following steps to counter the pandemic were discussed. Jens Stoltenberg concluded: “The crisis has shown that our nations are resilient and united. Our militaries are already playing a key role in support of national civilian effort. And using NATO mechanisms, Allies have been helping each other to save lives.” The focus turned both to immediate measures, and to long-term implications of Covid 19 crisis. The key words were reiterated: NATO is determined to take all measures to make sure that this health crisis does not turn into a security crisis.

SACEUR General Tod Wolters coordinated NATO efforts in support of member nations, and the allied unique strategic lift capacity responded to member nation requests to conduct medical supply transports. Usually discrete regarding the efforts made by or in support of allies, this time the Alliance had to publicize its activities in order to counterbalance Russia and China’s symbolic actions, augmented by Moscow and Beijing propaganda. In this context, the efforts to counter disinformation and propaganda were also mentioned[2], and the U.K. will assign a team to NATO Headquarters for countering hostile propaganda and disinformation.

Russia’s persisting (low level) military activities along NATO’s eastern borders were presented, as well as the fragile security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these circumstances, where security problems did not diminish, NATO announced that deterrence and defense activities would continue. When a U.S. destroyer visited the Black Sea, Russia announced a monitoring mission, which became the usual routine, although it is abnormal. Worse, in the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian Su 35 aircraft harassed an American P 8A Poseidon surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft. However, facing the West’s need to aid Russia with medical supplies, these actions lose significance, since Russia is now hit by the Coronavirus crisis (Achille’s heel for Russia is not the government reaction, which was somewhat adequate, but the underfed health system). Russia accepted a symbolic measure only in Ukraine: a prisoner exchange between the separatists and Kyiv, although incidents along the contact line in Donbass continued.

In general, NATO passed the Coronavirus exam so far, the Alliance involved in efforts against the pandemic, and this will have a positive effect on Alliance cohesion.


III. EUROPE. Political and economic developments. Economic problems concerning the European Union and the measures taken to exit this crisis will influence the political situation on short and medium term.

Relaunching the economy. Being pressed by the fear of recession and hampered by the danger of restarting the epidemic, political leaders across Europe are weighing the best way to restart their national economies and better distribute money to make relaunching effective. Estimates predict a strong recession. The problem is the way cheap and free money will be distributed: the private productive businesses are first emergency, but populist temptations remain high. Some say it is going to be a new beginning, but this will inherit all the problems of the past and add the economic and social effects caused by the pandemic. European level financial programs, as well as some of several national governments, offer opportunities for Romania too. For the rest, there is the cruel reality: recession, old economic problems now amplified, budgetary deficits, growing foreign debts and decreasing living standard for large swaths of the society. President Macron’s argument on issuing ‘Corona Bonds’ in a European solidarity summarizes current situation: if that does not happen, populists will come to power in many countries, which will jeopardize EU’s future (the main danger comes from Italy, but also from other countries, France included; populists in the East, deeply rooted, will steer to gain maximum destructive profit). And there is an additional problem: which part of the European budget will be used to finance this ‘mini Marshall Plan’ of economic recovery? Will the cohesion funds be affected? Does that mean hitting the impoverished Europeans who failed to wisely use cohesion funds?

The European Union presents itself again as a necessary supra-state organization, after being shaded initially, by national government fire-fighter actions. The way each country managed to cope with the crisis at the beginning, by itself and selfishly, showed where we are on true European integration. However, one should notice that after the initial shock, there was not only coordination going on, but also solidarity, a real solidarity, both at country and individual level: many Europeans already have the conscience they belong to something above their country, without any conflict between the two identities, and this is the most important political and social element for the EU. Also important, the EU holds the key to the piggy, and the Franco-German core worked perfectly, mediating between the North and the South in the issue of economic recovery program; therefore, the anti-Europeans cannot raise their voices, at least for the moment.     

In her April 16th speech to the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen issued a coherent European message: 1) she had the power to apologize to Italy, in the name of the European Union, for the lack of solidarity at the beginning of the crisis, but she highlighted the efforts made by the EU against the Coronavirus; 2) she presented the European financial solution: “we need a Marshall Plan for recovery of Europe, and this plan must be decided immediately”; 3) she presented the European economic solution for exiting current predicament: EU recovery will rely on an economic policy based on circular economy and local production of goods and services necessary to Europe – an answer to EU’s dependence on China (mentioning that “this crisis will likely redefine globalization itself”). This policy opens opportunities for countries in Eastern Europe (provided investors in the West overcome their greed and accept lower profits by investing in these countries, and the post-Communists in these countries show more pro-capitalism than… Chinese Communists). In consensus with von der Leyen, the European Parliament asked for an EU common strategy to exit the crisis by issuing ‘Corona Bonds’ and criticized the anti-democratic drifts in Hungary and Poland. The question is “where was the EU at the beginning, the most difficult part of the crisis”? And the answer is known: it was marginalized by the national leaders, whose decisions were only about their backyard. However, although these leaders did not act together, they did not act against each other either; this means another step forward towards an integrated Europe.


IV. GLOBAL. Political and military developments.

UNITED STATES / CHINA. Tensions between the two great powers reached high levels, and the bone of contention is now China’s accountability for the novel Coronavirus origin. The United States decided to suspend its financial contribution to the World Health Organization and begin an investigation regarding WHO’s handling of the Covid 19 issue. By this decision, Washington not only wants to point at China and WHO’s role in triggering the pandemic, but also to expose Beijing’s cadre policy (although it contributes ten times less to the WHO than the United States, China controls officials in WHO board). The U.S. benefits G7 support on reforming the WHO: French President Emmanuel Macron also cast doubts on China’s behavior (a prompt and adequate reaction to Coronavirus outbreak), and British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was clearer: Beijing had “hard questions” to answer over the virus’s origins.

For anti-western solidarity, Russia attempted to support China. In a telephone discussion, Presidents Xi and Putin voiced against any politicization of current Covid 19 pandemic. This is false, since the Coronavirus crisis, as any national (and global) security issue, is political all the way: 1) Covid 19 became pandemic as result of Chinese leadership’s political decision to hide the problem in early stages, when something could have been done to prevent worldwide spread; 2) each government took political decisions, from temporarily shrinking civil rights to economic measures; 3) by symbolic gestures and propaganda / disinformation, China and Russia worked to politically capitalize on the account of current developments; 4) in this period, especially China, but Russia too conducted significant military actions consistent with their foreign policy; 5) always, if something is enough important, it touches important interests, which moves the issue into political realm.

Sino-American tensions peaked when the United States published a report accusing China of conducting low yield nuclear weapon tests, thus breaching the treaty which forbids such activities.

 RUSSIA / UNITED STATES. Although certain détente can be detected at the level of national leaders, important files, such as the nuclear strategic armament, remained on hold. In the attempt to give a new push to negotiations, Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia is ready to discuss the issue of hypersonic weapons with the United States. The Kremlin’s readiness is not a surprise, since it is the very initial plan: building a handicap by operationalizing such weapons, and then, from this frontrunner position, to negotiate with Washington on nuclear strategic weapons. Highly likely, Lavrov referred to the Avangard ‘hypersonic glider’ which falls under the stipulations of New START treaty. Moscow operationalized only one ICBM regiment with the Avangard, which indicates it is not a full-proof system to be trusted for fielding in all Russia’s missile forces / arsenal of the kind. If saving the New START is indeed desired, discussing this system is a priority, although the United States requested that other hypersonic missiles be included in the negotiations; such missile is the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ‘air-launched ballistic missile’. Extending the New START is a priority for the Kremlin, considering that this treaty expires next year. However, during the latest telephone discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinged any strategic arms control negotiation on the inclusion of China in the future agreement (China clearly refuses to participate, claiming its small number of nuclear warheads and missiles). In addition, only the Coronavirus crisis delayed NATO response to Russia’s deployment of SSC-8 missiles (which led to INF demise).

V. Developments to track this Week 17 of 2020.

► ISRAEL. President Reuven Rivlin did not extend the period granted to Benny Gantz for negotiating a new government with Benjamin Netanyahu. After an agreement seemed to be within reach, the two politicians failed to get along. The main reason is Netanyahu’s pressure to have the last word in assigning the Supreme Court judges, which is an attempt to control the judiciary (it would allow the possibility of neutralizing future rulings by the Parliament, which might bar indicted individuals, i.e. Netanyahu, to lead the government). President Rivlin sent his mandate on forming the government to the Knesset, which has 21 days to take a decision. In case of failure, new parliamentary elections will follow. In a latest development, it seems that, Monday 21st, Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu reached an accord for forming an emergency government.

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. During full-swing Coronavirus crisis, the government makes two huge credits, one from the IMF, and the other from Russia. The first loan means transparency, as the IMF makes sure it preserves a clear image of Republic of Moldova’s economy. Meanwhile, the second loan raises question marks. What are the financial conditions (the ‘small print’) and, especially, the political conditions that Moscow established, and Igor Dodon accepted?

► UKRAINE. A highest-level espionage case and an additional murder ordered by the Kremlin might increase again tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. SBU General Valeriy Shaytanov was arrested for espionage for Russia and for preparing the murder of a Chechen volunteer who fought for Ukraine during the Donbass war. Considering that the most valuable spy is a high official within the counter-espionage agency of the targeted country[3], this spy case is a hard blow for Kyiv. In fact, this spy had been identified long ago, and he was under surveillance including in several European countries, for having his activity documented, but perhaps also for building a terrorism case against him, as he has been directly involved in an assassination. As for Russia, it has been a while already since little discrimination can be made between Russian special service espionage actions and their ‘death commandos’. Moscow acted in the mirror by arresting Ukrainian spies in Crimea; among them, there is a female military in her childcare leave accused of espionage and sabotage. However, the Kremlin received a hard blow, and reactions will soon appear.

[1] There are several studies regarding the strategy to relaxation. One of the most comprehensive is published by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina: „Coronavirus-Pandemie. Die Krise nachhaltig überwinden”.  

[2] One hundred air transport missions, 25 field hospitals, with over 25,000 beds, and 4,000 medical staff was deployed to support the general medical endeavor against Covid 19.

[3] Shaytanov sent to the Russian counterpart information about: Ukrainian secret agencies’ operations in Donbass and about the personnel involved in those operations; foreign cooperation of Ukrainian secret services in specific domains, including defense; counterintelligence agency brass, SBU and other Ukrainian intelligence agencies’ operative unit personnel; selection, training of Ukrainian intelligence agencies’ staff and their attitude of towards FSB, in view of recruiting them as spies for Russia.