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06 mai 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 18 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax


I.RUSSIA decreases its military spending.

II.SPAIN. The Socialists won the parliamentary elections.

III. POLAND. Central Europe leaders’ reunion.

IV. SERBIA - KOSOVO. The Berlin Conference.

V. Developments to track this Week 19 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA decreases its military spending.

Information published this week shows that Russia continues to reduce its military spending - an important indicator of a nation’s current and future military capability. The decrease is also an important indication when the country is involved in military interventions abroad and in a new arms race, where Moscow insists on its new weaponry outstanding features[1]. Even in these circumstances, Russia did not respond positively to the US intentions to negotiate a broader agreement on nuclear armament.     

According to data published on April 30th by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute / SIPRI, Russia’s military budget decreased by 3.5% in 2018, to $61.4 bn. So, the decreasing trend continues, although less steeply than in 2017, when it fell by 20%. The main reason is Russia’s difficult economic situation due to the low crude price worldwide and the ongoing western sanctions.

The decrease initiated in 2017 is the first of the kind in Russia’s Putin era. Russia fell to the sixth place, after France, far from the US and China, who spend $649 bn, respectively $250 bn for defense.

The figures do not lie, and they are difficult to cover even by a professional and effective propaganda, by bold political-military actions and by developing niche weapon systems. This newly heralded armament is meant to slant the strategic level situation and prepare a good start for future negotiations on strategic nuclear armament. Thus, even before a new nuclear arms race even begins, after the INF demise and uncertainties regarding continuing New START spread out, the figures show that Russia lacks the financial capacity to face such new nuclear arms race. Practically, Russia spends ten times less than its strategic rival, the United States. Even comparing with the European military powers, Russia does not rank too well: each of three European countries, France, Great Britain, and Germany earmarks for defense budgets that near Russia’s.

However, it is worth noticing that the spending decrease pace diminished, and the reduction is only 3.5% now, much less than the  20% decrease in 2017.  On the other hand, there is no perspective for resuming previous levels, as the problem is chronical, the same as other problems Russia faces: economic stagnation, dependence on energy exports, as well as political and economic isolation.

How will the Kremlin manage this situation? Perhaps, by a strategy of focusing on crucial elements for its security – the nuclear armament, at the expense of other domains, including its military adventures abroad. Russia might also focus on negotiating the strategic nuclear armament, where Moscow will likely bluff at the negotiation table by overstating its new weapon systems (although having jumped ahead in the arms race, at least for the beginning).

The problem is the cost of developing and operationalizing the new weapon systems, from hypersonic missiles to autonomous nuclear underwater vehicles, and Russia is not able to engage in an arms race it cannot support financially, beyond a few limited steps. This does not mean though that Russia will yield and make concessions. On the contrary, President Vladimir Putin will play hard, at least on short-term, hoping that will work (as it did so far, with Ukraine, Syria, and the SSC-8 missiles). However, this course of action will likely generate a more dangerous situation, not the détente one should expect from a country too poor to pursue a confrontation policy.  

Nevertheless, the Kremlin will have to give up many weapon development programs, with impact on Russia’s military aggressivity. Moscow will be obliged to focus on the strategic nuclear armament, as well as the substrategic armament (since the INF will end this upcoming August). Therefore, the Kremilin will likely steer its main resources towards that main financing direction, and leave the conventional forces on stand-by. In this respect, the launching of a new nuclear submarine is relevant now, when Russia must face two American aircraft-carriers deployed in Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Against this US naval force, Moscow can deploy only a limited opposing naval force, and it rushed to send there two Kilo-class submarines from the Black Sea Fleet (thus blatantly breaching the Montreux Convention, with Turkey’s complicity).

In these circumstances, the most important component, with global and regional impact, is the fate of INF and, afterwards, the fate of New START agreement. Russia belittled the importance of new information regarding Trump Administration’s intention to negotiate with Russia and China a broader agreement on strategic nuclear armament and on substrategic weapons as well. Moscow states that such intentions are not serious, but this is just the initial phase of negotiations, where the actors feel the ground and display their arguments, albeit real or false.

Let’s not forget that, during the INF negotiations, Russia sought to link the offensive nuclear armament issue to the missile defense system issue, the latter being purely defensive. Should Russia be successful with this approach, Romania will be afflicted, since one of the important  elements of its national defense strategy is hosting the American missile defense systems. However, in this enterprise, Russia’s chances are relatively slim.


II.SPAIN. The Socialists won the parliamentary elections.

The elections held in Spain on April 31st brought victory to the moderate left - the Socialists, but it did not simplify the two-pronged political entanglement: forming a government based on a majority in the Parliament and finding a national solution to the Catalan separatism problem. When voting, the Spaniards put economic considerations on the first plane, while the electoral debates focused on the Catalan predicament. The Socialists perceived this situation, which explains their success.

The Socialists won 29% of the ballots, which gave them 123 seats in Parliament. This opens for them the gate to form the government in Madrid, but they are far from having the 176 seats necessary for an absolute majority. The Socialists declined the option to ally with the center-right party Ciudadanos, which holds 57 seats, but they consider the option of forming a coalition with the radical left party Podemos. Such coalition would reach 165 seats, still short of the necessary 176 seats.

This is where the problems appear: The Socialists need eleven more seats, which could be supplied by the Basque separatists and, dangerously, by the Catalan “independentists”. It seems little likely that the Socialists ask the Catalan separatists for support, because those would require important concessions in exchange, including a new referendum on Catalonia’s independence. The undisputable victory allows the Socialists to attempt to form the government without the Catalans, using only Basque and other regional parties’ votes, thus getting only close to the necessary majority. Therefore, the Catalan plans to obtain significant concessions from the Socialists faded away facing the Socialists’ clear victory.

On the other hand, should the Socialists decide to stay clear from any extremism, they might reconsider the position regarding Ciudadanos and hit the Populars in the same time by forming a center-left governing arrangement with enough support in the Parliament and far from Catalan demands.

There is also the possible course of action where the Catalans abstain from voting when the government is passed in the Parliament, thus allowing a Socialist-led government based on a simple majority. But this would have a price as well, and the far-right would hardly wait to learn about the price, then call the Socialists “traitors”.

Of course, the Socialists would prefer to govern by themselves, based on a case by case majority, but such a political arrangement is hard to sustain in the long run.

The main right-wing party, the Populars, plummeted, with only 66 seats from a previous 137 (!!), thus paying a huge price for the corruption scandals that eroded it. The Popular Party must face not only the center-right party, Ciudadanos, which surges as the main opposition force, but it must also face the far-right party, Vox, which got a good result – 24 seats. It is the first time after the fall of Franco’s dictatorship when a far-right political force enters the Spanish Parliament, with many voters of the Popular Party sliding towards the Vox Party.

On the European stage, the Spanish Socialist victory reinvigorates the left forces, although the main enemy of democracy, the far-right Vox and the populists (Podemos) also did well in Spain. The most difficult exam for Prime-Minister Pedro Sánchez comes after the government is formed and passed in the Parliament, and this exam will be solving the Catalan predicament. The past comes back with a vengeance, because it was the Socialists who complicated this problem, by the concessions they made to the Catalans, and the right-wing Populars only temporary calmed that down.


III. POLAND. Central Europe leaders’ reunion.

The reunion held in Warsaw offered Poland the opportunity to act as spokesman of Central Europe nations in the Polish Conservatives’ attempt to consolidate their anti-Brussels position, respectively Poland’s regional power stance to forestall the European Commission (EC) and Western nations’ interference in its domestic policy.

The Central Europe prime-ministers met on April 1st  to celebrate the access of their countries to EU 15 years ago. The prime-ministers of nations which joined the EU later were present too. This reunion also gave the opportunity for highlighting the differences between the Eastern European countries and the Western European countries, at least from the  point of view promoted by their current political leaders.

For the Polish Conservatives in power in Warsaw, the reunion offered the stage for reaffirming their position towards the EU. Prime-Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared that, "where it doesn't have to, the European Union should leave member countries to their own competences. We say this with a single Central European voice". In a column titled “Poland’s Vision for Europe”, he wrote that the EU risks to harm these democracies by this "dangerously misguided" push to integration. Mateusz Morawiecki opposed though a “multispeed Europe” as well, as it would allow certain western EU nations to speed-up integration in selected areas. M. Morawiecki even mentioned forging a Central European nations’ common position in preparation for the EU Summit in Sibiu this week.

Many Central European EU member nations oppose, either moderate or vividly, what they call Brussels’ interference in domestic issues such as migration, rule of law, or corruption. However, the Central European countries do not foster plans to leave the Union, as the UK did.

On the other hand, the EU representatives requested the Polish leaders to quit their current stance, which sees the EC just as a milk-cow. But they did not admit that calling for Article 7 against Poland did not work, when the EC wanted to force Poland to revert its attitude on observing the indepedence of justice.

Poland - a clear winner of the post-communist transition, bacame a regional power, but its Conservatives’ haste to cut the links with the past, including in justice, generated abuses which were ineffectively punished by the EC. Hungary also ended transition, but Viktor Orbán’s leadership steered the country towards a nationalism dominating the Hungarian society and afflicting the rule of law. The other nations in Central Europe find themselves in various stages of transition.

Being the other significant Central European right-wing leader, V. Orbán, asked the European Populars to change their attitude towards the far-right forces, and to accept their positions is issues such as migration and national identity. His meeting in Budapest with Italian Vice-Prime-Minister Matteo Salvini should be considered in this light. V. Orbán has a strategy to “normalize” the far-right movement, including his own regime, by tuning it near the traditional right-wing, the European Populars, exactly when these ought to adopt a more realistic position on migration. He will continue consultations by meeting the far-right leader of Austria, country where the right-wing – far-right coalition really works, but with inherent abuses, of course.

Meanwhile, the orthodox tandem, Bulgaria and Romania, face the danger of “stagnation in transition”, where they are not accepted by the Central European club, except when the latter need common positions on security or against Brussels. For these two countries, whom Brussels objects problems regarding justice and corruption[2], the danger of isolation looms large, because the alternative of copying the Central European model is not viable for their traditional policy of maintaining good relations with the large European powers.

Both Warsaw – by tradition, and Budapest – by necessity, represent countries needed in regional cooperation, but not against the EC or in uncertain, if not risky policies. And this especially since the common element is absent – the ideological component. Only the criticism from Brussels on breaching the rule of law is common.    


IV. SERBIA - KOSOVO. The Berlin Conference.

Although the Berlin reunion on April 29th did not bring concrete results, it still has two merits: it resumed the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, at least formally, without having properly relaunched it, and it brought the other “former Yougoslavs” at the table. Thus, the reunion created the necessary framework for overcoming Priština’s steadfastness in persisting to impose the exagerrated import tariffs, as well as for making Belgrade accept dialogue even under these circumstances.

The seeming success is more important though, considering that Germany itself was the one which opposed the territory exchange solution, which surfaced as a silver lining. A future meeting will take place in July, when concrete elements will likely appear regarding the roadmap to solve the problem. On the other hand, the Kosovar representatives themselves told the Europeans that progress cannot occur in absence of the United States. Meanwhile, Serbian representatives announced their openness to resume negotiations, but only if Priština gives up the tariffs.

The Kosovar president, Hashim Thaci, stated that the EU is too weak to solve the differences between Serbia and Kosovo, and requested the US to join the negotiations: “Without the U.S. we can never have any dialogue, negotiations or any agreement”, Thaci told Reuters TV in Berlin, adding: “The EU is not united in this process”. From this perspective, Federica Mogherini, the EU representative, became rather a symbolic presence than a heavyweight political figure able to impose a solution to the two parties. H. Thaci even specified that having only F. Mogherini as negotiator, there is no chance Serbia and Kosovo would reach an understanding.

Despite the pressure the Europeans and US put on him, the Kosovar prime-minister Ramush Haradinaj declared that Priština’s tariffs would not be lifted until Serbia recognizes Kosovo and accepts Kosovo in the international organizations. His sturdiness does not show how strong the Kosovar position is (it is not!), but only shows that the big Europeans and the US did not push enough, because they have enough force to make Priština yield. But, should they force Priština yield, they would lose the main short-term leverage on Belgrade. This is just another proof that the exchange of territory is not realistic: do the taxes not use the same ethnic issue? Does not Priština blackmail Belgrade with these tariffs applied exactly against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo?

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has affirmed that the Berlin Conference represents just a step on a long way: "We agreed to this joint initiative because we are committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans countries". In his turn, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that "we have no intention of prescribing a solution" but rather want to "take the heat out of the debate and advance... without giving rise to new regional tensions".

However, Belgrade made clear: no serious negotiations will unfold before Kosovo gives up the tariffs. President Aleksandar Vučić was also explicit: "We have told Mrs. Mogherini, and she has known from the beginning... that we are ready to continue the dialogue tomorrow if the tariff is repealed".

What happened in fact? Germany and France’s attempted to bring Serbia back to the table of negotiations even if Priština did not lift the tariffs. Serbia did not yield, and the Kosovars considered it is time for the US to enter the stage, since the Europeans were not able to persuade Belgrade, and the EU representative has a too neutral position to favor the Kosovars. In fact, we have half a failure in disguise, and in July a new attempt to relaunch the dialogue will occur.

The big Europeans involved in the issue, Germany and France, want to unlock the situation, but they want to do it in the present conditions, without Priština lifting the tariffs, which is unacceptable for Belgrade. Even bringing the US would not change the situation, because Belgrade will not yield in the tariffs issue, and, feeling at the end of the rope, it will resort to Russian support. And Belgrade has all the reasons to act like that, because the precedent of introducing tariffs was created by Priština.

Belgrade considers that, without Russia, and maybe China, the solution will not be fair, but rather favorable to Priština. On the other hand, this very Russia’s, respectively China’s political and economic influence worries the European powers, who want to close this problem and turn Kosovo into a recognized nation and bring Serbia back to the fold of nations with a clear European perspective.

In Berlin we did not witness any move forth, but a clarification of political positions, and the future remains unclear for Kosovo, but also for Serbia. Even the incentive of Western Balkan nations European future does not appear effective. On one hand, Kosovo’s western sponsors must realize they went too far tolerating Priština, while Belgrade must learn that it cannot engage on a European path being allied with... Russia and China. We will see whether Germany and France will identify arguments to convince Belgrade, and the first such argument is... an unbalanced stance of these two European powers in the Kosovo predicament!


V. Developments to track this Week 19 of 2019.

  • HUNGARY. The visit of Hungarian Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán to Washington represents the triumph of this nationalist regime. Playing at all possible ends, including Russia and China, but also benefiting from circumstantial fortune, the Orbán establishment managed to be not only accepted (when the rule of law suffers in Hungary), but to be perceived as a regime with views similar to those of Trump Administration. Hungary reached the peak of its regional posture, and we will see the way it uses this position. For Viktor Orbán, there is only one hurdle yet – Brussels, but even there he hopes to achieve more success after the European parliamentary elections at the end of this May.
  • RUSSIA. The May 9th military parade will offer an image of what the Kremlin wants to show in the military force domain. The parade in Red Square remains a good opportunity to examine Russia’s displayed military capability, and an indicator of the Kremlin’s self-confidence, respectively an indicator of the way Russia wants to present itself to the World. In the eve of INF demise and of the confrontation in Venezuela, Moscow must show the US that it possesses force projection capability, although if, in fact, it is probably a bridge too far.

[1] It becomes ever clearer that such new capabilities are rather “arguments” prepared for future negotiations regarding the strategic nuclear armament than weapon systems to be developed and mass-produced.

[2] Sofia, which thought it was out of the woods although doing nothing to reform justice, was awaken by the European Commissioner for justice, who declared that it is no question of lifting the European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism – the CVM. Meanwhile, Bucharest is threatened with Article 7 measures.