MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

15 ianuarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 2 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Show of force in the Black Sea.

II. EUROPEAN UNION. Uncertainty ahead of the European elections.

III. BALKANS. Macedonia goes forward and Kosovo maintains the taxes.

IV. MIDDLE EAST. The US policy remains blurry.

V. Developments to track this Week 3 of 2019.

I. RUSSIA. Show of force in the Black Sea.

Russia reacted disproportionately to the presence of a modest American warship in the Black Sea. After the US sent an amphibious vessel (a limited role warship), precisely for avoiding to unnecessarily escalate the situation, Russia responded aggresively by threatening that the PITLIVIY frigate would closely stalk the American vessel. On January 5th, the US landing warship USS FORT McHENRY entered the Black Sea and moored at Constanţa / Romania between January 7th and 10th, then left the Black Sea on January 11th. The Russian frigate PITLIVIY followed the American warship during her entire itinerary, including while in the port of Constanţa, when PITLIVIY conducted ”complex monitoring missions”. To complete the picture, the Bal anti-ship missile batteries in Crimea conducted an exercise on January 10th. However, this occured with no launches, just electronic simulation of targets and launching. This behavior is new, considering that the American warship did not sail towards Crimea, or at least towards Odessa, she only sailed in western Black Sea, to an allied harbor. The response was too aggresive not only considering USS FORT McHENRY’s itinerary, but also her features: just amphibious, no stike capabilities.

First conclusion: Russia considers it has the right to demonstrate its naval superiority in the Black Sea by stalking NATO vessels immediately they enter the Black Sea, no matter if they sail ”dangerously” towards Crimea or just along the western shores. The American warship could not rely on any naval or air escort by near-by NATO forces, she had to rely solely on her own anit-aircraft / anti-missile defense systems[1]. A second conclusion: the NATO battlegroups entering the Black Sea are by themselves, as the littoral NATO nations either do not want to support them (Turkey), are not able (Romania) or do not want plus are not able (Bulgaria) to support such NATO naval groups. We are far from any NATO naval show of force in teh Black Sea, as Ukraine wishes (Kyiv has already announced that a NATO battlegroup will enter the Black Sea having Dutch warships in its composition). We might witness barely a symbolic presence (show of flag), which would be used by Russia, however, to demonstrate its dominance in the Black Sea and conduct exercises with real adversary warships. Nevertheless, Moscow did not jump the gun, it did not intercept the American recconaissance aircraft Rivet Joint or P8 Poseidon[2] that conducted flights close to Crimea this past week 2 of 2019.

 The class UDALOY distroyer SEVEROMORSK enterd the Black Sea this past week, and she does not belong to the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF). She moored at Sevastopol on January 10th, and will dwell in the Balck Sea for a month, while she will conduct various naval missions with the BSF. Although it is a one-off case, a negative perspective comes to life: warships belonging to other Russian fleets might get the habit of deploying to the Black Sea, albeit for R&R between two missions in the Mediterranean Sea.

 In the INF issue, Russia appealed again for dialogue. On January 9th, the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, declared in New Delhi: “We are ready for dialogue if the United States will be ready for this... If it happens tomorrow, then we are ready tomorrow. But the dialogue should be on the basis of equality of rights”. In Kremlin language, “equal rights” means that Russia will never be accountable for breaching INF with its SSC-8 missile, but the US will have to put its anti-ballistic shiled on the table, for allegedly breaching the INF. Also, the announcement about modernizing the Kalibr cruise missile should be perceived in the context of INF Treaty, because the Kalibr M version is supposed to reach an almost double range of 4 500 km. Although the announcement refers to the anti-ship version mounted on warships and submarines, it is well known that it is, in fact, the same SSC-8 cruise missile launched from land platforms, which breaches the INF.

Russia is still concerned about the INF and Ukraine. Although its economic situation is not brilliant, an imminent crisis is not in sight: the price of crude is shyly rising, and it is expected to reach $67/barrel sometime in 2019. Thus, Russia’s budget has chances to be balanced this year. Nevertheless, the military spending needs to be reduced. Since Russia’s foreign policy, and its security policy display a level of aggressivity proportional with the price of oil, Moscow may continue its current policy, but only frantically seeking favorable solutions in two domains: the INF and Russia’s relations with the West, on one hand, and the Ukraine issue, on the other hand.

In the opposite camp, Ukraine still counts on western support, although it does not move a finger to become a functional democracy. Even more, President Petro Poroshenko’s electoral strategy  risks to generate the framework where a new Russian aggression would find legitimacy, as the former Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Konstantin Grishchenko has warned. The focus on a pragmatic ”patriotic message” – a low hanging fruit, as well as the intensification of nationalist policies across the board, and the worsening of Kyiv’s relations with Moscow, all these have increased the possibility of a large-scale war between the two countries. It is true, poking Russia might bring small political benefits to a president who did nothing for political and economic reforms. However, these actions increase the danger of a major conflict and puts away the prospects of finding a peaceful solution. There is information that even France and Germany have sent messages of discouraging this counterproductive strategy.

This proves that, despite some progress, Ukraine still resembles Russia in the government’s relations with the mob: while well-known Ukrainian mobsters supported the power in celebrating the tomos issued by Constantinople, the Russian mobsters took part in the funerals of an infamous mobster. This is not by chance: where no real political change took place, those who saw themselves above the law – the offspring of power nomenclature and the KGB, have closely collaborated with those who acted against the law, the mobsters. At the end of the day, they share the same way of thinking: disdain for law and citizen.


II. EUROPEAN UNION. Uncertainty ahead of the European elections.

Regardless Teresa May’s forseable failure in the British Parliament, the Brexit, in any shape and form, will seriously bash both the UK and the EU. However, hopes for a new referendum are on the rise. Germany and France work on consolidating the EU nucleus, but Italy and Poland seek to establish an anti-liberal axis to which the ”guardian of Christiandom”, Viktor Orbán adheres.

In Great Britain, the Parliament started to talk about Brexit, in view of this week’s vote. It is almost certain that the provisional agreement brokered by Teresa May with the European Commission (EC) will not pass the vote of the British Parliament. This delay and blackmail strategy (”either my agreement or Blind Brexit”) failed. The Parliament came back with a vengeance and submitted Teresa May to its will. By a series of amendments, the MPs contained Teresa May’s options. First, they ruled out the Brexit option by a package of limitations regarding the measures succeeding the Brexit. Then, they took out Teresa May’s utilization of the time factor, by requesting an alternative plan within three days, not 21, should Teresa May’s plan fail to pass (which will happen). Consequently, the Parliament requires the Plan B next week, not next month.

Should the EC decline to renegotiate the provisional agreement (although it announces flexibility in the implementation thereof), the deadline remains, and the conservatives are deeply divided, the options are limited to: 1) an adjusted Brexit agreement during a second vote, in case Teresa May reaches a majority (would the EC accept adjustments?); 2) an agreement close to Blind Brexit, especially if the Cabinet falls (and if a postponement is not requested from the EU); 3) a new referendum, which would most likely keep UK in the Union (is there still time and political will for this?). Of course, the Europeans prefer the third option. Will the European leaders know how to lure the Brits back to the Union, by offering them what they wanted (a limited freedom of movement for labor), or it is too late for this? Let’s not forget that the Brits reacted against the wave of workers from eastern Europe, which is about to diminish, at least the Polish flow (while Romania and Bulgaria remain major sources of labor). And the Brits also reacted against the level of integration (everything new after the Treaty of Lisbon). Sooner or later, the Europeans will likely conclude that, if a unitary Europe cannot be built, at least this Union should be preserved, albeit with multiple speeds.

In France, the power does not provide an answer to the street protests yet, although the government managed to limit their extent. Emannuel Macron’s popularity is coming back, but far low from the level necessary for implementing his economic reforms. The European elections, a real test for E. Macron, are getting closer, and victory is of paramount importance. The reality is that the French society moved to the left, as the socialist governance brought an egalitarian atmospherics, for the price of chasing away the fat cats and the investors. E. Macron forced the return of economy to profit, in an anglo-saxon individualist manner, which did not work so far (the tax on wealth stands to prove that).

The only good news is the information about a new franco-German plan to bring the two countries so close to each-other that we could speak about ”one sole superpower”. The two nations would proceed to close cooperation measures in defense, foreign policy and economy. This close cooperation would serve as a model for a more united Europe. On January 22nd, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron would sign a treaty meant to open the path towards a common foreign and security policy, including common peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. The two countries will also advocate for a permanent position in the UN Security Council for Germany, and they also plan to speak with one voice in Brussels, aiming to impose common positions within the EU. In fact, this is just advancing on the 1963 bilateral treaty lines, where the two countries wanted to show that the Franco-German axis remains the core of Europe. One would say it was about time for such accord to appear, especially since the Franco-German nucleus must face the ”anti-liberal” offensive, i.e. the anti-rule-of-law offensive by the easterners and the financial indiscipline practiced by the Italian populists.

The de facto leader of the Italian government, Vice-Prime-Minister Matteo Salvini, paid a visit to Warsaw in search for an Euroskeptic axis, in view of the upcoming European elections. The common objective is recovering part of the decisional power at the expense of Brussels. The declarations were optimistic, as Salvini’s counterpart, the Polish Interior Affairs Minister, Joachim Brudžinski, declared that “Poland and Italy will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values”. The visit responded to an invite by J. Brudžinski to discuss migration and the EU border security. M. Salvini declared that establishing a reformist bloc is vital for restructuring the European institutions. M. Salvini’s discussions with Polish conservative leaders (the Law and Justice Party / PiS), with the de facto power in Warsaw, Jarosław Kaczyński, might have passed well, but no decision resulted: “We started a dialogue. To close a deal in half an hour seems overly optimistic”, as M. Salvini put it. The would-be alliance is to pursue a ten-point program on security issues, economic growth, family - ”Europe’s Christian roots that some have denied” (again M. Salvini’s words).

So far, Matteo Salvini reached alliances with Marine LePen’s far right French party and the Dutch anti-Islam Liberty Party. The alliance proposed to the Polish conservatives has little chances to become true, because the two parties have little in common. First, the disputes with Brussels are based on different reasons: M. Salvini wants tolerance for a high deficit financial policy in Italy, while PiS is at odds with Brussels accusations that Warsaw does not observe the rule of law (although lately PiS made steps to revert the previous anti-justice actions). The views on European finance are different too: Poland wants the current European financial policy to continue, as they are beneficial to Poland, while Italy wants exemption from European rules (although, eventually, the markets themselves will punish Italy). As for migration, the anti-migration Poland has no immigration problem, while Italy wants to get rid of some of the migrants... which countries like Poland are reluctant to host. Regarding the European foreign policy, there are also different interests: Poland identifies Russia as a major threat, while M. Salvini is a self-declared friend of the Kremlin.

What brought M. Salvini and the Polish conservatives together is a much more mundane issue that any ”European spring” – the lack of a parliamentary group in Brussels to influence the EU policy. PiS belongs to the Conservative Group, which will lose relevance after the Brits quit, while M. Salvini’s Lega, as a true far right party, is close to the extremists. There are only tests now, because the Polish conservatives aim higher, where France and Germany fly, but they cannot cope with the spanking for damaging the independence of justice in Poland.

This does not prevent Viktor Orbán to declare himself available to this avant la lettre alliance. His reason is Burssels’ pressure plus the every day more clear domestic pressure against his regime. Although self-declared ”guardian of the Christiandom” against a condemned-to-become-muslim Europe, Viktor Orbán will further play the German card (although he blames Germany in declarations), hoping that his party will not be excluded from the Eupropean Popular group.

III. BALKANS. Macedonia goes forward and Kosovo maintains the taxes.

MACEDONIA has changed its name, and this opens its path towards NATO and EU. On January 11th, the parliament in Skopje passed an amendment to the Constitution to change the name of the country into The Republic of Northern Macedonia. 81 of the 120 legislators voted for this change, which secured the two thirds necessary majority, while most of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE representatives boycotted the session.

Thus, the main obstacle to starting the process of integration into NATO and the EU has been solved. The vote succeeded after intense negotiations between Prime-Minister Zoran Zaev and representatives opposing the name change bill, and, lately, the vote was delayed by a small ethnic Albanian party. It seems that, on Macedonia, the West won the geostrategic battle against Russia. However, there is still a ”but”, and that is the vote in the Greek parliament within ten days. In Athens, Prime-Minister Aleksis Tsipras is not sure about the vote of the far-right party led by his Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, who makes no secret about his friendship with Moscow. Are you seated? In a spectacular move, on January 13th, Panos Kammenos resigned and withdrew his six ministers, thus withdrawing his party’s support for the Tsipras government. P. Kammenos’ Greek Independent Party only has seven legislators, but they are critically necessary to A. Tsipras. The declared reason for downing the government is precisely the protest for the agreement on Macedonia’s name change (why now, when the agreement was voted in Skopje, and not months ago, when the agreement was concluded by the Greek government with the Macedonian government?).  The same day, in reaction to this blow à la russe, Prime-Minister A. Tsipras declared he would require the Greek Parliament a vote of confidence in his minority Cabinet, in the attempt to avoid early elections.  

Now, it is not only the agreement with Macedonia on the name at stake, but the future of the A. Tsipras government itself. The geostrategic battle with Russia is fought not only in Skopje, but also in Athens now. Considering the German support for Macedonia, which the German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed in Athens, the Greek parliament will likely vote to agree with the name change of the neighbour country. By the way, A. Merkel was welcomed as a saviour in Athens, which she was, but this is seen only now, when the crisis is over. However, the change of Macedonia’s name is just a prerequisite for integration into NATO, not the sufficient condition. This is more obvious for the integration into the EU, and Skopje should not take these accesions for granted. Bottom line, for those nations in the western Balkans who only lag in desire, Macedonia offers the message that change is possible, when wanted at any cost. One may remember that FYROM was known as the country with tensions between the Slavic majority and the Albanian minority, as well as for the abuses of the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE (which has voiced even territorial claims against Bulgaria).

  EU representatives discussed with a Kosovar delegation about normalizing relations with Serbia. The meeting in Brussesls, on January 8th, where Federica Mogherini led the EU delegation, aimed at convincing Priština to give up the tariffs for merchandise imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, or through these countries. F. Mogherini actually insisted on “the urgency for Priština to revoke the customs tariffs”. The Kosovars explained and defended their stance: “tariffs are the only instrument in Kosovo’s foreign policy available in order to pressure Serbia. They are a consequence of a long, aggressive campaign that culminated in the Interpol nonrecognition” by Belgrade. Consequently, the meeting ended in failure, since Priština did not revoke the huge tariffs imposed by Priština practically to the Kosovar Serbs. The question is now what is the real power EU holds over Priština, since Brussels is not able to persuade Kosovo to revoke a measure which sends the Kosovar Serbs in dire straits. Or, maybe, what Brussels says and what important European nations do are two different things, because certain countries have their own policy regarding Kosovo, and the whole western Balkans for that matter. Hmm, one is led to think about that, because the tariff measure not only blew up the Belgrade - Priština negotiations, but it serves as a legitimate reason for the Serbian nationalism revival. Now, the Serbs are reasonably wandering if the West is against them no matter what.

Consequently, it was no surprise that, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Miroslav Dodik, who did whatever he wanted in Republika Srpska, was cheered in standing ovations on the occasion of national holiday celebrations. And those ceremonies were held despite domestic and foreign opposite requests. Also, it is no surprise that Belgrade is eagerly anticipating the visit by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the opposition protests can be easily ignored by President Aleksandar Vučić. At the end of the day, in Belgrade and Banja Luka there are ”political offsprings” of the murderers in power, while in Priština the very individuals suspected of murder are in power. A small consolation comes from The Hague tribunal, where certain Kosovars will be called for preliminary investigations, and they face accusations of having committed atrocities against Kosovar Serbs.



            The US National Security Adviser John Bolton and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made journeys to meet allies in the region, aiming to clarify the situation in the Middle East and to reassure the allies on continuous American support. However, these trips generated more confusion than clarifications.

On January 6th, John Bolton visited Israel, where he provided the necessary guarantees that the American troop withdrawal from Syria will not affect the security of this top US ally. He added that US withdrawal is conditioned by Turkey’s agreement to protect the allied Kurdish militias in Syria, because the United States wanted to make sure that the Islamic State "is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again". In Israel, J. Bolton told Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “the defense of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured” and that the US would “take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups”.  Asked whether the American withdrawal would only occur after Turkey guarantees the security of the Syrian Kurdish fighters, J. Bolton answered “Basically, that’s right”, and he added that Ankara’s military actions should be coordinated, at least at minimum level, with the US forces. These declarations infuriated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who canceled the meeting he was supposed to hold with J. Bolton, and reiterrated that Turkey would act as it sees fit against the Syrian Kurdish fighters. The American side specified that discussions with Ankara on this issue will continue. Meanwhile, the White House reiterrated that the GIs will withdraw from Syria (with no mention regarding the coordination that J. Bolton referred to). On the field, withdrawal activities were noticed.

What can we understand now? Hardly anything coherent, especially since those responsible for decisions themselves do not seem to understand what is going on. In fact, this was a shot from the shoulder, no aiming was taken before. D. Trump has taken the decision and the officials around him now try to implement the decision in a reasonable manner, in the conditions in the field. So, Mike Pompeo mentioned that Turco-American discussions regarding protection for the Kurdish militia would continue.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip was meant to ensure America’s allies in the region that Washington still has a policy in the Middle East, that the US would not leave its allies unprotected and would not withdraw from the whole area, as it does from Syria. The visit to several countries in the region peaked in Cairo, where Mike Pompeo delivered a speech on January 10th. This speech, titled  “A Force for Good: America's Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East”  was meant to redefine the US policy in the Middle East, but it only criticized the Obama Administration policy, with no hint on future American actions. Departing from tradition, Mike Pompeo blamed ex-president Obama for abandoning the Middle East to the islamist militants and Iranian influence: ”we learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with our enemies, they advance” (But what is America doing right now?). M. Pompeo has also mentioned that the US is now “a force for good in the Middle East”. Iran was in the crosshair of the accusations, and M. Pompeo has assured that, “in Syria, the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot”, and will shed Obama’s ”desire for peace at any cost”. Barack Obama’s policy had a lot of drawbacks: tolerating the Iranian intervention in the region for the sake of a denuclearization agreement, imperfect though, but still an agreement; quick withdrawal from Iraq; nonintervention in Syria at any cost. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s policy... does not exist, there are only several incoherent decisions (withdrawal from Syria), sentences (Iran must be punished) and preferences (total support for Israel, even governed by a far right coalition which excludes the two-state solution, and for Saudi Arabia, even led by a prince prone to tough and illegal actions, murder included). Moreover, the current Administration in Washington lacks the principle basis (once the US used to base and explain its position in the world by the defense of human rights and nations rights), and limits its behaviour to sheer geostrategy, when it is not simple whims of the president or his family members.  

On this background, the summit on Iran, scheduled to take place in Poland (?!), in February, raises many questions: what will US ask its allies regarding Iran?; based on what?; and with what arguments? What do we deal with here? Nobody can claim Iran is not a problem, and the proof is that even the Europeans have imposed sanctions, in response to the Iranian terrorist actions in Europe (Denmark). But this response is only regional, not global, and an action against Iran would be in defense of Saudi Arabia (what would the Europeans have to do with it?) and Israel (which can defend itself and has its own policy on Iran).

More and more complicated problems piled on, and making a clear picture of the situation is difficult, let alone taking decisions. Caution is the buzzword, especially until the White House comes up with a coherent policy in the Middle East, a policy which will speak up loud and clear its objectives, beyond President Trump’s impulses and preferences.   


V. Developments to track this Week 3 of 2019.

  • UNITED STATES. The divergence between Donald Trump and the Democrats deepens. The government stalemate continues, and mutual accusations between the President and the Democrats led to nowhere. The President is toying with the idea of presenting the migration through the southern border as a national emergency, and the Democrats are not willing to make any trade-off regarding earmarking funds for the wall meant to satisfy D. Trump’s electoral base. The American domestic crisis has global impact, it reflects upon the general state of facts. The Mueller investigation continues, and the President is more and more concerned with his own future, for strong reasons. The problem is that an American president is usually concerned with the fate of the world, not his own. The latest developments show us an American president acting as a loose cannon. The mistrust reached peak levels, and the information regarding the FBI investigation topped it up: the US intelligence agencies have suspected their own president of promoting Russian interest at the expense of American interests!    

  • UNITED KINGDOM. We will finally have the British Parliament vote on the Brexit. After the likely rejection of Teresa May’s plan, interesting developments will follow, and they will decide not only Britain’s future, but that of the EU as well. Although the result in not sure, at least we get closer to the end of this ugly story which will shake the EU and the UK. This is a lesson about what happens when the elites gamble with nations’ future, instead of seeking to productively compromise.

  • SERBIA. The visit of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, to Belgrade, is coming soon. This moment is important both for the bilateral relations, and for the whole region, by the direction these relations will develop and, in the same time, Serbia’s policy in the region, especially since the West cannot fail to provide a solution for normalizing the Priština – Belgrade relations.

  • SYRIA. The big questions are how fast the US troops will withdraw from Syria, and if Turkey will attack the Syrian Kurds, in defiance of US. In fact, Turkey is concerned elsewhere, and this pressing problem is that it cannot live up to its commitments to Russia regarding pacification of Idlib, where the rebels it supports were defeated by the jihadists (al-Qaida, by any other name, would smell as sweet, but now, the gang of terrorists wants a Caliphate). Russia is glad that US withdraws, but problems pile up, and the force used in excess secures only victory, not reconstruction and stability, which are meant to generate a future. Courting Germany and selling illusions about bringing the UN in forging a new Constitution are only tricks to attract western funding. However, the UN trick might be accepted, in absence of any other idea. Finally, Syria is a preview of the new order, with the US withdrawing. Israel continues the air attacks against Iranian objectives in Syria. Will Iran, respectively Russia, tolerate this routine?   

[1] That is two anti-aircraft short range RAM missile systems (Rolling Airframe Missile) and two CIWS systems for close anti-missile defense, as well as Phalanx cannons (20 mm caliber, a Gatling system with 4 000 shots per minute, with its fire control radar mounted directly on the gun).

[2] Initially an anti-submarine warfare aircraft.