MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

19 mai 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 20 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. Defense minister reunion. II. POLAND publishes a new National Security Strategy. III. NATO / RUSSIA. American strategic bombers fly again over Europe. IV. EUROPEAN UNION / HUNGARY. Viktor Orbán regime faces the European Parliament. V. Developments to track this Week 21 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. Defense minister reunion.

On May 12th, under the chairmanship of Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, defense ministers of the European Union held a video reunion. The main conclusion is that Coronavirus crisis will lead to a worse security environment, which calls for a strong European security and defense policy. Talking about Covid 19 crisis implications, participants highlighted the armed forces’ role in supporting civilian authorities and the cooperation among EU member nations (a European Task Force was established during the April 6th conference). Another important topic was the need for maintaining operational presence – that is continuing troop activity in EU operations (conducted under the Common Security and Defense Policy). Considering recent experience, EU defense ministers pointed at the need to improve troop training and general resilience by conducting military exercises and consolidating the activity of combating disinformation and hybrid threats, as well as cyber-security. The participation of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and UN authority for peace-keeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix displayed a certain degree of cooperation for defending Europe.   

On the backdrop of Coronavirus crisis, the problem of funds allotted by European nations for defense became the main issue of debates, especially the money earmarked for common European defense programs. Josep Borrell warned European nations about the need to avoid reducing defense budgets, although the economic situation seems to unfold to that end. An intensified military cooperation is considered for bringing progress in the field of biological and chemical weapons too. EU defense ministers believe that continuing common defense projects included in the European common defense policy is the big problem, and they identified the answer in encouraging nations to pursue common defense initiatives within the PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) and the European Defense Fund (EDF). The problem is the European multi-annual budget, which is supposed to include the economic relaunch funds; Therefore, defense funding should be diminished. In the initial pre-Coronavirus draft, defense funds were already dented (especially money earmarked for mobility, which displeases the easterners). Thus, the problem remains, with a West – East split: the westerners, benefiting developed defense industries, want to save funds for common defense programs (European nations display a too wide and eclectic panel of programs, which makes them ineffective, therefore unable to reduce European dependence on the United States); Meanwhile, the easterners, especially the front-liners, want to preserve the funds for infrastructure designed to increase mobility, which is paramount for allowing the transfer of troops, especially the U.S. troops, instrumental for defending Europe from the East. 

Beyond differences, the Europeans discover common concerns: the new threats from Russia and China in the field of propaganda / informational warfare, as well as other kinds of threats (hybrid, economic); the need to continue European military operations, without considering any separation of EU defense policy from NATO[1], though. Finally, even if Coronavirus crisis leads to reducing European defense funds, the pandemic will entail reaching several clarifications in European nations’ defense and security policy.


II. POLAND publishes a new National Security Strategy.

On May 12th, Polish President Ąndržej Duda signed the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Poland, drafted by Polish Ministry of Defense, and approved by the government. This fundamental document will serve for production of a unitary legislation in this domain and for developing all defense plans and programs in Poland, thus securing the basis for state and society security. This strategy is structured on the following titles: 1) Security environment; 2) Values, national interests and strategic objectives in the area of national security; 3) Pillar I, Security of the state and its citizens (management of national security; resilience of state and common civic defense; Polish Armed Forces; cyber-security; information space); 4) Pillar II, Poland in the international security system (NATO and EU; bilateral, regional and global cooperation); 5) Pillar III, National identity and heritage (Polish national identity; creating a positive image of Poland); 6) Pillar IV, Social and economic development, environment protection (health and family protection; migration policy; economic security; energy security; protection of natural environment; scientific and technological potential).

The description of security environment includes: 1) the decomposition of international order’s negative impact on Poland’s security (uncertainty and unpredictability, in conditions of disrespect for international law norms) 2) “the most serious threat is the neo-imperial policy of the authorities of the Russian Federation, pursued also by means of military force”, as aggressions on Georgia and Ukraine demonstrated, respectively the illegal annexation of Crimea and the actions in Eastern Ukraine. “The Russian Federation is intensively developing its offensive military capabilities (including in the western strategic direction), extending Anti-Access/Area Denial systems inter alia in the Baltic Sea region, including the Kaliningrad [exclave], and conducting large-scale military exercises, based on scenarios assuming a conflict with the NATO member states, a rapid deployment of large military formations, and even the use of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Russian Federation carries out activities below the threshold of war (of hybrid nature), which pose the risk of the outbreak of a conflict..., and undertakes multi-faceted and comprehensive actions using non-military means (including: cyber-attacks, disinformation) to destabilize the structures of Western states and societies and to create divisions among Allies. It should be assumed that that the Russian Federation will continue its policy of undermining the current international order, based on international law, in order to rebuild its power and spheres of influence. The basic factor shaping Poland’s security is its strong embedding in the transatlantic and European structures and the development of bilateral and regional cooperation with key partners”; 3) the illegal migration threat; 4) the growing rivalry between the United States and China, with effects on the entire international system; 5) other general trends (the perspective of seeing the nuclear tactical weapons used; digital revolution; hybrid threats; terrorism) and particular trends (demographics, energy security).

Poland’s main national interests are listed as follows: Guarding independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and security of the state and its citizens; Shaping international order, based on solidarity and respect for international law; Strengthening national identity and guarding national heritage; Ensuring conditions for sustainable and balanced social and economic development and environment protection.

On “national security management”, the document stipulates the need to “adjust the national crisis management system to NATO Crisis Response System through extending it also to the field of political and military conflict and allowing for smooth transition from the state of peace to the state of crisis and war, as well as ensuring that it provides effective tools to prevent and combat threats, including hybrid ones” (this is the response to the difficult question “What do we do before the Article 5 is activated?”).

Regarding the armed forces, the document points at strengthening their operational capabilities and stresses the need to enhance the mobility of troops and the efficiency of their support and logistics system by focusing on investments in the necessary infrastructure and means of transport. In the framework of regional cooperation, the wording mentions the need to “deepen bilateral and regional cooperation with key European partners, especially in the framework of the Bucharest Nine, the Visegrad Group and the Weimar Triangle”.

The strategy reflects not only a deep understanding of current security situation, but also the high level of political, economic, social, and military development of Poland. This nation’s elite proves to be at the necessary level and identifies itself with Poland’s national interests in service of Poland’s society. Its leadership also possesses the means to implement such security strategy: strong economy, a developed society, and capable armed forces, considering both personnel and equipment. Defining Russia as a threat is realistic and accurate, and this provides the answer to this threat by a balanced defense policy and a policy of bilateral and regional cooperation. Poland’s strategy bears the mark of the conservative vision of current political leadership in Warsaw.  

Poland’s leadership problem is to avoid exaggerating in its response facing Russia’s threat, which Warsaw can successfully cope with: capable armed forces, remarkable cooperation with NATO and the United States; a good European integration (although the ambition of erasing the communist heritage in judiciary led to Poland being singled out at European level, short of isolating it, though). 

In another development, Russia currently works to build the Nord Stream II (NS II) gas pipeline by itself, with little success, after the Unites States blocked the construction works in the Baltic Sea. Meanwhile, Germany predictably decided to end any exemption from European regulations for NS II. In these circumstances, Poland intends to impound NS II equipment, since Warsaw seems to be right about its conflict with Gazprom regarding the reimbursement of some money. However, the measure to impound pipeline equipment seems to be too much, considering the danger of major tensions, because Russia already has its arm twisted by the constraints described above.


III. NATO / RUSSIA. American strategic bombers fly again over Europe.

This past week, the United States conducted a force demonstration at global level, with focus on the European Theater of Operations (TO): the U.S. strategic aviation conducted missions probably exercising attacks with both classical and nuclear weapons against adversary strategic targets. This wide operation represents a check-up of America’s strategic air force deterrence capacity, as well as a response to similar recent Russian and Chinese missions. Also, this Pentagon-conducted power play demonstrated the U.S. strategic aviation reaction capability even during the Coronavirus crisis. While some of these flights were remarkably visible (B1 escorted by Polish F 16s were seen overflying Warsaw), other missions, the B2 flights, were “stealthy” discrete. Russian reaction was low profile: since you have no idea where the B2 flew, you cannot declare anything, because you cannot explain why nothing was detected by Russian NEBO radar complex systems, which are designed to detect such stealth aircraft. According to available information, during this American power play, all three types of American long-range strategic bombers flew over Europe: B 52, B2 (stealth) and B1 (with classical armament). All these aircraft took off from their home bases in the United States and flew with no stop, some of them with in-flight refueling.  

The Pentagon announced that a B-1B Lancer bomber of 28th Squadron, Ellsworth, South Dakota, conducted a mission over Europe on May 11th, the second this past week. The Pentagon also announced that, on May 12th, two B2 Spirit (stealth) strategic bombers from Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and four B52 (two from Minot AFB, North Dakota, and two from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana), conducted missions in U.S. Strategic Command Europe (EUCOM), and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Areas of Responsibility. The U.S. Air Force announced that by these flights, the “U.S. Strategic Command [could demonstrate] the readiness and global reach of its long-range strategic bombers”, and that “this dynamic employment of [STRATCOM’s] long-range bombers and supporting aircraft showcased the United States’ ability to conduct synchronized strategic deterrence anywhere in the world with a ready, lethal force”. At least one of the B52s conducted in-flight refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker. The flight of B1 bomber aimed at demonstrating interoperability too, as it was escorted by Danish F16 aicraft, and above Poland by Polish F16 and MiG 29 fighters (after that, the bomber continued its flight over Lithuania and Letonia).

The European TO features three air operation axes within the international air space, and both sides use these axes when reaching towards the adversary territory: these axes include the Sea of Norway, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea. Considering these facts, one can easily understand where the B2 stealth bomber strategic flights would have been meant for. In fact, during the latest mission of Russian strategic bombers, NATO sent three AWACS aircraft precisely to these seas, immediately after detecting the first radio communications on specific frequencies.

The United States responded adequately to Russia and China, who, even during this Covid 19 crisis, pursued their aggressive military actions, especially China. In the European TO, Russia sent its strategic bombers over the Sea of Norway and the Baltic Sea. Apparently, the B2 stealth strategic bombers cannot be detected by Russian NEBO complex radar systems, whence Moscow invested so much[2]. Therefore, the B2 mission had a remarkable deterrence effect, and at political-military level, this recent strategic air mission was a power play generating credible deterrence.


IV. EUROPEAN UNION / HUNGARY. Viktor Orbán regime faces the European   Parliament.

Viktor Orbán regime faces the European Parliament (EP), where Hungarian Prime Minister is accused of having arbitrarily established a state of emergency which allows him to commit anti-democratic abuses. Some of these abuses are already visible, such as the arrest of citizens for spreading fake news (including a member of Hungarian parliament), while other abuses are more discrete, like the pressure on the press. Viktor Orbán defied the EP by refusing to show up on the floor. The EP declined to accept Justice Minister Judith Varga as his representative instead. The reason claimed by Viktor Orbán as excuse was his struggle against the pandemic. However, he found time to pay a visit to Belgrade, in sympathy for Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who is also under pressure[3].

During the May 14th debates in the EP, accusations poured against the Orbán regime, “the dictatorship within the EU”, but the most dangerous element was that several EP members requested the European Commission (EC) to block European funds for Hungary and start infringement procedures. EC representative answered that EC “carefully monitors” the way Hungarian government uses the extended powers provided by the parliament. Facing this threat, a more and more isolated Orbán, in danger of losing important supporters in the European Popular Party (EPP), especially the Bavarians, already made a couple of steps back. Viktor Orbán has announced that the sate of emergency in Hungary is to be lifted by the end of May, and in a matter of days, relaxation measures would be taken in Budapest (in case of negative results, it is clear who would be blamed: the Mayor of Budapest, who represents the opposition). There was victimization (Hungary would be punished for its anti-migration policy), and defiance: Orbán claims “we will give everyone a chance to apologize to Hungary for the unjust accusations”, although not Hungary is being accused, but Viktor Orbán’s regime. However, beyond victimization and defiance, concessions appeared: Minister of Justice Judith Varga admitted that Hungarian Police was wrong when arresting two citizens who criticized the mobility limitation measures decided by the government (why the police, and not the government, who issued such questionable law?).

Highly likely, the regime in Budapest will persist with dictatorial practices, as it crossed long ago the point of no return to normalcy. Thus, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó had invited Nordic nation ambassadors (the role model countries in Europe for democracy, progress and tolerance) to reproach their approval of a “liberal conspiracy”; concretely, northern countries offered support for the letter sent by the Council of Europe Secretary General, who warned Viktor Orbán about the danger of establishing a state of emergency allowing abuses, when the parliament is practically excluded as a state power. Also, Viktor Orbán declared his regret that Hungarian justice punished segregation measures taken in a school in Hungary, where ethnic Roma students were separated from ethnic Hungarian students.

Regarding the recent tensions with Romania, the Hungarian Parliament unequivocally defined its position: ethnic Hungarians in Romania are part of the Hungarian nation, and Orbán government is the Hungarian nation representative (not only representative of Hungarian state?). According to the parliament in Budapest, in this quality, Orbán government is entitled to obtain concessions from neighboring Romania, such as territorial autonomy on ethnic bases (which is not constitutional). Probably, Viktor Orbán regime should pay more attention to the way it consolidates its dictatorship, as it cannot return to a European democracy (as it should be), albeit because too many ill-doings are hidden in contracts (some of them kept secret) received by Orbán’s cronies, on European money or money borrowed by the Hungarian state.


V. Developments to track this Week 20 of 2020.

► UKRAINE / RUSSIA. Although he is banned from entering the European Union, Russian representative for solving the Donbass conflict, Dmitri Kozak, visited Berlin to discuss a solution to end the conflict. During this opening, perhaps Kozak presented his bargain chips: what can Russia yield in exchange of having sanctions lifted and getting some concessions from Ukraine (which should be essential for securing the Kremlin control on Kyiv, or at least maintaining Kyiv far from the West). Kozak is experienced in such haggle, where he does not offer much, but he gains (see the Kozak Memorandum with its annex, and the “Kozak government”, which quickly became “Dodon government”). Meanwhile, Kyiv entangles Moscow in the Trilateral Group, by proposing citizens of separatist regions who fled to Ukraine, where they are now refugees, as Donbass representatives. Consequences can be seen on the ground, as it happens each time something goes otherwise than Moscow wanted: fire exchanges surged on the contact line. Except that, both countries have serious domestic problems. In Kyiv, after the finance law hit oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the way to get an IMF loan is open. Therefore, President Zelenskiy continues his efforts to persuade western partners of his commitment to reforms (ha appointed Mikhail Saakashvili in a position of high responsibility, even with the risk of damaging Ukraine’s relations with Georgia). Moscow has big problems with the pandemic, despite its decentralized efforts, and the Coronavirus continues to spread rapidly (contamination doubling time is 16.5 days now, and the number of cases reached 282,000). Vladimir Putin announced the end of “extended vacation” (which forced the employers to pay locked down employees), although measures of limiting mobility are supposed to be decided at regional level (they remain valid in many regions, including Moscow). Safe in the back, Putin likely prepares serious economic measures to be taken immediately when the crisis ends. Perhaps that is why he attempts to preserve the 600 billion reserve that Russia holds in its vaults. Although the oil price continues to rise (now at $30/barrel), economic problems are huge, and the Kremlin must focus on these issues.       

► SERBIA / MONTENEGRO. In Belgrade, political tensions rise before next month’s parliamentary elections. As President Aleksandar Vučić leads in the polls, Serbian opposition protests and pushes to postpone elections. It seems that the opposition was wrong when building an anti-Vučić alliance by bringing the pro-Europeans closer to nationalist radicals. Therefore, the less democratic solution, Vučić’s victory, looks more stable and seems to secure a clearer future for Serbia, considering a negotiated solution regarding Kosovo. In Montenegro, the conflict between government and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) was amplified by the Coronavirus crisis. SOC priests who failed to obey mobility limitation rules were arrested, which sparked opposition protests. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who kept a low profile hitherto, declared that “Serbia cannot remain silent”, and acknowledged “it would be hard to reconcile with Djukanović” (the Montenegrin president). Meanwhile, the priests were released, but the conflict will certainly increase, because Montenegro’s sovereignty is at stake, and this nation is western now (although with a non-democratic regime). Bottom line, its government fights the continued domination of Montenegro’s religious life by the SOC (controlled from Belgrade and pro-Russian).

► CHINA / UNITED STATES and EU. Political tensions soar. Although divided, the West demands answers from Beijing regarding the pandemic, and Beijing answers back. The United States is determined to chastise China, and due legislation is drafted to separate the two countries’ economies, at least partly (although American businesses do not rush to leave China for the moment). Beijing resorts to a range of responses, from threats and diplomatic measures to economic measures: because the Australian government requested an independent investigation on Coronavirus, China established an embargo on several Australian products (the Australians know something, since Chinese medical teams from the Wuhan lab trained in Australia). The conflict between the United States and China will likely soar, as the Covid 19 sets the scene for multiple tensions between the two governments.

► ISRAEL. After being sworn in, it is only a matter of time until Benjamin Netanyahu government annexes territories in the West Bank. Beyond Trump Administration’s  caution regarding such action, after having itself promoted the annexation, through the peace plan that Washington launched, Mike Pompeo’s visit to Jerusalem showed the U.S. support for the new government (it comes with a price: Israel should mind its cooperation with China). The EU, spearheaded by France, prepares a strong reaction. The Arab countries will show little restraint as well, as King of Jordan already sent a warning. The Palestinians threaten to decide the last-ditch measure: dissolving the Palestinian Authority. Highly likely, Netanyahu will not yield, and Benny Gantz’s “military” and his foreign minister will have to balance the way and pace of West Bank annexations.

► “RUSSOPHOBIA”. Effects of the Kremlin’s illegal actions afflicts Russia’s relations with the most tolerant Europeans. RUSSIA / GERMANY.  Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed in the Parliament that undoubtful evidence exists regarding Russia’s cyber warfare against German state, respectively the GRU hacker attack on the German Parliament, in 2015. Merkel voiced her disappointment that, despite her efforts to build good relations with Russia, such actions jam the whole process. RUSSIA / THE NETHERLANDS. One of the separatists in Donbass, accused by The Hague in the process of downing the MH 17 flight, was arrested by Eastern Ukraine separatist authorities, probably for isolating and protecting him. Moscow’s efforts to silence the witnesses are more and more visible, and the Netherlands will likely react adequately. RUSSIA / THE CZECH REPUBLIC. Czech authorities revealed the name of Russian agent with diplomatic cover who is accused of introducing poison (ricin) in the Czech Republic, for attacking public Czech officials who took legitimate administrative measures, with political resonance, true, which displeased the Kremlin. RUSSIA / ITALY. It is true that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Russian military mission in Italy left a bitter taste to Italian authorities, as it was a problem from the beginning to the end. Not only that inadequate supplies were brought, not only that the disinfection operation was dangerous (the disinfectant used by the Russian is toxic for the soil), but initial accusations of deploying to Italy many intelligence officers with the Russian contingent were supplemented by additional information: by arbitrarily selecting targets for “disinfection”, the Russian mission focused on areas around NATO bases, especially the base where American nuclear tactical armament is deployed. Nice.

[1] In this context, the most relevant proof is Jens Stoltenberg’s contribution in settling the dispute in Germany regarding the storage of American tactical nuclear weapons in Germany: without the tough tone in Washington’s message (conveyed by Richard Grenell), Stoltenberg’s message reminded German Social-Democrats that the foundation of NATO deterrence, which safeguarded Europe’s security, is the common trans-Atlantic nuclear deterrence.

[2] NEBO system is based on metric wavelength radar systems, with integrated decimeter and millimeter systems, in a specific architecture, for an accurate fixing after target detection with the metric system.

[3] Between the two “little Putins”, who brought their countries to the state of “non-democratic nations”, is a slight difference: Vučić remains the stable solution for Serbia, with all his anti-democratic setbacks, in conditions of a weak and eclectic opposition (Vučić even holds an implementable solution for Kosovo, an exit way which might relaunch Serbia’s European future); meanwhile, Viktor Orbán is only stuck in the past and capitalizes on Hungarian people historic memory, in a blatant contradiction with a Hungarian society steering towards a European future.