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Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

04 iunie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 22 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I.EUROPEAN UNION. The EU Parliament election results.II.EUROPEAN UNION. National fallout of the European elections.III. RUSSIA is accused for breaching the nuclear test ban agreement. IV.SERBIA. Serbian Armed Forces alerted after Kosovar authority actions.V.ISRAEL. The Parliament is dissolved, and snap elections are organized.VI. Developments to track this Week 23 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The EU Parliament election results.

The May 26th elections showed a voter mobilization which resulted in preserving the traditional political forces’s absolute majority in the European Parliament. Alghough they lost their two-party joint majority, the Populars and the Socialists can rely on support from Liberals and Ecologists. The Populists and the extreme right remained marginal forces, although they obtained an important success in Italy and France. However, the most significant effects appear at national level: early elections in Greece, isolation in EU for Italy, and some adjustments in Hungary. In Romania, the results show the Romanian politics steering toward EU liking. The battle for the European Commission (EC) follows next, and the Union strategy and its budget beyond 2020 are at stake.

Even during the election day, a remarkable flow to the polling stations suggested that it would be the true majority to decide in the near future, not the political minorities, that usually mobilize easier to win elections. This vote tilted the vote toward the mainstream pro-European political trend. The results speak comfortably: although they rose to 23%, the anti-Europeans, loosely grouped around the far-right, will not be able to establish the political agenda, although more of their striking voices will be heard in the European Parliament. This will only force the pro-Europeans to keep politics on the straight and narrow while they try to identify answers to the problems which caused this anti-European surge. These issues range from migration and social inequity to tolerance to certain political forces that, at national level, embarked on an anti-European policy (tolerating Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is the best example).

The European Populars and Socialists, although no longer in their pair majority, remained the traditional core of the Union, now joined by the Liberals, encouraged by Emmanuel Macron, and the Greens, who gained ground at the expense of the Socialists, especially in Germany. There is now a fragmentation of Europe’s political landscape. However, since the basic principles are observed, the political mainstream unity is saved.

The extreme right won in Italy, but Matteo Salvini brings exaggerated requests, focused on transferring the Italian irresponsible financial policy consequences to the EC; this cannot make the basis for an alliance with other extreme right parties. In France, National Rally party’s victory consolidates the extreme right gain in the EU, but its leader, Marine Le Pen must take care whom she will ally with in the future EU Parliament, if she wants to avoid a downfall. Viktor Orbán yielded as expected, he is in no hurry to shake hands with M. Salvini, but he took measures in Hungary to solve the armlock with the Populars. The Polish Conservatives seek their place to the political centre and are careful not to skid towards extremism. Anyway, the extreme right will be neither important, nor united. On the other hand, it will have a strong voice in the European Parliament, and the pro-Europeans are forced to produce real solutions, not theoretical chimeras or makeshift constructions for Europe’s problems.

The immediate effects will be seen during the election of EC members, especially the EC president, where Germany and France have opposing proposals not only about the name, but also about the procedure. France’s intention to change the election procedure seems to be masking its disappointment for not being able to win the position itself. This will likely meet Germany’s goodwill and a compromise solution might be identified.

Nevertheless, those who isolated themselves, both by their policies and their demands, will lose: Italy might end up with no representative at the top, while now it has three: Antonio Tajani, Federica Mogherini, and Mario Draghi. The Visegrad group nations are not far themselves from political isolation in the European higher bodies, due to their bold but anti-European policy, lacking other objectives than specific interests of the political forces in power.

From aloft, after having crossed this bridge, the EU grows stronger. However, it must reform now in order to cope with outside challenges. Inside the EU, the danger from extreme right and populism, active mostly in the South and East, will be defeated with hurdles, because these parties came to power taking turns and then failing (it happened in Austria, and Italy seems to be the next). It cannot be ruled out that, in the East, we will witness Polish Conservatives’ reorientation toward the Centre, then a slight moderation by V. Orbán, provided the pressure upon him continues. It will be the economy and correct implementation of policies to decide, not hollow slogans. Thus, the next challenge, maybe a crisis, will be likely triggered by economic antagonisms. There, the foreign debt will matter, and those who have invested for the future will pan out, while those who have wasted irresponsibly will peter out.   

Finally, the anti-Europeans were wrong: many European citizens heard the Sibiu call for reassuming the European values and staying clear of paths leading to nowhere.


II. EUROPEAN UNION. National fallout of the European elections.

The European election impact on domestic politics in the member nations was as big as their impact at European Parliament level. In France and Italy, the results are alarming, as well as in some of the Visegrad group countries. Greece will have snap elections, and Belgium is now seeking a solution to keep the country united. At national level, the European elections produced a pro-European message too obvious to be neglected by political parties, and this happens in Brussels as well.

Germany found its balance, the Christian-Democrats remain in lead, and the defeat of Socialists in Germany is compensated by the growth of Ecologists. The extreme right AfD remained marginal. Hence, the main European nation showed immunity to political extremism.

As expected, the extreme right won in Italy. Matteo Salvini harvested the fruit of his anti-immigration policy and of the financial generosity he hopes to transfer to the Euro Zone countries. His success is counterbalanced though by the Italian Socialist comeback. Through his policy of blackmailing the Euro Zone nations to accept his populist economic measures, Salvini is only hastening the Italian crisis. With each Salvini’s declaration, the Italian bonds lose to the German bonds. Only Brussels’ diplomacy will temper an Italian crisis which cannot be avoided, because its roots are economic.

In France, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron’s political forces finished almost equal, but this means victory for the far-right. This is an additional signal for President Macron that before his bold European-level projects, he must pay attention to his own backyard, where the economic and social reform ought to deliver, if he wants to limit and diminish the extreme right influence in his country.

On the aggregate, the big political forces in Europe won only barely, and the traditional parties need the middle size and small parties to secure their leading position in the European Parliament.

Spain saw its Socialists win, but the Spanish right-wing is back in the saddle as well. In the Netherlands, the left gained an important victory, while in Belgium, the Flemish extreme right became number two, which triggered a political crisis making the King find a solution to keep the nation in one piece.

In Austria, the far-right remained on the third place, and the right-wing ranked first. But Sebastian Kurz’s government fell, which shows that, when the right-wing joins the far-right, it ends up picking up the bill.

In Central Europe, there are no major changes. Polish Conservatives won, but the pro-European coalition also did well, and the general elections this autumn will be crucial. Should the Article 7 activation afflict the European funds, the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) will have to review its excesses against the rule of law. In Hungary, V. Orbán rules, but he was not able to exploit his success by gaining a king-maker role in Brussels, because the final results at European level do not play well for him: the mainstream politics at European level were not shaken badly enough to make the European Populars need him desperately. In these circumstances, Viktor Orbán had to react in two ways: domestically, he put off indefinitely his parallel courts (the de facto parallel justice, rather injustice, he intended to establish); abroad, he made clear he did not support M. Salvini. However, the rise of Hungarian opposition is worrying Prime-Minister Orbán. In the Czech Republic, although Prime-Minister (PM) Andrej Babič’s Liberals won, his upcoming possible indictment becomes central. In Slovakia, PM Robert Fico’s ruling Socialists were sanctioned by the voters.

In Bulgaria, the GERB party won, and Prime-Minister Boyko Borissov dodged resignation. The Socialist came back to the European Parliament and their leader’s resignation looks good for GERB, but the hardships are just beginning: corruption scandals, covered by a non-functional justice system, now surface and harm the GERB party badly. Resignations within GERB are daily events, and the Bulgarian government’s non-reforming strategy covered by an effective propaganda will fail, and this will be seen in economy.

In Greece, Prime-Minister Tsipras announced snap elections, after the right-wing won the European elections by a landslide. This is the end of a chapter in Greece, after a radical left party solved, in the most capitalist way, the nightmare created by the most corrupt political elite in Europe: the previous power had indebted the country to the level it almost lost its sovereignty. In order to be salvaged, Athens implemented precisely what the heavy Europeans and the IMF dictated. So, Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party cut deep, as requested by Germany, Greece’s de facto saviour, regardless what some Greek politicians have claimed.

In Romania, the anti-European message disappeared, and, in perspective, the justice system will likely be appreciated by the EU for being independent. Also, Romania’s main political parties are part of the European mainstream political families (Populars, Liberals, and Socialists) where their voices matter.


III. RUSSIA is accused for breaching the nuclear test ban agreement.

The U.S. sent a warning to Moscow and accused it for "probably not adhering to" the rules of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a multilateral agreement prohibiting nuclear testing ratified by Russia in 2008 and signed but not yet ratified by the U.S. The specific accusations hold that Russia might have conducted tests of low-yield nuclear weapons in the Arctic. The message is important for the sub-strategic nuclear armament issue, and a new arms race is predictible in that field after the demise of INF. This has a direct connection with Russia’s doctrine of “de-escalation by escalation”, which stipulates passing from a conventional conflict to a nuclear conflict by using precisely this kind of armament (sub-strategic vectors, short-range and medium-range missiles with low-yield nuclear warheads).

On May 29th, DIA Director Robert Ashley declared: “the United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to the nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the zero-yield standard... Our understanding of nuclear weapon development leads us to believe Russia’s testing activities would help it improve its nuclear weapon capabilities. The United States, by contrast, has forgone such benefits by upholding a zero-yield standard.” R. Ashley also stated that Russia has “strained” key pillars of other international arms control agreements, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Open Skies Treaty.

The U.S. National Security Council official Tim Morrison made a statement which brings certain clarifications to the issue: “We believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

For several years already, American experts and officials have provided assessments that Russia continues to conduct low-yield nuclear tests in the Novaya Zemlya Islands, in the High Horth. However, no proof was made public to support such allegations. The U.S. holds a similar site in Nevada, and has the capacity to conduct similar activities.

Moscow’s reaction was rough, ranging from challenging the American military professionalism to accusing Washington of attempting to quit this agreement too.

Very likely, Russia is in breach of CTBT agreement as well, especially because it lacks the technology to simulate instead of performing such nuclear explosions, and Moscow’s strategy requires the development of new nuclear warheads writ large, hence, low-yield including. Very likely, the U.S. only sends a warning, as it does not produce any proof for not revealing its sources. On the other hand, the same itinerary begins with CTBT as in the INF case: Russia breaches the agreement, the U.S. brings accusations, in the attempt to warn and make Russia renounce breaching the treaty. Let’s just hope that CTBT will not share the same fate as the INF.  

Although a reset of bilateral relations was attempted, there are no good signs: mutual trust keeps falling, now with questioning a basic nuclear armaments control treaty, the CTBT. Of course, on the path it chose, Moscow has no alternative because its strategy requires making a jump ahead in a new nuclear arms race. However, perhaps negotiations will start towards new agreements and mutual trust will increase. Otherwise, the road map is clear: Russia, the ”great small power”, cannot but develop its nuclear forces for compensating the reduced capacity of its conventional forces, large enough to bully Europe, yet too small to challenge the U.S. or China.

The first test for Russia’s relations with the West, the U.S. respectively, remains Ukraine, the main front of Russia’s policy to restore its empire. The visits by French and German foreign ministers to Kyiv announces not as much resuming the negotiations to find a solution, as they are merely a first move. This serves Russia more, because Ukraine in not yet prepared, for domestic reasons (new leadership). It is only for us to hope that Mike Pompeo’s visit to Berlin brings a common position on Ukraine (beside so many opposing opinions), since it is well known that western sanctions make the effective tool to force Russia adjust to a less aggresive behavior.

In the Black Sea, Russia continues its policy to closely monitor NATO exercises, this time anti-aircraft exercises in Bulgaria. The Smetlivy distroyer is the warship Moscow deployed to monitor the Bulgarian air defense exercise. It makes sense, since a sole Patriot system would significantly change the force ratio in western Black Sea.    


IV. SERBIA. Serbian Armed Forces alerted after Kosovar authority actions.

After the Kosovar police clamped down in force north of Ibar river and made arrests, Belgrade reacted by alerting its troops and calling the western powers to stop Priština’s aggresive actions. Although this incident cannot lead to an armed confrontation, it showed how little hopes there are for seeing the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština relaunched.

On May 28th, after Kosovar police operation north of Ibar, Belgrade ordered the Serbian armed forces to rise the operational condition to alert. Troops were seen moving to the South and aircraft flights were conducted. Priština stated that its raid targeted organized crime groups in northern Kosovo. As result, over 20 individuals were arrested under the accusation of “participation to criminal activities”. Most of the detained citizens are police officers, and eleven persons were injured following what Kosovar authorities described as “armed resistance” of ethnic Serbs in Zubin Potok. Two UNMIK members were also arrested, one of them Russian national, which prompted Moscow’s rough reaction.

Maybe the Kosovar actions were in reaction to recent elections for mayors north of Ibar river, because their undoubtful success hampers Priština’s strategy to diminish the political role of Municipality Concil – the real political and administrative force north of Ibar river, used by Belgrade to control this region. On the other hand, accusations of criminal activities are not hard to make, since, across all Kosovo, politics, police and organized crime are difficult to discriminate from one another. This becomes more true now, when smuggling is the only way the Serbs north of Ibar river can cope with the huge tariffs imposed by Priština.

The authorities in Kosovo can afford to jump the gun because their western sponsors cannot or would not calm an ever more aggressive government. On the other hand, Belgrade finds out it cannot change the situation by force: the Serbian armend forces were consolidated useless (just increasing Serbia’s dependency on Russia), because they cannot force their way into Kosovo, which is secured by KFOR. But KFOR is not responsible for Priština’s actions, and the Kosovar authorities are free to act north of Ibar river. The only opposition they face is the local ethnic Serbian “participants to criminal activities”.

Tardily, Belgrade shows realism: President Aleksandr Vučić stated in the Parliament that Serbia must understand it lost Kosovo. But now, Priština is the actor who thinks it can get by force what can be achieved only by negotiations. Not recognizing Kosovo is the problem, but the price to pay for that, which is the fate of the Serbs living north of Ibar river. The U.S. and Germany should probably demonstrate realism too, if finding a long-lasting solution is intended.

Referring to Kosovar leaders, Serbian Prime-Minister, Ana Brnabić, declared on May 29th to journalists: "My fear is that we have to deal with the worst type of populists, with people who literally came out of the woods... Some of them are terrorists" who participated in Kosovo's 1998-99 war. This not only offered the Kosovar prime-minister the pretext to forbid her access to Kosovo, but showed the lack of elementary respect between the two parties. Both Belgrade and Priština still have a long way to learn that using only hatred and disdain will not lead to any result, and both parties get their path to European integration stopped, as well as their domestic development. Being clear of the danger of a military conflict in Kosovo, the political deadlock remains a serious source of instability.

For the Western Balkans, hope comes from signals sent by the European Union regarding upcoming negotiations for Northern Macedonia and Albania’s accession to the Union. This comes although tensions are at their peak in Tirana, and the EU is not prepared for a new enlargement.


V. ISRAEL. The Parliament is dissolved, and snap elections are organized.

What initially seemed to be obvious did not come true: Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to keep Avigdor Lieberman’s secular ultranationalists close to the religious parties. When failing to achieve that arrangement, Netanyahu preferred to dissolve the parliament (Knesset) for precluding the president to nominate another prime minister. The Israeli politics became a “one man show”, where the next elections’ stake is Netanyahu’s fate. Although he starts in pole position, Netanyahu began to walk downhill, to the benefit of Israeli democracy, because the balance of powers is to be decided, should Netanyahu obtain the future government. This is the stake now, with the Supreme Court role in discussion, because Netanyahu wants to grant himself immunity by a decision in the Knesset overruling the Supreme Court decison.

On May 30th, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset, and early elections are to be held in September. Until the last moment, Netanyahu negotiated with A. Lieberman to form a coalition but he met the latter’s opposition in finding a compromise. The dispute focused on the bill regulating the conscription of Israeli ultra-orthoxox believers, who are now exempt from military service in Israel. They make 10% of the population in a country where all women serve in the military. The religious parties, faithful allies of Likud, demand the preservation of this tradition, and are determined to yield minimal concessions, that is a watered down bill keeping the status quo almost intact. The religious parties requested strong guarantees from Netanyahu that tradition will be observed as they demand. The real reason behind Netanyahu’s failure to achieve a compromise is that Netanyahu’s firm guarantees are offered to the ultraorthodox in exchange for their support for the bill granting Netanyahu immunity in justice.

Israel is split again: one part considers Netanyahu “King of Israel” for the achievements during his tenure in office, while the other part sees him as the main threat to Israeli democracy. He starts the new campaign in pole position, because the opposition does not look like a force able to take over the country. The opposition will likely focus the electoral campaign against Netanyahu as a person, which probably increases its chances, but such way of campaigning is doubtfully beneficial to Israel.  

A colateral effect of resuming the electoral campaign is a confortable way to ignore the failure of America’s peace plan (already visible during Jared Kushner’s tour in the Middle East). Another consequence is the postponement of a first: the Russia – U.S. – Israel meeting at top security officials level.

The result of upcoming elections has an outstanding significance because Israel is about to either continue or leave the “King Netanyahu” era, with important effects upon the future of this nation and the region.


VI. Developments to track this Week 23 of 2019.

REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. The visits to Chişinău by top officials of Russia, EU and the U.S. send the signal that important political decisions are in sight. After Vladimir Plahotniuc simply disappeared from the first plane of the political stage, and Igor Dodon met Vladimir Putin, it seems that the Kremlin finally took certain decisions which the Socialists will implement. Igor Dodon issued an ultimatum that a conclusion needs to be drawn to avoid snap elections. Although he denies any connection between Dmitry Kozak’s visit to Chişinău and the domestic political situation in the Republic of Moldova, his very ultimatum proves that the truth is different. However, the Democrats’ invitation to the Socialists was not rejected by the latter. Is the future solution a governing alliance between PDM and PSRM? The visits to Chişinău by a high European envoy and by a high American official can only feed speculations that such political decision will be generated in Chişinău, and this solution needs the approval by the West, who will further sponsor the country governed by anti-western forces.

UNITED STATES. At home, the discussions on impeachment take the first political plane. President Donald Trump’s visit to UK will offer indications regarding his policy towards the Europeans. Meanwhile, the commercial tensions (and not only) with China increase in many directions, the tensions with Iran decrease, and the new tariffs imposed to Mexico in order to forestall the immigration, all show a Trump Administration determined to use economic pressures. America’s sloppy foreign policy, as a whole, does not affect us in Romania, since the U.S. has a consistent position in all issues of concern for Bucharest. It is just that the problems managed on the edge are multiplying and… they remain there and pile up. Anyway, those who believe that phenomenon Trump is short-lived might prove wrong.

TURKEY. As the date of S-400 air defense system purchase gets closer, first hesitations appear regarding the continuation of this contract, although Ankara tries to persuade the U.S. that S-400 and F-35 can live together. Turkey is disappointed that Russia supports, in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s offensive against the rebels in Idlib. But President Erdoğan’s political vision will prevail, and this favors regional games with Russia, Iran, and other regional powers, over cooperation with the U.S. and the EU.