MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

02 iunie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 22 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The EC proposes an economic recovery plan. II. HUNGARY / ROMANIA. Hungarian Foreign Minister visits Bucharest. III. UNITED STATES / NATO / RUSSIA. American strategic bombers fly over the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. IV. KOSOVO. Constitutional Court ruling. V. Developments to track this Week 23 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The EC proposes an economic recovery plan.

The European Commission (EC) launched a ‘Hamiltonian’ financial plan for economic recovery. This project is significant because it proposes a common commitment by the Europeans, for lending and granting big money for free, “according to needs”. The EC plan follows the French – German initiative where, for the first time, Berlin accepted the idea of a common debt. As expected, reactions were positive from the South, who are at the receiving end of the deal, and negative from the North, represented by the “frugal quartet”. Lending / granting money will hinge on accomplishing criteria and recommendations issued by the EC for each nation, and the South will have to implement reforms. A new problem surfaces though: besides the North / South tensions, now East / West tensions appear: Hungary and Poland are pointed at for not applying the rule of law, and Bulgaria is not in the clear either (especially on justice and fight against corruption, although a combination of diplomacy, promises and mum’s the word created in Sofia the impression that Brussels would lift the MCV regime for Bulgaria).

Heavy wrestling will follow to get the EC plan approved, as well as the entailing EU multiannual budget. However, from a political point of view, the dice are cast by the Franco-German decision, and we are steering towards a more financially united Europe, which will have major effects. A solution might be identified no earlier than July, and debates might lag until October. Nevertheless, regardless the ensuing discussions, Europe’s haves made a huge step towards reaching to the ‘United States of Europe’. There was no other solution, as the alternative pointed at the ‘Divided States of Europe’ (which led to bloody wars in history, as we know). Proportions must be kept though, especially when talking about the ‘Hamiltonian’ moment: in that case, there was a financial construction following political developments, while in the EU case, there is a financial step which might trigger a long political process of integration into a political union resembling the United States of America (although still far away, it sounds well for many ears: ‘United States of Europe’). 

On May 27th, EC President Ursula von der Leyen announced the EC propositions for the 2021 – 2027 EU multiannual budget, which includes the post-Coronavirus economic Recovery Plan. The plan provisions a 750 billion Euro fund, whence 500 billion Euros are non-refundable, and 250 billion Euros are in credits. This money will be lent by the EU (together, all European nations) and will be reimbursed until 2058. Apparently, the South and other countries with economic problems or developing countries (Romania included) are at the receiving end, but, in fact, the winner is the EU in its entirety, as a German politician noticed: “the big profiteer it’s us”. This money will have to be earmarked for future projects too, for future generations’ benefit (as Manfred Weber warned). However, practically, the money will mainly go to Italy, Spain, and Greece (the needy South), Germany and France (who give, but also take), and… Romania. 

The North reacted negatively, but, after Germany and France launched the common European loan initiative, reaching a compromise is foreseeable. Considering that recovery funds are part of the EU multiannual budget (and we remember pre-crisis discussions on that draft), the North will not be losing either as things are going to find balance in their direct contribution to the EU budget. The North declines engagement in such burden, in the Brexit context – another problem yet. It is now that London faces the truth that it cannot get only benefits from a future agreement with the EU, as EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reminded UK.

The ‘frugal quartet’, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden criticized the EC proposition as they also did with the Franco-German proposition (Sebastian Kurz: “we do not want a «Debt Union» squeezed through the backdoor”). They put a counterproposition on the table, with EU money lent in advantageous conditions to the nations in need. Thus, lent money would be returned by being added to national debts (with negative effects especially for countries already in deep debts, such as Italy). It is worth noting though, beyond discontent, the four see this European Recovery Fund as a positive fact. They claim a “clear commitment for reforms” and budgetary responsibility on the behalf of those to benefit this money. The easterners are more cautious, because the recovery fund is integrated into the EU budget, which means negative effects on structural funds and agriculture funds, therefore there is the danger that such money would be diverted from the East to the South.


II. HUNGARY / ROMANIA. Hungarian Foreign Minister visits Bucharest.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s visit to Bucharest might have been inspired by various reasons, such as reconsideration of a would-be “punishment” policy which does not work anymore, or/and warnings from elsewhere. Regardless the reasons, the May 26th visit makes an important step to resuming diplomatic level communication between the two nations, after recent tensions. We witness a positive development, although many hurdles still hamper a quick development in bilateral relations. Such hurdles range from the very nature of Viktor Orbán’s nationalist-authoritarian regime, and his foreign policy reflecting this orientation, to economic and social gaps between the two countries, and recent or older historical legacy. It seems to be our duty to react adequately to any positive signal from Budapest, hoping that a mutually advantageous reconciliation will unfold under auspices of mutual respect and in a European approach[1].

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó brought the following messages[2]: 1) Hungary wants to develop its cooperation with Romania on mutual respect bases and continue to cooperate in reasonable terms, as it happened during the pandemic. Budapest wants to consolidate the level of cooperation in Central Europe and builds these bilateral relations on mutual respect, invoking the historic argument (“we respect our partners, but, as a thousand-year-old nation, we expect the same respect on their behalf”); 2) in bilateral relations with Romania, the Hungarian community in Romania must be the glue: “it is in the interest of the 1.5 million Hungarians in Transylvania that the two countries be in good relations with each other”. Therefore, Romania must consider its ethnic Hungarian community living on its territory as a resource (the same as Hungary sees its Romanian community). Hungary would be happy to see that Hungarians are not a subject in the election campaign in Romania; 3) regarding the economic development program launched by Budapest in Romania (worth 250 million Euros), Budapest is open to an agreement for continuing this program, according to Bucharest requests; 4) gas network interconnecting works will be completed soon (for 1.75 billion cubic meters / year); 5) a call for avoiding “regrettable declarations”.

Bucharest response was: 1) the two nations must overcome divergent historical approaches and build a genuine partnership, with mutually beneficial advantages, by departing from any confrontation logic; 2) bilateral relations must be founded on mutual respect and trust, and Hungarian officials visiting Romania should refrain from statements opposite to the spirit of strategic partnership: “for Romania, the Trianon Treaty only means legal confirmation, at international relation level, for the paramount importance act of the Great Union of December 1st, 1918. Romania does no challenge Hungary’s sovereign right to establish its own way of celebrating or commemorating significant historical events, but would like to see the bilateral relation based on the intention to build a pragmatic future in a XXI Century European spirit”. 

After a period ‘lacking mutual respect’, we witness a flash visit conducted as result of Hungarian insistence (Bucharest would have preferred it after June 4th). This visit shows a remarkable openness, with encouraging Hungarian and Romanian messages, but the devil is hidden in the details. Let us pay notice that Hungarian call comes after Péter Szijjártó himself insulted Romania’s ambassador as it didn’t happen in Europe for decades, and, from Bucharest, accusations were that “they plotted with Viktor Orbán to return Transylvania back to the Hungarians”. All Hungarian messages include positive elements: 1) the message on intended cooperation is crucial, and will be met with readiness, regardless the accumulated mistrust. Let us notice that Slovenia and Croatia, given as examples, have good relations with Hungary precisely because Budapest wanted this to happen. Hungary wants good relations with Romania too, Hungary will have them; 2) regarding the Hungarian ethnic community, it is obvious this is and should remain the glue in bilateral relations, as Romanians know well how to build a future with their ethnic Hungarian countrymen (“we do not want to become oppressors, from oppressed”). About mutual respect, this is vital, but it will not result from segregation, since segregation is, basically, what the requested ethnically based autonomy really is, being both non-constitutional and alien to the usual local autonomy. Instead, mutual respect is granted on the grounds that we lived together, we live together now, and we will continue to do it, not invoking historical age[3]; 3) any aid program benefiting the Hungarian minority is welcomed, but with what other country in the world does Hungary implement such program based on a verbal agreement, obtained only by looking into the eyes of an ephemeral foreign minister? 4) in economy, any cooperation between the two countries is remarkable, noting that a mutual advantage should result here too; 5) of course, any rhetoric should end, as both states and nations would lose, and only the opportunistic would win (and for what price: that of poisoning relations among people!). 

There will be several snags hampering a quick and smooth development in bilateral relations, but if understanding and mutual respect are desired indeed, remarkable progress can be achieved. About snags, let us see a few: 1) development differences between the two countries: although economic, social and education gaps still persist, the political balance reversed: Romania is the stable democracy enjoying Washington, Brussels and Berlin’s trust, while Hungary, under Viktor Orbán regime, became a problem both for the EU and for the U.S., in the context of an authoritarian regime being consolidated in Budapest, but also in circumstances of foreign gambles by Budapest;  2) even if it wants, Orbán government will find it difficult to maintain a friendship policy with Romania, albeit for promoting a nationalist-illiberal domestic policy (as Merkel said: “what would that be?!”), in order to justify his authoritarian regime; 3) for three decades, especially during the last decade, the ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania saw itself caught between its love for Budapest and the reluctance towards Bucharest. Hungarian politicians should probably openly promote what the majority of this community really wants, same as Romanian politicians should probably think with the same responsibility both about Romanian majority and Hungarian minority.

Bottom line, the visit of Hungarian foreign minister to Bucharest is a remarkably step, although just a reasonable beginning in a sea of prejudice, even hatred, which marked the relations between the two countries. Thus, Hungary led by Viktor Orbán systematically scores, although not very visible, against Romania’s interests. The sad reality would be to see that, after a decade of governance, Viktor Orbán acted this way because he discovered that Romania is no longer without guard (although, even so, one would reach out to consider the same much invoked mutual respect). Anyway, ourselves, Romanians and Hungarians, must fulfil our mutual duty to live well together, in the purest European spirit.


III. UNITED STATES / NATO/ RUSSIA. American strategic bombers fly over the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea.

On May 29th, American B-1B Lancer strategic bombers conducted missions above the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and adjacent NATO territories. The B-1B aircraft have conventional arms systems, precision ammunition and cruise missiles, including air-to-ship missiles). The flights were a show of force reflecting the Alliance strategic level strike capability and interoperability within NATO and beyond. The bombers were escorted by Polish, Greek, Ukrainian and Romanian fighters, in their respective air space. This mission had a double purpose: adversary deterrence and demonstration of Alliance solidarity (especially the flight over Northern Macedonia, the newest NATO member). The two B-1 bombers, flying without escort, were intercepted by Russian Su-30SM and Su-27P fighters above the Black Sea. Highly likely, in that phase, the U.S. aviation intended only demonstrative flights, without escort, in missions on strategic axes towards Russia, including above the Black Sea, although the American aviation in Europe has conducted exercises with escort before, respectively interaction with adversary interception fighters.  

The U.S. forces announced that B-1 bombers conducted training missions together with Polish F-16 fighters, for the second time this May. In the imagery they presented, two B-1 appear flying with escort of three Polish F-16 (carrying air-to-air missiles) and two MiG-29. In the South, American B-1 bombers flew escorted by Greek, Romanian, and Ukrainian fighters. The Ukrainian escort of one Su-27 and two MiG-29 is a first and makes an unequivocal message to Moscow. Above Romania, the two B-1 bombers were escorted by three Mig-21 and one F-16, in flight above the Danube and Dobrogea, and steering towards the East above Corbu, north of Constanţa. The B-1 bombers had taken off from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, and flew without any stop, with in-flight refueling from KC-135R tankers which took off from Britain and Turkey, including a Turkish KC-135 (another first).

Perhaps, in this phase, U.S. aviation does not aim at complex missions of B-1 strategic bombers IVO Russia (and occupied Crimea), including their escorting for protection against interception. Instead, the goal seems to be demonstrative actions highlighting the B-1 strike capability. Thus, in the moment the two B-1 bombers without escort were intercepted by Russian Su-30SM and Su-27P, which took off from Crimea, they were flying at low speed (one can notice Russian aircraft aerodynamic flaps breaking to reduce speed, after accelerating to catch up for intercepting the American bombers).

The B-1 bomber mission in the European theater is part of a series of US Air Force (USAF) global level exercises meant to demonstrate air strike capability in any theater and on short notice, in the framework of the new Dynamic Force Employment concept, which increases flight unpredictability. Thus, in the East-Asian theater, in the area adjacent to Russia and Japan, USAF conducted a complex action with both B-1 bombers and fighter aircraft. In Europe too, U.S. fighters conducts such missions, but in areas far from the Russian border. It cannot be ruled out that, in the future, the USAF conduct more complex missions in Europe, and the Pentagon’s requests to European ally participation increase. Highly likely, Romania will be able to comply, as Bucharest already spent almost one billion Euros for Romanian Air Force equipment.

For Romania, although not much is left to say, we stick to noticing the take-offs an F-16 and two MiG-21, and we voice our respect for their pilots, as well as for the ground support teams.


IV. KOSOVO. Constitutional Court ruling.

The Prishtina Constitutional Court (CC) ruling puts an end to the situation in Kosovo in favor of president Hashim Thaci on the issue of appointing Avdullah Hoti as prime minister (and departure of the interim prime minister Albin Kurti). Consequently, the path to a new government is open, as well as for reopening negotiations with Serbia. In fact, the problem is between the two Kosovo’s sponsors, the United States and Germany, who failed to agree on the options for normalizing the relations between Kosovo and Serbia: Washington supported the exchange of territory, which was already agreed by presidents Vučić and Thaci, while Berlin opposed such solution, for fears of opening a can of worms. Thus, recently, president Hashim Thaci declared he refused European mediation by Miroslav Lajčak, being in favor of the American solution (practically, he refused German mediation, as the EU representative for Kosovo promotes Berlin points of view).

On May 29th, Kosovar CC ruled in favor of president Thaci, and approved the appointment of Avdullah Hoti, representing the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), as prime minister. Former prime minister Albin Kurti, who wanted to organize early elections, expressed his discontent with this CC decision, and called for protests, which would lead to increased political tensions. CC ruled that “The biggest political party does not have the exclusivity to propose the candidate of the prime minister to form the government”. Thus, Albin Kurti, whose party Vetëvendosje holds the largest number of seats, cannot form a majority after having lost the support of the second ranking party, LDK, with whom it had formed the previous governing alliance. How, Vetëvendosje must yield to president Thaci in favor of Avdullah Hoti of LDK, who can form a majority in the Kosovar parliament.

The new prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, promotes the return to negotiations with Serbia, in view of normalizing relations with Belgrade under a common mediation by the EU and United States. Implicitly, Hoti supports the unconditional lifting of 100% tariffs imposed on Serbian products or products imported through Serbia, which is Belgrade’s prerequisite for returning to negotiations.

Previously, Albin Kurti had accused president Thaci of having inspired the fall of his government, because Vetëvendosje opposed his chairmanship in negotiations with Belgrade; Thaci would have delivered an agreement, mediated by the U.S., with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Such agreement stipulates the exchange of territories: the area in Kosovo, north of river Ibar, inhabited by ethnic Serbs, for the neighboring Preševo Valley in Serbia, inhabited by ethnic Albanians.

Highly likely, the situation looks like this: following an American proposition, Thaci and Vučić reached a solution implying this exchange of territories. Germany did not agree. Sovereigntist Albin Kurti played the German card, and Thaci the American card. After Albin Kurti was the frontrunner, now Thaci plays this role. However, Thaci needs the support of LDK, which prefers a double mediation, the United States, and the EU. But LDK cannot form a government by itself, it needs to ally with other parties which must be glued together only by their desire to see Kosovo recognized, and they accept the exchange of territories to that end. Nevertheless, the deal is not done yet, as Germany consolidated its position in Europe by gaining support of France. Perhaps the United States and Germany will touch base first, and only after that we will see a solution for Kosovo, with exchange of territories. Vučić cannot accept anything less, it provides the solace of recovering the Serbs north of River Ibar, in an election year in Serbia.

In conclusion, the sponsors must come to an agreement whether Serbia will gain an open path towards Europe and Kosovo will gain international full recognition as a state. Until then, both Belgrade and Prishtina lose, and the only winner is the power fishing in Western Balkans muddy waters.


VI. Developments to track this Week 23 of 2020.

► LIBYA / RUSSIA / TURKEY. Russia interferes directly in Libya but denies any involvement. General Haftar forces, even supported by Russian mercenaries, were defeated at the gates of Libyan capital city Tripoli, by troops of internationally recognized Islamist government. In these circumstances, Moscow decided to regain control on Libyan air space and secure air support to Haftar troops by sending at least 14 aircraft (MiG-29 and Su-24). Of course, considering that the Kremlin denies any implication, these aircraft were repainted to conceal their identity. Everything seemed to follow the traditional Russian narrative, but, this time, the United States stepped in: the Pentagon monitored and documented the whole process and published relevant imagery. The United States is not involved in Libya, but it reacted to the risk that Russia create a new wasp nest of instability, by gaining a base south of Europe, and repeating what it did in Syria. Of course, Moscow denies everything and builds the legend that those aircraft are Soviet, not Russian; Syria announced it received MiG-29… But the Kremlin will find it difficult to keep up appearances this time, and get a military success, at the same time (Turkey took the necessary measures in that respect). Ankara decisively committed in Libya for two reasons: 1) political: it wants to support an Islamist government, the Muslim Brotherhood (together with Qatar, but in opposition to the UAE and Egypt); 2) economic: it gained from the Tripoli government an agreement on maritime territory limits, thus damaging Greek and Cypriot legitimate territorial claims (supported by Egypt). Military and political games are to be expected in Libya, and us, the Europeans, whose security is at stake, are mere spectators. This is how the “multipolar order” dreamed by Moscow looks like: multiple conflicts where aggressive regional powers interfere and worsen the confrontations.  

► CHINA / UNITED STATES / EUROPEAN UNION. Increased tensions and new approaches in bilateral relations. Between the United States and China, a new Cold War was declared, as threats replaced official political declarations. Tensions reach many  areas: 1) political – in Hong Kong (where China introduces a new law on security, thus completing the promise ‘one state, two systems’, and the U.S. responded by lowering Hong Kong’s special status); in Taiwan (where the ‘independist’ trend sharpened, with U.S. support, and China speaks about more than peaceful solution only), at the WHO (the United States withdrew, accusing China of controlling the organization in its own interest), and on the guilt for triggering the Covid 19 pandemic; 2) military – in the South China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan; 3) economic – multiple sanctions, both against Huawei (including measures to block Huawei access to essential electronic components), and other corporations (linked to various sanction breaches and abuses). On the backdrop of the upcoming tough American election campaign (with exploding racial issues), the White House is more determined than ever to put China in its place. Beijing, having its own problems (for the first time, no economic growth target is set), and it hardly accepts that ‘everything that used to work, doesn’t work anymore’, and gives up the tactic of stalling in favour of a more aggressive approach. The tensions between the two titans will have repercussions upon us too. Already, the EU foreign minister reunion pointed at the need for a unitary and more sturdy approach on Beijing. But those who export to China big time, Germany first, request diplomacy, in view of reaching a trade agreement. The Europeans also seem to have lost patience with China, who keeps promising equal treatment for western companies and does not fulfil anything of this promise but seeks instead to get access to European technology and market, by any means.

[1] It should not happen though, in the shadow of an imaginary Hungarian civilizing mission in the Carpathian Basin and while claiming an autonomy meaning segregation and bowing to a Hungarian approach linked to a Middle Ages past. On the other hand, Hungarian civilization and culture is quite admirable and worth understanding  in a European context. What about speeding up mutual understanding instead of segregation, especially since, both in Romania and Hungary, the most stubborn ‘antis’ are those who never had the chance to live together with the others, in mixed communities. 

[2] Aiming to keep closer to Hungarian point of view on the meeting, this information reflects the Hungarian press agency MTI reporting.

[3] That age varies by n times 1000 years, with n ranging from 1 to 2, depending on the enthusiasm and nationalist interest. Remarkably, historical grievances are mutual, as Trianon sadness for Hungarians seems as deep as Romanian grievances that, of the 1000 years invoked by Budapest, in 900 years, the Hungarians failed to offer elementary rights to Romanians living in Transylvania. Ruling Hungarian elites never treated Romanians in Transylvania as equals, in mutual respect, not even those Romanians (or, especially those) who were no longer ‘heretical Orthodox’, the Greco-Catholic Romanians who revealed us our western Latinity. If there was a nation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire who ever offered a minimal respect to ethnic Romanians, that was the Austrian nation (although they also burned our churches). Should we pursue a bright future, we must take two things from history: 1) the fact that we managed to live together, for better or for worse. With a few horrendous exceptions, we avoided killing one another. Few European peoples have such a history, full of tensions, but not with many appalling moments, which would have remained stuck in the collective memory and deny reconciliation; 2) the historic truth, lesson for everybody, avoiding history to be miss-used, especially in politics.