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11 iunie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 23 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I.REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Political crisis in Chişinău.

II.UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy visits Brussels.

III. BULGARIA purchases F 16 V aircraft.

IV.RUSSIA - CHINA. President Xi Jinping visits Russia.

V.Developments to track this Week 23 of 2019.


I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Political crisis in Chişinău.

Saturday, June 8th, in the Republic of Moldova a first happened: the pro-Russian Socialists and the pro-Europeans of ACUM alliance formed a parliamentary coalition with the declared aim of “clearing the state of oligarchs”, respectively to remove Vladimir Plahotniuc from power.

The new parliamentary majority was constructed on the basis of a written agreement between the two parties. In this document, the Socialists now accept the requirements set by ACUM to help pass the laws meant to chase the oligarchs away from power. In addition, the Socialists accepted a paragraph stating the requirement of “preserving the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” (probably unity was meant there too). In the Parliament, Socialist Zinaida Grecianyi was voted Speaker of the Parliament, and the ACUM leader Maia Sandu was elected prime-minister. Now, the governemnt is formed by individuals stemming from this new political alliance. There are two notable details: minister of defense and minister of reintegration are both former advisers to President Igor Dodon.

Witnessed by the Russian and U.S. ambassadors, as well as by the EU representative, the Parliament quickly passed the bills leading to clear the state of oligarchs, and to dismiss heads of important state institutions, including the security service SIS, everything following the declaration describing Moldova as a “captured state”. The Constitutional Court, which previously demanded President Igor Dodon to dissolve the Parliament, ruled that all decisions taken by the new Parliament were illegal and with no lawful effect.

Vladimir Plahotniuc presented a compromising footage where Igor Dodon, in order to forge an alliance, appears requesting unacceptable conditions against the national interests, such as Moldova’s federalization. In the footage, Igor Dodon declares he receives money from Russia for his party, and he demands that the document by which V. Plahorniuc accepts the federalization be signed in the presence of Russia’s ambassador to Chişinău. Plahotniuc also announced that Igor Dodon voiced other requirements meant to consolidate his power and allow his Socialists to politically dominate the Republic of Moldova.

What happened? The two anti-democratic leaders, Vladimir Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon, negotiated behind the closed doors to form a coalition, with Plahotniuc controlling the state, and Dodon benefiting from Russia’s support, for being Moscow’s representative (as the video evidence proves). Back from Moscow, Dodon executed his order to blackmail Plahotniuc into accepting certain conditions, ranging from federalization to conceding part of his real power, in exchange for closing the criminal files that Russia has opened against Plahotniuc. The latter refused, considering he had the situation under control, and preparing for snap elections.

Then, Igor Dodon turned to the ACUM coalition, to continue the mission he had received from Moscow: if federalization is not possile right away, then firstly Plahotniuc must fall. Then the power can be taken gradually, because ACUM is easy to be broken, because it is a democratic political formation with its hands tied up by moral principles, which are non-functional in a mafia state. Therefore, Dodon was generous to ACUM: not only he dropped the issue of federalization, by accepting the paragraph on Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but he offered concessions regarding the government: although initially he wanted the portfoglio of foreign affairs, he settled for defense, in order to stop the cooperation with NATO, and also the Ministry of Reintegration, to prepare the federalization for later.

Aiming to remove Plahotniuc as an immediate objective, ACUM relinquished the office of Speaker of the parliament to the Socialists, plus the two important ministries. ACUM kept the foreign and the internal ministries, aiming to clean the institutions and to continue Moldova’s pro-European course.

Plahotniuc responded by asking the Constitutional Court to make Igor Dodon dissolve the Parliament and by trying to block the Parliament session. Only later, the same Constitutional Court declared illegal all new Parliament’s decisions. As a true mafioso leader, Igor Dodon gambles not only his political role, but his liberty too. He did the same with other people’s liberty, as he is not alien to any large wrongdoing in the Republic of Moldova, including the theft of the billion, Russian money laundering and arbitrary convictions.

It is notable that an ACUM – PSMR (the Socialists) alliance would not be possible if, previously, Russia and the West (US and EU) did not accept such arrangement, in view to secure a geopolitical balance. Probably, ACUM counts on this agreement between the giants as a guarantee of a fair play by the Socialists. There is no other explanation for the way ACUM concedes now to Dodon, in fact to Russia.

The events were still fluid Sunday, June 9th, with the Parliament in emergency session, while Vladimir Plahotniuc rallies his forces, from his sympathizers in the street, who camped in front of the main official buildings, to the main state institutions he controls, the Constitutional Court and the Prosecutor Office. The question is how solid is Plahotniuc’s control over these institutions? This will be the decisive factor in the upcoming battle.

Plahotniuc moved decisively: The Constitutional Court suspended Igor Dodon from the office of President and named Pavel Filip interim president. Filip signed the decree for organizing early elections on September 6th. Pavel Filip threatened the ACUM – PSRM alliance: “I call on the politicians not to force the fulfilment of a plan which resembles more and more to state (power) subversion”. Plahotniuc’s Democrats (PDM) organized large demonstrations in Chişinău.

In reaction, the Parliament declared Filip’s decree illegal. The Parliament also called the force institutions to disregard Plahotniuc’s order and, same as Igor Dodon, called upon the international community. ACUM should probably pay more attention to what it appeals to, because Russia is always “ready to help” in the most unexpected ways, nothing being ruled out.

Meanwhile, through Dimitry Kozak, Russia tries to blame Plahotniuc (accusing him for… trying to change the foreign policy bearing from the West to the East!!!) and denies the federalization deal. He also elegantly thanked the West for acquiescing to this arrangement.

In this phase, the battle is for eventually taking all the power, respectively all state institutions. Practically, there are two separate powers, each arguing it acts legally and accusing the opposite party of acting illegally. These two powers will mobilize to take over the whole power, only to later drive it against the other power.

The “against the nature” ACUM – PSRM alliance might prevail, for three reasons: it has foreign support (Russia, along the US and the EU!!!); it has more legal arguments than Plahotniuc (the Parliament was not dissolved when it took decisions, regardless Constitutional Court’s request to Dodon to dissolve the Parliament); and it has the majority of public support.

The problem is not only how this confrontation ends, but what follows next, because the PSRM and ACUM have nothing in common except the goal to remove Plahotniuc. They do not share even the fundamental national interests: I. Dodon and his Socialists, subordinated to Russia, are to execute Moscow’s order to federalize the country, let alone democratization and steering Moldova’s European course. It is true, financing must be supplied by the West, and this is an argument for ACUM.

There is also the risk of having a local mafia danger replaced by a larger danger: the loss of Moldova’s sovereignty. The ACUM bloc must pay attention to keep the process of removing the oligarchs clear from the danger of providing Dodon with the opportunity to assume control over the state institutions, especially the SIS. This would result in Russia’s full control over the Republic of Moldova, after having used the naïve and honest pro-Europeans to topple the oligarchs.


II.UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy visits Brussels.

The first visit paid by the new Ukrainian president was to Brussels. His goal in the EU capital was to assure the Europeans and the Euro-Atlantic allies that he would unabatedly pursue “Ukraine's strategic course to achieve full-fledged membership in the EU and NATO". However, this path will be suplemented by domestic reforms meant to democratize Ukraine and prepare the country for a real Euro-Atlantic integration. Zelenskyi also asked for support in solving the Donbass conflict and achieve peace. Although the declarations on his foreign policy brought a necessary visibility to Ukraine’s future relations with the West, the main problem remains: how is Zelenskyi going to achieve peace in Donbass, since the aim of Russia’s aggression was precisely to get control over Ukraine, and to end Kyiv’s Euro-Atlantic path.

In Brussels, on June 4th to 5th, Zelenskyi met EU leaders and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The Ukrainian President reaffirmed the Euro-Atlantic drive, Ukraine’s intention to become a NATO member and to integrate itself into the EU. He also showed availability to negotiate with Russia: "We are ready to hold negotiations with Russia [and] to implement the Minsk agreements. But first we must be capable to protect ourselves and get stronger economically, politically, and militarily".

Regarding joining NATO, Zelenskyi promised he was going to hold a referendum, since Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, has the right to choose its alliances. Presently, only 43% of the Ukrainians support the idea of joining NATO. Jens Stoltenberg  expressed NATO support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity: "Allies do not, and will not, recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea". Nevertheless, he called Zelenskyi to implement reforms, establish the rule of law and fight corruption.

Zelenskyi also asked the Europeans to harshen sanctions against Russia, declaring he was ready to negotiate with Moscow the end of Donbass conflict. Notably, the would-be solution is to be subjected to a referendum as well.

The economic situation remains critical, as the IMF postponed the transfer of its next installment of the load keeping Ukraine afloat until the parliamentary elections and the establishment of a new government.

Zelenskyi’s party has a considerable advance, 40.9% ahead of the 21st July elections, followed by the pro-Russian opposition (10%). This will make the opposing political forces resort to populist measures, while they still can. One of these measures is to reduce the price of gas for the households, thus breaching one of the commitments Ukraine took before the IMF.

Attempts are made to unblock the discussions within the trilateral working group, where former president Leonid Kuchma reappeared. However, the chances to achieve a reduction of fire exchanges on the frontline are slim. Meanwhile, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in Donbass, which points out that the conflict persists. Zelenskyi is obliged to toughen its position toward Russia – precisely what the Kremlin wants.

President Zelenskyi will also have to stabilize the country and win the “inside civil war” triggered by the kleptocratic political class. The oligarchs, who feel threatened by the new president, persist in doing what they know best (theft, imposture, manipulation, corruption), they dominate the society, and hope that a solution will be found later for the Donbass conflict. Such mission impossible would spell peace with Russia, but preserving Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic course.


III.BULGARIA purchases F 16 V aircraft.

On June 4th, the Bulgarian Minister of Defense announced he was expecting an offer from Washington for selling to Bulgaria eight F 16V aircraft at a promotional price of only $1.2 billion. This happens after the U.S. had announced, on June 3rd, that the Department of State’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency had approved the sale of eight F16Vs with spare parts, weapons, engineering and logistic arrangements to Bulgaria for an estimated $1.67 billion contract.

The F 16 aircraft in discussion are new, mark Viper (F 16 Block 70), the latest and most advanced version on the market today. According to Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the aircraft, this "combines capability upgrades, most notably the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array radar (AN/APG-83) with a new avionics architecture, and structural upgrades to extend the structural life of the aircraft by more than 50 percent beyond that of previous production F-16 aircraft". It is also superior to Russian Su 30 SM and Su 35 aircraft, and is “net-enabled warfare” capable, which will offer new tactical and operational level possibilities to Bulgarian Air Forces.

The Bulgarians announced that Washington specified the final price, and a Letter of Acceptance is to be received from the US in the next two weeks. The initial price was $1 bn, and the Bulgarian Parliament later approved a higher appropriation up to $1.2 bn. The Bulgarian Minister of Defense, Krasimir Karakachanov, stated that the upraising should not be too high: “About 2 billion levs ($1.2 billion) is the upper threshold of a reasonable price”.

The US Embassy in Sofia specified that the final price would depend on the Bulgarian detailed request, depending on the sale package. The various price versions also reflect that Bulgaria hopes to get the lowest possible price for the highest-level equipment package, while the US insists that a larger package means a higher price. On the issue, negotiations are to continue.

By this purchase, Bulgaria will really restore the level of its Air Forces at its NATO member status. The eight F 16Vs will secure the protection of Bulgaria’s air space, including over Bulgaria’s territorial waters in the Black Sea. Practically, NATO secures its air superiority, albeit over a limited portion pertaining to Bulgarian territory. However, Bulgaria does not perceive Russia as a threat, it just follows the general NATO assessment on this threat.

At home, considering the purchase size, as well as the differences between the right wing government and the socialist opposition, the rather very high price for a nation like Bulgaria will likely entail political tensions and significant controversies in Sofia. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (former fighter pilot and close to the Socialists) has warned that no concession should be made regarding the on-board equipment. But how can that be achieved while maintaining the price at the level approved by the Parliament?

Will Bulgaria become an example to be looked up to? Certainly, if the responsible political and military decision-makers achieve not only to purchase eight modern F 16 V aircraft, but also the rebirth of Bulgarian Air Forces. But it is not yet clear how that will be achieved.


IV. RUSSIA - CHINA. President Xi Jinping visits Russia.

The June 6th to 8th visit paid by Chinese President XI Jinping to Russia provided the opportunity for reaffirming a high level of cooperation between the two nations, and for expressing close foreign policy visions. Both presidents assessed the bilateral relations as excelent, and they presented themselves as friends. Contracts were signed, the most important establishing the Huawei G5 technology implementation. However, it is clear that Chinese investments and technology cannot substitute the absence of western input.

President Vladimir Putin presented the visit as a “key event” in bilateral relations. On the other hand, President Xi declared: "The relations between Russia and China are developing stably and at the moment are at their peak. Both sides support each other". Putin confirmed "that Russia's and China’s stances on the key global issues are similar or coincide".

The closeness between the two countries, based on the authoritarian ideologies their political power is built upon, was encouraged by actions against their common adversary, the West, mainly the US: the western sanctions against Russia and America’s trade war with China make a serious threat to their economies. However, there are serious limits to a real economic and political cooperation between the two nations, each one preparing to separately negotiate their relations with Washington.

During the visit, several contracts were signed between important companies, and the Kremlin underlined the increase of bilateral trade by 25%, to $108 billion. In fact, these contracts reflect the increase in crude price worldwide, because there is no notable relaunching of their trade proper. In energy, developments show no significant progress, as Russia is reluctant to sell its gas at the prices China demands. A one billion dollar investment fund has been established, but that is still too little.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping took part in the St. Petersburg economic conference intended to mirror the Davos Forum when Russia’s economy was on the rise. The two leaders highlighted the “great friendship” between their nations. In fact, China compensated the absence of western powers. Not only the bad relations with the West and the sanctions were a snag, but the reality that, in the domestic economic competition, the investors, foreign or local, can be defeated by specific interests with the help of illegal actions commited by government bodies. Thus, the US Embassy boycotted the reunion because an important American businessman had been arrested. Even a Russian prominent economist, Aleksey Kudrin, declared that this practice makes the capital flee the country, with a loss estimated at dozen billion dollars.

Showing solidarity with Beijing, V. Putin stated that American tactics, such as that against Huawei, lead to trade wars, or even real wars. Putin accused the US of economic selfishness, and offered the example of American efforts to block the construction of the gas pipeline to Europe, or that of blocking Huawei activities. His message expressed solidarity with China in the moment when it faces a real trade war with the US. Putin also attacked the US dollar, which he presented as a pressure tool, and he called for rethinking the financial system the US dollar is based upon. In fact, Russia is a secondary actor in the world economy, and an outsider in the Sino-American conflict. Therefore, Moscow can only propose radical solutions, yet merely theoretical.

On the other hand, China is an important economic player considering its very exchanges with the US, which Beijing is not prepared to shed even in this moment of peak economic pressure. So, Chinese President Xi had an appeasing tone, and he called upon the global powers to protect the world trade system. He stated it is hard to imagine a total split between the US and China: “We are not interested in this, and our American partners are not interested in this” either.

Without having an alliance, there are converging interests between Russia and China, and this situation is there to stay. This close relation is mainly generated by the negative trend in Russia’s and China’s relations with the US. However, their foreign policy cooperation will show during crises and during their political actions in third party theaters. And this is precisely what we should watch for.


V. Developments to track this Week 24 of 2019.

  • UNITED STATES. Beyond the expected show, the American president’s visit to UK and France brought confirmations of his policy. These included an encouragement for a tough Brexit meant to break Britain from the EU and bring it closer to the US, as well as a rapprochement to France, especially on Iran. However, there was also a reaffirmation of the Free World unity principle. This week might see consolidations of this trend.
  • CZECH REPUBLIC. The troubles for Prime-Minister Andrej Babiš are growing. The Czechs enter a period of political instability, because Babiš has his power secured (the European elections have confirmed that), but he is on the brink of facing accusations for fraud with European funds. The unusual protests in Prague will increase, in order to deny any hurdles to the normal course of justice by Babiš. The situation gets more complicated, with a EU asking Babiš to return the illegally accessed funds.
  • UNITED KINGDOM. The election of a new prime minister will complicate the Brexit predicament. Boris Johnson looks favorite. Regardless the name to be decided, he/she will be a pro-Brexit politician, having the mission to yank Britain out of the EU, in any way, Blind Brexit included. As the Parliament’s opposition against such enterprise has been already demonstrated, a long political crisis is expected.
  • ITALY. The EU sent a warning to the Italian government regarding the excessive budgetary deficit. The government in Rome is energized by Mario Salvini’s victory in the European elections and is ready to confront Brussels. 
  • EUROPEAN UNION. The election of European Commission members will be the main issue this week, especially the office of President of the European Commission. The upcoming reunion of the EU heavyweights in Brussels will tell more about this process.
  • POLAND – UNITED STATES. Poland will sign the agreement for US troops rotational deployment on its territory. Thus, Warsaw will achieve what it wants, at least partly: a comfortable US military presence.
  • TURKEY. The US issued a new ultimatum regarding the purchase of Russian S 400 anti-aircraft systems by Ankara and began to gradually limit Turkey’s access to the F-35 program. Washington decided to stop accepting any additional Turkish pilots to train on F-35 fighter jets in US, where four pilots are training on two F-35 aircraft officially transferred to Turkey, but still on U.S. soil for training the pilots. More precisely, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment at Pentagon declared: “Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400 system. Thus, we need to begin unwinding Turkey's participation in the F-35 program”. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has little time left (July 31st) to finally decide whether is a good idea to risk a so serious split in its relations with the US.