MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

18 iunie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 24 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Political crisis development. II. POLAND. Agreement for increased US troops rotational presence. III. WESTERN BALKANS. Declaration on EU enlargement in the region. IV. US - IRAN. The US accuses Iran for attacking the oil tankers. V. Developments to track this Week 25 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Political crisis development.

Republic of Moldova’s (RM) Maia Sandu government received the much needed foreign recognition: first, on June 8th, the European Union, then the Unites States, on June 10th, sent messages recognizing the govenment with reference to the elections in February: “The February 24 parliamentary elections were competitive and respected the fundamental rights. Moldovan people’s will, expressed in those elections, must be observed without interference”. NATO sent a message speaking about stability, rule of law and dialogue. Ukraine encouraged the parties to act lawfully and avoid confrontations. The European heavyweights, France, Germany, and the UK, along the nations in charge with the Eastern Partnership, Sweden and Poland, sent an undoubtful message in support of the new power in Chişinău.

On June 14th, the Democratic Party (PDM) vice-president Vladimir Cebotari announced PDM withdrew from government and Pavel Filip Cabinet resigned. V. Cebotari declared that “legal solutions are available to let the PRSM (pro-Russian Socialists) and the (pro-European alliance) ACUM take over the govenment in a lawful way and quit the current illegal status”.

However, the situation remains complicated and the way to “turn legal” Maia Sandu’s Government and the current Parliament is yet to be seen. The Constitutional Court (controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc) is to take proper decisons in that respect.  

By Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Kozak, Russia took care to make sure it would not be seen as meddling: “we continue to maintain that it is exclusively a domestic political process”. He just forgot that his own President Vladimir Putin had mentioned that it was unacceptable to have an oligarch control the state RM! Moscow is waiting for the West to secure the access to power for the Socialists and for Igor Dodon, and now benefits from the position where it is far better to keep a low profile, after V. Plahotniuc revealed all the Kremlin’s illegal games.

The old power presented itself as the savior of RM from federalization, with Vladimir Plahotniuc the champion who had rejected Kozak Plan II. Igor Dodon was declared traitor by PDM, and the Prosecutor Office opened a criminal file on his name. However, information surfaced about private planes having taken off from Chişinău Airport on June 10th, and rumor has it that Plahotniuc’s colleagues or family members were on board. It is certain that Plahotniuc sent his son-in-law, Adrian Candu to the US in the attempt to activate the connections he had made there, but there are little chances of success.

The decisions taken by each party were later nullified by the other party. Plahotniuc controls the state institutions, but is completely isolated abroad. The made ridiculous attempts, like trying to bribe the US and Israel by last ditch measures to grant a lot for the new American Embassy building in Chişinău and to transfer RM’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Plahotniuc believes that anything can be bought, even a country. In his turn, Igor Dodon believes that a country, Russia, can buy anybody without being held accountable.

On June 6th, the new power in RM asked the Consitutional Court judges to resign. This Court’s decisions remain the new power’s only problem, since those decisions, albeit... unconstitutional, cannot be challenged, although it is clear that Constitutional Court judges are Plahotniuc puppets. Even an intervention by Council of Europe’s Venice Commission would be useless.

The Police remained faithful to the old power and controls the access to the Government building. There are two separate powers in force now, operating from two separate locations: The Parliament and the new government work in the Parliament building, and the old power works in the Government buildings. The conflict also transferred to the territory: the county governors and the mayors announce their allegiance to one side or the other. Of course, the leader (bashkan) of Gagauz ethnic minority and autonomous county recognized the new power (or whatever Russia prefers). The Ministry of Defense keeps the military off the conflict and issued a communiqué stating that “the National Army does not get involved in the crisis and will remain outside the political games”.

Currently, RM has a mixed voting system favoring the PDM, but the Parliament works to restore the proportional vote, to provide advantage to the ACUM, but especially to the Socialists. There is the danger that, after Plahotniuc falls and Russia’s illegal financing to the Socialists continues, the next elections will be won by the Socialists, read Moscow! The Kremlin, seeing it holds one third of RM’s electorate, attempted to grab a second third by making a deal with PDM and hoping to establish a typical east-European corrupt pro-Russian system. But it did not work, because Plahotniuc rejected the Kozak Plan II. Then, the Kremlin turned to the pro-western alliance ACUM, to make sure it grabs the state institutions from Plahotniuc using the umbrella of anti-corruption and anti-oligarch struggle. Then, Moscow likely considers that getting rid of the temporary alliance with ACUM will not be a problem, because they are too honest to be strong.

A notable develpoment supporting this scenario is that Igor Dodon tries to increase the importance of RM’s Supreme Security Council and make it an institution rival to the government. This is risky for the future, because such tool might be used to ditch the ACUM partner from government when Moscow deems that the Socialists are powerful enough and the pro-European activities become counterproductive to Moscow’s goal to control the whole RM. However, for the moment, the EU foreign ministres reunited Monday 17th in Luxemburg rushed to encourage the new Modovan government to proceed to necessary reforms and implement the EU Association Agreement. Such endeavour will already conflict with Moscow’s plans.

Very likely, attempts are made to unlock the situation and find a solution, but nobody knows what this solution looks like, because it is not a simple transition of power problem. No: in RM, we witness the unmaking of the control held by an individual on the entire state, this politician being himself accused of crimes and leading the countrywide mafia.

But there is more: on the other side, we have a president, Igor Dodon, and a party PSRM (the Socialists), who has no reason celebrate if democracy is established, because evidence shows they are indeed traitors, in service of a foreign power. However, when the Socialists control RM’s institution, this snag will go away.

Meanwhile, Romania seems to have left the planet for a while…


II. POLAND. Agreement for increased US troops rotational presence. 

The Unites States announced its agreement with Warsaw’s request to deploy an additional contingent of American GIs in Poland, as stipulated in the common declaration signed by President Donald Trump and President Andrej Duda on June 12th.  

On June 13th, during the visit paid by Polish President A. Duda to Washington, President Trump announced the deployment of additional 1000 US troops to Poland, on a rotational basis. These soldiers supplement the current American deployment and will be integrated into a division level command and a joint training center. The US will also deploy a squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones specialized in surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The details on this deployment are still in the making. During the last four years, almost 4,500 US troopers were deployed to Poland by rotation.

Although the deployment size is far from the initial request, this arrangement is an achievement for Poland, because the conditions are set for a rapid increase of this contingent, should the situation demand. In 2018, Warsaw requested the deployment of a whole armored division (10,000 soldiers) and offered to spend $2 billion for the necessary infrastructure. According to the new decision, the US will extend its military presence in Poland “in the near future”, with a rotational but long-term deployment of only 1,000 soldiers. Poland will finance this new American presence and the necessary infrastructure, including the US division level command compound.

President Trump declared that this increase of US troops in Poland will be at the expense of the American contingent deployed to Germany, currently counting 52,000 soldiers: "We would be taking them out of Germany or we would be moving them from another location. It would be no additional troops to Europe".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the US – Polish accord is abiding by NATO’s international agreements, i.e. the 1997 NATO – Russia Founding Act, which pledges the Alliance to carry out its collective defense without "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces". However, this commitment only applied to the "current and foreseeable security environment" at the time. NATO currently holds about 1,200 soldiers in Poland as part of the effort to deter Russia, and will earmark $269 millions for part of the infrastructure necessary to support the US troops deployed to Poland (warehouses for prepositioned military equipment).

Russia’s reaction was swift. President Vladimir Putin declared that the US – Russia relations go from bad to worse. Moscow will likley respond by consolidating its military disposition in the Kaliningrad exclave and by increasing its military presence in Belarus.

President Trump confirmed that Poland would also purchase 36 F-35 aircraft for over $2.5 billions, and buy American liquified natural gas (LNG) for $8 billions, aiming at reducing Poland’s energy dependence on Russia (which currently provides 70% of its necessary supplies). Thus, the bilateral military cooperation is seconded by energy deals. The US and Poland oppose the construction of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which, according to President Trump, would make Germany “Russia’s hostage”.

Bottom line, without conducting a large scale provocative and expensive deployment, Washington answered the Polish request for an increase in the combined US – Polish military capability: 1) the US has enhanced the tactical warning system by deploying the drone squadron; 2) the command structure for a future division command has been decided; 3) the necessary military equipment will be prepositioned (by a previous decision); 4) by rotation, American troops will be deployed and will train together with Polish soldiers; 5) should the situation demand, the US will jump to the rescue with a division already prepared as result of described measures.  


III. WESTERN BALKANS. Declaration on EU enlargement in the region. 

Thirteen European nations from southern and eastern European Union issued a common declaration asking the EU institutions to fulfil the promise Brussels made to Western Balkan countries regarding their integration and requested that negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia be initiated for their accession to the Union.

The common declaration was signed on June 11th by Visegrad Group nations (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary), two neighboring nations (Austria and Italy), three Balkan countries (Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria), plus the Baltic states and Malta. The document was presented at the EU ambassador reunion in Brussels, on June 12th.

A diplomat commented this initiative puts pressure on the other European nations, i.e. the older EU members, who would prefer to delay the enlargement and work a deeper integration instead. The common declaration comes on the backdrop of hesitations by France and the Netherlands to open negotiations with the two Western Balkan nations, although the European Commission (EC) has formally recommended that negotiations should start, then the European Council will decide.

Visiting Northern Macedonia, on June 6th, the Czech Prime-Minister Andrej Babiš declared that the EU leaders should "keep their word". This statement supports the hypothesis that the common declaration was issued at the initiative of Visegrad Group nations, who make efforts to highlight their capacity to influence European decisions, the same way they acted regarding the election of the new EC President.

Interesting enough, the declaration was signed by all eastern and southern Europe countries with two exceptions – Romania and Greece, and it proves Visegrad Group’s ability to attract two important EU nations (Italy and Austria), as well as the Baltics. Almost all these countries are recent EU members and they face problems with democracy and / or corruption, or, although old members, they have problems with far-right wing’s accession to power (Italy and Austria), or corruption (Malta).

The declaration set a precedent, with the East and South demanding the West and North – used to decide themselves, to put in practice an EC reccomandation. Of course, the integration of Western Balkan nations would increase the influence of signatory countries at the expense of the nations with a more consolidated democracy and who pay the expenses, but also decide about the course of events. And this happens when those eastern and southern countries did not reach the democracy standard necessary to deny their risk of becoming a threat to the European future.

Although, in this stage, the declaration will not provide the desired effect, it shows a possible danger at the horizon: the EU enlargement can offer a chance for the troublesome nations (with democracy or economic issues) to consolidate themselves politically. Of course, there are many factors to preclude such split in the EU, but this danger might push the European core nations to press for an increase in the democratic standards of the newcomers, rather than accept further enlargement.

For the moment, the political crisis in Albania may nurish a good pretext for postponing the integration negotiations, but the problem is still there.


IV. US - IRAN. The US accuses Iran for attacking the oil tankers.

The United States officially accused Iran as being responsible for the mine attacks on two oil tanks close to the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran denied and accused Washington of pursuing a policy of tension escalation. Previously, the Iranian leadership had refused to receive the message sent by President Trump through the Japanese prime-minister visiting Tehran. The danger of having the US - Iran tensions escalated increased significantly. Two oil tanks (one Norwegian, one Japanese) sailing close to Iranian shores were attacked on June 13th with magnetic mines, and they were seriously damaged. American warships in the area were alerted by distress signals, came to the rescue and noticed the presence of Iranian vessels in vicinity.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared at a news conference in Washington that "it is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks... This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication."

This declaration was supported by evidence: on June 14th, the US published a video recording showing an Iranian special forces vessel attempting to remove an unexploded mine from the keel of one of the tankers damaged in the attack.

Most of the Gulf nations and the United Kingdom expressed positions close to the US, while Russia and China called for restraint.

Shortly after the attack, the price of crude increased by 4%. This reflects the concerns in the market regarding the danger on oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, because a significant part of the world crude transits this waterway.

Current circumstances include previous accusations on Iran for having conducted other attacks on oil tankers IVO Strait of Hormuz, in May. With already hightened tensions, this latest attack might become an important moment in further escalating the tensions, especially given Iran’s refusal to receive a message from President Trump. Thus, Tehran rejected any dialogue with Washington on wider issues like the nuclear treaty and changing Iran’s policy in the region.

For the US, this attack provides a casus belli, but President Trump does not want war with Iran, yet Iran’s yield as result of economic pressure. Probably this point of view encouraged Tehran to conduct these attacks, considering that President Trump lacks the political will to start a war which could prove another Afghanistan. Iran has a coherent strategy and acts two-pronged: on one side, it observes the nuclear deal (although announced it would proceed to enriching Uranium at a higher level) and negotiates with the Europeans a way out of or around the American sanctions; on the other side, Iran strikes US allies by its proxies (Yemeni Houti rebels attacked Saudi infrastructure objectives) and triggers the attacks on oil tankers as hybrid warfare tools with impact on the price of crude.

However, Tehran must pay attention that this strategy keeps on the edge and does not cause an American attack, while it still damages the US policy credibility and weakens the American economic pressure.

The United States faces the dilemma whether to attack Iran or not. Should the US choose not to attack, it loses credibility, should the US attack, America enters a conflict it does not want. The Trump Administration must find a balanced way to punish Iran for these actions without starting a war it dislikes.


V. Developments to track this Week 25 of 2019.

RUSSIA - UNITED STATES. This is the week before the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. Both the US and Russia will likely send messages regarding bilateral relations and their expectations from the would-be meeting of the two presidents. Vladimir Putin already communicated that Russia is open to renounce the New START if the US fails to engage in negotiations. There are positive signals regarding expert level meetings. However, it seems that no further incidents like between the American and Russian vessels in the Philippines Sea will likely happen again soon.

TURKEY announced it would take response measures if the US imposed sanctions against it following the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems. Turkish pilots training in the US for the F-35 aircraft were excluded from the training program as Washington applies the threats of gradually expel Turkey from the F-35 program, yet quicker than expected. Although it is little probable that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan backs up, there are, in fact, the last two weeks before the United States takes the final decision to totally expel Turkey from the F-35 program.

UKRAINE. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will travel to Germany and France to present his foreign and domestic policy. Of course, his priority is solving the Donbass conflict. For the rest, before the parliamentary elections, the situation in Ukraine is on a summer standstill: The Parliament refuses to yield to president’s request to dismiss the General Prosecutor and other high-ranking officials; and the president does not reach yet the real power. However, Zelenskiy’s party is rising in the polls and is expected to win the next elections with a landslide.

SERBIA. President Aleksandr Vučić held ground, being skeptical regarding the Paris meeting meant to relaunch the negotiations with Priština, even after a high-ranking US official visited Belgrade and made declarations in favor of lifting the tariffs imposed by the authorities in Priština. New diplomatic maneuvers are likely to occur.

CHINA – NORTH KOREA. A first ever, the Chinese President will visit North Korea. Just before the G20 Summit, there are two issues to watch there: the way Beijing plays the North-Korean nuclear card, and the way President Xi Jinping will use the North-Korean nuclear issue in the US – China trade war.