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25 iunie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 25 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I.REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. The political crisis ended, yet the future remains unclear II.UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy visited Paris and Berlin III.RUSSIA. Review without perspectives IV.UNITED STATES - IRAN. War danger increases V.Developments to track this Week 25 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. Republic of Moldova. The political crisis ended, yet the future remains unclear.

After the supreme leader Vladimir Plahotniuc conceded the executive power, the political situation in the Republic of Moldova (RM) is now far from clear, although everything goes smoothly. The ACUM pro-European political alliance and the Socialists (PSRM) claim they want to destroy Plahotniuc’s mafioso system. However, this is hard to believe that the Socialists want this to happen, their objective is just to take over the power this system holds in order to build an autocratic establishment, very much like the one operating in Russia. This course of action would also allow implementing the Kozak solution of controlling the RM by “reunification”, read the Transnistrian “tail wagging the dog” concept, or the “transnistrianization” of RM.  

Maia Sandu’s ACUM holds the higher ground argument that the whole country wants a better life and European support, but will they succeed to break apart what the Socialists want to preserve? We will see the first signs in the Parliament, when the bills neccesary to start reforming the state institutions are put to the vote.

The visible side of Plahotniuc’s system stepped back, and the proof is that the Constitutional Court reviewed... its own decision, and its president resigned. Most of the system individuals still hold tight to their chairs, from the prosecutors who implemented Plahotniuc’s “judicial decisions”, to RM ambassadors. The important dilemma is linked not to those who are leaving, but to those who will replace them: how to select reliable people in an entirely corrupt environment? Where can one find public servants accountable to their conscience only, in a system fundamentally based on corruption, called “krysha” (more than corruption based on connections, is a kind of protection / immunity from the law), and by in-law arrangements? One should not forget that Plahotniuc did not create this pyramid himself, he took it over from former communist president Vladimir Voronin, who perfected it, and Plahotniuc brought the mafia power to its top.

The new deal sponsors spoke. The European comissioner for neighborhood policy, Johannes Hahn came to Chişinău on June 19th, promising that financial support from the European Union can be resumed soon: “I am confident we can resume the installments, the budgetary support, the macro-financial support during this autumn, starting with September, provided all requirements are fulfilled adequately”. Of course, the EU requirements refer to democratization, reforms, and fight against corruption. But, this is where the problem lies: although Maia Sandu government does not lack quality politicians and competent cadres (some of the ministers are Harvard graduates!), whether the government will manage to implement the decisive reforms to irreversable democratize the RM is questionable.

On the other side, on June 22nd, President Igor Dodon met Russian Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vice-Prime-Minister Dmitry Kozak. Also, this week, Vice-Prime-Minister D. Kozak visits Chişinău. Very likely, Moscow will communicate the limits it can accept in the pro-European orientation of this government supported by a pro-Russian socialist party, to say the least.

The ACUM has a strong argument: it is not only that RM will be financed by the EU, but this country is economically linked to the EU more than to Russia, as most of its exports go to EU markets. Russia has the argument of gas and gas supply contract, the press, and the total control of the PSRM and Igor Dodon himself. The problem is that, although nobody talks about it, is is obvious that Igor Dodon and the PSRM are paid agents of Russia, nothing else. After Plahotniuc reveals, the situation is so awkward for Russia and Dodon that the Kremlin deemed necessary to keep quiet for a while. However, Moscow will come back in force, when ACUM proceeds to implement the reforms which Russia finds so combersome. Moscow’s argument is about gas: the current contract expires early 2020, and Russia will seek to link the future contract to the idea that RM should take over Transnistria’s huge debt (it failed to pay for Russian gas imports). Even Igor Dodon was angered by such perspective!   

But the political forces linked to Vladimir Plahotniuc did not say their last word either, especially considering they continue to hold control over a plethora of government officials in state institutions and local authorities. Plahotniuc will likely receive a serioud blow when evidence surfaces regarding the link between him and “the theft of the billion”. His son-in-law Andrei Candu already warns that the Kroll II Report on the issue allegedly has no legal value.

The developments in the RM are on the edge because, after the common enemy, Plahotniuc’s mafia, receives blows after blow, the only common element of ACUM and PSRM will gradually disappear. The Socialists will follow Moscow’s orders ruling how much democracy, anticorruption and pro-Europeanism are good for RM. Then, the political war will resume, because a democratic RM is, by definition, pro-European, close to Romania, and off Russia’s control.

For Romania, for the moment, the developments are positive. Without our institutional involvement, the situation in RM steer towards what its citizens want: a prosperous democracy, precisely where Romania wants it as well. Having a third of RM citizens holding Romanian citizenship too, what is left for us to do is to work on becoming what we want to become anyway, a prosperous democracy too. Then, adding solely the attraction power, things will go well, without the stupidities which brought Bucharest to the embarrassing situation where, in Chişinău, the word was that corrupt Plahotniuc’s only supporter was… Bucharest. Therefore, for a while, we must settle to talk to Chişinău only through… Brussels. However, the future is waiting for us: prosperous and democratic Romania and RM can only foster excellent bilateral relations or more.


II. UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy visited Paris and Berlin.

The visit paid by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to Paris and Berlin brought clarifications regarding the new Ukrainian president’s positions, both in domestic and in foreign policy issues. In the same time, the European leaders showed their availability to help him face Russia. The United States announced a new military support, which will certainly strengthen the authorities in Kyiv regarding Russia. At home, Zelenskiy won a victory when the Constitutional Court confirmed the legality of his decision to dissolve the Parliament. Therefore, the parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place on July 21, thus ending the uncertainty period soon enough.  

During his short tour to Western Europe, President Zelenskiy met the French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris, on June 17, and German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, on June 18. Of course, the main topic was the implementation of Minsk Agreement, as well as the reforms to be implemented by the new administration in Kyiv.

In Berlin, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was also discussed, since the fate of Ukraine is linked to this project, because Ukraine is a transit country for Russian gas in its way to European end users. Berlin assured that Moscow knows it must continue pumping gas through Ukraine even after the Nord Stream 2 is functional, but these promises are hard to believe in Kyiv. Ukraine even warned the western nations to brace up for a gas crisis, because there are little chances a new contract for gas transit through Ukraine gets signed before the current contract expires, on January 1st, 2020.

Mainly, Zelenskiy asked the western European nations to keep the sanctions against Russia, yet he dropped the initial requests for more severe sanctions. His newest requirement was fulfilled, as the EU nations extended the current sanctions against Russia. The German Chahcellor, A. Merkel reitterated the European determination to continue the sanction measure until Ukraine sovereignty is reestablished: “As long as there is no progress on this front, the sanctions cannot be lifted and the sanctions related to Crimea can only be lifted if Crimea returns to Ukraine.”

Basically, Zelenskiy wanted to introduce himself, and remove the European worries regarding the unknown actor who became president. The European leaders had the chance to know Zelenskiy first hand, to understand his plans and positions on the main issues. They were also able to assess whether Zelenskiy was credible regarding his commitments to implement domestic reforms and to find a peace solution in Donbass by implementing the Minsk Agreements.

Very likely, this visit, although important, will not have an immediate effect. The West expects Zelenskiy to win the whole power, and his party to win the July 27 elections with a big advanage, and only after that to see him hands-on with the domestic reforms. It is only then that Germany and France will proceed to prudently start attempting to solve the Donbass conflict.

Meanwhile, Zelenskiy gets familiar with the wheeling and dealing of power, and, facing reality, sheds his previous idealistic approaches. Thus, Kyiv hinged the proposal to lift the economic blockade on Donbass to returning the property that separatists have grabbed, which makes the proposal practically impossible to take course. Perhaps a prisoner exchange will occur, as President Vladimir Putin suggested, but this event will not occur too soon either.

The United States continues the military support to Ukraine, and, by consolidating Kyiv’s armed forces, will make the Kremlin negotiate, because a new aggression against Ukraine will become too expensive for Russia. On June 18th, Washington announced granting a new $250 million worth military support to Ukraine. The funds will cover military hardware and on-going training programs. The money will be  directed primarily towards increasing Ukraine’s maritime awareness capacity, improving naval operations (by the navy and marine infantry), as well as for land force equipment (RPG launchers, scope rifles, artillery target acquisition radars, communications and electronic warfare equipment, night vision equipment).

Ukraine crosses a period of political clarification to peak with Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s political party’s victory in the July parliamentary elections. Only after that, the promised changes will be seen, as well as the society reaction to those changes. Maybe Russia will not escalate the Donbass conflict, because the general situation does not favor such behavior, as the sanctions kick in, and Moscow’s relations with the West, US included, are still in stalemate.


III. RUSSIA. Review without perspectives.

President Vladimir Putin’s annual dialogue with the people lacked the traditional glamour, as the Russian economy crosses dire straits, which cannot be denied. INF treaty is about to demise, and American bombers conduct frequent flights IVO Russia’s European borders. In the case of MH17 liner downing, the Dutch justice made the first accusations. Additionally, although in denial, Moscow faces the consequences of its many illegal actions committed in Ukraine. In Crimea, Russia conducted a complex exercise looking like a response to NATO’s exercise conducted in Bulgaria and Romania.

President Putin’s June 6th dialogue with the people displayed only one new thing: a question was put on when will Putin leave power. The rest was just dull language on known issues. Generally, Putin attempted to persuade the population that the living standard will grow again, which is hard to believe. Regarding the sanctions, he underlined their negative role for Russia’s economy, but he presented them as part of the economic war the US is waging against nations like Russia and China, not as a deliberate response calibrated to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Regarding this, Putin declared: “We are accused of occupying Donbass - That’s complete nonsense and lies”. He mentioned that the sanctions are very bad for the American economy (wrong! In world trade, Russia is irrelevant for the US) and that, when the Americans realize that, they will fix the problem back to normal. Although it is quite obvious that Russia is the aggressor in Donbass, the Kremlin maintains its narrative for preserving the position of umpire in the case of Minsk Agreement implementation, by “mediating” between Kyiv and the separatists.

Regarding the American cyber attacks against Russian infrastructure, Putin stated he proposed to the US to start discussions on regulating this domain, but he got no coherent answer so far. In fact, Russia, as well as China, abused the detail that the cyber domain is not leggaly regulated, and they attacked the US infrastructure and that of other western countries. Now they just face an answer in kind from the US.

President Putin declared his support for a dialogue with the United States, as far as Washington is interested, but he also showed moderation, considering the restrictions imposed by various American institutions: “We have things to discuss, both in the field of international security and the economy, among other things”. Of course, he warned about would-be American military actions against Iran, mentioning that such development would be a catastrophe for the region.

Putin rejected the Dutch justice accusations regarding Russian citizens meddling in downing the MH 17 flight, after a Dutch investigation commission had earlier proved that the plane was brought down by a missile fired from a BUK system belonging to the Russian land forces. Putin risky declared that “Russia has never evaded responsibility when responsibility lay on its shoulders”, but, in this case, “what was presented as proof of Russia’s responsibility does not satisfy us at all. There is no proof there. Everything that was presented does not say anything. We have our own version, we have presented it. But unless we have normal dialogue, we won’t find the right answer to the questions that remain unanswered”. Such attitude reduces Russia’s and Moscow leadership’s credibility.

Russia entered in a long-term period of cold relations with the West, where isolation and economic problems become the new reality. The good thing is that, after having these problems solved, a new Kremlin’s reluctance appears regarding military adventures. For the rest, Russia is reaping what it sowed, as the events in Georgia show: not even in the former Soviet space respect and fear do not match anymore.  The Georgians hate Russia, the state which occupied part of their country and chased away the ethnic Georgian inhabitants from those territories (ethnic cleansing), and the Georgians do not hesitate to show that hatred.  

On June 18th, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that their Su 27 aircraft have intercepted American B 52 bombers flying over the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, IVO Russian maritime borders. The US bomber flying over the Black Sea, coming from the west, belongs to Squadron 93 and had its transponder switched on.

Very likely, the US started to prepare response measures to Russia’s breaching of INF. On June 18th, Russia’s State Duma (Parliament lower chamber) passed a declaration in support of President Putin’s decree suspending Russia’s participation to the INF treaty. By this declaration, the State Duma also grants the president the prerogative to resume INF implementaion. In absence of a change in current position, INF will expire on July 2nd.

Even if discussions regarding the INF will occur during the G20 Summit in Osaka, the INF treaty’s fate is probably sealed. In these circumstances, we will see NATO measures of response to Russia’s operationalization of SSC-8 missiles. However, right now, a deployment of additional ground based missiles is ruled out, because there are important European allies opposing such measure.

In Romania’s vicinity, Russia conducted a complex exercise in Crimea, on June 19th, with aircraft and helicopters quickly brought to airfields in the peninsula. In a very short time, over 70 fighter aircraft (Su 30, Su 34, Su 24M, and Su 25), as well as 30 combat helicopters were flown from deep inside Russia’s Military Region South to airfields in Crimea and to Krasnodar.

These actions speak to the kind of Russian exercises in reaction to NATO exercises conducted in the frontline allied nations. Probably Russia’s wargame had NATO forces exercising in Bulgaria and Romania as enemy. Such reaction became routine, and the situation can be assessed as stable, because Russia did not decide to conduct provocations in north-western Black Sea, as it did in the Far East, where a Russian Tu 95 strategic bomber violated Japan’s national air space.


IV. UNITED STATES - IRAN. War danger increases.

In the game on the edge that US and Iran are playing, the war triggering click was prevented “ten minutes before”. Iran downed an American drone stating that drone had violeted the Iranian national air space. President Trump cancelled an American response attack just at the limit. Trump’s messages invited the leadership in Tehran to start negotiations, but the answer was negative.

The mutual threats exchange continues, and the risk of a new event potentially leading to an armed conflict cannot be ruled out, because the strategies adopted by the two parties do not allow finding a solution to end the escalation of tensions.

The United States seeks to maintain economic and military pressure on Iran, without pursuing though a useless war, until Theran yields, and accepts a real dialogue with Washington in US terms, including a new denuclearization agreement and the end of Iranian aggressive actions in the Middle East. This past Sunday, President Trump made that clear in an interview with NBC: “I'm not looking for war. And if there is, it will be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that”. The US president also insists he’s ready to talk without any conditions: “Not as far as I'm concerned. No preconditions”. His bottom-line message to Iran’s leaders insists on the economic tool: “You can't have nuclear weapons, and if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise you can live in a shattered economy for a long time to come”. However, until the US economic measures kick in, and while neither the Administration, nor the Pentagon devise plans to wage an all-out war on Iran, Washington abstained from a kinetic measure but had to resort to a cyber attack, because a conventional attack would have triggered a full-scale undesired armed conflict between the two nations.

In its turn, Iran seeks to avoid this pressure by two kinds of measures: on one side, there are diplomatic actions in Europe, where Iran presents itself as a victim, yet a responsible actor, in order to obtain concessions allowing Tehran to cope with the economic pressure; on the other side, Iran persists in conducting military aggressive actions, yet with limited consequences and under a plausible denial facade (downing a drone, not a manned aircraft). Iran pursues this path seeking to diminish America’s credibility and to demonstrate that the US military pressure is pointless. Tehran answered this Monday through the voice of an adviser to President Hassan Rohani: “U.S. offer for negotiations with no precondition is not acceptable while sanctions and threats continue. If they want something beyond the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal), they should offer something beyond the JCPOA; with international guarantees”. But Iran really pushed it this time, short of attacking manned US assets. The story of avoiding engaging an EW aircraft for humanitarian reasons is as not credible, same as President Trump thinking of possible Iranian victims. In fact, both parties avoided to start a war, and therefore they avoided killing the other party’s soldiers.

Probably neither party will yield, at least for the moment. Should Iran, encouraged by President Trump’s hesitations, persist further, things would complicate, although it cannot be ruled out that Washington may resort to creative non-violent measures of response, without human losses by any side.

The Europeans will likely try to mediate (Germany already announced such démarche), but the chances of success are slim, because neither the US, nor Iran is satisfied with the current situation, and prepared to make concessions. The US will likely maintain pressure, and Iran will seek to dodge them, and only accept an indirect way to dialogue, as a last-ditch option.  

Incoherent and aggressive, but unprepared for decisive actions, President Donald Trump faces a lack of credibility, although some Washington comentators presented the situation like President Trump saved the Middle East from war by overruling national security advisor John Bolton’s drive toward military kinetic action. However, Trump’s hesitations encourage the adversaries, and the US cannot reach success neither in North Korea, nor in Venezuela or Iran. In the same time, Tehran, which already faces serious economic problems, reaps the fruit of its denial strategy: Iran is a problem in the Middle East, by conducting numerous aggressive actions against nations in the region: it mastered a nuclear weapon program, although denying that; the fact that Iran “got away” with such attitude does not mean it will always work. But can the ayatollah regime really behave according to international rules? Hard to believe, because the “Islamic Revolution” imposes such an aggressive behavior.

Very likely, after each such tensed moment with potential to trigger a war, we will have a small détente, and only after that another time of tensions again. The only certainties are Khamenei’s sturdiness, dictated by ideology, and President Trump’s decisional hesitation, not typical to American administrations.


V. Developments to track this Week 26 of 2019.

TURKEY. The redone elections in Istanbul show the path Turkey will travel in the near future: a continuous political fight between an autocratic President  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the opposition, which fights in the name of democracy. President  Erdoğan’s attitude, seeking to divide and vilify the opposition, as he grabs the whole political power, and the economic situation continues to worsen.

The countdown in the S-400 / F-35 issue already started. As soon as the first delivery of S-400 system equipment occurs, the US will expel Ankara from the F-35 aircraft program. In addition, Turkey will be subjected to supplementary penalties because it will breach the sanctions previously imposed by Washington against Russian businesses.

The tensions between Cyprus and Turkey will increase. After sending an exploring vessel in Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone / EEZ (that Ankara does not recognize) with military escort (a frigate), Turkey intends to send an additional exploration vessel. Cyprus and Greece asked the European Union to impose sanctions on Turkey, but, for the moment, the Europeans only sent a warning to Turkey. The situation might change if Turkey sends a second vessel in the Cyprus EEZ.

EUROPEAN UNION. The Europeans failed to reach an agreement regarding the future European Commission president, as none of the favorites succeeded to obtain the vote of all European nations. The search will continue and is crucial that a solution be identified to please both Germany and France.

WESTERN BALKANS. After the EU refusal to open negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania, hopes about an integration of these western Balkan nations into the EU diminished, and a reaction is expected, with a predictable slowdown of implementing reforms requested by the EU. In fact, there are not many reforms, but regress instead, both on democratic liberties, and on political stability. The political crisis in Albania will deepen as the local elections get near. Northern Macedonia remains hoping to begin negotiations in October, especially since Skopje received the public support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This delay means a failure for the Visegrad Group as well, especially for Hungary, who tried to push Brussels to open these integration negotiations, despite opposition from Germany, France, and the Netherlands. For the rest, in the Western Balkans, the instability feels at home: the Paris summit, expected to relaunch the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, will not happen.

UNITED KINGDOM. The election of a new prime minister is in full swing. In fact, the Conservatives elect not only the future British prime minister, but also the solution he / she will propose for departing from the EU. The front-runner, Boris Johnson, a little credible flamboyant politician, favors the exit on October 31st, regardless an agreement with the EU is reached or not. The British political crisis is still far from the end, rather is barely beginning.