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03 iulie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 26 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

• TURKEY - The president’s party lost the local elections in Istanbul. Again. • NATO - North Atlantic Council in Defense Ministerial format. • RUSSIA – UNITED STATES. President Putin - President Trump meeting. • CHINA - UNITED STATES President Xi - President Trump meeting. • Developments to track this Week 27 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

TURKEY - The president’s party lost the local elections in Istanbul. Again.

On June 23rd, the opposition candidate won the redone elections in Istanbul. This is an important political defeat for President  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who interfered in the process by forcing their redoing, because he knows that “who wins Istanbul wins Turkey”. The election campaign highlighted all the means used by the power to dominate the society, including leveraging the Kurdish problem and demonizing the opposition.

The elections in Istanbul were repeated following a request by the presidential party AKP, and the winner was by far (45%) Ekrem Imamoğlu, representing the CHP opposition party. President Erdoğan congratulated the winner, after having personally meddled on the last leg of the campaign, although the initial AKP strategy was to keep the president off the election process, because an open large city as Istanbul is no longer sensitive to Erdoğan’s authoritarian and Islamist policy.

In significance, this victory rises above a usual success in a mayoral election, for two reasons: 1) we have a precedent, with AKP losing an important election for the first time in the latest decades; 2) winning the city of Istanbul is a springboard for presidency, given the importance of this city, the political, economic and cultural heart of Turkey. President Erdoğan just lost his stronghold, the town he rose in, where he was a mayor himself, and took off on his journey to the highest political position.

The means AKP / President Erdoğan used during the election campaign showed their authoritarian tendencies and relevant domestic politics issues. The Kurds in Istanbul were those who tilted the balance. If initially AKP avoided to call upon the Kurds, in the last moment, their PKK leader in prison, Abdullah Öcalan, demanded the Kurds to remain neutral (maybe he was forced to do it). The result showed that AKP and Erdoğan have lost the Kurdish electorate due to the policy against them: eliminating the Kurdish resistance in eastern Turkey and repressing top Kurdish politicians, but also due to the general attitude toward this important minority. Let’s recall that, initially, Erdoğan and AKP promoted an open approach to negotiations with the Kurds, Turks’ Muslim brethren, just for later starting a true war against them.

In the wake of these elections, the first real political problem surfaced for R.T. Erdoğan: a powerhouse and a personality who can become alternatives to his political regime. Although we are still far from the moment when Erdoğan’s power is challenged, the process started, and he is aware that the time to preserve power through democratic and fair elections is over. The opposition was right to claim that the Istanbul mayoral elections were in fact a fight for democracy in Turkey.

After the elected mayor’s declarations promising cooperation, and President Erdoğan’s congratulations, a political struggle of seriously increased intensity is expected, because the regime cannot accept a political alternative.

However, the next crisis will develop after the S-400 Russian air-defense missile system equipment starts to be delivered, because US President Donald Trump, while understanding Ankara, announced though that the announced response measures would be applied.

The Erdoğan regime receives blows not so much from his domestic adversaries or from his still declared friends, the Western democracies, but from the Turkish economy, and this is the basic reason for AKP losing the Istanbul elections.

We are far from the moment when the Erdoğan regime is threatened, but the alternative born during the opposition victory in Istanbul will not fade away, as AKP and Erdoğan probably imagine.


NATO - North Atlantic Council in Defense Ministerial format.

The North Atlantic Council in Defense Minister format on June 26th represented the last step to completing the decision regarding the US’ withdrawal from INF treaty. The final call to Russia and Moscow’s negative reaction point to the path toward INF demise on August 2nd, 2019.

The most important result after this NAC is that NATO member nations decided to issue a common answer to Russia, where all Allied countries agree with the United States that Russia has breached the INF. The defense ministers agreed on political and military measures the Alliance would take in response to Russia’s operationalization of SSC-8 missiles breaching the INF. At his stage at least, NATO’s official response will not include the deployment of new ground-based intermediate range missiles, but the strengthening of missile defense architecture. NATO reaction wil be defensive and calibrated. Of course, the Alliance leaves the door ajar to abort any measure, should Russia abandon the SSC-8 deployment.

As expected, NATO first implements defensive measures calibrated to current threat, i.e. four Russian SSC-8 cruise missile batallions. The tricky part is not to overcome the missile speed (they are subsonic), but to detect the SSC-8, because they cruise at low altitude, following the terrain. Countering cruise missiles requires a top notch C4ISR system, able to timely detect the missiles and allow decisionmaking and intercept actions. The difficulty is increased by the fact that cruise missiles are impredictible, because they can switch course following in flight orders or pre-programmed itinerraries. Intercepting cruise missiles also requires a complex system of armament including modern aircraft carrying adequate missiles for such missions.

Eventually, bad developments can lead to good results: NATO will need to enhance its C4ISR capabilities in the frontline countries, which will force these nations to develop adequate assets. Of course, it will be the frontline nations to detect and first strike the incoming cruise missiles, but, at least for the south-eastern NATO countries... there is a long way to go. On the other hand, against the possible intermediate range ballistic missiles, the answer is already there – the currently operational ballistic missile system, which is able to repel the ballistic threat.

Another topic discussed by NATO defense ministers in Brussels was the Alliance approach to space warfare, as NATO is forced to react to recent Russian and Chinese threats. These two countries (followed by India) have developed space capable armament systems (the anti-satellite weapons – ASAT), as the US did as well. It is worth mentioning that the US is more vulnerable though, as all its armed forces depend on space-based ISR, communication and navigation systems.

Of course, the old problems were discussed too, such as the mission in Afghanistan, the well-known 2% of GDP necessary to be earmarked for defense, as well as the NATO Readiness Initiative (the increase in training level and reaction speed of armed forces at national level, and the increase in troop deployment capacity within Europe, and from across the Atlantic to Europe).

Remarkably, although the new acting US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper talked about diplomatic means, the US sought allies among the... Allies, considering the tensions between Washington and Tehran. Very likely though, the large European nations were reluctant, since they still sympathize with Iran on the nuclear deal. Of course, that was before Iran breached the ceiling established for enriched Uranium production by the nuclear deal, this past week-end.

This NATO Defense Ministerial can be perceived as the last debate on INF before ditching this treaty. Although concerned with other problems, Europe will see the INF demise as a big step backwards for the Old Continent security. Maybe Russia had its reasons (pertaining not only to its advestity towards NATO, but also towards the non-referred China), but Moscow did push it, and we all lost security. Perhaps NATO’s newly decided response measures will not suffice, and offensive measures are necessary, but these are not palatable to some Europeans, and this makes Russia hope to gain advantage. Such offensive measures would be planning attacks against launching paltforms, that is deploying armament systems similar to the Russian systems, as well as new ground-based cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. However, Moscow is probably wrong to be optimistic, because Russia will lose along European NATO nations by the very presence of new armament systems deployed in Europe and in the European part of Russia.


RUSSIA – UNITED STATES. President Putin - President Trump meeting.

The meeting between the two presidents, during their visit to Osaka for the G20 Summit, resulted in an apparently new opening: both parties expressed political will to improve their bilateral relations, and important problems have been discussed, from arms control to crises involving both countries. It is still to be seen whether concrete steps will be made in a good direction. However, the start happened, including in the thorny issue of arms control, where an agreement is about to expire (the New START, on strategic nuclear weapons), and another is almost dead (the INF, on sub-strategic weapons – the intermediate range missiles).

President Donald Trump publicly asked President Vladimir Putin to keep off the American elections, rather a lip service to shut up the journalists, who insisted with questions on this topic. Trump confirmed that Putin had invited him to assist at next year Victory Parade in the Red Square, and he took this invitation into consideration.

The American press communiqué vaguely mentions that the two presidents have discussed mainly bilateral relations. "Both leaders agreed that improved relations between the United States and Russia was in each countries' mutual interest and the interest of the world", a White House statement said. They also agreed to continue discussing a 21st Century model for nuclear arms control, but President Trump mentioned that China should be included as well. The two leaders also discussed the situations in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine.

On June 29th, President V. Putin declared that Russia would do everything in its power to improve its relations with the US, which are currently tense. The Russian party announced that Putin – Trump discussions covered a wide range of issues, from disarming agreements, specifically those on nuclear arms control, to economic and financial issues.

President Putin described the meeting as good, normal and pragmatic, the two leaders agreeing that an improvement in economic relations is necessary by efforts from both sides. Putin specifically stated: “I believe we both understand the need to somehow solve the current situation”. He added that the two nations need to find the way to move forward by turning the page. He probably means that he wants a clean slate, and what has been already grabbed is for keeps.  

When asked about possible American sanctions to be added to the current sanctions, Putin answered that it depends on Washington to decide what is better to do to restore bilateral relations. V. Putin also stated that Russia’s alleged meddling into the American elections, as well as Venezuela, were discussed.

First and foremost, it needs to be said that the meeting was normal, without awkward moments such as the ones that marked the previous meeting in Helsinki. It also benefited from a clear and complete agenda. The important element, the will to relaunch the relations is the positive signal, and its importance dwarfs the discussed dossiers. This positive signal is more welcomed considering that an important hurdle is upcoming in the Russo-American relations after INF ends. We remember, Russia breached it by deploying the SSC-8 missiles, and the US quit this agreement as result of Russia’s refusal to reverse that decision.

Regarding the nuclear armament, starting discussions is encouraging, considering the danger that New START expires without at least having an extension, let alone a renewed accord. The devil dwells in details though, regarding the model of agreement to be negotiated, and, especially, the American request to include China in this future accord. Moscow seems neutral in this issue, although, on long-term, the growth in Chinese nuclear arsenal represents a problem not only for the United States, but for Russia as well. In fact, on the long run, Russia is the one who needs to have China bound by such document, for two reasons: firstly, Russia’s sole argument facing China is its own nuclear arsenal; secondly, the time when the gap between the two nuclear stockpiles, Russian and Chinese, was so large that including China into an agreement was out of the question, is gone.

In the other files, there was probably just the acknowledgement of each-other’s position, with little chances for solutions to be found to please both countries.

Although Putin did not leave it conspicuous, Russia is interested very much in having the American sanctions lifted. However, a quick solution is not in sight here either, despite President Trump’s wish, because the American political elite believes this approach is a natural and durable response to Russia’s aggressive acts against Ukraine, and Moscow’s meddling in American elections. Perhaps President Trump will act to prevent new sanctions from being introduced (The Congress is preparing new sanctions).

It is unlikely that the page will be turned, as Vladimir Putin wishes, because the problems generated by the Kremlin, from aggression against Ukraine to breaching the INF are still open, and a clean slate approach would put Moscow in advantage: Russia would keep what it grabbed by breaching not only the status quo, but the international laws too.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May’s message to Vladimir Putin, during their bilateral meeting in Osaka was an indication that these grave aggressive acts are not forgotten: Russia must renounce any irresponsible and destabilizing action, a chemical attack such as that in Salisbury must not be repeated.

We find ourselves in an important moment, which should lead to changes, but everything depends on the Kremlin: Moscow must consider if it is the time to stop its aggressive behavior, that brought certain benefits, a streak of aggressions, but also political isolation and economic problems.  


CHINA - UNITED STATES President Xi - President Trump meeting.

The result of the meeting between Chinese and American presidents was summarized with the expression “back on the normal track”, with the two parties agreeing to resume the trade negotiations and abstain from new sanctions.

In a gesture signaling a break in the economic hostilities between the two countries, the US announced it would not resort to additional sanctions, as President Trump had previously warned. Although this is meant to give a chance to new negotiations, the current sanctions remain in force. Washington also announced a slack in restrictions imposed against Chinese high-tech manufacturers, especially Huawei. In exchange, China returns to the negotiation table and made several unspecified purchases of American products (perhaps soy beans, since President Trump is interested to protect the American farmers, who make an important constituency, from the US – China trade war impact).

President Trump declared that things are back on the good track, with no new tariffs imposed by Washington, and with new purchases of agricultural products by Beijing. He concluded that the meeting was better than expected and insisted that it is not the speed to reach an agreement which is important, but the quality of its outcome.

Beijing’s position, presented by the Chinese foreign minister, insists upon the message sent by President Xi Jinping to President Donald Trump, that Chinese firms should be treated by the US by sound principles: “China is sincere regarding the negotiations with the US, but it hopes that negotiations will occur between equal parts showing respect to each-other”.

The markets reacted positively, and the danger of escalating economic tensions between the two nations, with repercussions on the world economy dissapeared, at least until the next jam. The general feeling is relief, but also apprehension, in perspective. The Chinese media has already warned that the path to a new agreement will be long and cumbersome.

In fact, there is just a time out, when both sides play the relaunch-the-negotiations game. At the table though, both sides will likely maintain the same unabated postions as before, because the stake is China’s economic survival, respectively the US risks to lose forever its position of economic leader (together with a huge budgetary deficit, and an ever increasing domestic and foreign debt, including to China).

China will likely stretch the negotiations for as long as possible, expecting that Donald Trump loses the elections. The US will wait for a while, then will threaten again with increased tariffs against Chinese products. This rationale is based on the calendar of upcoming American 2020 elections, and on the observation that D. Trump did not deliver in full any of the promises used to persuade his electoral basis.

The US – China trade war will likely continue in full swing, with boobytraps and low blows, but China is the country used to lure the United States. This is more valid when Washington, paralized in democracy principles, elected a businessman without scruples called Donald Trump, as cinical as the Chinese are.


Developments to track this Week 27 of 2019.

• UNITED STATES – IRAN. The tensions remained at peak level, with tough words and tough messages mixed with moderate tone. The Europeans cannot do much, their measures displeasing both Iran (they are not enough), and the US (who does business with Iran cannot do business with America). Both countries will likely continue the escalation strategy (new American sanctions) or seeking ways to by-pass the effect thereof (Tehran’s blackmail to leave the nuclear agreement if the Europeans fail to identify an effective way to help Iran). Both nations know that the next kinetic attack might trigger an armed conflict; therefore, caution will be a permanent approach, although it is not enough to stop the current course of events.  This past week-end news that Iran has breached the limit of enriched Uranium stands proof for that. The Tehran regime knows that bankruptcy looms large because it cannot find a way to dodge the sanctions, and President Trump is determined to maintain the pressure until Tehran yields and comes hat in hand to the negotiation table to announce it changes its policies, both in the nuclear field (another denuclearization agreement), and in foreign policy, in general. Washington does not speak about regime change, nor about the Pompeo conditions, but how would Iran be able to pursue a behavior to the US liking without a regime change?

• ALBANIA. The local elections are a moment of top tension between the power and the opposition, and this situation will directly impact the European Union’s decision to open negotiations for integrating this nation. Albania is already a problem itself: a NATO member nation where the judicial system has serious problems and the mafioso activities of drug smuggling seem to be tolerated by the government.

• REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Each action conducted this period establishes the bases of future force balance: both the appointments, and the governmental measures. They all shape the future political developments, in the circumstances where the country’s strongman, Vladimir Plahotniuc, disappeared from the political stage and left a power vacuum behind. President Igor Dodon and the ACUM pro-European alliance struggle to fill this void in their specific advantage.

• EUROPEAN UNION. The European leaders continue their efforts to negotiate the leading positions, from that of president of the European Commission, to that of president of the European Parliament. The stake is high, and the Franco- German disagreement is so visible, that only one assessment can be made: negotiations will be tough, and the solutions will be novel, perhaps with a surprise trade-off arrangement. Beside power, another reason is that the future high-ranking officials will have to take responsibility coping with major challenges for the EU.

• UNITED STATES. President Donald Trump comes home after a meeting in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. Back in Washington, he will be busy with domestic issues, from migration to personal issues (a rape accusation adds to the pile of old allegations). What is more important for Romania is the way the Russo-American political decisions and the Sino-American economic decisions will be implemented.