MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

09 iulie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 27 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The election of European leaders. II. RUSSIA. Moscow attempts to escape isolation; and a tragedy. III. UKRAINE. Foreign support and clarifications before general elections. IV. WESTERN BALKANS. The EU – Western Balkans Summit in Poznań. V. Developments to track this Week 27 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The election of European leaders.

The EU has new leaders. Although not transparent, the negotiations generated a leadership with honest, competent and balanced personalities, as result of the compromise reached by Germany and France. This trade-off offered something to the other large nations (Italy, although not to the taste of the government in Rome, Spain and Benelux) and neglected the East. The Visegrad Group only managed to block Frans Timmermans’ accession to the new leadership. Although a Macron – Orbán axis is mentioned (by Manfred Weber), such connection is highly unlikely.

Ursula von der Leyen was elected as a compromise solution, after other options failed. First, France had opposed electing a Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber of the Populars. Then, the option agreed by the Franco – German nucleus, the socialist Frans Timmermans, was strongly rejected by the Visegrad Group nations on the account of his performance in protecting the rule of law … in these very countries. Eventually, Ursula von der Leyen is a politician who fulfills the visible and the less visible criteria: she is German, francophone and Francophile, Christian-Democrat, experienced and prone to compromise. In Germany, she is considered a weak politician (after posing as Angela Merkel’s successor), and her activity as minister of defense was often criticized. However, appearances can be deceiving, von der Leyen being a competent and “European” politician (linked to Brussels), open to the relation with the United States and able to achieve many goals, provided she can act properly. Nevertheless, the Visegrad Group leaders will not rejoice the satisfaction to play games with her. Anyway, due to his behavior toward Weber, Viktor Orbán probably lost German support, and this will be seen especially if he misbehaves again regarding the rule of law. Ursula von der Leyen will probably obtain the EU Parliament vote, but her legitimacy will be somewhat diminished because even incumbent European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared that her election was a result of a non-transparent process. 

France achieved control on the monetary policy by the nomination of Christine Lagarde at the head of the European Central Bank (ECB). C. Lagarde has an ample experience, coming from the position of General Director of IMF, but she lacks experience in monetary field, although this seems to bear little relevance. Her nomination leaves the ECB under the control of the Franco - German tandem, thus clear from any drift off a balanced financial policy. Another Franco – German success is the nomination of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as President of the European Council. Charles Michel benefits the quality of finding compromise solutions in difficult situations[1], and looks to be the right man for the right place. Politically, he belongs to the Liberal group Renew Europe, established by E. Macron.

Italy kept the European Parliament presidency, with socialist David Sassoli elected in that position. Of course, this solution does not satisfy the power in Rome, because Sassoli belongs to the Italian opposition. Sassoli’s election is part of the compromise solution meant to please the Socialist group in the EU Parliament, who must vote for U. von der Leyen. The Socialists will likely do it, otherwise a crisis appears, and it would be bigger than the entanglement before these solutions were found.

Spain also received an important position: socialist Josep Borell, former foreign minister, was nominated at the helm of European diplomacy, as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security. A Catalan who opposes separatism, J. Borell has a large experience in European affairs, and offered strong positions, being realistic and straightforward both regarding migration, and in Russia issues[2].  

The big picture shows that Old Europe took everything, and the New Europe is left to settle with acceptance declarations or with protests. However, in current circumstances, this seems to be the best solution, considering that the elites in eastern nations used the carte blanche they received when admitted in the Union, and the wrote whatever they wanted on the dotted line, from right wing deviations in Hungary and Poland, to stagnation in Bulgaria, harassing the rule of law or tolerating corruption. The East must settle with this outcome and reflect upon the mill that forges real statesmen, honest and capable to lead nations, not groups of interests. On the other hand, without a representative from the East, these countries will find it very difficult to promote their interests at high level. For Romania, the compromise outcome is not so bad, since Romanian interests will likely be better served by a German Popular and a Belgian Liberal, than by God knows what politician supported   by the Visegrad Group nations.

Now the struggle for European Commissioners begins. But we in Romania are not nervous about that either, since the past showed us that, even with our person in the right position, Bucharest achieved hardly anything, and not because of that person.

Four years will follow with the Old Europe pursuing to reform the EU and working to end the anti-democratic trends in the New Europe. But the Old Europe will be restrained by Easterners’ discontent, because pressure from Brussels is the last thing they need, albeit for ending their anti-democratic habits.


II. RUSSIA. Moscow attempts to escape isolation; and a tragedy.

President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome was an attempt by the Kremlin to obtain support from its closest west European government for lifting the EU sanctions. The meeting with Pope Francis can be considered a feint to simulate rapprochement to the West, as well as the attempt to initiate a mediation regarding Ukraine. NATO and Russia prepare for a world without INF, and Moscow presents solutions in its advantage, while NATO discusses measures to take. An accident on board a nuclear submarine caused 14 casualties, which shows the Russian Navy’s poor condition. Close to Romania, the Sea Breeze exercise offers the opportunity for another close monitoring of NATO warships by the Russian warships, which this is already routine.

President Vladimir Putin visits Rome.

President Putin’s July 5th visit to Rome aimed at highlighting the good relations with the current power in Italy and using this relation toward lifting the European sanctions. Vladimir Putin met all important Italian leaders: Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President Sergio Mattarella, and the strongman in Rome, Mateo Salvini.

Putin declared he hoped the current Italian government would reduce the sanctions against Russia: "We hope that Italy will consistently and clearly speak out about its position [to improve relations] and battle for what was said in public many times, namely for the complete return to normal relations between Russia and Europe as a whole". President Putin commended Italy’s efforts to improve these relations, and insisted that sanctions also afflict upon the EU as well: "European nations missed the chance to sell billions worth of goods on the Russian market".

Italian Prime Minister Conte stated that sanctions against Russia are a temporary measure, and that Italy works to create the conditions leading to better relations. Putin mentioned that solving the problems with Ukraine depends on Kyiv, not on Moscow. However, Putin received an unexpected answer from Prime Minister Conte: "When President Putin, my friend Vladimir, says it doesn't all depend on Russia, he is too modest. The truth is Russia can play a major role in overcoming this dispute". Throughout the visit, the need for creating mutual trust was affirmed.

The meeting with Pope Francis generated hopes regarding a possible papal visit to Russia, as well as regarding a would-be implication by the Pope in the quest for a solution for the conflict with Ukraine, considering that a delegation of Ukrainian Catholic priests arrived in Rome shortly after Putin’s visit.

Italy has little chances to persuade the other Europeans to reduce the sanctions, but Putin tries to prepare the ground in a wider context, of an extended diplomatic offensive meant to diminish the tensions with the West. It is not only that Rome lacks the power to determine Paris and Berlin to pursue such course, but even the Italians themselves, perhaps except Salvini (one of the political extremists who achieved success probably with some Russian financial support), know that the sanctions are stringly necessary for Europe’s security: if the EU allows Moscow to continue the Donbass conflict and use it to politically control Kyiv, the Kremlin would extend its aggressions in the former Soviet space and beyond.

The meeting with the Pope does not promise much either, beyond opening a dialogue, considering the hostility of Russia‘s Orthodox Church against the Catholic Church, and the Kremlin’s ideology, who sells itself as the champion of Russian orthodoxy, and as a Christian sword against “western decadence”.

However, it is more and more obvious that Moscow must change its attitude to seek a way out of isolation and get rid of the sanctions which start to kick in.

Russia quit the INF.

On July 3rd, President Vladimir Putin signed the law suspending Russia’s participation in the INF treaty, valid immediately. The law had passed the vote in the State Duma on June 6th, and the Federation Council (the higher chamber on the Parliament) on June 26th. Practically, Russia quit the INF, the whole legal scaffolding being prepared in advance. Considering that the US would withdraw on August 2nd, last ditch negotiations may occur, with NATO asking Russia to renounce the SSC-8 missiles, and Russia seeking, very likely, a solution allowing it to keep these missiles without American measures to deploy similar missiles to Europe.

The NATO – Russia Council meeting on July 7th, at ambassador level (the routine lowest level) did not bring anything new, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that no progress had been made, and warned about the limited time to the INF demise.

On July 4th, as a gesture of good faith, by the voice of Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the Kremlin communicated that Russia would not deploy the ground based intermediate range missiles it is going to operationalize unless the US deploys such weapons in respective regions. Of course, Moscow means Europe. Russia’s mission to NATO also announced the same thing, and there are other signs that Russia is seeking, in the last minute, such arrangement. Thus, on July 5th, the Head of Russia’s General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov met the US ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman.

In its turn, NATO starts to prepare answers to provocations, such as modernizing the missile defense systems in Europe aiming at intercepting Russian missiles. Such measures would certainly trigger a negative reaction by Moscow.

The solution proposed by Moscow would surely leave Russia in advantage, let alone it does not fit the INF and it does not allow INF to survive: Russia promises not to deploy to its European territory the four SSC-8 batallions already operationalized, provided the US does not deploy such missiles to Europe either. But this solution is unacceptable because: 1) Russia possesses these missiles breaching the INF, while the US does not, and US would (maybe) produce them only after the official end of INF; 2) the deployment of Russian missiles to Russia’s European territory can be done in days, if not hours, while the deployment of future would-be US missiles to Europe can take months, and only provided the European nations accept such deployment; 3) how can the location of Russian SSC-8 missiles be verified in reasonable time, considering that Russia has breached such a well negotiated agreement as the INF, and denied that, persisting right now in denying it ever breached the treaty? In fact, the Russian solution has one role only, and that is to divide the Alliance, betting on the German reluctance to accept American missiles on the European continent. The aim is to delay as much as possible any NATO response measures and keep any would-be reaction to a defensive level. Such situation would secure an advantage for Russia: threat, without being threatened!

The accident on board a big depth nuclear submarine (AS-31 Losharik) caused 14 casualties and showed once again the poor state of Russia’s Navy, as well as the perpetuation of Soviet reflexes among Russian leadership, busy to cover the incident, not to examine the problem in hands.

The large number of victims and their position of high ranking officers in Russia’s GUGI intelligence branch, responsible for big depth espionage, shows that the accident occurred on board an exquisite boat belonging to an elite top secret unit. The very excuse of a very hush-hush domain (big depth espionage actions) underlines that this accident proves that the Russian Navy failed to achieve the minimal security level in exploiting its own equipment.

The accident occurs in a very bad moment for Russia’s political-military leadership, who threatens the US with weapons based on new technologies. If the funding continues to decrease, and Moscow remains isolated, without access to technology, such situations may repeat, especially since Russia is forced to dance on the sheet itself has imposed: a new arms race, core part of a new Cold War with the West.


II. UKRAINE. Foreign support and clarifications before general elections.

President Zelenskiy visits Canada.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to visit the main western capitals to present his policies and obtain support. It was Canada’s turn July 1st to 3rd, where Zelenskiy attended the Ukraine Reform Conference and met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promised to continue the support his country provides to Ukraine and its new leadership. Trudeau declared he would support Kyiv against the Russian aggression and in implementing the necessary domestic reforms.

Canada is one of the nations most involved in Ukraine, both in military and political issues. Beyond the Anglo-Saxon responsibility within NATO for defending the limes, Canada’s implication is explained by: 1) the Ukrainian minority in Canada plays an important role; 2) Canada is to face Russia in the Arctic, sooner or later, and is prepositioning by making a point in the Black Sea; 3) even during Trump era, the Anglo-Saxons closely cooperate to contain Russia, both by actions coordinated within NATO, and by other measures. Although it is not directly involved in solving the Donbass conflict, Canada actively participates in Ukrainian military training and in NATO exercises in Ukraine. In addition, Canadian aircraft and warships make a frequent presence in NATO missions conducted in the Black Sea region. Ottawa’s policy is no exception: in the 90s, Canada helped integrating Hungary into NATO (its Hungarian minority is also important), and then, Canadian F-18 aircraft were deployed to Romania.    

Before the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, which should secure him a major victory, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy seeks to get maximum foreign support. Considering that implementing reforms will be painful but necessary, and, in this enterprise, western support is crucial. He makes efforts to exploit all links Ukraine has with the West, from Germany to Canada, stressing, of course, on the United States. Therefore, Zelenskiy’s opening towards Ukraine’s neighbors will not be a surprise, starting with Poland (always available to support, but far when talking about historical past) and continuing with Romania. After many switchbacks in its relations with Romania, the Ukrainian offer to relaunch bilateral relations will certainly come.

However, Kyiv is pressed with more urgent worries, and the main problem is Russia and its actions in Donbass, where casualties were caused again (the separatists triggered international anger by attacking a medical team). Nevertheless, it is remarkable that Russia did not escalate on a large scale, indication that Moscow is exploring another strategic solution than increased military pressure.

On the other hand, the Sea Breeze exercise organized by Ukraine in the Odessa region (July 7th to 21st) shows a remarkable NATO implication. For the first time, since the Kerch Strait incident, an American guided-missile destroyer and NATO warships belonging to Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG 2) entered the Black Sea and sailed to Ukrainian waters. The SNMG 2 formation includes a British class 45 destroyer and a Turkish frigate. Another first, most probably coordinated, France sent to the Black Sea its ELINT warship Dupuy de Lôme.

Russia reacted with its warships and aircraft engaged in close pursuit of NATO vessels. Remarkably, the Russian Su 27 aircraft, which took off from airfields in Crimea, intercepted in safe conditions a P8A ELINT aircraft.

On June 30th, the US sent an Aegis system destroyer, the USS Carney, which was closely monitored by the old Russian destroyer Smetlivy. For monitoring NATO vessels, Russia sent warships (class Buyan M corvettes and, probably, class Tarantul and Nanushka missile carrying warships), plus, possibly, a MOMA class ELINT vessel (noticed on July 1st in Sevastopol). Also, the Russian naval aviation located in Crimea would fly surveillance missions both with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. Moscow already provided footage taken from a helicopter flying very close to an American destroyer.

Very likely, both Russian and NATO forces will “exercise” with their very potential adversary and they will study each other. Notably, Odessa and north-western Black Sea waters became the focal point of NATO presence and Russian reaction. NATO ships will likely avoid getting near Crimea or the Kerch Strait, but they will be more and more present in the north-western waters, in a defensive scenario at operational level, probably supplemented though with a tactical level offensive scenario. Such behavior is necessary for Ukraine, which is vulnerable in the Odessa area against the consolidated Russian build-up in Crimea, but also for littoral NATO nations, with Romania in the first place.


IV. WESTERN BALKANS. The EU – Western Balkans Summit in Poznań.

The European Union – Western Balkans Summit which unfolded in Poznań, July 4th to 6th, reunited the leaders of main European nations (Germany, France, UK, Poland, Italy, Austria), representatives of Western Balkan candidates to EU integration (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Northern Macedonia and Kosovo), as well as their neighbors (Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria). Hungary and Romania did not participate. This meeting is part of the Berlin process meant to revive the Western Balkan nations links to the EU. During the summit, foreign, interior and economy ministers visited EU leaders Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Edouard Phillippe and host president Andrzej Duda.

Poland organized this reunion aiming to send “a positive impuls” to the countries in the Western Balkan region. The Polish Foreign Minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, called for a “stronger cooperation” between the EU and Western Balkan nations and stated that "including these countries in the main current of European integration will be fruitful for the entire EU and the entire continent as it will expand the domain of common values". Polish President Andrzej Duda criticized the postponement of EU negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia, and asked the Europeans to open the path for Western Balkan nations’ integration into the EU. He said that EU should not ask these countries to engage in a journey whence they do not see the finish line. The fear many European leaders perceive is that, should the EU fail to rush the integration of these countries, Russia, China and Turkey would increase their influence over the Western Balkans.

On July 6th, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to assure the Western Balkan nations that Brussels support for their integration into the Union remains strong, and that it is in the EU strategic interest to have new members. She declared that President Macron’s declared concerns regarding the need to make the EU leadership mechanisms more effective before any further extension must not cause the delay of integration negotiations with the Western Balkan countries: "I share President Macron's view that the EU's working mechanisms must be improved", she said; "I don't see that as an abandonment of the accession talks".

Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined that the Western Balkan nations accession process will last long enough for these internal improvements within EU to complete in time. She praised Northern Macedonia for its courage to overcome the problems dividing the nation in order to open the country’s path to the EU: "I look optimistically toward the autumn" (hinting at opening membership talks in October).

Beside the Polish pro domo declarations[3], the Poznań summit aimed at pragmatically continuing the EU cooperation with Western Balkan nations. The European leaders face the dilemma of either leaving outside the EU countries that do not progress in democracy and might fall under Russia’s, China’s or Turkey’s influence, or accept them unprepared, as it happened already with the newcomers (deviations to the right or stagnation in a post-communism numbness). However, Germany, who finances the process, will be the one to decide, along France and other few responsible actors (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia) about who and when will join the EU. It will unlikely be Poland, which is large, but still just for itself, being a beneficiary of European money. Maybe only Northern Macedonia will start negotiations in October, because Albania has too big problems (justice, organized crime) to benefit this chance.

One can notice that Romania is absent in a pragmatic process started by Berlin to “keep close” a region which does not seem to develop further. It is still good, since we knew what was in store for us on the path we are stuck on: Romania became irrelevant in the East, in Chişinău and Kyiv, irrelevant in the Black Sea, irrelevant in the Western Balkans, irrelevant in Central Europe (excluded from the Visegrad Group), but, same as Athens, although it is much better there, we should avoid becoming  irrelevant even in... Bucharest, from political, social, economic and military points of view!


V. Developments to track this Week 28 of 2019.

EUROPEAN UNION. Ursula von der Leyen’s validation by the European Parliament is of paramount importance. Should that fail, everything is back to square one. Very likely, there will be a vote in favor of Ursula von der Leyen, with the Socialists already over the initial denial, when anger was dwarfing the political analysis. Maybe in Berlin things will smoothen too, after the German Socialists were threatening with leaving the governing coalition.

IRAN – UNITED STATES. Tensions continue to rise, and the danger of “a war that nobody wants” rises along them. Iran announced it would step beyond the limit of enriching Uranium as established by the nuclear deal. The US requested an emergency meeting of the IAEA board on this issue. Washington seems to have sent Tehran a message warning about a limited strike in response to downing its drone. The arrest of an Iranian tanker by the UK in Gibraltar shows that the embargo extends, and that the Brits are ready to act along the US. The only good news is the signal issued by France that discussions with Iran might begin on issues of interest (the nuclear deal and a way to by-pass the sanctions). Maybe the worst news comes from recently published secret information from a report written by a British diplomat about President Trump and its Administration (it is worse than even the pessimistic imagined!). However, Donald Trump dismissed the issue by disparaging the author. Israel is preparing for war, and the US will not have the option to back up facing Iran’s risky “active resistance” strategy. Iran might be wrong thinking that the US will not attack, no matter what Tehran’s radicals do. We might witness the beginning of a conflict using only missiles and guided ammunition, in order to avoid human casualties. However, a last-minute agreement cannot be ruled out.

GREECE. He parliamentary elections brought the New Democracy and its Kyriakos Mitsotakis to power. Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, was not able to recoup the too large handicap visible in the polls, regardless the promises they made. In fact, this is the problem: the promises made by both parties cannot be fulfilled because the future leadership in Athens will not get the approval of those who supervise the bail-out of this country from bankruptcy, from Germany to the IMF. The extreme left leaves power, and the old dynasties come back, with all “traditions” which brought Greece on the brink of disaster. In Greece, the left reformed and Syriza took the place of Socialists responsible as well for leading Greece to bankruptcy, but the right wing did not reform. Thus, we will likely see more populist measures which, eventually, will not be implemented. The lesson remains valid: corrupt populism, from left to right, is eventually paid by the population, not by those who systematically manipulated and embezzled, in a feudal system of connections.

TURKEY. The moment comes when the problems now piling up will trigger irreversible events. Russia will deliver the first equipment of S-400 system and we will witness the precise reaction from Washington, which will be not only political-military, but will also have an economic component (sanctions). These will arrive in the worst moment for Ankara, considering the difficult financial situation that made president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fire the director of Turkish Central Bank (one more step toward Ankara politics meddling in macro-financial decisions).

Turkey sends a second geological exploration vessel to Cypriot waters, and Cyprus and Greece will ask EU to react adequately. This happens after the information came out that Turkey has deployed a Leopard tank batallion to northern Cyprus, close to the demarcation line, thus breaching the commitments taken to Germany when purchasing this equipment.

[1] As he proved in his country, being the prime minister of Belgium divided between Flemish and Walloons, and united only by the King, the national football/soccer team, and by… democracy.

[2] Months ago, Moscow was angered by Borell’s declaration: “our old enemy, Russia, tells us again «I am here», and came back with a vengeance”.

[3] Which do cost Poland nothing, since Poland is successful in economy, but far from assuming responsibilities at European level, beyond specific interests. Caution about widening the “common values domain” though! Does that mean accepting anti-democratic non-values in the region as a counterweight to promoting the democratic values by the old Europeans in western Europe? This is what a prime minister was suggesting to Brussels, as being in the cultural spirit of the region: to accept non-values such as the feudalism of endemic corruption, in fact a belated communism.