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16 iulie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 28 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. GREECE. The Conservative right won the general elections. II. RUSSIA. Power play. III. UKRAINE. Kyiv hosts the EU – Ukraine summit. IV. TURKEY. The red lines were toed. V. Developments to track this Week 29 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. GREECE. The Conservative right won the general elections.

The right wing victory in Greece ends an era which is not only the era of radical left governance, but also the era of post-war illusions. The New Democracy won not so much for proposing new liberal measures, meant to bring Greece back to the place it deserves, but because Syriza made big mistakes, coming to power with an anti-western platform, and ending by implementing what the western creditors demanded. Now the question is whether New Democracy is able to implement the reforms it is talking about, and whether it will persuade the creditors to leave a larger cut for investments in Greece. Also, there is the question if New Democracy is healed of the domestic “traditions” (like corruption and nepotism). However, Greece, a country of its own kind (the orthodoxy did not fall under communism, as in other eastern European countries) turned its back to the past and embraces capitalism. Nevertheless, it keeps what it cannot get rid of, a huge foreign debt and its sovereignty dented by the foreign programme of monitoring and assistance.

The right-wing New Democracy party won the elections with a landslide, 39.85% of the ballots, followed by Syriza, the governing radical-left party, with only 31.53%. So, the New Democracy obtained the parliamentary majority of 158 of the Greek Parliament’s 300 seats, in the Greek electoral system the winner getting an additional 50 seats in the parliament. Alexis Tsipras conceded defeat and the power transition unfolded without any problems. Syriza remains the main opposition party, as the Communists, the Socialists and other radical left formations are insignificant. The Greek extreme right did not make it to the Parliament at all.

Alexis Tsipras passed the power to Kyriakos Mitsotakis, thus ending the populist extreme left rule in Greece. The Tsipras governance showed Europe that a populist govern can only adapt and govern reasonably, in the case of Greece, when the government must obey the creditors (after irresponsible loans and money wasting on political constituency is no longer possible). However, despite foreign pressure, Tsipras did not downsize the huge administration architecture in Greece and the clientele economy. This task falls to Mitsotakis to fulfill, and Mitsotakis is linked to this constituency by the very origins of his party.

Mitsotakis belongs to one of the right-wing political dynasties that dominated Greece: his father was a prime minister, the same as the Papandreou dynasty did on the left side of politics and collapsed along the Socialists he led. Educated and effective, Mitsotakis proved to be capable of reformation, and the question is whether the very party he leads will allow him to implement the requested reforms. The bargain the creditors proposed is simple: make reforms in exchange for more money necessary in investments meant to generate jobs. It is only after that when decent salaries and a decrease in unemployment among youths can be seen, thus ending their emigration.

But, before anything else, Mitsotakis will face immediate problems, and the Turkish predicament is the first one to deal with. Greece will stand by Cyprus in the issue of illegal drillings by Turkey and will lead the fight to impose European sanctions against Ankara, which will have an immediate impact on the Greek-Turkish relations.

After trying all illusions, Greece learned that the Cold War logic is over, and it is really beginning capitalism. However, beyond foreign debts, Greece has strong arguments, from education and infrastructure to the military and a competent elite.


II. RUSSIA. Power play.

The Russian military conducted large airborne forces exercises which can be described as a show of force. On the other hand, Moscow’s reaction to Sea Breeze exercise was strong. However, these military actions do not represent a political-military message regarding the crises Russia is involved in. On the contrary, the Kremlin avoided escalating the tensions with Georgia by refusing to implement the State Duma recommendations. Even more, in the Ukrainian conflict, President Vladimir Putin accepted a telephone discussion with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and showed availability toward a diplomatic approach to the problem. Although this course of action is sowed with boobytraps, it still provides hopes, although not so much for finding a solution, at least for suspending the military confrontation.

A large airborne exercise.

This past week, Russia announced a large-scale airborne exercise with more than 2000 paratroopers to be landed in several locations in Crimea. After landing, they were to conduct complex operations. The transport aviation part was significant, involving about 40 transport aircraft. The real size of this exercise is only partly known. Very likely, around 2400 paratroopers of Airborne Mountain Division 7 Novorossiysk were landed from Il 76 MD aircraft. They had likely boarded on Ivanovo-Severniy and Ulyanovsk-Vostochniy airfields and landed on July 11th in Chauda and Opuk areas in Crimea.

The exercise showed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) are worth their role of rapid reaction forces, the core element of Moscow’s armed interventions in Russia’s close vicinity and beyond. From a military point of view, this exercise sends an alarm signal to CIS nations and NATO frontline nations: this is what a surgical surprise attack will look like. Maybe the exercise was oversized, as Russia lacks the means to properly engage VDV in such attacks abroad at the level the USSR was capable. However, part of the equipment was deployed by other means, not airborne. Nevertheless, this is a lesson that needs to be studied and understood.

The geographical and time proximity with the Sea Breeze exercise is not by chance, and a valid hypothesis is that a scenario of aggression against Odessa has been exercised. Domestically, VDV performed the necessary demonstration to claim additional funds - an important stake, considering the current cuts.  

Russia’s reaction to Sea Breeze exercise.

As expected, Moscow’s reaction to the Sea Breeze exercise was strong. Russia closed a large maritime area just between the two perimeters previously notified by the Ukrainians for the Sea Breeze.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet warships (from the old destroyer Smetlivy to Buyan M class corvettes and other vessels) were deployed in vicinity of the Sea Breeze exercise perimeters. Notably, the presece of a submarine support / rescue vessel is an indication that Russian Kilo II class submarines were also present tin the area. Russia also activated elements of its A2AD system established in Crimea, the shore to ship and the air defense missiles.

Importantly, Russia raised the bar and increased the tension when the Smetlivy conducted a provocation: under the pretext of communication system failure, it ignored warnings and entered the area officially closed by the Ukrainian organizers for naval live fire. Both parties have certainly studied the potential opponent, as both NATO (British and American) and Russian surveillance aircraft have flown above the “rather crowded” north-western Black Sea waters.

One can conclude this is the way NATO and Ukrainian naval exercises in the Black Sea will unfold in the future, under a significant aerial and ELINT surveillance, as well as subjected to Russian operational and tactical provocations: closing large perimeters right between previously notified areas for the planned exercise, and Russian warship incursions into the NATO / Ukraine notified areas. The Kremlin considers that the Black Sea is a Russian air and naval supremacy body of water, and does not tolerate NATO interference in these waters. The forwardness of Russia’s strategic activity is visible when noticing that Russia’s Area of Operation included perimeters of Ukraine’s and Romania’s Exclusive Economic Zones in north-western Black Sea.

While military demonstrations of force occurred, we witness a political relaxation though, probably intended by the Kremlin in the attempt to relaunch Russia’s relations with the West and with Ukraine. The goal is to support a favorable solution for Donbass (not giving up the grab, however) and to get the sanctions lifted.


II. UKRAINE. Kyiv hosts the EU – Ukraine summit.

The European Union – Ukraine Summit held in Kyiv represented a reaffirmation of the double promise made by the EU on one side, to further support Ukraine, and by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on the other side, to implement necessary reforms and start the fight against corruption in his country.

This July 8th reunion is the first after Zelenskiy took power and it underlined the progressing pace of EU – Ukraine relations. The EU – Ukraine Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) are operational, and they secure the political and economic bases for Ukraine’s modernization. Let’s recall that Ukraine’s decision to sign the DCFTA with Brussels was the triggering event for the revolt in Kyiv, and the Kremlin reacted by occupying Crimea and starting the Donbass conflict. The EU hopes that, under the new president, the reform promises come true, and Ukraine makes the decisive step to domestic democratization and develops a market economy close to the European Union economy.

The European leaders expressed their support for Ukraine and confirmed a continued economic and political support to this country, as well as sanctions against Russia. The basic idea is that, as a diplomat put it, the EU must pay a constant attention to Ukraine and keep its president as close as possible, especially since he is the one expected to implement what he promised. In his turn, President Zelenskiy declared that a special tribunal for corruption cases would be established starting September, and this would be an important step forward. In another thorny issue, Kyiv announced it would initiate negotiations with Moscow regarding gas imports, also starting September.

The most important step in Russo-Ukrainian relations was made by the two presidents: Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a first phone conversation on July 11th, when they discussed the Donbass conflict and a prisoner exchange. The main topic was freeing the Ukrainian sailors arrested during the Kerch Strait naval incident. Zelenskiy proposed a meeting in Minsk format, but it seems that such meeting has not been planned yet. Later, Putin summoned Russia’s national security council to debate the Russo-Ukrainian relations, i.e. the discussion he had with Zelenskiy. Notably, President Zelenskiy would like to include the United States into the Normandy format, and Kyiv has recently announced the beginning of negotiations for purchasing American armament.

At home, the president is steering toward a victory of his party in the July 21st elections. Zelenskiy’s party, called In Service of the People, is rated at 37.8% of Ukrainians preferences, on the rise from 34.4%. The pro-Russian opposition ranks second, with 11%, on the rise from 7.8%. Poroshenko’s and Tymoshenko’s parties  became insignificant, with 7.2% and 4.8% respectively. Zelenskiy would likely achieve the political control he wanted, but how will he use it? One of his proposals shows rush: he sent to the Parliament a lustration bill covering even the politicians active between February 23, 2014 and May 19, 2019. The G7 nations ambassadors to Kyiv reacted negatively, warning about excesses.

President Zelenskiy’s power is increasing and is on the way to control the country almost completely. This makes both the West and Russia pay an increased attention to his actions. The Europeans reacted adequately, by continuing deal requesting reforms in exchange for economic and political support, while Moscow announced a diplomatic opening. It remains to be seen how serious Russia is about that, as the Kremlin became equally interested in negotiations with Kyiv, due to the sanctions it wants lifted. However, the big problem is whether Zelenskiy has the capacity to implement reforms in Ukraine.

It needs to be highlighted that Ukraine will play an important role in the Republic of Moldova as well. During the meeting with Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu, in Kyiv, Zelenskiy declared that both countries want the Russian troops to quit their territories (wonder if they also asked President Igor Dodon about that?!)


IV. TURKEY. The red lines were toed.

This past week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan crossed two red lines, one in relation with the United States, by receiving the first deliveries of S-400 equipment, and a second one in relation with the European Union, by sending a second geological research vessel in Cypriot waters. For R.T. Erdoğan, prepared to confront the West, another problem surfaced intramuros: an important politician resigned from AKP, the president’s party, and the chances of AKP splitting cannot be ruled out.

On July 12th, Turkey started to receive the S-400 air defense systems it purchased from Russia, at the Murted air base near Ankara, where the first boxes were flown in with an An 124 Russian transport aircraft. Deliveries will continue for the duration of this summer. Both Russian and Turkish parties have confirmed this development. Thus, President Erdoğan unabatedly continues his plans, despite the American threats to expel Ankara from the F-35 program, and impose sanctions (for conducting business with Russian companies).

Although both the Pentagon and NATO canceled the press conferences thet had announced regarding this development, they preferred to keep silent, with a reaction expected this current week. The US interim defense secratery, Mark Esper, declared: “We are aware of Turkey taking delivery of the S-400, our position regarding the F-35 has not changed”. Perhaps, following discussions with President Donald Trump, President Erdoğan hopes that the White House will act to stop or limit the US reaction. Therefore, the result will likely appear from Washington this week 28.

Also, this past week, a second Turkish vessel, Yavuz, entered the north-western waters of Cyprus, after a similar event in May, when the Fatih vessel drilled in western Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone. On July 14th, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu announced that Turkey would continue drilling until Cyprus accepted Turkish proposal to cooperate in exploiting Cyprus seabed resources.

Greece and Cyprus already had appealed to the EU to impose sanctions against Turkey in response to these actions. European officials assured Cyprus of EU support, but an official reaction will result during the upcoming EU foreign ministers meeting. However, it seems it will be a limited reaction. There is information that sanctions are considered in Brussels, but they will likely be introduced gradually, considering the architecture of EU – Turkey relations, from trade interests to migration complications.

Regardless the slow pace of western reactions, Turkey embarked on a collision course with the US and the EU, and these will respond, although they will seek to avoid being too aggressive in that response. The most important crack is with the US, Turkey being on the path to be expelled from the F-35 program. The US will control the pace and visibility of this sanction, paying attention to leave a life-line to Ankara during the implementation of adequate measures. Turkey will likely settle with whatever is left for it, a formal relation with the US and NATO, because it needs the West, although Turkey has a different policy, if not even antagonistic with the West, in some respects.


V. Developments to track this Week 29 of 2019.

UNITED STATES – UNITED KINGDOM. The bilateral diplomatic relations were afflicted by… the truth. Publishing the cables sent by UK ambassador came as a shock because they presented an incompetent American president leading a nonfunctional administration. Considering that the British ambassador, by his position and connections, makes a quite knowledgeable and objective observer of Trump Administration, one can realize that the situation is as serious as a heart attack: not the cynical reporting of realities is grave, but the reported reality, that shows the gravity of current situation, with a president and an administration described by the closest ally as a risk to global security! However, that report should be studied very carefully by any government talking with Trump Administration. After President Trump passed from denial to attacking the ambassador and… UK Prime-Minister Theresa May, in his specific manner, the Britons reacted naturally: first they defended the piano player, then they shot him. The British ambassador resigned, facing also the lack of support from the would-be next prime minister, the opportunistic Boris Johnson (who “pushed him under the bus wheels” by refusing any support). Behind the withdrawal of British ambassador, the big problem of bilateral relations remains, because now the Trump Administration knows how it is perceived by its closest ally.

IRAN – UNITED STATES. Slowly but surely, the situation goes downhill toward an undeclared conflict. The arrest of an Iranian tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar caught Tehran’s attention, and later a British tanker was provided with a UK frigate protection in the Persian Gulf. A taker conflict looms large, as it happened before, in the ‘80s. The US and UK will be forced to escort oil tankers against Iranian attacks. The US already requested ally support to secure the maritime routes IVO Yemeni coasts, an indication that Washington is turning its attention towards the Gulf waters and seeks to delegate other responsibilities.  

In its turn, Iran pushes the limits of the nuclear deal and puts forward the conditions for continuing to observe it: the Europeans should find ways to by-pass the American sanctions. But the negotiations initiated by France will probably fail. Iran counts on Trump Administration’s reluctance and incapacity to engage in a decisive conflict. However, considering President Trump’s unpredictability, Tehran should better think twice. Although everybody is used to watch a balance on the edge in the Persian Gulf, we are far from a self-solving situation, and we witness an escalation of tensions and getting closer to a point of no return, where the declarations coming from both sides about avoiding a war will become… irrelevant!

REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. The General Prosecutor’s resignation opens the way to reforming this institution. But how can that be done with 600 prosecutors used to be somebody’s tools, not the conscience against criminals. While the ACUM pro-western coalition asks them to work in service of the state, the pro-Russian Socialists (PSRM) might propose them a new deal, with a new master and a new mafioso pyramid. Meanwhile, European support starts to come true. The big question for the Socialists is: how can an anti-democratic party, Russia’s instrument, adapt to a democratic system, when its very raison d’être is to serve the Kremlin in exchange for funding and supporting a grey area regime, where the law only acts in favor of the powerful? The Kroll II Report shows the criminal dimension in the “theft of the billion” case: almost all the important politicians are involved, from Plahotniuc to Filat, not neglecting the traces leading to… the Socialists. Beyond the economic and administrative measures taken to save the situation, it is important to watch who are the people to fill the key positions and who will have to navigate in the predictable situation where the democratization imposed by ACUM will start to disturb the PSRM.

EUROPEAN UNION. The vote for Ursula von der Leyen in the European Parliament is the crucial upcoming event which will either open the way to a new EU leadership or lead to resuming the whole election process. The signals are negative: German Social-Democrats are against her, and the Ecologists, who have an important role in this deal, have the same position. However, a last-ditch agreement bringing victory for Ursula von der Leyen cannot be ruled out.