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23 iulie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 29 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. EUROPEAN UNION. Ursula von der Leyen is voted President of the European Commission. II. RUSSIA. Discussions with the United States on nuclear armament. III. KOSOVO. The prime minister resigns. IV. TURKEY is expelled from the F-35 program. V. Developments to track this Week 30 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. EUROPEAN UNION. Ursula von der Leyen is voted President of the European Commission.

Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) was voted by a small margin as President of the European Commission (EC) after promises made to Ecologists and Socialists to get their support. Together with the manner this success was achieved, the result shows the fragility of the new EU leadership, at least at the beginning, when each political group expects to be offered what was promised. Maybe, on the long run, she will prove to be the right person in the right place.   

The European Parliament passed this vote on July 16th, thus avoiding an impasse and opening the way to electing the other EU comissioners. The promises VDL made to various EU political groups might be compromises that later will limit her liberty in leading the EC. This adds to the handicap of having been elected during a non-transparent procedure.

Nevertheless, VDL is the woman (first at the helm of the EC) to find a way not only for a reasonable Brexit, but also for bringing the eastern autocracies back to the democratic fold and for solving the problems of concern for the West, from migration to climate change effects. The VDL Europe will be green (due to the concessions made to Ecologists), fair (to please the Socialists) and in service of rule of law (to please all political spectrum, from Liberals to Christian-Democrats, against some of the leaders in the East, Viktor Orbán in the first place. We should not forget that VDL is a moderate Christian-Democrat, sometimes bland. Yet she seems perfect for the EU soft strategy aimed at consolidating the Union and finding a modus vivendi both with the military adversaries – Russia, and its economic competitors – China, not forgetting the difficult friends as the United States under Trump Administration.

VDL had 383 votes for and 327 against, a relatively tight score, considering the minimum of 374 necessary ballots. Comparing with her predecessors, one can say this result of 52% follows a tradition: Jean-Claude Juncker won 56% of the votes, and Manuel Barosso the same 52% for his second mandate.

VDL benefited the support of her Populars and by the Liberals, as well as part of the Socialists and Ecologists. The Populists and extreme right voted generally against VDL. The case of Italy is interesting: the two governing parties voted differently – the Cinque Stele voted for, and Salvini’s La Lega voted against. Viktor Orban boasted that his influence was decisive by having blocked Manfred Weber, but it is questionable the VDL would tolerate his autocratic behavior.

Some of the Ecologists, who voted against VDL, declared that her expressed good will is not enough. As she did not promote any concrete measures to slow down the global warming effects, as she had promised. In fact, this is a good element, which demonstrates VDL’s realism facing another radicalism, that showed by the Ecologists, who seem to be far from understanding the priorities, and behave more lefty than the left wing in issues such as migration.

Elegantly, VDL clearly expressed intolerance regarding the assault against the rule of law (eyes on Poland and Hungary).

Although she attacked the American high-tech giants, VDL will pay attention how far she can go on that path, as she has a good knowledge of the Americans, and is a pro-American European able to build bridges and find a way of understanding each-other with Donald Trump. This comes right now, when the Unites States prepares response measures against France’s initiatives to increase taxes on these giants.

VDL reminded Europe’s need for unity, from North to South and from West to East. Reaffirming EU’s unity and power is a good slogan, although reality shows that none of these is in enough supply. However, we should enjoy what we have, that is almost 500 million people, very different among them, with so different living standards and visions, but together - something unimaginable thirty years ago!

The first hurdle for VDL will be Brexit postponement, respectively its renegotiation with a difficult Boris Johnson, who is leading the race for Britain’s prime minister. Nevertheless, even here VDL voiced opening to compromise, the classic German position that watches economic consequences (with political effects), not illusory gains, if not short-lived vanities, as Boris Johnson does, as well as Emmanuel Macron.

For Romania, VDL is the right EU head commissioner. Almost all Romanian parliamentary groups supported her, and this is a good thing. In fact, our political future is predicable, generated by domestic circumstances, and our only problem is how VDL will support us to recover what we must recover, especially in social and economic fields.


II. RUSSIA. Discussions with the United States on nuclear armament.

On July 17th, in Geneva, the United States and Russia conducted first discussions regarding the nuclear arms agreements. The results are partly negative, as the American side accused the Russian team of lack of transparency. Moscow replied by accusing Washington for eroding the global arms control system (reference to quitting the INF), and the US defended itself by mentioning that Russia has breached this agreement (by deploying the SSC-8 missiles).

The level of representation was high: the US delegation was chaired by deputy secretary of state John Sullivan, seconded by undersecretary of state for arms control, Andrea Thompson, while the Russian delegation was headed by Sergei Ryabkov, also deputy foreign minister.

The delegations discussed "their respective national strategic policies as a means to reduce misunderstandings and misperceptions on a range of key security issues... The US delegation also underscored concerns about Russia's development and deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons and lack of transparency with regard to existing obligations". That last bit was about Russia’s breaching the INF by deploying the SSC-8 missiles.

Worse, this past week, an American official mentioned that these SSC-8 intermediate range missiles (over 500 kilometers) have nuclear warheads (until now, it was known only that they can carry nuclear warheads). The two sides also failed to agree on extending the New START agreement on strategic armament.

The meeting took place in circumstances where the presidents of US and Russia announced the relaunching of bilateral relations, respectively their efforts to identify the problems and solve them. Nuclear arms control is one of the thorniest problems, considering the role this class of armament plays in the security strategies fostered by the two great powers, but also considering the likely end of the basic agreements in this domain. However, the reality looks different from the intentions declared by the two presidents.

Currently, strategic nuclear armament is limited by the New START agreement, due to expire in 2021. This accord limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads and that of deployed nuclear warheads, i.e. the number of vectors carrying such warheads. Russia would prefer to preserve this agreement but linked to the missile defense systems developed by the United States. In this respect, Moscow developed missile systems, respectively warheads claimed to be able to penetrate the American missile defense systems. Very likely, although having an early start, Russia lacks the capacity to cope with a strategic nuclear arms race, being more interested to preserve the New START agreement and, if possible, to obtain a limitation of American missile defense systems, especially those deployed to Europe.

In its turn, the United States wants a global nuclear disarming agreement to include all nuclear warheads and all vectors, both strategic and sub-strategic (the intermediate range missiles mentioned in the INF), as well as the tactical warheads. The US would also include China in such agreement. Russia does not oppose, but China has not intention whatsoever to join such agreement, since the number of its warheads is small, and most of its vectors are intermediate range missiles.

Things got more complicated when Russia breached the INF and Washington accused Moscow for deploying four nuclear capable SSC-8 missile battalions. Although Russia denies it, the US holds enough evidence to back its accusations, convinced the NATO allies to build a common position, and announced its withdrawal from INF accord. The deadline for this development is August 2nd, 2019.

What’s next? Very likely, Russia will not give up its SSC-8 missiles, and both Russia and the United Stated will complete the quitting procedures. A mistrust atmospherics was created, and that was blatantly visible in Geneva. The losers will be the Europeans in the first place, for being in the range of these missiles. So, in a conflict situation, Russia can impose its decisions by threatening with a rapid escalation towards a nuclear confrontation using those missiles. Warnings by numerous analysts, German included, as well as official warnings issued by the NATO Secretary General produced no effect in Moscow. They could not have any effect, as the Kremlin had planned this revision of the nuclear forces balance. First, Moscow planned such change in Europe, counting on the European reluctance to accept response measures, especially any deployment of similar American missiles (not developed yet, as the US is to start this process after the end of INF). Therefore, in first instance, NATO measures will be defensive in nature, maybe including an adaptation of the missile shield to the new threats. Russia will counter by accusing the US of premeditating these measures (as they always did, by stating that the missile defense installations in Deveselu / southern Romania were designed to intercept Russian missiles, and that Deveselu installations can launch missiles breaching the INF).

Despite President Trump’s will to have good relations with Moscow and to reach a comprehensive agreement regarding the nuclear armament, such chances are slim, and the European continent is steering toward a new high level of insecurity: starting with August 2nd, 2019, there will be no disarming agreement valid in Europe, the latest to expire being INF.


III. KOSOVO. The prime minister resigns.  

Following accusations from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned on July 18th. Haradinaj explained that he was called by ICC prosecutors inquiring war crimes to answer questions regarding violent events during the Kosovo crisis, two decades ago.

Visibly nervous, Haradinaj declared: "I am resigning from the position of the prime minister of the Republic of Kosovo... The reason has to do with the invitation I have received from the Specialist Chambers in The Hague, as a suspect… I considered that I cannot go to the questioning as head of the government."

He will go to The Hague this current week 30. Ramush Haradinaj was one of the important UCK commanders during the armed confrontations in Kosovo, against the then Yugoslav military, Serbian paramilitaries, and ethnic Serbian civilians. Haradinaj asked Kosovo president to start consultations for organizing snap elections.

The ICC spokesman declined to confirm any prosecution action against R. Haradinaj. The reason is, perhaps, previous cases when witnesses under interrogation procedures regarding UCK commanders were subjected to intimidations, which now makes the prosecutors prefer discretion.

President Hashim Thaçi announced he would consult political parties in view of either forming a new government or organizing snap elections. Thaçi declared his confidence that the UCK conducted a clean war: “I believe in the purity of the war of the Kosovo Liberation Army and I believe in the high moral values of the soldiers who fought for freedom”. President Hashim Thaçi, as well as the speaker of Kosovo legislative body, Kadri Veseli, are also former UCK guerilla commanders, and the local media published information maintaining they would also be prosecuted by the ICC. A Council of Europe report links Thaçi and other UCK leaders not only to war crimes, but also to human organ trafficking rings with organs harvested from Serbian war prisoners. Thaçi has denied any such ill-doing.

Apparently, Haradinaj’s resignation would cause a delay in relaunching the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština. In fact, Haradinaj’s resignation will allow the dialogue to restart, because he was the one to set the harsh tone with Belgrade and introduced excessive tariffs which blew up the dialogue with Serbia.

Although attempts to indict Ramush Haradinaj occurred before, this prosecution action by the ICC is an important political and judicial moment.

From a political point of view, a former UCK commander became prime minister although there were always accusations for war crimes against him, including atrocities against civilians. He leaves now the political stage and opens the path to a different leadership in Priština. Maybe this is just the beginning, and other former UCK commanders who have climbed the social ladder will have to follow Haradinaj.

From a judicial point of view, this event marks the end of the biased approach to the conflict. The conflict in Kosovo had the known features of a gruesome guerilla war: terror and war crimes against civilians by both sides. That conflict was presented as a liberation fight by the UCK freedom fighters against Serbian paramilitary, who waged terror on the ethnic Albanian population and committed war crimes. It is true that Arkan’s Serbian fighters did precisely such atrocities, so terrible that it took a long time to the Serbs (and not all of them yet) to accept the cruel reality. Justified on the Serbian forces’ crimes against ethnic Albanian population, the West imposed a military solution and then a diplomatic arrangement extended as far as establishing a new state in the Balkans. This is how the framework was created to protect the Albanian side culprits, who not only were exempted from prosecution, but became important political players, busy rather to promote revanchist policies than find political solutions together with Belgrade (where political descendants of war criminals are in power, not the culprits themselves, as it happens in Priština). One should recall the crucial role of Kosovar clan structure, considering that many former UCK soldiers, “who fought for freedom, with high moral values”, have committed criminal activities not only during the conflict, but also after that, the Kosovar mafia being a problem for the western countries’ law enforcement structures.

Next, president Hashim Thaçi must find a solution: either a new prime minister or snap parliamentary elections. Here, he considers an additional possible solution than Haradinaj proposed: by suggesting only snap elections, Haradinaj probably counted on a victory for his political formation in the elections, followed by a wave of sympathy favorable to him personally, as a national hero… accused for war crimes! A new prime minister generated by the same parliament would deprive him of such support.

Very likely, the political process in Priština will last long and produce little results, but it began though, and this is the most important thing. Beyond these changes, it is possible to see a new historical period for Kosovo: the contingent involved in war crimes two decades ago must quit and gradually open the way for a new generation of Kosovar politicians, who were not involved in conflict atrocities and can provide a better perspective of the future.

The West starts a less biased approach, which can provide a positive course to solving the conflict (of course, including recognition of Kosovo by Belgrade, but in what circumstances, especially for the Serbs north of Ibar River?). There is still the question whether Belgrade, who plays by more than one geostrategic music sheet, can renounce its non-recognition policy, against the grain, because the Serbian population is mostly pro-Russian and anti-NATO. Would they painfully choose the West, the only option towards a quick economic development and not only?  


IV. TURKEY is expelled from the F-35 program.

The United States announced that Turkey would cease to be part of the F-35 program, after the first deliveries of Russian S-400 air defense equipment. What was expected just happened, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s illusions that President Trump’s tolerant attitude would prevail over the natural response requested by American institutions just crumbled. This measure has outstanding political, military and economic implications, and shakes the US – Turkey relations, as well as NATO alliance. Russia achieved a breach in the Alliance, but Moscow should not celebrate too hard, considering that President Erdoğan has his own policy, generated by his specific ideology, and today’s friend can easily become tomorrow’s enemy (if not starting today, if we look at what’s happening in Idlib).

On July 17th, Washington announced Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 program, less than a week after Russian deliveries of S-400 equipment, on July 12th. The Pentagon’s undersecretary of aquisitions, Ellen Ford, declared that the US and other F-35 program partners decided together Turkey’s expulsion from the program and the start of procedures meant to lead to that effect.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Washington’s measure was unfair and will afflict bilateral relations. Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué sending an unequivocal message: “We invite the US to return from this mistake which would open irreparable wounds in strategic relations”. This very Monday, M. Çavuşoğlu was even rougher: “If the United States portrays an adversarial attitude towards us, we will take retaliatory measures, as we’ve told them. This is not a threat or a bluff”. 

By the voice of David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, the US announced it would try to preserve political relations with Turkey, despite current mutual distrust, as Turkey is a too important NATO ally to be lost: “Our strategic partnership continues…, this is a specific response to a specific action”.

This measure will afflict American finances, due to reorientation of supply chains, i.e. replacing Turkish manufacturers that will leave the program. Although American losses will be big, they are less relevant than Turkey’s loss of about nine billion dollars to be felt by those Turkish manufacturers expelled from the F-35 program. But there is more: Turkey faces the risk of economic sanctions for doing business with Russian armament firms. This perspective already caused the Turkish Lira to fall lower from an already poor quotation.

Both from economic and political-military reasons, the United States considers a reorientation of F-35 aircraft sales to Romania, Greece and Poland. The question is whether these countries possess the economic and military capability to be accepted into the high-tech and expensive F-35 program.

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, expressed his concern regarding this situation and stated that NATO would not integrate the S-400 system into NATO air defense system; he also mentioned that Turkey made no request in that respect.

Ready to fill the void, Russia announced it was ready to deliver Su35 generation 4++ aircraft to Turkey. The previuous offer mentioned the Su57 fifth generation (the Russian stealth aircraft), but there are many issues linked to this aircraft, although the Kremlin announced that Russian air forces would purchase 75 such fighters. Moscow just announced that negotiations are conducted with Ankara regarding trasfer of Russian technology for production of S-400 parts in Turkey, and regarding a wider project of building a strategic missile defense system for Turkey.

Although President Trump issued a moderate statement, which gave the impression that Washington might postpone response measures, the American reaction was immediate and complete. The Pentagon had already ended Turkish pilots’ participation in training programs at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and they are to leave the United States. The four F-35 aircraft already purchased by Turkey, but still on American soil for training are under US control and will not leave the US territory.

Although both parties plus NATO will work in damage control mode, the effects will be large, both politically and militarily, plus the economic component, which certainly comes last after the political and military consequences. Politically, Turkey just became an odd NATO member, with barred access to weapon systems produced by the US (by comparison, Saudi Arabia will purchase the THAAD system). Although President Trump blamed Obama Administration for hesitating to grant access to Turkey for the Patriot system, the reality is much worse: between the United States and Turkey, the minimum political trust dissapeared and left Ankara with no access to the most important US and its allies’ air force development program.

From a military point of view, the situation presents an important NATO member, Turkey, barred from not only a top notch aircraft, but also from access to the technology of the future. In the same time, Turkey operates a customized air defense system, with specific sensors, which will no loger be connected to NATO air defense network, but will allow Turkey and the system supplier, Russia to colect information about other NATO nations (e.g. Greece) or US allies (e.g. Israel). By Ankara’s decision and the response measures just taken, Turkey is now, de facto, outside NATO.

Why did President R.T. Erdoğan decide to walk this path, knowing what the consequences would be? Of course, the main argument is political: for ideological reasons, President Erdoğan does not trust the West and prepares for Turkey a separate future. Militarily, Turkish president wanted an air defense system “of his own”, mistrusting both NATO and his own Turkish military, especially after the 2016 failed coup d’état (let’s recall that Turkish aircraft sought to strike President Erdoğan, Turkish Parliament was bombed, and the military base in Izmir, where a NATO command operates, was cut off from the power grid). Recep Erdoğan trusts Russia more instead, because Moscow has possibly warned him about the coup. However, Russia plays cynically by its own rules, or, should we say, with no rules. Additionally, Russia granted Ankara access to technology in armament production, forseeing that the West would eventually barr Turkey from military high-tech, as result of planned developments.  

On short term, is it to be seen whether Washington will also impose economic sanctions against Ankara, since restraint is the basic attitude for the moment. Then, the question comes whether Turkey will purchase Russian aircraft, or it will settle for a cooperation with the United Kingdom for producing a 4++ generation aircraft, with some stealth features.

Nevertheless, the crack happened, with severe consequences for NATO, the United States and Europe. Maybe there is satisfaction in Moscow, but you never know when President Erdoğan is at play (for the moment, history holds that the most recent case of downed Russian aircraft was a Su24 hit by a missile launched from a Turkish F-16 aircraft).


V. Developments to track this Week 30 of 2019.

• UKRAINE. The July 21st parliamentary elections were won by President Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party with 42%, after half of the ballots were counted, and with chances to gain absolute majority after the final count in Ukraine’s dual electoral system, because the nominal vote will bring additional seats to the party lists voting. Even in coalition with a small other party (perhaps the fifth), Zelenskiy will have almost total control of the power in Ukraine. The next problem is how he will use this power, provided he manages to overcome the strong resistance of the oligarch system of government employees who do not serve the government.  

Four other parties were set to get over the 5% threshold required for access into Ukraine’s parliament through the party list seats. The pro-Russian party of businessman Viktor Medvedchuk came second in the election with 13%, gaining the majority of his support from the Russian-speaking east and south of the country. This result is important: the pro-Russian party won more than the estimated 10% making it important, but far from the 20% which might have made it significant in the political games and able to hamper the future power plans. Moscow visibly did everything in its power to support the pro-Russian party, and V. Medvedchuk, Putin’s in-law, visited the Kremlin just days before the elections. Russia also prepared future problems: Vladimir Putin offered new shortcuts for Ukrainian citizens of the two separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk who wish to obtain Russian citizenship. Also, the agreement regarding a prisoner exchange was not implemented yet. The delegations to negotiate it arrived in Minsk with president councellors at the helm (Caution: Shurkov is back on stage, and there is no Volker to face him in Minsk!)

At home, the law regarding language rights is valid now, with its positive effects – national consolidation, but also negative consequences – it affects the minority rights. Using the excuse that Ukraine must counter Russian aggression (which is real and indeed uses Russian and Russian-speaking minorities), Ukrainian nationalism is a loose cannon. However, it is hard to believe that Hungary’s solution – a harsh reaction against Kyiv, is the appropriate solution. For Romania, this law might become a problem, but a balanced response is needed, an action meant to provide a better chance to the Romanian minority in Ukraine, while also keep the doors open for building friendship relations with Kyiv. 

After these elections, Ukraine becomes an even more interesting place to watch, as President Zelenskiy must turn from make-shift gestures to concrete tough actions. Their implementation will hurt, considering that Zelenskiy will also face Putin at the negotiations for solving the Donbass conflict.

• IRAN – UNITED STATES. Although it seems that a war is not in sight, there are already more parallel quiet confrontations, none of them degenerating yet into a classic armed conflict, the Clausewitzian picture before the hybrid warfare took the floor as follows: 1) the most obvious is the kinetic drone war: by downing an Iranian drone, the United States got even, although Tehran does not admit; 2) the oil tanker war is on the rise, and Iran gets even here by arresting a British tanker (by other information there were two). Interesting, Iran achieves several objectives: it initiates an oil tanker war, forcing the US and its allies to deploy more naval capabilities for escort protection in the Gulf; it strikes Britain, trying to deter other US allies from joining US and UK in forming a coalition to secure navigation in the Gulf and adjacent waters (the Red Sea, in connection with the Houthi rebel aggressions); 3) a chicken war (who blinks first?), where Iran threatens with withdrawal from the nuclear deal (and to some extent, even with breaching it), aiming at pressing the Europeans to find a solution allowing Tehran’s economy to survive by by-passing the American sanctions; 4) a statement war, where it is hard to discriminate when a step is forwards or backwards, because the Iranians are masters, as well as their Middle East opponents, the Arabs or Israel. The game continues, and Iran counts on President Donald Trump, who has no intention to attack this nation. Thus Tehran pushes the limits in search for a solution allowing it to resist the American sanctions. At least for the near future, this abnormal situation will likely be the norm.

• REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Apparently, everything is fine in Chişinău. The mafioso pyramid is shaking after the General Prosecutor resigned. Vlad Plahotniuc and his henchmen are erasing their traces by selling or transferring properties and businesses. The reveals, especially Vlad Filat’s spills shock the country. Abroad, there are only successes: European financing resumed after Moldovan foreign minister’s visit to Brussels; Prime minister Maia Sandu visited Berlin, where Chancellor Angela Merkel promised support. On the other hand, although having visited Russia, President Igor Dodon did not meet President Vladimir Putin, and rumors have it that… Maia Sandu is expected to visit Moscow.

All this march forth has been undermined by a small detail. The head of OSCE mission to Republic of Moldova (RM), a German national (the first German in this office, usually there was an American) announced that, in the 5+2 format, there will be efforts to promote the special status solution for Transnistria, which drew Maia Sandu’s  immediate attention. This seems to be the price paid by RM for Russia’s pretense of accepting, for the moment, a democratic solution in this country. How does this path look now? If a Kozak plan cannot be implemented, a reversed approach can be attempted, starting from realities: there is Transnistria, de facto independent territory, since it already has a special internal status, because the government in Chişinău has no word in anything happening in Tiraspol whatsoever. This independence only needs recognition in its main coordinates, by the government in Chişinău, and so, Tiraspol starts to get the upper hand in Chişinău. The Russian Army remains where it is illegally deployed, Chişinău willing or not. Let’s see what Ukraine has to say, because Romania’s voice, for the moment is not heard in Chişinău. The main European actor, Germany, should listen though to what Bucharest understands about what is going on in the RM and in Transnistria. Romania’s interests are at stake in RM, although Romania’s actions were subjected to criticism, maybe for good reasons.