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21 iulie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 29 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. POLAND. Andrej Duda won a new mandate by a small margin. II. BULGARIA. Protests against Boyko Borisov’s corrupt power. III. RUSSIA. Anti-government protests in Khabarovsk. IV. ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN. The conflict resumes. V. Developments to track this Week 30 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. POLAND. Andrej Duda won a new mandate by a small margin.

As result of July 07th second round of presidential elections in Poland, Andrzej Duda won his second mandate. The outcome was tight, and Andrzej Duda won only 51.03 % of the ballots. Duda run on a Conservative platform with strong social components, typical to PiS, the Conservative governing party Duda comes from, he worked with, and he will further cohabitate with. His counterpart, (Liberal) Rafal Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s mayor, won an unexpected 48.97%. The elections showed Poland split between current Conservative doctrine and the young generation Liberalism. For the moment, the situation in Poland does not change, but the perspective is that Poland will transfer to the next phase during the next parliamentary elections (the right wing Conservative reaction, after the Communism has been eliminated, with its sequels), then to the third phase, featuring a mature liberal society.

Andrzej Duda’s victory offered the governing Conservative party Law and Justice / PiS the chance to continue its agenda, including the justice reform, meant to delete any trace of the Communist heritage, but it also afflicted the independence of justice; therefore, it led to negative reactions from the European Union. The European Parliament and the European Commission promptly reminded that Warsaw’s justice reform, as well as media reform, are not consistent with democratic standards. PiS Conservatives interpreted these critics as a support from Brussels, respectively from Berlin, to the Liberal opposition, while PiS is ‘defended by the Polish society’ (“Polish society is not accepting this” - a rather high ambition, considering that Polish electorate splits 50-50 between the two trends). This trend of imposing a Conservative non-liberal regime in Poland cannot be tolerated by the EU. Despite the United States encourages Warsaw to ignore Brussels, PiS will behave cautiously, but will likely continue on its path to reform justice, especially since these elections showed that Polish society in on the edge: half of it is the supportive catholic conservative electorate established after the Communism collapsed (rural population, the middle class of private owners, the conservative elders), and the other half is supporting the European Liberalism (the youth, the middle class, the dynamic pro-European part of Polish society). The Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro already suggested that PiS would continue the press control measures, where the press is considered independent simply for being private property.

Duda lost much from his position of unifying president stance by his message in the election campaign, when he attacked private press and the LGBT community (allegedly more dangerous than… Communism), and by accusing Trzaskowski of serving foreign interests (which would be the European interests, since Trzaskowski promised to restore Poland’s relations with the EU?). After the victory, President Duda returned to a more appeasing tone, but the harm has been done, because Duda was the man who divided the society, and it will be difficult for him to play the unifier role. Should PiS continue its current path with Polish justice reform and attempts to control the press, the EU will likely take adequate measures (post-Coronavirus recovery money will likely be somewhat hinged on rule of law in Poland, although the summit decided otherwise). For Romania, Poland remains the same, allied and friend, regardless the name of its president. 


II. BULGARIA. Protests against Boyko Borisov’s corrupt power.

Bulgaria reached the moment of truth, when it is shaken by protests against Boyko Borisov’s corrupt power, as state institutions were captured, and justice became just a ridiculous instrument. The opposition rallied around President Rumen Radev, who is in open conflict with Prime Minister Borisov, but Radev offers no guarantee he would further pro-European reforms, because he is close to pro-Russian Socialists in Bulgarian opposition. However, the real power rests with the oligarchs (Delyan Peevski, Ahmed Dogan, Vasil Bozhkov, and many others). They are true ‘pashas’ who highjacked the state, stole the national wealth, act above the law, and control state institutions, including the judiciary, as well as the press. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Borisov is just the former bodyguard (of communist dictator Zhukov) who, for the last decade, has been playing the political game (a true charade with false ‘outstanding successes’, smoke and mirrors meant to deceive Brussels. In fact, he serves the interests of Bulgarian oligarchs, who are the real rulers of this country, at the expense of Bulgarian people.

Tensions between Boyko Borisov and Rumen Radev peaked with the published picture showing Borisov among heaps of money and a handgun on the nightstand. After that, protests burst when the prosecutors arrested two presidential advisers under grave accusations. Then, there was the situation when a beach was forbidden for public access but available only for oligarch Ahmed Dogan, and guarded by a governmental security detail, although he holds no official position (he is a top ethnic Turkish oligarch, who controls much of the press and, through his party, the Movement for Rights and Liberties / DPS, he controls the majority supporting the government[1]). Protests spread rapidly and increased, and the messages are clear: ‘mafia’, ‘justice’, and ‘resignation’ (of Borisov and General Prosecutor Ivan Gheshev, Borisov’s henchman). Protests have been going on for a week, with little chances to diminish. President Radev rises as temporary leader of this revolt, which rallies an eclectic participation ranging from Socialists (led by Kornelia Nonova), to pro-European Liberals (led by Hristo Ivanov).

Demonstrations will spread and swell, but Borisov is not ready to yield, being sure that next year elections will provide him a secure one ‘submitted’ third of the electorate. He also warns that the opposition “will destroy the state” (he adds a scarecrow for Brussels, the otherwise well-founded threat that the Socialists will conduct a pro-Russian policy). However, Boyko Borisov cannot stop the popular rage only by offering several scapegoats, whom he requested to resign (three ministers: internal affairs, finance, and economy – all guilty, of course, but not the evil masterminds, that would be Borisov himself). Therefore, a solution to this crisis might be a compromise between Borisov and the opposition, yet preserving the oligarch power untouched. Nevertheless, the critical moment approaches: all oligarchs will be prosecuted, as well as their servants, including those in politics and judiciary (highly likely, that will be the EU request, sooner or later).

Bulgaria’s main problem is that it was captured by a mafia with roots among the ‘formers’, and it lacks a political force able to win elections and truly reform the country by returning it to the European path. Only such move might rescue the Bulgarian people from the trap set by the unlimited power of the oligarchs and their influence networks. What happens in Bulgaria is a red light for Brussels that facts rather than look-alikes matter[2], and excessive tolerance leads to disaster: practically, Bulgaria has no political alternative to lead it quickly to the road of democracy and reform. However, this does not mean that the Bulgarians lack the power to start seeking a solution. Borisov, and even Radev are not part of such solution; both are compromised, especially Borisov. For Romania, Bulgaria’s setback is a bad development, as Sofia is our natural companion in the journey towards full European standards. Romania finds herself in the situation where Bucharest can only cooperate with the Western Europeans, beyond the first circle of neighbors, because all our neighbors, including the EU member countries, have big problems with democracy, rule of law, and the judiciary system.


III. RUSSIA. Anti-government protests in Khabarovsk.

Exactly while rejoicing the victory in the constitutional referendum, the Kremlin faces an unexpected situation, mass protests in a remote region. The arrest of Khabarovsk Region governor triggered ample demonstrations, and the political message against Moscow spread quickly. The Kremlin will probably find a solution to the new crisis which sparked after a politician belonging to the power’s ‘accepted opposition’, the Liberal-Democrats led by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. However, these protests signals two dangers the Kremlin faces: 1) the local power in remote regions might end the unconditionally submission to Moscow (which controls the money flow); 2) the parties within Russia’s ‘accepted opposition’ (whose leaders are wolves in ship skin, most of them) might defy the Kremlin at the right moment. The Kremlin does not face a major crisis, not yet, it is just a warning development, nevertheless serious.

The protests continued for the whole last week in Khabarovsk, a large city, capital of the region with the same name (in the Far East, bordering China), where tens of thousands protesters joined the street demonstrations, a remarkable number for a remote city. Also remarkable for Khabarovsk, the street protests are the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union, with over 30,000 participants. The protesters demand the release from arrest and a fair trial for Governor Sergey Furgal, who was arrested on July 9th, accused of having ordered two murders and a murder attempt in 2004 – 2005 (15 years ago!), and was transferred to a Moscow jail. The protesters claim Furgal arrest has a political basis.

Sergey Furgal is member of Liberal Democrat Party (no connection with either liberalism or democracy, but featuring the striking nationalism of its leader, Zhirinovsky), and a businessman in scrap trade. He dared to run for governor two years ago, and he defeated the power’s candidate Vyacheslav Shport (United Russia party) winning 70% of the ballots. The rumor has it that Furgal would have breached the deal made with the power, that he should have let himself lose the elections, in exchange for a comfortable position in Shport’s administration. So, Furgal crossed the red line (the Kremlin’s unofficial message was that Furgal ‘turned from a tolerated opposition into a real opposition, and he will be dealt with accordingly’). The power reacted with a fierce smear campaign against Furgal in the media, and now the time for punishment arrived. Perhaps Furgal is guilty of those accusations (but who of the circle linked to the true power in Russia is not linked to the ‘corpse times’? It’s like fishing in a barrel), but why is he indicted now, after 15 years from the events and two years of defying the Kremlin? This obvious political event, and the control Sergey Furgal holds on local power networks triggered the protests. Dangerous for the power, the political message turned radical, and now is no longer ‘justice for Furgal’, but also anti-Kremlin, with autonomy flavor (‘where is the money for our ores mined from Khabarovsk?’).

The power reacted cautiously, perhaps for not making waves. Dmitry Peskov belittled the issue and stated that the situation has ‘emotional resonance’, but Russian media kept silence. Law enforcement forces refrained from intervening, which is extremely rare in Russia, they only monitored the demonstrations. The Khabarovsk Mayor called for a calm approach and reminded that such demonstrations can lead to Coronavirus spreading. But indications are that the force intervention option is being prepared: the FSB warned that a terrorist threat (with explosive utilization) was detected and solved[3].

Highly likely, the Kremlin treads carefully, being interested that the Khabarovsk story fades away as quickly as possible, and with no consequence at national level. Beyond the fact that Vladimir Putin will find a solution to demonstrate the regime stability, the Kremlin will likely display signs of confusion, which are typical for a power no longer able to live up to the social contract with its nation (no longer enough money to support both the budget and the power pyramid living of syphoning public funds). The Russians remind Putin they want ‘bread’ above all, and the foreign military action ‘circus’ cannot compensate the lack of ‘bread’.


IV. ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN. The conflict resumes.

Armed incidents started on July 12th at the border between the two countries and continued for the whole week. By the weekend, the situation calmed down, but the risk that fights resume is there. There was probably a limited Azeri attack (Armenia is comfortable with current situation), followed by a tough Armenian response: Yerevan reacted that way to avoid engaging in an attrition war which might prove inconvenient (considering the large gap between the two nations as for demography and economy). Maybe President Aliyev needs a temporary reactivation of the conflict, given the lack of results in negotiations, but also considering that Azerbaijan’s domestic situation is not favorable (the economic situation is not bright after the fall in oil and gas prices, and the consolidation of his autocratic regime requires a nation united around a cause). We will see this week whether armed incidents end here or they increase, depending on political calculations in Baku, while Yerevan is content with the status quo and is concerned with bigger problems, in economy and politics.

Fights featured artillery and infantry attacks, tanks, and drones, in a mountain terrain, with fortified positions. The Azeris lost eleven soldiers, including a general and five officers, while the Armenians lost four soldiers, whence two officers. The Armenian forces downed at least one Azeri drone and seem to dominate the electronic warfare. The killing of an Azeri general, as well as a relatively high number of Azeri officers indicates that the Armenian troops benefitted a precise targeting. The high number of fallen officers shows that both sides attacked command posts, probably established long before these incidents. Yerevan published drone imagery showing the Azeri military evacuating bodies of killed soldiers and damaged equipment (tanks). Both sides announced success, but it seems that the contact line remained on the border. Of course, each side announced that the whole responsibility for the violent incidents rests with the adversary. 

Remarkably, although not for the first time, the incidents took place at Tavush, a place on a river valley at the recognized border between the two countries, not in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh larger area. Tavush surroundings feature mountains and a valley which are oriented NE – SW into north-eastern Armenia, which allows only a limited offensive. Yerevan accused Baku of bombing Berd (a town 5 kilometers south of Tavush, 10 kilometers west from the border), while Baku accused Yerevan of attacking Azeri populated areas with artillery fire. Baku also announced its capacity to attack the Metsamor Armenian nuclear plant (west of Yerevan) with missiles bought from Israel (whom Azerbaijan cooperated with, in drones). Armenia used this threat for internationalizing the problem, accusing Baku of breaching international treaties, and announcing it would talk to Israel about the weapons sold to Azerbaijan. 

Considering the political events preceding the incidents, the attack was likely initiated by the Azeris, but the Armenians reacted quickly and aggressively. Thus, prior to these violent incidents, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev criticized the stagnation in negotiations and replaced the Azeri foreign minister. On July 7th, President Aliyev accused Armenia of consolidating its military build-up along the contact line and threatened to withdraw from negotiations with Armenia “if they yield no results” and to frequently open artillery fire against Armenian civilian targets.

Here too, the main players are Russian and Turkey. Russia’s relations with Armenia are formalized by their membership in the OTSC military alliance, but Moscow tries to play a mediator role between the two warrying parties. This ‘median’ position is now substantiated by the fact that Moscow is not happy with the Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan stance in several political and economic issues: Pashinyan not only initiated a series of democratic reforms, but he sent to court leaders of the old pro-Russian guard and strongly defended Armenian economic interests against Moscow. Dmitry Peskov communicated that Russia is “deeply concerned” of the outburst of armed confrontations and that Moscow is ready to mediate: "We urge both parties to show restraint and to comply with their obligations under the ceasefire". Turkey sent a message of support to Baku, showing readiness to help, including by sending armament. The United States showed concern and called for immediate cease-fire.

The essence of Armenia – Azerbaijan tensions is the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a Soviet frozen conflict ‘legacy’ inhabited mostly by Armenians but being incorporated as an autonomous region in surrounding neighbor republic Azerbaijan. During the fall of the Soviet Union, the Armenians occupied Nagorno-Karabakh (which they call Artsakh) and the surrounding areas, for a contiguous territory with Armenia proper. Baku accuses Yerevan of expelling the Azeri population and committing massacres, and Yerevan accuses Baku of massacring the Armenian minority in capital city Baku (the January 1990 pogrom left 90 ethnic Armenians dead, and was widely mediated). In negotiations, Baku insists on the principle of territorial integrity, while Yerevan stresses the peoples’ right for self-determination. The de facto situation is that Nagorno-Karabakh is incorporated into Armenia now, and the OSCE led negotiations, with support by the Minsk Group, and especially with Russia’s implication, stagnate. Periodically, open armed confrontations burst out (there were even more intense fights in 2016, close to Nagorno-Karabakh), on the background of frustrations, but also for satisfying Azeri President Aliyev’s domestic needs. Although the incidents will subside now, the danger of a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains high.


V. Developments to track this Week 30 of 2020.

► EUROPEAN UNION. The European leader summit discussed the common Recovery Fund. The summit was extended to four days because a common denominator was not found easily. Differences between ‘the four frugal’ (the Netherlands first), and the southerners (mainly Italy and Spain), were rather large, and a solution was to reduce the ratio between grants and loans, a solution leaning towards the northerners’ view. Another difference, smaller yet visible, was hinging the Recovery Fond money on respect for rule of law, where Viktor Orbán was aggressive against Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Hungary and Poland successfully opposed such conditions, while they… do not respect the rule of law. Anyway, a compromise solution was identified and will be discussed later in detail. There was also the issue of EU multiannual budget, where the gap was equally wide, as they were even before the Coronavirus crisis.  

► RUSSIA. Joint Strategic Commands South and West are alerted. On July 17th, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu announced that numerous units of Strategic Joint Command South and Strategic Joint Command (SJC) West were alerted, as well as air force and marine infantry units of the North Fleet and Pacific Fleet. 150,000 soldiers participated, as did 26,000 armament systems, 414 aircraft, and 106 warships. Also, the Fourth Air Army of SJC South was alerted on July 19th. The exercises aimed at assessing the troop readiness in view of upcoming Kavkaz 2020 exercise, which will take place in September, as well as checking the defense capacity in south-western Russia. The center of gravity will be in the wider region of Black Sea and Caspian Sea. It is interesting to watch the exercise unfolding, especially since NATO warships (including the American destroyer USS Porter) enter the Black Sea for the ‘Sea Breeze 2020’ exercise, organized by Ukraine.

► TURKEY. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan send yet another signal defying the West. Turning the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque certainly bears a religious weight and represents a political message sent by the Turkish president both to the West and to his domestic political constituency. His message says that Atatürk policy is over (that policy meant alliance with the West and quest for a compromise in thorny issues (such as the statute of Hagia Sophia historical landmark, turned by the Ottomans from a cathedral into a mosque, and by Atatürk into a museum). Thus, we witness another phase of deepening differences with the Europeans. At this summit, EU nations reiterated their support for Greece and Cyprus in the Exclusive Economic Zone dispute. Negative steps are expected in EU – Turkey relations, despite attempts to calm the tensions. It is Ankara who will decide what is going to happen, not Brussels, and Recep Erdoğan does not seem ready to reach a compromise.

[1] Apparently, there is an abnormality: Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s right wing party, GERB, governs together with extreme right nationalist parties, but the majority is discretely secured by their cooperation with… Dogan’s ethnic Turkish minority party DSP (which naturally should be the enemy of extreme right parties). In fact, there is a coalition of opportunists who serve the interests of oligarchs. Meanwhile, the Socialists in the opposition pose as the left-wing, but they have their own oligarchs too. For Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria, it is a clear indication that transition is not over: political Left is not really left-wing, and political Right is not really right-wing: the Left is populist, but, in fact is a party of anti-capitalist land-owners and capitalists living of pilfering the state money; and the Right is also populist, with oligarchs also milking the country’s budget, the same as the ‘Left’.  

[2] Let us recall that Romania made significant progress, and then it was punished by the EU for setbacks, while Bulgaria did nothing to build a true judiciary; nevertheless, Sofia demanded the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism be lifted! Bulgaria remained in the vicious circle where justice obeys the power and the oligarchs, while Romania, a bit limping, started to walk the road to an independent judiciary (the necessary condition) and a functional judiciary (the sufficient condition). Finally, this leads Romania to the ranks of true democracies in Europe, although it takes time for those who are paid by the state to serve the country to rediscover their conscience and perform their duties in service of the nation, instead of using their positions to abuse in service of individuals in power. Bulgarian lesson is that ‘circus’ cannot replace ‘bread’, but, certainly, the Bulgarians will have the power to discipline their ‘modern pashas’, having roots in the former communist regime and in its security agencies.

[3] It looks much like the ‘sugar sacks’ used during a KGB exercise during the terror campaign conducted by… nobody knows who. That led to blowing up two condominiums inhabited by Russians, which sparked the second Chechen war. After that, KGB Vladimir Putin won the presidential elections. Previously, Putin had been appointed prime minister by President Yeltsin on the promise he would spare Yeltsin’s family, involved in several high-level embezzlement activities.