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22 ianuarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 3 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Sergei Lavrov presented Russia’s foreign policy problems.

II. UNITED KINGDOM. The British Parliament rejected the Brexit provisional agreement.

III. SERBIA. Vladimir Putin visits Belgrade.

IV. GREECE. The Tsipras Government won the confidence vote in the Parliament.

V. Developments to track this Week 4 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA. Sergei Lavrov presented Russia’s foreign policy problems.

On January 16th, during the Russian Foreign Ministry annual conference, Sergei Lavrov presented the main issues concerning Russia’s foreign policy. He focused on the Russo-American relations, on the backdrop of the latest apparently failed attempts to salvage the INF. Displaying a very critical attitude towards the Americans, S. Lavrov accused the US of torpedoing the strategic stability by seeking to destroy the current arms control agreements. He stated that Russia continued the efforts to keep the INF alive, while the "unilateral actions by Washington that are aimed at the demolition of very important international legal instruments that provide for strategic stability have not added to optimism". According to Sergei Lavrov, Washington’s attitude has been confirmed by the failure of the discussions held in Geneva on January 15th. The Russian Foreign Minister also reiterrated Moscow’s position that the 9M729 (SSC-8) missiles do not breach the INF, and Russia is "still ready to work to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty". He appealed to the European nations to influence the US position, because they are an important part of the problem. Regarding the other nuclear disarmament agreement, the one on the strategic nuclear armament, New START, which expires in 2021, S. Lavrov repeated Russia’s availability to further extend the agreement.


The Russo-Japanese relations were the second issue presented by S. Lavrov. The recent high level bilateral talks regarding the signing of a peace treaty also failed, but discussions are to continue, and the first chance will be on January 22nd, when Japanese Prime-Minister Shinzo Abe is to visit Moscow.   

 Lavrov stated that Japan should “accept the results of World War II in their entirety”, and Tokyo should recognize Russian sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands. Only afterwards the government in Tokyo should sign the peace treaty and the two southermost islands (Habomai and Shitokan) will be returned to Japan (i.e. the two islands stipulated in the common declaration, not the four that Japan claims).  

S. Lavrov assesses that the potential for conflict around the world increased in 2018 "primarily due to the stubborn refusal by some countries of the West -- spearheaded by the United States -- to accept the realities of the multipolar world... and due to their ambitions to continue to impose their will". There, he questioned the legitimacy of Macedonia’s change of name, which will open this country’s path to integration into NATO and EU. Sergei Lavrov sees a "mania" in the West "to push all Balkan states into NATO as quickly as possible" and he voiced opposition to the prospect of Bosnia-Herzegovina joining the Western military alliance.

As for Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister reiterated the well-known position that the territory currently under US troops control (in fact, under Syrian Kurd control, supported by the US) should transfer to Damascus control after the withdrawal of American troops. This way, Moscow indicates it opposes the “security zone” which Turkey proposed and was accepted by Washington, but not by the Kurdish forces. Sergei Lavrov also voiced Russia’s strong concern regarding any “military option” by Washington against Venezuela, which would be a typical case of American subversion of undesirable governments.

Quite interesting, Lavrov rejected the allegations on Donald Trump’s actions in favor of Kremlin’s interests, stating that "accusations that President Trump is a Russian agent" reflected "a lowering of journalistic standards" in the American media. However, he also rejected the idea of publishing the transcript of Putin – Trump meeting by the Kremlin, because that would be undiplomatic and would mean an illegal meddling into the American President’s constitutional right to conduct foreign policy. Sergei Lavrov affirmed that Russia does not rejoice the Brexit, and rejected the accusations of Moscow being interested in diminishing the West’s unity. Au contraire, he claimed Russia is interested in a strong and united EU (!).

 Continuing his streak of rejections, Moscow’s foreign minister denied that Russia seeks to gain control over Belarus by increasing economic pressure and integration of this country into the “Union State”: "We have offered our Belarusian colleagues our pragmatic proposals... and nobody should look for some political or geopolitical plot in that" (while Macedonia’s desire to join western organisations is not pragmatic...).

All Sergei Lavrov did was to repeat the old Moscow narrative, with no change in the Russian foreign policy. This summary of the domain is worth considering though, because S. Lavrov is the one who worked to provide coherence and justification to a foreign policy decided by Vladimir Putin, many times through tactical decisions with no principled basis. Although S. Lavrov had opposed the annexation of Crimea, he worked on building a “legal basis” thereof.

‘Let’s see now “our take” on the Russian positions. Regarding the INF, Russia bluffed and is going to lose, because the US withdrawal from INF is Moscow’s biggest security policy failure. Although it will play the same card in the strategic nuclear armament game, the Kremlin might get the same result, although it may count on an ally in the White House who is tied up for the moment, by the investigation on a possible collusion with Russia. One should consider that Washington has launched this very past week the new Missile Defense Review, with space-based assets able to dwarf the super-weapons trumpeted by Vladimir Putin. At the end of the day, it has happened before, remember Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative which made the Soviet Union kneel.

 Sergei Lavrov’s rage is due to the failure of the Geneva talks on INF, held on January 15th. At the end of those discussions, the US representatives communicated that, following Russia’s refusal to provide explanations regarding the SSC-8 missile breaching the INF, Washington would continue the procedures of withdrawing from the treaty (the ultimatum expires on February 2nd). The Russian representative at the Geneva negotiations, Sergei Ryabkov, is the one indirectly revealing the causes of that failure. He declared that Moscow offered to prepare answers to American concerns regarding the SSC-8 missiles, requesting, in exchange, measures by the US on drones and missiles able to be launched from the MK 41 universal launching systems – the ones which can also launch Aegis Ashore interceptors like those at Deveselu / Romania, but also Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In fact, Russia forced a dialogue by offering information on SSC-8, or renouncing those missiles already deployed (in breach of INF), in exchange for putting under question the Aegis Ashore system, which does not breach the INF. The US refused to fall into this trap, hence the discussions failed. Now, all that is left to Moscow is to play the card of European concerns, where the would-be ”American response” missiles are to be deployed (the intermediate range missiles or another kind of missiles meant to counter / balance the Russian SSC-8). However, this option has little chances of success, as the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, has declared, while in Moscow, that Russia can save the INF only if it gives up the SSC-8. Maybe Germany tries to save the INF, but it is hard to assume that Moscow would give up its position (that SSC-8 does not breach the INF), although saving INF would be beneficial for everybody, especially for the Europeans.

In these circumstances, on January 19th, the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Donald Cook entered the Black Sea armed with the Aegis BMD system, and the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it would monitor the movement of that US warship. Both these developments prompt to new bilateral tensions. However, the silver lining is the information that Moscow allows free transit through Kerch Strait for vessels sailing toward the Ukrainian ports. It seems that the mediator for this progress was Germany, since Russia invited German observers to Kerch. On the other hand, additional information regarding Russia’s deployment of Iskander M missiles close to Ukrainian borders are a bad omen.

Regarding the US President, Moscow’s need to defend Donald Trump seems to help the accusations rather than the President, in addition to his statement that he did not work for Russia. The mere fact that the US President makes such declaration, and the Kremlin comes to support it shows the dire situation. Additionally, since one did not do anything wrong, why would one oppose an investigation meant to establish the truth? As for the American and world press, did they really drop their stadards overnight, all of them?

For the rest, there are the same well-known positions: impasse with Japan, opposition to the Balkan stabilization policy promoted by the West by integrating those countries into NATO and EU, pressure on Belarus (and perhaps a future crisis), ”managing Syria”, and accusing the West.

Finally, there is too much tension and too many divergent positions in Russia’s relations with the West, which will likely lead to an unstable situation at strategic level, after the US withdrawal from INF as the first step.


II. UNITED KINGDOM. The British Parliament rejected the Brexit provisional agreement.

As estimated last week, the provisional agreement reached by the European Commission with the Teresa May Cabinet has been rejected by the British Parliament. What was interesting is not the rejection, but the landslide vote in the Parliament: 432 nose to 202 eyes.  

The opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, considered it was the high time for a vote of non-confidence against the Conservative government. So, the Brexit issue became a power issue in UK. However, J. Corbyn’s chances were slim, since the Conservatives did not want to lose power, albeit disappointed with the way Teresa May negotiated Brexit. Additionally, J. Corbyn only wants early elections, hoping to gain the power, but he has no solution on the hot matter – the Brexit. Himself he is seen as a far left leader with no clear position on Brexit, although most of the Labor MPs oppose Brexit. Anyway, there is no clear-cut stance on Brexit in any British policital party.

The fact that UK does not have a written Constitution in the modern sense (tradition rules the balance between government and parliament) brings a new danger to the table: the MPs might transfer the Brexit management process from the Cabinet to the Parliament. This is why, on January 20th, Liam Fox, a Conservative MP, accused the parliamentarians opposing the Brexit of plotting to steal the Brexit management process (aiming to organize a second referendum, with predictable results). Of course, there are all sorts of maneuvering in the Parliament in view of avoiding a Blind Brexit, especially since Teresa May seems to be unable to find a solution which can be approved by the legislators.

As alternative, the British Cabinet is looking for a compromise with the EU based on a backstop procedure provisioned in the Brexit agreement  negotiated by Teresa May. Another solution, sought for especially by the Parliament, seems to be postponing the deadline, which is March 29th. Teresa May’s intention was to present the way forward to the Parliament Monday, January 21st. The motion is also to be presented in the same day, and then voted on January 29th. The MPs will likely introduce amendments meant to totally rule out the Blind Brexit option. There is a fight regarding the institution considered for the Plan B planning, after Teresa May’s Plan A will likely fail, even with improvements. In this framework, the chances of a second referendum seem to increase.

 The European leaders reacted with optimism, but maintaining that the Brits should finally decide what they want. Although the Europeans show flexibility, they envisage a second referendum, which would keep Britain inside the EU. This option in now favored by the fact that most of the Brits support EU membership because of divorce hardships but mostly because the ”big benefits” of splitting make the first referendum look like a scam.

But Brussels has another concern regarding the Brexit: the departure of a major contributor to the EU budget. European hopes linked to a new referendum are increasing, and this makes the EC flexiblility showed to the Brexit agreement look not so large as it is declared.

As a conclusion, there is little room for estimates in this issue, but room for hope instead, Romania’s hope being that the Brits will realize what they really want, and this should be EU membership.  


III. SERBIA. Vladimir Putin visits Belgrade.

Although short, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belgrade, on January 17th, was successful, as both the Serbian political power and the population showed close association, respectively gratitude for the real support (political and military) or for the perceived support offered by Russia (Moscow’s economic support is only one tenth of the EU support). We like it or not, Serbia considers that the Europeans did not help it in basic issues for Belgrade, mainly Kosovo, but they do not seem to appreciate the EU economic support either.

Vladimir Putin accused Kosovo of provocative measures against Serbia (the huge tariffs imposed by Priština) and of ”illegally” establishing a national military ("It goes without saying that this is a direct violation of the UN Resolution which does not allow for the creation of any paramilitary forces except for the international UN contingent"). V. Putin stated that the EU mediation between Serbia and Kosovo did not deliver the expected results, and he added that he was not sure any improvement in Belgrade – Priština relations was predictable in the near future. The Russian President’s declarations continued those made on the eve of his trip to Belgrade, when Putin had criticized the United States and other Western nations, asserting that their policies were "aimed at fostering their dominance in the region," which he said is "a major destabilizing factor."

In the economy domain, V. Putin declared that a free trade agreement between Serbia and the Russia-led Euroasiatic Economic Union would be signed this year. In energy, he reminded the Russian $1.4 million investment already made in Serbian infrastructure, for the gas transfer from the TurkStream pipeline. This confirms the extension of this project through Serbia.

 Of course, religion was not left aside, President Vladimir Putin visited the Saint Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, the largest in Serbia, where he was greated by the Serbian Patriarch Irinej, along a significant enthusiastic audience.

 What is the meaning of this visit? First, the political power and the Serbian society (57% of the population) considers Russia a friend, maybe not so much for the economic support, but surely for the support in political problems – Kosovo. Considering both Putin’s declarations and the tensions between Russia and the West, the hopes for an agreement between Belgrade and Priština in the near future simple vanish. Additionally, the European mediation has no chances of success, because Russia’s opposition comes on top of EU’s lack of ability to forge such agreement. The Serbian Orthodox Church also shows friendship to Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, which is important in the chemestry of current tensions within the Christian Orthodox Church.

But let’s leave the visible part of this event. Serbia continues a duplicitous policy, one of larger perspective – the European integration, and one of immediate adaptation to realities (its relations with Russia). So, it is little probable that Belgrade sign an economic agreement linking Serbia with the Euroasiatic Economic Union, because the EU would not allow it.

Same important is what we do not know: what was discussed in military and security fields, especially any agreements to directly affect the NATO and EU neighbouring nations. Very likely though, albeit angry with the West over Kosovo, Serbia should know where the source of political stability and economic prosperity lies.


  IV. GREECE. The Tsipras Government won the confidence vote in the Parliament.

            On January 16th, the government led by Alexis Tsipras won the vote of confidence in the Greek parliament, but with a small margin (151 of 300). So, the governance continuity and political stability are secured, but also the agreement with Macedonia regarding the future name of that country has great chances to win the vote of the parliament. Panos Kammenos’s maneuver failed, with several parliamentarians of his party voting along the leading party, Siriza, for maintaining the Tsipras government.

This vote was very important because the Tsipras Cabinet enjoys the Europeans’ trust, in the first place that of Germany, which is a crucial element for continuing the financial-economic policy which bailed Greece out.

 The demagogy demonstrated by Kyriakos Mitsotakis - the opposition and New Democracy Party leader, has no justification, considering the recent history, because the agreement with Macedonia is important for the country’s interests. After the traditional elites led Greece in bankruptcy, and to the brink of collapse, by corruption, ineffective administration and political irresponsibility raised to daily routine, a radical-left party without any roots in “plutocracy” came to the rescue. This  party, Siriza, renounced quickly to blackmail the creditors, and boldly implemented tough economic measures to save its country. Now, when Greece became again a credible country, even if the population is still paying a high price, the political power looks appealing again to a traditional elite which did not show many signs of changing its mentality.

The perspectives of passing the agreement with Macedonia increased, and Macedonia’s hopes to open the gateway to integration into NATO and EU increased as well, and this gives credit to the solution offered by the West for stability in the Balkans.


V. Developments to track this Week 3 of 2019.

  • BLACK SEA. The way Russia will approach the US destroyer trip into the Black Sea will not only increase the potential for tensions but will also establish the behavior pattern for the near future.    

  • UNITED KINGDOM  keeps the billboard for this week 4 of 2019, with decisions which will certainly shape the future of all Europeans. Tests will follow, internal political struggle, and negotiations with Brussels.

  • FRANCE. The great dialogue began, after President Emmanuel Macron delivered his address to the nation. It will become visible wheather he has found the way to persuade the French about the solid reform measures he advocates. At the end of the day, the following vote this spring will impact the whole European Union.

  • INF. The pursuits linked to keeping this treaty will continue. Should a failure occur, we will only talk about the measures the US takes to respond to Russia.

  • SYRIA. Both the Idlib and the security zone issues will be the subject of Russo-Turkish negotiations, being interesting to see what place the US will still hold in the equation, while the Pentagon began the withdrawal of its troops.

  • UNITED STATES. The political crisis continues, with no agreement between President Donald Trump, decided to get the money for his wall, and the Democrats, who are not at all prone to a compromise. Any trade-off accepted by the Democrats will not only offer to the President the satisfaction that he is honoring the electoral promises, but will also show that the Democrats, although in majority, cannot effectively oppose D. Trump’s policy.