MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

06 august 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments WEEK 31 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. UNITED STATES - RUSSIA. INF treaty ended. II. RUSSIA. More and more aggressive in the Black Sea. III. BULGARIA. F16V aircraft purchase is still on. IV. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Military cooperation with Transnistria? V. Developments to track this Week 31 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. UNITED STATES - RUSSIA. INF treaty ended.

On August 2nd, the United States withdrew from the INF treaty after a six-month notification to Russia, whom Washington accused for breaching this agreement. Russia also withdrew, accusing the U.S. of unjustified withdrawal and rejecting the American and NATO accusations of having operationalized SSC-8 missile battalions. These missiles can hit targets in all European countries, thus destroying the strategic balance in the continent. A last-ditch attempt by Russia, to establish a moratorium leaving Russia in advantage, was rejected by NATO. Facing Moscow’s attempts to divide NATO, the Alliance preserved its unity, and this is the most important thing. Russia begun a new arms race long ago, and recent concerns displayed by the Kremlin were aimed at delaying and limiting the response measures which the U.S. / NATO would take to counter the illegal developments Russia had commenced.

Russia went further, with the Russian Foreign Ministry communicating that “a serious mistake has been made in Washington… We have already introduced a unilateral moratorium and won’t deploy land-based short or medium-range missiles, if we get them, in regions where such U.S. missiles are not deployed” (reference to Europe). This statement looks like a definition of fair play provided by a peaceful and responsible nation. In reality, Russia already possesses these missiles, they are already deployed, and the moratorium includes the threat that, in the natural event where the U.S. deployed missiles to Europe, in response, Russia would increase the number of its missiles and would deploy them closer to its western border.

When rejecting the moratorium, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg summarized the situation very well: Russia’s moratorium request was “not a credible offer” as Moscow had already deployed illegal missiles.  “There are no new U.S. missiles, no new NATO missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles”.

NATO already decided a set of defensive measures responding to Russia’s actions. The response will be limited and will employ only conventional weapon systems. However, regardless the defensive measures to be implemented (missile defense), there is still the need for offensive weapon systems meant to attack the Russian missile launching platforms or similar Russian offensive missile systems, in order to balance the strategic situation. It is true, by the U.S. or other technologically advanced nations, NATO has the capability to develop weapon systems to balance the situation, but everything depends on the political will to produce and deploy them. Here is where the problems start, many Europeans being reluctant to accept the deployment of new missiles, although they realize the danger of Russian missiles.

Now, there is only left to see how and at what pace the U.S. will respond[i], and to what extent the Europeans, especially the Germans, will accept these response measures. Even if defense measures are taken, Russia remains in advantage, being able to threaten with escalating for pushing its political decisions at the expense of the European members of NATO. However, this is valid only until western missiles are deployed and pointed towards Moscow. The detail that NATO response measures are not designed in symmetry proves the western technological superiority, and the West’s capability to develop air-to-ground missiles even launched from naval platforms.

The United States announced it would start tests with ground-based intermediate range missiles of two kinds: one cruise missile and one ballistic missile. Of course, deploying such missiles again depends on the American political will, on funding these weapon programs, as well as on the Europeans accepting to host these missiles. The European nations which accept American missiles will face not only hostility by Moscow, which will designate them as targets (as they are not already), but will also face the reluctance of some Europeans, who will oppose the deployment of such missiles not only in their country, but in all Europe. 

Two nations, UK and Poland, were referred to as potentially accepting the deployment of American missile systems, but nothing is sure yet, about these two or other. In fact, Britain and Poland reacted by communiqués blaming Russia for ruining the status quo by breaching the INF. Germany also accused Russia, on a milder tone though, for breaching the INF by deploying the SSC-8 missiles. Maybe Berlin’s position will tweak to more flexible (already having increased its defense budget), as Germany is appeasing, not naïve, in its relations with Russia.

However, within the strategic balance big picture, in Romania we should be concerned of the defense problems Bucharest has, considering that the frontline NATO nations are the most vulnerable to the SSC-8 missiles. Let’s consider a conventional Russian aggression, albeit limited in size and hybrid in nature (hard to prove) against a frontline NATO country. Would any European nation, Germany for example, agree to a NATO military response, if the Kremlin threatens with escalating to the use of its SSC-8, which can hit any target in Germany? Maybe not. This is to what everything comes down to[ii]

Romania will likely have a role in NATO’s response, but more important is not what the Alliance would provide Bucharest, but what Romania can do itself, with its own forces.

At strategic level, President Trump’s idea to negotiate a wider disarming agreement to include China has virtually no chances to succeed, because China already declined the solution, considering the limited number of nuclear warheads it possesses, in comparison with the U.S. and Russia. In fact, this approach, as well as Russia’s attempts to threaten with hypersonic weapons and other weapon systems able to secure a strategic advantage at minimal cost, only prepare the failure to any attempt to extend of the New START treaty. Therefore, the path to a world with no nuclear arms control treaty is open, and this goes for both warheads and transport vectors.


II. RUSSIA. More and more aggressive in the Black Sea.

Russia continues the streak of aggressive actions in the Black Sea by abusing the right to temporarily close maritime areas for naval exercises. Practically, Russia has limited the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea and endangered maritime communication lines of littoral countries, including Romania. During the notified period, the trade vessels must detour from their traditional maritime routes for security reasons.

Starting June 6th, Russia began to close five maritime areas in the Black Sea which overlap maritime routes linking main ports of Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Georgia, to the Bosporus Straits. These areas will be closed until August 19th, a quite long time, for combat training related activities. The five perimeters are quite large and stretch far from Crimea, in compact areas in south-west, center and eastern Black Sea. All littoral nations are afflicted, save Turkey.

The area closed in the south-west afflicts Romania and Bulgaria: vessels navigating towards ports in these countries must now follow detours. Only the territorial waters and the contiguous zone are left out of the closed areas. The closure of so large areas, overlapping important maritime routes, and for such a long time is an unprecedented event, especially since these areas are so far from the country notifying the closure.

From a political and economic point of view, Moscow’s action is a hybrid method to harm Black Sea littoral countries. Russia did not breach any international law, but it abused its right to temporarily close a maritime area during the period when planned naval activities endanger navigation. The trade vessels are not forbidden access, but they are warned about the danger, and entering these area is on their own risk. Of course, they will not enter these areas, but this means longer itineraries, meaning wasted time, energy, therefore… money. Politically, without firing a single shot, Russia establishes denial of access over the Black Sea. To the extent such actions will repeat or not, economic effects will become visible, and the countries in question will suffer.

From a military point of view, Russia is asserting its naval and air supremacy in the Black Sea. Well, a country pushed this way might respond by warship intrusions into the closed areas, thus hampering the Russian exercises and collecting intelligence, and it can also escort trade vessels on routine navigation routes through closed areas. But what country, among those afflicted by Moscow’s action, has the military and political capability to respond this way? Practically, Russia just found a way to show to littoral countries that appealing to allies has no value in such situations. In this action, Russia is not original, it follows the model of other countries (Turkey, in the Aegean Sea), but it caused a provocation, because the method is copied at a higher level.

Now there is still to see what military activities Russia will conduct, and whether they will stretch for such long time and wide areas. Russia will likely launch anti-ship missiles in exercises whose objective might be precisely blocking maritime transportation toward littoral countries, respectively attacking allied warships coming from the Bosporus. Some analysts also made connections with the geography of Russian seabed gas pipelines. Moscow might also use this pretext to close certain areas, and the pipelines are an excellent support for anti-submarine sensors (although the littoral nations in discussion do not have operational submarines).

Of course, the littoral nations will not react at all. Not only for lack of military means, but it is a first which they must cope with without escalating the political situation. The real problem will appear if such hostile actions repeat, under the perfectly legal pretext of protecting the navigation from naval exercise dangers[iii]. Then, an adequate political and military solution will have to be found. However, in absence of a strong national military, nothing can be effectively implemented.

Moscow’s action comes in the context of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Sevastopol, on the occasion of Russian Navy Day celebrations. Same as the visit to the Kuril Islands in the Far East, this visit was a signal that Russia has no intention to give up Crimea, or any other territory. Dmitry Medvedev had plenty to see in Sevastopol: a reborn Russian Black Sea Fleet, with modern frigates and corvettes along the freshly repaired battleship Moskva and guided missile warships, as well as anti-submarine, patrol and amphibious warships, old but functional. Let alone the Kilo class submarines, of which even the British are concerned.

For the moment, Russian armed forces have different concerns than the Black Sea (from where Moscow projects its naval power to Eastern Mediterranean Sea): a naval exercise in the Baltic Sea and the wildfires in Siberia. However, no doubt, large exercises will follow in the Black Sea too, and large maritime areas will be closed then, blocking navigation routes… just next to littoral nations’ (including Romania) territorial waters, as we see now. But then, we will be… used to it, and will not react. The precedent is created – Russia’s gain.


III. BULGARIA. F16V aircraft purchase is still on. 

Well, Bulgaria will buy modern F16V aircraft. Overrunning the president’s veto, Bulgarian government’s decision was approved by the parliament and, starting with 2024, the Bulgarian Air Forces will revive. The eight F16Vs will truly change the balance in western Black Sea, although, politically, Bulgaria will take care to stay clear of all Black Sea region predicaments.

Bulgaria will purchase eight multi-role F16V aircraft from the United States for 1.67 billion dollars, which is the most important defense acquisition made by this country since the fall of communism. It is a huge financial effort, but effective though, considering what and how it is being bought. The documents regarding this purchase, as well as the amendments to the country’s budget were published in the government bulletin on June 30th. Benefiting already from the U.S. agreement, communicated by the State Department, there is only the details with the manufacturer to be determined.

The U.S. State Department’s spokesman, Morgan Ortagus, sent this message: “We salute Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the Bulgarian government on its commitment to modernize its military through the acquisition of these highly capable, NATO interoperable aircraft".

The last glitch, President Rumen Radev’s veto, was overridden by the Parliament’s vote. The president had justified his gesture by lacking a serious analysis in the Parliament before approving the purchase. Perhaps the president, close to the pro-Russian Socialists, was hinting at possible corruption deeds by the government, but this line of thought is baseless (even comparing with the contract signed by Slovakia). Most likely, the president reacted at Moscow’s discontent, as the F16V is superior to most modern Russian aircraft, and able to transport nuclear warheads too.

So, the object of purchase is eight latest generation F16V aircraft, as well as the ammunition and logistic support necessary to operationalize these aircraft and make Bulgaria proud of a top-notch air force. Thus, Bulgaria joins Slovakia, which bought the same item with complete package, logistic support and ammunition. The eight aircraft will be delivered to Bulgaria in 2023 – 2024.

This purchase is a success for a country like Bulgaria, and the huge amount to be paid will deliver a clear result, eight very modern operationalized aircraft. In addition, purchasing F16Vs from the United States will secure not only interoperability within NATO, but also an increase in military cooperation between Sofia and Washington. And this happens in a country where the head of anti-corruption institution resigned for… corruption reasons, and Russia’s influence is quite significant.


IV. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Military cooperation with Transnistria?

Well, what seemed to be a time-out between the West and the East in the Republic of Moldova (RM), the alliance ACUM – PSRM[iv], based on the purpose of reviving the country, does not come true. Through Igor Dodon and his Socialists, Moscow is moving to implement its policy, and this is happening right now, when the ACUM government struggle to attract financial support from the West to keep the country afloat.

On July 30th, Vice-Prime Minister for Reintegration, Vasili Şova, announced the intention of RM’s Reintegration Office to create a common working group on military issues with Transnistria. In its vision, the purpose of such group is preventing incidents in the Security Zone. Vasili Şova also hopes that, starting next year, discussions should begin regarding a political solution for the Transnistrian conflict. Vasili Şova announced four priorities for solving the Transnistrian conflict: defending the human rights, developing trade relations, creating a working group for military issues and initiating discussions regarding a political solution in the 5+2 negotiation format.

According to Vasili Şova, the initiative on a working group for increasing confidence measures in military issues was coordinated with Tiraspol and foreign partners, for the purpose of precluding incidents and unilateral actions in the Security Zone. Vasili Şova declared this is “an important topic for securing stability and avoiding incidents in the Security Zone. Therefore, creating this working group will allow clarity and better situation forecasting”. Moldovan experts have warned that such initiative is very risky because it would imply a de facto recognition of separatist military structures, which would lead to taking political and military risks by the RM.

Considering that Vasili Şova’s announcement comes right after the visit paid by Defense Minister Pavel Voicu to Moscow, one can draw the conclusion that the Kremlin ordered the Moldovan Socialists (the two – Voicu and Şova, are close collaborators of President Igor Dodon) to act right away, since this very phase. Vasili Şova’s proposals reveal various facets: defending the human rights is the smoke-screen (far from the day when Tiraspol, in fact Moscow, will accept to truly defend human rights in Transnistria); then, increasing trade relations is the incentive necessary to an economically isolated Transnistria (after Ukraine switched towards the West), and Tiraspol benefits from the economic agreement of RM with the European Union (it can export to the EU as part of RM, but did not implement any of this agreement stipulations); further on, two Moscow wishes are introduced: military cooperation between separatist forces and the Defense Ministry of RM. Under new management, RM’s Ministry of Defense will spread Moscow’s narrative within its ranks. Allegedly, future cooperation will provide predictability in the Security Zone. But who generates the unpredictability, since RM troops of the peacekeeping mission are only an isolated symbolic presence in an area where Tiraspol and Moscow do whatever they want? And this ranges from persecuting RM citizens left of River Nistru, to military exercises practicing river crossing (to defend Transnistria by an offensive against Chişinău!). 

What Russia ordered to its tools in Chişinău is not the most dangerous, but the disclaimer declared by Şova, that initiating this working group was coordinated with foreign partners. Would the United States and the Europeans (in fact, Germany) have agreed to such arrangement? As about the political measures, of course they will be postponed for the next year, since the envisaged solution is known: it must be a Kozak Memorandum, meaning political control on Chişinău through Tiraspol, and, militarily, the continued deployment of Russian troops in RM plus legalizing the separatist forces. But such developments will not be accepted by the ACUM.

Recently, RM Prime Minister Maia Sandu expressed Chişinău’s position, the traditional stance, that Russian troops should leave Transnistria, and the reunification should be achieved through discussions in 5+2 format, where Chişinău hopes that foreign partners Unites States and European Union counterweigh Moscow’s plans.

Nevertheless, any government in Chişinău can face the Kremlin offensive relying on the 2005 law. Moscow’s henchmen need two thirds of RM Parliament to overturn this law, and the Socialists cannot achieve such percentage. There is also the scenario where Chişinău’s European partners push and ask the ACUM to renounce this law. But this would be too much though, too blatant, because RM “on European roadmap” is too close to Romania and Germany to even consider becoming Moscow’s satellite. At least this is what we believe, those who insist refusing to suspect dirty games behind the scenes… over the heads of several million Romanian citizens in RM.

Beyond these, in RM there is an ACUM coalition which struggles to achieve a functional state, and there is PSRM plus Igor Dodon, who seek to impose on RM what Moscow requests now: taking control of the important institutions in RM. Although it had no better choice at the moment, ACUM will regret ignoring Igor Dodon’s basic sin: even a mafioso like Plahotniuc refused to concede the country to Russia, while Igor Dodon chose was to ask Plahotniuc to do just that, in the name of the Kremlin (while Dodon was RM’s president, although acting as Russia’s ambassador to Chişinău!!!).

To the extent Romania thinks about its citizens living in RM, Bucharest should probably get over recent failures and mistakes, and build a unitary, transparent and effective strategy for RM, involving all state institutions in Romania. We know the basic principle: Bucharest only wants a democratic and sovereign RM integrated into the EU, not at all to control this state. What is left for Romania is only to be able to develop such strategy based on this clear and honest principle.


V. Developments to track this Week 32 of 2019.

• IRAN. Too little was achieved during the discussions between Iran and the Europeans, China and Russia regarding the future of Iran nuclear deal. Tehran threatens with crossing the red lines established by this treaty, but it does it gradually, in order to extract from the Europeans a solution for its economic survival. Meanwhile, Iran continues to rattle the sabers (it continues the ballistic missile development program) and succeeds to transform the sanction problem into a problem of deficit of security in navigating the Persian Gulf waters. Trump Administration’s policy of increasing economic pressure and military containment of Iran yielded mixed results, and Tehran became bolder and bolder as it sees reluctance from Washington to act militarily. This is also noticed by the Gulf states, who begin to seek solutions by discussing the problems with Iran, in absence of western military solutions meant to guarantee free navigation in the Gulf. The United States reap what it sowed: it cannot find allies willing to participate in naval missions for securing free navigation in the Persian Gulf. The Europeans falter, Germany said a flat NO, and the alternative, a European combined mission, also has no chance to come true. Thus, there are only the American air and naval forces plus the UK forces available. Meanwhile, the score on arrested oil tankers became 2-1 for Iran. However, although lacking immediate results, the Trump strategy of smothering Iran is panning out. But Iran is not yet in the situation to accept a dialogue with the US (as President Trump has offered).

• UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson’s force strategy starts to yield… failures. So, the Conservatives hold the majority in the British Parliament down to only one vote, and the Scottish separatists start to raise their heads. The backstop problem is rejected by Ireland, and the EU seems to hold the ground too. The worst yet, the cooperation atmospherics between London and the EU disappeared. More and more likely, Blind Brexit will generate not only an economic crisis in the UK, but will shake the EU as well, and its relations with London in the package. And the EU has only to lose. Maybe, in extremis, the EU will ask something from London, but how much can EU yield without getting its interests fundamentally damaged?

• THE CZECH REPUBLIC. The Social Democrats blackmail Prime Minister Andrej Babič regarding the budget. As the protests have ceased for the summer, Babič has a time window to find a government solution before the public opinion pressure regarding his illegal actions builds up again. The situation in the Czech Republic shows two things: 1) the time of post-communist profiteers has elapsed, now it is time for the Czech Republic to move in this respect, then maybe Slovakia’s; 2) the socialist parties in the East, which are anything but socialist (because they are only a refuge for former communists and profiteers generated by them), seem to gradually become irrelevant. The problem of eastern Europe is that it lacks genuine left-wing parties by their classic definition, they operate with something else under this label.

• SERBIA. Receiving a few armored personnel carriers (APCs) allowed President Aleksandar Vučić to praise the military cooperation with Russia. What is the real situation though? No matter how much military equipment Serbia receives from Russia (and it will not receive much), this is irrelevant: Serbia cannot attack and cannot be attacked by any neighbor. Even in Kosovo, the big problem, Serbia cannot act manu militari, because it would be in the position to confront KFOR, the NATO mission under UN mandate. Therefore, the solution can be only diplomacy, not useless arming. Especially now, when Pristina too begins to feel a law for its criminals as well: Ramush Haradinaj used his right to keep silent facing the international prosecutors, the traditional way of the guilty to defend themselves. So, beyond military parades, what will Belgrade do, and what will Pristina do? 

• UNITED STATES – CHINA. Washington will introduce new sanctions, indication that the trade war will escalate and will last. Even worse, tensions increased in political domain (Taiwan, Hong Kong) and military domain (South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait). These are no longer just economic tensions, but a conflict in the making between two great powers.

[i] There has been a telephone discussion between the two presidents, Trump and Putin, but this appears to have been focused on bilateral trade relations and the wildfires in Siberian forests! Nevertheless, the same President Trump implemented new sanctions against Russia in response to Skripal case.

[ii] Therefore, 2% of the GDP should be responsibly turned into weapon systems to secure the national defense, no matter NATO membership and its nuclear umbrella.

[iii] There are many questions and speculations: is it Russia’s response to what Ukraine and Romania did on the Danube? In this case, Romania should raise the issue with the European Union, because transporting military equipment to Serbia was blocked in order to comply with European sanctions, while other nations (like Hungary) turned the blind eye, just to preserve good relations with Moscow and Belgrade.

[iv] Rightfully called “the Kozak alliance”, as he was the one ordering to instrument Dodon to make an alliance with the pro-European coalition ACUM, after Vlad Plahotniuc refused to sign a new Kozak memorandum.