MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

11 august 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 32 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. UNITED STATES. Large-scale air-naval exercise in the Black Sea.II. BELARUS. Lukashenko to be reelected with the price of instability.III. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Igor Dodon visits Moscow again. IV. GREECE / EGYPT / TURKEY. Greek – Egyptian agreement to share the Exclusive Economic Zones in the Mediterranean Sea upsets Turkey.V. Developments to track this Week 33 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. UNITED STATES. Large-scale air-naval exercise in the Black Sea.

The United States conducted an air-naval exercise in the Black Sea, a new element in the framework of American military presence in this region. This way, Washington responded to Moscow’s claim of holding air and naval superiority in this body of water. At tactical level, the exercise responds to Russian aviation interception of several American Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) aircraft, and its simulation of an air attack against an American warship. The exercise demonstrates the American military presence in the Black Sea region, but also the absence of America’s allies in the region. They either do not want, or they cannot secure the protection of American warships and reconnaissance aircraft operating in the Black Sea area.   

On August 3rd, the U.S. conducted an air-naval exercise in the Black Sea, with participation of the USS Porter / DDG 78 destroyer (carrying an optimized Aegis system for ballistic missile defense) and four F-16 aircraft belonging to 31st Fighter Wing stationed at Aviano, Italy. Other participating assets were an ELINT and anti-submarine  aircraft P-8A Poseidon of the VP-47 Squadron, an MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Air System (UAS) of the 52nd Group deployed at Miroslawiec, Poland, and an in-flight refueling tanker KC-135 of the 100th Wing stationed at Mildenhall ABF, England. Washington communicated that the exercise unfolded in the Black Sea international waters and was meant to train American forces to operate integrated and communicate effectively during an air-naval operation. The U.S. 6th Fleet Commander Vice-Admiral Gene Black declared that “integrating with U.S. Air Force Europe during this training mission enabled us to conduct realistic and relevant training to reinforce U.S. resolve at sea in the Black Sea region”. Participating units conducted tactical exercises, including maneuvers and communications: “The purpose of this training event was to exercise command and control in a joint training environment with our U.S. Air Force... to increase our tactical proficiency... This training enabled us to continue to build on our combined capability to quickly and effectively respond to any threats in the complex maritime environment”. The American USS Porter destroyer, and the P-8A Poseidon ELINT aircraft had previously participated in the 20th iteration of Exercise Sea Breeze (while a P-8A Poseidon was escorted by Ukrainian Su-27 fighters, during a sortie).

Highly likely, the American exercise unfolded in the western part of the Black Sea, given that the USS Porter left the Black Sea in the same day, August 3rd. Previously, two kinds of events occurred in the Black Sea, both involving American warships and Russian aircraft: the systematic interception of American reconnaissance aircraft by Russian Su-27 / Su-30 which had taken off from Crimean airfields, and a simulated large-scale air attack conducted by Russian aviation stationed in Crimea against a naval target sailing in eastern Black Sea, at the same time when USS Porter was sailing in the same maritime area. Regarding the former kind of events, there was a continuous series of interceptions, especially during the Sea Breeze 2020 exercise, and they continued after the August 4th American exercise, with Russian Su-27 fighters intercepting two American ELINT aircraft RC-135 Rivet Joint and P-8A Poseidon (on August 5th and 7th). Before the American exercise, in several separate events, Russian Su-27 / Su-30 fighters took off from Crimea and intercepted American reconnaissance aircraft. On the aggregate, lately, during sixteen days, eight such events unfolded on the background of Sea Breeze 2020 exercise and the Russian air-naval exercise: in July, on 23, 24, 27, 30, and 31, and in August on 4, 5, and 7. Available information point to the second event, on July 28th, in eastern Black Sea, with participation of ten Russian fighters and fighter-bombers which took off from Crimean bases at Saki and Belbek. These aircraft simulated an attack against naval targets in a maritime area where USS Porter destroyer was sailing. Knowing that Russian forces use NATO warships and aircraft operating in the area in their scenarios, as live targets, one can work with the hypothesis that Russian exercise scenario included a fictitious attack against this American destroyer. Within the exercise, a Russian A-50U (RF-50610) aircraft similar to NATO AWACS[1]. Perhaps one of these exercises was following a scenario demonstrating the Russian assets’ strike capability by overwhelming the destroyer’s air defense, in circumstances where the destroyer did not have air defense provided from the air.

Highly likely, the Pentagon aimed at demonstrating, at tactical level, the capability of its own air and naval forces to respond to interception actions against its reconnaissance aircraft by Russian fighters, respectively to secure air defense from the air to its destroyer sailing in the Black Sea. At operational-strategic level, the United States successfully challenged Russia’s claim of air and naval supremacy in the Black Sea. Russian forces opposed no reaction during the American exercise; they were likely surprised by the United States’ capability to rapidly and directly build various air platforms brought from different places: although the Pentagon had the option of using airfields of its NATO allies in the region, it employed assets drawn from remote theaters: Poland, United Kingdom, Italy. A first Russian response was the deployment of an A-50U (RF- 50610) aircraft on August 8th from Ivanovo to Saki, in Crimea. Usually, such deployment announced the flight of Russian Tu-22M3M strategic bombers, escorted by Su-27 / Su-30 fighters from Crimea, towards Black Sea’s western littoral. Since there was no such notification, it can be concluded that this A-50U, with escorting fighters, would coordinate Russian air actions in the Black Sea region.   

Such unprecedented American air and naval exercise in the Black Sea might happen again, as the United States is decided to deny Russia’s claim of air and naval supremacy in the Black Sea at the level of hampering NATO member nations’ and friendly countries’ (Ukraine, Georgia) actions in the region. Of course, Washington is waiting for these allies and friends to create their own air and naval capabilities able to allow the necessary cooperation for secure an effective deterrence. For the moment though, let us see Moscow’s reaction, respectively the actions by its Strategic Joint Command “South”, and its Black Sea Fleet. Adequate reactions will not be late, and continuing interceptions are just part of Moscow’s expected reaction. On the other side, AWACS aircraft and NATO ELINT aircraft are quite active, also considering the beginning of Russian naval exercise Ocean Shield 2020, on August 4th, in the Baltic Sea. 


II. BELARUS. Lukashenko to be reelected with the price of instability.

The situation in Belarus is spiraling up, and dictator Lukashenka’s reelection has been confirmed Monday. However, a destabilization of Belarus’ political situation is almost certain, and Moscow’s meddling is visible, especially after President Lukashenka proved it by arresting 33 Wagner mercenaries. Their arrest and indictment tensed the bilateral relations: Russia demanded their release, and threatened Lukashenka. In Belarus, the dictator in Minsk arrested or exiled all possible counter-candidates, except Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who did not pose a real problem to Lukashenka’s reelection. The real threat that Lukashenka is facing is not the Belarusian electorate, but the Kremlin, who cannot afford to tolerate another rogue neighbor who forgot his role of working to integrate Belarus into Russia. Therefore, Moscow decided to do something about this. With a firm grasp on Belarusian law enforcement and security forces, Lukashenka reacted to Russia’s attempt to destabilize the situation by using Wagner mercenaries, and arrested 33 of the 200 of them who entered Belarus. He is using them now to blackmail the Kremlin by threatening not only to try them, but to expel some of them to Ukraine, where they have a history. The Kremlin tries to manage the situation through a combination of dialogue and threats, with a Lukashenka holding his back against the wall. As expected, this next crisis within Russia’s “close neighborhood” is in full swing, and the most likely outcome is a victorious Lukashenka. However, he will be more vulnerable to actions by Moscow, who is seeking a dictatorship in Belarus yet determined to replace Lukashenka with minimal destabilization. The West is just a spectator, as its influence was removed from Belarus by this neo-Soviet dictator. But the West must tolerate Lukashenka for geopolitical reasons, i.e. to protect Belarus from being swallowed by Russia.

On August 7th, Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenka had a phone conversation meant to calm the situation (of the appearance thereof). During this discussion, both sides expressed their confidence that the situation of the 33 Russian citizens arrested in Belarus would be solved. Lukashenka declared that an agreement has been reached "to investigate every detail in the case to find out the real reasons of the situation, find responsible ones and hold them accountable". Putin expressed his hope that August 9th elections would proceed “in a calm atmosphere”. Of course, they talked about “fraternal relations” between the two nations, although Lukashenka had explicitly accused, on August 6th, the unfolding “hybrid war” against Belarus, and that his country must expect “dirty play from all sides”. The arrest of Wagner mercenaries seriously tensed the bilateral relations, adding to old political wounds (Lukashenka dragged for years Moscow’s efforts to rush the two country integration) and economic disputes (Moscow raised the oil and gas prices securing Belarus economic life line, and Minsk responded by raising the transit tariffs towards western Europe, and also seeking alternative import sources).  

Lukashenka ordered his government to invite prosecutors from Russia and Ukraine to join Belarusian prosecutors in investigating the 33 Russian mercenaries. Then, on August 5th, Moscow warned Lukashenka through the voice of Head of Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, who declared that the arrest of 33 mercenaries might bring grave consequences upon Russo-Belarus relations. On August 6th, Lukashenka has responded that  "there is no need to scare us with repercussions. We are aware of all repercussions". The 33 Russian citizens arrested on July 29th are suspicioned of belonging to the Wagner mercenary organization (Russian paramilitary organization led by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, “Putin’s waiter”, one of the tools used by Moscow in hybrid aggressions commited in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and other places). They were accused of preparing public unrest in view of destabilizing the political situation in Belarus, in the context of August 9th presidential elections. They have Russian passports, but some of them also have Ukrainian passports, which raises the option they would be expelled to Ukraine, after Minsk announced an investigation with participation of Russian and Ukrainian prosecution. The latter had announced, on July 31st, that Kyiv would seek to obtain 28 of the 33 mercenaries, who fought along the separatists in Donbass, and nine of them are even Ukrainian citizens. Moscow insists that all arrested are Russian citizens who were flying to Istanbul, to later continue to a third country. Lukashenka firmly responded that was “a lie”. 

On August 4th, Lukashenka addressed the nation in his annual speech, and announced his intention to change the Constitution (no further details) and raise the wages (doubling the salaries in the next five years). He stated that Belarus was subjected to destabilization actions organized abroad. Lukashenka mentioned the economic price his country must pay, $615 million, for Moscow’s decisions to raise the price of oil. Lukashenka blamed Russia for damaging the bilateral relations, and announced that his government would build strategic relations with the West, including with the United States, and with China (which already granted Belarus generous loans, and made Belarus a base for its expansion into Europe). However, Lukashenka exploited the situation posing as the only politically stable solution for the country. He suggested that the 33 mercenaries were conspiring to organize a “color revolution” and reiterated his determination to prevent any ‘Maidan-type’ anti-governmental protests (reference to Yanukovych’s fall, in Ukraine).

In the military domain, Russian Ministry of Defense announced that pre-planned large-scale military exercises were unfolding in Russian Military Region West, bordering Belarus, far almost one week now, and that Moscow would not deploy troops to Belarus. Nevertheless, unit redeployments were noticed, including transfer of units belonging to the 4th Guards Tank Division “Kantemirovska”, to Naro-Fominsk. On the other side, Belarussian Ministry of Defense announced the beginning of military exercises on August 11th, in regions bordering Russia. Information also surfaced regarding Belarussian troop relocations towards Russian borders (Belarussian military disposition is oriented towards the West) and regarding mobilization plans for reserve soldiers under 35. It was announced that all these exercises were pre-planned, and they have no connection with current situation whatsoever, although it is obvious that Russian actions are force demonstrations for political intimidation, respectively Belarussian actions are Lukashenka’s response that he is prepared to resist. 

On domestic scene, the power in Minsk cancelled all meetings planned by Lukashenka’s counter-candidate and made arrests in her team’s ranks. The dictator accused the opposition of being formed of “paid foreign agents” working to turn the country into chaos. After having systematically eliminated any trace of opposition, by either arresting or exiling his counter-candidates, Lukashenka was surprised to see Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the wife of one of his initial counter-candidates, who managed to rally the popular resistance to his regime (we cannot talk about a true opposition in Belarus, after exemplary reprisals). No matter how heroic, Tsikhanouskaya candidacy remained just symbolic, and the opposition capacity to trigger protest movements is limited. The West fulfilled its duty to send the necessary message: on August 7th, France, Germany, and Poland requested President Lukashenka to secure ‘free and fair’ elections. On August 7th, the European Union, by Josep Borrell, sent Lukashenka the request he “ensure fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and to guarantee candidates' full political rights”.

Although Lukashenka’s dictatorship is sometimes covered by the ridiculous image of a ‘Soviet farm director become the last dictator in Europe’, this regime is a cruel example of neo-Soviet wild dictatorship. Lukashenka offered a solution to uncertainties of the 90’s as his dictatorship provided security to Soviet nomenclature and a stability in stagnation to the masses of ‘homo sovietikuses’ in Belarus. Lukashenka physically eliminated his political opponents, being a role model for other dictators. One of his executioners, now refugee in the West, revealed how graves were dug before Lukashenko’s opponents were abducted by Belarus governmental militias, and their execution was decided at the highest level. Lukashenka consolidated his dictatorship paying attention to strengthen the repressive apparatus, which he made loyal, but which he also cleansed when he considered there was the danger his instruments were infiltrated (by Russia). Lukashenka tightened his relations with Russia, and Belarus economy and security profited (as member of OTSC, Belarus is under Russia’s military shield), but he did not live up to his promise of deepening the integration of his country into the ‘Russia-Belarus Union’. Facing Moscow pressure, Lukashenka began geostrategic games with the West, and with China. We witness now the situation where Moscow defends the dictatorship, but wants to replace the dictator (or wants him to yield to integration demands); meanwhile, the West wants to support the dictator facing Moscow pressure, to make sure Belarus does not melt into Russia, but cannot accept dictatorship, which defies the most elementary democratic political norms. Lukashenka’s problem is that the neo-Soviet economic model applied in Belarus does not work in absence of subsidies through Russian cheap oil and gas, and the West is not an alternative, it would never offer such free rides as Moscow does. Periodically, Minsk sought foreign loans, initially offered by Russia, then by China. Eventually, the economic situation went south, and Belarussian electorate cannot be manipulated with empty promises any longer. In addition, the Coronavirus crisis worsened the economic and social crises, especially as the power acted awfully poorly. Lukashenka won the elections with a landslide, by 80.23%, as he holds the country under control, but the domestic economic, social, and political situation will worsen. Meanwhile, Moscow will not forgive Lukashenka for his ‘in your face’ defiance by the games he is playing with the West, but also with China. The West has a relatively narrow maneuver space, and it must find a solution to save this country from being absorbed by Russia, and only later to provide a response to Belarussian population democratic aspirations.

The Belarussians display a rather diluted national feature, much more impacted by Russification and Sovietization than the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Moscow shows great determination to retrieve at least this former Soviet republic, which, stunningly, has been weakened for that endeavor by Lukashenka himself, due to domestic stagnation and foreign isolation. Therefore, the upcoming crisis seems to be worse in Belarus than in Ukraine, although Lukashenka might get away this time too, by decisively playing the cards he holds against Moscow. It is interesting to watch the cynical game between Lukashenka and Putin, with a sophisticated choreography, wrapped in ‘fraternal gestures’, while the threats with mercenaries (and their trial), and with military invasion are quite real. For the moment, if Lukashenka keeps control of the situation, a solution with appearance of friendly agreement might be identified. The gauntlet will be thrown down only later, and Lukashenka knows that (he answered to Medvedev: “We are aware of all repercussions"). In this entire game, where is the Belarussian people and their elementary interests? Nowhere. This is the problem with dictatorships, of any kind (even kleptocracies and impostures): there are manipulations and manipulees, but, in no camp, people to live thier lives normaly, in dignity.


III. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Igor Dodon visits Moscow again.

As it unfolded in strange conditions, a new visit paid by Igor Dodon to Moscow raises new questions regarding further concessions that Republic of Moldova’s (RM) president will offer to the Kremlin in exchange for his reelection, by introducing the electorate of separatist Transnistria into presidential election chemistry. Dodon speaks again about a loan from Russia, and there is again the danger of getting new conditions from Moscow, with impact on RM’s fundamental interests. However, he did not speak about what is more dangerous: what is the Kremlin preparing, with complicity of Igor Dodon, for RM?

Officially, on August 5th, Igor Dodon met Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s special representative for economic relations with RM, but also Moscow’s guru for the Transnistrian problem. Igor Dodon declared they addressed “the topic of resuming negotiations for the Russian credit of 200 million Euros meant to support RM economic agents and its population during this difficult period. We agreed that, during following days, a new round of negotiations should proceed between the two governments’ representatives”. Also, they agreed to organize, this October, a new session of Moldovan-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, in Chişinău, where “several important bilateral agreements are to be signed”. The issue of transit authorizations for RM merchandise crossing Ukraine to be exported to Russia was also discussed. Russia will also offer a free aid of several thousand tons of oil for supporting RM farmers afflicted by drought.

But Igor Dodon’s visit was strange: he did not announce it as he used to, even bragging about his visits to Moscow; the public opinion was informed about it by Renato Ussatyi (another Russian ‘creation’, Dodon’s rival, currently wanted by Russia’s Ministry of Interior). The official confirmation came only later from Igor Dodon, who was already flying to Moscow. Igor Dodon was not received by Vladimir Putin, and such meeting would have been important for him, in view of upcoming presidential elections. Interestingly, information appeared that Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselski was also in Moscow in the same period. The declared objective of this visit seems to be false, as the governments might have begun negotiations without a head of state visit to Moscow, where he met only a second rank official (although Kozak is the wizard apprentice who drafted the memorandum by which the Kremlin intended to kneel RM). Therefore, one may ask what the true reason for this visit was. Considering that Igor Dodon needs Moscow support for winning the presidential elections (although he did not announce his candidacy yet), the question is ‘What did Igor Dodon promise in exchange’? The way the visit unfolded seems to point that Dodon was summoned and coached by his case officer Dmitry Kozak on what ‘Moscow’s trusted man at the helm of RM’ must do in the next period. First, let us list stated items: 1) resuming negotiations regarding a 200 million Euros credit. Dodon pushes for this credit even after RM’s Constitutional Court cancelled the agreement reached by Dodon and the Kremlin, but the question remains: what is Igor Dodon offering from RM’s political and economic sovereignty in exchange for this money? It is claimed this loan arrives, this time, for supporting the population and Moldovan businesses (surely not Russian businesses?), but, in fact, it serves to secure Dodon’s reelection; 2) Dodon must solve the problem of Moldovan goods transit through Ukraine (meaning, mainly, the… Transnistrian merchandise); 3) some electoral peanuts for the population, like the fuel offered to farmers; 4) the promise of a new intergovernmental commission session and signing important agreements (What agreements?). More important though, is what has not been officially announced, knowing that, during RM vulnerability times, the Kremlin pulls important concessions. The presence of Transnistrian leader in Moscow, after Dodon had met him in Chişinău, suggests that economic issues were discussed (like RM banks to be used by Transnistrians, although they do not qualify, and the danger of money laundering looms large), and, especially, political issues. Perhaps Russia promised Dodon it would send the Transnistrians to vote for him, but what is the price paid by Dodon at RM’s expense for that? This will be the main problem of RM in this period: what does Igor Dodon offer to Russia from RM’s fundamental interests – independence, political and economic sovereignty, and territorial integrity?

In Chişinău, the Europeans lost patience with Dodon’s regime and requested the RM justice (turned from ‘Plahotniuc’s justice’ into ‘Dodon’s justice’ without being reformed at all) to act in the ‘theft of the billion’ case (dragging this case became a pathetic judicial show). Following the ‘audacity’ of EU representative to Chişinău Peter Michalko of requesting this action, Shor Party representatives organized public demonstrations in support of RM judiciary independence! (Shor was the main instrument in organizing the theft). The reaction by ambassadors of some European nations, who sided with Michalko, of course, put the RM power in a difficult position.

During the next period, the trends to be watched in RM are the following: 1) What plans does the Kremlin devise, as Dmitry Kozak proves to be quite creative at the expense of poor RM? 2) What would Igor Dodon yield from RM fundamental interests, at Moscow’s orders? 3) How negatively would the EU react to Dodon’s failure to fulfil his reform commitments for which he received EU money? It is also interesting to watch not what Igor Dodon does, he is just the doer, but what the Kremlin decides to be done, especially through Dmitry Kozak. It is again also interesting to see what the Democratic Party of RM will do, as the Democrats cannot join Dodon to the end in the sailboat leading him to Moscow, while leading RM to… nowhere.


IV.  GREECE / EGYPT / TURKEY. Greek – Egyptian agreement to share the Exclusive Economic Zones in the Mediterranean Sea upsets Turkey.

Greek decision to sign an agreement with Egypt for sharing the Exclusive Economic Zones in the Mediterranean Sea impacted on the fragile accord reached by Athens and Ankara, with German mediation, on beginning negotiations in the same issue. Turkey announced that Greece breached its promise, although the Greco-Egyptian agreement is only a response, with founded legal support (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea / UNCLOS), to the agreement signed by Turkey with the government in Tripoli. The tensions, calmed for a while, will increase again, and they can escalate, but the chances the negotiations begin will not completely vanish.

On August 7th, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan declared that Turkey resumed geologic exploration activities in eastern Mediterranean Sea, after Greece "hasn't kept their promises" regarding these activities. Erdoğan announced: “We don’t feel obliged to talk with those who do not have rights in maritime jurisdiction zones”, and pointed that Greek-Turkish negotiations, which were supposed to begin, would not take place. He also announced that Turkish drilling vessel Barbaros Hayreddin would be sent to begin drilling in the disputed maritime area. Erdoğan’s reaction appears after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement meant to draw the demarcation of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the Mediterranean. From a Greek perspective, this agreement neutralizes the effects of Turkey’s memorandum signed with Libya’s internationally recognized government. Turkish president stated that the agreement signed by Greece and Egypt has no value, and that Turkey would “decisively” sustain its memorandum with Libya. Referring to German mediation for its accord with Greece, Erdoğan mentioned that Angela Merkel had declared that Turkey “would facilitate her work if we stopped drilling in the Mediterranean, so we stopped for 3-4 weeks”. In its turn, Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that “Turkey provokes crises, and this is evidenced by its statements after the announcement of the maritime border demarcation agreement with Egypt”.

On August 6th, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime border delimitation (involving mutual recognition) of their EEZ in eastern Mediterranean. The agreement was signed in Cairo by Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. Shoukry declared that “this agreement allows both countries to move forward in maximizing the utilization of the resources available in the exclusive economic zone, especially promising oil and gas reserves”.

Greek diplomats assessed that this agreement voids the memorandum signed by Turkey and the government in Tripoli. Dendias stated that “the agreement with Egypt is within the framework of international law” (reference to UNCLOS), which allows a 200 maritime miles EEZ around an island). Greece possesses at its easternmost limits, the Rhodes, Karpathos, and Crete islands, but especially the small Kastellorizo Island, right south of Turkey’s southern shores, which allows Athens, under stipulations of UNCLOS, to claim a wide maritime area with better reasons than Turkey, and this is put on paper with Egyptian concord. Turkey, which is not an UNCLOS signatory, exploits the language referring to the continental shelf for the EEZ Ankara is talking about, and which is formalized with the government in Tripoli. This EEZ is claimed on the argument that this maritime area belongs to Turkish continental shelf, but ignoring the Greek EEZ defined by Rhodes, Karpathos, Crete, and Kastellorizo islands.

By NAVTEX, Turkey communicated that "Turkish warships will conduct training shootings in the Mediterranean waters of Turkey off the coast of Antalya on August 10-11 this year" (it is the area in dispute, where drillings are to be performed, south of Kastellorizo Island). It seems taht Turkish warships in the area were alerted, and a Turkish guided missile warship sailing IVO Kastellorizo Island was noticed.

On August 8th, Greece announced readiness to begin negotiations, as scheduled, and requested Turkey to quit threatening and come to the negotiation table instead. However, on August 7th, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared that Greece would no longer accept NATO’s current approach: “I think within NATO it is very clear that this hands-off approach - that ‘oh we have two NATO partners so we’re not going to go into the details’ - is no longer going to be accepted by me. I raised this with Secretary-General [Jens] Stoltenberg that we’re a NATO contributor and an ally and…when we feel that a NATO ally is behaving in a way that endangers our interests, we cannot expect from NATO a similar approach of ‘we don’t want to interfere in your internal differences.’ This is profoundly unfair for Greece”.   

Greece will play the diplomatic card, at least until Turkey makes the decisive step of beginning to drill south of Kastellorizo Island. From that moment, tensions will peak, and mediators will have to hurry if they want the situation kept under control. But, maybe, this is the plan of both sides, beyond Turkey’s power play and Greek approaches, which, for the moment, are diplomatic.


V. Developments to track this Week 33 of 2020.

► LEBANON. Forgotten explosive merchandise blows up and destroys the port of Beirut. This accident brings back discussions on Lebanon’s political class and state failure. The huge explosion of an ammonium nitrate load forgotten in a storage facility of Beirut port destroyed a large part of the port, also afflicting neighboring residential areas. This disaster immediately generated the reaction by Lebanese population, who has been outraged for a long time against the incompetence of Lebanon’s corrupt and feudal political system. The visit paid by French President Emmanuel Macron poured gas on the fire by showing a non-governed country where the population had enough of the political clan connivance system which led the state to failure  (officials are afraid to appear before the population, and several Lebanese requested Macron that France resume control of Lebanon! (former French colony). Protests turned violent, protesters assaulted governmental buildings in Beirut, and law enforcement forces reacted. Even in the situation of a failed state, it is little likely that Lebanese feudal political network quit exploiting state resources. This includes Hizballah, which managed to militarily and politically dominate Lebanon, and now notices it cannot govern the country when money from the sponsor (Iran) stopped flowing.

► SERBIA. Belgrade purchases air defense systems from China. Serbia purchased from China the FK-3 middle-range air defense missile system (the less high-tech variant of HQ-22, made for export, a system originating from Russian S-300 / S-400 systems, which have a range of 100 kligs). Beside purchasing the six CH-92A laser guided combat drones (UCAV), this deal demonstrates intensified cooperation between Serbia and China. Belgrade continues to develop acquisition programs for Chinese and Russian armament (MiG-29, Pantsir-S). If, from a military point of view, there is proof of effective cooperation programs, from a political point of view, these programs have little relevance: for a nation with economic problems, the need for such equipment is doubtful, especially since Serbia is surrounded by NATO nations, which do not attack and are not attacked, and the two non-NATO neighbors, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina benefit from NATO military protection. Anyway, it is worth appreciating the way nations neighboring Romania effectively conduct military equipment acquisition, and will continue to operationalize modern armament systems (Hungary - the Leopard-2 tanks, Bulgaria – the F-16V fighters, and Ukraine – the Mark VI patrol boats).

[1] The AWACS aircraft (Airborne Warning and Control System) are air space surveillance and control platforms used for air operations. In a nutshell, these are “flying radars” with capacity to detect air, naval and ground targets from a large distance, and to direct the actions of friendly aircraft in air battles. The United States, other NATO countries and NATO as allied forces use the E-3A naval aircraft (smaller AWACS), while Russia operates the Beriev A-50 Mainstay, upgraded to model A-50U.