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27 august 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 34 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. RUSSIA – UNITED STATES. About rocket launches and warnings. II. KOSOVO. Early parliamentary elections. III. UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson’s European tour. IV. ITALY. Political crisis after Prime Minister Conte’s resignation. V. Developments to track this Week 35 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA – UNITED STATES. About rocket launches and warnings.

After the United States tested an intermediate range cruise missile, Russia reacted strongly and tried to turn this legal and necessary test launch into a status quo breach, and the start of a new arms race. Although the whole narrative is false, Russia steadily follows its strategy in the attempt to reach a possible agreement right now, when it has a minimal advantage by having its SSC-8 missiles already deployed. Then, Russia launched two strategic ground-based ICBMs, maybe for looking like having the last word, or reaffirming its big nuclear power status. The Macron – Putin meeting did not pan out much, but Emmanuel Macron tried to relaunch the negotiations on Ukraine, and hinged Russia’s return to G7 on progress in this dossier. President Donald Trump chose to call Russia back to G7 unconditionally, which the Europeans vividly opposed, with solid ground. The EU leaders consider that such decision means surrender to the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior, taking into account that Moscow made no step backwards whatsoever in its aggressions, especially in Ukraine.

Declarations and events occurred quickly, indication that Moscow is sensitive to the actions United Stated conduct after the end on INF treaty. First, there were Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s declarations on August 18, when he issued a message of openness, restraint and availability to negotiate regarding INF. But Shoigu also threatened that Russia would respond promptly, should the United States deploy intermediate range missiles (500 km to 5500 km) in the Asian theater (which came in close plane), or in Europe, Moscow would mirror such action. The message also included victimization, with the Kremlin portraying itself as fair and open, yet also frustrated by Washington’s “unilateral” withdrawal from the INF.

Russia’s openness certainly hides many dangers, since it comes from a country lacking credibility. However, while this openness might look positive, the image Shoigu presented is false. Moscow blatantly breached the INF, and the U.S. quit the treaty by following procedures and timeframe, after years of calls on Moscow to stop breaching the treaty. Some of Shoigu’s statements are simply not true: 1) Russia breached the INF by developing, operationalization and deployment of SSC-8 missiles; 2) Russia did not present the SSC-8, but its launcher (this is quite a difference, because the missile’s range is also described by the warhead weight versus fuel weight ratio); 3) Russia ignored all repeated calls by the U.S. and NATO to renounce the SSC-8 missiles. If the SSC-8 is just a simple cruise missile with range under 500 km, why did Moscow not renounce it and save the INF? The answer is that SSC-8 has a range over 500 km, which makes it fit to hit targets in all Europe, the answer also includes that Russia breached the INF, and the Kremlin attempted to cheat the West and the international public, and still does, by denying the reality. But Russia will be forced to reveal the truth itself, when the moment comes to respond to the United States: what will Russia use to mirror the American developments in intermediate range missiles, considering its claimed situation of not having developed and operationalized a missile breaching the INF? Of, course, Russia will respond with the very SSC-8, although denying it is not intermediate range missile (plus a ballistic missile which it developed breaching the INF by declaring it was strategic, not subject to INF). About the American test, of course Washington financed the development of response missiles, but short of testing, thus the United States acted within the INF stipulations. This information provided by Shoigu is almost one-year old news[1]

The American test of a cruise missile angered Russia and China, and threats came from President Vladimir Putin this time. On August 8th, the United States tested available weaponry, a Tomahawk missile, from a universal naval launcher Mk 41, this time located on land. Since just the naval mark of Tomahawk (with conventional payload!) launched from Mk 41 (mounted on ships) is the one currently deployed by the U.S., is was quite natural to install that launcher on land, for testing. Russia did the same with its Kalibr missile, but secretly, breaching the INF. Even more, the United States did not put the Tomahawk on a mobile launcher, which would provide a major tactical advantage, for making it hard to detect. But Russia did, it deployed the Kalibr on an Iskander launcher (thus also covering its breaching of INF).

However, the Russian propaganda made this test-launch a crucial event, the real start of a new arms race. Russia went as far as, together with China, raised the issue at the UN Security Council. Why such reaction? Russia needs to delay as long as possible a quick and large scale deployment of intermediate range missiles by the U.S., because Moscow would not cope with such race, for financial reasons. Of course, the European theater is crucial, and the Russian propaganda focused on the European audience. But the Asian theater is important too, considering Russia’s growing alliance with China, but also considering a direct threat: American intermediate range missiles deployed to Japan would be able to hit not only targets in North Korea and China, but also in Russia’s Far East (This also explains Sergei Lavrov’s recent offer to Japan reagarding the possible return of some islands to Japan). In addition, Russian propaganda is supported by ”useful idiots”, not only idealist pacifists, but also incompetents who ill-describe realities in Moscow’s advantage, for pure ignorance. For example, the missile launched by the United States in this latest test in NOT like those deployed at Deveselu (The Tomahawk is a cruise missile flying at low altitude, while the SM 3 IIA interceptors have a guided ascendent ballistic trajectory, like any anti-aircraft missile, anti-missile missile respectively). Also, although at Deveselu there is an Mk 41 universal launcher, launching Tomahawks from here is out of the question, albeit for the simple tactical reason that this is a ground site, a fixed installation. Very likely, when the United States deploys cruise missiles to Europe, if Washington does that, it will deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles on mobile launchers. There will be a totally different discussion then, about which nations accept the deployment of American missiles on their territory (after the Germans will reluctantly accept such solution first). Future discussions will also include additional Russian threats against those European nations, as well. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that, while visiting Finland, Vladimir Putin resumed Moscow’s old narrative, regarding an alleged secret deployment of American intermediate range cruise missiles to the Aegis Ashore installations in Romania and Poland, by just “a simple software change”. Moscow’s likely goal is to vehiculate the inclusion of missile defense systems in Romania and Poland into future discussion on intermediate range missiles, and it works to get the public used to the idea of such possibility (not reality).

As about threats, the two Aegis Ashore systems are already eyed by Russia, because they are seen (especially that in Poland) as direct threats against its intercontinental ballistic systems, and in perspective, against its intermediate range ballistic missiles too. So far though, by deploying the SSC-8, Russia is the power that has an additional weapon system threatening Deveselu, in addition to many other targets, it is not Deveselu that represents a threat to Russia.

On August 23rd, Vladimir Putin summoned Russia’s Security Council to discuss the post-INF developments, after the Tomahawk test conducted by the United States. Putin ordered a symmetrical response and accused Washington of committing anti-Russian propaganda when pointing at Moscow for breaching the INF, allegedly just for having an excuse to quit the INF and open the path to deploying INF forbidden intermediate range missiles to various parts of the world: “I instruct the ministries and relevant departments to analyze the level of threat posed by the actions of the United States to our country and take comprehensive measures to prepare a symmetrical response”. Of course, nothing new under the sun, but repeating accusations and orders of symmetrical response have a precise and meaningful reason, and that is to make the public opinion used to the idea that the United States is the actor breaching the agreements and fostering aggressive intentions, not Russia, and that Russia has the capability to respond. The target of this victimization and mystification  strategy, plus threatening in the same time, is the Europeans and the other nations to be included in the measures decided by the United States (not China and North Korea, but the nations which are to host future American missiles aimed at responding to the threat of the missiles those two countries operationalize).

Very likely, Russia was surprised by the speed the United States reacted: instead of years of advance it achieved by deploying the SSC-8, Moscow notices it might have just months, not more. If Russia cannot respond manu militari with the same speed, it resorts to political responses. These future American missiles will be ground-based on the territory of certain nations. So, it is the leadership and public opinion of these nations which are targeted by the Kremlin’s campaign. Not the least, the U.S. leadership is targeted, especially since President Trump makes no secret of his sympathy toward Russia, at least at the level of his relations with Vladimir Putin.  

On August 24th, maybe to put things in place and remind to the world who is dealing with, the Kremlin launched two submarine based ballistic missiles (SLBMs): a Sineva and a Bulava. These launches show Russia’s response capability, as both missiles were launched from submarines. While Sineva is a verified missile, but old (with liquid fuel), Bulava is a relatively recently operationalized missile, with solid fuel (an important technological leap). In the most direct way possible, the successful double launch reminded the West of Russia’s nuclear capacity.

The meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin represented an attempt by the French president “to keep Putin’s Russia close”. Macron approached the meeting in the old Western paradigm of belief in democratic principles. The result? He only sparked a tough replica from Putin, who diluted everything by reminding the Yellow Jackets protest in France. Macron’s response, that, eventually, everything is decided by free voting, was not heard by Putin, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs forged the translation in order to preclude the Russians from any suspicion that their president Putin would take any small lesson on democracy. The meeting unfolded under the sign of necessary links to Russia: economic and security interests (as Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine and self-declared adversary of NATO and the EU) and in other files where, in absence of the U.S., Russia became an important player (Syria). Ukraine made the headlines, as Macron talked about a future Normandy format reunion, where the new Ukrainian leadership proposals should be discussed. Macron received only a vague and unbinding answer from Putin. The French president talked even about Russia resuming participation in G7 summits but he hinged such return on a thaw in the Ukrainian dossier. Macron’s condition vanished in thin air when President Trump stated that Russia should return to G7 unconditionally. Although other G7 nations opposed as well, the Europeans first, Putin gets the satisfaction to see that a divided West cannot face him successfully and accepts him as he is, a leader who built an aggressive dictatorship towards his neighbors and not only. On the other hand, Putin no longer has reasons to be satisfied other than his vanity to play with western leaders: practically, he did not obtain anything and the clock is ticking, from sanctions to the arms race, and from the long-lasting domestic problems to foreign commitments with no outstanding results. It is true, in current circumstances, with a weakened trans-Atlantic relation, with the United States conducting a policy far away from the traditional mainstream, and the Europeans responding equally selfishly and divided, Russia seems to become an important actor again. This is an illusion brilliantly nurtured by Moscow. What is not illusion, but reality, is the dangers this country generates.

Practically, former trends persist both in armament and nuclear vector problems, and in Russia’s relations with the West. A Russian test with the… already operationalized SSC-8 missile is expected, or with a ballistic missile, and a continuation of Moscow’s negative propaganda against the United States. In its relations with the West, we will have no relaunch, and the Ukraine dossier still must wait.


II. KOSOVO. Early parliamentary elections. 

On August 22nd, in an extraordinary session, Kosovo legislators voted to end the current government led by Ramush Haradinaj and dissolve the parliament. President Hashim Thaci will announce early elections for this autumn (the poll day cannot be set later than 45 days since the government stops working).

The triggering element was the resignation of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj for being prosecuted by the International Tribunal in the Hague for war crimes. However, Haradinaj remains the main figure during the upcoming campaign, because the accusations against him only strengthened his hero aura in the eyes of many Kosovars.

An electoral agreement has already been established between Haradinaj’s party, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Social Democrat Party, led by Pristina’s mayor, Shpend Ahmeti. The latter declared that Kosovo was having a difficult year, whether it was dialogue with Serbia on mutual recognition (!) or promises to fight corruption and organized crime. He added: "There is definitely a need for a serious coalition that is ready to face these challenges". In their turn, the opposition parties, the Self-Determination Movement and the Democratic League of Kosovo are discussing an agreement to form an election coalition.

An important signal regarding upcoming elections was provided by the U.S. ambassador to Pristina, Philip Kosnett, who stated that parliament decision was good, and the future elections would be an important step to forming a new government. He has encouraged a campaign where candidates should offer new ideas regarding negotiations with Serbia, the rule of law and economic development. Most likely, that will not happen, because politics governed by clan interests remain the rule in Kosovo. On the other hand, the only red line for Pristina is the sponsors’ attitude, and Kosovo will make sure sponsor recommendations are followed with no blatant breach.

So far, the coalition in power has the best chances, provided nothing spectacular happens to Ramush Haradinaj. If he is officially indicted, Haradinaj will disappear from the political stage and the ideas mentioned by ambassador Kosnett might have a chance to surface. However, all these pertain to domestic politics, where organized crime and corruption are the big problem. Abroad, though, negotiations with Serbia need openness from Belgrade, which is hard to get if current tariffs introduced by Haradinaj are maintained. Unless Haradinaj leaves the political stage for good, the situation will likely return to square one, i.e. stalemate and confrontation.

Maybe the sponsors will increase the pressure upon the future leadership pin Pristina, because the main problem is not recognition by Belgrade, but Kosovo’s economic and political viability, considering that the “protectorate” did not overcome the childhood diseases: it did not progress in politics, economy and social situation. In addition, the time when it was enough to pose as victims of the “Serbian enemy” in order to get support, is gone. The “Serbian enemy” did not disappear, since both sides still perceive their relation as a generalized and persistent hatred, not fit for any agreement. Russia pays attention to exploit such unstable situation, which persists as a thorn in the Europeans’ side, a never-ending problem they are no longer happy to attend to with undivided attention.


III. UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson’s European tour.

The meetings Prime Minister Boris Johnson held on the Continent with German and French leaders did not pan out the much-desired Brexit agreement renegotiation: the British Cabinet obtained only a minimal concession from Germany (find a viable alternative within the remaining 30 days) and a polite refuse from France. Different from Theresa May, who always sought compromise, Boris Johnson’s strategy is to carry his cast iron goal (Brexit at any cost on October 31st), and then work aggressively with both the Europeans and his own Parliament toward that goal. His decision will likely provide the desired result, United Kingdom will probably exit the European Union at that date, but the negative consequences will be huge, ranging from a political crisis in the U.K. to tense relations with the EU, let alone the economic and social effects following Brexit. The EU might yield something though, but it will not renegotiate the agreement, it will only tweak the common declaration perhaps. Worse, Boris Johnson threatens that Britain will not pay the EU the contribution London committed to provide.

Boris Johnson’s European tour began bad, after he sent an ultimatum letter to the EU, and that was answered with a blunt “No” from Brussels. 

On August 21st, in Berlin, Boris Johnson found a cautious and appeasing Angela Merkel, who showed concerns about the economic results of a Blind Brexit. He did not get much from Germany, only an encouraging tap on the back for finding an alternative solution to backstop within the remaining 30 days. Most important, Berlin suggested it was open to compromise, which encouraged Boris Johnson, who overlooked the warning in Merkel’s message: the British solution should be enough viable and fair to convince Brussels to change the common declaration, and only maybe the agreement  (although changing the agreement is the least likely event). Boris Johnson told Angela Merkel that U.K. wants a quick Brexit, but the undemocratic” backstop at the Irish border must be canceled in full in order to preclude a Blind Brexit. The German Chancellor answered by suggesting that U.K. and the EU can find a convenient solution: “With imagination, Irish 'backstop' issue can be solved in 30 days”. Later, Angela Merkel came back to explain the 30-day deadline as a warning regarding the short time remaining.

Boris Johnson’s visit to Paris, on August 22nd, was preceded by a plethora of French messages stressing that the Brexit agreement cannot be renegotiated. Although relatively conciliatory, President Emmanuel Macron told Boris Johnson that it was too late to renegotiate the Brexit agreement. Macron left the door ajar to an alternative solution to backstop but warned that any alternative must respect both  the integrity of EU single market and stability of the divided island of Ireland. Macron added: “I want to be very clear... In the month ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original”.   

Basically, Berlin and Paris said the same thing, but stressing different facets: find an alternative to backstop and we will talk. Berlin insisted on the lack of time, Paris insisted on paucity of alternatives. However, encouraged by the visits on the Continent, British officials hope that the other EU nations will agree to let London find a solution for Brexit. Of course, Boris Johnson’s target is now Brussels itself, with Donald Tusk in the crosshair. 

Boris Johnson is determined to implement Brexit on October 31st at either a higher cost (Blind Brexit and dissolving the British Parliament, that opposed such outcome for causing large damages), or a lower cost (a negotiated alternative to backstop; like what?). Very likely, the U.K. Cabinet will produce a sort of alternative to backstop, but the problem is that any alternative is very hard to sell to the EU. So, we steer towards  a divorce on October 31st, with many negative consequences, including for Romanian citizens, especially since freedom of movement will cease after that date.


IV. ITALY. Political crisis after Prime Minister Conte’s resignation.

Italy crosses a political crisis generated by Matteo Salvini’s impatience to reach power. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made the decisive step and resigned, but he also brought grave but well-founded accusations to Matteo Salvini. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella gave only five days to the Cinque Stelle Movement (M5S) and Democrat Party to form a governing coalition. Negotiations unfold with difficulties, as the two parties lack a common political base for governing, and they blackmail each other with the perspective of early elections. Salvini’s La Liga party shows signs of regret and is prepared to resume negotiations with M5S as soon as the latter’s negotiations with the Democrats fail. Thus, in a large country with serious economic problems, like Italy, politics remain an issue of personal ambitions.

Incumbent Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on August 20th, after a speech in the parliament with accusations against Matteo Salvini for destroying the governing coalition and endangering the country’s economy just for gaining personal political objectives. Conte accused Salvini of opportunism, because he caused a political crisis announcing his intention to sink the government only for benefiting, after would-be elections, his favorable position in the polls: Matteo Salvini “has shown that he is following his own interests and those of his party... His decisions pose serious risks for this country.” He described Salvini’s actions as reckless and “liable to tip the country into a spiral of political uncertainty and financial instability”.

Giuseppe Conte touched two serious sensitive problems, Salvini’s dictatorial trends and his fishy relations with Moscow: “We do not need men who have ‘full powers’, but people who have institutional culture and a sense of responsibility”. Conte insisted that Salvini should provide explanations regarding recent information on the attempts by La Liga to obtain funds from Russia through a series of illegal oil deals.    

After having consulted the political parties, Italian President decided to offer only five days to M5S and the Democrat Party to form a governing coalition. This is where the problems appear, as the two parties only share old or recent hostility, mainly caused by Salvini and his La Liga. The two political groups are long-time adversaries, and their respective leaders nurture an equally large personal adversity. The Democrat Party already set two prerequisites for negotiations: Italy should exit the isolation within the EU (which requires financial discipline, precisely the opposite of M5S’s economic program) and a U-turn in Italy’s migration policy (but M5S already accepted Salvini’s anti-migration actions, no questions asked). In addition, there is a new issue: M5S adamantly wants the incumbent prime minister Giuseppe Conte to lead the future government. On the background of such differences, there is little hope that the two parties can reach an agreement. La Liga seems to regret Salvini’s rushed action and appears ready to reheat the soup of their former coalition by negotiating with M5S.

So, a M5S – Democrats coalition is little likely, a coalition between M5S and La Liga is equally little likely, as result of the recent divorce. Therefore, early elections are possible this autumn. But autumn elections in Italy come with a big political risk: the autumn harvest comes with the fruit of budgetary redistribution in a country with a large budgetary deficit. It seems that M5S might decline to take such risk. Therefore, its leaders might judge which is the lesser bad, the traditional enemy Democrat Party, or La Liga, the recent and growing enemy.

Beyond the political turmoil, Italy seems to be steering towards a long-term political and economic crisis. This trend increases the chances that a strongman like Salvini come to power, sooner or later. For the moment, Italian politics is spectacular show, but the time comes when the whole Europe pays the price for this entertainment.


V. Developments to track this Week 35 of 2019.

► G7 Summit. More than ever, the G7 reunion is relevant both for the relations among the seven members, and for the way they choose to respond to the international problems. We have a new opportunity to notice the differences between the United States and the Europeans, but other cracks as well. The trans-Atlantic political and economic relation is be the most important issue, although it not explicitly discussed. Then, there are the problems the seven nations face, in fact those that the West is facing. First, there is Iran, whereby French President Emmanuel Macron had previous contacts with Tehran leaders. On one side sits the U.S., on the other side sits Germany and France, while the U.K. will position somewhere in-between (politically, regarding the nuclear deal, London will side with the Europeans, while militarily, will side with the U.S., see the naval mission in the Persian Gulf). Then there is Russia, with the offer race between France and the United States to bring Russia back to the G7 group. In fact, the discussions will include proposals to solve the Ukrainian conflict and Putin’s messages sent to President Macron. Then the Pacific comes, with the North Korea problem. Last, but not least, the global warming problem reached political weight on the backdrop of the wildfires in the Amazon region of Brazil, and the French threats that Paris will oppose the EU – MERCOSUR agreement. We will see whether the large industrialized nations can still present united positions and for which issues.  

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). Moscow did not waste time and is now seriously putting pressure on Maia Sandu government. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu came to Chişinău to celebrate along Igor Dodon “the liberation from the German - fascist occupation, 75 years ago”. The invitation was issued by the Socialist minister of defense, without the approval by RM government. Therefore, Maia Sandu called RM ambassador to Moscow for consultations (useless move, since both the defense minister and the ambassador to Moscow are Igor Dodon’s servants, and Igor Dodon is Moscow’s tool). The ACUM alliance responded by the upcoming visit of John Bolton, the security advisor to U.S. President, to Chişinău, and by Maia Sandu’s visit to Washington. Is is obvious now that the ACUM – PSRM (Moldovan Socialists) alliance will not last long. Moscow’s interests, represented by PSRM, prevail over ACUM’s interests, which are, in fact... RM’s interests to stabilize the economic situation and build a functional democracy. Let’s see for how long ACUM resists along PSRM, after having the bridge crossed (the Plahotniuc crisis).  

► TURKEY - RUSSIA. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Russia, on August 27th, comes in a decisive moment in the bilateral relations, due to the developments in Syria: Bashar al-Assad’s offensive against Idlib not only forestalled the rebels, producing a new migration wave, but brought Syrian troops in contact with Turkish troops, whom the Syrian forces did not hesitate to attack. Turkey sent a warning to Damascus not to play with fire, but that was not received. R.T. Erdoğan will try to get a new truce from Vladimir Putin, who supports al-Assad’s offensive. Ironically, Erdoğan discussed the Idlib situation with President Donald Trump. The Turkish President policy of swinging East to West and back sends him to isolation, and Turkey’s enemies will profit of this behavior – Turkey’s real enemies, not those invented by Erdoğan himself.

[1] In a previous Weekly Report, MAS has presented this secret of Polichinelle that everybody knows. This information was published by American media, the budgetary provisions to that end were not classified.