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26 august 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 34 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. BELARUS. The crisis continues into a decisive phase.II. GERMANY / FRANCE. Angela Merkel meets Emmanuel Macron.III. UNITED STATES / RUSSIA. Negotiations on arms control. IV. NORTHERN MACEDONIA. A pro-European government is established.V. Developments to track this Week 35 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. BELARUS. The crisis continues into a decisive phase.

In the attempt to avoid an attrition confrontation that he cannot win, President Aleksandr Lukashenka will likely try to crush the opposition, and its street protests, strikes, and political actions. He amplified the narrative ‘the Poles, the Americans, and NATO are coming!’, aiming both to rally his loyal contingency, and to create the framework for imposing tougher domestic restrictions or to request Russian intervention, should the situation become critical. The opposition built up an organized structure: it managed to establish a representative body, a first form of organized political opposition. It also began to organize a political force meant to face the dictator: former runner-up Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, still in Lithuania, has now a Coordination Council working to unite the whole society against Lukashenka. But the opposition received no message from Moscow, which indicates it is seen as a danger by the Kremlin, especially since it is supported by the West. Russia and the West sent each other the red lines: Moscow will not allow EU to tread on its realm, not even for mediation with limited mandate, as Belarus is considered by Moscow as its turf. The Kremlin did not reach a decision yet, it is still watching to see how the situation develops on the ground; more precisely, the Kremlin is assessing whether Lukashenka is still a horse to bet on, as he still holds control of the state institutions. In order to better understand the entanglement, we will define the objectives, limits and current position for each actor of the ’Belarus crisis square’: Lukashenka, the Opposition, the West, and Russia; then, we will investigate the current relations between them. The final score in the political – diplomatic game unfolding in the Belarusian crisis will be established by these known actors, as well as by some unknowns: their assessments and perceptions of situation dynamics, interests of invisible actors, especially the Belarusian elite. However, the main elements are: 1) the range of objectives; 2) the means at each actor disposal; 3) their limits. A dictatorship can only send a nation to nowhere; therefore, it will be crucial to see how the Belarusian society will be able to end the ‘Lukashenka era’ and bring the country from nowhere to the civilized world. Belarus’ capacity to cross that bridge will be of essence, although the Belarusians hardly know what ‘normalcy’ it covets looks like, and the opposition wants to stay clear of geopolitical games. The West counts on Belarusians’ capacity, while Russia is still assessing the power balance in that country (depending on Moscow’s conclusions, Lukashenka will be either rescued or ditched, in the process of Russia’s endeavor of preserving Belarus in its sphere of influence). On the other hand, the West knows it should not encourage Belarus to steer visibly towards the European Union, because that would make Moscow apply the ‘Ukrainian solution’: the Kremlin would not hesitate to engage in a military intervention in Belarus, as a last resort, benefiting from the CSTO framework (as the USSR had the Warsaw Treaty basis). Russia would commit that violent move even with the risk of losing the Belarus population trust and to be further isolated by the West. In this entanglement, the parties feel the waters and wait to see whether Lukashenka is still able to crush the opposition, albeit quietly. If the dictator loses that authority, he is lost, regardless the hopes Putin might nurture to preserve Belarus with Lukashenka. Shy of performing an ample resurrection, the opposition gains momentum, and Lukashenka is forced to act decisively, one way or another (brutal domestic repression; establishing the state of war; or calling Moscow to intervene, under the false pretext of a foreign military aggression; accepting an attrition war; opening a pseudo-dialogue with Belarusian society, regarding the constitutional reform, just to gain time). The moment of Lukashenka’s decision will be the decisive moment for the Belarus’ crisis.

1) Aleksandr Lukashenka has a clear objective, to remain in power at any cost, including the option of being rescued by Russia in exchange for handing over Belarus to be swallowed by Russia. He still holds the dictator privilege: he controls the state institutions, especially the repression structures, he still benefits the loyalty of important parts of the state apparatus and post-Soviet elite, and part of Belarusians, the rural population and a (smaller and smaller) part of the working class. In a post-Soviet dictatorship, where the ideology shrunk to an incoherent patchwork of impromptu discourses recited by ‘minstrels’ for manipulation, the triad which provides substance to power is made of terror, profiteers, and dependents. Lukashenka lost the important elements pertaining to this triad, but still has enough to resist. Thus, although the repressive structure remained loyal (with small exceptions), the terror diluted, being replaced by ridicule (even the workers yelled “ukhody!” meaning ‘Get out!’), and this counts a lot in a society based on a mix of Soviet and fascist ideology (the opponents yell to repression forces “fascists”, and Lukashenka accused the opponents of being… “Gestapo”). The dependent social segments, mainly the rural and administration are “silent”: the demonstration organized in Minsk in support of Lukashenka was minuscule (the participants brought from all around the country reached ten to fifteen thousand people), compared to the opposition’s 200,000 protesters. Lukashenka’s heaviest loss is in the ranks of blue collars in Belarusian state enterprises, most of whom began strikes and took positions against the dictator. Sending repression details into some of those enterprises would be counterproductive and would increase the workers’ protests. The decision announced on August 22nd, that Lukashenka would close those rogue enterprises, will not make things easier, but, on the contrary, might cause additional problems. This is Lukashenka’s vulnerability in an attrition stand-off, with strikes threatening to cause an economic crisis. In such circumstances, time is no longer his ally. A question pops up: how much of the elite in the economy management is still supporting the dictator? (Were the workers mobilized by the unions and nodded by the managers?)  In the upcoming attrition war, this factor is of same importance, if not greater, than the brass of security nomenclature. Part of the latter is independent from Lukashenka (although close to him), as are the oligarchs who have accumulated capital. Another segment that can survive after Lukashenka’s fall is the generals and managers in state institutions, to the extend they avoid being compromised in repression actions. The dictator tries to keep them closer by involving them in repressive measures (with the threat they would fall together), but it seems little likely they would risk such loyalty. Hence the hesitations in sections of the repression structures (they arrest, but do not kill anymore). Lukashenka lost part of the ‘minstrels’, he admitted that Russian journalists work with the national TV channel instead of the Belarusians who have resigned (the replacement journalists are professional ‘minstrels’: they are not bothered by a conscience, they accept to be just tools). Three kinds of measures will take the front stage: repressing protesters and strikers; destroying the opposition (while keeping the appearance of legal means, as the dictatorship crucially needs to remain in the legal framework); and inventing the military threat from the West. However, an important battle will be fought within the power, as Lukashenka tries to control the elite, knowing this is where the end begins (this is why he keeps mentioning the danger of treason). Unfortunately, only Moscow knows these games in detail. Lukashenka acted on the following lines: 1) he continued repression, but moderately, and he did not either the end of demonstrations, or belittle the protesters. Last weekend protests showed a continued high level of participation, which became the new norm; 2) Lukashenka persisted in building the narrative of “foreign, respectively Western military threat” (a paranoid mockery meant both to support the domestic dictatorship environment, and to prepare the framework where Russia can easier interfere, should Lukashenka deem this is his last chance). This alleged foreign threat is described in multiple shapes: a) NATO military threat (denied by NATO), spearheaded by Poland and the United States; b) Polish threat, capitalizing on the memory of historical disputes, and on the existence of a tiny Polish minority in Belarus (a Lukashenka-brand lie is “Polish flags appeared!”, when the only new flags were the historic Belarusian colors white-red-white horizontal, as alternative to the Soviet Belarus Republic flag promoted by the dictator as national flag); c) the general threat from the West, the foreign factor sneaking inside, which generates the current situation and endangers the very existence of Belarus as a state (the West is allegedly financing and organizing the opposition and the street protests); 3) Lukashenka refused the dialogue with the opposition and outlawed the leaders (Coordination Council members were summoned to the Prosecution Office) and threatened to destroy the opposition; 4) He refused any contact with the West (he refused to talk to Angela Merkel by phone), but he continued consultations with Moscow, both officially (directly with Putin, then through the prime ministers), and unofficially (an FSB plane landed in Minsk, and unconfirmed information claim that Russian officials met Lukashenka’s elder son, Viktor). Lukashenka ordered the beginning of military exercises at the Poland border, in Hrodna region, as a preamble to other destabilizing actions. Establishing the state of war or armed incidents cannot be ruled out.

2) The opposition wants Lukashenka out and the country return to normal, but this ‘normalcy’ is difficult to define, even because the opposition is eclectic. Although some correlation began between Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council, Belarusian  opposition is not a unitary force, but more of a resistance, with workers, youths, and women. This resistance to Lukashenka regime has economic reasons (‘we need food’) and moral reasons (the patriarch dictator ‘Babka’ uses beating, makes arrests, and murders). Large segments of Belarusian society relinquish the dictator, but they are not united at least in the basic principles of a solution, let alone a common political position. Instinctively, there is language about democratic normalcy, but nothing concrete has been wrought up, even defining the common objective risks both to threaten opposition unity, and to trigger Russia’s reaction. The opposition achieved two things: 1) counter-candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya stated a clear political position, not to recognize the election results, and proposed a solution to end the crisis; 2) the Coordination Council was established, and it works to represent the whole Belarusian social landscape, by its elected members. The opposition is adamantly supported by the West, which demands respect for the population’s right to protest peacefully, and requests dialogue between the power and the opposition. The opposition is probably advised, to some extent, by westerners (Tsikhanouskaya is in exile in Lithuania), which upsets Moscow, who accused “implication from abroad”. However, the opposition communicated it would not cross the red lines, and Belarus’ relations with Russia would not be changed. That should calm Moscow regarding the geopolitics of Belarus belonging to Russia’s sphere of influence. So far, the opposition has not been contacted by the Kremlin. Nevertheless, some representatives in the Council have contacts in Russia, which provides chances for opening communication channels with Moscow. For the opposition, the main task is to resist and provide dynamics to the resistance movement, hoping to reach the critical mass of social protests and economic developments to overwhelm the regime. This should occur before differences among various political orientations within the opposition begin to show. Such differences range from pro-Russians who want to speed up Belarus’ integration in the Russia – Belarus Union State, to those who talk about democracy. However, implementing liberal democracy will be difficult to achieve while preserving current relations with Moscow, although such course of action cannot be ruled out, especially after the precedent in Armenia. This small possibility is envisaged by part of Belarusian opposition, but also by the West, which sent the signal that ‘Belarus does not belong to Europe’, meaning that the Europeans do not wish to integrate a future democratic Belarus into the EU and NATO. It is hard to believe that the Kremlin would exchange Lukashenka, even in agony, for an illusory alternative stemming from current opposition, ripe with uncertainties and risks. Such latter option might even extract Belarus from Russia’s turf during the change process that began (compatibility with Lukashenka lies with the very nature of dictatorship / authoritarian regimes ruling in Minsk and Moscow). The opposition tries to use the current legal framework: after several opposition representatives were summoned to the Prosecution Office, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya responded by claiming the illegality of election results before a Belarusian court, due to forgery committed by Lukashenka (difficult to prove, as the Election Commission has burnt the ballots). Anyway, Lukashenka owns the judiciary too. Hastily organized, eclectic and lacking a strong political glue, the opposition has the great advantage of aiming at a sole objective, Lukashenka’s departure, but it also presents the disadvantage of lacking a unitary political solution for the country’s future, it only has established a list of self-imposed limits. 

3) Russia’s objective is to keep Belarus in its sphere of influence, with or without Lukashenka in power (which Lukashenka is well-aware of). To this end, Moscow benefits a range of options, from simply swallowing Belarus, to forcibly accepting the Belarusian society’s will to live in a somewhat democratic system, but with limited sovereignty, i.e. accepting Russia’s control over domestic and foreign policies (which is currently secured by the nature of Lukashenka’s regime). Moscow preserved its relations with Lukashenka apparently intact: it recognized the election outcome; it relaunched the dialogue with Minsk (accepting Lukashenka’s narrative, that the protests are orchestrated from the West); and it warned the West to keep off the Belarusian crisis. When recognizing Lukashenka’s victory, Moscow sent the price for this support, which is Belarus’ further integration into the Union State, and when warning the West, it sent the red line: the West has nothing to do in Belarus whatsoever, neither in supporting the opposition, nor in mediation, Belarus being now and having to remain under Russian control. Moscow did not decide yet whether to bet on Lukashenka or not, waiting to see which way the wind blows: should Lukashenka lose control of the state, he becomes disposable, and even a military intervention needs only a minimal accept by the Belarusian population. The way Russian media, controlled by the Kremlin, presents the situation in Belarus stands to prove that Moscow did not decide yet on Lukashenka: Russian media presents the whole range of views, from the true facts to Lukashenka’s narrative (a bad signal is that an important Russian TV Channel, Russia 1TV, started to draw the parallel between Minsk and the Ukrainian Maidan movement). Therefore, the way Russian media presents the situation in Belarus will be an indication of the direction Moscow decides to choose. On the other hand, the Kremlin faces the danger of seeing Belarus drift away, not losing it (Russia holds the CSTO mechanism, which offers the legal framework to justify a military invasion). Although preferring to ignore it, the Kremlin faces its own vulnerability, as its political system is a power usurpation itself, although the population provides support in elections more or less fair, because they are not free, and this Russian political system is compatible only with other dictatorships or authoritarian regimes. Nevertheless, Armenia showed that an exception can be experimented (in a one-out case, where geopolitics work in favor of Russia, who guarantees Orthodox Armenia’s security against any foreign threat). We are to see whether Moscow has the guts to tolerate again a regime with democratic features, but, in this case, at Russia’s western borders, which became extremely sensitive after the aggression against Ukraine and the designation of NATO as adversary. Rough measures, such as invasion or unconditional support to Lukashenka will bring not only a tough reaction by the West, (up to isolation), but also the adversity of most Belarusians. Therefore, in a watertight protection of Belarus from any interference by the West, the Kremlin would prefer to lead Belarus towards an all-Russian political solution. Such solution would secure either keeping a reloaded Lukashenka, or a smooth power-transfer which would only utilize loyal domestic elements. The Kremlin would be incredibly careful to employ an alternative leader keen on securing Belarus in Russia’s sphere of influence, and the West as far as possible. Moscow will warn the West, even threaten it, if necessary, not to meddle in any form in Belarus, and will wait to see which is the winning horse. 

4) The West wants Belarus to follow the path of its own choice, after a decision taken by the majority of Belarusian population, respectively respecting legality. The west also wants Belarus authorities to implement the results of fair and free elections. Even if it wanted to interfere to support Belarusian opposition, the West would not be able to do it, because of the watertight system controlled by the dictator, which forbids the activity of NGOs, fund transfer and people mobility. Notably, so far, the West meant almost only the European Union. President Trump’s declaration that the situation in Belarus is tense, is just a neutral statement, and his latest words sound like a verdict: “It doesn't seem like it's too much democracy there in Belarus". Trump announced he would talk to President Putin “at the opportune moment”. However, the United States returned decisively to the stage by announcing a future meeting between undersecretary of state Stephen Biegun, and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The EU acted in unity: during the latest summit it officially decided not to recognize Belarusian election results, to support the right of Belarusians to protest peacefully and to have free and fair elections. The EU leaders also announced sanctions against Belarusian officials involved in repressing the protests. The Europeans communicated, more or less veiled, that they do not see Belarus on a European path (no word about a transatlantic roadmap). Thus, EU accepted Moscow’s red line, but not the democracy barriers: the Belarusians must benefit the right to democratically elect their leader. Important western leaders talked to President Putin and insisted on dialogue, mediation and the need for respecting a genuine decision taken by Belarusian electorate. In his turn, Putin insisted on ‘no foreign interference’ in Belarus. Even President Macron’s proposal for a common mediation by the EU and Russia is not acceptable for the Kremlin. For Moscow, Belarus is an alien territory to the West, and it should remain this way. While EU was unitary in its reaction, it does not mean that differences in opinion are out of the question: the European heavyweights support dialogue within the red lines established with Russia, but Belarus’ neighbors consider that, since there is a popular will, this country has the right to become a democracy, no matter its relations with Russia.

Regarding the relations within the ‘Belarus square’ actors, there is no dialogue (therefore no recognition either!) on the diagonals the West – Lukashenka, and Russia – Belarusian opposition. There is still cooperation between Russia and Lukashenka, continuing the line ‘our fraternal dictatorships’, and a democratic engagement by the West in support of Belarusian opposition. Inside Belarus, between Lukashenka and the opposition there is no dialogue, and abroad, between Russia and the West there is a dialogue of the deaf, because neither side accepts the other’s paradigm; what is positive though, is that red lines are communicated and respected so far. At the end of the day, there are two strongholds, one is Lukashenka’s regime, which, however, was not strong enough to crush the more and more popular resistance, and the other is the opposition, eclectic and hastily established. The outcome of the confrontation between these adversaries has not been decided yet. If Lukashenka fails to crush the resistance now, he will have an attrition war; therefore, the regime amplified the narrative about foreign threat (which, according to the dictator, is imminent, but, in fact, it fails to… exist). Perhaps the aim is to declare state of war, which would allow a more effective repression. However, even so, Lukashenka appears more and more as a figure of the past and, bad news for him, he appears so to Moscow as well. Soon, Lukashenka must decide, but, regardless his decision, he has little chances to remain in power: both a tougher repression and his rescue by Moscow mean a worse crisis, especially if the Kremlin interferes militarily. The Belarusians crossed the limit where they could be ignored, which this makes things more complicated. Both Russia and the West have learned the Ukrainian lesson and seek to push their objectives while respecting the red lines established by the other part. However, a solution will be difficult to find because the respective objectives are almost incompatible, and the Kremlin cannot accept to leave a position it had already conquered. ‘Europe’s last dictator’ in might trigger the last large crisis in Europe, before the limes is established between the EU and Russia. Such perspective is feared both by the West and by the Kremlin, as the latter learned that the hybrid action brings some victories, but also leads to losing credibility.

Meanwhile, Lukashenka begins military exercises targeting a non-existent foreign adversary, but in fact aiming at the ‘domestic enemy’. The dictator needs this pretext in his fight with the resistance born in the ranks of the people he used to call “sheep”, but who proved to be common people, which is a formidable force. Sooner or later, Lukashenka will fall, there is no way back, he burnt all rescue bridges himself: Belarus is not Russia, where the president immunity is written in the Constitution. Anyway, when Lukashenka falls, the Belarusians still have limited chances to get what they want, which is normalcy, and Russia might gain an even bigger role in Belarus. We will see Lukashenka’s decision, and the way Moscow reacts, while the EU reaction is predictable – principled, but useless. The opposition knows it must resist, hoping that those around the dictator will betray him when they see he does not control the situation anymore. Moscow is watching closer than the West; the Kremlin is waiting and will decide when and how to react. Most likely, Lukashenka will blink first, he will escalate because he cannot afford to wait any longer.


II. GERMANY / FRANCE. Angela Merkel meets Emmanuel Macron.

The August 20th meeting in Brégançon was meant to be a routine consultation between the two main EU heavyweights, Germany and France, for discussing EU future developments, and important dossiers. However, the ongoing crises added to the agenda: Coronavirus, Belarus, Lebanon, Turkey, Mali, and Navalny). Fortunately, the two nations have a common position in most of these cases, on EU, but also on Brexit and Belarus, especially after the successful European Recovery Fund. On the crisis in Eastern Mediterranean, although, in principle, their position is the same, their role is different: while France chose to directly support Greece, Germany chose to mediate, and keep the dialogue with Ankara.

While important, the consultations in the main European issues remained predictable, are we are only to see the decisions to be taken by the two leaders during the upcoming actions in EU framework. The crises stole the thunder of these consultations though. About Turkey, France and Germany communicated their principled common position, with continuing different approaches – France directly involved, Germany in a mediator capacity. It is not bad, since this good-cop-bad-cop strategy might pan out in deescalating currently still high tensions in Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The French position had been previously presented by President Macron, who declared that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducts "an expansionist policy mixing nationalism with islamism, and is not compatible with European interests”, being a „destabilizing factor". Macron specified that “Europe must look at things in the eyes and assume (an answer to this situation). I am not for escalating, but, at the same time, I do not believe in an impotent diplomacy. I sent the signal that European solidarity has a meaning”.  France continued to deploy aircraft and warships in the region. France is not alone in that initiative, four F-16 fighters of the United Arab Emirates arrived in Souda Bay, Island of Crete / Greece. The entire approach is no surprise, since Turkey is perceived as a larger and larger threat by most nations in the region (it was learned that the head of Mossad sent to Arab partners that the main danger is now Turkey, not Iran).  Besides presenting their principled common position, Macron and Merkel also rejected any threats to the sovereignty of EU member nations. German Chancellor underlined that ”threats against the sovereignty of European Union member states are not acceptable”. However, beyond the solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, the “need for dialogue” was stressed, and Germany received French support for its mediation between Athens and Ankara. The same, Merkel specified that ”the dialogue must start again... a lot of tension has accumulated in the Eastern Mediterranean”. Berlin’s mission became easier, although new escalations cannot be ruled out, after: 1) Erdoğan announced that gas reserves were discovered in the Black Sea (not far from Bulgarian and Romanian Exclusive Economic Zones / EEZ), which should reduce the pressure on Ankara caused by the acute lack of energy resources. For Turkey, the emergency of drilling in Eastern Mediterranean  diminished, and Erdoğan can use this advantage to return stronger to the negotiation table (although, with Erdoğan, you never know…); 2) the two Libyan warrying parts announced a cease-fire agreement. Although established for a limited period, this is an indication that their sponsors, Turkey and Russia, as well as some European nations (France, Italy, and Germany), reached a minimal level of interest harmonization. 

Regarding the Belarus crisis, Macron proposed EU mediation, together with Russia: “Europe is ready to contribute to dialogue”. The two showed readiness for dialogue with the power and the opposition, after the EU defined its principled position and imposed sanctions. The problem is not only that Lukashenka does not accept such mediation, but Russia does not want to see EU mediating inside its turf either. Merkel and Macron reiterated the European position: “The European Union must continue to mobilize in support of hundred thousand Belorusians who demonstrate peacefully for their rights and liberties… A dialogue between the authorities, opposition, and the civic society is indispensable. We hope that such dialogue can be reached by the Belarusians themselves, but the EU is ready to facilitate the dialogue though, if our role as mediator, together with Russia and the OSCE, is useful and accepted by the Belorusians”. Although they know that chances for such mediation are slim, France and Germany still propose this contribution highly likely for creating the cooperation framework where both Lukashenka and the Kremlin will find difficult to raise the pretext of East – West tensions, in the attempt to escalate or steer towards a Russian intervention, in the fight for controlling Belarus. This proposal is not only rejected by Lukashenka, but it is not palatable to Moscow either (the Europeans are only good to sweep after the parade, when Russia decided the solution, as it happened with Ukraine, they are not welcome to contribute in finding a solution. In the post-Soviet space, Moscow owns this attribute; the ‘near vicinity’ moniker has a meaning). The French – German rationale is that EU does everything possible to support Belarus become a ‘normal’ state, although EU cannot directly interfere.


III. UNITED STATES / RUSSIA. Negotiations on arms control.

The third round of consultations between the United States and Russia on nuclear arms control unfolded in Vienna, August 16th to 18th. These negotiations ended without notable results, with divergences in key problems, although the two parties showed their wish to extend the New START agreement. Thus, after three sessions of negotiations, there are no signs that an accord for extending the New START can be achieved. Anyway, the decision would be purely political, as President Trump is engaged in election campaign.

The United States continues to request China’s participation in negotiations, although Beijing already rejected this request. Russia would like to see China in too, but, interested not to antagonize Beijing, Moscow chooses to request, in response, that France and the United Kingdom, the other two western nuclear powers, become part of the future agreement. But this in not the main bone of contention. The American representative, Marshall Billingslea, declared that "there are some areas of convergence between Russia and the United States, but we do remain far apart on a number of key issues... We are willing to contemplate an extension of New START but such an extension will only occur if we can... address significant concerns we have with the Russian build-up of its unconstrained capabilities". Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated that the two countries' "priorities at this stage differ significantly... Russia stands for an extension of the New START Treaty, but is not ready to pay any price for that". Moscow has announced it is ready to extend the New START without preconditions, warning that there is not enough time for renegotiating a so complicated agreement (the New START expires in February, 2021).

Most likely, the United States requests Russia both to include the niche armament into the New START (the Avangard hypersonic glider already fits the New START specifications), but especially the strongly destabilizing weapons such as the Poseidon nuclear-powered nuclear-warhead underwater vehicle (the ‘nuclear torpedo’). Also, in view of extending the agreement to the whole range of nuclear armament, Washington might request the limitation of sub-strategic nuclear warhead number (warheads such as those on SSC-8 missiles). Russia does not wish to discuss these elements, which currently provide Moscow with a relative superiority advantage which seems to compensate the U.S. advance in missile defense systems, but it only wants the New START extended as is. Beyond these discussions, the final decision will be shaped by the fact that President Trump, who has showed openness to Russia, is in a full swing election campaign, and, therefore, he is in search for foreign policy accomplishments.


IV.  NORTHERN MACEDONIA. A pro-European government is established.

On August 18th, Social – Democrat leader Zoran Zaev managed to form a government, and will be prime minister of Northern Macedonia for the whole mandate, except for the last 100 days, when the office will pass to Ali Ahmeti, leader of the ethnic Albanian minority party, whom the Social – Democrats are allied with, in the governing coalition. Zaev had to resign because he failed to obtain a clear start towards the EU, despite his success when accepting to change the name of the country. After the recoil of changing the rules for European integration, Zaev returns now and leads a pro-European government which will consolidate this nation’s domestic stability.

The Social – Democrat Party (SDSM), and a party of ethnic Albanians, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) reached an agreement to form a governing coalition with majority in the parliament. So, SDSM has 46 mandates, and DUI has 15, which secures 61 mandate on the aggregate (of the 120 seats of Northern Macedonian Parliament). Those are supplemented by another mandate offered by another minuscule ethnic Albanian party, the Albanian Democratic Party, which leads to a total of 62 mandates. The governing coalition will face a strong opposition from the nationalists, who hold 44 mandates (only two less than the SDSM).

The establishment of this government has an outstanding significance because it firmly puts Northern Macedonia on the path of European integration. This is beneficial both at home, where the prerequisites for beating stagnation are set, and geopolitically, as the EU and NATO make another step forward to stabilize the Western Balkans through integration. However, the immediate reality is tough: Northern Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in the region; corruption remains a problem; the society is divided by the issue of changing the country name, which is perceived by nationalists as a fundamental defeat; differences between Slavic Macedonians (the majority), and the ethnic Albanians remain, if not even increase. On the other hand, Zoran Zaev proved to be the man who can build bridges. Abroad, in a relatively short time, he managed to solve with Greece the problem of the country name, to improve the relations with Bulgaria (to which the nationalists presented territorial claims), and those with Serbia. The difficult part is still ahead, as the European integration is no longer an event, but a process, but forming this government means the end of the EU – NATO stabilizing circle around the countries which still have many problems to solve: Serbia – Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina).


V. Developments to track this Week 35 of 2020.

► UNITED STATES. The Democrat Party officially nominated Joe Biden to run for the U.S. Presidency. He teams up with Kamala Harris, a woman politician of Hindu origin, and Biden sent the message that he would return America “to the light”, by uniting it with political solutions of the Center. Biden has important chances to win the elections because he placed himself to the Center, despite a strong leftist trend within the Democrat Party. The political solutions he proposed can attract the key electorate of the Center, which might bring him victory. His main disadvantage seems to be his age, and his opponents advocate the untrue idea he is senile. The upcoming election campaign will be tough: President Trump counts on division, on the narrative describing a senile Biden, and on accusations regarding ill-doings in the election process (the voting by mail). However, should Biden show to be indeed placed in the Center, he has genuine chances to become president. Regardless the name of the winner, considering that Donald Trump will be hard to remove from the White House, American democracy will have to pass a crucial test. Anyway, bad news for Trump is that several former officials in U.S. security institutions have warned that Trump must not be voted.

► UNITED STATES / IRAN. Washington returns to impose UN sanctions against Iran, but the United States is diplomatically isolated. After failing to achieve a continuation of the arms embargo on Iran, the U.S. has announced it will impose UN sanctions because Tehran does not respect the nuclear deal anymore (but the U.S. quit that agreement!). Washington met opposition from China and Russia, but also from France, United Kingdom and Germany (who demanded Iran to return to observe the nuclear deal). The moment is difficult not as much for the issue itself, but for the fact that the western great powers are divided, and the United States was isolated by its own allies.

► UKRAINE / UNITED KINGDOM. The British defense minister’s visit to Kyiv marked the intensification of Britain’s implication in military support for Ukraine, with United Kingdom prepared to train Ukrainian seamen. The British implication was also seen in the presence of its ELINT aircraft in flights above the Black Sea, where interceptions by Russian fighters continue.

► RUSSIA. It is now Navalny’s turn. The sudden sickening of Aleksey Navalny, the main opponent of current power in Moscow, was not a surprise, and a suspicion of poisoning floats around. Navalny made many enemies within Russia’s power, because his investigations revealed that prominent statesmen in Russia illegally hoarded huge riches. The Kremlin has no reason to regret what happened to Navalny, and the unforgivable delay of his transfer to Germany supports such hypothesis, as it supports the suspicion of poisoning. We will see what is Navalny’s true bill of health, but it is certain that another significant opponent of the power was conveniently reduced to silence.