MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

03 septembrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 35 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. G7 SUMMIT. Apparently united, although showing different views. II. UNITED STATES. John Bolton’s tour in Ukraine, R. of Moldova, and Belarus. III. UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy has his government. IV. ITALY. Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte… is the new prime minister. V. Developments to track this Week 36 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. G7 SUMMIT. Apparently united, although showing different views.

The G7 Summit offered the image of an understanding among “the big ones” in the West, albeit due to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic talent. The great victory is that nothing special happened, meaning that visible disagreements did not surface, while the few solutions that were identified will be difficult to implement. Regarding current crises, almost nothing was decided, although glitters of hope were generated by the French diplomacy activism. Nothing happened in the Ukraine and Iran dossiers either. This is quite natural, since, beyond French ambitions (disguised under the luring name of “European sovereignty”), the United States remains the superpower now at trade war with China, the superpower determined to contain Iran, and which has its own strategy regarding Russia (hard to figure yet what strategy, since what President Trump says is different from what the American institutions do). 

Remarkable, among “the big ones” an apparent mutual understanding reigned. The United States spoke the same language as the others, the tariff issue was approached as being solvable, not potentially causing fissures. Thus, the U.S. and France found a solution regarding the taxation on IT transnational giants (we will see if and how this solution will be implemented), and President Trump announced a future trade agreement with Japan. But about the tariffs on European products, especially on German cars, eventually… nothing was said. What has really been decided is not transparent. However, more important than that, an understanding and communication atmospherics was visible. This is the most important signal.

Talking about the crises, although France issued communiqués on various issues, there was no clear position, only hints about the direction where things are going. After having announced new tariffs on Chinese products in the previous day, in response to recent measures taken by China, President Trump calmed the partners (and the markets) by announcing that Beijing would have sent positive signals regarding signing an agreement. However, it is little likely that an agreement is to be reached, although tariffs will rise to 30% by the end of the year. The reason is that both sides gamble their future: The United States can no longer bear a huge deficit while transferring its own production to manufacturers of its rival; and China cannot progress without the illegal methods it uses (intellectual property theft). The Europeans used to waffle before G7, aiming to preserve access to Chinese market, although they face the same problem themselves. Nevertheless, the G7 participants agreed on the need to stop this practice, and even the Europeans joined in this view. Practically, the United States adapted the containment strategy to a new Cold War, mostly economic: limiting the adversary’s access to know-how and high-tech is paramount, and all illegal ways to get them should be blocked.

Regarding Iran, the French stunt of bringing the Iranian foreign minister to Biarritz, not to the G7 Summit, but close to it, proved to be just that, an image action. President Donald Trump tempered expectancies of avoiding direct American – Iranian contracts: he announced his opening to a would-be future meeting with Iran’s president (however, such meeting was hinged by President Rohani by having the sanctions lifted, which is not going to happen). Although the Europeans are right when mentioning that the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran was unilaterally denounced by the United States, they seem to be outside the Washington – Tehran game: Washington is no longer open to tolerate a hostile Tehran which threatens the whole region, especially America’s allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Tehran presents itself to Europe as a victim which puts conditions to would-be negotiations with the United States (lifting the sanctions and leaving the ballistic program off the table). But, in fact, Tehran unabatedly persists in its policy in the region. The most recent proof is Iran’s de facto war with Israel. Although, tactically, Israel attacks (from the drones in Lebanon to the air strikes in Syria and Iraq), from a strategic point of view, Israel is in defense against a country which is threatening it with destruction (only stemming from ideological considerations of the Shia regime in Tehran!). Trump Administration stands beside Israel, now more than ever, expecting from Tehran nothing else than capitulation.

Regarding Russia, the G7 partners had opposing views. Off the hook on his electoral campaign alleged collusion with Russia, President Trump does not dissimulate his opening to Moscow (see his unconditional invitation to Russia to rejoin G7). Such offer diminished the French offer substance, Paris hinging Russia’s return to G7 on progress in the Ukraine issue. However, France announced the Normandy format meeting sometimes soon. Even Washington’s position on Russia is sent by two voices: President Trump’s, who says whatever he wants (inviting Russia to G7, ending American support to Ukraine), and American institutions’ voice, who say what is needed indeed (political and military support to Ukraine, balancing the Ukrainian president’s opening to negotiations with Russia, and, especially, support to the independence and sovereignty of countries in Russia’s “close vicinity”: Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and Belarus). At the end of the day, the situation remains the same, with Russia outside of G7.

The G7 Summit in Biarritz was a step forward, albeit because striking differences between the United States and the Europeans did not stand out as a soar finger. For the rest, nothing special, the situation leaves no room for a united position of G7 in important international issues. For Romania, things still look good, with the United States engaged, albeit only economic, in the crucial confrontation with China, the struggle which will generate the superpower of 21st Century, while Russia is, even outside G7, discouraged to continue its aggressions (the sanctions are still on).


II. UNITED STATES. John Bolton’s tour in Ukraine, R. of Moldova, and Belarus. 

The U.S. president’s national security advisor John Bolton paid a visit to nations within Russia’s self-declared sphere of influence to send a message of support for these countries’ independence and sovereignty. Although the situation is different in these countries[i], the message was welcomed in all three capitals, as the danger of losing sovereignty is a reality, although not always visible. Very likely, Moscow was angered by John Bolton’s tour, especially in Minsk, because, even during Trump’s presidency, the United States demonstrates it makes no concession in its policy of supporting these independent nations against Russia’s aggressive power[ii].

In Kyiv, John Bolton unequivocally stated America’s support to Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Interesting, John Bolton warned Zelenskiy not to hurry to negotiate with Russia, considering the numerous booby-traps on this path. Bolton noticed this new Ukrainian establishment’s devotion to a real reform. He also talked with Ukrainian leaders about the danger of China’s unprincipled trade practices, considering that, in the framework of Ukraine’s privatization program, China might purchase the Motor Sich company, an important airplane, helicopter and missile engine manufacturer. Bolton also met the SBU (Ukrainian intelligence agency) director Ivan Bakanov and discussed with him various ways to consolidate the American – Ukrainian cooperation in a wide range of national security issues.

John Bolton underlined that Washington is committed to respecting Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In his turn, Zelenskiy expressed hope that the U.S. would get more involved in solving the Donbass conflict, and invited the United States to participate in the Normandy format of negotiations. A future Trump – Zelenskiy meeting is predictable, although the opportunity in Warsaw did not pan out.

The encouraging message sent by John Bolton was partly shadowed by President Trump’s announcement that he would request the end of U.S. military support  to Ukraine. During the latest five years, the American support to Ukraine reached about $3 billion, whence $1.5 billion in military equipment.

In Chişinău, John Bolton met Prime Minister Maia Sandu and President Igor Dodon. He talked security and reform issues with Maia Sandu, and John Bolton reiterrated the U.S. support to the new government of Republic of Moldova (RM) and the government initiated fight against corruption. He mentioned that significant security issues persist in the region and beyond, and that the United States supports RM’s independence and sovereignty. He specified that RM citizens, not foreign influences are the ones to decide the future of this country. On the Transnistria frozen conflict, Bolton has declared that the United States supports RM government’s efforts to solve the conflict, respectively to reunify the country, so that RM be a united nation, not subject to foreign influences: “It is an issue for the people of the country [to decide] but maintaining territorial integrity and full sovereignty is critical for us as well".

Maia Sandu stated that Washington supported the defense and security sectors of RM with about $15 million annually, an extremely important element for RM: "This year… we will negotiate a new individual action plan within the Moldova-NATO Partnership, and we will open the second phase of the initiatives to consolidate the defense capabilities of the Republic of Moldova… Our priority is expanding strategic dialogue with U.S., coop in key areas, attracting investment, and creating new jobs for our citizens in the homeland".

Bolton also met President Igor Dodon, who later wrote on Facebook: "I positively assessed the U.S. leadership's heightened interest in building more intense contacts with our country... which indicates that the development of the strategic partnership between the Republic of Moldova and the U.S. is entering a completely new stage".

In Belarus, John Bolton called upon this country’s leader to initiate a dialogue about the common interests of the two nations, despite the important problems in bilateral relations (human right and proliferation). President Viktor Lukashenka warmly welcomed John Bolton and declared that a new chapter was to be opened in the Minsk – Washington relations. Bolton had previously mentioned that, considering the geostrategic environment in this part of Europe, as well as the global threats, the United States should maintain dialogue with Belarus in order to see where this nation’s interests and America’s coincide.


How can we judge such tour by the most important American official in an area under Russia’s influence? It is the most important U.S. official visiting Minsk in the last… twenty years! Before everything else, regardless the Trump Administration incoherence, Washington’s message is undoubtful: United States supports this country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, mind Russia. Now let’s see the realities. When threatening to end American military support to Ukraine, President Trump might have considered three motivations: to help his friend, Vladimir Putin; to check the way U.S. funds have been spent; or simply it was a hasty reaction to the possible sale of an important Ukrainian military equipment plant to China. Regardless the president’s reason, the threat is a serious blow for Kyiv, although, very likely, it will not be implemented (the U.S. Congress reaction was quite strong). However, the other America, that of institutions pursuing traditional American politics, will further support Ukraine and will watch Kyiv’s moves, will encourage reforms and watch the negotiations as well, although Washington will not rush to join the Normandy format talks. Ukraine needs that especially now, when it is determined to begin bold reforms, with a new government.

In Chişinău, John Bolton’s message was equally important, especially for President Igor Dodon: United States will not let RM by itself to face Moscow and its agents. This message comes at the right time, exactly after Igor Dodon welcomed Sergei Shoigu, to discuss the consolidation of bilateral relations with Russia in all fields, military included. It was not in vane that Prime Minister Maia Sandu mentioned the American military assistance, strongly linked to the RM – NATO individual membership action plan. If the Socialist minister of defense increases RM’s cooperation with Russia and ends its cooperation with NATO, who will pay the $15 millions vital for the very existence of RM’s military? Moscow will not, it pays only $1 million to Igor Dodon and his Socialists to get control of the whole RM. Igor Dodon will likely try to solve this dilemma in the most original way possible: he will concede to Moscow what Moscow requires (control over RM military) and to United States what United States is supposed to get (RM’s military financing and reform). It seems weird, but this is true, anything is possible in RM; otherwise how would remain president of the country a Russian agent who has been on the record declaring he is paid by Moscow, and who requests the destruction of the country he is the president of (by secretly promoting the Kozak plan). So, in Chişinău, we had a support message (to the government), and a warning (to Igor Dodon) that United States would not let him deliver RM to Russia.  

In Minsk, John Bolton’s message was an opening to dialogue, exactly what Lukashenka needed to parade as alternative in Putin’s face. Perhaps this is where the most critical crisis will occur, when the transfer of power comes.

Finally, John Bolton hinted to all in conflict in this area that they are not alone, and, provided they are sure what they wish for, United States will support them. The problem now is whether these leaders know what they want, and this is not only about those under Moscow control, but also the leaders who think about their country as being… independent and sovereign.      


III. UKRAINE. President Zelenskiy has his government.

After almost thirty years of plunder, Ukraine finally has a government and a president who intend to serve the people, although success is not guaranteed. But today’s Ukraine lost huge resources, is practically bankrupt, has part of its territory occupied by Russia, who never let go the idea to control Kyiv, and Ukraine lost millions of young people, who emigrated in large waves. But Ukraine did not lose hope, and this is crucial for this important neighbor of Romania.

President Zelenskiy’s government was formed on August 29th, when it was passed in the Parliament with no problem, since Zelenskiy’s party alone has a secure majority. The new government is composed of persons of Zelenskiy’s inner circle, former business partners, civic activists, but also two members of the former government. Most ministers are below fourty and have no experience in administration (not that experience in Ukraine was necessary, since corruption used to be the basis for governance in this country). Zelenskiy had previously announced that he would appoint persons he trusted, honest and devoted to reforms.

Oleksi Honcharuk (35) was appointed prime minister, the youngest prime minister Ukraine has ever had. He is a lawyer experienced in real estate. In 2015, he led BRDO, an NGO financed by the European Union and specialized in implementing reforms. He also worked as advisor to Stepan Kubiv, vice prime minister during Petro Poroshenko’s tenure as president. Honcharuk describe current situation with realism: "It will be very difficult for this government". Honcharuk announced that Ukraine would begin negotiations with the IMF for a new financing program, and he signaled he would seek a longer-term agreement to replace the current $3.9 billion stand-by aid agreement: "You all know about these problems that we have in the country. These are the debts we have inherited".

Vadim Pristaiko, former Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO was appointed foreign affair minister. He declared that Ukraine’s path towards NATO and EU would continue unabated. An important appointment, maybe the most important, is Ruslan Ryaboshapka as General Prosecutor. He is the former head of Zelenskiy’s presidential administration, he worked in the Ministry of Justice (2001 – 2010), then in Mikola Azarov’s Cabinet, then he worked with Transparency International (2013 – 2014). The new defense minister is Andrii Zahorodnyuk, previously member in the board of Ukroboronprom (the state holding producing military equipment). He fought as volunteer (2015 – 2017), and later worked with the reform department of the Defense Ministry. Ivan Bakanov, former business partner of Zelenskiy was appointed head of the SBU (Ukraine’s intelligence agency). The governing party leader, Dmytro Razumkov was appointed and voted speaker of the Parliament. The ministers who kept their offices were Arsen Avakov (internal affairs) and Oksana Makarova (finance).

The new government faces a huge task. It faces a double crisis, economic and social, as well as security – the conflict with Russia. In addition, Honcharuk government must implement tough and costly reforms in almost all domains. These reforms will weigh heavy on the population and their implementation will meet staunch resistance from parasites having captured the state, from oligarchs to administration officials at all levels. An example is Zelenskiy’s promise that the so called “raiding” will end (it is the practice of business forced take-over, in fact white collar highway robbery by criminals associated with… judges!). The most important trial is the future agreement with the IMF, one in a long series of agreements based on which Ukraine received money and did not implement any promised reform. On the backdrop of the gas crisis predictable for this winter, perspectives are negative.

Newly appointed officials share some common features: they are honest, never involved in the corrupt system dominating Ukraine, they are loyal to Zelenskiy, have pro-western views (not just declared, but proven in previous activities), and are young enough to promise the amount of adrenaline needed to reform the system. In fact, the situation requires such courage: Ukraine hardly has any other choice, this is the message the people sent when they voted Zelenskiy and his emerging party, because the situation is too serious to let Ukraine’s robbers to pose again as responsible leaders. However, just having determined ministers and high officials does not guarantee success. Ukraine will cross an extremely tough period, because the upcoming reforms will increase social problems. Therefore, a domestic crisis is predictable, especially given that reforms will unfold under the Damocles sword of Russian aggression above the heads of Kyiv leadership. And there will appear many wolves in patriotic sheepskin who, feeling that pilfering and plundering does not work anymore, will steer towards… Russia.

Zelenskiy is aware about the situation, therefore he tries to do everything he can inside Ukraine and abroad. This explains his visit to Poland, which will support him, where the Polish – Ukrainian – American energy cooperation was announced. A visit to Turkey will follow too. Zelenskiy seeks to cooperate with all nations who might help Ukraine, albeit just by investing and extending economic cooperation. He might be successful if domestic reforms are kept in sync with foreign assistance.

Facing a desperate situation, the Ukrainians stated that former status quo cannot go on anymore and they gave a chance to honest youths, but there is no guarantee that such chance (better said last chance) will bear fruits. For Romania’s security, let’s hope it will.


IV. ITALY. Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte… is the new prime minister.

The political crisis in Italy ended as quickly as it started, by forming a governing coalition between two completely different political formation. Although the new government must still overcome small obstacles, the political crisis seems to be over. This is a success for Italy, meaning that a more responsible government will result, closer to the European Commission (EC) views, but a government which will continue a high deficit budget. Thus, it seems that what the previous government failed to achieve, although it used frontal confrontation, the new coalition might obtain by using dialogue and persuasion. The main argument of the future government is the… investors, as the markets reacted positively to the end of the political crisis triggered by Matteo Salvini’s impatience to reach power by attempting to cause early elections.

On August 29th, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella appointed former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to form a new government with a coalition including the Cinque Stelle Movement (M5S) and the Democrat Party (PD). Conte will present the list of his new Cabinet sometimes during next days. He declared that his priority was the 2020 budget (mind the big thorny problem with the EU regarding the budgetary deficit).

However, the new government is not yet deal done, the two parties are still far from reaching an agreement on a common governing program and on the names in the future Cabinet. The main problem is that the two parties have too little in common, except for their… adversity to Matteo Salvini. Just to make things more complicated, M5S promised to submit the draft agreement with the Democrats to its members’ approval by on-line voting. On the other side, investors reacted too positively to be countered by politicians, and Conte was seen as the voice of reason even during the former coalition. The investors expect a cautious financial policy from the new government, as well as avoiding confrontation with the EC. 

The main item in the future coalition governing program is relaunching the economy through a responsible budgetary policy, albeit with deficit, but having the EC agreement for this deficit. The draft governing program includes this trade-off, in form of requesting the EC “flexibility” regarding the 2020 budget, in order to “reinforce social cohesion” in Italy. The PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti, declared that the new coalition’s priority would be to revive the stalemate economy. The other Europeans reacted positively to the news, and this is an additional argument for the new coalition.

However, on August 30th, the M5S leader Luigi De Maio sent an intransigent message to the Democrat Party: he warned that, should PD fail to accept his terms (reducing the number of members of Parliament, renouncing a highway concession project, accepting the recent migration legislation), the coalition will be sunk, and early elections will follow. Maybe it is just a political move of De Maio, in order to persuade his constituency, which is now confused by the frequent switchbacks, that he is sturdily committed to his basic principles. So, in the 20-point program which was later made public, M5S brought a more appeasing message, leaving the migration law off the table (Salvini’s big achievement).

There are large hopes that the new Italian government will conduct a responsible financial policy, although it will postpone a reduction of deficit until 2021. Should such maneuver succeed, this make-shift government will produce the miracle: Italy will be regarded by the Europeans as it deserves to be perceived: the third European economic power in search for a solution to avoid a huge financial crisis. On the other side, the austerity measures and those meant to tolerate migration will increase Salvini’s popularity. Therefore, would-be early elections might bring victory to Salvini (meaning a first right-wing government in Europe!). Let’s see the full half of the glass though, the hope that Italy achieves financial stability with a responsible government holding the reins.


V. Developments to track this Week 36 of 2019.

► UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson looks like having obtained something on the Continent, yet, in fact, he did not get much, because the EU said the Brexit agreement would not be renegotiated, although it expected London’s proposal for an alternative to backstop. Back in Britain, Boris Johnson decided to strike decisively at home: to make sure that a Parliament opposing a Blind Brexit will not entangle his plans, he asked the Queen to dissolve the British legislature. The reaction from British members of Parliament (MPs), especially those anti-Brexit, was rampant, they went to court. As expected, Boris Johnson produces not only a crisis abroad, with the EU, but a domestic crisis as well, entering in conflict with his own Parliament. Things will get more complicated, as the reactions by the Scotts, the Irish, the political opposition and the anti-Brexit MPs will aggregate. Boris Johnson will likely succeed, but at what cost! Considering that Brexit is one of the heaviest blows received by the EU, the Brexit crisis deserves further undivided attention.

► TURKEY - RUSSIA. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan obtained something from Vladimir Putin, but not much: a cease-fire agreement was implemented in Idlib. What is the price Turkey paid for that? Perhaps the commitment to solve the jihadist problem in Idlib (how?), but also a closer relation with (not to say dependence on) Russia. Eloquently, an increase in military cooperation was announced. Will Turkey buy Su 57 aircraft from Russia? Moscow is desperate to sell this aircraft in order to allow the program to continue, because the Kremlin intends to produce several such aircraft for Russia’s own armed forces, although Su 57 is not as smashing as Russian propaganda presents it. Perhaps Turkey will be cautious, because purchasing verified Su 35 aircraft, although obsolete, looks less risky. But Ankara is also thinking about the signal Washington perceives as warning (we have alternatives!). We will see whether the security zone agreed with the United States is getting implemented, and how Ankara’s relations with Washington evolve.

► ISRAEL - IRAN. The hot part of the U.S. conflict with Iran is the undeclared war between Israel and Iran. Israel stroke targets in Lebanon using drones, and Hizballah announced reprisals. The Israeli Air Force also stroke Iranian (and Iranian allies, the Shia militias) targets in Syria (to preclude an attack with Iranian drones against targets in Israel) and in Iraq. In fact, there is a war in full swing, where modern weapon systems are used: drones, directed energy systems and cyber-attacks. The details that no casualty was caused does not make this war less dangerous, and Israel is determined to solve the Iranian problem right now, when Iran finds itself up against the wall. On the other frontline, in economy, we will see how viable the Russian offer to sell Iranian oil proves, as ports in Crimea would be used for that trade as well.

► RUSSIA. The military exercises in Russia’s Military Region South included live fire and Kalibr missile launches in the Black Sea, as well as a full-scale landing in Crimea. The large operational developments are worth monitoring, considering that the likely goal is known: to practice fending a NATO naval attack, and landing on littoral nations shores, most likely at Odessa. However, other regions, even NATO countries cannot be ruled out of the operational plans used in these exercises.

[i] Ukraine is at war (an undeclared war) with Russia, Belarus is almost captured by Moscow, the dictator in Minsk looking just for support for not being totally swallowed by Russia, and in Chişinău we witness the middle situation: a democratic coalition, ACUM, in conflict with Moscow, although pretending not to be aware of that, cohabitates with instruments which implement Moscow’s orders, that is President Igor Dodon and his Socialists.

[ii] There is no more word about promoting the free world principles, democracy and freedom. Therefore, the visit to Minsk, where “Europe’s last dictator” seeks support to resist against his ally, the leading dictator in Europe, the Russian one.