MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

08 septembrie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 36 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. GERMANY / RUSSIA. Navalny case poisons bilateral relations.II. BELARUS. Russia steps in decisively. III. MONTENEGRO. Opposition wins parliamentary elections. IV. SERBIA / KOSOVO. Economic agreement mediated by the United States.V. Developments to track this Week 37 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. GERMANY / RUSSIA. Navalny case poisons bilateral relations.

What seemed to be a murder attempt, business as usual in Russia, became the moment when Berlin says ‘enough is enough’ to the lack of minimal moral / political ethics by Moscow. Germany shows signs of ending its toleration regarding Putin regime, which seems to be not alien from the practice of eliminating its adversaries in Russia, and in the West.  France, United Kingdom, European Union, NATO, and the United States join Germany and make the Kremlin stop ignoring the situation. Effects can be significant, not only at political level, but also economic, as in Berlin voices began to demand striking Moscow where it hurts most, in the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline. Russia is isolated, and it risks losing the European nation which always tried to find a way for political and economic cooperation. Since it cannot accept being isolate by Germany too, Moscow will likely craft a kind of explanation, but it will certainly not conduct a transparent investigation, because the results of such investigation would be dangerous for the Kremlin. The impact on Belarus crisis though, might be come right away. In current isolation, Moscow might choose to act without considering the European reaction, respectively Berlin’s response (given the defiance message sent through this failed assassination). For Putin’s cronies it comes as a surprise that Berlin, which they made billion-Euro businesses, can turn upset for nothing (this is the value of a regime opponent in Putin’s Russia). However, the Kremlin finds out that these westerners genuinely believe in something (which is the moral foundation of their society political stability). This hurt business when money start smelling like blood. In perspective, the Kremlin will likely diminish the visibility of its domestic repression and its foreign illegal operations, and the Europeans will notice that steadfastness in unity is the solution for limiting the aggressivity of this Chekist regime, which was ‘innocent witness’, since its beginnings, to blowing up block inhabited by Russians, and, more and more often, to assassination of its adversaries (of course, no culprit has ever been identified). As one century ago, when communism overwhelmed Russia, the West can lie to itself, and can look the other way. But should the West fail to take a stand against a regime based on what everybody can see with naked eye (on in lab analyses, in Navalny case), entailing effects will overwhelm it. This is what Berlin is doing now, calling the other westerners to circle the wagons. 

After extended postponements, Aleksey Navalny was transferred from Omsk to Germany. Blood samples analyzed in a Bundeswehr lab proved Navalny’s blood contained the Novichok chemical agent, the same which was used in the assassination attempt against Sergey Skripal, in England. Navalny’s poisoning with Novichok is an indication of the Kremlin’s implication, as only the Russian government has access to this toxic agent. Novichok is a neuro-paralyzing chemical weapon banned by the international agreement banning chemical weapons, and Russia is signatory of this agreement. This explains Berlin’s and western allies’ tough reaction, and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) got involved. The Kremlin denied, respectively it did not initiate a transparent investigation in this case, because that would directly request OPCW participation.

After the German officials made the breaking news regarding Navalny’s poisoning, on September 9th, Angela Merkel herself requested explanations from Moscow. Merkel has specified that any German and European response will depend on the way Russia helps clear this case (of course, this is diplomacy, because Moscow’s answer is expected, but the way is presented is worth watching). The Eu demanded a complete and credible investigation, Josep Borrell asking Moscow to cooperate with OPCW. Initially, the Kremlin reacted with openness to cooperation, and, on September 2nd, Dmitry Peskov stated that Russia was "ready and interested in fully cooperating and exchanging information on the matter with Germany". The usual blurring followed. The Kremlin denied any implication and asked the West not to jump to conclusions. Russian Foreign Ministry representatives accused Berlin of “practicing loudspeaker diplomacy”, and Moscow requested a full toxicological analysis. Which is completely useless, since Russia possesses the samples and results obtained in Omsk (which show no evidence of poisoning, of course). Russia did not open an investigation, only preliminary procedures. By second rank officials and its press, Moscow started to bring forth various narratives to the public. Head of Russian foreign intelligence agency SVR Sergey Naryshkin declared that Moscow cannot rule out the course of action where western secret agencies have orchestrated this poisoning, just to cause trouble. This hypothesis is so ridiculous that, in a Russian newspaper, information maintained that Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, had surveilled Navalny before his poisoning. Moscow’s people cannot be accused of sheer incompetence, therefore, the hypothesis of persistent mistake is impossible: it is known that using Novichok against a well-known opponent can trigger trouble, as Novichok is banned by a document bearing the Kremlin’s signature. Another hypothesis, that this act was committed during the Belarus crisis, just to spite the West by the message that Moscow is ready to do anything, including to poison the regime’s main opponent, is too cynical. Therefore, perhaps, we have something of the two combined, the plan being to kill Navalny on Russian territory, but stammering led to current blunder. This would also explain the delay in transferring Navalny to Germany, as well as the fact that Russian doctors announced that Navalny’s poisoning with a nerve agent was ruled out.

German perspective was presented by the head of German Parliament Foreign Policy Committee, Christian-Democrat politician Norbert Röttgen. He proposed a tough common European response to the Kremlin because the only language Vladimir Putin understands is that of tough measures. Short of supporting the suspension of Russian gas imports, Röttgen believes that Putin might be afflicted only by measures impacting that business. Therefore, the NS2 project should be reanalyzed, especially since it was imposed against the majority of Europeans, and it is not economically necessary (finally, we hear that from a high German official). After that, a European unitary approach and a European foreign policy beyond ‘indignation rituals’ are particularly important. Should Germany take this stance, the few friends Putin still has in the West will likely lack the guts to voice otherwise; therefore, it is still Berlin to decide, at the end of the day, how far the westerners will tread on this path. Nevertheless, Merkel did not raise the NS2 issue, not yet. In the context of increasing reactions though, both German, and foreign, the pressure on the German Chancellor will increase in the direction of tough measures against Russia, even against NS2. But Merkel still hesitates to take a decision, waiting for Putin’s response. However, Merkel will apply the strongest political pressure possible, as she understands, more than other leaders, the danger that Putin regime presents for Europe. This explains the ultimatum Merkel sent to the Kremlin.

In a September 4th communiqué, the European Union threatened Russia with sanctions, reserved its right to take adequate measures, and called for a common international reaction. Josep Borrell has declared that Moscow must do everything in its power to solve this case through a full and transparent investigation. NATO had an emergency North Atlantic Council in permanent session on September 4th, to discuss the Navalny case. This NAC accused the murder assassination attempt and requested Moscow to clear the case in a transparent way (with OPCW participation), to bring the culprits to justice, to comply with the chemical weapon banning agreement, and to present information on the Novichok agent program. Jens Stoltenberg has stated that “There is proof beyond doubt that Mr. Navalny was poisoned using a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group”. The timing of a response from Moscow is settled with diplomatic patience, but, regardless Russia’s response, Germany will take serious diplomatic, political, and economic measures, both directly, and through the EU and NATO. The question is whether Berlin will stop the NS2, which would seriously afflict the Kremlin, and the answer is probably ‘no, not yet’, because there is too much money at stake[1]; however, certain measures regarding the NS2 might be applied.

The storm of German indignation looms large over the Kremlin, and this will likely have a long-term negative impact upon the relations between the two countries, and an immediate impact on the Belarus crisis. On September 6th, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sent an ultimatum (quite unusual for German diplomacy), declaring that Berlin hopes Russia will not force the German government to change its position regarding sanctions avoiding the NS2 so far (up to this moment, Mass had avoided references to NS2, when threatening with sanctions). Heiko Maas threatened that, should Moscow fail to cooperate for clearing the Navalny case in the following days, an adequate response it to be decided.


II. BELARUS. Russia steps in decisively.

Despite repression against resistance leaders, demonstrations continue, with a new social category, the students having finished the summer holidays, now joining street protests. Moscow firmly committed in support of Lukashenka and fed the narrative of a revolution directed from abroad (now it is Ukraine’s turn to be designated as author of Belarus revolution orchestrator) and warned the West not to interfere. Lukashenka will not easily win the attrition war he waged against the regime opponents, although he scored one battle, that of limiting the strikes in state enterprises (by arresting the organizers and intimidating the workers). The West prepares sanctions and warns Moscow about consequences (especially since, by not recognizing Lukashenka’s election, the West will not recognize any of his envisaged decisions of integrating Belarus into Russia). Even if he succeeds in repression and will initiate the integration of his country into Russia, Moscow will find difficult to build a durable solution in Belarus, because nothing will be as before: Lukashenka’s dictatorship showed its true colors, is obsolete and unsustainable, being an overdue European post-communist dictatorial regime. On the other hand, the Russian model has little chances to work in Belarus, although Moscow will attempt to implement it.

Current situation shows the following trends: 1) President Aleksandr Lukashenka played the Russian card by continuing a moderate repression, yet extended against all resistance centers; 2) Russia directly interferes in Belarus, accepting the dictator’s offer od conditioned surrender; 3) the resistance continues, with the opposition working to remain relevant, especially by organizing street protests, although some snags begin to appear; 4) the West continues political support to Belarusian opposition and warns Lukashenka and Moscow about the costs of repression and a would-be annexation by an illegally elected president; 5) Lukashenka and Putin conduct coordinated measures to solve the crisis, and amplify the ‘threat by the West’ narrative, which offer Lukashenka the pretext for imposing the martial law, if needed. Together with military actions, which grow more and more concerning, the martial law would create the framework where Russia can act manu militari, just on the edge, with complicity of the dictatorship in Minsk. Lukashenka and Putin made a deal allowing the implementation of a solution meaning ‘no concession at all, and death to the opposition, by smothering’. The questions now are ‘How much can the Belarusians mobilized against the power resist protesting?’ and ‘How can the West oppose repression, respectively grabbing this country by Russia, regardless the pace of this grab (the Kremlin’s strategy will likely be to camouflage the annexation under an sophisticated process on implementing the ‘State Union’, a ‘political maskirovka’).

Although Lukashenka increased repression, he widened it, not toughened it, at least the visible part, aiming to keep the international indignation at low level. He continued to arrest opposition leaders but were sentenced short jail time. Other opponents found refuge in the West . The narrative of ‘opposition attempt to put on a coup’ is amplified by the power, and the threat against opponents increased. Lukashenka is not happy about the repression pace, and repeated replacements in the repression establishment stand to prove it (the head of KGB was promoted to lead the national Security Council). No segment of Belarusian society is spared, the head of Catholic Church was retained at the border, while the head of the Orthodox Church had already been replaced (by Moscow). Belarusian military activities soar, as the dictator said, “We have deployed almost half of our Belarusian army. In fact, we took control of the western borders with Lithuania and Poland. In fact, we surrounded Hrodna to counter NATO threats”. Of course, such deployment forced NATO, respectively the United States, to take mesures to protect its allies). Information war increases as well, with Russian ‘minstrels’ doing what they do best: spreading the ‘coup d’état’ narrative and the ‘western and Maidan danger’, even by the national Belarusian television, where they were invited by the dictator. This way, from an informational point of view, the framework for amplified repression and Russian intervention was created and allows Lukashenka and the Kremlin to act ‘legally’ (the necessary bridge to legality, although everything the dictators do is illegal). Moscow adapted the hybrid war to the situation where the dictator, threatened to lose the power, has surrended. The size of demonstrations remains the visible indicator for the political situation, but the capacity to organize protests, respectively to deny them, make the decisive element, the invisible struggle between the opposition centers and the repressive structures being the game to decide the short-term result. Meanwhile, on medium run, the economic element is decisive (this will be won, highly likely, by the dictator, because Russia will help Belarusian economy, which Russia will later take over anyway).

Moscow considers both aspects and gets gradually involved in crushing the resistance movement (the ‘minstrels’ are already visible, and Russian repression forces deployed at Belarusian borders), and in the economic sector too.

Two important visits took place: that of Belarusian foreign minister to Moscow (on September 3rd), and that of Russian prime minister to Minsk. At the meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov established the framework for Russian intervention: "Moscow will provide an adequate and firm response based on facts to those who are trying to derail the situation in Belarus" (Russian commitment “let’s leave the Belarusian people decide” was forgotten, as well as the fact that the dictator himself kept Belarus away from deeper integration into the State Union). Will Moscow provide an adequate response, also based on facts, to those who attempt to derail the situation in Belarus from the plans of its dictator supported by Moscow? Lavrov added that Moscow does not see any sense in establishing contacts with representatives of the new Coordination Council, which indicates that the decision was already made. Perhaps, Russia has agents in the ranks of the opposition, being the only country able to act at ease in Belarus, but their numbers is not enough to alter its orientation. However, from the Kremlin’s perspective, the opposition unwillingly serviced Moscow by weakening the dictator to the level where he fell in Moscow’s arms; but now, that opposition must disappear, because it becomes too dangerous with its requests of democratization and orientation towards the West. Lavrov forgot the Belarusian population and even Belarusian opposition’s pro-Russian feelings (not for Russian dictatorship, this is the problem), and he declared that  ”Some members of the Coordination Council of the Belarusian opposition have adopted an anti-Russian stance and call for severing ties with organizations created in the post-Soviet space” (this is no ttrue, Belarusian opposition does not promote such message, it avoids taking a geopolitical position). In this respect, Lavrov offered as evidence the case of those who want a Belarusian national renaissance (the “Belarusization”, in his language), which would affect the use of Russian language (that much about national sovereignty: accusing a nation of wanting to… use its language). The Belarusians now pay the price for accepting their Soviet-time denationalization and the post-communist dictatorship. The September 3rd visit paid by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was technical, as he is just a technocratic instrument, not a politician within the Kremlin circle of power. Beyond Lukashenka’s apocalyptical statements made on this occasion, measures of Russian economic support were established and, although not explicitly mentioned, Belarusian economic concessions were highly likely, convened too. Mishustin noticed progress in consolidating the union between the two countries in political, economic, and military domains (different from previously views that bilateral relations were completely blocked, one month ago). These two visits were supplemented by military consultations, on the background of recent Belarusian and Russian military exercises. But little information is available on these discussions, which have an important role in implementing the hybrid warfare. The two visits were meant mainly to send messages between the two dictators, the only single politicians who take decisions. Thus, they prepared the decisive meeting between Lukashenka and Putin. This upcoming meeting will consecrate the fact that Moscow plays the dictator card (the Kremlin assessment is that Lukashenka has the capacity to remain in power and control the domestic situation in Belarus), to the measure where he can unconditionally hand over his country to Russia. Highly likely, this delivery will be accomplished mostly by accelerating Belarus’ integration into the State Union. Putin already discussed preparations for the meeting with Lukashenka in Russia’s Security Council, the main Russian consulting / decision-making body.

Belarusian opposition resists Lukashenka’s repression and works to organize and get political support from the West. Demonstrations continue to be relevant, especially those during the weekends, but this is not enough in the attrition war with the power. Some opposition leaders announced the establishing of a political party, but this did not generate progress, it divided the resistance movement instead. Some Belarusian opposition leaders tour western capitals, and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya will meet the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. However, in absence of a committed support by the West, the opposition will lose the attrition war with the power, because Russia sided with the dictator. The West dwells on initial positions, threats with sanctions, but no response measures to Moscow’s decisive commitment with Lukashenka. Washington’s message, that “Russia must respect Belarus’ independence and sovereignty” offers hopes that the West will not passively witness Belarus’ sinking into Russia. Nevertheless, President Trump is busy with the election campaign,  and he constantly showed openness to Russia, while the Europeans are those who must find an answer. This answer delays, which sparks the reaction of some European countries. Lithuania warned that the absence of a reaction from the European Union will undermine the credibility of its nascent common foreign policy. But what could the EU do other than imposing political and economic sanctions, while Russia further interferes in Belarus? The Navalny case threatens to crush the ties between Germany . EU and Russia, as sanctions are predictable. However, this would temporarily isolate Moscow, which is exactly what the Kremlin needs to be sure it has its hands free to harvest the big prize, Belarus, without having to explain anything to Russia’s western partners, Germany first.


III. MONTENEGRO. Opposition wins parliamentary elections.

The election outcome is a shock for Djukanović regime, which not only obtained Montenegro’s independence, but he also captured the state, and led it not only to NATO and the European Union, but he also led it to the level of nondemocracy. The opposition claimed victory after its eclectic nature was overcome by the urgency of removing the Social-Democrats from power, for the first time since obtaining independence. However, beyond partially removing them from power, (Milo Djukanović remains the President of Montenegro), the future government will have problems in harmonizing the interests of anti-liberal pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Serbian nationalists, with those of center liberals. Precisely for this reason, the established  alliance was conditioned on respecting clearly formulated principles. One of these principles is respect for international commitments: NATO membership and continued efforts to EU integration. Now, the Djukanović authoritarian regime is on defeat without having the country derailed from its Euro-Atlantic direction and switched it towards an uncertain road close to Serbia, although the relations between the two countries will improve, at least at government level.

The Social-Democrat power (DPS party) in Montenegro lost the August 30th parliamentary elections: Milo Djukanović’s  DPS, which remained in power for the last thirty years, failed to achieve the majority in the parliament, together with allied representatives of Bosnian and Albanian minorities. However, DPS remains the largest single party, with 35% of the ballots, which means 30 seats. The main opposition party, “For Montenegro’s Future” (ZBCG), pro-Serbian and pro-Russian, obtained 32.55%, i.e. 27 seats. Pro-European centrist moderates united in the “Peace Is Our Nation” party (MNN) won 12.54% - ten seats, and the movement for civil rights “United Action for Reform” (URA), led by ethnic Albanian Dritan Abazović, 5.53% - four seats. The power failed to win 41 seats necessary to secure the majority in a 81-seat parliament: they managed to get only 40 seats, in conditions when some of its allies failed to cross the threshold, and now miss the parliamentary representation. The question is whether the three opposition parties, united in the will to remove DPS from government, can overcome the large gaps among them; the answer is probably Yes, although many issues are to be negotiated before they can form the government. However, they went beyond those differences when agreeing the four basic principles. The turnout was high, 76.65%, in conditions where leaders of Montenegrin orthodox church, subordinated to Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) visibly meddled in the election campaign, because they were threatened by the law which is to repossess SOC real estate in Montenegro to the new Montenegro Orthodox Church, independent from SOC. DPS was accused of abusing its position during the election campaign, but the election outcome was accepted by all parties.

The power hopes that opposition parties will not be able to for a governing coalition vanished after the opposition agreed on the four principles: 1) the future government will fully respect all Montenegro’s international commitments (meaning that the country would remain in NATO); 2) the governing coalition will implement all reforms necessary for Montenegro to integrate into the EU as soon as possible; 3) the government will be formed of experts, not politicians; 4) the coalition will observe the Constitution and the laws of the realm. Also, the parties representing ethnic minorities were invited to join the new governing coalition. So, the three parties will control one another, with centrist liberals paying attention that the fight against Milo Djukanović does not detour the country into the uncertainty of an anti-Western position, such as the pro-Serbians wish. However, the centrists were warned by current power not to participate to “ruining the country”. Besides Djukanović regime’s abuses, at the basis of political struggle was the issue of national identity, as one third of Montenegrins consider themselves to be Serbs (basically, the ethnicity is the same). Tis remains this nation’s main vulnerability, the danger being that Montenegro might jump from the frying pan into the fire, from a pro-Western authoritarian regime to an anti-Western yet same authoritarian regime, or even worse. This explains the fact that the leaders of the three formation in the winning coalition, Zdravko Kripokavić, Aleksa Bečić, and Dritan Abazović decided that the future government should be formed of experts engaged to bring back normalcy to Montenegro (although this normalcy looks different for the three, Zdravko Kripokavić’s party being against NATO).

Djukanović’s regime starts to crumble, although it will struggle with all its force (DPS announced an “anti-fascist movement”, on the backdrop of nationalist demonstrations organized by the pro-Serbians. The need to remove the government was bigger than distrust and divergent views of the three opposition parties, and this was the positive element of these elections. On the other hand, the danger that the pro-Serbian and pro-Russian anti-Westerners capture the country, albeit gradually, is present, but the centrist will keep an eye on the anti-Westerners, hoping that a democratic environment and rule of law will allow the centrist liberals to keep the balance. In this fragile balance, which might bring political instability, Montenegro tries to step forth, and it might well succeed, as a failure is unacceptable either for most Montenegrins, or for the West.


IV.  SERBIA / KOSOVO. Economic agreement mediated by the United States.

Presented as a great success, the economic cooperation agreement between Serbia and Kosovo represents a step forward, but it also conceals a failure, that Belgrade did not recognize Kosovo. Specifics show that Kosovar prime minister Avdullah Hoti, highly likely under European pressure (read Germany), refused the solution mediated by the United States and previously agreed by Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaci. That solution implied Kosovo recognition with exchange of territories (the district north of Ibar River, inhabited mostly by ethnic Serbs, would have return to Serbia). There is here a success necessary to President Trump, with a twist: Belgrade will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and Kosovo and Israel will recognize each other.

He agreement includes a series of economic measures, to name just reducing tariffs, and sharing natural resources (a water reservoir). Vučić declared that Serbia signed a bilateral agreement with the United States, stressing that it was never granted any recognition to any “third party”, Kosovo:

“We haven't resolved all our problems. There are still differences,” and he added that having a unified economic zone with Kosovo was a “huge step forward”. Hoti also described the agreement positively, stating he would work with Vučić. An U.S. Development Fund will be opened in Belgrade, which is a positive signal to investors. Vučić mentioned that "The Americans will monitor important projects with us, such as the construction of the highway to Pristina. We agreed on how to build the railway and how to connect Pristina with central Serbia", the financing for these projects will be taken over by the United States. Regarding Israel, frankly speaking, perhaps recognizing Kosovo was the last thing Israel was craving for, but the Trump Administration made an element of election campaign to please the Evangelists and (some of) the American Jews, with an obvious pro-Israel policy (besides some gains, this policy raises questions even in Israel, considering that such unilateral gains, not accepted by the Arabs and by many Europeans, are achieved by a President Trump who might lose the elections, and Israel will pick up the bill and suffer consequences of Democrats’ reaction).

The next round of discussion in Brussels is scheduled for September 7th, when the two leaders are mediated by the Europeans, by Josep Borrell and Miroslav Lajčak. They hope to achieve what the United States did not, which is Kosovo recognition, although Vučić warned about the impossibility of such unilateral concession. Therefore, for the moment, Brussels, respectively Berlin, can only congratulate each other for not allowing the solution proposed by the United States, and which was not accepted specifically for containing the exchange of territories )although this is obviously the stable solution: regardless what the Serbian leaders and their cronies did three decades ago, why should the Serbs living north of Ibar River be denied the right to return to Serbian authority, whence they were torn away from by a unilateral decision non-compliant with UN Resolution 1244?!). Anyway, Vučić starts to see the results of the geopolitical game he risks among the great powers: too little success, but immediate negative reactions. Belgrade was offended by a vulgar irony of the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, and this is just the beginning.


V. Developments to track this Week 37 of 2020.

► RUSSIA / NATO. Strategic bomber flights. From the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea, and from the North Sea to Barents Sea, there were demonstrations of force with strategic bomber flights, by Russia and the United States in support of its European allies. They were all intercepted by the respective adversary, more aggressive by Russia in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. In an extension of the Ocean Shield exercise, Russia conducted exercises in the Baltic Sea, and the Allies and Europeans close to NATO (Sweden) responded adequately. In response to the deployment of six American strategic bombers to Europe, Russia sent its bombers in missions close to the U.S. coast, where they conducted a large-scale naval exercise (looking like a reaction to the recent NATO warships entering the Barents Sea). The American bombers conducted flights above all NATO nations and in all border seas between Europe and Russia. There was again a difference between the southern and the northern flanks of NATO’s eastern border: while in the North there were NATO reactions, with escorts for the American bombers including above the sea, as well as interceptions of Russian fighters, in the South there were no such reactions, only American bomber flights ‘escorted’ by ELINT aircraft (which is relevant only in EW). In an unprecedented action, on September 4th, B-52 bombers flew above Ukraine and above the Sea of Azov, escorted by Ukrainian Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters. For Romania, the interesting developments are yet to come, as the arrival of Canadian F-18 fighters change the data of air supremacy in western Black Sea. The visit paid by General Tod Wolters shows again that the United States is close to Romania.

► CHINA / EUROPEAN UNION. The Chinese foreign minister’s European tour. The tour conducted by Chinese foreign minister in Europe was meant to improve Beijing’s relations with the Europeans, who are seen by China as the main component which must remain neutral during China’s political and economic conflict with the United States. But this endeavor failed, because the European heavyweights showed openness to a mutually advantageous economic cooperation yet responded firmly and frankly to China’s attempts to impose its policy, ranging from political and ethnical repression to intimidation policy. If Beijing wanted to feel the pulse of European powers, it succeeded, but the outcome is not satisfactory to China: the Europeans learned that, beyond the fear of losing the Chinese market, they must unitarily reaffirm both their economic interests and their political values. Too strong to be subjected to direct Chinese pressure, the Europeans seek to negotiate a balanced economic agreement, and they will promote an unequivocal position regarding Beijing’s domestic policy abuses (although China invokes the ‘non-implication in domestic issues’ thesis). However, the Europeans will not turn to attack China’s relation either, as the United States wanted.

► TURKEY / GREECE. Tensions remain high, NATO and the United States intervene in the crisis. New NAVTEX warnings, representing as many threats, plus the continuation of exercises and the air-naval foreign presence (France deployed its aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean Sea) maintain high tensions between Turkey and Greece. New information shows that President Erdoğan is able to choose conflict (it was learned that military leaders opposed his intention to escalate by attacking a Greek warship). However, he is more interested in a force approach more than is negotiations because a forcible approach would provide him an increase in domestic political support  (in conditions where the economy goes from bad to worse). Washington’s announcement that the United States would allow Cyprus to purchase weapons (in fact, a limited and long-ago ratified measure) in a warning for Ankara, despite denials. On this backdrop, NATO announced the initiation of technical consultations between Greece and Turkey, a measure meant to lead to deconflict the situation. Nevertheless, this is just a simple measure meant to reduce the risk of incidents. We will see what German mediation will bring , although Ankara seems too aggressive to want negotiations, and Athens capitalizes on the diplomatic and military support, declaring its openness for “negotiations without pressure and threats”.

► BULGARIA. Boyko Borisov begins the process of changing the Constitution, and protests gain momentum. Changing the Constitution in Bulgaria would be a useless and non-productive process: 1) the General Prosecutor, already accused of being above any legal political control, as he is the tool of that who appointed him, would receive the right to legislative initiative; 2) the President, who can still balance some of the discretionary power of the power, would have diminished powers. However, although he has no chance to obtain the majority allowing him to perform these changes, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov initiated the process in the parliament. The protester reactions were tough. The power is stalling, and the opposition is too weak. Therefore, Borisov seeks to block the formation of a true pro-European democratic opposition, which would carve into his electorate. Bulgarian political crisis will be long and painful, precisely because the ‘formers’ blocked the country’s development by grabbing the political and economic power. The oligarchs, corruption, and nepotism skyrocketed to ‘non-European’ levels. The strategy of sweeping reality under the rug does not work anymore, and those who tolerated such development, including former leaders in Brussels, appear now as ridiculous before an outraged people.

[1] Beyond Russia’s nuclear weapons and its aggressive foreign policy, this is the Kremlin’s strong argument: visible infiltration of the West, from Britain and the U.S. to Germany, of a fifth column made of Russian businessmen access to western economic and financial circles. Russian money is used by these Putin regime’s enriched agents, disguised as honest capitalists, to put a spell on western businessmen by exploiting the natural greed of market economy.