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01 octombrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 39 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. UNITED STATES. An impeachment inquiry has begun against President Donald Trump. II. UNITED STATES - POLAND. Agreement on increased American military presence III. UNITED KINGDOM. Political crisis. IV. RUSSIA. Proposal for a memorandum on intermediate range missiles. V. Developments to track this Week 40 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. UNITED STATES. An impeachment inquiry has begun against President Donald Trump.

A future proper impeachment procedures against President Donald Trump would seriously destabilize the domestic politics in the United States and would also paralyze Washington’s foreign policy. However, the Democrats have little chances to see his impeachment successful.

On September 24th, the Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat congresswoman Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of official investigations leading to President Trump’s impeachment. She stated that “the actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections”.

Moderate Nancy Pelosi’s decision comes in the context where a CIA agent forwarded to his superiors a report presenting intelligence obtained from the president’s inner circle. This report accuses the president of having asked the Ukrainian president to rush the investigations on Joe Biden’s son (former vice-president Joe Biden is a possible Democrat candidate for the presidential office in the 2020 elections). The request took place during a phone conversation on June 25th. Also bad, the White House is accused of attempting both to block the report from reaching the House Intelligence Select Committee (HISC), and to provide access to the relevant shorthand document to officials entitled to read it, which means abuse of power.

Later, an edited version of that document was released to the public, and both parties found there what they were looking for: the Democrats identified evidence of Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to start the investigation, and President Trump noticed just a simple discussion where he asked for an investigation in the framework of cooperation against corruption in Ukraine.

The complicated procedure includes the initiation of investigations by several congressional committees, intelligence committees in the first place, followed by a vote in the House of Representatives. That voting will very likely be successful, considering that the Democrats hold the majority in the House. Then, the case would be sent to the Senate, where the president is to be tried. Considering that the Republicans hold the majority in the U.S. Senate, there are little chances for impeaching the president, because two thirds of the ballots are necessary. The Grand Old Party (GOP) circled the wagons around the president, downplaying the legal value of Donald Trump’s actions. Nevertheless, things will not unfold that simple, although some Republicans already showed a view different from the party stance.

The true stake of starting the impeachment procedure by the Democrats is to compromise the president by exposing his actions. However, the effect might go the other way and victimize Donald Trump as object of a plot. Cautious Nancy Pelosi probably holds more arguments than currently known. She has previously been more reluctant about an impeachment against Donald Trump, although the left wing of her party permanently insisted in this direction.

Therefore, the procedure will be hasty and will likely focus, at least in the first phase, only on the accusation that Donald Trump has pressed Ukrainian president Zelenskiy in order to gain personal advantage. The Democrats link this alleged abuse in that phone conversation to the delay in granting U.S. military support to Kyiv, but this must be proved by evidence. President Trump defended himself by blaming the… Europeans: he declared that, given that the Europeans do not help Ukraine enough, he decided to temporarily suspend Washington’s military support.

The Democrats will likely seek to demonstrate that President Trump used America’s foreign policy to personal gain. To that end, they quoted State Department officials and count on further reveals. State Secretary Mike Pompeo was quoted, and information surfaced on Donald Trump’s statements at the White House, during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, when Trump allegedly declared he had nothing against Moscow’s meddling in U.S. presidential elections. Another proof that things get more complicated is the resignation of U.S. representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, as his name appeared in the intelligence report, perhaps in connection with D. Trump’s personal envoy, Rudi Giuliani.

The situation looks worse as a coherent signal comes from Ukraine: Joe Biden’s son was not the subject of any corruption investigation: the investigation of the company he worked with occurred before he was hired. The connection between the Ukrainian prosecutor’s dismissal following the pressure put by Joe Biden (along some European political leaders) and this investigation is not substantiated either.

In Ukraine, a real earthquake is unfolding due to Zelenskiy’s submissive attitude during the phone conversation with Trump, and his compliance to start an investigation and criticize the Europeans. The situation is not only embarrassing, but also destabilizing for Ukraine’s relations with the United States and the European Union. Maybe the resignation of Oleksandr Danylyuk, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council is also linked to this scandal.

The Democrats have an important ally, the American intelligence agencies, which remained loyal to the U.S., not to Donald Trump, who is extremely controversial in both abiding by the law, and in his relations with America’s adversaries[1], although he made some changes at the top, in view of appointing loyal officials.

Regardless the outcome, the beginning of impeachment procedures will weaken the United States down to unprecedented levels. Same bad, the White House’s main concern will be henceforth saving President Trump, while the U.S. foreign policy, albeit more than incoherent, will likely be neglected exactly when problems keep piling up. These problems range from Iran (which became flippant, and threatens with capturing and trialing Donald Trump), to Russia, which rejoices Ukraine’s humiliation and isolation. However, the apprehension that the contents of Trump – Putin dialogues might burst out in the open, or that “friend Trump” might get impeached is that big that it surfaced in Sergey Lavrov’s official statements.

For Romania, these developments are as bad as possible: Ukraine becomes more vulnerable both domestically and facing Russia, and Trump Administration will be least concerned with our security problems in a moment when we begin to understand how vulnerable we are when we cannot count on anything else than… ourselves.  


II. UNITED STATES - POLAND. Agreement on increased American military presence.

On September 23rd, presidents of United States and Poland signed the agreement securing an increased American military presence in Poland. In fact, it was a joint declaration regarding an intensified bilateral military cooperation. The declaration says that the two countries “continue to develop the plan to bolster Polish – United States military ties and United States defense and deterrence capabilities in Poland. These capabilities presently include approximately 4,500 rotational United States military personnel. As noted, this enduring presence is expected to grow by approximately 1,000 additional United States military personnel in the near term”.

The six locations where this new American contingent is to be deployed are: Poznań, for a division headquarters and the U.S. Regional Support Group; Wrocław-Strachowice, for the air landing base; Łask, for a drone (Unmanned Arial System - UAS) squadron; Powidz - infrastructure meant for a combat aviation brigade, a logistic battalion and special forces; and Lubliniec, where infrastructure for special forces is to be built. Further, the location for a future armored brigade combat team is to be discussed (in fact, a brigade level tactical group).

Thus, a rhetorical Fort Trump was replaced by the implementation of a realistic and balanced solution of establishing a division level command and control (C2) structure which will allow rapid deployment of a U.S. combat division and its integration into the operational disposition. This military infrastructure for a division will be complemented by essential support - a fighter squadron, and by the basis for common training – a training center, and surveillance & reconnaissance elements (MQ-9 Reaper UAS) and special forces. The deployment moment of a permanent armored brigade nucleus remains to be determined. Poland will pay for this project about two billion Euros already earmarked. The two parties also initiated discussions regarding the purchase of F-35 fighters by Poland.

Warsaw concluded the integration of Poland’s defense military disposition with NATO, and, more importantly, with the United States. The basic political and military idea is that, ever since the first moments of a would-be Russian aggression against Poland, Moscow would see itself in the middle of a war with NATO, respectively the U.S. For the military chapter, Poland secured the standing presence of American troops and the direct military cooperation, common training and rapid deployment of additional U.S. troops. In exchange, Poland pays in full this disposition. The decisive military element was that Poland has an adequately trained and equipped military, having the capacity to integrate allied troops, respectively the deployed American troops. Before everything else, Poland has an elite which is not busy to pretend it exists, it does really exist, and is founded on a productive and patriotic middle class, generated by a politically and economically functional democracy.

In contrast with NATO’s southern flank, its central defense facing Russia is now consolidated. Although a Russian aggression is currently much less likely, in terms of deterrence, the situation becomes alarmingly unbalanced between the central part and the southern flank of NATO’s frontline.


III. UNITED KINGDOM. Political crisis.

On September 24th, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the Parliament was illegal. That suspension was obtained by the prime minister in the attempt to force a Brexit on October 31st no matter how (even a Blind Brexit), despite Parliament’s opposition regarding a Brexit without an agreement. The decision is historical and has implications both on immediate political developments (the Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s fate), and on the British democracy, in general.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson minimized the failure, but he is in a difficult position and his hasty return from the United States proves that. The opposition asked for his resignation, but he refused. Boris Johnson not only rejected the accusations of having manipulated the Queen with false legal arguments when obtaining the royal blessing for his decision to suspend the Parliament, but he even threatened the Parliament  regarding its behavior.

Of course, the Parliament did not yield to Boris Johnson’s request for early elections, and the opposition voted against (also hinging snap elections on organizing a new referendum, which is impossible to accept by Boris Johnson and his group of anti-European Conservatives).

The EU representatives announced they did not receive any concrete proposal from the British Cabinet led by Boris Johnson regarding an alternative to backstop, the core element for negotiating a new agreement on Brexit.

The situation is stuck in the deadlock already settled for a while. Nothing is sure, although there are rumors that Boris Johnson would go as far as forcing a Blind Brexit,  speculating some blind spots in the law (issues which would be normal in a democracy based on tradition and trust in unwritten rules, in a country that has no Constitution… other than the medieval Magna Charta). Apparently, considering Boris Johnson’s personality, one can expect anything. In fact, things look clearer and this will be visible at the Conservative Party’s conference: the anti-European Conservatives lack a viable solution, and the party is divided. What is worse is that Britain lacks a political alternative, as the Labor Party is locked in a too lefty position to accede to power, especially due to its leader, Jeremy Corbyn[2].

Worse yet, maybe even worse than Brexit itself, is that Great Britain entered a profound political crisis which afflicts the foundations of the oldest European democracy. Brexit acted like an indicator showing deep divisions within British society, from the Irish and the Scottish problems, to the gap between left and right, and between the pro-European and the anti-European stances[3].

The situation is on the edge, any course of action is possible: a surprise proposition by Boris Johnson to the EU (although nobody knows what that would look like), the Brexit postponement requested by Boris Johnson himself (although he adamantly denies that), even a Blind Brexit (how would that dodge the Parliament decision?), or Boris Johnson’s resignation. The only certainty is that a period of deep domestic instability is looming over the United Kingdom, and that Brexit will not unfold smoothly, but will be a crisis itself. An important ally for us will focus on its domestic issues. We cannot dodge the question about the fate awaiting us, where is the free world steering to, when two basic democracies, the United States and the United Kingdom, face structural domestic problems ranging from democracy functionality to dangerously irresponsible populist leaders (feature usually reserved to leaders in less functional democracies).


IV. RUSSIA. Proposal for a memorandum on intermediate range missiles. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent letters to leaders of selected NATO nations and to NATO Secretary General where he proposes the establishment of a moratorium on intermediate range missile deployment. Although the proposal was hitherto intensely promoted by Russian diplomacy, this is the Kremlin’s first official step. NATO rejected this moratorium, arguing that it is absurd to have Russia, which already deployed such weapons, propose such moratorium. However, selected NATO nations, Germany included, chose to study the Russian proposal. Considering that Moscow continues to deny having deployed the SSC-8 missiles, the likely goal of this action is to delay NATO’s response by dividing the Alliance nations.

On September 25th, Russian newspaper Kommersant published the news about these letters, then the Russian press agency ITAR-TASS collected NATO and German official reactions. The very way Russian press operated this news shows Moscow’s intention to create discontent within NATO.

According to Russian media, President Vladimir Putin sent letters to unspecified NATO nations proposing to implement a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate and short-range missiles (Russian terminology for intermediate range missiles): "We... call to support our efforts by declaring the moratorium... as Russia does in the form of land-based medium-range missile deployment within the scope of NATO". The letter was sent not only to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but also to the EU Representative for foreign policy and security, Federica Mogherini. 

Practically, Russia asks NATO and certain NATO nations to support Russia’s efforts to declare moratorium on deploying these missiles in proximity of the adversary, the NATO countries, while Russia remains outside the adversary’s missile range of action. Moscow also proposes verification measures to secure a fair implementation of such moratorium. In a previous letter sent to Washington, Vladimir Putin had proposed a kind of moratorium as well, by which Russia and the United States would commit to refrain from deploying such missiles: Moscow would refrain from deploying medium-range missiles in a theater of operations, as long as the United States did the same.

It is worth mentioning that Russia sent this letter only to selected NATO nations, Germany amongst them. Thus, Russia divides NATO member nations in two categories: those countries worth receiving such proposal, and NATO member nations which do not, in Moscow’s eyes, qualify for this level (are unimportant or/and too close to the U.S.). This démarche is more dangerous when knowing Germany’s appeasing attitude, hoping to reach an understanding with Russia. However, Germany has discussed such unrealistic solution with Russia until the last moment of INF life.

Why is such moratorium false? First, NATO’s argument is perfectly valid: it is absurd to ask NATO to refrain from deploying its missiles (which NATO does not possess such missiles developed, let alone operationalized!), while Russia commits to refrain from deploying its missiles, although Moscow already has its missiles deployed! In fact, Russia requests the Alliance to expose its assets, counting on its word and on extremely difficult to implement verifying measures. Even if Russia withdrew its SSC-8 missiles from the European theater, it would need only a very short time to redeploy its missiles closer to NATO nations, while the Alliance would need a long time to bring similar missiles from over the Atlantic Ocean and operationalize them in the European theater. Then, what verifying measures are to be implemented, when Russia systematically breached the INF for years, which it still denies, when it is obvious that Moscow holds a secure superiority through its four SSC-8 missile battalions. 

Why are the SSC-8 missile so dangerous, if the Alliance does not find a response to measure and accepts Moscow’s poisonous apple? Russia already holds superiority in conventional forces, at least on the southern flank. A would-be Russian aggression with conventional forces against a NATO frontline nation has chances to succeed as long as it threatens all European NATO nations with SSC-8 missiles, while the Alliance does not possess missiles to mirror this threat. Implementing a moratorium in current circumstances would grant Russia enough strategic superiority to make possible such aggression against a NATO frontline nation. Practically, NATO’s nuclear shield is weakened, in the conditions where Russia already exercises the doctrine of “escalation (by nuclear strikes) for deescalating” (subjecting the countries to fait accompli, and making them accept an aggression, albeit minimal, even just a military provocation against a frontline NATO country).

Therefore, recent Russian military activities in Crimea, respectively in the Military Region South must be considered with concern: although a Russian aggression is politically very unlikely, considering the consequences, the framework making a Russian aggression militarily possible was already created. 


V. Developments to track this Week 40 of 2019.

► AUSTRIA. The parliamentary elections seem to be won by Sebastian Kurz’s  Conservatives. The question is whom they will form the future governing coalition with, either the far right or the center-left. Of course, it depends on the results by these groups, as the far right shows a come-back after the scandal which led to the fall of the government. But the left has its fair chances as well. The impact of these elections on the EU and Romania’s region is important.

► IRAN - UNITED STATES. The open conflict did not begin, but the crisis continues. For the moment, Iran dodged an American attack, albeit minor. By identifying Iran as the aggressor against Saudi Arabia, the large Europeans (UK, France and Germany) cannot play the balanced game anymore, because Tehran realizes that these Europeans cannot do almost anything for Iran. Encouraged by the fact that it escaped unpunished, Iran will likely focus on ways to pass the sanctions by, while persisting in its rhetoric and blackmailing with resuming its nuclear program. However, the fact that President Trump has domestic problems does not represent a guarantee, as Tehran thinks, that the United States will watch powerless the aggressive Iranian policy unfolding. Of course, Donald Trump does not want war, but he wants to reach the same result (capitulation of the Ayatollah regime, or at least a tighter nuclear deal), but using economic tools.   

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). President Igor Dodon’s speech at the UN General Assembly was a plea for Russia’s interests, from mentioning RM’s neutrality and simply ignoring the illegal presence of Russian troops on RM territory, to the plea for Russian language in a “multiethnic” state (a country with 82% Romanians and 4% Russians!). The tensions between ACUM and the PSRM (Moldovan Socialists) are increasing, but the situation shows much confusion, as the RM institutions are almost destroyed. Therefore, these tensions will likely not burst out in short term. It is interesting to watch the way the party and state mafia pyramids are restructuring (symptomatically, the justice reform cannot progress because… those in the justice system). It is also interesting to watch how many of RM institutions will be captured by PSRM, and how many will ACUM reinforce, depending on how much it wants, and it can. The main danger is still there: regardless how much Igor Dodon promises he will not implement federalization, he diligently works in service of the Kremlin, creating the prerequisites for such action, albeit disguised in the “special status” language.

► EUROPEAN UNION. The odyssey of hearings and voting the EU commissioners will continue with predictable results. It is not the final appointments that matter though, but the way member states will finish this process. Beyond domestic policy, it is important to notice that a nation’s prestige, along its state power, is the factor keeping that nation as a subject of international policy, or it keeps it in a simple object of international policy.

[1] CIA was forced to extract an important agent infiltrated into the Kremlin’s inner circle, probably because fears that President Trump might blow his cover. The action took place after the eye-to-eye meeting between Trump and Putin at Helsinki, and after the G20 reunion, when D. Trump went as far as confiscating the notes his translator had made.

[2] In absence of the anti-Boris Johnson opposition and Blind Brexit, the Labor Party would have no realistic policy to pursue.

[3] The supporters of the Anglo-Saxon world: the idea of an anti-Saxon market, united around the United States, which would rival the European market is not as unrealistic as it looks at first glance, although that would be an artificial divide of the free world.