MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

29 ianuarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 4 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA attempts to save the INF treaty.

II. UKRAINE. Yulia Timoshenko officially announced her candidacy.

III. FRANCE - GERMANY. The Aachen agreement.

IV. UNITED STATES. Congress limits the chances that US quits NATO.

V. GREECE. The Parliament passed the agreement with Macedonia.

VI. Developments to track this Week 5 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA attempts to save the INF treaty.

This past week, Russia and the West tried and failed to save the INF treaty. The US issued again a call on Russia to give up the SSC-8 missiles, and NATO initiated a high level meeting with Russian repesentatives on this issue. Russia persisted with its point of view regarding the SSC-8 being not in breach of INF, and it continued to attempt to link the anti-ballistic shield (its launching platforms) to INF.

The January 25th meeting in Brussels was initially meant at ambassador (Permanent Representative) level, but it went higher by having the Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov at the table. Two issues were discussed: the INF and Ukraine (NATO requested the release of arrested Ukrainian sailors). The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg declared the meeting "useful and professional", but, "on both of these issues, Allies and Russia fundamentally disagree".

Russia attempted to support its position by presenting the SSC-8 to the military attaches acredited to Moscow. Of course, the westerners did not attend, refusing to play Russia’s game.

On this background, American ELINT aircraft continued to conduct flights over Ukraine and the Black Sea without being intercepted by the Russian air force. To be noticed, a second American ELINT aircraft flight took place IVO Transnistria.

Also, the US Distroyer Donald Cook sailed to Georgia withoput being harrassed by Russian aircraft. Moscow’s restraint is more interesting in the Black Sea area, considering that, in the North, two American warships were pursued by Russian aircraft, and Finnish and Swedish aircraft intercepted Russian aircraft.

The loss of a strategic bomber Tu22M3 and two tactical bombers Su 34 in one week is an important damage to the Russian aviation, knowing that the pace of procurement, respectively modernization is by the dosens annually. As everywhere, it is the soldiers to pay the price of politicians’ ambition and irresponsibility, whether they do not become irresponsible themselves.

The Russo-American relations will be tested in the Venezuela crisis. Russia tries to portray itself as a global power[1] supporting President Nicolás Maduro, who also has a Praetorian Guard. Russia might lose because it lacks the capability to project its military or other kind of power as far as Venezuela, but it can complicate things. The Maduro regime has compromized itself long ago, for being a leftist populist bankruptcy-prone regime lead by a ”competent” bus-driver who has already produced a class of profiteers, and is isolated in the region.

In Venezuela, Russia has political and economic interests. The Kremlin’s political interests mean ”no dictatorship without Moscow support” from Syria to Sudan, and from North Korea to Venezuela, while ”the Russian economic support” always meant grabbing part of the oil fields. Russia’s show of force with strategic bombers flying in the Arctic might become a military operation of showing presence or interdiction by deploying such assets to Venezuela. However, this would not solve Maduro’s problems, because in Venezuela there is no danger of a foreign intervention which Moscow should jump to prevent. No, in Venezuela is looming the danger of a political conflict which might degenerate into civil war. More grave, Maduro has no answer to the economic crisis, in fact famine and general bankruptcy, to use properly the sentence word for an irresponsible governance.

II. UKRAINE. Yulia Timoshenko officially announced her candidacy.

On January 22nd, during a meeting of the Batkivshchyna (”Fatherland”) party, which she leads, Yulia Timoshenko announced she would run for the office of President of Ukraine at the presidential elections in March 2019. Although it was expected, this announcement marks the begining of pre-election period, when we expect clarifications regarding the important candidates.

Yulia Timoshenko is the main opponent of Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president, who did not announce his candidacy yet. Now, Y. Timoshenko leads the polls with 16%. At the launchig of her candidacy, she offered a patriotic message by sorrounding herself with veterans of the Donbass war. Yulia Timoshenko is supported by the ”Honorary Patriarch” Filaret, one of Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders, but also by the former president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, an outspoken critic of the current president.

 Yulia Timoshenko runs with a populist-patriotic stance, the best position for defeating P. Poroshenko. However, should she win the race, this approach is dreadful for the after-election period, because Y. Timoshenko voices even against the IMF agreements, those that saved Ukraine from bankruptcy. Regarding the patriotic feature of Timoshenko’s platform, this will likely match that of incumbent president, perhaps topping it by overleveraging the Ukrainian nationalism. This will bode well for Russia, which is prepared to exploit the situation in its advantage.

 The main problem now is who will advance to the second round of the presidential elections. Current polls show that Petro Poroshenko has 14% of the ballots, equal to Volodimir Zelenski, a popular screenwriter, actor and director of a Ukrainian film studio. Facing the low chances of pro-Russian candidates, such as Yuriy Boyko, Moscow might chose to support a candidate like V. Zelenski, just to preclude Petro Poroshenko getting to the second round.

Although Yulia Timoshenko states that she has a solution for the Donbass conflict, she refuses to provide details on her plans to reach that solution. This is dangerous though, because, considering previous mistakes (which she acknowledged but did not take the blame for), Yulia Timoshenko ”sows wind” but is not there ”to harvest storm”. In fact, before being pro-West, she made a fortune by importing gas from... Russia, and the Ukrainians cannot forget that Timoshenko has allegedly signed a blank contract of Ukraine with Russia, when the gas crisis reached its peak.

 The presidential race in Ukraine will generate political instability and a nationalistic atmospherics, favorable to a new crisis in Ukraine’s relations with Russia. The sentence in absentia against the former president Viktor Yanukovich to a 13 year time in prison is a strong start for an election campaign signaling nothing good. Even the possible result of reelecting P. Poroshenko, equal to stagnation, is the most stable solution. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians’ living standard keeps going South, and the cost of living is increasing each and every day.

III. FRANCE - GERMANY. The Aachen agreement.

By signing the new bilateral agreement in Aachen / Germany, on January 22nd, France and Germany are trying to yank the European project forward.

The two leaders have signed an agreement in continuation of the 1963 reconciliation agreement signed by the ”giants” Conrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaule. This Aached agreement is meant to revitalize the main European link, i.e. the Franco-German axis facing the euroskepticism and nationalism that challenge the European cohesion. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron showed that they are prepared to secure the leadership in continuing the European project. However, due to enlargement, the EU needs more than the two main engines, even for leadership.

Angela Merkel explained the rationale behind this renewal of the bilateral treaty leading to a larger integration and cooperation between the two countries: “We are doing this because we live in special times and because in these times, we need resolute, distinct, clear, forward-looking answers”. Then she noted that the agreement was signed in Aachen, which was home to Charlemagne, “the father of Europe”. E. Macron added quite explicit in defining the adversaries of this endeavour: “At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within ... Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward”.

However, the agreement is vague and does too little to push forward the economic reforms within the Euro Zone. From another point ov view, the two nations commit to a closer foreign and defense policy. In both directions, concrete steps are expected to follow. There is a certain disappointment though, for not advancing further into integration and reforms: the German side did not respond to President Macron’s reformist ideas, which are generated by French national interests. Anyway, the agreement shows what Franco-German relations mean: the linchpin of the European integration process.

The European leaders reacted first, with Donald Tusk mentioning that “today Europe needs a revival of faith in the meaning of solidarity and unity, and I want to believe that enhanced Franco-German cooperation will serve this objective”.    

The problem is that E. Macron faces tough hardships at home, and A. Merkel is no longer the ”promising” chancellor she once was. However, the Franco-German axis probably needs to curd around it a larger core of nations, strong enough to generate a critical mass necessary for stabilizing Europe after the UK splits, and also for continuing Europe’s integration.

The key element is Italy, which has criticized France as much as it could (being right though, in two areas: the French policy in Libya and France’s duplicity on migration). In absence of a third European economy, the first two will not be able to achieve much. The rest of European countries are the displeased on duty: a successful nation – Poland, a petty dictator who begins to lose control – Hungary, and some eastern rogue countries. It was good to have our President of Romania present at the ceremony in Aachen.

There are many things left to do, especially since the Germans are reluctant to France’s security projects in Africa (protecting French interests with European money!), as the French are reluctant to German security projects (much principle and not much in the field), but this is a difference in shape, not in contents. France will support Germany to get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and both nations will remain faithful to NATO. What is important, France is slowing down with the European army as alternative to NATO, after the US seems to lose interest in the Alliance, at least according to the US President. As we say in Romania, it is easier to see the threshold after you bump your forehead in the lintel.

One thing is obvious: the reconciliation between the two European powers is complete[2], and this is a solid foundation for Europe’s future. Italy will wake up too, after the economy teaches Rome a lesson, and its European path will continue. Stunningly, the Germans oppose French plans for a deeper financial integration of the Euro Zone for the reason of fearing the situation of... the Italian banks!

About Romania, it is probably the moment to shed the slogans (we are afraid of a ”Europe with multiple speeds”) and it is the moment to fairly answer the key questions: what do we want? and what can we achieve? We did not belong to the Charlemagne world, but we have been steered, in the modern age, in quick march towards western Europe by a westernized elite and a German dinasty. There is no alterantive to a quicker advance towards a united Europe through internal transformation.     

IV. UNITED STATES. Congress limits the chances that US quits NATO.

Fearing that President Donald Trump might move towards withdrawing the US from NATO, the House of Representatives, under Democrat control, passed a bill aiming at preventing such option. The bill was voted with an overwhelming majority: 357 to 22. It forbids the utilization of federal funds for withdrawing the US from NATO, thus demonstrating the tool available to the Congress: money. So, the US legislative does everything it can (block the funding) in order to oppose such act, unconceivable two years ago and, luckilly, still little probable. The House reaffirmed its support to NATO, to Montenegro’s integration into the Aliiance, and for a robust funding of the European Deterrence Initiative, by asking though, the other NATO member nations, to contribute with 2% of GDP to defense.

The legislative initiative comes on the backdrop of political tensions between US and the Europeans, in the first place due to President Trump’s stance of seeing NATO as an obsolele organization and the EU as a rival economic union that should disappear. D. Trump recurrently declares those, especially in private. However, President Trump’s latest statements are reassuring: "We will be with NATO one hundred percent, but as I told the countries, you have to step up”.

The law passed by the House adds to a similar law, previously passed by the Senate, which establishes the need of a two third majority in voting any decision by the White House to withdraw America from NATO. The two laws will likely be harmonized. However, the mere fact of passing such bills shows how vulnerable NATO became from within, by witnessing the US debate on the option to quit. The months-old question of why was the Senate law passed, is no longer valid; now we know that those who initiated that bill are today seriously concerned by the possibility that President D. Trump decide such step. The way he decided the withdrawal of US troops from Syria stands proof thereof.

Any efforts one might make to look the other way, Donald Trump proves to be ”a useful president” for Russia by toying with the US withdrawing from NATO. This objective would be Moscow’s golden dream because, should the Alliance disappear, Russia would have free reins to interfere into the former communist countries, the fragile democracies in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, even after the ”guard of generals” was put away, the persistent pressure of the Mueller investigation makes President Trump play in defense and conduct a foreign policy somewhat traditional.

For Romania it looks like bad news because it simultaneously hits both pillars of national security: NATO and the strategic partnership with the United States. At least at this level, those responsible ought to show clarity in policy (real adherence to our allies, even when they criticize us) and effectiveness in the military domain: not the simple earmarking of 2% of GDP for defense budget is the target, but transforming this money into operationalized armament systems able to make us capable of defending ourselves and contributing to the defense of the Alliance.

V. GREECE. The Parliament passed the agreement with Macedonia.

 On January 25th, the Greek Parliament approved by a small margin (153 to 146) the Prespa agreement on renaming of neighboring Macedonia. Quite close to the truth, the Prime-Minister Alexis Tsipras declared in a tweet he posted after the vote: "Today is a historic day, today we write a new page for the Balkans. The hatred of nationalism, dispute and conflict will be replaced by friendship, peace and cooperation". Only the socialist Macedonian Prime-Minister, Zoran Zaev was happier than A. Tsipras: "Congratulations my friend, Alexis Tsipras. Together with our peoples we reached a historical victory. Long live the Prespa Agreement! For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!" Rather dramatic one might say, but inspirational of great hopes for the region.

The European leaders were the first to congratulate the two parties for this success. Donald Tusk went as far as naming the achievement ”mission impossible”: "They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good". Well, it is not entirely like that, both parties are only lucky to cross a pro-European period, when the advantages offered by Brussels are bigger than the disadvantages. In the same time, the EU does not require these elites to renounce the group interests (of course, petty interests – money, power and privileges), just to allow their nations a minimal progress by guaranteeing the rule of law. The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg sent a clear message to the two countries: ”I welcome today’s ratification in the Greek Parliament of the Prespa agreement, an important contribution to the stability and prosperity of the whole region. I look forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO”.

Such reaction is natural because the West won a geopolitical battle against Russia, who opposed this agreement only because it does not want the integration of Balkan nations into NATO, or into the EU. Regarding the EU though, Russia is more flexible, because it wants to benefit from it’s ally, Serbia’s integration into the EU (but in Moscow’s terms, which is not going to happen). Serbia will only reach the EU when the Serbian people is pro-European. We are not speaking here about the Serbian elites with deep roots in the past, and no chance to become truely pro-European.

There is a great victory for the West here, with Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina sorrounded by a sanitary belt of NATO and future EU nations. And we are talking about Serbia – the country ”with multiple orientations”, ergo with none, Kosovo – ”the country which is not a country yet”, and Bosnia-Herzegovina – ”the country which might cease to become a country” (and this is not to blame only on Russia and Miroslav Dodik, see Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration in Zagreb). The difficulties are yet to come though, see the developments in Bulgaria and Romania: the EU will become more cautious, after the lesson about those enthusiastically integrated into NATO and EU. Russia’s negative reaction is irrelevant, because Russia is just a destabilizing factor in the Balkans, with its policy of blocking the stabilizing extension of NATO and EU in the region, let alone that Moscow cannot and does not want to really support the Balkan countries.

Of course, both Greece and Macedonia had staunch domestic opposition by nationalists supported by strong parties, now in opposition. Those made money by promoting sheer nationalism, with no other objective that to bring a corrupt elite to power. A radical left party was needed in Greece to terminate the plutocracy, and socialists were needed in Macedonia to overcome the nationalists.

Eventually, Greece solved a security problem - the North is now secure, and the centuries-old problem remains – Turkey, in the East. In the same time, North Macedonia has now the road open towards a Euro-Atlantic future. For us in Romania it is OK, the South our more stable, especially since Belgrade cannot ignore the progress around Serbia. Even when the EU has other concerns than the Balkans, these developments provide comfort.

VI. Developments to track this Week 5 of 2019.

  • INF. We have entered the decisive week 5 of 2019, and the final countdown starts on February 2nd: the US begins the INF withdrawal procedures, which will take six months. A last mediation attempt might be made by Germany, with its Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas to pay a visit to Washington, after having visited Moscow. Maintaining INF would be a great victory for the European security but keeping INF for the price of questioning the US anti-ballistic shield would be a loss, at least surely for Romania.
  • UNITED STATES - RUSSIA. The crisis in Venezuela will appear as a test not only regarding the Russo-American relations, but also for the direction where the world order is going. The US remembered the traditional principles of its foreign policy, as Mike Pompeo made references to democracy and human rights. Will the US step back in Latin America as it did in the Middle East? The answer is ”No”, and only the way US will act is left to be seen, not the end.
  • UNITED KINGDOM  will likely see another vote in the Parliament on the Brexit agreement. Although the Parliament took measures to make Brexit hard to happen, it cannot prevent it, and so UK steers towards the most difficult situation: Blind Brexit plus limitations on what the Cabinet can do to soften the shock (especially on taxes). Teresa May asks Brussels for flexibility regarding the backstop, and the answer seems to be a ”Yes” too far to reach. The Queen calls the politicians to orders, but the deadline gets closer and closer. There is rumor about new measures in the Parliament to make Brexit impossible, about a determined Teresa May in gaining concessions from the Europeans, at the necessary extent for passing the agreement in the Parliament, but also about postponing the divorce. The following vote in the Parliament has little chances of success, although slightly higher than the first time. We can only look how the Brits’ and our future is gambled in confusion, which is not typical for the British.
  • SYRIA. Israel admitted the air attack on Iranian objectives in Syria. The Iranian deterrence attempt, by launching ballistic missiles on the Golan Heights, failed as Israel reacted by ample air strikes. Russia reacted tardily and moderate. In fact, the direct war between Israel and Iran (along with its ally – Hezbollah) already started, and Syria (and Lebanon in perspective) are only the stage for this war. Israel will likely continue both for objective reasons (it cannot allow Iran to reach its doorstep, especially with the US withdrawing) and for domestic political reasons (Benjamin Netanyahu is in full election campaign). Thus, what will be the reaction by Iran, who has its own problems (the sanctions) and does not seem open to ”harvest the fruit” of the instability it has produced?

The other big problem, the way Russia and Turkey agree or rather do not agree has wider regional effects. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow did not pan out, because the ”security zone” requested by Ankara was not accepted by Moscow. Russia also raised the issue of Idlib: should Turkey fail to control / eliminate the jihadists, Russia is prepared to solve the problem by a new offensive. Thus, the US withdrawal does not solve the victors’ worries, with so divergent interests, ranging from eliminating the Syrian Kurds as a perceived threat, to extending Bashar al-Assad’s control over an area of Syria as large as possible.


[1] Even offering itself as mediator between the power in Caracas and the opposition.

[2] A short lesson on reconciliation surfaces where the true reconciliation occurred, and the nationalists cannot find their place: Marine Le Pen’s statement that Macron would give Germany the control over Alsace sparked only smiles in the French public. In these circumstances, what would be the basis of the Romanian - Hungarian friendship so praised by the Romanian Foreign Minister in Brussels, when Budapest only talks against Trianon, and about Romania into the Visegrad Group not a word. Ok, we understand friendship, but we should know what’s in for us, what is the frienship based on, who gives what and who receives what. We really want a true friendship, founded on principles, transparent and balanced for both peoples, a friendship to serve the interests of both Romanian and Hungarian interests.