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08 octombrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 40 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. UKRAINE. Kyiv accepts the Steinmeier solution. II. AUSTRIA. Sebastian Kurz’s Conservatives come back to power. III. UNITED STATES - EUROPE. The American Secretary of State tours Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Northern Macedonia. IV. UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson sends to Brussels his proposals for a new agreement with the European Union. V. Developments to track this Week 41 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. UKRAINE. Kyiv accepts the “Steinmeier formula”.

On October 1st, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that Ukraine accepted the “Steinmeier Formula” and signed an agreement with Russia and the OSCE in that respect. This agreement stipulates provisions for organizing local elections in the eastern Ukrainian separatist territories. President Zelenskiy stated that this agreement opens the path to establishing peace in the region. He later added that elections will only occur after all armed formations left the region, and Kyiv gets control on Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Basically, Ukraine just accepted elections in the separatist territories. Immediately, signs of an across-the-table disagreement appeared in Kyiv, especially from the opposition and the Ukrainian nationalists. Then, Zelenskiy brought details regarding the way elections would be organized, by pointing at the core element of Russian force withdrawal: “There cannot be and will not be elections held at gunpoint… There will be no capitulation". Zelenskiy also declared that a date for a future Normandy format meeting was to be decided soon. He promised he would keep his written commitment that Russia, respectively Russia’s armed formations would leave the Donbass region, and that Ukraine would resume control of its border with Russia.

According to the “Steinmeier Formula” - a roadmap to achieve peace in the region, proposed by the former German foreign minister, the separatist regions will get a special status, but this only after OSCE assesses that elections were free and fair.

The opposition reacted negatively: former president Petro Poroshenko criticized the agreement for legitimizing the Moscow controlled separatists. Ukrainian nationalists also reacted negatively: they began protests with accusations going as far as “treason” and “capitulation”. However, many Ukrainians probably do not understand yet what Kyiv has committed to, and what the “Steinmeier Formula” really means.

Of course, Moscow saluted the signing of such agreement: President Vladimir Putin encouraged Zelenskiy to step on the road leading to peace. Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that “Steinmeier Formula” is the only way to implement the Minsk Agreements. Remarkably, the Kremlin representatives did not announce yet the date for the future Normandy format reunion which they hinged on Kyiv’s acceptance of the “Steinmeier Formula”. Worse, they only referred to the elections being accepted by Ukraine, with no reference to the conditions Zelenskiy presented: the withdrawal of all armed formations and restoring the control on the Russo-Ukrainian frontier to Kyiv.

In the field, the military disengagement began at Stanytsya Luhanska, one of the six border-crossing points. Soon, Russia and Ukraine will also exchange the remainder of war prisoners they hold.

France and Germany also saluted the agreement, but the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, specified that it was too soon to talk about lifting the sanctions on Russia. The United States also supported the agreement and insisted on the political will that both parties need for implementing the Minsk Agreements.

By accepting the “Steinmeier Formula” for implementing the Minsk Agreements, President Zelenskiy made an important and risky step. Subjected to western pressure, but also to pressure generated by his own promise to bring peace, he accepted a dangerous option which mainly includes elections in the separatist region and establishing a special status for Donbass, in the conditions where Ukraine is not sure of taking control of its territory beforehand.

Russia is close to reach its goal – politic control over Ukraine through the separatists, which entails at least blocking Ukraine’s path to NATO and the EU. However, Moscow still needs to cross a tricky bridge: Kyiv’s acceptance (together with France and Germany, who speak on behalf of the EU) of the Kremlin’s maneuver to legitimize the separatist through OSCE recognized elections, maybe without either having Russian forces withdrawn, or having the separatist paramilitary forces dissolved. Zelenskiy’s conditions show he is not ready do yield to Moscow, although he pursues peace.

Three issues remain crucial: 1) the conditions in which Kyiv accepts elections in Donbass (how much control will Kyiv leave to Russia in the region, before elections); 2) recognition by OSCE of elections organized in so unclear conditions; 3) the contents of the future Donbass special status (where Moscow seeks to impose the separatist right of veto over Kyiv’s domestic and foreign policy). Notably, the “Steinmeier Formula” is not the only way to implement the Minsk Agreements, but a way decisively profiting Russia, by setting the elections and special status (through Ukraine’s political and diplomatic concessions) unnaturally before military disengagement (cancellation of Russia’s military control over the region, which would imply Russian force withdrawal, dissolving the separatist paramilitary forces, and Kyiv’s control on the border, as prerequisites for reintegrating the separatist region back into Ukraine).

Zelenskiy embarked on a dangerously risky trip, only for giving peace a chance. Although he refers to “the need to apply Ukrainian legislation”, he put himself in the hands of Russia and the Franco-Germans. The only hope is that France and Germany will impose Russia a behavior in the Minsk Agreement and international law spirit and letter. This is an illusion, both because Russia started the aggression in Donbass precisely for bringing Ukraine “closer” (under its control), and because the Franco-Germans do not see a tragedy in establishing a sanitary corridor between NATO / EU and Russia (i.e. Ukraine and Moldova). Worse, the position of United States – the “rock” beneath the security of this eastern area, is no longer as clear under Trump Administration. In fact, Russia will leave the Franco-Germans to decide the “form”, then the Kremlin will step in to decide the “contents” [1], with Moscow’s consistently pursued objective to restore its sphere of influence. Hard times are coming, Russia might get by diplomacy what it was not able to get by military means, although nobody in the west is ready to offer Ukraine’s sovereignty for the sake of “bringing back” the Kremlin along the West (whatever that would mean for an ever anti-western Russia).

Therefore, the most likely course of action is miring the Steinmeier roadmap at some point, with each party getting a bit of what it wanted, but not everything: Russia gets rid of part of the sanctions, and it has the separatists recognized by Kyiv on an equal footing at the negotiating table; Ukraine gets rid of the danger of a war with Russia, but without recovering its separatist territories, and with limited foreign policy options (forget NATO and EU); France and Germany can claim to be instrumental in bringing peace in Ukraine, and relaunch their economic and political relations with Russia. For the moment, let’s watch what concessions the Kremlin requests just for approving a meeting in Normandy format, and the way Zelenskiy will cope with the multifold pressure it faces, especially the domestic pressure, after having yielded rather much to Moscow.


II. AUSTRIA. Sebastian Kurz’s Conservatives come back to power.

On September 30rd, the Popular Party (OVP - the Conservatives led by Sebastian Kurz) won the early parliamentary elections with 34.55% of the votes. Sebastian Kurz came back in force after being forced to resign, following the scandal regarding illegal links of his governing partners, the Liberty Party  (FPO – extreme right) to Russia.

The big loser was the very far right party, FPO, which went down to 16%, thus paying the price of the scandals featuring its former leader, Heinz-Christian Strache. The main opposition party, SPO (the Social-Democrats) also got bad results, with only 21.8% (a 5.1% drop). The elections mark the rise of two parties – the Greens (Ecologists), who rose to a stunningly 14%, and the NEOS (Liberals), with 7.8%.

Although the Austrian right-wing won the elections by far, Sebastian Kurz’s Populars cannot govern by themselves. They need to form a coalition and drop some of the political objectives Kurz presented in the electoral campaign. A grand coalition with the center left SPO is out of the question, due to the big ideological gap, but also because the SPO drop. Therefore, Sebastian Kurz has two governing options: either together with the Ecologists and the Liberals, or again with the far right, the FPO.

The first option is more likely, although many obstacles are to be overcome. Sebastian Kurz presented the economic issues as first objective of his future governing coalition, although it is common knowledge that, in fact, the main problems are migration and environment. The OVP tough position on migration is rejected by the Ecologists, especially by their left wing, while the Ecologists’ maximal demands are rejected by the OVP. However, there is a common base which allows not only opening negotiations, but also reaching a governing coalition. If the negotiations pan out, OVP will very likely request bringing the Liberals (NEOS) into the coalition, and those will provide a stronger and pragmatic center anchor to such would-be future coalition.

The less likely governing option is to resurrect the former OVP- FPO coalition. Although mathematically possible, OVP cannot risk such arrangement unless the first option fails, given the previous record and the danger of sliding from center-right to the extreme right. In fact, after importing the tough position against migration from FPO, the OVP cannot see a reason to further entangle with such uncomfortable partner. However, although the FPO showed the intention to remain in opposition, Heinz-Christian Strache’s resignation increases the chances of a new OVP – FPO coalition.

The problems are immigration and environment, although Kurz pointed at economy in order to set a negotiating calendar focused on this issue and gain a larger flexibility with the Greens. Beyond negotiations on economy, solutions on immigration and environment will make the real stake for forming a new governing coalition in Vienna. They will also indicate the way on the whole Germanic space will take for these issues.

Notably, Russia’s influence in Austria goes downhill, even in the little likely event of having the far right in power again.

Austria’s role in Central Europe is to connect the German space with central-eastern Europe, including Romania[2]. Therefore, for Romania, is important to have a govern in Austria with a more center political orientation, and more balanced in decisions (especially in the thorny issues, such as migration and economy (energy and finance).


III. UNITED STATES - EUROPE. The American Secretary of State tours Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Northern Macedonia.

Mike Pompeo’s journey was aimed at coordinating with two important allies, Italy and Greece, as well as encouraging Montenegro and Northern Macedonia, newly accepted into NATO.

In Rome, the visit focused on continuing good bilateral relations with the new Italian government, as Italy is one of the most faithful allies of the United States under Trump Administration. Italy might prove to be too faithful though, as Rome accepted to involve its intelligence agencies in the investigation opened by the U.S. General Attorney. This investigation targeted the origins of accusations against Trump campaign team about the alleged collusion with Russia in the election campaign. In another file, Italy asked the U.S. support in solving the civil war in Libya, a vital issue for Rome, considering its effect – the impossibility to control illegal migration. In his turn, Mike Pompeo warned about implementing the G5 technology with the Chinese IT giant Huawei, specifying: “We want to be a partner of Italy but not to the detriment of American national security”. Economic issues were also discussed, considering the recent tariffs imposed by the United States on European products, whereby Italy expressed concerns.

In Athens, Mike Pompeo focused on security, i.e. the problems caused by Turkey, who began drilling in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus. The U.S. Secretary of State has noticed that the relationship between Greece and the United States “has truly never been stronger”, and he is confident that Greece can be a pillar of security in the region. Mike Pompeo warned Turkey about the drillings it intends to conduct in the EEZ of Cyprus. Mentioning that “there are rules in exploring energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea”, he called on Turkey to refrain from engaging in drilling activities that are “illegal” and “unacceptable”. Pompeo added: “We’ve made clear that operations in international waters are governed by a set of rules. We’ve told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable, and we’ll continue to take diplomatic actions to... ensure that lawful activity takes place… No country can hold Europe hostage”.  U.S. support to Greece and Cyprus comes in a tensed moment, when Turkey starts drilling in the Cypriot EEZ ignoring their protests, which is a blatant breach of Cyprus’s sovereignty. Mike Pompeo also warned Greece about Chinese investments in infrastructure.

In Montenegro and Northern Macedonia, discussions focused on the U.S. support for solidly integrating these nations into NATO, but also on forestalling Russian actions to hamper this process. United States and Montenegro announced the drafting of a contract for 36 million USD worth armament: light tactical vehicles that the government in Podgorica wants to purchase from U.S. Also in Montenegro, Mike Pompeo highlighted the bilateral cooperation in cyber security and intelligence, which led to thwarting Russian aggressions. In Skopje, Pompeo stated that Washington is expecting Northern Macedonia to become NATO member before the end of this year. He warned though about Russian hybrid aggressions (the “trolls”), as well as about, again, the danger of Chinese investments in infrastructure. 

Mike Pompeo’s long-awaited tour in the Western Balkans reiterated the traditional American policy to support the Euro-Atlantic integration of nations of this region by countering Russian efforts to prevent such integration from happening. However, this support comes in package with warnings about Chinese investments in infrastructure. Washington’s good relations with two southern European allies, Italy and Greece, were also reaffirmed. One should notice that the United States, traditionally balanced between Greece and Turkey, now credits Greece for being a faithful ally, while Turkey already conducts “its own” policy. However, Washington compensated by offering to mediate between the two countries.

Mike Pompeo’s recent trip to southern Europe is important also because current Greco-Turkish tensions increase, and the EU might decide to start negotiations to integrate Northern Macedonia, following the compromise proposed by Germany. It is important that U.S. continues the strategy to stabilize this region by strengthening the integration of these nations into NATO and forestalling Russia’s “peripheral” strategy, as it is also important that Washington continues its policy to keep the Greco-Turkish tensions under control.


IV. UNITED KINGDOM. Boris Johnson sends to Brussels his proposals for a new agreement with the European Union. 

On October 2nd, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally produced his proposal to change the EU – UK agreement by an alternative to backstop. London proposes to replace backstop by a series of measures including custom control posts established in vicinity of the Irish border, not along the border. Basically, Boris Johnson’s wonder-solution means a split between the European Single Market and a European common customs space, with Northern Ireland remaining inside the European Single Market, but not inside the common customs space. Boris Johnson’s strong argument is that a customs barrier cannot be established inside the United Kingdom, respectively between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain.

Even more, Boris Johnson proposes that Northern Ireland institutions be granted the power to decide on leaving the EU Single Market. Notable, these Northern Ireland institutions are not functional due to huge differences between unionists and republicans, respectively between protestants and Catholics. Of course, the unionist party, DUP, agrees (they are part of Boris Johnson’s governing coalition), but the republicans’ reaction, respectively Ireland’s, is negative.

Brussels’s reaction was initially cautious, and later became more and more negative, highlighting that London’s proposal breaches basic European principles and afflicts stability at the Irish border.

Boris Johnson asked Brussels to compromise by accepting his proposals, or else Britain would leave the EU on October 31st without any agreement. How Boris Johnson can do that without approval from the UK Parliament, is not known. 

Very likely, Boris Johnson counts on Brussels to yield under time pressure. Otherwise, Boris Johnson would blame the EU for failing the negotiations and throwing Britain out of the EU without an agreement. Indeed, October 9th, when the EU must take the political decision on the negotiation result is very soon (it is not worth calling it “a new agreement” yet, because such outcome is unlikely). It seems that now, for Boris Johnson, being able to cast the blame on Brussels for failure becomes more important than finding a real solution.

In fact, Boris Johnson considers (“over his dead body”) the option of failing to reach a new agreement with Brussels, but also the impossibility of a Blind Brexit, and he is now preparing for a new postponement (there is information he is considering such option).

The EU faces a tough dilemma: either Brussels yields to Boris Johnson’s solution, or it is made responsible for the negotiation failure. The latter course of action would lead to an increase of anti-Europeanism in the U.K., exactly what Boris Johnson needs, in view of future elections. But Brussels must accept a reality: U.K. cannot be kept in by force, and the EU neither can afflict Britain’s sovereignty for an undetermined period (the inner customs in Britain).

Most likely, another phase of false hopes follows. Then, perhaps failure in negotiations between the EU and U.K., which can only afflict the European – British relations.


V. Developments to track this Week 41 of 2019.

► UNITED STATES. The impeachment related investigation continues, President Donald Trump is unleashed, and the Democrats are in quest of evidence to incriminate Trump. More and more countries are involved, from Ukraine to Australia, and from Italy to China. Romania is promised too, as far as Rudolf Giuliani claims. The president openly assumes the requests made to Ukraine and China, to open investigations on Joe Biden’s son. Trump already pointed out that Joe Biden and his son are corrupt. The Democrats continue to seek incriminating evidence regarding the alleged action of hinging United States foreign policy interactions with these nations, to support by their governments in incriminating Donald Trump’s currently main political adversary, Joe Biden. In this respect, the Democrats call several State Department and intelligence officials to answer to the investigation commission. Hitherto, the Democrats did not find something solid, but they continue to search. With an unleashed president, with the Democrats in hot quest, and the Republicans sturdy to defend the President Trump, the United States is totally focused on domestic politics. In these circumstances, America’s adversaries will act. These moves must be closely watched, from Russia to North Korea, and from Iran to China. In the Gulf, the Saudis already realized that President Trump will not risk a war with Iran to defend Saudi Arabia and Riyadh is looking for solutions to open negotiations with Tehran.

► TURKEY. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is decided to act decisively, he lost patience with both the United States and the European Union. Three big problems will soon burst out: 1) Turkey threatens to send troops east of the Euphrates River in Syria, thus risking a war against Syrian Kurds, because Ankara is not happy with the way the U.S. implements the Security Zone established in northern Syria, along the border. This would bring Turkey on a collision course with the United States; 2) Turkey begins drilling in the EEZ of Cyprus, thus risking to increase tensions with Greece, but also with the EU; 3) Turkey blackmails the EU with the migration issue by reducing its control on the migrant wave towards Greece. Sooner or later, these problems will burst out, with important negative impact on stability and security in eastern Mediterranean, as well as on Turkey’s relations with the West.

[1] Does anybody remember the “six-point plan”, President Sarkozy’s success, and what it stipulated? Does anybody notice current realities, with Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia integrated into Russia, to compare these realities with the agreement wording? Maybe just the Georgians, but even they do not believe they still have a chance to be accepted into NATO or the EU. In Georgia, Russia partially achieved its objective. Russia will also achieve it, also partially, or perhaps better, in Ukraine? The answer is not in Moscow, but in Paris, Berlin and Washington.

[2] Strategic segments of Romania’s economy are no longer under full Romanian government control, which makes Romanian economy dependent on political-economic decisions of other governments. Also Romania’s financial system does not rely on Romanian banks. We only talk about decision, not against involving foreign capital in economy. For comparison, the Transylvanian middle class, which forged the Great Union in 1918, rose on a network of Romanian banks in the period before the First World War.