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06 octombrie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 40 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The European Council.II. BELARUS. Finally, the West established some sanctions. III. FRANCE / UNITED STATES / EUROPE. Emmanuel Macron visits the Baltic States, and Mike Pompeo visits Greece and Italy.IV. ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN. The war continues in Nagorno-Karabakh.V. Developments to track this Week 41of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The European Council. 

Considering Charles Michel’s ego, this (October 1st to 2nd) European Council was special indeed. This reunion was supposed to take decisions regarding the crisis in Belarus and Turkey’s actions in Eastern Mediterranean. Forced by the political realities in Belarus and Russia’s role in this crisis, the Europeans finally decided to impose limited  sanctions against Minsk authorities. Regarding Turkey, the Cypriot conundrum was cleared, and a roadmap was drawn: EU warned Ankara about future sanctions (the stick), and hinted to some incentives (the carrot), as well as a grace period (until December), thus ending the blurry era of unspecified threats. European Union’s soft approach does not bode well for Brussels considering its relations with the two aggressive powers – Russia, with its turf, and Turkey, with its own action area. Therefore, the European Union seems to be past the dilemma of balancing the need for a principled reaction with the constraint of conducting a ‘realpolitik’. Ankara became a crisis amplifier, if not a crisis generator, while Moscow follows its imperial whims inside its playground, knowing it cannot be held accountable, regardless its behavior (as the crisis in Belarus and the Navalny case prove[1]). ‘The pink elephant’ was the conflict between European institutions (Parliament and Commission) on one side, and the Polish and Hungarian right-wing regimes, on the other side, regarding Brussels’ (supported by the German presidency) intention to hinge the EU post-crisis economic support on the respect for the rule of law. Charles Michel offered his hope that current obstacles will be overcome. However, that will not be very simple because these regimes are not prepared to shed either their habits of breaching the rule of law (which secure their constituencies), or European money which were used, frankly, for building these regimes (Viktor Orbán was the champion in that respect, as Budapest leads the list of EU money recipients with questionable spending). 

Finally, the European Union adopted measures against Belarus leadership, namely sanctions against fourty Belarusians held accountable for forging the election results and for participation in repression actions, yet not against dictator Lukashenka himself. This likely means that EU avoids burning all bridges to the dictator in Minsk, hoping that a political dialogue between Lukashenka and Belarusian opposition, sometimes later, facilitated by Western participation, remains possible. In response, Minsk has announced it considers severing diplomatic relations with the EU, which he will not do. Remarkably, not recognizing Lukashenka as president is not explicitly written in the reunion communiqué, although it was verbally mentioned by many European officials. This speaks volumes about the EU dilemma of being caught between what it should do, and what it can do. 

Regarding Turkey, the Europeans promised Cyprus a concrete action plan meant to make possible the lifting of sanctions against Belarus leadership. Cyprus had requested sanctions to be automatically established if Turkey persists in drilling in Cypriot waters, yet Cyprus only obtained a strong blame on Turkish actions, a call to dialogue, and the threat with sanctions, “should unilateral actions and provocations” continue before the EU leader reunion scheduled for December 10th - 11th. This warning comes with incentives: EU promised it would update its customs agreement with Turkey, will analyze the issue of granting visa perks to Ankara, and will continue its cooperation with Ankara on migration (practically, it spells further payments to Turkey, as Ankara had accused EU for failing to fulfill the promises made in the 2016 agreement, but forgetting the latest migration crisis, which Turkey started). Ankara rejected the EU warning as “not constructive”. Unofficially, Ankara suggested it would not bend to this warning but, as shown in Turkey’s latest actions conducted in waters claimed by Greece, Recep Erdoğan cannot afford ignoring this warning, especially since France will raise at EU level also the issue of Turkey’s involvement in the current war in the Caucasus (especially using Syrian jihadist warriors).

In the Navalny case, Germany said it was still waiting for OPCW investigation results, then it would consult with the other EU nations on measures needed to be decided against Russia. On September 3rd, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced that Berlin would request European sanctions against Russia in the case of opponent Aleksey Navalny case of criminal poisoning with a nerve agent forbidden by international agreements. In circumstances where Moscow failed to answer to requests raised by Germany, France, and other Western countries for explanations on this case, Heiko Maas declared “I am convinced that there will be no longer any way around sanctions”, and “sanctions must always be targeted and proportionate. But such a grave violation of the International Chemical Weapons Convention cannot be left unanswered. On this, we’re united in Europe”. European leaders will discuss this problem during the October 15th – 16th Summit. On the line launched by Angela Merkel, Maas suggested that, if European (German, French, and Swedish) lab results are confirmed by the OPCW, EU will generate a clear response. Maas suggested that would-be sanctions will not include measures against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and referred to the number of European jobs that might be lost on this course of action. The European Council reunion also discussed China, and Angela Merkel concluded by summarizing the EU position regarding a trade agreement: “Barriers to investing in China are still too high, need reciprocity. Any agreement between China and the European Union on investment has to involve reciprocity, with European companies enjoying the same freedoms to invest in China as China's do in Europe”.


II. BELARUS. Finally, the West established some sanctions.

The crisis in Belarus is already well rooted, for the next period. President Aleksandr Lukashenka consolidated his position, although street protests continue. The dictator stabilized the situation, with economic support from Russia. Also, decisively, he benefitted the ‘protective screen’ that Moscow built around Lukashenka’s regime, through political-diplomatic and military support. Russia’s political and diplomatic support meant preventing the West from interfering to facilitate a dialogue between the power and the opposition, which might have grown into a real threat for the dictator. Moscow’s military support meant a standing military presence, a living proof of the veiled threat that, should the dictatorship be jeopardized, not necessarily the dictator himself, Moscow is ready to step in militarily. Finally, the West established some sanctions. The United Kingdom and Canada, followed by EU and the United States, decided to sanction several officials of Lukashenka regime (only the first two included the dictator on the blacklist). Not recognizing Lukashenka as president remained at declaration level, only Lithuania went for a resolution in the parliament. Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya maintains a dialogue with the Westerners, but this does not change the force ratio, she is just a symbol in exile. The situation arrived to the question not whether Lukashenka falls (unlike his dictatorship, he has no secure future), but when the protests dwindle, because the active force of Belarusian society cannot continue fighting in isolation (there is less and less information from Belarus). The Belarusians find out the hard way, and at the expense of their children, what it means to accept as leader, by voting, a post-Soviet dictator who implicitly tosses the country to Putinist Russia’s sphere of influence: you cannot escape Moscow’s grasp, no matter what you vote.

Lukashenka’s regime and Russia closely cooperate for ending the crisis in their terms. During an October 2nd phone discussion between Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin, "Overall, the mutual intention to keep strengthening the alliance between Russia and Belarus was reaffirmed." Also, "it was underlined with pleasure that the governments, ministries and agencies of the two states are taking specific steps to keep strengthening bilateral cooperation in all spheres, including inter-regional ties". Translated, everything proceeds according to plan for consolidating Lukashenka’s dictatorship, he pays Russian support with Belarisian state integration into Russia. Therefore, emphasis was placed on implementation of agreements reached during their meeting in Sochi, and Putin is sure that “problems in Belarus will be solved soon”.

Apparently, the opposition made progress, but only at symbolic level, with no direct influence on the situation. The opposition exiled leader, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya met French President Emmanuel Macron and will soon travel to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, the European leaders know that she is only a symbolic leader in exile, with little participation in the large mechanisms, since the Belarusian opposition is in danger of being crushed by the power. In addition, Tsikhanouskaya is just part of a solution improvised by the opposition, after Lukashenka’s counter-candidates were arrested (this past Sunday, 317 protesters were arrested in Belarus, mainly in Minsk). Among the arrested candidates, at least one is friend to Moscow; it seems that Putin has asked Lukashenka about that person, an indication that Moscow is also preparing a dialogue between the power in Minsk and ‘Russia’s own Belarusian opposition’.   

Emmanuel Macron has declared that the Europeans will try to mediate in the Belarusian crisis, and OSCE is the best mediation framework. After having established limited sanctions, the West has no other solution than OSCE mediation. Following the good tradition of French / German intervention in Russia’s backyard, this will fail too. These mediations were necessary for providing the illusion of a way leading to stopping the crisis, but they were not sufficient for a fair resolution. This mediation only created the international framework where Moscow’s solution was implemented: in Georgia, the agreement ended the war, but Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia were severed from Georgia and integrated into Russia’s rule, and in Ukraine the war diminished in violence after the Minsk agreements, but the conflict is not over, as Russia seeks to impose its political solution. Perhaps this is how the crisis in Belarus will end too, although Russia cannot afford to accept even this minimal OSCE implication. The only hurdle to hamper Putin and Lukashenka’s plans is the Belarusian resistance, isolated and subjected to a repression too little visible from abroad.


III. FRANCE / UNITED STATES / EUROPE. Emmanuel Macron visits the Baltic States, and Mike Pompeo visits Greece and Italy.

Regardless how different they were, the two journeys mainly touched a single issue, America’s role in Europe: facing current threats and challenges, can Europe continue by itself, or it remains stuck to the United States, although Washington behaves ‘less global’? Macron failed to win the Baltics at his side using the call for a Europe engaged in strategic dialogue with Russia and sovereign in rapport to the U.S. Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo offered American support for Greece at the expense of Turkey, which is the main element negatively perceived by Ankara. However, after the Pope’s refusal to meet him, Mike Pompeo learned that the United States, although highly necessary to the Europeans, is no longer ‘first’ (as it once used to be, when U.S.  was not claiming this position), it was only one of the important nations, with serious problems at home (it seems that the Pope chose not to be used in the ongoing election process in the United States). Although both trends are dangerous, they do not represent a crucial threat to the transatlantic relation. This was proved by Macron’s visit to French troops deployed to the Baltic countries for protecting those peoples against the would-be partner in a strategic dialogue, and by Pompeo’s visit to Athens in view of consolidating military relations with an European country, thus contributing to Europe’s defense.

Mike Pompeo’s September 30th visit to Athens reflected the good Greco-American relations, respectively the military support that United States offers to Greece. The message is that, between Athens and Ankara, Washington tilted the balance in favor of the former. Signaling a chill in Washington’s relations with Ankara, Pompeo praised the Greco - American relations, and described the base in Crete Island as being important for American warships, and “showcasing the strongest military relationship in Europe, a pillar of stability in the eastern Mediterranean”. This closer relation with Greece takes place during the cooling in U.S. – Turkey relations, where the future of Incirlik Base is questioned. Greece will build a second base in Crete and will extend the Souda Bay naval base. Mike Pompeo pointed that the American warship USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (a Lewis B. Puller – class Expeditionary Sea Base / ESB, a real floating Forward Operating Base) will be stationed. In Italy, which enjoys a very good political – military relation with the U.S., Pompeo warned about Rome’s relations with Beijing, and he was reassured that, althoug Italy promotes economic relations with China, Rome will not jeopardize either its own or America’s security interests.

The goals of Emmanuel Macro’s visit to Lithuania and Latvia was to persuade the Baltics that his initiative to launch a strategic dialogue with Moscow and build a Europe whose defense would no longer depend on the United States is vialble, necessary and implementable. He failed. Macron stated that a dialoghue with Russia is necessary, but it must be realistic, with no compliance or naivety, and he supported his opinion with the common history and geography (“we cannot behave like Europe was an island far from Russia”). Macron brought France’s position in the Navalny case to support his realistic attitude towards Russia. The Baltics offered a reluctant position, limited to rejecting a dialogue conducted for the sake of dialogue, which would benefit Russia, because it would mean accepting Moscow as dialogue partner in current circumstances, which favor Russia’s persistent aggressive behavior. Macron insisted that Europeans should purchase European armament, not American. He presented the idea of a sovereign Europe with a decision power matching its economic weight in competition with large powers such as U.S. and China. Of course, the question arises: why terminate the relation with the Americans (when they defend us, which we cannot not achieve by ourselves, no matter how much France would engage, at European level) and talk to the Russians (despite the fact that Moscow proved to be anything but dialogue partners)? Certainly, Macron’s proposal for a strategic dialogue with Russia will not gain European approval, not even close. If Paris believes that engaging in such dialogue will get the sanctions lifted, it is wrong. Nevertheless, if realistic and limited, the French initiative has some merits: although Moscow cheerry-picks only what it fits its interests from this dialogue, dialogue is still necessary, albeit led just by France. Also, Europe must ‘grow’, but its sovereignty must work, first of all, against adversaries and competitors, not against a nation (United States) guided by the same democratic, political, and economic principles as the Europeans (which makes the foundation of the transatlantic relation).

Let us notice Macron’s active role on behalf of Europe regarding the conflict in the Caucasus, by proposing mediation and by supporting the Armenian view. French position is not generated only by the Armenian minority political influence, but by the perception that Turkey represents a nationalist – Islamist threat which fosters the destabilization in the ‘MENA arc of threats’, especially by using jihadist warriors. The situation in the Caucasus will offer a good opportunity for Paris to demonstrate that a strategic dialogue with Moscow is possible (eluding that such dialogue is valid only in this situation, where respective interests coincide. Why not also in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova...?).


IV. ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN. The war continues in Nagorno-Karabakh.

During the whole past week, the two countries fought each other in a fierce war, with all available means (Baku bombed Stepanakert and Armenian capital Yerevan). After both sides declared mobilization, Azeri troops continuously attacked, but Armenian forces resisted, and none of the two reached their respective objectives: to occupy a significant territory, respectively totally repel the enemy and inflict heavy losses. The balance between the two sides was altered by Turkey’s meddling: Ankara provides political and military support to Baku, although it denies doing so (highly likely, it was direct implication too, although, again, Ankara denies it). Turkish drones and F-16 aircraft (as Armenia accuses but does not prove) support precise air strikes against Armenian troops and communication lines (including in Armenia proper), impacting on Armenia’s defensive capacity (by damaging the air defense system and defense positions, and their logistic supply). However, this leverage did not reflect on the general situation, the Azeri troops were fended off on the two main attack directions, in the North, and in the South, at Madaghis and Fuzuli (although the Azeris have occupied some Armenian positions), despite an intensive use of artillery (reactive  included) and thermobaric armament (the TOR systems). The Armenians had the high-ground and tactical – technique quality advantages (less the drones, where Turkish drones are superior, and the Armenian air defense had no solution, despite a probable deployment of S-300 systems in the war zone). However, they did not manage to conduct a counter-offensive to cause large losses to the attackers. The peak of the fights is close, where either the Azeris succeed to break through, or the Armenians decisively repel the attacking Azeris. The most likely course of action is that, after Baku attempts successive attacks on the two main directions, an attrition war begins, with artillery fire exchanges and drone attacks. This seems to be the trend since Baku starts to strike inhabited places deep into Armenian territory. So far, Stepanakert responded by its own missile attacks against Azeri localities. Although encouraged by Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to continue, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev cannot risk a large offensive with large losses without recovering a significant territory, because the political situation might turn against him through the loss of domestic support. On the other side, the Armenians cannot afford large losses, and current loss pace is worrisome. Nevertheless, Armenian quality advantage is counterbalanced by Turkish support granted to the Azeris (TB-2 drones, intelligence support and command and control (C2) assistance: the control of air operation would have been taken over by Turkish structures). But this Turkish support is limited though (at most two F-16 fighters and a limited number of TB-2 drones). All Ankara’s military implication has limits: Turkey will not extend its attacks on Armenia proper, any proof of Turkish direct military intervention, or of injecting Syrian jihadists in battles would provide grounds for a justified Russian direct intervention, based on SCTO agreements stipulations. As the peak of conflict has not been reached yet, neither party was ready to accept the cease-fire requested by the UN Security Council. Therefore, the result of current military engagement will establish the position of both parties when beginning negotiations. But the Armenians have played the diplomatic card too, announcing they are ready for a cease-fire mediated by the OSCE, both for demonstrating that Armenia is not the aggressor, and for obtaining international sympathy and support. Russia sought to further act the mediator role, and Aliyev’s new position (decisively tilting towards Erdoğan) generated a negative reaction from Moscow. Baku’s rejection of the call expressed in the common declaration of Minsk Group (United States, France, and Russia), as well as Ankara’s ridicule of that call do not bode well. Russia is Armenia’s ally and it does not accept an attack by Azerbaijan with Turkish support, against Armenia. On the other side, even the Armenians are reluctant to see a Russian direct implication in current conditions, where they failed to reach a total repelling of Azeri attacks. The reason is that Yerevan fears a peace solution where Russia brings its ‘peace-keeping troops’ to Nagorno-Karabakh (even Moscow’s Armenian allies know that where Russian soldiers set foot, they never leave). Only after the situation worsened (on October 3rd, President Ilhan Aliyev announced the capturing of several villages and the town of Madaghis), the Armenian Prime Minister Nicol Pashinian declared that Armenia was ready to discuss Russian peace-keeping troop deployment in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Westerners requested a cease-fire, with France the most active (followed by the United States and Germany), but their actions are limited to diplomatic activity. The worst is that Ankara would allegedly have sent Syrian jihadist mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh (Macron claimed that such fact would change the situation) because the picture would be that a NATO country engages, albeit with a hybrid participation (Turkey denied direct implication), in an aggression against another country (attacks unfold also against the territory of Armenia), using jihadist elements. The war in Southern Caucasus will impact not only upon the two warrying countries, but also on the region and globally.

During the past week, the fights unfolded mostly on two main directions: in the North, on the direction E – SE, and in the South, on direction E – NE. After these fights, Azeri troops managed to conquer two small portions of territory, which are important from a strategic point of view, and a political point of view, from an Azeri domestic politics perspective, and in view of future negotiations. In the North, following the Saturday offensive, the Azeris succeeded to conquer the town of Madaghis, an important Armenian Forward Operational Base (FOB) and surrounding villages. This outcome threatens Armenian communication lines but did not lead to the conquest of the town of Martakert. Armenian positions on the Mrav Mountain, on the northern flank, continues to resist. In the South, during this past week, Azeri troops conquered several villages IVO the town of Fuzuli. Both areas conquered by the Azeris are exposed to Armenian artillery fire, as the Armenian troops hold the high-ground advantage. The fights showed an intense use of artillery and drones, (unproven) Turkish TB-2 drones were effective in producing losses in Armenian troop air defense disposition, OSA systems, armored equipment, and troop build-ups. Armenian air defense was effective too, as it downed several Azeri drones, but it failed to eliminate the threat of the above-mentioned Azeri assets. Air supremacy in the conflict areas is still disputed, but Turkish probable implication will tilt the balance in favor of the Azeris through: 1) the (unproven) use of F-16 aircraft, which downed a Su-25 ground attack aircraft; 2) C2 system support (unconfirmed Armenian accusations); 3) the impact on Armenian ground air defense by drones, especially (unproven) TB-2 drones. Losses were significant, especially on the Azeri side, but both worrying parties can still accept such losses, because the stake is too high to let such losses alter their decisions. In general, losses in military equipment were bigger on the Azeri side, but this did not impact on their offensive continuity, Ilham Aliyev being encouraged by Turkish support. The peak of the fights is near, and we are to see whether the Azeri side, despite losses, and encouraged by successes, will preserve the capacity to continue the offensive, or if the Armenian side will maintain its general capacity of repelling the Azeri offensive, trying to recover the lost ground. At the level of the two countries, the war is all-out, and so far, there is information only about five Armenian taken prisoners by the Azeri troops, and, in circumstances of alleged Syrian jihadist participation, the situation might worsen. Civilian population was attacked. Initially, localities close to the frontline were attacked with artillery fire, in conditions of adversary equipment concealed in these localities (Madaghis, Tartar). Then, important localities on Armenian communication lines (Vardenis, in Armenia proper) were attacked from the air by the Azeri forces. After the Azeri side accused the Armenian side for (unconfirmed) attacking its localities with Tochka U ground-to-ground missiles, Azeri forces started to bomb towns in Nagorno-Karabakh (including capital city Stepanakert), and even in Armenia proper. Sunday, Armenian forces responded by attacking Azeri localities IVO the frontline and deep in Azeri territory (in the regions of Tartar, Fuzuli, and Ganja) from Nagorno-Karabakh, not from Armenia  (Yerevan pays a sharp attention to international law issues). Is it a change into an attrition war, or preparation for later offensives, after the regrouping forced by fierce recent battles? Probably something of both, as the lack of relevant military information preclude a sound answer. Anyway, the fight outcomes will permanently reflect on political attitudes, being the decisive element for the decision of accepting a cease-fire.

Both sides, especially Armenia, presented the war as being an existential issue, and this rhetoric amplified as fights were intensifying and losses grew more and more serious. Meanwhile, neither side reached its objective: for the Azeris, a decisive breakthrough of the Armenian military disposition and the conquest of a significant territory; for the Armenians, a total repel of Azeri attacks and afflicting large losses. Baku, which has an equally bellicose Ankara at its side, mentioned a complete victory for liberating the occupied territory, while Yerevan spoke about defending the land of Armenian ancestors and presented the Azeri attack, benefitting Turkish support, as a continuation of the 1915 genocide against Armenians. After a short hesitation, Yerevan accepted the UNSC call to cease-fire, and responded to the request included in the common declaration issued by Minsk Group member nations (Russia, United States, France), while Baku rejected that call (Ankara was tougher, mentioning the ineffectiveness of diplomatic efforts). More, on the backdrop of military situation developments, Yerevan accepted even Moscow’s peace solution, meaning the deployment of Russian peace-keeping troops to Nagorno-Karabakh. This might conceal a masked Russian intervention on Armenian side, in conditions where Turkish involvement becomes obvious. Of course, the side enjoying military advantage, respectively the capacity to increase its gains, will postpone accepting a cease-fire. However, Baku knows that, playing only the Ankara card, might bump into Moscow, which will shed its current intended mediation role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Politically, Armenia felt the ground and announced it prepares the union with Nagorno-Karabakh (which is called Artsakh by the Armenians). This union is already a fact but adopting a de jure union would represent a decisive political leap. Although Yerevan did not achieve its objective from a military point of view, Yerevan achieved a better diplomatic position by obtaining the image of aggressed party at international level. It achieved that both regarding Nagorno-Karabakh as a victim of Azeri aggression, and Armenia proper, by accepting the calls to cease-fire, respectively calls to resume negotiations. Yerevan knows that, beyond this essential political support, the military situation is the factor determining the position of each party at the negotiation table. Baku cannot continue to ignore this political situation and will likely send its own signals that Azerbaijan wants a cease-fire and return to negotiations. The question is when will Baku do that, since both the military and the domestic political situation, as well as Ankara, have a large influence on such decision.

For Romania, the biggest danger is the consequences of this situation in the Caucasus upon the North-Atlantic Alliance, especially the role assumed by Turkey. What is left of the principles making the foundation of NATO? And what will the NATO plan of defending Turkey against NATO’s common adversary – Russia would look like, if Moscow would legally interfere in support of its SCTO ally Armenia, in conditions where one proves that Armenia was aggressed by Turkey? This is the question for NATO, while Moscow will exploit this Alliance vulnerability. Only the fact that Moscow attentively calculates each move, regardless how aggressive or cynical it acted, and it keeps the situation under control, while Ankara behaves so bellicosely that it becomes unpredictable. In view of future 2023 crucial elections, President Recep Erdoğan seems determined to intervene in all parts of the former Ottoman Empire, and only Turkey’s economic problems seem to moderate his Islamist – nationalist ambitions. After the signatures on a deconfliction agreement mediated by NATO, the upcoming visit of NATO Secretary General to Ankara will include discussions about the Greco – Turkish relations (Jens Stoltenberg will also visit Athens). In the above-mentioned circumstances though, the agenda will also include this dangerous problem: Turkey’s implication in the South Caucasus conflict.


V. Developments to track this Week 41 of 2020.

► UNITED STATES. President Donald Trump got the virus. This unfortunate event (even Trump’s adversaries must wish him well, for politeness) is just the cherry on the cake for a divided America in an election campaign with the knives on the table: one camp describes Trump as a financial felon, racist, lacking moral standards, competence, and true patriotism, while the other camp describes Joe Biden as a senile old man who tolerates left-wing violence and will bring socialism to America. Perhaps both sides are wrong, more or less, but such United States, divided to the level of a crisis, will certainly know domestic political instability during the upcoming month, and America’s geopolitical adversaries will certainly capitalize on this weakness on the international stage. However, the anti-Americans, especially in Europe, do not have reasons to rejoice: while America is temporarily weakened by this division, and will fail to keep an eye on its foreign commitments, Russia will strike not Washington, but Eastern Europe.

► EUROPEAN UNION / HUNGARY. Tensions between Viktor Orbán and Brussels. Since the EU hinged the European post-crisis funds on respecting the rule of law, the conflict between Orbán regime and Brussels reached its last leg. In fact, Hungary’s conflict is with all other Europeans except Poland, who has similar problems, but less linked to nationalist authoritarianism and corruption, and except Bulgaria, another dropout at the justice subject, but likely ready to accept Brussels conditions. The EU report on the rule of law designated Viktor Orbán’s regime as champion both at not respecting the rule of law, and at corruption. Viktor Orbán attempted to attack individual officials, such as the EU Commissioner for justice Věra Jurová, but he was put at his place by Brussels. Even if the EU fund conditioning saga will last long, the time when Orbán did whatever he wanted in Hungary and in Europe, against the basic European principles, is over. For Romania, this development is not positive, as we are too much linked to Hungary, on multiple planes. Therefore, we should look into our own backyard and learn from the Hungarian lesson, as well as from the Bulgarian lesson, that duplicity does not work: pretending to follow European values, but acting against EU, by specific political and economic actions. 

[1] Details are relevant: second rank Russian officials make up ridiculous narratives, i.e. Russian intelligence agencies say that Navalny poisoned himself, and he is also a CIA agent; and that CIA had been preparing Belarus destabilization long ago. Really? How about Belarusians who show they had enough of Lukashenka, or Russians who approve Navalny’s reveals about corrupt officials? Are they CIA agents too? Rather many employees for an American agency which was reprimanded by the very U.S. President Donald Trump, who had believed President Putin regarding the thorny issue of Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 elections.