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15 octombrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 41 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. 5 + 2 format talks in Bratislava. II. KOSOVO. Parliamentary elections bring opposition to power. III. UNITED STATES - TURKEY. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw American troops from northern Syria, and Turkey began the offensive against Syrian Kurds. IV. RUSSIA. Nothing new on the eastern front? V. Developments to track this Week 42 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. 5 + 2 format talks in Bratislava.

The 5 + 2 format talks held in Bratislava October 8 to 10 ended without any results, even without a common declaration. Nothing was decided during this meeting, and the information released to public was only meant to disguise this failure. Such outcome was predictable, because Prime Minister Maia Sandu had announced that Republic of Moldova (RM) would not sign anything, considering recent developments. What happened? Previously, Vasile Şova, RM Vice Prime Minister for integration and former Igor Dodon’s adviser for integration, has distributed to participants a paper proposing in the name of RM, discussions linked to Transnistria’s special status and guarantees to be granted to Transnistria. Such document had not been agreed by the Government of RM. This was Igor Dodon’s attempt to force RM engage on the path requested by Moscow, and Vasile Şova was a tool in that respect. This ruse failed after bumping into Maia Sandu Government’s negative (although delayed) reaction. The failure of 5 + 2 talks is a success for RM, because the lack of progress is preferable to a progress towards… Moscow’s objectives promoted by Dodon from his position as RM President.

Claus Neukirch, the head of OSCE Mission to RM, declared that the 5 + 2 reunion only discussed the implementation phase reached by the ”Berlin plus” [1] agreed measures: „After very long constructive and sometimes difficult discussions, we reached a common denominator for almost all issues”. According to Neukirch, participants did not have enough time to decide regarding the process of solving the Transnistrian conflict: “we reached the conclusion that we need more time and further consultations to reach a decision. During following weeks, we will continue discussions in order to obtain a clear text of the final document”. During the meeting, the issue of Russian troop withdrawal from RM territory was not even mentioned, nor was the issue of the ammunition dump in Colbasna. Moscow’s representative also mentioned the lack of time as a reason for failing to reach a solution.

RM’s Reintegration Office led by V. Şova, who represented RM in the talks, issued a communiqué reflecting that the 5 + 2 talk participants examined the “Berlin Plus” measures level of implementation, as well as the potential initiatives to “elaborate and agree upon the final parameters of the Transnistrian conflict resolution model”.

What happened, though? Certainly, Transnistrians and Russians, supported by European representatives (Kálmán Mizsei[2] reentered the stage, being appointed EU adviser for the Transnistrian dossier) requested progress in implementing the “Berlin Plus” package, and V. Şova negotiated toughly, knowing that Maia Sandu Government would have to implement the concrete measures it agrees. On the other hand, serving hid other master - Igor Dodon, Vasile Şova tried to discuss political issues: he brought elements from the document he had provided “in the name of RM”, yet not agreed by the RM Government (the above-mentioned document referring to a special status for Transnistria and guarantees for this separatist territory). Of course, in absence of a mandate from the Government of RM and lacking credibility, Vasile Şova was forced to stick to general wording, such as “potential initiatives” and “political commitment”.

This situation was predictable, considering the preceding events in Chişinău. The oposition, i.e. Pavel Filip, published a document proposed by Vaslie Şova in the name of RM and destined to the 5 + 2 format talk participants. This document includes the two thorny issues: special status and guarantees for Transnistria. The government reacted immediately by announcing that this document does not represent the position of RM Government, and the document had not been even discussed, let alone approved by the government. These reactions were made public first by Vladislav Kulminski, the foreign policy adviser to the Prime Minister, then by Prime Minister Maia Sandu herself. The latter reiterated the Government stance that the political resolution of the Transnistrian problem is not the priority, but ending smuggling in Transnistria, because the illegal activities in Transnistria which undermine the RM economy. 

This was another episode in the tacit struggle between the ACUM governing coalition and Igor Dodon’s camp, who promote a hasty implementation of the reunification through a Kozak solution. But even Dmitri Kozak himself told Dodon that he should not hurry! Vice Prime Minister for Integration, V. Şova, although part of the government, remained an instrument of Igor Dodon and he promoted this vague “special status” and “guarantees” for Transnistria. Both Igor Dodon’s personal strategy and Maia Sandu’s weakness are obvious. The government was woken up by the opposition; is seems that the opposition Democratic Party is good for something after-all, after getting rid of Vladimir Plahotniuc! The danger is worse though, considering that the “Steinmeier Formula” of concessions with Franco-German blessing is still haunting  the region.

For the moment, Chişinău dodged the bullet, but RM is not yet out of the woods at all. Stunningly, Moscow itself is the one to wish things to go slower, in order to increase the chances of success, especially since the westerners will be those to accept a Kozak-type solution, when the time comes. In absence of any instrument to influence the events in favor of RM, Bucharest is left to watch towards Kyiv, hoping that Ukraine preserves its sovereignty. Bucharest also expects Chişinău to progress, as each democratization measure, towards rule of law and economic progress, only takes RM away from a Kozak-type solution. A society evolving in a European way will be more difficult to be yanked back into Moscow’s sphere of influence. That’s it, for the moment.


II. KOSOVO. Parliamentary elections bring opposition to power.

The parliamentary elections in Kosovo brought an important change: the “UCK veterans” parties leave power. For Kosovo, this is an important moment, as it opens the way to a society closer to normalcy. Solving the problems with Serbia seems easier too, but the chances are not too big, because there is only a replacement of “insurgent nationalism” with “ideologic nationalism”. The latter is more acceptable, but not in all aspects. Solving the problems with Serbia still resides with the sponsors’ ability to identify an implementable and durable solution: they must press Priştina to accept it, then they must persuade Belgrade, which benefits support from certain anti-westerners, who have though, their specific interests.

The October 6th elections were won by the opposition, the Vetevendosje party led by Albin Kurti, who won 31 seats, and by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by Vjosa Osmani and Isa Mustafa, with 30 seats. The two winning parties hold now the majority in the 120-seat parliament, and, on October 10th, they announced they would form the government together, as they had promised in the election campaign. As the results are tight, the name of the future prime minister will be known only after the final count: either Albin Kurti, or Vjosa Osmani. Representatives of a few non-Serbian minorities will likely be included into the government as well. The two parties hold as priorities: an improvement of social situation, fight against corruption, and relaunching the economy. They won by promising these priorities, considering the dire situation, which made both the society and Kosovo’s sponsors reach the conclusion that continuing the leadership of “UCK veterans” was no longer possible.

The “UCK veteran” parties, with a long list of power abuses[3], lost the elections badly. So, president Haşim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK), LDK’s greatest rival, won 25 seats, and former prime minister Ramuş Haradinaj’s AAK – PSD alliance won just 14 seats.

The ten seats reserved to Serbian representatives were all won by the Serbian League, supported, maybe “too obviously”, by Belgrade. The advantage of a one-party representation of Kosovar Serbs in the parliament is undermined by the ethnic Albanian majority suspicion regarding the Serbian League’s links to Belgrade.

Regarding a relaunch of the negotiations with Serbia, the Vetevendosje leader, Albin Kurti did not seem to be in a hurry. Such attitude was expected from an anti-Serbian party by definition[4], a party which opposes any foreign intervention in Kosovo, and promotes union with Albania. On the other side, LDK remains faithful to its founder Ibrahim Rugova’s line of thought, promotes a more moderate policy, although equally staunch, towards Serbia, and is “more considerate” to Kosovo’s sponsors. In fact, LDK competed with DPK in demonstrating which of them played closer to the United States. Therefore, very likely, Vetevendosje and LDK will accept a solution proposed by Washington, although Vetevendosje will oppose an exchange of territories with Serbia.

Anyway, the solution proposed by the United States seems to be in Kosovo’s advantage. Very likely, this was presented during the trip made by President Trump’s representative at the negotiations, Richard Grenell, immediately after the elections, both to Priştina and Belgrade. On October 11th, after meeting Richard Grenell, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, declared nothing more than "No one is offering us a division, no one is offering us anything. They will not give us anything". Serbia is only left to continue playing at more hands, and President Vučić will discuss this issue during the next meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The situation in the Balkans remains unclear, but far from high levels of instability. Although the westerners work to close the Kosovo dossier, Trump Administration is unpredictable, and the large European powers are equally inconsistent. They will hardly find solutions, not only for Serbia and Kosovo, but for stabilizing and integrating the whole region. The accession negotiations between European Union and Northern Macedonia were postponed at France’s request, and the negotiations with Albania were postponed at the request of a group of nations spearheaded by France. Therefore, the countries in Western Balkans are left to identify themselves certain solutions. This explains the “little Schengen” proposed to include Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia. This also explains that the three Bosnian presidents were brought together by… Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

In the Balkans, things did not budge, but this does not affect Romania’s security in a significant way[5], as long as the situation is under control. From this perspective, the results of Kosovar elections look like a small step ahead.


III. UNITED STATES - TURKEY. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw American troops from northern Syria, and Turkey began the offensive against Syrian Kurds.

By ordering the withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria, President Trump offered green light to Turkey’s invasion against Syrian Kurds. Despite international protests and threats from the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues military operations with the objective of occupying a 30-kilometer wide strip and colonize there the Syrian Arabs refugees in Turkey. This action represents a new escalation in the Syrian conflict, as well as a blow to the United States credibility.

After a telephone discussion with President R.T. Erdoğan, on October 7th, President Donald Trump ordered U.S. troops in northern Syria to withdraw. He motivated his decision by the lack of American interests or any obligation towards Syrian Kurds, allies to the United States against ISIS. Despite criticism, Trump did not reverse his decision and ordered American troops to stay away from any interference (to the Kurd desperation, who asked for a minimal chance in the form of a “no-fly-zone”). The Trump doctrine, explained in a series of twitters, is primitively simple and shockingly cynical: “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous endless wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. We will fight where it is to our benefit, and only fight to win”; “the Kurds fight for territory... they were not in Normandy!” Almost two centuries of American foreign and security policy have been forgotten and replaced by the simplistic judgement of a cynical businessman, with a doubtful morality and a narrow vision on the world. In fact, Donald Trump finally decides as he wants, unhampered by the American institutions or by his advisers, who cannot oppose him any longer.

The American elite, spearheaded by the U.S. Congress, reacted extremely negative, with Democrats and Republicans equally criticizing President Trump’s decision. His  only response to criticism was to roughly yet unclearly threaten Turkey: The United States would destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkey crosses certain red lines, but these red lines were not specified. Caution, such discussion cannot occur between two allies without casting the Alliance’s credibility into question! The Congress is to take measures against Turkey, and Senator Lindsey Graham threatened with sanctions which can resist presidential veto. Even the language “suspending Turkey from NATO” was used.

Without hesitation, President Erdoğan started the military offensive against the Syrian Kurds, whom he called “terrorists”. This is just an easy way to vilify the Kurds and take the adversary outside the law: although very likely there are links between Syrian and Turkish Kurds, even with the PKK (the Turkish Kurd terrorist organization), the Syrian Kurds are not responsible for any terrorist attack. They are represented by the PYD party, the nucleus of Syrian Democratic Forces, which also includes Syrian Arabs.

Turkey’s political-military objective is to create a security strip along its southern border. Since it means chasing the Kurds away, this equals to ethnic cleansing, because most of the inhabitants in this area are Kurds. Hundreds of thousands of people already flee from Turkish forces, especially since Turkish forces bring Arab rebels along. Turkey trained these paramilitary, who ignore the war laws, executing unarmed individuals. Turkey’s goal is to terrorize the population in order to speed-up ethnic cleansing. The military objective is probably to take control of the border cities, and then to advance as far as the Qamishli – Manbij highway, backbone road of the future occupation zone.

The Europeans protested very roughly, and Erdoğan responded by using his handy weapon: he threatened with a migrant invasion into Europe. Some European nations suspended their arms exports to Turkey. NATO Secretary General paid a visit to Ankara, where he requested moderation, but this démarche failed. In fact, it is obvious that Turkey is still a NATO member only on paper, but what is NATO itself anyway, when President Trump has such a behavior? The resolution proposed by the Europeans in the U.N. Security Council failed because Russia opposed it and asked for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria. Moscow referred to U.S. and limited European contingents, because Russian and Iranian troops are legit, being invited by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As result, Russia is the great beneficiary of current situation, is will call the shots in Syria.

The Kurds try to resist, but they cannot cope, at least in the first phase, because the force and means ratio is quite unbalanced, and there are also terrain and tactical considerations. After this first phase, the Kurds will likely switch to guerilla warfare, which will erode Turkish troops, but not the Arab rebels fighting along Turkish troops. Politically, the Kurds are turned towards Damascus, where they must seek a solution and support: while Damascus always saw the Kurds as second grade citizens, Ankara simply conducts extermination. Russia meddles, of course, aiming at better anchoring… Turkey to its interests. With Turkey caught in an extended conflict with the Syrian Kurds and isolated from the West, Russia is ready to help both Turkey’s enemies (to obtain a longer attrition conflict), and “help Turkey” itself, in the capacity of mediator. Thus, Turkey’s separation from the West will be complete.

As for the fight against ISIS, this is over before ISIS terrorists are completely defeated. The Kurds withdrew from the area of conflict with ISIS because they must fight in the north, and the prisons with ISIS prisoners remain unguarded.

The regional and general situation became extremely dangerous. Not only that a new war started in Syria, but the Kurds’ fate is at stake in that remote territory. Worse, Turkey’s fate is at stake there too, respectively Turkey’s final exit from the western world. Equally bad, the United States’ credibility is rather withering there too[6].


IV. RUSSIA. Nothing new on the eastern front? 

Apparently, there is a period of quiet, the Kremlin displays a restrained  and non-aggressive attitude. Moscow responds thus to the Franco-German expectations to come back along the European lines. In detail though, developments continue along known directions.

Post-INF developments are not encouraging. President Vladimir Putin showed his disappointment in the United States, respectively NATO, because they ignored his call to establish a moratorium regarding the intermediate range missiles. Of course, NATO does not fall into the trap of such moratorium, but the mere fact that Russia insists suggests a source of hope, maybe some positive signs from certain European countries. On the other hand, the U.S. and NATO did not send any signal regarding the deployment of such missiles in Europe. However, it seems that United States found a solution in periodical deployment of B 52 strategic bombers to Europe, with air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) on board. These aircraft conduct flights above the Baltic Sea and above the Black Sea. After their last mission, information on their simulated attack against targets in the Russian exclave Kaliningrad was leaked to the media. Moscow reacted roughly, with political declarations ranging from threats to victimization. Very likely, the Russian Tu 160 strategic bombers flights over the Baltic Sea were Moscow’s response to the American flights. This past week, the United States sent again B 52s to United Kingdom and over the Baltic Sea. Let’s see the Kremlin’s response.

Military activities in vicinity of (IVO) Romania. Russian Black Sea Fleet warships conducted an anti-submarine exercise. There was a modern frigate, two corvettes, and a submarine. Not the exercise itself is a matter of concern, but the fact that the Kilo II class submarine launched a Kalibr cruise missile (SLCM) which hit targets ashore (in the Opuk practice range in eastern Crimea). Of course, in a real situation, the targets would be more to the… west. Considering that an Aegis BDM American destroyer just entered the Black Sea, Russia’s response will be an indication about the attitude Moscow decided to pursue in this period. Anyway, Moscow makes no compromise. On Ukraine, Vladimir Putin warned President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to continue withdrawing Ukrainian troops from the contact line in Donbass, after their withdrawal was interrupted because the separatists had opened fire. Also, at home, Navalny’s opposition was eliminated almost completely.


V. Developments to track this Week 42 of 2019.

► POLAND. Parliamentary elections were won by the Conservative Party, PiS. The election campaign was marked by conservative and anti-liberal attitudes. These resonate well with most of the Polish voters, who are reluctant to the westerner concern about the sexual minorities. Populist measures were also vehiculated, and these are destined to the disadvantaged and the rural electorate. PiS relies its promises on real resources, since the measures taken by them and their predecessors generated a strong economy.

► HUNGARY. Despite results not as good as expected in the local elections, for the moment, Orbán remains the undisputed leader of the region. Thus, before the European summit, French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to meet Visegrad Group nations prime ministers, which comes as a recognition of the role these countries play in Europe. Notably, after the French candidate for the European Commission was rejected, Macron continued his arrogance and proposed such candidate with integrity problems. So, he adhered to the conspiracy theory vehiculated in Brussels, and joined Viktor Orbán’s league.

► UNITED STATES. The political crisis becomes constitutional. President Donald Trump refused any cooperation by the White House with the investigation commission regarding the impeachment in the House of Representatives. Then, he spoke about the illegality of this investigation and suggested the transfer of this issue to the Supreme Court. Although it is little likely that President Trump will be ousted, it is certain that the whole American political system will be shook up. Signals regarding an agreement with China look like an apparent victory for the President, but things are not there yet. There is still a long way to see the United States receiving from China the essential concessions it requested, if it will receive them at all.

► MIDDLE EAST. An Iranian oil tanker sailing in the Red Sea was hit by two missiles. Regardless whether this was a response by Saudi Arabia to recent drone and cruise missile attack, or it was an action committed by a third party, it represents an escalation of violence. The United States sends a couple of thousand troopers and additional military equipment to the Saudi Arabia. Even if President Trump appears eager to avoid military conflicts (bad for business), it is hard to imagine that such contingent can defend Saudi Arabia without starting a conflict with Iran or Iran’s allies. Israel prepares for a confrontation with Iran, suggesting it cannot count on the United States. A collateral effect of Iran’s aggressive policy, but also a consequence of President Trump’s “pacifist” policy is the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia plus other Gulf states. This new interaction (who would have believed?!) goes as far as defense cooperation, and the political consequence of having Israel recognized by these Arab nations.

► UNITED KINGDOM. A glimmer of hope shyly appears, as the EU and UK announced they might reach an agreement. We will see what the October 19th summit brings. Will the Brexit saga end with an agreement approved by the British Parliament, and, therefore, will the Britons leave the European Union without the nightmare of a Blind Brexit?

[1] The “Berlin Plus” package eight points agreed in 2016 include measures to consolidate the trust between the two parties: reopening the Gura Bâcului – Bâcioc bridge; Dubăsari district Moldovan peasant access to their fields; Transnistrian vehicle access to international traffic through RM, as well as other environment, education, and communication issues. In fact, these are only unilateral concessions by Chişinău, meant to allow Tiraspol break out of isolation. However, Tiraspol (read Russia) does not offer anything in exchange, save granting Moldovan peasants access to their fields.

[2] Of course, behind the European policy of rapprochement between Chişinău and Tiraspol, promoted by Germany and conducted mostly in favor of Transnistria, Hungarian politician Kálmán Mizsei will support the anti-Romanian forces (now it is Igor Dodon), in a strategy of encircling Romania and damaging Romanian interests.

[3] The abuse of power is not reserved to the “UCK veterans”, the LDK leader, Isa Mustafa, former prime minister and mayor of Priştina, is also accused of abuse of power. This is one of the reasons for having Vjosa Osmani proposed for the office of prime minister, and not Isa Mustafa.

[4] Ukşin Hoti, founder of the ideology at the basis of this party, “disappeared” in Serbia, immediately after being liberated from prison, in 1999.

[5] Perhaps France’s reluctance regarding Balkan nations’ accession to the EU is also motivated by developments in Bucharest and Sofia, perceived a steps backwards, not only in policy, but also in economy and social field. If Poland and Hungary create problems in the rule of law from a right-wing perspective, without economic and social problems, Romania and Bulgaria are perceived in a stalemate, with a plethora of political, economic and social problems, which they export to the rest of the European Union.

[6] The “Trump window” disappeared: we were used with Donald Trump taking surprising decisions, in disagreement with the U.S. traditional policy, only for later seeing these decisions corrected by American institutions. There was a danger anyway, between the moment of decision and the moment of its correction. Now, this gap gets wider and wider, up to getting no correction at all. Although NATO appears in the disliked chapter in Trump’s twitters, let’s hope that Russia will not test the Alliance; and should Russia decide to do it, let’s hope that President Trump will react as he should react, in support of the aggressed NATO nation.