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22 octombrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 42 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. POLAND. Conservatives win the parliamentary elections.II. HUNGARY. Opposition wins local elections in larger cities.III. UNITED KINGDOM. The Brexit new agreement is approved by the European Union, not yet by the British Parliament.IV. RUSSIA. Strategic nuclear exercise Thunder 2019. V. Developments to track this Week 43 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. POLAND. Conservatives win the parliamentary elections.

The parliamentary elections in Poland provided a clear winner, the conservative party Law and Order / PiS, which obtained results allowing it to continue governing the country. However, PiS will not be able to transform the Polish society (including to implement the long-debated reform of justice) as easy as it hitherto used to do, because PiS lost majority in the upper legislative chamber. Although the opposition parties lost the elections, they remained a political force able to hamper the Conservatives’ plans. PiS plan is to radically transform the Polish state and society, with authoritarian accents and sometimes breaching the rule of law principles. However, under double pressure, domestic and from the EU, this plan will be only partly implemented. Nevertheless, good governance will further contribute to constant economic growth, which makes Poland an important European nation to be considered in solving regional and European issues.

PiS won 43.6% of the ballots, the highest score obtained by any Polish political party after the collapse of communism. The turnout was 61.47%. The result is due both to PiS good governance, without corruption issues, and to its social policy. During the election campaign, PiS pressed the social lever with populist measures in support of the disadvantaged social layers. While that was enough for the rural electorate, this strategy did not work at similar level with the urban, educated voters, especially since PiS waged a truly “Catholic struggle” during the election campaign. This effort was directed against the LGBT community rights, presenting this community as the weapon used by the Liberals to destroy the traditional society.

The main opposition Civic Coalition / KO (pro-European Liberal-Democrats) won 27.4%. These elections marked a come-back of Social-Democrats to decent levels: The Left alliance / SLD got 12.6%. The center Christian-Democrats Polish Coalition / PSL scored 8.55%, and The Confederation / KWiN (the far-right) only 6.8%.

Law and Order Party / PiS secured its majority in the Seim (lower chamber), with 235 of the 460 seats. The Civic Coalition / KO has 135 seats, Left / SLD 49 seats, Polish Coalition / PSL has 30 seats, and the Confederation / KWiN only 11 seats. In the Senate though, PiS lost majority, having only 48 of the 100 seats. In the Senate, the Civic Coalition / KO has now 43 seats, Polish Coalition / PSL 3 seats, and the Left / SLD 2 seats. In the Senate also acceded four independent politicians.

PiS strategy is likely to attract senators from the Polish Coalition / PSL, and some of the independent senators. Information already surfaced regarding official positions offered to targeted politicians – an immoral, yet legal method of political corruption. The moment of truth is the election of the Senate Speaker on November 11th, when PiS will prove whether it manages to form a majority in the Senate, or not. Regardless its maneuvers, PiS will likely reach a majority, but with certain difficulty, and will have to negotiate the bills case by case in order to achieve its legislative goals. This enterprise is somewhat facilitated by the situation in larger opposition parties, mainly in the Civic Coalition / KO, where troubles occur because the election results do not match expectations. The maneuvers of smaller parties, like the PSL, might also smoothen the PiS progress in achieving majority in the Polish Senate.

Poland crossed transition successfully and will step further on the path established by a Christian-Democrat party located much to the right, and strongly supported by the Catholic Church. His party has authoritarian features promoted by the untouchable and “puritan” leader Jarosław Kaczyński. However, this authoritarian trend will likely be henceforth tempered, due to PiS difficulties to promote its legislative projects in the Senate. For PiS, the major risk is to become the victim of its own success, and push it too much both at home, and abroad.

For Romania, the domestic policy in Poland has a relatively low relevance, since almost all political forces in Poland seek security cooperation with Romania, as result of a common perception of foreign threats, as well as due to historical experience. The only problem is the large gaps between the two countries.


II. HUNGARY. Opposition wins local elections in larger cities.

The numbers show that local elections in Hungary were  won by FIDESZ, with most of the mayors and local councillors (city and district). However, these local elections were symbolically and politically won by the opposition, which resurged united from the position of “almost non-existent” and won the capital Budapest and other ten large cities. FIDESZ and Viktor Orbán face their first political defeat in the last decade, which is unconceivable for an authoritarian regime. Although Viktor Orbán found out there is an opposition in Hungary, his defeat in local elections only means the dissolution of the “Christian-Democrat state” myth, not the end of FIDESZ and V. Orbán’s control on the power.

Hungarian opposition obtained its largest electoral victory in the last ten years and won the Budapest city hall by Gergely Karácsony, member of the ecologist party “Dialogue for Hungary”. Karácsony obtained 50.6% and defeated FIDESZ candidate Istvan Tarlos (44.3%). He enthusiastically declared: "This is the first step towards changing Hungary... We will take Budapest back to Europe... We gave everyone a lesson on democracy. ... An opposition unity that voters have long expected has been formed, and the result tells us this is the path to take onwards." On the aggregate, the opposition parties also won the majority in Budapest city council (17 councillors, compared to 14 FIDESZ and 2 independent). Victory in Budapest has an outstanding significance, since one in five Hungarians lives here, and the capital city’s economic weigh is one third on the country’s power. United opposition won the city halls in other ten large cities of Hungary’s 23. Practically, one third of the population will be administered by opposition at local level. The mere existence of an independent administration, albeit at local level, will strongly damage FIDESZ control on the Hungarian society.

In rural areas, FIDESZ won most mayor positions, about 600, compared to a couple of dozen won by the opposition, it even improved its stance in rural areas. FIDESZ also won majority in all 19 district councils. Viktor Orbán recognized that FIDESZ was saved by the rural electorate. The urban electorate, more liberal, but also the conservative electorate had rather enough of the too flimsy Christian behavior of power representatives, from corruption to sex scandals. As consequence of the high stake in these local elections, but also due to the tension created by Orbán regime in Hungarian society, the election campaign was dirty, with many compromising elements[1].

Although on short-term the results do not directly damage the central power in Hungary, there is now a solution which might create big problems to FIDESZ at next elections, in 2022. Running united, the opposition managed to break FIDESZ monopoly at least in large cities, thus making a big leap toward challenging the almost total control FIDESZ holds over the Hungarian state and society. Local elections demonstrated the viability of opposition strategy of appointing a common candidate to face FIDESZ. However, this cooperation strategy will be difficult to replicate, considering the eclectic feature of the opposition, stretched from left to far right.

Bottom line, Hungarian electorate sent a political warning to Viktor Orbán, who will seek to regain its trust by economic and social measures, but not through concessions in his campaign to capture the state. Therefore, an increase in nationalist and anti-migration rhetoric is expected, as well as attacks against European and domestic “liberal accomplices”. And, like this wasn’t enough, Viktor Orbán rhetoric against Romania will likely increase as well.


III. UNITED KINGDOM. The Brexit new agreement is approved by the European Union, not yet by the British Parliament.

At the European Summit, European leaders approved the new agreement reached with the United Kingdom. Both Brussels and Boris Johnson Cabinet proved flexibility in latest negotiations. The Brexit problem did not disappear though, as the British Parliament postponed the vote on this new agreement and requested a new postponement from the EU. While domestic turmoil caused by Brexit continues in Britain, European leaders started to face its consequences: the dispute regarding a diminished EU budget (impacted by the exit of a major contributor like the UK), and the perspective of reduced funds for agriculture and cohesion (solidarity).

On October 17th, the EU and the UK reached a new agreement regarding Brexit, following proposals from London, but also concessions by both parties. The new agreement stipulates that Northern Ireland will be both part of British customs system, and entry point for the European Single Market, with European procedures applied on the goods vehiculated in Northern Ireland. Within a complex system to be established for implementing such arrangement, there will be no customs control points between Ireland and Northern Ireland, with customs procedures to be conducted in entry points, not at the border. British customs authorities will apply European customs procedures in Ulster. This represents a concession by the EU, as Brussels previously considered that collecting customs taxes by a third party would afflict EU sovereignty. For merchandise imported from countries other than EU members, British authorities will apply British customs rules. For merchandise exported from Northern Ireland to EU market, British authorities will collect EU customs taxes. Four years after the Brexit, Ulster Parliament will vote on extending this mechanism for four more years. This system of aligning the British federal component to European rules will be extended to eight years only if both Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland provide majorities to agree such decision. Should Ulster Parliament choose not to vote, this Brexit new arrangement will continue as established. Ulster Parliament option not to vote will be decided by a legislative majority, not by separate qualified majorities of each community. This is a concession by the UK which displeased the Ulster Unionist Party / DUP. As opposed to “backstop”, the new agreement will not cease after negotiating a would-be new free trade accord between the EU and the UK, which is another concession made by the EU.

The European leaders reunited in the European Council (October 17th to 19th) approved the new agreement, happy of reaching an acceptable solution for both parties, as the danger of a Blind Brexit nightmare disappeared for everybody. However, the European leaders face now a bigger problem: how will the European Commission solve the hole in the budget created by the Brexit? Either by increasing the contribution of the rich, or by diminishing the agriculture and solidarity funds meant to the newcomers? The middle way solution proposed by Finland did not please anybody. The dispute is just at the beginning, and it will mark the European policy for the next period. Of course, Romania can only lose. Thanks God it has chances to stay clear of the penalty policy proposed by Finland, which stipulates a reduction of European funds for member nations who breach the rule of law, eyes only on Hungary and Poland.   

As expected, the new Brexit agreement problems appeared in the British Parliament. Meeting in a session on Saturday for the first time after the Falkland war, the British Parliament voted on October 19th an amendment postponing the vote on the new agreement until the government presents to the Parliament the implementation of new agreement into British laws. In these circumstances, Boris Johnson is forced to request EU a new postponement. Although Boris Johnson defyingly answered he would force Brexit before October 31st, for not needing a new postponement[2], he had to send a letter to EU requesting a new postponement. However, this letter does not bear his signature!

Eventually, Boris Johnson sent to Brussels… three letters: first letter, not signed, where he requested the postponement of Brexit until January; a second letter, specifying that the first letter, requesting postponement, was generated by… the Parliament, not the British Cabinet; and a third letter, where the British Prime Minister asked the EU to not grant a postponement for Brexit, and specified he did not agree with the first letter and with any postponement. Thus, Boris Johnson transfers to Brussels a British constitutional problem: whom should the EU listen to, the Parliament or the UK government? Facing such unimaginable situation, Donald Tusk decided to wait to see whether the British Prime Minister obtains the British Parliament or not.

Encouraged by the tight vote for the latest amendment (322 to 306), Boris Johnson declared he would bring Monday to the Parliament the legislation implementing the new agreement reached with the EU. There are serious question marks regarding the approval of the new agreement by the British Parliament, because Boris Johnson lost the support of Ulster unionist party DUP, and the Labor Party prepares the campaign for a… new referendum! Will the new agreement pass, when jeopardized by a new referendum and a new postponement of Brexit date?

There is no room for conclusions, we can only wait what the British Parliament will vote this Week 42. The result will mean getting out of the woods, but it will cost us, literally.


IV. RUSSIA. Strategic nuclear exercise Thunder 2019.  

The annual exercise conducted by Russian strategic nuclear forces showed this year not only that Moscow’s nuclear triad is able to fulfil its mission, but also new actions: launching Kalibr missiles from nuclear submarines and launching SSC-8 missiles (Kalibr missiles mounted on ground platforms). The Kremlin showed transparency by offering information about this exercise in advance[3]. This approach pertains to Russia’s new political strategy of playing the role of a responsible military superpower ceasing aggressive attitudes. The aim of such approach is to stop the arms race at the stage where Moscow holds an advantage, and to capitalize in the political stage  the military successes it achieved both in Europe (Ukraine), but especially in the Middle East, on the backdrop of the American chaotic withdrawal and the defeatism experienced by large European powers.

On October 14th, Russia announced that Grom (Thunder) 2019 exercise was to be conducted October 15th to 17th, and it would aim to test the readiness of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad and its command and control (C2) structures by launching ballistic and cruise missiles from naval, air and ground platforms. Moscow also announced that 12000 soldiers, 213 launching systems (belonging to the Strategic Missile Forces), 105 aircraft (whence five strategic bombers), 15 warships and five nuclear submarines would participate, as well as other 310 special systems. It was mentioned that airfields and ranges in all Russia’s military regions would be used, as well as naval fire-practice ranges in the Barents Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Sea of Ohotsk. The announcement also specified that 16 ballistic and cruise missiles were to be launched, the ballistic missile types (two Visota SLBMs, one Sineva SLBM, one Yars ICBM), and the target ranges (Chizha and Kura).

Significantly, Moscow announced that Grom 2019 is a defensive exercise and “the drills’ scenario does not stipulate measures to counter any specific state or a group of countries”. The scenario says that, on the background of a persistent potential of conflict, the military situation escalates along the perimeter of Russia’s borders, resulting in a threat to Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On October 17th, Moscow announced that, in the framework of Grom 2019 exercise, nuclear submarines of Russia’s North Fleet and Pacific Fleet launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and cruise missiles (SLCM) towards Kura and Chizha practice ranges. Also, surface warships of Russia’s North Fleet and Caspian Sea Fleet launched Kalibr cruise missiles against land targets. One ICBM Yars was also launched from Plesetsk range to Kura range. Tu 95MS strategic bombers launched cruise missiles (ALCM) towards Pemboi and Kura ranges. All missiles reached their targets. The exercise was conducted under President Vladimir Putin command.

Available imagery shows just a Sineva SLBM and a Kalibr SLCM launching from two nuclear submarines, the launching of a Yars ICBM, a Kalibr cruise missile from a warship of the North Fleet, and a Kalibr cruise missile from a mobile ground platform (an SSC-8), as well as the take-off of a Tu 95 strategic bomber with Kh 102 missiles.

Grom 2019 presented the routine of an annual strategic nuclear exercise, but. In addition, there were launchings of ballistic missiles from nuclear submarines and by Strategic Forces, launchings of Sineva SLBM and Yars ICBM. Also, strategic aviation, respectively Tu 95, launched Kh 102 cruise missiles.

Remarkable for this exercise was the launching of Kalibr cruise missiles from a nuclear submarine, from a surface warship of the North Fleet and from another one belonging to the Caspian Fleet, as well as from a mobile land platform (SSC-8). While in the first case there is just putting modern Kalibr missiles on nuclear submarines, in the other two cases there is something new indeed: surface warship and land platform (SSC-8) Kalibr launchers were integrated into Russia’s strategic nuclear system

Also interesting, no Bulava SLBM or Topol ICBM were launched. For the latter case there is an explanation, a Topol ICBM has been recently launched after the Center 2019 exercise, perhaps according to the “escalation to de-escalation” doctrine (considering that, during that exercise, with a scenario including defense against an attack from south-west, Iskander missiles were launched). In the former case though, the answer might either simple (there is no point in wasting a modern Bulava, when several old Sineva are available), or much less simple: maybe there are still problems in operationalizing the Bulava, which had glitches since the beginning. Considering that ranges from the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea were initially mentioned, there is an additional question: towards which targets were launched Kalibr missiles from North Fleet and Caspian Sea Fleet surface warships? Since the BDM sites in Poland and Romania are perceived as threats to Russian strategic missiles, these are the potential targets of a first strike with… Kalibr missiles.

From a political point of view, the announced transparency and defensive feature[4] of Grom 2019 show the Kremlin’s intention to present Russia as a responsible military super-power. For the moment, at least, aggressive behavior seems to be on the shelf. Such attitude is necessary to the Kremlin in its attempt to stop the arms race. Moscow is likely seeking an agreement with the U.S., both regarding a possible extension of New START, and regarding a solution meant to cover the late INF, at least partly.

Also, in current crises, such attitude helps achieving Moscow’s objectives: in Ukraine, the Kremlin is in control and must only wait for concessions from Kyiv, which is subjected to pressure by large European nations, on the background of Washington’s confusion in this issue. The same confusion helps Moscow in the Middle East, where Russia became the main player. Anyway, beyond obvious gains, the actions in the Middle East are meant to lure the West into a peripheral strategy, leaving Moscow free hands to maneuver in its claimed sphere of influence.

Russia’s current attitude has a bright side, the break in Moscow’s aggressive attitude, and a dark side, Russia’s tactic to reach its objective using diplomatic pressure. On the break in Russia’s behavior, it is little likely to presume that further aggressions will happen in the next period. On switching to diplomatic means, one should consider the context that the West is divided, incoherent (especially the United States) and defeatist down to appeasement (especially the large European powers).

President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia showed that Riyadh accepts Russia’s role of main player, with visible advantages for Moscow, as the political and economic results are significant[5]. The same, in Syria, Russia decides without shooting any bullet. However, phantoms of the past are haunting: Russia decided to withdraw from an additional protocol of the Geneva Conventions, on the backdrop of more and more substantiated accusations that its troops committed war crimes against civilians in Syria.


V. Developments to track this Week 43 of 2019.

► TURKEY. The crisis triggered by Turkish invasion against Syrian Kurds continues. After meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence announced a five-day break when Syrian Kurds should withdraw from the area designed by Turkey as buffer zone along its border. In fact, we have Kurds’ capitulation supervised by the United States, where Syrian Kurds must leave the area claimed by Turkey during this ceasefire period. However, the Kurds only consider withdrawing from parts of that area, where they are already surrounded (Ras al-Ain, Tal Abiad). In fact, in the field, fights did not totally stop.

After reaching an agreement between Syrian Kurds and the government in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with Russian troops in the frontline, entered Kobane and took tactical positions along route M4 in such a way that any future advance of Turkish forces would bring Ankara’s troops in contact with Russians and Syrian armed forces. R.T. Erdoğan accepted the presence of al-Assad’s forces in the security zone it claims. This is a natural stance since its strategic objectives have been reached: 1) the possibility of a Kurds’ state nucleus disappears (the Kurds agreed with Damascus about the deployment of Bashar’s troops in almost all important cities in Kurdish territories; 2) Syrian Kurds are chased away from Turkey’s border, and their place is taken by Damascus and Russian forces; 3) the political link between Syrian Kurds and the United States is broken, and thus the danger of American support for a Kurdish emerging statehood disappears. As U.S. President Donald Trump also prefers, the solution will likely be found during the upcoming meeting Erdoğan – Putin. The United States left the stage, Russia steps in to replace it.

The break announced by Mike Pence somewhat tempered the Congress negative reaction, and the tough sanctions proposed by the Congress were postponed. The U.S. lawmakers want to save face and diminish the collapse of America’s credibility. However, the Congress is not ready to endanger U.S. relations with Turkey beyond repair, although, in fact, these relations seem to have already reached rock bottom[6]. Although mute, “restraint” was the basic word both for the Europeans and for NATO.

After Russia imposes its solution, Turco-Russian relations will likely reach a new cooperation level, while the United States and the Europeans will settle with the appearance of a NATO ally, although the reality looks different. For the price of antagonizing the West, R.T. Erdoğan will obtain what he wants both in Syria, and in Turkey. Remains to be seen what he is up to at home in order to capitalize his success and the nationalist surge generated by Turkey’s invasion in Syria. Damascus will likely solve another problem by attacking the area controlled by jihadists around Idlib, and Ankara will have to settle for the area controlled by Turkish forces and proxy militias.

After the American withdrawal, this is how the new multipolar order looks like: regional powers rule, the strongest is right, there is no valid international law, everybody is against everybody as interests are not at all generated by values. It is Russia’s moment of glory in the Middle East. Let’s hope that its peripheral strategy will not pan out, and this “glory” will not transfer to the European theater, where Moscow’s basic interests lay, and they mean recovering the Soviet time sphere of influence.

For the moment, we will monitor the way Ankara, Moscow, Damascus, and Syrian Kurds reach an agreement, and the way the West will reposition after such defeat. This must be watched both in the West’s relations with Erdoğan’s Turkey, and in this step towards the disappearance of former international order, now happening in Syria.

► SPAIN. The conviction of separatist leaders triggered new protests in Catalonia, these street protests got momentum and they became routine. Encouraged by these protests, separatist leaders in Barcelona call for a new referendum regarding the province independence. Madrid requests the end of protests and the disclaimation of Catalan leaders from such violence. The Socialists will have to identify a solution for exiting the crisis. It is themselves, the very ones to have tolerated Catalan separatism until this became a threat to Spain, because a militant minority seeks to impose the separation solution, although the majority does not accept separation.

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Local elections are crucial. Chişinău is the most important constituency, and a would-be Socialist control of the capital represents the coup de grace against the pro-Europeans. At country level, with a limited political infrastructure, the ACUM pro-European coalition faces difficult challenges. On the contrary, the Socialists can capitalize the victory over Plahotniuc (after Igor Dodon has perfectly collaborated with Plahotniuc). The Democrats (PDM) have not shot their last bullet yet either, these elections being another chance they have for proving they can become a viable party.

► NORTHERN MACEDONIA. After the failure of opening negotiations for acceding to the European Union, Prime Minister Zaev called for early elections. We will see whether these elections will eventually be organized, as they would only bring instability in a frustrated country: it went as far as changing its name in exchange for a chance to be integrated into NATO and the EU, but it has been refused by France to start its accession to the European Union. However, NATO membership seems to be still on the table.

[1] For example, the FIDESZ mayor of Gyor, Zsolt Borkai, and the opposition candidate Tamás Wittinghoff, were both compromised by sex scandals.

[2] Boris Johnson even hopes that requested postponement is… not approved by the EU. Although the Europeans are tired of this saga, they are responsible and avoid putting Britain in the situation of a Blind Brexit, especially now, when a new agreement was reached. However, surprises cannot be ruled out, there is rumor that certain EU nations (Hungary was mentioned), courted by Boris Johnson, will satisfy his bravado and oppose a new postponement. 

[3] Russia made public general data on the forces and means involved in this exercise and invited foreign defense attachés, from NATO nations included, to present information on this exercise. Worth mentioning, in this period, NATO also conducted a secret strategic nuclear exercise, whence data was presented by German media. It is possible that Moscow was that transparent this time just to demonstrate openness, knowing about the NATO secret exercise. In fact, the level of transparency was quite similar, as the American B 52 strategic bombers deployed to Europe flew with their transponders on; and, on the other side, Russian exercises were conducted in ranges difficult to survey by NATO. Remarkably, while Russia and the United States notify their ICBM launches, cruise missile launches, regardless the platform (naval, air or ground), are not notified, as they do not fall under specifications of any agreement. Therefore, their detection and tracking are very important. In fact, the imagery offered by Russia does not present missile launching, but Tu 95 bomber take-off with Kh 102 air launched cruise missiles (ALCM) hooked underneath.

[4] With due limitations, because turning to a nuclear attack was practiced… when Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was threatened following an attack, regardless whether that attack was nuclear or conventional. We have that doctrinal element which, together with “escalation to de-escalate”, represent elements of significant concern.

[5] Mind the nuclear reactors Russia will build in Saudi Arabia, and in Turkey! This is how the Iranian nuclear dossier started, with a nuclear reactor built by Russia in Iran.

[6] President Trump’s letter to President Erdoğan, where Trump wrote “don’t be a fool”, do not attack, was the incident that generated the current situation: humiliated, autocrat Erdoğan threw the letter to the bin… and started the attack.