MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

28 octombrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 43 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. First round of local elections. II. RUSSIA - TURKEY. Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdoğan agree on Syria. III. NATO. North Atlantic Council in Defense Minister format. IV. RUSSIA - SERBIA. Economic and military events with political impact. V. Developments to track this Week 44 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. First round of local elections.

The October 20th first round of local elections in the Republic of Moldova (RM) somewhat reflects the general political situation. The turnout in the first round was 41.68%. By the number of mayor seats they won, the Democrat Party (PDM) is now in the lead, followed by the Socialist party (PSRM), and the pro-European alliance ACUM. The battle for the City Hall of capital city Chişinău, which has the largest political impact, will be decided in the second round, between candidates of PSRM and ACUM. 

In 518 communities, the mayors were elected in the first round, and in other 380 communities a second round of local elections will be organized. PDM obtained 191 mayor positions, PSRM – 124, and ACUM – 84. While PDM preserves an important part of the dominant position it used to hold, PSRM remains a significant force at local level, and ACUM begins to build a basis at this level. In 64 communities, independent candidates were successful.

Among the smaller parties, the Liberal Democrat Party of Moldova (PLDM) won 26 mayor seats, the Shor Party – 13, “Our Party” (PPPN) – 10, the Communists (PCRM) won 4, Party of National Unity (PUN) – 2, Romanian Popular Political Party – 1, and the Liberal Party (PL) – 1. While PLDM is still relevant, the unionists disappeared from the local political stage[1]. On the left wing, Shor Party and PPPN carve off from the PSRM electorate, while PCRM became irrelevant. Remarkable for the smaller parties, the PPPN representative won the City Hall in Bălţi (second largest city in RM), and the Shor Party representative won the City Hall in Orhei.

In the second round, 175 PSRM candidates qualified, 173 PDM candidates, 167 ACUM, 20 PPPN, 44 PLDM, 16 PCRM, 13 Shor, and 84 independent candidates.

In Chişinău, the race is tighter than the results show, between the PSRM representative Ion Ceban, with 40.16% of the ballots in the first round, and the ACUM representative Adrian Năstase, with 31.09%. The third and fourth places were taken by candidates of unionist parties – Dorin Chirtoacă of PL, with 10.17%, and Octavian Ţâcu of PUN, with 4.76%. Although ranking second now, Adrian Năstase’s chances are significant, considering that Dorin Chirtoacă announced its unconditional support for Năstase, and Octavian Ţâcu promised PUN support in exchange for a condition which is easy to comply by ACUM (no alliance with PSRM in Chişinău Municipal Council). The result of Chişinău elections have a large impact at national level, considering its demographic and economic weight of RM’s capital.

The second round will be eloquent about the balance between each two of the three large parties. The first indication for that account is the alliances to be forged at local level in support of the candidates still running. Although the local element has certain importance, the way PDM, ACUM and PSRM will act is relevant, considering that PSRM, the political force with autocratic and pro-Russian orientation cooperates at governmental level with ACUM, although ACUM has a common pro-European policy with PDM (which now got rid of Plahotniuc), not with PSRM (which only forcibly accepted the banner of RM’s European orientation). Although ACUM and PDM would not admit, given recent wounds (the state being captured by Plahotniuc, using PDM), they have more in common than they separately have with PSRM, with which ACUM currently cooperates for necessity, as PDM previously did as well.

Additionally, PDM is not as guilty as it looks, given that Plahotniuc was not the maker, but only the temporary leader of the “party and state mafia pyramid” of RM (state institutions turned into fiefdoms of interest groups). The clear proof is the very grave situation in justice system, where the reform bounces into the wall of justice mafia. Of course, aiming for the power, not the destruction of “party and state mafia pyramid”, Igor Dodon supports the option of finding a compromise. In fact, Igor Dodon only wants to take control of the Higher Justice Council, as he already took control of the RM Constitutional Court.

Local elections bear a high relevance in RM, because an impoverished and nostalgic electorate (youth presence in election booths was low) is easy to manipulate by those holding local power. Applying PCRM experience, PSRM and PDM are experts in manipulating the voters by using the means available to local power.

The second round is important especially in Chişinău. It will show whether either PSRM grabs the capital or ACUM preserves the pro-European tradition of Chişinău[2]. Of same importance, the second round will show whether PDM remains a relevant political force, and whether PDM and ACUM, beyond recent differences, can acknowledge they still have the same orientation, which is pro-European, although from two different perspectives.

Should ACUM and PDM fail to realize this, the RM pro-European perspective is compromised, regardless the reforms ACUM attempts to implement, because PSRM remains by definition an anti-European and antidemocratic political force, as Igor Dodon aims at bringing RM back to Russia’s sphere of influence, with him at the top, in the position of “sole leader”.


II. RUSSIA - TURKEY. Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdoğan agree on Syria.

The agreement reached by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Vladimir Putin stabilized the situation in northern Syria with the price of imposing the two countries’ interests in a realistic, but cynical approach. Syrian Kurds lost the chance of having a statehood nucleus they thought they could preserve by supporting the United States to defeat ISIS. However, the Kurds are content to survive preserving what they can negotiate with Russia and Damascus. Without effort, Bashar al-Assad recovers another part of Syria. The West leaves Syria in disarray because (the United States) does not want, or (the Europeans) cannot assume the role it has played for decades, the role of safeguarding an order based on international law principle. In fact, this agreement seals not only the military departure of the United States from the Middle East, but also the elimination of any western influence in Syria. 

In Sochi, after relentless negotiations, Recep Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin reached an agreement on October 22nd, regarding the solution of the crisis generated by the offensive of Turkish forces (and paramilitary formations prepared by Turkey) against Syrian Kurds. The agreement stipulates a cease-fire, withdrawal of Syrian Kurd military formations (YPG) from a 30-kilometer-wide strip along Turkish border; Russian and Damascus troop accession into that area; as well as combined patrolling (Russo – Turkish) in a strip located 10 kilometers from the Turkish border. The area conquered by Ankara’s forces between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn remains under Turkish occupation. Areas west of the Euphrates River, Manbij and Tall Rayfat, although not specified in this arrangement, must be also expelled by YPG. The agreement includes interpretable specifications which are necessary to Turkey (such as mentioning “the fight against terror”, although only Turkey considers YPG as terrorist organization), but also specifications “against separatism” (necessary to Bashar al-Assad for recovering lost territories). Russia has introduced the “political unity” of Syria along the need for maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity. The Astana agreement has also been mentioned as following to be implemented in the new circumstances.

Russian and Damascus troops immediately entered the security zone, and Moscow sent supplementary military police troops to Syria. Most of the Kurds withdrew. Their withdrawal (but also situation stabilization!) were assumed by… President Donald Trump, although the United States completely left the whole shebang. However, President Trump profited the situation to lift the sanctions imposed to Turkey, a good omen for a possible solution to current tensions between the two nations.  

President Erdoğan continued the threats against Syrian Kurds, but also those addressed to the Europeans (he will decide, at the opportune moment, on sending emigrants to Europe!). He proves being probably unhappy with their criticism, with the suspension of financial support, as well as with the German initiative regarding a European mission in the security zone (why did they not do it when the United States requested their support?!)[3]. There is information that, in the occupied area, Turkey started colonization with Syrian Arab refugees.

Russian and Turkish presidents reached an arrangement reflecting their interests: the elimination of Kurdish “danger”, as it is perceived by Erdoğan, respectively reestablishing Bashar al-Assad’s control over a part of Syria (as large as possible), as Putin wishes.

There is information that American troops might deploy for guarding oil fields from ISIS control, but they will have to leave eventually anyway, due to concrete circumstances. Such details tend to detour the general attention, but it is quite obvious that the West cut itself off from the Syrian chemistry. For a divided and confused West, the only question is what will be the next withdrawal or concession?

Russia, Turkey, and Iran rule. The solution for Syria will be implemented in force by these three players, who will impose their interests. This solution will not have solid moral, ethical, political or economic foundation to secure a stable future, but who is interested in that? The winners have the power to call the shots. As about the Syrian people… what people? He who doeth not accept new masters’ dominance automatically becomes terrorist and must disappear. 


III. NATO. North Atlantic Council in Defense Minister format.

The October 24th to 25th NATO Defense Ministerial NAC aimed at preparing the NATO Summit to be organized in December in London. Discussions referred to the progress towards assuming a larger contribution by NATO nations (the well-known “burden sharing”), NATO missions and operations, NATO support to Afghanistan, as well as the “situation in Syria”.

The “pink elephant in the room” was Turkey’s behavior, in conditions of Turkey’s invasion and its freezing relations with important NATO allies (United States, France, Germany). Therefore, behind bilateral meetings and moderate declarations, the reunion was tensed. United States and France were apparently the toughest accusers, since they did not hesitate to even publicly accuse Turkey for its behavior. Germany sought to promote the idea of a mission under NATO aegis and UN mandate, for north-eastern Syria, but Germany only found a more than restrained answer.

In view of the December NATO summit in London, many fear that at this very anniversary reunion a negative reaction by President Trump will occur, regarding the small contribution of certain NATO nations, especially Germany. It is about the already famous 2% of GDP needed to be earmarked for defense in each NATO country. Germany, but also other nations, previously announced some limited measures meant to appease American discontent.

The Afghanistan problem is equally important, in circumstances where the United States seeks to withdraw troops from this theater of operations. The allies probably wanted to learn what Washington wanted to do in view of a coordinated withdrawal. This question is justified, considering American official declarations regarding the withdrawal of one thousand U.S. troopers and Washington’s intention to later withdraw another eight thousand. There are also additional indications showing that something is brewing there too: visits by high American officials, and China’s relaunching of its dialogue with the Taliban.

The reunion was apparently dominated by the problem of Turkish ally behavior. If we consider previous declarations, the Unites States and France were likely the most critical, while Germany tried to keep a balance between criticism and preserving communication with Ankara[4]. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, previously stated that Turkish military operation was not justified, being the last indication that Ankara is steering towards a wrong direction.  

Despite all accusations against Ankara, the general idea is that Turkey’s membership to NATO is not to be questioned. Both Turkey and NATO realize that having Turkey in is better that having Turkey out, even with such behavior. Such situation though, only means formal membership, without the trust, values and commitments which form the foundation of North-Atlantic Alliance. It is still well though, in a more and more complicated situation. The problem is whether Recep Erdoğan adheres to this mutual restraint. Signals from Ankara say no[5].

Having already enough troubles[6], NATO is in a delicate moment, but the answer should not come from the Alliance, which can only prove restraint and resignation regarding this new situation. The answer should come from Ankara.


IV. RUSSIA - SERBIA. Economic and military events with political impact.  

Serbia made two steps further alienating it from the EU and NATO: an economic step with political relevance was signing the free trade agreement with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, and the military step was accepting the deployment, albeit temporary, of an S-400 air defense system on its territory.

Despite EU warnings, on October 25th, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, visiting Moscow, signed the free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union. This agreement replaces similar agreements Serbia had signed with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, only Armenia and Kyrgyzstan being the additional countries Serbia will have free trade agreement with. The new accord has a limited economic value, as Serbia’s exchanges with Russia only represent 10% of Serbia’s foreign trade, while 63% is conducted with EU countries, and Russia’s investments in Serbia are ten times smaller that the European investments. However, this new agreement is a political blow for Serbia’s relations with the EU, respectively for Belgrade’s objective of European integration.

The agreement had a long preparation time, which reflects Belgrade’s hesitation between Moscow’s readiness and EU pressure. Current political situation shows that Serbia is deeply disappointed with western position regarding the solution in the Kosovo dossier (the United States requested Serbia to recognize Kosovo, and the EU failed to offer a convenient solution, thus resuming negotiations loiters). Therefore, this economic step has large political implications: Serbia politically tilts towards Russia at the expense of the EU, the structure Balgrade claims it wants to join though.

Although temporary, the deployment of an S-400 system to Serbia[7], for the Slavic Shield 2019 exercise, is a military move also with large political implications: Serbia allows Russia to act behind all NATO air defense disposition. The S-400 air defense system has a range of 400 kilometers, covering large portions of air space in all neighboring NATO nations. Although Serbia presented the deployment of S-400 as part of an air defense exercise, defensive by definition, this is an element of A2AD used by Moscow to threaten NATO air supremacy within NATO’s own air space.

Additionally, several odd issues occurred: the S-400 deployment was announced by Moscow at about 48 hours after it happened (perhaps for preventing the interdiction of flights transporting the equipment through NATO air space); the deployment was presented as part of the second phase of Slavic Shield 2019 exercise, while the first phase took place in Russia, but back then nothing was said about a second phase; Serbia insisted on the deployment of Pantsir-S short range system (which Serbia has just bought, as we learn now). This is just a detail though, since Pantsir-S is an independent system, while the S-400 needs a Pantsir-S system for close defense.

All these lead to the hypothesis that S-400 deployment was conceived to produce strategic surprise, so dear to the Kremlin, and Belgrade was forced to join this game. For Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is probably ever more difficult to refuse Moscow’s requests, as he is well caught in “Moscow’s embrace”, and he is disappointed in the United States and the European Union. Nevertheless, Russia offered many “gifts” to Serbia, in (more or less modern) military equipment, thus Belgrade’s freedom of movement in military cooperation gradually shrank.

The big question Serbia should ask itself is whether it was worth accepting this deployment ordered by Moscow, which seeks to surprise NATO, considering that this measure has large implications: it is Russia’s response to the Alliance defense consolidation measures, including those regarding a United States air response to the end of INF (by flights of strategic bombers carrying cruise missiles ALCM)[8].


V. Developments to track this Week 44 of 2019.

► UNITED KINGDOM. Although he managed to get a positive vote regarding the new agreement with the European Union, Boris Johnson is forced now to request a new postponement from Brussels, as the British Parliament refused to accept an urgent timeline for approving the legislative package associated with the new agreement. After hesitations, the EU granted to United Kingdom a postponement until January 31st, as Donald Tusk announced Monday. Now what is left to see is whether Boris Johnson can have his early elections, perhaps on December 12th.

► ISRAEL. After Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure, Benny Gantz was charged with forming a new government. He has little chances to succeed, because he does not hold a majority unless he forms an alliance with Avigdor Lieberman, and he gets support from Arab parties, which Lieberman rejects as absurd. Practically, Benny Gantz needs the support of several Likud members of the Knesset, which is equally unlikely. There is also an unknown: a possible formal indictment of Benjamin Netanyahu. So, new elections are likely to follow. 

► UNITED STATES. Although boycotted by the White House, hearings continue in the House of Representatives commission, and new and grave accusations are made against President Donald Trump. Everything can be streamlined to the question whether President Trump used the U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine in exchange for beginning an investigation regarding Joe Biden’s son. Is it a quid pro quo, or not? The Democrats are still far from demonstrating this possible felony, but they make progress. Seriously busy with the impeachment investigation, President Trump has hardly any time for a “hick-up” such as the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. The United States allies may raise a simple question: where will the next “hick-up” occur?

[1] Only in Chişinău there still exists a flimsy unionist presence: Dorin Chirtoacă won 10% of the ballots.

[2] Although it is denied, the vote remains geopolitical. Chişinău was the main city where the Soviet Union brought experts to replace Romanian elite it had exterminated. Only including the suburban voters in Chişinău constituency gives a chance to the pro-European candidate. Let’s remember that the recording where Igor Dodon was requesting Plahotniuc to sign a new Kozak plan of federalization also shows that Dodon also insisted to take the suburbs out of Chişinău municipality.

[3] The chances of such mission are slim, as the United States only offered political support. Such mission would serve Russia’s interests more, because Moscow seeks to gain advantages from Germany, ranging from recognition of Bashar al-Assad, to money necessary for Syria’s reconstruction. In addition, such mission is only a moral attitude, without a political objective to provide substance. With a few exceptions (France, Denmark), the Europeans did not rush to meddle. NATO pointed out that a UN mandate is necessary. However, Russia had already announced it would not accept a NATO mission. The idea of such mission lacks even the support of all German political forces, and the German Defense Minister political courage to propose this idea was certainly spectacular. Although it surely has the Chancellor support, it needs courage to propose such mission, since assuming such responsibility is quite novel for Germany.

[4] During the October 26th meeting with German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavuşoğlu guaranteed that human rights would not be breached, and humanitarian support would be granted in the occupied security zone. However, he rejected (for lacking realism) the German proposal to establish a mission under UN mandate in northern Syria.

[5] The discussion about nuclear weapons becomes more and more dangerous. While public debates on withdrawing nuclear weapons from Incirlik gain momentum, and we know there is no smoke without fire, President Erdoğan publicly asks why Turkey should not possess the nuclear weapon.

[6] The United States began exercises practicing the deployment of its forces overseas. This replicates at smaller scale the Cold War era REFORGER exercises (REturn of FORces to GERmany). During current context of leaving the Syrian Kurds “hung out to dry”, the arrival of 500 American GIs in a Baltic state was equal to reassuring the allies that Washington is leaving up to its commitments. On a separate plan, that of post-INF situation in Europe, U.S. B-52 strategic bombers flew over the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The B-52 flight over the Black Sea was intercepted by Su-27 aircraft which took off from Crimea. Remarkably, the United States announced this flight in the context of cooperation with allied and friendly nations in the region: “Romania, Ukraine, and Georgia”. In such a delicate mission, only Romania is a NATO member at the Black Sea?

[7] This S-400 deployment is presented in detail in another October 26 MAS article at

[8] Of course, many problems and questions pop up. In imagery, only the S-400 fire control radar antenna appears, thus the question appears: Which detection radar was used? Was, by any chance, the S-400 system integrated into the Serbian air defense system, or it acted independently? There are questions which NATO should answer to. However, from a political and military point of view, these questions will give headaches to… Belgrade!