MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

12 noiembrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 45 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron makes a stunning statement. II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Tensions in the governing coalition. III. HUNGARY. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Budapest. IV. SERBIA. United States warns Belgrade about the purchase of Russian air defense systems. V. Developments to track this Week 46 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron makes a stunning statement.

In a November 7th interview to The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed doubts regarding the validity of NATO’s basic wording “an attack against one is an attack against everybody”: he stated that “what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO”. Asked whether he still believes in Article V, Macron answered “I don’t know”, adding though, that the United States remains an ally. The French president declared there is a void of strategic coordination between European allies and the U.S., respectively Turkey. He added that the United States signals it “turns its back” to the Europeans, and exemplified by President Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria without consulting its allies. Macron offered these declarations in the context of heralding the geopolitical role of a “sovereign Europe”, also praising the initiatives regarding an integrated European defense, respectively an integrated European defense industry.

German and American reactions were voiced against Macron. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that Macron exaggerated: “The French president has found rather drastic words to express his views. This is not how I see the state of cooperation at NATO”. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg specified that, in the past, NATO overcame internal divergencies. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reminded that NATO remains the most important alliance in history, and he reiterated, however, the request for an increased contribution to Alliance spending, by the Europeans.

In order to understand how serious Macron’s declaration is, a separate analysis of the statement itself is needed. The French president position, from where this declaration was issued, needs to be considered as well. First, where does NATO stand? The answer is that nothing new surfaced under the sun: the Alliance has problems, but they do not threaten its existence: NATO members, France included, do believe in Article V. The Kremlin itself knows that, should it make the mistake to test NATO cohesion, Moscow would receive a decisive and immediate response[1]. NATO’s problems are known. First, it is President Trump’s declared reticence regarding the Alliance, which he deems obsolete[2]. Trump’s position did not turn into any negative U.S. decision against the Alliance, but only into increased pressure upon the Europeans to raise their defense spending to 2% of the GDP. On the contrary, the United States augmented its military contribution by deploying troops, aircraft and warships to defend Europe and deter Russia. 

NATO’s second problem is President Erdoğan’s Turkey. Practically, Turkey is only formally a NATO member nation, but it still is and will remain inside NATO! This problem is more serious, as Erdoğan’s Turkey does not display common values with the other NATO member nations, as opposed to Kemalist Turkey, hence Ankara’s adversity toward the West, respectively its current friendship with Moscow. However, Turkey always held a specific status within NATO, for never being a true functional democracy, and for being the only NATO nation to ever have conducted attacks in other countries, in NATO’s wider area of responsibility (Cyprus, Iraq, and Syria). Regarding the poor democratic standards, one should remember that Turkish army kept up the democracy by using bayonets until is got submitted to current autoritarian Islamist regime.

President Macron’s stance represents, in fact, NATO’s third problem, smaller, but standing. France withdrew from NATO’s strategic military planning and from certain NATO structures between 1966 and 2009. With this specific position, Paris always hesitated between profiting the alliance with the United States, even outside NATO’s Area of Responsibility, and accepting a certain degree of subordination of its policy to Washington’s policy within the Alliance. By seeing an opportunity in Britain’s exit from the European Union, Paris relaunched its plans to promote a defense and security policy split from the United States. Macron promotes the idea that Europe must establish itself as a geopoltical force between the United States and Russia. This idea is more dangerous for the trans-Atlantic relations than President Trump’s hostility regarding the EU, and his reticence toward NATO. French initiatives for European defense are useful only while they remian realistic, and Paris does not attempt to mobilize the European nations around its plans with such statements regarding NATO and the United States. Nevertheless, Jens Stoltenberg himself brought Paris back to reality when declaring that “the European Union cannot defend Europe”.

Even Germany, France’s main European partner, was the one to calm down Macron’s plans, with Angela Merkel standing close to Macron when necessary (cooperation in defense industry), and opposing him when he jumps the gun (as occured just now). Germany is that who keeps balance between EU and NATO, respectively between France and the United States. On November 7th, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer annonced that, until 2031, Germany would increase its defense spending to 2% of the GDP, as Washington requested.

Of course, Moscow showed satisfaction, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declaring: "golden words...a precise definition of the current state of NATO". In all European governements, the first impression was likely that Macron’s stratement was wishful thinking, while the main concern was another thought: besides Erdoğan, and Trump’s “pearls”, now we have Macron’s “bonapartisms”. But only that, not at all mistrust in Article V. On the other hand, Macron’s interview includes warnings regarding Europe’s future, and these warnings should not be neglected. However, identifying the problem is one thing, while finding a too much pro domo solution is another fish dish. When talking on behalf of Europe, “la grande nation” France should at least consult “Leistung Nation” Germany, if not all Europeans.


II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Tensions in the governing coalition.

On November 8th, Prime Minister Maia Sandu assumed government responsibility in the Parliament regarding amendments to the Prosecution Law, i.e. the way the candidates for General Prosecutor office are selected. As result, the Socialist (PSRM) deputies announced they would request a non-confidence vote inthe Parliament.

According to this amendment bill, the prime minister would pre-select at least two candidates for the office of General Prosecutor of Republic of Moldova (RM), and will pass the list and their candidate files to the High Prosecution Council. In order to vet the candidates, responsible authorities will grant public access to all available information. Maia Sandu declared that “the fight for the General Prosecutor is the ultimate bastion, the red line, and any malicious interference will cost dearly”. Maia Sandu also presented the judicial argument for assuming government responsibility: “the Venice Commission considers reasonable that government claims participation right in the general prosecutor selection process”.

Immediately after Maia Sandu’s speech, PSRM member Vasile Bodea presented the draft non-confidence motion document against the ACUM government, and filed it to the Parliament. He declared that “the government changed the rules during the game, ignored Constitution and Venice Commission advice, and, most importantly, ignored the opinion of coalition and international partners, whose support it benefited so far”. 

According to RM Constitution, the government can assume responsibility in the Parliament on a bill. If, within 72 hours from such act in the Parliament, at least a quarter of the deputies choose to not file a non-confidence motion, or if the non-confidence motion is not voted, the bill is considered passed.

What happened, in fact? In good faith, Maia Sandu waited for the Parliament to finalize a list of candidates for this crucial position, in a fair and tranparent process. Everything seemed to unfold normally, until the moment when it became clear that the process was spoiled: it was the ill-doing by a commission member injected there by Socialist veteran leader Zinaida Grecianiy. Considering the high importance of the general prosecutor in starting a true reform in the justice system, Maia Sandu reacted adequately by assuming government responsibility in the process. President Igor Dodon and PSRM performed a real tour de force to persuade Maia Sandu to give up, as the stake is huge: the appointment of an honest and capable general prosecutor. According to the bill, Igor Dodon is only left to choose between the two honest candidates selected by the government, which is a true tragedy for a president who wishes to control the justice system through a loyal general prosecutor.

The pressure from PSRM poured massively, including by attempts to influence western partners. However, Maia Sandu held her position, as she understood this was the point where RM can either start a new avenue, or her government remains just a tool for Igor Dodon on his path towards a complete grab of power. She declared that a would-be ousting of her government by PSRM would be a step towards “capturing the state”. Tensions between ACUM and PSRM increased after PSRM’s victory in the race for Mayor of capital city Chişinău. The ACUM candidate in municipal elections in Chişinău, Adrian Năstase, identified “political compromises” as cause of his defeat.

The reform in justice, respectively the appointment of the general prosecutor, represents the climax of tensions within the ACUM – PSRM coalition, which was established only for the purpose of chasing Vlad Plahotniuc away from power. While ACUM wants to reform the state aiming to start a real democratization and development for RM, Igor Dodon wants to take control of the state institutions in view of establishing an anti-democratic and pro-Russian regime which would steer the country into Moscow’s sphere of influence (with everything budgeted by the West). Therefore, Dodon took control of the Constitutional Court, and now he wants a general prosecutor “of his own”. Exactly when he seemed to have succeded through a “Moldovan Bolshevik ruse”, Maia Sandu sniffed the danger and reacted adequately.

Interesting upcoming 72 hours will follow, when PSRM threats against Maia Sandu and her Minister of Justice, Olesea Stamate, will increase, including through ratting them to the western representatives (current fashion is Moscow winning through its  henchmen, who use even western partners of the defeated). However, there are low chances that western representatives get manipulated, as the U.S. ambassador and EU representative met Maia Sandu since the first moments of this crisis.

Most likely, Maia Sandu will not yield, and Igor Dodon and PSRM will seek a way to bend her will. Nevertheless, falling the government is the last option, because Igor Dodon does not want this effective government to fall, although he criticizes it, since this goverrnment paves his way to win the next year presidential elections. He is not prepared to face the political instability likely to appear after the fall of the government, especially since the Democratic Party (PDM) would reenter the game.

What was expected is about to happen. The government supported by the circumstantial alliance between ACUM and PSRM is threatened to disappear by PSRM itself. The fragility of this alliance was obvious since the beginning, and tensions steadily increased. The dilemma is not if the ACUM – PSRM alliance will colapse, but only when


III. HUNGARY. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Budapest.

The visit paid by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Budapest on November 7th unfolded under the best auspices, except for several anti-Erdoğan protests, of course disavowed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It was concluded that Turco-Hungarian relations were excellent on all planes. Several memoranda were signed regarding cooperation in education, culture, transport, and diplomacy. The fourth high-level session of the Supreme Strategic Council (est. 2013) also took place, and it discussed political and security issues, migration, trade, education, and cultural relations[3].

Viktor Orbán declared that Turkey and Hungary are strategic partners in security issues, migration included. He also stated that Hungary’s foreign policy builds on the premise that the migration flow into Europe cannot be forestalled without Ankara’s implication: Hungary appreciated Turkey’s actions to stop 350,000 illegal migrants from travelling to the European Union this year. “Had [Turkey] not done so, all these people would be amassed along Hungary’s southern border”. However, Orbán added that Hungary is able to protect its borders. He mentioned that Budapest would work as much as it can for reconstruction programs “in vicinity of Turkey”, including in the Security Zone (the strip occupied by Turkey in north-eastern Syria). Orbán reiterated that Hungary’s geopolitics is outlined by the “Istanbul – Moscow – Berlin triangle”, and he reminded that both Russian President Vladimir Putin, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas[4], recently visited Budapest: “This is just the foreign policy we want to pursue… and we’re working closely with the countries that are determiners for Hungary.”  

Regarding the military operations in northern Syria, Viktor Orbán declared he offered Turkey due respect: “If someone in Hungary fails to show such respect, my job as prime minister is to apologise to Turkey … We don’t accept any country or its leader being mocked by anyone”. He justified his position explaining that Hungary wants to avoid scores of migrants at its southern border: “We must back Turkish efforts to establish security zones in its neighborhood and repatriate migrants” [5].

Referring to the about four million migrants in Turkey, President Erdoğan declared that a “security zone“ is necessary for transfering these refugees. Additionally, he mentioned a discussion he had with the U.N. Secretary General regarding a would-be donor conference. Erdoğan appreciated the support Turkey received from Hungary in the fight against terrorism, in Hungary’s position as strategic partner and NATO ally; he stated that the only way to fight against international terrorists is if NATO allies “refuse to talk to the terrorists” (reference to the fact that most NATO nations have a different position regarding the Syrian Kurds, whom Ankara considers terrorists). Erdoğan stated that Turkey did not recieve from the EU the promised ammount of money in support of Syrian refugees, and, if a solution is not found, the “gates will have to be opened and it is obvious in which direction people will set off”.

Recep Erdoğan appreciated the support Hungary provided for Turkey’s integration into the EU (although this project is halted), and added that Ankara will further maintain good relations with the Visegrad Group countries. Viktor Orbán also underlined the military cooperation between the two countries, as NATO members, as well as their cooperation in common humanitarian projects in Africa.

As about economy, it was noticed that bilateral exchanges of 3.2 billion Euros have been achieved, and these were estimated to increase to 6 billion Euros. Cooperation in energy was mentioned, as the TurkStream gas pipeline, meant to transport Russian gas to Central Europe, is due to be finished by 2021. In this context, it was highlighted that Hungary made its largest foreign investment by its MOL company, which purchased a gas field in Azerbaijan plus a gas pipeline from there to Turkey.

Beyond the “triangle geopolitics” fancy and using the migration problem to justify his foreign policy, Viktor Orbán tries to extract maximum of economic advantage from his relationship with Recep Erdoğan, by granting him political support in a sensitive moment for Turkey. While Ankara crossed the red lines in its relations with the EU and the United States, considering it can cope with the costs, Budapest gets closer and closer to those red lines, but still hoping to dodge the penalties by using a strategy of motivating his policy of cooperation with authoritarian regimes. The strong argument Budapest uses for this cooperation is that the two regimes share a solid political and economic basis, and the authoritarian orientation grants them a common vision. The common danger the two countries try to avoid by this cooperation is isolation, within the EU for Hungary, respectively within NATO for Turkey. Harvesting the fruit of a healthy domestic economic policy, Budapest tries to extend its cooperation towards extra-European areas; however, Hungary forgets that it was precisely the political and social foundation resulting from its integration into the European Union that brought about this economic development, and the Orbán authoritarian regime strikes precisely this basis. Budapest will likely factorize this better, when the EU starts to investigate the way Hungary spent the money meant to subsidize agriculture, and when the EU hinges the European funds on the rule of law situation.


IV. SERBIA. United States warns Belgrade about the purchase of Russian air defense systems.

The United States sent a warning signal to Serbia regarding the purchase of Russian modern armament by sending to Belgrade Tomas Zarzecki, the main American official responsible for implementation of sanctions against Russian armament manufacturers, and those who cooperate with those companies.

On November 6th, sources in Serbian media announced Zarzecki’s visit to Belgrade and its purpose. The visit was allegedly planned immediately after Serbia announced the purchase of Russian Pantsir S air defense systems. On November 8th, the U.S. Embassy to Belgrade confirmed that, "in the spirit of our bilateral cooperation, Tomas Zarzecki, Director of Task Force 231 of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, is making a short, pre-planned visit to Serbia".

Tomas Zarzecki’s visit to Belgrade represents the most negative signal that Serbia receives from the United States for its extending military cooperation with Russia, respectively for purchasing Russian armament. Zarzecki’s department is tasked to implement sanctions against Russian manufacturers of security products, as well as against non-Russian partners cooperating with those companies. The legal basis of such sanctions is The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which provides the mechanism to sanction individuals, firms, and countries engaging in “significant exchanges” with Russian military and intelligence entities. Sanctions can take various shapes, from non-granting visas to economic sanctions and blocking the military cooperation. CAATSA provides a list with Russian defense industry manufacturers subjected to such cooperation interdiction. Serbia has cooperated with many of such companies, which delivered military equipment. Thus, the KBP designed the Pantsir S system bought by Serbia, the MIG builds the MiG 29 aircraft, whence Serbia received several of the modernized fighters, and Russian Helicopter produces the Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, which have been or are about to be purchsed by Serbia.

In fact, Washington’s concerns peaked last month, when Russia deployed S-400 air defense systems to Serbia for an exercise. These were complemented by Pantsis S close air defense systems, which Belgrade later announced it would purchase. Although, officially, NATO announced it respected Serbia’s decision, Brussels and Washington were alarmed by the turn of events: starting with small “gifts” in military equipment, Moscow exploited its military cooperation with Belgrade for reaching its objectives. So, Russia put the Alliance in a dangerous situation by deploying long range air defense systems in its backyard, behind NATO’s southern flank air space.       

After receiving several warnings on diplomatic channels, Belgrade started to minimize both its cooperation with Russia, and the consequences of these sanctions; Belgrade even attempted to motivate its recent arming surge by mentioning an “arms race in the Balkans”. President Aleksandar Vučić maintained that Serbia lacks the money to buy the S-400, he stated that countries cannot be punished, and spoke about Serbia’s power to resist sanctions, which reminded everybody about the 90s.

Maybe, in this stage, the United States will only warn Belgrade, but should Serbia persist, strong sanctions will likely follow. Playing at two ends, and blinded by the confrontation with Pristina, Belgrade entered deeper and deeper in a game eventually leading against its own national interests. Very likely, Serbia will now seek to find a way out of this predicament, but it will not be easy, after believing that it can do so much without picking up the bill. In fact, Belgrade augmented the problem without solving it, it went from non-recognizing Kosovo and providing for the fate of Kosovar Serbs, to the worse problem of antagonizing NATO and the United States. However, Serbia’s ability to preserve sovereign decisions in dealing with Russian pressure will likely become its biggest problem.


V. Developments to track this Week 46 of 2019.

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. The PSRM decision to go the whole nine yards with the non-confidence motion (or seeking a compromise) will decide the fate of ACUM – PSRM coalition, considering that Maia Sandu will not yield in the issue of selecting an honest and competent general prosecutor.

► SPAIN. The parliamentary elections, meant to generate a governing coalition, will not fulfil this task, as the Socialists will likely fail to reach the necessary and desired majority. The ascent of far-right party, VOX, and the recoil of political center are elements of equal concern. Al these, of course, on the backdrop of the Catalan crisis. 

► UKRAINE. After a short interlude, the troop withdrawal from the contact line was resumed. Although Moscow reiterates it is ready to participate in a Normandy format meeting, it delays to set a date and a scope for such event (now the issue is Russia’s readiness for an emergency meeting, not a meeting meant to begin the process of solving the problem). The Kremlin waits for more concessions from Kyiv.   

► IRAN. Tehran blackmails the Europeans by gradually resuming its nuclear program. If President Trump showed he was not ready to resort to military solutions, such development will sooner or later cause a reaction by Israel. Iran’s situation gets more severe as its actions, from diplomacy to provocations, did not deliver the expected results, and the economic sanctions are still on, with visible economic effects. Additionally, Tehran faces protests by the population in Iraq and Lebanon, against the political forces supported by Iran (in Iraq, even protests by the Shia).

[1] Moscow was forced to react with restraint after a Turkish F-16 downed a Su-24, when, according to Russian declarations, “Turkey hastily run to NATO”. As about testing the United States, let’s remember that, in the only confrontation between American and Russian troops, a whole brigade of Russian mercenaries was annihilated in Syria, and the Kremlin was forced to keep total silence on this event.

[2] However, the U.S. Congress used extreme caution and passed a law by which the United States can leave NATO only after a two thirds vote in the Congress.

[3] Recently, Hungary was granted observer status with the Turkic Council.

[4] Politically, Germany is at least disappointed in the way Orbán regime performs, but it tries to maintain good relations for economic reasons, including the cooperation in armament industry. Recently, Budapest purchased 44 Leopard 2A7 tanks and 24 pieces of PzH 2000 self-propelled cannons. Practically, Hungarian government seriousness compensates for Orbán regime’s anti-democratic behavior. 

[5] Let’s not mix things up: a “security zone” gets established for… security purposes, as a buffer zone between two warrying parties. Occupying a territory belonging to another country and transferring there an alien population means forced alteration of the ethnic structure in an occupied territory.