MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

28 noiembrie 2018 - Special reports - Weekly review


Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. EUROPEAN UNION: The UNITED KINGDOM gets a Brexit agreement yet to be approved by the Parliament in London. FRANCE and GERMANY begin a toned-down reform of the Euro Zone. ITALY does it again and will be punished. POLAND makes steps back in breaching the independence of justice. the CZECH REPUBLIC fights its own past.

II. RUSSIA. Vladimir Putin announces that Moscow will react, should the US withdraw from the INF.
III. UKRAINE. Reaffirmed support from Washington and continued dispute with Russia.
IV. BALKANS. KOSOVO pushes hard in its dispute with SERBIA.
V. This week 48 – developments to track.

The European Union saw a week that outlined, if not precisely decided the future directions of the Union. First of all, there is a Brexit provisional agreement and the European leaders’ accord for it, as well as a common declaration on the issue. The relief that an agreement has been found to secure a soft separation of Britain from the EU is hiding a major failure of the European project: we lost the Brits, and this became a reality written in a document, no matter how exactly it will end.
Teresa May dodged the rebellion in her party, as her opponents failed to start the internal dismissal procedure. However, before the Parliament phase of the Brexit agreement, the problem was transferred back to Brussels, because the final agreement is not… final: Spain raised the Gibraltar issue . In addition, several EU nations (France amongst them) raised the issue of fishing in British waters.
Eventually, Spain yielded, and we got a final agreement and a common declaration approved on November 25th by the European leaders. If the British Parliament approves it too, we have ourselves a soft Brexit that does not rule out the chance of having Britain back in the EU again. It is hard to predict the way the British Parliament would vote, beyond the threats from the conservatives and the Northern Ireland protestants, as well as contradictory statements by the labor MPs, with their leader too lefty to govern. Teresa May’s argument remains valid: who would oppose the only acceptable solution, since there is no other alternative but the Blind Brexit nightmare. Although the parliamentary math seems to be against T. May, there is a good chance the agreement will pass.
After President Emmanuel Macron sent to the German Parliament an ambitious unification message championing “the EU against chaos”, on November 18th, the common Franco-German budget proposal, downplayed by Germany, showed both the beginning and the limits of the Euro Zone reform.
   Back home, E. Macron is coping with the first massive reaction to his hasty promotion of bold ideas before having the majority accepted them: the “yellow vest” movement, very aggressive, peaked with an assault on Paris, on November 24th. The protests aimed at the increase in gas price by additional excise meant for actions against global warming. Although the protests only feature an active minority, the warning expressed by the French population leaves no doubt: liberalism, as a definition of the political balance, must be balanced in measures too, as well as in the pace these measures are implemented; otherwise, the measures would fail, rejected by the population, who might yield to the populist-nationalist makeshift constructions’ swan song. Bottom line, such measures only increase the government deficit.
The European Commission (EC) rejected the Italian draft budget. The letter from Brussels was received with irony by the strongman in Rome, Matteo Salvini, although the Italian government realizes the danger of aggregating the drop in economic growth with the increase in public spending, plus penalties imposed by the EC. The Italian government knows that  a spending spree only increases the deficit and generates a chimera of economic growth  as result of consumption, followed by the bill: where do we get the money to go on paying if the scorned Europe does not support us and the markets punish us? Their problem is that they aim at gaining by baseless electoral financial promises replacing the “anti-European rebellion” – an attempted blackmail European Commission did not buy.
Poland abided by the Brussels decision and started the legislative procedures leading to the reinstatement of the forcibly retired judges. Even if their government survives the looming non-confidence motion, the Polish conservatives begin to feel the growing negative reaction of the electorate, especially the city voters. As the economic accomplishments make a sturdy basis for a reset, the Polish pendulum will probably resume the center position, back from the right-wing swing. If Poland becomes an economically strong and politically stable state, as its status of Weimar trilateral group requires, the Central Europe has a future.
The bad news is where hurdles appear and shadows from the past preclude future to emerge. Although German investments provided the Czech Republic a remarkable economic advance, the political stage in Prague is, however, unstable. The living proof of this situation is that Prime-Minister Andrej Babiš sees strong opposing actions, although he survived a non-confidence vote in the parliament.  A. Babiš stated he had not collaborated with the communist secret police, but there are indications he did, and not only with the Czech secret police, but also with the Soviet secret services. A. Babiš also stated he did not embezzle European funds, yet he does everything to obstruct the investigation. A. Babiš maintained he did not know whether his son (the owner of the firm where some of the European funds went) ever visited Crimea, yet such visit was eventually proven … The Czechs are in the conundrum where the economy works well, but the politics does not progress because it did not break away from the past. We must admit that such separation from the past was awesomely hard to achieve though, since Czechoslovakia became one of the most backward communist countries after the Soviets repressed the “Prague spring”.

II. RUSSIA. Vladimir Putin announces that Moscow will react, should the US withdraw from the INF. On November 19th, the Russian President met the top officials working on defense issues to discuss the way Russia would react, should the US withdraw from the INF. There, V. Putin announced that Moscow would react to such situation, but he also added that Russia was prepared to negotiate INF with the United States.
V. Putin did not answer to the request issued by NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg and reiterated before the EU Defense Ministers, that Russia should clear the SSC-8 missile situation, because those missiles, breaching the INF, posed “a serious risk to strategic stability”. J. Stoltenberg added that Europe should demand “full and transparent compliance” with the treaty from Russia: “The US is in full compliance with the INF Treaty, there are no new US missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles in Europe”.
Revealing the concerns felt by the European leaders that the end of INF would lead to a destabilizing arms race, Federica Mogherini declared, on November 20th, at the end of the EU Council of Foreign Affairs, that “Europe’s security is to be put at risk” by the end of INF, and that “if we go towards dismantling this agreement, Europe’s security is to be put at risk and we do not want to see European territory go back to being a battlefield for other powers as it has been for so long in the past”. F. Mogherini added that “We don’t want to go back to those kind of tensions, to that kind of situation and we still hope there is a space for saving the agreement and implementing it”.
Through the voice of its deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia rejected again “any statement that Moscow is guilty of Washington’s withdrawal from INF”, although Russia did not offer any answer to the calls by the West to clear the situation of SSC-8 missiles. He insisted that Russia is determined to preserve INF (although it is accused of breaching it) because “INF Treaty prevents US from dominating the military sphere”.
Such accusation is baseless because, even if the US quits the INF, it is hard to believe it would develop and deploy intermediate range missiles to Europe: there will be a large opposition to such measure in Europe, most of the nations would oppose. The US will probably respond by consolidating its naval and airborne cruise missile arsenal. What should be well understood is that Russia is the one to have breached the INF by developing the SSC-8 missiles exactly for the purpose to really threaten Europe: they can hit any strategic target in the whole Europe, and they are difficult to locate, being mounted on the Iskander M mobile platforms. Russia has no capability to mount large numbers of cruise missiles on high reliability sea or air platforms, while the US does.
In principle, Russia has two major concerns, both generated by the US: the Global Anti-Ballistic Shield – because this neutralizes Moscow’s nuclear vectors, and the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) system – because this can hit with precision Russia’s both nuclear plus conventional armament systems, and its other critical military and civilian infrastructure. By deploying the SSC-8, Russia created a precedent which it hopes to use in renegotiating INF and gain “something” of the nature to limit the development of the American anti-ballistic system in Europe. As for countering the PGS (which will include hypersonic missiles), Russia parades all kinds of new weapons which are not what Moscow presents them to be (the Kinzal hypersonic missile is, in reality, an Iskander ballistic missile launched from the air), or they are projects with no future (the nuclear propulsion missile).
Russia’s tactic is to further deny breaching the INF and, in the same time, persuade the US to further respect the INF by exploiting the Europeans’ concern. Russia’s likely strategy is to initiate negotiations with the US on INF, aiming to convince Washington to refrain from quitting the treaty, only to later suggest it would give up SSC-8 if the US gives up “breaching INF” by deploying the anti-ballistic installations in Romania and Poland. Such stratagem is easy to counter by the US. However, but the problem is that misunderstandings and mistrust are already there at political level, between the US and important European nations. At the end of the day, everything might backfire against Russia if America does two consecutive things: first exposing the Europeans to the Russian fait accompli, i.e. breaching INF by deploying the SSC-8; and then asking the Europeans to imagine the solution... which can only be a common military response to this destabilizing action.
Russia is preparing the INF renegotiations also by generating confusion regarding the utilization of its nuclear armament. After V. Putin had affirmed that Russia would not use its nulear arsenal as the first strike, but only in response to a nuclear attack, now a proposal to the State Duma (the Russian parliament) brings back to the table the nuclear option for the situation where Russia’s “very existence is in jeopardy”. This means reopening the path to using the nuclear weapon after escalating a conventional conflict, as it has been exercised in past drills.
Future INF negotiations are extremely important not as much for Europe “threatened by the US withdrawal from INF” – in reality by the Russian SSC-8 missiles, but for Russia, because it has not the capacity to engage in an arms race with the US, albeit limited to intermediate range cruise missiles, if Moscow’s SSC-8 bluff fails.
Only looking at the oil price curve, falling towards 50 USD / barrel, the Kremlin’s peace vanishes, because such price cannot help rebalance Moscow’s budget. The old rule still rules: Russia’s political and military aggressivity directly reflects the price of crude. A recent report regarding poverty in Russia speaks volumes about the critical social situation in this country. In these conditions, no wonder that V. Putin asked the industrial military complex to identify the causes for missing the military production tragets (read “limiting corruption”). In these conditions, one can also understand the message sent to the Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Moscow would work on Iranian military withdrawal from Syria, if this persuaded President D. Trump to diminish the sanctions. 
Romania will be directly in the focus after the US answer to the situation created by Russia, and INF should be well understood before acting as experts on the matter .

III. UKRAINE. Reaffirmed support from Washington and continued dispute with Russia.
The visit paid to Washington by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, on November 16th, provided the opportunity for the clearest declaration reaffirming the US support to Ukraine by the voice of the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo: "United States will never accept Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea", and that Washington will impose "consequences until Russia returns control of the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine." The American position gives little hope for any reduction of sanctions, although at least a limitation of santions to the current level would be helpful for the Kremlin.
In Kyiv, the Rada voted, on November 22nd, the bill on introducing in the nation’s Constitution a paragraph regarding the country’s integration into NATO and the EU. President Petro Poroshenko declared that "Russia, being an aggressor state, does not have and will not have a veto on our accession to either NATO or the European Union", since this is a sovereign right of Ukraine, "which confidently walks its own path". In response, on November 23rd, V. Putin held his meeting with Russia’s governors in ... Crimea.
Regarding Ukraine’s integration into NATO and the EU, including such objectives into the Constitution means a lot, but it is not a decisive step in Ukraine’s path towards Euro-Atlantic integration because ... it’s a long way to go. Currently, Ukraine finds itself in the position where it survives only due to IMF loans  and has major deficiencies regarding the rule of law. Consequently, the way to EU and NATO is going to be on a slow boat.
Aditionally, Russia will indirectly have the right of veto: how many NATO member nations, especially Germany, would agree on integrating a country which has border disputes, and is de facto at war with Russia? And the price of peace in Donbass is accepting, one way or another, the Russian control on Kyiv, i.e. Ukraine’s reorientation towards the East. This does not mean that the West will cease to support Kyiv cope with the Russian aggression. Au contraire, this support will increase as Ukraine proves it is not a failed state, and it can face the Russian aggression.
The tensions in the Sea of Azov increased with a peak this past Sunday, November 25th, by the arrest of three Ukrainian vessels at gun point. Earlier though, Russia mentioned, on November 22nd, through the voice of Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the way Moscow reads the international law in the Sea of Azov: Russia reserves its right to control any vessel sailing in this body of water, including those passing through the Kerch Straits. M. Zakharova rejected the accusations raised by Ukraine and the EU  regarding the militarization of this sea and blocking the maritime traffic. She also declared that "Russia strictly observes its agreement with Ukraine on cooperation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait of December 24, 2003, which fixes the status of the sea as internal waters of Russia and Ukraine". M. Zakharova stipulated that the Kerch Straits have never been an international waterway, and therefore any claims concerning the right of transit or innocent  passage for foreign vessels are inapplicable. Consequently, the Russian vessels have the right to inspect the foreign vessels in the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian vessels included!!! These are foreign to the Sea of Azov too, in the Russian interpretation of the international right, the Law of the Sea, in this case.
The Ukrainians are paying now the naïvité of leaving themseles to the pleasure of Russia when, negotiating the Sea of Azov status, they did not partition this body of water with Russia. In order to provide substance to the threat, at the begining of week 47, the Russian Black Sea Fleet units had conducted an alert exercise.
Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the incident on November 25th in the Kerch Straits occurred: a Ukrainian tugboat and two small warships were aggressed by the Russian coast guard patrol warships after refusing to subject themselves to the illegal control. The incident is just the begining of a streak of events which might lead to serious naval engagements. For the moment, the Ukrainians are using small warships (armed with artillery), called “mosquito fleet” to escort trade vessels, and this tactic is working. However, Russia will quickly escalate the skirmishes, having secured the naval superiority (just considering the Coast Guard vessels, subordinated to FSB, and we are dealing with large patrol warships equipped with... ship-to-ship missiles). 

IV. BALKANS. KOSOVO pushes hard in its dispute with SERBIA.
On November 21st, the authorities in Priština decided to apply high tariffs on all products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They explained such decision by the necessity to defend Kosovo’s ”vital interests” against Serbia’s ”aggressive campaign” on the international stage. This decision follows Kosovo’s failure to become a member of Interpol after Serbia’s successful diplomatic actions. The situation can be summarized as a ”double hostage taking”: Serbia holds Kosovo hostage, a country that exists even while Belgrade does not recognize it (as do other nations, including Romania), and Serbia isolates Kosovo on the international stage, as much as it can. In the same time, Kosovo holds its Serbs hostage, especially those north of Ibar River, striking them with these tariffs which practically doubles the price of living for these Serbs.
As both actions close the way to finding a political solution, they could have been avoided if the two capitals regulated the bilateral relations  in the framework of negotiations mediated by the European Union. But Brussels did not have a unitary position regarding a solution found in mutual agreement by Belgrade and Priština. In fact, Germany opposed the agreed exchange of territory between the two parties, although the US announced its accord! The ”Kosovo country” problem was a solution imposed on Serbia after the control of the province had been taken by NATO, based on a UN Resolution, aiming to stop the repression of the Kosovar ethnic Albanians by the Serbian state. Those who created this problem, the large involved European nations, especially Germany, but also France, UK and Italy, as well as the US, are not in harmony to solve this conflict for once, some of these nations having lost any interest in the issue. Then, what can we expect? Clearly, only an escalation of the tensions and the intervention by the large powers, global or regional (why not Russia included?), each one with its own interest.
So, the EU call to Priština to renounce these tariffs (for being in clear violation of the CEFTA rules) was rejected, and the authorities in Priština maintain this rough position – an indication that there are European nations which support this stance. Serbia reacted by raising the rhetoric, but not imposing similar tariffs on Kosovo (naturally: this would affect the Kosovar Serbs as well). In this situation, Serbia appealed to the friends it could find: Russia and China. The message Belgrade sent to the ambassadors of these countries was: ”Serbia has no reason to trust KFOR or NATO in Kosovo”, or ”Serbia never found itself in a more difficult situation”. At least the message of the Serbian President to the Kosovars included the language ”we need peace”, but this does not provide any hope that the situation will improve .

V. Next week 47 – developments to track.

 Presidents of CHINA and UNITED STATES will meet this week face to face, after they kept sending each other messages about the positions they would have. There is little hope that a principle agreement will be announced, considering what happened at the ASEAN meeting, which ended with no common declaration, because China refused a proposition explicitly incriminating its illegal economic practices. Both parties just toughened their positions, but it is still possible that it is just the departure point to initiate new negotiations.

 Vladimir Putin will try to convince Donald Trump to negotiate INF.  After sending repeated messages regarding the INF, V. Putin will likely attempt to obtain from the US the renegotiation of the treaty, not its withdrawal from INF. Russia has only few arguments (it breached the agreement and is still threatening), but it plays well the card of dividing the westerners, and this might work with Donald Trump.

 GREAT BRITAIN. The UK is on its last leg before voting on the Brexit. Teresa May performed the miracle: she resisted the pressure from her own party and found a solution, an agreement with Brussels. The question is whether the British MPs will accept the agreement. Otherwise, a trip back to square one is possible – the perspective of a Blind Brexit and, in addition, a domestic political crisis in Britain. But the British wisdom might overcome the wounded pride of being the underdog in the negotiations with the EU.

 MIDDLE EAST. Syria is back: the meeting in Astana is getting closer, Russia and Turkey “have solved the urgent problems in Idlib” (at defense minister level), and Sergei Lavrov sent the message that ultimatums must be put aside. He meant the Franco-German illusion that a Constitution for Syria can be negotiated by the end of the year. What they did not understand is that their role is just to rubberstamp the Russian solution; otherwise, they become unpalatable, as in the case of the Normandy format. Israel got rid of its political crisis, but Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not decide, yet, where to attack Iran – in Syria or in Lebanon. There is little hope for peace in Yemen, as both Iran and Saudi Arabia have bigger problems.