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03 decembrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 48 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. NATO. Turkey and France complicate the situation within NATO. II. EUROPEAN UNION. The European Commission starts working. III. BULGARIA. Prime minister visits Washington. IV. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA. Finally, a prime minister has been appointed. V. Developments to track this Week 49 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. NATO. Turkey and France complicate the situation within NATO.

On the eve of upcoming NATO Summit in London, two important leaders rocked the boat, two other calmed it. Emmanuel Macron stood the course and increased tensions by “accepting to discuss” Russia’s proposal for a moratorium regarding the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe. Worse, it has been heard that Turkey will block NATO’s plans for defending the Baltic States and Poland until the Alliance member nations recognize as “terrorists” those he designates as such, the Syrian Kurds. Then, he publicly insulted president Macron. On the other plate, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced in favor of NATO by stressing its importance, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg worked hard to keep the Alliance unity by meeting Macron and publicly showing that European NATO nations increased their defense budgets, which is meant to please President Donald Trump. Interestingly, although having each one its own approach favoring Russia, Turkey and France would not support each other in NATO decisions, but would attack each other instead. Current circumstances make that Donald Trump himself, with his “America first” vision, will lead the mission to steer NATO nations towards common decisions. The Summit in London seems to be spectacular; however, not yet crucial.

First, there was the news that Ankara refused to accept NATO’s plan to defend the Baltics and Poland until its “terrorists” are recognized with this label. It is a straightforward blackmail against NATO’s main mission of deterring Russia in the hottest area, the Baltic States. More, most Europeans are concerned about their own security, spared of the being worried by Turkey’s actions in northern Syria, as the “heavyweight Europeans” have the luxury to be. This blackmail will further isolate Turkey within NATO and will limit the countries’ option to accept Turkey “as is”. Even more, this will raise the question whether Ankara’s maneuver is linked to its deeper and deeper congruence with Moscow.

Then, according to German press, Emmanuel Macron responded to Vladimir Putin’s letter to selected NATO nations regarding a moratorium on intermediate range missile deployment in Europe. In his response, although not accepting the moratorium, Macron announced his readiness to think about it, although NATO refused the Russian proposal for the simple reason that Moscow already has a couple of SSC-8 battalions (with at least 64 missiles) deployed in its European territory. Macron’s action is not a simple opening, in the context of his plan to engage Russia, but it is a crack in NATO, for undermining its hitherto unitary position. More, Macron declares that it is time the EU got involved in deciding to engage Russia, for the sake of the Europeans’ security. Since when did the EU (more exactly, France on behalf of the EU) take over the responsibility of defending Europe, and replaced NATO in the process?

In an ample speech held in the German parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly reiterated that Europeans’ security is provided by NATO, and that Germany remains strongly committed to the Alliance. Thus, Merkel partly solves the problem, being known that, in absence of a German support, a French position on behalf of the Europeans has no chance to divide the Alliance and would lead only to isolating France in NATO. Merkel diminishes the danger caused by Macron’s actions for the price of denting the Franco – German European tandem. There were already indications of large differences between Macron’s reckless approach, and Merkel’s cautious approach. Of course, it is not about personal approaches, but well-defined national visions and strategies, with deep historic, political and geopolitical roots. Remarkably, Merkel spoke firmly in support of Turkey’s further membership in NATO. Berlin much better knows, from experience, what happens in Ankara and how the problem should be addressed in order to have both Turkey and NATO in advantage.

When meeting a persuasive Jens Stoltenberg, Macron insisted with his “brain dead” NATO theme, and admitted he accepted to discuss the Russian proposed moratorium. He then returned to the issue of identifying the real threats to the allies, either Russia, China or terrorism, and he identified only terrorism as being a certainty[1]. Jens Stoltenberg won a victory though: NATO published the figures showing that European nations had increased their military spending, with an aggregate surplus of $130 billion. Also, the Europeans announced they would take a larger chunk of NATO spending. These are measures meant to please the White House, with a predictable positive impact on Donald Trump’s attitude towards the Europeans and the Alliance.

Finally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insulted Emmanuel Macron by transferring the diagnosis of “brain dead” from NATO to Macron himself. The problem goes beyond the personal note, being the despicable action sealing the tensions between the two countries down to the level where talk about allies is no longer valid. This conundrum is not caused by France; regardless Paris’s vision about Russia and the United States, France remains the European democratic power to have never breached a democratic rule, either domestic or international.

The London Summit seems to be a reunion of big internal tensions and a starting point for discussions about the Alliance future. The context is complicated: Turkey is isolated in the Alliance, France begins to be isolated as well, it is important that the United States does not further withdraw in isolation itself. Not as much the decisions on establishing “councils of experts” will show us the direction, but the decisions on post-INF reaction, and those regarding NATO contingency plans, as well as a common definition of the terrorists. One should not forget that NATO’s adversaries will adjust their aggressive actions according to the Alliance decisions and unity.


II. EUROPEAN UNION. The European Commission starts working.

The new European Commission (EC) won the vote of the European Parliament (EP). After the Juncker Commission of “the last chance”, Ursula von der Leyen (VDL). Commission will be a team of “the first chance” for a European Union facing internal decisions, the Brexit, the United States alienation, and threats such as migration, Russia and the terrorism, as well as challenges from China and other global developments, including technological. First, internal divisions will have to be dealt with, from economic to political, regarding the acceptance of rule of law, and a common approach on threats and union extension. Even with Europe running with several speeds, it is crucial that these differences in speed do not weaken it.

On November 27th, the EP voted the new Commission with a majority of 461 ballots, 151 against, and 89 abstentions. So, VDL can rely on a confortable majority. In her speech, VDL presented the new EC positions. She reafirmed the “Europe of the people”, insisting that Europe does not mean only “parties or politics, rules or regulations, markets or currencies”, but it is “ultimately and above all else – about people and their aspirations”. VDL presented details regarding the programs for fighting the climate change (which became an “existential problem”) and for establishing a social and inovative market economy (“For years, we have invested less in innovation than our competitors do. This is a huge handicap to our competitiveness and our ability to lead this transformation”) transformed by the digital revolution, as the EU budget is about to be modernized (how?). She spoke in support of completing the capital market and for modernizing all economic and social domains. VDL insisted that “a Europe that is so proud of its values and the rule of law has to be able to come up with an answer that is both humane and effective” to migration. Her realistic approach was also obvious in her external message, hinting at China, Russia or the US: “My Commission will not be afraid to speak the language of confidence and assertiveness. But we will do it our way, the European way... This is the geopolitical Commission that I have in mind and that Europe urgently needs”.

The new EC objectives are ambitious, from progress against global warming to technologic advance (digital revolution). The EU internal consolidation will be a priority. Without this, foreign actions, including extension, will be only limited. The eastern European nationalist drift (see Hungary and Poland) must be slowed down by imposing the rule of law. On the other side, the western European ultrahumanistic liberalism must be adjusted to realities in order to cope with migration. The policy of eliminating the internal gaps will also allow extension to be unblocked. Also, the EU must overcome the Brexit complications both internally and externally. 

The question regarding the EU’s place in the world will not get an answer if the European equation is not solved first: who are we? and what do we want? The foundations of internal policy are the only bases leading to harmonize the EU foreign and security policy. It is vital that the Europeans get together to the level where Brexit become impossible to repeat. A small positive signal is provided by the fact that Berlin and Paris reached a common proposal regarding a congress on the future of the EU. Although the problems seem to appear especially with the eastern newcomers in the EU, in fact, it is the western heavyweights who must get along amongst themselves, overcoming purely national interests.


III. BULGARIA. Prime minister visits Washington.

During their November 25th meeting, Donald Trump and Boyko Borisov discussed political, security, military issues, as well as economic, specifically energy. Although good understanding can describe the general mood between them, Bulgaria’s difficult position was visible, both for its domestic problems, and its relations with Russia from Bulgaria’s stance as EU and NATO member. The visit followed the streak of Donald Trump’s meetings with eastern European leaders, EU and/or NATO, in the attempt to supplant the deterioration of Washington’s relations with main European powers, as well as for counterbalancing Russia’s influence in some of these countries. 

In military cooperation, bilateral relations made a spectacular leap with Bulgaria’s program of purchasing eight F16 V aircraft. This is seen by the White House as a significant moment in modernizing Bulgaria’s defense. This one-time purchase pushed Bulgaria’s defense spending as a percentage of GDP from 1.61% to 3.25%, second only to the U.S. which leads the pack with a defense budget at 3.42%. In the framework of NATO / United States measures to secure the Black Sea allies, the establishment of a NATO Naval coordination center in Varna was decided. This institution will have the mission to monitor navigation in the Black Sea, coordinate the naval forces of the three littoral NATO nations, as well as cooperation with NATO naval groups temporarily deployed to the Black Sea. This naval center will also have logistic responsibilities.

Regarding the domestic situation in Bulgaria, President Trump raised the issue of rule of law, fight against corruption, and defense against Russian hybrid aggression. In the energy field, Donald Trump raised the issue that Bulgaria should reduce its energy dependence on Russia and should import American NLG instead, as well as nuclear fuel for its nuclear plant.

On military and security issues, Bulgaria’s attempt not to upset Russia… upset the United States. So, exactly when traveling to Washington, Boyko Borisov declared that Bulgaria does not want American bases on its territory, which triggered an unofficial reaction from Washington[2]. The attempts to belittle the Varna naval center’s military role also raised eyebrows. Bulgaria is already the stage for Russian hybrid actions yet treated “with understanding” by Sofia. The most hilarious case was that of a Bulgarian citizen arrested on the charge of spying for Russia. This individual was freed from jail by Bulgarian justice only to travel to Moscow for receiving a decoration from President Vladimir Putin!

Regarding its domestic political problems, Bulgaria pays the price for avoiding as follows: a political democratization; a real reform to an independent and effective justice; and the fight against corruption. These shortcomings were covered through a generalized “omerta”. Thus, the visit was “prepared” by the U.S. ambassador to Sofia, James Pardew, who presented the image of a country soaked in corruption, in the same time with a reduction in the freedom of the press (which is controlled by oligarchs) and justice ineffectiveness. Trump Administration, although less concerned with human rights and rule of law, cannot tolerate such situation. Finally, Bulgaria will learn that a real reform, albeit with ups and downs, is preferred to the simulated reform.

Bulgaria remains suspended between its status of NATO ally for the United States, and Russia. Domestic political stagnation is a fertile ground both for corruption, and for Moscow’s political, economic, and hybrid actions. Romania’s natural road companion towards westernization risks to lose ground, and only clear actions can keep it on a convergence course with the U.S., such as the purchase of F16V aircraft.


IV. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA. Finally, a prime minister has been appointed.

After having announced an agreement a while ago (after 13 months of stalemate!), a prime minister was finally identified in the ethnic Serbian economist Zoran Tegeltija, nominated by Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnian Serbs. The three Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) presidents, Serbian, Croat, and Boshniak (Muslim) appointed Zoran Tegeltija as head of the Council of Ministers (the BiH government). This appointment is to be approved by the parliament. This appointment was a success recognized by all sides, and the Boshniak leader, Sefik Djaferović declared that “all the people and citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina" are winners. The words should not fool us, nationalism is still the card all three political and ethnic camps are playing.

The stalemate was caused by Croats and Muslims, who reacted to the Serb position against BiH integration into NATO[3]. While the Croats and the Muslims want BiH integration into NATO, the Serbs want to keep BiH off the Alliance, respectively neutrality (common position with Serbia and its main sponsor, Russia). So, Dodik opposed transmitting to NATO the annual reform plan, which would have been an opening for BiH’s process of integration into NATO.

Two events raise doubts, from different perspectives, over this step forward which is the appointment of a prime minister, and both events raise point to a minimal level of understanding between the two sides.

On November 27th, the Croat representative in the tripartite presidency, Željko Komšić paid a visit to the United States, when Washington puts pressure that BiH start the process of integration into NATO. He had a meeting with James Anderson, the deputy undersecretary for policy with the Department of Defense. The visit came after information was circulated, a couple of days before, that BiH would have proposed an agenda regarding reforms and preparations for a possible future integration into NATO. However, the Pentagon communicated that Željko Komšić’s visit was planned in advance, with no connection to any agreement on the new prime minister. It seems there were also discussions on “areas of mutual concern, including U.S. support for Bosnia-Herzegovina defense reform and security cooperation. There were no planned deliverables, it was mainly relationship building".

Although having no immediate effect, the second event shows the real position of BiH ethnic Serbian entity Republika Srpska’s (RS) leadership. On November 12th, the RS Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting the so-called “Bonn powers” [4] granted to the High Representative for BiH[5]. This is part of a twenty so-called “conclusions” package voted by the RS Parliament after having been proposed by SNDS, Milorad Dodik’s party. Another “conclusion” stipulates that RS has the authority to decide its future status (a threat hinting to RS secession from BiH, as Dodik threatened so many times before).

Although the appointment of a prime minister is a step forward, there is no guarantee that progress will occur, as long as the two sides foster antagonic positions fed by nationalism and by divergent geopolitic support.


V. Developments to track this Week 49 of 2019.

► UKRAINE - RUSSIA. The Normandy format meeting preparations are on their last leg. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a phone discussion with Angela Merkel, as Germany offers credentials of a more balanced friend than France, which crosses a phase showing large opening to Moscow. The Kremlin sent the immediate objective: Kyiv’s acceptance of a direct dialogue with the separatists, which would mean recognizing them. A Putin - Zelenskiy tête-à-tête is to follow, where the gloves would likely come off.

► SERBIA - RUSSIA. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, as the Russo – Serbian relations were not stained by the recent discovery of a GRU espionage network in Serbia. Under the screen of full mutual understanding, decisions will be taken regarding political, economic, and military cooperation.

► GEORGIA. Opposition protests continue, short of peaking though. Will the governing party “Georgian Dream” yield to the opposition request to adjust the electoral system, as promised? Not likely. The United States and the European Union watch the developments, as Russia does as well.   

► MALTA. The reveals about the murder of an investigative female journalist reached the level where the murder was decided, which is at the top of the power. Malta’s prime minister will likely resign, which is a new phase in eliminating the leaders with inner circle individuals linked to criminal acts. Slovakia is likely the next, where the process regarding the murder of another journalist will lead as well to top official inner circles. 

[1] France was shocked by the tragedy in Mali, where 13 French soldiers died after two French helicopters collided during a combat action.

[2] An ally should say what it does together with the United States, not what it does not want to do, especially since such statement was uncalled for.

[3] BiH is part of NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP). On the other hand, in 2017. the ethnic Serbs’ SNSD party led by Dodik claimed the neutrality of the ethnic Serbian entity of BiH, Republika Srpska.

[4] The “Bonn powers” offer to the High Representative the authority to dismiss politicians, to veto laws, and to promote bills. This position has been occupied for a long time by Valentin Inzko. His decisions were harshly criticized by Bosnian Serb political representatives.

[5] The highest authority in BiH, the High Representative for BiH, is appointed by the European Union.