MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

11 decembrie 2018 - Special reports - Weekly review


Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. The INF issue comes first, while the Russo-Ukrainian relations stall.

II. EUROPEAN UNION. Sweet and sour within the ”European core”.

III. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Moscow moves with Igor Dodon’s hand.

IV. This week 50 – developments to track.



The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement. After having promised to keep the headlines, the Kerch Straits incident faded out because Russia did not attack, and the West is preparing a reaction meant to be limited to the incident, unlikely meant to escalate the conflict. After ditching the bilateral meeting in Buenos Aires, the central issue of the Russo-American relations is the future of INF Treaty.

The US provided the music sheet, in a well staged development one might say, considering that the Administration in Washington is subjected to President’s fickleness and domestic pressure. The US began by presenting a declassified intelligence report, then the NATO Foreign Ministerial NAC showed solidarity with Washington, and, at last, it was the ultimatum given to Russia, to comply with the INF within 60 days, or the US would quit the Treaty.

The United States explained how Russia breached the INF: it tested the SSC-8 / Novator 9M729 missile (the land version of the naval missile Kalibr) at ranges over 500km from a fixed launching rig, allowed by the INF for a naval missile; then Russia tested the missile from a mobile launching vehicle, but the tests were made under 500km, beneath the INF threshold. After that, Russia operationalized some squadrons with this missile, which can be launched from a mobile land platform and has a range over 500 km, thus breaching the INF. This ”maskierovka” (ruse) sumarizes Russia’s breaching of the INF.

At the NATO Foreign Ministerial held in Brussels, on December 4th, the US obtained the allied support for a common position regarding Russia: Moscow must abide by the treaty and provide the necessary explanations on the SSC-8 missiles. The Europeans, headed by Germany, obtained from the US a period when the diplomacy might work something before the US withdraws from the treaty. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that Russia has 60 days to save the INF by offering explanations and dismantling the already operationalized SSC-8 missile squadrons.

On December 5th, by the voice of President Vladimir Putin himself, Russia rejected the ultimatum and the accusations regarding the INF breaching as well. He announced that Russia would react at the US withdrawal from the INF by future development and deployment of intermediate range missiles. V. Putin warned about the consequences and accused Washington for the INF collapse: “Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the United States must also have such a weapon. What’s our response? It’s simple: in that case we will also do this”. On December 7th, in Milan, Sergei Lavrov was even more pesimistic, when he linked the issue with the strategic nuclear disarming agreement: “The impression is given that the ground is simply being prepared for this document (New START) also to be ruined as a result”. Is it acceptance or just a last ditch attempt to obtain something?

Meanwhile, Russia also tested an interceptor[1], in preparation for an adequate anti-ballistic defense for its assets, and against the missiles supposed to appear after the US withdrew from the INF.

 Finally, on a diplomatic plane, a solution is still sought for. In order to play the game that the Kremlin has prepared since it developed the SSC-8, thus breaching the INF, Russia needs at least new negotiations before the US quits the Treaty. But the moment is not opportune, because Donald Trump, ”the friend”, finds impossible to show any glimpse of concession… Himself is under the pressure of the past, which comes with a vengeance, as the Mueller investigations gets a turn to the liking of the Democrats, including a change of heart by alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who signaled her intent to change her plea. There are little chances for anything to happen within the next 60 days, but one can only hope…

Regarding Ukraine, Russia did not yield, but did not press either.  The Ukrainian sailors arrested after the Kerch incident are to be tried for illegal border trespassing. Moscow did not respond to the requests by the West, inclusive by a resolute NATO, to free the Ukrainian sailors, but, on the other hand, Russia opened the Kerch Straits to vessels navigating towards Ukrainian ports. In the same time, the Kremlin is preparing a long-term response to counter the restrictions imposed to Russian citizen access to Ukraine: it speeds up the process of granting Russian citizenship to ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, although Ukraine does not accept double citizenship.

 The Ukrainians intensified their preparations for defense, but these actions are only exercises designed to prepare for a crisis which is not there yet, and for domestic comfort.

Russia took some military measures, but they are not indications of an imminent military offensive against Ukraine: ample anti-aircraft exercises took place in the areas of Strategic Unified Commands South and West, and they reflect the Russian doctrine of defending against a NATO offensive preceded by a large air attack.  

An A-50 aircraft[2] was identified at Saki, and four large transport aircraft IL-76 were seen landing at Djankoi. There were no indications of strategic aviation exercises, even limited. Since the Pentagon has sent a warship in the Black Sea, a power play of Russian strategic aviation is expected to complete the global and regional troubled picture.

If the four IL-76 large aircraft have transported airborne troops to Djankoi, that would be dangerous, even if that was just for an exercise or a demonstration. Maybe it is just a transport of Pantsir systems aimed at securing close anti-aircraft protection for the S-400 systems already deployed there. At sea, one of the Kilo class submarines is already patrolling the area, and a new patrol warship is already operationalized.

With no further deployments, Russia has the capability to easily conduct a land offensive and a naval offensive, including adequate air support.

For the rest of the big picture, business as usual: the Czechs accused Russia for conducting cyber-attacks, and the UK warned Russia that London has the capability to defend itself against Moscow’s subversion actions. What is worst though, in the US, the Mueller investigation is getting closer to finding a clear link between Russia and Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Before anything else though, Russia has now the INF exam to pass, and Moscow wants to keep the treaty although it has breached it. We expect two months of declarations, threats or appeasement, but also diplomatic maneuvers, although it is hard to believe anything can be done.


Within the ”European core”, two events have marked the last week: the good news – in Germany, the transition to a new leader will be smooth, and the bad news – in France, the protests against President Macron reached their peak and they threaten the political stability.

On December 7th, the Governing party in Germany elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as president. She is Angela Merkel’s protegee and will become the CDU proposal for the Chancellor position, after Angela Merkel retires. A. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is a follower of the current party orientation, defeated by a small margin (517 to 482) Friedrich Merz, who would have steered the party towards the right-wing aiming to face the far-right threat. If we put aside the linguistic challenge of her name, the bad news is that under Annegret’s leadership, CDU will preserve a direction within its own constituency, but this direction will not bring more votes, and might lead to losing its more conservative voters to the far-right AfD. The good news is that Angela Merkel’s position as Chancellor will not be jeopardized by her own party. She will remain a national and European leader with enough support, and she will be able to act with all the weight bestowed by her position until she leaves office. And this is good news for Europe too.

 France is shaken by the ”Yellow Vest” protests, but this movement reached its peak this week-end, both as dimension and representation. This does not mean that the political impact is water under the bridge – au contraire, the political effects of this revolt are just about to surface.

This movement was generated by a spontaneous revolt, as a reaction to the increase in gas price over-excised for environmental reasons and acted with resolution but also with violence (especially last week-end but one) to obtain the excise retreat. The movement developed quickly to later claim social measures regarding the increase in the cost of life and social decline, especially for the disadvantaged population.

Although no political party, union or other organization was behind the movement, the Yellow Vests sent the general message of rejection regarding Emmanuel Macron’s reforms. The movement gained popular support which proves that a large part of the French society opposes the reforms, if not as a whole, at least the pace they are implemented. However, the popular support for the Yellow Vests began to dwindle because of the violent actions. The ambitious president is decided to reform France and make it more competitive – before sharing the pie, we need to have it; the French responded with let’s pay attention how we share the pie we have, before favoring some of us, hoping the pie will simply grow.

The president and his government used the stick and carrot procedure: they first postponed the excise, then withdrew it for good. On the other hand, the government consolidated the riot control mechanism. The decrease of popular support was quite helpful in this respect.

But the problem is still there: France cannot take the pace of reform the president wants, and it warns that, before the climate disaster comes, the social disaster is already near. Starting immediately, the power in Paris would seek solutions and dialogue, not with the Yellow Vests, but with the society. The political impact started to appear too, in the way both the government and the opposition approach the economic and social situation in France. As a preview to the next weekly report, E. Macron already on December 10th heralded a new economic reform with a strong leftist spin, unlikely palatable to the constituency which brought him to power. Is he becoming a socialist?

With so many problems at home, E. Macron will grant less time for the European reforms which he was equally promoting.    


The headlines on R. of Moldova might be written about President Igor Dodon’s irrelevant visits or even about his meeting with President Vladimir Putin. However, the shocking event is a mysterious[3] document sent by this state to other nations, through diplomatic ways. The letter is allegedly signed by Igor Dodon and proposes the reunification of Transnistria with the Republic of Moldova. In fact, it describes a federation where Transnistria is quasi-independent, and the Republic of Moldova loses any capacity to exert a domestic and foreign policy of its own, because Tiraspol representatives in the Chişinău would control everything.

This way,  Moscow makes its move using Igor Dodon’s hand. This is nothing else but a new Kozak Plan by which the part – Transnistria (read Russia) controls the whole – Republic of Moldova or, put in other words, ”the tail wagging its dog” situation. Additional to the Kozak Plan, where the Russian troop presence in Transnistria was stipulated in a secret annex, now, such illegal foreign troops presence is vaguely masqueraded in the uncontestable wording ”technical and political guarantees”.

Putting forth this document marks the beginning of a new offensive to control the Republic of Moldova, this time using the new tool called I. Dodon.

There are many questions to be answered, but one pups up quickly: how can the ”pro-Moldovan” - former ”pro-European” power in Chişinău allow this to happen, when the R. of Moldova is a parliamentary republic, and President Dodon’s proposal must be validated by the Parliament before being officially distributed by the state’s representatives? It is the future of the country at stake, isn’t it?

V. Next week 50 – developments to track.


  • The Brexit provisional agreement is to pass the vote of the British Parliament. The debates started under bleak auspices for Prime-Minister Teresa May, who was subjected to criticism for the document agreed with the European Union. Furthermore, a so-called plan B is being circulated. Her argument still holds - ”there is nothing better”, but there are little chances this will convince the parliamentary majority. Would the fear of Blind Brexit be the only valid argument to pass the provisional Brexit agreement?


  • The price of crude is supposed to rise, after the OPEC countries have reached an accord amongst them and with Russia. The Saudi Arabia did not yield to the US request to keep the oil production up, but the problem is not over yet. Qatar leaves the OPEC, and from promise to implementation might be a long way. That’s why it is not the increase the uncertainty, but the amount thereof.  


  • Israel started to press Hezbollah. By beginning an operation to destroy the tunnels dug by Hezbollah, Israel commenced its campaign in Lebanon. Being pressed by a second criminal file, Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose the path of slowly escalating a conflict which seemed to be unavoidable anyway, since Hezbollah is the bigger threat to Israel at this moment. The ball is in Hezbollah and Iran’s court now.


  •  Serbia threatens but will it attack? As Priština rejected the EU and US calls to suspend the tariffs imposed, de facto, on the Serbian Kosovars, the European commissioner Johannes Hahn failed to ”unblock the regional trade”. After that, the attention moved to the final vote on establishing a Kosovar army, as the authorities in Priština plan to do. In this respect, the Kosovars have the American declared support. Meanwhile, the Serbian Prime-Minister suggested  nothing less than a military intervention in northern Kosovo by the Serbian army. Probably Russia is encouraging such development; in Russian reading, isn’t Kosovo the place where the West breached the international law, which is invoked on Russia regarding Crimea? Serbia can either accept the vote in Priština or lose everything it gained so far by negotiations. Handier is the peaceful protest conducted by the Serbs north of Ibar River. Escalation will follow, we do not know in what form yet, and a solution is not yet in sight.


  • Armenia organizes parliamentary elections, and the alliance of parties around Nikol Pashinian seems to be the future winner. The risk he took seems to pan out, and a majority in the Erevan Parliament is what he needs in order to begin the necessary reforms to put the country on its tracks. Russia has tolerated the developments in Armenia so far, but the danger of a market economy jeopardizes Moscow’s economic and energy control on this country: investigations on the price of gas sold by Gazprom to Armenia already started. It is worth mentioning that Armenia is probably the only country in the world in danger to have security problems if the Russian troops leave the country! Unlikely though...


[1] On November 30th, a new test of the 53T6M interceptor has been conducted.

[2] IL-76 is the Russian AWACS, an aircraft designed for air surveillance and airborne air operation command and control.

[3] A highly appreciated Romanian analyst revealed this information to a Romanian TV channel, and no reaction of confirmation or information followed.