MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

10 decembrie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 49 of 2019)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. NATO. The London Summit. II. RUSSIA. Moscow reacts moderately. III. RUSSIA - SERBIA. President Vučić visits Moscow. IV. GERMANY - RUSSIA. Berlin reacts to a “Russian murder”. V. Developments to track this Week 50 of 2019.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. NATO. The London Summit.

More than expected, the December 3rd to 4th NATO anniversary reunion in London reached its goals: it offered a unitary response and overcame differences which previously looked insurmountable, because all member nations, even the “dissidents”, know that outside NATO there is only uncertainty. Differences were visible before, during, and after the reunion, especially in declarations by several leaders. Importantly, President Donald Trump, although maintaining his well-known transactional attitude, expressed faith in the Alliance. The London Declaration offered an answer to current concerns, and dissenting opinions faded away, although they remain a threat to NATO unity and principles. London Declaration is relevant for understanding the decisions taken at this Summit (scripta manent), but also the leader declarations were significant to reveal existing problems (although verba volant, they show constant positions).

London Declaration reaffirms the basic principles and presents the decisions: The Summit celebrated 70 years of “the strongest and most successful Alliance in history”. “NATO guarantees the security of our territory and our one billion citizens, our freedom, and the values we share, including democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law. Solidarity, unity, and cohesion are cornerstone principles of our Alliance.  As we work together to prevent conflict and preserve peace, NATO remains the foundation for our collective defence and the essential forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies.  We reaffirm the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, our adherence to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, and our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all”.

The Declaration responds to the problem of military spending: the allies are determined to share costs and responsibilities of its “indivisible security” by increasing defense investments to 2% of the GDP (whence 20% for hardware). The Alliance concludes it “faces threats emanating from all directions: Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all. State and non-state actors challenge the rules-based international order. Instability beyond our borders is also contributing to irregular migration. We face cyber and hybrid threats”.

Reaffirming NATO’s defensive stance, the Declaration mentions the efforts made for increasing the readiness and reaction capability of its forces. The Alliance will continue the fight against terrorism and will continue to respond in a calibrated and responsible way to Russia’s deployment of new intermediate range missiles, which led to the INF demise and constitutes a “significant risk to the Euro-Atlantic security”. It is worth noticing that a balanced combination of nuclear, conventional and ballistic defense capabilities is maintained for deterrence. NATO remains open to dialogue and a constructive relation with Russia, when Moscow’s actions make this possible. The Alliance support for the “open door” policy is also reaffirmed. NATO declared outer space as the fifth operational environment.

The Declaration also reaffirmed: the need for maintaining technological superiority and the respect for values and norms; the increase of society resilience in its entirety, as well as resilience of critical infrastructure and energy security; communication security, including 5G, and cyber-security. The Alliance identifies China’s increasing influence, a development that presents both opportunities and challenges. Considering the security environment dynamics, the Declaration proposes a reflection process, in view of consolidating NATO’s political dimension, consultations included.

Most important, Donald Trump had the opportunity to be the first, and presented positions encouraging the Alliance by highlighting its value. He insisted on increasing military spending, with specifications for various allies considering their budgets earmarked for defense. Trump criticized Macron for his remarks, and Germany for spending not enough for defense, yet he did not criticize Erdoğan.

NATO has showed it is functional and, although he insisted with his “brain dead” idea, Macron played along. However, he insisted on the notion of redefining the threats and on engaging Russia in dialogue. Although, after the Summit, Macron stated that the Europeans, respectively the European Union must preserve their stance in responding to Russian SSC-8 missiles, he implicitly accepted that decisions will be taken within NATO. France and Germany, who opposed a symmetric response, from different perspectives, will have to accept an American solution, likely featuring only conventional warhead missiles. The two nations achieved the decision of having an “expert commission” established, in fact, an increase of their importance in NATO decisions (which lies behind NATO’s “political consolidation”).

Turkey remained silent, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined the flow with no contradictory position. Polish president Andrzej Duda suggested there was no firm position of Turkey opposing the defense plan for Poland and the Baltic States, but also that Turkey’s position regarding terrorism should be understood. Later, the Turkish delegation reiterated it would not accept that defense plan until the allies recognized PYD as terrorist organization. There was not the case, Macron reminded Erdoğan that Ankara’s allies in Syria are terrorists. Perhaps the solution will be a compromise, not one of the Alliance with Turkey, but in the way of finding a course of action where the defense plan works further without Turkey. One should notice that many of the stipulations in the Declaration, those on democracy, liberty and the rule of law, remind Erdoğan that Turkey has no longer a place in the Alliance. In fact, the three remarkable leaders, those of the United States, France and Turkey, were thinking about what was going on at home: Trump expects impeachment developments in the House of Representatives, Macron faces protests against the pension law, and Erdoğan will face the establishment of two new parties, split from AKP.  

Romania’s representative declared that Bucharest achieved all objectives, and everything leads to this conclusion. A united Alliance, with the U.S. in the lead, and with the European heavyweights accepting the American decisions, is exactly what Romania needs. However, nothing was mentioned about the Black Sea, although this had been discussed before, during the foreign ministerial reunion. Maybe it is better this way: not pushing it too much and irritate the adversaries, and the allies as well. There is much to do anyway, and any serious step forwards will bring an ever-increased U.S. support, with support from other allies as well. It is important that, regarding Russia, NATO position is unitary and balanced (blaming Russia’s actions, but readiness for dialogue as well). Eventually, all is well that ends well. London Summit did not bring disagreements to a break point, and things tend to progress. Of course, problems still remain, but there is the capacity and will to solve these problems.


II. RUSSIA. Moscow reacts moderately.

By reactions to NATO decisions and other statements, Russia clearly showed a restrained attitude, aiming to relaunch its dialogue with the United States / NATO. The Kremlin wants the New START treaty extended, and Moscow’s actions are oriented toward reaching this decision from the U.S. Finally, it seems that Russia was successful, as Sergei Lavrov is to pay an unexpected visit to Washington.

Reaction to NATO decisions. On December 5th, Vladimir Putin declared that NATO extension is a threat to Russia, but he hoped that the shared interest regarding common security would prevail. He declared that, despite tensions, Russia was ready to cooperate with NATO. Putin reiterrated that NATO extension makes no sense, since the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991. He said that Russia is ready to cooperate with NATO regarding common threats, including international terrorism, but Russian attempts to forge stronger links “were practically curtailed”. Putin reacted negatively to NATO’s designation of outer space as an operational domain. He has warned that the United States see space as a “theater of military operations”, and that America’s development of space forces represent a threat for Russia: "The U.S. military-political leadership openly considers space as a military theater and plans to conduct operations there,.. For preserving strategic supremacy in this field the United States is accelerating creation of its space forces, which are already in the process of operative preparations". He pointed that the main nations in the world quickly develop modern military space systems and dual mission satellites, and Russia must do the same[1].

Moscow’s moderate attitude regarding NATO represents an important change of the Kremlin position. Preserving its opposition to NATO extension, the Kremlin shows readiness to cooperate with the Alliance. The reason is provided by current situation: after starting the arms race already, by deploying the SSC-8 missiles, annexing Crimea, and toying with Ukraine in Donbass, the Kremlin needs to resume dialogue in order to preclude a wider arms race it would not cope with, and for escaping from political and economic isolation (getting the sanctions lifted). The Kremlin seems satisfied with the current situation, with blocking NATO advance into its “sphere of influence”, and obtaining a strategic advantage by deploying the SSC-8 missiles. The problem is that this advantage must be preserved with minimal financial efforts, and, to that end, two objectives are necessary: 1) in missiles, extending the New START and a moratorium for intermediate range missiles; and 2) NATO should accept the current situation (with no NATO perspective for Ukraine and Georgia).

Extending the New START agreement and the post-INF strategy. On December 5th, Vladimir Putin reiterrated that Russia is ready to extend the agreement on nuclear strategic weapons New START, before the end of this year, with no prerequisites or discussions. Putin appeared open to shed his previously defying tone: “Russia is not interested in starting an arms race and deploying missiles where they are not present now” [2]… “Russia is ready to immediately, as soon as possible, by the end of this year, without any preconditions, extend the START Treaty so that there would be no further double, or triple interpretation of our position”. One month ago, Moscow had already warned there was little time to negotiate a new such agreement. Putin’s tone is radically changed from previous declarations offered by the SVR Director, Sergei Naryshkin, who had stated that an extension of New START was unlikely, and by Nikolai Patrushev, who had suggested that Moscow could change its doctrine (a threat about extending the range of situations where Russia would resort to its strategic nukes).

On the other hand, on December 6th, Sergei Lavrov reminded that Russia would not hesitate to respond to any deployment of missiles by the United States, as a post-INF reaction: “We will have a mirror reaction, … Every step will have a Russian reaction”, in the context where Moscow has proposed a moratorium regarding the deployment of intermediate range missiles.

Under these circumstances, Vladimir Putin discussed with his brass the development plans for the Russian Navy, which include building new frigates and purchasing several naval platforms armed with Zyrkon hypersonic missiles.

The Kremlin has decided that New START must be extended, as Moscow cannot simultaneously finance the modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, the post-INF development of its sub-strategic armament, and its niche armament systems that Moscow has heralded (hypersonic missiles). Facing a reluctant United States, the Kremlin gave up any preconditions like connecting the strategic nuclear armament to the ballistic missile defense systems. The Kremlin also showed an unusual transparency by inviting U.S. observers to see the Avangard system (the “hypersonic glider” mounted on ICBMs). The problem is that President Donald Trump wants new agreements, both instead New START, and instead INF, to include China. In the post-INF case, Moscow threatens with a symmetric response (although it has already deployed the SSC-8 missiles), but it hopes for a moratorium. Both regarding the intermediate range missiles, and the hypersonic weapons, the United States started a race to quickly recover the apparent handicap. Facing this situation, the Kremlin decided to show a mixt of openness and firmness, where moderate declarations are accompanied by launching of Kinjal missiles, and by the decision to arm naval platforms with Zyrkon missiles (an operationalized naval hypersonic missile superior to Onyx naval supersonic missiles and to Kalibr subsonic missiles). The United States will likely show readiness to continue the New START, but will probably react to an INF extension, although such rejection is watered down in Europe, as a massive intermediate range missile deployment is going to unfold in Asia.


III. RUSSIA - SERBIA. President Vučić visits Moscow.

The visit paid by President Aleksandar Vučić to Moscow did not produce spectacular results. Behind friendship and cooperation declarations, it was visible that no practical step was really made. What Russia wanted, “filling the already signed agreements with contents” did not happen. It seems that Vučić remained “on the fence” between East and West, maintaining current limits and avoiding a deeper cooperation in the political[3], economic, and military fields.   

It was communicated that discussions focused mainly on economic issues and on Kosovo (although, military and espionage[4] issues were lately in public attention). Putin described the bilateral relations in bright colors: "our relationships are evolving, our strategic partnership is being reaffirmed and strengthened on a daily basis, both in political and economic relations, as well as in the security field".

In economy, a review was made, but no new decision was announced. On December 4th, Aleksandar Vučić declared that Serbia was about to finalize the TurkStream gas pipeline segment on its territory, the pipeline transporting Russian gas to Central Europe on an itinerary avoiding Ukraine through the Black Sea, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Vučić described the project as “a huge investment and a great chance for our country's development".

However, the pipeline segment crossing Bulgaria will be built only next year. Putin accused Bulgaria of deliberately delaying the construction of its portion of pipeline[5]. Bulgaria rejected these accusations. Putin affirmed that Russia can identify ways to by-pass Bulgaria (hard to believe, such by-pass should cross Greece and Northern Macedonia, where it can as easily be blocked as that through Bulgaria). Beside this review of portfolio, there was no result of the discussions in Moscow.

Regarding Kosovo, there was a reiteration of known positions. Vučić expressed his gratitude for Russia’s support in the Kosovo file, and in safeguarding Serbia’s territorial integrity. Vučić stated that "If it was up to Putin to decide in 1999, we would never have been bombed". He added he communicated to Putin his "low expectations about the future negotiations with the Albanian side... First and foremost, given their statements, announcements and attempts to push further recognition of Kosovo's independence with exerting additional pressure, without Serbia getting anything... This, he said, is neither possible nor realistic and will not happen". Putin underlined that Russia pleaded for a peaceful solution in Kosovo problem, and has reiterated that UNSC Resolution 1244 must be observed, as well as the human rights of all ethnic groups in Kosovo. Putin offered support for a compromise in the Kosovo problem, an outcome that Belgrade and Pristina can reach, and has specified that Russia “will be on Serbia’s side”. Russian support on Kosovo is obvious, but pointing that is redundant, because relaunching negotiations is not on the radar screen. Talking about radars, additionally, the United States recently exerted pressure on Belgrade not for unilateral concessions regarding Kosovo, but for ending its military cooperation with Russia, i.e. Moscow’s deployment of an S-400 system to Serbia. Nevertheless, Putin has reminded that Russia helps Serbia consolidate its defensive capabilities. On the other hand, the West should be careful with the way it handles the Kosovo issue, because it pushes Serbia in Russia’s arms, even closer than Belgrade would like to hug!

In the post-communist diplomatic language of the Slavic space, where brotherly gestures and declarations flow, this meeting, although looks to be successful, did not produce any concrete agreement. It means there are problems, as Belgrade did not agree to deepen bilateral relations in the way Moscow wanted. However, there is still too little information regarding the substance of discussions in Moscow. We will hopefully see, soon, what really happened, through the political and military decisions the two leaders take.


IV. GERMANY - RUSSIA. Berlin reacts to a “Russian murder”.

On December 4th, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats in response to Moscow’s lack of cooperation in the murder case of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen with Georgian passport,  who was killed in Berlin, on August 23rd. The two diplomats were representatives of Russian intellgence agencies in Germany. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that expulsions were “baseless and unfriendly”, and threatened with a set of response measures which, however, did not turn into any expulsion.

The case gained momentum immediately after the murder was commited, as the perpetrator was apprehended and documented as having entered Germany with a Russian passport and a fake name. He was identified as a Russian citizen having commited a murder in Russia, who then simply disappeared from Russian records only to resurface with a passport issued by Russian authorities under a fake name. Of course, this story raised eyebrows. Due to its gravity, the case was transfered to the German General Prosecution Office. Then, Berlin decided to expell the two Russian diplomats, because “Russian authorities failed to respond to Germany’s multiple requests and refused to cooperate in investigating this murder”. German press revealed that German General Prosecutor took the case after seeing evidence of a “foreign intelligence agency’s” involvement. In German press there is no restraint in identifying the Kremlin as mastermind of this murder, and the press talks about “state terrorism” and compares this case with the Skripal case. German Prosecutor continues the investigation, but political authorities remain silent.

There are enough elements leading to the hypothesis (backed with evidence) that a Russian hit man was “recycled” by Russian authorities and sent to Germany for executing Khangoshvili. The latter was no angel himself, but there is no death sentence against him, let alone the originality of this execution! A new Skripal case is unfolding, but the German authorities will attempt to keep this scandal under control, for political and economic reaasons. The problem is still there, though: the Kremlin continues to behave as never having heard about international laws. Russia has a history of many other actions, from systematically bombing civilians in Syria (while evidence is mounting, Moscow struggles to block the UN investigation), and covering Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks, to hybrid actions in Europe and the United States. Beside these, this latest murder makes Moscow harvest the fruit exactly when it wants to pose as a serious power and a nation open to dialogue with the West. Perhaps, it is just for that reason that German authorities will turn the blind eye in this case, but the boil stays and will swell[6].


V. Developments to track this Week 50 of 2019.

► UNITED KINGDOM. December 12th parliamentary elections in UK are crucial for the Brexit. The advantage Conservative had over the Labor diminished. Low blows flowed and will continue to pour until the eve of the election day. Russia and the United States are caught in accusations brought by both sides.

► RUSSIA – UNITED STATES. The visit to be paid on December 10th by Sergei Lavrov to Washington is a spectacular development. It could bring clarification in important issues such as arms control (New START) or the post-INF situation.

► UNITED STATES. The Democrats hurry the impeachment vote in the House, then the Senate will start “trying the President”. The result is predictable, a negative vote in the Republican dominated Senate. However, reveals and party behavior, especially the President’s, will crucially contribute to the unfolding of next year’s election campaign.   

► GREECE - TURKEY. Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador after the Islamist government in Tripoli, recognized by the United Nations, signed an agreement of maritime interest delimitation with Turkey. Ankara pushed the Mediterranean economic water sharing while the situation was already tense following the drills conducted by Turkey in Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus. In this dispute, Greece and Cyprus are allied with Egypt (the leadership in Cairo is angered by Ankara’s support to the Egyptian  “Muslim Brotherhood”). The European Union and the United States support Greece, and the international laws are also on the Greek side. A new and significant crisis, still in the making, looms large above eastern Mediterranean Sea. Greece already deployed several warships to the island of Crete.

► CZECH REPUBLIC. The Prime Minister Andřej Babiš situation got more complicated after the EU found a conflict of interest in his case and requested the return of European funds that Babiš has used. In these circumstances, the Czech Prosecution Office decided to reopen the file regarding the use if European funds by Prime Minister Babiš.

[1] Things are a bit different. Considering the American superiority in quantity (950 to 150 satellites) and quality (a formidable communication and surveillance system deployed in space), Russia, and China as well, attempted to reestablish the balance by developing anti-satellite weapons. The United States reacted, including by establishing the Space Command, and NATO just adapted to the situation.

[2] The narrative that Russia did not deploy what, in fact, it already did deploy, the SSC-8 missiles.

[3] An information that a “Russian journalist” suggested to Vučić, during an interview, to reshuffle his government was leaked to the Serbian press. The rumor has it that President Vučić stopped the interview and showed that journalist the door.

[4] Regarding the GRU espionage network against Serbian military, the dust was swept under the rug, and… Bulgaria was identified as escape goat. This is a risky maneuver, though, it can lead Belgrade to isolation. In military issues, the problem of Pantsir S system purchase was not solved, nor the S-400 deployment, nor the Serbian armament export to Ukraine. Interestingly, on the very eve of the visit, a Russian AN-124 transport airplane landed in Belgrade (to load or unload what?). Serbian press suggested current and future cooperation in warfare (export of 155mm ammunition to Russia), but no concrete plan surfaced yet. 

[5] Putin’s declaration confirms the degradation in Russo – Bulgarian relations after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s visit to Washington. Thus, in a belated reaction to the expulsion, respectively denial of accreditation for two of its diplomats, Russia expelled two Bulgarian diplomats from Moscow.

[6] France offered information regarding a group of Russian spies who used French territory to plan and execute subversive actions across Europe. Evidence also surfaced on Russian meddling in Catalonia and United Kingdom.