MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

07 februarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 5 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I.RUSSIA. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty terminated with the announcement of the US withdrawal.

II. UCRAINE: Petro Poroshenko announced his decision to run for president.

III. UNITED KINGDOM. The Brexit agreement is questioned.

IV. KOSOVO. Warning from the US.

V. This week 6 – developments to track.


I. RUSSIA. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty terminated with the announcement of the US withdrawal.

Since Russia did not give up on the SSC8 missile, the US announced, as expected, its withdrawal from the INF, a six-month process that might allow an agreement on maintaining the deal. The US has the support of its European allies on this issue, but everything has a price: they may not deploy intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe. So, Russia lost the chance to maintain INF in effect and failed to divide the Alliance. Though, Moscow still has the possibility to renegotiate the agreement by the day of US’ complete withdrawal with an advantage given by jumping the gun: it has already deployed four SSC8 missile Battalions[i] which threaten almost the whole Europe.

On February 1st, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, officially announced that the US is no longer complying with INF and within a six-month time frame will completely withdraw from this agreement[ii]. On the same day, President Trump said that he officially withdrew the US from the INF, stating that the US would "cease fulfilling the obligations" stemming from the INF starting from February 2nd. He added that the US would not continue the withdrawal process if, by August, Russia returns to the agreement by destroying all missiles and launchers that violate it. President Trump motivated the US withdrawal from INF by generalizing the problem: “We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other”. He also announced that he is open for discussions on a new arms control agreement: “I hope we’re able to get everybody in a big, beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better.”

On February 1st, NATO issued a communiqué in which Member States announced their solidarity with the US stance. According to this statement the US is entitled to initiate withdrawal from the treaty as a consequence of Russia's violation of the INF by deploying SSC8 (9M729) missiles. NATO urged Russia to comply with the INF agreement in the next six months. However, the Alliance has little hope that Russia will conform, as Jens Stoltenberg clearly said on January 31st: "We are preparing for a world without INF." On February 1st, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced that NATO does not intend to deploy new ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe. This is probably the price paid by the US to the Europeans reluctant to have new nuclear missiles deployed on their territory, with Germany being the most worried about this perspective. In this regard, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced on February 1st that "we will use these six months withdrawal period to talk if US quits INF Treaty." On the other hand, a German politician, Jürgen Hardt, identified one of Russia's goals: "Putin is trying to divide NATO."

On February 2nd, President Putin declared that Russia is suspending the compliance with INF and would also withdraw from the Treaty[iii]. President Putin announced the inflexible position of Russia, keeping a threatening tone: “Our response will be symmetrical. Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too." He added that Russia would create new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and urged his government not to initiate talks on disarmament with Washington, accusing the US of not responding adequately to such initiatives: "We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiated talks on the disarmament issue.  We see that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives." He also said that Russia would start developing supersonic medium-range missiles; Russia will similarly respond to the steps that the US takes with regard to INF; the US weapons systems should be subject to inspections; the US violated the INF agreement by using interceptors and deploying them in Europe together with MK 41 launchers (reference to Aegis Ashore at Deveselu / Romania). Putin said that Russia would not deploy its weapons in Europe and other regions if the US did not do it.

Also, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of violating INF and other arms control agreements, including non-proliferation. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed that, after the US withdrawal from the INF agreement, land-based launchers be developed for Kalibr missiles, which can be done within the limits of the current budget.

In turn, on February 2nd, China urged the US to solve differences with Russia through dialogue. In fact, it is in its best interest that INF continues since China is the main INF beneficiary, of which it is not part, developing unimpeded its mid-range missile systems.

To resume, the US is starting its withdrawal from the INF, with the support of all NATO members, but leaves the door open for negotiations in case Russia complies with INF by giving up on SSC8. After the next six months, we will see the American move, perhaps focused on missile interception and the destruction of launchers. Both operations are difficult to perform due to the short reaction time which requires the existence of well performing systems. The US and NATO possess them (stealth F22 and F35 aircraft as well as advanced anti-aircraft / anti-missile defense systems), but much remains to be done in terms of early detection (modern C4ISR systems). Russia has a great advantage: the four SSC8 Battalions total launch capability is comparable to that of the entire Black Sea Fleet. Russia has, for many years, illegally developed what Sergei Shoigu now proposes (the Kalibr naval missile launched from the land-based mobile system[iv]). President Putin's assurance that these missiles will not be deployed in Europe is futile: ​​SSC8 missiles can hit almost everywhere in Europe, launched from the Russian territory without having to be deployed in the proximity of European borders. Russia will probably complement these missiles with another supersonic cruise missile (similar to the naval P-800 Oniks) and a ballistic missile already developed, possibly with an Avangard[v] payload (this would be "the hypersonic missile").

On the other hand, it is hard to believe that the US will limit to defensive measures, avoiding the deployment of missiles similar to the Russian ones in Europe or other weapon systems with similar effects. Here comes the big question: will the Europeans accept that? The answer to this question fuels all Russian hopes. If the US wants to keep INF at all costs, Russia wants US to give up the missile shield in Europe. Certainly, hard times are to come. Let alone the relations between Europeans and the Trump Administration and the typical American president's question: who is paying?

The only hope is... Russia's weak economy: with Putin’s popularity at only 33%, the oil price at just $ 55/barrel and an unreformed economy, i.e. inefficient, plus Western sanctions, Russia cannot afford an arms race, even though it jumped the gun. That is why Defense Minister Shoigu said that the Russian answer would not go over the current budget allocations. This is true, since the four Kalibr Battalions on ground launchers already exist, no extra rubles need to be spent.

A time of serious tensions and debates is to follow and the decision that will be taken by the US, in agreement with Europeans, will be influencing our security more than we can presently imagine.


II. UCRAINE: Petro Poroshenko announced his decision to run for president.

On January 29th, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President in office, announced his intention to run for a new term. Although this was expected, Poroshenko decision was significantly delayed, probably, in order to prepare his reply against the platforms of the two most important counter-candidates. The place chosen for the event, Kruty (where Ukrainian students and Cossacks defended Kyiv in 1918 against the Bolsheviks), has a symbolic, obviously nationalist value, P. Poroshenko presenting himself as the one who consolidated the foundations of the Ukrainian state (army, language and faith), and set a direction for it, the Euro-Atlantic integration ("from Kruty to Brussels") and the separation from Russia.

In his speech, Petro Poroshenko focused on the country's defense and foreign policy issues, the ones he had the greatest success with, providing, with the Western support, not only the preservation of Ukraine's independence and sovereignty, but also the financial resources needed for economic survival and the military support necessary for the rebirth of the Ukrainian military. Poroshenko promised to submit Ukraine's bid to NATO and the EU in 2024 (an unrealistic term, of course).

Poroshenko's problem seems to be that the Ukrainians, while still worried about the war against Russia, have a much greater concern: the very poor economic situation. Petro Poroshenko has accepted that he had not done much from the economic perspective, promising instead to bring investors to the country from 2020 onwards and to increase monthly wages, pensions, and social assistance by 2021. Beautiful promises, but baseless, since he has had enough time during his term to create the legal and economic framework that is conducive to investors and to economic growth that could eventually lead to a higher standard of living.

Poroshenko attacked the platforms of his rivals, warning against the populism of Yulia Tymoshenko and the amateurism (targeting Volodymyr Zelenski). He did not forget to recall the disastrous Russian gas purchase contract signed by Y. Timoshenko. He also drew attention on her proposal to modify the Constitution of the country, warning that this could open the way for a new dictatorship.

Poroshenko presents himself as the savior of the nation, the one who ruled the country during difficult times, managing to cope with Russia's aggression and bringing the country closer to NATO and the EU, the only one who can continue this way. In addition, recognizing the disastrously low standard of living, he presents himself as one that, on the foundation of the consolidated state he has built by now, could start those reforms able to bring the economic success needed to raise the standard of living. A simple question can confuse him, though: what prevented him from doing so until now and why can he be trusted he will do in the second term what he did not do in his first: limiting the power of those who seized it - from oligarchs to those belonging to the state administration - committing abuses in their personal interest.

However, Poroshenko's power lies in the fact that the West and the powerful of the day trust him in promoting a reform to the minimum necessary but reform, nonetheless. If he succeeds to become president again, Poroshenko will probably try to do something, but only under Western pressure, since the excuse that the fight against Russian aggression is the priority will be already obsolete. However, the issue of Russian aggression is still there, and it benefits Poroshenko, the other candidates being vague about how they will cope with this issue. Meanwhile Poroshenko just must reiterate that he will continue on his current way: firmness towards Russia and forcing the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, first in military form (basically, Russia's withdrawal from Donbass), and only then, political concessions for the separatists brought under the control of Kyiv. It is hard to believe this will ever happen, but at least it can serve as a benchmark as opposed to the uncertain future promoted by the other two candidates.

But there is still much to go. Poroshenko is risking not entering the second round, let alone defeating Yulia Tymoshenko. Even among the powerful of the day there are many who are no longer on Poroshenko's side. Some known of his allies were missing from his launch event (Vitali Klichko, Arsen Avakov and Arseni Yatsenyuk). However, Poroshenko still retains great chances, precisely because it is that "small but known evil" as opposed the unknown uncertainty represented by his counter-candidates. What he must do to win is to make sure that Ukrainians do not sink in poverty, as is happening now.


III. UNITED KINGDOM. The Brexit agreement is questioned.

The debates that took place in the British Parliament on January 29th and the amendments that seem to have caused a reversal of the situation were, in fact, a reinsertion of the Brexit process under the control of the pro-Brexit conservative majority, thus throwing the ball, now a "hot potato", into the Brussels’ yard. Although it was clear from the discussions PM Teresa May previously had with the Europeans that they would oppose renegotiation, she was undoubtedly behind the amendment concerning reopening talks with Brussels.

What have the discussions in the British Parliament brought about again? First, an amendment according to which Parliament opposes the extension of term for Britain's departure from the EU. So, there is an exit deadline without any delay. Thus, the anti-Brexit supporters’ hope to prolong the current situation, possibly by organizing a referendum, has become an illusion.

By a second amendment, the Parliament rejects the idea of UK leaving EU without an agreement, opposing thus a Blind Brexit, although it does not exclude it. Blind Brexit remains possible, but the British Parliament has washed its hands: it opposes to it, but if it happens, the blame will be ... on EU, which has not shown flexibility to the renewed British demands. In this way, Blind Brexit has now become the blackmail element of Theresa May’s, and the pro-Brexit conservatives’ respectively, against Brussels.

By a third amendment, Parliament backs up Teresa May's idea of reopening negotiations with Brussels and find an "alternative" to the “backstop”. The issue that worries pro-Brexit conservatives (many supporting a tough Brexit in order to limit post-Brexit ties with the EU) is not the possible set up of a British internal border, but that EU would retain the ability to have a say in the future UK agreements. On January 30th, the Europeans, represented by the most important leaders and negotiators, flatly refused the reopening of negotiations on the already reached agreement.

Whereas, at first, Theresa May seemed to blackmail her own Parliament with an agreement reached with a responsible EU, with whom she appeared to be an accomplice in seriousness and responsibility, now she is blackmailing Brussels with her new mandate from his Parliament: you must reopen negotiations and change the "backstop" with "acceptable alternatives" or you are responsible for UK leaving EU without any agreement, i.e. Blind Brexit.

Naturally, the responsible European experts know the game and will only limit to add clarity and assurance on the “backstop”, but not a renegotiation that should replace it with... "alternatives". The whole issue has become a political one, not a technical one, and the same Theresa May who was begging her European friends to understand her, could play tough, forgetting the political statement attached to the negotiated and already approved agreement with the Europeans.

Meanwhile, business people are sending out negative signals, wondering how bad this adventure will end. The EU will have to accept that it has really lost the UK and look at the problems already knocking on the door: the economy of Italy entering recession exactly when money is wasted on populist actions and the combination between populist and extreme right. In the Eastern Europe, the post-Communist era profiteers fall into both categories, although most of them appear to belong to the left (less the "little dictator" in Budapest, who ... we are going to see for ourselves what right he is belonging to!).


IV. KOSOVO. Warning from the US.

This  past week 5, Kosovo leaders reacted to the warning received from the US, trying to postpone the inevitable: waiving recently introduced customs duties, which would allow the two sides to return to the negotiating table.

On January 25th, the US sent a warning to Priština, urging it to immediately suspend the 100% tariffs introduced for Serbian products, otherwise it would suffer "consequences" in its relations with Washington: “We reiterate our view that an immediate suspension of the tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia, is one necessary measure to restore momentum to the Dialogue process.” The warning is added to that of the European Commossion, but it has a much greater weight both because the US remains the main supporter of the "protectorate of Kosovo" and because the US position is not undermined from the inside, as is the case with the European position (it is obvious that without the political support of important European states, the Kosovo government would not afford to continue such measures).

On January 29th, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj published a letter that he would have sent to the leadership of major Western states (the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK) in which he proposed an international conference to be held. This could be leading to an agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Haradinaj said that such an agreement would allow the immediate suspension of taxes, but he warned that it should not contain an exchange of territory. He also introduced other conditions: visa-free access to the EU for Kosovars, the implementation of the energy agreement signed by both sides, removal of obstacles to Kosovo's products introduced by Serbia, and the public statement that "it will not act against the aspirations of Kosovo as a sovereign state." Serbia has not responded yet to this proposal. Wishful thinking, of course, but is Haradinaj in the position to set such conditions?

The same Ramush Haradinaj said an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo would have been possible this year, but that it should not include a change of borders, because the exchange of territories could awaken the old tensions in the Balkans. Haradinaj's position is the same with the German one, who blocked an EU prone to accept such an exchange. We can understand such a position only if we look at Bosnia-Herzegovina. The idea of territorial exchange circulated before the last tensions between the two sides, which were unilaterally generated by Priština, who voted for the establishment of the armed forces and, above all, for the introduction of customs duties.

On January 29th, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci announced that he sent a letter to the US President Donald Trump on January 8th, saying that a deal to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia is "now within reach." In the letter he said he was ready to do everything necessary to reach a "comprehensive and balanced settlement that will encompass all outstanding issues, thereby ending the century-old conflict with Serbia, and bringing peace to the whole region."

Differences can be noticed between the two former UCK leaders representing different clans’ interests (the political basis in Kosovo), and also having different foreign policy sponsors. Hashim Thaci's position is more open and he could be successful if the US gets involved, and if he succeeds in convincing Haradinaj to give up the domestic measures taken (state-sponsored guerilla actions against a vulnerable target: the Serbs in Kosovo). On the other hand, Ramush Haradinaj remains an extremist even as prime-minister and his external sponsors need to be careful about that.

Serbia has been silent, waiting for the West to force Priština leaders to return to a cooperative position. Probably, the lesson learned counted for Belgrade: what was the gain for banning Kosovo's access to Interpol, since the Serbs North of Ibar River have an increasingly difficult life? The Serbian Prime-Minister's visit to the US is hopeful, since Washington is the one who can budge things if so wants. Behind closed doors, solutions are most likely being sought, but sponsors need to clarify what they want before proposing to the two sides to reach an agreement. In addition, impartiality is a condition that has not yet been met, as long as the Serbs (no matter what their extremists did on their behalf in the past) are convinced that the West is nothing more than a sponsor of the "protectorate". Neither Belgrade's illusion that Russia or China will be part of the solution is not valid. The two powers will support Serbia against the West, but they will not join the West to find a solution.

On the other hand, Kosovo and Serbia have a great disadvantage - if they do not create crises, they are not important. The West has greater worries and time passes by for both sides. Paradoxically, President Aleksandar Vučić still has an extra concern - to escape from Moscow’s embrace, which was acceptable as long as Belgrade has clung to the idea of an unrecognized status for Kosovo, but avoidable if Belgrade wants to break with the past and move towards a European future. Perhaps this is indeed the great problem of President Vučić, not the aggression of Priština, nor the opposition demonstrations against the "paternal dictatorship" that he built (at least for the near future). As for the Kosovars, President Thaci himself gave a warning to lawmakers and the government: it would be advisable not to confront the main sponsor, the US.


V. Next week – developments to track.

Venezuela. The agony of a left populist regime occupies the international political scene. It is important to see how Russia, the opponent of the West, will react. So far, Russia, complicit with Turkey, and perhaps with Iran, takes the gold of this country, although it denies it, as usual. On the other side, it is of note the solidarity displayed by the West in promoting democratic principles and human rights, after Washington had forgotten to mention them for a while. For the new colonialists (China from the economic perspective, and Russia from the military perspective), Venezuela could be a massive failure, especially with most South and Central America countries being against this regime. It is the reaction of the nations in the region, not so much that of the West, which indicates who is right in Venezuela. The danger of civil war can not be ruled out. Now is the time to see President Trump solving a crisis, after having demonstrated that he knows how to generate unnecessary ones.

United Kingdom. The negotiations that are about to reopen in Brussels are all the more interesting as the Brits will try to break the unity of the European bloc (the precedent created by the Polish proposal was a signal in this respect). The weakest links will be targeted: those governments that do not even know what their national interests really are. Time passes, pressure is building up and ... an escape goat is wanted. Now, when Britain's departure is evident, it is important in what terms we break apart.

Moldova. The parliamentary elections entered the straight line. Igor Dodon went to Moscow to gain support. The result: some economic promises and a political statement from Vladimir Putin according to which Russia is not indifferent to the future structure of the Moldovan Parliament. The US warning on free elections, as well as that of the Europeans’, did not prevent Vlad Plahotniuc from doing whatever he pleases, he has the state at his disposal. Although the prospect of a victory for the socialists, counterbalanced only by that of Vlad Plahotniuc's, is increasingly clear, the opposition did not say the last word, nor did the EU.

US-China negotiations. After a high-level Chinese dignitary visited Washington, there have been signs of reaching an agreement between the two sides. But nothing is what appears to be. That is the case for the Huawei communication concern. The US was finally gone offensive, accusing China of everything that it was only suspected about until now: espionage, technology theft, illegal economic practices and sanctions violation. Also, the increased connection between Russia-China in political, military and other areas was highlighted by US intelligence agencies. This is important for Romania too: if we take a look at any map of the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, it can be noticed that it goes through Dobrogea / Romania, a region under Russia's close attention as well. There is already a refinery in Dobrogea under Chinese property, and it is not very clear how it has come to that.

Afghanistan. Negotiations progress between the Taliban and the US.

  For the first time in years, negotiations between the US and the Taliban yield results, arising the prospect of settling the conflict, although there are still many steps to go. Solving this far-away conflict has a special importance for us: the Romanian soldiers will return home after having been alongside our most important ally till the end in this "forgotten war at the end of the earth". The most important question is whether the Taliban accept direct talks with the Kabul power. The US announcement of its troops being withdrawn is not an incentive for concessions on their part. On the other hand, the US pressure on Pakistan is working and we may see a solution.

[i] An American official said that Russia has already operationalized four SSC8 (9M729) missile Battalions, 16 launching systems (64 launchers) with nearly 100 missiles, at all bases operating Iskander systems in all four military regions.

[ii] According to the stipulations, the withdrawal was announced, but the process is going to last for six months, if Russia still does not comply with the provisions of the agreement.

[iii] The improvised Russian strategy of presenting first a tough position from the highest level, and only subsequently, display openness to negotiations, was exposed by a small blunder: the Russian Foreign Ministry press release, signed by Maria Zakharova, on Russia's openness to dialogue was withdrawn by the RIA agency after it had already been published.

[iv] Throughout the tragedy of destroying an important agreement, we also witness the ”maskierovka” comedy. Thus, Russia has mounted the Kalibr missile on the land launcher Iskander K for years now, yet continued to deny it, sometimes in a ridiculous manner: during the presentation offered in Moscow to foreign defense attachés, the Russians exhibited the launching platform vehicle and the launching tube, but not the missile itself. Naturally, given the missile caliber and length, the payload weight to fuel weight ratio provides the missile range. So, even a mere look at the missile can provide a rough representation of its range.    

[v] This could mean the mentioned hypersonic missile: a ballistic missile with a vehicle operating at hypersonic speeds on the descending part of the trajectory.