MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

18 decembrie 2018 - Special reports - Weekly review


Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Little hopes regarding the INF, but the tensions remain high both with the US, and Ukraine.

II. RUSSIA consolidates the military disposition in Crimea.

III. UKRAINE. A new Orthodox Church is in the making, and this brings a schism in the Slavic World.

IV. EUROPEAN UNION. Troubles which may bring something good though.

V. This week 51 – developments to track.


I. RUSSIA The INF issue. This past week 50, in its relations with the US, Moscow alternated tough attitude and show of force with a certain openess regarding the INF Treaty. On the background of the Kerch Strait incident, Russia held ground although the US redeclared its support to Ukraine. As for the rest of the issues, the Kremlin is harvesting the fruit of its aggressive policy, and its economy continues to have problems.  

INF is still on the table, although the relations with the US are still going south. Russia has sent two messages to Washington on the INF predicament. Although the messages do not show any compliance with the American requests (explanations about the SSC-8 missile and renunciation thereof, although it is already operationalized), Moscow’s messages herald an opening to dialogue and negotiations aiming at preserving the INF, with mutual inspections. The problem is that President Vladimir Putin has already announced that Russia did not breach the INF and it would react adequately, should the US withdraw from the treaty.

First, on December 14th, through Vladimir Yermakov, representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin announced that Russia is willing to discuss mutual inspections with Washington, in view of saving the INF: “If the United States really wants to come to some kind of agreement with us, then we need to sit down at the negotiating table in an inter-agency format and agree on everything in detail. We are ready for this”.  Yermakov also said Russia categorically ruled out inspections being carried out on Russia on a unilateral basis but that any serious actions on arms control “are only possible on the basis of mutually legally binding inter-government agreements.”  

Then, on December 15th, the Russian Ministry of Defense spoke about a note sent by the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, on December 12th, to his American counterpart, James Mattis, regarding a proposal to discuss disagreements on INF treaty. The Russians complained about not receiving an answer for three days and concluded there was a lack of will by Washington to engage in a reasonable and professional dialogue with Moscow aiming to find solutions for the current regional and global security problems.

Additionally, on December 15th, the Russian media quoted Japanese sources stating that Russia would have attempted since October to include China into the negotiations regarding the INF. According to this information, Moscow has proposed to Beijing to join the negotiations regarding intermediate range missiles, and China, in principle, did not reject the idea. This issue would have been on V. Putin’s agenda for the discussions with President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires.

What can we understand from this? First, Russia announces an opening by proposing a dialogue on INF with the US, aiming to avoid the collapse of the treaty, while not answering to the US / NATO explicit request to explain the SSC-8 missile breaching the INF. Second, Russia would consider negotiating a mechanism to control the INF, allowing mutual verification. The question is what might Moscow control? God forbid it’s the anti-ballistic shield in Europe! Then, introducing China into the INF negotiations would allow Russia to replace an existing problem (the US has accused Moscow of breaching the INF) with an uncertain perspective regarding a global agreement: it is hardly likely that China would destroy its own intermediate range missile arsenal, the basis of its A2AD systems.

The only American answer to this counteroffer by Moscow was the successful live test of a new SM-3 IIA interceptor, on December 11th, in the Pacific Ocean. This interceptor has been developed together with Japan for the US and Japanese Aegis anti-ballistic missile defense system. It is interesting to notice the information[1] that ”the SM-3 IIA is expected to be equipped on U.S. Aegis ashore stations in Romania and Poland. The Polish section of the defense shield is expected to be operational in 2020. The United States switched on the missile shield in Romania in 2016, which has angered Russia”. Simply put, the US announces Russia that it has already developed an even more performant interceptor against the intermediate range missiles, or, in other words, that Washington already has part of its answer to Russia’s breaching of the INF, or part of the American military reaction to Moscow’s missiles after the colapse of the INF and Russian SSC-8 missile proliferation.  

However, the Russian proposals are a step forward, although not significant, but they can open the dialogue on a path full of traps (since Moscow does not respond to American accusations). The problem is that the trust between the US and Russia is rapidly dwindling, as tensions in other issues add to the INF predicament. One of those is Ukraine, and another one is the Russian hybrid or military actions.

Russia also conducted a show of force by deploying two Tu-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela, for a short time. Now: Venezuela is ruled by a socialist populist regime which turned this country from a major oil producing nation into a failed state, whose population emigrates in large numbers to escape starvation. Of course, the regime in Caracas is just defending its country and people from an American invasion which… doesn’t happen. So, Russia’s action to deploy a strategic nuclear-capable bomber only meant support for a government failing in its own game, against a non-existing threat. From a military point of view, this action has no tactical relevance (beside the long-range flight training): two strategic bombers with no logistic support cannot repel even the least significant supposed tactical level offensive. But the challenge is there: deploying strategic offensive weapons in Washington’s backyard is a defiance addressed to Washington. Additionally, Moscow announced the bombers were not carrying any armament. In fact, the communique was not meant to deny, but to bring the nuclear weapon issue to the table. Consequently, the strategic bomber deployment stroke exactly where Russia did not need, i.e. to the foundation of the Russo-American trust.


II. RUSSIA consolidates the military disposition in Crimea. The security alert signal is not the continuous consolidation of the Russian military disposition around Ukraine, but the similar development in the Crimean Peninsula. The first development is going on[2], but it is not an indication of imminent attack, but only a demonstration of Russia’s huge capability to catch Ukraine in the jaws of several armies, whenever an all-out attack is decided by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, the disposition in Crimea was not only consolidated, but also reoriented towards north-east and north-west. Russia deployed at Kerch an S-400 missile system and Nebo radars, able to detect stealth aircraft. At Djankoi, equipment and maybe troops continue to arrive – a heavy transport aircraft was seen. Djankoi became a forward base with two operational options: the control of the Sea of Azov and a possible ”small offensive” towards Odessa.  The airborne regiment stationed in Djankoi was operationalized and consolidated. This does not reveal the fear of a Ukrainian attack, but it shows the decision to bring forth the elements meant to act in the first stages of a hybrid conflict: wasn’t it the 7th Airborne Mountain Division in Novorossiysk the generating unit of this regiment, which played a so important role in occupying Crimea?

In the Karkinit Gulf of western Crimea, close to Ukraine, Russia deployed two warships: the AMETIST border guard boat, and a missile boat NABEREZHNYE CHELNY. From Karkinit Gulf, these Russian warships can threaten the maritime traffic of Odessa and can hit Ukrainian ships from the very proximity of their home port. Another development was the operationalization of additional warships, and a new BUYAN M class warship, the OREKHOVO-ZUEVO, was included into the composition of the Russian Black Sea Fleet – BSF. In reaction of Ukraine’s testing of an anti-ship missile, the AMIRAL GRIGOREVICH frigate prepared a defense exercise against such missiles. The only relaxing news is the return of the KILO class submarine to Sevastopol, at the end of its patrol mission.  

The danger of a possible attack on Ukraine appears in Donbass, the only place where Russia can start an offensive, without crossing any threshold and claiming innocence about such aggression. On December 14th, the separatists in Donbass alerted their troops to counter a ”possible offensive”, after extended discussion[3] about an imminent Ukrainian chemical attack (with British support, a kind of Skripal case in the mirror! It is not a joke, such scheme recently worked in Aleppo). The artillery attacks increased and caused two Ukrainian military casualties. The pace of the Russian hybrid war is provided by events in the target country, which the aggressor attempts to exploit. Therefore, after the Ukrainian post - Kerch incident response, the events regarding the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian presidential elections are worth following, as they have the domestic destabilization potential to become triggering events for hybrid warfare actions.

And we are back to the Russo-American relations. Facing Moscow’s refusal to free the Ukrainian sailors, on December 12th, John Bolton conveyed the US message that no further meeting between the American and Russian presidents would take place until the Ukrainian sailors are set free. Washington does not accept Moscow’s game in Ukraine anymore, and sides with Kyiv at a level which surprises Moscow, because US ceased to discriminate among various dossiers. Russia was counting on separating the issues, but this does not work anymore: Moscow wanted to be in the same time a reliable country to negotiate the INF with, and a tolerated aggressor in Ukraine.

This is an additional reason for Romania to pay attention to our relations with the US, a major pillar of our security, and the message recently received does not bode well: ”Romania is no longer part of the solution, but part of the problem” said a high American official, responsible for our region. One might think about taking it with a grain of salt, but it is well known that Washington does not joke when sending messages to either friends or foes. The message is meant on justice, not security!

As for the rest, Russia’s foreign relations continue to go south: In Belarus[4], President Lukashenka revolted (”If someone wants to break [Belarus] into regions and force us to become a subject of Russia, that will never happen") and Slovakia expelled a defense attaché. In the US, a Russian spy admitted her deeds, while V. Putin was not aware of her mere existence (as he was coached by his intelligence agencies). In Ukraine, a new Russian cyber-attack was perpetrated against one hundred military and government institutions in western Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the economy does not work properly, and the price of oil is not rising quickly enough. Even worse, the Europeans introduced new sanctions, linked to the illegal elections in Donbass. And this cycle of aggressions and responses – also aggressive, looks endless.   



A new Orthodox Church is in the making, and this brings a schism in the Slavic World. The facts are as mundane as one thousand years ago, although President Petro Poroshenko has swollen them, for political reasons: a clerical gathering and an act establishing a new church, in fact one that had existed before, then it was transferred, leader, prestige and all, to Moscow. The tomos[5] by the Patriarch of Constantinople is to follow, mid-January, and the process is over.

On December 15th, Saint Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv hosted the Unifying Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Metropolitan Epifaniy was elected the spiritual leader thereof. The choice of place was not randomly: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has reappeared now, with the patriarch of Constantinople’s approval, in the same place where it was born one thousand years ago. This Church was built by Vladimir’s son, who became Christian in year 988, and, as result, the whole Kyiv Rus (Russia) became Christian.  

After this event, Ukraine is truly independent from Russia. Although Petro Poroshenko performs nationalist gestures (what to say, the presidential campaign is getting closer), he pointed to the truth: “this day will go into history as a sacred day ... the day of the final independence from Russia” and the quote from Ukraine’s national poet, Taras Shevchenko, is equally eloquent: “and Ukraine will no longer drink Moscow’s poison from Moscow’s cup”.  

However, beyond a consolidated independence, the reemergence of the Ukrainian (Autocephalous) Orthodox Church (UOC) means an additional war with Russia, this time on a spiritual plane. And from the spiritual heights, a descent to concrete violence will be quickly: already the Ukrainian authorities has searched churches which remained under Moscow Patriarchy’s obedience, and Moscow takes measures to protect its followers, including by requesting international support.

   Things really appear to be as the passionate Ukrainians describe them: the Russian Orthodox Church was just another tool of the Kremlin’s power, and in Ukraine it acted as a fifth column busy destroying the Ukrainian national spirit (same as in the Republic of Moldova). The paradox came when, in the Ukrainian churches under Moscow obedience, prayers were raised for those who were killing Ukrainians in Donbass. The same happened in the Republic of Moldova: the priest who blessed the Cossacks who were killing Moldovans in Transnistria is now a spiritual leader at Bălţi, in the Republic of Moldova!!!

Coming down to the layman’s problems: for Petro Poroshenko, erected as the ”savior” (for the consolidation of the national army) and the champion of the ”true independence” (he promoted the idea of the UOC revival), the problem is that all these might be of no use in the presidential campaign: both the church and the military belong to Ukraine, and they can carry on with any president. A different president might provide bread as well, because Petro Poroshenko did not deliver as expected, he failed to reform the state and the society, he did not sever the illegal power of the tycoons.

On the other hand, Russia cannot tolerate this situation, especially since the Ukrainian authorities will put pressure on its clergy to transfer to the UOC (which will likely happen). How the Kremlin will react, when harvesting the fruit of its aggression, is hard to predict. However, Moscow will certainly react, and this will be at the right time convenient for its interests.



Regarding the United Kingdom, the Brexit saga seems endless.  After Teresa May prevailed against the rebellion in her own party, she had to postpone the vote in the British Parliament because… it was obvious she was going to lose. Her trip to Brussels, planned to bring a renegotiation of the provisional Brexit agreement, turned into an undesired humiliation, nothing that the European leaders intended. It was a no-brainer that the EU would not renegotiate the Brexit agreement, which would spell walking into quick sands. And why would Europe take such a risk, to concede to the British domestic pressure, when it was the very British domestic pressure to cause the split? The proof that EU had already enough about the Brexit, even before it started, is the reaction of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. If even Mutti, pragmatic and prone to compromise, has had enough of the British conundrum, when UK itself does not even have a position, nothing else is to be said. And this is the problem: The Brits do not know what they want, and what they claim – ”to get from the EU without giving nothing in return”, cannot be accepted.

The moment of truth comes for the Brits: will they decide a new referendum, will they vote the Brexit provisional agreement, or they will settle for a Blind Brexit? It is the time for the Brits to pay for their intention to divorce the EU. The Europeans have paid long ago, when they noticed with surprise that the Brits truly wish to split, and the Union loses a major player.

The smoking rumor is linked to preparation for a new referendum, even in whispers of members of the Cabinet. If it only was so simple! The same as pro-Brexit hardliners failed, the same way the supporters of a new referendum may fail (of course, aiming to give up the Brexit). The reason has been mentioned above: they do not know what they want. And the Europeans still hope that UK will renounce Brexit.   

In France, the President concedes a battle, but he does not surrender.  Although the ”Yellow Vest” protests continue, the trip seems to be downhill. On December 10th, in a soothing yet not convincing speech, President Emmanuel Macron promised to sugarcoat the reform impact, promised social measures, especially for the disenfranchised, and dialogue with the society regarding the pace of his reforms. Although the speech expressed a mea culpa, the President did not give up his objective to take France through a profound economic reform in view of coping with the global competition. This is ”Anglo-Saxon business drive”, kind of against the ”fraternité” ending the French Revolution credo, but is unavoidable.

The immediate problem is that, by these concessions, France might spend over the deficit limit imposed by the EU requirements, and Italy is looking over the fence, ready to point the finger at its main liberal adversary, Emmanuel Macron, who does exactly what he denied Italy: breaches the 3% deficit ceiling.

Emmanuel Macron has the power provided not so much by the idealism of his young age, as by the forces political forces which made him president: he will push the reform with the risk of shedding any political future, because he knows there is no political and economic alternative: both violence bringing nationalism and populism spending the resources of future generations, only lead to failure. The French society has the maturity and culture necessary to make this projection, especially that E. Macron also boldly approaches the problems regarding migration and the European reform.   

But this does not mean that things will fade out overnight. The problem is not the continuation of ”Yellow Vest” protests, not neglectable though, but E. Macron’s chances to convince is a problem. The danger of a failure is big because the power in Paris holds the political center, and extends to the left and to the right, and France has no other choice than to far left or to far right. However, the political reaction of the French will not be felt in France first, but… in the EU, as the first elections are those for the European Parliament, in spring.

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán precedes forward, but the regime does not. Relatively important protests began in Hungary, as a reaction to the so called ”slave law”, which limits the right of workers in their relations with the business owners. This law comes on the background of new measures impacting the rule of law, i.e. the involvement of politics in justice and the control of the media. The problem for the Orbán regime is that, this time, we do not deal with idealist intellectuals who demand ”law and correct information for all”, but simple citizens gathered around the national idea. Content for having bread, even if it begins to lack law, these simple citizens tolerated, so far, all the abuses by the power.

 We will not go into details on the issue of chasing away a higher education institution in Hungary – it was just a whim of the scorned billionaire George Soros, although the basic idea of this university was linked to the ”open society and its enemies”. However, the education society was almost closed by ”the enemies of the open society” and thus we have… a symbol.

   What is grave is that, in Hungary, the politics go so far in controlling justice that it is becoming in-your-face obvious. On December 10th, the Hungarian government announced it plans to establish a new high court to deal with public administration problems, but it denies this would mean the political control of the justice. V. Orbán had a similar attempt in 2016, but he was blocked by the Constitutional Court. The Minister of Justice, Trócsányi László, rejected the concerns that the government would appoint to this court only judges loyal to V. Orbán.   

In fact, the trick is visible: when one cannot subordinate justice (because the EU is watching), especially regarding issues of interest, he builds a new justice, where he appoints his own people. Thus, problems of large financial thefts (the high-level corruption of shameless thieves who appear on TV after plundering a country) will be tried adequately and swift, by the very individuals appointed by these masterminds of financial engineering. Simply and effective. The rest of the justice may continue to rule for petty thieves, without the dignity of being high profile of the day. Pretending to forge history. Trócsányi László specified that “Courts are entirely independent of the Justice Ministry”. The courts yes, but not the judges (not independent from the Orbán regime).

Hungary does not witness the end of Orbán regime, but only the beginning of its end: the power reached the moment of hard choices, where, being self-sufficient, the power forgets that it is only a temporary representative of the people, whom it had to serve, yet the power cheated instead, to serve only itself.

In fact, the protests are not dangerous for the power, even if they increase, because the regime has the power to limit their impact (in this case, by tweaking the law). But the moment when Orbán used to identify himself with Hungary (”we are the nation”) is over.

That is valid also for another reason: V. Orbán loses abroad. Only an unexpected success at the European parliamentary elections by the anti-Brussels axis might save him from the punishing measures the European Commission is preparing against Hungary. And in the relations with the US, the consequences will not be long awaited. America cannot allow an ally to treat it as V. Orbán does: Russian arms traffickers arrested in Hungary, whose extradition is requested by Washington, are sent home. In the Ukraine issue, after the US requested Budapest to not block the NATO – Ukraine cooperation, vital in this geostrategic problem, the answer came in the form – we will block Ukraine’s integration into NATO.


V. Next week 51 – developments to track.


  • Ukraine remains the hotspot, as Russia may attempt to teach a military lesson to Ukraine, most likely in Donbass. But the political and economic price would be too high, because the West would certainly react (it is precisely what the Ukrainians complained about since the Kerch Strait incident). Russia will likely seek dialogue with the US on INF, and will avoid useless frictions, especially that in Syria there are no useful developments either, to improve the relations with Washington.


  • In Kosovo, after the parliament in Priština voted the establishment of a national army, Belgrade will have to accept reality. The US and the German support were enough: President Vučić admitted he could not fight US. From an American and European point of view (not the whole Europe), there is a new state and it is quite natural it had an army. From a Serbian prospective, the Kosovo story is not over for as long as, north of the Ibar River, the ethnic Serbs have no desire to belong to Kosovo. Here, Belgrade is right, and it is not alone in this attitude. The NATO position - concern and reserve, is natural and fair: if anything begins, KFOR is responsible for security, and Resolution 1244 did not mention anything about a state or an army in Kosovo. Belgrade will have to support the ethnic Serbs as well las it can, shy of a military action. However, should Priština offer the opportunity, by violently aggressing the Serbs in Kosovo, Serbia would not hesitate to use force. This is why, the Kosovar Serbs, who are facing severe economic problems, will intensify the protests and civil disobedience. Let’s see who blinks first.


  • In Syria, we will watch if Turkey starts a new offensive east of the Euphrates River, as the Turkish President threatens. The US took measures to consolidate its alliance with the SDF, including by common observation posts. The discussion between the foreign ministers of Turkey and US was a good opportunity to clear the respective positions: the US will not allow Turkey to attack the Kurds, and an attack on Kurds would be an attack on American soldiers. This does not mean that a negotiated solution is not sought for, on the contrary. However, considering the Turkish air attacks in northern Iraq, which continued even after Baghdad protested, there is not much room for compromise in Ankara.


  • What to say about the Brexit?  It is part of the last week’s agenda with the everlasting story, which will hopefully surprise us in a good way – with the Brits remaining in the EU, even if with certain ”privileges”. It is exactly what we expect from Santa Claus, even after we are already bored of.


[1] Made public by Reuters and Defense News.

[2] The permanent deployment of a mechanized regiment into this disposition was broadcast. Also, satellite images captured in November reveal that hundreds of tanks were deployed close to Ukrainian border, at Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.

[3] The separatist leader, Eduard Basurin, is quite a character, worth being watched for acting as a prima donna in the military domain.

[4] Interesting, Lukashenka asked the Russians to give up their propaganda campaign against the Ukrainians, ”They are not enemies. They are not as bad as you present them on your [television] channels. It is time to stop doing that. Nobody [believes] that anymore". It is pretty bad when a dictator tells you that the informational war you wage should better have some limits.

[5] The official decree recognizing the establishment of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church by the Constantinople Patriarchy.