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24 decembrie 2018 - Special reports - Weekly review


Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. Official dialogue between Vladimir Putin and his country.

II. UNITED STATES. Earthquake in Washington sends ripples worldwide.

III. UKRAINE. Obvious western support. But is it enough?

IV. This week 52 – developments to track.


I. RUSSIA. Official dialogue between Vladimir Putin and his country. Conducted through journalist questions, Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference became traditional and is expected by all Russians at the end of each year. The show is somewhat staged by the Kremlin-obedient journalists. However, is has a certain originality and is straightforward, by Russian standards.  As he did each year, V. Putin touched on both domestic and foreign security issues.

For domestic issues, the Russian President was optimistic: he presented positive economic figures and talked about progress, but there was no enthusiasm. The insisting questions raised by the provincial journalists in the audience prove that the domestic situation is worse than described by the government, as they referred largely to the shortcomings felt by the population.

In foreign issues, V. Putin’s stance followed the well known lines and were prompted by coached questions, but there was no ”confidence in aggresivity”. The President looked more like a patriarch than a wizard’s apprentice. The most important statements are presented below:

  • Strategic and sub-strategic nuclear arms control. Asked about the danger of a nuclear war, V. Putin answered (in full quote):

I just thought that all this, including the danger of such developments in the world, is now being hushed up and played down to some extent. It seems impossible or something that is not so important. At the same time, if, God forbid, something like this happens, it might destroy the whole of civilisation or perhaps the entire planet. These issues are therefore serious, and it is a great pity that there is such a tendency to underestimate the problem, and that this tendency is probably becoming more pronounced. What are the current distinguishing features and dangers?

First, all of us are now witnessing the disintegration of the international system for arms control and for deterring the arms race. This process is taking place after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty[1] that, as I have already noted a thousand times, was the cornerstone in the sphere of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deterring the arms race.

After that, we were forced to respond by developing new weapons systems that could breach these ABM systems. Now, we hear that Russia has gained an advantage. Yes, this is true. So far, the world has no such weapons systems. Leading powers will develop them, but, as yet they do not exist.

In this sense, there are certain advantages. But, speaking of the entire strategic balance, this is just an element of deterrence and for equalising parities. This is just the preservation of parity, and nothing more.

They are now about to take another step and withdraw from the INF Treaty. What will happen? It is very difficult to imagine how the situation will unfold. What if these missiles show up in Europe? What are we supposed to do then?

Of course, we will need to take some steps to ensure our safety. And they should not whine later that we are allegedly trying to gain certain advantages. We are not. We are simply trying to maintain the balance and ensure our security.

The same goes for the START III Treaty[2], which expires in 2021. There are no talks on this issue. Is it because no one is interested, or believes it is necessary? Fine, we can live with that.

We will ensure our security. We know how to do it. But in general, for humanity, this is very bad, because this takes us to a very dangerous line.

Finally, there is another circumstance I cannot ignore. There is a trend to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. There are plans to create low-impact nuclear charges, which translates to tactical rather than global use. Such ideas are coming from Western analysts who say it is okay to use such weapons. However, lowering the threshold can lead to a global nuclear disaster. This is one danger we are facing today.

The second is the use of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. True, our US partners seem to have dropped this idea, but it still exists. What does it mean?

Suppose, a ballistic missile is launched, nuclear or non-nuclear. The missile attack warning system identifies the launch and the launch site, and, seconds later, determines the flight path and the possible warhead landing area. This is all on the verge of a possible error. It is terrible, and we cannot take it that far. Nevertheless, such an idea of using non-nuclear ballistic missiles exists.

Suppose, a submarine fired a ballistic missile from the World Ocean, but who the hell knows if it is nuclear or not, go figure. This is very dangerous. All of that is being widely discussed, which is dangerous.

However, I believe humanity has enough common sense and enough of a sense of self-preservation not to take these things to the extreme.”

So, V. Putin presented the Russian nuclear policy as a necessary response he was forced to pursue by the steps that others made. It is true that the US was the one to withdraw from ABM Treaty, for possessing the technology to intercept the hostile nuclear vectors (North Korea confirmed that rationale was not wrong). However, it was Russia who concluded that  the answer should be renewing its nuclear arsenal and thus breaching the INF. The response systems Moscow has built are yet to be proved: basically, it means complicating the vector trajectory to make the nuclear weapon carrying vehicle preclude its interception. But the US did not seek to use its anti-ballistic system to gain advantage by simultaneously developing its offensive nuclear weapons (remember president Obama’s speech in Prague). Only late during the Obama presidency did Washington decide to renew the American nuclear arsenal, due to Russia’s (and other competitors’) actions. Moscow cheated by early starting to rearm with nukes (while both parties abide by New START) and by breaching the INF. Moscow was also the one to lower the nuclear threshold by training for a nuclear esclation of a conventional war. Although it was not threatened (who invaded Russia while it was busy in Chechnya?), Russia worked to remain a large nuclear power precisely aiming to act as an aggressive regional power.

At the end of the day, there is no ideological basis for a threat by the West against Russia, as it used to be during the Soviet Union time. V. Putin found what he sought, there is no point in playing the victim. The same goes for the Prompt Global Strike case – Russia is not afraid that it will be technologically overcome, it prepares an answer. Moscow’s problem remains that it does not possess the economic and technologic power to sustain the military race it started. Moscow can only push, hoping that it will reach an agreement in its terms. For the rest, V. Putin himself pushed the situation where it is now, by aggressions against its former USSR brethren.

·Regarding Ukraine, known knowns have been reiterrrated: the Kerch Strait incident was a provocation made by the President Petro Poroshenko to increase his chances in the Ukrainian presidential elections, at the expense of Ukrainian national interests. V. Putin motivated the Russian financial support to the Donbass populace as being a necessity generated by the fact that Kyiv raised an economic blockade on its own people. Otherwise, in Putin’s view, the bilateral relations with Ukraine would progress, including at commercial level, the only hurdle being the Russophobia circulating along the Kyiv power corridors. But there are communication channels, such as Medvedchuk.

On Crimea, V. Putin maintains that the transfer of the peninsula from Ukraine to Russia cannot be a Russian annexation since the inhabitants agrreed to this action. Therefore, the sanctions are not justified.

The Russian President presents again the effects as being the cause, the usual Kremlin scheme. It was Russia who attacked Ukraine, not the other way around, and the victim nation sins by having resisted. Of course, beyond excesses, Ukraine must take all measures to defend itself, which explains the whole situation. As for Medvedchuk, Putin’s ”compadre”, he is nothing else but another tool Moscow uses to undermine Ukraine, he is not part of the solution. And Crimea was first occupied by Russian forces, the illegal referendum only came afterwards.  

  • Russia’s foreign policy.The main goal of our foreign policy is to provide favorable conditions for the Russian Federation, its economy and social sphere, to ensure unfettered movement forward and to strengthen our country from the inside, above all, so that it can take its rightful place in the international arena as an equal among equals. We are in favor of consolidating the system of international law, ensuring unconditional compliance with the UN Charter, and using this platform to develop equal relations with all the participants of international affairs.” It has been suggested that, if there is a center from where somebody wants to rule the World, that is Washington. For the rest, the usual dish: the consolidation of Russia’s relations with China, but avoiding commenting on the Sino-American trade war; developments in the relations with Japan, but the Kuril Islands hurdle is not past yet; praising the Atatürk heritage in Turkey, but is it not forgetting that heritage the basis of current Russo-Turkish rapprochement? And the nodding for the American withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan (as from anywhere that should happen); of course, those who hold ground can rule in Syria, right?   

The problem is not what Putin says, it sounds nice, but the reality says different: Russia wants to be among few equals, more equal than others, who decide the fate of the world. The question is what Russia’s argument would be, apart from its nuclear weapons, its vote in the UN Security Council (veto right) and its recent military consolidation (verified in aggressions), because the argument cannot be Russia’s political, economic or social model. The Ukrainians and the Syrian Sunnis are the first to feel how this equality works, when the US refrained from entering Syria, and left the Russians enter (unfortunately, many of the Syrian Sunnis cannot testify that, they are corpses under Aleppo rubble now). We will be able to see that, more and more often, since the US withdraws from Syria, and leave Russia, China, and regional powers to exert their power as equals more equals than others.  

Bottom line, V. Putin, who rules Russia with dictator powers, repeated Russia’s well-known positions. Ranging from declared satisfactions to undeclared drawbacks, Putin’s speech displayed a new feature: it was boring, like heralding ”the fall of the patriarchy”. This only until the next aggression, which will make Putin interesting again, if ever. Nevertheless, the previously mentioned declared satisfactions would mean the US’s withdrawal from many areas of the world; Syria has been pacified as the winners wanted; Ukraine is put in its place and lives under a constant threat of a new aggression. As for the undeclared drawbacks, one should consider that Russia is not thriving economically and socially; the US will respond to Moscow’s breaching of INF, will renew its nuclear arsenal, and will continue to develop the anti-ballistic shield, despite Russia’s intensely announced new weapons.

Basically, there are big questions for all those who have an analytical interest in Russia: will the Kremlin consider that enough is enough, and will it seek another way than confrontation, although aggression paid off, it is true, although with the price hard to pay? And how would the mutual trust be rebuilt, if the method of crushing confidence was such an effective tool in the hybrid warfare?


II. UNITED STATES. Earthquake in Washington sends ripples worldwide. The event that brought consternation into the western Cabinets and beyond was not the squabble between President Donald Trump and the Congress, or the danger of jamming the federal administration by suspending the money flow (for not getting the money to build ”his wall”). No. It was the news about US withdrawing and leaving its friends (even incidental friends) at the mercy of hazard, that is the Kurds and, in perspective, the Afghans.

On December 19th, President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced he would quickly withdraw the American troops from Syria, and part of those deployed in Afghanistan. As the decison was taken without consulting his Cabinet, it resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, on December 20th. Mattis was one of the ”adults in the room”, a pillar of American Administration and the guarantee for all allies that America is still America. In his letter of resignation, James Mattis showed the reasons for his decision, all of them also reasons for our concern, in Romania, but especially the statement that ”one core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” Or, it is precisely what was not respected, thus making J. Mattis resign.

 First of all, one should ask that, if President Trump does that to friends, albeit incidental, will he do the same to Washington’s allies? Do the declarations made during the election campaign turn into D. Trump’s personal policy, which he applies when overruling the advice provided by his Administration? It is the government which explains him the world America managed to keep free, prosperous and away from chaos. Will his diatribes against NATO make Article 5 obsolete? It is just that, in absence of the US strong angagement, the situation along NATO’s eastern border might become complicated, to say the least, especially on its southern flank, where Russia wages wars. The answer is that we are far from that danger, because D. Trump, although fickle in decisions, has that red line clearly defined.

The second question is: what is happening in Washington, who is calling the shots, who is ruling America and the world (as the adversaries suggest and the friends hope)? The strongest negative reaction came from the Congress, headed by the conservative Republicans, who are to provide an official response after the hearings on Syria and Afghanistan. How are the decisions made in the most reasonable centre of power in the world, where the documents, the cold analysis, based on legitimate and accepted interests and values used to be rock foundation so far? Because American predictability, credibility, reasonability and morality were seen by many nations, including Romania, above those of their own national ruling elites. Those American features offered the Free World’s security and confidence in its future. What can we expect now?

Romania will not take the first wave of consequences, it will be the Big Western Europeans, who have indulged fancy illusions, such as the EU configurated as opponent not only to Russia, but to the US as well. Among those is France, but also the moderate Germany, which never went as far as France. It only takes such a confusing decision and we realize where we stand. Eloquently, a recent interview offered by a German government official began with the question ”What is happening in the US?”, and ended with the question ”How many operational submarines do we actually have right now?”. At a certain point, the German press published the news that no German submarine was operational! Let’s not forget that the German military remains one of the best in Europe, even when it does not wish so.

 The third question is what will happen after the US quickly withdraws from Syria, and a bit slower from Afghanistan. In Syria, Russia and Iran will celebrate and will restore the rule of Bashar al-Assad over that country. Maybe the Kurds will negotiate, hoping to get a better deal than being a second-grade citizens, as they were before the war. Turkey will solve the problems it estimates possible with the Syrian Kurds (assumed enemies, by linking them with the PKK, although it is no proof that the Syrian Kurdish PYD ever conducted anti-Turkish actions, except for those on Syrian territory, when defending at home against Turkish army attacks). France, in search for multilateralism, and Britain, as well as the scorned Germany cannot do much for the Kurds, other than helping them… help themselves.  The declarations by defence ministers of these nations showed rather dismay than possession of a Plan B. In Afghanistan, civil war will likely resume, and the Taliban have the serious power to harass the government in Kabul, but not to bring the country together and govern the place. The negotiations which might have brought a fragile peace by returning the Taliban to Kabul as a political, not military force, cannot yield fruit now, when the Taliban know that the US soldiers will leave.

The only hope is that the American Administration will in fact sugar-coat the bitter pill President Trump has prescribed to the Syrian Kurds and to the Afghans and will eventually somewhat diminish the implementation of those decisions. As a lesson learned, when the US hastily withdrew, without preparing the consequences, chaos and/or terror followed: last time, in Iraq, ISIS emerged.  

Let alone that such measure has no strategic meaning. Is it not the same Donald Trump supporting Israel and preparing to confront Iran? Then, why leave a place where you can contain Iran and put pressure, indirectly, on this country? Should we understand that there is a president in the White House who, opposite to traditions, wants to wage a direct war on Iran? The American presidents used to fear the war they were about to wage, while resenting it as well. Frankly, we do not believe there is enough strategic clarity for such enterprise. However, encouraged by these decisions, Tehran will further complicate things in the region, and will provide new reasons in favour of such intervention.

 The most painful question is linked to the future world order, after the current order has secured peace and prosperity for many nations. This world order brought not only honey, but also mistakes and pain. However, at the end of the day, it allowed the longest period of peace and stability in the recent history of mankind. The alternatives are not palatable to the anti-Americans either: albeit reduced to silence by the power of political pressure, as Russia; or watched or imprisoned as in China (imprisoned just because you might not presumably match the power’s requirements).  But before that, we can look closer: Turkey, Republic of Moldova, even Ukraine, where the power commits abuses (more or less).   

Why not, there is also the question if the first moral power of the world in the history of mankind can remain so with a leader who is suspicioned immoral by a plethora of his countrymen. The answer to this question is ”yes” (by powerful institutions) and this is generating hope. Let’s not draw too many general conclusions, on long-term, following an individual’s hasty decision, albeit the President of the United States, and the leader of the Free World, even if he does not claim that.


III. UKRAINE. Obvious western support. But is it enough?

The US and UK showed support to Ukraine by explicit acts. In the US Congress, America voted a Resolution requesting the US intervention in support of Ukraine, including show of presence to demonstrate freedom of navigation in international waters. The US will also provide increased financial support to the Ukrainian navy. The UK sent a warship to Odessa, and its minister of defense made declarations regarding the British support to Ukraine.

Russia reaffirmed its position (the Ukrainian sailors will be tried, not freed) and consolidated its military disposition in Crimea. On December 22nd, an entire Su27/Su30 fighter squadron was deployed at Belbek. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, suggested that Ukraine would prepare a large-scale provocation in Crimea, to occur soon.

In fact, Russia does not fear a Ukrainian provocation, which would certainly be solved the same way as the Kerch Strait incident. No, it would be a situation complicated by the western presence, symbolic or direct, ranging from a simple NATO, UK or US presence on Ukrainian ships[3], to an American naval presence. Any of these options has the power to deescalate the tensions. This is, most likely, the reason for a quick consolidation of the Russian military disposition in Crimea. Stunningly, this is a defensive measure by an aggressive power attempting to crush Ukraine quietly. Russia’s worry stems from the fact that Ukraine yells, it is heard, and the situation might seriously worsen if the West shows up on the Ukrainian ships, albeit symbolic.

The Russian action center of gravity is the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov. The proof is both the deployment of an ADMIRAL GRIGORIEVICH class frigate from Sevastopol to the Sea of Azov, and especially the rapid deployment of a large number of multi-mission aircraft to Crimea. Russia might begin harassing actions against American ELINT aircraft in the Black Sea area. Although the Russian strategic aviation radio networks have been activated again several times, indicating limited tactical missions, no such aircraft has entered yet the Black Sea air space. The recent presence of an A-50 in Crimea can be interpreted now as being a preparation for securing air supremacy, i.e. interception in case of a western air presence. The anti-aircraft defense exercise and the deployment of a long-range Murmansk BM interception and jamming system are other indications in that regard.

In addition to the current worries, the military build-up in Crimea closes the noose around Ukraine on land and consolidates the air and naval capabilities for a possible naval blockade against Ukraine in western Crimea, in proximity of Romania. Now, Crimea became a third operational direction for an attack against Ukraine, in addition to the eastern and north-eastern directions. This Crimean direction is more dangerous in the case of a limited aggression aiming at creating Novorossiya, from Donbass to the mouths of the Danube.

There are no indications of an imminent Russian offensive. So, the separatists in Donbass postponed the ”Ukrainian offensive” that was the pretext for alerting the troops and gave up the increased readiness measures. But the diplomatic maneuvers provide an indication on a possible timing for the offensive: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov resumed the declarations about the fascist regime in Kyiv, which has allegedly split from its people. With a necessary candor he added that Russia cannot recognize the two separatist republics in Donbass, because it would mean losing Ukraine. Most likely, the Kremlin sees the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine as being the opportune moment to stir the pot in Ukraine again. In that respect, talking about the Ukrainian candidates, Vladimir Putin mentioned former Vice-Prime-Minister and Donetsk region born Yuriy Boyko, who would suit Moscow’s plans.

  For the moment though, Russia is waiting for the next move by Ukraine, who wants to internationalize the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov problem. The westerners will likely decline to go as far as putting people on board Ukrainian ships, let alone warships through the Kerch Strait, because that would mean yielding to a Ukrainian request without any further strategy in sight. The westerners will likely seek to calm the situation instead, by obtaining from Russia free navigation through the Kerch Strait for Ukrainian ships en route to Ukrainian Sea of Azov ports, plus the liberation of Ukrainian sailors and ships.

Such waiting strategy is supported by the Ukrainian attitude, as Kyiv is pushing by voting the bill changing the name of the orthodox church obedient to Moscow into the ”Russian Church”. There is no room for compromise, and both parties know that. From this perspective, there are no reasons for optimism regarding a peaceful resolution of this conflict too soon.  


V. This week 52 – developments to track.


  • UNITED STATES. It is interesting to watch how the budget dispute between the President and the Congress develops. Also, the reactions to Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan need to be monitored, as well as the way this decision can be watered down. In addition, who will be the next US Secretary of Defense?


  • SYRIA. What is happening on the ground? How many and how fast will the American troops leave, and what will be the impact thereof? What will Turkey do? When and where will it attack, after the US GIs leave the theater? What will the Kurds do, caught between a die-hard ISIS and a Turkish offensive added to pressure from Damascus? After Bashar al-Assad and the Iranians take over the oil fields and refineries, they are supposed to solve the ISIS problem too. Considering that, will the Kurds retreat in front of ISIS, negotiate with Damascus and defend against the Turkish forces?  


  • EUROPEAN UNION. Summarizing the latest events, we can say that things look rather well. France is almost out of the woods regarding the Yellow Vests, but the dialogue is hardly beginning. Italy gave up the anti-Brussels stance and found a trade-off. The UK in seeking a solution, and this might be better than expected. Poland backed up where it belongs. Germany resumed its stability, with Angela Merkel and her clone securing transition together. The Spanish socialists discovered that the Catalan separatism is dangerous itself and will approach the issue in a serious way. In Budapest, Viktor Orbán is watching a preview of his future. Diminished with the season holidays, this week 52 events might still help us cast a view on next year’s developments in the European Union.


  • SERBIA – KOSOVO. Until mid-January, when V. Putin comes to Belgrade to discuss ”all the problems”, President Aleksandar Vučić is looking for solutions to the challenge raised by Priština by the tariffs imposed against the Serbs north of Ibar River. Donald Trump’s letter is not encouraging Belgrade’s illusion of further denying the Kosovar statehood but is encouraging the efforts to find a solution. What is needed is that Washington puts a real pressure on Priština too, to work on a negotiated solution with Serbia.


  • CHINA – US. The great global battle is here. Beijing sent a message of political trust (we do not seek hegemony, but we do not leave anybody to lead us) and is looking for economic concessions acceptable to its economy. In the same time, Beijing authorities take measures to balance the dare of having an important Chinese businessman arrested (an option was arresting innocent Canadian citizens ”in exchange”). Meanwhile, in Washington, a loose cannon president is shedding the last ”adults in the room” and, being pressed by the Mueller investigation, is craving for a victory in the trade war with China, at least partially. D. Trump will likely move adequately, because he has his own vulnerabilities. Soon, Sino-American negotiations are to follow, and they will decide the future global economic superpower.  


  • We wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

[1] ABM was the treaty drastically limiting the anti-ballistic defense systems.

[2] New START is the Russo-American agreement on strategic nuclear arms control.

[3] Ukraine’s initiative to put OSCE experts onboard its ships will likely be smothered in the cradle by Russia, in Vienna.