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13 februarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 6 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. INF remains the main issue.

II. UKRAINE. The Euro-Atlantic path was written in the Constitution.

III. EUROPEAN UNION. Agreements and… disagreements.


V. Developments to track this Week 7 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA. INF remains the main issue.

The INF treaty still holds the first page of Russia’s foreign policy agenda, after the US has announced it renounces this agreement following its breach by Russia’s deployment of SSC-8 missiles. Moscow’s strategy seems to be multifold. First, we have victimization, with Russia accusing Washington for triggering a new arms race. Then, there is the “openness to dialogue”, with Moscow proposing its condition for preserving the INF: the US should give up the Aegis Ashore missile defense system at Deveselu / Romania.

After President Vladimir Putin’s tough reaction last week, there was the diplomatic dilution of the issue: on February 4th, the Kremlin’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov was quoted by RIA news agency saying that “The United States’ full withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would not herald the start of a new Cold War”. Of course, Russia wants nothing like that, as one of the objectives is to divide the Alliance, and Moscow’s “friendship” with certain Europeans is precisely aimed at undermining the transatlantic cohesion.

Then threats came along: on February 5th, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, ordered the commencement of new missile system development, and told a meeting of defense chiefs that “from February 2nd, the United States suspended its obligations under the INF treaty... At the same time, they are actively working to create a land-based missile with a range of more than 500 km which is outside the treaty’s limits. President Putin has given the defense ministry the task of taking symmetrical measures”. Russia will thus develop two new ground-based missile systems until 2021, in response to Washington’s withdrawal from INF, that is a missile system using the Kalibr naval missile, and a long range hypersonic missile.  

Let’s see what Sergei Shoigu’s declaration means: Russia “is forced” to develop new intermediate range missiles “in response” to Washington’s withdrawal from INF, and Moscow will develop a missile breaching the INF (What new missile? Nobody has heard about that so far); So, “reacting symmetrically”, Moscow will also resort to developing a missile breaching the INF. This is simply not true: the US did not develop any missile breaching the INF, while Russia has already deployed a ground-based missile, the SSC-8, which is based on the naval missile Kalibr and breaches the INF. In addition, very likely, Russia has developed an intermediate range ballistic missile (which, together with the Avangard, becomes the hypersonic missile in discussion), and which it would quickly deploy, before 2021. Russia might also deploy a naval supersonic missile Onix (Yakont) on land. Thus, there is no reaction in fact, there is just a breach of INF by Russia, preceding the US’ withdrawal from the INF agreement.

Only after these, what Russia really wants surfaced: on February 7th, the Russian Minister of Defense claimed that US should destroy the MK 41 launching systems deployed in Romania in order to make the US comply with the treaty. According to the Russian official, Washington should also destroy all attack drones it developed. The US defense attaché to Moscow was summoned at the Russian Ministry of Defense, where he was handed a note with these requests. Of course, there is no connection between the interceptors at Deveselu and the INF: the interceptors do not have a ballistic trajectory, they are not aimed at any ground target, and the presence of MK 41 universal lanuching pads does not mean at all that Washington intends to bring cruise missiles at Deveselu.

Finally, diplomacy came along again: on February 7th, the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, declared that Russia would consider the American proposals to replace INF treaty with an agreement to include more nations: “We look forward to this proposal being made concrete and put on paper or by other means...”   

Russia’s objective is not clear-cut. First, Moscow requests Washington to renounce the Aegis Ashore systems and return to abiding by the INF. This is less likely, but Russia is persistent, otherwise why would it start this whole process? Should Russia fail to obtain what it requested from the US, Moscow is the one to trigger an arms race (which it already started with the SSC-8 missile), aiming to gain leverage for the negotiations, since the US does not have a military answer yet. Mainly, Russia is counting on the Europeans’ fear of a new arms race in Europe[1], and especially Germany’s concerns, as Berlin opposes the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe. The US seeks an answer acceptable by the Europeans, such as low payload nuclear missiles on an SLBM, or high precision nuclear bombs. If Russia fails to divide the Alliance, and Washington does not deploy any of such missiles, Moscow will propose negotiations for a new treaty to replace INF and be signed also by China.

Russia has “hybrid” objectives, not clearly defined, only its purpose is clear-cut, fishing after having broken the balance: for the maximum, it would be getting the US to yield regarding the ballistic missile (BM) shield; and minimum would be a new agreement, maybe with China in. Of course, everything comes with a price and Russia’s credibility is plummeting (even the tolerant Germany is sure that Russia has breached the INF with its SSC-8 missiles). But now, so what? Russia’s problem is bigger: as an agressive power, coming back on the stage in force, has one and only argument – its nukes, and the US is questioning this argument by developing the BM systems. This is why any means is valid for making this predicament go away, including breaching an agreement that was securing the peace. The most dangerous situation would be making the US engage in an arms race that Russia cannot keep up with, because the Russian economy cannot shoulder such burden. But this path, in fact, is ruled out by Moscow (although it complains, aiming to soften the western public), only Russia knows that the westerners are calculated and would not behave... as Russia does.

Russia tries to replicate at substrategic armament level what it succeeded at strategic level (Moscow is keeping Ukraine at bay, and rules Syria); and Russia will likely have similar results but the gain, although significant, is not fully worth the price (sanctions, isolation). The Russian strategy of gaining concessions from the US must be examined in the context of the Europeans’ reaction or actions.

The developments in the case of the MH 17 airplane shut-down stand to prove that even what is “hybrid”, actually unadmitted agressive actions, no dot pass without consequences. On February 8th, Russia declared its availability for discussions with the Netherlands regarding that tragic event. Previously, after the Dutch investigation ended by incriminating the Russian armed forces (the 53 Anti-Aircraft Brigade Kursk) for shooting the MH 17, Russia vigorously denied its involvement[2]. In fact, Russia has a problem much bigger than the MH 17 itself: by admitting that MH 17 was downed by a missile launched from a Buk system belonging to the 53rd AA Brigade deployed in Ukraine, Moscow implicitly admits... Russian troops implication in the Donbass war, something that everybody knows, but the Kremlin never admitted.

On the domestic stage, the dismissal of two generals shows that the power in Moscow becomes more and more concerned with corruption, and it tries to keep it under control. The arrest of a North Caucasus parliamentarian falls in the same trend, the indictee being accused for having ordered murders and for establishing an organized crime ring. Moscow’s dilemma is that its power pyramid is based on corruption as well, and it is hard to preserve its cohesion when the actions against corruption begin, because the economic and social situation impose those actions. As we say in Romania, the fish turns bad from the head, but it gets cleaned up from its tail.


II. UKRAINE. The Euro-Atlantic path was written in the Constitution.

On February 7th, the Ukrainian Parliament voted, in the last reading, with a large majority (334 yays and only 17 nays!) the amendment to the Constitution that confirms the nation’s strategic objective to become NATO and EU member. President Petro Poroshenko has declared that this moment is historic for Ukraine, and assessed this measure as being a step forward towards integration into the Euroatlantic structures. Poroshenko added that Russia was able to attack Ukraine only because certain politicians promoted neutrality.

Although the devotion itself is encouraging about defining the objective, especially being passed with such remarkable majority, much remains to be done yet. Ukraine’s problem is not about wishing, but about being able to integrate into the Euroatlantic structures, both for internal reformation issues, and from the perspective of foreign security (how many NATO nations will accept in the Alliance a country at war with Russia!?). The Ukrainian Parliament act has also a demonstrative feature, as P. Poroshenko is in full election campaign.

Beyond everything, Ukraine writes down in its very Constitution that it wants to go west, and this does not bode well for the Kremlin at all (remember that Vladimir Putin stated in Bucharest that Ukraine is not a country... and he slashed from it as much as he pleased). For now, Moscow has a good opportunity to meddle in Ukraine on the backdrop of a destabilizing and populist-nationalist election campaign (Yulia Tymoshenko already expresses more and more striking positions).

The Ukrainian elite, with its ups and downs, has learned something from the conflict with Russia: there is no time to watch idle from the fence, with multipronged or neutrality policies. No, Kyiv is gambling everything on the West card, supposed to secure not only the nation’s independence and sovereignty, but also the survival of its post-Soviet elite, slightly tweaked, here and there. Petro Poroshenko’s rejection of the OSCE plan shows precisely that: no deviation from the Minsk Agreement, the Normandy Format, and the close coordination with the United States.  


III. EUROPEAN UNION. Agreements and… disagreements.

FRANCE / GERMANY. The project of a new aircraft.

On February 6th, France and Germany announced the signing of a 65 million Euro agreement equally financed by the two nations, for starting the first phase of a two-year program aimed at developing a next generation fighter. The optimism displayed by the defense ministers of the two countries has been summarized: “This contract is the very first brick of a stupendous building”.

The Dassault Aviation and Airbus will cooperate in this program, which is supposed to develop, starting in 2040, an aircraft able to replace Rafale and Eurofighter, with a prototype done by 2025. The aircraft engine will be built by Safran and MTU Aero Engines, while Thales and MBDA will participate with avionics, respectively armament.

At France’s request, Germany removed a roadblock from the program’s path by announcing it would exclude the American F-35 from its procurement plan meant to replace the Tornadoes (an aircraft designed to transport also American bombs to the target).

The success of the planned aircraft depends on several factors, one of them being the participation of more European nations. However, so far, only Spain announced its participation. The big problem is whether this aircraft will really be a next generation contraption, i.e. stealth and able to ”supercruise” (fly at supersonic speeds for long periods of time). Very likely, the Franco-German manufacturers will be able to produce an engine able to supercruise, but the stealth technology is not yet controlled by these firms[3]. In other related technologic domains, the French and Germans are already competitive.

This program should be the core of the future European cooperation in arms industry, but everything depends on the military interests (a high-tech aircraft, why not stealth) and economic interests of the other European nations (how they can be included into the program to provide benefits for the national arms industries). For example, Italy, as other European nations, is already included in the F-35 program. With the UK having its own project, and other important European nations on board for F-35 procurement, the new program will have a difficult future. However, this program is quite necessary for the Franco-German core, should this nucleus continue to pursue the idea of having a European defense industry. This looks more important since we are far from a European Union that is really a union. The best example is the awkward situation surfaced in the Franco-Italian relations, described below.

FRANCE / ITALY. On February 2nd, in an unprecedented event, France recalled its ambassador from Rome, in response to “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders (in power) against Paris: “France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims[4] is another”. France reacted to a streak of insults by politicians in power in Italy, the most striking being the decision taken by Luigi di maio, the leader of 5 Stelle populist party (M5S), to meet representatives of the Yellow Jacket movement (which has been protesting for months now in France, even using violent means).

French President Emmanuel Macron was a permanent target of the Italian political leaders, being identified by them with a liberal pro-migration leader, since it opposed the new Italian policy, effective, yet inhumane, of rejecting the migrants sailing from Africa. On the other hand, E. Macron wrongly considered the two Italian political leaders, the populist Luigi di Maio, and the far-right wing, Mario Salvini, as being “insignificant”, and declaring he would talk only to that person officially designated as prime-minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte.

France’s action represents the climax of recent ever increasing tensions between Rome and Paris, and it shows how divided the EU is, at its highest level, considering that we talk about the second and the third power in Europe (UK out). What to talk about unity in the EU, when even the big nations not only disagree, but do not respect each other.

How did we get here? There are several levels of the answer.

First, the objective level. France has been a crucial component of the European construction, and it has played this role with authority, sometimes with selfishness. Meanwhile, Italy, the third European economy, accused the belittled political importance it is bestowed with, because of its economic fragility (the budgetary deficit, foreign debt, the fragility of its banks), and its domestic political instability (reminescent of the reality that the Cold War Italian political system was designed by the US to prevent the Italian communists from coming to power). In economy, the way Paris approached the mergers proposed by Italy in the field of naval construction is eloquent.

The second level of explanation appeared after the populists in alliance with the far-right wing won the power in Rome, with an anti-immigration platform, and a „generous” economic program. The Italian government was forced by Brussels to review its proposed budget, which had a deficit beyond the Euro Zone accepted figures.  After that defeat, the leaders in Rome identified Paris as the main culprit, and avoided to nag Germany (if not for another reason, maybe because the Greek crisis scenario is looming large). On the other hand, regarding migration, France has been identified as being the enemy, incarnated in the person of the ”liberal Macron”. There are also other objective reasons (France accused, but did not help), and populist reasons (rejecting the migrants brought popularity to a coalition which came to power with big promises, yet small achievements).

A third level of answer is purely electoral politics: the populists in Rome want to create an anti-liberal axis (against the Franco-German core) meant to generate a new majority in the European Parliament in order to influence decisions, especially in the issues of interests, such as migration and the financial policy.

Only the last two levels of answer imply a possible Italian responsibility, more exactly that of the populist and extreme right wing leaders, but one should not forget that the first level of answer has been going on for decades. The Italian leaders’ policy might bring them good results in the European elections, which is a real blessing for the two parties in dire straits‚ for two reasons: the implementation of promised policies, and the cooperation issues. However, this policy will request a high price: sooner or later, even due to its own policy, the Italian government will need financial support from Europe. At that point, France, although it lacks the weight of Germany, will be one of the nations to decide in this matter.

For a European Union, threatened from all angles, and having a plethora of problems, such quarrel was the last thing it needed. The two capitals will likely review their behavior and will seek a compromise, as both E. Macron and the duet Di Maio – Salvini have enough problems at home for considering to engage in futile foreign struggle, which leads to nowhere.



On February 6th, the NATO Member Nations signed with North Macedonia an agreement making this country the 30th member of the North-Atlantic Alliance. The North-Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, has declared that it is an important moment for his country, which “will never walk alone” once in the Alliance.  The process of ratification might last about one year, and North Macedonia is to technically be fully integrated in the Alliance in 2020.

The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has declared that “NATO’s door remains open for countries that meet NATO standards and that adhere to the NATO values of democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty”.

God willing, especially since the Macedonian nationalists, who opposed the name change, still hope that the agreement of accession into NATO will not be ratified by Turkey (who had recognized this country with the name of Macedonia, and does not respect anymore some of the values mentioned by J. Stoltenberg), and by Hungary (where the former Macedonian prime-minister found refuge, being convicted in his country, and Hungary who respects the same values, but selectively). But these two nations will likely approve Macedonia’s access into NATO, since Greece hurried to be the first country to approve the Macedonia – NATO agreement, in the Parliament.

The vote in the Greek Parliament represents a victory for Prime-Minister Alexis Tsipras, who thus solved Macedonia’s problem. Tsipras had an additional victory this past week: he went to Turkey and issued a common declaration with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a statement by which the two countries voice for a peaceful solution of all bilateral problems. So, an important step towards diminishing the tensions in the Balkans was made by a... radical left Greek government.

North Macedonia’s integration with such pace suggests NATO’s concern to benefit while it can, that is to integrate this country against the efforts by the Macedonian domestic nationalist opposition as well as Russia’s obstruction (for geostrategic reasons). It might seem to be not something normal, but what remains normal now, when multiple problems pile up inside Europe and at its borders.

NATO will organize a summit in London, in December, to officially welcome North Macedonia. So, another nation in the Western Balkans, such an unstable region, is integrated into a stabilizing organisation. For North Macedonia, the EU Herculean trials are next, while NATO faces two tough questions: what to do with the unstable core remaining in the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia), and what to do with Ukraine’s desire to integrate into NATO. For the first question, the answer lies in the way Serbia will act, and the second question depends on Kyiv, but also on Moscow, that may resort again to war to prevent such integration from happening.


V. Developments to track this Week 7 of 2019.

  • UNITED KINGDOM. The Brexit saga continues. The European leaders reiterated their offer of flexibility, but they would not renegotiate the agreement. However, the EU will likely accept to adjust the political statement annexed to the Brexit agreement. The problem now is what will be the specifications to be introduced regarding the backstop, considering several consequences, especially since the Europeans do not want to comply with the conservatives’ appetite for a No-Deal Brexit. For now, though, Donald Tusk sent them to hell, but the problem persists. A Brexit postponement (at least for a couple of weeks) found room in the rumors again, and the Europeans’ hopes for a second referendum are rekindled (by the British Labor), and the Blind Brexit is discussed again (although the British Parliament rejected such option through an amendment). The saga will continue, most likely with a postponement of Britain’s split from the EU.
  • SYRIA. The leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran will meet in Sochi on February 14th.  On the background of the US withdrawal from Syria, and the disagreements among the three victors, such summit was quite necessary. Turkey did not manage to oust the jihadists from Idlib but wants a security zone at its border with Syria, to make sure Turkey will not become a target for the Syrian Kurds. Yet Russia and Iran disagree and maintain that, since the Americans withdraw, the territory must be returned to Bashar al-Assad, not offered to Turkish control. The summit might prove useless, especially for Turkey. Additionally, if no illusion of forging a Constitution is offered, no western support will come for Syria.
  •  HUNGARY. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s visit to Budapest will have multiple significations. On one side, Viktor Orbán regime has a number of common points with the Trump Administration (anti-immigration policy, populist – nationalist views), but Budapest’s exaggerations, especially in promoting relations with Russia and China, became a concern for Washington after the same issues were inconvenient for the Obama Administration, but in a larger framework, of the rule of law and fight against corruption.   
  • CENTRAL EUROPE. The high-level meeting between Germany and the Visegrad Group nations is coming soon, and will be a reminder of the starting point, but also of the current situation: the German investments revigorated the region’s economy, but the Central-European regimes failed badly regarding the rule of law, and often opposed the Franco-German positions. Only the eclectic nature of the Visegrad Group makes it a political force to be reckoned with at European scale. In other domains though, ranging from economy to development of society, Visegrad represents a group which any country in search for European integration should join, if accepted by the four Visegrad nations.  
  • IRAN. The differences between the Europeans and Iran are soaring (while Iran insists with its ballistic missile program), and the mechanism established by the Europeans to circumvent the American sanctions does not satisfy Tehran. Additionally, the summit in Poland, proposed by the US, is coming soon. There, although the summit will not bring a common denominator, will generate a common position, at least in certain issues (the Iranian ballistic missile program). On the other side, the meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin is coming soon too, and the main problem to be discussed there will be the Israeli air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria.


[1] Significantly, France just announced an exercise of its nuclear forces.

[2] A Russian version would be fair to be presented, but one would not know which story to pick: in time, Moscow presented several different stories, demonstrating a rich imagination: it was a Ukrainian aircraft; it was not a Buk missile; it was a Buk missile, but Ukrainian; the Dutch investigation presented a Buk missile having been recalled long before the launching…

[3] Stunningly, the Europeans lag behind Russia and China at stealth technology, because the F-117 downed in Serbia gas been sectioned… only in two parts.

[4] References to the Italian Prime-Minister’s statements surprised (in a video recording, when addressing the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel) when he stated that the Italian political leaders attack France (while sparing Germany, whom they need) for winning the future European elections.