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26 februarie 2019 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 8 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. RUSSIA. President Vladimir Putin addresses the State Duma.

II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Last moves before the elections.

III. HUNGARY. The rift between Hungary and Europe gets wider.

IV. SYRIA. The US withdrawal will not be total.

V. Developments to track this Week 9 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA. President Vladimir Putin addresses the State Duma.

On February 20th, President Vladimir Putin delivered the annual speech on the state of the union to the State Duma. In his speech, the Russian president included important messages to his nation and to the world. This year’s event focused on domestic issues, on the background of Russia’s difficult economic and social situation, which led to a decrese in Putin’s popularity. However, the strongest messages were the threats he made against the United States. NATO reacted by qualifying these threats as unacceptable, and reaffirming its solidarity with the US.

On domestic issues, V. Putin spoke about social measures and a necessary growth in natality, he touched the problem of education and proposed actions against poverty, for pension adjustment according to inflation, and protecting the population against bank fraud. The Russian President also spoke about extending health and environment programs. On economy, V. Putin announced liberal measures. He called for the elimination of all obstacles hindering economic initiative and private enterprise. Economic growth will be the government’s main goal, and the inflation targets will be reduced, while the bank micro-lending mechanism is to be reformed. Conditions are to be created in order to facilitate investments in high-tech. V. Putin announced that “Russia’s gold, and foreign currency reserves fully cover international state and commercial debt first time in history”. If this accomplishment makes a guarantee of Russia’s sovereign economic status, the other mesures are just promises which, as most of those made in the past, have little chances to come true.

In foreign and security issues, V. Putin attacked the US and its announced withdrawal from the INF treaty. Russia will not seek to open discussions regarding the arms control, but negotiations are possible: "We will wait until our partners are ripe and acknowledge the need for dialogue on this issue on an equal basis". On the other hand, the Russian President expressed his hope that the EU nations would make genuine steps to restart the political and economic relations with Russia. Maybe it was in this respect that V. Putin stated that "Russia cannot be a state if it is not sovereign. Some countries can be, Russia is not able to do that".

Although V. Putin agrees that INF is obsolete, he claimed that the US used “frivolous pretexts” to withdraw from the treaty while accusing Russia for breaching INF aiming at terminating this treaty. The US would have allegedly blatantly breached the INF stipulations by deploying missile launching platforms in Romania, and, in the future, in Poland: "The US first started developing and using intermediate range missiles it deceitfully called targets for missile defenses. Then it began to deploy the Mk-41 universal launchers in Europe, capable of using Tomahawk intermediate range cruise missiles for combat purposes". V. Putin reiterrated that Russia would symmetrically respond if the US deploys intermediate range missiles in Europe, and he mentioned the new weapon systems[1]. He also specified that adverse “decision centers” will be targeted, i.e. a clear threat to strike the US with intermediat range missiles, respectively with the new Russian weapon systems: "There are a lot of those in the ruling elite of the United States, who are excessively fascinated with the idea of their exclusiveness and superiority over the rest of the world... This is certainly their right to think this way. But can they make the calculations? Undoubtedly they can," Putin said. "So let them calculate the range and speed of our advanced weapon systems."

Later, Putin spoke about the deployment of Russia’s new weapon systems close to the US, which would reduce the American system reaction time (systems which, according to Russian estimates, are unable to intercept the new Russian missiles). V. Putin mentioned the naval and underwater platfoms allegedly currently navigating international waters. However, many questions pop up. Even if those missiles were not deployed on the territory of a nation allied with Russia and IVO the US (such as Venezuela, although in deep crisis now) but on naval platforms, Russia still needs a naval base close to the American shores, because Moscow’s submarines, but especially warships lack the endurance and reliabilty to safely navigate far from their home bases. Additionally, the world ocean, and especially the waters of the western hemisphere, were always the traditional area of American naval superiority.

On the backdrop of the announced US withdrawal from INF, Moscow’s approach is quite natural for Russia’s deterrence strategy against any western response to Moscow’s breaching of INF. However, the threats regarding Russian response to supposed American deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, by similar systems prepared to attack America, reached an unprecedented level. If we consider the declared option of going as far as the case of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, we have the picture of an unprecedented escalation, even though the final objective might be the deescalation, by intimidating the adversary to the point where it does not respond to any aggressive step made by Russia. A numbing effect is sought for.

A Russia unable to match the US in the field of ballistic missile interception plays the cards in hand: it deploys the SSC-8 and develops weapon systems meant to be hard to intercept. The purpose of such strategy is to force the US into submission and make Washington accept Moscow’s current advatage and yield in the crucial issue for Russia, which is the NATO anti-ballistic defense systems deployed in Europe.

The weak link identified by Moscow in this equation is the Europeans, especially Germany, as Russia’s objective is to sever Germany from the US (especially now, when President Trump brought so much mistrust in the trans-Atlantic relation[2]).  Moscow also tries to find a solution in its benefit, and now perceives favorable signs: some of the solutions put forth by the Germans might bring Russia in advantage, although they are either hilarious[3] or conterproductive[4]. Nevertheless, at official level, Germany has approved the US decision and is playing along with all NATO allies in seeking a common solution to Moscow’s breaching of the INF.  

Opposite to the idea advocated by Russia, the European security is not at stake between the US and Russia, yet it is still ensured by the US, where the Europeans and Americans ought to find a common answer to the new Russian challenge, although the process looks long and complicated. In its advantage, Russia has only the early start by cheating, while the westerners hold the time and the resources. This is why Russia is pushing by threatening and escalating the tension. At the end of the day, this is where the danger lies: gambling with a Cuban type of crisis is not about responsibility, it is a “Russian roulette”, where the most reasonable must yield. Should they choose to yield, their security will get weaker and weaker. This is precisely the discrepancy between the Kremlin’s domestic and its foreign objectives that shows where Russia really stands: a country struggling with poverty and backwardness, as well as economic and technological isolation, threatens the economic, technologic and military (still!) world power, the United States.

There are still doubts regarding the Russian weapon systems’ true performance, as well as Russia’s capability to operationalize them at a relevant quantitative level. However, no matter how advanced these new weapon systems are, Russia cannot compete with the US. But this does not mean that Moscow is unable to generate tensions and crises capable in order to persuade the adversaries to yield and accept deals in favor of Russia. It is the domestically vulnerable Europeans who should pay more attention to the new security predicament. The illusion that breaking loose from Brussels would result in more sovereignty might prove fatal, because the strong argument is absent: the political, economic and military force able to defend such pseudo-sovereignty... from Russia.

As for the detail that the Kremlin is establishing one more airborne division, the fifth, this action only seems natural in the current framework of developments. Much attention should be paid to the airborne and the Spetsnaz divisions, as they are the spearhead acting in the initial phase of any Russian aggression.


II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Last moves before the elections.

Contemplating the February 24th parliamentary elections, the political forces in the Republic of Moldova (RM), as well as their sponsors, made their last moves, more and more spectacular, in order to increase their chances in elections.

Russia made a decisive move by attempting again to frighten Vlad Plahotniuc, the supreme leader in Chişinău.  The Russian Ministry of Interior announced they had opened a criminal case against V. Plahotniuc, for money laundering. Plahotniuc is accused for leading an organized crime structure dealing with illegal currency operations. More specifically, he is accused for having taken 500 million euros out of Russia. Maybe the case is solid, but why now? It is well known that Italian prosecutors have accused V. Plahotniuc for money laundering, and also that a large network launders Russian money in RM, where nothing happens without Plahotniuc’s aproval[5]. Another information is about preparations to bring people from Transnistria to vote for Igor Dodon’s Socialists.    

The Socialists were attacked by publishing information on the financing of Igor Dodon’s foundation with Russian money. It is common knowledge that Igor Dodon’s Socialists’ entire political power is financed by Moscow. Why is it only now that this information comes out openly? Maybe this is the scarecrow that V. Plahotniuc’s ”party and state pyramid” was showing to Igor Dodon, and which will be used after the elections to challenge the socialist candidates case by case, or to ”shape” their behavior.

The democratic opposition leaders publicly complained that they had been poisoned with heavy metals, including mercury. Considering their credibility, the accusations might be accurate. Why were they made public right now? They asked the international observers to preclude electoral fraud, because they have information regarding ample transfer of voters from one voting section to another, for  illegal multiple voting. That might well happen, but there is little the international observers can do to prevent such felony. In Chişinău, protests are expected after the elections, and the US Embassy has warned about that.

When this English version is published, the preliminary results are already known, and Vladimir Plahotniuc (about 24% plus 8% a satellite party) is likely decided to use all available means to adjust the balance by invalidating the victory of several socialist candidates, as well as that of some democratic opposition candidates. The precedent of canceling the victory of Andrei Năstase for the Chişinău mayor office is relevant in this respect. Russia will have to settle with such outcome. Should Moscow deem that about 31% is too lilttle, it will order the Socialists to protest. On the other hand, Igor Dodon will find quite convenient to win an uncomplete victory, because a complete victory (over 50%) would have forced him to implement Moscow’s orders at once, and he would lose any western financing. The democratic opposition (ACUM) seemed doomed to lose, but the provisional results look surprisingly good (27%!).

The European Union seems to be settled with defeat, and prepared to talk wiht the power: Igor Dodon’s and V. Plahotniuc’s political forces. Why would the EU complain, when it got what it requested: the apparence of  free and fair elections. Where it hurts... mum’s the word, because this is all that is left to do. Why? It is too soon to answer.

III. HUNGARY. The rift between Hungary and Europe gets wider.

A mundane event for the Viktor Orbán-led Hungary, yet brutal for the civilized Europe triggered a reaction with important consequences. V. Orbán’s party, the FIDESZ, used electoral posters with the image of Jean-Claude Juncker along the largely used image of George Soros, plus anti-European messages. J-C Juncker’s reaction was to reiterate that FIDESZ and Viktor Orbán’s place is no longer within the European Popular Party (EPP) family.

On February 19th, J-C Juncker declared that Viktor Orbán’s party should leave the EPP group. This statement responds to the false accusations by FIDESZ that Juncker and Soros would flood Hungary with immigrants. J-C Juncker answered that “Against lies there’s not much you can do”, and added that Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for the office of Commission European Chairman, should ask himself “if I need this voice” in the EPP.

Manfred Weber hesitated to discuss the exclusion of FIDESZ from the EPP, for the apparent reason that FIDESZ votes are necessary in the EU Parliament. On the other hand, M. Weber’s tolerance to V. Orbán is based on German economic interests, because V. Orbán plays well the nationalist anti-immigration card. But he also protects German investments, promotes the economic interests of his henchmen (some of them illegal, and V. Orbán will need to make a parallel justice for them). In addition, V. Orbán is challenging Brussels’ policy to defend the rule of law, but effectively absorbs European funds.

However, the inevitable has already occurred: top German politicians, both left-wing and right-wing, pointed that this must stop, and they attacked V. Orbán for his policies and his lies[6]. Finally, slowly but surely, Viktor Orbán is losing his main sponsor, who tolerated his anti-democratic behavior for years.

The problem is not in Budapest now, where V. Orbán has built himself a dictatorship, but in Berlin. M. Weber and the top German politicians must answer not whether they keep supporting V. Orbán, but for how long they will continue to do it. More precisely, if they bear with V. Orbán until after the European Parliament elections (they need his votes), even knowing that V. Orbán leads a far-right wing movement, no connection with the EPP. In his turn, Viktor Orbán must decide whether it is safe to jump from a secure EPP boat having tolerated him, to the boat of anti-European extremists, which is uncertain and prone to lead him into deeper isolation.

Basically, the core European message is clear to all eastern-European pretenders, from the false right-wing, in fact far-right, to the false left-wing, in fact populist post-communist profiteers. And this message reads: do not sink the boat just to grab a life raft for yourselves, even if the crew accept that for being unable to defend themselves from you, because all the other boats in the EU, which are towing you, will not accept that. On the other hand, the pretenders have no alternative, because they do not have a genuine own value, just the ability to manipulate, being decided to find the life raft allowing them to continue their leisure living on theft, corruption and medieval type privileges.


IV. SYRIA. The US withdrawal will not be total.

On February 22nd, the White House has announced it shifts from total withdrawal of American troops from Syria to leaving 400 soldiers in two regions of that country, in the north, and in the south. So, President Donald Trump’s initial decision to completely withdraw from Syria was fundamentally altered, regardless of the number of GIs remaining on the ground. Eventually, the president  was persuaded by his councils and by Congressmen that 200 American soldiers added to 800 to 1500 allied European troops would be enough to secure a safety zone between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey, along the northern border of Syria. Another 200 American troops will remain at the Al-Tanf base in the south, on Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan. President Trump further considers that the latest decision is not a switchback from initial plan, given that remaining forces would be “a very small, tiny fraction” of the forces who would ensure that Islamic State does not regroup.

The important European allies, who will provide the largest contingents (first France, at least for the moment) hesitated to provide troops for patrolling the security zone in the north because they did not have any guarantee from Washington that American troops are to stay in Syria, and that Pentagon forces would not take a significant role in securing the area between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey. The size of remaining European contingent is not yet established, numbers are to be changed according to the situation on the ground and according to ally contributions. Monday, February 18th, American officials reached the conclusion that the Europeans would not take over the mission to secure the safety zone in absence of an American participation. General Joseph Dunford, the American CHOD, had consultations with European allies regarding their military contribution, as the American contingent, although reduced, opens the path to a significant European military contribution. Friday, February 22nd, there were no firm commitments by the European allies for the security zone yet, but discussions were on-going, and the American officials were optimistic about it.

Beside assuring Turkey that no attack from Syrian Kurds will occur on Turkey and assuring the Syrian Kurds that Turkey would not attack them, the European-American contingent will also protect the area against Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Iran and Russia. Even more, having the American support on the ground secured, the Syrian Kurds will negotiate differently their issues with Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the Kurdish region will remain out of Damascus control, in a relative stability and political and economic autonomy from Bashar al-Assad.

It seems that President Trump has taken this decision before his discussion with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by telephone. Then, the Turkish defense delegation visiting the Pentagon continued to talk details with the US interim Secretary of  Defense, Patrick Shanahan, on the security zone issue. Before the meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, P. Shanahan declared that the American contingent mission in Syria did not change: “The transition that we are working towards is stabilization and to enhance the security capability of local security forces”.  

The US troops in al-Tanf base will have an important regional role in denying the Iranian plan to create land communication lines between Tehran and Beirut. So, the US responds to the concerns of the allies in the region, first to Israel, but also Jordan and the Gulf monarchies.

Considering the US force projection capacity (from bases in Iraq and from aircraft carriers), the small contingent to be left on the ground is enough to keep the adversaries at bay. However, nothing is final yet, neither Turkey’s agreement, nor the European contribution in troops. Then, the adversaries, those who are discontent with western presence, have a more powerful weapon against the Europeans than the military option: a new migration wave towards Europe can be generated quite easily. Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Russia will not be happy with this limited withdrawal, especially since Washington gets a big bang for the buck, and the Europeans come on board too, refusing to be just receptionists for... Middle East migrants. Aditionally, the US does not face the task of rebuilding Syria, and Russia cannot dodge this heavy burden, while it also must secure Sunni majority domination in Syria, after it has been crushed by B. al-Assad non-Sunni (mostly Shia) minority.

Israel gets a needed support against Iran, in the moment when, at home, a credible political alternative surfaced to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing / extreme right. Now, the Isreli Prime-Minister will have new arguments for his next meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Even driving from the back seat, with a tiny contingent, the US crucially changes the balance in Syria. That is called power. Maybe V. Putin was right when saying that “the deep state” is preventing President Trump to implement his policies: the American solid institutions and devoted to American and free world interests continue the traditional policy despite baseless decisions by President Trump.

However, everything must be taken with a grain of salt, as there are many unknowns in the equation. There is Iran and Russia’s anger, exactly when they believed they got rid of the US from Syria. There is also President Trump’s incoherence, Europeans’ hesitation (they are used to have their security problems solved by the US), as well as Turkey’s game, and other interests (Syrian Kurds’ security is at stake). All of the above keep the problem complicated. In the meantime, even the “small” Europeans must brace themselves for a possible mission in Syria, and such mission is not going to be simple.


V. Developments to track this Week 9 of 2019.

  • REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). The last Sunday elections were crucial, but the results were somewhat predictable, with the power possibly to be shared by the two mob-type political formations, Igor Dodon’s “pro-Russian” mafia and Vlad Plahotniuc’s “pro-Moldovan” mafia (the word mob is no longer a metaphor in the RM). We can only hope that the Russian mafia’s 31% of the ballots will not lead to damaging the balance between the two and leave RM to the mercy of Moscow. However, the democratic opposition’s provisional result of 27% seems quite remarkable, given the circumstances, and offers hopes for the future.
  • UNITED KINGDOM. THE BREXIT. Teresa May’s discussions with Brussels did not deliver anything concrete, but they will provide a “clarifying” annex. The  parliamentarians who left the Labor Party and those who left the Conservatives have complicated the problem. The tough Conservatives, who gambled to win a tough Brexit, a total severance, pay attention now to dodge the Blind Brexit, while the Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, finally clarified his position, and now talks about another referendum, should he win the power (he won’t!). So, most likely, we might witness a delay, although a favorable vote in the Parliament cannot be ruled out. How beautiful the Union was born in glory, and how disgracefully it loses an important limb!
  •  EUROPEAN UNION. The European elections are coming soon, and they are crucial for the future of Europe. Will the populists – far-right wing manage to destabilize Brussels? If they do it, the EU will be all shook up. This is why the fight is fierce. A first example is Bulgaria, where the power’s attempts to change legislation in order to gain an electoral advantage led to the Socialists’ threat with leaving the Parliament, all this having a collateral effect: it came out that Prime-Minister Borisov’s party keeps its power not only in alliance with the far-right, but also in alliance with a Turkish minority party that, in fact, is ruled by the “businessmen”. That is no surprise in a country ranking among the last in Europe regarding the rule of law, anti-corruption and freedom of press. Same as in Bulgaria, the European Parliament elections will show the true state of play in the European nations.  
  • UNITED STATES - CHINA. The deadline for an agreement is near, there is progress, but nothing is clear until such agreement is reached. The problem is that an agreement complying with the international economic rules would destabilize China’s economy, and Beijing will have to make tough reforms, difficult to be implemented by a consolidated communist regime. On the other hand, a compromise would not stabilize the US economy, because it would not diminish the deficit in the US trade with China. Maybe not only the configuration of the future world order is negotiated with this trade agreement, but also the world… peace.
  • SYRIA. Let’s see this week 9 Russia and Iran’s reaction after Donald Trump was persuaded to change his mind and reverse course of total withdrawal. It is not the number of troops that is important, only one American soldier would be enough to secure the force projection wherever America needs it. In the same time, Russia remembers how a small contingent of American troops annihilated an entire Russian brigade at Deir ez-Zor. This is the lesson the Russian soldiers learned in Syria: “Don’t mess with the Americans, look for other targets, vulnerable targets”.  

[1] The Peresvet laser systems will be operationalized in December 2019. The Zirkon hypersonic missile (planned to reach 9 Mach speed) will benefit from an accelerated development program.

[2] The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was right when expressing astonishment regarding the placement of German automobiles as being a threat to the American national security. This is by far an exaggeration, to say the least.

[3] The last-ditch efforts to mediate the INF issue included the idea of relocating the SSC-8 beyond the Ural Mountains (so Germany agreed those missiles were in breach on INF), where the missiles were to be guarded by international observers, in order to prevent their deployment in Europe!

[4] A German analyst talked about  a German plan featuring a “sanitary corridor” of neutral countries established between Russia and NATO. Considering that Ukraine’s neutrality was no hurdle to being attacked by Russia, this “sanitary corridor” would mean leaving a sphere of influence to Russia, and that would probably include the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. Let’s not wonder that Moldova’s president, Igor Dodon, invited to the Munich security conference, presented to several western nation representatives his plan for the reunification on the country (in fact, Moscow’s plan to “transnistrizate” the R. of Moldova. We can understand achieving the security  for most of the Europeans, including Germany, by concessions to Russia, but at whose expense? However, when acting in the name of Europe, one should consider the security interests of ALL Europeans.

[5] The main suspect for “the theft on the century” (one billion), Ilan Shor, is at large and leads a party which tries to siphon votes from the Socialists to V. Plahotniuc’s advantage. It is quite visible who is supporting who, and who is involved in the theft on the billion, but in Chişinău sound deductions do not serve, in absence of the rule of law. It seems that Illa Shor’s party obtained 8% at this past Sunday elections. Quite handy for Vlad Plahotniuc’s 23%.

[6] The last lie is that the EU provided visas to the migrants so they can invade Hungary. The answer came instantly: the EU does not issue visas, member nations do.