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25 februarie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 8 of 2020)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The EU Summit meant to pass the European multiannual budget failed to reach a compromise. II. SERBIA / RUSSIA. Russian Minister of Defense visits Belgrade. III. EUROPEAN UNION. Brussels (re)launches its naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea, close to Libya. IV. WESTERN BALKANS. Milorad Dodik threatens the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. V. Developments to track this Week 9 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. EUROPEAN UNION. The EU Summit meant to pass the European multiannual budget failed to reach a compromise.

The February 20 – 21 European Summit ended without a decision regarding its multiannual budget. Despite the European Council President Charles Michel’s mediation efforts, this Summit was not able to identify a solution. In essence, the problem was about who gives up: either those in the East and South, who would have to settle for less money after the Brexit, or the rich, led by the “group of four” middle-size nations, who decline to contribute with more money to compensate that loss. France and Germany did not mediate anything, being self-centered themselves: Berlin had previously declared its position close to the group of four, as mentioned in MAS Week 7 Report, and Paris voiced for the agricultural subsidies, in the interest of French farmers. Angela Merkel left the Summit and described very well this failure: Differences were "still too great to reach an agreement… we are going to have to return to the subject". Worse, the gap is so wide that the date of a future Summit on the budget issue was impossible to set. The differences are great not only about what the haves give and what the have-nots get, but also about how the budget is going to be spent: either subsidize the farmers, or prop the advanced domains where the EU must keep up the competition at global level.

After losing the British contribution, the EU seven-year budget structure became the most important European economic stake and the dispute was fierce: the haves, led by the “group of four” (Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark) was opposed by the “friends of structural funds” formed by the nations of the Europe’s South (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece) and those in the East led by the Visegrad Group). The former simply want the budget built without compensating the “British loss”, while the “friends of cohesion”, led by Italy, propose a “more ambitious” budget (at expense of the receiving pocket). Looking at the numbers, the battle was fought between locking the contribution at 1% of the GDP, proposed by “the group of four”, and the proposal of the “friends of cohesion”, respectively the European Parliament (EP). The latter talk about maximal percentages: 1,114% proposed by the European Commission (EC) and based on EU ‘s “geopolitical ambitions”, and 1.3%, proposed by the EP (who, at the end of the day, will vote the budget!).

The former nations only see that they pay and forget about the economic opportunities they benefited: access to resources, markets and advantageous business opportunities, especially at expense of those (elegantly put) “more naïve”. Meanwhile, the other nations forget how much they abused this support, both from an economic point of view (“customizing” the support from the rich on political considerations and not only, especially those who still look like “fair traders”), and from a political point of view (can pseudo-authoritarian regimes be forged without their economies propped with EU money? See the visibly corrupt governments in Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia). Therefore, no wonder the frustration of northern and western net contributing nations, and the proposal of hinging the cohesion funds on the compliance with the rule of law. Ursula von der Leyen said that this disagreement was a sign of democracy within the EU. That might be right, eventually, but money counts even among the Europeans, and only how much they pay, respectively how much they receive is of essence. 

Like for other countries as well, for Romania, preserving its current budget of EU funds is of paramount importance. For Bucharest it is a moment of truth, and Romania has some trump cards to support at least a partial gain. The struggle for keeping the EU funds earmarked for us will reflect our gain and our loss, but will also send a warning regarding the need to recover in vital domains in Romania: really reforming education, really creative research, and true development of hi-tech activities.


II. SERBIA / RUSSIA. Russian Minister of Defense visits Belgrade.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s February 17th visit to Belgrade included touting and symbolic gestures, but also concrete results: the final cuts on the contract for delivering Pantsir S1 Russian air defense systems to Serbia. Sergey Shoigu declared that military cooperation between the two nations reached a new “fundamental” high; he pointed out that, “for our part, we will make every effort to maintain the pace of our relations in the military sphere”. Considering the latest years’ transfer of Russian military equipment to Serbia, Shoigu’s statement cannot be challenged, although the ultimate question is what does Belgrade offer in exchange? Russian press highlighted the symbolic facet: MIG 29 fighters donated by Russia (modernized with Serbian money) escorted the airplane bringing Sergey Shoigu to Belgrade[1]. Later, on February 20th, Moscow announced that Russia started to deliver the first Pantsir S1 system of the six systems purchased by Serbia. The agreement allowing this purchase was signed during Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Belgrade.  

Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Belgrade was not only a proof of increased Russo-Serbian military cooperation, as it was presented by Russian media, but also a decisive moment of these military relations, with significant political impact. As the general atmospherics during negotiations revealed, with rather few smiling faces, the time came for cold calculations in Belgrade regarding the way Serbia will pay for the military support provided by Moscow. The price will likely be not only money, but political and military concessions as well, up to military cooperation beyond limits palatable to Belgrade. It is visible that Shoigu’s visit to Belgrade was necessary for achieving an agreement on the true price of this purchase. One indication is the Moscow announced starting deliveries only after this visit, although the equipment was ready for delivery in Russia, only the contract signing was delayed… Rather incompatible with a “perfect” military cooperation, isn’t it?

However, the most important issue is what did Serbia give beyond money, at political and military level? What will Serbia allow Russia to do, beyond forgetting that it is the same Russia that has spied on Serbian military? Common military exercises are irrelevant for NATO, if Russian deployments are only temporary, and Russian aid in military equipment for Serbia’s defense is not a reason for concern: practically, Serbia cannot be attacked by anybody, and it cannot attack anybody either. It is other “details” raising some eyebrows, such as: 1) Will Russian S-400 systems be periodically deployed for common Russo-Serbian air defense exercises[2]? Will the Russian soldiers deployed at the Emergency Situation Center in Niš be granted diplomatic status? That would mean that a Russian intelligence collection center will start operating there…

Beyond these “details” which directly speak to Romania, a “NATO adversary”, as designated by Moscow, there is only the political element, which points at Serbia’s policy (which should be sovereign). Western calls for negotiations (from those by the United States and the EU, to Emmanuel Macron’s recent call) do not propose a solution to fully satisfy Belgrade. The Russian ambassador to Belgrade recommended to stop rushing to the negotiation table. Would it be a good idea to follow this Russian way (according to Russian interests)? Belgrade’s European path would be left blocked, but Belgrade would also be isolated by the Europeans (even by the European nations who wish Serbia inside the EU as soon as possible, like Romania and Hungary).

We will have an answer rather soon, either by Serbia’s attitude to the negotiations with Kosovo, or by a new proposal made by a Russian “reporter” to Serbian President, suggesting changes in the government. Also, sooner or later, we will learn whether Russia conducts espionage against NATO from Niš / Serbia, or even worse, whether the Russian military espionage (GRU) resumes its hostile actions against Serbia’s neighbors, Montenegro or Northern Macedonia, even after these nations have become NATO members.

For westerners, these developments are still a red flag regarding the way to treat Serbia, overseeing past mistakes made by its leadership and present political realities (some Serbian politicians are anti-western, although they advocate Serbia’s integration into the EU!). A fair approach would follow objective criterion providing a European chance to the Serbs. Of course, it is difficult, but if the West cannot foster a constructive attitude, who would do that in the Western Balkans? The future of all the region depends on this, not only Serbia’s future, and this will impact directly upon Romania’s security: thus, non-Serbian threats originating from a Serbia which has nothing against us might loom large upon NATO, that is Romania included!


III. EUROPEAN UNION. Brussels (re)launches its naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea, close to Libya.

On February 17th, after tense discussions, the EU managed to relaunch a naval mission in southern Mediterranean Sea, IVO Libya. However, the new operation’s mandate includes only implementing the UN arms embargo imposed to the warrying parties, not migrant rescue. Therefore, this mission is directly linked to Europeans’ quest for an enduring solution for the conflict in Libya (escalated with “support” by two regional players, Russia and Turkey[3]).  Worth mentioning, the Europeans underlined that a new UN mandate is not necessary for monitoring the arms embargo on Libya.

The 27 EU nations reached an agreement regarding the southern Mediterranean mission which would replace Operation Sophia. This agreement stipulates: 1) “new operation in Mediterranean is to be launched; Operation Sophia will now be scrapped”; 2) this new operation will seek to implement the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council; 3) the new operation will be naval and air (including satellites); 4) the Area of Operation will be defined according to the new mandate; 5) other secondary objectives will be accomplished, such as the fight against organized crime responsible for the surge in migration, and training the Libyan coast guard; 6) concerns regarding the potential impact of the new operation on migration are considered, and the operation commander will closely monitor the migration flood and promptly report about it; 7) on this basis, in case of detecting operation-caused enabling factors for migration, the naval capabilities will be withdrawn from relevant areas. After the decision by the European Council, the agreement will be subjected to national procedures.

The agreement was hardly reached, due to opposition by Italy, Austria and Hungary, who obtained a limitation of the new mission in order to prevent turning it into an operation of rescuing migrants: when a threshold of migration flood is reached, the new mission will not turn into a rescue mission, but will be suspended instead. The operation will be novel also because Italy opposed returning to mission Sophia. While in case of Italy and Austria this cynical behaviour has an excuse – the large number of immigrants incoming through the Libyan connection, for Hungary there is only the “Christian counter-revolution” explanation: the need for a crusade against Muslim migrants, whichever channel they choose and wherever they go in Europe (practically, no migrant arrived through the Libyan gateway entered Hungary!).

The new mission is corroborated with the European efforts for solving the Libyan conflict under German coordination. After the Berlin conference, where it obtained a commitment for complying with the embargo, Germany organized a new meeting in the margin of Munich Security Conference, where non-compliance with the agreement was noticed, and the perpetrators were… the main actors (Turkey first). France and Italy, who is responsible for consultations with Russia, are involved in these efforts. France is involved mainly from a naval point of view, since it already operates its aircraft carrier in Eastern Mediterranean. However, there is a risk of linking this new mission to the Turkish – Egyptian tensions about establishing the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and exploiting resources in Cyprus and Greece’s EEZs, which Turkey does not recognize.

Romanian participation to this operation is highly likely, and the new operation will be less simple than the previous one: 1) Vessel inspections might lead to tensions with… Turkey, who breaches this embargo at sea, while Russia and other actors support General Haftar in other ways; 2) The degree of implication in rescuing migrants will be difficult to define in the Rules of Engagement, with due practical consequences; 3) A certain difficulty will show in preserving a clear separation of this operation from the tensions in Eastern Mediterranean Sea (especially since France and Italy might form the naval core of the operation, and both nations declared support to Greece and Cyprus, in their dispute with Turkey).

On the other hand, this mission is the best example of European security policy, where Germany, France and Italy took the lead in solving a conflict at the EU doorstep, with impact on the European Union. However, France and Germany also started the European aircraft project, and Berlin announced it accepted the French proposal of participating in French nuclear exercises, mentioning, though, that “NATO nuclear umbrella remains the foundation for Europe’s defense” (it feels good that German realistic thinking balances the French European-centered impetus).


IV. WESTERN BALKANS. Milorad Dodik threatens the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On February 17th, during an emergency session of Republika Srpska (RS) Parliament, ethnic Serbian leader Milorad Dodik threatened with RS secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), with RS legislature in Banja Luka support.  He reacted to the BiH Constitutional Court decision that unclaimed real estate in RS should pass to BiH central property, not RS entity property. Dodik requested the BiH Constitutional Court to review its decision, but having its alien members removed. He was clear with his threat: "Goodbye Bosnia, welcome RS Exit".

As usual, real estate is the reason behind the “idealism” of BiH nationalists, all of them, not only the ethnic Serbs, and Milorad Dodik’s decision benefits support from almost all RS politicians. Starting from a dispute on real estate, this decision of challenging Bosniak institutions announces a crisis, although Dodik no longer holds a full blackmailing capability, which once used to worry Brussels. Anyway, the ultimatum issued to the BiH Constitutional Court is as dangerous for the stability of this fragile state as the rhetoric message "Goodbye Bosnia" that he launched. 

In his speech, Milorad Dodik reminded that only the RS parliament can speak for the people: "We must not hesitate to make decisions that are important to our future. This time, we are serious [with our threat] and we will not accept any other direction". He stated that R. Srpska and the Serbs have no chance within BiH, that they cannot be accepted by the authorities in Sarajevo and by the Boshniaks, and that Boshniak politicians believe it is the time for confronting the Serbs, therefore RS has nothing else to do than follow its interests. Dodik especially attacked the BiH Constitutional Court, for its decision on unclaimed real estate in RS. In case the Court does not review this decision, Milorad Dodik anounced seccesion: "See you in 60 days. I believe we will be in what I said at the beginning" ("Goodbye Bosnia, welcome RS Exit").    

Most likely, if a solution is not found, Milorad Dodik will make his threats come true starting with RS boycotting all BiH institutions, and ending with a referendum organized in RS regarding its seccesion from BiH. Although Valentin Inzko, the EU High Representative for BiH (the highest authority in BiH) sent due warnings and reminded that the result of such referendum will not be recognized, the crisis might reach high levels, thus producing an extremely dangerous instability in BiH and in the region.

This development would complicate even more the situation in the Western Balkans right now, when the EU offered new hopes to the nations in the region regarding their integration into the EU. These hopes were conveyed during the recent meeting with Western Balkan leaders, and the decision was strengthened by President Macron’s declaration: in Munich, he announced that France no longer opposes negotiations with Montenegro and Northern Macedonia on their integration into the EU. This occured after a new methodology was wrought to avoid the traps from the past: the reversibility of integration process is now introduced, as well as hinging each step of formal accession on real progress achieved by the candidates.


V. Developments to track this Week 9 of 2020.

► GLOBAL. Coronavirus gets closer to Romania! After reaching France, the UK and Germany, Coronavirus strongly hit Italy which, although immediately took adequate measures, is now coping with a rapid increase in infection cases. Considering that Romania is the East-European nation with the highest number of direct links to these nations, in number of individuals, and that this virus has a rather long incubation time (while the carrier cannot be detected) it would be a good idea to get seriously prepared for its arrival… through European connection!

► AFGHANISTAN. The United States and the Taliban signed an agreement for reducing violence, a kind of preamble for a peace agreement mean to be signed on February 29th, should the Taliban comply with this first accord. Following the agreement which they just achieved, the Taliban gave up violence starting Saturday, February 21st. Inshallah this war ends!

► UKRAINE / RUSSIA. By a resumption of violence at the contact line in Donbass, the Kremlin reminded Kyiv that Ukraine should better yield, otherwise it would face a new escalation of violence by the “separatists” (although in Donbass there are also 25 000 Russian military, according to Ukrainian sources). We will see how Kyiv responds, and what the next move by the Kremlin will be.

► RUSSIA / UNITED STATES. The discrete Pompeo – Lavrov meeting in Munich seems to open the perspective of a dialogue in strategic issues. We will see if, and when negotiations will start regarding the extension of New START.

► REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). Igor Dodon started the war on the European Union by attacking EU ambassadors. Facing questions by EU leaders about his real intentions in RM, where he does nothing of the promised reforms, Igor Dodon resorted to an old strategy of eastern autocrats: he accused European ambassadors of being biased (by sending a false image of RM power’s “achievements”). Dodon’s presence in Munich represents a small gift from Germany, who sought to keep the door ajar for negotiations in 5+2 format. But Dodon attempted to profit at maximum, from photo-ops to… calls in favor of Russia (“Europe cannot be strong in absence of Russia”!), forgetting that he was the president of RM, not representative of Russia. In Chişinău, the Democrat Party, which has a de facto alliance with Dodon’s Socialists, requests access to the government, otherwise what is the point to support the power without benefiting some advantages? In Chişinău, advantages are quite material and… personal.

► SLOVAKIA. Parliamentary elections might remove Robert Fico’s Social-Democrats from power, on the backdrop of reveals about the link between the power in Bratislava and mafia circles. Such reveals appeared during the process where an important businessman close to the power is accused of ordering the murder of a journalist and his fiancée. It would be the right time, as Slovakia’s economic success should lead to political developments.  

RUSSIA. Evidence is mounting to prove the Kremlin’s involvement in the murder in Berlin, as well as information about a new meddling by Moscow in American elections. After the UK and the Netherlands (who, of course, refused to try the culprits of downing the MH 17 flight in Russia), Germany joined the ranks of European nations who cannot foster normal relations with Russia, even if they wanted to. The reason is that Russia’s institutions are involved in committing murders and other crimes on foreign territory. The Prosecutor Office of Bulgaria also identified Russian citizens accused of murder attempt against the arms trader Emilian Gebrev. France will probably follow, after two incidents: a candidate for Mayor of Paris was compromised by a Russian national, and a Chechen was killed by Russian hands on French territory. In this situation, no wonder that, in Russia’s future Constitution, the President’s immunity will be stipulated.

► BULGARIA. A new crisis. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is suspicioned of involvement in a money-laundering network, in an investigation in Catalonia. Borisov states that it is a plot by President Radev and Russia, meant to see Borisov removed from power. Let’s not overreact: Radev’s wish to see Borisov removed is one thing, and Radev’s sympathy for Russia is another; however, such maneuver would mean treason (and Radev can only be accused of… illegally granting an apartment to his wife). In fact, there is an extremely grave accusation by Spanish authorities against Borisov. In Sofia, the polish worn off, and a political, judicial and economic system with serious problems is showing its true colors.  

► SYRIA. Turkey and Damascus started the war, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already announced: the artillery of both parties directly intervened, as did the Russian aviation, and the Sunni rebels received MANPAD missiles. Russia deployed to Syria new Su 24 fighter-bomber aircraft (of course, to Syria, since they were no longer allowed to transit Turkish air space; complicity ended!). Russia also continued indiscriminate bombing, after it opposed a cease-fire in the UN Security Council session. When the two interventionists, Russia and Turkey, no longer get along, Erdoğan appealed to formerly slimed Europeans Macron and Merkel (using the migrant “argument”) to organize a meeting on February 5th for persuading Putin that, nevertheless, almost one million Sunnis thrown into unknown deserve a drop of sympathy. Erdoğan also appealed to his American ally, whom Ankara requested the deployment of Patriot air defense systems: this is the necessary protection umbrella in case of tensions with Russia in Syria, as the S-400 Russian air defense systems only have a “customized” role of defending Erdoğan’s presidential palace. We will see whether the announced four-party meeting gives peace a chance. Remarkably, although Russo-Turkish tensions increased, due to Damascus’s offensive in Idlib, the relations between the two countries will not fall beyond a minimal low threshold, which is caused by common political interests (autocratic regimes) and economic interests (from gas trade and nuclear energy businesses, to contracts in constructions and other fields, like tourism). 

► IRAN. Parliamentary elections. These elections will seal Iran’s fate, of course the Conservatives won especially due to the candidate selection system. The turnout was low, despite efforts by the regime. Interesting, this very power, dominated by Conservatives, will have to negotiate, sooner or later, with the United States.

[1] The symbolic aspects fade compared with reality: the Russian airplane had flown through the national air space of at least one NATO nation without any escort and was… completely safe during this whole flight!

[2] While deployed to Serbia, such systems can threaten the NATO air bases in Pápa / Hungary and Câmpia Turzii / Romania, as well as the Ballistic Missile Defense installations in Deveselu / Romania.

[3] Here, the situation is opposite the situation in Syria: Turkey covers its intervention with the legitimacy of Tripoli government, which is recognized by the international community, and Russia, as in Ukraine, “is not present”, yet it plays an important military and political role by supporting General Haftar, with mercenaries included. Of course, the interest is economic, i.e. recovering the money invested during Ghaddafi regime, but also geopolitical: why not build a leverage on the Europeans, the Italians especially, by blackmailing them with the possibility of creating a new destabilization hotbed at their doorstep, a dangerous source / gateway for… migrants?