MAS Special ReportWeekly review

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

09 octombrie 2018 - Special reports - Weekly review


Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. THE UNITED STATES / NATO - RUSSIA. The Alliance Decided to Respond to Russia’s Cyber-Attacks and INF Breaching.  

II. FRANCE - IRAN. Tensions Following a Terrorist Attack Organized by Iranian Officials.

III. WESTERN BALKANS. Two Failures of Western Policy in the Region.

IV. HUNGARY – UKRAINE. Tensions between Two Countries which “Do Not Play Fair” in Bilateral Relations.


I. THE UNITED STATES / NATO - RUSSIA. The Alliance Decided to Respond to Russia’s Cyber-Attacks and INF[i] Breaching.

If the westerners managed to find a common way to answer the first issue, the second problem will be more difficult, as the obvious solution implies the deployment of new weapon systems, including nukes. This is why NATO only aknowledged the breaching of INF by Russia, and asked explanations from Moscow. The result of the discussions on this topic has not been made public.

The NATO Defense Ministerial NAC held in Brussels (October 3rd – 4th) confirmed two major decisions in the NATO – Russia confrontation. The first decision was to announce the response to Russia’s cyber-attacks, on the background of political declarations made by NATO member nation heads of state. This spells a cyber war declaration to Russia, in response to that already being conducted for years by Russia, but not declared, against NATO, EU countries, and Ukraine. The allies will provide a common response, and the most visible proof is that the US will offer its cyber war capabilities to the NATO allies. The second decision, not officially communicated, yet of the same importance, referrs to NATO’s response to the INF breaching. Officially, only the message to Russia was made public, and that requests Moscow to clarify its position regarding the operationalization of the SSC-8 / 9M729 missile. The message also includes NATO’s decision to respond to the missile operationalization, should Russia fail to reconsider its actions. Most likely, practical measures of response were also discussed but not revealed to the public. Those measures will not only further tense the relations with Russia, but they will also generate differences, if not tensions among the European nations, depending on the way they will tackle the solution proposed by the US. Romania might get into an awkward position because, although its approach is predictible, it will not be easily accepted by part of the European allies.

First, it was the declaration by the US Permanent Representative (ambassador) to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who stated, on October 2nd, that the US would eliminate the threat posed by the Russian missiles which breach the INF. She used a dangerously ambiguous language (US forces might have to ”take out” the Russian missiles), which sparkled a general concern[ii], but also Moscow’s immediate reaction. Then, a streak of declarations by western officials began, accusing Russia of global actions of cyber warfare. The Dutch and British Prime-Ministers issued a common declaration on the GRU agents’ operation in the Netherlands[iii], which targeted a facility belonging to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Hague. The evidence collected from OPCW computers also revealed Russia’s intention to attack an OPCW laboratory in Switzerland as well, but also actions conducted in Malaysia (probably in connection with the crash of the MH 17 flight). Similar delarations by the ”Anglo-Saxons” followed (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). In the US, the judiciary officially accused six GRU operatives of conducting cyber-attacks, including on Westinghouse Electric Co[iv], the American giant dealing with nuclear energy equipment, among others. In the context of the NATO Defense Ministerial, on October 4th, the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, officially accused Russia both for the cyber-attacks, and for the INF breach, and he requested the necessary clarifications regarding the SSC-8 missile. The US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made a similar declaration in the same day: the US considers Russia’s breaching of INF unacceptable, and offers its cyber warfare capabilities to NATO.

Russia’s immediate reaction was to deny, but also to accuse the West for ”fabulations”.  Regarding the INF, Moscow had already suggested its position a couple of days before, when a Russian official had declared that the US was in breach of the INF by deploying the anti-ballistic Aegis Ashore system at Deveselu / southern Romania. The Russians inferred that, given that the Aegis interceptors are launched from the universal Mk 41 platform, also used for the Tomohawk cruise missiles, it means that the US is in breach of the INF. Russia keeps repeating this baseless rationale, as well as denying the operationalization of a missile that breaches the INF. The purpose of this approach is likely to be the initiation of negotiations with Washington, having in view the end state where Russia gives up the SSC-8 missile, and the US withdraws... the Aegis system deployed at Deveselu.

The danger that surfaces is major: by breaching the INF and deploying the SSC-8 missiles, Russia can strike military targets and NATO nations critical infrastructure in Europe, by surprise. Thus, Moscow can threat to split the trans-Atlantic alliance by threatening the Europeans and denying the US the ability to respond. The NATO response to Russia’s INF breaching will complicate the situation. In principle, the US can consider three types of response: targeting the missiles; targeting the launching system; or deploying its own missile systems. So, the US can deploy systems designed to intercept the SSC-8 missiles, or systems able to attack the SSC-8 bases in Russia. The third possible response would be the deployment of cruise and ballistic missiles more preformant than the Russian ones, thus securing the strategic balance. The US has already earmarked the necessary funds in the 2019 defense budget. The problem is that the countries established to host these missile systems will become the main targets of a Russian nuclear attack, and thus, important political forces, as well as the public opinion in those countries will oppose such arrangement, to some extent. Maybe Britain will accept, but what will the other Europeans do? ”The Old Europe”, more skeptical, will oppose, while the easterners, directly perceiving the Russian threat, will agree. Russia will count on these tensions, hoping that the US will concede.

Russia is fingerpointed and described by western officials as having the behaviour of a ”pariah state”, and its president, Vladimir Putin, has domestic issues[v]. However, Russia will react strongly, probably by preparing an all-out cyber war, but also preparing negotiations on the INF. In these conditions, it is not difficult to notice that agreements having secured peace and stability in Europe are de facto vanishing: after the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, now the INF is jeopardized. Additionally, neither the tacit agreement, on cyber space (we will not attack the critical infrastructure, ranging from energy to financial) does not work anymore. And there is something else: the UK announced troop deployment in the Arctic, near the Russian nuclear submarine bases, and NATO will conduct, in its northern flank, one of the largest military exercises in its history, Trident Juncture 2018 (involving 40,000 troops, 120 aircraft, 70 warships, and 10,000 vehicles), Until then, Russia conducts wargames in the South, in the Black Sea region, where the wars actually occur.

The Russian wargames, along with other smaller drills conducted in the Military Region South (the Joint Strategic Command South / JSC South) were probably rehearsals for an operational-strategic level offensive in the Black Sea region, the southern flank.

Putting together the successive exercises conducted by Russia in JSC South this past week, a general picture appears: brigade level exercise in Crimea; strategic aviation exercises[vi]; wargames in the Caucasus, involving the Black Sea Fleet (including two submarines) and the tactical aviation belonging to the Military Region South. By corelating these wargames with the previous exercise, of the tactical aviation and anti-aircraft defense in Crimea, and also with the exercise aimed at testing JSC South units[vii] by repeated alert procedures, the picture of strategic ”general rehearsal” appears.

II). FRANCE - IRAN. Tensions Following a Terrorist Attack Organized by Iranian Officials.

Following the accusations brought against Iranian institutions and officials for implication in a terrorist attack on French territory, the relations between Paris and Tehran plummeted, although the French authorities tried to mitigate this trend. On October 2nd, France announced that it confiscated items belonging to the Iranian security ministry, as well as personal items belonging to two Iranian officials associated with the Tehran’s secret services. France did not provide details, only mentioned it acted proportionally. However, Iran reacted by denying any implication, and warning that such actions by France are aiming at tensioning the Europeans’ relations with Iran. Tehran also adopted in the parliament, on October 7th, a law against financing terrorism, with a language abiding by the international requirements. One of the two suspected officials is identified as being Assadollah Assadi, the Iranian diplomat who was arrested in connection with the terrorist attack comitted in June in Villepinte / France, against a group of opponents to the Tehran regime. The second individual is Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, general director of the Iranian intelligence services and deputy of the security minister, identified as the having ordered that terrorist attack. Assadollah Assadi, diplomat accredited with the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, allegedly organized the terrorist attack in Belgium, in complicity with three Belgian citizens of Iranian origin. A. Assadi was arrested in Germany, based on a european mandate, and, on October 1st, a German court approved his extradition to France, on the ground that he was an agent, and the authorities had proofs that he had met two of the Belgian purpetrators in Luxembourg.

Iran appears as a state which sponsors terrorism (one of the accusations brought by the US against the Tehran regime) in the very moment when Iran’s situation becomes critical[viii], and the support from the Europeans is badly needed. Consequently, no less than five European nations are forced to reevaluate their policies on Iran, despite the European commitment to observe the Iran nuclear agreement. Even more, the French Defense Minister, Florence Parly, declared on October 2nd that the Iranian ballistic missiles are a threat, and Tehran’s policy in the Middle East is a souce of major concern.

In these conditions, there is not much trust left in the Iranian-French relations, just before the critical step of US imposing most extended sanctions on Tehran. Also critical for Iran, now Germany, Belgium, but also Austria, are solidary with France. For the two large European nations, France and Germany, it will be difficult to separate Iran’s terrorist actions from the solidarity they need to prove to Iran in respecting the nuclear deal. Not only the chances of future European-Iranian cooperation diminish, but, for obvious reasons (solidarity in the struggle against terrorism), the Europeans will drive away from Iran, to the limit where any development is possible, including their increased solidarity with the US, in a would-be Iranian-American crisis. Already, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, paid a successful visit to Washington, on October 3rd. This visit aimed at reaffirming the solid bases of the German-American relations, but was seen as having “the conquest of Trump Administration” as a goal. At the meeting with the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Heiko Maas discussed Syria and Iran, with Germany’s reiterrated commitment for humanitary support in Syria, but also for maintaining the nuclear agreement with Iran. In the same time, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, visiting Israel, declared, on October 6th, in harmony with Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Iran should not be allowed to aquire the nuclear weapon[ix].

Consequently, one cannot rule out the perspective that, in a possible major American-Iranian crisis, the Europeans will choose to side with the Americans, also for other considerations than the Iranian support for terrorism. In a critical situation, even armed conflict, Europe’s main defense would be... the anti-ballistic system at Deveselu, which is, of course, American.

III. WESTERN BALKANS. Two Failures of Western Policy in the Region.

The West’s policy to stabilize the Balkans through integration failed twice this past week: first, on September 30th, the referendum in Macedonia did not reach enough attendance; and second, the Serbian President Aleksandr Vučić’s visit to Moscow, on October 2nd, when he met President Vladimir Putin, showed that Serbia, which is rejected the chance to solve the Kosovar predicament, and also the European perspective, will draw closer and closer to Russia[x].

In Macedonia, the referendum on changing the country’s name has not been validated, as the participation was beneath the threshold established by law. This is a painful failure for the NATO and EU policy of Macedonia’s integrations into the respective political systems. The joint declaration by NATO and the EU cannot hide the failure: the Macedonians chose to ignore the referendum which would have confirmed the change in the country’s name, but would also have affected the national identity, in exchange for a quick accession to NATO, and a perspective integration into the European Union. Maybe the years of nationalism promoted by the VRMO, or maybe the feeling of a too sudden change have influenced the nonparticipation decision. However, one thing is clear: peoples are not wrong, they can only be deceived for a while. For the moment, the Macedonians did not give up their hardly wrought national identity for the sake of the European integration. The efforts made by the Macedonian socialist government will continue, as well as those of the EU and NATO, but the failure is obvious, and it reflects how dangerous is that EU and NATO have neglected a region which represented and can still represent the hotbed of nationalist conflicts.

During his meeting with V. Putin, A. Vučić thanked Russia for defending the Russian national interests: “I would like to express my deep gratitude to you personally, Mr. President, for your firm position aimed at protecting international law and the crucial national and state interests of Serbia”. Disappointed by the way in which the Europeans, and especially Germany, rejected Belgrade’s attempt to solve the Kosovo problem, but also by the subsequent Kosovar reactions, A. Vučić brings Serbia closer to Russia. It is true, Russia helped Serbia, but this support is just the tenth part of the western support. What Russia has offered, and the Europeans did not, was understanding on the issue which deeply hurt the national Serbian pride: Kosovo.

The problem is how to put in practice the “deep gratitude”. Good Russo-Serbian relations are OK, but if A. Vučić grants diplomatic status to the Russians working at the Emergency Center in Niš, transforming it into a COMINT hub and sanctuary, the NATO neighboring nations will have reasons for concern.

IV. HUNGARY – UKRAINE. Tensions between Two Countries which “Do Not Play Fair” in Bilateral Relations.

On October 4th, Ukraine expelled the Hungarian consul in Berehove (Beregovo) / Transcarpathia, after Hungary refused to fulfil the Ukrainian request to withdraw him. He is accused by the Kyiv authorities for granting Hungarian passports to ethnic Hungarian Ukrainian citizens[xi]. Hungary responded by expelling the Ukrainian consul in Budapest. In addition, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, reiterated the threat that Budapest would block Ukraine’s integrations into NATO and EU. Kyiv’s action was to be expected, because the bilateral relations worsened after Ukraine changed the education law and limited the minorities’ education in their maternal language. Presented as a measure to consolidate the nation’s cohesion, Kyiv was aiming at limiting the use of Russian language and promote the Ukrainian language instead, because the Russian minority was used by Moscow in the Donbass conflict. However, the new education law is blatantly unfair, and it hit the other minorities as well, Hungarian and Romanian amongst them. Hungary reacted the strongest among Ukraine’s western neighbors, and the crisis might worsen in absence of a trade-off, even with American mediation. The reason is that, in both countries, an aggressive nationalism is promoted, totally useless for the respective peoples and societies, but quite necessary to the political elites in power in Kyiv and Budapest.

In Ukraine, which is in a difficult situation, the nationalism was revived with its independence, and skyrocketed on the background of the Russian aggression, but the clue lies elsewhere: the political elite, the same that weakened Ukraine to the brink of destruction, has used and uses nationalism as a tool to hold its voters and justify its position. President Petro Poroshenko will run for a second mandate with a state nationalism message, lacking achievements in implementing political reforms or in economy. Meanwhile, his counter-candidate, Yuliya Tymoshenko, will use a nationalist-populist platform. The Ukrainian nationalism is fed with the danger of having the country broken down through annexations of parts of its territory by neighbors, because Ukraine inherits from the USSR stolen goods: the territories annexed by the USSR at the end of the WWII, but also held the Crimean Peninsula, which was transferred from Soviet Russia, within the USSR, and recently illegally taken back by Russia. In the west, this approach is baseless, because all nations neighboring Ukraine have signed with Kyiv border treaties recognizing the present common frontiers. Even more, the most of Ukraine’s western neighbors (except the Republic of Moldova) are NATO member nations now, and a NATO country is not attacked, and it would not attack another country, nor would it illegally change its borders[xii]

The Ukrainian nationalism allows the power in Kyiv to cover the real problem of the country, having the same importance as the Russian aggression: the political elite, spearheaded by the oligarchs, has systematically plundered the Ukrainian state, constantly weakening it. Neither after the Russian aggression, the Ukrainian elite did implement the necessary reforms to stop corruption, for the simple reason that it did not find a solution to secure its survival, other than pilfering the country’s resources. It is easier to feed the nationalism than to initiate reforms which promise to be suicidal for the kleptocratic oligarchy. Bottom line, a country that receives western support chooses to promote a nationalist policy against the minorities associated with its western neighbors. On the other hand, without conducting a good understanding policy with these minorities, the economic relations would stale, and Ukraine’s path to western prosperity passes through the respective western neighbors. As for Ukraine’s path to NATO and the EU, it’s a long way to Tipperary[xiii].

More sophisticated, but as dangerous, the Hungarian nationalism, the foundation of Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán’s power, exploits a twofold reality – the existence of important Hungarian minorities outside the Hungarian borders, and a trauma pertaining to history, but deeply rooted in the Hungarian identity – the loss of the empire shared with Austria, one hundred years ago. Of course, as a NATO member nation, Hungary cannot change its frontiers. However, this does not prevent V. Orbán’s nationalist regime to turn the support to the Hungarian minorities abroad into a basis of its power, and into a pressure tool against its neighbors. So, Hungary uses the encirclement strategy against Kyiv, by promoting the Russian idea of Ukraine’s decentralization, which would certainly lead to losing Kyiv’s control on Donbass, as it does everywhere where Russia brings autonomy and federalism.

Hungary’s nationalist policy has been tolerated by the Europeans, for reasons of recent history, and has been encouraged by Russia, as it does everywhere. Although the former communists are identified as the source of all evil only in certain countries in Eastern Europe, the story looks perhaps worse in Hungary. But the former communists gradually (not by destruction) took over the national wealth in Hungary, and they were born again in other political forces, under the sign of the Hungarian nationalism. So, in the 80s and 90s, they were ready to present themselves as being the progressive force which opened the border with Austria (with the Kremlin’s approval!), thus winning Germany’s long-lasting gratitude. Then, they interfered in the early stages of the conflict in Yugoslavia. It is only now that Germany starts to seriously doubt the Hungarian policy, as even Germany’s president was flippantly put to his place for daring to declare an obvious truth: there are no other democracies but the liberal democracies, as the “illiberal” democracies are not democracies. And as Russia persists with its aggressions, and the Russo-German relations are gradually deteriorating accordingly, Hungary appears more and more isolated with its policy of friendship with Moscow. Thus, a tolerated “prodigy child” became an authoritarian regime and a destabilizing factor in the region and in the European Union.

Despite the American mediation and European efforts, the tensions between Hungary and Ukraine will likely increase, but shy from a dangerous level, given Hungary’s status, and Ukraine’s problems. The situation has a moral: the nationalism promoted as state policy looks to be an easy instrument, without repercussions, but, in reality, it blocks the development of the state and society.

Next week’s perspective:


  • At global level, the most worrisome development occurs between the US and China, because the tensions passed the economic sphere, into the political and military domains. Vice-president Mike Pence’s speech at Hudson Institute, on October 4th, marks an important change of the Trump Administration towards China. After summarizing the previous accusations in the economic field, M. Pence added new elements: China’s implication in the American elections, and Beijing’s aggressive military actions in the South China Sea[xiv]. In the military domain, the contacts at high level were already suspended. In addition, there is the Trump Administration’s policy towards Taiwan, different from the traditional approach that allowed Washington’s rapprochement with Beijing, in the 70s. Under these circumstances, the economic negotiations will be very tough, and will have major global impact.
  • The American Midterms enter the final phase. Considering that the November midterms in the US are not usual Congressional elections, but the very President Trump’s fate is at stake, America, more divided than ever, will decide not only the chemistry of the US legislative, but also will decide who will lead the Executive. In this period, the US Administration will be very busy with the domestic issues.
  • At EU level, the efforts to find a solution for the Brexit are on their last leg. Although there are signs that an agreement is in sight, major differences persist, and the British government has a fragile position at home. A revigorated Scottish separatism rises to add to the Northern Ireland border issue.
  • Russia is in a difficult position, being exposed to an uninterrupted streak of accusations from the West. It is difficult to predict the issues where Russia will speed up, and the issues where Russia will slow down. Previously, V. Putin showed that he prefers to push, not to back up. The military developments are to be monitored, including the cyber activities, as Moscow uses the military capabilities when it runs out of arguments.
  •  In Ukraine, the Russo-Ukrainian tensions only increase. How will Russia respond to the Ukrainian decisive actions to split? Will the conflict in the Azov Sea ignite, or the clashes in Donbass will escalate? Will Russia force elections in Donbass, regardless the international reactions?
  • Iran is in an ever-worse situation. How will it respond? Will Israel take advantage and continue air attacks in Syria against Iranian targets, especially after V. Putin and B. Netanyahu will have reached a minimal agreement? As the nominalization of a prime-minister in Iraq suggested, the inauguration of a new government in Lebanon might show that Iran and the West, the US respectively, can refrain, sometimes, and certain aspects can be tolerated.

[i] The Intermediate-range ballistic missile Nuclear Forces / INF Treaty has been signed in 1987 by the US and the USSR. It stipulates the prohibition of all land based missiles with a 500 to 5500 km range (310-3,420 miles), regardless the payload – nuclear or conventional. The signatory nations nave no right to develop, flight-test, operationalize  or deploy such missiles. As far back as since 2012, the US accused Russia of developing a missile with a range over 500 km, and, in 2017, the US accused Russia of operationalizing such missile. Later, Moscow admitted the existence of the missile called SSC-8 (NATO code) / 9M729 (Russian code), but it denied that the missile breaches the INF, having a range under 500 km. The SSC-8 missile is a Kalibr 9M728 naval cruise missile, mounted on a land based launcher (of the Iskander M system).

[ii] Kay Bailey Hutchinson later came back to detail what she meant.

[iii] The four Russian agents were arrested and expelled from the Netherlands in April, at the end of a combined Dutch-British operation. It is assumed that the agents’ action was aimed at ”covering the tracks” in the Skripal case.  

[iv] Westinghouse Electric Co. supplies nuclear fuel to the nuclear plants in Ukraine, where Russian cyber-attacks against the energy production and distribution system occurred.

[v] The popularity of V. Putin’s party, United Russia, dropped at 31%.

[vi] Air refueling systems were refitted on Tu 22M3 bombers, making them real strategic aircraft. The problem of the Tu 22M3 aircraft with air refueling systems was one of the thorniest issues in the negotiations regarding the strategic nuclear armament during the Cold War.

[vii] During the peak of the war in Ukraine, each Russian brigade generated a battalion which was sent to fight in Donbass.

[viii] Russia and the Saudi Arabia (encouraged by the US) agreed, on October 4th, to increase the oil production, thus avoiding the rise in crude price, just when the Iranian exports plummeted. Iran’s modest victory at the International Court of Justice, which ruled that the US should reduce some of the sanctions against Iran, was quickly neutralized by America’s withdrawal from the obsolete amity treaty (good diplomatic and economic relations) signed in… 1995.

[ix] The declaration comes despite other differences with the Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, especially regarding the Israeli colonies in the Occupied Territories, which destroy the perspective of the “Two-State” solution.

[x] The Serbian president’s declaration – “we consider both the Europeans and Russians as our true friends” is nice rhetoric, maybe an honest intention, but it lacks feasibility, as long as the two entities have values and political systems which are almost antagonistic. 

[xi] Ukraine does not allow its nationals to hold double citizenship, but this law has no teeth, it does not clearly stipulate how the felons in breach of this law are to be punished.

[xii] Having signed border treaties with all neighbors is a prerequisite to be accepted into NATO.

[xiii] Ukraine’s path to NATO and the EU passes, firstly, through Kyiv itself, as only deep political and economic reforms can secure the democratic development strongly necessary for the country’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Ukraine needs not only to “win the war with Russia”, in the sense of durably stopping the Russian aggression in Donbass, but also needs to “win the peace”, in the sense of durable and principle regulation of the minorities’ problem, the Russian minority in the first place. Anyway, the West will not risk a new war in Ukraine by forcing Kyiv’s integrations into NATO and the EU, in absence of a consensus with Russia, both in signing an agreement to recognize Ukraine’s eastern borders, and in reaching an agreement by which Moscow accepts Ukraine’s geopolitical reorientation towards the West. It is very unlikely that Russia would accept such arrangement, except a situation similar to the nineties.  

[xiv] A Chinese destroyer was close to collide with an American destroyer, in the attempt to drive it away from the waters claimed by China around the Spratly reefs, in the South China Sea.