MAS Special ReportWider Black Sea Region

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

DSM Special Report- the Wider Black Sea Region- March 2018

Cristian Eremia

Sursă foto: Mediafax

 

Summary

  1. Belarus-Russia- shortly after the friendly bilateral meetings of the chiefs of states from Sochi, relations deteriorated again;
  2. Regional political tensions about the Black Sea energy security could emerge, with Ukraine in the first plan and Bulgaria on the second;
  3. Ukraine- presidential elections’ favorites and a warning related to a “Third Maidan”;
  4. NATO encourages Georgia to continue the accession planning.
  5. Developments to track in the following period.

I. Belarus-Russia- shortly after the friendly bilateral meetings of the chiefs of states from Sochi, relations deteriorated again;

Only one month has passed since the leader of Republic of Belarus, A. Lukashenko, and Vladimir Putin were ending the last round of discussions related to solving the political controversies, Moscow and Minsk’s positions approach on the Russia-Belarus Union functioning and the integration perspectives of the Belarusian state in the Russian security and economic state. At that time, Lukashenko seemed he was having a deal with Putin for a commonly established agenda over the ulterior development’s plan.

Reality, however, seems to be different, as Putin, only posed to be convinced with the Byelorussian vision over Moscow’s political initiatives on cooling down the serious disputes emerged in the second half of 2018. This is the context of the new bilateral political conflict, generated by Minsk in the diplomatic relations. Apparently, we are talking about a concurrent controversy, though, basically it is related to Minsk’s official complaint and clear irritation over how Russia’s ambassador to Minsk behaves in the accredited state, who is also an official representative for President Putin.

Who is the Russian diplomat Mikhail Babich and what did he do in these six months since being Russia’s ambassador to Minsk? Briefly, he is a representative of the Russian authority structures (in Russian “silavik”), former governor, famous for being a harsh anti-crisis manager, with a great experience in Chechenia. Putin designated him, in 2016, for Ukraine, but Kiev did not approve. Hereof, since his designation for Minsk, among the political Byelorussian circles, which think of Russia as a threat, have already emerged the first suspicion signs related to Belarus’s new approach in respect of Kremlin. And, indeed, after he replaced the old “boring” diplomats from the embassy with his standbys,  Babich started to pay visits in the Byelorussian territory, more than diplomats are usually doing, to look at the big industrial objectives and the local authorities, to “feel” the real economy and the policies developed by the central and local Byelorussian authorities.

Irritating Lukashenko and the Byelorussian Foreign Affairs Minister, the Russian ambassador had ostentatious meetings with opposed political groups and he exposed himself in the Russian mass-media, where he pointed out all the political “ambitions” Minsk has officially called on to Moscow, whereat he added his own perspectives on Minsk’s de-russification policy promoted in the region. What is even worse is that the Russian ambassador started to criticize president Lukashenko for trying to mobilize the electorate by using Russia’s presentation as Belarus’s enemy, in fact explaining that Russia is “feeding” its own state and the Byelorussian citizens. And examples can go on.

Indeed, the situation briefly described above has raised reactions in Belarus. Citizens were “steered” towards signing, on a social media page, adherence declarations, for Minsk to adopt the “persona non grata” declaration procedure for the Russian ambassador to Minsk[1], the reason being the tenuous statements of the Russian diplomat about the Russian-Byelorussian relations details. Therefore, it quickly started a crosstalk between the Foreign Ministries of both states, but the Byelorussian Foreign Affairs Minister was kind of cumbersome and unprepared for a political-diplomatic confrontation with Moscow in terms of the attitude of the Russian diplomacy. All the more so the Russian FAM, stronger and way better refined when it comes to diplomacy, started to pressure the “Byelorussian” part to respect the Russian diplomats.

President Lukashenko was irritated by the unexpected approach of the Russian diplomat against his country, although he thought that it could have been reasoned by the indirect message Putin wanted to send Minsks.  And this message talks about Putin’s decision to determine Lukashenko, indirectly and asymmetrically, to stop opposing the political will of Moscow’s full integration, as Kremlin’s “traditional friendship” resources have probably come to an end[2].

Consequently, the Byelorussian president understood that he cannot go for a political fight with Putin’s Russia. He knows what the consequences could be from the lessons Ukraine’s case offered. Hereof, he has changed his rhetoric lately, showing, given his announcement that he will run for president, to get a new mandate this year, that state’s Constitution should be changed, in other words, to reestablish the power balance between the legislative and the executive power, or to adopt a common currency with Russia, the Russian ruble. The latter part shows that he understood Putin’s message and he will act accordingly. Hence, it will be extremely interesting to track Belarus’s actions, after he fully understood the magnitude of the mandatory game imposed by Moscow.

  1. Regional political tensions about the Black Sea energy security could emerge, with Ukraine in the first plan and Bulgaria on the second;

The Russian company, Gazprom, has announced (19.03.2019) that they have officially updated the Western allies about their decision to stop the natural gases transit on Ukraine’s territory, starting with 1st of January 2020[3]. The Russian-Ukrainian contract, for the 10 years Russian natural gases transit towards European beneficiaries, is about to expire this year, and Russia uses this moment to establish a forceful position in the long-lasting negotiations from the past years, which were often mediated by Brussels or Berlin.

Afterward, the specialized Russian department has diplomatically stated that Moscow and Kiev could, however, by autumn, get to some agreements on a limited enlargement of the transit contract of the Russian natural gases on Ukraine’s territory after 2019 also. To that end, it was mentioned the following trilateral Russia-Ukraine-EU meeting, planned for May, the final trilateral reunion in the exact same format being planned to take place in September –October.  

The Russian Minister of Energy has stated that the Ukrainian natural gases transport system would have become useless due to its physical deterioration. That would be the reason why the natural gases transit through Ukraine cannot be an advantageous business for Russia anymore, the Ukrainian routes costs being already 2, 5 biggest than other routes, like “Yamal-Europe” or “Nord Stream 1”. Therewith, Moscow starts the concrete implementation of sanctions, introduced at the end of the last year, against Kiev, which, among others, are foreseeing the serious restraint of Ukraine’s energy resources, as a subversion of the Ukrainian economy in the multidimensional confrontation between both countries. And Gazprom’s leadership is now free to “stop tolerating the solution of Ukraine’s economic issues on company’s money”.

However, the last minute announcement of the Ukrainian Company, Naftogaz, chould be seen from a more optimistic perspective. According to the announcement, the company will give to an independent operator the management rights of the natural gases transport system, hence, that operator should sign a new contract with Gazprom for the natural gases transit towards Europe. Therefore, Ukraine would still have the chance, quite small, for another Western operator to take the natural gases transit business towards Ukraine, with all the associate profits and risks. Given these circumstances, Naftogaz’s previous statements deserve some attention, as they were speculating that “If there will be no transit on Ukraine’s territory, then the possibility of a large-scale conflict between Ukraine and Russia will increase”. It was a prognostic which was supposed to get on European chancelleries desks that would have then realize that these were not only Ukraine’s economic interests, but also the geopolitical consequences for the entire Europe.

So, new crisis moments are emerging in terms of Black Sea’s Region energy security. And Bulgaria could be another potentially affected country. Hence, Sofia seems to have been also officially notified by Gazprom about Russia’s plan to stop the gas transit through Ukraine on the Trans-Balkan Hall. Hence, the Bulgarian Minister has stated that Bulgaria has the right to attack Gazprom at the International Arbitral Tribunal for not following the contract to expire in 2030 regarding the natural gases delivery and the annual transit taxes payment, worth of $110 million, which the Russian company will owe it.

Politically speaking, the Bulgarian option will be accessed only if the second offshoot of the “Turk Stream” main will not transit Bulgaria, regardless of the reason invoked by the Russian part. The reaction of the Russian part was kind of disproportioned, giving Sofia an ultimatum to urgently start building the Bulgarian terrestrial segment of the “Turk Stream” main (the segment at the border with Turkey to the one with Serbia), if they do not want a “perennial winter”[4].

Why an “Ultimatum”? Bulgaria has adopted, in January, the decision to start building this segment- worth of $1,4 billion- but it also announced that it will not implement the project until the European Commission will not send its final approval. Because Bulgaria is postponing the process, Moscow feels that this country can block the “Turk Stream” project. Moscow did not forget the lessons learned after the “South Stream” failure, where Russia blamed Sofia for destroying the project[5]. Consequently, the Russian part feels exactly the same in respect of this situation, so, it has started to pressure Sofia to build “Turk Stream” ramification towards Europe immediately, without listening to “the European partners or better advices coming from across the ocean”. Hereof the idea that, otherwise, Bulgaria will only receive, until 2020, a part of the pre-established Russian natural gases, also because of a “major force” situation, invoked by Moscow through Gazprom.

  1. Ukraine- presidential elections’ favorites and a warning related to a “Third Maidan”;

One of opposition’s candidates – “Opposition Platform-For Life”, at the presidential elections to take place in Ukraine, on 31th of March, Iuri Boyko, has launched, last week, a warning which is equally interesting and dangerous for Ukraine. It foresees that citizens or the political and influence circles from Kiev could start some violent protests in Kiev, which could actually develop a “Third Maidan” in the Ukrainian capital, if they will suspect fraudulent elections, made by authorities, to favor one or another candidate.

The warning seems all the more serious as representatives of the G7 Support Group for Ukraine would have recently informed the authorities from Kiev, through two public letters[6], about the possibility for the presidential elections to be seriously disturbed. Hence, France seems to be worried that the extremist political movements are intimidating the Ukrainian citizens and are destroying the reputation of the police forces in ensuring safe and fair elections, especially that such groups, like the “National Corps” movement, were officially admitted as observers at the ballots. The Ukrainian Home Affairs Minister has confirmed that he received the prevention letters and that he approached, with the US ambassador to Kiev, the possibility of violence acts emergence from Ukrainian extremists.

On the other hand, some think that Moscow could also activate its loyal groups to start public protests because of electoral frauds, especially because Ukraine has refused to allow official observers designated by Russia.

Also recently, there were information according to which, one night before the elections, the members of the extremist movement, “National Friendships”, and the ultra-radical rightist volunteers from the “Dnepr” Battalion, sponsored by the Ukrainian oligarch, I. Kolomoisky, could come back as “Maidan”. The warning seems to be enough credible, given the old speculations according to which Kolomoisky would have prepared a plan to send its “volunteers”, who have rich para-military potential, to restart violent protests in Kiev, if his favorites would have been eliminated in the first tour of the electoral scrutiny. The target of all forces behind this scenario seems to be, most likely, president Porosenko, as they do not want him to be reelected again[7].

It is also interesting that Ukraine’s director of political analysis and international research Institute actually sees a “Third Maidan” possible, however in a more complicated situation, whereat to be added “confiders” like the Ukrainian Home Affairs Minister, whose relations with the president would be deteriorated. If the first tour of the scrutiny would be swindled, he thinks that both Porosenko and Zelensky would be the qualified candidates, the latter being easily eliminated by the president in the second tour, because it is less likely to be able to face Porosenko’s strong administrative resources.

We should also mention that the Ukrainian Sociology Institute has made a survey regarding candidates’ position in electorate’s will to go voting only one week before the first tour. On the first position would be the comedy artist, V. Zelensky, with 31%, who has overpassed the 30% psychological phase for the first time. On the second place it is president Porosenko, with only 17%, and the third position is occupied by the well-known politician, Iulia Timosenko, with only 12.5 %. It also came out that 25% of the voters do not know who to vote for, which is highlighting the great polarization in different segments of the Ukrainian electorate.

 

  1.  NATO encourages Georgia to continue the accession planning

 

NATO’s Secretary General has made a work visit (25.03) in Georgia to be part of the military exercises developed by the Alliance in collaboration with this state. During the visit, he had meetings with Georgia’s president, Salome Zurabishvili, but also with other Georgian officials, whereat Stoltenberg has underlined Georgia’s progresses for preparing its military body to access NATO. He also underscored that Georgia is one of the close allies, which helps at strengthening the security in the Black Sea Region, having significant contributions within Alliance’s missions.

The NATO official has underlined that Georgia continues to be “Alliance’s strong partner” and that allied leaders have reconfirmed, at the Brussels summit from 2018, their openness for Georgia to become a member state, congratulating the Georgian army’s reforms, training and modernization actions developed by Tbilisi. NATO also salutes the determination of the Georgian authorities to allocate 2% from GDB for defence, wherefrom 20% will go to major equipment acquisitions. Stoltenberg has encouraged Tbilisi to use any opportunity to get close to the Alliance as much as possible, ensuring that Georgia’s common efforts to receive the member state status will be continued.

Indeed, Georgia’s sensitive topic could not be avoided, which is the conflict with Russia and the separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This was the perfect moment for NATO to call on Moscow, again, to withdraw the Russian forces from the Georgian territories. Aiming at cooling down the skepticism of many Georgian politicians regarding Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, due to the permanent conflict with Russia, the NATO Secretary General has compared Georgia’s situation with Norway’s in Stalin’s times[8]. He reminded that, at that time, Stalin has firmly opposed the accession of the Norwegian state, Russia’s neighbor, to NATO, but it could not block the process, this way suggesting that Russia cannot block Georgia’s accession, promised at the 2008 Summit from Bucharest.

At the NATO-Georgia military exercises have participated around 350 militaries from 24 allied and partner states. These were coordinated by the NATO-Georgia common training and evaluation center, functioning since 2015.

  1. Developments to track in the following period.

Republic of Moldova – After the parliamentary elections, the political situation did not get better, hence, it is impossible to speculate the new foreign policy and security direction lines of the Moldavian state. The final stances of the parties qualified for the Parliament are still uncertain, as it was created without finding a coalition method to pass to a functional governance.

Ukraine:

- the presidency elections are in a straight line, being extremely important given the internal political and security context of the Ukrainian state. Before and after the first electoral scrutiny tour, planned for 31th of March, new scandals may occur given the elections and the idea of a new “Maidan” emergence.

- the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation evolutions, which are currently re-escalating, remain an important topic. The attention the Ukrainian authorities give to the evolutions from the Unified Forces confrontation with separatists from Donbass get diminished thanks to the internal political confrontations emerged due to the presidential elections, this way disturbing the way Kiev is managing the escalation of an armed conflict.

Russia:

-Between 23 and 24th of April, it will take place the 8th edition of the Security Conference, in Moscow, a traditional event, whereat are expected officials from more than 100 states throughout the world, usually those supporting the Russian policies. The debate topics seem to be extremely interesting, targeting the contemporary security- regional and global tendencies, Space’s militarization, hybrid war and “colored” revolutions, cyber-threat, Arctic Area’s security.

-the foreign policy evolutions promoted by Moscow will be also a complex topic, as well as the political-diplomatic confrontation with the West, the continuation of the arms race and the Russian military involvement in interest area, especially the Wider Black Sea region.

-Kremlin will discuss with the president of the Kyrgyz Republic the future status of the Russian military base, placed on this state’s territory.

The Russian-Belarus relation: although presidents of both states have been establishing, last month, a general approach line for the integration within the Russia-Belarus Union, a new diplomatic scandal has showed that things do not actually have a common denominator. We will see how Minsk will manage the disputes in order to limit Belarus’s integration in the Russian economic and security space without losing the main national sovereignty elements.

Translated by Andreea Soare


[1] https://www.mk.ru/politics/2019/03/19/v-belorussii-sobirayut-podpisi-za-izgnanie-rossiyskogo-posla.html

[2] In order to be convincing, Kremlin has reduced the financial-economic resources allocated to Republic of Belarus, the Belarus partner being aware that ta was going to be the only one to lose, as Moscow’s risks are extremely small. Putin’s message is that if they do not want the integration, then Minsk should see how it is to live on their own, without leaving the Russian influence space yet. Most likely, Lukashenko has understood that he does not have an alternative in the relation with Moscow, because even if the Russian part will significantly reduce the bilateral relations, it does not mean that Belarus could leave Moscow’s influence zone and throw itself in West’s arms. Besides, no one in the West believes in Lukashenko anymore.

[3] https://finobzor.ru/76579-rossiya-prekraschaet-tranzit-gaza-cherez-ukrainu-no-kiev-prodolzhaet-ugrozhat.html, https://www.pravda.ru/news/economics/1373804-gazprom/

[4]https://nahnews.org/1009711-ultimatum-gazproma-bolgarii-esli-sofiya-poidet-na-povodu-u-ssha-zimoi-prosto-zamerznet and https://yurasumy.livejournal.com/2347857.html

[5] Gazprom is blaming Bulgaria for destroying this project due to Washington’s interests, despite the future large financial loses, without considering Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Italy’s demands at that time and that Russia has been invested already billions of dollars in implementing the project. In these circumstances, Serbia has announced that it will start the processes to build the Serbian segment, in April, from the border with Bulgaria to the one with Hungary.

[6] https://news.rambler.ru/world/41909967-nazvany-usloviya-tretego-maydana-na-ukraine/  

[7] We must remind you that Porosenko was in an opened conflict with Kolomoisky, wherefore he lost part of his financial assets and he had to leave the country for Israel, wherefrom he is directing all his businesses in Ukraine. For similar reasons, the troika composed of Kolomoisky, Sergei Levochkin and Dmitry Firtash would have decided to throw Porosenko into “chaos” (as they think he will take advantage of his power to get a new mandate) and neutralize “Porosenko’s black squadrons which would ensure total fraud through vote”.