MAS Special ReportWider Black Sea Region

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

DSM Special Report - WIDER BLACK SEA REGION, February 2019

Cristian Eremia

Sursă foto: Mediafax

SUMMARY
 

I. The parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Moldova - results and uncertainties.
II. Armenia is military interfering in Syria. Of course, on Russia’s side.

III. Hungary will not ruin its relations with Russia to please Ukraine.

IV. Leader of Belarus comes to terms with Vladimir Putin. They can talk about integration, but “sovereignty” is sacred.

V. Suggestions for topics to track in the next period.

 

I. The parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Moldova - results and uncertainties.

The Republic of Moldova has organized, on February 24th, 2019, the general parliamentary elections and a consultative referendum to establish Parliament's number of deputies, the citizens being asked about the decrease of the number of deputies from 101 to 61 and the replacement of the representative mandate with an imperative one. Citizens' presence at the polls was the smallest the young Moldavian state has recorded ever - 49.22%, it is 6% smaller than the elections organized in 2014. After processing 99.91% of the votes, the recorded elections by the Moldavian Central Electoral Commission are as follows:

- Socialists Party of the Republic of Moldova (SPRM) - led by Zinaida Greceanyi, left party, pro-Russian orientation, Igor Dodon pro-Russian president's party, got the first position, with 31.15%;

- The "ACUM DA and PAS" Block, led by Maia Sandu, a pro-European orientation composed of the Dignity and Truth Platform (whose leader is Andrei Nastase) and Action and Solidarity Party (leader Maia Sandu);

- The Democratic Party of Moldova, headed by Vlad Plahotniuc, a center-left party, with a social-democratic ideology, supporter of the idea "Moldova - bridge between East and West" since 2016, with 23, 65%;

- The Shor Party, leader Ilan Shor, pro-Russian orientation, 8.32% of the votes.

The other competing political parties and the independent candidates failed to pass the 6% electoral limit. The referendum was declared valid as more than one-third of the citizens with voting rights went to vote.

As with any high-stakes electoral brief, political, analytical circles and social networking interventions have already produced a number of assessments and comments on elections’ development[1]. The most important refer to the post-election position of qualified parties for Parliament, the Russian interference in the electoral process, and the fact that CEC's information system has been kept secure and operational despite the numerous cyber attacks produced especially after the closure of the ballot boxes. The Chief Observer of the Electoral Mission revealed that, all in all, there were no major breaches in the electoral process

However, the groups which have won are not that pleased, suggesting that there may organize some short-term anticipated elections. The Block ACUM does not recognize the elections as free and fair, threatening to gather evidence of electoral frauds. Their allegations are mainly referring to the “illicit payment” for favorable votes and the collective transport to the polls of thousands of citizens from Transnistria, invoking in this case the Western partners of Moldova to formally react to this.

PDM filed complaints against the socialists, trying to convince the CEC that PSRM offered money to voters from from East Dniester. Even the socialists invoke the falsification of results in six constituencies in the country and Chisinau by electoral competitors and claim they were wronged in the Transnistrian region, a region that even the most naive observers understand how voting was organized and for which particular parties.

Some parties are accusing the Russian Federation of direct, official and abusive involvement to influence the results of the elections in Republic of Moldova. And some examples are made public in this regard. Thus, it was revealed that the leader and controversial business man Plahotniuc of the PDM was officially accused by the Russian Interior Ministry, only two days before the poll, for creating a criminal group that stole over 37 billion russian rubles, in 2013-2014, which is why he is internationally prosecuted. Another example is the involvement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who accused in a statement that the US ambassador to Chisinau is involved in the Moldovan elections ”Hogan publicly supports some politicians against others, distributes recommendations on holding parliamentary elections… Democracy will be evaluated accordingly with the outcome. If the winner does not suit Washington, Moldovans are threatened with breaking ties with the West and even repeating the Ukrainian Maidan” according to the the statement.

The Democratic Party is the first to declare its willingness to negotiate with the winning parties to "give citizens a parliamentary majority and a functioning government." Theoretically, the ACUM block could gather, along with DPM, the necessary percentages for a simple majority, but Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase will hardly accept to enter a coalition “poisoned” by Plahotniuc. On the other hand, SPRM could, also, join a coalition with Plahotniuc (the Moldovan oligarch “entertained” in the past with the socialists), however, considering Moscow’s recently firm position against the PDM leader, this is also hardly to be happening.  

Therefore, the results of the elections are likely to create new uncertainties, as well as great difficulties for stabilizing the political situation in R.Modova, which was already so complicated in the past years. Given that no winning political formation can form itself a majority for the establishment of a stable government, it will be interested to see how the negotiations will go in order to form a coalition to take over the governance.

 

II. Armenia is military interfering in Syria. Of course, on Russia’s side.

The Armenian Minister of Defence has deployed, at the beginning of this month (08.02.2019), a military contingent in the military operations theatre from North of Syria, specifically in a district close to Aleppo’s Northern part. For a start, there were dislocated 83 militaries in Syria, specialists in weapons, medical care and a group dedicated to force’s protection and security.

Armenia's missions will be devoloped exclusively outside the military combat zones and military confrontations, focusing on demining and mine awareness of the population regarding anti-personal mine fields, respectively specific humanitarian actions in the districts mine fields are. The medical-military personnel will offer professional assistance for the population living in the dislocation area[2].

Logistics, including transportation to/from the Syrian theater, will be carried out by the Russian side, the Armenian contingent basically joining a Russian military unit dislocated in Syria.

They have selected Aleppo because there would have been, before the war, around 100 thousand Armenian ethnics, wherefrom most of them took refuge in other states, including thousands of them in Armenia. Apparently, there is an argument somehow validating Armenia’s participation, together with Russia and Bashan al-Assad, to the Syrian war.

Armenian militaries entrance in the conflict from Syria answers an older promise made by the Erevan authorities to Moscow’s official call. Russia really wanted to have an ally state across ISC and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which are controlled by Moscow, in the campaign in Syria. Everyone saw that CSTO states managed to stay away from Russia’s interference in the Middle East. Without necessarily blaming Moscow, CSTO allies did not show solidarity against the Russian military campaign in Syria.

Initially, the velvet revolution of 2018 in Armenia made it impossible to materialize the Armenian promise. At least until the new Armenian leader, revolutionary Prime Minister Nikolo Pashinyan, won the general elections in December 2018 and was convinced by President Putin not to leave Russian orbit for "some pro-Western illusions", thus maintaining traditional relations with Russia. Hence, Armenia became the first and only CIS country to follow the Russian invitation for military involvement in Syria. Russia's defense minister, S. Şoigu, immediately thanked the Armenian part for being the first state of the OTSC to respond "to the call to provide assistance for the Syrian people."
Note that the US did not received a positive answer for the dislocation of Armenian militaries in Syria because it was made in a coordinated mission by Moscow, which is supporting Bashar al -Assad’s governmental forces, responsible for the humanitarian catastrophes and the limitless atrocities against its own people in these eight years of war.

 

III. Hungary will not ruin its relations with Russia to please Ukraine.

After the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Budapest (10.02.2019), across Ukrainian and Russian political and analytical circles older debates were resumed on how Hungary understands now relations’ development with the neighbor Ukraine. Although he officially denied any kind of intervention by the US official alongside the Hungarian prime minister in order to improve the tough positions taken by Budapest lately in relation to Kiev, Prime Minister Orban would have appreciated the US approach to openly discuss the "complicated issue" of the situation of ethnic Hungarians from Ukraine. It seems that the divergences of visions on the Ukraine file persisted during the talks, with reasonable assumptions that Budapest would have been encouraged, however, by the USA to resume Ukraine's political support in the context of "Russian aggression".
Budapest has clarified, after the event, that none of the talks with the American partner is likely to threaten the good relations between Hungary and Russia. Moreover, Hungarian Foreign Affairs Businesses[3] would have called “hypocrites” those western critics who are calling on Moscow’s behavior, as long as powerful Western states have economic relations of billions of euros with the Russian state.

Meanwhile, new tensions continue to intensify every day in the relations between Hungary and Ukraine. The degradation of these relations began in September 2017, when the “education’s Ukrainianization”[4] happened, in the regions inhabited by national minorities. Budapest was seriously offended by the treatment applied by the Ukrainian side to the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia and responded with severe political measures and pressures, such as the simplified issuance of Hungarian passports to Ukrainian citizens, ignoring the Ukrainian legalization and systematic political actions to block any Ukrainian initiative at the level of international organizations, in particular any Ukrainian political approach that is related to integration into the EU and NATO. Indeed, a new ministry for Transcarpathian affairs was introduced into the Hungarian government, a measure that literally left Kiev speechless.

The Hungarian extreme-right party “Jobbik” (which holds 20% of the seats in the Hungarian parliament) supported neither more nor less than Transcarpathia’s incorporation in Hungary, being also extremely supportive for the creation of an autonomous region Pritsis (called after the Hungarian-Ukrainian border area close to Tisa river), to include the four Ukrainian transcarpathic districts, inhabited by Hungarian ethnics – Beregovsky, Vinogradov, Mukačevo şi Uzhgorod. To that end, Hungary’s ambassador to Ukraine has repeatedly stated that they may issue Hungarian passports for the inhabitants of the transcarpathic region and create an autonomous Hungarian region. This is the reason why the initiative to call on a regional referendum on autonomy is increasing.  

Thus, at least declaratory, the unofficial Hungarian-Ukrainian conflict continues. So far, there are no signs that the Hungarian policies outlined above could be modified, even if this month the NATO-Ukraine Commission reunion is blocked by the Hungarian diplomacy. And Kiev seems to be the caught in its own difficult political and internal security situation in a difficult electoral year, being obviously unable to engage in a political-diplomatic confrontation with Hungary. As such, Kiev no longer has room for maneuver for at least symmetrical reactions, reactions with which Kiev had accustomed its neighbors to react before 2014.

 

IV. Leader of The Belarus has reconciled with Vladimir Putin. They can talk about integration, but “sovereignty” is sacred.

Republic of Belarus’s leader, A. Lukashenko, and Vladimir Putin have completed, on February 15th, a new round of discussions, which lasted three days, at the Russian resort Sochi, from Black Sea’s littoral. The talks focused on solving problems and clarifying the positions of Moscow and Minsk regarding the functioning of the Russia-Belarus Union and integration prospects of the Belarusian state in order to overcome the serious divergences emerged in the past months in the bilateral dialogue on this matter.

We must remind that the differences between the two leaders developed essentially after Belarus requested financial compensation for Russian oil and gas transactions. President Putin has basically conditioned this financial support to a broad expansion of Belarus's integration with the Russian state and the revision of the Treaty of the Union, as many of the provisions of this treaty signed in 1999 would remain, according to the Russian leader, only on paper.

Kremlin’s demands had an ultimatum character, the Russian political pressures being applied to Mink in order to accept many Russian initiatives which were aiming for a more complex state integration, yet affecting Lukashenko’s vision on Belarus’s sovereignty and independency. Briefly, Moscow was demanding a unique market, currency union, custom union, aligning the unique Russian fiscal system and the elimination of the financial compensation system for the Belarusian part in different fields, including foreign trade with oil and natural gases.

Moscow has considered, of course, that Belarus “improved” its relations with the West in the last years, especially with EU member states, meanwhile it was talking more and more about some threats coming against the Belarusian sovereignty from the East. This is the reason why EU has cut off some of the sanctions against Belarus, starting with 2016, but it is permanently tracking what’s the political behavior of authorities from Minks regarding human rights and the civil Belarusian society.

In the last two months, Lukashenko's reaction was extremely firm and vocal in relation to "big brother," Vladimir Putin. As this is not his first reaction, during time, Kremlin offered him “time to think” and even some concession, which he was convinced Lukashenko will take advantage of to show himself off in front of its nation as a winner in the fight with Moscow for Belarusian interests’ promotion. This time also, Lukashenko’s strategy worked, being accepted by Moscow, at least for save Mink’s leader apparent achievement.

Hence, at the end of the discussion mentioned above, president Lukashenko radically changed his position against Putin, underlining the importance of the Russia-Belarus Union and concluding that Minks “is ready to join Russia if the Russian and the Belarusian people want so” and if nothing will affect the sovereignty of the two nations. Lukashenko stated[5], in the end, that “We’re ready to unite and consolidate our efforts, states and peoples as far as we’re ready”, adding that the sovereignty problem of both states will not be a problem, as Russia and Belarus’s sovereignty is “sacred”.  

We should also mention that Belarus is Euro-Asian Economy Union member and ICS and Collective Security Organization Treaty as well. Some voices in the West, but also the East, unanimously think that Moscow is using Minsk to impose the Russian influence in the ex-Soviet space and combat NATO.

 

V. Suggestions for topics to track in the forthcoming period.

Moldova - given the importance of the parliamentary elections for the stabilization of the political situation and the future foreign policy and security orientation of the Moldavian state, it could be tracked the evolution from the post-electoral period. There is a series of uncertainties and it is even more interesting the final stance of the parties qualified for the Parliament in relation with results’ validation and the negotiation processes to find coalition options to go for a functional governance.

Ukraine:
- Here also, the election for president is extremely important in the internal political and security context of the Ukrainian state. The electoral campaign is in a straight line, the appearance of surprises on voters' options can not be excluded. There are important the debate topics proposed to candidates, especially their stances and promises. Ukrainian-Russian confrontation’s evolutions are also a matter of interest.
- A special attention should be paid to developments in the confrontation of the Ukrainian Unified Forces with the separatists in Donbass and the way Kiev manages the escalation of the armed conflict.

- The evolution of the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea region remain equally important on the geopolitical agenda of the WBSR.

Russia:
- In March, in Moscow, it will be held the Security Conference, a traditional event whereat are expected to come officials from many states of the globe which are favoring the Russian policies.

- An extremely generous subject will be the foreign policy evolutions promoted by Moscow, the political-diplomatic confrontation with the West, the continuation of the arms race and the Russian military involvement in interested areas. Particularly, we will have to see if Moscow will choose to answer to West’s call to rejoin the INF Treaty.

The Russia-Belarus Union :

- presidents of both states have agreed again on Union’s future, which is celebrating 20 years of existence. We will have to see if the disputes are gone and which will be the magnitude Belarus’s integration in the Russian economic and security space will be made with.
 

South Caucasus:

- In Georgia and Armenia the new Georgian president and the Armenian prime-minister have created great expectations, both recently taking their positions. It is even more interesting to track, given that we are talking about the unsolved conflicts’ management, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia’s case, respectively the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict from Nagorno-Karabakh. 


[1]http://alegeri.md/w/%C8%98tiri_despre_alegerile_parlamentare_2019#Rezultatele_preliminare_ale_scrutinului_ parlamentar

[2]https://newsarmenia.am/news/armenia/minoborony-armenii-zayavlyaet-o-zakonnosti-otpravki-gumanitarnoy-missi i-v-siriyu/

[3]https://www.xpatloop.com/channels/2019/02/hungarian-opinion-mike-pompeos-visit-to-budapest.html and https: //riafan.ru/1150423-uzhe-gotovy-priostanovit-peregovory-s-ukrainoi-i-es-v-vengrii-ocenili-otnosheniya-s-rf-posle-vizita-pompeo

[4] Nationalist parliamentarians from Kiev have adopted, on 5th of September 2018, the “Law on education” which envisages, among others, the exclusive use in education of the Ukrainian language (at least at the primary and pre-school education). It is a law called “odious” by some political environments, promulgated by the Ukrainian president Porosenko despite the predictable consequences regarding the relations with the Western neighbor states. Aiming to hit the Russian minority, the Parliamentarians have defied the rights of the other minorities regarding the use of the mother tongue in public schools as well. The political reckonings were wrong as they also broke the rights of Hungarian, Romanian and other ethny as well. The negative official reactions have emerged immediately from Russia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Greece and Moldova.

[5] https://lenta.ru/news/2019/02/04/problems/ and https://lenta.ru/news/2019/02/15/daleko/