MAS Special ReportWider Black Sea Region

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

DSM Special Report - WIDER BLACK SEA REGION, January 2019

Cristian Eremia

Sursă foto: Mediafax

SUMMARY
I. Ukraine - the presidential election season

II. Ukraine's energy security is undermined by Moscow, which blocked EU-Russia-Ukraine negotiations until spring.

III. Russia - Turkey: New high-level dialogue organized in Moscow

IV. Azerbaijan and Armenia have pledged to go on preparing citizens for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.

V. The Russia-Belarus Union marks 20 years of existence. Russian political pressures for complete integration of Belarus overwhelm Minsk.

 

I. Ukraine - the presidential election season

In the forthcoming period, we will set out to review the main elements describing how the electoral campaign is going and the political agendas of the enlisted candidates for Ukraine’s presidential elections, to take place at the end of March. Probably, one of the most important things will be seeing which of the Ukrainian candidates has pro-Western, pro-Russia, nationalist-patriotic, populist or anti-corruption platforms, and which already has realistic visions over the development of the Ukrainian state, respectively any realistic plan to end the war in Donbass.

The first personality is, of course, the current president, P.Porosenko, who proved through his speeches to have a pro-Western and patriotic orientation, and who wants to induce  the voters the idea that their country is united, independent and conciliatory, on the whole, a unitary state in which they will find no place for "special federations or statutes for the Crimea or the occupied territories of Donbas". Obviously, he is talking about the plan he has if he will still lead the country. The citizens from the occupied territories are receiving guarantees that they are not forgotten and the time when they will be freed from the Russian invaders will come. The electoral discourse is accompanied by abrasive statements when attacking its favorite subjects - "Rebellious Dombass and Russified Crimea". However, he invariably concludes that "there will be no peace," letting it clear that sooner or later, a military liberation operation will take place in eastern Ukraine. For the moment, Poroshenko does not have the first position in the polls, his speech being totally anti-Russian, targeting mainly the voters in the western and central part of Ukraine.

It is important to mention that the classic scenario of the presidential elections reveals that the fight will be between the current president, Porosenko, and the leader of the political opposition, Iulia Timoshenko, a senior politician with the endless debates on the political scene from Kiev. Its first campaign actions have already been spelled out in the DSM reports. On the other hand, it is predictable that Yury Boyko, whose back is on well-known politician Medvedciuk’s hands with personal connections to the Kremlin, is to be supported by Russian propaganda under the slogan "the south-east of Russian speakers against the anti-Russian Ukrainian junta".

The first big surprise, however, did not come from the well-known politicians, but from Vladimir Zelensky, a famous comedy artist who had practically entered the political life in the second half of last year after ironing in his pamphlets the behaviors of a "real president". He is supported by the billionaire Igor Kolomoisky[1], who wants to test a new electoral technology (probably following the Italian model), opposing the candidates from the ex-political “post-Maidan” elite the electorate got rid of, a TV personality who claims to be a new and great friend of the nation. Shortly, he got an unexpected position in the polls (for the moment he is ahead Porosenko), based on a pacifist political speech.

For Zelensky, serious problems are just starting out as he seems to be more on his own, thanks to the sympathy received for being an artist, without actually having a well-defined political support, nor a clear political program and an electoral campaign team with much of experience. Interestingly, besides trying to exploit the opportunity of the "new political man", he is already proving to be in line with the  south-east Russian language electorate, who openly supports cultural ties with the Russian people and proudly presents their affairs in the cinematographic and TV industry that he has in Moscow. This is expected to produce serious delimitation of a part of the voters, angry on Moscow's behavior in relation to Ukraine. He is already promoted by the electoral media as the candidate of “Muscovite culture occupation”. We will have to see if Zelenesky will make it to transform its artistic popularity in electoral percentages, given that is not clear Russian propaganda’s stance against its political agenda.

 

II. Ukraine's energy security is undermined by Moscow, which blocked EU-Russia-Ukraine negotiations until spring.

The second round of EU-Russia-Ukraine trilateral negotiations, held on 21th of January and dedicated to establishing the delivery conditions and the natural gases transit through Ukraine in 2019, have failed despite of the initial optimism the European Commission had. The negotiations to sign a new Russian-Ukrainian contract on this topic were complicated due to “insuperable discrepancies” when interpreting the decisions from Stockholm’s arbitrament[2] and have got to a dead point due to Russian part’s inflexibility, which is willing to impose its geopolitical interests on the Ukrainian vector.

Shortly, the main issue blocking the negotiations is that Russia considers “unacceptable” western institutions’ attempts to solve Ukraine’ serious economy issues with Russian finances and by breaking the Russian interests, forcing it to accept “economic-financial unfair contracts and fully uneconomic. Finally, the Russian part has accepted the negotiations to start over in May, which can be translated as “after the presidential elections from Ukraine”. Russia has called on the absence of some pre-favorable political and economic conditions comparing to the natural gases transit through other mains (like “NordStram” or “TurkStream”); the Russian giant Gazprom is in an endless commercial and juridical litigation with Naftgaz, which is an obstacle for the negotiations of some contractual terms, functionable after 2020; an alternative to an international arbitrament (also an endless process) would be, according to Moscow, adopting a symmetrical mutual discount system.

On its turn, the Ukrainian part is calling on the fact that Russia does not want to hear anything about the new European legislation adopted by Kiev after 2014. At the same time, Kiev does not accept the Russian price increases for direct and transit deliveries imposed for 2018 and 2019 (for which it already submitted a file containing a turnover of around $12 billion at the international arbitrament court) and does not understand how a new contract with Moscow, to come into force on 1st of January 2010, could be negotiated. In the context, Ukrainian officials are launching some harsh statements, according to which the "Nord Stream 2 (NS2)" project would hardly be completed, which anyhow would force Moscow to sign a new transit contract with Kiev.

In Moscow, such statements are simply considered "ridiculous", because the completion of NS2 is not a matter of interest, , Ukraine being the one calling on Brussels to mediate the terms of a new contract, and not the other way around. And Kiev should be aware that “hopes are at home”, as only a certain result of the presidential elections could generate acceptable conditions for Moscow on new negotiations.

Therefore, after the failed negotiations, Ukraine’s most important issue situation, the energetic security, is still sent off, given that there are not tangible anymore the effects of the last sanctions applied to Russia (29.12.2018), when the Russian part announced that it will drastically limit the Russian investments in the Ukrainian part and the energetic resources for Ukraine. So, nobody would be surprised for the Russian-Ukrainian war of sanctions to create great issues on the energetic security assurance and on some tenable energy prices, without actually damaging Ukraine’s economy.  

By the end of this month, Ukraine’s energetic security received the coup de grace, of course, applied by president Putin. A new unexpected surprise[3] happened in Kiev on January 25, 2019 when, during a review of Russian gas exports to Europe, Putin announced Moscow's decision to re-route the Russian gas transit to Europe on the Belarus route, giving up the Ukrainian main. Putin explained that these measures are due to the superior technical conditions of the Belarusian route through which precious Russian blue fuel will be transferred to the EU. But Russian diplomacy knows well that the reorientation of Russian gas transit will be an extremely powerful blow to Ukraine's energy security and economy.

 

III. Russia - Turkey: New high-level dialogue organized in Moscow

On 23th of January, in Moscow, it took place an extremely important event for the current international relations context from Black Sea’s Region and the Middle East, at the new round of discussions between the Russian president and Turkey’s one. President Erdogan headed a delegation composed of the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, and the head of the Turkish Intelligence Community of Turkey, proving that they have discussed about important files, some of them critical for the regional security. According to all appearances, the Russian president has created a "warm" atmosphere, paving the way for positive results in the bilateral cooperation process. What led Erdogan to conclude that "it has been recorded ,over the last period, a clear improvement in political, military, economic, commercial and cultural ties." This is not to be neglected, given the old and new history of the traditional rivalry between the two regional powers, and the fact that each of the two states has always been able to promote, without taking into account external constraints, independent national foreign and security policies.  

The most important issue was the Syrian file, in the context of the announced withdrawal of US troops, which also motivated the orientation towards a more effective coordination for Ankara and Moscow, and a better coordination with Iran. President Putin announced that it is time to reactivate Astana's peace talks in Syria. This means the urgent organization of a Russia-Turkey-Iran trilateral summit, something that Ankara agreed on. Also, they have decided for the ministries of defence and foreign businesses from both countries to continue the negotiations to create a buffer zone at the Turkish-Syrian border and also prevention measures against a power and security emptiness after militaries’ pullout from Syria. Putin shows his availability to exploit the necessary measures for the Syrian refugees to return home.

Overall, Ankara needs a close coordination with Moscow to solve two important issues in Syria. The first concerns the settlement of the situation in Idlib, for which Moscow has a priority formula to facilitate the offensive of the forces of the Damascus regime with minimal impact on Turkish interests. Putin has shown he is ready to mediate the onset of a constructive dialogue between Ankara and Damascus. Given that Idlib is controlled by jihadists of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, and that the pressure of a new wave of migration to Turkish territory grows, Ankara has been unable to raise large objections except to demand guarantees for its well-known interests in the region. The second issue concerns the US-protected area in northeastern Syria, Turkey's main objective being to reverse the current situation marked by the high political-military influence of the Kurdish People's Protection Units in Syria, YPG. Ankara needs a cooperative attitude from Moscow and on this issue.

The status of the pilot project in the field of energy resources, the "TurkSream" has been analyzed, the two heads of state insisting that it is imperative that ground gas segment works take place at the same time with the seagoing segment. Other important topics were mutual information on the ongoing escalation tensions between Russia and Ukraine (knowing that Turkey values the partnership with Ukraine on the Black Sea) and Turkish intentions to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, given that Washington has offered Ankara an alternative to acquire the Patriot missile system.

 

IV. Azerbaijan and Armenia have pledged to go on preparing citizens for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The OSCE Minsk Group to Meditate the Azerbaijani-Armenian Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh held a meeting in Paris (16.01.2019) attended by Azerbaijan Foreign Minister and Armenian counterpart. And, after 2018 was the year wherein the fire cessation regime on the contact line was forethought systematically broken by both parts and the mutual war threats were the only ways to express the political perspective to Erevan and Ankara (so when no one was expecting a positive step to reactivate the regulation negotiations for the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict), both diplomacies were able to stay at the same table and find a common denominator to unlock negotiations.

The most significant result was that both parts have agreed and officially stated at the end of the reunion, in a surprisingly positive key, their availability to prepare peace for their own citizens and the populations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Obviously, it was not a relaxed dialogue and there were not adopted extraordinary decisions, but it definitely was a promising start. Actually, this is the only common and positive political-diplomatic decision Armenia made with Azerbaijan, mediated by the Minks Group after a long time, given that the relations between them permanently complicated the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Even the Russian Foreign Minister has applauded the diplomatic Armenian-Azerbaijani initiative.  

The fact that the two ministers agreed on the need to take concrete measures to prepare the people for a peace process is a remarkable step, because only this way it can overcome the huge differences between the visions and mentalities of the communities in the two camps who have been in conflict for decades. The diplomatic approach is therefore fully justified, because on the contrary citizens would oppose any type of peace treaty they would not understand and accept if not prepared. All the more so, from any perspective a peace process would be elaborated, it would involve making compromises and serious concessions.

The above-mentioned event becomes even more relevant if we consider the innovative feature of this diplomatic approach to peace talks, as none of the Azerbaijani or Armenian governments have ever had such a realistic approach. The materialization of this promising agreement, however, requires Baku and Yerevan to fundamentally modify the foreign and security policies that are directly related to bilateral relations[4] and conflict’s regulation. All of these will not be easy at all.

 

V. The Russia-Belarus Union marks 20 years of existence. Russian political pressures for complete integration of Belarus overwhelm Minsk.

 

Founded in 1999, the Russia-Belarus Union has accomplished 20 years of existence with no concrete results, despite the available financial-material methods. The extremely big difference between both states political, diplomatic, financial-economic and military potential, as well as the huge difference between their geopolitical ambitions have always been an obstacle for the Belarusian state, which was permanently afraid that transferring its sovereignty rights to Moscow will slowly lead to actually losing its national independency. Hereof, in time, there were many mini-crises in their bilateral relations, which were surpassed through Belarus’s president skillful speeches, on Kremlin’s reasonable attitude.  

But now, Russia's new regional and international profile has allowed Moscow to force, though unexampled political pressures, Belarusian state’s complete integration with Russia, under Kremlin’s political control and procedures.  Of course, the Russian part is officially prevailing upon Union’s Treaty provisions. In this new context, president Lukashenko has publicly revealed Moscow’s plan is to incorporate Belarus in Russia[5], under the pretext of a "profound integration": "I understand these intentions: you receive oil, but let's destroy the country and join Russia". He also thinks that it will close the subject with his favorite line: “Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are forced to remain together forever. We are Slavic and we must live together… No one needs us, nowhere, all our history talks about it”. And Russia is probably ok with that, but only if that “together” means that Belarus and Ukraine will reenter under Moscow’s control. 

Actually, in the second half of the past year, Russia made a series of supported political pressures over Minsk, in order for it to accept some Russian initiatives aiming to a state integration in all important fields, way more profound than the one described by the Russia-Belarus Union’s Treaty provisions. And most of the proposals seriously affected, according to the authorities in Minsk, the sovereignty and even the independence of Belarus. Moscow’s initiatives were asking for the reintroduction of the Russian ruble as national currency[6], including as computation electronic currency in the financial-bank system (crating the monetary union), being in line with the unique Russian fiscal system and eliminate Belarus’s financial compensation system by Moscow in different fields like energetic industry and foreign oil and natural gases trade (which would have bothered the few western businesses circles that have invested in Belarus), implement free circulation custom mechanism (custom union) and, not least, Moscow’s intention to implement Russian market mechanisms in the Belarusian economy (unique market). Another initiative was the integration in the military field (defence’s union), to be materialized, for a start, by developing a Russian military system on the Belarusian territory.

In the last days of 2018, the Belarusian president went two times to Moscow to get to an agreement on the created situation, in 5-6 hours talks with Putin. The results of the discussions are not clear, but the general atmosphere was tense, revealing that the integration issues are extremely complex. Lukashenko- who will go again through the electoral scrutiny, had previously strengthened the idea that Belarus will remain a completely independent state, even if “on paper” is part of the Union with Russia.

Ulterior, the Belarusian stances became extremely harsh, as the Russian Minster of Foreign Businesses had to ensure Belarus that it is a trustable ally and all the Russian initiatives only want a complex integration. The Russian Foreign Minister has personally tried to take down the dangerous comments wave generated by this relational political crisis with Minsk, placing them under some bad intended and conspiratorialist interpretations umbrella.

However, Moscow did not give up its intentions with Belarus. In order to eliminate a useless escalation of the bilateral relations crisis, yet without making concessions for Minks, Moscow has tempered the situation for now, giving president Lukashenko and the Belarusian society time to “think” on the Russian political initiatives. There is an uncertainties period coming for Belarus until Minsk will get to decide on the final option.

There are a series of interesting conclusions of some Belarusian and Ukrainian analytical circles[7], which are drawing the attention on the collateral geopolitical effects of the possible integration of Belarus in Russia. Shortly, these are showing that it could be a great danger for Ukraine, which will basically be caught in a semicircle or, in other words, in a claw. From this point of view, we can state that Belarus will be Moscow’s most “adequate key” to Ukraine, which will enter in a new and dangerous geostrategic situation for the survival and security of the Ukrainian state.

Extrapolating with some imagination, such situation will transform Belarus, according to same circles, in the “perfect key” for the entire region of Eastern Europe. Hence, the things mentioned above are enough to explain why Kremlin has suddenly changed its approaches regarding Minsk. The hypothesis regarding Kremlin’s success with this new plan for Belarus offers Moscow a great potential to unilaterally modify Eastern Europe’s geopolitical and military situation, with all the predictable effects the regional and pan-European security could meet.


[1] Billionaire of mogul of the private television, Igor Kolomoisky is a dab hand of the Ukrainian political scene, who wants to build a new first-class political personality. If he will not “hit the jackpot”, he will be pleased with undermining president Porosenko’s electoral rate with Zelensky’s performance and easing Iulia Timosenko’s path. His electoral technology is relying on the fact that he can introduce uncertainty facts in the electoral campaign, to determine enough anxiety for the important candidates to make mistakes. Although Zelensky does not seem Kolomoisky’s puppet (as his enemies are claiming), he is capable of making his “life difficult” is he will be in a direct conflict with his interests.

[2] Stockholm arbitrament’s decision, made a year ago and blocking an agreement has established the Russian compensations for the direct delivery and transit contract through Ukraine, according to which Gazprom should pay Naftgaz $ 2, 56 billion for direct deliveries and other $ 4,7 billion for transit between 2018-2019. The Russian part is irritated by the fact that, asymmetrically, Naftgaz’s financial obligations across the same contract were reduced with more than 10 times.

[3]https://ria.ru/20190121/1549634589 and https://mirnovostey.info/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fnewzfeed.ru

[4] The Ministers of Foreign Businesses have agreed to analyze the possibility of organizing a summit between the Azerbaijani president, Aliyev, and the Armenian prime-minister, Pashinyan. We should mention that both leaders had a short meeting at the CSI summit from Dushanbe last year, enough to agreed on improving this reunion and to found a special military communication line to reduce the military tensions on the contact line.

[5]https://versia.ru/belorusy-ne-podderzhali-iniciativu-prisoedineniya-k-rossii

[6] https://www.finanz.ru/novosti/valyuty/lukashenko-otkazalsya-perekhodit-na-rossiyskiy-rubl-1027879468?utm_source=24smi&utm_medium=referral&utm_term=11022&utm_content=2055419

[7] https://apostrophe.ua/news/world/ex-ussr/2018-12-29/putin-nashel-klyuch-k-ukraine-voennyiy-ekspert-ukazal-na-kovarnyiy-plan-kremlya/150257