26 June 2018

Main political and military developments - Week 25 / 2018

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: 123rf.com

[ Romanian Version HERE ]

 

THE EUROPEAN UNION. The Migration Issue Divides Member Nations 

On June 17th, the AQUARIUS, having hundreds of migrants on board, made berth in Valencia, Spain, and the migrants went ashore. The Spanish new socialist government decided this humanitarian measure, after the Italian government (far right plus populists) refused to accept the ship in Italian ports[1]. Spain[2] and France criticized Italy, which responded by mentioning the French policy of stopping the migrants at the French-Italian border. On June 20th, Jean-Claude Juncker summoned an emergency mini-Summit on migration for June 25th, to bring to the table the nations affected by migration[3], just before the European Summit to discuss this issue, on June 28th. This mini-Summit seemed to have been conceived in support of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who faces an ultimate opposition from its coalition partner, the CSU[4], on the issue of hosting immigrants. Merkel hopes to benefit from a more convenient repartition of the immigrant burden from the European Commission. The CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, promotes a more severe policy on immigration, and threatened to enforce the practice of stopping the migrants at the border, absent a balanced distribution of migrants among EU members. He gave Merkel two weeks to find a solution at EU level on illegal immigration, after which he would start to reject the migrants at the border. Before the mini-Summit, on June 20th, the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, met the Bavarian Prime-Minister, Markus Söder (CSU), in Linz, to forge a common position on the issue: they asked for the closure of the EU external borders, mentioning that a failure in finding a solution on migration would be “a problem for democracy in Europe”. The two a.m. proposed forming “protection areas” in Africa, but without any specific detail. M.Söder insisted that “the Europeans want liberalism, yet also want security”. Previously, S.Kurz[5] suggested an “axis of the willing” with Germany and Italy (the target country, respectively the source country of the immigrants in Austria), aiming to obtain a restrictive policy at the European borders, and even at national borders. In their turn, the leaders of the Visegrad Group met in Budapest on June 21st, and reiterated their anti-migration policy, announcing that they would boycott the mini-Summit. They also launched a veiled attack on Angela Merkel, saying that ”the nations want to discuss this issue for domestic politics reasons”. The four Visegrad leaders were joined by the Austrian chancellor, although he would not boycott the mini-Summit. Also on June 21st, the Italian Prime-Minister, Giuseppe Conte, stated that a EU draft agreement on migration has been withdrawn after a dispute he had on the issue with chancellor A. Merkel. Anyway, on June 22nd, Angela Merkel declared that there were no chances to reach a significant progress on migration during the EU mini-Summit.

Finally, the mini-Summit seems to be a success, as it reached its goal, to provide a common stand in approaching the issue of migration, both primary and secondary. As the German chancellor pointed out Sunday, at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, if all-European solutions are not possible, bilateral or trilateral arrangements will be agreed. The control of the European frontiers will be a priority, and FRONTEX will have increased responsibilities. Following the example of the agreement with Turkey, similar accords with other nations will be signed. Libya will have to take up its responsibilities, especially the coast guard, and support will be provided in this respect. The French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that a European solution must be found, based on the European values, and the Italians offered a „complete proposal”, called „European Multilevel Strategy for Migration”, which included six conditions and ten objectives. Intense consultation is to be conducted before the European Summit, as the Schengen rules are also to be adapted. Regarding the German crisis, the answer provided by the Luxemburgish Prime-Minister, Xavier Bettel: „It is not about the survival of a chancellor, it is about finding a common solution to a common migration and asylum policy in Europe”.

Although the migration wave did not reach the peak of 2005, a crisis emerged because the populist and far right governments in Italy and Austria see the situation as unacceptable, hence a European level solution is needed. Even worse, a political crisis emerged in Germany, between the Bavarian wing CSU of the German Christian-democrats, and the CDU itself. The problem is that Bavaria, one of the most conservative federal lands[6], faces upfront the immigrant wave, and cannot tolerate the present immigration situation anymore. CSU fights against the ever stronger far right AfD, and the CSU leader prefers to press chancellor Merkel for a tighter migration policy, and for a more balanced European policy (from a German perspective) regarding the distribution of immigrants among the European nations. The opportunist Viktor Orbán seized a situation where he can pose as a champion of the anti-immigrationist policy, along the Bavaria – Italy – Austria axis. He rallied the whole Visegrad Group to this idea, even if it is not clear whether these countries were even invited to the mini-Summit in the first place. V. Orbán saw the opportunity to show his loyalty to the Bavarian political and economic groups which constantly supported him, despite the power abuses he commits. He might also hope this would cause the fall of chancellor A. Merkel. However, this is not likely to happen, as the CSU and CDU have too much in common to break their traditional alliance. Even more, in spite of A. Merkel’s skepticism, the mini-Summit might really open the way to a more realistic approach of the migration issue, even if silver bullet solutions are not to be found. Also seeing how the wind blows, Bulgaria proposes the immediate closure of the external borders of the EU, and the establishment of refugee centers outside the European territory. Perhaps not so tough and immediate, but an eventual solution will likely include these elements.

As the main immediate threat perceived by the European nations – the illegal immigration with economic causes, surged and divided the EU, revealing differences in values and approaches, both among EU nations and within. The most dangerous seems to be the CSU / CDU fracture, within the classical center-right German alliance. The problem is simple to describe, but the solutions are difficult to find: the wave of migrants towards Europe continues unabated, as refugees from Africa and Asia seek a better life (living standard and security) and they expose themselves to extreme risks in the process. The political forces’ approaches to this issue divide the EU nations, both by the attitude towards the risks the migrants face, and especially by the perspective on the future. The latter includes the simple arithmetic - the local population / immigrant community ratio, but especially the cultural differences, which lead to building “parallel societies” within the European countries.

The fundamental question is: How would Europe succeed to preserve its identity without losing humanity? The traditional liberal political forces in Western Europe did not find an answer, preferring to accept the unrealistic perspective of multiculturalism, and denying that western democracy is the outcome of not only illuminist and liberal thinking, but also of Christianity – not only culturally, but also politically, as Europe “sits on churches”. This conundrum left room for extremist and populist forces, which exploited the discontent showed by the population, who is more realistic than the idealist elites in understanding the situation, yet, unfortunately, not enough geared toward finding a solution. Thus, the far right and the populist parties got the power, most recently in Austria and Italy, and started severe anti-immigration policies, not very effective, but visible for the voters, actually transferring responsibility[7].

In Eastern Europe, still seeking the way towards normalcy, after the trauma of communism, the population does not accept immigrants. There is also a deep resentment towards Muslim immigrants. These nations do not have the guilt complex of the Western nations (for the colonial history, when building empires). They do have the memory of empires though, one Muslim (the Ottoman Empire) or, more recently, the communist empire (Russia), which marked their existence for centuries (aggregate). This explains the development of “anti-migration… without immigrants” policies by the anti-liberal nationalist forces - in Hungary[8], or by ultra-conservative forces – in Poland. The situation is worse in Bulgaria, country of first destination[9]. The second rift follows the effect of migration: the first responder / frontline nations (Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Malta, and Spain) and the final destination countries (Germany, Austria, France, the Nordic nations) face directly the migration problem. Meanwhile, the other nations are just transit corridors or do not face this problem at all. However, they are asked to be solidary even for decisions taken by affected nations only[10]. Romania has been spared by the migrant flows, being by-passed directly towards the developed West, and being unattractive as a residence country – kind of similar to centuries ago. However, this does not mean that the Turkish-Bulgarian organized crime will not exploit the Black Sea maritime route, especially if it notices a local institutional incapacity to respond promptly to such a challenge.

The problem is far from a solution, as the proposals made so far did not meet the agreement of all EU member nations, which have various visions and solutions to the migration issue. The reason is that evidence has been ignored with selfishness: first, a common approach towards migration needs to be outlined: either we accept it and we accept a future new identity; or we admit an inhumane “no”; or we look for a middle way, and later, a practical solution is easier to identify, i.e. an “all-the-way” approach, from the irresponsible African or Asian régimes who generate the problem, and the nations which tolerate the flow towards Europe (Libya[11] and Turkey), to the human trafficking networks and establishing extra-European terminals (migrant camps at the outskirts of Europe). Further on, the EU should help the stabilization efforts in the countries of origin (economy included), aiming at keeping the potential emigrants home. Actually, the answer to the problem has been given long ago by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt: each year, the population of the world increases “by one Germany”, and Europe cannot receive them all. This is if Europe wants to remain Europe and not something else, with a new identity. Probably, powerful and pragmatic liberal leaders like Merkel and Macron[12] will find a solution (hardly, but they will). Eventually, they will be joined by some populists, like Salvini. As for the rest, we will have just nonsense talk, like Viktor Orbán’s apocalyptic statements, meant only to support the drift of a more and more non-democratic régime[13].

 

GREECE. Out of the Crisis.

June 22nd. After meeting in Luxemburg, the EU finance ministers announced that “Greece is now able to stand on its own feet”. They agreed upon a package of measures meant to reestablish the trust of Greece’s partners and investors in the viability of Greek economy. So, Greece can operate again on financial markets, after three rescue operations conducted in the last eight years, at a cost of 230 billion euros. Now, Greece received “only” 15 billion euros to pay the bills and exit the third bailout in August. The Greek Prime-Minister, Alexis Tsipras, declared that this decision “marked a definitive turn of the crisis-hit country, away from a relentless cycle of austerity”: “we had a historic agreement upon which Greek debt is rendered viable”. He also stated, however, that a battle has been won, not the whole war.

Having the population incomes and pensions reduced by 40%, Greece exits its biggest economic crisis, which jeopardized the whole Euro Zone. The way that the EU acted to solve this crisis not only rescued Greece, but also demonstrated the Union’s capacity, especially the capacity of the most important members, to solve a situation which threatened the very existence of the Euro currency. Especially the much-hated Germany was the one who saved Greece, but when a German picks up the bill, he asks for tough reform measures and the Greek in the street felt on his own skin what that means. There are two lessons learned from this story: 1) When a kleptocratic (the Greek call it “plutocracy”) leadership irresponsibly enchains the country in debts, the population gets only crumbles from the loans, but then pays the whole bill. 2) If a political leadership acts irresponsibly[14], the population simply sweeps away the whole political elite. This is how Siriza, a far-left party, appeared as an alternative, after none of the old parties was able to offer a minimal credibility. However, when it comes to paying, the population gets the bill: after a couple of blackmail attempts against the Euro Zone members, Siriza was the one to implement a tight austerity program, imposed by the Euro Zone nations, led by Germany. A bon attendeur, salut! After this decision, Greece resumes a relative normalcy, and the EU, the Euro Zone, more precisely, come out more consolidated, with a hard lesson learned. Initially, the Italian government did not understand it, but, after a German – Italian high-level meeting, it absorbed the lesson entirely.   

 

REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA.

The Mayoral Elections for Chişinău Have Been Voided.

On June 25th, the Moldovan Supreme Court maintained the June 21st decision by the Appeal Court of Chişinău, which, earlier, maintained a lower court’s ruling to invalidate the elections held for the office of Mayor of Moldova’s capital city. The Appeal Court motivation stipulates that the electoral campaign law has been breached by both candidates. As a first reaction, protests have taken place in Chişinău against the decision that prevents Andrei Năstase to take over the office of mayor, after he won the elections as a candidate from the democratic opposition. New protests are announced after the final decision Monday. The Court mentioned that both candidates have sent electoral messages towards the voters, by social media, during the very day of voting, and this influenced the result of the elections. A. Năstase defended himself by saying these were simply encouragements to participate to voting, not electoral propaganda, and he supported this by examples of rulings by other courts in Europe. Năstase also stated that „the lower courts are allied with politicians who are afraid of pro-European, anti-oligarchic, democratic forces” (hinting to the supreme leader in Chişinău, Vlad Plahotniuc). Both the EU and the United States urged Republic of Moldova to respect the decision of the voters and the democratic procedures.

The decision by the highest court suggests that Vlad Plahotniuc not only wants to harass Andrei Năstase, he actually wants new elections, in order to show who really rules the country. Considering that the parliamentary elections will be the real battle, V. Plahotniuc will likely push just enough he deems necessary for his benefit, and new elections might be postponed or even excluded, based on technicalities. However, he needs to pay attention to the fact that the EU and the US will not tolerate such despotic behaviour and will sanction the Republic of Moldova by financial means.

The UN Resolution on the Illegal Presence of Russian Troops in the R. of Moldova

On June 22nd, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution (document A/72/L.58) urging Russia to complete “unconditionally and without further delay the withdrawal” of its Operational Group it holds in the separatist region of Transnistria, in the eastern part of Moldova. The draft has been submitted by a group of nations including Great Britain, Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. The Resolution has been voted with 64 votes for, 15 votes against (Russia, Iran, Armenia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and other of the kind, allied with Russia), and 83 abstentions (the majority chose not to upset either Russia or the West, for a so unimportant country). The present representative of Russia to the UN, Dmitri Polianski, stated that the Resolution undermines the OSCE efforts to solve the conflict in Moldova: “Excessive politicization of the problem occurred at the very moment when we see certain progress in talks between Chişinău and Tiraspol”.  

The passing of this Resolution is an important diplomatic success for the R. of Moldova, which has now an international legal basis to ask Russia to withdraw its troops illegally deployed on its territory, on the eastern bank of River Nistru. Actually, these are the military force behind which the separatist entity of Transnistria has been formed, and now is de facto independent. The Resolution will have no immediate effect but will bring the issue up to international debate. Russia motivated the presence of its troops in Transnistria by the need to guard the ammo dumps at Colbasna. False: when the OSCE proposed to have the ammunition in Colbasna destroyed or evacuated, Russia refused. Russia attempted to legalize the presence of its troops there in various ways, most often by creating confusion with the troops legally stationed in Transnistria based on the armistice that ended the1992 war. In that conflict, Russia actively took the side of the separatists, and later became mediator and warrant of the peace! The so-called “peace-keeping forces”, even having no UN mandate, are a discretionary instrument of Moscow.

As for the Russian diplomat’s declaration regarding the negative effect of the UN Resolution upon the efforts to solve the Transnistrian problem, well, this is another remarkable jewel of Russian diplomacy: the negotiations conducted in 5 plus 2 format led only to successive concessions made by Chişinău in the benefit of Tiraspol in current issues. Transnistria and Russia themselves refused discussing any political issues, precisely the process that the Russian diplomat is talking about.

One can ask how the Resolution was passed, considering that previously, R. of Moldova withdrew it in the last minute. Is it that the supreme leader in Chişinău is out of any other arguments to find support in the West except bringing up again „the problematic problem” of Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova?

RUSSIA

Tough economic reforms. From the beginning of the World Football / Soccer Championship, the Russian government initiated and quickly passed a series of unpopular economic reforms. Among them is the increase of VAT and increase of excise on products bought on-line from abroad. The opposition accused the power that it uses the sports event to eclipse the implementation of such measures, as the public manifestations have been barred by presidential decree for the whole duration of the Championship, except those especially authorized. The local government in Moscow denied the retired citizens the right to protest.

The measures seem to be strictly necessary, as the financial and demographic constraints forced the authorities to increase the retirement age. The increase of the VAT leads to a further increase of the inflation, which is already high. Although expected, it is remarkable the cynicism in choosing the time to sneak in these measures, when the target group cannot protest, especially the people approaching the retirement age. However, any protest would have been only symbolic, since it couldn’t have changed anything in a “sovereign democracy” as Russia describes itself.

On June 22nd, the Executive College of the Russian Ministry of Defence met in Sevastopol, chaired by the defense minister, Sergey Shoygu. At the end of the meeting, minister Shoygu declared that Russia took symmetric measures to consolidate the Military Region South for “neutralizing the threats” generated after NATO conducted, in the Black Sea area, 13 large-scale drills, with 40,000 soldiers and 2,000 pieces of military equipment. Shoygu noticed that a quite „unique joint force grouping” was deployed in Crimea, and this is constantly enforced. He warned that a potential adversary would not stand a chance in face of the hi-tech modern armament in service with this joint force grouping holds. The Russian official also stated that the financial resources would be directed, primarily, towards the development of the Nuclear Strategic Forces, as welll as the general-purpose forces, and the Command and Control (C2) systems. Shoygu said that the procurement program is progressing as planned, and underlined that 62% of the stand-by troops have been rearmed with modern armament, up from 59,5%, as is was before.    

The venue of this meeting is symbolically chosen, as Russia takes any opportunity to announce it has no intention at all to leave Crimea. Shoygu used this opportunity to rattle the saber to Ukraine and NATO allies in the region. His declarations regarding the consolidation of the joint force grouping in Crimea is confirmed by the massive deployments of troops and equipment to Crimea, besides the development of military infrastructure. Military drills conducted lately in the Military Region South showed the capabilities of these forces. The reference to resource earmarking for the nuclear strategic forces comes on the background information regarding a future high-level Russian-American meeting, where the topic of nuclear forces will be discussed[15].  However, problems with procurement seem to be hidden in the heralded numbers: at the end of the day, modern supplying of the stand-by troops increased by only 2.5%.

Taking into consideration that nobody intends to attack Crimea, the forces in the Peninsula have an offensive role. As other nations in the area, Romania should seriously look upon this threat, remembering that Russia appreciates only one argument – force. The larger picture includes a spy case, where a female “spy”, Carina Valerievna Ţurcan, was arrested in Moscow for stealing secrets in the field of energy. The alleged spy is a native of the Republic of Moldova, having also Russian and Romanian citizenship. The Russian propaganda linked this case with Romanian secret services cooperating with American intelligence agencies, and also with the exploitation contracts for oil and gas resources in the Black Sea. For these reasons, the Russian narrative must be monitored, as its course might light up a red light for the Romanian naval forces in charge of defending the oil rigs in Romania’s exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea.  



[1] Monday, June 26th, the Italian authorities repeated the same decision regarding the vessel LIFELINE, with over 200 migrants waiting at sea, close to Malta.

[2] Spain joined France and Germany regarding the migration issue and beyond.

[3] Point-of-entry nations, as well as transit and target nations were invited: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, and Austria. The last two also hold the present, and respectively the following European presidency. Meanwhile, the Netherlands was invited as well, then, the number reached 16.

[4] CSU is the Bavarian Christian-Social Party, traditionally allied with Merkel’s CDU – the Christian Democrat Party (being actually the Bavarian wing of the same Christian-democrat political formation).

[5] Who leads a governmental coalition formed by his right wing party and a far right party.

[6] In a more and more atheist Germany, Bavarian Catholicism remains strong, as it is in Austria.

[7] When the Italian foreign minister, the extremist leader of the League of North, Matteo Salvini, denied harbor to the Aquarius refugees, the new Spanish socialist government accepted all those migrants. Ridiculous, the same Italian government accused Malta when this small island nation refused to receive another ship full of refugees.  On the other hand, the Aquarius returned to Libyan waters to rescue other migrants in distress. The “Sorosists” (the NGOs supported by billionaire George Soros) prefer to face “the cynicism of western liberal governments which do not save refugees”, forgetting that, actually, they facilitate the activity of the human traffickers in Libya or other countries in Northern Africa. However, without NGO support, many of these refugees would perish at sea. The same disparaged European Commission and the “soft” liberal governments obtained a UN resolution to allow patrolling the Libyan waters to rescue refugees. And another liberal leader, Angela Merkel, obtained the agreement with Turkey which stopped the traffic of refugees from that country to the EU, not Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian “defender of Christianity”, with a democratic “illiberal” ideology and barbed wire fences.    

[8] In Hungary, Fidesz party looks more right wing than the far right party, Jobbik.

[9] This country is ruled by a pseudo-right party (actually, the former communists and elements connected to former secret services) allied with the far right (same origins). This country did not pass the “democratic threshold” yet, the reform in justice started only on paper!

[10] What is the reason for which a nation in the East would accept Syrian migrants who entered Germany following a decision by the German chancellor Angela Merkel (who, by the way, breached the Dublin agreement doing so) and does not have even the accord of the German population? And we talk about people who never intended to settle in Eastern Europe. At the end of the day, how many in the East understand “wir schaffen es” (we’ll do it)? And should they understand this expression, they know that “wir” means only those living in Germany, not in the whole Europe, while Angela Merkel is not the chancellor of all Europe!

[11] After the French president reached an agreement between the two sides in conflict in Libya, this past week 25, the fighting resumed, for the control of the oil terminals. The conflict continues to crumble Libya, and the solution from Europe is yet to be seen. Russia was just about to provide a solution by itself, actually to make things worse, but, fortunately, it refrained from acting in any way. 

[12] At a recent meeting, the two agreed upon the main reforms in the Euro Zone. They will likely succeed just the same in the case of the trade conflict with the US.

[13] Aiming to strike the Sorosits, Viktor Orbán dared the EU by passing the anti-NGO bill in the Parliament, this past week.

[14] Greece simply rigged the books to get into the Euro Zone.

[15] After maneuvers of the air force and air defence in MR South, and especially in Crimea, the “Slavic Brotherhood” drills followed (together with Serbia and Belarus). They were conducted at Novorossiysk, with the 8th Airborne Division in the front seat. This unit is the spearhead of any offensive in the region, being the main force used in the invasion of Georgia and Crimea. Interestingly, Russia projects from Sevastopol naval forces into the Mediterranean, but using also warships transferred from the Caspian Sea, by inland waterways: two Buyan M Kalibr missile carrying small corvettes belonging to the Caspian Sea Flotilla left for Syria. Considering that they were able to hit targets in Syria with missiles launched from the Caspian Sea, one can judge that Russia primarily seeks supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean, rather than strikes on targets in Syria, although the military operations in Syria did not cease (Defying, the US, Syria started the attack in the South, supported by Russian air operations).