28 August 2018

MAIN POLITICAL AND MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS - WEEK 34

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: Mediafax

I). UNITED STATES. The Situation of President Donald Trump Gets More and More Complicated.  

II) UNITED STATES – RUSSIA. The Meeting in Geneva between John Bolton and Nikolay Patrushev.

 

 

I). UNITED STATES. The Situation of President Donald Trump Gets More and More Complicated.

The domestic political situation of President Donald Trump got more complicated since two things happened: first, a close associate, Paul Manafort, has been found guilty of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose a foreign bank account; and second, more important, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, directly accused the President of felony. President D. Trump is not yet the subject of any investigation, but the noose seems to tighten up around him. The very President’s gestures reveal that he is aware that the investigation is progressing in a direction which threatens his office. These gestures range from the announcement that he might decline to be interviewed during the Robert Mueller led investigation (since he might be accused of perjury, should his declaration be opposite to declarations by other witnesses), to the denial of any possibility of impeachment, on the ground that a possible impeachment would damage the economy (“Impeach me and the market crashes“!!). 

Quite serious though, D. Trump attacked the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the head of the Justice Department, because J. Sessions recused himself and thus dodged the decision to stop the investigation led by R. Mueller regarding the Russian meddling in the 2016 American elections, as requested by the President. On August 23rd, the Attorney General, J. Sessions, replied that the Justice Department he leads would not yield to political pressure: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations“. Donald Trump’s argument for dismissing the investigation was that it would have nothing to find, being a ”witch-hunt”. What if it would be something to find, and the witches would really be guilty, especially the one sheltered in a white house? Anyway, the President cannot act himself, because he could be accused of obstructing the justice. This is why D. Trump seeks associates to do it for him, but people to “take a bullet for him”, as M. Cohen said, are scarce. Now it is visible why D. Trump is looking for staff loyal to him, not to the US. Even worse, those who “took a bullet for America” turn against D. Trump now: a retired general, former Special Forces commander and a hero for the majority of the Americans publicly expressed his indignation against the President’s actions.

Although the US President cannot be indicted, evidence to support such action started to pile up: D. Trump himself partly admitted (only shy of admitting a felony) that he is responsible of what his attorney, M. Cohen, stated he did.

The investigation will continue, in spite of D. Trump’s efforts to contain its scope. However, the final decision will be a political decision taken by the majority of Americans, albeit in the Congress, or by the voting masses. Only a Democrat majority will begin the impeachment procedures. So, the American voters will decide about the color of the majority, and, consequently, about the future of President Trump’s presidency. The big battle is now for the November midterms: should the Democrats prevail, the impeachment procedures are quite likely to begin. The situation is worsening in D. Trump’s own camp as well, as Jeff Sessions answered that he only observes and serves the US laws, and nobody else; this means not only that the investigation will continue, but it might be the signal for a wide split from D. Trump in his own party and among his supporters. Such divide would be necessary in order to make sure the GOP politically survives Donald Trump. Anyway, the President should be very careful, because he risks being indicted for obstructing the justice, only counting the number of times he accused the investigation commission for witch-hunting.

As a personality, Donald Trump demonstrated, so far, that everything that has been assumed bad about him proves to be rather true, less that he owes something to Russia (However, the tracks seem to lead in that direction). Those who supported Trump already cashed in, and shedding a character who endangers not only the American society, as a whole, but even the domestic and global political stability seems to be a fair option: “the big money” obtained the financial deregulations they needed, and the middle class obtained the tax slack. So, it is no wonder that the support for President Trump began to dwindle, just a bit so far but, when the investigation gets closer and he reacts, the snowball effect will be visible.

In the next period, the US will certainly look more inward, and will be less concerned with foreign policy, since the White House will focus more on judicial problems, if not on penal issues of “the man in the White House”. In the Republican Party, discussions will likely grow on whether it is worth to stand behind Donald Trump or not. In its turn, the Democrat Party will get reinvigorated, even if it has its own problems (it does not provide an alternative yet, and the economy is thriving – the negative effects will show later). The American voters will decide in November if they ditch D. Trump or not. This is the real stake of the midterm elections, and the whole America will focus on this event. So, in foreign matters, no important steps are to be expected from Washington, if not even punctual concessions, with irreparable effects in time. America is about to live an unstable period, as will the whole world. The instability might be already chronic, one might say, but it is still instability. Meanwhile, the enemies of America, and of the free world’s, who understand this situation, will act as they know best.

II) UNITED STATES – RUSSIA. The Meeting in Geneva between John Bolton and Nikolay Patrushev.  

On August 23rd, Geneva hosted the meeting between John Bolton, the counselor for national security to the US President, and Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council. This meeting, which took about five hours, covered the whole range of disputed issues. Moscow had sent the message that it hoped the US really knows what it wants in the bilateral relations. But both countries were waiting for this meeting, as well as the nations which were the subject of the discussions – Israel, Ukraine. The meeting ended with a moderate optimism, but without a joint declaration. Such document was refused by the Russians on the grounds that it would have included references to Moscow’s meddling in the American elections, impossible to be admitted by the Kremlin. John Bolton stated that the differences between the two views regarding Russia’s meddling in American elections precluded a joint declaration to be reached, although he did not confront the Russian delegation about the latest accusations in the matter (the Microsoft report on Russian hackers). John Bolton maintained he had warned Moscow not to interfere in the November midterms: “I made it clear we wouldn’t tolerate (election) meddling in 2018 and that we were prepared to take necessary steps to prevent it from happening”.

The visible and important result is that the two parties agreed to restore several communication channels. In this respect, J. Bolton said he noticed progress by identifying domains where communication would be restored between relevant institutions. The Russian media quoted N. Patrushev saying that the respective foreign and defense ministries were agreed to restore communication channels.

Other issues discussed in Geneva were the increase in tightening the US sanctions against Iran, and a gradual withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria. No further details were provided. On Iran’s role in Syria, John Bolton specified that the US goal is to have all Iranian forces in Syria withdrawn, and that various ways and steps to reach this goal were discussed at this meeting. Previously, J. Bolton had a meeting, in Jerusalem, with the Israeli Prim-Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. After that meeting in Jerusalem, J. Bolton has declared that the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was meant to “put maximum pressure on the regime” by making sanctions “more extensive and more effective”. He also stressed that Washington does not intend a regime change in Iran, but a behavior change.   

J. Bolton also stated that, during the discussions in Geneva, the Russian representative did not attempt to achieve a relaxation of the US sanctions.

Regarding the strategic nuclear arms control, John Bolton, who is an adversary of the present New START agreement, declared that no date has been agreed by the two parties for a decision on New START, which expires in 2021. No decision has been agreed on INF either: “We are very very early in the process of considering what we are going to do with New START or the INF treaty”. A Russian diplomat declared that the dialogue continues, and this is a positive fact, better than continuous sanctions, threats and accusations, as the Americans are interested, the same as the Russians, no more, no less, to extend the New START agreement.

However, more important is the topic over which no comments were made: Ukraine. But we will know after John Bolton visits Kyiv.

Let’s recap: Donald Trump sent his expert in the issues to be discussed, and the Kremlin sent Nikolay Patrushev - the man who knows everything, from the Skripal case, to the coup in Montenegro (he retrieved the Russian agents from Serbia), and to everything that has been done against the US by meddling in the elections. He is also responsible for everything regarding the Russian intelligence services, the spearhead of all Moscow’s aggressive actions. Too little has been revealed on practical agreed details, just restoring communication and continue the consultations – a good thing, no matter what Russia has done. About the core disputed issues though, one can only infer what they discussed, and where they reached:

  •  Different from Helsinki, the US has sent a clear message that Russia must stop meddling in American elections, by cyber-attacks, for example. It will be interesting to see the cooperation in this area;
  • Regarding the arms control, an expert such as J. Bolton has not fallen for the Russian game, from the attempt to link the anti-ballistic defense with the offensive nuclear weapons, to discussing INF, which Russia breached, but accuses the US that it might breach, by the simple inference that the Aegis Ashore launchers, being universal, can also launch cruise missiles. Actually, President Vladimir Putin mentioned these threats: Russia’s need to react to the anti-ballistic installations in Romania and, in the future, in Poland, as well as NATO infrastructure advance towards Russian borders. These received a prompt response from NATO, and, as anyone can notice, NATO infrastructure distance to Russian borders diminishes just because Russia moves its borders closer to NATO infrastructure (see the Crimean Peninsula). Considering also the Iranian danger, there are very little chances that the anti-ballistic installations at Deveselu / Romania be discussed, and the INF will stand until a solution is found. Even the Russian threat based on its new weapons was put on a low key, since the US administration leaked the information that the Russian widely heralded nuclear propulsion missile has been lost during the tests, and Russia is working hard to retrieve it. The risk of nuclear contamination looms large, which Moscow denied. However, a Russian vessel is desperately searching the bottom of Barents Sea;
  • Regarding Ukraine, Russia probably resumed the Helsinki narrative, but the Americans likely pointed at the necessity to see what Ukraine - the subject of the actions have to say. So, we have to wait for the results of the meeting in Kyiv;
  • On Syria and Iran, actually on Israel’s security, Russia promised what it cannot deliver. Nevertheless, steps can be made, especially since Iran, burdened by serious problems, would like to calm the situation, and to avoid an open conflict with the United States;
  • We need to hope that the level of trust has been somewhat beefed up. This is necessary, because Russia has rattled the sabers this past week. Maybe not the big exercise about to begin in the East is relevant – that is nothing else than cooperation with China, but other military developments: the associated alerting of airborne divisions, the alerting of 2,500 special forces of Strategic Command South, and the air drills in Crimea (involving Su 30 and Su 24). Additionally, Russian aircraft flew again towards the Romanian area of NATO air control, where they were intercepted by NATO (British) air policing aircraft. As the Russian aircraft flew without transponders, one can wonder why President Putin accuses NATO for refusing to talk measures to increase air security, when Russia itself is the actor performing such aggressive actions. However, NATO air forces responded wisely by not playing Moscow’s game – better to give up visual identification, than follow the targets far from the Romanian littoral and into the Crimea based A2AD systems range.

The post-Helsinki worries somewhat faded away, and Russia is not ready to negotiate toughly, even if it has “built up formidable economic defenses”, and can face the sanctions, for the moment. But Moscow is bracing up for the second wave of sanctions, caused by the Skripal case. Should the US have made concessions, these second wave of sanctions would be milder. What will Russia yield in response, because nothing better can be seen in Ukraine so far: the fighting worsened, as Ukraine announced several soldiers killed in action.