14 September 2018

MAIN POLITICAL AND MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS - WEEK 36 (3.09-9.09 2018)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I). UNITED STATES. Members of Trump Administration Say There Is a Problem in the White House, and It’s Name Is Donald Trump. II) RUSSIA - GREAT BRITAIN. The Skripal Case Reloaded. III) SYRIA. Russia and Iran Attack Idlib and Keep Turkey Off. IV) REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. A New Kozak Memorandum Takes Shape. V) SERBIA. President Vućič Cannot Pragmatically Solve the Kosovo Problem because Germany Opposes.

Image source: Mediafax

I). UNITED STATES. Members of Trump Administration Say There Is A Problem in the White House, and Its Name Is Donald Trump.  

An anonymous article by a senior official of Trump Administration presents the alarming situation within the government – appointed employees, not elected by the American voters, struggle to implement rational decisions, good for the US, in spite of an amoral, incompetent, and irrational president. This article has the value of an “impeachment preview”, and follows the publishing of Bob Woodward’s book “Fear”, which includes testimonies blowing up the credibility of President Donald Trump and his Administration. In this context, the November midterms become crucial for the future of the United States, as both the Democrats and President Donald Trump, openly speak about the hope or, respectively, the danger of an impeachment.

 On September 5th, the New York Times publishes the article called “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”, written by an anonymous senior official of the Administration. The author of this column assures the Americans that himself and other officials of the government will defend the interests of the US with patriotism, responsibility and competence... facing an amoral, incompetent, and irrational president and his worst “misguided impulses”. The author identifies the President’s main problems as being his amorality, which makes his decisions completely incoherent, as they lack a ground base, and makes him ignore, or even “attack outright” the republican conservatives’s traditional ideals: “free minds, free markets and free people”. He also accuses President Trump that “his impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic”.

Even worse, he confesses the Administration staff’s “disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions”. The author also assures the American public that “there are adults in the room” (meaning responsible persons able to control the President’s irresponsablity). The result is a “two-track administration”: the president seems to prefer autocrats and dictators, yet the decisions taken by his Administration stay on the strait and narrow of the traditional American democracy (for example, the Administration’s policy towards Russia). Most dangerous though, the author points out that whispers within the government mention the 25th Amendment, the one stipulating that the President can be ousted on the grounds that he is not able to responsibly fulfil the attributions of his office. The “optimistic” end goes as far as splitting the American nation from its elected leader: “The bigger concern is... what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility”.

President Trump reacted by asking if such an aproach is not treason, and he asked the newspaper to divulge the name of the article’s author. Then, a streak of disclaiming declarations by important members of the Administration followed to state or suggest they did not write the article.

Previously, in his recent book “Fear”, Bob Woodward presented the uncertainty and internal fight “hospice” athmospherics within Trump Administration. This famous journalist, renown for his ability to produce an acurate picture of the American government’s depths and chemestry, reveals serious declarations by two core members of the Administration: John F. Kelly is quoted saying that the President “is an idiot”, and general James Mattis is quoted saying that the President’s intellect equals that of “a fifth grader”.

On the background of this revealing information, the campaign for the midterms gained a strong momentum, America being more divided than ever. The former president, Barack Obama, went as far as accusing D. Trump and the Republicans, now in majority in the Congress, of abuse of power. He also asked the Americans to vote for returning to normalcy. Meanwhile, the investigation on the alleged collusion between D. Trump’s campaign staff and Russia constantly progresses: another member of that staff, George Papadopoulos, gets convicted for lying the FBI; and the President himself is to testify in writing for the a.m. investigation, “in certain terms”. Donald Trump’s sole argument is that the American economy is in full swing, and that counts a lot in the US.

Regarding the American leadership and elite’s functionality and cohesion, the US reached a situation as uncertain and dangeroud as in the time of the Watergate scandal and president Richard Nixon’s resignation . The most dangerous issue is that the D. Trump Administration will be numb until November, if not ever further, and only the institutional robustness of the United States, based on the very principles ignored by this president, is called to provide the stability so much needed by the US and the whole free world.

 

II) RUSSIA - GREAT BRITAIN. The Skripal Case Reloaded.  

On September 5th, the UK reactivated the Skripal case by officially accusing two Russian citizens, Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were identified as perpetrators of the Novichok gas attack against the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal, and his daughter, committed in March on British territory. Even more, based on intelligence, the British Prime-Minister, Teresa May, declared, in the Parliament, that the two Russians are GRU officers who acted following orders. Another British official, Security Minister Ben Wallace, pushed the deduction further, and concluded that President Vladimir Putin himself bears the responsibility for the attack, because such an action requires approval from the highest level of decision.

The UK issued a European arrest warrant for the two, but refrained from requesting their extradition from Moscow, based on the fact that the Russian Constitution excludes any extradition of Russian citizens. Thus, London avoided an awkward situation and practically excluded the Russian authorities from the case investigation, for the second time. A. Petrov and R.Boshirov have not been accused for murder in the case of collateral victim female Dawn Sturgess, who died as result of poisonous contamination, although the (world) Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed, on September 4th, the findings of British experts regarding the toxic gas Novichok as cause for the poisoning in the Skripal case.

Moscow firmly denied any implication, and the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, stated that the names and the photos presented by the British authorities do not ring any bell for the Russian authorities (although they were taken from the passports used by the two to travel from Russia to UK and back, on a Russian plane). On September 6th, the UK brought again the Skripal case to the UN Security Council, having the support of the main western nations – US, France, Canada, and Germany, who issued a joint declaration on the very eve of the UN SC session. Russia defended itself pointing at discrepancies in the indictment documents (yet not recognizing the Russian citizenship of the two), and invoking the British, and western “anti-Russian hysterias”.

The critical part of the Skripal case is the unprecedented worsening of the tensions between the UK and Russia, and the level where the accusations are made: Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. Practically, we are in the situation where a nuclear power accuses the leader of another nuclear power, albeit unofficially, of ordering a chemical weapon attack. Quite likely, an accusation of murder will come soon as well. The situation does not look good in the eye of any beholder. And here, the UK has the support of western powers usually more appeasing towards Russia, namely Germany and France, which now join the British position.   

Certainly, the UK authorities will also look into… their own role in fostering the conditions for this case: London has tolerated the oligarchs and other dubious Russian citizens, only because they brought along money to Britain, and the UK did not question the source of that money. The UK practically has tolerated capital with obscure origin. Tardily, the British authorities began to act against money laundering by Russian oligarchs. But this is not a one out case, this practice is… European. Another event, apparently with no connection, adds to the picture of the way Russia undermines the West, just because the economic and political  elite of the West accepted this: the ING Bank has been punished considerably, with a huge fine, in the Netherlands, for not implementing the requested procedures against money laundering.

The tensions between the West and Russia will reflect upon the situation in Eastern Europe, around Romania for example. The recent background is not very good already: only this past week, Russia arrested another Ukrainian fishing boat, in Donbas there was no cease-fire at all, and Estonia arrested another spy: an Estonian officer, ethnic Russian, and his father, who delivered secret information (including NATO information) to Russia. This is also a serious blow received by the Estonian policy of integrating the Russian minority. 


III. SYRIA. Russia and Iran Attack Idlib and Keep Turkey Off.

During the Conference of the interventionist powers in Syria (Russia, Iran, and Turkey), held in Teheran on September 7th, a cease-fire agreement put forward by Turkey was denied. In turn, Turkey was assigned just a simple role to play in the implementation of the overall Russian plan, whose aims is to get rid of the Sunni terrorists and to regain control over Idlib province.

The West accepted, from the very beginning, that Idlib would be taken over eventually, but cautioned Bashar al-Assad not to make use of any chemical weapons for that. Even the US President Donald Trump called for sparing the civilian population and avoiding a new surge of refugees. He was ignored, although Russia has got the message. Therefore, it was decided that the terror on civilians is to be spread not by chemical means but by air strikes carried out by Russia. Special attention was paid initially to the target selection not to upset the West, which is envisaged to be the main sponsor for Syria’s reconstruction. On the other hand, in order to avoid a new flow of displaced people crossing its borders, Turkey is bound to play the part that Russia reserved for it: to negotiate with the rebels their demobilization and evacuation. But, would Turkey be able to accomplish such a task? And, where would the rebels go?

At first, the Iranian foreign minister launched on September 3rd at Damascus, the idea that “cleaning Idlib from terrorists” is a necessity, which is in line with Dmitry Peskov’s statement who called Idlib a “terrorists’ hornet nest”. On September 3rd, Russia started naval and air maneuvers across the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to keep away the West and to prevent a new missile attack against al-Assad regime’s military objectives. Russia felt entitled to launch the attack on Idlib since the West did not show any interest in striking again as long as Bashar is well kept under Russia’s control and does not carry out chemical attacks. It seems that the West assessed as inhuman a chemical attack, while an indiscriminate air strike appears to be acceptable. On September 4th, Russia started the attack gradually. Initially, the target acquisition and the accepted casualties were carefully considered. So, the first line of rebels’ defense was the primary target, and then the attack extended towards the depth of the defended area. The air strikes did not cease during the Teheran Conference, and even increased soon after.

Under these circumstances, the Teheran Conference could not have provided any result but the rejection of the Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s request for a cease-fire agreement. Vladimir Putin argued that the Idlib rebels’ representatives did not show up and one cannot negotiate with the terrorists anyway. Russia is partly right, since the rebels in Idlib are mostly extremist jihadists. Indeed, the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group (renamed Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham) is the primary military force in Idlib and the core of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Alliance. But not anyone who opposes the regime, and not every Sunni respectively, is a terrorist as B. al-Assad implies and Russia takes for granted. Actually, the locals were terrorized by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and their last actions seem to support that. Scaffolds have been erected for traitors to be executed, most likely the few Shia and Christians who did not leave Idlib by now or even those Sunni who happen to have the slightest connection with the regime. Turkey replied that many terrorists infiltrated Idlib through the humanitarian corridors opened by Russia during Aleppo and Hama siege. This might be true, but cannot be used as an excuse for their acceptance or tolerance.

The Russian bombardments on Idlib are still going on, accompanied now by Bashar al Assad troops’ artillery shelling. According to Russia’s intentions, the operation for “freeing Idlib” is supposed to be over by the end of the year, as made public by the French intelligence services.

In clarification of its role in Syria, the US announced, through its representative in the Middle East, that there would be no withdrawal of the American troops from the Kurdish area in northeastern Syria. As a consequence, during the Conference in Teheran, Iran reacted by asking Russia to back up its efforts to cast out the US military from Syria. In response, the Pentagon adequately consolidated the US defense positions in the Kurdish area of Syria.

To conclude, the Shia terror, assisted by the Russians, is going to permanently defeat the Sunni terrorists, together with other rebels, irrespective their orientation. In the process, as many members as possible from the Sunni majority would have been eliminated either by physical obliteration or by forcing them to leave their own country. But the result of this attempt not only that is not “Syrian” anymore (from the military, up to the funding), but it is not going to last as a state, since the only one guarantor it may lean on is the military force of the interventionist powers: the Russian Air Force, and the Iranian troops and their proxies (the Hezbollah and Afghan Shia). The only thing that still remains “Syrian” is the dictatorship of a leader supported by his own confessional minority. The regime regained control over territories from fertile Syria (part of the Fertile Crescent), but not from the “oil rich Syria” in the east. The most important thing though, where is the population? The regime’s terror continues in the “liberated” areas as proven by the fact that Bashar’s prisoners have simply disappeared, so all the more reason why the refugees should think twice before coming back. Where is the minimum amount of cohesion needed to bring a nation back together? Where is the economic foundation that is supposed to sustain “Bashar’s state” survival? Because there are but a few chances for Vladimir Putin’s plan to lure the West, especially Germany, to fund the Syrian infrastructure reconstruction, by arguing that this is the only way of getting rid of the refugees.

 
IV. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. A New Kozak Memorandum Takes Shape.

This 36 week, Russia sent to the media the first signals concerning the existence of a new plan to resolve the Transnistrian dispute; right away, the Moldovan President Igor Dodon tested the Transnistrian waters. So, in the Russian media, a few data were available about a new Kozak Memorandum, which is actually the same old one. Its essence revolves around the idea that the “part controls the whole” (“the tail wagging its dog”), i.e. that Russia, through Transnistria, would have veto right on the domestic and foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova. In turn, Chişinău would have nothing to say in Transnistria, a region with a special status. Most likely, the guarantor is to be Russia and its military, which will be granted a legal stationing status on the Moldovan territory.

During the preparations for his visit to Moscow, where he is supposed to discuss (read “accept”) the Russian plan, Igor Dodon played the role of the unifying president. Therefore, on September 7th, he met the Transnistrian leader, Vadim Krasnoselski, at his residence in Condriţa. Behind the optimistic statements, the result was obvious: the Transnistrian leader would accept only discussions on equal footing with Igor Dodon, as a “representative of the Russian interests in Moldova” as opposed to Igor Dodon, who is just an obedient Russian instrument. The below still picture from the event are quite relevant: there is not much understanding in the air between the two sides.

The main topic for discussion was the process of settling out the Transnistrian dispute. Igor Dodon stated that it was discussed how “the 8-point package ” was implemented. Eventually, an agreement was reached on 6 out of 8 points and a road map was established for “promoting solutions to the problems the people and economic entities are facing on both Nistru riversides (read: “I will try to convince the Moldovan government to respond to the Tiraspol’s requests”). Similarly, Igor Dodon stressed out the importance of the “peacekeeping mission” and mentioned that “concurrent steps were agreed upon not to allow cases that could aggravate the situation in the Security Zone, which in turn might affect peace and stability not only in the Republic of Moldova, but in the region as well”.

On that note, probably, Igor Dodon asked about the Nistru crossing military offensive exercise that Russia and Transnistria conducted together. Or maybe not. For sure, Igor Dodon would not have the guts to raise this question in Moscow, where the exercise order was issued. No doubt that Igor Dodon spoke the truth when reiterated “the lack of alternative to the dialog and confidence building”. But it is highly unlikely that this wording, trivial by repetition and used so often by those who do not believe in it, was heard by anyone in the Transnistrian delegation or in Moscow. On the other hand, the very military exercise having an offensive goal - attacking the R. of Moldova by crossing the Nistru – is the proof that the other side actually has alternative to the dialogue.


V. SERBIA. President Vućič Cannot Pragmatically Solve the Kosovo Problem because Germany Opposes

On September 8th, during his visit North of Ibar River, to an area in Kosovo inhabited by Serbs, the Serbian President, Aleksandr Vućič stated that an agreement with Kosovo cannot be reached anytime soon. This way, he put an end to the locals’ expectations that an agreement reached in the foreseeable future between the two sides would bring them again under Belgrade’s protection. Concurrently, such desired agreement would also unlock Serbia’s road towards European Union membership.

Aleksandr Vućič deplored the German Chancellor’s opposition to any border change: „We are not close to any agreement. We do not have the international community support for that, especially from the first European power”. This outcome was somehow expected after A. Vućič refused to meet, in person, the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, during the discussions held in Brussels under the auspices of EU. Moreover, on September 8th, Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the German position according to which a border change in the region is potentially dangerous.

The German position was well known from the European foreign ministers meeting, where it was endorsed by the majority of the European countries, although there were also voices that suggested the opposite. Contrary to the European position, the US mentioned its agreement on the plan, promoted by Belgrade and accepted by Hashim Thaci, but not by his prime-minister though. The plan provides for a territory exchange: the North of Kosovo in exchange for the adjacent Preševo Valley in southern Serbia, an area inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians. It cannot be ruled out that the German position might be based on the legitimate concern that changing borders not only may weaken Kosovo (an unrecognized state by Serbia and other EU member states, including Romania), but could establish a precedent for Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serbian territorial entity and federal component in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

For the moment, Belgrade’s attempt to find a reasonable but full of sacrifices solution to the stalemate through the territory exchange failed due to the German, seemingly principled, but unfair opposition. The principle is right: border change is a dangerous precedent. But the German opposition appears unfair since the Serb leadership, determined to unlock the Kosovo problem in order to budge ahead the EU integration process, and has already made a sacrifice by promoting this plan. This implies that Serbia abandoned the hard position of not recognizing Kosovo and accepted to loss of its historical province for which it waged a real war against NATO not long ago. Moreover, by promoting this plan, Serbia showed that is prepared to forget the other Serbs spread across all Kosovo, and to abandon the cultural heritage there (the Orthodox churches). This move coming from the “political children” of extremist nationalists such as Miloševič and Šešeli, is all the more important, Ivica Daćič and Aleksandr Vućič being completely adapted to the new political realities.

With the American approval and encouragement, the plan seemed to have been accepted by prime-minister Hashim Thaci, but when faced with the German and domestic opposition, he stepped back. Needless to say that Hashim Thaci himself is an extremist nationalist adherent, who led UČK and made it well known not as a fierce opponent for the Serbian Army, but as a paramilitary entity that struck terror in the Serbian civilian community in Kosovo.

Paradoxically, such a bitter plan appears to be the only solution at hand to be implemented, while all the others are just a wish list: a Kosovo multicultural society of Serbs and Albanians or the control over the Serbs in Northern Kosovo handed over to Kosovo government. One must not forget that, although justified to some extent by the persecution of Albanians, the first border change was operated by the West who cut out the whole Kosovo from Serbia by force. This is how the Kosovo statehood was created, an entity that to this day has more problems than accomplishments. And the greatest value of this plan, its approval by both parties and endorsement by the US, is tossed to garbage for Berlin’s interests, with no alternative in place.

Germany has to demonstrate whether it is the that great European power able to make the foreign policy of EU on behalf of all the others state members, without promoting its own individual interests or visions, and without any biases. Germany has exemplarily punished Serbia for what it had done in Kosovo and then subsequently compensated the new leadership in Belgrade by political and economic assistance. But did Germany take the same decisive steps to eliminate the problems brought in Europe by the Albanian nationalism? Did Germany put any responsibility on Priština’s political leadership shoulders or did it quench the Albanian diaspora, which continues its destabilizing plans?

Did Germany do anything to eradicate the Kosovo/Albanian mafia, which became a blocking obstacle in Albanian’s way towards the European Union membership? Does Germany really want the Kosovo problem solved?