02 October 2018

MAIN POLITICAL AND MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS - WEEK 39

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: Mediafax

I. THE UNITED NATIONS. At the UN General Assembly, Donald Trump’s “America First” Faced a World More “Multilateral” than Ever.  

II. RUSSIA. Talking about Diplomacy at the UN General Assembly, but Continuing Subversion in Europe, and Rattling Sabers in the Black Sea Region.

III. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). President Igor Dodon’s Visit to Russia, and Then to Tajikistan, at the Reunion of Community of Independent States’ Heads of State.

I). THE UNITED NATIONS. At the UN General Assembly, Donald Trump’s “America First” Faced a World More “Multilateral” than Ever.

At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), President Donald Trump attempted a tour de force by chairing the meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and by delivering a speech before the UNGA. In the latter event, D. Trump aimed at aquiring the international support for his foreign policy, especially in the core issues: Iran, North Korea, and the Palestinian problem. As expected, „America First” failed, especially regarding Iran, where the friends slided away, and the adversaries held their positions.

On September 26th, Donald Trump failed to gain the UNSC agreement for his proposed UN sanctions against Iran. He was denied both by allies (UK, France, and Germany), and by strategic adversaries – Russia and China, on the grounds of the US decision to withdraw from the Iran denuclearization agreement. The US President offered solid arguments against Iran: the Tehran regime sponsors terrorism[i], supplies conflicts in the whole region, and pursues ballistic missile R&D programs. Neither these, nor Washington’s threat to sanction any manufacturer which would do business with Iran, did persuade at least his allies’ aproach. The reason is the consequence of D. Trump’s decision: by denouncing the Iran agreement, the US closed the way towards a peaceful solution of the Iranian nuclear predicament, and opened the way towards conflict: the US wants to put Iran on its knees, which might entail the escalation of the tensions towards conflict.

The critical period will start in November, when the sanctions become fully operational, as Iran oil exports will be almost completely blocked. Only almost, because certain countries will continue to import Iranian oil no matter what: China, but also India, although closer and closer to US.

The Europeans also signed an agreement with Russia and China to put in place a mechanism to support the Iranian oil exports and by-pass the American sanctions, which operate in US dollars. It is hard to believe that such engineering will work, because the Europeans have serious reservations regarding Iran (for the reasons voiced by D. Trump at New York), and are not prepared to go the whole nine yards along with Russia and China. On the other hand, the little that will be achieved might be enough to keep Iran economically afloat. The Iranian economy already has major problems, and the population gets to the streets, sometimes with clear-cut slogans (“the enemy is here, in Iran, not in the US”). The US desired end state is regime change at Tehran, if not, God forbid, a conflict with hard to predict consequences.  

Although the US was not isolated[ii], as the Iranian President Rohani has claimed, two issues surfaced: 1) the US cannot rise (probably temporarily) as the main force supporting the system it created; 2) America’s strategic adversaries, China and Russia, only see in multilateralism a way to promote their interests in the framework of the international system created and supported by the US. However, they have no intention, respectively no capacity to make it more stable[iii].

So, several questions arise: What echo might get the call to preserve the present international order, when the “America First” banner showcases a power which selfishly promotes its interests in the same way its adversaries do? (actually, the US was the first to do it even before today’s banner); What momentum can generate the call to condemn the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, when the US does not support the International Court of Justice because it might rule regarding the Palestinian complaint against Israel? Or, what substance has the declaration of support for the Two State policy in the Middle East, when the Trump Administration policy coincides with that of Israel’s right wing leadership, which rejects such solution (rejected not only by the power, but also by the Israeli opposition, and by the Jewish organisations in the US)?

On top of it, Russia and China sabotage any American action, even beneficial to everybody, like the denuclearization of North Korea, and this is no surprise. This is the rule by which the two countries operate, especially Russia. In this issue, China has an excuse – its strategic interests require supporting the Pyongyang regime; But having Russia sabotaging the UN sanctions on North Korea has no logic other than persistently undermining the US policy.

For the present international situation, the declaration made by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres is most relevant; he avoided to answer the question whether Donald Trump is a threat: ”I don’t like to personalize things... In different areas and for different reasons, the trust of people in their political establishments, the trust of states among each other, the trust of many people in international organizations has been eroded“. A. Guterres did not continue his declaration with the natural end: when these things happened, wars started.

So, although the terrorist attack in Ahwaz has been claimed by the Islamic State, Iran prefers to hold Saudi Arabia responsible, as well as the US and Israel. Tehran did not produce evidence, its accusations being based on deductions (they are adversaries, therefore they are involved), but it threatened with a tough   response. The United States already closed a consulate in Iraq. Although Iran will likely be prudent and act by proxies, the situation escalated towards what nobody wants, but seems to be more and more probable: a war in the Gulf. Even the news looking positive is actually indication that a review of the military disposition is being conducted: the US withdraws air defense systems from Jordan and Kuwait, because they are no longer necessary after the Syrian and Iraqi threats are history. It is not difficult to guess where these systems will be consolidated: where the Iranian threat builds up.

II) RUSSIA. Talking about Diplomacy at the UN General Assembly, but Continuing Subversion in Europe, and Rattling Sabers in the Black Sea Region.   

On September 28th, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly, in New York. By this speech, Moscow defended itself against the accusations of meddling in domestic affairs of other nations, and attacked the US and its western allies, who would use “political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force“ to prevent other countries to become global actors. S. Lavrov voiced against “unilateralism” and for “multipolarity”, by accusing certain states of “engaging in an open campaign to undermine and topple democratically elected governments”, or "We observe the offensive of belligerent revisionism against the modern system of international law".

Let’s translate: the West would use the sanctions (called “blackmail, economic pressure”) against a Russia which is not involved in Ukraine and is not undermining other countries, thus denying it the path to become a global power (although Russia has but one argument for that, and that is the status of nuclear power, which allows its aggressive political leadership to discretionally use Russia’s conventional armed forces). In Moscow’s logic, why would not the peaceful Spain, Netherlands, or Belgium be also global powers, given that they have comparable economies and more developed political systems than Russia? Just because they chose to not possess the nuclear weapon and not waste money on large conventional armed forces? And how would the proposed multipolar world look like? With war in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria, as reconstruction is out of the question anyway…

A special attention should be paid to the phrase “engaging in an open campaign to undermine and topple democratically elected governments”, because the next selected victim of Russia could be the Republic of Moldova, should Igor Dodon’s party come to power. S. Lavrov’s statement reveals the “intervention cycle” used by Moscow in the former Soviet space: first, the Kremlin’s man (for example Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine) wins “democratic” elections with illegal Russian support, then the elected leader consolidates an autocratic corrupt regime, following Russia’s model, and that state is integrated into Russia’s sphere of influence. When the opposition attempts to reclaim the power, Russia interferes using its armed forces, invoking that the power in that country has been “democratically elected”[iv], and the opposition acts illegally (the opposition cannot do otherwise, because the dictatorial power would not allow it).

Russia continues its hybrid actions. In her speech at the UNGA, the British Prime-Minister, Teresa May, mentioned the danger of using chemical weapons in attacks conducted on British territory. The Skripal case continues to get more complicated, as a third individual involved in the events has been identified and suspected to be a GRU officer, although his identity has not been made public. Worse, one of the two “tourists” already accused by the British authorities for the chemical attack has been identified as being the GRU colonel Anatoly Chepiga, hero of Russia. Remarkably, the identification has been made by an NGO, Bellingcat, not by the British authorities, which refrained to take position regarding this detail. Maybe The Whitehall does not wish to escalate the case, as the obvious conclusion is too dangerous to become an official position: an experienced GRU officer, hero of Russia, joined by two other GRU operatives, conducted an attack with a chemical toxin on British territory, and the order for such operation cannot come but from the highest level of decision, which is President Vladimir Putin himself.

In addition, a Russian citizen has been arrested for espionage in Norway, and the Finnish Police conducts a large operation against a Russian company which was performing suspicious activities: acquisition of real estate along navigable internal waters. Is it any European nation where Russia does not conduct such activities? The natural answer is a worrisome “NO”.

Russia increases the tensions with Israel and rejects any implication by the West in Syria. On September 29th, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, announced the delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems to Syria. This measure would seek to “secure 100% security and safety” to the Russian soldiers deployed in Syria. Israel and the US previously expressed their concern regarding this transaction, and asked Russia to reverse its decision.

After the Russian reconnaissance aircraft IL 20 M has been downed by an S-200 missile launched by the Syrian anti-aircraft defense, Israel went as far as sending the head of its Air Force to Moscow, to prove he was not guilty for the hit on the Russian aircraft. To no avail though, as the Russian investigation concluded, on September 24th, by accusing the Israeli pilots of “lack of professionalism and criminal neglect”. As expected, Moscow found a political solution to a military problem (a flawed Russo-Syrian air defense system). Israel warned that it would continue air attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, regardless Russia’s position. To this, Russia reacted by announcing the S-300 deal, aiming to deter Israel. So, the situation gets more complicated, as the cause of the September 17 incident was not the poor performance of the S-200 missiles, but the grave deficiencies in the Russo-Syrian anti-aircraft defense system[v]: lack of IFF features; launching on a target wrongly identified – the missiles did not fly towards the target with larger reflection surface, but towards the target indicated by the S-200 operators; the launching of numerous missiles, in the range of dozens; the non-distribution of timely received warning information: the Israelis declared that they had sent a warning signal twelve minutes before their attack, not only one minute.

S. Lavrov also warned the western nations not to interfere in the resolution of the Syrian conflict by attempting to impose a UN solution, in their terms. Lavrov referred to the call addressed by the US, France, Germany, UK, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to the UN representative Staffan de Mistura. By this request, the a.m. nations proposed resuming the talks on drawing a new Constitution, and organizing free elections in Syria. Of course, Russia does not need a fair solution, because it would lose the peace, after winning the war. Russia, together with Iran, the military winners in Syria, plus Turkey as accomplice (due to Turkey’s specific interests), will dictate the peace solution, which spells the persistence of Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship.

The West gets only the task of paying for Syria’s reconstruction, and the return of refugees to Syria is used as a persuading tool. It will be only Germany accepted, as sponsor, to partake in a future Russia – Iran – Turkey meeting. That is still OK: Germany had a role in finding a solution for Idlib, and it found a way to communicate both with Russia and Iran, on one side, and with Turkey, on the other side: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Berlin allowed the reset of economic relations (in a moment when Turkey badly needs economic support), and political relations (at least at minimal level). However, much is left to do yet, especially in Idlib province: Russia and B. al-Assad demand the elimination of terrorists, while Turkey thinks about their relocation[vi].

The Russian Air Force exercise at the Black Sea. On September 25th, Russia announced an air force and air defense exercise to be conducted, this past week, above the Crimean Peninsula and the adjacent Black Sea area. 50 aircraft of the strategic and tactical forces participated, plus 1000 soldiers and ten warships. The ground based anti-aircraft systems were involved, including the three S-400 squadrons deployed in Crimea. The repelling of an air attack was practiced, including interception of cruise missiles. Aircraft temporarily deployed from other air force bases belonging to the Strategic Joint Command South (SJCS) also participated. Air refueling was exercised, as well as aircraft coordination from a Beriev A 50 Reconnaissance and Command and Control aircraft (the Russian equivalent of the American AWACS aircraft). Also a strategic bomber Tu 22M3 took part, Su 30SM and Su 27 fighters, as well as Su 34 fighter-bomber.

Most likely, the exercise aimed at improving the capability to deny the access of NATO aircraft and warships in the air and maritime space of the Black Sea, should Russia attack Ukraine. Much like the exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, meant to shelter the Russian operations in Syria from any interference from the west. The drills tested the capacity of the A2AD system to perform as requested: A2 = Anti-Access, interdiction of NATO aircraft and warship access to northwestern and northern Black Sea; AD = Area Denial, limitation of NATO aircraft and warship freedom of movement in these areas. The marketing of this exercise as aiming to improve the defense of Crimea was meant to present Russia in defensive posture: NATO would not attack Crimea or Russian warships and aircraft, even if Russia triggered a new war in Ukraine.

The strategic bomber Tu 22M3 (able to launch anti-ship missiles but also cruise missiles), probably had the mission to simulate strikes against an enemy vessel group. However, the task of simulating strikes against forward positions of a NATO nation - the port of Constanţa and the Mihail Kogălniceanu AFB, cannot be ruled out. The Su 30 SM aircraft had likely the task to intercept enemy aircraft and cruise missile, as well as to escort the Tu 22M3. The Su 34 aircraft had, likely, the role of supporting the naval aviation based in Crimea, by simulating an attack with anti-ship missiles against the enemy warships.

Russia tested the mobility of its armed forces at operational level, in theater, i.e. the transfer of its second echelon SJCS aviation to Crimea, should the local tactical aviation be involved in obtaining air supremacy over Ukraine.

The declaration made by a Russian official, that Russia holds control of the entire air and naval space of the Black Sea needs to be examined: very likely, Russia is able to secure air supremacy in almost the whole air space above the Black Sea, as well as the naval supremacy over the waters of almost the whole Black Sea, but its A2AD system stretching over almost the whole Black Sea is far from being able to control this operational space. The IL 20M incident in Syria stands to prove this.

The military disposition, respectively the A2AD system deployed in Crimea is very strong. However, one should not forget that Russia failed every time when facing modern military forces, having a high cohesion and advanced equipment, such as the US, Israel, and Turkey.

By acquiring the anti-aircraft systems Patriot, and, perhaps, the anti-ship costal missiles Harpoon (Hi-tech and fight proven integrated systems), Romania can have a credible defense response (anti-aircraft and anti-ship littoral defense). 

III. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). President Igor Dodon’s Visit to Russia, and Then to Tajikistan, at the Reunion of Community of Independent States’ Heads of State.

On September 26th, President Igor Dodon paid a visit to Moscow, where he met Dmitry Kozak, the Russian special representative for developing commercial relations with RM, actually the Kremlin’s designated driver to solve the Transnistrian problem. I. Dodon communicated in very few words the contents of the discussions: the development of economic relations, the support to the RM farmers, and the Transnistrian problem. This was followed by the President’s participation to the meeting of the Community of Independent States heads of state, held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on September 28th. There, I. Dodon met the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

During the meeting with D. Kozak, I. Dodon probably received signals that he would be supported in the election campaign, and the Moldovan farmers were promised that Russia would not refuse the fruit and wine produced in Moldova, in exchange for their vote for I. Dodon’s socialists. Very likely, D. Kozak shared with I. Dodon the contents of the new Russian plan to reunite “Moldavia”. The new plan can only be the old plan, maybe tougher: the presence of Russian troops on RM territory, as guarantor of peace and reunification will probably be stipulated in the document, not as a secret annex. As for the rest, the Russian imperial imagination can find all kind of solutions: federations, confederations, special statuses, and other items of government engineering which can be summarized as “the part, Transnistria, rules the whole, the Republic of Moldova; and Russia, with its armed forces, controls both”. Then, during his meeting with V. Putin, Igor Dodon probably reported he understood the new Kozak plan and his role in implementing the Kremlin’s decisions.

Remarkably, the Tajik connection has been tried previously by Vladimir Plahotniuc, when transmitting his allegiance message to Moscow, refused at that moment. It cannot be ruled out that V. Plahotniuc will try again, having now the advantage of conveniently being the “supreme leader without a geopolitical orientation”. Very likely, Russia will support just Igor Dodon in this phase, hoping this will win a decisive victory. After that, Moscow will also negotiate with V. Plahotniuc as well, because Russia needs him to implement the new Kozak plan.


[i] See the latest case, the implication of Iranian diplomats accredited in Belgium in organizing a terrorist attack on French territory, against opponents of the Tehran regime.

[ii] When President D. Trump boasted the actions by his Administration, the chuckles in the audience were targeted at him personally, not at the US, nor at least at his Administration, which has “adults in the room”.

[iii] Only a counter-example and everything becomes clear: what morality would be the foundation of the future world, should countries impose their interests while themselves conduct aggressions and order murders (as Russia did on Syria and Sergey Skripal), respectively put in jail whole minorities (as China does with the Uighurs). The problem is that the nations pretending they base the present international order on principles, i.e. the western countries, are not consistent in supporting this international order, starting with the very US.

[iv] The same way it supports its intervention in Syria, although Bashar al-Assad has not been democratically elected, he inherited the power on … paternal line, from Hafez al-Assad!

[v] Two issues are worth mentioning: 1) There are witnesses to the incident: France (a French frigate was in the area), the UK (from one of its bases in Cyprus), and Turkey; 2) in the situation where a decision dictated by the politico-military power is needed, the Russian military absurdly obeys the orders. For example the idea that an F-16 fighter can “hide” behind a IL 20M is absurd: the math shows that an F-16 might dwell close to an IL 20M for only a couple of seconds, far too short for the S-200 operators to perform the following actions: mistake the targets, wrongly mark the IL 20M as target, and launch the missile towards the Russian aircraft. Consider an S-200 system RADAR resolution error of 250m (intentionally exaggerated), the IL 20M speed of 500km/hour, and the F-16 speed of 1000km/hour. These figures lead to the conclusion that the two aircraft could have been mistaken, should they fly from the same direction, for only 1.8 seconds, and, should they fly from opposite directions, as the Russian animation suggests, for only 0.5 seconds. It can be concluded that, at this level, the problem is political but, however, politics is the art of possible, not the art of fooling somebody. This also explains why, while the commander of the Israeli Air Forces spoke for Israel, the results of the Russian investigation were presented by the Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman.

[vi] Where? Not in Afghanistan, because the Afghan authorities will oppose, as will the US. Not in Pakistan either, because Saudi Arabia will oppose. Then where? They are rather many to be accepted by Qatar. Therefore, their extended settlement in Turkey cannot be ruled out.