12 iunie 2018

Main political and military developments - Week 23 / 2018

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

  [ Romanian Version HERE ]

 

HUNGARY – a History Lesson

 

Hungarian political point of view on Romania. On June 4th, the Hungarian vice-prime-minister Semjén Zsolt stated[1] that Romania’s greatest defeat is that it did not ”annex” the Republic of Moldova. ”We have to mourn after Trianon, we ought to be proud we survived, and we must present the historical righteousness. It is important to underline that no successor nation has many reasons to celebrate. Let alone that the National Assembly in Alba Iulia was not legitimate from a judicial point of view, the toughest issue is Romania, because, nowadays, in Romanians national conscience, it is not Transylvania the main problem, yet the fact that the Romanians living on the territory of Republic of Moldova, in Bassarabia, on the territory bordered by Prut, Nistru, and the Danube Delta, do not want to join Romania. Because Republic of Moldova has not been ”annexed” by Romania, this country suffered the first great defeat in its history, which Romanians cannot accept. The second issue is the possible separation of Wallachia from Moldova, which looms large as a permanent fear on the national conscience of Romanians, and for the Romanian politicians, underlined Semjén Zsolt.

The interview reveals the way the Hungarian political leadership, at its highest level, looks at Romania: a hostile attitude towards an ally, and a denial of historical and present reality. First, the history lesson: 1) Romania does not annex provinces, it might unite territories where the majority are Romanians, when they wish so, as it happened in Alba Iulia; 2) Anybody who comments against the Alba Iulia National Assembly threatens not only Romania, but tens of other nations, including the U.S.[2], who respected the principle of ”self-determination by majority”. Then, Romania, and today’s Romanians look like this: a/ Romania is not divided in regions; b/ Romania does not see a defeat in the ”non-annexation” of Bassarabia; c/ Romania is not a problem, neither per se, nor for its heighbours (not even for the Republic of Moldova, which Romania sponsors… even when it has a hostile government). As usual, Hungary makes favours to Romania, even when it does not intend it at all[3]. Following Hungary’s recent tradition, Semjén Zsolt suggests what Romania should do about the Republic of Moldova, i.e. not supporting unconditionally a state governed by a cleptocratic Soviet elite, but only supporting the individuals who acknowledge their belonging to Romania – the Romanian citizens of Republic of Moldova[4].  Although the common history of Hungary and Romania has been rather bumpy, there is actually no unbridgeable gap to hamper building a future together, there is no genocide or sheer incompatibility. Au contraire, both nations resisted the waves of settling Slavs before year 1000, and fought the invading Ottomans later on. Admitting that Romania does not need annexations to unite Romanians, and that Hungary and Romania have the chance to enjoy a beautiful future together, one should know that, at the level of the man in the street, the solution to live together in harmony has been found long ago. We should add that the ethnic Hungarians living in Romania enjoy far more freedom than the ones in Hungary, dominated, and not only led by Orbán Viktor. Respect and tolerance always prevailed against hatred pursued as policy; maybe this counted in history as much as the demographics.[5]

 

Republic of Moldova – The Failure of a Success Story

 

Victory of the democratic forces in local elections in Chişinău. The candidate of the democratic forces, Andrei Năstase won the office of Mayor of Chişinău (June 3rd), by a small margin, with 52% of the ballots, running from a position of underdog. His expected chances were little due to the far larger financial and media resources of this socialist opponent Ion Ceban, but also because the latter was strongly supported by the leading political forces in the country: both the pro-Russian camp led by president Igor Dodon, and the self-proclaimed pro-European forces of the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. Although Ion Ceban stated that the vote was based on geo-politics, Andrei Năstase actually won with an anti-corruption banner. It is true, the outskirts of Chişinău, with absolute ethnic Romanian majority[6], brought the victory to Năstase. This is the reason president Igor Dodon plans to change the constituencies, and leave the suburbia out of the capital’s administrative borders. Năstase’s victory was instrumental to secure for the opposition forces led by Maia Sandu a credible alternative to the political parties which took over the power in the Republic of Moldova. Interesting enough, an important former Romanian official, Armand Goşu, declared for a Moldovan broadcasting company that Andrei Năstase’s victory is nothing but a blow for Bucharest[7]. Goşu maintained that the Romanian authorities would have supported an ”independent” candidate in the first round (actually a Vlad Plahotniuc’s candidate), and, in the second round, they would have encouraged Năstase’s adversary, by supporting the very forces led by Vlad Plahotniuc.

            Andrei Năstase’s election is certainly ”a huge victory”. However, in the larger picture, it is a small one. Victory in Chişinău is a necessary condition for the forces led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase, in view of the future parliamentary elections. But this achievement will certainly be not enough, when they face ”the state” captured by Vlad Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon. Sandu and Năstase’s democratic forces’ vulnerability resides in the lack of a national infrastructure, as well as financial and media resources to enable them to face the governmental apparatus steered by Plahotniuc and Dodon. Although they are political adversaries, they come together just fine when the game spells crushing the real democratic pro-western opposition. Additionally, any rising opposition is doomed by the ”Moldovan curse”: as the opposition forces become credible and get near the power, they are captured by the ” state organized crime pyramid”. It happened last time, when the young generation fought against Vladimir Voronin, but the outcome made that the power was captured by two doubtful characters, Vlad Filat and Vlad Plahotniuc. Thus, the Republic of Moldova became ”the biggest failure of a European Union success story”, where Vlad Plahotniuc, accused of mafia connections, dominates a depleted state, plundered of one billion dollars by ”nobody knows who, and nobody will”. Coming back to Armand Goşu, the mere gravity of his accusations regarding important Romanian institutions casts them beyond any comment.

 

Ukraine – Anti-Corruption by Orders

 

June 7th. The Ukrainian Parliament voted the new anti-corruption law, but also the dismissal of finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk. He is in open conflict with Prime-Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, a protégée of President Petro Poroshenko, even though he started to create his own political force. This brought concerns to the western nations supporting Ukraine. O. Danylyuk is a competent reformist supported by the IMF, and well known for the anti-corruption measures he applied in the fiscal system and customs. He clashed with Hroysman after his candidate for the state secretary for taxes was refused by the prime-minister (May 5th). Danylyuk accused Hroysman for his preference for a proxy of President Poroshenko, and he complained about that in a letter to G7 nations, which are Ukraine’s main sponsors. The anti-corruption law was a condition set by the IMF for the transfer of a new loan installment to Kyiv. This law stipulates the establishment of a High Court specialized in corruption cases. Rushing to please the sponsors, President Poroshenko wrote: ”Today we finalized the formation of the anti-corruption structure. I wish to emphasize the resolve of the Ukrainian authorities to fight corruption”.  The law was actually passed as result of the pressure put by IMF and the U.S., as well as from other western nations.

The decisions taken by the Ukrainian Rada reflect the present situation in Ukraine: the political parties in power, oligarchic and cleptocratic, are pressed by the West to start the anti-corruption struggle, but they make everything in their power to make it irrelevant. This is the reason for which O. Danyilyuk was sacked: he is a true reformist, with a real momentum against corruption. These qualities made him meddle with the power in Ukraine, which is based on corruption from the lowest to the highest level. The only difference from the Russian model is that, in Ukraine, the oligarchs make politics, so they are not under the pressure of the siloviki. The result is a weak state, even if it displays many features of a democracy. In one way, the Ukrainian political power and oligarchs do not understand they weaken their country until they will make it again a target for Russia. The same way, the West seems not to understand that  the Ukrainian political power is not interested in fighting corruption, because this is the very basis of the cleptocratic ruling class of Ukraine. Most likely, the anti-corruption struggle will start only after the presidential elections, if ever. Consequently, regardless the courage of the Ukrainian soldiers, their country will be vulnerable again when facing an ever merciless Russia.

 

Russia between Reform and Improvisation

 

June 6th. President Vladimir Putin had his annual phone-in with the nation program, billed as a "Conversation with Vladimir Putin", where he answered, live on five channels of state TV and three radio stations, to the questions asked by the public. V. Putin did not prompt any major change in policy, either domestic or foreign, but he presented his position in important issues.

Vladimir Putin presented an upbeat picture of the Russian economy (small but constant increase, with a perspective of 1.5 – 2% in 2018), and accused the West of trying to thwart  Russia’s progress. He described the economy as ”moving in the absolutely right direction”, admitted that ”there are still enough problems”, the president repeated his calls for an economic and technological breakthrough, and to achieve a swift progress, i.e. a substantial increase of the GDP, smarter spending, and effective taxation. The Russian economy has a structural problem – the lack of economic reforms. These have been delayed for political reasons; Putin himself had to explain why he did not appoint a more reformist government. The public dramas when responsible ministers had to answer live to questions regarding economic problems (such as the souring gasoline prices) did nothing else than to reveal the improvised character of the governing program, and the absence of any reform plan. The economic increase is due, mainly, to the increase in oil price.[8]

Vladimir Putin also accused the U.S. and other western nations for imposing sanctions on Russia not on the grounds that it invaded Ukraine, but only seeking to hamper Russia develop and become stronger. Putin made clear that Russia will continue on the same path, defending its economic and defence interests, and waiting for the ”partners” to realize that their measures are useless and counterproductive. Putin denied, again, Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections, stating that enforcing the latest sanctions against the tycoons and their companies is ”a big mistake”. Putin also denied Russia’s implication in the assassination attempt on Sergey Skripal, to the same avail, that the sanctions against the Russian oligarchs by the U.K. are baseless.

After the first shock passed, the effect of most of the sanctions applied by the West (with two big exceptions) will be visible only on the long run, in the lack of access to technology and investments. Opposite to Putin’s claims, Russia is concerned about the sanctions, as the Russian president asked Austria, during his June 6 visit to Vienna, to propose the lifting of the sanctions within E.U. In spite of Russian extreme right party’s participation in government, the Austrian right wing chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, offered a polite ”no”, even if, in other fields, Russia and Austria achieved success, with signatures put on the contracts for delivery of Russian gas to Austria.

The two big exceptions, the sanctions which ”broke the camel’s back”, with great and immediate impact on the Russian economy are: the American sanctions against the oligarchs and inner circle officials, and their companies, and the British sanctions against the oligarchs stipulating the confiscation of the money when its source cannot be explained. There is information to support Russia’s real problems with the British reaction, and this information speaks about a meeting in a south-western European city, between representatives of Russian and British intelligence services, at Russia’s request. It has been reported that Russia’s main request was ”leave our oligarchs alone”, and the answer was negative. Furthermore, Russia has been involved in the American elections, as would suggest the indictment (June 8th) of Paul Manafort by the Robert Mueller commission, which involved a certain Konstantin Kilimnik, an individual linked to the Russian secret services. Revealing the cooperation between members of president Trump’s election campaign staff, on one side, and persons linked to Russian secret services, on the other side, is a step that contradicts Putin. This is even more spectacular when we learn that president Donald Trump is so alarmed by the course of the inquiry that he is studying the possibility to pardon himself!

Regarding the security situation, V. Putin stated that Russia will continue its path, defending its interests, and accusing the U.S. for undermining the nuclear parity achieved so far, this being the very factor to secure the peace.

Regarding the European security, precisely the continuation of the path is concerning the nations in Eastern Europe. During the meeting in Warsaw (June 8th), the ”Bucharest Nine” group of nations[9] asked NATO to support them in their defence efforts, with measures ranging from troop deployment to countering the hybrid threats, including cyber-attacks. The only positive thing in European security is the meeting held in Helsinki by the CHODS of Russia and U.S. on June 8th, as direct communication precludes military incidents. On the issue of nuclear disarmament, Russia is concerned about the development of the American anti-ballistic systems, albeit defensive and non-nuclear. During the negotiations, Russia, which modernized its nuclear forces before the U.S. and breached the INF treaty (by operationalizing cruise missiles with a range over 500 km), attempted to link the offensive nuclear systems to the defensive and non-nuclear anti-ballistic systems. Most likely, this will be the Russian position at the possible Russian-American high level meeting in Vienna. In order to strengthen its position, president Putin reiterated that Russia develops enhanced weapons, but this time he only mentioned the weapons indeed operationalized or about to be operationalized: the hypersonic missile Kinzhal (actually a ballistic missile Iskander M launched from a flying Mig 31 aircraft), and Sarmat (a multiple warhead intercontinental ballistic missile meant to replace the Satan missiles).   

But the most worrisome statement of president Putin was regarding Ukraine: ”I hope no provocations will come from Ukraine in Donbas, in the period, but, should such provocations occur, they will have grave consequences upon the Ukrainian statehood (государственности) in general”! It is true that, lately, the Ukrainian forces tested the response capability of the separatist forces across the entire Theatre of Operations, by forays in the ”grey area”.  The separatists were not able to respond other than by artillery barrage. However, it is shocking that a head of state who insists that his country is not militarily involved in the conflict, threaten Ukraine with severe consequences upon the very existence as a state, whether it provokes the separatist forces acting on its own territory. It is worth mentioning that it happens just after Russia voted a UN SC resolution asking for a cease-fire at the contact line, and it did it from the position of mediating nation, not a part in the conflict. Also dangerously, V. Putin reiterated the idea that ”Ukrainians and Russians are, practically, the same people”. This might spell as, perhaps, a separate Ukrainian state is inadequate. On the background of the increase in tensions at the Sea of Azov, and the Russian air force exercise[10] at the common border on June 6th, the only good news is that the two presidents had a phone discussion ( June 9th). The phone call was initiated by the Ukrainian president, and the discussion covered the topic of an exchange of prisoners.     

Regarding Syria, Vladimir Putin declared that the implication of Russian forces in large scale operations is no longer needed. However, Moscow  is "not yet planning a withdrawal", the Russian military are there to stay as long as the interests of Russia claims that.

Although at a smaller scale, Russia continues its military actions in Syria: the air forces killed a large number of civilians in a recent attack. Russia is now concerned with the future agreements, which should transform its military victory into a peace solution decided in Moscow, and in accord with the other regional powers involved in the conflict (Iran, Turkey), but also recognized by the other interested parties. Recently, Russia reached an understanding with Israel regarding the withdrawal of Iranian forces, and of their subordinated militias (mainly Hezbollah) from Israel’s border with Syria on Golan Heights. We see that Turkey only achieved a general agreement from the U.S. to have the Kurds in Manbij withdrawn, while it gets carte blanche to take on the PKK in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran is under pressure by Israel to leave Syria. Compared to the situation of these other two involved parties, Russia remains the only interventionist power dealing in Syria, and is there to stay indefinitely.

On the background of the ever increasing differences between the U.S. and the Europeans, as the sparkling finale of G7 summit concluded, by withdrawing from the agreement that there is a disagreement, Russia puts pressure to have the sanctions canceled. We do not know yet what was the message and what was president Trump’s intention when he proposed to the other members to convey to Russia that is time to rejoin the G7 (and make it G8), and we do not know if he knew that the Europeans would oppose it. Anyway, Putin suggested that Russia is not interested (!); what Russia really expects from the U.S. and the Europeans is the lifting of the sanctions.

In the European Union new problems seem to surface after the inauguration of the Italian new government. In Ukraine, the cease-fire moment and a fair peace seem to be far. In Syria, there are little hopes for peace and normality in the near future.



[1] In an interview offered to the Hungarian television ECHO TV, and relayed by Rador and Historia.ro, then by Unimedia.md.

[2] Woodrow Wilson’s ”fourteen points”: number 10 proclaims the  ”self-determination of the nations”.

[3] Looks like a coincidence that the Romanians in Voevodina (Serbia’s northern region) have fair political rights also because Hungary pressed Serbia in favour of the Hungarians living there. The same situation seems to be achieved in Ukraine, regarding the education law: Hungary will achieve concessions for the Hungarians in western Transcarpathia by strong actions: blocking Ukraine’s contacts in the European Union and NATO, and lobbying in the U.S. (Washington offered to mediate the issue after the Hungarian foreign minister’s visit to U.S.). However, the authorities in Kyiv will have to extend the same rights to the Romanians in Northern Bucovina, eastern Transcarpathia and Bugeac (the western half of the Odessa Region) who are far more numerous than the Hungarians in Mukachevo and Ujgorod, in Transcarpathia. It seems that such aggressive posture leaves Hungary with no friends among its neighbours, although none of them wishes this outcome.  

[4] Unlike Hungary, Romania grants  citizenship based on legal and historical reasons, not based on pure ethnical background: any inhabitant of the Republic of Moldova, regardless his or her ethnicity,  who has been a citizen of Romania before the War, or has parents who qualify as such, can become a citizen of Romania. Almost all citizens of the Republic of Moldova wish to become citizens of Romania! This desire is the very proof that all the people of historical Bassarabia know they are Romanians, even after the ethnic genocide they suffered under the Soviets, by systematic extermination of Romanian elites, and mass deportation of ethnic Romanians off these occupied territories. Even Vladimir Jirinovsky knows it: ”we call them Moldovans, but they are Romanians” (!).  The fact that Transylvania and Bassarabia are in majority Romanian, regardless their present status (Transylvania – one of the three Romanian historical provinces, Bassarabia – an independent state) provides the answer to the question ”Why does not Hungary apply the same non-ethnic principle in granting citizenship?” The answer: Well, it would result a Hungary with a Romanian-Slovak-Croatian-Serbian-Austrian-German population (considering the half a million Germans expelled by the Popular Republic of Hungary after 1945, mainly from Pécs area). Even under communism, Romania never expelled its citizens. Those who chose to leave for political reasons or poverty (Germans, Jews) return (unfortunately in small numbers) and are welcomed.

[5] It is not by chance that Romania elected an ethnic German for president, who is also Lutheran (a minority of only 35,000 people) in a country counting 89% ethnic Romanians and 81% orthodox Christians – hardly possible anywhere else.

[6] Chişinău is home for a large number of ethnic Russians, mostly white collar, brought here by the Soviets to replace the pre-war Romanian elite, which was almost entirely exterminated. Naturally, the ethnic Russians vote in majority with a geo-politic swing.

[7] Armand Goşu, former counselor to the foreign minister, declared for Jurnal.md: ”Congratulations, Andrei Năstase! I pitty the offices in Bucharest, in the Foreign Ministry, Romanian Intelligence Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, and the Presidency. They all bet on Vlad Plahotniuc’s candidates, the ”technocrat” Silvia Radu, and then the pro-Russian socialist Ion Ceban, and they lost. Maybe there is now the time for a more serious analysis, done by someone outside the system, even by someone outside Romania, I am thinking of the Americans or the Brittish, why not the Germans. And the guys who produced this mess called ”Romania’s policy towards Bassarabia” should be seriously questioned. Keeping them in control is a serious vulnerability for the security and regional policy of Romania.”  

[8] After the collapse of the oil production of Venezuela, Iran accused the U.S. for supporting the Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production, yet it would oppose such measure in the OPEC. It is little probable that Iran succeed, considering that Russia and Saudi Arabia have the immediate goal to take over the markets left by Venezuela. This happens on the background where Iran starts to feel the sanctions and cannot increase its oil production unhampered, as it requested within OPEC.

[9] Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

[10] The exercises unfolded in the Military Region South, including Crimea. Hundreds of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft were involved, as well as AA units. The aircraft were relocated to airfields close to Ukraine and Crimea, and ground attack aircraft Su 25 practiced take-off and landing on improvised runways. The exercises also included aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet aviation, and AA units in Crimea. In one of the drills, the Crimean AA units were tasked to intercept cruise missiles launched from the sea. It seems that one objective of the exercises was to practice the way to rapidly gain superiority over Donbas, including ground support for the separatists. In addition, the exercises probably aimed to practice gaining air superiority over the western Black Sea, and thwarting an attack with cruise missiles launched from the sea, by attacking both their platforms and their vectors. The exercises were probably also a message to the Ukrainian military, saying that, as  long as their capability to stop Russian air forces from gaining air superiority in Donbas is absent, any attack against the separatists is doomed, no matter how big the Ukrainian quantitative and qualitative advantage might be.