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D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 7 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

I. RUSSIA faces united reaction by the West.

II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Russia accuses the US for meddling in the elections and the complicity between ”Socialists” and ”Democrats” ends.

III. CENTRAL EUROPE. The US Secretary of State visits Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

IV. SPAIN. Snap elections and the beginning of the Catalan separatist trial.

V. Developments to track this Week 8 of 2019.


I. RUSSIA faces united reaction by the West.

Regardless the various approaches to the problem and national specifics displayed during the last week , the Westerners embraced a common position towards Russia, regarding the INF.

At the NATO Defense Ministerial, the Allies expressed solidarity with the US regarding the INF. On February 13 to 14, in Brussels, the North Atlantic Council met in Defense Minister format to address several issues. The most important topic was assessing the consequences of Russia’s breach of the INF treaty, and deciding a common position on the matter. The Allies achieved that goal, agreeing that Russia is the culprit for breaching the INF and approving a common stance in support of US withdrawal from INF. The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, summarizes the ally decision: the SSC-8 missiles pose a significant risk to the Alliance, and Russia has six months to “return to compliance and save the INF Treaty”. Very likely, the NATO response to INF demise took a large share of the discussions, especially since one of the items of the agenda was the defense planning for the following years. Jens Stoltenberg announced that “all Allies stand ready to engage further with Russia. But we are also preparing for a world without the INF Treaty”.

NATO missions were also scrutinized under the “together in, together out” principle, especially after the US President’s anouncement of American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Several allies also offered contributions to the “Four Thirties” Readiness Initiative, instrumental for the NATO reaction capability: thirty warships, thirty batallions, and thirty squadrons ready to deploy in less than thirty days. Such important issue, securing a response force prepared to engage in such a short period, to support the response sustenability of a Ukraine type crisis was sent to a secondary tier, with no solution yet. Again, it seems that Washington is asking the Europeans for capabilities, while the Europeans are more preoccupied with the transatlantic solidarity, i.e. the American committment to NATO with... capabilities. Throughout this quest for solutions, the issue of defense contributions resurfaced, being brought forth by the US. This was an opportunity for the Europeans to feel how much the current and interim US Secretary of Defense, Patrick M. Shanahan, is devoted to the Alliance, in times when the transatlantic mistrust is on the rise.

Russia suffered a defeat, hoping the Alliance rifted, especially since Germany attempted a mediation until the last moment before the US decision. Moscow was wrong, as the Germans were looking for dialogue and a solution, but not one stemming from Russia’s false claim that the SSC-8 did not breach the INF.

Subsequent declarations showed that, although no response option is being ruled out, alternative solutions are considered, other than deploying American intermediate range missiles in Europe. Germany is considering discussions regarding the arms reduction, and contemplates bringing China in as well, although there is enough skepticism regarding Beijing’s cooperation. However, these negotiations will not interfere with NATO decisons to respond to Russia’s breaching the INF.

American senators attempt to harshen the sanctions against Russia. On February 13th, a bipartisan group of US senators proposed a bill to establish severe sanctions on Russia, as punishment for meddling in the American elections, and for the aggression against Ukraine. The Democrat senator Bob Menendez summarized the logic of this bill: "one thing is increasingly clear: Moscow will continue to push until it meets genuine resistance". In his turn, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham presented the goal: "to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against [President Vladimir] Putin's Russia".

The bill is a tougher version of the bill proposed last year, which did not pass in the Senate. The new bill has bigger chances to pass now than it had last year, due to the increasing indignation of congressmen of both sides of the aisle, generated by Russia’s implication into the presidential elections (the ongoing investigation slowly but surely provides evidence in this regard). The proposed sanctions target banks and individuals who supported the meddling actions, and will also introduce severe measures against the Russian energy businesses.
However, this new bill has little chances to remain as tough as proposed, and affect Russia severely, because the Republican senators cooperate with President Trump, who has a friendly attitude towards Moscow although his Administration followed the traditional American foreign policy regarding Russia. Anyway, in order to be enforced, this bill must be signed by Donald Trump.

Russia reacted through Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman (deputy chief of staff of the Russian Presidency and Press Secretary to President Vladimir Putin), who described the bill as being proposed by a group of American senators harboring anti-Russian sentiments. According to D. Peskov, such bill allegedly breaches the international trade rules and would allow American businesses to unfairly compete on the markets. On the other hand, the Russian Prime-Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, stated that Russia would continue to be subjected to economic and other kinds of pressure. In fact, the Kremlin is seriously concerned of would-be tougher sanctions, because the current sanctions already show impact. Although Russia had a decent economic growth last year, there is no reason to expect the same figures in 2019, even if the price of crude starts to increase. Sooner or later, the limitations resulted from the sanctions will seriously affect the Russian economy, especially when they hit the banking and the energy sectors. However, such severe impact seems to be remote, as President Trump will likely avoid the implementation of tough sanctions, as the American congressmen want.

Russia announces that the Sea Breeze exercise, organized by Ukraine in cooperation with the US, is a threat to regional security. The Sea Breeze naval drill is already traditional, having been conducted for decades in the Black Sea western waters (Odessa). Moscow’s complaint represents just a step ahead in isolating Ukraine and keeping the NATO warships off the Black Sea. All of a sudden, the Sea Breeze, that brings US and other NATO Member Nation warships to the Black Sea, became a threat to Russia, called here by the name “regional security”. The reason is not difficult to read: the Sea Breeze is a good opportunity for the Ukrainian sailors to practice the defense of their only unhindered maritime communication lines in the western Balck Sea waters.

Practically, Russia is pushing the limits of the north-western maritime area where NATO and Ukrainian warship can conduct exercises with no label of security threat as far as the Ukrainian territorial waters, along the Black Sea north-western shores. This measures fits in the range of actions meant to consolidate the Black Sea as a “Russian lake”. Consequently, if the US warships entering the Black Sea were hitherto followed by Russian escorts only in certain situations, now there is a new rule, where Russia announces that its warships will closely stalk such visiting vessels on their entire itinerary, even if they do not sail near the Russian territorial waters, now including the Crimean waters, illegally annexed.

We will see how aggressively Russia reacts when the exercise unfolds. For the moment, Russia started a streak of alert exercises with its troops in Crimea and Transnistria. If we add a brigade belonging to the Military Region South, plus and especially the troops of an airborne division, we get the picture of preparations reflecting an open conflict scenario in Romania’s neighborhood.

II. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Russia accuses the US for meddling in the elections and the complicity between ”Socialists” and ”Democrats” ends.

On February 12th, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the US for attempting to interfere into the internal affairs of the R. of Moldova, before the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 24th. The accusations are extremely grave: "Interference in the internal affairs of other countries has long become a familiar feature of Washington’s foreign policy. This is seen particularly well in Venezuela, where the United States in fact is trying to stage a government coup. Its occupation of part of Syrian territory after unsuccessful attempts to topple a legitimate government in Damascus belongs here, too. Apparently, a similar scenario is being prepared for Moldova".   

More specific, the Moscow accuses the US ambassador to Chişinău, Derek Hogan, of strongly interfering into the domestic processes of R. of Moldova, soon after he took over his responsibilities. Moscow accuses Washington for planning to judge if the elections are democratic enough "depending on who emerges the winner": "If the winner is disliked by Washington, the Moldovans will be threatened with the disruption of ties with the West and even a rerun of Ukraine’s Maidan scenario. It is very undesirable to see Moldova become another test site for such irresponsible experiments, which have already ruined Iraq and Libya and plunged Syria and Ukraine into the turmoil of bloody conflicts".

The simple comparison of the situation in Moldova with the crisis in Ukraine during the Maidan Square turmoil, or even more dangerously, with the civil war in Syria raises a red flag: Russia announces it is not joking and will not let the victory of the political force it created slip through its fingers. The envisaged victory in elections is long waited for, and Moscow seemed to have won it with Vladimir Voronin, the former communist president. But Russia failed then, because V. Voronin simply refused to be just Moscow’s tool. Now, it seems that Igor Dodon and his henchmen do not have this problem.

In the forthcoming elections, the Socialist Party is in the lead, the only problem being if it will get the absolute majority allowing it to govern by itself. The genuine democratic opposition has little chances to win a good score, since it was the main target of the “state party”, Vlad Plahotniuc’s Democrat Party’s attacks. This is what the Russian Foreign Ministry declaration explains. Moscow is one step away from victory in the R. of Moldova and will open the cycle of intervention: an anti-democratic party (here Igor Dodon’s) grabs the power and, holding the presidency as well, begins to build dictatorship. Should the opposition react, it will be repressed with “legal” means, and, should it revolt in the streets, the Russian intervention is prepared to defend the “democratically elected power”. Simple, isn’t it?

The socialists’ big chances of success in gaining majority led to the cessation of the Democrats’ tolerance in complicity. V. Plahotniuc has been hitherto accomplice with the Socialists, and his target was the democratic opposition, that was limiting his access to the title of “the only viable democratic opposition” (label which was supposed to secure support from the West). But now, the danger of having the Socialist Party elected triggered the alarm inside the power. Now, the Democrat Party blows the bugle of warning that Igor Dodon’s pro-Russian forces are close to take the power, and it attempts to prevent that from happening. It might be too late though. Rumors travel that Vlad Plahotniuc might forbid the Socialist Party to compete in elections. Stunningly, this would be the first time when V. Plahotniuc’s power is right: in its entirety, the Socialist Party is the Kremlin’s creation, with obvious evidence regarding its financial support from Moscow. The good willing West was easy to trick and then ignored, with the help from the Hungarian government, which continues its policy to support a nondemocratic Moldova, as it also did during Voronin’s presidency in Chişinău. It was also possible with help from Romania’s government, which continues… well, nobody is sure what policy Bucharest is promoting. But there is a danger now: Moscow cannot be fooled as easily, it can organize destabilizing operations, ranging up to an armed intervention of its troops stationed in Transnistria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declaration is a scarecrow shown to Vlad Plahotniuc to warn him how strong and determined Moscow is, while the US is not prepared to act decisively in his support. On the other hand, the Kremlin has a problem: it has no money to waste in “the colonies”, and therefore Moldova must be controlled only, not sponsored. First, control is achieved through the tool called Igor Dodon and his “socialists”, then, if the new Kozak Plan succeeds, the control will be conducted through the Transnistrians and the “transnistrianization” of the country. The economic support to this territory should be achieved from the West, where the money is, therefore Russia will accept solutions seemingly balanced, but in fact meaning only “we control but we don’t pay”.     

Vlad Plahotniuc will likely not order the Socialist Party banning from the election race, unless he is up against the wall, when an obvious landslide socialist victory is imminent. However, in Chişinău, the gloves are out between the two large anti-democratic political forces, the Socialist Party (“the geopolitical mob”) and the Democrat Party (the local mob). The rest, the genuine democratic opposition, are just bystanders watching from the fence. Thus, the Moldovan voters will have to chose between two mobs. This is how the “European path of a democratic Moldova” ends, a European path idea being still spoken about only… in Bucharest.

III. CENTRAL EUROPE. The US Secretary of State visits Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s diplomatic tour to three Central European nations can be concisely described by the warning he expressed on February 12th: "Vladimir Putin is intent on undermining democracies throughout the world, make no mistake about it". Ironic is that precisely one of the nations being visited, Hungary, not only attacks democracy and the rule of law, put parades as friend of the Kremlin. One of the main objectives viewed by Mike Pompeo was that of announcing the US return to the this space in order to counter Russia’s and China’s growing influence (especially in high-tech, the espionage carrying 5G). The second objective is to gain support for Washington’s policy, considering the common elements (especially with Hungary, on populist-nationalist and anti-migration policies).

In Poland, a nation which became important at European level, the focus was on the consolidation of military cooperation, ranging from purchasing American equipment to increasing the strength of US deployed there, in consideration of the commonly perceived threat from Russia.

In Hungary, things were more complicated, bacause the common elements considered as ideological foundation for bilateral cooperation did not deliver an agreement, due to the Budapest government behavior. Significantly, in Budapest, Mark Pompeo resumed the traditional American policy and asked Viktor Orbán to serve democracy and the rule of law. The most clear request to stop Russia and China’s actions was made in Budapest: "We must not let [Russian President Vladimir] Putin drive wedges between friends in NATO". Mark Pompeo also drew attention to Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia.  

The Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, warned though about “an enormous hypocrisy and political correctness in the European political arena", referring to the fact that larger European nations solve their economic problems with Russia, but accuse the smaller nations when they try to do the same (what can a “country with fewer than ten million people” do?). Things are not exactly so, because Hungary has a coherent policy of imposing its will in the region, and dangerously plays the card of friendship with Russia, based on the argument that Russia is a relevant economic and socially developed nation. Woe for the others, subjected to Hungary’s policy, those who count less and less both in the region and at home.

IV. SPAIN. Snap elections and the beginning of the Catalan separatist trial.

On February 15th, the Socialist Prime-Minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced early elections to be held on April 28th. This occured after the government lost the vote of confidence in the Spanish parliament (Cortes) on the 2019 budget: “Between doing nothing and continuing without the budget and calling on Spaniards to have their say, I choose the second. Spain needs to keep advancing, progressing with tolerance, respect, moderation and common sense”. As a true democrat, P. Sánchez preferred the normal solution.

On the other hand, the Socialists came to power not by a victory in the elections, but following a successful motion against the right-wing Popular Party, in the parliament. What is grave, those who brought the Socialists to power by voting the motion against the Popular Party, and in the same time those who now brought the Socialists down, by voting against the budget, were the Catalan separatists (Independent). They are the political force behind the main threat to Spain’s security, i.e. the Catalan separatism. In perspective, the socialists might win, but short of a majority to allow them form the government alone. They need the support of the left-wing populists, the Podemos Party, but also need again the Catalan separatists vote. The right-wing has a problem too, as the Popular Party and the Ciudadanos need the far-right coalition support, the Vox (who enter the parliament for the first time).

Pedro Sánchez is paying the price for trying to tolerate the separatists, the same as the right-wing paid the price for a too strong reaction against them. Even after the events leading to the referenfum being declared illegal, and after Catalonia’s declaration of independence, firmly rejected by the right-wing government in Madrid, the Socialists considered they could work with the Catalan separatists in search for a solution. This is how the Socialists came to power with separatist support. P. Sánchez allowed the Catalan separatist forces become a political umpire in Madrid. The Catalan separatists (themselves divided) did not accept to negotiate a solution proposed by the Socialists. They requested a new referendum regarding independence, which is illegal, according to Spanish Constitution. This explains the separatists’ vote against the budget.

The fall of the Socialist government coincided with the beginning of the separatist indictee process. They are the Catalan politicians who ruled the province and organized the illegal referendum, then declared independence. Only the firm stance of the Popular Party managed to stop this démarche. The Catalan leaders were accused of subversion and breaching the constitutional order. They defend themselves by trying to transfer the problem from a political plane (breaching the Constitution by separation of a province) to the human rights plane (it would be the fundamental right of a community to decide its own fate by referendum, following the self-determination principle). So, the Catalan separatists present themselves as political prisoners.

The last Catalan separatist protests in Barcelona were conducted under the slogan saying “self-determination is not an illegal action”. False. Maybe the concept in legal, but there were illegal actions against the Spanish state, whose Constitution was breached. The very Prime-Minister Sánchez assured the Europeans that the Spanish justice, a solid and respected institution, would solve this case. In addition, the Catalan separatists themselves have a slim majority in the province, if at all, and the population expressed support for preserving the Catalan identity, but not for accepting a crisis that impacts on the Catalan citizen day to day life. 

How did they get there? Although the separatists insist on the historical and cultural foundations of their goal, the answer is more simple: recent and less recent political mistakes. The dictator Franco harshly oppressed the Catalans, and all later political solutions offered by a democratic Spain were used by the separatists against Spain, to consolidate the Catalan identity against the Spanish state. The worst, the Spanish political forces, especially the left-wing, allowed the Catalan separatist to become political umpires in Madrid. How they harvest the fruit. Very likely, a respected Catalan identity, but shy of separatism would be the solution. Why would all pro-Madrid communities in Catalonia not refrain from demanding self-determination from Barcelona? However, much wisdom and desire for mutual understanding is necessary to achieve such respected and non-confrontational Catalan identity.
V. Developments to track this Week 7 of 2019.

 REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. The elections in Moldova are near, and they are decisive for the future of this country. Moscow is contemplating an unexpected victory, made possible only because the elite in the R. of Moldova systematically betrayed its people by plundering and disfranchising it. Nevertheless, that victory is not sure yet, Vlad Plahotniuc still has enough cards in hand and, as a true “leader”, will not give up power, which is everything for a character like him. Eventually, no matter how many victories were bought with Russian money, the Republic of Moldova cannot become again a Russian colony, as Igor Dodon wants, at least because “a second Romanian state” was born.
 UNITED KINGDOM. THE BREXIT. Teresa May’s game is reaching its end, with unpredictable consequences. After she failed to get from Brussels the  agreement renegotiation, she also lost the support of the Parliament in London for her renegotiation plan. This was another defeat for her strategy to blackmail the EU with the British Parliament and vice versa. Perhaps the EU will show flexibility, as promised, but not in the core issue, an agreement renegotiation. In the end, the winners seem to be the conservatives supporting a tough Brexit. They found in Teresa May the “useful prime-minister”, even if she is not aware of that role.
 MIDDLE EAST. Heralded with sparkling panache, the two conferences, the one in Warsaw and the one in Sochi, had no concrete result, just disagreements. In Warsaw, the conference on Middle East turned, as expected, into a conference against Iran, even speaking about “a war on Iran”.  The US only had small European allies aside, and they displayed disagreements with the big countries, from France and Germany to UK, especially regarding the nuclear accord with Tehran. Mike Pence has asked them to join the US, but they have answered that, although they perceive the same Iranian threat (the destabilization of the region, the ballistic missile program), they do not agree to engage on the path leading to confrontation and will observe the terms of the denuclearization agreement for as long as Iran does. A good thing itself, no so much for being against Iran, was the visible rapprochement between Israel and important Arab countries. For the rest, there was no unity, and the US, now withdrawing from Syria, lacked the capacity to create a de facto alliance against Iran. It is not that such alliance was necessary, considering the actions of this state, but the Europeans do not deem that the solution is a war against Iran, albeit only economic. In Sochi, the regional victors did not get along. Turkey did not obtain Russia and Iran’s agreement for the security zone it proposes for keeping the Syrian Kurds far from its border, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that Ankara would establish that zone even without their OK. Russia and Iran claim they gained Turkey’s agreement to take over the control on Idlib, now under jihadist rule, but this will not be achieved through a military operation, but through other unspecified means. This will likely be the language until the preparations are ready for a military operation. But Turkey will agree if it is granted the accord for its security zone. Meanwhile, the US troops will continue withdrawing. Even if the generals do not agree, they must implement President Trump’s orders, although the aftermath will impact on their allies. Thus, we deal with a Middle East ripe for conflict in Syria, without the US in the field, and with the US involved against Iran. And Israel will not allow Iran to call the shuts in Syria and Lebanon. As for the Palestinians, who is left to believe that the plan of President Trump’s son-in-law will succeed?
  UNITED STATES. A period of more instability is to follow, after President Trump declared state of emergency to achieve his goal of building a wall at the border with Mexico. The measure was contested in court by the Democrats, not only politically, but the President has the electorate support for his anti-immigration policy. Political disagreement became chronic in Washington, and president Trump is permanently subjected to an aggregate pressure of the Democrats and the investigation commission. Meanwhile, the Democrats have their own problems, the shift to the left. Instability at high level in America means uncertainty in the world. Maybe something will pan out at the Sino-American negotiations, although reality is far from the displayed optimism. 


1) The Munich Security Conference provided the venue for revealing declarations and messages for the current situation.