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D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments - WEEK 9 of 2019

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Parliamentary elections aftermath.

II. UKRAINE. Constitutional Court rejects the 2015 anti-corruption law.

III. MIDDLE EAST. The European Union – Arab League Summit.

IV. ISRAEL. Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be indicted.

V. Developments to track this Week 10 of 2019.

 

I. REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA. Parliamentary elections aftermath.

As expected, the February 24th parliamentary elections, in the Republic of Moldova (RM) unfolded  on the edge of legality, and, in rough lines, the results were as expected too: Vladimir Plahotniuc has the chance to further control the political situation. He won the largest number of seats in the Parliament, considering the Shor Party and the ”independent” seats in his trunk. Meanwhile, Igor Dodon’s Socialists won the most mandates themselves, but short of the needed majority, and with minimal chances to get additional support. Ranking third, the democratic forces now have enough seats to become an important opposition in the Parliament. But this can only happen provided they resist the pressure from V. Plahotniuc (and not only!). The first pressure actions may begin during the very process of mandate validation.

The final score shows 30 seats for the Democrat Party (PDM), where 7 seats of the Shor Party and three so-called independent must be added. Thus, Vladimir Plahotniuc controls 40 seats. The next are the Socialists (PSRM), with 35  seats, then the democratic forces ACUM, with 26 seats. The mixed election system worked well for the PDM, dissapointing for the PSRM, and in disadvantage of ACUM.

Undoubtfully, Vladimir Plahotniuc is the winner, because he preserves political control, as well as the appearance of legality, although he used illegal methods both during the campaign (by employing government resources), and during the election day. His leverage was holding the RM strongmen at his side, from the administration officials to businessmen. The democratic forces are also winners, because, despite the power’s actions, they obtained a significant number of seats, providing them with a solid position in the Parliament. The losers are the Socialists, who won the largest number of seats, but not the majority necessary to secure the entire power for this Moscow obeying party. Probably the Kremlin feels it has been sold out by Igor Dodon by accepting the mixed vote system[i]. There are two events showing that Moscow has summoned its tool to orders, in preparation of its reaction: the Russian ambassador to Chişinău met Igor Dodon, and the latter left to visit Moscow.

Let’s consider where we stand now: the OSCE will likely validate the elections, despite blatant breaches being noticed. The EU and the US sent messages translated into acceptance of the aforementioned results, and they called for finding a political solution to forming a government. They also reminded the rules the future Cabinet shoud comply with, in order to benefit from western support: democracy and rule of law. The quest for a political solution has begun, with most likely pressure by V. Plahotniuc to grab the necessary extra ten votes he needs to form the government with no alliance.

As mentioned, the geopolitic loser is Russia, because these elections demonstrated that no matter how much Moscow invested in the pro-Russian political forces, they are not able to get the whole power in Chişinău. The greatest geopolitical winner thouth is the very absent... Romania, because, in RM, the ”Moldovan mafia’s” local political forces, together with the democratic Moldovan alliance ACUM hold the absolute arithmetic majority in Chişinău[ii]. In other words, there is now in RM a Moldovan political majority not instrumented from abroad, and this secures the RM sovereignty regardless its sweet and sour flavors. This is very important considering the reality that such outcome resulted with no decisive support from the West, but resulted from the realities on the ground, and despite massive Russian meddling. Thus, RM continues to be an independent and sovereign ”second Romanian state”.  

The key of Russia’s present failure in Chişinău is the separation between the Russian and pro-Russian electorate from the ”Moldovenist” electorate who preferred Vladimir Plahotniuc. The unfortunate marriage between these two large masses of voters in RM had been brokered by Vladimir Voronin, the former communist president. Another new reality is that the democratic opposition is no longer unionist, and the accusations against the pro-Romanians are more pro-European, in fact closer to describe Romania as a European nation linked to RM, rather than a gateway to Europe. Plahotniuc’s ”pro-Moldovans” are not anti-Romanian, but profiteers who lack reasons to be anti-Romanian (Romanian money is good, albeit they go to kindergartens or SUVs!). However, there are still many geopolitic unknowns in Chişinău. Just consider that among those individuals brought from Transnistria to vote for the Socialist lists, some voted for two candidates’ uninominal lists instead! And those independent deputies will now support V. Plahotniuc. Ain’t this rising questions? How did things come to this? Dodon accuses the firm Sheriff for such ill-doing, but are the Sheriff’s executives (Plahotniuc’s alikes in Transnistria) indeed  strong enough to defy Russia? Or there are other obscure factors at play? Although apparently Igor Dodon badly wants elections to be held again, that is unlikely to happen. Anyway, the results would not be much different, new elections would be too expensive, and Vladimir Plahotniuc has no desire to accept such option, after having reached such a convenient outcome.

Now, what do the figures on the paper say? Among the possible combinations in view of a future Cabinet in Chişinău, two pairs seem to be unlikely: PDM and ACUM, or PSRM and ACUM, because the democratic opposition has firmly stated that no cooperation with compromised forces is possible. Thus, ACUM avoids a political suicide by shaking hands with any malefic ally. A PDM and PSRM combination, although it cannot be ruled out, is unlikely. Such arrangement would be possible only if Moscow deems convenient for its interests. But this is not feasable because V. Plahotniuc will play again a safe geoplitical card: guarantees towards Washington that he would not allow Russia to call the shots in RM, and promises to Brussels regarding the rule of law. Of course, Plahotniuc will know how to dodge the rule of law, but he will keep up apparences, and the EU will settle for such development, in absence of a better alternative. Brussels might even resume financing Chişinău. Everything lies with the apparences of good behavior. Even the ACUM alliance will likely moderate its discontent, will renounce to hold protests and, forced by realities, will try to work a more constructive stance, convenient to the EU.

Bottom line, the most likely development will be a PDM Cabinet supported by a majority forged by Plahotniuc in his own way, by stealing / buying some deputies from PSRM and, why not, from ACUM. So, he will likely find 11 deputies he needs to add to his 40 already in hand. The problem is not Igor Dodon, who requested the majority to be legitimate, he can be suspended again for 24 hours. The problem is the apparence of legality the EU is always requesting, and the EU is the desperately needed financier. We will see how much Plahotniuc can yield to lawfulness!

The PDM already sent to the Moldovan Constitutional Court the request that the present Cabinet be accepted to function even after the new Parliament is in force. Of course, this would be illegal, such body should answer to the Constitution, not to requests. However, one way or another, this may happen. This attempt though, shows that Plahotniuc is preparing for a long period of implementing his favorite tactics: to attract parliamentarians toward his party, albeit by bribing, threatening with fabricated or genuine penal files; at the end of the day, he has the whole state at his disposal... and he is decided to not lose it. In fact, this is the major risk: acting with no scruples, Plahotniuc might awake the society indignation, and we might get to witness a wave of protests and political instability.

Bottom line, there is no shock in Chişinău, there is only the continuation of the lesser bad, with a state captured by the mob, but sovereign though, and with a political majority not hostile to Romania. And we reached all this without doing anything to antagonize Russia!!![iii] In fact, it happened without doing anything at all, there were just the realities in RM that led to this result. The million dollar question is where would the balance point be where Plahotniuc’s political mob accepts a certain degree of rule of law, and the democratic opposition is confortable to accept. Is there such a fulcrum anywhere? And is this an acceptable solution for the ”second Romanian state”?  

 

II. UKRAINE. Constitutional Court rejects the 2015 anti-corruption law.

On February 28th, President Petro Poroshenko proposed a new anti-corruption bill after the Constitutional Court had rejected the old law a day before, on the grounds that it clashed with the presumption of innocence principle. Both in Ukraine and in the West, that rejection raised the concern that the country regresses in the fight against corruption. Poroshenko’s action also has an electoral feature now, when he appears low in the polls. The current anti-corruption law, voted in 2015, was the condition set by the EU and the IMF in order to make possible the grants that bailed Ukraine from bankruptcy, and the rights to travel in the EU without a visa for Ukrainian citizens.

Consequently, on February 28th, President Poroshenko has declared he signed a bill adjusting the current law according to the objections raised by the Constitutional Court, but preserves the key principle – the inevitability of criminal punishment for illicit enrichment. The day before, P. Poroshenko had declared he asked the government to elaborate a new bill regarding corrupt officials and that the resulting text would be sent to the Parliament as soon as possible.

The decision by the Constitutional Court was criticized by the Ukrainian National Anti-corruption Office as being a step backwards in the fight against corruption, being politically motivated and in contrast with the obligations Ukraine has signed in front of the international fora. The decision comes a couple of days after public accusations appeared against individuals in Poroshenko’s antourage who were involved in smuggling military equipment parts from Russia. Previously, on February 26th, Yulya Timoshenko had announced that her party would initiate the procedures for suspending President Poroshenko.

It is at least strange that, in the middle of an electoral campaign, the 2015 anti-corruption law was rejected by the Constitutional Court... four years after its adoption. Renouncing this law, that was passed under pressure from the West, is a significant backfire in cleansing the Ukrainian politics, which was bearly crawling forward. The impact is immediate: the West begins to doubt the genuine dedication of President Poroshenko / of the power in Ukraine, for steering the nation towards a state ruled by law. In a political system such as the one in Ukraine, where the individuals in power dictate everything, the Constitutional Court’s decision appears to be rather their measure to preventively protect themselves against any danger of answering to the law for the way they promote their interests.

Confronted with the economic effects caused by the lack of reform, and also by the implementation of IMF requests, President Poroshenko must react and keep apparences in the same time. It is well known that, in absence of any sanitization of the political life, the economy will not deliver, and Ukraine will remain a black hole, always on the brink of bankruptcy, but the elite’s self-preservation instinct is too strong to let the situation loose.

The Ukrainian elite is blackmailing the West with the country’s situation (facing Russian aggression), and only presents itself as defender of Ukraine and Europe, although, in fact, it cinnicaly defends its interests in a political system which did not progress at all. On the other hand, the West is blackmailing Ukraine with the financial support, asking Kyiv to implement reforms, especially the fight against corruption.

As in a morbid merry-go-round, Ukraine is steering again toward a situation of maximum political instability and social-economic crisis. In the same time, the West is again more and more distrustful of the power in Kyiv... and the Kremlin is watching, waiting for the victim’s most vulnerable moment. The presidential elections do not bring anything new to the Ukrainian population, who has to choose among: an incumbent president identified with stagnation; Yulya Timoshenko, who may bring what she always did – even more instability; and a comedian.

On the other hand, the western support to Ukraine came by reiterrating its non-recognition of Crimean Peninsula annexation, both by the US, and in a common declaration by several NATO and / or EU Member Nations, including Romania. However, the West needs somebody to support in Kyiv, and that somebody should be a power responsible not only for defending the country against Russian aggression, but also able to minimally reform the policy and economy, in order to keep the country afloat.

But Moscow does not wait idle, it implements its strategy of claiming Russian naval supremacy in the Black Sea: a Russian warship, a Russian ELINT warship and probably a submarine (which just had left Sevastopol on patrol) closely stalked a US destroyer for the whole duration of its itinerary in the Black Sea. It is still OK, since Russia did not resort to air or naval incidents: the American reconnaissance aircraft were able to conduct their flights with no problems above the Balck Sea. And this occurred while the tensions between the two powers increased, with an alarming peak in rhetoric. Both for Ukraine and for Romania, it is visible that one US warship temporary visiting the Balck Sea can only provide limited deterrence. A constant deterrence can be achieved solely by political and economic stable nations possessing advanced and sustainable military capabilities, albeit at minimal quantitative levels.

 

III. MIDDLE EAST. The European Union – Arab League Summit.

During the first EU – Arab League Summit (February 24th to 25th), held at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the two organizations worked on synchronizing their policies in view of solving the common problems. They sought a common ground in approaching the security threats and regional crises, including Yemen, Syria, Libya. The Palestinian conundrum was not forgotten either. The summit addressed the migration issue, although not with priority. Internal issues were brought to the table by both parties: the EU talked about Brexit, and the Arab League talked about Syria’s recovery. The differences were visible; even the host president noticed the discrepancies between the two sides in politics, socio-cultural issues and fundamental values.

This summit marks an important step in the new situation created by the US withdrawal from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in general, with Russia, Iran, Turkey and China attempting to fill the void. From the ever unstable MENA, Brussels perceives serious threats: terrorism and migration. The EU answer to these threats is the Realpolitik, a realistic approach based on pragmatism rather than an attitude linked to the western values. But the EU is facing a handful of internal problems, ranging from the anti-democratic shift by some nations to the populist wave challenging the liberalism typical to the European landscape. Consequently, the EU closes ranks and adapts to the current situation: it sheds the value-based dialogue, and initiates pragmatic debates with the Arab governments, most of them autocratic, but not hostile or radical. These regimes are either absolutist monarchies or regimes based on elites born after the failure of the Baath-Arab nationalist revolutions. In fact, the “Arab spring” showed that these governments are not just stable, but the only capable to stop the wave of political instability and radicalization generated by jihadism and by the “political Islam” promoted by the Muslim Brothers. President Erdoğan’s protest was in vane when he accused the EU of hypocrisy, himself promoting a less radical version of the ”political Islam”. But the EU has no choice other than cooperating with the evil to solve the common problems, as it did with Turkey as well. The price to pay is obvious, the Egyptian President sent the message that the Arab countries do not need the European values, that are different from the Arab world values, ranging from authoritarianism to the death penalty.

Tired of coping with the long-standing crisis stemming from the arch of instability simmering at its south and south-east, the EU seeks a mutually advantageous modus vivendi, promising economic openness and tolerance to these regimes, in exchange for jointly solving the security problems. All this happens with Germany and France having maintained a constant dialogue with the Arab world, and with the US retreating inwards to its domestic issues and specific interests (a sample of the Republican American isolationism). On the other hand, Russia and China pursue their specific interests, not necessarily hostile to the EU, but in no case sympathetic with European concerns. Two lessons are to be well remembered: the American attempt to democratize the Muslim world, and the migration wave from Syria.  

For Romania, these steps can only be good news. Although we were not hit by the migration wave or terrorism, there is no guarantee that, in absence of such preventive steps, we will not be affected sometime.

The journey is still at its beginning though, beyond an optimistic common declaration. There are many questions to be answered: how will the conflict in Libya be solved, after France failed, Italy did not deliver much, and Egypt is more and more active (so far along Russia, not along the EU)? How will the conflict in Yemen be solved (a tremendous humanitarian catastrophe)? And, more important, how will the conflict in Syria be solved? There, Germany and France seek a stable end state they would even agree to sponsor. However, Russia will be skeptical to offer its participation, but will rather ask the West for an approval of the current situation, plus a generous unconditioned financing to rebuild Syria.

In these circumstances, the Palestinian predicament fell on the second tier. The German representatives’ position (in fact, the European position), which is the need for Israel recognition by the Arabs, but maintaining the “two-state” solution, has been accepted, at least tacitly, by several important Arab states.  

It is a beginning to be tested soon, not only during the aforementioned crises, but also in possible future crises in Lebanon and Algeria. Important actors, like Russia and Iran, have a quite different perspective on the situation. Additionally, the withdrawing US does not… leave the region, which makes the Europeans’ task easier in Syria. On the other hand, the limitation of US withdrawal disappoints Iran, Russia and Turkey, and complicates the Palestinian problem, where the Trump Administration is supporting the Netanyahu government in Israel, which rules out the “two-state” solution. However, things may change there too.

 

IV. ISRAEL. Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be indicted.

On February 28th, the Israeli General Prosecutor announced the decision to indict Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for three cases of corruption and fraud, but not before getting a deposition from him. Issued fourty days before the April 9th elections, this announcement brings a serious blow for B. Netanyahu and his party, drastically reducing his chances to win a new mandate, because it impacts on his credibility, just when the center positioned alternative gets momentum.

B. Netanyahu is accused for accepting gifts priced at $264000 from various important businessmen, and for attempting to grant various favors in order to obtain favorable press articles. Based on these indictments, he faces sentences up to ten years prison time. Of course, from a political standpoint, it is not the conviction that matters, but the loss of power, meaning the position of an outstanding right-wing leader. This might entail long-term electoral consequences, and the polls immediately showed a decrease in his right-wing political bloc, Likud’s chances to curdle a majority. Now, Likud might win 29 of the 120 seats in the israeli parliament, the Knesset, much behind the center group White and Blue, led by the retired general Benny Gantz, former Israeli Chief of Defense.

The very forming of the White and Blue coalition, and the consolidation of Benny Gantz’s position represent a serious challenge. B. Gantz would likely continue the security policy that brought so much popularity to B. Netanyahu, but without the current prime-minister’s radicalism and, especially, without the corruption accusations always associated to B. Netanyahu. In total, the center and left-wing parties would likely win 61 seats, meaning the potential to reach the majority in the Knesset, for the first time in a decade. This would lead to a real change of power in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu had already taken a decision meant to compensate the center alliance: he made an alliance with the far-right wing, and this attracted rough reaction at home, but also within the world-wide Jewish organizations. And this is important in the policy chemestry in Israel. The right-wing hoped that, despite all that, a cunning political operator like Netanyahu would achieve victory in the upcoming elections, this is why they asked for snap elections themselves. However, the possible indictment will turn everything upside-down. The April elections in Israel are worth watching, considering not only the important role Israel holds in the region, but also its influence, and Prime-Minister Netanyahu’s personal influence in the political and economic Romanian space. And probably other countries can think the same as well.

 

V. Developments to track this Week 10 of 2019.

  • REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (RM). The quest for a governing coalition might lead to significant political and social instability. There are many unknowns at play, besides the constant knowns called Plahotniuc, Russia and the EU. For Romania, it is important to have a RM not only stable, but also non-hostile, since we can hardly talk about a democratic and European RM; not yet.       
  • UKRAINE. The upcoming presidential elections bring a political instability which will affect not only the domestic situation, but also Ukraine’s security. Although busy with something else (the INF tensions with the US), and feeling the impact of sanctions, Russia will have to decide either to act now, when Ukraine reaches the peak of its political vulnerability, or wait until Ukraine’s economic vulnerabilities will cause a significant social effect.
  • BALKANS. Maybe too many protests in the Balkans make an indication that something is brewing. In Serbia, maybe Alexandar Vučić can cope with the pressure in the street, the movement is limited because the governement has a confortable majority (shown in the polls). In Albania, the protests start to pick up aggressivity, and the goverment might offer some concessions, which the opposition will not deem enough. In Montenegro, Djukanović does not feel too well, after recent reveals by former coleagues now turned into enemies. However, if Montenegro wants progress, Djukanović will have to leave the political stage, sooner or later. But how often in history something favorable to these nations happened in the Balkans?
  • EUROPEAN UNION. The meeting between the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, brought a touch of realism in implementing the European duet’s plans, even though the new twist is less ambitious than it was envisaged. But for now, Germany ought to give up its scruples in arms exports, if it wants the integration of European defense industry to succeed. Considering the interests and the dissatisfactions displayed by the German defense industry, a compromise is likely to be reached. The Paris – Berlin axis policies remain crucial for the EU, in the moment when the economic reports regarding the Italian economy become gloomier and gloomier.  
  • UNITED KINGDOM. We will soon have a new vote in the Parliament on the Brexit. Until then, Teresa May will seek European clarifications to please a British parliamentary majority. She made concessions to the Parliament, diminishing the blackmail “My plan or Blind Brexit”. Now, the most likely course of action is a postponement of the Brexit, at least for a couple of months, in the circumstances where the Labor Party puts again the new referendum option on the table.        
  • GLOBAL. The US – Russia tensions continue, both in the INF issue, and in the Venezuela crisis, where the US acts decisively, and the Russian response is to be expected not only at the United Nations. Meanwhile, Russia keeps threatening with new weapon systems, including hypersonic. Another hot spot in the making, although not certain yet, is simmering between India and Pakistan. This shows how grave is the danger of escalating towards a nuclear conflict, but also how benign is the American, Russian and or Chinese intervention, to prevent such disaster to happen. Between the US and China, there is an extension of negotiation period, which is a good economic sign, but American warships crossed again the Taiwan Strait, and this is seriously annoying Beijing. Finally, the Trump – Kim meeting ended without results, which shows that spectacular diplomacy has limits. Although not in Romania’s proximity, these developments impact upon the general relations between the US and Russia, respectively China, and provide indications regarding the direction where the new world order is going.         

 


[i] However, this can be considered a defeat only provided Moscow did not want to be cheated itself. In this course of action, Moscow’s plan of reunification would be run by the Moldovans, that is not only by I. Dodon, but by V. Plahotniuc as well, and accepted by Germany first, and only later by Russia. That would mean the agreement of the Sheriff in Transnistria, a kind of local Plahotniuc. In this scenario, Russia would have to settle with a grey zone where it would have a limited control. However, this might work as a ”path to peace”. But would Plahotniuc accept such outcome? Why not, if he gets judicial immunity and political control in his part of such would-be “future Moldavia”. But what about the Europeans accepting the grey zone, considering they would have to live with such a time-bomb at their border, and having Romania in the frontline?

[ii] Even more, both the PD and ACUM have political links to Bucharest, in the first case a bit uncertain who is controlling who, and with no real coordination in the latter case, as ACUM has coordination rather with Brussels, not Bucharest.

[iii] So, Russia’s hostility towards Romania will probably not reach the level of a Russian provocation in Romania’s Economic Exclusive Zone limit in the Black Sea. Even in the INF and missile defense issue, Moscow focuses on the US.  Additionally, the political developments in Bucharest look favorable to Russia, but Moscow is wrong here: no political force in Romania would ever gamble with the trident providing Romania’s security: NATO, EU and US. No political force in Romania would do that at least for fear, if not for principle.