AMERICA MUST PLAY CHINA AGAINST RUSSIA
Janusz Bugajski, September 2019
Both Russia and China are expansionist powers that threaten Western interests around the globe. However, there is no lasting alliance between them but an evolving partnership to diminish U.S. influence. A strategically astute U.S. policy would encourage competition and conflict between Moscow and Beijing from which the West can benefit.
Although Russia remains the main near-term adversary for the West, China is developing into a longer-term threat. Russia is a revisionist aggressor trying to subvert the trans-Atlantic world but its capabilities are declining and it will soon be preoccupied with internal turmoil and a succession crisis. China is a steadily advancing global competitor with a growing economy and a durable strategy to surpass Europe and America. China’s GDP is seven times larger than Russia’s and its population ten times greater. China’s military is surpassing Russia, which faces major budget cuts as the economy stagnates.
In the worst-case scenario, a grand alliance between Russia and China would prolong Russia’s threatening posture, enable China to expand its economic influence in Europe, and disperse American capabilities. In an alternative positive scenario, Washington would encourage disputes between its two key adversaries and weaken their partnership against the West as they divert their resources against each other.
There are three regions where Washington can pursue a strategy of division: Russia’s Far East, Central Asia, and the Arctic. China should be supported to expand its influences into Russia’s Siberian and Far Eastern provinces, where it surrendered vast tracts of land in the 19thcentury. China’s aspirations are driven by demography and economic ambition. Attempts to regain those territories for China would be both symbolically and strategically important.
Along their common border, approximately4.3 million Russians face over 109 million Chinese, many of whom will be seeking land, work, and resources. The steady influx of Chinese workers into Russia indicates that Beijing increasingly views its northern neighbor not only as a raw materials supplier but also as a future provider of land for its swelling and dynamic population.
A growing Chinese community in Russia will enable Beijing to become more politically intrusive to protect them, just as Moscow asserts it is defending Russian speakers in pursuit of its expansionist agenda in Europe. Beijing can claim territory and resources that border China and which it could more effectively develop economically. In the next generation, much of Russia east of the Urals could become a Chinese protectorate.
Increasing Chinese penetration will generate friction with Moscow and propel a military buildup along their common border. The diversion of Russian military assets to the eastern theater would take substantial pressure off Europe and diminish the threats Moscow poses to NATO members and partners. This can also curtail Chinese expansionism and divert Beijing’s resources to protecting its northern and western borders, thus strengthening America’s position in deterring Beijing’s aggression in the Far East.
Central Asia can also become a beneficial battleground between Russia and China. China’s Belt and Road initiative is designed to suborn countries along route to its economic and political agenda. This includes diminishing Moscow’s influence and undercutting its regional alliances. Washington needs to be more active in supporting the independence of all five Central Asian states and in ensuring a competitive stalemate between Beijing and Moscow. In this strategic chess game involving energy supplies, economic investment, and military cooperation, Washington’s can help local leaders to resist Russian and Chinese imperial pressures and to leverage the two predators against each other.
In the Arctic arena, Moscow calculated that it could dominate the Northern Sea Route and monopolize access to polar mineral wealth. However, a warming climate, the decline of Russia’s shipbuilding industry, and the growing presence of other power, including China, has challenged Kremlin ambitions. The U.S. should strengthen its position in countering Russia’s attempts to control Arctic sea routes while also containing China’s capabilities. This would require bolder diplomatic, economic, and military involvement while rejecting economic exclusion zones along the Arctic seabed.
Russia is becoming China’s “younger brother,” a reversal of their roles under both Tsarism and Communism.The threat of more intense Western sanctions on Russia, including its fossil fuel exports, if it conducts further military incursion against its neighbors, will result in even greater economic dependence on China. This will lead to growing resentment in Moscow and escalating political frictions with Beijing, which the U.S. can exploit to its strategic advantage.
U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FACES UPHILL STRUGGLE
Janusz Bugajski, September 2019
The appointment of Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Palmer as U.S. Special Representative for the Western Balkans is a significant move. It underscores Washington’s commitment to conflict resolution and international integration. However, while raising expectations of America’s effectiveness, it may prove insufficient in dealing with the most intractable problems.
The new envoy will face at least four challenges, beginning with the question of stature. Palmer is an experienced diplomat with deep knowledge of the region, but he already holds the position of Deputy Assistant responsible for the Western Balkans. Simply changing or adding titles does not provide him with additional powers to alter the harsh reality on the ground.
Successful U.S. envoys during and after the wars in the 1990s were higher-level officials or senior former officials often who often had the ear of the White House and were backed by a substantial NATO presence. Although American involvement has always been essential to resolve Balkan disputes, Palmer may lack thestature to push the conflicting parties together.
The recent resolution of the Greek-Macedonian disputehas encouraged Washington to try and emulate this diplomatic success. However, the ethno-political divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Kosova-Serbia standoff are much more complex, belligerent, and existential.
Palmer may give fresh impetus to the stalled talks and push the agenda of bilateral normalization. However, revisiting the notion of territorial exchanges may actually aggravate relations. Expectations may also grow that Belgrade must quickly recognize Kosova just as the Prespa agreement resulted in Athens recognizing North Macedonia.
A second problem for Palmer is the danger that the standoff in Bosnia-Herzegovina may spiral into a more menacing conflagration at a time when he is focused on the Serbia-Kosova dispute. It would be difficult to diplomatically handle two simultaneous conflicts, something that separatist leaders in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) may be calculating.
Bosnia’s status quo is not indefinite and the ingredients are present for another violent implosion. There is no functioning central government between election cycles, the RS threatens to secede, Croat nationalists are demanding a third entity, and Bosniaks are caught frustrated in the middle as the economy stagnates.
In one feasible scenario, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik will reject key reforms that partially stitch the country together, such as the formation of joint armed forces, a state court, and police agency. He has already threatened to withdraw from the Armed Forces Agreement and to withhold taxes for state-level institutions. He can undermine numerous competencies that have been transferred from the two entities to state level institutions since the 1995 Dayton accords. The RS could then withdraw from state institutions and announce a referendum on independence. Whether or not such moves trigger renewed violence they would preoccupy the U.S.envoy to the detriment of resolving the Serbia-Kosova dispute.
A third obstacle for Palmer will be the European Union, which has decided on a prolonged pause in its Balkan enlargement. This could set in motion a negative sequence of developments in which the six aspirant states confront an indefinite limbo that will discourage reform, stimulate EU skepticism, and boost nationalist sentiments. This in turn would provide ammunition for EU politicians who oppose further expansion.
The EU has postponed until October a decision on whether to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, given resistance from several Union members, particularly France and Holland. Although some regional leaders claim that Montenegro and Serbia (who are in accession talks) may gain membership by 2025, such a goal is overly ambitious. The June 2019 European Council summit did not provide any timetable for accession even for the most qualified states.
Palmer’s mandate includes a “focus on integration of the Western Balkan countries into Western institutions.” The problem is that the U.S. has no role in the EU enlargement process. Even if the special representative is able to push for necessary reforms among aspirants, he will have no influence over “enlargement fatigue” in the EU.
Even NATO integration has limited prospects, as only three states will remain outside the Alliance once North Macedonia enters in 2020. Serbia does not seek membership, Kosova has to build a military force in order to qualify, and Bosnia’s membership will remain blocked by the RS.
The fourth persistent problem for Palmer will be Moscow’s determination to undermine regional stability. Russian diplomats and local agents are likely to engage in various provocations and influence operations to test Washington’s resolve and to discredit America’s main emissary in the Balkans.
PUTIN’S PLAN TO EXPAND RUSSIA
Janusz Bugajski, August 2019
The Kremlin is preparing to expand the Russian federation to enable President Vladimir Putin to remain in power. There is no groomed presidential successor to Putin and fears are growing among Russia’s elite that without him the country could fracture.
To maintain the façade of legitimacy, Russia operates with a democratic constitution in which a President is limited to three consecutive terms in office. With Putin’s mandate expiring in 2024, officials are now calculating how to alter the constitution and even to strengthen presidential powers.
One option is for a new state to be created with Putin as its head. The most obvious move would be to unify Russia and Belarus and declare a new federation. However, as the Belarusian government would resist such a takeover and armed conflicts are likely, Moscow may try to avoid another war.
Another feasible option that could limit additional military entanglements would be to simply expand the Russian federation by absorbing territories from neighboring states that Moscow already controls. Officials can then claim that with a larger Russia a new constitution needs to be passed that would extend Putin’s presidency for another three terms and even expand his executive powers.
By enlarging Russia, Putin would seek to distract citizens from his economic failures without a costly new military intervention. This could gain him some public support, especially among Russians who persist with the imperial complex that size equals strength. Expansion would also give Putin the opportunity to impose emergency decrees if protests against government policy broaden by claiming that hostile foreign forces are seeking to dismember Russia.
The Kremlin already controls several territories where the separatist governments could petition for incorporation in Russia after the holding of fraudulent public referenda. By claiming that the populations of already separated regions expressed eagerness to join Russia, Moscow would avoid provoking a direct confrontation with NATO even if its actions are condemned by Western powers.
Expansion through the incorporation of bordering territories would focus on three states – Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Moscow has already established a large military presence in all regions it occupies to preclude any attempt by the Georgian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan governments to retake their lands.
In Georgia, Russia controls two secessionist regions following the August 2008 war. The most obvious solution for the Kremlin would be to formally merge Georgia’s South Ossetia with North Ossetia – already a federal unit of the Russian Federation. Such a move is likely to be supported by the majority of Ossetians who have resented their division for decades.
The region of Abkhazia along the Black Sea Coast is viewed as strategically important for Russia’s dominance in the South Caucasus. Incorporating Abkhazia in Russia may encounter more resistance from the Abkhaz who would prefer outright independence. However, the region has become heavily militarized by Moscow and the local security forces are fully under Russian control, thereby reducing chances for effective resistance.
In Moldova, Russian control over the Transnistria region could be formalized through outright absorption. This would give Moscow a long western border with Ukraine where its military presence can be buttressed to threaten and divert Kyiv’s forces from regaining occupied territories in the east of the country. Similarly to the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, by directly controlling Transnistria Russia would acquire an outpost on the Danube River.
In Ukraine, Moscow can hold referenda in territories already held by its proxies in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It could absorb these lands as two units or as one Donbas federal region inside Russia. The Kremlin would calculate that after a period of Western outrage, international opposition would subside as the focus turns to some other regional crisis.
With Western economic sanctions unlikely to be lifted any time soon, as punishment for Russia’s capture of Crimea, Moscow may conclude that it has little to lose in a new geopolitical offensive. It could also calculate that a multi-front absorption would rally the Russian public in an act of historical patriotism and a rebuttal of Western pressure.
The expansion strategy may be one of Putin’s last cards to seal his legacy as a great leader who consolidated Russian lands. Having already held the highest office for twenty years, constitutional changes would ensure that Putin even triumphs over Stalin in the longevity of his rule.
SERBIA’S NEW OFFENSIVE AGAINST KOSOVA
Janusz Bugajski, August 2019
Belgrade is intensifying its diplomatic campaign against Prishtina. During this summer Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has endeavored to create an alternative reality regarding the future of Kosova that will favor Serbia.
There are three basic elements of Dacic’s offensive – Kosova’s status, America’s reaction, and Europe’s approach. Above all, Dacic is determined to depict Kosova as a failed state that should be de-recognized. Greater Serb advocates such as Dacic refuse to accept the reality of Kosova’s independence and continue questioning its final status, even though neither Washington nor Brussels are backtracking on Kosova’s statehood.
In an effort to prove his point, Dacic has warned about a Greater Albania project in which Tirana and Prishtina are co-conspirators. The agreement between Albania and Tirana to share some embassies and coordinate their foreign policies is standard practice between several European states. But Dacic’s logic is that because Kosova has failed as a state it will try to unite with Albania and thereby destabilize the Balkans.
Dacic’s second fraudulent claim is that the US has decided to reopen the question of Kosova’s status and will allegedly favor Serbia in future talks between Belgrade and Prishtina. Dacic trumpeted his meeting with US National Security Advisor John Bolton in Washington in July as a major breakthrough for Belgrade. Bolton allegedly informed him that a lasting solution to the conflicts a White House priority.Certainly the US seeks bilateral normalization but not any reversal of Kosova’s status.
Dacic also asserted that Bolton would visit the region in August or September to launch a new initiative that would benefit Serbian interests. The government had to backtrack on these assertions. Although Bolton has publicly stated that Washington does not rule out territorial changes, this should not be interpreted as a planned unilateral concession by Prishtina to Belgrade.
Ever since the election of Donald Trumpin November 2016, Dacic has claimed that the new administration no longer supports Kosovaand this provides important opportunities for Serbian diplomacy. Much like Moscow, Belgrade has tried to pit Democrats against Republicansin the US. Dacic claims that Trump officials consider former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “vampires” whose policies must be changed.
Serbia’s Foreign Minister has also asserted that Serbia must become more involved in domestic US politics by urging its diaspora to learn from other successful émigré groups, particularly Greek sand Armenians. Dacic announced that Belgrade would urge Americans with Serbian origins to vote for Trump in the 2020 presidential elections while claiming that most of them support Trump already.
Dacic’s third diplomatic spin is the allegedly changing European Union approach toward the Serbia-Kosova dispute. The appointment of Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell as the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has raised Belgrade’s expectations. Borrell is a Catalan socialist who strongly opposes Catalonia’s secession from Spain.Serbia’s Foreign Ministry seems to believe that he will push for non-recognition of Kosova in the EU in line with the official Madrid position.
Europe’s foreign policy chief, appointed for five years, is a member of both the European Commission and the European Council, chairing meetings of foreign ministers and attending summits for heads of state or government and he will have an impact on policy. However, he cannot automatically pursue the position of his government or he will be censured by the vast majority of EU governments who have recognized Kosova.
In a recent sign of frustration with the EU, Dacic attacked Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov over comments that Borrell must respect the position of the EU on Kosova rather than that of Madrid. It would be difficult for Borrell to block talks between Serbia and Kosova or to favor Belgrade without alienating Germany, France, and other states that have invested for many years in Kosova’s statehood. Additionally, Borrell’sopen criticism of the Trump administration will also lessen his impact in the negotiating process.
Dacic’s is pursuing two primary goals. First, he wants to create the impression of success for Belgrade on the eve of restarted negotiations with Prishtina. And second, he is determined to weaken Kosova’s position by promulgating the notion of its declining support in Washington and Brussels. However, the propaganda of success only has a limited impact when it does not correspond with reality.
AMERICAN TERRORISM ALERT
Janusz Bugajski, August 2019
With a long history of domestic terrorism, the United States has entered a perilous phase in which widening political polarization is likely to fuel further violence. While religious terrorism by foreign and domestic jihadists has subsided, political terrorism is on the rise. Although the major culprits are white supremacists, ultra-right terrorism will also inspire ultra-left terrorism particularly if the government is seen as weak in dealing with rightist militants.
Over recent decades, the U.S. has experienced terrorism from across the political spectrum.Left-wing terrorism was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s with radical groups such as the Weather Underground periodically planting bombs to protest against “US imperialism” and American involvement in the war in Indochina and to demonstrate their defiance of the political establishment.
During the 1980s and 1990s, rightist anti-establishment terrorism became more prevalent. The “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski terrorized the nation with several package bombs following the release of an anti-government diatribe. The most destructive single terrorist act before 9/11 was the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. Two sympathizers of the militia movement and sworn enemies of the establishment blew up a government building with a truck bomb and killed 168 people and injured over 680.
Most bomb attacks or mass shootings are ideologically driven even if they are not tied to anyspecific political group and are conducted by single operators. Sympathizers of radical racist groups such as the KKK have attacked Jewish synagogues and African-American churches and in some instances slaughtered members of the congregation.
In the current deeply divided political climate the terrorist threat has entered a new phase, with racism and xenophobia on the rise and a militant leftist reaction looking increasingly likely. Indeed, the Dayton gunman who murdered nine civilians on 4 August was a self-professed radical leftist rebelling against the centrist establishment or “Biden generation” on his social network. Just as racist supremacists believe in the coming white utopia the ultra-left is convinced of a future socialist utopia.
For the first time in modern American history, violent extremists and terrorists are now claiming to be active on behalf of the White House and not against the government. Several militant networks have emerged asserting the virtues of white nationalism and ethnic exclusivity, and willing to engage in violent attacks on leftist and anti-fascist protestors, as witnessed in Charlottesville two years ago. This is a radical right equivalent of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalist groups who have spearheaded violent assaults on institutions such as the World Bank.
The recent terrorist attacks in El Paso and Dayton may be the tip of a melting iceberg as polarization in American politics is heating up with election season approaching. The climate of fear and hate is exacerbated through speeches, commentaries, and tweets that belittle and dehumanize political opponents, depict parts of the media as sworn enemies, and give red meat to militant activists.
Trump has generated both devotion and hostility like no other President in modern U.S history.Some of his backers propound the notion that the “deep state” establishment seeks to stifle and overthrow him, as evident in the Russian collusion probe. Conversely, the President’s more militant opponents are angry at the establishment for allowing Trump to remain in office. Paradoxically, the ultra-right and ultra-left are in agreement, as both see themselves at war against moderate centrism and democratic pluralism.
Among the ultra-left, Trump is caricatured as a sadistic ignoramus and his supporters as rabid racists. Such simplification can contribute to justifying acts of terrorism against the President’s supporters at public events in districts that predominantly voted for him. This would likely provoke violent retaliation from the extreme right. Throughout modern history fascists and communists have maintained a symbiotic relationship with each other and a parasitic relationship with society.
Political polarization is fuelled by conspiracy theories and outright disinformation, which Moscow’s intelligence agencies will help promote to deepen America’s social divisions. For instance, the claim that white nationalism is a hoax perpetrated by Democrats to discredit Republicans will serve to camouflage and legitimize radicalism while increasingly hollowing out the political center.
The U.S. is embarking on a dangerous national trajectory and confronts a stark choice on either side of the deepening political divide. Mainstream Republicans and Democrats can either monitor, expose, and neutralize the violent extremists in their ranks and along their flanks, or they can allow radical ideologies to consume American society.
NEW ARMS RACE BEGINS
Janusz Bugajski, August 2019
With the termination of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the end of July, a new arms race between the US and Russia has begun. The last arms race in the 1980s culminated in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Thirty years later, the Trump-Putin race could lead to the disintegration of Russia.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachevsigned the INF treaty in 1987 banning land-based nuclearmissiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. In recent months, Washington hasaccused Moscowof violating the pact by deploying a new type of cruise missile, the ]SSC-8,and suspended UStreatyobligations with the full support of NATOallies.
In response, President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would be forced to start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missilesandblamed the U.S.for the demise of the treaty. He predicted that an uncontrolledarms race would break out,withRussia buildingpreviously banned weapons.
However, the last time Moscow entered into a nuclear arms race with Washington the country disintegrated.Reagan become President in 1981 with three objectives: to restore the confidence of the American nation after the Vietnam War; to re-establish American political and military pre-eminence; and to make a third world war impossible through the elimination or neutralization of nuclear weapons.
Reagan wanted to abandon the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that had deterred a nuclear conflagration, while revising America’s Cold War policy of containment. His objective was to reverse the expansion of Soviet influence around the world by undermining the failing Soviet economy. The new administration substantially increased America’s military budget and placed Moscow’s finances under enormous pressure through an arms race.
To protect America against any nuclear strike, Reagan pushed for the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars,” a theoretically impenetrable shield to nuclear missiles that Washington would share with other countries, including the USSR. Although skeptics claimed a complete shield would be unattainable, Soviet leaders panicked believing that it would make America invulnerable and capable of obliterating the Soviet Union.
At the same time, in response to the deployment in Warsaw Pact countries of Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range missiles targeted on Western Europe, the US deployed intermediate-range Pershing II missiles in Europe capable of hitting Moscow.
When Gorbachev took over the Soviet leadership in 1985 he understood that an accelerating arms race would cripple Russia’s defense budget and bankrupt the economy. As a result, he engaged Reagan in negotiations to prevent the Star Wars program and began to concede ground in negotiations to reduce the number of nuclear missiles. However, Reagan refused to abandon the SDI program and even walked out of negotiating sessions with Gorbachev.
By early 1989 the price of oil plummeted to around $10 a barrel, and the Soviet Union went bankrupt and pleaded for massive loans that Washington refused. The Soviet Union unraveled as the communists lost authority, the military was demoralized, and numerous captive peoples sought independence from the Russian empire. The arms race that Moscow could not afford made a key contribution to the Soviet collapse.
Russia is again in dire economic and political straits. Its annual growth has been plunging, living standards are collapsing, and Russia’s numerous regions, just like the former Soviet republics, are increasingly rebellious. While the Kremlinis pledging to develop and deploy new weapons, including noveltypes of nuclear weapons,cruise missiles, and drone submarines, its resources are drying up.
Russia’s military-industrial sector is in disarray. The defense industry faces growing debt because the state has failed to pay for military hardware and is unable to produce components whose import is banned because of sanctions. Many defense plants will have to be closed down and a large portion of the two million people employed in the defense-manufacturing sector could be laid off.
With imminent cutbacks, the Russian military will fail to receive the aircraft, tanks, and missiles that Putin has promised and derail the Kremlin’s ability to pursue a military buildup. It will also damage several Russian banks that have lent large amounts of money to the defense sector. If the government siphons money from the state budget to rescue the banks and keeps open bankrupt defense plants this will necessitate major cutbacks in social services. Such a move is likely to accelerate social unrest and push Russia closer to the precipice of disintegration.
RUSSIA PREPARES FOR US ELECTIONS
Janusz Bugajski, August 2019
Evidence is growing that Moscow is preparing a massive intervention in the 2020 US presidential election campaign. It is uncertain which candidate Moscow will ultimately favor, but the primary objective will be to foster divisions in American society and distrust in the democratic process.
Since the last US presidential elections, the Kremlin has developed novel methods and located new inroads to achieve its goals. It will focus on at least four offensive opportunities: deep fake disinformation, recruiting influencers, hacking election lists, and tampering with election results.
In addition to the customary fraudulent conspiracy theories that Russian agents promulgate on social networks, they now have access to deep fake software. This technology enables the dissemination of fabricated or altered video online that looks astonishingly real. Using this tool on a mass scale will enable propagandists and trolls to create new realities for voters and convince them that the forgeries are reality.
Deep fake visual and aural disinformation will enable a new level of mind manipulation and the reinforcement of existing prejudices. It will be difficult to convince some consumers that the video is fabricated if there is little trust in the government or the mainstream media. And deep fakes will also work in reverse, where authentic videos can be questioned as fake in order to discredit the source. The technology will serve to further divide and polarize voters and increase distrust of politicians and journalists.
A second effective way of invading the US elections is by recruiting an army of influencers who understand the American audience and know where disinformation and agitation can best penetrate. These social network activists can be persuaded or paid to provide information on audiences and channels, specify what messages resonate with citizens, and use their extensive contacts to spread disinformation on a daily basis.
An expanding human virus in the service of Russian intelligence can penetrate various layers of American society. Despite the fact that Facebook has closed down over two billion fake accounts in the past two years, the number of fake media outlets continues to grow. This indicates that Kremlin services adapt quickly by using real people instead of fake accounts to spread disinformation.
Distributors of fake conspiracies can exploit tensions among different groups to create havoc during the election campaign. This includes widening rifts between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, younger and older generations, urban and rural areas, and higher and lower-income brackets. Disinformation can also generate conflicts between majorities and various religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities.
A third and increasingly worrying prospect in the new election campaign is the hacking of ballot lists. A just released US Senate report concludes that Russian intelligence services hacked into America’s election infrastructure in 2016 and continue to probe the network as the 2020 campaign begins. Russian military officers are studying the decentralized election systems to identify the weakest links in preparation for a possible major attack before November 2020. This could involve deleting or disqualifying selected voters to affect a local result.
The Senate report concludes that GRU (Russian military intelligence) hackers carried out cyber reconnaissance missions across all fifty states. Although investigators found no evidence that voter registry files were modified, it seems likely that Moscow’s agents were preparing for a future operation. Russian cyberactors were in a strong position to change voter data inside an Illinois database and in several Florida districts.
A fourth and related US election weakness is the prospect of result tampering, in which the tallies of votes are altered and the result is falsified. A sophisticated hacker could target specific districts where margins between candidates are already small as was the case in several states in 2016. Even disenfranchising a small percentage of voters could have an enormous impact on the election results.
Tampering with vote numbers, particularly if this is exposed, can also delegitimize the election in the eyes of many voters. And if trust in the election system is lost then the credibility of the entire democratic system comes under question and demagogues and populists will benefit.
The FBI and other agencies have launched a counterintelligence effort to thwart Russia’s influence operations and cyberhacking in the 2020 elections. FBI agents are investigating whether any US citizens are actively assisting the Russian offensive either through financial incentives or because they have been compromised and blackmailed by Russian services. As Moscow’s attack intensifies America’s defenses will be seriously tested.
US ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS
Janusz Bugajski, July 2019
The US presidential election campaign is already underway. In a few days time, Democratic Party candidates will hold a major national debate designed to challenge Donald Trump for the White House. In the coming months, a handful of Democrat contenders will emerge to compete in the election primaries in early 2020.
Democratic primaries in all fifty states will decide who will be the party’s presidential choice for November 2020. The debates help to eliminate weaker candidates and define the choices facing voters. At present, the Democrats have over twenty contenders but most will drop out if their popularity remains in single digits and they cannot raise the funds necessary to sustain a national campaign.
For the Republicans it seems highly unlikely that Trump will face any primary competition. The President benefits from enormous popularity in the Republican party, even while the party itself has shrunk because those opposing Trump have abandoned it or prefer not to vote.
The Democratic Party is now sharply divided into two main camps – progressive and moderate – and the only thing that may hold them together is an eagerness to displace Trump. The “progressive” stream has pushed a large part of the party base toward the left and adopted policy prescriptions that favor a bigger government and a more redistributive economic agenda. Some even define themselves as socialist. They are challenging the Democratic old guard who they claim are out of touch with young voters.
For the Democrats to win office they will have to accomplish two objectives. First, they need to expand turnout on election day among apathetic citizens, many of whom simply did not show up to cast ballots for Hilary Clinton in November 2016. Second, they will have to convince independents, moderates, and centrists that the Democrat candidate is not a leftist populist. Polling and electoral analysis demonstrate that a very liberal or progressive candidate is less electable at a national level than a centrist.
Three of the four top Democraticcandidates — SenatorKamala Harris of California, SenatorBernie Sanders of Vermont, and SenatorElizabeth Warren of Massachusetts,are far more liberal than recent Democratic presidential nominees.Joe Biden holds the torch for the moderate centrist wing of the partyand has the best chance of beating Trump.
On the President’s side, most opinion polls indicate that Trump’s national approval rating among voters has not crossed 45%, while his disapproval rating remains over 50%. But despite these figures he could still win a second term.
Trump’s strategy consists of two main elements – to regain and even increase the turnout among his core supporters, and to discredit the Democraticcandidate. To achieve a higher turnout, he needs to reignite his nationalist populism and pinpoint the enemies that he is fighting for on behalf of ordinary citizens. One can expect a campaign of hardline immigration policies, xenophobic resentment, and constant attacks on the ”establishment swamp” in Washington whereTrump still depicts himself as the outsider.
Trump may not increase his own approval ratings but he can increase disapproval for the Democrats as he did in 2016 with the help of digital social networks and systematic disinformation. He will attack the Democraticcandidate as weak, radical,liberal, and anti-American.He will also seek to deepen divisions among Democrats or to paint the entire Party as socialists who want to flood the country withillegalimmigrants.
Trump has already launched a campaign against four non-white “progressive”congresswomen who have vehemently attacked his policies.Polls find that whites without a college degree,who can beeasily manipulated on questions of ethnicity and religion,make up a core Trump constituency.
Trump will face an uphill struggleduring the campaign. In particular, he risks raising turnout among nonwhite voterswho stayed at home in 2016. This couldpush some states in the south west with large Latino and African American populations, including Arizona and Texas, into the Democratic camp.Moreover, Trump is likely to manufacture new scandals that may turn the large independent bloc of voters against him.
Nonetheless, Trump’sdemise cannot be taken for granted. Helost the popular vote in 2016but won the electoral college because he gained narrow majorities in three states – Michigan, Pennsylvania,and Wisconsin. Democrats must focus on regainingthese states but they need a consistent and positive message that motivatesvotersand not simply an anti-Trump platform.
MONTENEGRO AS PRECEDENT FOR RUSSIA
Janusz Bugajski, July 2019
Russia is facing a revolt of the regions that can eventually tear the country apart. As the process of disintegration gathers momentum the experience of Montenegromay serve as a precedent for Russia’s numerous restive nations and republics.
The unstable Russian Federation consists of 85 distinct territorial units, of which 22 are republics representing non-Russian nationalities, including the Middle Volga, North Caucasus, and parts of Siberia, northern Russia, and the far eastern provinces. Eveninregions where Russian ethnics predominate a growing number of residents feel alienated from Moscow and are rediscovering their unique identities.
Contrary to Western predictions, Russia’s democrats and liberals are unlikely to transform the country. Instead, it is regionalists, autonomists, and pro-independence groups of various nations who are increasingly challenging Putin’s authoritarian and colonial rule. Regional anger against Moscow revolves around numerous factors, whether economic stagnation, state corruption, exploitation of regional resources, attacks on language rights, or threats to eliminate or merge federal units.
Mass protests are mounting, whether against dumping Moscow’s trash in the northern Arkhangelsk region, the building of an Orthodox cathedralin Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk, or the arbitrary changes of borders between Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan in the North Caucasus. Almost any issue can trigger demonstrations against Moscow’s rule, thus setting the stage for separatism.
In their struggle for liberation, Russia’s regionalists can learn lessons from the Montenegrin experience in gaining independence from a dominant Serbia. In many respects, Montenegro’s relations with Serbia were a microcosm of relations between several federal regions and the Russian state. Regionalists will need to focus on four questions in particular: local identity, economic viability, peaceful separation, and international connectivity.
Identity is a complex cluster of loyalties and cannot be reduced to one factor. Even speaking the same language or having close ethnic ties does not guarantee a single identity or yearnings to live in one state. The United States separated from the British Empire despite sharing a common history, culture, religion, and language.
Montenegrin identity was rediscovered and fortified during the collapse of communist Yugoslavia, as the majority of the population realized that they had a unique regional history with traditions separate from an imposed Serbism. Such a process of awakening can be replicated in Siberia, the Urals, the Far East, and the Far North where there are growing distinctions with Muscovites even among people who are considered Russians. All these regions were conquered by Muscovy and even settlers from the central empire increasingly adopted the local identity.
In the economic arena, despite its small size, Monetenegro has proved that it is a viable state and even a leading candidate for EU accession. Similarly, several of Russia’s federal units possess the natural resources, demographics, and location to become independent economically once they terminate their exploitation by Moscow. Trade and investment from neighboring European and Asian countries can significantly develop regions such as Kaliningrad, Karelia, Tuva, Sakha, and Magadan.
Montenegro can also serve as a model of peaceful separation once regionalgovernors decide whether they will remain as Moscow’s stooges or become genuine representatives of the local population. With unrest mounting they could be swept out of power unless they commit themselves to strengthening their republics or regions. And much like Podgorica, they will have to show resilience and unity in confrontingpersistent provocations from Moscow.
Russia’s regions also have an advantage over Montenegro in pushing for secession. While Montenegro faced Milosovic alone because all other republics had already separated, dozens of Russia’s regions can coordinate their escape to freedom. Simultaneous actions would weaken Moscow’s attempts to extinguish each movement, as happened during thedismemberment of the Soviet Union. Success in one republic would encourage others and further neutralize the threat from Moscow.
In terms of international connectivity, much like Montenegro, states that emerge from a disintegrating Russia will benefit from forging closer economic and political contacts with neighboring countries rather than depending on Moscow’s shrinking federal budget. They can also petition and qualify for membership of various international organizations.
Moscow pursues a hypocritical stance on separatism. On the one hand, it supports secessionist movements in targeted states such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. On the other hand, it invents conspiracy theories that Washingtonintendsto break up Russia. Indigenous regionalist and ethnic movements in the artificial Russian Federation will expose Kremlin hypocrisy by pushing for independence and statehood.
SUMMER OF PROTESTS
Janusz Bugajski, June 2019
Albania is not alone. The protests, demonstrations, and boycotts that have rocked the country in recent weeks have been replicated in several other European states. However, the reasons for mass actions are many and varied, although in most cases they reveal a lack of public accountability by government officials even in established democracies.
Georgia has witnessed the most intense recent street protests. Amid growing opposition to government corruption and incompetence, mass demonstrations were triggered by the government’s invitation of a Russian politician,Sergei Gavrilov, to chair a conference on Christian Orthodoxy in the Georgian parliament. His speech in Russian from the parliamentary speaker’s chair deeply insulted many Georgians who vehemently oppose Moscow’s continuing occupation of 20% of Georgian territory.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent protesters from storming parliamentand hundreds of people were injured.In retaliationfor the protests, Moscow cancelled flights to Tbilisi to damage Georgia’stourist industry and tightenedcontrols on wine imports that bring Georgia millions of dollars in annual revenue.This unleashed even more anger among Georgians and led to the resignation of the parliamentary speaker.
Conspiracy theories have also rocked the state. Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili blamed a “fifth column” loyal to Moscow for stirring up the trouble, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that “Russophobic hysteria” was being whipped up in the country. Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gained another victory as parliament agreed to switch from a mixed to a proportional electoral system in the 2020 elections, with no threshold for parties to get into parliament.This would help opposition parties to more fairly compete in elections and enter government coalitions.
In the Czech Republic, another corrupted government is under immense pressure from mass protests. Five major demonstrations have taken place in Prague to demand the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Last Sunday, anestimated quarter of a million protestors formed the largest rally since the fall of communism in 1989.
Babis is embroiled in controversy due to alleged conflicts of interest involving his former agricultural business and criminal investigation sinto fraud in connection with EU subsidies. Even police chiefs have recommended that Babis be prosecuted for fraudulently claiming an EU subsidy worth two million euros. Meanwhile, the EU is demanding that Prague return millions of euros of structural funds that directly benefited Babis’s companies.
The opposition is also concerned that Babisis conniving with Czech President Milos Zeman, a pro-Putin sympathizer, to destroy the independence of the judiciary. Protesters across the country fear that Czech democratic institutions are under similar attack to neighboring Poland and Hungary and designed to increase single-party control over the state.Continuing public pressure on a mass scale is likely to bring down the government in the coming weeks.
In Albania’s immediate neighborhood anti-government protests have rattled both Serbia and Montenegro in recent months. In Serbia, public dissatisfaction with official corruption, media control, and political violence against opposition politicians continues to generate protest actions in Belgrade and other major cities. Protestors have demanded the resignation of the Aleksandar Vucic government and the holding of new elections. As in Georgia, the vast majority of protesters are highly educated citizens, young people, and students, although some opposition parties have tried to hijack a largely spontaneous movement.
In Montenegro, street protests against the incumbent government of Milo Djukanovic have focused on the longevity of the incumbent party in power, as well as official corruption and attacks on journalists that demonstrators believe are state sponsored. Unlike in Serbia, opposition parties have largely organized the protests and are intent on removing Djukanovic from office. Many of the protestors are supporters of Serbian nationalist movements who oppose NATO membership and favor closer Montenegrin-Russian relations. Money channeled from Russian oligarchs and other Kremlin sources are evidently fuelling many of the protests.
Two lessons can be learned from this summer of protest and discontent. First, that even in consolidated democracies such as the Czech Republic the public may not passively accept government abuse and corruption between election cycles and a new generation of frustrated citizens are willing to participate in mass protests. And second, in some cases public anger can be whipped up and manipulated toeither benefit opposition parties or to serve the geopolitical interests of an outside power.
MOSCOW GAINS FROM ALBANIA TURMOIL
Janusz Bugajski, June 2019
Russia will be the main international beneficiary if Albania’s domestic crisis deepens. The political conflict in Tirana is reaching a boiling point with the opposition boycotting local elections scheduled for June 30 and parliament initiatingproceduresto oust President Ilir Meta for allegedly violating the constitution by trying to cancel the ballot. The nextfew weeks will prove crucial for the country’s stability.
Moscow thrives on political crises in any European state and particularly in a still unsettled Balkan region. It can increase its diverse influences when institutions weaken, law and order breaks down, conflicting political factions are radicalized and become more receptive to outside assistance, and when Western powers are insufficiently engaged.
At the level of propaganda and disinformation, Russia will depict political violence or institutional breakdown in Albania as another failure of the West and its multi-national institutions. Such a domestically destructive scenario will be exploited by the Kremlin to amplify the message that NATO membership cannot ensure stability and security and that the European Union cannot promote peace and prosperity.
Russian-owned media outlets, fellow travelers in Western states, and pro-Moscow influencers in extensive social networks will again question the rationale of NATO’s existence. They will also dismiss the benefits for any European state of maintaining a close relationship with the United States. If a staunchly pro-American Albania cannot ensure its political and economic development with US assistance then surely no country can rely on Washington as its close friend and ally at a time of need.
At the regional level, an unstable Albania can abet Moscow in its campaign to destabilize and delegitimize Kosova as an independent state. Kremlin officials will encourage both Albanian and Serbian nationalists in an effort to freeze talks between Belgrade and Prishtina on normalizing bilateral state relations. Russian officials, activists, and media channels can also embolden Belgrade’s claims to Kosovar territory on the pretext of preventing another Albania scenario in Kosova.
Moscow may also use the Albania crisis to destabilize North Macedonia and prevent its entry into NATO. Russian media and state officials will encourage Macedonian nationalism as self-defense against alleged Albanian radicalization and seek to disturb the inter-ethnic coalition government in Skopje. They will depict NATO entry as a recipe for even greater conflict that could involve an attack on North Macedonia’s state borders.
Instability can also be exported to Montenegro, as President Putin may seek revenge for the failure of the October 2016 coup organized by Russian intelligence services against the pro-Western government. Militancy can be encouraged among all ethnic groups to weaken the Montenegrin state and material support increased to pro-Russian Serbian nationalists and other opposition parties.
Since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, Russia has greatly expanded its diplomatic and espionage presence in Albania. As in other European states, Moscow pursues the penetration of government agencies, local intelligence services, business associations, political circles, media organizations, academic networks, and civil society groups.
Even without a full-blown conflict in Albania, Moscow’s objective is to develop links with various political, economic, and social actors in order to weaken support for NATO and the EU. In the event of institutional crisis and threats to democracy in such a vulnerable state, the Kremlin will aim to manipulate those political figures who favor more authoritarian methods of rule or sponsor armed self-defense groups that oppose the central government. At some point, Russian officials can even interject as potential mediators or peacekeepers if state authority begins to break down.
Despite its ardent pro-Western orientation, Albania is certainly not immune to corrupt money or to penetration by criminal organizations linked with Russian intelligence services. They will use the opportunity of political uncertainty, social unrest, and a weak legal system to expand their reach and bribe or blackmail their political prey.
Major targets of Russian subversion in the Balkans are young people who may have little or no memory of communism or Sovietism. They can prove more vulnerable than older generations to Moscow’s disinformation through financial incentives and political tourism. This is reminiscent of how Salafist preachers entrap young religious Muslims in their webs of anti-Western propaganda and violent activism.
For instance, the Russian embassy in Tirana cultivates social and cultural ties with talented young Albanians and is grooming them as future supporters of Kremlin policies. This is evident in the state-sponsored “International Youth Forum” program that brings young well-educated Albanians and other youths from the Balkans to Sochi in Russia where they receive a strong dose of indoctrination reminiscent of Soviet days.
Moscow will also continue to pursue inroads into the Albanian media and social networks, calculating that it can diminish pro-American sentiments and curtail political and military commitments to NATO. There would be few greater prizes for Moscow in the Balkans than to turn Albania from a dependable American ally into an unstable internally conflicted nation on which NATO can no longer rely and which the EU does not want.
TRUMP-RUSSIA COLLUSION: AN ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION
Janusz Bugajski, May 2019
With the Justice Department now instructed by the President to investigate the investigators of Russian intervention in the US elections, an alternative interpretation of Trump campaign “collusion” may emerge. Far from vindicating the President, it may actually disclose that Moscow’s intelligence services are more devious and that Trump and his advisors are more credulous than many supposed.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report concluded that while there was no provable criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, both sides benefited from Moscow’s interventions through Email hacking of the Democratic Party and disinformation campaigns on social platforms. Aside from the fact that this begs the question when does knowledge of a crime perpetrated by a foreign adversary become complicity in that crime, the Mueller report appears to assume that the Kremlin simply wanted Trump to win the elections. The truth appears to be much more nuanced.
Russian intelligence services primarily sought to exacerbate partisanship and polarization in American society and nurtured various conspiracy theories during the election campaign for that purpose. What better way to deepen political divisions then by publicly discrediting both major presidential candidates. Although the Kremlin focused on Hillary Clinton, as it was convinced she would win the elections and sought to delegitimize her presidency among a sizeable segment of the electorate, it also devised a back-up plan in case Trump was the surprise winner.
Indeed, could the Trump collusion narrative in itself be a conspiracy purposively manufactured not, as the President claims, by “angry Democrats” but by Russian services intent on disrupting the US political system and paralyzing policy-making?
While cultivating business ties with Trump for many years the Kremlin must have gathered compromising information that could be used for potential blackmail, as they do with all politicians and businessmen dealing with Russia. During the campaign and transition Moscow courted Trump to test whether he would be more compliant in lifting economic sanctions and more agreeable to Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. But Kremlin operatives would have acted as amateurs without a parallel plan to undermine American decision-making in case Trump gained the White House but did not reverse US policy toward Russia.
The “Steele dossier,” which was the first public document to chronicle Trump-Moscow connections and detail various allegedly nefarious and salacious Trump activities, could well have been a deliberate plant by Russian services. Why would Christopher Steele, regardless of his past British intelligence background, acquire such easy access to secret information from Russian services unless he was cultivated as a conduit for Moscow’s subversive influence operations.
The GRU (military intelligence) and the SVR (former KGB, or state security service) had a motive to engineer and publicize the “Steele dossier” through an unwitting surrogate, regardless as to whether the information it contained was true or false, or some combination of fact and fiction. They also arranged numerous unprofessional and easily traceable “Russian contacts” with the Trump campaign and transition teams in order to establish a record for investigators and for the media in case Moscow needed to discredit the President by embroiling him in potential collaboration with a foreign power.
In many respects, Trump was the classic “naïve American” who fell into a trap of seemingly cooperating with Russia in order to enhance his own political ambitions. This sowed the seeds of Trump’s illegitimacy in the eyes of many Americans. His attacks on Democrats for allegedly manufacturing the ”Russia hoax” have also played fully into Moscow’s hands by deepening partisan divisions and public outrage.
Paradoxically, the sweeping powers that Trump has given Attorney General William Barr to probe the intelligence community in its investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and its surveillance of the Trump campaign may prove even more damaging for the President.
If Barr actually allows information to be made public, it could reveal more extensively how the campaign was manipulated and exploited by Russian intelligence services to fracture American democracy. This will be valuable material for analysts of Moscow’s subversive operations but not for the prestige and authority of the White House.
Moscow will further benefit from the “Barr investigation” because it is likely to foster friction and even conflict between and within law enforcement and counter-intelligence agencies. The potential release of classified information could undermine the FBI and other bodies, unveil key sources and agents in the field, and enable even deeper Russian penetration of the American system.
The White House would be well advised to rethink the Barr probe. Instead, it could outsmart the Kremlin by taking a harder line on Russia’s regime for its attempts to weaken America and to use Trump as a patsy. The President has assembled a national security team that well understands Moscow’s policies and has pushed back on its expansionist aspirations by toughening economic sanctions and strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. They should also understand the potential political consequences of another “Russia collusion” investigation.
UNPREDICTABLE EU ELECTIONS
Janusz Bugajski, May 2019
The upcoming EU parliamentary elections will help indicate in which direction the Union is heading. No one can be certain whether they will reinforce anti-EU populism, revive traditional pro-EU parties, or simply exacerbate political volatility. Nonetheless, probably for the first time in the EU’s history parliamentary elections have become an arena of political excitement.
Voters in eachEU country will elect a new European Parliament on May 23-26, including the UK following its seven-month Brexit delay.The 751-member EU parliament, elected every five years, is the only directly representative European institution, even though the average voter turnout in previous ballots has barely reached43%. Parliament has the authority toamend, reject, or passlegislation that affects the lives of all EU citizens.It also votes to approve the 28 members of the European Commission– in effect the EU government.
Since the pro-Brexit vote and the success of Euroskeptic parties in several national elections alarm bells have been ringingthat populist nationalists will dominate and paralyze the new parliament.Nationalist leaders are encouraging citizens to vote while claiming thatthat they areoffering a “new European harmony” that would limit the power of EU organsand restore state sovereignty.
This harmony was on display at a rally in Prague on April 25, sponsored by the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom (MENF), a pan-European alliance of nine nationalist parties dedicated to stopping mass immigration and recovering national sovereignty from EU bodies. They include the Czech Freedom and Direct DemocracyParty (SPD), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the French National Rally (RN), Austria’s Freedom Party(FPO), and Italy’s League Party.
Matteo Salvini, Italian Interior Minister and leader of the League party, has called on nationalist parties inthe European Parliament to form a new alliance, which Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Rally, has dubbedthe European Alliance of Nations.Salvini has convened a meeting in Milan on 18 May forall major anti-EU parties, including theAlternative for Germany (AfD), the Danish People’s Party(DF),and the Finns Party(PS),and expects the new bloc to form the largest parliamentary coalition. Hence, nationalists view the May elections as a referendum on the future of the EU.
However, an attempt to form a new “nationalist international” has its limits,particularly among neighbors with historical resentments and cultural prejudicesand where distinct national interests predominate. Partiesfrom different countries may agree on an anti-immigration platform butnot all populists seek to emulate Brexit. There are divisions between hardliners who want to fully disband the Union and Euroskeptics planning to curtail the prerogatives of EU officials and restore more decisions to national parliaments.
Recent opinion surveys indicate that Europeans are not simply divided between pro-Europeans and nationalists, as there are numerous gradations in between and many voters do not hold iron-clad preferences. This does not mean that the traditionalist parties will rebound in the upcoming elections, but that populism has its limits. For the “mainstream” parties to regain public trust they need to recast themselves as reformers fighting for ordinary citizens and national stabilizers in a period of profound public uncertainty.
Indeed, a series of recent presidential, national, and local elections indicate that the electorate may not be radically polarized but exceptionally volatile. During the last few months a diversity of political parties across the political spectrum have scored better than expected, including Greens in Germany, social liberals in Slovakia, and the ultra-right in Spain. A recent report by the EuropeanCouncil on Foreign Relations (ECFR) discovered almost 100 million swing voters uncommitted to any party ahead of the EU elections, forming 70% of citizens who stated that they are planning to vote.
Moreover, voter priorities change during each election cycle. The previous focus on mass immigration has now shifted toward government corruption, health care, living standards, youth unemployment, and particularly in Central-East Europe the emigration of educated professionals. Unpredictable political newcomers, of left, right, and center, could make the next five years the most volatile in the EU’s history, even without the seemingly unending Brexit drama.
While member statesarefocused on the future of the Union, several Western Balkan states are still hoping to enter the EU and benefit from its economic potential. But despite various initiatives by Brussels, Berlin, and Paris, at the BalkanSummit in late April, designed to facilitate progress toward accession, the German and French leaders offered symbolism over substance.
Although Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron met with leaders from all six West Balkan states, they failed to resolve any outstanding conflicts or to announce concrete decisions on enlargement. This will generate skepticism about future meetings and EU commitments to Balkan inclusion. It appears that the Union is not only struggling with political uncertainty and potential shrinkage but its most important foreign policy tool, the prospect of enlargement, is also in jeopardy.
BERLIN SUMMIT: MORE SYMBOL THAN SUBSTANCE
Janusz Bugajski, May 2019
The Berlin Summit on the Western Balkans delivered more symbols than substance, even though symbolism is also important in international politics. The fact that both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron met with all Western Balkan leaders was intended to demonstrate renewed EU commitments to the region. However, the lack of concrete decisions is likely to generate more cynicism about the results of the Summit and also about future meetings.
Traditionally, major international summits have been held when agreements have already been reached between heads of state and the meeting simply enables important protocols to be followed and accords signed. In the case of the West Balkan summits, a process launched by Berlin in 2014 to boost regional cooperation and security, few if any accords are arranged in advance. As a result, expectations rise that the session itself will produce concrete results, and this in turn can generate disappointments.
Berlin can boast at least one symbolic Summit achievement. The presence of both the German and French leaders underscored that Paris is now a major stakeholder in Berlin’s Western Balkan process. It was also a useful forum for Macron and Merkel to display a united front after recent strains in their relations over the future of the EU and the contours of Europe’s economic policy.
Nonetheless, the Summit’s shortcomings were more glaring. Although Serbia and Kosova agreed to restart “constructive” talks, there is little optimism of a major breakthrough this yearto normalize relations.Kosova’s President Hashim Thacicorrectly pointed out that no final bilateral agreement couldbe reached without the participation of the United States because the EU is too weak and dividedto resolve problemsor to implement solutionsin the Western Balkans.
Although Germany and France will be pushing Serbia and Kosovatopursuedialogue, the next meeting of negotiatorswill only be held in Paris in early July.Berlin also failed to resolve the tariff dispute followingPrishtina’sdecision last November toimpose 100% tariffs on Serbian goods in retaliation for Belgrade lobbying against Kosova’s membership of Interpol.Kosova’sofficials insist that tariffs will only be revokedifBelgrade recognizesthe country’s independence.
For its part, Berlin sent a strong message against any land exchanges between the two protagonists. This seemed to counter some of the signals that Washington has been sending in recent months. Although one can only speculate about all the private dinner conversations, rumors soon spread that adamant messages were delivered behind closed doors that there can be no border changes in the region and multi-ethnicity must be defended throughout the Western Balkans.
In another stark Summit failure,North Macedonia’s EU aspirations made little progress despite the landmark agreement between Skopje and Athens that is widely praised in the EU. Skopje did not receivea clearsignal from France, which remainsskeptical about EU enlargement in the Balkans, on a date for opening Union accession talks.Merkel seemed to sum up the low expectations and meager symbolic results when she concluded that the Summit was not about making decisions but about “having an honest and joint conversation.”
For Albania, there was little of real value at the Berlin Summit. Merkel and Macron made it abundantly clear that there is little immediate prospect for any Western Balkan aspirants to join the EU unless they complete wide-ranging reforms especially with regard to the rule of law. Albania’s ongoing political instability and public protests certainly do not help the country in activating its membership bid. Tirana is unlikely to obtain the go-ahead to formally start accession talks this year.
A more wide ranging sixth annual Berlin Process Summit will be held in Poznań, Poland on 4-5 July. It is scheduled to be attended by prime ministers, foreign ministers, and ministers of economy from the six Balkan EU aspirants, two current EU member states (Croatia and Slovenia), and several other EU members, including Austria, France, Germany, and Italy, as well as representatives from international financial institutions.
The Poznan agenda looks ambitious and includes discussions on economic investment, inter-state connectivity, youth and cultural ties, the development of civil society, and regional security. But oftentimes too broad an agenda is itself self-defeating, as each item may only receive shallow treatment. Above all, there will be much skepticism whether at the next Western Balkan Summit substance will actually prevail over symbolism.
GROWING US-GERMAN ANTAGONISMS
Janusz Bugajski, April 2019
Despite their common Germanic heritage, President Donald Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel despise each other. Their antagonism is rooted in diametrically opposed policy positions on numerous issues, and even after Merkel leaves office in 2021 the disputes with Berlin are likely to continue if Trump is re-elected in 2020.
Although both Trump and Merkel represent conservative parties, Trump is primarily a rightist populist while Merkel is a more traditional Christian democrat. Their views of the world are fundamentally contradictory. Merkel sees unity and cooperation as core principles while Trump thrives on disunity and conflict. While Merkel is a strong supporter of democracy around the globe, Trump prefers authoritarian leaders.
The conflict between Trump and Merkel revolves around three main issues: multi-national institutions, national independence, and economic development. For Merkel, the EU is a successful multi-national project that has anchored Germany in a peaceful and prosperous Europe. For Trump, the EU is a failed globalist project that violates the sovereignty of member states.
Trump also resents the fact that Germany consistently falls short of meeting NATO targets for defense spending. He complains that the US defends Germany without sufficient compensation. In a recent meeting in Washington with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, on NATO’s 70th anniversary, Trump berated Germany for not paying its fair share for Alliance defense. Trump is pushing Berlinto meet NATO’s defense spending target of 2% of GDP by 2024, a goal it is likely to miss despite Merkel’s commitments.
Trump ignores the fact that Germany contributes in other waysto NATO – it hosts US bases, buildsinfrastructure that can be used by NATO troops, and contributes to various NATO operations. Germany has been a leading nation in Afghanistan for many years, commandsone of the newbattle groups in Lithuania to better protect NATO’s eastern flank, and isresponsible for NATO’s high readiness force.
For Trump an important indicator of national sovereignty is the control of borders. Trump was catapulted to office on the promise of halting illegal immigration to the US from Latin America. He therefore resents the fact that Merkel’s administration opened up German and EU borders to millions of refugees and migrants from the Middle East.
On the economic front, Trump is fixated on the alleged unfairness of free trade deals for the US. Whatever the economic merits of his position, Trump seeks bilateral trade deals with individual states and the EU’s common market stands in the way. His solution is to break up the Union and restore economic independence for each state. He is therefore angry with the UK government for failing to achieve a hard Brexit. If London remains in the EU Customs Union, this will disable Washington from making a bilateral trade deal with London that Trump has been promising.
Trump has also voiced anger with Berlin for its business deals with Moscow especially in the energy market.Germany ispursuing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project in the Baltic Sea with Russia. EU countriesunder pressure from the Kremlinvigorously oppose the pipeline, as it would break sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraineand further damage the Ukrainian economy. Russian gas deliveries to Europe currently passthrough Ukraine, which would lose billions in transit fees if the pipeline goes into operation.
Washingtonis also opposed to Nord Stream 2and wants Europe to buy more of its liquefiednatural gas (LNG). Officials contend that Nord Stream would make the EU overly reliant on Russia for its energy supply.Vice President Mike Pence has even asserted that the US cannot ensure the defense of the West if its allies grow more dependent on Russian resources.He recently claimed that if Berlin insists on building Nord Stream 2 it could turn Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a “captive of Russia“that acquiesces to Russia’s military aggression.
TheTrump-Merkel rift will erodetrans-Atlantic relations in the political, diplomatic, and economic spheres even if NATO is strengthened along its eastern flank to deterand defend against Moscow’s attacks. With the UK evidently leaving the EU, the US-German relationship will formthe core of trans-Atlanticism. Any further deterioration will benefit Moscow and contribute to Western disunity. Only once Trump leaves the White House will the process of repairing relations with Berlin likely to begin.
US AND RUSSIA IN PERMANENT WAR
Janusz Bugajski, March 2019
Moscow’s top military leader has confirmed that Russia is in a permanent war with the United States. In a speech on 2 March, General Valery Gerasimov,chief of the Russian general staff, issued a three-pronged warning to the West – by broadening the definition of war, threatening the nuclear option, and inventing a “fifth column” inside Russia.
Gerasimov describedthe USas Moscow’s main enemyand contended that there are no essential differences between open war and an opaque peace. During peacetime, war is simply conducted by non-military means through clandestine and disinformation operations – what some have defined as hybrid or asymmetric attacks. Gerasimov declared that Moscowwasprepared to intensify itsnon-military war against the US, while also preparing for military confrontationthrough an extensive arms buildup.The objective is to weaken America’s global reach and disrupt its alliances.
Gerasimov also assertedthatmilitary and non-military offensivesare coordinated between ministries inthe Russian government.Moscow’s current military expansionis reinforcedby a greater use of non-military warfare, including cyber,space, and information weapons. In particular, the “information sphere,” which lacksclear-cut national boundaries, provides opportunitiesfor covert attackson US security – not only on its critical infrastructurebutalso on the country’s population.
The Kremlinclaims that Russia’s attacks are in response to intensifiedinformation operations by the Pentagonand CIA. Officials assertthatthe US employspolitical warfare through color revolutions and soft poweroffensivesin various regions to force regime change.In reality, the Kremlin is dismayed by anti-authoritarian revolutions and is incapableof challenging the attractiveness of NATO and the EUamongits former satellites. Russia’s response will evidently consist of“preemptive neutralization”of such threats to Russia and its purported allies.
Gerasimov’s speech also stressed the importance of Russia’s nuclear deterrence and the development of new “super weapons,” including the Sarmat multi-warhead heavy intercontinental range missile, Avangard hypersonic strike weapons, new air-launched ballistic missiles, a nuclear-armed underwater drone torpedo, a nuclear-powered long-range nuclear cruise missile, and intermediate and short-range hypersonic missiles capable of penetrating US missile defenses.
The collapse of several nuclear arms treaties, primarily because of Russia’s violations, enables Moscow to build up its nuclear capabilities and stress its reliance onfirst strike options, especially at the battlefield level,if it cannot compete in a conventional war.
As Moscow will not be victorious in an all-out arms race with the US, President Putin is banking on nuclear blackmail. He believes that if he threatens to use nuclear weapons, the West will back down and allow him to assert dominance over territory close to Russia’s borders. For instance, in a Russian invasion of a Baltic country or a Swedish island, Moscow could assert that either NATO retreats or it will use nuclear weapons. For this purpose, Gerasimovannounced a”limited action strategy” that expands military operations beyond Russia’s borders using highly mobile military forces.
In the third prong of his warning, Gerasimov attacked Washington for planning to employ Russian opposition groups to topple the regime and break up the country. This conspiracy theory justifies the use of the Russian military against both domestic opposition and America.The alleged US offensive,code named “Trojan Horse,” engages a fifth column to destabilize Russia and at the opportune time will be backed by precision-guided cruise missilesto destroy government targets. Such assertions give Moscow a valuable excuse to intensify its crackdown on real or imagined domestic resistance depicted as US-sponsored covert operations.
In a US Senate hearing on 8 March, General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of the US European Command (USEUCOM), asserted that America and its allies must make greater efforts to counter the Russian threat. He emphasized the importance of information operations and cyber wars and defense of critical infrastructures and financial and transportation networks. Scaparrotti confirmed that Moscow is using a “whole-of-society” approach to warfare that includes the use of political provocateurs, information operations, economic intimidation, cyber operations, religious leverage, proxies, special operations, conventional military units, and nuclear forces.
Putin becomes most dangerous when his domestic support is falling, as official opinion polls indicate, and members of the elite begin to question his leadership. At such times, Putin needs a foreign victory to restore confidence and legitimacy. Nonetheless, by setting Russiaon a war footing and producing stockpiles of weaponryin anattempt to achieve global supremacy, the Kremlin risks pushing Russia toward economic ruin and disintegration, just like the Soviet General Staff did in the late 1980s.
MOSCOW SUPPORTS BALKAN PARTITIONS
Janusz Bugajski, March 2019
When Washington gave the green light to the prospect of land swaps between Belgrade and Prishtina, Moscow pounced on a new opportunity to promote conflict. For Washington, a potential territorial exchange between Serbia and Kosova could normalize bilateral relations and help stabilize the wider region. For Moscow, border changes can add a new dimension to its divide and conquer strategy.
During the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Russian officials backed Milosevic’s plans for a larger Serbian state that would encompass Montenegro, Kosova, half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and parts of Croatia. They were not averse to changing the borders of former Yugoslav federal units in order to strengthen their main ally in the region. The Kremlin also calculated that Balkan border adjustments could bolster its own plans to carve up former Soviet republics and enlarge the Russian Federation.
Russia’s new partition strategy in the Western Balkans has now emerged with several overlapping goals. The first objective is to create fissures among Albanian politicians and divide Albanian societies in Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania itself. Albanian populations are not only renowned for being staunchly pro-American, they are also deeply resistant to Russian political and economic penetration. Moscow will now seek to exploit any emerging divisions over border changes to implant and promote its corrupt political influences.
In Kosova there is a growing disconnect between those who support and oppose a transaction involving sections of Kosova’s four northern municipalities in exchange for parts of three Serbian municipalities in the Presevo valley. Moreover, any closed-door discussionsabout bordersinevitably beget rumorsthat can be exploited by provocateurs to inflame political disputes.
Kosova’s President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj have expressed diametrically opposed positions on border shifts. While Haradinaj is resolutely opposed, Thaci has been more supportive. After meeting with President Putin, he seems to believe that Russiawould recognize Kosovaand allow it into the United Nationsonce an agreement with Belgrade was implemented that entailedborder adjustments.It is worth remembering that the Russian leader regularly whispers disinformation to foreign leaders to test their reactions and plant ideas that suit Kremlin interests.
A second Kremlin goal in the Balkans is to exacerbate divisions between Serbs and Albanians so that neither Serbia nor Kosova can enter NATO or the EU. The most effective way to close doors to membership is by creating diversions that foster inter-state conflicts so the disputants are viewed as unfit for accession. Moscow is well aware that both Serbian and Albanian nationalists will pounce on the prospect of territorial acquisitions and can be encouraged to pursue more ambitious irredentist claims, such as dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, or Macedonia.
It is unclear whether the Serbian government is fully aware of Moscow’s ploys or whether it is being duped. President Vucic needs to be mindful that Serbia could be drawn into protracted conflicts with neighbors by working too closely with Russia. Belgrade’s stated goal in forging an agreement with Kosova is for Serbia to gain faster entry into the EU. But why should the Kremlin assist Vucic in his EU accession endeavor that it has violently tried to quash in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and elsewhere?
As Russian officials drive wedges between the region’s capitals, they can simultaneously offer regional settlements and inject themselves as mediators to reduce the role of NATO and the EU. By allegedlyassisting in resolving regional conflicts, Moscow also calculates that it can gain additional advantages, whether in lessened Western opposition to its gas projects in Europe or a special status with diplomatic immunity for its intelligence base in southern Serbia.
A third motive for Russia’s support for Balkan land exchanges is to establish usable precedents, particularly for its own partition of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and potentially other states. Moscow’s coerced border adjustments can be depicted as legitimate moves that mirror Western support for ethnic homogenization in the Balkans. This could reduce calls for sanctions and other punishment against Russia for carving up its neighbors’ territories.
In an ideal world, a bilateral border exchange between Serbia and Kosova could be arranged without provoking political conflicts, ethnic resentments, or irredentist claims. But conditions in the Balkans and other regions where the Kremlin has injected its influences are far from ideal. With “normalization” between Serbia and Kosova as the tempting prize, Western actors may be stepping into a partition trap whose unintended consequences may prove more far-reaching than was bargained for.
AMERICA IN TURMOIL
Janusz Bugajski, March 2019
The United States is entering a period of deep political turmoil. President Donald Trump is facing escalating legal and political challenges that could shorten his term in office. The report of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller on a potential conspiracy between the Trump election campaign and Russian intelligence services could be released in the coming weeks. In addition, Congress has launched investigations of Trump’s business and personal life that will preoccupy US politics until the 2020 presidential elections.
Muellerhas a specific mandate only to investigate Moscow’sinterference inthe electionsand any collusion withthe Trump team. The role of Congress is to protect the ruleof lawby looking into three major threats -corruption, personal enrichment,and violation of the emoluments clause that prohibits foreign donations to the White House.
There are two ultimate results for Trump’s political future – resignation or resistance. In the first scenario, Mueller’s report will trigger months of congressional probes, court battles, and media revelations that could lead to impeachment, indictment, resignation, or removal from office.In the second scenario, Trump resists the mounting pressure, turns the investigations into a political struggle between Democrats and Republicans, stokes social tensions, and hangs on to the presidency.
“Collusion” has become a code word for a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin intended to influence the 2016 presidential elections. The Special Counsel has already uncovered volumes of evidence about Moscow’s election attacks and indicted over a dozen Russian conspirators. Several of Trump’s associates have already been tried for financial crimes that appear to be linked with Russian influence operations.
The President is currently under 17 federal and state level investigations, focusing on criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and financial crimes. Democrats who have a majority in the House of Representatives and control all key committees can subpoena all of Trump’s associates and documents.
Their main line of inquiry will focus on whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice, tamper with witnesses, and prevent the FBI from uncovering the alleged conspiracy with Moscow. The firing of FBI director James Comey was the most glaring example of how Trump purportedly attempted to block any probes into his campaign.
A third expanding investigation revolves around the finances of the Trump family. Over a dozen inquests are now under way at federal level and by the US Attorney General’s office in New York. Analysts believe that the Trump Organization engaged in financial crimes for decades, with Comey comparing Trump to a mafia boss.
Among the targets of financial crime is theTrump Tower Moscow Project, which was pursued even after Trump was elected. Investigators seek to uncover whether candidate Trump was promising Putin that he would lift sanctions in return for Moscow’s financing. The President’s Inauguration is also under scrutiny and whether foreign entities funneled money in order to buy influence with the incoming administration. Trump family members are also being investigated for foreign lobbyingand influence peddling not just with Russia but also with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.
All Trump businesses are under scrutiny. Prosecutors are examining how money flowed throughTrump’s interconnected enterprises, including his hotels, golf courses, and companies. Experts believe it is not possible to separate his election campaign from his business dealings.
Given the likelihood that Trump will be implicated in conspiracies, obstruction, and corruption, there are two main avenues for him to leave office, either impeachment or resignation. If Republicans in the Senate begin to calculate that they will lose the November 2020 elections by remaining tethered to Trump, they may turn against him and support the Democrat-led impeachment process.
However, there is a second possible scenario if Trump can successfully resist Congress and, unlike Richard Nixon, refuses to resign. He will calculate that the Republican controlled Senate will protect him from impeachment, at least until the November 2020 elections. He can claim special legal privileges as President and tie up congressional demands in long-drawn out legal battles. He can simultaneously rally the ultra-conservative media and his militant base in threatening civil disorder if Congress move to remove him.
A major factor in Trump’s future will be the state of the Democratic Party and whether it can stay united as politicians begin to line up for primary election season to choose a candidate for the 2020 presidential vote. There is little affection between the moderate and progressive streams of the party and they could be further pulled apart by campaign pledges and debates. Above all, Trump could rebound if the Democrat candidate for President turns out to be as weak as Hilary Clinton.
THE CHINA THREAT
Janusz Bugajski, March 2019
Althoughattention is focused on Russia as the main adversary of the West, evidence indicates that China is the most powerful long-term threat. Russia is an international aggressor trying to subvert the trans-Atlantic world but its capabilities willsteadily decline. In stark contrast, China is a genuinecompetitor with a robust economy and a durable strategydesignedto surpass the West.
China’s escalatinginfluence is based primarily on its growing achievements in foreign investment, trade,and development assistance. Russia is a minor player in geo-economics, apartfrom its supplies of fossil fuels. ButChina has become the key rivalfor the US in a sphere where world leadership will ultimately be decided.China is now the world’s second largest economy and its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP)is projectedto grow faster and even catch up with that of America.
China’s expanding global influence is not dependent on military power but on economic penetration. It is steadily displacing the US as the leading exporter and importer of goods in a growing number of markets.Beijing is also intent on becoming a world leader in advanced technology and higher-end industry.
The Chinese regime has no intention of imposing its system of governmentbut to change global standards for trade and investment that willfavorBeijing over its competitors. China’s global ambitions are demonstrated by itsBelt and Road Initiative (BRI) intendedto create new land and sea corridors linking east, southeast, and central Asia with the Middle East, Africa,andEurope.
Beijing is rapidly increasing its investments in many of the BRI countries and is poised to set global regulatory standards that will bestow advantages to Chinese enterprises and undermine the principles of free trade. Hence, even without an aggressive military posture, theBRI will threaten US influence throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and even inEurope.
China’s geoeconomic strategy offerssubstantialfinancing to dozens of countriesalong the BRI route, butwithout many of the regulatoryand legalconditions on which Western institutions insist. Such tempting offers to boost local economies are difficult to resist, particularly by poor countries in search of capital. The result will be to reorient the trade and other economic ties of many countries toward China. In the longer-term, this could alsoeffect their political and strategic orientations.
The US and its Western partners will need to implement a strategy that can contain Chinese influence but without damaging the economic development of BRI countries. They must boost Westerncompetivenessin foreign markets while ensuring that China’s BRI investments adhereto international standards and do not pushgovernments intobecoming permanent debtors.
With moresolid economic foundations, China also presents a regional military challengein EastAsia andcould steadily evolve into aglobalpower. It is the world’s second largest military spender and possesses the world’slargest army. China’smilitary potential is likely tosurpass that of Russia in the coming decade and become a direct threat tothe US.
In East Asia, the range and capabilities of the Chinese airforce and navyare rapidly expanding, making USbases more vulnerable. A just-released US Defense Department report warns that China’s military buildup is reaching the point where it can attempt to impose its will on the region and beyond. It is in the process of militarizing the South China Sea, placing increasing pressure on Taiwan to join the mainland, and using Singapore as the gateway to the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Beijing is pursuing extensive military modernization with advanced weapons systemsand developing next-generation technologies such as directed energy, counterspace, andartificial intelligence-equipped weapons. China is also modernizing and adding new capabilities toits nuclear forces.
China’s ambitions also drive its intelligence activities throughout Europe where its spying networks have vastly expanded. It penetrates the business sectors of Western states and seeks both industrial secrets and political influence.On the diplomatic front,it seeks to convince government leaders not to support the independence of Tibet and Taiwan and to either back China or stay neutral in international organizations.
Beijinghas also developed sophisticated cyber hacking operations and similarly to Russia it blackmailsor bribesspecific targets, including politicians and businessmen who can be manipulatedto exertpolitical leverage. New NATO and EU member states are of particular interest, as Beijing calculates that they may be more vulnerable to intelligence penetration.Chinatherefore looks intent onintensifyingits economicand politicalinroads intoand throughthe Balkans.
TRUMP BOOSTS NATO
Janusz Bugajski, February 2019
The imminent entry of North Macedonia into NATO demonstrates that regardless of his intentions President Donald Trump is boosting the Atlantic Alliance. During and after the presidential elections, Trump declared NATO as redundant and threatened a full-scale US military withdrawal. His pronouncements misled both Europeans and Russians into believing that Washington would terminate US commitments to Europe’s defense. In reality, Trump’s criticisms have reinvigorated NATO’s missions and capabilities.
Trump’s main indignation has been directed at European governments who allocate under 2% of their GDP for national defense despite NATO’s common requirements. Trump threatened to cut American support if these targets were not met, claiming that American taxpayers should not bear the main burden for defending a wealthy Europe.
Trump’s words and Russia’s threats have had an impact, with several capitals pledging to increase their spending and improving their fighting capabilities. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently asserted that Trump’s demands have produced results: by the end of 2020 the allies will have added $100 billion to their defense budgets.
But the White House must recognize that more important than the 2% spending stipulation is the effective allocation of resources to maximize military capabilities. Washington must also acknowledge the benefits that NATO consistently brings the US, including basing rights, infrastructure, intelligence sharing, political and diplomatic support, and participation in military missions, including Afghanistan.
Trump’s commitment to strengthening NATO has been evident in the selection of his security team. In particular, his Vice President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense have all been staunch Atlanticists and committed to a strong Alliance. The Pentagon in particular understands that the Russian threat to Europe is growing and that NATO must be better prepared to fulfill its mission of common defense.
During President Obama’s tenure Europe’s defense was downgraded until Russia’s attack on Ukraine in early 2014 provoked fears about Moscow’s revisionist ambitions. Trump’s team has learned lessons from Obama’s naïve expectations about “resets” with the Kremlin. NATO can only negotiate with Moscow from a position of strength.
Trump’s national security team hasfortified NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence along its eastern flank, whereby troops are rotated in several front line states through four multinational NATO battle groups that total some 4,500 soldiers. Poland is alsolooking to permanently host a larger contingent of American troops, as Moscow escalates its threats and deployments along NATO’s borders.Washington has also welcomed new members in the Balkans that can contribute to regional security, with North Macedonia poised to follow Montenegro into the Alliance over the coming year.
All these measures have caught the Kremlin off guard. Trump may periodically lavish praise on Putin, but his cabinet and the US Congress continue to ratchet up financial sanctions against Russia’s corrupt elite and have supported weapons sales to Ukraine and Georgia to help defend them from Russian attacks. Unsurprisingly, Moscow’s view of Trump has swung from euphoria to trepidation.
Russian officials are also increasingly worried about Trump’s dismissal of arms treaties with Russia as “bad deals” for Washington.With the imminent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, arenewed arms race will prove more damaging for Russia than the US. Moscow’s violation of the INF Treaty by developingnew land-based cruise missiles to threaten NATO states will boomerang against Russia whose defense spending is dwarfed by the Alliance.
During the 1980s, Soviet leaders were outmaneuvered by President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative and into an arms race that bankrupted their economy. Moscow ended up desperately signing several arms control agreements and the Soviet empire collapsed. A similar fate could new befall the increasingly impoverished Russian Federation.
Nearly thirty years after the end of the Cold War, there is no viable alternative to NATO as an alliance of solidarity that guarantees the national security of all members including the US. American forces are deployed in Europe not as an act of altruism but in order to protect US interests within and beyond Europe and to detect, deter, and defeat adversaries before they feel emboldened to strike against the US homeland.
NATO is constantly in a process of transformation and adaptation to new conditions and the Alliance should welcome Trump’s questioning of its rationale and capabilities. Complacency weakens NATO and can provoke new aggression both against and within Europe. Paying now for an effective NATO will be much cheaper than the cost of war if the Alliance is neglected.
AMERICA’S BALKAN POLICY
Janusz Bugajski, February 2019
Although the Balkans are not an American policy priority, Trump officials are more determined to resolve the region’s problems than the Obama administration. This includes the potential altering of state borders between Kosova and Serbia. All Albanian communities in the region will need to carefully assess the costs and benefits of any territorial changes that will directly or indirectly affect them.
While US objectivesin the Western Balkans have not changed under Trump, the strategy hasbeen adjusted. Washington isfocused ondealing withthe outstanding inter-state disputes andeven some previously taboo issues are now on the table. The ultimate goal is for the entire region to be integrated into both the EU and NATO in order to ensure greater stability and predictability that will precludethe future injection of US troops.After much hesitation, the EU has largely followed the American approach.
Washington and Brusselshave consistently opposed any border changesbetween the seven states that emerged after Yugoslavia’s disintegration. They viewedsuch moves as provocative and even dangerous in a still volatile region. However, after years of frustration, in the summer of 2018 a decision was made that Washington would no longer draw a red line on territorial exchanges betweenBelgrade and Prishtina if such a deal is acceptable to both disputants.
Nonetheless, several red lines still remain and the US will evidently not accept the merger of states or a spiral of territorial demands in the region. US officials believe that an equitable exchange between Belgrade and Prishtina cannot be replicated elsewhere. For instance, they calculate that there are no lands to exchange between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina or between Albania and North Macedonia.
President Hacim Thaci and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic stepped into this unique opening to try and negotiate a new deal despite substantial political opposition at home. After his recent visit toWashington, Thaci declared that he had received guarantees that Serbia and Russiawould recognize Kosova once an agreement was implemented, but no tangible details of the process have been released.
In this ongoing drama, Albanians will need to weigh the benefits and costs of any possible land exchanges and the impact on Albania itself. The most optimistic scenario wouldbe Kosova’s recognition by Serbia as an independent state followed bymembership in the United Nations.This would set the new country on a path toward eventual NATO and EU entry, while no other political leaders in the Western Balkans would demand similar border adjustments.
But Prishtina needs to be careful. Any pledges by the Kremlin must be treated with enormous caution, as President Putin is notorious for breaking agreements that suit his larger ambitions. Kosova remains a useful bargaining chip for Moscow to gain clear advantages elsewhere — whether the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, international status for its clandestine military and intelligence base in southern Serbia, or guarantees that Russia’s partition of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine will not be challenged by the US and NATO.
Although Washington seems confident that the upcoming bilateral deal between Serbia and Kosova will be unique, any border changes in the Balkans are fraught with peril and can be interpreted as legitimizing national homogenization. Demands for mono-ethnicity could escalate in the region and potentially embroil several countries. Western institutions and NATO forces may find themselves woefully unprepared for a wave of demands and pressures that could spread through the peninsula.
In Kosova and Serbia itself the territorial agreements may not be acceptable to all parties and citizens or to those most closely affected by the changes. Radicalized groupscould incite violent protests to expel the other ethnicityand demand further territorial adjustments. Demands for Kosova’s unification with Albania could also spiral and spread to Albanian-majority areas in North Macedonia. Threats to North Macedonia’s territorial integrity would spark inter-state disputes and Albanians throughout the region are likely to be blamed for inciting conflicts.
Meanwhile, the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina could demand the application of the Kosova precedent in order to separate from Sarajevo and join Serbia and the Bosniak population could campaign for Serbia’s Muslim-majority Sandjak region to unite with Bosnia. Montenegro would be caught in the middle of this maelstrom, with Bosniaks, Serbs, and Albanians potentially demanding slithers of the country in which they form local majorities. Although there may be high optimism in some political circles that a deal between Belgrade and Prishtina is workable, one must be equally prepared for any negative consequences sparked by the agreement.
THE TRUMP DOCTRINE
Janusz Bugajski, February 2019
Donald Trump is an unconventional President and no one has been able to define his foreign policy doctrine. It revolves around contradictions that keep both US allies and adversaries off balance. Three sets of contradictions are evident in Trump’s approach – in his statements, appointments, and policies.
During the presidential election campaign and soon after he took office, Trump displayed little enthusiasm for foreign policy and it was several months before he ventured abroad. Even the Trump campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” could be interpreted in two ways. – America as world leader or an isolationist America.
The populists and nationalists who surrounded Trump during the campaign were opposed to any US involvement in foreign wars or in providing protection to America’s allies. They pushed for a fast military withdrawal from the Middle East and Afghanistan, a reduction in commitments to NATO, and the downsizing of troop numbers in South Korea and Japan. They argued that American military bases abroad were too costly and did not directly benefit the homeland.
While in office, Trump has engaged in antithetical behavior – both bullying and praising various world leaders in order to either cajole or entice them into agreements. This has upset some allies but others have realized that it may simply be a tactical ploy.
A second arena of Trump’s contradictions is in his appointments to senior positions. There have been incongruities between several close advisors and members of his national security team. Trump brought with him into the White House several radical populists and self-proclaimed economic nationalists. Fortunately, he listened to the advice of seasoned Republicans rather than isolationist and populists in appointing internationalists and Atlanticists to key government positions, including the Secretaries of State and Defense, intelligence chiefs, and various ambassadors.
Trump’s contradictions are most visible in significant foreign policy decisions where his verbal attacks have often been played down or ignored by his cabinet. Hence, Trump may complain about NATO’s relevance but his appointees pursue Alliance enhancement along the Eastern flank and enlargement in the Balkans. Trump may lavish praise on Putin while his cabinet and Congress ratchet up financial sanctions against Russia’s elite and help arm the Ukrainian and Georgian militaries.
In assessing the pursuit of policy it is worth remembering that Trump has a background in entertainment and “reality television” in which showmanship and imagery prevail over substance. Not surprisingly, his foreign policy moves often follow a television script in which Trump seeks popularity, praise, and favorable media coverage rather than substantive results.
Secretary Pompeo has learned to cater to Trump’s ego by devising policies that the President can herald as a success even if little is actually accomplished. North Korea serves as a valuable example, in which the Singapore Summit in June 2018 with Kim Jong Un in June was trumpeted as a major success for world peace. In reality, however, Pyongyang continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program. Although little has changed, Trump depicts himself as a winner and his core supporters believes he is a great statesman who should be awarded the Nobel peace prize.
International trade is another arena where Trump claims victories without any real evidence. The President asserts that previous free trade agreements have damaged the American economy and that winning trade wars was easy for Washington. In reality, escalating trade wars between the US and China, Canada, and Europe will hurt much of Trump’s agricultural and manufacturing base and damage a number of US companies.
Trump’s cabinet is often engaged in damage control in dealing with NATO allies and other international partners who are worried by the President’s pronouncements. While publicly praising his foreign policy successes, they also try to distract Trump so he does not make any rash and destabilizing decisions. They encourage frequent campaign-style rallies with his ardent supporters to help vent some of Trump’s anger and they do not try to stop his daily tweet attacks against assorted enemies. At the same time, they uphold regular contacts with allies to help reassure them that America is committed to its traditional alliances.
Despite all these safeguards, the fear remains that at some point, probably during a major international dispute, Trump could precipitate a major crisis and ignore the advice of foreign policy veterans. His contradictions will either paralyze policy or an impetuous decision by the President will bypass his cabinet, escalate the conflict, and even trigger an unexpected war.
PUTIN’S 2019 CALENDAR OF SUBVERSION
Janusz Bugajski, February 2019
In the coming year, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin will exploit the most promising opportunities to undermine Western cohesion. As Russia’s economy declines and public disaffection mounts, Putin will seek new foreign escapades to demonstrate Europe’s weaknesses while distracting his own citizens. A calendar of likely Kremlin subversion in Europe can help policy planners in Western capitals to monitor and counter the likely assaults.
Above all, Moscow will seek to benefit from the Brexit fallout, the European parliamentary elections, and from perceptions of uncertainty over NATO’s future. The repercussions of Brexit could prove damaging for European solidarity by shrinking the Union budget, encouraging other anti-EU movements, and indefinitely postponing further EU enlargement. All such scenarios benefit Putin who calculates that they would significantly weaken the Union and make it more prone to Moscow’s bilateral deals with individual governments.
EU parliamentary electionsin 27 statesbetweenMay 23 and26 will also test the degree of disillusionment with the Union and help determine policy directions for the next five years. Populism, both of the rightist and leftist varieties, continues to grow in all corners of the continent and has become a compelling political factor. In several countries, populist formations are either part of government coalitions or support it in parliament.
What was once considered a transient fringe movement has evolved into a major force challenging traditional politics. Populist parties have adeptly blended Euroskepticism, nationalism, socialism, anti-liberalism, anti-elitism, and anti-immigration. In the EU parliament, at least three major coalitions openly resist further EU integration, which they equate with the loss of national sovereignty and personal freedom.Euroskeptics of all stripes planto transform the elections into a plebiscite on whether the EU should be a political union or simply a free tradingbloc where nostate is bound by treaties limiting national decision-making.
Several opinion polls have projected an assortment of rightist and leftist populists gaining 20 percent of the vote for the 705-member parliament. Their presence could be significant enoughto obstruct parliamentary work.Such a triumph for Europopulism would bea nightmare scenario for the EUand a daydream come true for the Kremlin. It could haltfurther integration and multiply Moscow’s opportunities to profit from the discord. It may weaken support for any further sanctions against Russia’s aggression in Europe’s east and whittle down opposition to the Kremlin’s geopolitical energy projects, such as Nord Stream Two.
A third pan-European pressure point for Moscow is to disseminate uncertainty about the future of NATO. This is assisted by comments attributed to President Donald Trump threatening a US withdrawal from the Alliance. Even though the US has actually increased its military presence and defense spending along NATO’s eastern flank, brought in a new member, Montenegro, and looks poised to welcome North Macedonia, the perception that the White House could suddenly withdraw from the Alliance increases the Kremlin’s appetite. Russian state propaganda will seek to convince Europeans that Washington will eventually abandon them and it is therefore in their interest to forge closer relations with Moscow.
Kremlin policy is also geared toward more specific opportunities in key elections in several neighboring states. Moldova’s parliamentary elections on 24 February is the first in line and as in previous ballots Moscow will fund and promote parties and politicians that are Euroskeptic and support links with Russia and its Eurasian Economic Union.
Ukrainian presidential elections on 31 March and parliamentary elections on 27 October will provide even more avenues for Kremlin penetration. Moscow has meddled in several Ukrainian elections and supported groups, such as the former Party of Regions led by the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, to keep Ukraine outside Western organizations.Through its pro-corruption campaigns the Kremlin will endeavor to subvert parliamentarians in order to obstruct a consistent pro-Western policy.
2019 also provides several weak spots in the Western Balkans for Russian officials to sow discord, promote ethnic tensions, and drive wedges between the region’s capitals.. Moscow can then offer international settlements and the injection of its own mediators. The goal is to reduce the role of the US and NATO and increase Russia’s political and economic influence.
The Kremlin profits from European division and uncertainty. But itwill also face the prospectof receding domestic benefits fromitsforeign adventuresif public skepticism overstate policy increasesin the midst of Russia’s ongoing economic decline. Abraham Lincoln’s saying that“you cannot fool all the people all the time” may eventually prove trueeven in Russia.
PUTIN CONQUERS BELGRADE
Janusz Bugajski, January 2019
President Vladimir Putin’s triumphal visit to Belgrade was intended to consolidate Russia’s position in the Balkans. Serbia and Russia do not have a close alliance but an asymmetric coupling in which the Kremlin exploits its dominance and treats Belgrade as a useful surrogate. Pressure mounts when Moscow needs Serbia to fulfill certain international tasks to Russia’s advantage, as evident in the current push toward Kosova’s partition.
During the wars in the 1990s, Belgrade appealed to Russian solidarity whether over preserving Yugoslav integrity, creating a Greater Serbia, or retaining control over Kosova. Moscow manipulated Serbia’s grievances against the US and NATO to demonstrate that Russia remained a major factor in European affairs. Since the ouster of Milosevic, Serbian governments have intensified their role as Russia’s junior partners, enabling Putin to transform Serbia into Moscow’s outpost in the Western Balkans.
Putin’s agenda in Belgrade consisted of three prongs. First, he sought to consolidate Serbia’s nationalist sentiments and resistance to the West. Through its numerous propaganda weapons, Moscow makes sure that anti-NATO sentiments are constantly nurtured among the Serb public. In Belgrade, Putin attacked the US for allegedly destabilizing the Balkans by imposing its “dominant role in the region”and berated NATO enlargement for increasing tensions in Europe.
In his second prong, Putin sought to demonstrate how bilateral ties are being strengthened in various domains. A series of agreements focusedon upgrading Serbia’s military capabilitiesand the use of atomic energy for “peaceful purposes.”Belgrade already supplies Serbia with military hardware and operates a “Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center” near Nis, which Russian services use as an intelligence gathering facility vis-à-vis the West.
Putin and Vucic also prepared an agreement for a free-trade zone between Serbia and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, to be signed later this year, and an extension of the TurkStream gas pipeline.Media in both countries persistently broadcast disinformation that Russia is Serbia’s main economic benefactor, even though its trade and investment is dwarfed by the EU and is based on opaque deals that benefit corrupt politicians. Serbia has already surrendered toGazprom majority shares in its major oil and gas company, NiS,and entered into other deals that tie the country tightly with Russia’s energy supplies.
In the third and newest prong, Putin is seeking to benefit from the debate over Kosova’s potential partition. Moscow’s strategists are pursuing two primary objectives. First, border changes in the Balkans approved by Western powers can be trumpeted as a valuable precedent for Crimea, Donbas, Transnistria, and other regions coveted by Russia. Officials can contend that changes in the Kosova-Serbia border simply bring co-ethnics into the motherland. Hence, a similar process can be applied to territories with sizeable Russian populations, including parts of Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan.
Second, the Kremlin calculates that border changes in the Balkans can create havoc for NATO and the EU by stimulating calls for further partitions. Local nationalists could orchestrate violence to demonstrate that ethnic co-existence is not feasible and borders have to be adjusted. A ripple effect of territorial aspirations would not only affect unsettled states such as Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia, but also embroil NATO members Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro.
Putin’s visit raised expectations in Serbia that Moscow would help Belgrade win its dispute with Kosova. Moscow will push for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue to be moved from under the umbrella of the EU to the UN Security Council where Russia exerts veto power. Here it can endorse the kind of partition precedent that could serve Kremlin interests inside and outside the Balkans.
.A partition plan that would allow Serbia to annex Kosova’s northern municipalities could be sold as a victory for Serbia. However, the unilateral partition of Kosova is unacceptable to Prishtina, hence President Hashim Thaçi proposed a land swap involving the Preshevo Valley that is resisted by Belgrade.
Moscow may seek to pacify Serbian nationalist opposition to any acceptance of Kosova’s status by not only promoting partition but also by raising other aspirations. It can express support for the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia’s incorporation of Republika Srpska (RS). This would be a bigger prize than the northern fringes of Kosova, particularly as RS leaders yearn to join Serbia.
The result of Moscow’s deepening intervention will be to embroil the Aleksandar Vucic government in a new conflict with the EU, NATO, and the US over Bosnia-Herzegovina. This will also serve Kremlin interests by blocking Belgrade’s path toward EU accession. The lesson for Serbia is that unless it breaks free from Russia’s suffocating grip, it cannot achieve its national potential and will be consistently exploited as a pawn in Putin’s campaign to disarm and dismantle the West.
BALKANIZATION OF BRITAIN
Janusz Bugajski, January 2019
With the clock ticking on Britain’s exit from the European Union, the country not only faces major political battles and economic threats but also the prospect of increasing fragmentation. While Scotland’s independence may be back on the agenda, fears are growing in Northern Ireland that the Irish island could either be divided again or the northern province would be separated from Britain.
Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to negotiate a Brexit deal that the British parliament will approve. In the absence of a last-minute agreement Britain’s departure on March 29 will generate political and economic shockwaves. May could resign and in an early general election a neo-Marxist Labor Party could win a majority pledging to re-impose nationalization and expand the welfare state. Brexit combined with state socialism would ensure the country’s long-term decline.
Brexit supporters claim that despite some short-term disruptions, the UK will thrive when it leaves the doomed experiment in a German-dominated EU. They fail to specify how long and painful this “short-term” will be and that it could take years to negotiate new bilateral trade deals across the globe.
Britain will no longer be a party to the legislative and regulatory framework that has governed its external trade and domestic economy for four decades. EU countries will reinstate customs regimes and British trucks will no longer have the right to transport goods into the Union. UK exports to the EU would face tariffs of 4.3%, thus damaging businesses competing with cheaper European rivals. Some economists are even warning that Britain may experience shortages in medical and food supplies.
Additional checks and tariffs on the border will block ports and disrupt supply chains for British business. Instead of raising productivity and creating jobs, businesses are already diverting resources into stockpiling goods or moving out of the UK.Britain’s budget will also be hard hit, as much of the lucrative financial services industry will relocate to the continent.
The Bank of England has warned that a disorderly Brexit would push the UK economy toward an 8% contraction by the end of the decade and the value of the pound could decline by 25%. Business leaders estimate indicate that the auto, chemicals and pharmaceutical industries, which trade heavily with the EU, would shrink by more than 20% over the coming years.
There is also a national and territorial dimension to the looming disruption. The United Kingdom consists of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The first three are contained on the island of Britain, while Northern Ireland shares an island with the independent Republic of Ireland, which will remain an EU member. While a majority of English and Welsh residents voted to leave the EU, a large proportion of Scots and Irish voted to stay. These voting differences have revealed growing political fissures that will expand after Brexit.
The two greatest risks to the UK’s territorial integrity are the potential separation of Northern Ireland, as the government’s Brexit WithdrawalAgreement with the EU has implied, and a second referendum in Scotland that would secure the country’s independence from the UK.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is currently in a coalition with the British Conservatives and holds the balanceof power in Westminster. It is also one of the major obstacles to May pushing her Brexit deal through parliament. The Unionists assert that the deal fails to settle their most important demand: no hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain or with the Republic of Ireland.
The Northern Irish realize that they have benefited from being inside EU, not least because of the ease of trade with the Republic of Ireland. However, Unionists in the north fear that in exchange for a soft border on the Irish island the London government would accept a hard border with Northern Ireland that will affect commerce and travel between units of the same state.
Recent polling has indicated that Conservative voters in England would even accept the break up of theUK in exchange for a complete Brexit. At the same time, the looming economic and institutional chaos in the UK will raise support for Irish unification and could again provoke conflicts between pan-Irish Catholic Republicans and pro-British Protestant Unionists.
The situation in Scotland could become equally volatile, where over 62% of the population voted to stay in the EU. In 2015, Scottish voters supported the pro-independence Scottish Nationalist Party in large numbers despite the fact that the first Scottish independence referendum in 2014 failed to muster a majority. A chaotic Brexit that severely damages the economy will raise support for a second independence referendum so that Scotland can rejoin the EU as an independent state.
History is a chronicle of ironies and paradoxes. In the case of the UK, a country that for years has been involved in preventing or pacifying conflicts in the Balkans now faces challenges to its own stability and integrity that some would describe as “Britain’s Balkanization.”
POLITICAL GLOBAL WARMING IN 2019
Janusz Bugajski, January 2019
2019 looks destined to be a year of international conflicts in which the US will become a less predictable player. The resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis has signaled that President Donald Trump’s approach to the world is prevailing over that of traditional internationalists in his administration and the consequences could be severe.
Mattis’s departure means that one of the most important constraints on Trump has been removed. In his letter of resignation, Mattis asserted that the President dismissessound advice, disdains America’s allies, appeases foreign dictators,and repudiates the principles on whichUS leadership has been basedsince World War Two. With Trump having no consistent global strategybut acting largely on impulse, fears are growing overtwo daunting possibilities: American withdrawalsandAmerican over-reactions.
Trump, the US Commander in Chief,has decided to removeall Americantroops from Syria after claiming victory over ISIS. He did not consult USallies, partners, or even his own security team.Critics charge that the pulloutwill simply hand over large partsof the Middle East and southwest Asia to US adversariesincluding Russia, Iran, ISIS,and the Taliban.The move was evidently coordinated with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and signals a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies and Syria’s democratic opposition. This will send a chilling message to America’s military collaborators in other conflict zones.
The Syrian disengagementwasevidentlythe last straw for Mattis who has watched in dismay as Trump appeased Putin while insulting several NATO allies. The Secretary of Defense has warned that Trump is assaulting the core pillars of US global power with his populist nationalist approach to geopolitics.Hisresignation has intensified questions whether Trump is qualifiedto be commander in chief and raised the prospect thatTrumpmay be engineeringa full-scale global retreat.
Trump’s international moves are intended to appeal to his voting base who believe the President that America is spending too much on foreign wars. The White House is also planning to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan, starting in the coming weeks. The current force of 14,000 is expected to be cut by half. But the impact could be devastating, with some senior Republican congressmen warning thatan Afghan withdrawal could result in another 9/11 terrorist attackonUSsoil or in Europe.
America’s Asian allies are growing concerned that Trump could also remove US troops from the Korean peninsula, claiming that peace with North Korea had been accomplished. In reality, Kim Jong Un has expertly manipulated Trump by appealing to his ego while continuing to develop Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Trump has already cut back on military exercises with South Korea and asserted that the military mission, in place since the end of the Korean war in 1953, is too expensive.
America’s European allies are also anxious that US commitments to NATO could become uncertain. With Mattis gone and Trump looking for distractions from FBI and congressional probes into his alleged conspiracy with Moscow,US troops in Europe could also be on his agenda. Under Mattis troop numbers along NATO’s eastern flank were increasedthrough the Enhanced Forward Presence(EFP)missionto deter against a Russian assault. The Kremlin is now relishing the prospect of an American military drawdownand lessened US commitments to the most vulnerable European allies.
In addition to the perils of a sudden US abandonmentofstrategically vital regions, there is a related dangerof Trump’s overreactionduring a crisis, asthere are now fewer constraints on his sudden policy shifts.
For instance, analystsare alarmed by Trump’s likely volatile reaction if there is a confrontation between Americanand Chinesenavies in the South China Sea thatcould rapidly escalate into a full-scale war. In the Middle East,following its success in Syria,Iran may feel more emboldened to strike against Israeli and Saudi Arabian interests. Trump would then be faced with the stark choice of abandoning key regional allies or engaging in a direct conflict with Tehran that could pull Russia into a dangerousmilitary confrontation.
Despite the escalating fears around the globe, not all is completely lost in America’s traditional global role. A great deal depends on whether the next Secretary of Defense, who needs to be confirmed by a staunchly pro-NATO Senate, will stand up to Trump much like Mattis. All eyes will also be on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain more consistency in US foreign policy. And a key role will be played by Senate Republicans, who will need to speak out more vigorously against Trump’s growing isolationism.
Many congressmen and policy makers remain apprehensive that in 2019 congressional and FBI investigations will finally reveal that the President has been involved in a conspiracy with Moscow, has obstructed justice, and has engaged in extensive corruption. Trump may then react by deliberately creating an international crisis to distract public attention, divert the political focus, and prevent a loss of power.
AMERICA IN TURMOIL IN 2019
Janusz Bugajski, December 2018
The United States is entering a period of deep political turmoil. President Donald Trump has precipitated the escalating crisis by his combative responses to growing legal and political challenges that undermine his legitimacy and his term in office.
There are two ultimate results for Trump’s political future – removal from office or confrontational resistance. In the first scenario, investigations and legal proceedings against him and his family multiply, particularly after Democrats take charge of the House of Representatives in January 2019. They will control numerous committees that can subpoena Trump’s associates and documents. In the second scenario, Trump resists the mounting pressure and hangs on to office while social tensions increase.
The next few months will be grueling for the President. Currently, 17 federal and state level investigations revolve around him, focusing on three main accusations: criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and financial crimes. “Collusion” has become a code word for a criminal conspiracy with Russian intelligence services intended to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections. This lies at the core of the Special Counsel investigation, which has already uncovered volumes of evidence about the Kremlin’s election attacks and indicted over a dozen Russian conspirators.
The investigation also involves WikiLeaks and its hacking of Democrat party Emails on behalf of Russian intelligence agencies. This has ensnared several Trump associates as well his campaign chairman. An additional line of inquiry involves the activities of Russian agents during the election campaign, including the penetration of the National Riffle Association and various conservative and evangelical groups.
A separate second line of investigation involves the President’s alleged attempts to obstruct justice, tamper with witnesses, and prevent the FBI from uncovering the conspiracy with Moscow. The firing of FBI director James Comey was the most glaring example of how Trump purportedly attempted to block any probes into his campaign.
A third expanding investigation revolves around the finances of the Trump family. Over a dozen inquests are now under way at federal level and by the US Attorney General’s office in New York. Analysts believe that the Trump Organization engaged in financial crimes for decades, with Comey comparing Trump to a mafia boss.
Among the targets of financial crime is the Trump Tower Moscow Project, which was pursued even while Trump was running for office. Investigators seek to uncover whether candidate Trump was promising Putin that he would lift sanctions in return for Moscow’s financing. The funding of the President’s Inauguration is also under scrutiny and whether foreign entities funneled money into the inauguration in order to buy influence with the incoming administration. Trump family members are also being investigated for foreign lobbyingand influence peddling not just with Russia but also with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.
All Trump businessesare under scrutiny. The Trump Foundation was recently closed for numerous financial crimes and prosecutors are examining howmoney flowed both in and out of Trump’s interconnected enterprises, including his hotels, golf courses, and companies. Experts believe it is not possible to separate his election campaign from his business dealings, as Trump himself intermingled them to make money and gain office.
Trump now confronts dozens of witnesses while the Special Counsel and other prosecutors have amassed millions of documents, telephone calls, recordings, emails, and other communications. Courts in Washington and Maryland have sent out subpoenas for Trump hotel financial records alleging that the President is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits him from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office. This lawsuit could publicly reveal how foreign governments have funneled business to Trump’s businesses.
Given the likelihood that Trump will be directly implicated in conspiracies, obstruction, and corruption, there are two main avenues for him to leave office, either impeachment or resignation. If Republicans in the Senate begin to calculate that they will lose the November 2020 elections by remaining tethered to Trump, they may turn against him and support the Democrat-led impeachment process.
However, there is a second possible scenario if Trump can successfully resist Congress and, unlike Richard Nixon, refuses to resign. He will calculate that the Republican controlled Senate will protect him from impeachment, at least until the November 2020 elections. He can claim special legal privileges as President, including non-indictment, even while sacrificing others to trial and imprisonment, including members of his own family. He can simultaneously rally the ultra-conservative media and his militant base in threatening civil disorder and even violent resistance if Congress dares to move against him.
A major factor in Trump’s future will be the state of the Democratic Party and whether it can stay united as politicians begin to line up for primary election season to choose a candidate for the 2020 presidential vote. There is little affection between the moderate and progressive streams of the party and they could be further pulled apart by campaign pledges and debates. Above all, Trump could rebound if the Democrat candidate for President turns out to be as weak as Hilary Clinton.