Russia and US: Buzzing, Spying, Deploying; Business as usual
According to some sources Russian federation deployed new missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Putin’s spokesman Peskov refused the allegations. INF violations are nothing new, as Russia has been accused of breaching the treaty repeatedly in 2012 and 2014. US and Russian foreign ministers met in Bonn behind closed doors, but stated they are “willing to find areas of practical cooperation” without addressing the issue. This has not been the only Russian provocation in recent days. At the same time a Russian spy ship has been spotted off the US East coast, likely intercepting signals. This, likewise, is not the first case as similar patrols were spotted in 2014 and 2015 off the coast of Florida. Lastly, Russian Su-24 jets buzzed US Navy destroyer in the Black Sea. Similar incident happened in 2016. It seems that Russia has moderated its actions to leave room for strategic negotiation with the new US administration, but now it is ‘business as usual’ again. In response NATO agreed to increase Air and Navy patrols in the Black Sea, sparking another exchange of threats.
Munich Security Conference: Massive uncertainty
The 53rd Munich Security Conference, one of the most important global politics forums, took place on 17-19 February. Conference chairman Ischinger stressed the “massive uncertainty” in today’s world ahead of the “most anticipated security conference in years”. Here is what happened:
- It was a first chance for European elite to meet the new American administration: VP Pence, Defence Secretary Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kelly. As in Brussels previously, the Americans urged NATO members to stick to the 2 % defence spending threshold.
- It was also what the Americans did not say that dominated the corridor talk, there was no mention of the EU. As German defence minister von der Leyen put it: “Strong Europe is as much in the American interest, as strong NATO.”
- ‘What drives the US foreign policy?’ seemed the be the underlining question. Trump criticises NATO; his administration reaffirms America’s commitment to the Article 5; and the US Congressman outlined their greater involvement in foreign relations. As one EU official put it “Seems like we’re dealing with two governments.”
- Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that NATO was a Cold War relic and called for a ‘post-West’ global order. Similarly, Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister, said we need “cognitive transition, commensurate with the realities of the global transition”.
- The truce in Eastern Ukraine was renewed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. But less than a week later the US condemned the attack on OSCE monitoring mission and called on Russia and the separatist forces to observe the ceasefire.
Constitutional changes on both sides of Nagorno Karabakh
Azerbaijani president Aliyev made the headlines as he appointed his wife Mehriban as vice president and second-in-command. Should the president, which has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003 following his father, ever step down, she is set to succeed him. The move marks a further tightening of the Azerbaijani regime. In the 2009 referendum Azerbaijan scraped term limits for president and in 2016 it expanded the length of presidential term from 5 to 7 years. At the same time, the unrecognised Nagorno Karabakh Republic held constitutional referendum in which the voters adopted more centralised presidential system. The main reason behind the change is a deteriorating security situation following the April ‘four-day war’. According to advocates, presidential system is better suited for managing the conflict. In reaction Baku issued international arrest warrants for several observers from the European parliament. Armenia held its constitutional referendum already in December 2015 transferring most powers from the president to the prime minister, with the changes to take place after current president Sarkisian’s term ends in 2018. That makes the coming election in April crucial. Opposition has a chance to win but Armenia has no history of peaceful transition of power. Political violence could erupt following the election in April.
The Netherlands: Despite referendum Parliament approves Ukraine Association Agreement
Dutch parliament backed the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, as a last of the EU member states. Ratification of the Agreement was refused last year by Dutch voters in non-binding ‘advisory referendum’. The agreement ensures closer ties between EU and Ukraine, but prior to the vote Netherlands asked Brussels to ensure that the agreement would not not guarantee Ukraine’s membership, and would not oblige member states to provide it with military aid. The move will likely play a role in the election to be held in March. The Netherlands is seen as a test ground for European populists ahead of elections in France and Germany.
Czechs and Slovaks sign exclusive air defence treaty
Czech and Slovak defence ministers signed a treaty this month on joint airspace protection. The document needs to be ratified by both parliaments and presidents, and it is expected to come into force in second half of 2017. The treaty will allow deeper cooperation than the NATO air defence system NATINAMDS as it also covers non-military threats like terrorism or cases of capability failure. Such situations can involve use of weapons in the airspace of the second state.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a biweekly basis provides short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context. Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
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