Thursday, May 17, 2018

Russian troops withdrawal "priorities" of Moldova

#UN Security Council debate on international peace & security was called by Poland's President today. What a chance for #EasternEurope #Ukraine #Georgia et altri to bring up conflicts in our region. Unfortunately #Moldovan Speaker of the Parliament preferred to spend either public or UN funds to come to a UN road safety meeting a month ago, rather than coming today. His leadership w road safety and all, today is far more important. He came out with an initiative on Russian troops withdrawal at UN (in a way Russia could&did block it, though it was avoidable) and said Russian troops withdrawal from #Moldova is their priority. Today he & MLD govt had a chance to speak at the highest level about that priority. I guess road safety was more important...

On the Moldovan Government Russian troops withdrawal initiative at UN - I'll write something much later. Let's see how it fares by June. All in all, it's sad to see a country turning towards Russia and its practices voluntarily.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Money, transports and exports - an investment frozen conflict by Russia

Editorial by Vlad Lupan“Temporary tactics of the Transnistrian conflict”

I wrote an OpEd for the Foreign Policy Association of the Republic of Moldova on the temporary tactics of the Transnistrian conflict settlement. Why tactics and not a strategy? 

1. Tactics - under Confidence Building Measures, the Moldovan Government allowed the Russian investments in the Trans-Nistrian separatist region to get export opportunities to the West, via "neutral" number plates for their transport/carriers (that no longer have Moldova signs on it - Italy's Frattini championed the initiative, as OSCe Special Representative, based on Italian experience). Not all of those funds/investments in Transnistrian region are directly from Russia, some are local&regional and backing the separatism with funds and "kickbacks" everywhere in the region. This is not a strategic move by Moldovan Govt aiming at the negotiations format or Confidence Building, unfortunately, as the issue of Russian money laundering through the region is known to the media in Moldova and abroad. On "neutral" number plates allowing exports - it's unclear (and maybe less probable) that these export opportunities will undermine the existing sanctions against Russia via Kremlin's affiliates proxy investments in separatist areas that have export capabilities to US and EU. However the acceptance to provide Moldovan "neutral" number plates for separatists transportation is already dangerous in terms of money flows and more (the separatists are exporting most of its products to Europe, including some electricity produced on Russian gas delivered to the separatists, used by a Russian-owned power plant, and later claimed to be the debt of (billed to) the Government of Moldova - the debt amounts to billions now. No debt for plates negotiations seemed to have taken places... Also Russian's insistence on providing international "non-Moldovan/neutral" plates to separatist transport companies, where Russians have direct&indirect interests, was very high throughout the years of conflict settlement negotiations).

2. Strategy - Russian Government's strategic goals remain unchanged, from statements about 'mistaken dissolution of USSR' to challenging #USA and the West globally. Frozen & hot conflicts as in #Moldova and #Ukraine are integral to that. The fact that a conflict in #Moldova is so near #Ukraine is important to distract Kyiv's attention and resources from #Donbass. The "transfer" of initiative on the Transnistrian file from the Government to the pro-Russian President & his views, practically run against association with EU and Copenhagen Criteria - increasing the danger of "transnistrization" of Moldova, a term we know since 2003 Kozam Memorandum. Read my OpEd for the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova about the "temporary tactics of the Transnistrian conflict" and why the Russian money, through investments and exports via "neutral" Moldovan plates would actually support separatism, play along the Russian interests, and gain little in terms of the conflict resolution.

(Note that this is an expert opinion and was written in a non-political/non-partisan manner for FPA/APE from the Republic of Moldova. I have been a conflict negotiator in Joint Control Commission, in the political Five-sided format for Transnistrian conflict settlement, before it became 5+2. I dealt with Russian troops withdrawal from R.Moldova, CFE, arms control and was the Head of NATO and political-military issues Directorate. I was also a member of three OSCE Field Missions in Georgia (South Ossetia), Albania and Croatia. My last posting was as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Moldova to UN. My expertise in international security, comparative conflict resolution & post conflict rehabilitation was taken into account by FPA/APE for this short OpEd) 

Friday, April 27, 2018

North Korean Precedent

H. Kazianis at FoxNews suggests President Trump deserves a Nobel Prise for a real #NorthKorea de-escalation, unlike Obama.

Undoubtedly President Trump did manage to de-escalate. Yet it is harmful to present US president's actions as a contest over Nobel or for partizan reasons. Conflict resolution is not a partizan contest. The final goals are not there & unfortunately:

1. #KoreanPeninsula remains divided.

2. A dictator maintains his grip on power and realities of Iran show that it's hard to believe countries' nuclear development will be restraint, when the essence of tyrants' power is threatened. This may be a reprieve, let's see what's next.

3. It is also worying that Kim gets a possible Peace Treaty: 
- peace treaties are usually signed between recognized states. Thus, #SouthKorea, depending on what will be negotiated, will face a North Korea that'll attempt to achieve a legal recognition of its statue as a separate state recognized by "all" Koreans as such. That was previously successfully avoided by South Korea, in much earlier negotiations. Hence this did not create a negative precedent in international relations & conflict resolution on recognition of division of states, when such division is abnormal, but happened for strategic and to a lesser extent ideological reasons (like Germany after WWII). 
- A Peace Treaty now can create that danger. Much caution is necessary on this!

Speaking from a post-Soviet perspective, when a communust USSR understandood well power pressures and zero-sum games, the POTUS applied the correct pressure strategy over North Korea, well understood by its counterpart (make no mistake about that) - however, for now the results are fewer/lesser than what was actually possible and there are worrysome signals for many states, even afar from Asia, as I've mentioned above.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Syria and Russian repositioning on April 10 2018

Here is another collection of quick thoughts to a question posed by James Sherr, from Chattam House (Royal Institute of International Affairs, UK) on purposes of Russian redislocations & threats on Syria.

1. I'm not going to say something new, but Russian interest to protect its sattelite Syrian regime is still valid 
- it needs to protect its naval base, 
- block potential gas routes (see gen. Ivashov), 
- let's not forget обкатка/training of its military in war situation, as well of its (new&old) equipment & military sales to Syria&Iraq&Iran (otherwise to whom?), 
- playing "danger close" with (or testing) USA on the ground - as if it's an "equal" player. 

2. Which brings me to a very mportant matter from a Russian perspective - face saving. It needs sabre rattling to show its might to its own public (power=internal legitimacy), as well as to some, rather naive, leaders in the world. Consequently, Sputnik already published the standard article of next World War again, a theme so readily picked up by certain media, a fact known to Russians.

3. Their game on nuclear aggravation (starting WW3) can only theoretically happen if they themselves use a tactical nuclear strike. This is quite unlikely, as they would only use it against a country that cannot retaliate. However, the international community will have to respond, and the current sanctions would seem a minor issue compared to that response. The fact that Russians didn't dare to move a finger when Israel destroyed an important part of Syrian Air Defences, simply annihilated the "argument" if WW3 & also of "impissibility" of no-flight zone in Syria (both Obama & Trump administrations seemed to have been careful about). So, the probability is low.

4. Thus, Russians lay the ground for a standard either-or scenario they are so "good" at:

- either detter USA from hitting certain critical infrastructure (to later present themselves as mighty saviours & continue their Syria is ours game)

- or to have an "honorable" excuse for being pushed out of Syria & their hands untied for another intervention, weapons sale & (v.importantly too) propaganda+intervention elsewhere. Ukraine is a "reserve" option for intervention all the time, but there is always something more "in reserve" around the corner: 
• Bosnia is tested for some time, for example! 
• And where do we have elections coming in some strategic location? 
(Danemark's interests abroad (inexistant) would be too far stretched, even in NS2 context, but you get my point, I am sure:)

5. In short Russians do their standard and less known in the West to the public & some decision makers chess-like "Вилка"... ("fork" - when one figure threatens two) This lays the ground for either their "save&stay" or "leave&follow up" scenarious that cannot be avoided.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Why "free" Russians abroad voted for Putin

Another quick/ad-hoc collection of thoughts on why "free" Russians abroad came massively to vote & many probably voted for Putin? If you are familiar with the following Russian narratives, you'll understand:

- Putin restored the "might" of Russia by responding to enemies of Russia/Russian people/Russian speakers (see the concept expansion) & invading the "fascists" (who all happen to be most of the people around the world Russia disagrees with & of course those all "deserve" it - true or not is another story), 

- Wagner commanders say they fight (back) against US in local wars... 
(who's mentality they reflect, do you think? See Project Meatgrinder/RL interview)

- He ordered poisoning of "traitors" (who happened to be threats to his system) #Skripal #Litvinenko (the list is very long though & includes people inside Russia systematically as well, but, of course is unknown to the large public - yet, there are Russians who know and reply something like "they got what they deserve". Mentality...)

- he raised the economy (together with his & his cronies personal incomes - but he gives people something!!!right? - the concept of crumbs from king's table?), 

- he said he'd change/abolish USSR dissolution, as most of the Russians are dreaming about it (post imperial syndrome - see Levada polls, he just responded to their main gripe, he knows his public/voters, they "get" him, he "gets" them),

 - his KGB/FSB, Electoral Commission, Judges do "order" according to his instructions (law can wait? For the sake of "order"?), 

- try not to vote for him... Would you vote in a USSR Embassy against the Communist party in the past? No way! (all travel records/passport controls are still, now, in FSB(KGB) control, consular registration is supervised too & I'd speculate about cameras at polling, but there is just no need to put them and speculate about them - people are afraid enough, even without all that, just like in USSR times. Common, we lived those times.) 

- he builds roads over Radio, not everywhere though... (do your google search - & you ask what is populism???) 

- "not his" and not Gazprom (NordStream2) et Co TVs tell people all of the above "successes" every single day - he even keeps one "opposition" TV alive to prove how democratic he is & he is shirtless!!! Oh, and he is a tough guy who would fix or reject that "Gayropa" (Gay-Europe! All of Europe being shown as gay to backward and conservative people. As if Russian TV concerts are not full of them? No? And US is included in Gayropa concept, if you didn't know, for free. As a matter of importance or tolerance, probably)

- After the "chaos" of democracy by Yeltsin, what's not to "understand"?! ("strong hand" concept came in... handy, pun intended, well placed over local mentalities, but never left, so no one ever saw what democracy is. But who cares, because...)

Not by itself, manipulated mentality, but...

P.S. Also read about Chingiz Aitmatov Epic of Manas "mankurt" concept. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rookie & UK

Very quickly about UK & Novichok - a collection of Eastern European style questions, plus old & new thoughts.

1. Looking at today's statement of PM May - there is always a lingering thought about her anti-pro Brexit position. Seemingly nothing to do with today's discussion, until one remembers about Russian involvement in Brexit, among other things. Not the best intro, yet...

2. Wasn't it PM May's party led Government, before her leadership, still her party (&Government) that issued the infamous memo during Ukraine war "keep the Russian money flowing to the City"? 

Somehow it reminded me today about UK+France+Poland joint defence agreement (that's not the exact name) before WWII, by which UK&France would step in if anyone invaded Poland. Correct me if my memory is failling me on that one. Well, USSR&Nazi invaded and had a joint(!) parade together, UK declared war, but stopped short of any other action, except the formal statement of war. The 1939 was a world of complicated situations, of course, but some Central&Eastern Europeans had a certain level of carefulness towards this case. And the Memo on Russian money raised some eyebrows even more.

3. If that wasn't enough UK managed to quite obviously "not-see" the 14 cases of Russian killings etc on their own soil!!! Here is the article on that:
Aside from job&paiment for research, why Christopher Steele had to go to US to tell that story and not UK?

4. And PM May recognized publicly that Russians meddled in Brexit too, as I recall.

5. Well, on the matter of nerve agent the PM specifically said the nerve agent was "military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia" (Novichok - in English "Rookie" or BBC suggests Newcomer, well, to my mind Rookie is a better translation:) 

Though I was a desk officer for OPCW matters, I have to rely on BBC, which stated that Novichok was made mainly undetectable, and some variants are made of two non-banned substances that will become Novichok after being mixed. These substances are easy to transport separately and can be even solid, powder and liquid. 

Yet... Moscow never declared having it to OPCW! 

6. I am surprised in a way that PM May even attempts to give Russia time to present evidence to the contrary. Russians don't play such games. The simply don't! Even when they are not guilty, they are not going to justify themselves in front of anyone, let alone what they'd privately call "some" UK.

7. In fact, today was supposed to be the day when PM Theresa May will go beyong belicose statements and actually limited sanctions, which are rightly ridiculed by Russian super-rich leadership. Their mega-rich leaders with enough money home & unlimited domestic power don't care about sanctions that(!) much.

8. Perhaps PM May uses that to show the Western world a fair aporoach, or she plays the internal political game (more likely?), but the Russians simply don't see it that way. There are a few real decision makers in Kremlin plus in FSB/GRU/SVR, who knew what happened, all the others are voices in Mr. Putin's chorus. And they will sign the same song - that the Brits were unable to prove any hard proof, since Russians don't even have such Nerve Agents anymore (maybe some will even "lower" themselves to say that UK used circumstancial evidence), and that they attempt to make Russia look guilty and shift the burden of proof over Russia, instead of determining who is the real perpetrator (not Russia, of course) - the "forever" President Putin already stated something like "maybe some Tartars did it, maybe some Ukrainians and maybe even some jews with Russian citizenship did it" And what a selection of ethnicities/countries, by the way! 

9. Pretty much nothing will change, unless concrete Russians would feel some real heat, quietly, but clearly. Even then, they will only dial down. 

There are ways to deal with that.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The testing ground of fake news – it’s in Eastern Europe

The testing ground of fake news – it’s in Eastern Europe
by Vlad Lupan, February 8, 2018

Russian Ambassador to OSCE just complained to the Freedom of the Media Representative about Moldova’s anti-propaganda law that limits the use of fake news by Russia.

Many voters around the world seemed to fall for populist agendas and Russian propaganda campaigns during last years. Where these campaigns are tested and what are the implications?

The Republic of Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe, remains unknown to the large public. In fact, a company in UK developed a board game called "Where is Moldova?" that was praised by the British newspaper The Telegraph[1]. As I often call Moldova a testing ground for Russian political interference in my tweets, the Moldovan Parliament finally adopted an Anti-Propaganda Law in July 2017, in response to the Russian disinformation campaigns. [2]

I have warned about such a development in 2010 and, as the representative of the civil society in the Inter-Governmental Working Group on drafting the National Security Strategy, included the Information Security chapter in that document that was finally adopted in 2011.[3] However, the adoption of the 2017 anti-propaganda law, while welcoming, also sent ambiguous signals.

The Government led by the so-called "Governing Alliance Coordinator", the Chairman of the Moldovan Democratic Party (social-democratic) and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, attempted to play a "Pro-Western" card, while voting in the Parliament with the pro-Russia Socialists, led by the President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, Putin's protege. Transparency International Moldova branch issued a statement on this worrisome power sharing.[4]

While some observers already called this partnership "the binom" (a sum of two components)[5], very few outside Moldova seem to publicly notice that Mr. Plahotniuc plays, in coordination with Dodon, a pro-Western card, while Dodon does vice versa. Their purpose is to continue sharing power, as Transparency International notes. I would add that the “bad cop – good cop” is meant to confuse their foreign "partners", US including. It seems I am not the only one to notice – as while I started to write this opinion on January 25, several days after another article reflecting these issues was published on the “Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems”.[6]

This dual approach did ensure Mr. Plahotniuc at least partial support of the EU, including funding and some acceptance of the US, after his visits to Washington DC. Russia supported Mr. Dodon in turn with massive propaganda, after previous public appearances with Putin, ahead of upcoming 2018 elections. It is worth remembering that Dodon appeared with President Putin at their joint press conference one year ago and later was invited at St. Petersburg Economic Forum panel with Vladimir Putin, moderated by Megan Kelly of NBC.[7] Putin was asked at St. Petersburg about Russia's interference in electoral affairs of other countries and referred with a sarcastic smile to Dodon for an answer – the sarcasm had its meaning. I had an unexpected personal experience with that, when my Manhattan based Russian speaking barber asked me in autumn of 2016 if the Moldovan pro-Western, US educated candidate promised to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take in 30.000 Syrians to Moldova. When I asked him where he heard that – he replied on TV, Russian TV. This was fake news. It is worth noting that similar fake news about taking Syrians in were heard in Czech Presidential elections recently.[8]

Upon adoption by the Moldovan Parliament of the 2017 anti-propaganda law aiming at Russian interference, some opposition MPs voted for it, but criticized Moldovan Democrats leader Plahotniuc for using his wide media empire to discredit the opposition and use similar technique as Russia does.[9] What they seemingly failed to bring up is that, in reality, the Democratic party leader was actually rebroadcasting Russian channels with news inserts of his own. Thus, he was in fact partly perpetuating and spreading Russian propaganda in Moldova, while adopting laws to curb Kremlin's propaganda on paper. 

While this ambiguous play continues, the Russian Duma plays its part, also seemingly unaware of the real political and media positioning of the Moldovan oligarch and President. Duma adopted on January 24th 2018 a statement in response to the anti-propaganda law, condemning it and promising to bring Russian media to the home of every Moldovan by other means.[10] And yesterday Moldovan media posted an article called “Russia protects its propaganda”[11], reporting that that Russian Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe used his Facebook account to call the international body Freedom of the Media Representative to react promptly to the law.[12]

A news site,, published on January 25 a comment in Romanian to describe Russian Duma reaction and the actual realities of Plahotniuc's Russian media embrace: "Democratic Party MPs sign a draft statement to denounce Russia's attacks on national informational security - while their boss' TV stations disseminated Russian propaganda for years, rebroadcasting Russian TVs"[13]

And although in its reaction Duma recommends to consider termination of Russian broadcast contracts with Mr. Plahotniuc, there is apparently no one else who could broadcast those channels in the Republic of Moldova and the oligarch is known to control both the Moldovan Audio-Visual Broadcast Council overseeing the distribution of TV licenses, and the judiciary.[14]

It would seem that all involved actors, including EU and US, continue their business as usual ahead of 2018 Moldovan general elections. It would be helpful, however, for USA and the European Union to understand the contradictions in Moldovan realities. Moldova is not just a country, where people need to deal with its own issues - such an approach can be understood “the West abandons pro-democracy voters”. About half of its population continues to struggle against Russian influence and far more against corruption, as even the last Presidential elections of 2016 and opinion polls indicate. The unprepared and inexperienced pro-Western and anti-corruption candidate, Maia Sandu got 47 per cent of the 2016 votes in Presidential elections, compared to 52 for Igor Dodon, who benefited from a coordinated media campaign, including widespread use of fake news between Russia, Moldovan socialist affiliated media and the TVs of Mr. Plahotniuc himself.

The West is still the beacon of hope, emanating the attraction of democracy and rule of law. If one wants to see democracy, rule of law and anti-corruption work in every part of the world where people struggle to be free, then the pro-democracy supporters should not feel alone in the face of external and internal pressures that made Moldova a testing ground for other countries in fake news and political interference. This is how long terms alliances and loyalties between democracies are built. With the rise of anti-democratic populism, the West needs to wake up and start stepping in or risk remaining alone and under siege.