Thursday, October 11, 2018

Russia in Review: October 4 - 11, 2018

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Reporting Period: October 4 - 11, 2018 (The previous Russia in Review INTSUM is available here.)

Authors: Jack Ulses and Catherine Harris

Forecast: The Kremlin will use subversive political lines of effort over the near-term to destabilize the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Russia likely identifies a growing opportunity to expand its influence in the Balkans after federal elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina led to an outcome amenable to the Kremlin. This interference risks exacerbating ethnic tensions that could break down the tenuous stability of the Balkans. Russia may also be setting conditions to integrate the separatist region of Transnistria in Moldova through its interference in the 2019 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections. This development would allow Russia to obstruct further integration of Moldova into the West and increase its military threat to Western Ukraine.

Russia is acting to undermine Western-led peace settlements in the Balkans in order to block Balkan integration into the EU and NATO. Pro-Russian Bosnian Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik won election as the President of the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska on October 6. The Kremlin will likely provide diplomatic support to Dodik and his calls for the secession of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina - a demand which would undermine the 1995 Dayton Accords. The Kremlin will also likely work with Dodik to secure favorable energy and diplomatic deals in Bosnia at the expense of the EU. Russia could use the election results to increase its military cooperation - including training - with the Republika Srpska and ultimately establish a footprint in Bosnia-Herzegovina through Serbia. Russia is conducting similar influence-building operations across the Balkans. Russia supports actors in both Greece and Macedonia that oppose a referendum to change the name of Macedonia. The vote would remove the last obstacle to the accession of Macedonia into NATO. The Kremlin’s efforts to block further expansion by NATO in Southern Europe risk fueling still-precarious nationalist and ethnic tensions across the Balkans.

The Kremlin is setting conditions to federalize the disputed region of Transnistria following elections in Moldova in February 2019. Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken recent steps to restart negotiations over Transnistria in Moldova.[1] Putin appointed Dmitry Kozak - the author of a failed plan to federalize Transnistria in 2003 - as the Special Envoy for Economic Relations with Moldova in July 2018. Kozak is a close ally to Putin and previously served as his de facto representative in several high-priority assignments critical to the Kremlin.[2] His appointment suggests that the Kremlin may intend to relaunch negotiations over the federalization of Transnistria.

Kozak organized the inaugural Moldova-Russia Economic Forum on September 26. He also opened discussions on negotiated settlement plans with leaders from both Transnistria and Moldova.[3] Russia is simultaneously acting to fracture and delegitimize opposition parties that support the EU ahead of February 2019 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections in order to install a majority government that supports a negotiated settlement and eventual federalization for Transnistria.[4] The Kremlin likely intends to use federalization to ultimately integrate Transnistria - which it effectively controls through a contingent of Russian Armed Forces - into official government structures in Moldova. Russia could thereby gain a more stable mechanism to reinforce or resupply its landlocked forces in Transnistria as well as greater freedom of action to threaten the vital port city of Odessa in Southern Ukraine. This development would further divide the resources and attention of the Government of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia in Eastern Ukraine.

[1] Madalin Necsutu, “Moscow Plots Revival of Federal Scenario for Moldova,” Balkan Insight, October 2, 2018, http://www.balkaninsight(.)com/en/article/moscow-plots-revival-of-federal-scenario-for-moldova-09-28-2018; [“Kozak: MREF will allow to bring the relations of the two countries to a new growth trajectory,”] Sputnik, September 21, 2018, https://ru.sputnik(.)md/economics/20180921/22026180/kozak-zajavlenie-moldova-russia-otnoshenija.html; [“Representation of Rossotrudnichestvo in the Republic of Moldova received support in Transnistria,”] Sputnik, September 10, 2018, https://ru.sputnik(.)md/society/20181009/22384359/ rossotrudnicestvo-pridnestrovie-podderzhka.html.
[2] “From Olympics to Crimea, Putin Loyalist Kozak Entrusted With Kremlin Mega-Projects,” Moscow Times, March 28, 2014, https://themoscowtimes(.)com/news/from-olympics-to-crimea-putin-loyalist-kozak-entrusted-with-kremlin-mega-projects-33409; [“Moscow and a possible federalization plan for Moldova,”] G4, October 7, 2018, https://www.g4media(.)ro/moscova-si-un-posibil-plan-de-federalizare-a-moldovei.html.
[3] [“Russia is ready to restore relations with Moldova, Kozak said,”] Ria Novosti, September 26, 2018, https://ria(.)ru/world/20180926/1529385600.html.
[4] [“Moldovan Parliament did not reach consensus on amendments to the European Integration Constitution,”] TASS, October 9, 2018, https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/5652895.