MS Risk Blog

Will Moldova become the next target of Russian aggression?

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

On May 2, Ukrainian intelligence sources revealed that they believe that the Kremlin has already taken the decision to launch an invasion of Moldova through the country’s breakaway Transnistria region, suggesting that Russia may attempt to use Transnistria’s Tiraspol airport to land forces and overwhelm Moldova’s army, which numbers less than 4,000 active-duty soldiers.  A Times article quoted an unidentified military source as saying “We believe the Kremlin has already taken the decision to attack Moldova. The fate of Moldova is very crucial. If the Russians start to take control, we will, militarily, be an easier target and the threat to Ukraine will be existential.” The source also suggested that an invasion could take place around the time of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on 9 May.

Transnistria, also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (PMR), is a breakaway region of Moldova and self-declared presidential republic, unrecognised by the wider international community (with the exception of mutual recognition with Abkhazia, Artsakh, and South Ossetia), but supported by Russia. Geographically, Transnistria comprises a long narrow strip of landlocked territory of 4,163 km² sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. The region declared independence from Moldova in 1990 sparking a conflict which in 1992 was paused by a ceasefire agreement that has held until the present. In Transnistria’s most recent census in 2015, ethnic Russians made up the largest percentage of respondents at 29.1%. Since the 1992 ceasefire, the Russian Federation has maintained military facilities and around 1,500 are deployed in Transnistria, supporting a Transnistrian paramilitary force of at least 7000.

In the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a publicity video of Putin ally and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko appeared to show a map depicting Russian forces entering Moldova from Ukraine, raising fears that Russia also planned to eventually annex the former-Soviet state. On 14 April, Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Malyar claimed that Russia was amassing troops on Ukraine’s border with Transnistria, but this was denied by Transnistrian authorities. On 22 April, Deputy Commander of Russia’s Central Military District, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, speaking at the annual meeting of the Union of Defence Industries of the Sverdlovsk Region, suggested that Russia might push to control the entirety of Southern Ukraine to Transnistria, creating a ‘land bridge’ between Russia-controlled Crimea and Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. On 25 April, Transnistrian sources reported that an attack had been carried out against the headquarters of the Ministry of State Security (MGB) and on 26 April two radio antennas close to Tiraspol near the Ukrainian border were destroyed by explosions. In response to the explosions, the Transnistrian Defence Ministry ordered a general mobilisation of “all men between 18 and 55”.

The opening of a new front in Moldova could provide several advantages for Russa. If successful, controlling southern Ukraine, a key Kremlin aim of the war, and creating a land bridge between Crimea and Transnistria could open up Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, in particular Odessa, for increased transports of forces and materiel into the country. This would facilitate reinforcement of the Russian military and reduce the risk to Russian navy vessels operating on the Black Sea from Ukrainian anti-ship missiles. Mobilisation of Transnistria’s paramilitaries could offer a new source of manpower for Russia’s campaign in Ukraine and open up a new front in the west to split Ukraine’s defence. The Kremlin may also hope that a stronger presence in Transnistria would deter Moldova’s pro-EU President, Maia Sandu, from siding with the west and participating in sanctions against Russia. Expanding Russia’s threat to Moldova could also serve to divert NATO and EU attention and weapons shipments from Ukraine.

There are, however, also arguments against the likelihood of Ukraine’s warning of an impending invasion of Transnistria or Moldova. Although Transnistria’s Tiraspol airport’s runway, at around 2,400m length, would be adequate for the landing of Russian Il-76 transport and aircraft, Russian flights into Transnistria would at present be forced to run the risk of overflying Ukrainian anti-air missile defence systems. At the same time, the Russian military’s push to secure southern Ukraine and the port of Odessa appears to be stalled by strong resistance in the city of Kherson, thwarting plans to link-up with Transnistria. Increased Russian presence on the border of Moldova might also backfire in pushing the Moldovan government further towards the EU and in particular the safety of NATO.

At present the high-risk strategy of Russia expanding its operations to Moldova is judged to be an unlikely outcome. This assessment appears to be shared by western intelligence agencies which have not echoed Ukraine’s warnings, in contrast to the loud and repeated warnings of an impending Russian attack which were made prior to the invasion of Ukraine. However, this situation may change should the efforts of Russia’s push to occupy southern Ukraine become more successful and resistance in Ukraine’s southern cities ceases to hold back Russian forces.

Somalia Elections Update

Posted on in Somalia title_rule


Since the beginning of 2022, the overall security situation in Somalia has been getting gradually worse. Bitter political infighting over the long delayed parliamentary elections have further divided national security forces and yielded a strong spike in terror activities perpetrated by Al Shabaab. These include suicide bombings and shootings of both political targets and the general public, as well as voter suppression and intimidation. Between early March to date, the Somali elections have still yet to be held. Whereas some headway has been made with the election of several representatives and a new speaker, the continued delays, uncertainty and tumultuous actions of both President Farmaajo and Prime Minster Roble are inadvertently allowing Al Shabaab to exploit the impasses whilst the increasingly polarised security forces are distracted.

The Current situation

As of 28 April, several important events have transpired which are creating an increasingly volatile political environment. On 7 April, Prime Minister Roble ejected the African Union representative sent to Somalia to monitor the election status, an act which the president swiftly rejected. Demonstrating a further increase in the relations between the two and proving to the IMF and western governments that the strict deadline for all elections to be complete (17 May) may be looking unlikely. The deadline marks the point at which Somalia will no longer be eligible to receive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund. The cause was not aided by an attempt by President Farmaajo to block lawmakers entering in a vote on 27 April. The continued struggle to hold free and fair elections is likely to further erode trust in Somalia’s abilities to manage its political system which is still in its infancy.

On the security front, the political turmoil is creating a perfect environment for bitter struggles between the national security forces who themselves have their own allegiances. Subsequently, Somalia has seen a marked increase in Al Shabaab activity. There is no coincidence that the combined efforts of Somalia’s security forces being diverted towards the political row has come at the same time as extreme violence by the jihadist group both in Mogadishu and in surrounding rural areas and border regions (specifically with Kenya).

Future Prospects and Projections

It is fair to say that with the election of Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur as the new speaker of the House, Somalia edges closer to electing its new president next month. It is likely that together with Abdi Hashi Abdullahi (the Upper House speaker) Nur will oversee the election of the president by the two houses of Parliament, however it is uncertain whether these will take place before the end of May. Given that the elections have been delayed now for over a year, It is our judgement that if the 17 May deadline is missed, significant international pressure will likely begin to take its toll on the political system.

Given that a large amount of Somalia’s house representatives have now been elected and sworn in, we can foresee an incremental march to victory. Somalia’s electoral system however does not rely on the people to vote for representatives. The “House of the People” and it’s 275 representatives is chosen by delegates appointed by clan elders and members of civil society. The MPs then vote for a president, who leads the country. We assess that this procedure has and will continue to likely cause delays and political infighting, as by its nature, it is a soft target for corruption and tribal, ethnic and regional polarisation. As Somalia moves further towards it’s election deadlines, there will likely be increased pressure to avoid losing out on the vital monetary and security aid from foreign nations, resources which, if lost, will represent a significant political blow for both Farmaajo and Roble.

As of April 28, it is unclear if we will see a new president sworn into office by the end of May. We do however see some optimistic movements.


Armed Clashes in Colombia’s Border Regions

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

On 29 March, 11 people were killed in what Colombian authorities described as an operation by security forces against former FARC members. It emerged in the following days that some of the 11 people may have been civilians. The victims allegedly included community and indigenous leaders and a 16-year-old teenager. On 30 March, the OHCHR office in Colombia tweeted that it is following up on the incident, where “civilians, community and indigenous leaders reportedly lost their lives,” calling on authorities to investigate and clarify the facts. The Colombian prosecutor’s office said on Twitter that it was opening an investigation into “the events in Puerto Leguizamo where 11 people died.”

This extremely concerning incident occurred as part of a focus by Colombian security forces on cracking down on former FARC dissidents. The FARC, despite agreeing to disarm as part of the 2016 Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace agreement, remain a significant presence in rural regions in Colombia. There are also other non-state actors active in these areas. According to the Indepaz peace research institute, there are 90 armed groups with some 10,000 members active in Colombia overall. These figures include more than 5,000 FARC dissidents who rejected peace, some 2,500 members of the National Liberation Army or ELN (the country’s last active guerrilla group), and another 2,500 rightwing paramilitary fighters. There are frequent armed clashes between these different groups. The Venezuelan army is also involved in the conflict, it has been claimed by rights organisations and by Colombian President Ivan Duque. Humanitarian workers and refugees from Apure said that they have witnessed members of Venezuela’s National Guard entering villages with the ELN rebels and taking people away in trucks.

Local communities become caught up in the violence between the Colombian army and these groups, and caught up between the groups fighting each other, as these actors compete for territory. The conflict has had dire humanitarian consequences for the populations of regions like Apure, as levels of violence has increased over the last year or so. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, mass displacement in Colombia almost tripled in 2021 compared with 2020. UNOCHA states that in total nearly 110,000 people have been displaced or confined by the armed conflict in 2021 alone. Human Rights Watch said that at least 103 people were killed in Arauca in the first two months of 2022 amid violence between the armed groups, the highest death toll in the region for January and February since 2010.

The violence and displacement is a consequence of inadequate implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, which aimed at bringing security to areas historically impacted by conflict when under FARC control. President Duque is steadfastly opposed to the agreement, which must be a contributing factor to the unsuccessful implementation. One of the agreement’s provisions was to protect former FARC members and allow them to reintegrate into civilian society, yet 315 former FARC members have been killed since the accord was signed. On 28 January, Colombia’s constitutional court declared an “unconstitutional state of affairs,” and ordered the government to implement the agreement’s security guarantees. Slow movement on another of its provisions, to strengthen Colombia’s government’s presence in formerly FARC controlled regions, means that a power vacuum has been created where these rural areas formerly held by the FARC are now dominated by numerous smaller splinter groups and armed nonstate actors such as the ELN. They all vie for control over illicit activities in these areas that the FARC once controlled.

Whether improvement will be seen in the situation is uncertain. A UN Security Council briefing was held on 12 April to discuss the topic where President Duque was present for the first time. It was expected there may be more encouragement to use mechanisms established by the 2016 agreement such as the he Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI), but there do not appear to be solid plans or conclusions drawn from this meeting. It is possible that the May presidential elections will bring about some change to security policy and improve the situation, since current frontrunner Gustavo Petro has expressed that he is open to dialogue with the ELN to reach a peace agreement.

Russia and Serbia Friendship

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many countries have turned their backs on Russia. This allows us to see who Russia’s real friends are. Most notably in Europe is Serbia. Serbia and Russia share strong cultural heritage, both nations being Slavic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, both countries maintain about 70 bilateral treaties, agreements and protocols signed since the cold war, with 43 having been signed and ratified since the formation of the Russian Federation. The ties between the countries are strong but since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, these ties have come under pressure from the international community.

Since the end of the cold war, relations between the two countries have been strong. In 1998 the Kosovo war began with Russia strongly condemning the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, large numbers of Russian volunteers and mercenaries were seen leaving Russia to help Serb forces fight in the war, and the Miloševic brothers developed pro-Russia rhetoric, proposing an agreement to join the Union State, Belarus and Russia.

In 2008, these relations further blossomed, with Gazprom Neft investing in Serbia’s oil and gas company Naftna Industrija Srbija in exchange for EU400 million or EU550 million in investments. Serbia also created the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Niš, an intergovernmental non-profit organisation. Russia was also heavily involved in backing Serbia’s stance on Kosovo by not recognising Kosovar sovereignty. In return, Serbia did not impose sanctions on Russia during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

However, these relations took a turn, sort of. In 2019, Serbian security services revealed that Russian intelligence operatives had been passing money to Serbian army officials, something most countries would use as fuel for retaliation, but Serbia did nothing. Serbia also looked to increase its military cooperation with NATO and in 2016 Serbia gave NATO staff free movement in Serbian territory and diplomatic immunity, something that Serbia refused to do for the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center.

Relations, even after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are maintaining. Serbia is in an awkward place because of the open knowledge that Russia and Serbia are friends. The international community has put pressure on Serbia to denounce this friendship to no avail. Serbia refused to impose sanctions on Russia claiming it was not in Serbia’s best interest but balanced this by saying that they condemned the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Serbia continues to buy weapons from Russia, competing with neighbour Croatia. Russia has been exporting military equipment to Serbia to counteract the arms build-up in Croatia by the United States. This adds tension to the region given Serbia’s unambiguous stance on Kosovo and the pro-Serb rhetoric from secessionist Bosnian-Serb Milorad Dodik.

It has come to light recently that Serbia has also been acting as a loophole for travel bans against Russian citizens and sanctions against Russian companies. Air Serbia still maintains flights from Russia to Serbia giving Russian citizens a way to circumvent no-fly zones. Air Serbia has even started to increase its flights to 15 a week due to high demand as Russian citizens look to avoid the harshening economic and civil climate in Russia.

Russian companies are now starting to do the same with 288 companies having been opened in Serbia by Russian legal and physical entities. The harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Kingdom mean that Russia’s economy is struggling even after the Ruble rebounded.

Pro-Russia sentiment is at an all-time high in Serbia too, with marches and rallies taking place all over the country to show support for Russia and Vladimir Putin. Pro-Russian organisations like the night wolves and right-wing group People’s Patrol organised the rallies and thousands of Serbians took part with banners and flags, including the Z symbol, now synonymous with Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Politicians have also been riding this pro-Russian wave with many candidates using pro-Russian rhetoric to gain support from the Serbian people. Elections on 3 April continued Aleksandr Vučić’s presidency with 58% of votes. Vučić has been one of Russia’s closest friends and this trend will look to continue, however, as Russian aggression continues in Ukraine and Serbia continues to allow Russians to circumvent sanctions imposed by the international community, it will be a tense time for Vučić if the world decides to start tightening their grip on Russian movements and money.


From Moon to Yoon: changes in South Korea’s Foreign Policy

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

As is often the case when there is alternation between progressive and conservative presidents in the South Korean government, the election of conservative candidate Yoon Suk-Yeol will most likely imply substantive changes in the country’s foreign policy. Beyond the domestic challenges, the new Korean administration will find itself in a troubled neighborhood: a North Korea that has intensified its launch of missiles, and a growing tension between its military and strategic ally (Washington) and its largest trading partner (Beijing). The president-elect, who has no experience in either foreign policy or defense, and whose agenda in these areas is based on the concept of “national interest,” is expected to introduce changes on all these issues.  Yoon, a newcomer to South Korean politics after spending the last 27 years of his professional career as a prosecutor, wants to turn his country’s foreign policy around in response to the work of dialogue and outreach carried out by his predecessor, progressive Moon Jae-in, towards his neighbors. A strategy that in his opinion has failed because it has not given the country any revenue. Yoon Suk Yeol is thus expected to apply a hard line on North Korea and balance South Korea’s relations with both the US and China. All of these tasks will have to be done while managing internal problems, including corruption and the pandemic.

Yoon Suk-yeol considers North Korea a serious threat to the security of his country and in his campaign advocated additional deployments of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system provided by Washington, which already caused in 2016 and 2017 strong political-commercial retaliation by China. The president-elect has also suggested highly controversial measures such as the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons, rejected by the Pentagon itself, and the possibility of considering a preemptive strike to counter North Korea’s threats. It will be necessary to pay attention to how these positions evolve once he takes office, given the foreseeable development that the North Korean arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and hypersonic missiles will continue to have, which are close to surpassing the South Korean defense systems. Likewise, the next tenant of the Blue House promised to continue with the joint military exercises with the United States, which were suspended from 2018 to 2021 as part of the peace policy of the previous administration with North Korea.

Paradoxically, Yoon has also supported measures of contact with North Korea that go beyond the traditional isolationism of the North Korean regime of the South Korean conservative forces. For example, he has proposed the sending of humanitarian aid without political conditions, the intensification of cultural and educational exchanges, the creation of a trilateral diplomatic office in Panmunjom with representatives of the two Koreas and the United States, and even the holding of a summit with Kim Jong-un. In any case, it will most likely harden the narrative about the North Korean regime, both in relation to the violation of its international commitments and human rights, and will reduce the volume of inter-Korean cooperation. Furthermore, any diplomatic initiative that could be taken up would, at least initially, be more discreet than the summit diplomacy promoted by Moon.

In sum, Kim Sung-han, Yoon’s foreign policy adviser and former deputy foreign minister, summed up Yoon’s strategy toward North Korea in three points in a webinar organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies: (1) reinforcing deterrence against aggressive North Korean actions, including the development of its nuclear and missile programs; (2) tighter enforcement of sanctions, which could target China and strain relations with Beijing; and (3) deepening trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan to pressure Kim Jong-un to return to negotiations on his weapons of mass destruction programs, willing to make significant concessions on them. In this way, it is not only intended to increase South Korea’s security against North Korea, but it is also expected to strengthen ties with the US and Japan, which has important implications for South Korean relations with China.

For South Korea, the rivalry between the US and China places the country in a difficult situation. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 1992, South Korea has opted for a commercial policy of rapprochement and collaboration with China. Beijing is Seoul’s largest trading partner, receiving approximately a quarter of its total exports of goods and services and being the origin of 22% of Korean imports, creating a clear situation of commercial dependence on the Asian giant. This dependence is aggravated by China’s role as a supplier of essential raw materials for its industrial fabric and South Korean investments in China, whose value is estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 million dollars between 2010 and 2019.

In this context, China tried to condition the decision of the South Korean government on the installation of the THAAD anti-missile system in 2016 and 2017, applying economic coercion that had a very negative impact on South Korean interests. These examples of coercive diplomacy, coupled with the controversy over the Chinese origin of certain aspects of Korean culture, have had a very pronounced impact on Korean public opinion. Recent opinion surveys show that the vast majority of South Korean citizens perceive China as the country that poses the greatest threat to Korea’s security (71.8%). On the contrary, the perception of Washington in Korean society has remained at the same levels as in recent years, with 93% of Koreans supporting the need to maintain the alliance with the US.

In relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this alliance is resulting in the imposition, under US leadership, of several rounds of sanctions by South Korea against Russian interests. Predictably, this alignment between Seoul and Washington against Russia will be even greater under Yoon’s presidency. In addition, the Biden Administration has emphasized its ability to be on the European front in the Ukraine war while keeping a close eye on developments in Asia-Pacific, something that was called into question in the early days of the European war and which continues to worry its allies in Asia. The South Korea-US alliance is part of the US security strategy in the region, with troops deployed in the Asian country and a fluid bilateral relationship of information and close contact. President-elect Yoon is expected to be more receptive than Moon to joining the new security platforms being developed by the US in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthening cooperation with Japan.

While handling these two main Foreign Policy priorities, Yoon will have to handle internal problems at the same time. Yoon, an anti-corruption prosecutor for 25 years, obtained prison sentences for corruption for former conservative presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. He has promised to make institutional changes to prevent – not just punish – corruption. Finally, Yoon will have to find a balance between economic recovery after two years of the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, a slowdown in exports, rising inflationary pressures (4,1% only in March, highest figure since 2011) and surging property prices.