Balkans: Greek Forces Melting Away

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September 3, 2012: A Turkish proposal to create a safe zone inside Syria is failing to get support in the UN Security Council. Turkey told the Security Council on August 30, that the safe zone could be created in northern Syria in areas that are essentially under rebel control. The Security Council would not consider the proposal. The Turkish government said that it is expecting another wave of Syrian refugees. An estimated 80,000 refugees are already inside Turkey. Aid groups estimate that Turkey may soon have 200,000 Syrian refugees on its hands. Turkey has built several new refugee camps but authorities claim that the camps cannot house more than 150,000 refugees. If a safe zone were established, new refugee camps could be built inside Syrian territory. France has proposed sending humanitarian aid to areas in Syria the French government described as liberated. The aid, of course, would likely flow through Turkey. The French proposal avoided the term safe zone but the UN, mainly because of Russian and Chinese resistance, failed to act.

September 1, 2012: Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have agreed to meet later this month on the island of Cyprus to discuss oil and natural gas infrastructure issues. The three nations will likely address ways to jointly develop off-shore natural gas deposits in Cypriot and Israeli waters (in their Exclusive Economic Zones, or EEZ). Turkey has demanded that Cyprus political division be resolved before the Cypriot government begins to develop its off-shore resources. Turkey has sent its own oil and gas exploration ships into areas off northern Cyprus (Turkish Cypriot side of the island).

August 31, 2012: Kosovo said that it is prepared to start new discussions with Serbia, which still contends that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence was illegal. When representatives of Serbia and Kosovo meet, Serbia refuses to regard the meetings as state to state discussions. The European Union regards Kosovo as a separate state (though some EU members, like Spain, do so reluctantly because they face their own separatists). The EU recently stated that Serbia must improve relations with Kosovo (meaning state to state political relations) if Serbia wants to stay on track to joining the EU. Serbia became a candidate for EU membership in March 2012.

August 30, 2012: The Greek debt and fiscal crisis continues. Greece’s coalition government promised this week that spending cuts planned for 2013 and 2014 would be the last major austerity budget the Greek people would have to bear. The official statement said, however, that these spending cuts through 2014 were absolutely necessary if Greece is to remain in the Euro-zone. Greek media, however, quickly noted that previous governments have made similar pledges about ending austerity and the governments broke them. Meanwhile, the government has asked international creditors for an extra two years to meet the deficit reduction requirements (a deficit of three percent, or less, of GDP) mandated by the last bail-out agreement. The government said that it could reach the target in 2016, but not in 2014. Earlier this year the Greek government estimated that it would have a deficit of 4.6 percent in 2013. Greece will hold several meetings in September with representatives from its major lenders, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The major lenders will be evaluating how well Greece has met the bail out requirement. Financial media occasionally refer to the IMF, EU, and ECB as The Troika. The term is now being used derisively by the Greek government’s political opponents.

August 28, 2012: Kosovo’s government has asked KFOR peacekeepers to remove a barricade erected by Kosovar Serbs in July 2011. The barricade blocks a bridge over the Ibar River in the city of Mitrovica (northern Kosovo). KFOR now has 5,576 peacekeepers (including 781 Americans) deployed.

August 27: EUFOR, the EU peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia, has provided helicopters to Bosnian and European firefighters who are continuing to battle wildfires in eastern Bosnia. 

August 23, 2012: Germany and other EU lenders indicated that they are not interested in re-negotiating the Greek debt deal. Several German leaders have been discussing how to make a Greek exit from the Euro-zone economically containable (ie, limiting the financial fallout of a Greek exit). These German leaders contend that Greece is not implementing economic reforms fast enough nor meeting the deficit reduction targets mandated by the bail-out agreements. Meanwhile, Greece reported that its GDP continues to shrink. Greece’s GDP shrank six percent from Summer 2011 to Summer 2012. Since 2008, the Greek GDP has declined an estimated 20 percent (18 percent according to one source). Greek debt now totals over 150 percent of its annual GDP. In May Greece reported an unemployment rate of 23 percent.

August 22, 2012: British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus are once again making news. Several newspapers and websites ran headlines that the British bases are used as intelligence collecting sites and they are collecting information on the Syrian civil war. The bases were major intelligence sites during the Cold War and in the 21st century they remain in the information gathering business. The hot question driving the recent headlines was where does the intel go? Is it being given to the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA)? Who knows but the British bases are NATO bases. One European website noted that it would be easy for Great Britain to give Turkey the intelligence information and then Turkey could pass it on to the FSA rebels.

August 21, 2012: Romania's highest court ruled that the July 29, referendum to impeach President Traian Basescu was illegal. The referendum did not have the requisite number of voters participate (at least 50 percent of the electorate). Basescu’s political enemy, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, organized the referendum. New national elections are scheduled for November 2012.

August 20, 2012: A Serbian opinion poll claimed that Serbian support for joining the European Union is declining. The poll results indicated that only 49 percent of the Serbian people would vote to join the EU is an EU membership referendum was held today and that 25 percent of the Serbs would vote against it.

August 15, 2012: Ethnic tensions between Slavs and Albanians remain in Macedonia. Macedonia's president announced that he will have the government investigate the current defense minister. The defense minister recently appeared at a ceremony which paid tribute to Macedonian Albanian rebel fighters who died in the 2001 rebellion. The defense minister said he attended the ceremony as an act of reconciliation. The defense minister is an ethnic Albanian and a member of the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (ADUI) party. The ADUI is currently part of a coalition government with the VMRO-DPMNE party.

August 14, 2012: The Turkish Army conducted a military exercise along its border with Syria. Turkish forces included tanks and armored personnel carriers. The exercise included a force deployed at the Oncupinar border crossing (Kilis province, southern Turkey). Observers described the deployment as a show of force for the benefit of Syria's Assad regime.

August 10, 2012: The Turkish government denied accusations made by Syria that Turkey is supplying Syrian rebels with material aid. Turkey is letting Syrian soldiers who have defected stay in refugee camps inside Turkey. However, the defectors are not allowed to use the refugee camps as bases of operation. The Turkish government was responding to allegations that a refugee camp near the town of Adana was the nerve center of the Free Syrian Army. The huge NATO airbase at Incirlik is located near Adana.

August 9, 2012: The Balkans have experienced a very dry summer and Bosnia and Serbia are now fighting several dozen large wildfires. Two of the wildfires are near an ammunition factory in the town of Konjic (southern Bosnia). Bosnian firefighters have reported that some of the fires have detonated un-exploded land mines that were left over from the Bosnian War (1991-1996).

August 7, 2012: Balkan countries are reassessing their vulnerability to Islamist terror attacks in light of the July 18, terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian. Bosnia reported that it has increased security forces around its Israeli embassy. Several Balkan governments have expressed concerns that Islamist political radicals are increasingly active in the region and seek to exploit ethnic tensions and economic decline.

August 5, 2012: Greek police conducted an operation in which they arrested over 1,100 people in the Athens area suspected of violating immigration rules. Since the beginning of the month Greek police and security forces have detained some 5,000 people around the country suspected of being illegal immigrants. The EU estimates that 80 percent of the illegal immigrants coming into EU countries pass through Greece.

Croatia commemorated the 17th anniversary of Operation Storm. Many Croats regard the Operation Storm offensive as a huge victory since it drove Serbian forces loyal to Slobodan Milosevic from Croatia’s Krajina area. However, the offensive also forced many Croatian Serbs to flee. An estimated 200,000 Serbs have yet to return to their homes.

August 2, 2012: The EU’s EULEX judicial and police organization in Kosovo has indicted eight Kosovar judges on charges of corruption. The judges are charged with abusing court powers and issuing unlawful rulings. Two other Kosovars were also indicted on charges relating to the unlawful rulings. EULEX investigators alleged that the defendants rigged the decisions in 15 civil law suits that involved turning publicly-owned property into private property. EULEX also indicted a former head of Kosovo’s Anti-Corruption Task Force. The former anti-corruption official is accused of taking a 20,000 euro bribe.

August 1, 2012: Serbia’s new defense minister said that though Serbia has been a member of NATO’S Partnership for Peace organization since 2006, the nation will maintain strict military neutrality. The defense minister said that the Serbian military has good relations with both the U.S. and Russia.

The Turkish Army announced that it is conducting an extended field exercise involving armor units in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province. The district is only two kilometers from the Turkey-Syria border. The armor unit involved is the 70th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. If it looks like a show of force demonstration, that’s because it is.

July 30, 2012: Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that the stand-off between Moldova and Transdnistr should be resolved by making Transdnistr part of Moldova. Russia, however, wants Moldovan neutrality to be guaranteed and Moldova cannot join NATO. Russia has kept a peacekeeping force in Transdnistr since July 1992. Moldova wants the Russian peacekeeping force replaced by a police contingent sponsored by the UN.

July 29, 2012: Romania’s election bureau announced that a referendum to impeach the current president had failed because only 46 percent of the electorate voted. To be legal the referendum had to have at least 50 percent.

July 27, 2012: Serbia's parliament approved a new coalition government to be led by Prime Minister Ivica Dacic. The coalition consists of the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party and the Socialists. Several European Union governments are worried about the new Dacic government. Dacis served as a spokesman for Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Dacic has said his government will not recognize Kosovo’s independence. He hedged that a bit by saying that any agreements made between Kosovo and Serbia in negotiations sponsored by the European Union would be observed.

July 25, 2012: The chief of staff of the Greek Army resigned. The government said his resignation had to do with issues of ethics and dignity.

July 24, 2012: Israel once again accused Iran of involvement in the suicide terror bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli citizens.

July 22, 2012: Turkish police confronted a group of Syrian refugees in the camp located near the town of Kilis (Kilis province) who were protesting poor conditions (in sufficient water supplies) in their refugee camp. Another demonstration by refugees complaining about poor facilities occurred in the camp located at Islahiye (Gaziantep province).

July 19, 2012: Bulgaria indicated that it believes the suicide bomber who killed five Israelis on July 18 did not act alone. Israel issued a statement that it believed Iran and Hezbollah were involved in the attack. The Bulgarian government did not comment on Israel’s claim. 

July 18, 2012: The Bulgarian government reported that a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian in an attack in the city of Burgas (a Black Sea resort town). The Bulgarian who was killed was driving the bus on which the Israeli tourists were riding. Another 31 Israelis were injured in the blast.   The tourists arrived at an airport near Burgas on a chartered flight from Israel. The 40 Israelis were boarding the bus when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives. Bulgarian media argued that the attack demonstrated that Bulgaria’s security forces are not prepared to counter serious international terrorist threats.

A Turkish court acquitted nine people of charges that included an attempted assassination of Turkey’s prime minister and of planning a coup. Two of the defendants were Turkish Army captains. The group is sometimes called the Atabeyler gang. The government alleged that the defendants formed the gang under the direction of a shadow group within the military, probably within the Army’s Special Forces Command. All nine defendants were arrested in 2006. The court concluded that the alleged crimes did not occur. However, the court did rule that several of the defendants were guilty of various crimes, including illegal transportation of explosives. One defendant was sentence to four years imprisonment on that charge. Other defendants received shorter sentences. The Atabeyler conspiracy is not directly connected to the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy.

July 15, 2012: The new Greek government doesn’t want to make any more deep cuts in its defense budget but it is looking for ways to streamline military operations. Though it will be politically unpopular, Greece could close many of its military installations. Closing and consolidating military installations is not a new recommendation, but Greece’s budget crisis may force the government to do it. Greece maintains over 500 military installations and operates 17 training centers for new recruits. Some of the installations are not very large but they still cost money to run. Greek politicians, like politicians everywhere, like to see defense money spent in the areas they represent. In 2009, Greece spent 3.2 percent of its GDP on defense. It now spends around two percent of GDP on defense and its GDP has shrunk in the last three years.

 

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