Archive for the ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ Category

Russian “Invasion” or Incursion” in Ukraine? Obama and the primacy of words over actions

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Barack Obama, as noted here before, places the highest priority on words, and conducting foreign policy through words, not actions.

See “ISIS or ISIL? A telling tale of the primacy of words over actions in Obama’s foreign policy,” The Trenchant Observer, uJune 19, 2014.

Now, with respect to the Ukraine, Obama is trying to be cute with words, refusing to characterize Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine as an “invasion”, because of the pressures the use of that term could generate for him to take forceful action against Russia.

See Erin McCarthy, “So Far, NATO and U.S. Avoid ‘Invasion’ Talk,” Wall street Journal, August 28, 2014 (6:49 pm ET).

Peter Baker of the New York times quoted some of the president’s statements before the press Thursday, and also described differences between Obama and some of his key advisors.

Mr. Obama seemed equally intent on managing expectations about what the United States may do in response to reports that Russia has sent forces into Ukraine. Although he said he expected to impose additional sanctions, he declined to call Russia’s latest moves an invasion, as Ukraine and others have, saying they were “not really a shift” but just “a little more overt” form of longstanding Russian violations of Ukrainian sovereignty.

“I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now,” Mr. Obama said. “The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia. Throughout this process, we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.”

In both cases, Mr. Obama took a strikingly different tone than his own advisers….

–Peter Baker, “Obama Urges Calm in Face of Crises in Ukraine and Syria,” New York Times, August 28, 2014.

Does the President understand what has been going on in the Ukraine while he was on vacation?

The point he is making here, however revealing it may be of Obama’s proclivities toward pacifism and appeasement in the face of Russian aggression, is totally irrelevant in terms of the prohibition against the threat or use of force in the United Nations Charter and international law.

There can be no doubt that the Russian “invasion” or “incursion”, or whatever you want to call it, constitutes an “armed attack” within the meaning of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, giving rise to the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” through the use of force.

Any impartial international lawyer would agree that a flagrant violation of the Charter’s prohibitions has been and is taking place.

So what are we to make of the Obama administration’s trying to be cute with words?

One is reminded of Hillary Clinton’s refusal to characterize the genocide by the Sudanese government in the western Darfur region of the country as “genocide”, because to do so would create imperatives to do something about it.

While Obama is being cute with words, he is also not taking meaningful actions to halt and roll back Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

And despite his tough talk on ISIS, or “ISIL” as he prefers to call what has now morphed into what calls itself “the Islamic State”, the White House is now leaking that the bombing campaign against ISIS isn’t going to start any time soon.

Obama not only fails to connect the dots, not understanding how his actions or temporizing on military action against ISIS might affect Putin’s perceptions of his resolve, but also fails to understand the relative importance of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine in comparison with the recent actions of ISIS.

On a day when the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the invasion in progress by regular Russian troops of the eastern Ukraine, Obama can’t even focus the world’s attention on that enormous development.

The invasion of the Ukraine is by far the most significant challenge facing the West and the civilized nations of the world which don’t invade each other, or want to.

So, what does the President do?

He quibbles about the word “invasion”, while failng to address the impications for the world of Russia’s actions, or to lay out the harsh sanctions the U.S. should be planning to impose on Russia.

His continued use of the vocabulary of cost-benefit analysis (saying Russia will pay additional “costs”) reveals he is still firmly in the grip of “the rational actor fallacy” in dealing with Russia, a country now full of xenophobic nationalism and enthusiasm for aggression, which is under the cunning but demented authoritarian leadership of a former KGB operative who dreams of making history through conquering territories that were formerly part of the Soviet Union (read Russian Empire).

As if this were not proof enough of the President’s cluelessness, and the incompetence of his White House foreign policy team, Obama also admitted today before the cameras that the U.S. does not have a policy on how to deal with ISIS.

This was a shocking admission.

It is hardly excused by the fact that the president has been on vacation for the last two weeks. ISIS took Falluja months ago, and Mosul on June 10, 2014.

When might we expect the Obama administration to come up with a policy?

Democratic political leaders should be gravely concerned. If they don’t do something to reverse the current course of appeasement toward Russia, or the temporizing response to ISIS, they will be extremely vulnerable to a Republican candidate on strong national security platform in the 2016 presidential elections.

Obama lives in his own world, which is hermetically sealed from hearing and having to respond to criticism.

Ask Obama what his three greatest mistakes in foreign policy have been, and he would probably give a carefully calibrated response meant to be politically clever but which is wholly lacking in any genuine admission of error.

He cannot admit that he has made mistakes, because he believes that like a god his analysis and decisions are superior and not susceptible to error. He has thought everything through, or is still in the process, and none of his judgments have been wrong. His critics just don’t understand things as well as he does.

He can’t see or understand the foreign policy mistakes he has made. As a result, there are few grounds for hope that he can correct them.

Because Obama doesn’t respond to criticism, many critics have simply given up. What’s the point?

The point is that an educated citizenry is required for a democracy to work, particularly in the area of foreign policy where voters’ bread and butter concerns are usually not directly related to issues and decisions.

Criticism where due, and praise, are the fuel of democracy, the essential combustible on which it runs.

The Trenchant Observer

The Vatican calls on Muslim leaders to condemn violence by jihadists in “the Islamic State”

Friday, August 15th, 2014

The Vatical has called on Muslim religious leaders to denounce the crimes committed by the juhaddist so-called “Islamic State” (formerly known as ISIS)

See:

(1 John Hooper (Rome), “Vatican calls on Muslim leaders to condemn Christian persecution in Iraq; Statement suggests dialogue with Islamic representatives may be cut if leaders fail to denounce crimes in name of religion,” The Guardian, August 12, 2014 (09.37 EDT).

(2) Yasmine Hafiz, “Vatican Urges Muslim Leaders To Condemn The Islamic State Formerly Known As ISIS, The Huffington Post, August 12, 2014.

Hafiz points out that a number of Muslim leaders have already spoken out:

Many have already done that. Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation called the actions of the Islamic State a “crime that cannot be tolerated” in July. Sunni and Shiite Muslim leaders from the UK made a video to condemn the Islamic State in July, and professors from the ancient and influential al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, have also publicly rejected the Caliphate. Most recently, the Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s top Muslim scholar, denounced the Islamic State as an “extremist and bloody group” on Tuesday.

(3) Shafik Mandhai, “Muslim leaders reject Baghdadi’s caliphate; Prominent Muslim leaders rebuke the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, calling it ‘void’ and ‘deviant’,” Al Jazeera, August 7, 2014.

(4) “World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians,” Vatican Radio, July 25, 2014.

(5) Reuters, “Egypt’s Top Muslim Leader Condemns Islamic State: Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam Denounces ‘Bloody Group,'” Huntington Post, August 12, 2014 (Updated: 08/13/2014 6:59 am EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE — Putin’s wager: Russia’s rogue authoritarianism versus fundamental human rights and the existing international political and legal order

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Russia and the Ukraine—The Big Picture

Originally published April 24, 2014

In a fatal error, Putin challenges the modern postwar international political and legal order

It is historically ironic, and from Vladimir Putin’s point of view perhaps tragic, that Russia’s crowning achievement at the Sochi Winter Games culminated precisely when the Yanukovych government in the Ukraine began to stumble and fall. On the other hand, Putin had only himself to blame.

Since then, Vladimir Putin has overreached, and made the fatal mistake of undertaking actions that put Russia permanently at odds with the world’s international political, legal and economic order.

While formally created during and at the end of World War II (1939-1945), the system has roots that go back to Hugo Grotius and the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648. The idea for the United Nations can be traced back to the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Covenant of the League of Nations and the founding of the League in 1919.

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the system of international law established within the framework of the United Nations Charter, including its bedrock principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, has become the very fabric of international society, constituting principles that have been repeatedly accepted in countless treaties and agreements as binding norms of international law by virtually every country.

Now along comes Russia’s new Dictator to suppress within Russia fundamental human rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial; to challenge the entire structure of the existing international political and legal order by invading the Ukraine, seizing the Crimea by military force and annexing it to Russia; and now threatening to invade the eastern Ukraine if the government of that country responds to Russia’s initial invasion by special forces and seizure of government buildings by force with its own necessary and legal use of force to reassert its control over its own government offices and territory.

Putin wants Russia to be able to invade the eastern Ukraine with special forces, and then to be able to decry any attempt by the Ukrainian government to restore public order as “crimes” against the Ukrainian constitution. He does so without mentioning his own crimes against the Russian constitution by suppressing civil liberties, or his own use of brutal force in putting down the rebellion in Chechnya–which included the commission of war crimes on a very large scale.

Putin and his lieutenant, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, accuse the Ukraine and the West of violating international law, as they sit on the spoils of Russian aggression in the Crimea, and openly threaten military intervention in the Eastern Ukraine if that country’s government moves with force to restore public order and the ordinary functioning of government institutions.

Like the case of Northern Cyprus, invaded by Turkey in 1967, or East Timor which was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea will never be accepted by other nations.

Nor will any further conquests in the eastern Ukraine, or of independent countries which formerly made up the Soviet Union, ever be recognized.

An invasion of the eastern Ukraine will indeed produce results, just not those Putin in his demented shortsightedness seeks to secure.

An immediate result will be stiffer sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, which moreover are likely to grow in intensity over time.

An invasion is highly likely to produce permanent enmity toward Russia in the Ukraine, and to strengthen the desire of Ukrainians, East and West, to join the European Union and, if necessary to protect their independence in the future, to join NATO as well (whatever time may be required to achieve this result).

An invasion is also likely to produce energetic responses from NATO aimed at Russia, if not immediately then at least over the intermediate term. To counter potential Russian aggression, large forces of American and other NATO-country troops are likely to eventually be moved from Germany to forward bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The current drawdown of American forces from Europe, in time, could be reversed.

Europe will probably also undertake vigorous policies to reduce its consumption of Russian gas and oil, though this may take a few years.

Putin’s wager is that his domestic repression and suppression of freedom of the press, free elections, the right to a fair trial and other fundamental human rights will be a model others will want to emulate, or at least be willing to ignore.

His wager that wars of aggression involving military invasions and the annexation of conquered territories will not matter to other countries, which will be happy to look the other way and continue doing business with Russia, is not likely to be successful in the middle or long term.

To be sure, the slowness with which democracies respond to military challenges may appear to be acqiescence or appeasement in the short term, but in the intermediate to longer term the combined economic and military strength of the U.S., NATO, Japan and their allies will be able to contain Russian military expansionism while depriving Russia of vital opportunities to join the first ranks of nations in a wired and interconnected world.

Finally, Putin’s wager overlooks the vital forces within Russia itself, symbolized by courageous dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, or even Communist party leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. These forces have visions of Russia that are deeply at odds with Putin’s embodiment of autocratic dictatorship at home, and wars of aggression abroad.

Putin’s wager may in fact hasten the day when his greatest fears are realized, the day the Maidan comes to Red Square.

The Trenchant Observer

The spiritual dimension: Muslims find refuge, shared sense of humanity, in Christian church in Gaza

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Among the terror and warfare that seem to increasingly claim the world’s attention, we often lose sight of the deep religious values and sense of humanity shared by the three religions of The Book–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These values are also shared by other religions.

It is this sense of shared humanity, the value expressed in the sentiment, “I am my brother’s keeper,” that joins all human beings in one shared experience, one shared existence, on this speck of matter, the Earth, which may appear as but a tiny point of light in one remote corner of an expanding Universe of over 170 billion galaxies, in the portion that is “visible” to humans and their telescopes. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 200-400 billion stars.

Men and women of all major religions believe that there are powerfunl spiritual forces (or a powerful spiritual force) and a spiritual dimension in the Universe. After the shattering experience of World War II, the representatives of the world’s nations came together to articulate the values and aspirations of mankind, which found expression in the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

As war rages in the Gaza strip, in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan, in the eastern Ukraine, and elsewhere, we are reminded of the spiritual dimension of our lives, of our shared humanity, by a news story describing how a Christian church in Gaza has taken in Muslims fleeing the current violence there.

See AFP, “Muslims pray in Christian Church as bombs fall in Gaza, Dawn, July 26, 2014.

In Gaza City, one Muslim resident named Mahmud reported that it was a bizarre new experience to be saying his daily prayers in a church “beneath the gaze of an icon of Jesus Christ.”

But since the war in Gaza began, he has had no choice but to worship in a Christian house of God, where he took refuge after Israeli air strikes pummelled his neighbourhood in the north of the Palestinian territory.

“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said (Mahmud), 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church.

“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”

There is something special about this moment. The humanity of individual human beings shines through the bombs and destruction from which Muslims and Christians together seek refuge in a Christan Orthodox church, in Gaza.

Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million.

The Christian community, like elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking due to both conflict and unemployment.

But the sheer terror of this shared experience appears to have fostered the feeling of brotherhood.

“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.

“We open our doors to all people.“

One recalls the same sense of shared humanity expressed in Jean Renoir’s classic film, “La Grande Illusion”.

As we prepare to remember the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I in 1914, the setting for Renoir’s film (one of the 10 greatest films ever made), we need to connect the dots.

The deepest obligations of all governments are to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens–and all human beings, to avoid recourse to war to secure national objectives, and to act forcefully to maintain, or re-establish, international peace and security.

That is our common human enterprise, informed by the spiritual forces represented by all religions, in this vast universe.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt wars of aggression.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt and prevent the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We, as individual human beings, can contribute to the achievement of these goals by drawing on the spiritual power that resides within each of us, and which links us to others through religions and the spiritual dimension of the Universe, and which calls on us to act in this world to defend humanity’s deepest values.

The Trenchant Observer

Keeping our eyes on the ball: Sectoral sanctions must be imposed against Russia, NOW, for its invasion, purported “annexation”, and continuing occupation of the Crimea

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Developing

What is needed at this point to stop Russian aggression and reverse its effects are serious third-stage sanctions against Russia itself, including important sectors of its economy.

There will be a cost for Europe and the United States to pay.

Do the leaders of these countries think, however, that liberty and the freedom which they currently enjoy in democratic societies can be maintained without any sacrifice, without paying any price at all?

Do the members of the EU and the U.S. imagine for an instant that Hitler’s aggressions and annexations might have been stopped by “targeted sanctions” directed against less than 100 German individuals, and some banks and companies?

If the pacifists and the appeasers in Europe and the United States can always find new reasons not to respond seriously to Russian aggression against the Ukraine, we should not be surprised, because it is easier to constantly shift attention from one detail to another in the never-ending quest to avoid looking at the elephant in the room, at the harsh, bold facts, to wit:

(1) Russia has invaded the Ukraine and purported to “annex” the Crimea, including the city of Sevastopol, in fagrant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state.

The presence of Russian troops and naval forces in the Crimea as a result of this invasion and occupation represents an ongoing violation of Article 2(4) of the Charter. Individual states are authorized under Article 51 of the Charter to use all necessary and proportionate measures necessary to repel this aggression, including economic sanctions and other measures up to and including the use of force.

(2) Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine, which is continuing with the supply of weapons and fighters, constitutes a separate and ongoing violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, giving right to the adoption of measures of collective self-defense, from economic sanctions up to and including the use of force.

The invasion of the eastern Ukraine by special operations, intelligence and other irregular forces is continuing, under overall Russian direction and control. The latter fact is manifest to any outside independent analyst who puts together all of the pieces of the new Russian form of “stealth warfare”.

(3) The shooting down of Malaysian Flight MH17 over territory of the Ukraine controlled by so-called “pro-Russian separatists” is merely a continuation of a pattern of military actions by “separatists” who all evidence suggests are coordinated and directed by Moscow.

The repercussions of the downing of Flight MH17 are international, and bring home to nations whose citizens on that flight were murdered by Moscow-backed separatists that there is a hot war going on in the heart of Europe, caused and continued by one nation, the Russian Federation.

Calls from Western leaders for a “ceasefire” and negotiations between the “separatists” and the Ukrainian authorities are so unprincipled as to be almost criminally naive.

These calls are being made by leaders of the countries which have chosen appeasement as the response to Russian aggression.

Any calls for a cease-fire which are not directly tied to an immediate end of the Russian aggression should simply be ignored.

The Ukraine has the inherent right as part of its sovereignty and political independence to reestablish public order within its territory. It should be allowed to do so without meddling by outside powers, or measures recommended as acts of appeasement in the face of threats of intensified aggression by Russia.

Some serious third-stage sanctions should be imposed against Russia now, for its continuing illegal occupation of the Crimea.

One economic sanction that would be supported by powerful logic would be a ban of business with any company or individual in the Crimea (except as may be authorized by the Ukrainian government), and a ban on any trade or business or financial transactions with any company doing business with any companies or individuals in the Crimea, as outlined above.

What is needed at this point to stop Russian aggression and reverse its effects are serious third-stage sanctions against Russia itself, including important sectors of its economy.

There will be a cost for Europe and the United States to pay.

Do the leaders of these countries think, however, that liberty and the freedom which they currently enjoy in democratic societies can be maintained without any sacrifice, without paying any price at all?

They would do well to reflect on the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made, paid in blood and tears and not just money, when deciding how to act now to halt Russian aggression and to roll back its recent territorial conquests.

Do they think that the problem of Russian xenophobic nationalism and irredentism will be solved without the Crimea being returned to the Ukraine?

International law is absolutely unequivocal in its position that the Russian “annexation” of the Crimea is without legal effect, and does not change its status as territory of the Ukraine illegally occupied by Russian forces.

Do the members of the EU and the U.S. imagine for an instant that Hitler’s aggressions and annexations might have been stopped by “targeted sanctions” directed against less than 100 German individuals, and some banks and companies?

The situation is similar now with Putin.

It is time now to contain Russian irredentism and aggression with forceful actions. Such actions are explicitly permitted under international law.

Russian aggression will not be stopped by empty threats or words. Only forceful actions, beginning with real economic sanctions, have any chance of producing the desired effects.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama hides behind European appeasers on sanctions; France blocks defense sector measures

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Developing

For recent news and commentary, see:

(1) Jennifer Rubin, “Truth telling at the U.N., obfuscation at the White House,” Washington Post, July 20, 2014.

(2) Carsten Luther, “MH17-ABSCHUSS: Keine Sanktion ist zu hart, Die Zeit, 22. juli 2014 (19:29 Uhr).

Der Abschuss von MH17 über der Ostukraine ist noch nicht endgültig aufgeklärt. Trotzdem darf der Westen nicht wieder den Fehler machen, zu lange auf Russland zu warten.

The Presidency of France is not what it used to be. Former President Nicholas Sarkozy is under criminal investigation for interference in judicial proceedings against him, notably for calling a high judge for details of how a corruption case against him was going.

Francois Hollande, the current president, has become an appeaser of Vladimir Putin, breaking the latter’s isolation from the West by extending invitations to Putin to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of D-Day at Normandy, and dinner at the Elysee Palace, while simultaneously announcing his government’s decision to proceed with delivery of two Mistral-class helicopter transports and amphibious attack vessels to Russia, with the first delivery due this fall.

Now he is blocking the adoption of EU sanctions banning the export to Russia of military arms and equipment. The deal for the two warships is valued at $1.8 billion dollars.

In the last few days, Hollande has apparetly indicated that he would be willing to suspend the delivery of the second warship, but not the first.

That puts the price of France’s integrity and good name at somewhere under $1 billion.

That is what the United States and the rest of Europe get, today, in return for the Allied liberation of France in 1944 and 1945, and the Marshal plan which enabled it and the rest of Europe to emerge from the aftermath of World War II and achieve the prosperity that it knows today.

Cynics say they always knew France had a price, and that it is not unusual for French commercial interests to trump security and political interests, but that they simply didn’t know that the price could be so low.

In the United States, Barack Obama, under pressure from big business groups not to adopt unilateral sanctions against Russia that are not matched by the EU, sits and waits for Europe to take the lead.

Above all, the reigning illusion that pinprick “targeted measures” against a small number of individuals and highly-calibrated “targeted measures” against a few companies and banks will cause Putin and the Kremlin to change course retains its grip on political leaders’ imaginations, in Washington as in Europe.

The evidence that such “pinprick” measures potentially might change the course and foreign policy of a powerful state under the authoritarian control of Vladimir Putin and his coterie is utterly lacking, whereas the failure of this approach with respect to the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine is clear for all to see.

The pacifists in Washington and Europe remain in the delusional grip of beliefs that by empty threats and words they can change Putin’s course. They want to give him “one last chance” to halt his support of the so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine.

They have made many such peremptory threats and “one last chance” requests for Putin to desist from his aggression in the Ukraine. Each time, the former KGB operative has cunningly offered them just the verbal concessions necessary to take the wind out of the sails of any movement to impose serious sectoral sanctions, i.e., sanctions against the Russian state and not just individuals or a few companies.

They also shrink from placing the one most obvious candidate on their sanctions list: Vladimir Putin himself.

Nor are they even thinking of rolling back the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

Given the transparent nature of their decision-making processes, their pacifism and appeasement manifested in a permanent lack of resolve, and their unwillingness to take even the most obvious measures to protect NATO members bordering Russia–e.g., by moving NATO troops from the safe heartland of Europe to forward bases in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania–the leaders of Europe are like children in the woods with the Big Bad Wolf, Vladimir Putin.

Anyone who expects good results to emerge from this constellation of dispositions and forces will surely be disappointed.

Despite her notable successes on the economic front in Europe, Angela Merkel’s legacy is likely to be defined in terms of her failure to respond to Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Hollande will likely be remembered for responding to challenges requiring great courage and statesmanship with the mentality and actions of a small-town merchant.

Instead of Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle, their names in the future will likely evoke memories of Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the English and French leaders who in Munich delivered the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia to their fate at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich.

As for Barack Obama and his indecisiveness and lack of resolve, what can be said, other than that he is the most incompetent president of the United States in foreign policy at least since 1932, who is laying the groundwork for a triumphant Republican sweep of the 2016 presidential elections by running on a strong national security platform and a repudiation of the Democrats’ withdrawal from world leadership in international affairs?

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: The language of actions—Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

In looking at the response of the West and other civilized countries to the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, in all proability by pro-Russian “separatists” with air defense systems and training and possibly crews furnishd by Russia, one is struck by the West’s continued reliance on appeals to Putin and his entourage counched in reason, and the absence of concrete actions to influence his behavior.

This approach of pacifism and appeasement in responding to Russian aggression is now quite familiar to those who have followed the Ukrainian crisis since February.

It has failed utterly, and the results are clear to see: invasion and annexation of the Crimea, invasion by irregular forces of the eastern Ukraine, an increasing flow of arms, fighters, and advanced weapons systems across the border into the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, in particular, and in recent weeks the use of surface to air missiles to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. All evidence suggests that the downing of Flight MH17 was part of a continuation of this pattern, but one involving a critcal mistake insofar as the identity of the aircraft was concerned

These Russian actions have taken place precisely during the (extended) month the EU and the U.S. threatened to impose serious sectorial economic sanctions on Russia if it did not comply with specific demands that Russia cease its support for the “separatists” (including a halt to arms shipments and the dispatch of personnel), as well as the return of captured border posts to Ukrainian control.

These demands Vladimir Putin openly flouted, and neither the EU nor the U.S, did anything to carry out their threats to impose sectorial sanctions, as Russia not only failed to accede to their demands but intensified its interventionist activities.

The U.S. did hit key Russian companies with some sanctions, but these were limited to denying intermediate and long-term financing to the companies, while allowing financing operations up to 90 days and ordinary business with the companies to continue. No assets were frozen.

The approach of the West continues to be to threaten Putin in order to influence his future behavior, despite the overwhelming evidence that this approach has not worked–and will never work so long as serious sanctions for current and past behavior are not imposed.

What is needed, what has been needed all along, are serious actions and not words.

The following article, first published over three months ago, makes the essential points.

Nothing has changed, other than to add three months of empty threats by the West, and to add to the list of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians killed, now tragically joined by the names of innocent victims on Flight MH17 from Malaysia, the Netherlands, and other countries.

All of this has hapened as the result of Russian aggression, and the utter failure of the West and other civilized countries to do anything meaningful that might stop it and reverse its effects.

*****

“The language of actions: Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West,” The Trenchant Observer, April 10, 2014.

First published on April 10, 2014

According to NATO, Russia has 35,000 to 40,000 combat-ready troops on its border with the Ukraine, which could be launched into action on as little as 12 hours.

See:

“UKRAINE: Russische Soldaten laut Nato sofort einsatzbereit; Die Nato spricht von ungewöhnlichen Vorgängen an der russisch-ukrainischen Grenze; Daus westliche Militärbündnis zählt bis zu 40.000 Soldaten in dem Grenzgebiet,” Die Zeit, 10. April 2014 (17:28 Uhr).

“UKRAINE: Nato fürchtet russischen Einmarsch in die Ukraine; Russische Truppen sind an der ukrainischen Grenze stationiert; In wenigen Tagen könnten sie laut Nato alle Ziele im Nachbarland erreichen; Die Lage sei besorgniserregend,” Die Zeit, 2. April 2014 (16:04 Uhr).

These are Russian actions which deserve urgent attention.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reassured Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the West that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. These are Russian words, the same ones he used days before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured German Chancellor Merkel that Russian troops would be withdrawn from the border. These are Russian words. The troops have not been withdrawn.

We should not place any trust in these words, which come from known liars. We should not trust either Putin or Lavrov, or anything either of them says. They have been telling blatant lies as part of the Russian propaganda campaign, and have lied directly both to John Kerry and to Angela Merkel.

As the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the Ukraine prepare to meet on April 17, Western leaders and everyone else needs to understand that the only language of genuine communication between Russia and the West is now the language of actions. Consequently, they should go to the meeting with new actions that have already been taken, and which they can use to communicate with the Russians.

Russian Actions

So far, Russian actions include:

1) The invasion and annexation of the Crimea;

2) The infiltration of agents provacateurs into the eastern Ukraine to foment disturbances;

3) Demands that the Ukraine meet Russian demands for Ukrainian constitutional reforms granting greater regional autonomy to Russian-speaking regions, backed by the palpable threat of military intervention represented by invasion-ready military forces on the border;

4) An increase in gas prices to some $100.00 above market prices, on top of an increase that wipes out the concessionary price established in international agreements which extended Russia’s lease on naval facilities in Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.

In addition, Russia has demanded payment of an additional $11 billion dollars as repayment for concessionary price discounts since the lease agreements were signed in 2010, on the theory that since the Ukraine is part of Russia these lease agreements and concessionary gas price agreements are void; and

5) Russia has now demanded payment one month in advance for future gas deliveries to the Ukraine, and threatens to halt deliveries if payment is not made.

Western Actions

So far, Western Actions have included:

1) The imposition of targeted sanctions on less than three dozen individuals from Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine, and one Russian bank;

2) Development of lists of additional or “stage-three” sanctions which might be imposed (e.g., if Russia invades the eastern Ukraine), including trade, financial and other sanctions which could have a very serious impact on Russia (as well as Western countries);

2) The commitment of financial assistance to the Ukraine from the EU, the U.S. ($1 billion), and the International Monetary Fund ($15 billion, contingent on financial reforms in Ukraine);

3) Deployment of additional surveillance and fighter aircraft to NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and

4) The scheduling of additional NATO military maneuvers in eastern NATO member states; and

5) The dispatch of 100 OSCE observers to the Ukraine, which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now pushing to increase to 500 observers, in compliance with an earlier OSCE decision to which Russia agreed.

Absence of Strategy and Sanctions to Compel Russia to Return the Crimea

The West has failed to adopt any sanctions or other measures designed to force Russia to undo its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

Ominously, officials in both the U.S. and the EU, have hinted they might be prepared to continue doing business with Russia so long as it doesn’t commit further aggression by invading the eastern Ukraine, leaving it in possession of the Crimea with little more than verbal and diplomatic protests from the West.

The loudest “action” by the West with respect to undoing the invasion and annexation of the Crimea has been a failure to act. The “slap on the wrist” measures of the first- and second-round sanctions cannot be taken seriously as measures to produce a rollback.

The West has failed to adopt the extremely obvious economic sanction of prohibiting financial or other business transactions with any company operating in or doing business with the Crimea (corrected).

Actions Going Forward

Decision makers in the diplomats’ meeting with the Russians on April 17 need to communicate with Russia in the language of actions, not merely the verbal formulations of diplomacy, which insofar as Russia is concerned have neglible effect. All the diplomatic words and entreaties, and telephone calls to Putin and Lavrov, do not appear to have affected the language of actions which Russia is speaking.

Russia speaks in actions from a strong position, having invaded and annexed part of another country, in open violation of the most fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, international law, and the postwar political, economic, and legal order.

Will the West’s responses, in the language of actions, be up to the task of halting and rolling back Russian aggression, and its ill-gotten gains?

If we connect the dots, and take noteu of the fact that Japan has in the last day reversed its policy of reducing its plutonium stocks–whether by coincidence or not–we can glimpse in an instant how critical the answer to the preceding question may be.

See Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks,” New York Times, April 9, 2014.

Helene Cooper and Martin Fackle, “U.S. Response to Crimea Worries Japan’s Leaders,” New York Times, April 5, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

“Krystallnacht” in Mosul and the Islamic Caliphate

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Developing

Just as “Krystallnacht” (Chrystal Night), on November 9-10, 1938, signaled loudly to the World Hitler’s and Nazi Germany’s policy of persecution of the Jews in Germany (already including Austria and the Sudetenland) and the horrors yet to come, the so-called Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (al-Shams), also known as ISIS or “Da-ish”, has threatened to kill Christians in Mosul who do not covert to Islam or pay a tax imposed on non-Muslims for protection, revealing current horrors underway and heralding those yet to come.

Such action is wholly outside the bounds of international law and modern civilization.

It brings to our consciousness a new dimension of the ISIS jihadists, which is apparent genocide committed against Christians and other non-Muslims.

See “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948,” here. Articles II and III of the Convention provide:

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III

The following acts shall be punishable:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

Louisa Loveluck in The Telegraph reports the following:

Christian families streamed out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Saturday after Islamist fighters said they would be killed if they did not pay a protection tax or convert to Islam.

The warning was read out in Mosul’s mosques on Friday afternoon, and broadcast throughout the city on loudspeakers.

“We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment… if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement read.

It said Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had ordered Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to “leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate”.

In recent days, Islamic State fighters had reportedly been tagging Mosul’s Christian houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”, the term by which the Koran refers to Christians.

Islamic State fighters robbed departing Christians of their belongings, (Fadi, a teacher) said, leaving them to face destitution in grim camps for the displaced. Deprived of their cars and cash, many Christians were forced to walk to safety.

–Louisa Loveluck, “Christians flee Iraq’s Mosul after Islamists tell them: convert, pay or die,” The Telegraph, July 19, 2014 (7:16PM BST).

“Iraqi Christians leave city en masse after Islamist militants threatened to kill them unless they converted to Islam or paid a ‘protection tax”.”

The echo of Krystallnacht (and earlier Biblical events) was stunning, with the ISIS jihadists marking Christians’ houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”.

As international peace and security in many parts of the world breaks down, simultaneously, from the Ukraine to Gaza to Iraq and Syria and Libya, the civilized nations of the world must not forget and must act urgently to prevent acts of genocide against Christians and other non-Muslims in the new Islamic Caliphate of ISIS.

As these disparate events show, and the founders of the United Nations well understood, international peace and security is something that is indivisible.

One cannot allow the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, without opening the gates of hell.

One cannot allow Russia to invade a European state, and annex part of it, without greatly weakening the deterrent force of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

One cannot look at a single crisis alone, without missing the broader picture of the general weakening of international peace and security that is currently underway.

Civilized nations must now act, on an urgent basis, to halt Russian aggression in the Ukraine, to stop potential genocide within the Islamic Caliphate, to halt the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to stop the fighting in Gaza, and to ensure that territorial disputes in the East and South China seas are resolved exclusively by peaceful means.

To achieve these goals, it is imperative that the international community uphold and reaffirm the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter and U.N. conventions prohibiting the threat or use of force or violating the fundamental human rights of all human beings.

This they must do not through endless formulaic repetitions of words, of oft-repeated dilplomatic incantations, but rather through real actions aimed at rapidly changing the situation on the ground in different arenas.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin the aggressor, and the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Developing

One man, President Vladimir Putin, and one country, the Russian Federation, are responsible for launching an invasion of the Crimea and its annexation, and the invasion by special operations and irregular forces of the eastern Ukraine, particularly in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the territory in between.

As the Ukrainian armed forces have tightened their noose around the so-called “pro-Russian separatists” (actually led by Russian citizens who are either current or former military intelligence officers), Russia has dramatically increased its directed flow of Russian “volunteers” (recruited and dispatched by Russia) across the border into the Ukraine.

In coordinated large-scale military operations, Ukrainian border posts and control centers have been attacked and/or taken over by “separatist” forces, throwing the border wide open. These forces appear to have included Russian special operations and irregular troops.

After the fall of Sloviansk to the Ukrainian armed forces and the retreat of the “separatists” to the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia has supplied pro-Russian forces with growing numbers of heavy weapons including tanks and increasingly sophisticated air-defense systems. The latter have been used in recent weeks to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft, including a transport plane whose downing led to the loss some 41 lives. Only days ago, another plane was shot down. A Ukrainian jet was also shot down by a missile which may have been launched in Russia.

Vladimir Putin, who launched his war of aggression and annexation in blatant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter and its absolute prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state, is morally and legally responsible for actions taken in the war he launched and which he continues to coordinate in the eastern Ukraine.

His efforts to maintain “plausible deniability” as he engages in the new Russian form of “stealth warfare” (e.g., “little green men” in the Crimea, subsequently acknowledged to be Russian special forces), are transparent and in vain in terms of shielding him from political and legal responsibility.

Just as he and Russia are complicit and responsible under international law for supporting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria, Putin is responsible for the actions of the military and irregular forces he has launched against the eastern Ukraine in what is an ongoing and intensifying invasion and war of aggression.

Nor should we forget the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Putin and Russia in Chechnya.

He is a presumptive war criminal. A cold-blooded killer.

For the taking of a human life outside the framework of domestic and international law–which provides for self-defense and punishment-with-due-process exceptions–is, in legal and moral terms, simply murder.

Only an international or domestic court can make the authoritative finding that Putin is legally guilty of war crimes. One can only hope that some day, perhaps in the distant future, such proceedings will be held. In the meantime, we can draw our own conclusions from the evidence that is available. Certainly he deserves to be tried as an accused war criminal.

The next time Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, or Barack Obama sits down for dinner and a glass of wine with Vladimir Putin, they should have present in their mind that they are looking into the cold blue eyes and expressionless face of a presumptive war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of human beings.

We don’t know what specific orders and chain of command was responsible for the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17. However, it is worth noting that Putin has often responded to increased sanctions with an escalation (e.g., annexation of the Crimea), and increased “targeted sanctions” were imposed by the U.S. and the EU only a few days ago.

It is hard to imagine that “separatist” forces in the Ukraine, or even Russian forces operating within Russia, would be shooting down Ukrainian aircraft or presumed Ukrainian planes without Putin’s knowledge and assent.

In that sense, at a minimum, Putin’s fingerprints are on the trigger that fired the missile that downed Malaysian Flight MH17.

See

(1) Review and Outlook (Opinion), “The Downing of MH17; Putin is the one leader who quickly assigned blame for the disaster,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2014.

(2) Carsten Luther, “FLUG MH17: Dieser Abschuss verändert alles, Die Zeit, 18. Juli 2014.

“Indizien deuten darauf hin: Von Russland unterstützte Separatisten haben das Passagierflugzeug in der Ukraine abgeschossen. Der Konflikt erreicht damit eine neue Stufe.”

(3) Anne Applebaum, “The Malaysia Airlines crash is the end of Russia’s fairy tale,” Washington Post, July 18, 2014 (2:57 PM).

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

REPRISE: André Glucksmann, “The killing continues in Syria” (English translation (originally published August 28, 2012)

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

The following article was originally published here in English on August 28, 2012. The original version was published here in French on August 13, 2012.

The French text of André Gluckmann’s article on Syria and Vladimir Putin, published in Le Monde on August 11, has now been translated (in rather free form) into English.

See

André Glucksmann, “How Kofi Annan Allowed Putin To Become The Godfather Of Tyrants”, LeMonde/ Worldcrunch, August 14, 2012. from Le Monde, August 8).

Translation from the French, André Glucksmann, “Pendant les JO, la tuerie continue en Syrie,” Le Monde, 11 août 2012 (updated August 13, 2012).

An article by the Trenchant Observer on Glucksmann’s article, with concluding observations, was published here in French on August 13. An English version of that article (drawing on the WorldCrunch translation) is reproduced below.

*****************************************************

André Glucksmann, “The killing continues in Syria”—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #74 (August 13) (translation)

André Glucksmann, an important French philosopher and writer, writes in Le Monde of August 11, 2012, that while the Olympic Games fascinate the world’s public and the tanks and the planes of Bashar Al-Assad  “spoil, by themselves, the pleasure of sensitive souls,”

the resignation of Kofi Annan is received in a complete summer silence. Nonetheless, when the UN peace envoy to Syria threw in the towel, it marked the end of a shameful fiasco. The affable Ghanaian diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate, who has been both number one and number two in the international organization, displayed goodwill, humanitarianism and pacifism but yielded only catastrophic results.

As the UN’s number two, responsible for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda, his passivity shielded the Hutu’s genocide of the Tutsi people. In 1994, 800,000 civilians were murdered with machetes over a three-month period whilst Kofi Annan refused to send 5,000 blue helmets to stop the genocide. Ten years later, he released a statement saying he could have personally done more to stop the genocide. Rather than being punished, he was promoted to UN General Secretary, a post he would assume from 1997 to 2006. During that time, he didn’t say a word as Vladimir Putin undertook to slash the living population of Chechnya by a fifth.

Were we to believe that this small people of one million inhabitants included 200,000 terrorists?

Glucksmann exlains why one should not have any hope for a change in the policy of Vladimir Putin, reminding us of his history:

Russia’s geriatric communist leaders have been replaced by a KGB member who knows neither scruples nor restraint. You have to be as naïve as a French diplomat or simply obsessed with elections, like Barack Obama and his European counterparts, to imagine for a second that the “executioner of the Caucasus” would bat an eye at the bloodshed in Aleppo, Homs or Damascus. “20,000 have died in a year!” cries the press and the NGOs. “Is that all?” Putin smirks, you can do better, Bashar al-Assad!

Don’t speculate about the charitable sentiments of the Russian leaders.  They have felt the wind of the cannonball, offended as they were by the sight of the streets of Moscow submerged by the opposition. Everything that can stop dead the liberating contagion of “the Arab springs” interests the camarilla (entourage of officials) concerned about its own survival. If Putin protects Assad, it is a potential Assad victory that will protect Putin. A bloodily repressed rebellion, like that in Chechnya, would serve as an example and a warning for the Russian people and its close neighbors.

The drama taking place in the Security Council has gone on long enough. We cannot wait forever to see if Putin (and his Chinese comrades) ever becomes a little teary-eyed or if one humanitarian fiber in his body responds to the conflict in Syria. The failure of Kofi Annan is that of an idealist international community: for twenty years it has left its fate up to the phony unanimity of the Security Council, submissive to the diktats of Saint Vladimir, patron of the Lubyanka.

***

From another quarter, Nicholas Sarkozy, former president of France and the person who provoked the world into undertaking the humanitarian intervention in Libya in 2011, has made strong statements critical of the lack of action by the new socialist president, François Hollande, in the face of the developments in Syria.

See Matthieu Alexandre (avec Matthieu Deprieck), “Sarkozy veut coincer Hollande sur le front syrien,” L’Express, 8 août 2012.

As far as the U.N. is concerned, according to reports, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is poised to name Lakhdar Brahimi as the new Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan’s successor.

See Mark Leon Goldberg “Can a New Special Envoy Move Syria Diplomacy?” UN Dispatch, August 13, 2012.

Nonetheles, it is important not to lose sight of some points which are essential for analysis of the situation in Syria:

1. The failure of Kofi Annan was at the same time a failure of Ban Ki-Moon, who has been just as responsible for Kofi Annan’s disaster as Kofi Annan himself.

2. Until now, the Secretary General of the United Nations has shown himself to be totally incapable of organizing actions aimed at putting an end to the barbarism in Syria. He wants to continue the talks of Kofi Annan, with a new chief of interviews.

3. The problem in Syria is a military problem, not a diplomatic problem. To turn it into a problem susceptible of a diplomatic solution in the future, it is necessary now to utilize methods that are more energetic than words.

4. At the present, there is no valid reason for the appointment of a successor to Kofi Annan as Special Envoy. That is the game of the Russians. One must simply not play it!

5. In the event Lakhdar Brahimi is appointed Special Envoy for Syria, (a) he should not accept the position; and (b) in the event he does, the countries which are tired of playing this game with the Russians at the U.N. should not collaborate with him, given the fact that his mission tends to attract all of the attention of the international press to his efforts and to what the Russians think, or say, or accept or do not accept. The time for this should be finished.

6. The Russians, like the Chinese, have played a role of acting in bad faith, of supporting the murderous crimes of the Bashar al-Assad regime.  Now, the West and the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world should search for a solution to the Syrian crisis on the path of facts, of actions, and never again on the roads of a dream world of formulations of beautiful words.

The Trenchant Observer