Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The cold-blooded REALPOLITIK of the American president: Obama’s intellectual calculations in foreign policy, and his heart as cold as stone

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Developing

Obama seems to have opposed stronger action in Syria and in opposing Russian aggression in the Ukraine out of some demented belief that his is smarter than everyone else, and it is OK to stand aside and watch 250,000 people die in Syria, if that is necessary to “work through the Russians” to take a larger chess piece by making the nuclear deal with Iran. Or to adopt what was in effect a policy of appeasement against Russia as they invaded and “annexed” the Crimea, and invaded — and have hung on to — the eastern Ukraine, in order to gain Russian support for the P5+ 1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Richard Spencer of The Telegraph has summarized what appears to be Obama’s highly intellectual policy towards Syria.

See

Richard Pencer (Middle East Editor, “Barack Obama does not want to defeat Isil – yet; For American foreign policy, winning the war against Isil quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous” The Telegraph, July 31, 2015 (8:00 p.m. BST).

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

In Ethiopia this week, Obama hardly pressed the country’s leaders on their human rights violations. The U.S.has given priority to fighting terrorism, and seems willing to look away from seeing these human rights violations in Africa.

Obama wants to foster entrepreneurial activity in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, without taking on the hard repression that exists in so many countries, which will have a decisive impact on who the new entrepreneurs are.

The needs to support human rights defenders and to strengthen civil society are obliterated by the stong emphasis on business at the expense of human rights. African countries need not only to grow, but also to distribute both old and new income beyond narrow elites.

The message is clear: The U,S. is willing, even eager, to work with dictators in Africa on security and economic issues, regardless of their records on human rights.

This is consistent with Obama’s call to Putin to thank him for his support on the Iran nuclear deal, as if it could not have been achieved without it.

No one asks, “Why didn’t Putin call Obama to thank him for his support in securing the nucleae deal?” That, howver, is a fair and even an essential question.

The presudent gives lip service to human rights and civil society. But as we’ve learned, we must watch carefully what he actually does, not merely what he says. We need to track carefully how much money the U.S. puts into foreign assistance in Africa to support those fighting dictatorships and for the rule of law.

To ignore human rights in Africa, in deeds if not in words, is to follow a false path, and it is sad to see Obama continue down it.

Think only of what has been going on in Egypt, and how silent the U.S. administration has been in the face if horrendous abuses.

The Trenchant Observer

The faces of Genocide at Srebrenice

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Here are the faces of some 2,400 out of the more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys massacred at Srebrenice on July 7-8, 1995.

See RFE/RL, “Lives cut short: The faces of those who died at Srebrenice,” July 13, 2015.

Sometimes it is difficult to grasp what large numbers of victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes really signify, in human terms. Look at these pictures to begin to grasp the true nature of the crimes that have created these numbers:

–over 8,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice in July, 1995;

–over 6,000 people killed in the eastern Ukraine since Russia began its “stealth” invasion in April, 2014, which is no konger shrouded behind a veil of secrecy; and

–over 220,000 killed in Syria since 2011.

These pictures speak to us on a more direct level than pure numbers, as we peruse them until we begin to grasp the enormity of the crimes involved, as our minds become numb.

The Trenchant Observer

Greek debt and the stategy of Europe, NATO, and the U.S. to “contain” the militarism and aggression of Russia

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

UPDATE II July 12, 2015, 6:00 p.m. EDT)

The ghost of Versailles hangs over the Greek debt negotiations in Brussels this evening.

In 1919, with Germany defeated after World War I, the delegates to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 imposed draconian reparations requirements on a prostate Germany. This became known as the “Dolchstoss” or knife in the back which helped propel Adolf Hitler to power 14 years later, in 1933.

The hardline governments engaged in the final debt package negotiations with Greece, led by Germany, are seeking to impose humiliating conditions on Greece even after Alexis Tsipras met most of their previous demands on Thursday night.

In doing so, they are repeating the same mistake they made the week the negotiations broke down and Tsipras called a snap referendum on July 5, by imposing new and harsher conditions.

By their actions they are poisoning the future of Greek politics and Greece’s relations with the Euro Zone and even the EU itself.

There may still be time for the heads of state meeting tonight in Brussels to pull back from the edge, show magnaminity, and back off from the program of extreme humiliation which the finance ministers seem to support.

Foreign ministries should be involved in these decisions. Frank-Walter Steinmeier should be at Angela Merkel’s side, and not just Wolfgang Schäuble.

A constructive path forward must be found, putting aside any personal desires for vengeance or vindication, or to teach Tsipras a lesson.

If the EU leaders fail, Vladimir Putin and other extremists will reap the benefits of decisions that are disastrous for Europe and the West in geopolitical terms.

The Trenchant Observer

UPDATE (July 12, 2:30 p.m. EDT)

Hardliners and technocrats appear to have dominated the EU finance ministers’ discussions on whether to accept Tsipras’ Thursday night proposal as a basis for formal negotiations.

Now only the Eurozone heads of government and heads of state can save Greece from an exit from the Euro (“Grexit”).

Seen

(1) Kevin Hagen und Christina Hebel, “+++ Newsblog zur Krise +++: Euro-Minister erwägen Grexit (aber nur in Klammern); Die Eurofinanzminister schreiben in einem Dokument, es gebe die Möglichkeit einer griechischen Euro-Auszeit. Allerdings steht der Absatz nur in Klammern – denn die Gruppe ist sich nicht einig. Alle Entwicklungen im Newsblog, Der Spiegel, 12. Juli 2015.

(2) Draft(?) Statement of the EU finance ministers, July 12, 2015 (16:00 CET).

The conditions are so harsh they seem designed to cause Greece to choke, or have been designed in a matter utterly oblivious of the realities of Greek politics.

For example, to tell Greece it has to adopt a new Code of Civil Procedure within three days is utterly humiliating to Greece, and will generate the opposition of lawyers and others from all parties. No international group or organization can dictate such a measure to a sovereign country.

Unless the heads of government and heads of state intervene forcefully to reject these conditions, with a view to the geostrategic realities in Europe, they will hurl Greece — and themselves — into the abyss.

These decisions require the inputs of foreign ministers, who should be called to Brussels.

Statecraft of a high order is now required.

##########

Original article

See

Bruce Ackerman, “Germany’s Failure of Vision,” New York Times, July 9, 2015 (Op-Ed).

Today the finance ministers of the Euro Zone met in Brussels to consider whether Greece’s debt proposal sumbitted Thursday evening forms a sufficient basis to permit the opening of formal negotiations for a third Greek bailout program. The meeting adjourned without any decicision, and is to reconvene on Sunday at 11:00 a,m. The leaders of the 19 Euro Zone countries are to meet in the afternoon, and then the heads of government of all 28 EU member states are to meet at 6:00 p.m. to decide on the Greek proposal, and on humanitarian assistance to Greece in the event it is rejected. Such a rejection would in all likelihood cause a de facto Greek exit (or”Grexit”) from the Euro Zone as early as Monday.

Late news reports suggest the finance ministers are split down the middle on whether to agree to the Greek proposal.

Following the European press for the last few weeks, one is struck by the absence of geopolitical and strategic considerations from the debates, which have proceeded as if the question of what to do with the Greek debt question were purely a matter for finance ministers and those involved in European economic matters.

Let us recall that EU sanctions against Russia will have to be renewed in January, 2016, that this can be achieved only with the affirmative vote or acquiescence of all 28 EU member states, and that a very large element of uncertainty as to the Greek vote will be introduced if Greece is forced to exit the Euro Zone leading to a further collapse of its economy.

Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA have embarked on a disastrous course of playing a game of “chicken” with Greece’s creditors in Europe and the IMF. They have dstroyed the trust that is sessential for Europe and Greece to work together to resolve the debt crisis.

They have acted as untrustworthy partners in the Euro Zone. If other countries acted as Greece, neither the Euro Zone nor the EU could function or even continue to exist.

The Tsipras government, even with French technical help, presented a request that was wildly short of what the IMF estimates Greece will need to survive the current crisis.

The Greek government does not appear to be technically very competent.

So, what should Europe do?

First, they must ignore the personal insults, lack of trustworthiness, and incompetence of the Greek officials.

Second, they should follow France’s example of helping the Greeks on a technical level to develop realistic plans for resolving the crisis. This they were doing before the plebiscite. Now they should resume.

Third, they should seek to build a partnership with the Greek people and help the Tsipras government (or the one that follows it) to devise and implement necessary structural reforms, while creating scenarios that give hope to the Greek people that they will return to growth and emerge from the current crisis.

If the Greeks do not cooperate in implementing such an approach, Greece must then be allowed to exit from the Euro Zone, in an orderly fashion.

Right now, above all, Europe’s leaders and the IMF should look at the map of Europe, consider that Russian troops occupy the Crimea and are in the eastern Ukraine, and act decisively to defend the southern flank of Europe.

For they are engaged not only in financial and economic decisions, but also in geopolitical decisions of the highest order.

The Trenchant Observer

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Developing

See

Ansgar Graw, Claus Christian Malzahn, Christoph B. Schiltz, Julia Smirnova, “Das unheimliche Comeback des Kalten Krieges Putin rüstet sein Atomarsenal auf, die USA liefern schwere Waffen an die Nato-Ostgrenze. Das Misstrauen war seit der Kuba-Krise nicht mehr so groß. Gerät der Ukraine-Konflikt außer Kontrolle?” Die Elt, 21. Juni 2015.

(Anspar Graw has been Die Welt’s foreign correspondent in Washington since 2009. Julia Smirnova, Die Zeit’s foreign correspondent who has been reporting from Moscow, has regularly provided some of the most penetrating reporting and analyses on developments in Russia and on the Russian war against the Ukraine).

Excerpts:

Dismantling of safeguards adopted after Cuban Missile Crisis

“Wir erleben einen Stellvertreterkrieg zwischen Ost und West”, analysiert Frank Elbe. Der 74-jährige Nuklearexperte kennt das Säbelrasseln noch aus jener Epoche, die viele schon zu den Akten gelegt hatten. Elbe, seit Jahrzehnten ein enger Vertrauter des ehemaligen Außenministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher, war in den 80er-Jahren im Auswärtigen Amt im Abrüstungsreferat tätig, später vertrat er die Interessen der Bundesrepublik als deutscher Botschafter unter anderem in der Schweiz und in Polen.

Was Elbe heute über russische Raketen und westliche Manöver in den Zeitungen lesen muss, gefällt ihm ganz und gar nicht. Sein Eindruck: Während die Supermächte im Nachgang der Kuba-Krise im Herbst 1962, als die Welt am Rande eines nuklearen Infernos stand, einen sicherheitspolitischen Puffer nach dem
anderen installierten, scheinen genau diese Sicherheitsmaßnahmen gerade wieder abgebaut zu werden. “Was wir zwischen Russland und dem Westen erleben, ist
klassisches Tit for Tat”, klagt Elbe.

Nuclear weapons as part of Putin’s hybrid war strategy

Die westliche Antwort wird nicht lange auf sich warten lassen. In der kommenden Woche wollen die Nato-Verteidigungsminister intensiv über die nukleare Strategie Russlands beraten. Grundlage der Gespräche ist ein Geheimpapier der Nato-Führung. “Wir sind in großer Sorge über die nukleare Strategie Russlands. Atomwaffen spielen in der neuen russischen Strategie der sogenannten hybriden Kriegsführung eine wichtige Rolle”, sagte ein hochrangiger Nato-Diplomat dieser Zeitung. Das Verteidigungsbündnis will nun analysieren, welche Rolle Atomwaffen für Putin in der neuen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Westen genau spielen, wie stark die nuklearen Fähigkeiten Russlands sind und welche Konsequenzen die Nato daraus ziehen soll. Das Treffen der Verteidigungsminister soll dafür Auftakt sein. Offen ist, ob die Nato langfristig eine neue kohärente Abschreckungsstrategie entwickeln wird, die konventionelle und nukleare Fähigkeiten umfasst.

Commentary

Putin’s apparent strategy against the Ukraine and the West ignores the basic principles of the United Nations Charter, including the sovereign equality of all states and the duty of non-intervention, the prohibition of the use of force, and the obligation to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the U.N. Charter itself.

His head appears to be filled with thoughts of war and the threat or use of military force to achieve his objectives. He wants to take us back to the power politcs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the period before the Kellogg-Briand Treaty of 1928 which outlawed the use of aggression as an instrument of national policy. Thoughts and policies of power politics like his led the world into two world wars and the “untold suffering of mankind” whose repetition the United Nations was established to prevent.

The world needs to understand what would be involved in any lasting return by Russia (to be followed by other states) to “power politics” and policies of miltary aggression and conquest.

For over 50 years Russia and the United States, with other countries, understood the terrible risks a return to such policies would entail in a world of mutual assured destruction (MAD) in which tens of thousands of nuclear weapons on each side were pointed at the opponent’s cities and civil and industrial infrastructure. The world could be destroyed in less than 30 minutes.

They understood after the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 the risks of accidental nuclear war in an escalating conflict between the two leading nuclear powers. Then, they took bold steps to mitigate those risks, including the conclusion of arms control treaties, inspection regimes, and other confidence-building measures. Now, these achievements are being dismantled, as the risks of accidental nuclear war  grow again at an exponential pace. The world can still be destroyed in 30 minutes.

Appeasement has not and will not work with Putin. The West and other nations must now take even more forceful actions to contain Russia and Putin’s militarism, while upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.

With the power he has amassed within his person, and the nuclear weapons at his command, Putin has become the most dangerous man on the planet. He appears to be increasingly infused with delusions of grandeur and a willful determination to rewrite history and redraw the borders of Europe according to his own designs.

Moreover, he appears to be directly responsible for the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the leading opposition figure and opponent of the Ukraine war prior to his murder on February 27, 2015. He is obviously not constrained by any moral scruples. Should he become terminally ill or mentally deranged, he could blow up the world. He knows we know that. It is probably part of his calculus in making nuclear threats.

To focus our minds, we need to think hard about what Adolf Hitler might have done in his bunker in April, 1945, if he had had unchallenged control over a nuclear arsenal like the one Putin today has at his command.

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway.

As Putin challenges the West and the organizing principles of the existing international political and legal order, “containment” of Putin and Russia, while acting to reduce the risks of accidental or other nuclear war, must be our highest priority.

The Trenchant Observer

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.

See

Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.

*****

See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

The 70th anniversary of the unconditonal surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Detveloping

On May 8, 1945 the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany in a ceremony performed in Berlin. Because of the hour, it was May 9 in Moscow, which is why the Allied victory over Germany is celebrated on that date in Russia.

For the United States, which carried the brunt of the war in the Pacific, World War II did not formally end until September 2, 1945, when cereminies formalized the surrender announced by Japan on August 15.

Commemoration ceremonies were held this year in Western Europe on May 8, and a large Soviet-style military parade and celebration were held today in Moscow, on June 9.

The Moscow parade was highly significant, as it was boycotted by the leaders of the West as a result of Moscow’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea in February and March, 2014, and its invasion of the eastern Ukraine by special operations and irregular forces, beginning in April, 2014.

These forces seized government buildings by force and set up the self-denominated Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the eastern Ukraine. By August, thousands of regular Russian troops, tanks, artillery, as well as advanced air-defense systems, had moved into the Donbas, after the border between Russia and these areas had been effectively dismantled by Russian or Russian-led forces.

What are euphemistically referred to as the “separatist” forces are now quite clearly led by and under the direction and control of Russia, according to NATO, which has stated that some 12,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas, with thousands more menacingly poised on the border.

The boycott is highly significant as evidence of Putin’s and Russia’s isolation from the West.

It reminds us not only of what was achieved 70 years ago in defeating German fascism, but also how far Vladimir Putin has taken us back down the road that leads to totalitarianism and policies of militarism and aggression.

“Victory in Europe Day or “VE Day” marked the end of the war in Europe and the victory of the Allied powers over the European Fascism of Germany and Italy.

But, despite hopes spawned by the Yalta Conference and agreement in February, 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to set the postwar arrangements for the states of Eastern Europe, the surrender of the Germans did not signify an end to totalitarian government in the countries that had been invaded and occupied by Germany–and the Soviet Union.

For the Soviets had also invaded countries, having agreed with Hitler in the infamous Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact of August 23, 1939 (a week before the German invasion of Poland), to share in the division of Poland, and to divide territories of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”.

Stalin invaded Poland, annexed Polish territories (only some of which were returned after the war), annexed portions of Finland after the 1939-1940 “Winter War”, annexed the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940, and also invaded and annexed portions of Romania.

Beyond these annexations, the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1949 established through the use of force and intimidation communist governments under its control in the Eastern European countries it occupied, except for Austria which gained its independence in 1955 as the result of an agreement among the occupying powers.

These historical facts are highly significant in view of Vladimir Putin’s remarks endorsing the Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact in November, 2014.

See “Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning oaf Poland,” The Trenchant Observer, Novcember 11, 2014.

To be sure, the Soviet Union was an indispensable partner in defeating Nazism and German “fascism” in World War II. Its soldiers and citizens suffered untold losses and other hardships at the hands of the Germans. For their courage and sacrifice, citizens of the United States, England and many other countries will forever be in their debt.

Yet one must distinguish between the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation and their leaders, on the one hand, and the Russian and other peoples of the Soviet Union who bore these sacrifices, on the other.

It is worth recalling that Stalin was responsible for the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers, police and intellectuals in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre (or Katyn massacre) in April and May, 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland. As noted above, he was responsible for subjugating the peoples of eastern Europe to totalitarian communist rule, which lasted until the Berlin Wall came down in October, 1989.

Other Soviet leaders used Russian tanks to put down rebellions and revolutions in Poland in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, keeping totalitarian regimes in place. Brezhnev also invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

So as we celebrate the defeat of Germany and Nazism now, on the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in Berlin in 1945, let us bear in mind that the defeat of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has not been fully achieved, and that the virus of militarism and aggression which led to World War II remains alive, today, in Russia.

The United Nations was founded in December, 1945, in large part “to avoid the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold suffering upon mankind.”

The bedrock principle upon which the U.N. and the hope of peace was founded was the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Unfortunately, so long as Russian troops occupy the territory of a European state as a result of military conquest, and are engaged in ongoing military aggression against that state, hopes for peace in Europe, and elsewhere, will remain in doubt.

The Trenchant Observer

Top articles on Putin, the Ukraine, and Russia

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Check back for updates

Some of the best articles by the Trenchant Observer on Putin, the Ukraine, and Russia include the following:

(1) “Russian propaganda and Western reporters who can’t think: Putin’s great rise in popularity, as revealed by polls,” March 14, 2015.

(2) “Nemtsov assassination represents a stark warning to the opposition: ‘Criticize Putin, especially on the Ukraine, and you may die,’” (Updated March 6, 2015)

(3) “Putin’s triumph over the pacifists and appeasers of the West, and the ferocious opponents he may face in the future,” (revised February 25, 2015).

(4) “Ukraine Update: Overview and signficance of the continuing Russan invasion,” March 5, 2015.

(5) “Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015 (with full texts in English and Russian), February 12, 2015.

(6) “Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” February 8, 2015.

(7) “The virus of nationalism and military aggression: Adolf Hitler in Vienna, March, 1938; Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, May 9, 2014,” June 30, 2014.

(8) “Steinmeier-Lavrov Meeting in Moscow: “Sergej Wiktorowitsch, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, Du, Du machst mir viel Shmerzen, weisst nicht wie gut ich dir bin,” November 18, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine Crisis Timelines (2014-2015)

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

It is important to understand the unfolding of events during the ongoing Russian invasion of the Ukraine and military occupation of part of its territory (Crimea, Donbas).

To understand Putin’s military aggression, and the slowness and inadequacy of the responses of the EU, NATO and the U.S., we need to bear in mind not only the headlines of the day, but also the entire process of how we got to where we are today.

The following list of Timelines or Chronologies will be updated from time to time:

(1) “Ukraine Crisis Timeline as of January 30, 2015,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, January 30, 2014.

(2) “Ukraine crisis: Timeline” BBC News, November 13, 2014.

(3) Evan Beese, Tzvi Kahn, FPI FACT SHEET: TIMELINE OF RUSSIAN AGGRESSION IN UKRAINE AND THE WESTERN RESPONSE, Foreign Policy Initiative, September 18, 2014.

This chronology, while highly useful, contains some errors. It states for example,

“In the second half of August 2014, Russia dramatically escalates its operations against Ukraine, launching an offensive in Novoazovsk, southeast Ukraine. This maneuver opens up a second front in the conflict and secures a Russian-controlled land bridge between the Russo-Ukrainian border and the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.”

While the offensive in Novoazovsk would be a step in building a land bridge to the Crimea, it is only a step. Such a landbridge has not yet been established.

(4) Emily Tamkin, “Sorry, Did We Invade Your Country?” Slate, September 5, 2014.

(5) “Timeline: Ukraine’s political crisis; Key events in Ukrainian anti-government protests that have been followed by political upheaval and international crisis, Al Jazeera English, September 20, 2014 (05:48 GMT).

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: After disappearing act, Vladimir Putin remains prime suspect in Nemtsov assassination

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

After disappearing act, Vladimir Putin remains prime suspect in Nemtsov assassination

Originally published on March 17, 2015

See

(1) “Ukraine Update: Overview and signficance of the continuing Russan invasion »Nemtsov assassination represents a stark warning to the opposition: ‘Criticize Putin, especially on the Ukraine, and you may die,'” The Trenchant Observer, (Updated March 6, 2015).

(2) “Putin’s disappearing act —- and rifts within the Kremlin,” March 15, 2015.

(3) Brian Whitmore, “The Power Vertical: The Sick Man Of Moscow,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, March 12, 2014.

Now that Vladimir Putin has reappeared, on March 16, after an 11-day absence from public appearances that began only six days after the assassination of the leading opposition figure in Russia, Boris Nemtsov, on February 27, 2015, news attention should be redirected to the question of whether Putin was the intellectual author of Nemtsov’s execution.

Nemtsov, with his participation in the large demonstration planned for the Sunday following his assassination, his announcement that he was finishing preparation of a report on Russian military participation in the invasion of the Ukraine, and his making public of his plans to travel to a town which lost soldiers in the Ukraine, posed a very serious threat to Putin.

The threat was that through his report and evidence gathered concerning Russian military participation in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine (including that he was soon to travel to gather from soldiers who he said had contacted him), he might pierce the propaganda bubble Putin had erected denying any Russian military involvement in the fighting in the Donbas.

(T)he threat Nemtsov represented was not that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would storm the Kremlin, but rather that through his report or book and large demonstations calling for an end of the war in the Ukraine, Nemtsov might succeed in piercing the giant bubble of grotesque lies and war propaganda that Putin has spun around the subject of the Ukraine.

If and when that bubble is pierced, the hot gas may burst not only the propaganda balloon of the Ukraine narrative, but also the balloon of Putin’s popularity and the myth that Russia’s present economic crisis is not the result of his war on the Ukraine and the economic sanctions, capital flight and other consequences it has produced.

Nemtsov represented, in this sense, a grave threat to Putin and his hold on power. If the propaganda bubble were to burst, Putin could quickly encounter serious trouble within Russia.

That is why, for Putin, the greatest threat, the greatest enemy, is the truth, about the war in the Ukraine and its connection to the economic crisis in Russia. With his insistence on telling the truth and proving that Putin’s narrative of there being no Russian troops or other forces in the eastern Ukraine, Nemtsov embodied that threat.

While it is not yet clear–if it ever will be–who ordered the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, sometimes little details can be highly suggestive of what really happened.

One such detail was the fact that, shortly after Nemtsov’s death, Russian security forces raided his house, carrying away documents, computers, and hard disks.

–Nemtsov assassination represents a stark warning to the opposition: “Criticize Putin, especially on the Ukraine, and you may die” (Updated March 6, 2015), February 28, 2015.

Thus, Putin certainly had a motive to get rid of Nemtsov.

Second, Putin as the dictator of Russia with control of the FSB and other security forces within several hundred meters of the Kremlin’s walls, certainly had the opportunity to order Nemtsov’s execution. Nemtsov was under very close surveillance by Russian security officials, as attested to by Alexey Navalny, a leading opposition blogger.

Moreover, the occasion was striking. Nemtsov had just delivered blistering remarks against Putin in an interview on Radio Moskvy some four hours before he was killed. Worth noting is the fact that Putin is known to have an explosive temper.

For a contrary view, see “Russian security expert at New York University raises questions about “known and unknown” factors bearing on Nemtsov’s murder, The Trenchant Observer, March 9, 2015 (considerations raised by Mark Galeotti).

Third, Putin had the means available to orchestrate the assassination. These means included not only the FSB, presidential security officials, and other security officials in Moscow, but also the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the agents and loyal followers at his command.

Another small detail that appears anomylous could be relevant here:

It remains to be seen who pulled the trigger in the Nemtsov case, but the motives are as long as your arm. Circumstantial evidence is chilling.

A nearby security camera caught some low-resolution footage of the lead up, but at the exact moment of the murder a huge snow plough pulls into view, blocking the camera lens. It was odd because there was no snow on the streets on the night Nemtsov was shot.

–Cahir O’Doherty, “Vladimir Putin’s path to glory will only end one way – in a graveyard,” IrishCentral, March 18, 2015 (02:11 AM).

Who arranged for the snowplow, and for the specific video to be released–of all the video available to the security forces to release–that showed the snowplow blocking the view of who killed Nemtsov? This is either evidence if amazing coiincidence, or an extraordinarily well-orchestrated assassination.

Consequently, Putin, the former KGB official who is a master of sleight-of-hand, had two types of means available to him. He could have used elements of the security forces, or indeed, with greater deniability, he could have given the order (or “green light” or “wink and a nod”) to Kadyrov, who could be counted on to carry it out.

Following the assassination, Putin appointed an investigator who had handled the investigation of the deaths of other political opponents in the past, usually finding a connection to Chechens or other terrorists in the Caucusus.

Immedediately, Russian investigators and other officials began a disinformation campaign, tossing out a wide variety of hypotheses and leads they were following, some of which were quite fanciful. They also went out of their way to stress that Nemtsov did not in any way represent a political threat to Putin.

Within a week, five Chechen suspects were arrested, and at least one confessed. He happened to be a high official in Kadyrov’s security forces. Even after he confessed, Kadyrov publicly expressed strong confidence in him, calling him a patriot. After meeting with representatives from human rights organization, he withdrew his confession amid allegations that it had been obtained by torture.

At the same time, Kadyrov published on the internet assurances of his absolute loyalty to Putin, “no matter what office you may hold.”

At this point, all one can say is that Putin should be considered a prime suspect in the assassination of Boris Nemtsov.

However, since Putin is himself in charge of the investigation of the crime, we are not likely to hear his name mentioned as a suspect by Russian investigators or security forces, or even by Western journalists operating within Russia or by the news organizations they represent.

We may never learn of evidence linking Putin to the crime, even if such evidence exists. However, we should certainly take with a grain of salt all protestations–even from opposition leaders–that Putin could not have been responsible for Nemtsov’s death. If you are living in Russia, this view is required.

Putin had the motive, the opportunity, and the means to carry out the crime. More than anyone else in Russia, he had the most to gain by Nemtsov’s death, provided it could not be traced back to him.

While Putin as President has the ability to orchestrate an endless stream of diversions (e,g., ordering combat readiness exercises of the Arctic forces, or announcing that mid-range missiles will be installed in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad), at the end of the day the attention of foreign jounalists, investigators and the public–both in Russia and abroad–must come back to the question of whether Putin was behind Nemtsov’s assassination.

The Trenchant Observer

Anniversary of the Russian military seizure of the Crimea; Details reveal Putin’s gross lies and distortions of the facts

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Benjamin Bidder of Der Spiegel reports on the content of a report prepared by Russian military experts at a think tank in Russia, which details the facts of the Russian planning and invasion of the Crimea a year ago.

These details underline the gross lies and distortions of the facts which Vladimir Putin and Russian propaganda fed the world about what happened in the Crimea.

More significant that the content of the report, however, may be the mere fact of its publication.

See

Benjamin Bidder (Moskau), “Jahrestag der russischen Annexion: Coup auf der Krim; Vor einem Jahr übernahmen Truppen ohne Hoheitsabzeichen die Macht auf der Krim. Doch wie kam es dazu? Auswertungen russischer Militäranalysten zeigen, wie Moskau offiziell eine Beteiligung leugnete – die Soldaten aber einschleuste, Der Spiegel, 8. Marz 2015 (12:07 Uhr).

The Trenchant Observer