Archive for the ‘internal supporters of human rights’ Category

If you accept the May 25 elections, Mr. Putin, then order a “full-stop” to aggression in the eastern Ukraine

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent special operations forces into eastern Ukraine to spark and coordinate “separatist” rebellions by the use of force, continues to play his duplicitous and treacherous “double game” in the Ukraine.

If he hoped to retain a shred of credibility in saying he would respect the results of the May 25, 2014 national elections in the Ukraine, he would have had to call a “FULL STOP” to further violence by pro-Russian forces.

Instead, the subversive forces which he launched into action under the leadership and coordination of Russian special operations forces (including so-called “little green men”) continue to seize control of government buildings by the use of force, in a region they seek to turn into a pro-Russian dictatorship which holds sway by fear, intimidation, assassinations, and the public display and use of armed force.

Far from acting as if Russia will respect the results of the Ukrainian elections, these Russian special operations forces and intelligence operatives, whose true identities have been unmasked, are engaged in violent suppression of the exercise of fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of the press, the right to physical integrity and to be free from the arbitrary use of force, and the right to participate in government and to vote in free and fair elections, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

Because the taking of a human life constitutes murder when it occurs outside the framework of domestic and international law, these Russians and Russian agents are, in clear moral and legal terms, committing murder against the Ukrainian security forces (and others) who are legitimately seeking to restore public order in the eastern Ukraine.

While Putin was announcing he would “respect” the results of the May 25 elections, Russian agents were murdering innocent Ukrainian soldiers, including in one ambush where some 17 were killed.

Now Putin strides on the world stage to claim that the invasion and annexation of the Crimea were justified under international law, and that he has no interest in further irredentist actions.

His response is due to the firmness of the West in threatening further, “Stage Three” sanctions, the enhanced deployment of NATO capabilities along the borders of NATO countries which border Russia, and the likelihood of NATO now stationing combat forces in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania. He may also be responding to pressures from China, which certainly does not want to see any secessionist movements succeed which might inspire Uighur or Tibetan separatists.

Putin has a losing hand, and seems to be slowly recognizing that reality. Perhaps he thinks the West and the civilized nations of the world will quickly forget about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

That is not a good long-term bet, as the bedrock principles of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force and annexation of conquered territories may be tenaciously held and defended over the longer term. One need only think of Cyprus or East Timor to grasp the point.

In view of the above, it is now a time for vigilance against potential actions by a treacherous Russian leader, whose mendacity is evident in every statement he makes, including those intended to give a conciliatory impression in the West.

If you are going to respect the May 25 election results in the Ukraine, Mr. Putin, begin respecting the election now by calling off your special operations forces and intelligence operatives and their agents in the eastern Ukraine.



The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

U.N. human rights report details grave violations in the eastern Ukraine and in the Crimea

Friday, May 16th, 2014

The ugly face of Russian aggression and pro-Russian “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine, characterized by violent attacks on advocates of a united Ukraine, assassinations, forced disappearances, attacks on journalists and suppression of freedom of the press, and general lawlessness, is described in a U.N. report published on May 15, 2014. The report is corroborated by the OSCE report on the Ukraine published on May 12, 2014.


(1) Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine,” 15 May 2014.


The text of the OSCE report is found here.

The thuggery described in these reports brings into full view the truth about what is really going on in the eastern Ukraine, and threatens to pierce the bubble of Russian propaganda which has supported Russian aggression in the Ukraine through endlessly repeated lies and distortions.

The protestations by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that these reports are biased and distorted cannot be taken seriously. Lavrov, who has himself played a leading role in repeating on numerous occasions the lies of the Russian propaganda machine, is essentially arguing that the truth is biased, because it contradicts the lies he, Vladimir Putin, and Russia have been telling about events in the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine: In potentially decisive development, joint patrols of steelworkers and police restore order in Mariupol, other cities

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

In a potentially decisive development, joint patrols of steelworkers and police restoredorder in Mariupol, wresting control from pro-Russian “separatist” forces. The organization of similar patrols by miners and steelworkers in Donetsk and other cities is reportedly underway.

See Andrew E. Kramer, “Workers Seize City in Eastern Ukraine From Separatists,”
New York Times, May 15, 2014 (May 16, 2014 print edition).

The workers who took to the streets on Thursday were among the hundreds of thousands in the east who are employed in metals and mining by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who only recently went beyond paying lip service to Ukrainian unity and on Wednesday issued a statement rejecting separatism.

On recent eventd in Mariupol, see also

MARÍA ANTONIA SÁNCHEZ-VALLEJO (ENVIADA ESPECIAL / Mariúpol), “Los oligarcas mantienen el poder real; Trabajadores de empresas del uno de los principales magnates ucranio patrullan Mariúpol; La ciudad sufrió los peores choques entre prorrusos y el Ejército el pasado 9 de mayo,” El Pais, 12 MAY 2014 (21:06 CET).

Konrad Schuller (Mariupol),”Ruhe in der Ostukraine: Das Machtwort des Oligarchen In Mariupol gab es noch am Wochenende blutige Gefechte;Doch auf einmal herrscht Ruhe; Offenbar hat der Oligarch Rinat Achmetow seiner Tatenlosigkeit ein Ende gesetzt – und ein Machtwort gesprochen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, 15.05.2014.

The Trenchant Observer

OSCE report details serious human rights violations against pro-Kiev Ukrainians in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has published a report based on the work and findings of its Observer Missions in the Ukraine from March 6 to April 17.



The text of the OSCE report is found here.

For news accounts describing the report, see:

(1) OSCE, Press Release, “OSCE/ODIHR and HCNM release report by Human Rights Assessment Mission in Ukraine,” WARSAW / THE HAGUE 12 May 2014.

The ODIHR section of the report identifies a significant number of serious human rights violations, including murder and physical assaults, as well as cases of intimidation and enforced disappearances. The victims of these were primarily pro-Maidan activists and journalists, and those in Crimea also included Ukrainian military personnel and members of the Crimean Tatar community.

(2) Reinhard Veser, “Ostukraine; OSZE dokumentiert Menschenrechtsverletzungen,” Frankfurte Allgemeine, 13. Mai 2014.

Nach der Annexion der Krim sind ethnische Ukrainer und Tataren dort wachsendem Druck ausgesetzt. In der Ukraine wurden vor allem Anhänger der Demokratiebewegung Opfer von Gewalt. Dies geht aus einem Bericht der OSZE hervor.

The findings of the report provide a detailed, fact-based rebuttal to lies and distortions of the Russian propaganda machine, which has smothered the Crimea and the Ukraine with its falsehoods while Russian special operations forces and their agents cut off access to national Ukrainian television stations by force and intimidation wherever they could.

See also,

Office of the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 15 April 2014.

Vladimir Putin’s lies, and those of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, stand starkly revealed by the findings in the OSCE report.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserve great credit for their dogged persistance in getting the OSCE observers to the Ukraine, with an authorization that included the assent of the Russian Federation.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The West at a crossroads in the Ukraine: “Rechtstaat” or “Machtpolitik”?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and other leaders from the West seem lost in the flow of events in the Ukraine, responding only to immediate pressures. Even when they react, they appear to do so only in a manner marked by pacifism and what can only appear to Moscow (and not only Moscow) as a deep-rooted fear of confrontation with Russia, either through countervailing force or the threat thereof, or through  broad economic sanctions that might actually dissuade Vladimir Putin from his current course.

Like the French and the English following the signature by Èdouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain of the Munich Pact on September 30, 1938, ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in the face of a planned German invasion the next day, against all evidence the current leaders of the West continue to harbor the illusion that a little bit of aggression and a little bit of annexation will not deflect the current course of history and the enjoyment of “peace in our time”.

The deepest illusion they harbor is the belief that Russia will soon become like a Western European state, and not revert to the ruthless totalitarian state from which it emerged only in 1991, following the liberalizing reforms of Mikhail Gorbacev after 1985.

Such a development does not seem likely, at least not in the foreseeable future in which the leadership of Russia is likely to be controlled by Vladimir Putin and his entourage.

The issue does raise an important further question, however:

How are the policies adopted by the West likely to affect the interplay of domestic political forces in Russia that will determine the kinds of leaders and political forms that will emerge after Putin has left the scene?

A strong argument can be made that if the West seeks to foster the development of democratic forces in Russia which might assume power after Putin, it should respond to Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine in a principled manner, built on commitment to the rule of law. This commitment would need to apply both internationally, through insistance on compliance with basic norms of international law, and domestically, within both Russia and the Ukraine, by insisting on the observance and protection of the fundamental human rights of all individuals in each country.

Such an approach makes sense, because reformers in Russia–and every other country in the world–will take careful note of the values that the EU, the U.S., and other countries actually promote and defend through their actions, and not merely their words.

Robust Western defense of the rule of law will provide them with hope and implicit encouragement. Appeasement and disregard for the protection of the human rights of all Ukrainans would be likely to have the opposite effect.

The larger issue, which seems to escape the short-term calculus of the current leaders of the West, is whether they and their populations are willing to fight for, and make sacrifices for, the rule of law.

Are they willing to make sacrifices and impose sanctions which will also affect their own economies, in order to uphold the rule of law on the international level, to fulfill the purposes and goals of the founders of the United Nations, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”?

Secondly, are they willing to make the sacrifices that may be necessary to uphold and protect fundamental human rights, secured by treaties, the U.N. Charter, and customary international law?

Will they stand up for the protection of the fundamental human rights of all individuals in the eastern Ukraine?

The constitutions of EU member states are founded on the rule of law and the protection of human rights, as is the U.S. constitution and the whole edifice of the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO.

At bottom, the critical question in the Ukranian crisis is whether Europe, the U.S., and other civilized countries are still willing to make serious sacrifices in order to uphold the rule of law, or whether appeasement and acceptance of some aggression, some annexation, and acquiescence in widespread violation of fundamental human rights in the eastern Ukraine is the preferred course.

The stark choice, as it was put in Germany in the late 1920’s, is between a world built on the concept of the “Rechtstaat” (democratic state governed by law) or “Machtpolitik”(the politics of military power).

Rechtstaat oder Machtpolitik? Oder?
(Rule of law state or the politics of power? Or????)

The Trenchant Observer

Historical context for current Russian aggression in the Ukriane; The sham “referendum” on May 11, 2014 in the eastern Ukraine

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Russian aggression in the Ukraine: The historical context

For a bracing corrective to the Russian propaganda supporting Russian aggression in the Ukraine, see:

Timothy Snyder, “The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything; Fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed,” New Republic, May 11, 2012.

Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. This article is a revised version of an article which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

With news reporting on and from the Ukraine which often is seemingly devoid of historical awareness, or the ability to describe what is really going on in context, Snyder reminds us of who the Soviet Union and Russia were and are, and of Russia’s treacherous attempt now to remake the map of the Ukraine, and Europe, through the illegal use of military force and the annexation of conquered territories.

The sham “referendum” held on May 11, 2014 in the eastern Ukraine

Reporters describe numbers as “election results” of a so-called referendum on greater autonomy in the eastern Ukraine, held on May 14, 2014, which has been organized by Russian invading special operations forces and those who they have empowered and whose actions they still control.


Florian Hassel, “Igor Strelkow, Kommandeur in der Ostukraine; Der Mann hinter der Schreckensherrschaft,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12. Mai 2014 (15:06).

“Sein Erfolgskonzept ist “das rechtzeitige Ausschalten einiger Anführer des Gegners bewusst auch außerhalb legaler Methoden”: Oberst Igor Strelkow war schon im Februar auf der Krim, derzeit kommandiert er die Separatisten in der Ostukraine. Wer ist der Mann?”

See also:

Florian Hassel (Donezk), “Konflikt in der Ukraine: Putins Platzhalter im Osten,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12. Mai 2013 (19:02).

“Die Schlüsselfiguren der Separatisten in Donezk, Slawjansk und Lugansk sind aus dem politischen Nichts aufgetaucht. Die meisten haben eine zweifelhafte Vergangenheit – aber das unbedingte Vertrauen der russischen Führung.”

Putin’s public call for the referendum to not be held can only be viewed as one further example of his “double game”, yet another treacherous and duplicitous act aimed at confusing and dividing the West and the nations of the EU in order to prevent them from adopting stronger sanctions against Russia for its ongoing aggression in the Ukraine.

Major examples of Putin’s “double game” include Russia’s agreement to the April 17 Statement (Agreement) in Geneva calling for separatists in the eastern Ukriane to lay down their weapons and vacate public buildings they had seized by force, and his repeated statements to Angela Merkel and others that Russian troops were withdrawing from the Ukrianian border when nothing could be further than the truth.

No Western leader should give credence to anything Vladimir Putin or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says, in view of their undisputed record of duplicity.

As for the refendum itself, the following observations are in order:

There was no legally constituted electoral commission.  There were no electoral rolls used to control who voted.  There was no electoral body to which to appeal charges of corruption.  There was no presence at voting tables of different parties.  There were no independent international observers. 

There was no mechanism to ensure the “results” announced by “separatists” (who gained their de facto positions through Russian aggression and the use of force) bear any resemblance to the number of ballots actually cast in favor of the proposal on the referendum.

There was no opportunity for opponents of a “yes” vote to be heard in the media, and those who might have spoken out for a “no” vote reported that they were subject to great intimidation and fear. A number of politicians who opposed the “separatists” were assassinated.

See David Blair (Donetsk) and Roland Oliphant,”The ‘disappeared’ whose voices will be silent in vote on self-rule in Ukraine’s east; Pro-Russian separatists continue to hold a number of prisoners against their will, in a campaign against dissent,” The Telegraph, May 10, 2014 (7:18PM BST).

The question on the ballot was essentially so ambiguous as to be meaningless.

The so-called referendum failed to meet the lowest standards of even the most blatantly corrupt of Soviet and Russian sham elections.

Why Western news media would give any weight to referendum “results” secured under these conditions defies understanding.

The real story was about these factors which rendered the “results” meaningless. But by reporting the numbers again and again, Western media helped give credence to the erroneous belief that the election results had any significance at all, other than to check the box in Vladimir Putin’s step-by-step stretegy in his war of aggression against the Ukraine.

The under-reported real story about the May 11 “referendum”

There is a real story about the gross violations of internationally protected human rights that are underway in the eastern Ukraine, including the right to political participation and free and independent elections, the rights to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and the right to public order in which the physical integrity of each human being is protected from violation by others, including the rights which protect individuals from the depredations of armed thugs acting in concert with foreign special operations forces who have invaded the country.

The story in the eastern Ukraine is about these human rights violations, and Russian involvement, and not merely about the various steps of Putin’s plan of aggression aimed at subversion of the rights of Ukrainian citizens to the political independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of their country.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Dare anyone say it? “We applaud the courage of the Ukrainian government and people in defending public order and the sovereignty and territorial independence of the Ukraine.”

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

In the face of Russian aggression, in the last few days the Ukrainian government has shown great courage in defending public order, and the territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty of their nation.

Their courageous actions should make the authors of the cowardly responses of the West and the broader international community feel deeply ashamed. For the latter have merely paid lip service to the defense of freedom, human rights and international law, while engaging in a policy of pacifism and appeasement in the face of blatant Russian aggression.

Nor is the duty to act to uphold the U.N. Charter, international law, and the maintenance of international peace and security solely that of the United States and the West. The abstention by Brazil and other countries on the General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, for example, will long remain as a black page in the histories of these countries.

The appeasement by the West and other countries is particularly clear with respect to the military invasion and annexation by Russia of the Crimea. These actions have upended the entire postwar international political and legal order. The demands of Western leaders for a restoration of the status quo ante in the Crimea have grown silent, while they have adopted no sanctions which can be realistically viewed as aimed at securing a reversal of the aggression and annexation.

In all communities, the force of law and its deterrent effect weakens when the community whose interests it protects do not act to uphold its norms.

Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, its attack on the eastern Ukraine through special operations forces and the organization, coordination and direction of pro-Russian militias and armed thugs–taking over public buildings and even towns by armed force, and its continuing threats of military intervention by massing combat-ready troops on the border poised to launch an invasion, have placed the entire postwar military, political and legal order in question in the greatest crisis of this nature since World War II.

Will anyone speak out in praise of the actions of the Ukrainian government, without which Russian aggression would triumph, and the rule of law and protection of the human rights of citizens in the eastern Ukraine would be lost?

Are Western leaders afraid to remind the world each time they speak that Russia has committed aggression in the Crimea and continues fresh acts of aggression in the eastern Ukraine?

Will they not only speak out in defense of international law and human rights, in defense of liberty and the rule of law, but also undertake immediate and concrete measures of a serious nature to come to the defense of the Kiev government and assist it in facing down Russian aggression?

Though Barack Obama and Angela Merkel and other world leaders seem oblivious to the fact, Ukrainian soldiers and security forces are today fighting to uphold the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law which guarantee their security and that of the citizens they represent.

If these leaders can grasp this point, might they not do more, through really significant actions, to aid the Ukraine in its defense of their common values of respect for international law and international human rights?

The future of their countries and of the international political and legal order are in their hands. If they are leaders, and not merely followers of ill-informed public opinions on critical foreign policy matters, can and will they lead?

The Trenchant Observer

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

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

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

It is historicly 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

Poland, where the torch of freedom still burns: Solidarity with the people of the Ukraine

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

God bless Poland and the solidarity of the Polish people with the people of Ukraine in their struuggle for democracy and the rule of law.

Such solidarity should come as no surprise, as it was the courage of the Polish shipbuilders under the leadership of Lech Walensa in 1981 which triggered a series of events which ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Klaus Brill, “Polnisch-ukrainische Beziehungen: Anteilnahme in Blau-Gelb,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 25. Februar 2014 (18:14 Uhr).

>Wie kaum ein anderes Volk in Europa verfolgen die Polen den revolutionären Umsturz in der Ukraine. Tausende beteiligten sich am Wochenende in Städten wie Warschau, Breslau und Lublin an Solidaritätskundgebungen. Dabei ist das Verhältnis zwischen den Völkern historisch keineswegs ungetrübt.

Man hört ihn täglich, und er wirkt sehr entschieden. Der polnische Ministerpräsident Donald Tusk, sonst nicht der Gesprächigste, lässt seit zwei Wochen keinen Tag vergehen, ohne sich zum Geschehen in der Ukraine zu äußern. “Die Annahme, es könnte innerhalb der nächsten Stunden oder Tage zu einem Happyend kommen, ist völlig unbegründet”, warnte er schon vorige Woche. Dann rief er seine Landsleute auf, als Zeichen der Solidarität mit den Nachbarn im Osten abends brennende Kerzen in die Fenster zu stellen. Und am Dienstag appellierte er an die Ukrainer, jetzt nicht vorrangig auf Rache zu sinnen, sondern ihr Land vor dem Staatsbankrott zu retten.

Donald Tusk zieht in dieser Sache mit seinen Landsleuten an einem Strang. Den revolutionären Umsturz in der Ukraine be-gleitet wohl kein anderes Volk in Europa mit so lebhafter Anteilnahme wie die Polen. Der Kulturpalast in Warschau, das höchste Gebäude des Landes, wird seit Tagen nachts in blaues und gelbes Licht getaucht, es sind die ukrainischen Nationalfarben. Auch die Zeitungen schmücken ihre Sonderseiten inzwischen schon routinemäßig mit blau-gelben Streifen.

“Brüder, wir bewundern euch”

Die Gazeta Wyborcza als führendes Blatt des Landes druckte gar eine blau-gelbe Doppelseite mit der ukrainischen Aufschrift “Wir mit Euch” und bat die Leser, sie wie eine Flagge ins Fenster zu hängen. “Brüder, wir bewundern Euch”, lautete der Titel eines Leitartikels von Chefredakteur Adam Michnik, der selber ein legendärer Freiheitskämpfer war. “Die Polen verstehen die Tragik der ukrainischen Geschichte”, schrieb Michnik. “Denn sie kennen aus der eigenen Vergangenheit den Preis, den sie für ihr Streben nach einem freien und würdigen Leben zahlen mussten.”Das ganze Land schwelgt in Solidarität, auch wenn das nachbarschaftliche Verhältnis historisch nicht ungetrübt ist. Im Zweiten Weltkrieg hatten in Wolhynien und Ost-Galizien, zwei Regionen, die einst zu Polen gehörten und seit 1945 Teil der Ukraine sind, ukrainische Aufständische unter deutscher Besatzung Massaker an Zehntausenden polnischen Zivilisten verübt, später kam es zu Gegenschlägen.

In diesen Tagen des Freiheitskampfes auf dem Maidan in Kiew aber tritt dies alles zurück hinter dem Wunsch der Polen, dass auch die Ukrainer die Diktatur endgültig überwinden mögen. Tausende beteiligten sich am Wochenende in Städten wie Warschau, Breslau und Lublin an Solidaritätskundgebungen.

Ukrainische Verletzte in polnischen Krankenhäusern

Man sammelte Geld für die Unterstützung der Nachbarn, und in katholischen Kirchen wurden unzählige Messen gelesen. Mindestens 17 ukrainische Verletzte der Kämpfe in Kiew befinden sich in polnischen Krankenhäusern. Und schon seit längerem bereitet Polen sich nach den Worten seines Ministerpräsidenten Tusk auch darauf vor, notfalls ukrainische Flüchtlinge aufzunehmen.

Der Aktivste der Aktiven aber ist der Außenminister Radosław Sikorski. Er hatte am Wochenende mit seinem deutschen Kollegen Frank-Walter Steinmeier und dem Franzosen Laurent Fabius in Kiew unter dramatischen Umständen verhandelt. Wie er später sagte, nutzte er dabei “alle Argumente, auch die emotionalen aus unserer eigenen polnischen Geschichte”. Der erzielte Kompromiss aber wurde durch den wütenden Widerstand auf dem Maidan und den Fortgang der Revolution überrollt.

Sikorski sieht sich heute von der nationalkatholischen Opposition in Polen angegriffen, weil er auf dem Höhepunkt des Ringens die Kiewer Oppositionellen mit Verweis auf die polnischen Revolutionserfahrungen zur Annahme des Kompromisses gedrängt – mit den Worten: “Andernfalls werdet ihr Kriegsrecht haben, ihr werdet die Armee haben und ihr werdet alle tot sein.” “In wessen Namen hat Sikorski das gesagt?”, fragte daraufhin der polnische Oppositionsführer Jarosław Kaczyński. “Das ist eine sehr weitgehende Drohung.” Sikorski gab trocken zurück: “Es ist leicht, vom Kanapee in Warschau aus zu kritisieren.”

Meanwhile, :in the United States, cold Realpolitik rules in the Obama administration, as the president shows no passion for the cause if freedom in the Ukraine.


Peter Baker, “Wary Stance From Obama on Ukraine,” New York Times, February 24, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Outlook for 2014 and beyond: Technology and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–Lord Acton (1834-1902)

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
–Edmund Burke

The onward push of technology in general, and information technology in particular, brings George Orwell’s vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s vision in Brave New World (1932) more clearly, more palpably into view.

For a more contemporary example, see the German film, Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”), which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2006. The movie is available in English, French, and Spanish, as well as the original German.

Technology’s relentless push places new capabilities in government officials’ hands, as new tendencies toward the creation of totalitarian instruments of oppression appear to sweep past all legal, historical and cultural restraints.

The new mantra of governments in democractic countries where minimal oversight and control of government actions still exists to some degree is that, “We do it because we can do it.”

Justifications are not lacking, for zealous officials in their efforts to control terrorist and other threats.

“What if,” they ask, “a nuclear bomb were exploded by terrorists in a major city?” Citing such examples, they conclude that everything is justified, and nothing is excluded.

The requirements of necessity and proportionality that existed in the past are increasingly lost. Thus, to protect society against terrorists, military and intelligence agencies move relentlessly toward doing everything they can to forestall both perceived and inchoate threats.

The relationship between ends and means–of central importance in both domestic and international law–is lost among officials which have succeeded in forging a secret dominion of secret action, where they are not in any meaningful sense held to account. Over time, they secure the acquiescence if not the enthusiastic support of elected government officials, and even of some judges. They develop doctrines such as the “state secrets privilege” which governments invoke to avoid judicial review of the  legality and constitutionality of their actions and programs.

At the same time, the number of individuals employed by the government and its contractors to protect the population and the state grows astronomically. Powerful commercial interests become fused with the technologoical imperatives and the drive to create ever greater capabilities–and to use them.

The national security officials pushing these programs frequently come from intelligence backgrounds where they are not accustomed to conducting their activities in a manner in which they are held to account before the constitution and the law.

Consequently, as we enter 2014 we are being pushed headlong into a future where the state holds in its hands incredibly powerful instruments of totalitarian control. The government, citing the need for secrecy and the classified nature of the information required for legal challenges, does everything it can to avoid effective judicial and constitutional review of its actions. Legal memoranda justifying secret programs are themselves held secret on the theory that their publication would undermine free and vigorous debate among government officials.

The paradoxical result is that while government lawyers are arguably freed up to produce legal justifications that will never see the light of day, citizens and their representative are denied their right to assess whether the government is acting within the law and the Constitution.

In the end, because in a democracy secret legal justifications lack validity and can have no legitimizing force, the government in effect simply fails to offer any legal justifications for its secret operations. The rule of law is broken, as the government operates outside the framework of legal and constitutional accountability which is the bedrock of a democratic state governed by law.

These are matters which are abundantly clear to first-year law students, but not apparently to ranking lawyers within the Executive Branch in Washington.

A government which proceeds in this manner has gone outside the framework of constitutional government under law. Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret programs and secret activities whose legality cannot be assessed, are deadly assaults on the rule of law.

Yet they continue. They continue with the full backing of President Barack Obama, as revealed through his actions. Here, as elsewhere, we need to watch what the president does, and not what he says.

We assure ourselves that our elected representatives will safeguard our freedoms even in this new world where everything is known by government officials, and large private organizations such as Google and Facebook.

Yet when someone like the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, is suddenly forced to resign over an affair after his e-mails somehow become known to intellgence officials shortly after the FBI tells him that their investigation has ended and that he will not be the subject of further inquiry, no one insists on knowing what legal authority the FBI used to secure these e-mails.  No one demands to know why FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce called David Clapper, the head of the NSA, on November 6, 2012 (as election results flowed in), and told Clapper about the affair, or why Clapper immediately called Petraeus and strongly urged him to resign.  Were the e-mails obtained through abuse of an FBI or NSA program? No one dares to focus on this question, or to investigate it tenaciously to the bitter end.  No one is held accountable.

Edward Snowden’s revelations in The Guardian and other leading newspapers throughout the world have opened a window through which we can now see how absolutely without limits U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted surveillance and made copies of the communications of everyone in the world, including those in the United States.

We know these capabilities have been and are used to identify individuals who become the objects of targeted killings by drone strikes, without judicial process, even when as in the Anwar al-Aulaqi case the target is a U.S. citizen.

We trust that these capabilities will never be “misused” by our government officials, while casting a blind eye to how similar capabilities are currently being used by dictatorships to root out and if necessary to destroy their opponents.

We want to think, “It couldn’t happen here.”

But in a sense it is already happening here. These activities–which seem to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, if the words in the text and two centuries of constitutional interpretation have any meaning–have already had a chilling effect on free speech in the United States, and elsewhere. The precise text of the Constitution is worth recalling:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Writers and journalists already weigh their words carefully, and the topics on which they choose to write. Self-censorship makes insidious inroads into habits of free thought. Many are in denial, and are loathe to admit that they themselves censor what they write.

But engage a writer in a deeper conversation, off-the-record.  Cross-examine a writer as to whether the current climate–resulting from the government’s surveillance operations, its extremely aggressive prosecution of any who have made classified information public, and even reporters to whom such information has been leaked– has affected any of their decisions regarding what to investigate, what sources to use, and how tenaciously to pursue their investigation, and you may be surprised to learn the degree to which writers and journalists are already pulling their punches.

What can be done?

Our answers to this question will be duly recorded by government surveillance programs and operatives. Of that we can be sure. Does that fact in and of itself affect our answers? If it does, extra courage may be required if we are to come up with effective plans of action to defend our liberties.

Still, is there any amount of collective courage that might be summoned, in a country which has nurtured and protected the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years, to reverse this onslaught of technological and commercial imperatives, growing government secrecy, and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control?

If we don’t speak out and take corrective measures now, when will we? Can we imagine that it will become easier in the future? In the words of the Talmud, “If not now, when?”

Does anyone remember J. Edgar Hoover, and the abuses he committed with far fewer tools at his command?

How long can we assume that those who hold (or in the future may hold) these extraordinary and growing powers and the power of the state itself in their hands, will always act benevolently and to uphold the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer