(Partial) English Transcript, “News conference of Vladimir Putin, December 18, 2014 (15:20 Moscow).
The (partial) transcript in Russian is found here.
Check back for Excerpts and Analysis
The Trenchant Observer
Maansur Mirovalev, “Disappearing Crimea’s anti-Russia activists; Opponents of Russia’s annexation are being abducted and killed amid reports of escalating human rights abuses,” Last updated: 04 Dec 2014 10:35.
Human Rights Watch, “Rights in Retreat: Abuses in Crimea, November 17, 2014.
The Trenchant Observer
Russian President Valdimir Putin, in a meeting with historians, has voiced approval of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty signed on August 23, 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland. In a secret protocol to the treaty, which Moscow did not acknowledge until 1989, Germany and Russia agreed to the partition of Poland between them.
(1) “Nichtangriffspakt: Putin verteidigt Hitler-Stalin-Pakt; Bei einer Historikerveranstaltung in Moskau hat Wladimir Putin den Hitler-Stalin-Pakt gerechtfertigt: Der sei keine schlechte Idee gewesen,” Der Spiegel, 7. November 2014 (13:39 Uhr).
(2) Tom Parfitt (Moscow), “Vladimir Putin says there was nothing wrong with Soviet Union’s pact with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany; Russian president says he sees nothing wrong with treaty with Nazi Germany that led to the carve-up of Poland – and blames Britain for destroying any chance of an anti-fascist front,” The Telegraph, November 6, 2014 (1:15 p.m.).
“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” he said, adding: “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say: ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”
Secret protocols of the pact in which the Nazis and the Communists agreed to divide up Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Poland into spheres of influence were officially denied by the Kremlin until 1989.
More than 20,000 arrested and captured Poles were executed by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn massacre in 1940. The Nazis began an extermination campaign that would eventually lead to the deaths of three million Jews in Poland alone.
Mr Putin appeared to imply the secret protocols continued to be a matter of dispute today, saying, “people still argue about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and accuse the Soviet Union of dividing up Poland”.
In 2009, the Russian leader condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact as “immoral” but said France and the UK had destroyed any chance for an anti-fascist front with the Munich Agreement.
This latest statement is is yet another in a growing number of pieces of evidence, consisting of both words and actions, that Putin has become an admirer of Adolf Hitler and is copying his methods.
Putin’s statements are an attempt to rewrite history.
What is particularly dangerous about his assertions is that there is no one in the West in a high position who is providing detailed, factual rebuttals of them.
With budget cuts and the transfer of the U.S. Information Agency to the State Department, U.S. “public diplomacy”, like that in other allied countries, is effectively dead. Consider, for example, the simple fact that the BBC World Service no longer operates under the supervision of the Foreign Office.
No one is calling Putin out for his lies and distortions of history, just as no one has bothered to refute in detail and in a sustained manner his preposterous international legal arguments or the blatant lies and misrepresentations his propaganda machine churns out, night and day.
The risk is that Putin, not hearing any rebuttals, may come to believe that his assertions are generally accepted in the West. Together with the policy of appeasement followed by the leaders of the United States and Europe in response to Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine, Putin could easily assume that he could intensify his aggression in the Donbas without any significant adverse consequences.
France is still weighing whether to deliver “The Vladilovstok”, a Mistral-class attack warship and regional command and control system, to Russia in November (invitations to a November 14 delivery ceremony were sent out on October 8).
The EU is considering imposing further “sanctions” on additional individuals in Russia, though these are not really sanctions in the true sense of the word. The idea that such measures could do anything beyond assuaging the guilt of Europeans over doing nothing to defend the Ukraine is ludicrous.
The United States continues to refuse to provide the Ukraine with the military assistance and training, including “lethal” weapons, that Ukrainian President Petro Petroshenko requested many months ago. It is not even considering further sanctions, at least publicly.
We are living in a world where the structures of international peace and security are being hollowed out, losing strength and deterrent force every day, as the international order we have known for over 70 years begins to collapse.
The U.S. has demonstrated over the last six years that it is not capable of exercising effective foreign policy leadership in the world. Unfortunately, there is no one else with the clear vision and the iron will required to do so.
The earliest the U.S. might even begin to exercise such leadership in the world is January, 1917, after a new president and a new team take office. But there is nothing at all certain about that prospect.
One is reminded once again of the first stanza of “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats’ celebrated poem written after World War I, which reads as follows:
The Second Coming (published 1921)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats
The entire poem including the second stanza can be found here.
The Trenchant Observer
ANNA SMOLCHENKO, “Putin Accuses Obama Of ‘Hostility’ And ‘Blackmail,” AFP, October 16, 2014 (6:32 a.m.).
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-putin-accuses-obama-of-hostility-meddling-2014-10#ixzz3GfUan3sD
While the United States has finally, and belatedly, begun military actions in Iraq and Syria to slow the advance of ISIS forces, the country is still led by a White House of extraordinary incompetence. This is not about politics, but rather about the ability to formulate coherent strategies, policies and plans, and then to execute them effectively.
If this is what “driving from the back seat”means, it is a total and unmitigated disaster.
We have witnessed this disaster in the making, with Obama’s contradictory and indecisive policies toward Syria as far back as 2011 and 2012, when he refused the unanimous advice of his principal foreign policy advisers to provide military support to the Syrian opposition forces. His refusal to do so had the result of helping Syrian president al-Assad beat back the insurgents, and opened the space for the growth of what became known as ISIS, which now threatens not only Iraq and Syria but countries across the world, from Australia to the U.S. and Europe.
One element of Obama’s indecisiveness led to pulling the rug out from under Turkey in 2012 as it was poised to intervene in Syria, according to well-founded reports.
At the moment, Turkey stands over the border from Kobanê in Syria, a town with a large Kurdish population which has been coming under increasing pressure from ISIS notwithstanding U.S. and perhaps allied airstrikes and which, according to some reports, could soon fall into the hands of ISIS.
In order for it to intervene, Turkey is demanding a commitment from the U.S. that it will also include in its goals the defeat of the Syrian regime, which has caused the deaths of over 200,000 persons in Syria through barbarous atrocities including war crimes and crimes against humanity on a grand scale.
In Iraq, despite U.S. and allied coalition airstrikes, and even the use of Apache heliocopters, in addition to the successful formation of a new Shiite-led government after the departure of former president al-Maliki, reports speak of the realistic possibility that all of Anbar province could fall to the ISIS fighters. ISIS already holds a broad swathe of territory in the province.
While the U.S. has done an admirable job of putting together a coalition to fight ISIS, at least on paper, it has yet to prove that it is capable of leading and coordinating an effective military campaign and coalition war against ISIS, as demonstrated not by statistics on the number of airstrikes launched (self-regarding) but rather by strategic objectives and results obtained on the ground.
At the moment, Obama would appear to be not following the advice of his generals. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey stated in Congressional testimony that conditions could conceivably arise under which he would advise the president to send ground combat forces to Iraq, he was immediately contradicted the following day by President Obama who, in a military setting, firmly asserted that he would not introduce combat troops into Iraq.
With respect to the Russian-Ukrainian war, Obama was so slow in reacting that the Crimea had been annexed before the U.S., NATO and the EU could get around to offering a serious response. On economic sanctions, the U.S. did succeed in getting coordinated sanctions adopted with the EU, but only after much delay. Since September 5, when the sanctions were agreed and NATO also announced the creation of a rapid deployment force, the ceasefire called for in the Minsk Protocol of September 5 has stopped the advance of Russian troops, tanks and artillery, but has proven shaky particularly in the Donetsk region and around the Donetsk airport.
Over a month after the sanctions were agreed and the Minsk Protocol was signed, Russian troops remain in the Ukraine, and neither Obama nor the EU have taken any concrete initiatives to force their withdrawal.
With respect to the Ebola epidemic, currently out of control in West Africa in Liberia, Sierra Leone and possibly Guinea, which potentially threatens the entire world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have played a superb role in leading the response to the crisis on a technical, medical level. They have laid out the case that if 70% of new cases are not confined to Ebola treatment centers by November 20, the exponential growth in the number of infected individuals may reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 20.
Obama has pledged to send 3,000 military personnel, but they will not be on the ground before November. Meanwhile the contagion of the disease continues to explode. Resources and above all the coordination of efforts have been slow to materialize on the ground. This is a situation which calls for massive and extraordinarily urgent action, but the U.S. has only said what it is going to do, and that’s it.
The common thread to these ongoing failures of foreign policy, to which many other examples could be added, is Obama’s emphasis on what the U.S. is going to do–no more, and what other nations need to do. The emphasis almost seems to be on what the U.S. is not going to do, in a world in which time is not of the essence.
The focus is self-regarding, on what the U.S. and others are going to do, and not going to do, and not on the realities of the challenge on the ground and what is required to meet that challenge within the time limits that those realities impose.
Whether with respect to the Ukraine, ISIS and al-Assad in Syria, the defense of Anbar province and beyond in Iraq, or halting the explosion in Ebola infections, we are faced with policies which include many necessary elements (e.g., the replacement of al-Maliki with the formation of a a more inclusive regime in Baghdad (a work in progress, yet to convince the Sunnis), but which are blind to the urgency of the moment, to quickly developing military advances of ISIS on the ground, or the rapid explosion in the number of Ebola cses in West Africa.
Returning to the situaiton in Kobanê, one has the impression that Obama is far more interested in winning a battle of wills with the Turks over whether to also target the al-Assad regime than he is in protecting the hundreds of thousands of human beings who will be affected by a continued failure to take effective action. The airstrikes are important, but not sufficient to achieve the goal.
Obama doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of symbolic and strategic victories or of momentum on the ground.
The Daily Star in Beirut expressed the general exasperation with Washington’s policies in the Middle East in an Editorial published on October 10. The paper wrote,
The vastly contradictory statements coming from the U.S. government over the last few days are emblematic of a wider problem: that the Obama administration apparently has no coherent strategy when it comes to Syria, and now Iraq, and is playing the whole thing by ear. But this absence of any tangible policy will have ramifications far wider than simply the countries directly involved.
Despite a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, backed by a coalition of some 60 countries, the U.S. is confused and confusing. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. was looking closely at the idea of a buffer zone along the border with Turkey, inside Syria. Hours later the Pentagon and the White House said (the) option was absolutely not on the table.
This flip-flopping really makes one wonder where decisions are being made, and by whom….
(T)the mistakes of Obama’s administration have done untold and likely irreparable damage.
And the vacuum that has been left appears to have given oxygen to the most extreme and most dangerous groups around the world. The destruction and loss of life happening now across the Middle East is only the beginning. The aftershocks of current political indecisiveness will be felt for generations.
The Trenchant Observer
Updated September 4, 2014
Western leaders who say there is no military solution in the Ukraine are wrong: A miltary solution is in the making, one forged by Russian artillery, tanks and soldiers who have invaded the Ukraine
(1) Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger, “U.S. and Europe Are Struggling With Response to a Bold Russia, September 2, 2014.
(2) Laurence Norman, “European Union Considers Modest Increase in Sanctions on Russia; EU May Widen Limits on Access to Financial Markets for Other Russian State-Owned Companies, Wall Sreet Journal, September 2, 2014 (Updated 11:59 p.m. ET).
(3) Christoph B. Schiltz (Brüssel), “Die neuen Strafmaßnahmen der EU könnten noch mehr russische Kreditinstitute treffen; Doch auch Separatistenführer aus der Ostukraine sollen mit Sanktionen belegt werden; Bis Freitag wird entschieden, Die Welt, 2. September 2014 (23:44 Uhr).
One is tempted to simply wonder why American and European leaders cannot see and understand the most obvious facts in dealing with Russia and Putin with regards to the Ukraine.
Until one remembers that big business, and its money, are lobbying European governments and the U.S. alike not to adopt any sanctions that would interfere with their businesses, joint ventures, or profits from trade relationships.
Until one remembers the arms industries and the power they have over governments, or within governments, as is the case in France with its delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia.
Europe speaks of imposing further sanctions on Russia for invading the Donbass region of the Ukraine, after it swallowed whole the Crimea through the use of military force.
But the sanctions under consideration represent political compromises among the pacifists and appeasers who lead major EU member states, rather than direct and effective measures whose purpose is to halt Putin’s invasions and defend the territory of the Ukraine and of Europe.
Even their proponents cannot say, with a straight face, that the sanctions they propose will even slow Putin’s military aggression.
These leaders are no different in moral or leadership qualities from Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier who, breaking their treaty commitments to Czechoslovakia, urged Edvard Beneš of Czechoslovakia to “mediate” his country’s differences over the Sudetenland with Adolph Hitler and The Third Reich.
Then they sold out the Czechs by signing the Munich Pact, on September 30-October 1, 1938, hours before a scheduled military invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The treaty commitments from the U.S. and the U.K. (and Russia) to the Ukraine contained in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in exchange for the latter giving up its nuclear weapons and signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, were similar to the commitments of the U.K. and France to Czechoslovakia that existed in 1938.
Like Chamberlain and Daladier, NATO and EU countries, particularly Germany and France, have urged the victim of aggression to negotiate a solution to the problem with Russia and its puppet “separatists” in the Donbass.
Like Daladier and Chamberlain, they are not inclined to lift a finger militarily to help defend the Ukraine. Faced with a vastly superior Russian army, which has been inflicting grievous losses, Ukrainian President Petro Petroshenko may see few if any alternatives to accepting Putin’s 7-point ceasefire plan, which amounts to no more than a diktat demanding Ukrainian surrender on Moscow’s terms.
America, incapacitated by a pacifist and incompetent president who cannot lead, needs Europe to play a decisive leadership role right now, rallying the countries of the West and other civilized nations to a strong defense of the Ukraine, the U.N. Charter, and the international law prohibition of the use of force.
According to reports, however, what the Europeans are considering in terms of new sanctions against Russia are laughable, and likely to spawn derision and further aggression on the part of Putin.
If these new sanctions do not include a ban on French delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia, they will only convince Putin that he has nothing to fear from the West, nothing at all.
Francois Hollande’s last-minute “suspension” of the delivery of the warships is no reason not to include an absolute ban on the making or performance of any and all defense contracts, past and future, with Russia.
Otherwise, Hollande is fully capable of weaseling his way out of the present “suspension” and proceeding with actual delivery the ships. The delivery was suspended before, it should be recalled. Hollande lifted that suspension in June, when he invited Putin to visit him for dinner at the Elysee Palace after the D-Day celebrations at Normany.
Barack Obama’s words of assurance to leaders in Tallinn, Estonia will have little effect in convincing them that the U.S. is serious, if they are not at the same time accompanied by strong actions.
What are needed are sanctions that will make Putin stop in his tracks, or at least deflate the bubble of illusions in which he and Russia seem to be floating. A bucket of cold water, so to speak.
But what we have are pacifists and appeasers, who are dead set to continue on the path they have followed since Russia invaded the Crimea in February, 2014.
The EU’s leaders may think there is no military solution to the conflict in the Ukraine, but they are mistaken.
For there is one such solution, that dictated by Russian tanks and troops as they proceed to carve out a land corridor linking Russia proper wirh the Crimea.
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex which could exercise undue influence on government decisions. Added to that force we now have “big business” engaged with Russia telling the President of the United States what to do or not do on sanctions.
Similar business interests undergird the pacifism and appeasement of Europe, whose first act following the election of Francesca Mogherini as foreign policy chief is likely to be the adoption of further “stage 3″ sanctions against Russia which will be received in Moscow as a joke, and only goad Putin on to further acts of aggression.
One of her first statements after being selected was that the possibility of a military solution in the Ukraine simply did not exist. Putin no doubt appreciated the clarification.
Obama, Merkel, Holland, Cameron, all of them, will go down in history as the craven appeasers who through their inaction gave unstinting encouragement to Vladimir Putin to tear down the existing edifice of international law and institutions, which the heroic generation which emerged from World War II left as its legacy in 1945.
When you pull back and reflect a little, and think about the fact that we are seven billion humans on a fleck of earth in a remote corner of a galaxy with some 200 billion stars, in a “visible universe” of over 170 billion galaxies, you can begin to understand that there is no guarantee that the existing international order, including the U.N. Charter and the international law prohibition of the use of force, will continue to endure.
Our current leaders are the custodians of that order and of our future.
Unfortunately, they are woefully inadequate to the task.
The Trenchant Observer
An old adage is, “Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream.”
There is an important gloss on that adage, however. The fuller version is as follows:
“Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream, unless your horse is drowning.”
For background, see “Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off,” The Trenchant Observer, August 23, 2014, and the articles cited there.
Sometimes we need to pull pack from a mere analysis of the events of the day, and look for significance in the broader pattern of events which form the context for today’s developments.
At the moment, a dramatic showdown is taking place in Afghanistan over who the country’s next leader will be.
Hamid Karzai and his government are reliably reported as having been deeply involved in a massive electoral fraud favoring Ashraf Ghani, whose vote total in the June 14 presidential run-off election, was inflated by as much as two million votes (out of a reported eight million votes cast).
Following the 2009 presidential elections, Karzai retained his hold on the presidency through massive fraud which he himself reportedly orchestrated.
It seems quite evident that Karzai intends to continue making the big decisions for the government even after leaving office, with Ashraf Ghani emerging as president from the current second round elections.
Karzai has built a new mansion right next to the Presidential Palace to help ensure he is involved in critical decisions.
If Ghani emerges as president, Karzai and the “Kabul Cabal” which for the last 12 years has been running Afghanistan, a country famously labeled “Corrupt-stan” by long-time war correspondent Dexter Filkins, will continue in power.
Karzai will continue to exercise his influence behind the scenes, as the brilliant master of warlord and tribal and other alliances he has been up until now.
Looking at Afghanistan’s recent history since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, it is clear that the United States—intentionally or unintentionally—has enabled the “Kabul Cabal” to grow and thrive.
For example, the CIA has been an active supporter of Karzai over the years, with many high-level officials on the Company’s payroll, and bags of cash with millions of dollars being delivered directly to the Presidential Palace for Karzai’s unrestricted use.
If Abdullah emerges as the victor, there will be a changing of the guard, a handover of power from the “Kabul Cabal” to something new, potentially marking a milepost on the path to a return to the democratic project in Afghanistan.
In 2009, the U.S. pressured Abdullah into withdrawing from the second round election that was to occur, following a “recount” of the votes in the first round which reduced Karzai’s share to less than 50%. At the time there were negotiations over some kind of a power-sharing arrangement similar to that under discussion now.
In the end, the U.S. withdrew its support for the negotiations.
An interesting report at time by a reporter with close ties to Pakistan’s army and intelligence services, Syed Saleem Shahzad, asserted that support for Abdullah was withdrawn as part of a U.S. deal reached by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad with Pakistani military leaders, under which the U.S. would withdraw its support for Abdullah and the negotiations in exchange for Pakistani assistance in setting up and carrying out peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The reporter was subsequently assassinated in an operation that was reportedly orchestrated by Pakistani military and intelligence officials.
Pakistan has traditionally opposed Abdullah and the Northern Alliance which he once helped lead, because of india’s ties with and support for the Alliance.
While all of this is very complicated, and requires some historical memory or research to fully understand, the drama undeway at the moment is fairly clearcut:
If the current “audit” of the second-round vote is allowed to proceed to completion, it is quite likely that Abdullah will emerge as the winner and have an irresistible claim on the presidency.
Karzai is now pushing hard to cut short that process, and to inaugurate a new president within a week or two. That president could only be selected as a result of the current negotiating process.
A pretext for a quick inauguration of the new president is that it would enable him to go to the NATO Summit which is to be held in Wales on September 4-5, in order to secure continued NATO assistance going forward after December 31, 2014.
However, prospects for stability in Afganistan will turn much more on the perceived legitimacy and nature of the new government than on whether a new president can go to Wales in early September.
For any new government to be able to withstand the challenge from the Taliban after most U.S. and ISAF Forces have been withdrawn, and foreign economic assistance greatly reduced, it will need to have legitimacy and be viewed by the Afghan people as the true product of the elections held on June 14.
It is highly doubtful that without large-scale military and financial support, the “Kabul Cabal” can continue to hold the country together and resist the advances of the Taliban, unless Ghani emerges as the true winner of the run-off after all of the votes in the “audit” have been fully accounted for.
At the same time, it is hard to see the “Kabul Cabal” ceding power in the absence of a mighty push from the U.S. and NATO requiring the real results of the second-round presidential election to be observed.
The composition of the next government in Afghanistan will have a decisive impact on whether or not the country can be held together, and whether or not the Taliban can be denied the victories for which they have been waiting and preparing.
NATO can agree to provide further aid to Afghanistan after the Wales summit in early September. Conference deadlines should not be allowed to drive policy on Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama needs to get it right this time, even if it means overriding the recommendations of CIA Director John Brennan.
This is likely to be Obama’s — and America’s — last chance to save the Afghan project.
The Trenchant Observer