Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

The Ukraine: Continuing Russian aggression, and the actions the circumstances require

Friday, July 25th, 2014

How the West and other civilized nations should respond–at this point–to Russian aggression in the Ukraine

Advice for foreign policy decision-makers in Europe and the United States:

1. Speak first of real “sanctions”, not “targeted sanctions”.

Jettison the illusions that the latter will change Russia’s course of action. Call the latter “targeted individual measures”, not “sanctions”– which is a highly misleading term when used to refer to “pinprick” measures in this context.

2. Immediately provide the Ukraine with military assistance.

Provide Ukraine with modern military equipment with which the armed forces can defend themselves and their country. Supply modern aircraft with advanced air-defense systems, at least one for every plane shot down by Russia or Russian-supplied missiles.

Provide other substantial military assistance, including sophisticated modern weapons.

3. Prepare contingency plans to respond to any nuclear threats by Putin.o

Prepare military contingency plans to be used in case Putin resorts to threats of using nuclear weapons. He and Mededev have made such veiled threats in the past. Putin has undertaken a course which could put his regime at risk.

See Maksym Bugriy (The Jamstown Foundation) “Nuclear Deterrence in the Context of the Ukrainian-Russian Conflict,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 135, July 24, 2014 (06:48 PM).

Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has led to a hot war where four nuclear powers support opposite sides (Russia and the U.S., as well as NATO members Great Britain and France).

Prepare for all contingencies.

4. Immediately halt delivery of all military equipment and technology to Russia.

Immediately halt all deliveries of military equipment and training of Russian forces (e.g., on how to operate Mistral-class warships, currently underway in France).

Avoid the political temptation to block only future contracts and deliveries. This is a matter of national security for all of the countries of NATO and the EU, as well as other civilized countries.

This is not an issue of honoring contracts, but rather of implementing the peremptory government decisions necessary for national defense.

The U. N. Charter authorizes measures of collective self-defense under Article 51, in response to armed attacks in violation of the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Charter.

These norms are universally recognized as jus cogens, i.e., peremptory norms from which there can be no exception by way of agreement. They override all other treaty norms, and any penalty clauses in the French contracts for the delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia, for example. Consequently, an international court or arbitral panel would be unlikely to uphold the penalty provisions in these contracts.

5. Move large numbers of NATO troops to Eastern European states that border Russia.

Lead NATO in reaching firm decisions to move NATO forces to forward bases in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania. Begin initial deployments immediately.

6. Select a strong EU foreign minister who can lead responses to Russian aggression.

Eschew normal political bargaining and elect Radoslaw Sikorski, or someone with his qualities (extensive experience as foreign minister, strong record on standing up to Russia and of successful negotiations) to be the new EU foreign relations chief. The Italian candidate, Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, is hopelessly compromised because of her dealings with Russia after the invasion of the Crimea, in addition to her lack of experience, and should not receive further consideration.

Avoid selection of a compromise candidate who represents the lowest common denominator in Europe.

Sikorski was taped in a private conversation allegedly speaking disparagingly of American relations with Poland. U.S. Assistant Secretary od State State Victoria Nuland in a much more significant official though private communication, said, “F… the EU!” Call it even, and elect Sikorsky. He has demonstrated great abilities as foreign minister of Poland, and is uniquely qualified to lead the EU in meeting the challenge of Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

7. Stop threatening and start implementing sectoral sanctions.

Stop threatening serious sanctions in illusory attempts to influence Putin’s and Russia’s actions, and start implementing sectoral, stage-three sanctions immediately.

The threats have not worked, and they are extremely unlikely to work in the future. Empty threats only confirm Putin’s belief that he can “outfox” the West, and that he can continue to act with virtual impunity.

The “rational actor fallacy” should be avoided. The authoritarian state of Russia, caught up in the extreme emotions of xenophobic nationalism and unchecked military aggression, is not likely to act as a single rational mind calculating both long-term and short-term benefits. What drives Putin and his coterie is greed and the unquenchable thirst to remain in power.

Instead of talking about imposing “additional costs” on Russia, a formulation which implicitly rests on “the rational actor fallacy”, the West should be speaking of halting Russian aggression and reversing its effects.

The focus should not be on attempting to change Putin’s behavior through threats of future sanctions, but rather on changing NATO and EU minds so that forceful actions can be taken now to stop Putin and Russia.

8. Publish detailed white papers.

Publish detailed white papers detailing Russian acts of aggression in the Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine.

9. Publish detailed legal memoranda.

Publish detailed legal memoranda setting forth Russian violations of international law, including in particular Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, and justifying measures taken in response under Article 51 of the Charter and other provisions of international law.

10. Lobby governments not to abstain on votes in the General Assembly.

Actively lobby all governments, including in particular the BRICS and other countries which abstained on General Assembly Resolution A/RES/262 approved on March 27, 2014. Make it clear to these countries that their votes in the General Assembly affect the vital national security interests of Europe, NATO, and the United States, and that they will weigh heavily in considering bilateral issues and concessions. In short, make it clear to them that they will pay a significant price in the future if they vote against or abstain on resolutions such as G.A. Resolution 262 (March 27, 2014).

11. Stop “telephone diplomacy” and meeting publicly with Russian officials.

Stop the constant telephone calls to Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials, and stop public meetings with them. These actions have led to an excessive informality, and the cutting out or by-passing of other officials and experts in government decision processes. These two consequences have undermined the interests of the Western countries. Such informal conversations and meetings allow Putin to finely gage the resolve of leaders from different countries, and to use this information to divide them, particularly whenever the threat of the imposition of really serious sectoral sanctions becomes real.btrg

In a word, get serious and take forceful action in response to the Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Take actions that are commensurate with the gravity of Russian violations of international law that have been committed and and are still underway.

These violations constitute grave threats to peace and the national security interests of each nation concerned.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Developing

For recent news and commentary, see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s de facto partners: EU members—-and their further responses to ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Developing

See

Andreas Umland (Gastbeitrag), “Der Westen muss die Ukraine retten, Die Zeit, 16. Juli 2014.

“Russlands Vorgehen gegen die Ukraine stellt die internationale Ordnung und das Wertesystem der EU infrage. Der Westen muss endlich angemessen auf den Konflikt reagieren.”

At this juncture, as the EU is poised to impose a few mild additional “sanctions” on Russia for its continuing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, in addition to its invasion and annexation of the Crimes, one must simply ask whether the EU has become, in effect if not intent, a silent enabling partner of Vladimir Putin as he continues Russia’s aggression in the eastern Ukraine.

Putin is succeeding in achieving his objective of destabilizing the Ukraine, and promises to use all of the weapons at his command–from supplying the “separatists” (launched under Russia’s coordination and control), to economic pressures, to war propaganda–to keep the country off balance and to prevent it from consolidating a democratic government which will eventually join the EU, and potentially even NATO if Ukrainians deem that step necessary for their defense and NATO agrees to take them in.

Following the perfidy of François Hollande in breaking Putin’s isolation by inviting him to the 70th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day invasion on June 6, his invitation to Putin to visit Paris for a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, and his simultaneous announcement that France would deliver two Mistral-class warships to Russia beginning in the fall, over strenuous objections by the U.S. and other NATO countries, Angela Merkel of Germany, Barack Obama, and other Western leaders stumbled over each other to meet with Putin, the president of Russia and commander of an ongoing invasion of a European country.

Frequent telephone calls between Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Obama, and meetings on the sidelines of the Normandy celebrations, other international conferences and even the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, further restored Putin’s acceptance and respectability as a man you could do business with–without worrying about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and Russia’s ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine and use of economic weapons to destabilize that country.

Putin has offered the EU, NATO and the West a fig leaf behind which they can hide their pacifism and appeasement, by not overtly invading the eastern Ukraine with regular Russian troops (at least until now). He also has offered verbal concessions (when necessary to defuse pressure for real sanctions), but without implementing them on the ground.

The “sanctions” that the EU and the U.S. have imposed are not really sanctions in the classical sense, but rather targeted measures of reprisal aimed at a very limited number of individuals and companies. This allows Europe and the U.S. to announce “further sanctions” against Russia when in fact no serious sanctions, in the classical sense of the term, are being imposed.

The net effect of these “targeted sanctions”, and the continuing meetings and telephone calls with Putin, has been to enable Putin and Russia to continue their aggression in a process in which the united will of the West is progressively broken while the road of appeasement leading back to business as usual is increasingly accepted and followed.

No one in the West in a high leadersip position seems to have a strategic understanding of what is going on, and how these developments are undermining the strength and deterrent force of fundamental principles of international law and the U.N. Charter which are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security, including the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state (U.N. Charter Article 2 paragraph 4).

The consequences of the failure of the EU, NATO and the U.S. to repel Russian aggression have been thrown into stark relief since July 13, as Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa hold their annual “BRICS” summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, without any one of them speaking out on Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine. Putin also visited Cuba, where agreement was reached to reopen Russia’s listening post at Lourdes (closed in 2001), as well as Nicaragua and Argentina, where he signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Everywhere he was warmly received.

Looking at all of these developments, one can see that the U.S., NATO, the EU, and their allies have suffered a far-reaching geopolitical and strategic defeat because of their failure to respond effectively to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, in addition to their failure to engage in forceful diplomacy with Brazil, India, China, and South Africa. The latter all abstained in the vote on U.N. General Assembly resolution (A/RES/68/262) adopted on March 27, 2014 condemning the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Many African countries followed South Africa’s lead.

Looking at this broad picture as a whole, one can see clearly that the EU and the U.S. have in effect acted as silent partners with Putin and Russia in the latter’s aggression against the Ukraine. Succumbing to the temptations of appeasement in the face of Russian aggression and threats of further aggression, they have in fact emboldened Putin. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than after the invasion of the Crimea, when they responded with a slap on the wrist, in the form of the mildest of “targeted sanctions” aimed at only a few individuals. Shortly thereafter, undeterred, Russia annexed the Crimea.

By not responding effectively, the West has become the co-dependent enabler of Vladimir Putin and Russia in their ongoing aggression against the Ukraine. In Europe and the United States, appeasement and pacifism have triumphed when they were face-to-face with the mighty Russian Bear.

Indeed, Europe and the United States have become Putin’s silent partners, his co-dependent enablers, as he proceeds to tear down the fundamental principles of international law and the U.N. Charter which prohibit the threat or use of force across international frontiers. “Co-dependent” on the bully who abuses them, they also remain silent on Putin’s violations of fundamental human rights in Russia itself.

The fact that Putin has succeeded in breaking out of his isolation, and is even welcomed by the BRICS countries, Argentina, and others in Latin America and beyond, should serve as a loud wake-up call to the West and the community of states dedicated to the rule of law on both the international and the domestic planes.

It is time for Putin’s silent partners in aggression to end their co-dependent relationship with him and Russia.

It is time for them to understand the broader consequences of continuing Russian aggression.

It is time for them to act to bolster the deterrent effect of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force by imposing real, “third-stage” sanctions aimed at restoring the status quo ante existing prior to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

REPRISE: 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” — with latest news updates

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

In what may be a turning point in efforts to defend the country’s territorial integrity and repel Russia’s aggression and military intervention in the eastern Ukraine by special forces, intelligence operatives, and so-called Russian “volunteers” under their direction and control, Ukrainian forces have retaken Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and are pressing foreward with their “anti-terrorist” campaign. The so-called “separatists” withdrew first from Sloviansk to Kramatorsk, and then shortly thereafter from Kramatorsk to Donetsk.

See:

(1) Pilar Bonnet, “Los prorrusos acusan a Putin de traicionarles para mantener su poder; Los rebeldes creen que Rusia les abandona para evitar el conflicto con Occidente, El Pais, 6 de Julio 2014 (22:49 CEST).

(2) “Regierungstruppen wollen Donezk und Luhansk belagern
Die ukrainische Armee will die Städte Donezk und Luhansk blockieren und die Separatisten zur Kapitulation zwingen. Diese haben heftigen Widerstand angekündigt,” Die Zeit, 6. Juli 2014, 6. Juli 2014 (20:28 Uhr).

(3) Ukraine-Krise: Armee rückt auf Millionenstadt Donezk vor; Die Rebellenhochburg Slowjansk ist schon erobert – nun nähert sich das ukrainische Militär der Metropole Donezk. Dort halten sich prorussische Milizen zu Tausenden verschanzt. Es droht ein Belagerungszustand,” Der Spiegel, 6. Juli 2014 (17:48 Uhr).

(4) Le Monde avec AFP et Reuter, “Les forces ukrainiennes progressent vers Donetsk,” 6 Juillet 2014 (Mis à jour à 23h09)–avec carte / with map.

(5) Benoît Vitkine (Sloviansk, envoyé spécial), “Ukraine: le récit de la chute de Sloviansk, tournant de la guerre entre l’armée et les séparatistes,” Le Monde 06 Juillet 2014 (Mis à jour à 11h09)

(6) Alan Cullison (in Sloviansk) and Philip Shishkin (in Donetsk), “Ukrainian Government Troops Target Further Gains in East; Separatist Leaders Say Evacuation From Slovyansk Was Strategic,” Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2014 (Updated 11:51 a.m. ET).

(7) “A day in Sloviansk after liberation,” Kviv Post, July 6, 2014 (6:05 p.m.)(with photos).

REPRISE: 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”

First published on May 3, 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

Shift in funding source spells dim future for BBC World Service

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

The decline in the quality of BBC World Service radio programs has been underway for some time, with the elimination of one of its two best news programs, “The World Today,” some time ago. The remaining top program, “Newshour”, has lost some of the editorial judgment it used to have, and it is not unusual to hear one of its reporters ranting at a government official somewhere in the world rather than analyzing and reporting the news.

In 2011, the World Service quit broadcasting in Mandarin Chinese.

The total budget for the BBC World Service for 2014/2015 is reported to be 245 million pounds, which is a pittance compared to the value of the operation in demonstrating the value of freedom of the press and providing independent news coverage beyond the headlines.

Its value is most appreciated, perhaps, by those living in countries without a free flow of information. Stations like the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, or the Voice of America may provide the only source of independent news reporting in a number of countries ruled by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

Now, the funding of the BBC World Service has shifted from a subsidy from the Foreign Office to funds provided from the proceeds of British television user fees. It should therefore come as a surprise to no one if in the future the interests of those paying the fees produce a cut-back in foreign language programs and even the English language program of the BBC World Service.

It is amazing that in a shrinking world the lights by which we see its contours and details are going out. For a pittance.

See

(1) Belinda Goldsmith (London), “Committee fears for BBC World Service under new funding,” Reuters, March 31, 2014.

(2) Judy Dempsey, “Stop the Decline of the BBC World Service!” Carnegie Europe, July 3, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

The West, Russia and the Ukraine: Threats, facts on the ground, and sectorial sanctions

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

The EU and the U.S. are on the verge of deciding, once again, whether they will actually carry out their last round of threats. They stated, in the strongest terms, that they would impose third-stage, sectorial sanctions against Russia if Putin and Russia did not withdraw their forces from the border and halt their support of so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine.

These “separatists”, it is worth recalling, are led by the Russian special forces and intelligence agents who launched the rebellion in the East, and their followers, now including thousands of Russian “volunteers” who–in the last month–have flooded across the border into the Ukraine, together with ground-to-air missiles, tanks and other arms and equipment.

The border was “opened” for the Russians and their “volunteers” by a well-coordinated military campaign of attacks against Ukrainian border posts and their supporting control centers.

In the last month, Putin has continued to play his “double game” of saying one thing and doing something else. He has not ceased support on the ground for the “separatists” who, despite the former KGB-man’s machinations in a new form of “stealth war”, we have every reason to believe remain under Putin’s direction and control.

The West threatened sectorial sanctions if Putin did not change course. He changed only–at the last minute–in his verbal formulations, in what he said to Western leaders, but not in his actions on the ground.

If we look at what has transpired in the last month, can anyone say with a straight face that Putin has met the West’s conditions for not imposing sectorial sanctions?

Those who have followed Putin’s maneuvering in Syria are quite familiar with his modus operandi, of saying just enough to throw the West into disarray and to defuse any momentum toward the adoption of real, hard-hitting sanctions or stronger action, only to resume the relentless pursuit of his goals once the concentration and motivation of the West and other civilized nations has dissipated.

A fundamental question facing the West in deciding whether to defer sectorial sanctions and try to use them–again!–as a threat to induce Putin to act the way they want, is whether they want to continue devoting this enormous amount of energy and degree of concentration to the perfidious president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Or, might they prefer to move on, to contain Russia through concrete actions, and then to devote their energies to building Europe and restoring the vitality of the Atlantic Alliance and its leadership.

Putin is not going to change. He is not going to become the democrat that Boris Yeltsin once thought he might become. He is someone the West can never trust again.

Moreover, the U.S. doesn’t really need Russian assistance to get out of Afghanistan, or to deal with Iran and the nuclear issue through the “five plus one” (5 +1) talks. Russia is not America’s friend, and won’t be again so long as Putin remains in power.

Consequently, the choice facing the West is whether

(1) to continue playing Putin’s game, on his terms, where all attention is directed toward him and what he might say or do, or not do; or

(2) to finally act forcefully in the face of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian “stealth” invasion of the eastern Ukraine, by taking hard actions to contain Russia, halt its aggression, and restore observance of international law. The latter is of paramount importance, and includes the priniples of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country, including the Ukraine.

Containment will require, at some point and sooner rather than later, the forward deployment of NATO troops in the front-line states of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania.

Moreover, Russia needs to be pushed hard by the West and other civilized countries on the issue of its observance of human rights. We should not remain silent in the face of an increasingly repressive authoritarian regime whose “democracy” has become no more than a “Potemkin village”. The Magnitsky Act should be enforced.

Nothing is to be gained by further delay of sectorial sanctions. If the threat of such sanctions is ever to be credible in the future, repeated threats in the past must now be executed in view of Putin’s failure to comply with their conditions.

That doesn’t mean that measures like the OSCE monitoring of the border and of the situation in the eastern Ukraine need not be pursued, or that negotiations within the Ukraine under OSCE auspices must be halted.

It means only that the West, having called Putin’s bluff, will be in a stronger position to deal with him and Russia.

It will bring home to Putin, through actions and not mere words, that the EU, NATO, and the U.S. have finally gotten serious about putting an end to his aggression and redressing its consequences.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia

Friday, April 11th, 2014

It is a very bad idea for the U.S. and the EU to meet with Russia on April 17 to discuss the Ukraine’s fate, even with the Ukraine also participating.

Under international law, Russia has no right to make demands about the internal constitutional arrangements of another sovereign state. The U.S. and the EU likewise seem to have forgotten that since the Yalta conference decided the fate of European countries as World War II was still raging, the United Nations Charter was adopted in December of 1945, and for nearly 70 years international law and legal institutions have progressively developed to govern world affairs, from arms control agreements to the regulation of trade through the World Trade Organization.

To sit down with the aggressor which has invaded and annexed the Crimea, and which has 40,000 combat-ready troops on the border poised to invade eastern Ukraine, is the height of folly. It is like going to negotiate with a criminal over illegal demands when the criminal has a gun pointed at your head.

The incompetence of the Obama administration in foreign policy seems to have no limits, as does that of the Europeans and NATO.

The meeting should be called off, period.

Certainly it should be called off if the 40,000 troops on the Russian border with Ukraine are not withdrawn prior to the meeting.

In 1938, Great Britain and France sold Czechoslovakia down the river at Munich, after earlier urging Czechoslovakia to enter into mediation with Germany. That deal was consummated on September 30, 1938, at the Munich conference. The meeting in Geneva on April 17 risks becoming the opening stage of a Munich II settlement, bringing once again “peace in our time”–but war looming far into our future.

When this riff of incompetence, pacifism and appeasement is over, the world will be a much more dangerous place.

National budgets will divert monies from health and education to defense. Nuclear arms will proliferate among a number of countries, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, as well as Iran. Instead of international order and striving to maintain international peace and security in the world, as mandated by the U.N. Charter, nations will increasingly look to weapons and armies which will have a growing voice in determining national boundaries, and the outcome of territorial disputes (e.g., as between Japan, China, Korea and nations in the South China Sea).

Nations may no longer feel bound to abide by the international law provisions that establish order in the world in matters of trade, finance, and international security.

The tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The mere fact that the West has agreed to this ill-conceived conference in Geneva to resolve “the Ukrainian crisis” suggests that that the likelihood of resisting appeasement and upholding international norms against military aggression and annexation of the territory of another sovereign nation is subject to the most serious doubt.

What should be done?

The West should adopt strong economic sanctions before any meeting with Russia, both to punish Russia for threatening further aggression, and to create very powerful pressures on Russia to return the Crimea, restoring matters in the Crimea to the status quo ante, prior to the Russian invasion and annexation.

And if the Russians don’t withdraw their combat-ready forces from the border region, the meeting should simply be called off.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

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

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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

See:

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

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

These are Russian actions which deserve urgent attention.

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

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

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

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

Russian Actions

So far, Russian actions include:

1) The invasion and annexation of the Crimea;

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

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

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

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

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

Western Actions

So far, Western Actions have included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actions Going Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

February 22, 2014: U.N. Security Council unanimously approves Resolution 2139 (2014) on humanitarian access in Syria (with full text of Resolution)

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

“Unanimously approved, Security Council resolution demands aid access in Syria,” U.N. News Centre, February 22, 2014

For the text of the resolution, and statements by delegations, see the Security Council Press Release, U.N. doc. SC/11292, February 22, 2014.

The full text of the Resolution itself follows:

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014)

“The Security Council,

“Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012) and 2118 (2013), and its presidential statements of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012, 5 April 2012 and 2 October 2013,

“Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

“Being appalled at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and the death of well over 100,000 people in Syria, including over 10,000 children, as reported by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict,

“Expressing grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, in particular the dire situation of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas, most of whom are besieged by the Syrian armed forces and some by opposition groups, as well as the dire situation of over 3 million people in hard-to-reach areas, and deploring the difficulties in providing, and the failure to provide, access for the humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need inside Syria,

“Emphasizing the need to respect the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance and stressing the importance of such assistance being delivered on the basis of need, devoid of any political prejudices and aims, commending the efforts of the United Nations and all humanitarian and medical personnel in Syria and in neighbouring countries, and condemning all acts or threats of violence against United Nations staff and humanitarian actors, which have resulted in the death, injury and detention of many humanitarian personnel,

“Expressing grave concern at the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons caused by the conflict in Syria, which has a destabilising impact on the entire region, and underscoring its appreciation for the significant and admirable efforts that have been made by the countries of the region, notably Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, to accommodate the more than 2.4 million refugees who have fled Syria as a result of the on-going violence, while acknowledging the enormous political, socioeconomic and financial impact of the presence of large-scale populations in these countries, and underscoring the need for all parties to respect and maintain the security and civilian character of camps for refugees and internally displaced persons,

“Welcoming the pledges totalling $2.5 billion at the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, hosted by Kuwait on 15 January 2014, and expressing its appreciation to Member States and regional and subregional organizations that have pledged to provide humanitarian assistance to people in need in all parts of Syria, including internally displaced persons, as well as to refugees in neighbouring host countries, and calling on all Member States to ensure the timely disbursement of pledges and continued support in line with growing humanitarian needs,

“Calling on all parties to immediately end all violence which has led to human suffering in Syria, save Syria’s rich societal mosaic and cultural heritage, and take appropriate steps to ensure the protection of Syria’s World Heritage Sites,

“Strongly condemning the increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, and reiterating its call on all parties to commit to putting an end to terrorist acts perpetrated by such organizations and individuals, while reaffirming that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed,

“Expressing its regret that its presidential statement of 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15) has not delivered as expected and has not yet translated into meaningful progress on the ground, and that humanitarian aid delivery continues to be impeded throughout Syria, while condemning all cases of denial of humanitarian access and recalling that arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supply and access, can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,

“Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution to the crisis, reiterating its endorsement of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 (Annex II of Resolution 2118 (2113)) and demanding that all parties work towards the immediate and comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué aimed at bringing an immediate end to all violence, violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international law, and facilitating the Syrian-led political process launched in Montreux on 22 January 2014, leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future,

“1. Strongly condemns the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups, including all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as all grave violations and abuses committed against children in contravention of applicable international law, such as recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape, attacks on schools and hospitals as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, ill treatment and use as human shields, as described in the United Nations Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Syria (S/2014/31);

“2. Demands that all parties immediately put an end to all forms of violence, irrespective of where it comes from, cease and desist from all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirm their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and stresses that some of these violations may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity;

“3. Demands that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, and recalls in this regard the obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances, and further recalls, in particular, the obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants, and the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, and attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such;

“4. Demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, fully implement the provisions of the 2 October 2013 statement by the President of the Security Council (S/PRST/2013/15) including through facilitating the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, in accordance with applicable provisions of international humanitarian law and the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance;

“5. Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in the Old City of Homs (Homs), Nubl and Zahra (Aleppo), Madamiyet Elsham (Rural Damascus), Yarmouk (Damascus), Eastern Ghouta (Rural Damascus), Darayya (Rural Damascus) and other locations, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localised cease-fires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law;

“6. Demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes;

“7. Urges all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to take all appropriate steps to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and all humanitarian actors engaged in humanitarian relief activities, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the affected people in Syria, including by promptly facilitating safe and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need of assistance in all areas under their control, and encourages further cooperation between the United Nations, its specialized agencies and all parties concerned, including Syrian civil society organisations, to facilitate access and the delivery of assistance in the entirety of the Syrian territory;

“8. Demands that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and facilitate free passage to all areas for medical personnel, equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, and recalls that under international humanitarian law, the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable, and with the least possible delay, medical care and attention required by their condition and that medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected, and expresses grave concern in this regard at the removal of medical supplies from humanitarian shipments;

“9. Also demands that all parties take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, including members of ethnic, religious and confessional communities, and stresses that, in this regard, the primary responsibility to protect its population lies with the Syrian authorities;

“10. Further demands that all parties demilitarize medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and desist from attacks directed against civilian objects;

“11. Strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and torture of civilians in Syria, notably in prisons and detention facilities, as well as the kidnappings, abductions and forced disappearances, and demands the immediate end of these practices and the release of all arbitrarily detained persons starting with women and children, as well as sick, wounded and elderly people and including UN personnel and journalists;

“12. Urges all parties to take all appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel, those of its specialized agencies, and all other personnel engaged in humanitarian relief activities, without prejudice to their freedom of movement and access, stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities and further stresses the need not to impede these efforts;

“13. Stresses the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirms that those who have committed or are otherwise responsible for such violations and abuses in Syria must be brought to justice;

“14. Strongly condemns the increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organisations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, urges the opposition groups to maintain their rejection of these organizations and individuals which are responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in opposition-held areas, calls upon the Syrian authorities and opposition groups to commit to combating and defeating organizations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, demands that all foreign fighters immediately withdraw from Syria, and reaffirms that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed;

“15. Emphasizes that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution, welcomes in this regard the Geneva Conference on Syria launched in Montreux on 22 January 2014, and demands that all parties work towards the comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future, and further stresses that rapid progress on a political solution should include full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society, including women, and represents the only sustainable opportunity to resolve the situation in Syria peacefully, and that the implementation of this resolution is key to meeting the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people;

“16. Urges all Member States to contribute or increase their support to the United Nations’ humanitarian appeals to meet the spiralling needs of people affected by the crisis, and to provide this support in coordination with the relevant United Nations agencies, and to ensure that all pledges are honoured in full, and further urges all Member States, based on burden sharing principles, to support the neighbouring host countries to enable them to respond to the growing humanitarian needs, including by providing direct support;

“17. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution by all parties in Syria, in particular paragraphs 2 through 12, in 30 days of its adoption and every 30 days thereafter, and upon receipt of the Secretary-General’s report, expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution;

“18. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

The Trenchant Observer

Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Updated March 7, 2014

Western leaders have made three major blunders since the Russian military takeover of the Crimea first began on or around February 25.

Telephone Calls to Putin

First, they have engaged in a series of telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Obama’s calls to Putin, who is reliably reported to detest him, have had no positive effect and may well have stiffened his resistance to the conciliatory proposals from the West. Even Angela Merkel’s calls directly to Putin have probably been ill-advised.

Such calls may in some circumstances be useful if their occurrence and content is kept private. While they may satisfy a hunger for instant gratification in the age of the Internet, decisions to deploy tanks and military ships are not likely to be reversed by e-mails or telephone calls, which between heads of government are probably heavily scripted, and further distorted by the use of interpreters.

Moreover, formal written communications have the advantage of permitting a wider range of officials with different perspectives to participate in their review and offering suggestions for response. Both with Putin and with Obama, and probably other government leaders as well, the quality of the exchange is likely to be improved by wider internal review and additional time to formulate policy and decisions.

On the Charlie Rose show on March 5, Henry Kissinger provided a powerful explanation of why direct communications between heads of government is usually a poor idea. This seems to be all the more true in a crisis like the one in the Ukraine, folllowing Russian military intervention in the Crimea, which remains under Russian military control and occupation.

Today, again, we learn that Obama called Putin and during a substantive call made no progress.

See “Ukraine-Krise: Putin bleibt hart in Telefonat mit Obama; Eine Stunde lang haben Putin und Obama die Lage auf der Krim beredet. Doch an dem Kurs des russischen Präsidenten hat das nichts geändert – er sagt: Russland dürfe die Hilferufe aus der Ukraine nicht ignorieren,” Der Spiegel, 7. Marz 2014 (6:45)

Generally, particularly in the case of Obama, such telephone calls and background briefings on their content are used as part of a campaign to show others Obama is doing something and Putin is being unreasonable.

Urgent Advice: Take the telephone away from Obama. He has not charmed or persuaded Putin, and he isn’t going to.

(Quote from Kissinger)

Trying to Force the Russians to meet with Ukrainian Officials

The second mistake Western diplomats have made in recent days is to try to force the Russians to sit down at the same table and talk to representatives from the new government in Kiev. This has been a huge blunder, confusing the goals of process with those of substance. The substantive but secondary goal is to get Russia to recognize the government in Kiev. The primary goal should be to persuade the Russians to cease and desist from further provocative actions in the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine, whether executed directly by Russians or Russian-speaking supporters. Such actions could–whether by design or inadvertence–ignite the flames of war.

In short, the highest substantive goal in the next few days should be to halt the Russians’ provocations and inflamation of passions. The second substantive goal should be to obtain formal Russian acceptance of OSCE and other observers, and to provide formal guarantees of their physical safety.

The ill-advised efforts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians before the stage is set, and the Russians want to, only aggravates the circumstances in which substantive diplomatic activity can take place.

These attempts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians reflect the same demented logic according to which simply getting the al-Assad goverment to meet with the opposition at the Geneva II Conference in June would somehow produce a miraculous breakthrough. It didn’t, and it was foolish to think that it could.

American Efforts to Assert its Leadership in Rsponding to Russia

The third development, unfortunate in the extreme, is that the United States is now seeking the mantle of leadership of the West in relations with Russia in connection with the crisis.

American policy in the Ukraine has not been an unqualified success, with Victoria Nuland’s “F… the EU” cell phone call revealing both deep American involvement with the opposition and disdain for EU leaders and their efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

And it hasn’t stopped. Only days sgo, a high U.S. official (a woman) was quoted on background in the German press as being highly critical of Angela Merkel, who was far too slow and deliberative in this official’s view. Such American officials do not understand the requirements of diplomacy, and should be immediately removed from the policy making process.

On March 7, 2014, on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Donilon, the former National Security adviser, stressed the importance now of the United States’ reasserting its leadership of the West.

The problem here is that Obama and his foreign policy team have been largely incompetent in dealing with the most urgent foreign policy questions of the last five years. While John Kerry has his strengths (and weaknesses), and Samantha Power provides capable and clear-eyed leadership as Ambassador to the U.N., Obama continues to maintain tight White House control over the making and execution of foreign policy. We and the world, looking at the cumulative evidence, know he is not very good at it. For example, Angela Merkel shared with Obama her perception from talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone that he was “in another world”. Obama promptly leaked this quote to the world, which was probably not helpful in terms of influencing Putin.

With respect to the Ukraine, Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia undid the measures George W. Bush had implemented to punish Russia for its military intervention in Georgia–without any change in Russian behavior or resolution of the issues in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in enclaves in what amounts to de facto recognition of the fruits of Russian aggression.

Moreover, if Obama had not blinked at the moment of truth when he needed to pull the trigger to launch missiles against Syria, following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2014, Putin in his calculations might have taken the U.S. more seriously and never launched his military takeover of the Crimea.

The Observer’s advice is, “If you’re going to drive from behind (or slumber in the back seat), stay in the back seat and let others who know how to drive drive the car.”

Only two and a half weeks ago, the German, Polish and French foreign ministers hammered out a transition agreement whereby Yanukovych would yield partial power to a transitional government. To be sure, the deal fell apart when the Ukrainian negotiators could not deliver the crowd at the Maidan, the regime collapsed, the parliament relieved the president of his office, and the latter fled first Kiev and then the country. Still, the agreement was a brilliant piece of statecraft.

In the present situation, Obama is in no position to give Vladimir Putin lectures on international law, a concept which the president has only recently introduced into his discourse. Obama’s failure to prosecute officials responsible for torture as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture, his continuing use of drone strikes frequently in apparent violation of international law (particularly outside the war theater of Afghanistan and Pakistan), the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo, and NSA’s massive surveillance around the world in violation of constitutions and international law, all strongly suggest Obama is not the best leader to take the lead in the media in making the legal case against Russia.

The U.S. also has a troubled record of its own interventions, including those in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) which were justified, at least in part, under the rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”.

Germany is a better choice. The U.S. can take the lead with France and Britain in the Security Council.

That is not to say the U.S. in the U.N. and elsewhere should not make the strongest possible legal arguments against the Russian military intervention, in writing. It only means that the U.S. should carefully coordinate its efforts with the Europeans, and avoid undercutting Angela Merkel’s leadership, in the media.

This is not a time for a lot of wordsmithing and speeches and statements by Barack Obama and his administration. The focus, instead, should be on presenting serious and detailed legal memoranda in relevant forums, and on taking concrete actions such as imposing sanctions with real teeth on Russia and Russians.

Consideration should also be given to imposing EU and U.S. travel bans, and more, on individuals in the Crimea who have actively collaborated with Moscow in its military takeover, and who have joined efforts to provoke a secession from Ukraine and annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

The U.S. should work to coordinate its actions with the EU, and to persuade EU leaders behind closed doors, but should let Angela Merkel lead and coordinate the European response to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Ukraine. The Germans and the Poles know the Ukraine, and Putin, far better than does the U.S., and should be allowed to lead. Merkel is the most powerful and respected leader in Europe, has an important relationship with Putin, and also has the experience and insights gained from having grown up in East Germany when it was a police state under Soviet domination.

As suggested above, even as Merkel leads, the U.S can push hard on implementing sanctions while still setting forth its international law arguments in written form, presenting them to the Security Council and also publshing them elsewhere.

Summary of Recommendations

In sum, the Observer’s advice is:

1. Stop the telephone diplomacy with Putin.

2. Don’t try to force the Russians to talk to the Ukrainians before the stage is set, and the Russians have assumed a more conciliatory posture as a result of pressure from the EU and the U.S. The Ukraine’s fate will be decided by the major powers, though the actions of the Ukrainian government will have great import. The biggest challenge for the West is to forge unity behind strong positions, avoiding disarray which can only work to Russia’s advantage.

3. Obama should let Germany, and France and Poland, lead. Obama has important cards to play, but he should keep them close to his vest, and not go channeling his thought processes to the press on background or on TV, through Ben Rhodes or other government officials. He should speak instead with actions, as he did today with the announcement of the first sanctions against Russia and Russians, to take immediate effect.

Among the most important of these actions would be to publish serious and detailed legal memoranda rebutting Russian legal justifications and setting out clealy how its military intervention in the Ukraine has violated international law’s most important prohibitions, as well as treaties and agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)