Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

If Putin invades Mariupol and seizes a land corridor to the Crimea, what will NATO, the U.S. and the EU do?

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Developing

Russia’s continuing aggression in the Ukraine, and continuing appeasement in the West

The ceasefire in the Ukraine established by the Minsk Protocol is being violated on a grand scale. Russian troops remain in the Ukraine, as supplies of weapons and other military assistance to Moscow’s “separatists” presumably continue.

Russian troops illegally occupy the Crimea, which Russia has purportedly “annexed” following military invasion and conquest.

There appear to be no strategies or plans in the West to make Putin disgorge the Crimea, which with full compliance with the Minsk Protocol establishing a ceasefire in the Donbas and a plan to achieve peace, might open the path for Russia to turn away from its current policies of military aggression and to cease its open defiance of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force.

Given Russian defiance of the international law norms governing the use of force, upon which the entire structure of the United Nations is based, Putin may in the absence of a strong countervailing force cede to the powerful logic of war that would unite the Crimea with Russia proper, by conquring Mariupol and other territory between the Donbass and the Black Sea fleet based at Sevastopol.

The question of the hour is: Where is that countervailing force?

Europe is focused on the approval by he European Parliament of the cabinet or team proposed by the new EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Junker. Several of his nominees do not seem acceptable to the parliament’s elected members.

Some EU member states, including the U.K. and France, are also distracted by their military engagement as participants in the activities of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The United States is highly distracted by its ongoing military operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the militarily grave situations that exist on the outskirts of Baghdad and in Kurdish regions in Syria close to the border with Turkey, whose parliament has just authorized military intervention in Syria.

Politicians in the U.S. are also focusing on the upcoming Congressional elections to be held on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. The Democrats, who currently control only the Senate while the Republicans control the House, are at serious risk of losing control of the Senate. If this were to happen, Barack Obama would be turned into a real “lame duck” president for the last two years of his term.

Attention is also focused on the frightening Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has just registered its first American case in Dallas in the form of a passenger who arrived by air from Liberia. If 70% of new cases in West Africa are not confined to Ebola treatment centers by November (the current figure is 14%), the exploding number of cases is predicted to,number in the millions, with further risks of the disease being spread by travelers to other countries.

NATO is in transition, with the new Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, having taken office only on October 1. Not only must the Alliance proceed with rapid implementation of the decisions taken at the Wales summit on September 4-5, but also consider the potential invocation of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty by Turkey in the event it is attacked by ISIS. Further deployments of NATO troops in the East are also needed, and the issue should be receiving high-priority attention.

At the same time, the demonstrations in Hong Kong over the issue of universal suffrage have the potential, if not carefully managed by parties on all sides, to spin out of control generating responses that could be fateful not only for Hong Kong but also for the evolution of Chinese society as a whole.

In this mix of headline-gripping developments, it is easy for the Western nations to assume that the Ukraine crisis is under control and can be left to simmer on the back burner for a while.

In terms of facts on the ground, however, this is not the case. The ceasefire is not being observed in the Donetsk region, particularly around the airport where serious fighting continues. Other steps in the Minsk peace plan are not being complied with fully, if at all. Prisoner exchanges have come to a halt.

Putin’s modus operandi is to strike suddenly and with great surprise. The distraction of the Western countries, and the fact that they are not even talking about the imposition of further sanctions, may create an opportunity for Putin to strike while the West’s guard is down.

For those leaders in the West who seem to be distracted, asleep, or still in the grip of pacifism and appeasement, the central question in their minds should be:

“Why shouldn’t Putin just go ahead and invade Mariupol and seize the corridor between the Crimea and the Donbas, guaranteeing a secure overland supply route to the Crimea during the coming winter?”

See

James Rupert, “As Winter Nears in Ukraine, Will Moscow Attempt Another Strategic Invasion? Continued Attacks Show Kremlin May Be Preparing Drive Toward Crimea, Analysts Say,” Atlantic Council, September 29, 2014.

James Rupert, “Can US Support for Ukraine Help Prevent a New Russian Invasion?
Canadian Analyst Says US Should Signal Moscow To Avoid Any Assault in South,” Atlantic Council, October 3, 2014.

Mychailo Wynnyckyj, “10 reasons that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is possible before winter,” EuroMaidan Press, October 3, 2014.

What is to be done?

The first thing that is required is for the leaders of the West to put the Russian-Ukrainian war at the top of their list of priorities.

Among the steps they should take, in order to demonstrate to Putin and Russia that a powerful countervailing force exists, are the following:

1. Take the Minsk Protocol to the U.N. Security Council and put a resolution incorporating its terms to a vote.

2. The U.S. should take the lead on further sanctions, including banning Russian banks from using the SWIFT system for the transfer of international payments.

3. The U.S. and the EU and their allies should push for decisions annulling the decision to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018.

The World Cup should not be held in a country which has launched a war of aggression against a neighboring state, annexed part of its territory seized through military conquest, and violated the fundamental human rights of the populations subjected to its control (e.g., freedom of expression, right to participate in free elections, right to life, integrity of the person, and not to be arbitrarily detained, right to due process and a fair trial),

4. U.S. provision of “lethal” military weapons and assistance to the Ukraine should commence immediately.

The White House rationale for not doing so is rooted in policies of pacifism and appeasement (fear of antagonizing the aggressor), and should be reversed now in the light of events since February.

Appeasement has not worked with Putin, and it will not work with him either now or in the future.

5. The U.S. and the EU should begin an active diplomatic campaign for support of a strongly-worded U.N. General Assembly resolution on the Ukraine, condemning Russian aggression and reaffirming the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force. They should focus their diplomatic efforts in particular on South Africa, Brazil and India, and be prepared to take serious measures against states which vote with Moscow, whether with a negative vote or by abstention. The vote will count. A vote to support Russia should carry a heavy price.

6. Plans and decisions for the stationing of large numbers of U.S. and other NATO troops in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania should be made soon, and their implementation begun on an urgent basis.

The status quo cannot be accepted, if the crumbling international order and the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force are to be preserved.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s threats against NATO and other countries

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

There are disturbing signs that Vladimir Putin’s ambitions, following his successful invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, have become or remain boundless.

He has threatened to take Kiev, according to EU President Jose Manuel Barroso.

He has threatened to invade Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania, in conversations with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to EU documents relating Poroshenko’s account to EU members or officials.

He has made not so veiled threats against Kazakhstan.

Significantly, on a number of occasions, he has mentioned the threat of nuclear war against the West.

These threats, long ignored by Washington, Brussels, and NATO, need to be taken seriously.

President Barack Obama should be grilled by the media, repeatedly, on the question of what he is doing to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear showdown with Russia.

The following articles provide facts and perspectives regarding these issues.

(1) Daniel Brössler (Brüssel), “Putin soll Europa massiv gedroht haben,” Süddeutschen Zeitung Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 18. September 2014 (05:00).

Russische Truppen binnen zwei Tagen in Warschau, Riga, Vilnius oder Bukarest: Kremlchef Wladimir Putin soll dem ukrainischen Präsidenten Petro Poroschenko gesagt haben, dass seine Armee zügig osteuropäische Hauptstädte erreichen könnte. Das geht aus einer Gesprächszusammenfassung der EU hervor, die der “Süddeutschen Zeitung” vorliegt.

(2) Justin Huggler (Berlin), “Putin ‘privately threatened to invade Poland, Romania and the Baltic states'; German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told European Commission that Putin made the threat in a recent conversation,” The Telegraph, September 18, 2014 (6:48 p.m. BST).

(3) George F. Will, “An eye on the Baltic states?” Washington Post, September 3, 2014

(4) Paul Roderick Gregory, “Ukraine Is More of An Existential Threat Than ISIS, Because It Could Destroy NATO,” Forbes Magazine, September 23, 2014 (8:33 a.m).

(5) Ian Traynor, “Kazakhstan is latest Russian neighbour to feel Putin’s chilly nationalist rhetoric; As Obama reassures Baltic states of Nato’s protection, Kazakhs wonder if they will follow Ukraine, Chechnya and Georgia,” the Telegraph, September 1, 2014 (14:42 EDT).

This includes a photograph of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, in which in Putin’s eyes — contrary to the countless photos of an expressionless face, you can see a hint of the malice that lurks in his heart.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Russia and the Ukraine—The Big Picture

Originally published April 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

The Russia-Ukraine War: Putin, cunning judo master, versus Obama, NATO, and EU, conflicted and confused; Protagonists continue battle for Ukraine and vision of world order

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Developing

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a cunning and brilliant tactician who has now taken on the entire international legal and political order through his invasions of the Ukraine and “annexation” of the Crimea, seems to seize every day on some new target of opportunity offered up by the West.

To their credit, the EU, the U.S. and NATO in the last two weeks have overcome the resistance of pacifists and appeasers within their midst and begun to take forceful decisions to use their economic power to counter the advances of Russian troops and tanks in the Ukraine, and to strengthen their military posture toward Russia in the East.

They are now embarked on a strategy which will cost Russia grievously in the long and even intermediate term.

Their antagonist, Valadimir Putin, who seems — perhaps deceptively — to represent an inreasingly arbitrary one-man rule tending toward a totalitarian future, is not a long-term strategist.

In strategic terms, his policy of support for Bashar Al-Assad as the latter committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, leading to the deaths so far of over 200,000 people, has been deeply flawed. Focusing on the play-by-play game of defeating U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies, day by day, he has failed to anticipate the growth of ISIS or the “Islamic State” (“IS”) which poses a grave threat to Russia and its southern republics in the Caucasus.

ISIS is attracting, training, and providing experience to thousands of fighters some of whom will one day return to Russia to wreak havoc with their nihilistic and barbarian policies of sowing fear, death and destruction.

In the Ukraine, through his military invasions and short-term victories, Putin has brought Ukrainian nationalism to a brightly burning flame, and ensured that the population of this strategically and economically critical country will distrust and hate Russia for generations.

By trying to prevent the Ukraine from moving toward Europe and the West by economic war and military force, he has ensured the opposite result, at least in the intermediate to long term. While absolutely determined to prevent the Ukraine from joining NATO, Putin has virtually assured that they will do so in the longer term, as the only means available to them so secure their Eastern frontier.

In short, Putin is not a particularly good long-term strategist.

Rather, he is a briliant tactician whose cunning in the pursuit of his own personal short-term objectives far exceeds that of the divided leaders of the West.

Moreover, he seems to be obsessed with playing the current short-term game in the battle for influence and ultimately control over the Ukraine.

His moves, like those of a champion judo master, are brilliantly executed. His method includes the following elements:

1) Stealth, as in the way he invaded and seized the Crimea, and launched his invasion of the eastern Ukraine in April (if not before).

The plausible deniability such stealth provides him is useful in dividing his opponents, as he gives pacifists and appeasers in the West reasons not to act, or to argue among themselves over whether to take any actions in response to Russian aggression.

2) Blatant lies, Misrepresentations, and War Propaganda

Useful both at the diplomatic level, in confusing leaders of countries which might oppose him, and in maintaining domestic support through his control of the media and television in particular. Putin’s lies and war propaganda are eventually recognized as outrageous by foreign observers (after they have served their short-term purposes), but now remain essential domestically for him to maintain his grip on power.

On open question is whether the preposterous lies and propaganda can maintain their effectiveness over the longer term. In this respect, Joseph Goebels’ domestic propaganda in the German Third Reich may have been superior over the longer term precisely because of the realism with which it was imbued.

Putin’s domestic propaganda bubble could burst, which accounts for the extreme reactions of his government when news of Russian soldiers dying in the Ukraine began to come out. One deputy who visited the grave of a soldier who died in the Ukraine was beaten up. A highly respected NGO representing the mothers of Russian soldiers was denounced as subversive when it pressed too openly for details regarding the fates of missing and other soldiers deployed to the Ukraine.

3) Surprise

Putin is a master of striking a blow when his opponent’s guard is down. Thus, following the wrenching struggle to proceed with implementation of the latest EU sanctions by the EU, the day after news sanctions were actually implemented, Putin sent a second convoy of white trucks purportedly carrying humanitarian aid across the border into the Donbas region, in a blatant violation of the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. There was no prior inspection by the IRC or the OSCE, or authorization by Ukrainian authorities.

4) De-sensitization to violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Putin has used this technique with great effect, both in the Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine. Executing small and low visibility violations of the border, repeatedly, by sending in irregular fighters, arms, and even sophisticated air-defense systems, Putin progressively de-sensitized leaders in the West to such border violations.

No single violation seemed worse than the preceding one, to which leaders had not objected. Once they had been de-sensitized, larger violations could take place without raising alarm, until finally thousands of Russian troops, and tanks, artillery pieces, and other equipment had entered the Ukraine and were engaged in fighting the Ukrainian forces.

Putin’s Latest Moves

Putin’s latest moves include sending the white truck convoy into the Ukraine beginning Saturday, without Ukraine’s permission or IRC or OSCE prior inspection and accompanying of the cargoes to their destination.

He has thus succeeded in de-sensitizing Western leaders by initially speaking to the IRC and OSCE, and even reaching some agreements on the first convoy in August, then violating them when he sent the first convoy into the Donbas without Kiev’s authorization or OSCE and IRC inspection and control.

This time he used great surprise, and unlike the first convoy which took weeks to travel from Moscow and cross the border, he quickly sent the second convoy across the border into the Ukraine with no inspections, no controL, and no authorization from Kiev.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did not complain loudly, as he seems now to be buying in to the idea of appeasing Putin and responding to his threats–after the Ukrainian army was badly bloodied by the direct attacks of Russian troops–by going along with what he does, in order to maintain the viability of the Minsk Protocol cessefire and peace plan agreement.

This is the only way to understand Poroshenko’s statement in the last week that 70% of the Russian forces had been withdrawn, when NATO reported seeing no such activity.

At the same time, Putin has underlined the fragility of the ceasefire by resuming separatists attacks in Donetsk, with artillery and rockets being used in an attack on the Donetsk airport. The attack was successfully repelled by Ukrainian forces. But Putin made his point.

In the West, Obama, clueless, is focused on the wrong conflict

Meanwhile, as a showdown between Russia and the West is in full swing, Barack Obama is consumed with taking action in another conflict, with ISIS or the so-called Islamic State.

What the deaths of 200,000 people in Syria could not achieve, the beheadings by IS of two Americans produced within weeks: a decision by the Obama administration to engage militarily against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria, and to provide military aid to the “moderate” rebels within Syria.

The U.S. actions are necessary and appropriate, though perhaps not sufficient.

The important point here is that Obama has been focused on these decisions, and the dramatic change in his policies toward Iraq and Syria, instead of focusing on the war in the Ukraine.

In strategic terms, the war in the Ukraine is of paramount importance.

Obama and his administration should not be distracted from paying full attention, and being actively engaged in decision making with the EU, NATO and their allies,in deciding how to respond quickly to Putin’s next moves.

The Trenchant Observer

TWO VASTLY DIFFERENT OUTCOMES — Conditions for lifting the new EU sanctions (once in force): (1) Ceasefire holds; or (2) All steps in Minsk Protocol on ceasefire and peace process completed

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Much has been at stake in the battle within the EU over whether the new sanctions against Russia (agreed on September 5) should now enter into force, or whether a further round of negotiations among the EU member states is required. In point of fact, the latter is already taking place.

The pacifists and appeasers want to examine whether the “ceasefire” established by the Minsk Protocol is “holding”.

They are only focusing on the ceasefire, not the additional 11 steps in the Minsk peace plan.

If they succeed in using this criterion for gutting the sanctions, Putin will achieve the goal of a “frozen conflict”, as he did in Georgia, and will retain the power to press Kiev militarily to achieve his objectives. These may include the establishment of a land corridor linking Russia proper with the Crimea.

The reality is that once the momentum within the EU for new sanctions has dissipated, Putin will be able to press hard on the ground to achieve his goals.

If on the other hand the sanctions are implemented now, and the conditions for lifting them include completion of all 12 steps in the Minsk Protocol, Putin will have a strong and continuing incentive to pressure the leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic to make reasonable accomodations with Kiev on the “special status law” for areas under their control. This issue is the key to a settlement of the conflict.

In short, if all Putin has to do in order to stop the imposition of new sanctions is to maintain the ceasefire, he can easily do that until the concentration and determination of the EU’s members to impose the sanctions dissipate. These will inevitably weaken over time (probably in only a couple of weeks).

Putin will then get away with invading the eastern Ukraine with regular forces without paying any price, while the “ceasefire” is allowed to collapse.

After that Putin will be free to return to his strategy of exerting
military pressure on the Ukraine through ” stealth warfare” or more direct military intervention.

Under this scenario he will have no lasting incentive to press the “separatists” to reach a reasonable accomodation on the status of their territories, and the Minsk Protocol peace process will simply collapse.

Consequently, the specific conditions for lifting the new sanctions are outcome determinative. Putin wins. Or an independent Ukraine wins, with Russian acquiescence due to the desire to lift the sanctions.

One final point: the Members of the EU should reflect deeply on the fact that Putin doesn’t even admit that Russian troops have been fighting in the Ukraine.

What kind of negotiated deal which relies on promises regarding future behavior (the other points in the Minsk Protoccol–to which Russia is not even a party) can you have when your antagonist denies the essential factual predicates on which it must be based?

This constitutes a powerful argument for not letting up the sanctions pressure until Putin’s actions can be confirmed and verified on the ground.

The EU, the U.S. and NATO need to approach Putin and Russia from a position of strength.

They must put aside the fear Putin’s military aggression has put into their hearts.

They must put aside parocchial economic concerns.

Of course the economic sanctions will affect them. Hitler’s invasions of their countries also had negative economic effects.

There is a price to be paid to halt and turn back aggression, and to help protect the citizens of the eastern Ukraine from the widespread abuses of fundamental human rights and war crimes to which they have been subjected by the “separatists”.

International order based on the U.N. Charter is not a free public good. Nor is the protection of fundamental human rights.

There is a small price to be paid. The member states of the EU should pay it now, and agree on the immediate entry into force of the new sanctions.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin wins again? UE sanctions decision of September 5 appears to fall apart; Future of Minsk Protocol peace process in doubt

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Draft

See Editorial, “Making Mr. Putin feel the heat of sanctions,” Washington Post, September 9, 2014 (8:07 p.m. ET).

The Achievement Represented by the Signing of the Minsk Protocol on September 5, 2014

For the text of the agreement and relevant analysis, see

“Full text of Minsk Protocol on Ceasefire in Ukraine (August 5, 2014),” The Trenchant Observer, September 7, 2014 (Official Russian text and informal English translation).

“Inside Putin’s Brain: Musings on the Ukraine and what is going on inside his head — Part III,” The Trenchant Observer, September 9, 2014. (“The Principle of “I make believe, you make believe”, the EU’s New Sanctions, and the Minsk Protocol”)

“Finland blocks entry into force of EU sanctions, gravely threatening prospects for peace in Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014.

“Pacifists and appeasers in EU delay entry into force of new sanctions, undermining hard actions which produced Minsk ceasefire and peace process agreement,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014. (Includes informal English translation of Minsk Protocol)

The Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014 represents a significant achievement and an important milestone on the road toward reestablishing peace and order in the eastern Ukraine.

We should understand, however, that it was accomplished only as the result of the U.S. NATO, and the EU making really hard decisions to confront Vladimir Putin with the enormous powers at their command — both military and economic — and the unity of the West which stood behind them.

It is absolutely clear that Putin has now become a dedicated enemy of Europe, NATO, and the existing international legal and political order. Like the USSR during the first Cold War years, which needed to be watched and countered every minute of every day as it moved to take over Eastern Europe, Putin’s Russia must be watched and countered now.

Only the Truman Doctrine and the vigorous defense of Greece through economic assistance kept that country from falling under Stalin’s power and control.

Some may also recall or have studied the history of the Soviet Union’s attempt to strangle Berlin through the Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949), which was only forestalled by the decisive actions of the U.S. in conducting of the Berlin Airlift during this period.

Putin and Russia are, like Stalin and the Soviet Union of that era, highly organized, highly aggressive, and ready to pounce like a leopard on any opening or target of opportunity the West may give them.

This situation is not the dream we had in the first years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, or during the period of progress that was made in the next 10 or 15 years. However, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 signaled the beginning of a new era. With Vladimir Putin’s reelection to the Presidency in 2012, and the repression of civil society and the opposition which soon ensued, democracy was crushed at home as preparations were made for aggression abroad.

The dream may in the future be revived.  But this can only occur if the xenophobic nationalism Putin has fanned and Russia’s policies of aggression are snuffed out, and their consequences unwound.

Now the West faces the the very different and very dangerous Russia of Vladimir Putin, which invaded the Crimea in February and “annexed” it in March, only then to turn to the eastern Ukraine in an escalating series of acts of invasion, culminating with the sending of thousands of Russian soldiers and their equipment into the Donbass region in August.

That is the situation we now face.

The history of events since February shows that threats of future actions and specifically threats of the adoption of harsher economic sanctions have had little or no effect on Putin’s behavior. Repeatedly, these threats have not been carried out, and have now lost whatever persuasive force they might once have had.

Now, finally, in response to strong pressures and the adoption of new and harsh sanctions against Russia on September 5, with parallel American sanctions to follow, Putin made very significant concessions behind the scenes as leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic reached agreement with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at Minsk on September 5, signing a Protocol of 12 points for the establishment of a ceasefire and the taking of steps that might lead toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the region.

The key point is that the agreement in Minsk was reached as the result of actions that were taken, not threats of future actions.

That is the strongest lesson learned from dealing with Putin over the last six months vis-à-vis the Ukraine. Putin responds to countervailing actions, but not to threats of uncertain future actions, such as sanctions.

If the EU proceeds to implement the new sanctions agreed on September 5, and it should do so immediately, the EU, the U.S. and NATO will have continuing leverage over Putin to ensure he complies with the Minsk Protocol, not only with respect to a ceasefire, but also with respect to the agreement’s other provisions, which call for a withdrawal of “the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries” from Ukraine. While Russian troops are not specifically named, it should not be too difficult to insist on their withdrawal–regardless of whether Mr. Putin admits they are there.

The Minsk Protocol provides a path for Ukrainians who became caught up in the insurrection launched by Putin and his intelligence and irregular forces to put down their arms, benefit from an amnesty, and to start getting on with their lives, in a region where their Russian language and cultural rights are fully protected. Prisoners will be exchanged.

Putin’s “stealth invasion” forced many good, innocent people to choose sides under extraordinary circumstances. With the benefit of the amnesty provided for in the Minsk Protocol, they should now be allowed to resume their previous lives, and in all probability many will choose to do so.

If implemented, the provisions of the Minsk Protocol hold out the possibility of a return to peace and a settlement of the conflict.

For that to happen, the West must use its economic power by imposing the new sanctions now. It can then slowly relax them, as significant steps are actually carried out on the ground. The most important of all of these, of course, will be the withdrawal of all the irregular and regular forces and equipment Russia sent into the Donbass as part of its invasion.

Only such an approach will have a chance of deterring Putin from undermining the deal, and resuming his military pressure on the Ukraine.

Moreover, only such an approach holds any hope for an eventual negotiated roll-back of the Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea. A negotiated resolution here is conceivable. Without such an eventual settlement, long-term peace and stability in the Ukraine will be tenuous.

A settlement would require compensation to the Ukraine for war damages and expropriation of state property and assets. This could conceivably take the form of long-term gas supply and price concessions.

A second component of any final settlement would revolve around a plebiscite or referendum on independence. The Crimea could be put under international administration under OSCE auspices for a period of 2-5 years, for example, culminating in an internationally supervised plebiscite on independence and/or joining Russia. By this means, the international political and legal order might be restored to its integrity.

For any of this to happen, the West would have to deal from a position of strength. This would require immediate implementation of the EU sanctions decision of September 5, 2014.

As the EU showed weakness yesterday and today, reports emerged of statements by the separatists that if they did not achieve the independent status which they seek in negotiations scheduled in Minsk within a week, they would consider the entire Protocol void, including the ceasefire. That is a clue as to what is likely to happen if the West waffles, instead of standing firm and imposing the new sanctions.

In dealing with Vladimir Putin, an individual who has launched two military invasions of the Ukraine since February, filled Russia and the world with blatant lies and distortions, and broken every promise he has made regarding the Ukraine, the EU, the U.S. and NATO would be well advised to proceed from strength.

They should jettison their fear of Putin, feel and appreciate their own collective military and economic might, and take tough actions against Russia by implementing the new sanctions immediately.

Then, though the path may be winding and uncertain, the Ukraine may have a chance of achieving peace, not through capitulation but rather as a free and independent country.

The Trenchant Observer

Inside Putin’s Brain—Part III: The Principle of “I make believe, you make believe”, the EU’s New Sanctions, and the Minsk Protocol — with Putin’s (imagined) annotations on full text (in English)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

In warfare, as in diplomacy, it is important to try to put yourself in the shoes of your adversary, to try to understand what is going on inside his head (or her head).

Vladimir Putin, through his actions and rejection of the postwar legal and political order, has become the adversary of the West, just as Russia has become the enemy of all civilized countries which seek to uphold the United Nations Charter and its foundational principles prohibiting the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

Following are musings by the Observer on what may be going through Putin’s mind right now.

*****

Article Series


Inside Putin’s Brain: Musings on the Ukraine and what is going on inside his head

See Part I here (September 2, 2014).

See Part II here (September 3, 2014).

*****

Part III: The Principle of “I make believe, you make believe”, the EU’s New Sanctions, and the Minsk Protocol

I remember what we learned in dealing with the West on Syria, and think of how we are applying now what we learned then in the Ukraine.

Syria

I thought back in 2012 that (Foreign Minister) Sergey Lavrov was kidding when he explained to me how Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Peace Plan for Syria could be used to keep the West off balance indefinitely, dissuade them from offering any real military support to the “rebels”, and end up solidifying Bashar Al-Assad’s hold on power.

The principle is as brilliant as it is simple.

It’s the “I make believe, you make believe” principle.

Obama and the wimps in the European Union never wanted to provide any military support to the rebels in Syria, but they were coming under intense public pressure from NGO’s, that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights woman from South Africa, Navi Pillay, human rights groups, newspapers, and political leaders to do something.

So Lavrov helped Kofi Annan come up with the Six Point Peace Plan, an important part of which was that there should be no foreign intervention. This suited us well, since we were invited guests of al-Assad, not foreign intervenors. If the U.S. or others furnished weapons to the rebels, they would be violating the agreement.

Anyway, I get distracted. Kofi Annan enjoyed the spotlight as he conducted endless rounds of discussions among different groups, and even the Syrians, about his peace plan. He enjoyed being in the limelight, and the perks.

The formula that worked was, we pretended it would somehow work, and the wimps in Europe and the United States went along because it took the pressure off of them to do anything, and they didn’t have to supply arms to the rebels.

By the time “I make believe, you make believe” came to its ultimate end, at the Geneva II peace conference in January 2014, al-Assad had pretty much turned the tide in the war and consolidated his position. To be sure, with our help and Iran’s and Hezbollah on the ground in Syria.

Then, when Bashar got a little carried away with his chemical experiments (What a great New Yorker magazine cover!), we had a problem with Obama because of that “red line” quip he had tossed off earlier about using chemical weapons.

Obama got all huffed up and puffed up and was under great pressure to launch a military strike against Syria. But he didn’t really want to. He didn’t have the “cojones”, as Madeleine Allbright would put it, to do so.

Lavrov came to the rescue with his “elimination of chemical weapons” plan. Obama jumped at it because it took the pressure off him to act militarily, while also giving the Israelis a kind of an unexpected bonus. They benefitted directly from the chemical weapons removal deal, as did al-Assad who got to retain his hold on power without worrying about any direct or indirect military interference from the U.S. and its friends, like Saudi Arabia.

But the really brilliant part of the deal was that we were able to apply the “I make believe, you make believe” principle to great effect. We pretended that the internal Syria opposition didn’t exist (which we kind of showed at Geneva II), and Obama pretended that they didn’t exist either. So the whole deal was a brilliant success–for me and al-Assad!

The Ukraine and the Minsk Protocol

Ah! Today my thoughts turn to the Minsk Protocol ceasefire and peace processs agreement. It was reached by President Petro Poroshenko, Donetsk People’s Republic President Vitaly Zakharshenko (who we gave the job to barely in time when we pulled “Igor Strelkov” from that position–a Russian citizen would not have done for this role in Minsk!), former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and the representative of the OSCE.

Originally I had a pretty good plan that I wrote on the plane on the way back from Mongolia, which achieved all of our objectives. (Actually, it amounted to a capitulation by Kiev on all essential points!)

But the EU summit in Brussels and the NATO summit in Wales complicated matters. We didn’t expect the unanimity on really harsh EU sanctions to be forthcoming on September 5, at the same time NATO announced the formation of a 5,000-man quick reaction force to be used in the Baltics.

As if I would ever think of protecting the Russian minorities there!

So we had to regroup, and I ended up agreeing to authorize Zakharshenko to agree to the 12 points in the Minsk Protocol.

We didn’t specifically say that Russian troops would be withdrawn because “I make believe, You make believe!” Russia doesn’t have any troops in the Ukraine. Nor has it been furnishing weapons and fighters, except for a few guys who got lost and others who went there on their vacations!

I’m a lawyer, and a very good one, after all. So let’s do a little analysis of what the Protocol says. My comments are in parentheses. On the key point, Russian troops, it says only:

10. Withdraw the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine.

This was good enough for Poroshenko. “I make believe, you make believe!” . He’s a shrewd guy, and he knew he was getting a good deal with the 12 points in the Protocol.

But of course I am a shrewder guy, and I know I can tangle up the guys at the EU when I say the Minsk Protocol’s provisions have been carried out, as follows:

1. Ensure the immediate bilateral ceasefire.

This is the only point the EU ambassadors are focusing on, and we will make sure it holds until after the momentum for further harsh sanctions has dissipated, and we’re protected from that risk.

2. Ensure the monitoring and verification by the OSCE of the ceasefire.

They’ll be monitoring the ceasefire, not who sent Russian troops into the Donbass and near Mariupol.

3. A decentralization of power, including through the adoption of the law of Ukraine “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).

This is the key point we can use to scuttle the Minsk Protocol after it has served its purpose of diverting the EU from adopting stronger sanctions, once attention has shifted away from what is going on.

Or, I can always use this point to pressure Poroshenko, and threaten renewed military action if Zakharshenko’s demands for independence or functional independence are not satisfied. He was getting a little bit out ahead of the train when he or one of his spokesmen said today that if the DPR’s demands were not met, the whole agreement including the ceasefire would be scuttled. I need to get his handlers to give him clearer and tighter instructions.

4. Ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

This is OK for now. At least it will keep the Ukrainians away from the border, and how many tanks can an OSCE inspector stop when they are crossing fields in the middle of the night? Anyway, I have enough Russian troops inside the Ukraine now for present purposes. If we need more later, we can change the circumstances. Zakharshenko can quit the agreement if he doesn’t get his independence, for example!

5. To immediately release all hostages and illegally detained persons.

No problem. Zakharshenko is keen to get his men back, anyway.

6. A law on preventing the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

The locals want this, as of course do our local commanders in case their guys get caught. Wonderful choice of words. “Persons” is suitably broad enough to include Russian citizens and military persons.

7. Continue the inclusive national dialogue.

No problem. Goes with point 3.

8. To take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbass.

This is great! It will give us a formal ground to insist on sending in some more “humanitarian aid” convoys in white trucks, which can also bring back industrial equipment made in the Ukraine we need for our weapons systems and industry, as well as any more bodies of soldiers, if necessary.

9. Ensure early local elections in accordance with the law of Ukraine “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).

This goes with points 3 and 7. Our “separatists” already have valuable election experience!

10. Withdraw the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine.

I make believe, You make believe! There is no mention of Russian soldiers here! See comments above.

11. To adopt the program of economic recovery and reconstruction of Donbas region.

Of course. We welcome EU money, and money from the World Bank or anywhere else, to help our local leaders rebuild the new autonomous or independent areas.

12. To provide personal security for the participants in the consultations.

This is Zakharshenko’s point. I guess it make sense.

Well, it’s good to have the 12 points here, with my annotations. I’m happy to use the legal skills. At least becoming a lawyer in St. Petersburg wasn’t a total waste.

It looks like we almost got the EU to back down from the September 5 decision to implement the new sanctions. But it was a really close call. Had it not been for our friends in Finland and a couple of other countries–AND THE FACT THAT THE EUROPEANS ARE UTTER WIMPS!–the new sanctions might have actually come into effect on Tuesday, September 9.

But now, as the ceasefire holds, and we make it look like the other points are being implemented, we should be able to derail this latest sanctions action. We will give the EU ambassadors and presidents plenty of arguments to quibble over.

The key is that many of them don’t want to impose the new sanctions, because our latest threats have scared them, they are worried about the economic impact in their countries, and they have very parochial perspectives to begin with.

“I make believe, You make believe!”

Meanwhile, I am restoring Russia to its greatness! My tears when they played the national anthem today were genuine, as genuine as they ever get with an old KGB man!

End of musings by the Observer on what is going on in Putin’s head.

The Trenchant Observer

Finland blocks entry into force of EU sanctions, gravely threatening prospects for peace in Ukraine

Monday, September 8th, 2014

UPDATE (September 10, 2014)

“Trotz Beschluss gegen Russland: EU drückt sich vor Sanktionen; Die Europäische Union zögert die angekündigten Strafmaßnahmen gegen Russland im Ukraine-Konflikt weiter hinaus. Einige Staaten wollen den wackeligen Frieden im Osten des Landes nicht gefährden. Doch Berlin drängt zu schnellem Handeln, Der Spiegel, 10. september 2014 (20:46 Uhr).

Accoding to Der Spiegel, above all Finland has pushed for the sanctions not to be made effective:

Nach Angaben von Diplomaten habe vor allem Finnland darauf gedrungen, die neuen Sanktionen noch nicht wirksam zu machen, um die vereinbarte Waffenruhe zwischen der Ukraine und Russland nicht zu gefährden. Die Beratungen der 28 Staaten sollen am Donnerstag fortgesetzt werden. Ein EU-Vertreter sagte der Nachrichtenagentur AFP, dass dabei auch die veränderte Lage in der umkämpften Ostukraine neu bewertet würde.

Latest developments

(1) Juhana Rossi, “Finland Feels EU Should Go Slow on Russia Sanctions; New Russia Sanctions Were Adopted by EU, But Timing for Implementation Still Undecided,” Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2014 (2:50 p.m. ET).

(2) “Krieg in der Ukraine: EU schiebt härtere Sanktionen gegen Russland auf,” Sueddeutscher Zeitung, 9. September 2014 (07:12 Uhr).

“Bedenkzeit für Moskau: Die EU will den Druck auf Russland wegen der Ukraine-Krise erhöhen – doch nicht sofort. Der russische Präsident Putin und sein ukrainischer Amtskollege Poroschenko nehmen erneut direkten Kontakt auf.

“Die EU verzögert die Anwendung verschärfter Russland-Sanktionen um einige Tage. Das Paket sei aber von den nationalen Regierungen genehmigt worden, heißt es in einer Mitteilung von EU-Ratspräsident Herman Van Rompuy. Die Atempause soll Russland Zeit zum Einlenken im Ukraine-Konlikt geben. Die neuen Maßnahmen sollten “in den nächsten paar Tagen” in Kraft treten, schreibt Van Rompuy. “Dies wird (uns) Zeit geben für eine Beurteilung der Umsetzung der Waffenstillstands-Vereinbarung und des Friedensplans.” Mit Blick auf die Situation vor Ort – also in der Ostukraine – sei die EU bereit, “die vereinbarten Sanktionen ganz oder teilweise noch einmal zu überdenken”. Nach Angaben eines Diplomaten sollen die EU-Botschafter am Mittwoch wieder über die Lage beraten.”

(3) Jan Strupczewski and Adrian Croft, “UPDATE 2-EU delays enforcing new Russia sanctions” Reuters, September 9, 2014 (2:04 a.m IST).

(4) Andrew Rettman, “EU sanctions on Russia in limbo,” euobserver, September 9, 2014 (09:27). Rettman names Finland and also Italy as opposing immediarte entry into force.

(5) LUCÍA ABELLÁN / RODRIGO FERNÁNDEZ (Bruselas / Moscú), “UE aprueba las sanciones a Moscú pero las aplaza en plena tregua; Los Veintiocho ponen en marcha una nueva ronda de castigos, pero pactan que sean reversibles; Poroshenko dice que los rebeldes han liberado a 1.200 prisioneros,”El Pais,
8 SEP 2014 – (21:24 CEST).

(6) Lawrence Norman (Brussels), “Ukraine Presses EU on New Russia Sanctions; New Sanctions Will Target State-Owned Russian Firms and Ban The Export of Additional Goods,” Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2014 (10:23 a.m. ET). Juhanna Rossi in Helsinki contributed to this article.

Finland Reportedly blocks implementation of New EU Sanctions Against Russia

We knew that the European Union was only as strong as its weakest link.

We now know that its weakest link is Finland.

Finland is not a member of NATO, and had something of a neutral status during the Cold War. One would have thought that after becoming an EU member in 1995, it would have abandoned its neutral stance within the EU.

The great achievement of the EU in the last two weeks has been to request the European Commission to draft written language specifying harsher sanctions, in a document which was to become legally binding after formal approval (usually a mere formality) by EU governments on Monday, September 8, and publication in the Official Gazette of the EU on Tuesday. In other words, the sanctions were to become binding on September 9.

Now the outgoing President of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has announced that the sanctions have been delayed, but will enter into force “in the next couple of days”.

Van Rompuy’s statement is filled with contradictions, and points toward delays that will far exceed “a couple of days”.

“This will give (us) time to make a judgment regarding the implementation of the ceasefire and the peace plan,” Rompuy said. Looking at the situation on the ground — that is, in the Eastern Ukraine — the EU is ready “to reassess the agreed-upon sanctions once again in whole or in part.” According to a diplomatic source, the Ambassadors to the EU will consult on the situation on Wesdnesday.

To the Observer, these comments sound like smoke and mirrors, in a blatant attempt to obfuscate what is really going on.

Behind Van Rompuy’s statement is what appears to have been a Finnish objection to entry into force of the sanctions on Tuesday. Unanimity among the EU’s members was required when signing the formal document for the sanctions to be immediately published and enter into force.

Though they won’t say it, and are seeking to mask the reality of what is happening behind the scenes, European leaders have in effect moved their decision-making back to a point before the “final” decision on September 5 (to impose the agreed-upon sanctions on Tuesday).

Western resolve has been shaken once again, and the pacifists and appeasers in the EU want to take one more shot at avoiding imposition of the sanctions.

The hard fact is that there will be no way to verify whether Putin is implementing the peace process provisions of the Minsk agreement, precisely because it establishes a process for the taking of a number of steps. Van Rupuy and the EU ambassadors will have to rely on Putin’s promises instead.

See “Pacifists and appeasers in EU delay entry into force of new sanctions, undermining hard actions which produced Minsk ceasefire and peace process agreem,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014.

It is logically and physically impossible that these steps can be taken in the next few days. This means, that if Finland and the other pacifists and appeasers among the leaders of the EU countries can succeed in delaying entry into force of the new sanctions, the whole EU decision of September 5 becomes a fiction and falls apart.

The pacifism and appeasement that is so deeply ingrained in European and American leaders amounts to defeatism, a belief in the weakness of NATO, the EU and the U.S. and their allies, and the inability of their combined economic and military power to contain Putin’s military aggression, without surrendering to him significant concessions and territorial gains achieved through military conquest.

The Minsk agreement for a ceasefire and establishment of a process for achieving peace in the Ukraine was a significant achievement — on paper.

We can thank Finland for putting it all at risk.

If the ceasefire and the peace process established by the Minsk agreement collapse, it will clearly be the fault of Finland. That is quite a way for the heirs of the courageous Finns who fought Russia so valiantly in the 1939-1940 “Winter War” to now go down in history, in 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Full text of Minsk Protocol on Ceasefire in Ukraine (September 5, 2014)

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has now published the full text of the Protocol for a ceasefire in the Ukraine.

See

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, “Protocol on the results of consultations of the Trilateral Contact Group, signed in Minsk, 5 September 2014, OSCE.org.

The official text is published in Russian here.

An informal English translation (as well as the signed Russian text) can be found here, at Liveleak.com.

The informal English text published by Liveleak.com is as follows:

1. Ensure the immediate bilateral ceasefire.

2. Ensure the monitoring and verification by the OSCE of the ceasefire.

3. A decentralization of power, including through the adoption of the  law of Ukraine “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).

4. Ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and  verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the  border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

5. To immediately release all hostages and illegally detained persons.

6. A law on preventing the prosecution and punishment of persons in  connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of  Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

7. Continue the inclusive national dialogue.

8. To take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbass.

9. Ensure early local elections in accordance with the law of Ukraine  “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of  Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).

10. Withdraw the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine.

11. To adopt the program of economic recovery and reconstruction of Donbas region.

12. To provide personal security for the participants in the consultations.

(liveleak commentary:

Certainly reads like a victory for Kiev, the Ukrainian Oligarchs, the Russian Oligarchs, the EU government, and the US government.
Don’t see how this agreement benefits the DNR/LNR or the cause of Novorossiya in any way.
Read more at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=91e_1410100704#0fE67hjuIefuDZvq.99

See also

“Terms of Minsk ceasefire agreement described; NATO decisions and new U.S. and EU sactions—if not sidelined at last moment—suggest toughening stance toward Putin,” The Trenchant Observer, September 5, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Barack Obama’s phantasmagoric world, where the choice of words defines reality

Friday, September 5th, 2014

phantasmagoria /ˌfæntæzməˈɡɔːrɪə/, phantasmagory /fænˈtæzməɡərɪ/
n
1. a shifting medley of real or imagined figures, as in a dream
2. a sequence of pictures made to vary in size rapidly while remaining in focus
3. RARE a shifting scene composed of different elements

Etymology: 19th Century: probably from French fantasmagorie production of phantasms, from phantasm + -agorie, perhaps from Greek ageirein to gather together

phantasmagoric /ˌfæntæzməˈɡɒrɪk/, ˌphantasmaˈgorical
adj

–Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers

U.S. President Barack Obama was quite successful as a candidadate in 2008 and 2012 through the modern political technique of managing the narrative.

Unfortunately, he has for five and half years applied the same tecnique to the management of his foreign policy narrative.

Tragically, he has paid much more attention to the narrative of his foreign policies and the fine intellectual distinctions he makes in his head than he has to the changing realities on the ground in a number of crises, the relationships between them, and the need for the adoption of an effective strategy and implementing actions which can simultaneously deal with all of them.

These crises include Russia and its invasions of the Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, the expansion of islamic militant groups across the northern half of Africa (Boko Haram in Nigeria is but one example), and China’s territorial claims and militant actions in the South China and East China Seas.

The evidence that Obama gives priority to the choice of words and managing his foreign policy narrative instead of developing strategy and implementing it through decisive actions is very strong.

In Afganistan, the 2009 policy review spent an enormous amount of time debating whether the goal there should be to “degrade” or to “defeat” the Taliban.

With ISIS, which did not come upon the scene overnight, there is evidence that a similar debate has been taking place, with the president only at the NATO Summit on September 4-5 declaring that the goal should be both to “degrade” and to “destroy” ISIS.

Aside from revealing the divisions within his foreign policy team, this unhappy formulation also reveals–paradoxically–that the president does not always think through the implications of the words he speaks.

From a foreign policy narrative perspective, the formulation makes perfect sense, since it can be portrayed as not reflecting a change in policy. From a strategic and action perspective, the words are pure nonsense.

Further evidence of the priority given by the President to words instead of actions is provided by the emphasis he has placed on calling ISIS by his preferred name, ISIL (“the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”), instead of ISIS (“the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” or “the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”).

Most recently, as the EU, NATO and the U.S. have faced the challenge of how to respond to the second Russian invasion of the Ukraine, this time in the Donbass, Obama has been very careful to characterize the movement of Russian tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and sophisticated air-defense systems into the Ukraine as an “incursion” and not an “invasion”. This played right into Vladimir Putin’s hands, as he sought to confuse the issue and hide the fact that an outright military invasion had occurred and was continuing.

The pacifists and appeasers in NATO and the EU have displayed a similar diffidence in avoiding the term “invasion”, whether due to Obama’s leadership on verbal formulations or not.

An “incursion” might be allowed to stand, as in Georgia. Still, it is hard to see how the seizure of the Crimea and its annexation could be considered a mere “incursion”. It may be that, for now, the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West are simply unable to think about the Crimea.

Finally, mention must be made of Obama’s careful phraseology in stating that if Putin continues on this or that course of action, he and Russia will pay additional “costs”.

This way of looking at the world can be found in Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance sppech where, while reserving to himself the right to use force whenever necessay to protect America, he stated that the rules of the road governing the use of force should be followed because it is in the interests of national leaders to do so.

There is no moral imperative contained in his formulations, then or now.

Obama’s leadership in verbal formulations is reflected in the adoption by other NATO and EU leaders of this terminology of “additional costs”.

At times it seems like Obama is stating–matter-of-factly–to an armed burglar in his house, who has already killed one of his children and threatens to rape his wife, that the intruder should desist or else he will have to pay “additional costs”. Lest this example sound too extreme, one should recall that some 3,000 people have killed in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine.

The language of imposing “additional costs” on the aggrssor Putin also has a more pervasive impact on how Obama and other decision makers think about what is going on in the Ukraine. It reveals that Obama, and others who adopt this terminology, have fallen victim to the “Rational Actor Fallacy”, which results from thinking within a “Rational Actor” or “Analytic” paradigm in which all government actions are viewed as the product of a rational calculus by a single, unitary rational mind or its equivalent. This paradigm is manifestly inadequare, and leads to making false assumptions about the causes and motivations of state behavior.

The significance of Obama’s focusing on the choice of words and managing the foreign policy narrative of his administration is that it leads to fuzzy and confused thinking, which can mask the presence of very grave threats to the national security of the United States, NATO members, and other states.

Russia has “invaded” the eastern Ukraine by military force in violation of the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter.

It did so in the Crimea. It has done so now in the eastern Ukraine. Its forces remain in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in open and flagrant violation of that bedrock principle of the U.N. Charter and international law.

That is the reality we face, and the reality we must clearly understand, without obfuscations with words, if we are to muster the courage to take effective action to reverse the situation, and to reaffirm and reestablish observance of the most fundamental norm in the U.N. Charter and international law.

The words you choose affect the way you think, as George Orwell explained in 1946. Words which are not connected to actions, as Theodore Roosevel explained in 1907 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (delivered in 1912), are meangingless, or worse.

To avoid floundering in a phantasmagoric world of visions that lead to lunging at shadows, or sitting immobile when a bear is coming at your throat, Obama and other leaders need to use real words to describe the realities which they see, and the actual and very real threats to which they must respond.

See

(1) Andrew Higgins, “On Ukraine, the West Sidesteps a Fraught Term,” September 4, 2014.

(2) “Russian “Invasion” or Incursion” in Ukraine? Obama and the primacy of words over actions,” The Trenchant Observer, August 28, 2014.

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

(4) “The smartest person in the room, and the Afghanistan policy review,” The Trenchant Observer, October 24, 2010.

(5) The Daily Star: “The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9) The Trenchant Observer, March 9, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer