Archive for the ‘use of force’ Category

The ironies of Russian propaganda: U.S. training mission “could destabilize the situation” in Ukraine

Friday, April 17th, 2015

For top articles on Putin, Ukraine, and Russia, click here.

Russian propagandists have created such a world of illusions and lies, coupled with threats of further military aggression, that they can’t even see how ludicrous their propaganda and its internal contradictions have become.

See

(1) Reuters (Moscow/Kiev), “U.S. military trainers in Ukraine may destabilize situation: Kremlin,” Reuters, April 17, 2015 (8:12 a.m. EDT).

“The Kremlin said on Friday the arrival of about 300 U.S. paratroopers in Ukraine to train Kiev’s National Guard could destabilize the situation in the east of the country, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Ukrainian government forces.

“The participation of instructors or specialists from third countries on Ukrainian territory, where the domestic Ukrainian conflict is unresolved … could destabilize the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow during a conference call.

“He was referring to the arrival of the U.S. paratroopers in western Ukraine this week to begin a six-month training rotation with three battalions.”

That’s right. Moscow, which has invaded and “annexed” the Crimea, which has invaded the eastern Ukraine, where according to NATO it has some 9,000-12,000 troops, which moves its troops, tanks, artillery and air-defense systems in and out of the eastern Ukraine at will, having dismantled by force the Ukrainian border posts, now complains that some 300 U.S. military trainers providing instruction at sites in the Western Ukraine, “could destabilize the situation” in the eastern Ukraine.

This is rich indeed, even if Russian propagandists remain unaware of the irony and contradictions they spew out, night and day.

Russia denies—in the face over overwheming and conclusive evidence to the contrary—that it has any forces in the eastern Ukraine.

See Mark Urban, “How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine?” BBC News, March 10, 2015.

Mark Urban is Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

But if that is the case, and Moscow opposes “the participation of instructors or specialists from third countries on Ukrainian territory”, who are the instructors or specialists from the second country?

What, indeed, is the name of the second country?

Could it be Russia, which Putin denies has any forces in the Donbas?

Aside from revealing to the Russian public that their President is a brazen liar, do these little contradictions make any difference?

Yes, because the absurd claims of Russian propaganda must be resisted at every step.

Yes, because any destabilization of the situation would come only from further acts of Russian military aggression, in violation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014 and the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015.

Yes, because this Russian propaganda in and of itself constitutes a threat of further military aggression by Putin and Russia.

The Trenchant Observer

Top articles on Putin, the Ukraine, and Russia

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Check back for updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Leading U.S. senators call for relocation of 2018 FIFA World Cup from Russia

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

13 U.S. Senators have written the head of FIFA requesting a special meeting of the International Olympic Committee to vote on relocation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament to a country other than Russia, in view of its invasion and occupation of parts of the Ukraine.

See

Kevin Baxter, “U.S. senators ask FIFA to move 2018 World Cup out of Russia,” L.A. Times, April 1, 2015 (6:11 p.m.).

Niels Lesniewski, “Senators Want 2018 World Cup Taken Away From Putin,” Roll Call, April 1, 2015.

Beth Ethier, “A Bunch of Senators Just Asked FIFA to Take the World Cup Away From Putin,” April 2, 2015 (6:29 PM).

The text of the letter from the bipartisan group of 13 senators is as follows:

n
Dear Mr. Blatter:

Given Russia’s ongoing violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, we respectfully request that you convene an Extraordinary Congress of FIFA to consider stripping Russia of the privilege of hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Allowing Russia to host the FIFA World Cup inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned and provides economic relief at a time when much of the international community is imposing economic sanctions.

As you know, nearly a full year has passed since unmarked Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists began their dismemberment of Ukraine. Since then, more than 40 countries, all FIFA members, have implemented sanctions on Russia in an effort to end the conflict. It is unacceptable that while nearly half of the 2014 World Cup participants have joined the international sanctions regime to counter Russian aggression, FIFA would not even consider allowing its members to vote on moving the 2018 competition to a country that respects the shared principles of FIFA and international law.

With the goal of ending the crisis in Ukraine and ensuring a successful 2018 World Cup, we strongly encourage FIFA to deny the Putin regime the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup and make preparations for an alternate host country.

As we wrote on October 3, 2014,

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),

–“If Putin invades Mariupol and seizes a land corridor to the Crimea, what will NATO, the U.S. and the EU do?” The Trenchant Observer, October 3, 2014.

There are precedents here. The 1936 Summer Olympic Games were held in Berlin only months after Adolf Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in March, in violation of key provisions of the Versailles and Locarno treaties. The remilitarization of the Rhineland led to a radical shift in the balance of power in Europe in favor of Germany.

In 1980, the U.S. and many other countries boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine proposed a boycott of the 2018 games last month. In a recent newspaper interview, hevnoted that while he preferred keeping politics and sports separate, at the moment the top team in Donetsk has to play its home games 700 miles away in Lviv, as Donetsk is under pro-Russian “separatist” occupation. So long as Russian troops remain in the Ukraine, he said, holding the World Cup games in Russia was “unthinkable”.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. strategy and leadership needed: The Middle East and other countries hurtle into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On some days, the news is so disturbing that you want to take a broader view of what is going on in a region, or the world.

The Middle East appears to be convulsed by civil war and situations that could lead to further civil and international conflict. At times it seems that everyone has forgotten about international law. States don’t bother to offer legal justifications for their actions, or sometimes even admit they are responsible for them.

Chaos in the Middle East

Shiite Houthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states.

Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama’s statements several years ago that we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good today.

Libya has become a failed state, ruled now by violence and near anarchy.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias engaged in the battle for the city stand down or adopt ambiguous postures. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS in Iraq, in what seems to be an open-ended commitment.

This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, but has not yet been the subject of much public debate in the United Stares.

Israeli-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the Second Intifada, following Banjamin Netanyahu’s scurrilous playing of the race card in the last days before the recent elections to the Knesset. After warning right-wing voters that the Israeli Arabs were turning out in droves for the elections, Netanyahu has lost all respect as a leader of Israel.

In the days before the elections, Netanyahu also promised right-wing voters that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. That sounded the death knell for the two-state solution, at least for now.

There are no negotiations underway, and it is hard to see how they can be restarted so long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Relations with the Obama administration are at an all-time low, putting the U.S. automatic veto against any U.N. Security Council resolution adverse to Israel into play.

Charlie Rose interviews Bashar al-Assad, giving a megaphone–once again–to a mass murderer guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria on a massive scale, where over 220,000 have been killed. With blood dripping from his hands, al-Assad wants to make a deal with the West to fight the Islamic State group or ISIS, leaving his regime and him in power.

In his diffidence to al-Assad, Rose refers to dropping barrel bombs and other war crimes and crimes against humanity as “actions that others look down on” or words to that effect.

Regarding Rose’s shameful interview with al-Assad in September, 2013, on the eve on an expected vote in Congress authorizing Obama to use military force against Syria–following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2013–see

See “CBS News and PBS: Network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and PBS, give al-Assad megaphone for propaganda to oppose Obama—ON MONDAY!,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2013.

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

Threats Beyond the Middle East

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show disunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continues building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea.

The Greek prime minister suggests, on the eve of his trip to Moscow, that Greece may veto the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia when they come up for renewal later this year.

Putin is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be on the path of delusions of grandeur, as he would be the leader who restored the Russian Empire and its sphere of influence.

See John Simpson, “Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival – by provoking unrest in Ukraine, New Statesman, March 30, 2015 (9:44 a.m)

Writing from Sevastapol, the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson explains how Russia’s premiere is stalling. His Crimean coup is an attempt to distract the west.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, is highly possible.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who could contain it again?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, leaders are needed to deal with these situations effectively, pursuant to a coherent strategy. Yet such leaders are hard to find.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Developing

For a particularly incisive analysis of Vladimir Putin and the threat he represents, see

Eric Morse, “The deadly chaos behind Putin’s mysterious acts,” The Globe and Mail, March 24 2015 (2:02 PM EDT).

Eric Morse is co-chair of security studies at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

Vladimir Putin has become the most dangerous man in the world.

With direct control over Russia’s nuclear weapons, unchecked by the collective leadership represented by the Politburo in Soviet times, engaged in dismantling the arms control security architecture built up since the Cuban Mssile Crisis in October, 1962, brandishing nuclear threats in an increasingly open manner, Vladimir Putin appears to be subject to no internal controls within Russia.

Engaging in highly provocative military probes of NATO airspace, conducting large-scale military maneuvers on an almost continuing basis, and articulating a vision of military conquest and annexation with increasing boldness, Putin is acting in dangerous ways which could result in a incident leading to an escalating military conflict with NATO countries.

Especially significant has been his endorsement, little commented on in the Western media, of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.  That agreement, concluded on August 23, 1939, included not only a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, but also the division andoccupation of Poland by the two countries and the takeover by the Soviet Union of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as parts of Finland and Romania.  A week later, on August 23, 1939, World War II began with the German inasion of Poland.

At the same time, the Boris Nemtsov assassination on February 27, 2015 has highlighted the ties between Vladimir Putin and the Chechen leader, Ramsan Kadyrov, who has at his command some 15,000-20,000 Chechen fighters, who constitute  a kind of personal militia operating outside of the regular security structures within Russia. Among the “volunteers” and regular forces which entered the eastern Ukraine from Russia were many such Chechen fighters.

The West is left with the urgent challenge of figuring out how to deal effectively with the most dangerous man on the planet, and then resolutely implementing the actions that are required.

In the Ukraine, appeasement has not worked.

Even the adoption in September of  tough economic sanctions did not stop Putin and his puppets from conquering more territory in the Donbas and threatening to take Mariupol in violation of the Minsk Protocol and ceasefire agreed on September 5. Now, following the recognition of those gains and the weakening of other provisions in the original Minsk Protocol in the Minsk II agreement signed on February 12, the credible threat of sending “lethal” arms to the Ukraine, and of further sanctions including exclusion from the SWIFT international payments system, may be helping to restrain Putin from moving at this time on Mariupol. That port city would give separatist-controlled territories in the Donbas an outlet to the sea, and its conquest would constitute an important advance toward establishing a land bridge to the Crimea.

But Putin can bide his time, waiting for disunity within the EU, NATO, or Europe and the U.S., before making his next strategic move.

Putin manifestly has been and will continue to be engaged in an all-out campaign to challenge and weaken NATO and the EU, executed relentlessly, 24/7, on many different fronts.

What seems clear is that he is steering Russia on a path that could lead to a nuclear confrontation with the West. Were that to occur, without any internal checks on Putin’s behavior, and in the absence of the confidence-building measures and arms control restraints which have existed until the very recent past, the situation could become even more dangerous than that which existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

NATO and the West can no longer ignore the Russian threat to their security, responding lethargically while seeking refuge in illusions that with Putin anything resembling a return to “business as usual” is possible.

Rather, a long-term strategy of containment of Russia must be adopted, and quickly implemented. Only then (whether before or after Putin has passed from the scene) might there be any chance of Russia returning to the international community of civilized nations which seek to guarantee their security within the framework of the Unied Nations Charter and respect for international law.

That strategy of containment should eschew further appeasement but include renewed efforts to shore up the arms control measures achieved in the past, and joint efforts with Russia to secure new agreements that might reduce the risk of nuclear war, whether accidental or resulting from deliberate actions.

***

See also the following article quoting a Canadian minister, Chris Alexander, who in addition to accurately pointing out that Putin is behaving like a terrorist, also alludes to the origins of the Ukraine crisis as lying in the responses of the U.S. and other countries to events in Syria. This is a key point, as readers who have followed Russian actions in Syria and reactions from the West are probably already aware.

David Pugliese (Postmedia News), “Putin is behaving like a terrorist': Cabinet minister’s speech on Ukraine sparks social media battle with Russia,” National Post, March 25, 2015 (Updated 3:50 PM ET)

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine Crisis Timelines (2014-2015)

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

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

Originally published on March 17, 2015

See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another small detail that appears anomylous could be relevant here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Russia was prepared for nuclear showdown with West during Crimea takeover, Putin asserts in film

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

According to RT, the Russian news channel, Vladimir Putin was thinking of a possible nuclear showdown with the West when he invaded Crimea:

The president assured that the Russian military were prepared for any developments and would have armed nuclear weapons if necessary. He personally was not sure that Western nations would not use military force against Russia, he added.

–Putin in film on Crimea: US masterminds behind Ukraine coup, helped train radicals,” RT, March 15,, 2015 (updated 17:36).

This is but the latest of Putin’s veiled nuclear threats, to which to the writer’s knowledge, neither the U.S. nor NATO have ever responded publicly.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s disappearing act —- and rifts within the Kremlin

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Latest and best analyses of Putin’s disappearing act

Vladimir Putin has not made a public appearance since March 5. Several television and news reports which purported to show him meeting with figures this last week have been revealed to be fabrications. The following articles provide some of the best insights into what is or may be going on in the Kremlin. What appears clear is that the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on February 27 has provoked some kind of turmoil within the Kremlin’s top leadership.

See:

(1) Edward Lucas, “Where is Putin?” Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), March 15, 2015.

(2) Richard Galpin (Moscow), “Speculation rife as world waits for Putin to reappear, BBC News, March 15, 2014 (11:35 ET).

(3) Julian Hans (Moskau), “Rätsel um russischen Präsidenten: Wo ist Putin?”; Seit dem 5. März hat sich Russlands Präsident nicht mehr öffentlich gezeigt. Selbst wenn nur ein Bruchteil von dem wahr wäre, was Kreml-Astrologen, Blogger und Journalisten seither als Gründe für sein Verschwinden erwägen – es müssen dramatische Tage für ihn sein, Süddeutscher Zeitung, 15. März 2015 (17:43 Uhr).

(4) Julia Smirnova (Moskau), “Ramsan Kadyrow: “Ich bleibe Putin treu. Egal, welches Amt er bekleidet”; Ramsan Kadyrows Name fällt derzeit vor allem im Zusammenhang mit dem Mord an Boris Nemzow. Anscheinend ist sich der tschetschenische Präsident nicht mehr ganz sicher, ob er auf Putin zählen kann,” Die Welt, 14. März 2015 .

German: Ramsan Kadyrow
English: Ramzan Kadyrov
Russian: Рамзан Ахматович Кадыров
French: Ramzan Kadyrov
Spanish: Ramzán Kadýrov
Arabic: رمضان قديروف
Chinese: 拉姆赞·卡德罗夫

(5) Andrew E. Kramer, “Fear Envelops Russia After Killing of Putin Critic Boris Nemtsov,” New York Times, February 28, 2015.

Kramer, reporting a day after the assassination of leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, made the following succinct observation regarding high-level schisms between hardliners and liberals over military and economic policy.

“This (the assassination) comes as analysts of Russian politics say the Kremlin could be worried about, and intent on discouraging, further defections to the opposition, given reported high-level schisms between hard-liners and liberals over military and economic policy. The government is already under strain from Russia’s unacknowledged involvement in the war in Ukraine and runaway inflation in an economic crisis.”

(6) DPA/OTT, “Wir dachten niemals an die Abspaltung der Krim”; Zum Jahrestag des Krim-Referendums behauptet Kremlchef Putin erneut, Russland hätte keine andere Wahl gehabt. Währenddessen besucht der ukrainische Präsident Poroschenko verletzte Soldaten in Dresden,” Die Welt, 15. März 2015 (17:42 Uhr).

This report is based on a DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur) dispatch delivered apparently by OTT (Over the Top) streaming technology. Whether the dpa is doing more than relaying on a Russian news agency report is not clear. Putin’s appearance on Russian television in a film does not prove that Putin has “reappeared”. He may soon. This report, however, appears to be a case of careless editorial supervision.

It is the anniversary today of the assassination of Julius Ceasar. Putin may just be playing for dramatic effect. A bronze of him appearing like a Roman was recently unveiled.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that the Boris Nemtsov assassination on February 27, 2014 triggered some kind of internal power struggle, as the first five writers cited above suggest. If there were an attempted Putsch that has been put down, the evidence should appear fairly soon as its authors are dealt with by Putin. If on the other hand, Putin has a major revolt on his hands, e.g., as the reaction of some of the security forces and the army to the potential involvement in the Nemtsov murder of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has praised one of his security men even after he was identified as a suspect in the homicide, a real power struggle could be on.

Putin may appear tomorrow, March 16, but like his phantom TV appearances of the last 10 days his appearance will probably not tell us much about what has been been or is going on. If he does not appear, speculation about his condition, both physical and political, will explode.

Stay tuned.

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine Update: Overview and signficance of the continuing Russan invasion

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Developing

See

Matthew Schofield, “A year after Russia took Crimea, stronger Ukraine military braces for long fight, McClatchyDC, March 5, 2015 (updated 4:17 p.m. EDT).

“Russischer Soldat beschreibt Einsatz bei Debalzewe; Von der Grenze zur Mongolei wurde er in die Ukraine geschickt, erzählt ein russischer Soldat. Er beschreibt auch, wie Panzer umlackiert und Abzeichen abgelegt wurden. 4. März 2015 (19:34 Uhr).

CARSTEN LUTHER, ALEXANDER SCHWABE UND STEFFEN DOBBERT, “OPPOSITION IN RUSSLAND: Die wenigen, die nicht schweigen. Boris Nemzow ist tot, Putins Politik der Einschüchterung wirkt. Sieben Beispiele, die davon erzählen, wie schwer es in Russland ist, Kritik an der Regierung zu üben,” Die Zeit, 3. Marz 2015 (16:16 Uhr).

News of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has become “old hat”, no longer “hot” news because it continues on a daily basis.

Vladimir Putin has adapted the “salami technique”, used by the Soviet Union to take first one, then another country in Eastern Europe after World War II, to the new demands of the hybrid hidden war, executed first in the Crimea and then in the eastern Ukraine.

Why follow the details of the ongoing Russian invasion of the Ukraine?

Why follow the continued faltering response of the West, led by pacifists and appeasers who have failed to respond to Russian military aggression in Europe with more than economic sanctions?

Those sanctions have always been “too little, too late”. They always seem to come long after the most serious and definite of threats to deter some move or another by Putin, which he ignores, and which have then repeatedly been forgotten–not carried out. Instead, they are recycled and converted to threats to forestall his and Russia’s next act of military aggression.

As a result, such threats are not credible.

It is almost as if Western leaders and their foreign ministers are too busy flying around to meet with each other, and with Putin, to read the newspapers and form a coherent view of what is going on, what has worked and not worked, and what needs to be done.

Just today, less than a week after the assassination in Moscow (some 100 meters from the Kremlin’s walls) of Boris Nemtsov, a leading opposition figure who was an outspoken critic of Putin’s military aggression in the Ukraine—a cold-blooded execution that was almost certainly ordered by Putin or carried out with his approval—Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi flew to Moscow for a “quick visit” with Putin.

His attempt to have it both ways, by visiting the scene where Nemtsov was executed, was pathetic. What counted was that he traveled to Moscow to see Putin, sending the signal that Italy will not push for harsher sanctions against Russia for its current invasion of the Donbas. No doubt Renzi hopes for some kind of gas deal or other concession in exchange.

According to the U.S. military, Russia now has some 12,000 soldiers in the Donbas leading and fighting alongside the so-called “separatists”– which Putin called into being in April, 2014. Further, Russia has an estimated 50,000 troops threateningly poised on its border with the Ukraine, in addition to the 28,000 troops it has stationed in the Crimea.

Today, March 5, 2015, Russia continues its overflights near NATO countries flexing its military muscles, seeking as it were an incident that might provide a further “provocation”.

Yet beyond Russia and the Ukraine, there is so much more going on in the world, such as the advance of Iraqi army and militia forces, and Iranian-led forces, on Tikrit in an effort to reconquer that city from ISIS or the Islamic State group.

In Europe, the Greek crisis has slowed but not let up, leaving Greece’s participation in the Euro Zone and the possibility of a collapse of its financial system very much up in the air.

In Africa, Boko Haram continues its massacres in northern Nigeria and beyond.

In Argentina, the ex-wife of Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor who wss drafting a complaint against President Cristina Kirchner, says she has proof Nisman was murdered. He was killed by a gunshot to the head at close range the evening before he was to testify about a conspiracy with Iran not to bring to justice the authors of a 1994 bombing of a synagogue in Buenos Aires which claimed 84 lives. Nisman had no gunpowder trace on his hands.

In Washington, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a strong speech to the U.S. Congress attacking the deal Obama and the P5+1 are negotiating with Iran to resolve the nuclear issue.

With all of this going on, why should we continue to pay close attention to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the response of the West?

The answer is stark and unyielding.

So long as Russia continues to defy the most fundamental norms of the United Nations Charter and international law, through its invasion of the eastern Ukraine but also through its continued military occupation of the Crimea, Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory conquered by military force, the entire international political and legal order established after World War II under the U.N. Charter (1945) is swaying under the assault of Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

We must pay close attention to the Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, and its military threats elsewhere, because the resolution of all the other international conflicts that face the world today, including the Iranian nuclear question and the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, depend on upholding the U.N. Charter’s fundamental norms and the rules and mechanisms it lays out for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The threat represented by Putin’s and Russia’s policies of military aggressiom is also an existential threat to the West and the rest of the world.

Putin and Russia possess thousands of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems which if used–and Russia has raised the possibility of nuclear war–could result in destroying the world.

Managing the risks of accidental nuclear war, or even the intentional use of nuclear weapons, outside the framework of international law and the U.N. Charter, and their definitions of legitimate state actions, is several orders of magnitude more difficult than managing these risks within that framework.

That is why we must pay close attention to Russian policies of military aggression and annexation, however familiar the headlines may become.

So long as Russia defies the postwar international legal and political order established under the U.N. Charter, no nation will be safe, as citizens throughout the world face an unacceptably high risk of nuclear war and annihilation.

The Trenchant Observer