Archive for the ‘use of force’ Category

Putin’s playing “chicken” in Syria and the risk of escalation to nuclear war

Thursday, October 8th, 2015


With reports of Russian aircraft having forced American planes to change course in order to avoid a collision, the risks of escalation in Syria to nuclear war have suddenly become quite palpable.


Bürgerkrieg in Syrien Syrien: US-Jet muss ausweichen; Über Syrien sind sich Kampfflugzeuge aus Russland und Amerika so nah gekommen, dass die US-Maschine ausweichen musste. Offiziell ist von “mindestens einem Zwischenfall” die Rede,” Der Spiegel, 8. Oktober 2015 (10:14 Uhr).

There is nothing more dangerous than the leader of a nuclear power like Russia, Vladimir Putin, having determined that his adversary, Barack Obama, is a wimp. But unfortunately, this seems to have occurred. Moreover, the perception is not limited to Putin or Russia.

Russian warplanes have also recently entered Turkish airspace, from which they were escorted by Turkish planes. Turkey is a member of NATO, and an armed attack on Turkey under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty is to be treated as an armed attack on all members, requiring military actions in collective self-defense.

Could Russia with its incursion into Turkish airspace have been testing NATO’s readiness to apply Article 5? The answer to this question has obvious implications for the security of the Baltic members of NATO, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all former territories of the Soviet Union.


“Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats,” The Trenchant Observer, March 26, 2015, reproduced below.

“Russia was prepared for nuclear showdown with West during Crimea takeover, Putin asserts in film,” The Trenchant Observer, March 15, 2015.

“Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

“The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.


“REPRISE: Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats,” The Trenchant Observer, March 26, 2015, reproduced below.

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

Eric Morse, “The deadly chaos behind Putyin’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 summit on October 2 with Putin in Paris: Remember who you are talking to

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

See Benoît Vitkine, “Un sommet sur l’Ukraine à Paris dans l’ombre de la Syrie, Le Monde, le 1 Octobre 2015 (à 10h53 – Mis à jour le 01.10.2015 à 16h16).

On Friday, October 2, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko will meet with Vladimir Putin in Paris in what has come to be known as the “Normandy format” (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia). Somehow, without supervision or formal coordination, Hollande and Merkel have come to speak for all of Europe and NATO in seeking to secure implementation of the Minsk I and Minsk II protocols, signed on September 5, 1914 and February 12, 2015, respectively.

The Minsk Protocol was originally entered into on September 5, 2014 in an obvious attempt by Putin to avoid the imposition of third-stage or sectoral sanctions by the EU. His effort failed in terms of achieving that immediate objective, but has succeeded in deterring EU members from adopting even further sanctions against Russia in response to its ongoing violations of the ceasefire and other provisions of the Minsk II agreement.

On the ground, Russia has continued its military invasion of the eastern Ukraine which is now ruled by Putin’s puppets, who are entirely dependent on Russian financial, military and other support.

Over 8,000 people have been killed since Russia began its invasion of the Donbas in April, 2014.

Putin has now ordered his puppets in Donetsk and Luhansk to observe a truce agreed upon on September 1, 2015. For the first time since the original Minsk Protocol a year ago, the truce has generally held.

Building on this “success”, France and Germany, in particular, seek in Paris to make further progress in implementing the other provisions of Minsk II. French President François Hollande has now called for a lifting of the EU sanctions against Russia, while CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the SPD, has through its leader in the Bundestag, Sigmar Gabriel, made an outspoken appeal for such action.

Putin’s goal is clearly to achieve a lifting of the EU sanctions when they come up for renewal in January, 2016. Merkel, for her part, is under pressure from the SPD to lift the sanctions, while at the same time she is under strong pressure from the leader of her CSU partner, CSU Chairman and Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, who has sharply criticized her policy on refugees and other migrants.

Notably, she had strong praise for Gerhard Schroeder at a recent ceremony launching a new biography of the former SPD Chancellor, who happens to be Putin’s business partner, friend, and chief apologist in Germany.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, for his part, is seeking to maintain strong EU financial and political support for the Ukraine, while opposing any easing of the sanctions. His ultimate goal is EU membership for his country. Concessions to the “separatists” evoke strong opposition at home.

The summit therefore includes two parties, Russia and France, who are openly calling for a lifting of the sanctions against Russia, and a third led by Angela Merkel whose political future may hang in the balance. Seehofer could oppose her in the selection process for the candidate of the CDU/CSU alliance in the next elections, whereas if she lost CSU support in congress she might need to rely on the SPD to remain in office.

Into this mix the perfidious Mr. Putin will enter with the goal of allowing just enough Minsk II progress to give those in the EU who favor a lifting of sanctions sufficient ammunition to achieve their goal.

He can make some “concessions” to implementing the other provisions of Minsk II, while ensuring that the provisions that call for a withdrawal of all foreign forces and restoration of control of the border to the Ukraine by December 31, 2015, are subjected to new conditions whose fulfillment he controls.

Paris and Berlin may have already paved the way for such concessions. Vitkine reports,

La solution de compromis élaborée par Paris et Berlin prévoit que le scrutin pourra se tenir dans les territoires séparatistes à une date différente du reste de l’Ukraine, mais bien en conformité avec le droit ukrainien, et sous la supervision de l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe (OSCE). Pour convaincre les séparatistes d’accepter ce compromis, Paris et Berlin ont obtenu une concession de Kiev : que deux autres points très sensibles de cette feuille de route de Minsk – le retour du contrôle ukrainien sur la frontière russo-ukrainienne et le retrait des groupes armés de la région – n’interviennent qu’en toute fin de processus.

In the end, Putin will be negotiating for a Minsk III agreement which changes the terms of Minsk II (as Minsk II changed the terms of Minsk I), so that he will remain in control of the eastern Ukraine, with his soldiers and other forces staying in place in the Donbas while the border with Russia remains open.

We should keep a very watchful eye on what is being negotiated in Paris. Putin, if successful, will have solidified the “frozen conflict” in the Ukraine, retaining the levers of control, while the EU sanctions are lifted (with a parallel lifting of sanctions by the U.S. likely to follow).

Putin is a master chess player. While all attention is now on the Russian military intervention in Syria, the biggest game–which involves upholding international law and the U.N. Charter, and the freedom of the Ukraine to eventually join the European Union–will be playing out in Paris on Friday, and in the corridors of power in Europe where pacifism and appeasement toward Putin and Russia appear to be ascendant once again.

Europeans and Americans, and particularly the French and Germans, need to bear in mind who Putin is, what Russia’s policies of unbridled nationalism and military aggression have wrought and portend, and the fundamental threat that Putin and Russia pose to the existing international political and legal order, not only in Europe but throughout the world.

The Trenchant Observer

Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws: Kunduz in the North falls to the Taliban

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


In a very serious blow to Afghan security forces, the Taliban succeeded in the last two days in taking the major northern city of Kunduz, which sits at the crossroads of access to other cities and provinces in the North.

The fall of Konduz is emblematic of the situation in many parts of the country, where the Taliban continue to expand their control of the countryside.


Joseph Goldstein and Mijib Mashalsept, “Afghan Crisis Grows as Push to Retake Kunduz from Taliban Fails,” New York Times, September 29, 2015.

Gordon Lubold, Margherita Stancati, and Habib Khan Totakhil, “Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan Tests U.S.; Surge by militants adds fuel to arguments that Obama administration should rethink troop withdrawal,” Wall Street Journal, Updated September 29, 2015 (9:34 p.m. ET).

For earlier incidents and the questions they raised, see

“Afghanistan: Suicide Attack on Contractor DAI Compound in Kunduz / Selbstmord Anschlag auf US-Hilfsorganisation DAI,” The Trenchant Observer, July 3, 2010.

“Afghanistan–A Hint of Future Collapse? Hand-off to Afghan Forces, as Taliban Seize Control around Mazar-e-Sharif,” The Trenchant Observer, August 5, 2011.

The Trenchant Observer

The last international lawyer, or so it seemed

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

It was a curious time, when the world fell apart and no one noticed.

Ideas and institutions that men had died to defend no longer seemed important.

The experience of two world wars in the 20th century had left their lessons burned indelibly into the hearts and minds of those who had fought and lived through them, but now they were forgotten.

Or if not forgotten, they were at least drained of their urgent content, reduced to mere intellectual incantations, rote formulations which no longer engaged the heart or the will to take individual and collective action in their defense.

The growth in the 20th century of international law, whose most basic principles were enshrined in the United Nations Charter in 1945, had lost momentum in the world of actions. Left behind was a hollowed-out edifice of principles which all major nations had once subscribed to, and still accepted verbally perhaps, but no longer felt obliged to defend through actions and not just words.

The cornerstone of the U.N. Charter, contained in Article 2 paragraph 4, was the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

There were other principles of international law of fundamental importance. One was pacta sunt servanda (“treaties are to be observed”).

Another, even more fundamental principle in international law, without which international law could not operate in the real world, was the principle that states (countries) must acknowledge actions of which they are the author. This principle is in fact implicit in the existence and operation of any legal system, whether international or domestic.

A further obligation under international law was that states must offer public legal justifications for their actions. In questions involving the use of force, such justifications were explicitly required by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

Other international legal principles protecting human rights had been contained in multilateral treaties and customary international law, as well as the U.N. Charter.

However, as the whole system of international law governing fundamental aspects of relations among states had weakened, so too had the legal bulwarks supporting international human rights obligations.

This had led to a world in which leaders seemed unaware of, or oblivious to, any need to uphold fundamental norms of international law and the U.N. Charter.

At the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting in New York in September, 2015, the world’s attention was drawn not to a General Assembly resolution condemning Russian military conquest and “annexation” of the Crimea in 2014, or the ongoing Russian invasion of the eastern region of the Ukraine, but on what Vladimir Putin, the invading conqueror, might say in his address to the General Assembly.

Nor was the world’s attention drawn to the massive war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Syrian people by Bashar al-Assad, with the legal and moral complicity of Russia and Iran which backed him to the hilt with money, weapons, advisers and even combat personnel, or to Putin’s current military intervention in Syria enabling al-Assad to continue the commission of these crimes.

Rather, world attention focused on the meeting between Barack Obama and Putin and speculation on the kind of “deal” the West might strike with Putin to cover over the fiasco of their defeat in Syria and Iraq.

The Nuremberg Principles seemed to have been forgotten.

International law itself seemed to have given way to a new system of “might makes right”, the kind of system that had led to two world wars in the 20th century.

Everywhere international law, particularly the international law governing the use of force and that guaranteeing fundamental human rights, had been forgotten.

While President Obama in his General Assembly speech on September 28 did use the words “international law”–a rare occasion during his presidency, he did so with an awkwardness and also other words that revealed his discomfort with the term.

Moreover, harking back to his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 2009, he also declared,

I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

–Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations,” September 28, 2015.

Indeed, the Trenchant Observer, an international lawyer who had followed these events and knew about 20th century European history, often felt alone.

While he knew there were others who shared his views, their voices were no longer heard outside specialists’ circles. They were no longer heard in the public arena where amid the tumult and shouting public opinion is formed.

Nor did they seem to be heard in the councils of government when decisions to take actions were being made.

Even the current American president rarely mentioned international law and, judging by his actions and not merely his words, held international law–particularly its binding nature which could constrain his freedom of action–in low regard.

Obama’s muddled references to international law in his U.N. Address were a welcome improvement but in the end were only words in a speech, when it is actions that count.

The action heard much more clearly than the words in his speech was that he met with Vladimir Putin, the presumptive war criminal who had invaded the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, and who was now taking vigorous military action that would enable Bashar al-Assad to continue the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

The Observer couldn’t avoid the feeling at times that he was alone in his belief in the critical importance of international law and how ignoring it had much to do with all of the chaos he saw unfolding in the world.

He had become “the last international lawyer”, or so it seemed.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama-Putin meeting at UN: The resurgence of pacifism and appeasement toward Putin and Russia in Europe and the U.S.

Thursday, September 24th, 2015


Julia Smirnova, “Die wundersame Rückkehr des Wladimir Putin In der New Yorker UN-Woche drängt Putin ins Zentrum der Weltbühne. Durch die aktive Rolle im Syrienkonflikt hofft der Kreml-Chef auf seine Rehabilitierung. Warum er auf einmal wieder salonfähig ist,” Die Welt, 25. September 2015 (15:54 Uhr).

Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon, “White House Says President Obama and Vladimir Putin Will Meet Next Week,” New York Times, September 24, 2015.


Vladimir Putin and Russia are driving events and decisions in the Middle East and the Ukraine far faster than the U.S., NATO and Europe can devise coherent policies and strategies to counter them.

One has the impression that Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have a broad strategy which they are implementing with vigor, taking full advantage of the policy disarray they see on the part of the West, which in fact no one is leading.

It is like they see the whole chessboard, nimbly moving their pieces around at will, constantly keeping their opponents off balance, while the U.S., NATO and Europe can only focus on one move at a time.

In two weeks the U.S. has moved from trying to block military shipments to new Russian air bases in Syria, to accepting these Russian strategic and military moves with passivity while “thinking about” whether U.S. interests and Russia’s overlap in Syria.

In the same time period they have moved from a policy of demanding Bashar al-Assad leave office as a condition for any political settlement in Syria, to openly accepting that he will not have to leave “on the first day or in the first month”.

In a word, they have caved in to the Russian position, not having anticipated Russia’s major military move into the country, in coordination with Iran.

At the same time, France has agreed to sell to Egypt the two Mistral-class warships originally sold to Russia, whose delivery was blocked following the Russian invasions of the Crimea and the Donbas region in the eastern Ukraine. It would be interesting to see Russia’s role in the deal, which includes the prospect of selling Russian helicopters for the two Midstral-class warships to Egypt. One has to ask, moreover, where the money for the warships is coming from, Moscow or the Gulf States?

France and Russia have settled the financial details in the dispute over non-delivery of the Mistrals, without France having to pay any penalties. An appreciative Francois Hollande has started calling for a lifting of the EU sanctions imposed on Russia because of its aggression against the Ukraine.

This week Angela Merkel appeared together with former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Putin’s leading and most shameless apologist in Germany, on the occasion of the presentation of a biography of Schroeder. Merkel was full of praise for Schroeder, downplaying their differences in foreign policy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the leader of the SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, has just come out with a full-throated appeal for an end of EU sanctions against Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama now appear willing to negotiate with al-Assad over the future of Syria, as Russian military forces move into the country to militarily ensure his survival.

Suddenly Barack Obama has plans to meet with Putin on the sidelines during the upcoming session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, in a visit that shows all the signs of being thoroughly unprepared. It was first announced in Moscow, and appears to have been requested by Putin. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, is quoted as saying that the two presidents will talk about the Ukraine “if there is time”.

Given the antipathy between the two men, one would have thought that Obama’s advisers would have done their utmost to avoid a meeting between them, particularly one without the usual policy planning and broad government preparations for a summit.

In the meantime, Putin has directed his puppets in the eastern Ukraine to observe the Minsk II ceasefire, which has been holding for several weeks now.

The outlines of the Western appeasement of Putin are starting to emerge.

In exchange for Putin’s bringing al-Assad to the negotiating table and working toward a political settlement in Syria, provided the cease-fire continues to hold in the eastern Ukraine, EU sanctions against Russia will be greatly eased, with the Americans acting in parallel.

The West will in effect accept and tacitly acknowledge the Russian conquest of the Crimea, and will accept the “frozen conflict” in the eastern Ukraine, with the Russians keeping troops and irregular forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while continuing to control the open border between the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Putin wins, in Syria and in the Ukraine, while the harshest sanctions are lifted in response to the ceasefire holding, without full implementation of the Minsk II agreement’s provisions.

The impact on the U.N. Charter prohibition of the use of force is likely to be great.

Whether this acceptance of military aggression by Russia in the Ukraine and its fruits will have any impact on China in the East and South China Seas appears to be a question that has not been seriously considered by Obama or the other appeasers of Putin in Europe.

The U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state (Article 2 paragraph 4) will have lost much of its deterrent force, with Russia having annexed the Crimea, frozen the conflict in the eastern Ukraine through ongoing military invasion, and through military intervention having ensured the hold on power of Bashar al-Assad, a leader who has committed some of the greatest war crimes and crimes against humanity since World War II.

In Syria, Putin is building Russian military bases and introducing combat aircraft and other combat forces, shifting the military balance of power in the region. All of this Russia is doing before a supine and leaderless West.

This is the deal with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad that Barack Obama, François Hollande, and Angela Merkel are cooking up.

Only if those with a memory of the last four years in Syria, the last two years in the Ukraine, and the most basic norms of the United Nations Charter and international law speak up, and mobilize, will this disaster be avoided.

The Trenchant Observer

David Petraeus offers clear policy suggestions on Syria and Iraq in testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee (video and transcript)

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

“U.S. Policy in the Middle East, C-Span, September 22, 2015.

Former CIA Director and General David Petraeus (Ret.) testified at a hearing on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and combating ISIS* in the region. He talked about his support for military enclaves in Syria and for greater military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. He also gave his assessment of the Russian military build-up in Syria and of the Iran nuclear agreement. 

At the beginning of his testimony, General Petraeus apologized for what what he called his “serious mistake” of sharing classified information with his biographer, with whom he also had an extramarital affair.

* The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAISH/DAESH in Arabic is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State.

the transcript of Petraeus’ testimony, and the C-Span video, are found here.

the Trenchant Observer

Who is Putin? Proof of Russian military aggression in the Ukraine

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

A stellar team from a leading German newspaper, Die Welt, have now assembled a powerful narrative of Russian aggression in the eastern Ukraine or Donbas region including the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

While other newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal hide behind “he said, she said” formulas, always noting that Russia denies allegations by NATO and the West of military intervention in the Donbas, Die Zeit and its reporters have for a long time simply reported the facts.

As Vladimir Putin now makes a bold military and strategic move to establish Russian military bases in Syria while shoring up the Bashar al-Assad regime, it is useful to bear in mind who Putin is and the nature of his challenge to the existing international political and legal order, and balance of military forces.

Putin is an adversary, not a friend or partner, and anyone who imagines they will benefit from collaborating with him—so long as Russia occupies conquered territory in the Crimea and continues its invasion of the eastern Ukraine, will be sorely disappointed. Above all, the West needs to rip its blinders off, and see Putin and Russia for the determined adversaries which they have become.

For the facts regarding the Russian invasions of the Ukraine, see

Jörg Eigendorf und Julia Smirnova, “Die Beweise für Russlands Eingreifen in der Ukraine Satellitenbilder, Fotos und Filme sprechen dafür, dass Russland die Separatisten unterstützt hat. Wir haben die wichtigsten Beweise und Indizien für russisches Eingreifen zusammengestellt und geprüft, Die Welt, 15.September, 2015.

We should have no illusions about who Putin is or what his and Russia’s intentions are.

He is not our friend and not a trustworthy partner. Nor will he ever be.

The above account of the Russian invasion of the Donbas, revealing unbridled Russian nationalism and policies of military aggression, drives this point home.

We need to wake up.

As Lech Walensa put it, “How can we win, when (Putin) is boxing and we are playing chess?”

The Trenchant Observer

Kerry and Obama’s strategy on Syria: Work through the Russians and thow a “Hail Mary” pass on negotiations

Sunday, September 20th, 2015


MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “Russian Buildup in Syria Raises Questions on Role,” New York Times, September 19, 2015.

Stefan Braun, Berlin, und Nicolas Richter, Washington, “Syrien-Konflikt: Kerry und Steinmeier hoffen auf Putin; Gibt es doch noch eine diplomatische Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts? Ein Angebot aus Moskau klingt für die USA und Europa vielversprechend. Aber welches Ziel verfolgt Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin wirklich?” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 21. September 2015 (06:14 Uhr).

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have no strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis, and as we pointed out a few days ago are basically clueless.

See “Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria,” The Trenchant Observer, September 18, 2015.

Gordon and Schmitt describe this disastrous situation in Kerry’s own words

“We need to get to the negotiation,” Mr. Kerry said at a joint news conference with (British Foreign Secretary Philip) Hammond. “That’s what we’re looking for, and we hope Russia and Iran, other countries with influence, will help to bring that about, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending.”

Right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion,” Mr. Kerry added, “and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that.”

Kerry focuses on the issue of Assad’s departure, as if that would bring the hell that the conflicts in Syria have become to a resolution. His suggestion is basically similar to that which led to the U.N. Geneva II Conference on Syria in January, 2014, which produced absolutely no results, not even an agreement to keep talking.

What will be needed to resolve the Syrian crisis goes far beyond Assad’s departure. Something like a U.N. Authority for Syria will eventually have to be established under Security Council auspices in order to bring any kind of peace to that country.

The fact that Kerry entertains the idea of negotiating with Russia and al-Assad ignores the fact that any agreement with al-Assad would be utterly meaningless given his track record, and an agreement with Russia would not be worth much more, given Putin’s own record of backing al Assad’s broken promises in Syria and breaking his own in the Ukraine.

Gordon and Schmitt report,

Kerry and Hammond “emphasized that Mr. Assad could not remain in power if there was to be a durable solution to the conflict, but they said that the timing of his departure during a political transition in Syria would be a matter of negotiation.

“It doesn’t have to be on Day 1 or Month 1,” Mr. Kerry said. “There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”

The policy, if you can call it that, is to “work through the Russians” and to throw a “Hail Mary pass” on negotiations, hoping that through some divine intervention negotiations might lead to a solution to the conflict, when there is virtually no evidence to suggest that might happen.

That’s where John Kerry and Barack Obama are on Syria. Out of the game, entertaining phantasies and completely ignoring the events in the country over the last four years.

The Trenchant Observer

Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria

Friday, September 18th, 2015


See Louis Imbert (avec Reuters), “Etats-Unis et Russie évoquent la présence de leurs avions respectifs dans le ciel Syrien,” Le Monde le 19 Septembre 2015 (à 06h34 • Mis à jour le 19.09.2015 à 07h36).

Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria,” New York Times, September 18, 2015.

Barack Obama will go down in history as perhaps the most clueless and least successful foreign policy leader of the United States since 1933. While there are a few bright spots in his record, such as normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and, together with the other P5+1 countries, the nuclear deal with Iran, on the whole his record has been devoid of major achievements and characterized by horrendous errors.

Even the Iran nuclear deal, while a net success, was concluded without bipartisan support, and from various accounts at the cost of opposing the Russians or the Iranians in places like Syria and the Ukraine.

No failure has been greater than the U.S. failure to adopt and execute effective policies to halt Baschar al-Assad’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities against the Syrian people, leading to the growth of ISIS and other jihadist groups in the country and in Iraq, and a massive exodus of the population many of whom are now in or on their way to Europe.

At this moment, the Russians are moving to introduce Russian troops and aircraft into Syria, creating an extraordinarily dangerous situation in which American and Russian planes will be simultaneously operating within Syrian airspace.

Obama is utterly clueless, entirely dependent on senior military and other officials to devise “options” (not policies) for Obama’s consideration, all within a bureaucratic politics framework of jockeying for position in which most initiatives are thwarted by the president’s indecisiveness and tight control.

One of most perilous aspects of the current crisis in Syria is that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry lack any coherent policy or vision of how to proceed, as Vladimir Putin cold-bloodedly acts to ensure al-Assad’s grip on power while building out Russian bases and capabilities in the country. Given the American policy disarray, Putin is moving quickly to take advantage of the situation.

Obama and Kerry, who have never had or executed a coherent policy toward Syria, now retreat to the great illusion that “working through the Russians” they can achieve a political solution to the conflict—ignoring virtually everything that has happened or that should have been learned since Kofi Annan’s disastrous mediation efforts in 2012.

Stefan de Mistura, who followed Lakhdar Brahimi as Annan’s successor, remains without any ideas other than to assert that the formula for a peaceful settlement exists in the form of the Geneva II proposals of January 2014. But De Mistura’s illusions have no more basis in reality than did Kofi Annan’s, which Lakhdar Brahimi carried forward to Geneva II, and should be resisted by the West. They can do no more than drag out the conflict to the benefit of Russia and al-Assad, while deterring the U.S. and others from taking military action to actually move the conflict toward resolution.

Should the U.S. now give its blessing to Moscow’s military move into the heart of the Middle East?

American leaders are acting from a position of policy disarray, in purely reactive mode. They are even considering the option of making a Faustian deal with the Russians (and their client, al-Assad), throwing America’s deepest values to the wind.

The situation is extremely dangerous, and the most dangerous part about it is that Obama seems to be oblivious to the challenges that exist in Syria and how his own foreign policy failures there and in Iraq have contributed to them.

He had to be told by his own officials, in Congressional testimony this week, that his policy of training “moderate” Syrian rebels has been a “joke”, with only four or five trained moderates deployed in Syria.

The Republicans, if they can get their act together, are going to have a field day running against the foreign policy failures of President Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Politics aside, the most urgent task for Democrats and Republicans alike is to decide upon and execute policies that defeat (not “degrade”) the Islamic State, and which stabilize the military situation in Syria—without caving in to the Russians’ latest strategic and military moves.

The Trenchant Observer


Theo Sommer: “The wars come to us.”

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015


No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572-1631)

Theo Sommer, a leading German intellectual and columnist, has now connected the dots between the wars Europe sought to ignore and the flood of refugees now streaming across their borders. Walls will not keep the refugees and other migrants out. The problems must be dealt with at the source, he rightly maintains.


Theo Sommer (Kolumne), “Die Kriege kommen zu uns; Der Ansturm der Flüchtlinge lässt sich nur stoppen, wenn die Konflikte im Mittleren Osten und in Libyen gelöst werden. Bis dahin ist europäische Solidarität gefragt,” Die Zeit, 15. September 2015 (7:34 Uhr).

Sommer quotes Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, who said in a speech to the European Parliament last week, “So long as war rules in Syria and terror in Libya, the refugee crisis will not end.”

The Trenchant Observer