Posts Tagged ‘armed attack’

Obama in Control: No lethal aid for Ukraine, no combat troops in Iraq no matter what, and lethal aid for “moderates” in Syria

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Friday night fatigue can affect one’s musings on world affairs.

Much of the fatigue this week comes from the news,

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Russia is sending another white truck convoy into the Donbas, probably again without Ukrainian authorization or ICRC and OSCE inspections prior to crossing the border, as in the two prior cases, bearing who knows what cargoes in each direction.

Such violations of Ukraine’s terrirorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence have become so numerous that they have become routine.

Like repeated rapes of a helpless victim from whom onlookers look away so as not to see, the Russian rape of Ukraine’s sovereignty is repeated often, probably across unmarked tracks in the middle of the night—and by white-truck convoys of who knows what.

In terms of looking away, it was highly significant today that the New York Times didn’t even carry its story on the Poroshenko visit on the front page, relegating the little issue of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the visit of its president to the back pages.

The repeated rapes of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity have become so routine that almost no one still bothers to object.

Those who seek to investigate and throw light on the Russian invasions are beaten up like the BBC news team this week, or the local legislator who visited the grave of or wrote about a soldier killed in the Ukraine. Or they are labeled as subversive, as in the case of a prominent NGO of mothers of soldiers who pressed too hard for information about soldiers who had died or disappeared in or near the Ukraine.

In America, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an extraordinarily eloquent speech before Congress about what is involved in the Russian-Ukrainian war, calling to mind John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963. He then met with Barack Obama, who ruled out giving the lethal aid that he has for months been requesting.

The body language in the photos and videos says it all: Obama does not publicly embrace, with positive energy and enthusiasm, the one leader in the world who personifies the struggle for freedom in the face of military aggression, and who has been orchestrating with great courage the defense of his country against Russian intervention.

Obama may still mouth pretty words about freedom from time to time, but for the Observer his pacifism and appeasement toward Putin, and the incredible record of incompetence he has built over the last six years, have driven home the fact that when it comes to foreign policy he lacks substance.

Obama’s reception of Petroshenko in the White House showed how cold-blooded and petulant the U.S. President has become. He was obviously peeved at Poroshenko for appealing directly to Congress for lethal aid. The package of non-lethal assistance which Obama announced yesterday was paltry, on the order of $50 million dollars foe a country engaged in war with a nuclear power with still perhaps the second strongest military on the planet.

Obama’s stated rationale for refusing lethal aid was pathetic, sounding as if it had not been updated since March: the provision of lethal aid might provoke the Russians to further acts of military aggression. Only days before, NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, had described the troop positions of Russian military forces within and on the border of the Ukraine as being arranged to dictate terms to Kiev, or to take Mariupol, while maintaining open suppy lines to the “separatists” in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas which they control

One of the greatest tests of a president is whether he (or she) can ascertain and react to the most urgent threats facing the country. This week, President Obama focused on taking the battle to ISIS or the self-denominated “Islamic State”.

In doing so, he failed to understand the magnitude of the threat represented by Russia, whose army sits astride two regions of the Ukraine following military invasions and annexation of one of them, the Crimea.

Obama may also have been cowed by big business which, in full-page advertsiements in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers, pressured him not to adopt sanctions against Russia that went further than those the EU imposed. The arguments put forward by the American Association of Manufacturers and the American Chamber of Commerce were so lame as to be pitiful. Here, however, it is campaign contributions and political support—money, in a word—that counts, not the logical strength of arguments for a policy.

The War Against ISIS

In Syria and Iraq, Obama seems determined to use the least amount of military force possible. This led to an open display of civilian-military tensions this week. After Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey stated in Congressional testimony that circumstances could conceivably arise that could lead him to recommend the sending of combat troops to Iraq, the next day, Obama went out of his way, before a military audience, to declare that he would not send ground troops to Iraq. Period.

The military was probably not pleased with this put-down of their leader.

The administration’s argument that the Iraqi’s must take both political and military actions to repel ISIS have merit, but miss the essential point that they may not be sufficient to turn the tide on the battlefield within the time frame needed.

The decision to arm the “moderate” rebels in Syria with $500 million of arms, training and equipment is over two years’ overdue. But the situation has changed. One cannot supply rebels whose goal is to defeat al-Assad and tell them it must be used only to fight ISIS. It won’t work.

The U.S. needs a coherent startegy toward Syria, but doesn’t have one.

The challenge of devising a coherent approach to ISIS and Syria is daunting. Had Obama acted to arm the rebels and take direct military action against Syria to halt the comission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale (which would lead to over 200,000 deaths by 2014), ISIS would not have the weapons, men, money, and control of territory they have today, or represent the overwhelming threat that they have become.

A successful strategy toward ISIS and Syria would require not only effective military action against ISIS within Syria, but also aid to the “moderate” rebels to enable them to fight both ISIS and al-Assad’s forces in order to bring to a halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Such a strategy would require taking a clear stand against the barbarism of both al-Assad and ISIS, and defending Western values of respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

Confusion in Threat Perception, Priorities, and Strategic Responses

$50 million in non-lethal aid for the Ukraine, $500 million in lethal aid and training for the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

These actions signify a confusion of priorities and means that is stunning, but wholly consistent with Obama’s leadership of U.S. foreign policy through tightly-controlled decisions by him and his White House foreign policy team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, whose exploits have been detailed in earlier articles here.

Because the president sets the national agenda, his confusion over priorities affects the press and all of us. That is why the New York Times story on Poroshenko’s visit was buried in the back pages of the New York Times.

Obama seems to have no plan for turning back Russian military aggression in the Ukraine, other than to continue down the path of apeasement, taking care not to provoke Putin by supplying lethal weapons to Kiev.

One last thought or feeling can be shared:

The reception given Poroshenko by Obama, including his flat refusal to supply arms and other lethal aid, and the palty amounts of non-lethal aid announced, made yesterday a day of shame for America. The defense of freedom in the world and opposition to military aggression faltered.

From all of Obama’s beautiful words and speeches, the only figure that sticks in the mind is that of a man utterly out of his depth, unable to perceive grave strategic threats to the country or devise effective responses to those he sees.

Of greatest importance to the president, it seems, are the domestic political consequences of foreign policy actions, his own control of every aspect of foreign policy, and the management of his foreign policy narrative through carefully crafted words.

Filled with hubris, he remains determined to impose his own will in implementing foreign policy, in a world where others do not fully understand the issues and he is unable to genuinely see that he has made any mistakes.

The Trenchant Observer

Poroshenko’s capitulation: The new “special status” law and implementation of the Minsk Protocol

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

UPDATE: The text in Ukrainian of the new law on “special status” is found here.

A very rought translation into English is found in Nikolai Holmov, “Status of The Donbas – Presidential Bill,” ODESSATALK, September 17, 2014, here.

*****

Minsk Protocol

The 12 points in the Minsk Protocol are:


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.

*****SIDEBAR*****

Armed with nuclear weapons and a powerful military, Vladimir Putin is as popular in Russia because of extreme nationalism and policies of aggression as Adolf Hitler was in Germany in 1938 or 1939.

The West had better give top priority to this existential threat to its vital national security interests.

It represents a far graver threat than ISIS or the “Islamic State”, however large and real that threat may be.

See Ilya Koval, “Russland: Warum Putin nicht einlenken wird,” Die Zeit, 17. September 2014 (14:39 Uhr).

“Mit Sanktionen und Zugeständnissen versucht der Westen, Russlands Regierung von ihrem aggressiven Kurs abzubringen. Das aber ist utopisch. Fünf Gründe dafür.”

*****END OF SIDEBAR*****

Since Russian regular forces entered the Ukraine in large numbers in August, and bloodied Ukrainian forces while pushing them back from the gains they had made in previous weeks, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been increasingly accommodating to the demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

First, Poroshenko announced that 70% of the Russian troops had been withdrawn from the country, after the signing on September 5 of the Minsk Protocol establishing a 12-point plan including ceasefire and other steps in a peace plan for the eastern Ukraine.

NATO did not confirm this number. On September 16, 2014, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, was quoted as making the following statement:

SACEUR commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, Statement on Russian troops in and bordering Ukraine

“I will paint a picture for you, which is that from a peak of well over 10 battalion task groups inside of Ukraine, I believe we’re now down to elements of probably four battalion task groups inside Ukraine.

The Russians have been removing forces to the east of the Ukrainian border back into Russia, but make no mistake – those forces are close enough to be quickly brought back to bear if required. They have not left the area that would allow them to be either a course of force or a force used for actual combat, if required.

Inside of Ukraine, we see forces that now are arrayed, I think, with two purposes. One purpose is to keep the flow of support and supply to the separatist forces and the Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk area wide open. So those avenues of support will remain wide open, and I think that the Russian forces are arrayed to ensure that.

Secondarily, I think we see Russian forces arrayed to bring great pressure on Mariupol. So currently, there is a large force that threatens Mariupol. I think it has one of two possibilities for use. It can sit there and be a coercive force to ensure that the negotiations for peace fall out along the lines that Russia wants them to fall out, or it could also be used to take Mariupol, if it was there. But these forces are arrayed to allow them to do either.

So I think it’s important to say that, yes, some of the force structure has come down. No, none of it has departed. It is all still available. And the forces that remain inside of Ukraine are arrayed to set conditions to completely support the long-term effort of the separatists in the east and to either coerce or force the hand in Mariupol,” Breedlove said.

–”Four Russian Battalion Groups Remain in Ukraine – NATO Allied Commander,” Censor Net, September 17, 2014 (07:32).

The ceasefire has been broken repeatedly by the separatists, though in general it still appears to be holding.

The monitoring of the ceasefire by the OSCE, as called for in the point 2 of the Minsk Protocol, is not firmly in place. Yesterday, fire was directed at an OSCE observer team, leaving their two vehicles damaged or destroyed.

Putin participated in a similar tactic in Syria in the spring of 2012, when UNMIS observers were shot at and increasingly became targets of Bashar al-Assad’s forces, until they were forced to withdraw first to their hotels, and then from Syria.

Nor does the monitoring of the border by the OSCE, called for in point 4 of the Minsk Protocol, seem to be functioning.

Second, Poroshenko has now caved into Putin’s demands regarding the terms of the “special law” on the status of regions of Donetsk and Luhansk Provinces under the separatists’ control.

See

(1) “Ukraine: Abgeordnete wollen Sonderstatus des Donbass kippen, Der Spiegel, 17. September 2014 (07:33 Uhr).

“Der Sonderstatus für die Ostukraine wackelt: Nachdem das Parlament in Kiew den Regionen um Donezk und Luhansk weitreichende Rechte gewährt hat, wollen Anhänger von Ex-Ministerpräsidentin Timoschenko den Beschluss für ungültig erklären lassen.”

(2) Carsten Luther (Kommentar), “Uraine: Putin behält den Fuß in der Tür,” Die Zeit, 16. September 2014 (17:48 Uhr).

“Ein Tag voller Zugeständnisse: Autonomie für die Separatisten in der Ostukraine, Freihandel mit der EU erst später. Putin hat bekommen, was er gewollt hat.”

(3) Rodrigo Fernandez / Ignacio Fariza (Moscú / Bruselas), “Ucrania aprueba el autogobierno para el este con una policía autonómica,” El País, 16 Septiembre 2014 (20:57 CEST).

(4) “Donbas ‘special status’ law is a concession to the West — Heraschenko,” EuroMaidan Press, September 17, 2014.

The new law, approved by the parliament or Rada in Kiev on September 16, is being challenged as invalid by the Fatherland Party of Iulia Timoshenko, due to alleged violations of parliamentary procedure (e.g., the law failed to win approval on the first vote, the vote was secret, electronic voting was used instead of a roll-call vote).

The law passed on Tuesday represents a capitulation to the demands of Russia and the “separatists”.

While intended to uphold the sovereignty of the Ukraine over these areas, the law calls for a three year period of “autonomy” for the region which has a very strong potential for splitting the country permanently, and even facilitating a secession by the region from the Ukraine as new facts are created on the ground.

With passage of the law, if it goes into effect, Putin through military aggression will have achieved one of his principlal goals, that of creating a “frozen conflict” in the Ukraine (like the one in Georgia).

Several provisions of the law are worth noting.

First, it provides for local elections on November 7, but establishes no mechanisms to ensure that they are free and fair. One might imagine that they would be held under OSCE auspices and supervision, which would include oversight over the voter lists and the counting of votes in a transparent manner. But there is no evidence that this will be the case.

Second, the law establishes the right of the territories under separatists’ control to establish their own militias independent of Kiev’s control. Again according to first reports, there appear to be no obstacles to the separatists’ militias simply reconstituting themselves as these militias, assuming the mantle of legitimacy which the law confers.

Third, the separatists are apparently given control over state prosecutors and the courts. The practical result will be felt when the law’s limitations on granting amnesty to those involved in very serious crimes are put into practice. It also gives the insurrectionists the authority to persecute their opponents through the legal system.

Fourth, the law authorizes the region to establish relationships with bordering regions within the Russian Federation to deal with matters of local concern. While the text of this prvision appears inocuous enough, it could potentially be misapplied to open a slippery slope that could lead to secession and/or incorporation of these areas into the corresponding Russian regions.

There is evidence to suggest that Western leaders pressured Poroshenko to pass the law on “special status”.  See the comments of Anton Haraschenko, quoted in the EuroMaidan Press article cited above.

A close reading of an informal translation into English of the law suggests that its terms may not actually be as bad as they seemed in the first reports in the press. This would be similar to the way the actual text of the Minsk Protocol turned out not to be as one-sided as first press reports had suggested.

Still, while up until now Poroshenko has done an excellent job of defending his country’s sovereignty and territorial independence, there are signs that Putin through his threats and acts of military aggression has convinced him that the only way he can prevent further military advances by Russia and its “separatists” is to go along with what Putin wants.

His calculus may be that a “frozen conflict” in Donetsk and Luhansk is preferable to the Russians and their “separatists” taking Mariupol, and indeed going on to take territory that would build a land bridge all the way to the Crimea.

Poroshenko has called for EU and NATO countries to join in negotiations with Russia over the Donbass, recognizing that Ukraine by itself is not in a position to negotiate effectively with Putin. They should do so, without illusions, in order to buttress Porosheno and the Ukraine.

There is the additional factor that Putin’s word is absolutely worthless, while his and Russia’s statements are full of blatant lies, distortions, and misrepresentations.

Putin’s leverage over Poroshenko resides in his ability to uphold the Minsk Protocol and ceasefire, or not.

Poroshenko needs to be careful not to overvalue his own ability to get along with Putin and elicit promises that he will keep, or even the viability of the Minsk Protocol if it gets in the way of Putin’s drive to achieve his goals.

Poroshenko needs support from the West and the rest of the civilized world which is interested in upholding the U.N. Charter and international law, and in particular the prohibition of the threat or use of force.

One way to provide this support would be to bring the Minsk Protocol to the U.N. Security Council, which could table a resolution incorporating its provisions. This might possibly be done in a manner which would make it very difficult for Russia to exercise its veto.

Finally, there is an important human rights dimension to the adoption of the “special law” on areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Provinces under “separatists” control. The law should not create an enclave in which the internationally protected human rights of Ukrainian citizens are left to the arbitrary rule of separatists who up until now have been guilty of committing war crimes and widespread violations fundamental human rights in territories they control.

The “special law” should be amended to include mechanisms to ensure the observance of international human rights within the special territories governed by the law. These should include the right to vote in free elections and to participate in government.

One need have no illusions that they will be fully honored. Nonetheless, they should be added to the law, as they could exercise some influence toward moderation and introduce reporting and accountability considerations for the “separatists” to take into account.

This, at least, can be done to help mitigate the Ukraine’s moral and legal responsibility for delivering to the “separatists” areas where a large percentage of the population does not not support their goals or methods

Actually, if it is only one human being, his or her fundamental human rights should be protected.

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

Putin’s response to new sanctions: (1) New invasion of Donbas with white truck convoy, entering without authorization or inspection; and (2) Renewed fighting (artillery and rockets) in Donetsk

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Putin Escalates Crisis in Response to New Sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted true to form, in response to the entry into force of the new EU and U.S. Sanctions against Russia on Friday, September 12, by sending a second white-truck convoy across the border and into the Dunbas region of the Ukraine without the latter’s authorization, any inspection, or any agreement with the OSCE or the International Red Cross of any kind.

This action, which began on Saturday, constitutes yet another flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter and international law.

An emergency session of the U.N. Security Council should be called, where the details of this latest act of aggression are laid out, and Putin’s claims no Russian soldiers have entered the Ukraine are irrebutably refuted with detailed factual evidence.

The strong light of publicity is needed to defeat Putin’s strategy of progressive desensitization, so that Russia can violate Ukraine’s border at will, and in the end no one takes it very seriously because it has already happened so many times.

Lest the Russians think they are being cute on the “threat or use of force” aspect, all observers will note that they secured access to the territory of the Ukraine first by an irregular “stealth invasion” which took down the border posts and command centers, followed by a direct invasion of the Ukraine by regular Russian troops. These, despite President Petro Porosheno’s declaration that 70% of the troops had been withdrawn, according to NATO’s latest statements, remain in the eastern Ukraine.

These latest actions by Russia are consistent with Putin’s modus operandi vis-vis the Ukraine, according to which he responds to each countermove by the West to his military aggression with an escalation on the ground.

He is a judo master, and quite adroit at drawing his opponent (here, the West) to make a lunge in response to a feint, while simultaneously attacking him from an entirely different direction.

For example, in August he used the much-touted and much-delayed white truck convoy of “humanitarian aid” to capture the West’s full attention, while sending thousands of soldiers, tanks, artillery and other equipment into the Donbass across open fields in the middle of the night.

At the same time, he has demonstrated how fragile the Minsk ceasefire is and how it could collapse at his command, by resuming the fighting in Donetsk, firing artillery, rockets and other weapons in a concerted attack on the Donetsk airport, which remains in Ukrainian hands.

See

(1) Martin Williams and agencies, “Ukraine fights off attack on Donetsk airport by pro-Russia forces; Russian rocket launchers seen moving through eastern city as Ukraine’s PM says his country is in ‘stage of war’ with Russia,” the Guardian, September 13, 2014 (12:52 EDT).

On Saturday, Russia sent a convoy across the border, but Ukraine’s top leaders have remained largely silent, underscoring how dramatically the mood has shifted in the Kiev government since a ceasefire deal was struck.

Russian reports claimed the convoy was loaded with humanitarian aid, but the border crossing did not have the approval of Kiev or oversight of the international Red Cross. A similar convoy in August was loudly condemned by Ukrainian officials as an invasion, but this time around Lysenko simply called the move “illegal.”

He said: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.”

(2) Gareth Jones and Anton Sverev, “Ukraine PM slams Putin, ceasefire again under strain in east Ukraine,” Reuters, September 13, 2014 (2:35pm EDT).

On Saturday afternoon, a Reuters reporter heard heavy artillery fire in northern districts of Donetsk, the largest city of the region with a pre-war population of about one million. He saw plumes of black smoke above the airport, which is in government hands. The city is controlled by the rebels.

New EU and U.S. Sanctions against Russia enter into force

Fortunately, the EU published its new sanctions against Russia in the Journal Officiel on Friday, September 12, at which time they went into effect. The United also announced on Friday that it was imposing parallel new sanctions om Russia.

Now, added to the NATO’s decisions on September 4-5 to establish a 5,000 man quick reaction force for deployment to member states in the East if necessary, and to reaffirm of the obligation of each member to spend each year at lesst 2% of GDP (a target to be reached, for now, within 10 years), the West has finally turned aside the strongist pacifists and appeasers within Europe and taken real, hard measures which ought to make the Russians reassess their policies of military aggression.

What should the West do now?

Because it is quite possible that Vladimir Putin will continue his efforts to destabilize the Ukraine, and even potentionally to seek to create a land corridor linking Russia to the Crimea, the West should prepare an even stronger round of further sanctions to be used if Putin resumes his military invasion of the eastern Ukraine, whether by the direct use of regular Russian forces as in August up until now, or in his “stealth” mode by continuing the introduction of weapons and irregular fighters across the border to further assist the so-called “separatists”.

These, with a signal from Moscow, could reject any reasonable compromises on the issue of the status of the territories under their control, leading to a breakdown of the ceasefire and a resumption of the fighting.

Today, according to the news reports cited above, the Donetsk airport, which is still held by Kiev forces, was subjected to intense attack by the separatists. This should serve as a reminder of how quickly the Minsk peace process could come undone.

In the current situation, the EU, NATO, and the U.S. should remain at a high level of alert, and take actions such as the following:

1. Ensure that the new white truck “humanitarian aid” convoy which began entering the Ukraine yesterday does so only with the express authorization of the Ukraine, after prior inspection of all the trucks entering the country.  Any violations  should be immediately reported to the U.N. Security Council.  While Russia can veto any resolution, Council meetings also provide a forum for the concentration of the world’s attention, a place to make detailed factual and legal statements about Russia’s ongoing violations of fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, and a place where Russia must either admit the charges by its silence or set forth its transparently specious arguments for all to see.

“Stealth warfare” must be carried out in the shadows.  The bright glare of publicity at Security Council meetings helps to force untenable and facetious arguments to shrivel in the bright glare of daylight.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powell chairs the Security Council during the month of September.  She and the U.S. should use the Council effectively during these critical days, when either the Minsk Protocol ceasefire and peace process will take hold, or collapse as fighting resumes.

The members of the Council should consider tabling a resolution endorsing the Minsk Protocol, calling for a withdrawal of all foreign fighters, and respect for the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of the Ukraine.  They should then put it to a vote, and whatever the outcome remain seized of the sutuation in the Ukraine.

2. Inspection by Ukraine and OSCE  and IRC of all the white trucks before they cross back over the border into Russia, to ensure that the convoy is not being used to remove Ukrainian or Russian military equipment, arms or ammunition, Ukrainian industrial equipment, or the bodies of dead Russian doldiers.

In short, the “humanitarian aid” convoy must be limited to humanitarian purposes. While removal of bodies might serve such purposes, it should be done only after inspection of the departing trucks and with the authorization of the Ukrainian authorities.

In a word, Ukrainian control of its border with Russia should be two-way, both entering and leaving.

3. The EU, the U.S., and the U.N. should immediately start sending large supplies of humanitarian aid into the Donbas. This operation should be conducted on an emergency and urgent basis, as if dealing with a natural catastrophe.

There is no valid reason for allowing Russia to score a huge propaganda victory by portraying itself as the only country doing anything to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of the Donbas.

This humanitarian aid should be widely publicized as coming from the EU, the U.S., the U.N., and other countries.

4. NATO and other countries should immediately begin providing the Ukraine with military aid and assistance which they can use to defend themselves against further Russian military aggression.

The aid should include lethal weapons. There should be no distinction between “lethal” and “non-lethal” assistance.

This distinction was made in supplying weapons to the rebels in Syria, in the absence of the U.S. and its allies setting forth a justification under international law for such action. Such a justification might have been advanced by the Obama administration, in order to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was not.

In the Ukraine, military assistance can be provided in response to the calls Kiev has made for military assistance in exercise of the “inherent right” of collective sef-defence, as set forth in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, in order to repel an “armed attack”.

Armed attacks against the Ukraine have occurred, both through regular Russian forces and through irregular Russian fighters, arms and equipment. These attacks continue, a fact made particularly clear by Russia’s purported “annexation” of the Crimea.

5. Western governments should publicize the widespread violation of human rights and commission of war crimes that have occurred in the territories under the control of the so-called “separatists”. Russia, in particular, should be pressured and held accountable on this point, whether in the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Security Council, or elsewhere.

It goes without saying that the commission of any war crimes on the Ukrainian side must be immediately halted, and those responsible for their commission held accountable.

7. Consideration of a further round of even harsher economic sanctions should begin, as suggested above. These might include a ban on any doing business with Russian companies above a certain size, and a complete ban on Russia using the SWIFT system in banking for the transfer of international payments.

Implementation of these steps should begin immediately.

The West needs to maintain constant vigilance against any agressive move by Putin and Russia, and be prepared to take countermasures quickly when so required.

Having adopted an avowed policy of military aggression, and with thousands of nuclear weapons at his command, Putin may be the most dangerous man on the planet.

While countering IS is important, it is not, in a military sense (as opposed to a political sense), an immediate threat. Putin and the Ukraine are.

President Obama and European leaders must get their priorities right, and maintain constant vigilance in the face of Russia which is, and will remain as long as Putin or someone like him remains in charge, an existential threat.

Like the threat posed by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, it is a direct, frontal challege through military aggression, which cannot be defused through policies of pacifism and appeasement.

The Trenchant Observer

Full text of new EU sanctions against Russia (September 8, 2014)

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Developing

See “New EU sanctions hit Russia,” EU Business, 12 September 2014 (11:10 CET).

The full text of the new EU sanctions against Russia because of its aggression in the Ukraine (September 8, 2014), as published in the Journal Officiel of the EU on September 12, 2014, are found here (5 documents).

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 succeeds in breaking EU decision making machinery — Now, no EU decision by top leaders will be final

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

You have to hand it to Finland, and the pacifist and appeasers among the leaders of EU member states.

To placate Vladimir Putin, they have broken the decision making machinery of the European Union.

If any “final” decision can be blocked at the formal written approval and printing press stage, no decisions will ever be final, and endless wrangling and re-neogtiations can always ensue.

It is hard to see how the EU can ever take final decisions, on any hard-fought matter, if the decisions of the heads of government or foreign ministers can be blocked by misusing a technical procedure designed only to ensure the written text complies with the agreement, before it is published in the EU’s Official Journal.

Here, Finland was apparently the country which refused to sign off on the sanctions agreement of September 5 when it was reduced to writing.

Finland’s objection went to the heart of the EU “final” decision itself.  It was not merely a question of whether the lawyers and other officials who drafted the written document had gotten some detail wrong.

The new foreign affairs chief designate, Italian Forein Minister Federica Mogherini, demonstrated how ill-prepared and what a poor choice she is for her new post, by taking up the banner of the pacifists and appeasers who have sought to overturn the September 5 “final” decision on adoption of the new EU sanctions.

She will have to be kept under tight control by incoming European Council President David Trusk (the just-resigned prime minister of Poland), if the European Union is to have any kind of coherent foreign policy at all.

Either Mogherini will have to be replaced, or more of the foreign policy authority will have to shift to the office of the President of the Council.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, by pushing Mogherini through over the staunch objections of a number of member states, particularly those on the front lines facing Russia in the East, has demonstrated that he is not the bright socialist hope for the future that many had thought.

He and Ms. Mogherini, rather than consensus builders, appear to be like bulls in a China shop.

The broken China represented by the broken decision making machinery of the EU is lying on the floor for all to see.

Vladimir Putin can take pride in the fact that by his threats and machinations, including blatant lies, war propagand and acts of agression, he has brought this fiasco about.

No doubt he is planning to do something similar in NATO.

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