Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Comment: Absent U.S. strategy and leadership, the Middle East hurtles into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Shiite Huthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states. Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama, in his compartmentalized mind, sees no connection between Yemen and the potential Iran nuclear deal. His statements several years ago that he thought we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good now.

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

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show diunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continuesu building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea. He is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be a the path of delusions of greatness, as the lader who restord the Russian Empire and sphere of ibfluence.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias stand down. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS, in what seems to be an open-ended commitmentment. This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.

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

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, looms.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who will get it back in?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, the leaders needed to deal with these situations effectively and pursuant to a coherent strategy cannot be found.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Developing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Ukraine, appeasement has not worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Russian propaganda and Western reporters who can’t think: Putin’s great rise in popularity, as revealed by polls

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

They say that robots or software robots can prepare news to be distributed much like a newspaper does.

Evidence is mounting that robots or robot-like reporters are already filing reports for leading newspapers, and making editorial decisions on headlines and what goes into a particular edition of a newspaper.

Now El Pais from Madrid has published a news story that states that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has soared to 88%, one year after the military invasion and purported “annexation” of the Crimea.

See

Agencias (Moscu), “Putin alcanza una cifra récord de popularidad del 88%. Crimea quiere nombrar al presidente ruso ciudadano de honor un año después de anexión El Zpais, 11 de marzo 2015 (19:28 CET).

El Pais is one of Europe’s leading newspapers, and it is nothing short of scandalous that it would print this story with this headline.

Is El Pais taking a direct feed from Russian newswires, giving their propaganda the impramatur of a leading international newspaper, and then publishing the “news” story? It cites the poll results as reported by the ITAR-Tass Russian news agency.

Is it the policy of El Pais to republish news stories from Russian wire services, or are its editors just asleep at the wheel?

In fact, many newspapers in many countries have been publishing these and similar poll numbers, as if they had any significance, much as the election “results” announced by the “separatists” in Donetsk and Luhansk and earlier in the Crimea that were reported, as if they meant anything.

See “The meaningless “sham” elections in “separatist”-held areas of the Ukraine on November 2, 2014, The Trenchant Observer, November 2, 2014.

Think for a minute. Russia is a dictatorship where there is no freedom of expression in the state-owned and state-related media, and opponents of Putin are harrassed, arrested, expelled from the country, or, as in the February 27, 2015 assassination of Boris Nemtsov, simply killed.

If you were a Russian and a polling company called you for your opinion, on the phone, or even if you were asked questions in a survey questionnaire administered in person, would you say you approved of President Putin and his policies? What’s the downside?

If, on the contrary, you say you disapprove of Putin and his policies, what is the upside? As for the downside, might you not be a little concerned that, in a police state, your answers could be used to hurt you, in one way or another?

See Saeed Ahmed, “Vladimir Putin’s approval rating? Now at a whopping 86%,” CNN February 26, 2015 (Updated 1256 GMT).

Ahmed reports,

So how is it that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is at a whopping 86%?

That’s the conclusion of a poll conducted this month by the Levada Center. Last month, Putin’s approval rating was at 85%.

The Levada-Center describes itself as an independent, non-governmental polling and sociological research organization.

And it has found that Putin’s approval ratings have been holding steady in the mid-80s since around May last year, which incidentally is when the Ukraine/Crimea conflict bubbled up.

What gives?

The answer is simple, says Ben Judah, author of “Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin.”

“That figure is made up,” he told CNN last month.

“An opinion poll can only be conducted in a democracy with a free press,” he explained. “In a country with no free press, where people are arrested for expressing their opinions, where the truth is hidden from them, where the media even online is almost all controlled by the government — when a pollster phones people up and asks, ‘Hello, do you approve of Vladimir Putin,’ the answer is overwhelmingly yes.

“So what that opinion poll is, is not a poll of approval but it’s a poll of fear.”

Regarding the recent poll, The Guardian adds one significant detail: “The state-run VTsIOM pollster reported on Friday that 88% of Russian approved of Putin’s job performance – an all-time record.” So, we are talking about the results of a poll conducted by a state-run polling agency, which El Pais picked up from a Russian ITAR-Tass wire story.

The Russian poll results are meaningless. Fatally flawed. Devoid of significance. Useful only for their propaganda effect.

In a dictatorship, the polls are meaningless, as meaningless as the election results. That is the news story.

Please tell the editors of El Pais.

If citizens and officials in the West are to accurately understand what is going on in Russia and the Ukraine, and the world, Western media are going to have to do a much better job of filtering out Russian propaganda.

To do that, they need reporters and editors who can think on their feet.

Moreover, a good starting point for them would be to never rely on news sources that are well-known for their mendacity. That would include most Russian news wires and newspapers.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Kiev caves in to Russian military threats, offering far-reaching concessions in eastern Ukraine; Pacifism and appeasement grip Wasington and Europe; First signs of Russian military intervention appear, as troops on border are poised to strike

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Originally published April 12, 2014

The Atmosphere in Washington

On Saturday, April 12, The New York Times did not have a story (or even a reference) on its front page on the Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal, however, in a superb article by Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, published a penetrating account of the extent to which top U.S. civilian and military leaders are in the grip of President Obama’s pacifism and approach of appeasement.

See Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Tries to Help Ukraine, Reassure Allies Without Riling Russia; Obama Administration, NATO Face Quandary as They Plan Response to Moscow’s Annexation of Crimea, April 12, 2014.

Entous and Barnes offer a few illustrative examples:

(1) Seeking to demonstrate strong American support for Ukraine, U.S. military planners considered using Air Force planes to ferry food rations to outnumbered and underequipped Ukrainian troops facing superior Russian forces across the border.

Pentagon leaders settled instead for a less-conspicuous operation: They sent the promised meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, in commercial trucks from storehouses in Germany.

(2) “Ukrainian forces got the MREs late last month, about two weeks after requesting aid. The White House says it is still reviewing other items on Kiev’s wish-list, including medical kits, uniforms, boots and military socks.

“‘You want to calibrate your chest-thumps,” a senior military official said of the step-by-step American response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military moves. “He does something else in Ukraine, we release the socks.'”

Yatsenyuk’s Offer on of Sweeping Concessions, and Escalating Unrest in the East

Meanwhile, in Donetsk on Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in a move signaling a cave-in to Russian pressures and military threats–as few signs suggested that the West would support the Ukraine in defending its territory against a second Russian invasion–offered concessions so broad that they would undermine the unity and sovereignty of the Ukrainian state, if they were ever accepted and implemented.

Protesters, however, seem to be following a different script, dictated by Moscow. An escalating wave of seizures of government buildings by armed protesters continued on Saturday, promising to make the holding of Ukrainian national elections on May 25 all but untenable in the eastern parts of the country where the protests are centered.

The Guardian has provided an overview of the latest developments in the Ukraine, including the concessions offered by Yatsenyuk in Donetsk on Friday:

Protesters in Donetsk have called on Russia to deploy peacekeepers to facilitate a referendum on independence by 11 May.

Yatsenyuk did not agree to a referendum but suggested the system of regional administrations appointed by the president should be replaced by executive committees elected by regional parliaments, which would have “all financial, economic, administrative and other powers to control the corresponding region”.

He also recommended that the parliament approve legislation that would change the constitution to allow for local referendums, a move strongly supported by the leaders of the Donetsk occupation.

Yatsenyuk said changes to the country’s constitution should be approved before a presidential election planned for 25 May that the Kiev regime has said will fully legitimise the new government.

–Alec Luhn in Donetsk, Oksana Grytsenko in Luhansk and agencies, “Ukraine fails to break stalemate with pro-Russian protesters in east; Arseniy Yatsenyuk promises devolution to local government in hope of staving off demands for their independence from Kiev,” The Guardian, Friday 11 April 2014 (15.03 EDT).

The tactics being used are from the Crimea playbook, with reported escalations today (Saturday, April 12) involving military units not wearing military insignia.

See Gregory L. White and Lukas I. Alpert, “Pro-Russian Protests Spread in Eastern Ukraine; Armed Men in Military-Style Uniforms Move to Commandeer Government Offices, Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2014 (updated 7:23 p.m. ET) .

White and Alpert report:

Witnesses said the men who took over the buildings in Slavyansk weren’t the local activists who had led protests in the region in recent weeks.

Instead, they appeared better-equipped and trained, carrying military-style gear and weapons, but with no insignia on their camouflage uniforms.

Such descriptions were similar to the thousands of troops who moved into and took over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last month, leading quickly to Russia’s annexation. Those troops were later confirmed to be Russian, though Moscow never officially admitted that.

See also:

“Kämpfe in mehreren Städten der Ostukraine; Im Osten der Ukraine bekämpfen sich prorussische Aktivisten und Sicherheitskräfte. Präsident Alexander Turtschinow berief für den Abend den nationalen Sicherheitsrat ein,”Die Zeit, .”12. April 2014 (19:20 Uhr).

The growing protests and incipient violence appear to be setting the stage for Russian military intervention, by the 40,000-80,000 troops that have been mobilized in preparation for such action.

The Diplomatic Front

On the diplomatic front, Russia is playing the same delaying game it played in Syria, talking of diplomatic solutions and illusory “agreements”, while gaining time for other kinds of solutions produced by the use of military force on the ground.

The strategy has been successful in Syria, and it should come as no surprise that the Russians are following a similar script in their diplomacy vis-à-vis the Ukraine.

The near-constant diplomatic contacts between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry, and others, serve two important Russian purposes.

First, they allow the Kremlin to monitor with great precision the intentions and potential actions of the at times compulsively transparent Obama administration, and its Western allies.

Second, they offer excellent opportunities to divide the Western countries by planting false seeds of hope. For example, Lavrov offered earnest reassurances to Kerry that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, only days before the Russian invasion of that country. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Russian troops on the border with Ukraine would be withdrawn (or significantly reduced). No such drawdown has occurred, and indeed the build-up has continued.

A similar hope, in all likelihood also illusory, has been offered that if the West does not anger Russian President Vladimir Putin by its responses to Russia’s actions, he will not invade the eastern Ukraine.

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

See The Trenchant Observer, “Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia, April 11, 2014.

The meeting, to find a “diplomatic solution” to “the “Ukrainian Crisis” provides Russia with an excellent opportunity to continue its strategy of deception and delay, dividing the West and offering illusory hopes to defuse the momentum for the adoption of any serious responses.

John Kerry, Sergey Lavrov, Catherine Ashton of the EU, and the Ukraine will meet in a context in which only Russia can gain, either by securing “Munich II”-style concessions from the West at the expense of the Ukraine, or by sowing division and doubt among the countries of the West.

Yatsenyuk’s proffered concessions on April 11 suggest that “Munich II”-style concessions are already being crafted, probably under pressure from the U.S. and the EU.

The Costs of Further Delay in Imposing Really Significant Sanctions

Further delay by the West in taking military steps and adopting really meaningful “third-stage” sanctions (such as a ban on financial transactions with Russia and/or a freezing of Russian assets in the West) will enable Russia to proceed with its destabilization of the eastern Ukraine and what may be its plan to have local “referendums” held on May 9, Russia’s Victory Day (celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II). Demands for such referendums are now being heard from pro-Russian protesters.

The Russians are following Adolf Hitler’s playbook for the Anschluss with Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland to the letter. The first took place on March 12, 1938. The second took place six months later, with the approval of France and Great Britain at Munich on September 30, 1938.

See
“Is Putin like Hitler?” The Trenchant Observer, April 4, 2014.

“Putin’s seizure of the Crimea and Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland: The comparison is accurate,” April 1, 2014.

Because of the complexity and time-consuming nature of EU and NATO decision processes (unanimity is required, in both cases), only the U.S. is in a position to lead and to act quickly.

The additional sanctions announced by Obama on April 11, 2014 (adding seven individuals and a major Crimean gas company seized by the Russians to those on the list of targeted sanctions) represent small steps in the right direction. But no one should imagine for an instant that they are sufficiently serious to affect Russia’s decisions, including any which may have already been made to invade the Ukraine for a second time.

The United States and the West are speaking the language of peace and reason. Russia is speaking the language of war and military action on the ground.

If only Obama and his “groupthink” coterie could come to their senses, grasp these realities, and react with forceful actions that are executed, not threatened, much might still be salvaged from the current debacle. After the invasion and annexation of the Crimea one would think they might have learned a thing or two.

But the roots of pacifism grow deep, and it is not easy for those who are committed to appeasement to discern–much less react to–realities which are dramatically changing, hour by hour, on the ground.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Leftist victory in Greece threatens continuation of EU sanctions against Russia

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Developing

See

(1) Julia Smirnova und Boris Kalnóky, “Mit Tspiras hat Russland einen neuen Verbündeten; Die neue griechische Regierung verfügt über bemerkenswert enge Kontakte nach Moskau; Premier Tsipras fordert schon lange ein Ende der Sanktionen, Außenminister Kotzias ist ein Fan von Putins Guru,” Die Welt, 28. Januar 2015.

(2) Daniel Friedrich Sturm, “POLITIK LAUT GABRIEL: Bundesregierung ist gegen neue Russland-Sanktionen Die EU-Außenminister dürften bei ihrem Treffen am Donnerstag vor allem intern nach einem Konsens suchen. Die vorgeschlagene Verlängerung der Sanktionen ist laut Vizekanzler Gabriel längst nicht sicher,” Die Welt, 28. Januar 2015.

(Vizekanzler Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) sieht wenig Spielraum für neue Sanktionen gegen Russlan.)

It appears that, as a result of the election of a leftist government in Greece on Sunday, January 25, Vladimir Putin may now have secured a blocking veto within the 28 members of the EU.

EU countries at present can only adopt economic sanctions by unanimous consent.

Consequently, a Greek veto could block renewal of the sanctions against Russia, which come up for re-authorization between March and September, 2015. This would occur even as Putin continues his illegal occupation of the Crimea and his ongoing military invasion and intervention in the eastern Ukraine, with Russian troops, armor and material.

This latest development demonstrates that Merkel’s and the EU’s austerity demands on Greece were too harsh, producing unexpected and sharply counter-productive consequences.

Even if the sanctions are eventually renewed, the battle within the EU is likely to be limited to re-authorizing existing sanctions, rather than adopting new and harsher sectoral sanctions in response to Puutin’s latest military moves in the Donbas, particularly against Mariupol.

Our current political leaders don’t seem to understand a fundamental truth: Everything is connected. We need leaders of great strategic vision, but have none.

The new Tspiras government, as a party, has been a strong critic of EU santions against Russia. Its top keaders are reported to have close ties to Moscow.

The EU voting requirement urgently calls out for a constitutional change, if Europe is ever to become an effective actor in the world. Yet even if there were support for changing the voting requirements–highly dubious at present– it could take years to adopt and implement any such changes.

Mr. Putin turns out to be a much better chess player than the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West. Many of them, including Barack Obama, don’t seem to have looked at the chessboard in over a month.

Moreover, it seems never to have occurred to them that they need to develop a strategy to take a queen, and even a king.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin attacks Mariupol, may seek land corridor to Crimea

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Developing

See

(1) Julia Smirnova, “Mariupol wäre für die Separatisten wertvollster Ort; Die Angriffe auf Mariupol markieren eine neue Eskalation des Kriegs in der Ostukraine. Greifen die prorussischen Milizen nach der wirtschaftlichen Schlüssel-Metropole des Südostens?,” Die Welt, 25. Januar 2015.

(2) “Raketenangriff auf Mariupol: CDU und Grüne fordern neue Sanktionen gegen Russland; Beim Raketenbeschuss auf die ukrainische Stadt Mariupol wurden mindestens 30 Menschen getötet, womöglich mit Unterstützung russischer Truppen. Erste deutsche Politiker fordern noch schärfere Sanktionen gegen den Kreml,” Der Spiegel, 25. Januar 2015 (16:10 Uhr).

(3) Pilar Bonnet, “La violencia en Ucrania se dispara al nivel previo al inicio del diálogo; Treinta civiles muertos y 97 heridos en un ataque con misiles a Mariúpol, El Pais, 24 de enero 2015 (22:47 CET).

(4) Konrad Schuller (Berlin), “Ukraine-Krise: Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Stadt anzugreifen: Nach dem Raketenangriff auf Mariupol droht eine neue Eskalation der Gewalt in der Ostukraine. Vieles spricht für einen Angriff der Separatisten. Russland könnte die Kontrolle von Mariupol sehr nutzen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 25. Januar 2015.

(5) Tom Parfitt (Zhelanne), “Tank troops fight to contain rebel expansion in eastern Ukraine: War escalates as 27 civilians killed in rocket attack and Kiev accuses Moscow of sending more soldiers and hardware across the border,” The Telegraph, January 24,2015 (48PM GMT).

Vladimir Putin may now be moving decisively to take Mariupol, opening the way for seizure of a land corridor linking the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine with the Russian-conquered and occupied Crimea and city of Sevastopol.

This would solve Russia’s huge logistical problem of supplying the Crimea with goods and materiel, which at present can be done only by sea.

Russia and the “separatists” earlier took down the border between the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Russia, permitting Putin to move armor, fighters and materiel into the Donbas at will.

The strategic logic underlying such a move on Mariupol has been laid out here, and has been clear at least since April, 2014.

With the EU, NATO, and the U.S. not considering any further sanctions or NATO actions against Russia, despite Putin’s current intensification of its aggression in the eastern Ukraine, and with some 9,000 Russian regular forces in the Region (not counting Russian irregular forces), it is hard to see any deterrent force that could stop Putin and Russia from taking such actions.

Angela Merkel even put forth the idea of a broad customs union with the EU and Russia and its friends this week, that being her response to further Russian aggression in the Ukraine, and Putin’s immediate violation of the Berlin agreement of January 21 between Russia and the Ukraine to withdraw their heavy weapons from the demarcation line established by the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, in implementation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2015.

Merkel could not have given Putin a brighter green light for further military aggression.

Putin, on the other hand, may just be probing, to see if he meets any resistance to his attack on Mariupol. If he doesn’t, as occurred when he was taking over the Crimea, he may then act decisively to expand the territories under Russian control, from Mariupol to the Crimea.

Meanwhile, Europe, the EU, NATO, and the U.S. are asleep, under the leadership of the same pacifists and appeasers who to date have utterly failed to contain Russian militarism and aggression in the Ukraine, and beyond.

Stay tuned. Events of great historical importance are underway, as the system of international security established under the United Nations Charter in 1945 is beginning to buckle and collapse.

The Trenchant Observer

Negotiating with terrorists: Merkel’s proposal for a broad economic zone with Russia and its friends

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

See

“Ukraine-Krise: Bundesregierung lockt Russland mit Handelszone; Zur Belohnung gäbe es eine Wirtschaftskooperation: Die Bundesregierung hat laut Medienbericht dem russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin eine Handelszone angeboten, um ihn zum Einlenken im Ukraine-Konflikt zu bewegen,” Der Spiegel, 23 Januar 2015 (9:25 Uhr).

How could Vladimir Putin have the slightest respect for Angela Merkel and the EU?

He just signed an agreement with Ukraine in Berlin on January 21 to withdraw heavy weapons from the demarcation line established in the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, reached pursuant to the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

At the same time he was sending additional Russian troops and armor into the eastern Ukraine and launching attacks against the Ukrainian forces in a major offensive. His puppet, Aleksandr Zakharchenko announced he would not talk to Kiev and that the separatists were launching major offensives to liberate all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukrainian forces, flouting the Berlin agreement, the September 19 memorandum, and the Minsk Protocol itself.

The response of pacifist Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Angela Merkel was to propose to Putin a large duty-free area joining the EU and Putin’s customs union.

The only possible conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing is that Steinmeier and Merkel are not only pacifists and appeasers, but also idiots.

How stupid do the Europeans think they have to be in order to win favor from the mighty aggressor and dictator, Vladimir Putin?

Is it a good idea to negotiate with terrorists?

Is it a good idea to negotiate with aggressors who are at that very moment intensifying their aggression and invasion of the eastern Ukraine?

With these clowns leading Europe, one can expect the sanctions regime against Russia to start falling apart as early as March, and Putin to intensify his invasion of the Donbas and to broaden it further to other regions, including the establishment of a land corridor to the Crimea.

Against clowns like Steinmeier, Merkel and the Europeans, why not?

What is holding him back?

They don’t seem to understand.  Appeasement doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked with Putin for the last year. It won’t work with him this coming year. Or ever.

Will European leaders ever get it?

If not, will their peoples ever get it?

If they don’t, why not simply hold a formal ceremony dissolving NATO, and surrendering to Mr. Putin whatever territory he wants?

Forget international law and the United Nations Charter. Forget human rights in the Donbas and Russia, and anywhere else for that matter. Those are things that Steinmeier and Merkel obviously do not believe are worth fighting for.

If Merkel sees it differently, she has but one alternative: fire Steinmeier, appoint a strong foreign minister, and if necessary call elections to decide whether Germany will follow a policy of appeasement or one of containment of Putin and Russia.

Stop talking to the Russians with words.

Speak to them with actions, including great intensification of sectoral economic sanctions against them.

For starters, ban them from using the SWIFT international payments system, and act forcefully to move the venue for the 2018 FIFA World Cup to some country other than Russia.

Appease and surrender, or get real about effective containment of Russia.

The Trenchant Observer

Poroshenko interview in NZZ; agreement to withdraw heavy weapons from Minsk September 19 demarcation line

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Developing

Vladimir Putin acting, through his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, reached an agreement in Berlin this week under which Russian “separatists” in eastern Ukraine would  withdraw heavy weapons from the demarcation line agreed to on September 19 pursuant to the terms of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Meanwhile Petro Poroshenko stated in an interview with the Neue Zurchner Zeitung that two tactical battalions of Russian soldiers had moved into the Donbas region of the Ukraine, and that according to his intelligence officials some 8,000-9,500 Russian soldiers were inside of Ukrainian territory in the Donbas.

Russia is also reported to have some 500 tanks in the eastern Ukraine.

The day after the agreement, news reports spoke of a sharp increase in the fighting.

See

(1) Christian Weisflog, “Petro Poroschenko im Interview
«Starke Armee ermöglicht politische Lösung»,” Neue Zurchner Zeitung, 20. Januar 2015, 15:13 Uhr.

(2) David Blair, “Russia sends 9,000 troops into Ukraine, says Petro Poroshenko; This deployment of Russian forces would be the biggest since the crisis began,” The Telegraph, January 21, 2015 (6:27PM GMT).

(3) “Ukraine und Russland vereinbaren Abzug schwerer Waffen; Beim Krisentreffen in Berlin haben sich die Außenminister auf die Einhaltung einer Demarkationslinie geeinigt. Frank-Walter Steinmeier sieht ‘wahrnehmbare Fortschritte’,”, Die Zeit, 22. Januar 2015 (Aktualisiert um 03:53 Uhr).

(4) “UKRAINE-KRIEG: Kämpfe laut Nato so intensiv wie vor Friedensabkommen
Seit September haben die Kämpfe nach Angaben der Nato deutlich an Intensität gewonnen. Insgesamt wurden seit April 5.000 Menschen getötet, teilte die OSZE mit, Die Zeit, 22. Januar 2014 (17:29 Uhr).

(5) David M. Herszenhorn, “Ukraine Cedes Donetsk Airport to Rebels as Fighting Continues,” New York Times, January 22, 2015.

Analysis

1. With respect to the Ukraine, Putin has never kept his word or honored his agreements, such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the Minsk Protocol, or the April 17 Geneva agreement.

2. Deceit and surprise military moves are part of his modus operandi.

3. The January 21 agreement in Berlin may be yet another subterfuge to confuse his opponents while he launches another assault on the Donbas, or broadens the war beyond that region.

4.  The West, including the EU, NATO and the U.S. should now adopt a new round of real, hard sanctions and military decisions ondeploymentson the eastern front.

5.  Putin never backs down in the face of threats.

6.  He and Russia must be contained. Economic sanctionsshould be sharply strengthened. NATO should immediately deploy troops to the eastern front, and suspend or abrogate the 1997 NATO-Russia partnership agreement.

The West faces an existential threat from Putin and Russia.

It is time to wakeup and abandon the pacifism and appeasement demonstrated to date, and to begin to defend the democratic civilization of Europe, the U.S. and other countries.

It is time to take effective action that will lead Russia to end its occupation of the Ukraine.

It is time to uphold the international legal, political, and economic order of the U.N. system, the U.N. Charter norm prohibiting the threat or use of force across international frontiers, and the human rights of the citizens of the Donbas and the Crimea.

The Trenchant Observer

 

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

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Originally published October 3, 2014

See Update (October 31, 2014), here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

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

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

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

What is to be done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifies, as implementation of Minsk Protocol stalls; future of EU sanctions regime in doubt

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Revised January 14, 2014

See

Frontline, “Putin’s Way”, PBS, January 13, 2015 (on Putin’s rise to power and the nature of the Russian dictatorship he leads).

Oliver Carroll, “Ukraine crisis: Fighting in Donetsk between army and Russian-backed rebels at highest level for months,” The Independent, January 12, 2015

The EU foreign office is reportedly working on a paper which discusses the option of lifting some sanctions against Russia in exchange for significant progress on implementation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, leaving in place sanctions specifically aimed at the Crimea.

This is a hare-brained idea that would in effect accept the Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea. It is just what one might expect from the socialist-dominated leadership of the European Union, and the foreign office now headed by Italian socialist Federica Mogherini, a protege of Italian socialist prime minister Matteo Renzi.

It now seems likely that the EU sanctions regime against Russia will begin to fall apart in March.

In the implementation of the EU foreign ministers decision of September 5, 2014, during what is usually a purely procedural matter where each country must sign off on the final text, Finland appears to have balked, and with others called for a reexamination of the decision in the light of “progress” made in implementing the Minsk Protocol of September 5.

Though the decision very nearly fell apart, it didn’t, and came into force when it was published in the Journal Officiel of the EU on September 12.

The events of that week were revealing, however.

The EU sanctions against Russia were not adopted to remain in force until lifted, but rather require a unanimous vote of all 28 member states to be renewed beyond their initial term of one year. Decisions to extend the sanctions will be coming up between March and September.

While setting up the sanctions in this manner may have seemed necessary to gain unanimous approval, it has turned out to be a huge strategic mistake.

Putin has made great inroads in dividing the countries of Europe on the issue of sanctions. At this juncture, absent extraordinary efforts by leaders of the West, it seems likely that the EU sanctions regime may begin to fall apart, beginning as early as March.

In the end, the pacifists and appeasers in Europe are likely to carry the day.

It will be extraordinarily important, if this occurs, for America to pick up the slack in the response of the West to Putin’s militarism and aggression in the Ukraine.

To do so, the Obama administration will have to overcome the lobbying by big business for the U.S. not to adopt any sanctions beyond those the E.U. has adopted, on the theory it would put U.S. businesses at a comparative disadvantage.

The U.S. does have powerful weapons at its disposal. For example, it could eliminate all access of Russian companies to even short-term financing (currently allowed up to 30 days), and could bar Russian entities from using the SWIFT system for the transfer of international funds and payments.

The U.S. should prepare to take these and other actions, while joining with European leaders such as Angela Merkel in calling for the sanctions–all of them–to be upheld and extended beginning in March.

The Trenchant Observer