Posts Tagged ‘Sudetenland’

After Geneva: Putin’s double game, and what to do about it

Monday, April 21st, 2014

(Developing—check back for updates)

Geneva agreement delays further sanctions; Russian non-compliance and new conditions; tacit acceptance of Crimean annexation; 40,000 combat-ready troops on border continue to threaten invasion; Western response

For recent commentary, see

(1) Andreas Umland (Kommentar), “KRIM-ANNEXION: Wie Putin den Westen austrickste,” Die Zeit, 18. April 2014 (1949 Uhr).

“Wladimir Putin hat sein Ziel erreicht: Die Genfer Erklärung imnpliziert, dass die Krim nicht mehr zur Ukraine gehört. Der Westen lässt Russland wieder einmal gewähren.”

(2) David J. Kramer, “Action, not words, needed for Ukraine,” April 21, 2014 (10:29 AM).

The response of the EU, the U.S., and NATO to Russian aggression in the Ukraine continues to be one of pacifism and an unwillingness to confront Putin which is so great that it amounts to appeasement.  For example, there was no mention of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea in the communiqué which was issued at the end of the four-party meeting between Russia, the EU, the U.S. and the Ukraine in Geneva on April 17, 2014.

The West has adopted no sanctions which can seriously be considered as aimed at forcing Russia to undo the annexation and return the Crimea to the Ukraine restoring the situation to the status quo ante prior to the invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for threatening an invasion of the eastern Ukraine with 40,000 combat-ready troops on the border fully equipped for an invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for having invaded the eastern Ukraine with special operations forces and others under their control, which have seized and continue to occupy public buildings through the use of armed force.

The next stage of sanctions which the West is threatening to adopt if Putin expands his invasion of the eastern Ukraine with regular military forces appears to be limited to the addition of more individuals and companies to the list of those targeted by individual sanctions.

On the military front, NATO and the U.S. have announced some token deployments of troops (e.g., 150 U.S. troops) to Poland and one or more of the Baltic nations which are members of NATO.

What the West has Forgotten

The West has forgotten the history of the Soviet Union, and Russia. Europe and the U.S. seem to have no memory of the methods, lies and subterfuge which were essential elements of Soviet diplomacy after World War II, as they took over one Eastern European country after another with lies, subterfuge, and where necessary assassinations of democratic opponents. The West has both forgotten this history and failed to recognize the fact that the new Russian leaders and apparatchiks have resumed the use of such methods in the conduct of Russian foreign policy.

Hitler, Goebbels, and Soviet leaders since Stalin have understood that the public has a very short memory, that the “Big Lie” must be endlessly repeated, and that non-official sources of news and information must be ruthlessly suppressed. Every assertion by the enemy that is at variance with the official propaganda and narrative of the party or the state must be vigorously, endlessly disputed, so as to create confusion in the minds of the public and to effectively suppress the real news about what is going on.

The greatest enemy of official propaganda, both Hitler and Soviet dictators have always known, is the truth.

It is not difficult to see and understand the implementation of this strategy by the current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his apparatchiks such as foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Among the constantly repeated lies the Russians are propagating, and which are repeated again and again, is the assertion that the Kiev government, which was elected by a vote of parliament after President Viktor Yanukovych fled first Kiev and then the country, assumed power as a result of a “military coup”.  Yet there was no military coup, and indeed the military had nothing to do with Yanukovych abandoning the government and fleeing Kiev.

Another lie, constantly repeated, has been that the Kiev government is controlled by neo-Nazis and fascists. Even if in fact the Rightist sector is represented in the government, to a limited degree, it is very far from the truth to say they control the government, when the President and the Prime Minister come from the party most closely associated with Iulia Timoshenko.

The point is that, nurtured by 25 years of illusions that Russia might become like a Western country, Europe and the U.S. are having a very difficult time disabusing themselves of these illusions despite growing and incontrovertible evidence that they are false.

This evidence includes:

(1) Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 and the fact that it still has troops occupying several Russian-speaking enclaves in that country;

(2) The harsh repression of fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, the right to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and the right to a fair trial; and

(3) Russia has become an authoritarian dictatorship where alternative versions of reality are no longer permitted to be transmitted through the press or the media. In a highly revealing move, Russia stopped transmissions by the Voice of America on local frequencies only weeks before the Crimean invasion.

Alternative versions of reality which question official facts cannot be permitted. The greatest enemy of Russian propaganda is the truth. That is why the truth must be suppressed and factual reports from outside the area whose media Russia controls must be vigorously contested and contradicted at every step of the way.

The greatest enemy is the truth, because if the truth is allowed to penetrate the bubble of propaganda, the whole bubble will burst.

It is in this context that we must understand Sergey Lavrov’s assertions that the U.S., the EU and the U.S. are violating the “agreement” reached in Geneva on April 17, 2014, or engaged in actions which violate international law, or his assertions that the government in Kiev is violating the Ukrainian constitution. This propaganda, which is dutifully and endlessly repeated in the Russian television and press, and by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council whenever that body meets, is an integral part of a strategy which is based on (1) the “big lie” that Russian-speakers in the Crimea or the eastern Ukraine are under threat or being attacked; and (2) the “need” or asserted “right” of Russia to respond by the use of military force to protect those threatened Russian-speakers, or cultural nationals.  Hitler used the term “Volksdeutsche” in referring to cultural nationals as he claimed the same right Putin claims to intervene on their behalf.

It is in this context that the armed clash which occurred at a checkpoint in the eastern Ukraine on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least one person, must be considered. Russian camera crews were suspiciously on the scene very quickly, and it is far from clear that Ukrainian “Rightest Sector” supporters were behind it, as was immediately asserted in the Russian media. Students of history will recall that Adolf Hitler staged a fake attack on German soldiers by Polish forces, to provide a pretext for his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

The Rightest sector forces in Ukraine deny that they were behind the attack. It is entirely possible, if not probable given the unusual circumstances such as the presence of Russian television crews, that the operation was executed by Russian special forces in an effort to continue building a case for Russian military intervention in the eastern Ukraine.

In the light of Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising speech on April 17, delivered as his foreign minister was agreeing in Geneva for the militia and “protesters” to withdraw from the buildings they had seized in a number of localities in the eastern Ukraine, their subsequent refusal to do so, and the attack on the checkpoint on Sunday, such an intervention may indeed be likely, if not imminent.

As for the Geneva agreement, it served the obvious purpose of throwing a monkey-wrench into Western plans to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for  (1) its military seizure and annexation of the Crimea; (2) its attacks in the eastern Ukraine by Russian armed forces and others under their control, who seized and continue to occupy a number of public administration buildings; and (3) its massing of 40,000-50,000 combat-ready troops on the Ukrainian border, in an obvious threat of invasion if Kiev does not accede to its demands regarding internal constitutional arrangements and other matters within its domestic jurisdiction.

The vagueness of the agreement in Geneva also leaves open to Russia the argument that the refusal of the militia and “protestors” in the government buildings seized in the eastern Ukraine is beyond their control, since Russia has no military or other forces in the eastern Ukraine, and exerts no control over the pro-Russian “demonstrators”.

Furthermore, in analyzing the conduct of Russia vis-à-vis any agreement, such as the April 17 agreement in Geneva, one must bear in mind that Russia was working very closely with Bashar al-Assad when he signed an Arab League peace agreement in November 2011, the agreements pursuant to Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043 (2012) under which al-Assad agreed to ceasefire provisions and observers to verify compliance, and the June 30, 2012 Geneva I agreement which established a process (clearly illusory) for a ceasefire and resolution of the conflict.

Al-Assad complied with none of these agreements, while blocking Western sanctions initiatives and gaining valuable time through signing them. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this history, and Russia’s diplomatic and military role in supporting the al-Assad regime, to see similar behavior now from Russia in relation to the Ukraine.

The Significance of the April 17 Geneva Agreement

At Geneva on April 17, Russia achieved a tacit recognition that its invasion of the Crimea should not be the subject of further dispute, while derailing efforts then underway to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for the behavior described above.

What the West achieved was an agreement for an expanded team of OSCE observers to deploy to the region.  They also “achieved” the illusion of progress on the ground with withdrawal of militia and “demonstrators” from public buildings they have seized and still occupy in the eastern Ukraine, and a further undertaking not to continue such seizures.

If the U.S. and the EU quickly adopt really serious sanctions, e.g., for the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and expand military moves in eastern countries of the NATO alliance, and the OSCE observers are robustly backed by the West, it is possible that the Geneva agreement of April 17 may play a useful role in defusing tensions in the eastern Ukraine.

However, it must be recognized that Putin and Russia represent a powerful military force that is moving, with great momentum, which will not be stopped or slowed until it encounters an equally strong opposing force. That force may consist of real economic sanctions that are implemented, and military moves by NATO that should make Russia think twice.

This would be a good time, for example, to launch a vigorous discussion within NATO about the need to permanently move the deployment of U.S. and other NATO troops forward to Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. U.S. troops were stationed during the Cold War within hundreds of kilometers of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, where opposing Warsaw Pact forces were stationed. Given the changes in geopolitical realities revealed by the Russian invasion of the Crimea, a strong case can now be made that to deter future Russian military aggression against member states, NATO forces should be forward-deployed to where they might have a significant military impact in deterring or halting any such action.

Real, permanent economic sanctions should now be imposed against Russia for its invasion and annexation of the Crimea. As suggested previously, a good start would be to impose a total ban on financial transactions with, or doing any other business with, companies in the Crimea, or with other companies doing business with such companies. These sanctions should have the goal of eventually reversing the effects of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and should not be lifted until those conditions are met. They are limited and proportional measures of collective self-defense, which Kiev has or will formally request from NATO, the U.S. the EU countries, and other countries.

The U.S. should adopt these sanctions immediately, because it can, while the EU should adopt these measures or the closest approximation they can reach, as soon as they can. Other NATO allies or U.S. allies, such as Canada and Australia, should adopt such measures as quickly as they can.

Can we expect such concentrated attention and concerted action from Barack Obama and Europe’s leaders?

It does not appear likely on the record they have established to date for pacifism and appeasement. If Germany is not willing to sacrifice one half of one percent of its GDP in order to impose sanctions that might help to uphold the postwar military, political and economic order, appeasement may carry the day.

But at some point, hopefully soon, they will see behind Putin’s mask, and understand that he and Russia are a force, moving with great momentum, that will not be stopped until it encounters a countervailing force of equal strength. To reach that point, we can only hope that they experience a sudden infusion of insight and political courage.

Is the effort to uphold the U.N. Charter and the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state worth what it will cost, even when we are talking about a country that is not a member of NATO or any other military alliance with the United States?

Ask the war veterans who fought in the Korean War to repel North Korean aggression.

Ask the 500,000 veterans who fought in the 1990-91 Gulf War to repel the Iraqi invasion and attempted annexation of part of Kuwait

Ask any serious student of diplomatic history or international law.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

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, April 12th, 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

Russia threatens further aggression against the Ukraine: The response of the West has been a bad joke; Putin must be stopped

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Updated and revised

Let me say quite frankly that it pains our hearts to see what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, see the people’s suffering and their uncertainty about how to get through today and what awaits them tomorrow. Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbours but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.

–Vladimir Putin, speech to Russian parliament (Duma), March 18, 2014.

The full text of the speech is found here.

The Russian Threat

Vladimir Putin made clear in his victory speech to the Russian parliament or Duma, on March 18, 2014, that he considers the Ukraine and Russia to be inseparable.

See:

Michael Thurmann, “Deckmantel der Geschichte; Wie Wladimir Putin die Vergangenheit missbraucht, um seine Politik der Gegenwart zu rechtfertigen,” Die Zeit, 4. April 2014 (18:35 Uhr).

Ulrich Speck, “Die Ukraine-Krise bedroht besonders Deutschland;
Deutschland muss empfindlich auf die Aggression Russlands reagieren. Es wird auf der Seite der Verlierer stehen, wenn wieder das Recht des Stärkeren gilt, Die Zeit, 7. April 2014.

The Response of the West

The response of the West to Russian seizure and annexation of the Crimea has been to adopt targeted personal sanctions against less than three dozen individuals in Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine (Yanukovych), and one Russian bank.

In response to these sanctions, Putin has ruled out any discussion of a rollback to the status quo ante before the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, massed 40,000 troops on the eastern and northern borders of the Ukraine, and fomented separatist demonstrations and protests in major Ukrainian cities with a large Russian-speaking population, following the same script as was used in the Crimea.

Meanwhile, the West has continued to engage in diplomatic conversations with Russia, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in constant contact with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The U.S. has been practically begging Putin not to invade eastern Ukraine, while demonstrating a shocking receptiveness, as revealed in background conversations reported in the press, to acceptance of the Russian annexation of the Crimea as a fait accompli–with no further sanctions.

The same naiveté that was in evidence when the U.S. and other Western nations totally failed to anticipate Putin’s military intervention in the Crimea is, shockingly, still operating.

Minimal sanctions were adopted after the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, with the hope that by not angering Putin and providing him with an “off-ramp”, he would not annex the Crimea.

Within days, Russia annexed the Crimea.

Now, the West with its second round of sanctions, which are tragically disproportionate to the aggression which they aim to undo, hopes that Putin will not send Russian troops into other parts of the Ukraine.

They are also making plans to make some minimal efforts on the military front to reassure front-line NATO member states, like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, of their commitment to mutual defense under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

As for the Ukraine, they are planning to undertake some joint exercises with the Ukrainian armed forces, NOT NOW, but sometime in the summer.

The Western states congratulate themselves on the “strong” measures they have imposed in their first round and second round of sanctions against less than three dozen individuals and one bank.

They have done virtually nothing to inflict real pain on Russia as leverage to force a withdrawal of forces and an undoing of the annexation of the Crimea.

Is there anything in this mix that is likely to force Putin to restore the status quo ante in the Crimea?

Hardly.

Given the weak responses of the West, is there anything in this panorama that is likely to dissuade Putin from dispatching troops to the eastern Ukraine to “protect” Russian-speaking populations from persecution and abuses?

Hardly.

Russia itself, in a replay of the Crimean script, is doing everything it can to stir up disorder in Russian-speaking areas of the Ukraine.

The “Rational Actor Fallacy”

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

“The Rational Actor Fallacy” should also be borne in mind. The entire sanctions approach of the West is based on the assumption that Russia’s actions will be decided by the functional equivalent of a single rational mind, in an analytic paradigm in which costs to Russia–present and future–will be carefully weighed in reaching any decisions.

Putin, however, has unleashed forces which he may not be able to control. His propaganda machine has generated nationalistic passions in Russia, organizational processes within the government are operating, and personal commitments by bureaucratic leaders and decision makers have been secured, all of which may inevitably lead to military intervention in the Ukraine (whether by stealth or otherwise).

If this is true, the only thing which might reverse the current momentum of events could be sharp responses by the West that are sufficient in magnitude to force reconsideration in Russia, by all of the actors involved, of decisions already taken or well in progress–which will not otherwise be reversed.

In this context, the finely-tuned calculus of costs and benefits which Obama, the EU, and NATO believe will be decisive may simply be irrelevant. There is already persuasive evidence that Russia’s long-term interests, or even Putin’s, are not having an impact on Russian behavior.

The Real Choice for the West

The greatest question is whether it might prove easier to get Putin to withdraw his forces from the eastern Ukraine after a Russian invasion than it might be to dissuade him from such further aggression, by leaving no room for doubt in his mind about the consequences of such an action, including military consequences.

One measure which might focus the minds of the adventurers currently leading Russia would be to dispatch 20,000 Western troops to the Ukraine NOW–from NATO if possible, or from France and / or the United States if unanimity among the 28 member states of NATO proves unachievable. The troops could be dispatched in response to a request from the Ukraine, in exercise of the inherent right of collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, in full accordance with international law.

Ukrainian territory–the Crimean peninsula–remains under Russian occupation following its aggression against the Ukraine.

Moreover, having abrogated the treaty arrangements which granted Russia the right to maintain a certain number of troops and its naval base at Sevastopol (the terms of which to be sure were violated during the Russian invasion), if that termination is legally valid (which is dubious), there would be no legal basis under international law for the presence of any Russian forces in the Crimea.

Russia incidentally is committing economic aggression against the Ukraine by raising the price of gas above market levels, and insisting that the Ukraine repay $11 billion in discounts which it granted to the Ukraine in exchange for an extension of the naval base agreements.

The Russian legal argument for repayment of the discounts is ludicrous, in effect claiming that they don’t owe the Ukraine any discounts under the treaty because the Crimea is a part of Russia. In other words, if you have a lease and related agreements with another country for the use of certain assets, and you invade that country and seize those assets by military force, the original obligations are void. Unbelievably, that is the Russian position.

Not one independent court in the world, domestic or international, would uphold that argument. But then the Russians are not thinking in terms of independent courts, or international law as it might be determined by an independent international tribunal.

Urgent Measures to Stop Russian Aggression

It is quite possible that the invasion of Russian-speaking regions of the Ukraine will take place in the near future, within weeks if not days, long before Europe can develop a consensus on how to block such action. This is precisely what happened in the Crimea, and there is every reasons to suppose that Putin is similarly prepared to move quickly, before effective blocking measures can be adopted by the West.

Consequently, at this very moment the West may be facing its last chance to block a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Before it is too late, NATO and the West should consider and adopt the following measures on an extremely urgent basis:

1. The first step, which should begin immediately, is for the U.S. and the EU to adopt new sanctions that would prohibit any U.S. or EU financial institution or company from handling transactions or doing business with any financial institution doing business in the Crimea, or any Russian or other company doing business in the Crimea, until such time as the annexation and military occupation have been undone, restoring the situation to the status quo ante prior to Russian military intervention.

The sanctions should be adopted as permanent sanctions which will not be lifted until the stated conditions are met.

The current EU sanctions are valid for only six months and must be renewed in order to be continued. Given this proviso, it is no wonder that Putin hasn’t taken them seriously.

Moreover, the precedent of only a six-month authorization, in Putin’s thinking and probably that of the EU nations, would also be used even if so-called “third-stage” sanctions are adopted by the EU in response to further aggression. That means that in six months Russia would only have to peel off one EU member state in order for the sanctions to lapse.

2. The second measure, which should be implemented immediately, is the dispatch to the Ukraine of 20,000 troops from NATO or individual Western countries to assist the Ukraine in its defense against current and threatened Russian aggression.

3. NATO should immediately issue a statement saying that in view of Russian aggression and the threat of further aggression against the Ukraine, its earlier statements that the use of force is not under consideration are no longer in effect, and that it will respond to any military aggression in the Ukraine in a manner which is appropriate under the circumstances.

4. Certain so-called “third-stage sanctions” should be progressively implemented over the next six months if Putin does not restore the Crimea to the status quo ante prior to the Russian invasion. The sanctions should be carefully planned, be meaningful, and progressively implemented in accordance with a time table which is made public. The message to Putin should be, loud and clear: The annexation of the Crimea will not stand.

Putin must be stopped.

The Stakes

Europeans and Americans should stop to think for a minute of the sacrifices their countrymen have already made to ensure that no further territories will be invaded or annexed–as in WW II, for example. Both the Korean war and the Gulf war were fought to uphold this principle. Many in the U.S. also believed that the Vietnam war was a response to invasion from the North (which in fact turned out to be the case, we now know).

If they do stop and think, they may come to understand that we are no longer in normal times, and that what is perhaps the greatest threat to international peace and security since the Korean war must be confronted directly, now, and if necessary by the defensive use of military force.

This is a tall order for the leaders of Europe, the U.S. and the West, who up until now have manifested strong pacifist inclinations and a willingness to consider appeasement in response to the Russian takeover of the Crimea.

But no less than this is required, if the postwar political, economic and legal order is to be upheld and maintained.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Is Putin like Hitler?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

For a strong opinion on why Russian annexation of the Crimea cannot be accepted, see Jana Puglierin, “Wir dürfen die Annexion nicht hinnehmen,” Der Spiegel, 1. April 2014.

Die Akzeptanz für Putins Annexion der Krim ist erstaunlich. Der Regelbruch darf kein Präzedenzfall werden, sonst ist es mit dem Frieden nicht nur in Europa vorbei.

A German minister’s comment that Putin had used the same methods in seizing and annexing the Crimea as Hitler had used in annexing the Sudetenland has created much consternation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

See:

(1) “Hitler-Vergleich: Schäuble verteidigt Äußerungen zur Ukraine-Krise,” Die Zeit, 4. April 2014.

“Ich bin doch nicht so blöd”: Finanzminister Schäuble versucht die Diskussion um seinen angeblichen Nazi-Vergleich zu entschärfen. Die Empörung darüber hält allerdings an – Moskau beschwert sich offiziell über die “Provokation”.

Schäuble defended his comment as taken out of context by the media. The quote which caused the uproar is reproduced below:

“Schäuble hatte bei der Veranstaltung zu Wochenbeginn Parallelen zwischen Russlands Vorgehen auf der Krim und der Annexion des Sudetenlandes 1938 durch Nazi-Deutschland gezogen. Mit Blick auf ein mögliches Szenario hatte er den Schülern gesagt: “Das kennen wir alles aus der Geschichte. Mit solchen Methoden hat schon der Hitler das Sudetenland übernommen – und vieles andere mehr.”

(2) Jan Fleischhauer, “Außenpolitik à la Putin: Gebt uns das Elsass zurück!” Der Spiegel, 3. April 2014.

“Folgt man Putins Logik, sieht die europäische Landkarte bald ganz anders aus: Erst holen wir Deutschen uns die Siedlungsgebiete in Belgien zurück, dann reden wir ein ernstes Wort mit den Franzosen.”

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

Although the statement by Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is absolutely correct on the merits, the comparison of anyone with Adolf Hitler remains highly disturbing for many Germans.

There are still those in Germany who, if only at a subconscious level, do not want to be reminded of Hitler’s crimes, or of the fact that like Putin today Adolf Hitler gained popularity from violating international law and annexing the territory of other countries.

Demonstrating the point about Putin’s propaganda machine made below, Russia responded to Schäuble’s quoted statement by telling the new German ambassador in Moscow that the statement was an impermissible “provocation”. After invading the Crimea and annexing it to Russia, Putin and his propaganda machine know no shame.

Of couse, the actual comparisons that have been made have related to the methods used by Hitler to annex the Sudetenland. One might add the annexation or Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938.

The outraged responses to any comparison of Putin and Hitler serve an important purpose, however.

They open up the question, “In what ways is Putin like Hitler?”

Putin has actively supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, thereby incurring international criminal responsibility as an accomplice to such crimes.

He has committed the international crime of launching an armed aggression against a sovereign state, the Ukraine.

He has annexed territory of another state seized through the illegal use of force in violation of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, and peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) from which there can be no derogation even by agreement between states.

He is the “butcher of the Caucasus” responsible for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chechnya.

He has suppressed fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial before an independent court.

He has invaded the territory of Georgia in 2008, and maintains Russian troops on Georgian territory today.

Finally, Putin is like Hitler in his use of propaganda. This includes “The Big Lie”. As Adolf Hitler is quoted as saying, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Putin’s use of propaganda in relation to Russian aggression against the Ukraine and its seizure and annexation of the Ukraine has employed the tried and true techniques of Hitler’s and Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda machine, as further enhanced by Soviet leaders from Lenin and Stalin up to the days of glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev.

As a formern KGB operative, Putin’s mastery of these propaganda techniques should not come as a surprise.

Nor should we be surprised by the lies being pedaled by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who assured John Kerry and the world that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity or political independence of the Ukraine just days before its military takeover of the Crimea, or the repetition of the lies of Russian propaganda by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the U.N. Security Council.

Russia has the propaganda toolbox, and has been using all of its tools in connection with Syria, first, and now the Ukraine. That represents a great similarity between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

The Need for Further Inquiry: “Is Putin like Hitler, and how?

So, the comparison between Putin and Hitler is an interesting one, and one which merits both close examination and deep reflection.

Hitler tore up the League of Nations Covenant by invading other countries, symbolized by the seizure with German tanks of the grounds of the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague in May, 1940.

Putin, if his aggression against the Ukraine is allowed to stand, threatens to overthrow the postwar political and legal order based on the United Nations Charter of 1945.

Putin seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of the Ukraine by bargaining with other states over its internal constitutional arrangements, under threats of further aggression from an estimated 40,000 troops (or more) massed on the border with Ukraine and equipped for a rapid military incursion into that country.

Russia also seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of Ukraine by raising the price of gas exports in violation of existing concession agreements between the Ukraine and Russia, which provide for discounted prices as payment for an extension of the Russian lease on Crimean installations and the stationing of the Black Sea fleet on its territory.

The Russian rebuttal of this argument is particularly cute: Since the Crimea now belongs to Russia (as a result of its aggression!), it no longer needs to honor these agreements. In other words, a legal obligation in an agreement with another country can be extinguished by invading that country and appropriating the territory and assets which are being leased.

So, let the reader inquire and reflect on the question, “In what ways is Vladimir Putin like Adolf Hitler, both in the methods used to forcibly annex foreign territories, and in other ways?”

Whatever the taboos in political discourse may be in Germany, or elsewhere, at the end of the day readers should bear in mind the truth of an old aphorism:

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Russian aggression in Ukraine: Commentary from Europe and beyond

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Some of the best commentary on the Russian military intervention in Ukraine is coming out of Europe, particularly Germany. Because Google and other search engines filter their results by language, country and your own previous search history, resulting in “The Filter Bubble” which may prevent you from seeing some of the best reporting and commentary, we will draw attention to particularly relevant articles from time to time.

The content may be accessed using Google Translate, or other translation software, which provides a pretty good though not perfect idea of the original content.

Putin has been acting like Hitler in the Sudetenland in 1938.

Regarding where we are now in the face of Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine, from which he doesn’t appear likely to back down soon, and what needs to be done to counter his aggressive policies, see:

Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Putins Weltbild aus der Vergangenheit,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8. MÄRZ 2014 (9:27 Uhr).

Wer muss sich als nächstes vor Putins Landnahme fürchten? Die Ostukraine? Das Baltikum? Die Grenzregionen der Kasachen? Falls Russland nach dem illegitimen Referendum die Krim annektiert, muss das eine Sequenz unangenehmer Botschaften des Westens zur Folge haben. Putin, dem Mann des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, muss mit den Mitteln des 21. Jahrhunderts begegnet werden.

For a penetrating analysis of Russia’s strategy in the Middle East and how the Ukraine conflict could affect developments in the region, see

NORA MÜLLER, “Nahost wäre Schauplatz des neuen Kalten Kriegs,,” Die Zeit, 10. März 2014 (20:43 Uhr).

Die Krim-Krise könnte den Beginn einer neuen Ost-West-Konfrontation markieren. Schon ist die Rede vom zweiten Kalten Krieg. In Nahost gibt es schon erste Anzeichen dafür.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Ukraine: Russian military intervention underway or likely, as Putin follows Hitler’s playbook in the Crimea

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin may have already decided to intervene militarily in the Ukraine, in order to seize the Crimea where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.

All events unfolding in the last two days are consistent with this hypothesis. He has today ordered Russian troops to block off he airport in Sebastopol, committing a flagrant act of aggression against the Ukraine in violation of the most fundamental prohibition in the U.N. Charter, contained in Article 2 paragraph 4. That article establishes the following:

Article 2

(4) All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

On the latest developments regarding Russian intervention in the Ukraine, see

“KRIM: Russische Soldaten sperren Militär-Flughafen in Sewastopol; Milizen im Flughafen in Simferopol, russisches Militär auf dem Flughafen in Sewastopol: Die Lage auf der Krim ist angespannt. Am Mittag will sich Janukowitsch äußern,” Die Zeit, 28. Februar 2014 (08:38 Uhr).

Vladimir Putin and his government appear to be following the playbook Adolf Hitler used in whipping up sentiment in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, in the lead-up to the threatened invasion and formal annexation of that province in September, 1938.

The forced annexation of the Sudetenland was ratified by Edouard Daladier of France and Neville Chamberlain of Britain in the infamous “Munich Pact” on September 29-30, 1938. Hitler invaded “rump” Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, and then Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II.

In the present case, look out for any efforts by Russia to respond with military force to calls for assistance to protect Russian citizens in the Crimea or the larger Ukraine, and any effort to use military force to re-install Yanukovych as president of the Ukraine. These would be transparent subterfuges, but similar lies have been used before.

What Putin and the old KGB boys may not fully appreciate, however, is how the Internet and social media will inevitably frustrate any Russian efforts to keep the the truth about what they are doing from public eyes, even in Russia.

The prohibition of the threat or the use of force, the cornerstone of the U.N. Charter, clearly reflected the experience of the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, a day before the invasion by Hitler’s armies that had already been ordered.

Putin is carrying out large-scale military exercises near the border with the Ukraine in an obvious effort to intimidate the leaders of the country’s new government and the West, and in an equally obvious violation of Article 2(4)’s prohibition of the threat of the use of force.

What is to be done?

1. An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council should be immediately called so that the world can focus on Russia’s flagrant violations of the international community’s most basic legal prohibition.

2. The foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France should constitute an EU crisis team which engages and coordinates European efforts to persuade Putin to pull back from the brink.

3. In Washington and Brussels draft legislation should be prepared establishing the most stringent sanctions possible against the Russian Federation and its leaders. Sanctions and an end th MFN status for Russia should be implemented at an early date if Russia does not desist from any military interference or intervention in the Ukraine.

4. The new transitional government of the Ukraine should immediately seek repeal of the law passed in recent days stripping Russian speakers of their rights to use Russian as a second language.

The law should be restored to the situation existing prior to the new law, while the government should announce that it will name a commission to study the language issue. The commission should be tasked with taking into account the positive experience of Estonia in managing a gradual transition toward the use of Estonian by all, while upholding the right of Russian-speakers to receive primary and the majority of secondary education in Russian where such schools already existed.

5. The Europeans must lead energetically, while the Americans should support their efforts with financial assistance. Above all, the United States must coordinate its efforts with those of the Europeans, and not try to call all the shots. This is no time for a repeat of Victoria Nuland’s hubris and “F… the EU” attitude.

The Trenchant Observer

Beyond Despair: Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #12 (March 16)

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

[developing]

It is easier now to understand how the European Powers and the United States looked the other way as Hitler executed all his opponents beginning in 1933-34, during the period known as the Gleichschaltung.

We have gained insight into what it was like in 1936 when the European Powers did not respond to Hitler’s militarization of the Rhineland, in flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty concluded in 1919 after World War I.

We can understand better now how the French and the English did not oppose the German Anschluss (or annexation) of Austria in March 1938, or the occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia pursuant to the Munich Pact signed by Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain and Éduouard Daladier of France on September 29-30, 1938.  Interestingly, earlier England and France had urged Czechoslovakia to resort to “mediation” with Hitler once they had decided not to go to war, and to leave Czechoslovakia to fend for itself.

We can better grasp now how the world stood by in the days that followed, after Krystalnacht on November 9-10, 1938, the night of the anti-Jewish pogroms, when Jewish businesses and synagogues were attacked throughout Germany by the SS, and the civil authorities looked on without raising a finger. Wikipedia summarized the events as follows:

At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.[2] Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers.[3] Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone), and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.[4][5]

Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world.[3] The Times wrote at the time: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”[6]

To be sure, our diplomats and foreign policy experts today don’t seem to study history (as history, as opposed to picking facts from history for case studies to illustrate theories) or diplomatic history, as they used to do–back in the days when when we had journalists like James Reston who also were deeply familiar with history.

They may not recall the famous quote by George de Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (from “Life of Reason I”).

So, presumably in the absense of this sense of history, our leaders have been prepared to watch Russia and China support the butchery of al-Assad, blocking Security Council action since their February 4 vetoes of a Security Council resolution on Syria.  Our leaders have been prepared to watch Russia continue to furnish weapons and ammunition and other matérial to al-Assad to use in the commission of these crimes, and to watch Iran continue to advise al-Assad on how to use terror to crush his opposition as was done in Iran in 2009.  They have been prepared to support “mediation” of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity with the Syrian Dictator.

And now they are prepared to sit down with Putin and Hu Jintao and share toasts with them at the next G-20 meeting in June.

Today, bringing crimes against humanity and war crimes to a halt is just one among many competing national interests.

Perhaps our acceptance of torture under Bush, and our failure to fully repudiate it by prosecuting those responsible as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, have dulled our moral senses.

We live in a world where moral outrage is now hardly even felt, or if felt does not last for more than a day.

So, here we are. We now are living in “the day after” the world turned its back on Syria, and the Syrian Dictator was permitted to proceed with the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in repressing his civilian as well as armed opposition.

Even the sanctions imposed on Syria are kind of a joke. For example, the European Union has imposed a ban on the importation or sale of gold, jewelry, and other precious metals, or Syrian cental bank activities supporting such activities. They have imposed a ban on cargo aviation to European capitals.

They didn’t even have the resolve to ban all civil aviation. That would have hurt al-Assad directly, as it would have curtained his wife’s celebratory shopping in Paris as her husband commands the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity back home.

Barack Obama, and David Cameron, and even Nicholas Sarkozy have accepted a reality in which crimes against humanity and war crimes are committed on their doorstep, in the heart of the ancient lands that surround the Mediterranean, and they are not prepared to act militarily to halt this butchery.

They didn’t do anything effective, because it was too complicated.

Cynically, they used Ban Ki-Moon and the United Nations special representative to Syria, Kofi Annan, as their shield against criticism, and as an excuse for not acting.

They didn’t even insist on bringing a resolution referring the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court to a public debate and vote in the Security Council.

Obama shamelessly used his top military and defense leaders to argue to the Congress that military intervention was not being considered, because it was too complicated, when he had not even ordered the preparation of serious military options ready to be executed on short notice. The “all options are on the table” president took military options off the table in his “sailboat diplomacy” with al-Assad. God bless him, for he must have goodness in his heart, or so we want to believe. But he doesn’t have the guts to stand and fight, for anything. Not if he faces serious opposition. Not if it will involve direct confrontation.

This was the attitude of the Western powers last summer, when they didn’t want to look at what was going on in Syria.

It was then, and remains, the shame of the world.

But a curious thing happened last summer. The Syrian people didn’t give up. They may not give up this time either.

So, it is just one more chapter in Obama’s sad series of foreign policy debacles. Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Latin America (with Chavez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador, and Morales in Bolivia).

Notwithstanding the above, hope springs eternal in the human heart. No situation is totally hopeless.

There are a few hopeful signs on the horizon with respect to Syria. First, there is a report today that defections from the military in Syria are up.

See (AFP/Bloomberg), “Syria’s bloody isolation,” The Sydney Moring Herald, March 16, 2012 (1:26PM).

Second, there is a report that the establishment of humanitarian corrridors and safe areas is still under consideration, at least by some observers.

See Benedetta Berti, “To help Syria, apply a mix of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power”; Sanctions and isolation of the Assad regime are simply allowing massacres to continue in Syria. Yet the world resists an all-out military intervention in Syria. A third option is to apply a mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power to relieve the suffering there,” The Christian Science Monitor (opinion), March 15, 2012.

Meanwhile, we need to not turn our glance away, but rather to follow closely, day by day, the details of the hell the Syrian Dictator is inflicting on his people–the dozens and sometimes hundreds who are dying every day, in utter defiance of every rule of civilization and international law.

And if the ICC has not yet been invested by the Security Council with jurisdiction over the crimes being committed in Syria, perhaps at least there is one country–somewhere–that might initiate judicial proceedings against Bashar al-Assad, his brother and other accomplices to these atrocities, in exercise of the universal jurisdiction against such crimes that is permitted under international law to be exercised by individual states, provided their domestic legislation so permits.

It is a sad moment when we look in the mirror and see who we really are, as a nation, as an alliance.

Obama’s restless attention will turn to something else.  But the world, and history, will not forget.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

***

How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

***

August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

On this date, 43 years ago, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia, putting down with its tanks what its own broken ideology could no longer extinguish–ideals of freedom of the press and personal liberty free from the oppressive weight of a totalitarian state.

Those ideals and dreams survived, and triumphed.

See The Trenchant Observer,
“August 20, 1969 — “Dubček, Svoboda!” (Personal Takes)”
August 20, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Alexander DubcekPersonal Takes

I had a picture of Alexander Dubček on my wall when I was a student studying international law. He represented the hope of many in Czechoslovakia and beyond that the communist party might evolve from within. He and the President of Czechoslovakia, Ludvik Svoboda (whose last name meant “freedom” in Czech), were for a brief moment during “the Prague Spring” the team that stood for the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, within a communist party and under a communist government.

The threat was too great for the leaders of the Soviet Union, and after a summer of feints and betrayals and illusions, they sent their tanks across the frontier into the sovereign territory of Czechoslovakia, on August 20, 1968.

29 years earlier, Adolph Hitler had sent his tanks into Prague, following the betrayal of Chamberlain at Munich which recognized the annexation of the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia settled by ethnic Germans.

In March 1938, the linking together or annexation (“Anschluss”) of Austria was consummated at the barrel of a gun. The infamous Munich Pact followed on September 30, ceding the Sudetenland to Germany. On March 15, 1939 Germany invaded and took direct control of the rest of Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, followed months later, setting off World War II.

These events, for a young international lawyer, seemed together to define the core values of the structure and body of international law and institutions, which had begun following a terrible “world war” in the 17th century, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which at the Peace of Westphalia and through the pen of Hugo Grotius gave birth to the modern system of nation states and to the basic framework of principles and norms of international law.

The devastation and suffering that took place during The Thirty Years’ War underlined the need for rules governing the relations of princes and states. Three centuries later Hitler’s Anschluss and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia defined, in a sense, the core values of international law.

Those core values, which had become clear by the 20th century, included the sanctity of the human person and the principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the political independence or territorial integrity of any state, except in self defense.

These values were defined by their utter violation, in much the same way that Albert Camus found that moral values were created by their brutal violation by Hitler’s armies and the Gestapo before and during World War II. Camus, who as editor of the French resistance newspaper Libération was a leader in the French resistance, articulated–particularly in “The Rebel” and his novel “The Plague”—a vision of how values acquired their substance and contours not through abstract logic, but more directly through the experience of the horrors of their violation.

So today, on August 20, 2010, let us salute the courage of Dubček and Svoboda in their struggle to put “a human face” on socialism. Years later, their countryman, Václav Havel, gave expression to the dream of freedom of the Prague Spring generation in a voice that resonated through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and throughout the world. Havel became President of Czechoslovakia as a result of “the Velvet Revolution” in 1989.

I remember how in 1968, after the Soviet tanks had crushed the Prague Spring and the autonomous government of Alexander Dubček, it occurred to me that if there were ever a reform from within the Communist party led by a Soviet Dubček, there would be no Soviet tanks to crush the reform. As it turned out, I was only half right. Twenty years later, Mikhail Gorbachev, introducing glasnost and perestroika, led such a reform. Boris Yeltsin put down the reaction by overcoming tanks in 1991, leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

For insight into the Prague Spring, see Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), and the 1988 American movie of the same title, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
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Comments are invited.