Posts Tagged ‘syria’

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

ISIS or ISIL? A telling tale of the primacy of words over actions in Obama’s foreign policy

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

President Barack Obama has been very careful to enunciate clearly the acronym of the terrorist organization whose forces have taken Mosul and have been rapidly advancing toward Baghdad. ISIL, or “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” is the official U.S. nomenclature for this group.

Others, if not most outside the government, call the group “ISIS”, or “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

The actual name of the organization in Arabic is

الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام or داعش (dāʿiš). The pronunciation of the Arabic acronym is something like “Da eesh”.

See Patrick J. lyons and Mona El-Maggar, “What to Call Iraq Fighters? Experts Vary on S’s and L’s; Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant?” New York Times, June 18, 2014.

The nuances of meaning in the two alternate names, neither of which contains a precise translation of the Arabic word “al-Sham”, is a matter of some intellectual interest.

But when Obama spelled out “eye ess eye ell” for the TV cameras, he was stressing that he knew the correct name for this group, and that we should learn to say it correctly.

Or perhaps it was just so new to him, despite the last year’s events in Syria and Western Iraq, that he was simply trying to get it right himself.

Does it matter? In a theoretical sense, there could be an issue as to whether the goals of the group are to establish a caliphate “in Iraq and Greater Syria (which encompasses Lebanon), or in a much broader but not clearly-defined region, “the Levant”. The term includes parts of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel and the Left Bank. The term was used 100 or 200 years ago by European colonial powers, but has fallen out of usage, in part because of its colonialist overtones.

But is the translation of an acronym really the right place to sort this out?

The Arabic refers to “al-Sham”, which itself has a vague meaning in historical usage, but at least it starts with “S”.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the military, political and diplomatic aspects of the crisis, rather than the linguistic ones?

Does Obama have any sense of what is salient, at this particular moment, and what must be decided and executed today?

Or is he lost in an academic world where what ultimately counts is a brilliant analysis, articulated in well-crafted words? Or is he, or is he at the same time, lost in a legislator’s sense of time, where all issues seemingly can be visited again?

The president seems far removed from the ominous requirements of decisive action and consequences which Dwight D. Eisenhower faced on the eve of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, or which John F. Kennedy faced as Soviet warships carrying nuclear missiles bore down on Cuba in October, 1962.

In any event, what is salient and requires urgent decision, now, is certainly not to insist on “ISIL” when everyone else is using “ISIS”.

It is actions, and actions taken at the right moment, that will determine the outcome of the current crisis in Iraq and Syria.

Had Obama acted two and a half years ago with even a minimal use of force to halt Bashar al-Assad’s massive war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, we probably wouldn’t even be talking today about Iraq falling apart because of ISIS or ISIL.

You could call the group “The Flying Rocket Men”, for all the difference the name makes.

As for The Observer, I’ll stick with ISIS, or “Da’ish”.

The Trenchant Observer

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

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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

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America’s shame: By-passing Europe to meet with Lavrov before NATO foreign ministers meeting aimed at stiffening response to Russian aggression in Ukraine

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

It has taken a day of reflection to fully grasp America’s perfidious betrayal of Europe in hastily agreeing to bilateral talks on Sunday with Russia, on the eve of a EU summit.

Obama is no longer, if he ever was, a leader of the Free World who could be trusted to not go behind the backs of his alliance partners to cut a side deal with Russia.

He demonstrated this by selling out the Syrian resistance, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when he cut a deal with Russia for the withdrawal of chemical weapons from Syria.

Now, as Europe gathers for a NATO Foreign ministers meeting at which responses to Russian aggression In the Ukraine are to be discussed, Obama has undercut the common position of the U.S. and Europe vis-a-vis Russia by agreeing to bilateral talks with Russia to defuse the Ukrainian crisis.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered on the border of the Ukraine, and Putin threatening to send them into the eastern Ukraine and/or Moldova, Obama has agreed to hold bilateral talks with Russia, which at this moment has seized and annexed the Ukraine in violation of the most fundamental prohibitions of the Unied Nations Charter.

Merely talking to Russia sends a powerful signal to Putin: His aggression has paid off, and further aggression promises to pay off more. He can send troops into other countries, and the Americans will still jump at any opportunity to discuss his further demands–at the end of the barrel of a gun.

When the U.S. and Europe should be implementing permanent sanctions against Russia for what it has already done, a pacifist Obama pleads with Russia not to commit further acts of aggression.

The minimal sanctions which should be imposed now, and not lifted until the Russian seizure and annexation of the Crimea has been reversed, include a total ban on doing business with any company or finanial institution which conducts business in the Crimea.

This measure should stay in place for 50 years, if necessary, until Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine is reversed.

50 years Is about how long it took to reverse the Soviet aggression and annexation of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Russia will not agree to that, some say. Who could naively expect an aggressor, with armies on the march, to agree to anything except its further demands?

Such a measure, and others, however, are needed now to communicate forcefully to Putin and his band of war criminals (it is an international crime to launch a war of aggression) that the military takeover of the Crimea will not stand.

For a broader view of the current crisis with Russia, see

Joschka Fischer, “Europa, bleibe hart,”Suddeutscher Zeitung, 30. marz 2014.

Die EU muss anerkennen, dass sie nicht nur eine Wirtschaftsunion, sondern auch ein machtpolitischer Akteur ist. Wenn sie Putin jetzt nachgibt, dient sie nicht dem Frieden. Dann ermutigt sie Russlands Präsidenten, den nächsten Schritt zu tun.

The Trenchant Observer

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Fear of Provoking the Aggressor: Obama, Putin, and the West

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Washington’s difidence in responding to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment, out of fear of provoking Russia to engage in further military aggression in the Ukraine (or elsewhere), reveals how deeply pacificist beliefs have permeated from the top into U.S. military and civilian leadership circles. Or, alternatively, it has demonstrated how effective a pacificist President in the U.S. has been in checking the normal upward flow of analysis, options, and proposals from military and civilian leaders.

The absence of Secretary of State John Kerry from the inner group of decision makers in Washington has been remarkable, suggesting he has been relegated to a preipheral role of flying all around the world and meeting with leaders, without having a seat at the dining room table where major decisions are made. One consequence of his absence is that the analyses and options developed by the State Department have no powerful defender at the White House. This kind of influence cannot be exercised by teleconference.

So, after the military seizure of the Crimea by Russia, what does it tell us that Obama is so concerned about provoking the Russian aggressor that he won’t even send military equipment to the Ukraine in response to its urgent request, which has been placed “under study”?

To the Observer, it suggests that Obama has been cowed by Putin in terms of taking actions beyond the mild targeted economic sanctions so far imposed by Europe and the U.S.–aimed at less than three dozen individuals and one bank.

Obama solves problems with beautifully crafted torrents of words. Putin seizes opportunities by stealth, lies and the decisive movement of troops and tanks.

It’s clear now that the sanctions imposed by the West have been “too little, too late”. If so-called “stage three” sanctions (real trade and financial sanctions directed against Russia itself) had been imposed immediately following the Russian military seizure of the Crimea, it is possible that Putin might have hesitated before proceeding to annex the peninsula.

For that matter, maybe Putin has already decided to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine, and to use military force to prevent Ukriane’s movement toward integration into the European Union.

Thus, for the moment, like Nevellie Chamberlain and Èdouard Daladier at Munich in September 1938, the U.S. appears to feel there is no alternative other than to cower before the aggresor.

At that point, of course, the aggressor has already won half the battle, which turns decisively on the will and determination of his opponents to stand up against further acts of aggression, through effective means.

With Obama now willing to have his Secretary of State meet with the Russian foreign minister to seek agreements that will forestall further Russian aggression–while rolling back its military seizure of the Ukraine is off the table, we can see clearly how a pacificst president continues to lead his nation down the road of appeasement.

See Anne Gearan, “U.S. seeks detente with Russia over Ukraine with Kerry, Lavrov to meet in Paris,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2014.

The sad truth is that Obama and his foreign policy team are not capable of leading the West — alone — in the current crisis with Russia, following the latter’s seizure and annexation of the Crimea.

To meet bilaterally with Russia at this time, on these implicit terms, reflects Obama’s pacificism and constitutes a total act of further appeasement. Putin astutely has tried to peel off the U.S. from Europe, two days before NATO foreign ministers meet to decide upon a stronger response to Russia’s aggression. Obama, clueless, plays right into Putin’s attempt to divide the Western alliance.

The U.S. should meet with Russia, if at all, only if it is joined by representatives from EU and NATO governments, and then only if the restoration of the status quo ante prior to the Russian military takeover of Crimea is on the table for discussion.

We have seen how ready Obama is to sell out his allies, particularly in the case of the agreement in Geneva with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. That agreement let Obama off the hook in terms of military strikes against Syria after the latter’s use of chemical weapons. But it also sold out the Syrian resistance and the strongest allies of the United States in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.

See “The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump,” The Trenchant Observer, September 12, 2013.

Europeans and other NATO members, to safeguard their own interests and those of the West, should insist that they participate fully in any discussions involving Russia and the United States.

The pacifist mind-set which reigns in Washington is completely revealed by the agreement to hold bilateral talks between Kerry and Lavrov on Sunday. The move starkly undercuts the actions German Chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are taking to develop a strong European consensus to opppose Russian aggression.

Obama seems far too ready to let stand the Russian military aggression and takeover of the Crimea, and get back to business as usual.

He is quite prepared to negotiate with the aggressor over whether Russia will commit further acts of aggression, under continued Russian military threats represented by tens of thousands of troops menacingly poised on the border with the Ukraine.

The moral bankruptcy of Barack Obama and the Obama administration has never been more fully on view.

The Trenchant Observer

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Thinking out loud: Obama’s war of words in the face of Russian aggression

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

President Obama has now gone out of his way twice to assert that the U.S. and by implication NATO would not use military force in the Ukraine.

This calls to mind a statement made by the U.S. in 1950 that appeared to exclude Korea from the zone of countries the U.S. was ready to use force to defend. Not long after, North Korea invaded the South, launching the Korean War.

Obama is saying reckless things, like NATO will not consider the use of force in the Ukraine, under any circumstances.

Obama doesn’t know anything about diplomatic and military history, apparently, or perhaps he is just so taken with the power of his own intellect that he feels no need to draw insights from the lessons of history.

In foreign policy, he is out of his element, all the while seeking to exercise tight control over every aspect of foreign policy from the White House.

Moreover, he can’t shut up, and keeps on talking, using words which from his manner of delivery he evidently believes have unusual persuasive force. And he always talks down to his audience.

His continuing statements can be quite dangerous. For example, for what conceivable purpose of state could he have referred to Russia as a “regional power” in his recent speech in Brussels?

Doesn’t he understand that with Putin we are dealing with an individual with delusions of grandeur, whose delusions have already led to aggression and the rending of the postwar legal and political order?

Such loose words could provoke Putin and his cronies to “show Obama” by pushing militarily into eastern Ukraine. When you are dealing with someone acting in a delusional state, might it not be wise to carefully choose your words?

It is worth recalling that the United Nations was founded on the idea that the use of force was prohibited except in individual or collective self-defense. The idea was not simply that countries would defend each other when they were members of a mutual defense alliance such as NATO, but that they would also come to the defense of other nations when the latter were attacked. The hoped-for response would be action through the Security Council, but Article 51 collective defense actions were also admitted.

The critical concept is that countries may and should come to the collective self-defense of a country which is the victim of aggression.

If Russia invades the rest of the Ukraine, other countries should be prepared to come to the Ukraine’s defense.

We don’t need a naive and incompetent president assuring the Russians that they can invade the Ukraine and will meet no resistance.

Poland, for example, could come to the defense of Ukraine if so requested. If Russia were to then attack Polish forces, particularly in Poland, that could potentially trigger the collective self-defense obligations of other NATO states under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

Obama also said he worried a lot more about a nuclear bomb going off in New York City than he did about the regional power that Russia has become. Perhaps the president should review the number of nuclear weapons Russia has aimed at the U.S. including NYC, and take care that the nuclear bomb he fears does not come–whether by accident or design–from Russia or North Korea.

It is absurd to refer to Russia as merely a “regional power” when it has thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the U.S.

Obama should stop talking, and communicate his messages to Mr. Putin through coordinated sanctions and other actions with EU and NATO partners.

A good place to start would be to ask Congress to immediately repeal most-favored nation trade status for the import of Russian goods and services to the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

To influence Putin: Strong action by the West is required—Analysis and further commentary on the Ukraine

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Crimea is going ahead with its referendum, on Sunday, on whether it wants to be annexed by Russia. The Russian parliament or Duma is poised to annex the Crimea next week.

Vladimir Putin is now making decisions on the Ukraine only with a small inner circle of hawkish advisers heading the nation’s various security Forces. He is apparently not listening to foreign minister Sergey Lavrov or foreign ministry officials.

There are only two decisions which just possibly might be averted or reversed before they are finally made.

The first is whether to immediately proceed to have the Duma vote to annex the Crimea, following the referendum on Sunday.

The second is whether to continue to stir up strife in the Eastern Ukraine in order to provide a pretext for Russian military intervention beyond the Crimea.

Without the Crimea, pro-Western parties are quite likely to win the Ukrainian national elections scheduled for May 25, resulting in a decisive turn toward the West and eventual membership in the European Union, if not NATO. These factors will inevitably figure in Putin’s decisions in the coming days and weeks.

The last chance to influence these decisions, at least in the short term, depends on the seriousness of the responses of the West to the Sunday referendum in the Crimea.

Step 2 (of 3) of the sanctions response of the EU is likely to be decided upon Monday in Brussels, and next week in Washington. Unless the sanctions are really sharp, including a number of recently-imagined “Step 3″ sanctions, they are not likely to be seen by Putin as anything other than a sign of weakness on the part of Europe and the West.

Paradoxically, the best chance for Europe and the West to avoid a total breakdown in economic and commercial relations with Russia depends on their imposing very stiff sanctions now. If Putin changes course, they can be relaxed.

It should be clearly understood in the West, however, that Obama’s risible statements that there will be “costs” or “consequences” if the Russians don’t back down are probably seen in Moscow as a show of utter weakness.

Obama’s fine intellectual distinctions and diffidence in his choice of words in all likelihood only confirm Putin’s belief that Obama is a weak character, unable even to pull the trigger on military strikes against Syria in response to al-Assad’s crossing His “red line” by using chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013 (and actually much earlier, on multiple occasions).

It is time for Obama and Europe’s leaders to speak forthrightly, and to eschew the diplomatic and euphemistic niceties that now make no sense, if they ever did, in dealing with a rogue state which has committed naked aggression against the Ukraine.

Russia has seized part of its territory by military force, employing subterfuge, lies, and “The Big Lie” that Russian citizens and Russian-speaking Ukrainians were the object of threats and attacks against their lives and safety. Moreover, Russia continues to threaten further aggression, while moving troops and engaging in military exercises near the Ukrainian border to back up its threats.

We are no longer dealing with the logic of words and hopes to persuade by logic, in dealing with men who have taken over the territory of another country, and who menacingly threaten to expand the geographical scope of their military intervention.

As suggested here earlier, NATO should not only express receptiveness to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment and intelligence cooperation, made by its prime minister in his meetings with President Obama in Washington on Thursday, but also indicate clearly that the request will be granted if Russia proceeds with annexation of the Crimea.

To forestall further Russian aggression in other parts of the Ukraine, NATO should actively consider and make contingency plans for moving 10,000 to 20,000 troops into the Ukraine, in response to any request from the latter for assistance in exercise of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

This is not a time to focus, first of all, on what individual countries might or might not be willing to do, but rather a moment to assess the requirements of the situation if desired results are to be achieved, and to reflect deeply on the consequences of failure.

Above all, it is a time for action.

It is not a time for announcing actions that will or may be taken in the future, but rather the occasion for implementation of really tough and far-reaching sanctions, to take effect immediately or in the shortest time possible.

With armies on the move and Putin caught in the “groupthink” of a small circle of hardline national security chiefs, anything less is not likely to capture his attention.

A further point is of fundamental importance. Only the strongest of sanctions are likely to bolster the position of officials within Putin’s government who have a broader understanding of the world and the dire consequences continuing aggression are likely to bring down on Russia. Strong action by the West is required, above all, to shift the constellation of advisers which surround Putin (and the views they represent), and consequently the flow of information and advice upon which he bases his understanding of the situation and decides to take action.

Thus, to pierce Putin’s delusional bubble, to broaden his sources of information and advice, and to counter the “groupthink” which appears to hold him and his narrow circle of national security advisers in its grip, the West must act forcefully, enacting strong sanctions and taking other hard actions, with immediate effect.

For countries deciding how tough the measures can be which they will take, one final consideration should weigh heavily in the balance. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence from the Russian Federation and the United States, guaranteed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk eloquently argued at the Security Council meeting on March 13, if Russian military intervention in the Crimea is allowed to stand, no nation in the future will agree to give up nuclear weapons.

Consequently, in addition to the more obvious issues, the nuclear non-proliferation regime hangs in the balance, as do the 5 + 1 talks, and whether Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state.

Recent Opinion and Commentary

For illuminating commentary on the Ukraine crisis, and the long-term impact of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine both forn him and for Russia, see the following articles:

(1) “Ukraine Crisis: Putin, the Loser”

Nikolaus Blome(Kommentar), “Ukraine-Krise: Putin, der Verlierer,” Der Spiegel, 14 Marz 2014 (11:11 Uhr).

(2) “The Agent in his Labyrinth”

Roger Cohen, “The Agent in His Labyrinth, New York Times, March 13, 2014.

(3) “Obama Has Made America Look Weak”

John McCain, “Obama Has Made America Look Weak (John McCain on Responding to Russia’s Aggression),” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

(4) “Putin’s ‘Honest Brokers’”

Maxim Trudolyubov, “Putin’s Honest Brokers,” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

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