Posts Tagged ‘syria’

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

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

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

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 Ukriane (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 in the 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 Ukraine.

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

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

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

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Washington looks to Angela Merkel for leadership on Ukraine

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

The U.S. welcomes Germany’s leadership on in the Ukrainian crisis, the leading German news magazine Der Spiegel reported today.

See Sebastian Fischer (Washington), “Ukraine: USA geben Führungsrolle in Krim-Krise an Merkel ab,” Der Spiegel, 12. Marz 2014 (7:09 Uhr).

US-Präsident Obama empfängt Mittwoch seinen ukrainischen Kollegen Jazenjuk – ein starkes Symbol. Doch mehr eben auch nicht: Amerika scheint machtlos angesichts der geopolitischen Gelüste Wladimir Putins. Die Schlüsselrolle spielt die deutsche Kanzlerin.

See also

“Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda,” The Trenchant Observer,
March 7, 2014.

“UKRAINE: Merkel wirft Russland Raub der Krim vor,” Die Zeit, Aktualisiert 11. März 2014 (20:15 Uhr)

Die Kanzlerin kritisiert die russische Ukraine-Politik. Präsident Gauck wirft Putin eine Eskalation der Krise vor. Russland begrüßt die Unabhängigkeitserklärung der Krim.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Updated March 7, 2014

Western leaders have made three major blunders since the Russian military takeover of the Crimea first began on or around February 25.

Telephone Calls to Putin

First, they have engaged in a series of telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Obama’s calls to Putin, who is reliably reported to detest him, have had no positive effect and may well have stiffened his resistance to the conciliatory proposals from the West. Even Angela Merkel’s calls directly to Putin have probably been ill-advised.

Such calls may in some circumstances be useful if their occurrence and content is kept private. While they may satisfy a hunger for instant gratification in the age of the Internet, decisions to deploy tanks and military ships are not likely to be reversed by e-mails or telephone calls, which between heads of government are probably heavily scripted, and further distorted by the use of interpreters.

Moreover, formal written communications have the advantage of permitting a wider range of officials with different perspectives to participate in their review and offering suggestions for response. Both with Putin and with Obama, and probably other government leaders as well, the quality of the exchange is likely to be improved by wider internal review and additional time to formulate policy and decisions.

On the Charlie Rose show on March 5, Henry Kissinger provided a powerful explanation of why direct communications between heads of government is usually a poor idea. This seems to be all the more true in a crisis like the one in the Ukraine, folllowing Russian military intervention in the Crimea, which remains under Russian military control and occupation.

Today, again, we learn that Obama called Putin and during a substantive call made no progress.

See “Ukraine-Krise: Putin bleibt hart in Telefonat mit Obama; Eine Stunde lang haben Putin und Obama die Lage auf der Krim beredet. Doch an dem Kurs des russischen Präsidenten hat das nichts geändert – er sagt: Russland dürfe die Hilferufe aus der Ukraine nicht ignorieren,” Der Spiegel, 7. Marz 2014 (6:45)

Generally, particularly in the case of Obama, such telephone calls and background briefings on their content are used as part of a campaign to show others Obama is doing something and Putin is being unreasonable.

Urgent Advice: Take the telephone away from Obama. He has not charmed or persuaded Putin, and he isn’t going to.

(Quote from Kissinger)

Trying to Force the Russians to meet with Ukrainian Officials

The second mistake Western diplomats have made in recent days is to try to force the Russians to sit down at the same table and talk to representatives from the new government in Kiev. This has been a huge blunder, confusing the goals of process with those of substance. The substantive but secondary goal is to get Russia to recognize the government in Kiev. The primary goal should be to persuade the Russians to cease and desist from further provocative actions in the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine, whether executed directly by Russians or Russian-speaking supporters. Such actions could–whether by design or inadvertence–ignite the flames of war.

In short, the highest substantive goal in the next few days should be to halt the Russians’ provocations and inflamation of passions. The second substantive goal should be to obtain formal Russian acceptance of OSCE and other observers, and to provide formal guarantees of their physical safety.

The ill-advised efforts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians before the stage is set, and the Russians want to, only aggravates the circumstances in which substantive diplomatic activity can take place.

These attempts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians reflect the same demented logic according to which simply getting the al-Assad goverment to meet with the opposition at the Geneva II Conference in June would somehow produce a miraculous breakthrough. It didn’t, and it was foolish to think that it could.

American Efforts to Assert its Leadership in Rsponding to Russia

The third development, unfortunate in the extreme, is that the United States is now seeking the mantle of leadership of the West in relations with Russia in connection with the crisis.

American policy in the Ukraine has not been an unqualified success, with Victoria Nuland’s “F… the EU” cell phone call revealing both deep American involvement with the opposition and disdain for EU leaders and their efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

And it hasn’t stopped. Only days sgo, a high U.S. official (a woman) was quoted on background in the German press as being highly critical of Angela Merkel, who was far too slow and deliberative in this official’s view. Such American officials do not understand the requirements of diplomacy, and should be immediately removed from the policy making process.

On March 7, 2014, on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Donilon, the former National Security adviser, stressed the importance now of the United States’ reasserting its leadership of the West.

The problem here is that Obama and his foreign policy team have been largely incompetent in dealing with the most urgent foreign policy questions of the last five years. While John Kerry has his strengths (and weaknesses), and Samantha Power provides capable and clear-eyed leadership as Ambassador to the U.N., Obama continues to maintain tight White House control over the making and execution of foreign policy. We and the world, looking at the cumulative evidence, know he is not very good at it. For example, Angela Merkel shared with Obama her perception from talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone that he was “in another world”. Obama promptly leaked this quote to the world, which was probably not helpful in terms of influencing Putin.

With respect to the Ukraine, Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia undid the measures George W. Bush had implemented to punish Russia for its military intervention in Georgia–without any change in Russian behavior or resolution of the issues in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in enclaves in what amounts to de facto recognition of the fruits of Russian aggression.

Moreover, if Obama had not blinked at the moment of truth when he needed to pull the trigger to launch missiles against Syria, following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2014, Putin in his calculations might have taken the U.S. more seriously and never launched his military takeover of the Crimea.

The Observer’s advice is, “If you’re going to drive from behind (or slumber in the back seat), stay in the back seat and let others who know how to drive drive the car.”

Only two and a half weeks ago, the German, Polish and French foreign ministers hammered out a transition agreement whereby Yanukovych would yield partial power to a transitional government. To be sure, the deal fell apart when the Ukrainian negotiators could not deliver the crowd at the Maidan, the regime collapsed, the parliament relieved the president of his office, and the latter fled first Kiev and then the country. Still, the agreement was a brilliant piece of statecraft.

In the present situation, Obama is in no position to give Vladimir Putin lectures on international law, a concept which the president has only recently introduced into his discourse. Obama’s failure to prosecute officials responsible for torture as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture, his continuing use of drone strikes frequently in apparent violation of international law (particularly outside the war theater of Afghanistan and Pakistan), the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo, and NSA’s massive surveillance around the world in violation of constitutions and international law, all strongly suggest Obama is not the best leader to take the lead in the media in making the legal case against Russia.

The U.S. also has a troubled record of its own interventions, including those in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) which were justified, at least in part, under the rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”.

Germany is a better choice. The U.S. can take the lead with France and Britain in the Security Council.

That is not to say the U.S. in the U.N. and elsewhere should not make the strongest possible legal arguments against the Russian military intervention, in writing. It only means that the U.S. should carefully coordinate its efforts with the Europeans, and avoid undercutting Angela Merkel’s leadership, in the media.

This is not a time for a lot of wordsmithing and speeches and statements by Barack Obama and his administration. The focus, instead, should be on presenting serious and detailed legal memoranda in relevant forums, and on taking concrete actions such as imposing sanctions with real teeth on Russia and Russians.

Consideration should also be given to imposing EU and U.S. travel bans, and more, on individuals in the Crimea who have actively collaborated with Moscow in its military takeover, and who have joined efforts to provoke a secession from Ukraine and annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

The U.S. should work to coordinate its actions with the EU, and to persuade EU leaders behind closed doors, but should let Angela Merkel lead and coordinate the European response to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Ukraine. The Germans and the Poles know the Ukraine, and Putin, far better than does the U.S., and should be allowed to lead. Merkel is the most powerful and respected leader in Europe, has an important relationship with Putin, and also has the experience and insights gained from having grown up in East Germany when it was a police state under Soviet domination.

As suggested above, even as Merkel leads, the U.S can push hard on implementing sanctions while still setting forth its international law arguments in written form, presenting them to the Security Council and also publshing them elsewhere.

Summary of Recommendations

In sum, the Observer’s advice is:

1. Stop the telephone diplomacy with Putin.

2. Don’t try to force the Russians to talk to the Ukrainians before the stage is set, and the Russians have assumed a more conciliatory posture as a result of pressure from the EU and the U.S. The Ukraine’s fate will be decided by the major powers, though the actions of the Ukrainian government will have great import. The biggest challenge for the West is to forge unity behind strong positions, avoiding disarray which can only work to Russia’s advantage.

3. Obama should let Germany, and France and Poland, lead. Obama has important cards to play, but he should keep them close to his vest, and not go channeling his thought processes to the press on background or on TV, through Ben Rhodes or other government officials. He should speak instead with actions, as he did today with the announcement of the first sanctions against Russia and Russians, to take immediate effect.

Among the most important of these actions would be to publish serious and detailed legal memoranda rebutting Russian legal justifications and setting out clealy how its military intervention in the Ukraine has violated international law’s most important prohibitions, as well as treaties and agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

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

The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

The new hybrid pacifism

The new, hybrid pacifism of Barack Obama and NATO countries has been obscured by Obama’s use of drones, and military operations begun long ago but now winding down in Afghanistan.

The military intervention of France and NATO in Libya pursuant to a U.N. Security Council mandate represented an exception to the general pacifism which characterizes Obama’s foreign policy, an exception and now rare case (outside of Africa) where military action is undertaken pursuant to authorization by the U.N. Security Council.

Other interventions by France and U.N. and African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic have reflected the paradoxical nature of current pacifist policies, which are hybrid in nature, admitting the use of military force to stabilize situations in African countries when there is a Security Council mandate or an invitation by the government of the target country.

However, often hiding behind simplistic interpretations of legal prohibitions, in effect ruling out the strong use of military force against powerful opponents when real blood and treasure must be put at risk, the new hybrid pacifism has the effect of ceding the playing field to ruthless countries such as Syria, Iran and Russia, allowing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and military invasions to effectively go unopposed.

On legal interpretations and justifications, see Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, “Stepping Back a Moment – The Legal Basis in Favour of a Principle of Humanitarian Intervention,” EJIL Talk, September12, 2013.

The U.S. and other NATO countries, reeling from their losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for their sacrifices, don’t want to live in a world where real military force may have to be used.

So they rule it out. U.S. and NATO military leaders, seemingly unaware of the impact of their words on adversaries, loudly proclaim they are ruling out the possible use of military force. This has occurred not only in the Ukraine, but also and repeatedly in Syria. These statements, like those of U.S. military leaders stressing the difficulty of taking military action in Syria, are essentially aimed at domestic audiences and allied governments while naively ignoring their impact on opponents.

Furthermore, it is painful to see military and NATO leaders allow themselves to get drawn into political debates, in public. These discussions should be conducted behind closed doors, without leaks to the press about what is going on or what leaders are thinking with respect to military action.

In Syria, this new, hybrid pacifism has been obscured behind cynical acceptance of Kofi Annan’s illusory six-point peace plan for Syria (and the promise of political settlement at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences), and behind the simplistic legal argument that the U.N. Charter prohibits any military action (except self-defense) without the approval of the Security Council, even to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, as in Syria.

Under this interpretation, Russia would have been allowed to install nuclear missiles aimed at the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963, the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia would never have been halted, and Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 would have been allowed to proceed.

In a future world (after the Permanent Members’ veto has been eliminated), adherence to such a norm would be essential. In the meantime, we must rely on the closest approximations possible, limiting any such actions to the most narrowly circumscribed cases, where there is overwhelming support by the nations of the world for the action to be undertaken, and preferably when it is carried out under the authorization of another international organization.

In any event, this new form of hybrid pacifism has taken hold in America and NATO countries. As a result, Bashar al-Assad has been left free to commit his atrocities, which include not only the bombardment of civilian populations including hospitals and medical personnel, but also the arrests, torture, and executions in the night which do not make the daily news, and of which those who follow events closely only hear much later from international organizations when the latter report, for example, that maybe 80,000 people have “disappeared”.

Another, highly significant result has been Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine in February and March, 2014. This aggression follows that in Georgia in 2008, which NATO and the West allowed to stand, conducting business as usual with Russia afterwards. To be sure, Georgia was not blameless in the evolution of events. However, in the end Russian aggression through the illegal use of force across international frontiers was allowed to stand, without serious consequences for Russia.

Russia’s calculus in the Ukraine might have been very different had Anders Rasmussen, the Secretary General of NATO, not assured his members–and Russia–that options involving the use of force by NATO were not under consideration, and if, for example, NATO countries had put their military forces on alert, and NATO naval and air assets been strategically deployed within the region.

Now, however, absent a determined will to deploy force against the illegal threat or use of force, the pacifist leaders of the U.S. and Europe, and other NATO countries, must now resign themselves to the depredations of a Russian leader willing to invade neighboring countries in utter defiance of international law, and indeed the foundations of the post-WW II international legal and political order.

Given the current pacifism of the West, and given the fact that major consequences for Russia have already been triggered by its military intervention in the Ukraine, there is little to dissuade Putin from similarly using his military power to bring Georgia and Moldova (and other former Soviet Republics) back within the Russian “sphere of influence” or community of states.

China supports Russia, suggesting that it too might in the future be willing to settle its disputes with its neighbors through the use of military force.

Nonetheless, we need to recall certain hard-won lessons from history.

International law and order are in the end indivisible, for if the prohibition of the threat or use of force can be defied with impunity by one country in one part of the world, surely it can be defied by other countries elsewhere. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1983, it is worth recalling, the military operation was named “Operation Goa”, recalling the precedent set by India when it invaded the Portuguese colony and enclave of Goa in 1961.

Obama’s pacifism, and that of Europe and NATO, have left a vacuum in Europe which Vladimir Putin appears ready to fill with Russian military forces. Even if his actions are delusional, and make no sense in reality as the latter is understood in the West, they have already had momentous consequences which will reshape economic and political relations in Europe and beyond for decades to come.

Further, Putin’s actions have produced a situation in which the Ukraine has become a tinderbox, while madmen are running around with torches in their hands.

War is by its very nature wholly unpredictable. What could happen, for example, if Russians started killing Ukrainians, and Poland decided to send military forces to support Kiev in exercise of the right of collective self-defense?

Impact on Nuclear Proliferation

One impact from Russian intervention in Ukraine is of exceptional significance for the future of international peace and security. Following Russia’s violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of the Ukraine in exchange for its surrender of its nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that any arms control agreement with Russia could be ratified by the U.S. Senate so long as Putin remains in power–and probably long thereafter.

See Peter Spiegel, “Ukraine and the West: an international legal primer, Financial Times (Brussels Blog), March 2, 2014.

If one thinks carefully about the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, it is obvious that Russia would have been extremely reluctant to engage in such behavior if the Ukraine still had the 1900 nuclear warheads on missiles it surrendered in 1994, when it also joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

One of the greatest impacts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine is likely to be the powerful impetus it will give to the forces of nuclear proliferation. Even in the context of the 5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, the invasion is likely to reduce the credibility of any guarantees of Iranian territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence to near zero, at least insofar as Russia is concerned..

A Last chance to draw back from the abyss? Merkel’s fact-finding mission

There may still be a slight chance to avoid unleashing the dogs of war, what the founders of the United Nations referred to as “the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (U.N. Charter, Preamble, below).

Russia and Putin appear to be under a kind of delusional spell which seems to result from believing their own propaganda, having stirred up a public which appears eager to use military force, in scenes reminiscent of the enthusiasm for war felt among the populations of the European powers in 1914 on the eve of and during the first days of World War I.

In these circumstances, Angela Merkel’s proposal to send an impartial fact-finding mission to the Crimea and the Ukraine should be implemented immediately. Putin has told Merkel that he agrees to the proposition.

The mission could be undertaken under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or even an organ of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council where Russia does not have a veto.

At the same time, it could be useful for NATO to place some military forces on alert and move military assets into place in case a need arises for them to be used.

Russia is spewing lies about what is going on in the Crimea and the Ukraine, and seeking to provoke violence which might provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to its legal claims that it is intervening in the Crimea to protect its nationals.

These claims should be rebutted immediately in official reports published by NATO and other countries. The fact that the transitional president of Ukraine has vetoed a bill which would have revoked the 2010 language law allowing use of Russian as a second language should be made known to every citizen in Ukraine.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev exchanged letters at the most critical moments of the crisis, when nuclear war was a most palpable possibility. Khrushchev sent one letter to Kennedy on Friday, October 26 which was conciliatory in tone:

If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, you and I ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knots of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

–”Krushchev letter of October 26, as received in the White House,” reprinted in Larson, “Cuban Crisis”, pp. 175-80, quoted in Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis,” at p. 355 (2d ed. 1999).

Saturday, October 27, when an American U-2 was shot down over Cuba, a much harsher letter bearing the stamp of the Kremlin’s collective leadership was broadcast over the radio, adding new conditions to the offer in the Friday letter. Kennedy decided to ignore the second letter and to reply to the first (in what was referred to as “a Trollope ploy”, alluding to the acceptance of ambivalent gestures as a marriage proposal, in Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels).

The West should now follow Kennedy’s example, and accept Putin’s acceptance of Merkel’s proposal for sending a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine, regardless of what he or the Russians have said since. Moreover, they should do so at breakneck speed, blasting through the diplomatic procedures that normally slow things down. The goal must be to get the first elements of the fact-finding mission on the ground in the Crimea within a matter of hours, not days. Time is of the essence.

Reports from the mission, including daily press briefings or updates, could then help defuse the war fever in Russia, affording Putin a gradual way to climb down should he become sufficiently enlightened to do so. Also worth bearing in mind is the fact that he may have unleashed organizational and bureaucratic forces which are not easily controlled, and may need time to be able to reverse course successfully when and if he comes to his senses and decides to do so.

The ends of the rope on which the knot of war has been tied must be loosened now, if at all possible, even at this late hour. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, assisted by her capable and experienced foreign minister, Walter-Frank Steinmeier, should lead the effort, with full support from the United States, France, Poland and other European and NATO countries.

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

At this moment, the following words from the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, in which the drafters explained their purposes, are particularly worth recalling:

PREAMBLE

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
• to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
• to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
• to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
• to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS
• to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
• to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
• to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
• to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.