Posts Tagged ‘The Trenchant Observer’

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

Responding to military seizure and annexation of the Crimea: Stronger PERMANENT SANCTIONS against Russia urgently needed

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014



Russia is not likely to disgorge the Crimea, annexed following Russian aggression and military seizure during the last month, any time soon.

So, should the West simply accept this fait accompli, be happy that Putin has not invaded the eastern Ukraine, and just get back to business as usual with Russia over the course of the next year or two?

Powerful commercial interests in European and also other Western countries would seem to support such a course of action, which can be rationalzed by stressing that the Crimea belonged to Russia for hundreds of years, and whatever the defects of the recent referendum in the Crimea, a majority of Crimeans most probably supported joining Russia. Moreover, some would argue, the West has not taken Russian sensitivities into account as it pushed the boundaries of the EU and NATO right up to the borders of Russia itself.

Like Kosovo, they might argue, the Crimea was a special case in which any violation of international law was not that serious, and should be put behind us. It was not as serious as the U.S. invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, for example.

Moreover, the imposition of further economic sanctions on Russia which would have a serious impact on trade, investment, and financial transactions would hurt the West as much or even more than they would hurt Russia.

Germany and Europe need Russian gas to get through the coming winter without extraordinary hardships being imposed on innocent, ordinary people. The fact that the U.S. is dependent on the use of Russian territory and airspace to complete its withdrawal of forces and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 represents a further, compelling consideration.

Moreover, Russian cooperative participation is needed in the “five plus one” talks with Iran over its nuclear program and non-proliferation cocerns felt strongly in the U.S., Israel and Europe.

Finally, Russian cooperation in finding any resolution of the civil war in Syria will be essential, U.S. and other officials have repeatedly stated.

In view of these circumstances, and Russia’s understandable desire to secure the naval bases where much of its navy is based, others would argue, the West can ill afford to continue or strengthen economic sanctions against Russia.

The better course, according to the views of many, would be to simply get relations between the West and Russia working smoothly again.

What, if anything, could be wrong with this analysis?

Shouldn’t the West just get over Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine, and get back to business as usual?

Of course, there is the small question of international law and the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force against another country’s territorial integrity or political independence, embodied in Article 2(4) of the Charter.

But what difference does that make, in the 21st century?

That is the question, the fundamental question, of the hour.

Comments are invited.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

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)

Ban Ki-Moon’s Special envoy Robert Serry manhandled, blocked, and forced to abandon mission in the Crimea; Repercussions from the Ukraine in the East China Sea and beyond

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Nostalgia hit of the week: The Beetles, “Back in the USSR” (available on YouTube here)

Putin’s Answer to Diplomatic Initiatives

Russia’s answer to the diplomatic outreach extended by the West since Monday was given on Wednesday in Simferopol, in the Crimea, where U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was forced to flee his car when his driver was pulled out and replaced by someone unknown, as others entered the car. Serry pulled away and proceeded on foot. he was chased through the streets of the inner city until he found refuge in a cafe named the “Wiener Märchen” (the Viennese Fairy tale).”

The cafe was then blockaded by Russian soldiers or militiamen with a threatening mob outside. Only after Serry agreed to end his mission in the Crimea did the Russian soldiers or militia members outside the cafe form a corridor for him to exit. He ws retrieved by a U.N. vehicle which sped directly to the airport, from where he departed on a later flight to Kiev.


(1) Benjamin Bidder (Simferopol), “Krim-Krise: Prorussischer Mob jagt Uno-Beobachter durch Simferopol,” Der Spiegel, 5. Marz 2014 (21:15 Uhr).

(2) Somini Senguptamarch, “Senior U.N. Envoy Threatened at Gunpoint in Crimea, New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(3) (Avec AFP), “Le cauchemar de l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU en Crimée, Le Soir, 5 mars 2014.

Die Vereinten Nationen wollten sich ein Bild von der unübersichtlichen Simferopol auf der Halbinsel Krim machen. Doch prorussische Demonstranten jagen die Uno-Leute so lange durch Simferopol, bis die Vermittler die Stadt fluchtartig verlassen.

Demonstrators also threatened the members of on OSCE observation team in Simferopol.

Thus, taking his moves from the playbook of Bashar al-Assad, who used similar tactics to obstruct the work of U.N. observers present to oversee a U.N.-arranged ceasefire in Syria in March, 2012–eventually forcing them to abandon their mission after repeatedly coming under fire, Putin continued playing his double game, spewing lies and propaganda about what has been going on in the Crimea, while his soldiers and agents on the ground consolidated their military seizure of the Crimea and undertook increasingly provoccative actions.

The powder keg is dry, and there are many with matches who could set it off.

Putin and Lavrov, meanwhile, continued to maintain in public that the uniformed men without insignia were not Russian military personnel. Their assertions even reached the ludicrous extreme of their feigning a lack of knowledge of who these men are.

Despite Putin’s charade, which seemed like a scene out of Woody Allen’s 1971 movie farce Bananas, the undisputed fact is that Russian military forces control the Crimea and everything that happens in it. Under international law, even if the anonymous soldiers were not Russian, Russia would be responsible for their actions due to its de facto control over the territory of the Crimea.

Putin is acting like Hitler in the Sudetenland in 1938. He has flagrantly violated the most fundamental legal norm of the postwar (post-1945) legal and political order, which is based on the establishment of the United Nations and the probition against the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of its Charter.

Repercussions beyond Ukraine and even Russia’s neighbors

NATO and the West would be tragically mistaken if they were to interpret Putin’s actions as having repercussions only in Central and Eastern Europe.

Just as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harborin 1941 was partly a product of Hitler’s Anschluss or forced union of Austria with Germany in March, 1938 and the chain of events which followed, including the forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938, Putin’s military intervention in the Crimea could unleash forces in Asia which could lead to the resolution of conflicting maritime and territorial claims between China, Japan, Korea and other countries in the region by the use of military force.

Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938 was followed by his forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938 (with the agreement of France, England and Italy in the infamous Munich Pact), his invasion of “rump” Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, amd finally his invasion of Poland on Septemer 1, 1939, which set off World War II. In 1941, he even invaded his recent ally (through the Molotov-Rippentropp Pact), the Soviet Union.

The critical point to understand is that the international legal and political order is indivisible. The cornerstone of that order is the prohibition of the threat or use of force Force among states, particularly aggression in the form of military intervention. A corollary of that prohibition is that the fruits of its use will not be recognized by international law. Wcithout these norms, and their vigorous regarffirmation whenever they are vgiolated, acceLerating instability would enter the system as a whole, shaking it until it collapsed.

Aggression, lies, and bad faith diplomacy must have consequences. The Soviet invasion of Hungary (1956), Czecholslovakia (1968), and Afghanistan (1980) had consequenes. The fact the illegal use of force by Russia in Georgia in 2008 did not produce serious conquences for Russia–permitting business as usual to continue–has helped lead us to where we are today in the oUkraine.

If Russia’s military intervention in Crimea is allowed to stand, the international community should not be surprised if one day an Asian power decides to use military force to settle its claims to the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

There are other territorial claimss and disputes In the region which one or another other power might be tempted to try to resolve through the use of military force. Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, it should be recalled, was based not only on the experiencep of Europe leading up to and during WW II, but also on the depredations in China resulting from Japanese aggression in the 1930′s and against the United States in 1941.

International peace and security are indivisible. That has been the vision of the founders of the United Nations and also of their successors, and the experience of the last 75 years. Understood in this light, it is clear that Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, if it is allowed to stand, could have the most significant of consequences.

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

Ukraine: latest news, opinion and analysis

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014


News Reports

(1) Muchael R. Gordon and Steven Ehrlanger, “U.S. Effort to Broker Russia-Ukraine Diplomacy Fails,” New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(2) Somini Senguptamarch, “Senior U.N. Envoy Threatened at Gunpoint in Crimea, New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(3) (Avec AFP), “Le cauchemar de l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU en Crimée, Le Soir, 5 mars 2014.

Menacé par des hommes armés, harcelé par la foule, Robert Serry a dû rentrer précipitamment à Kiev.

(4) Peter Baker, “No Easy Way Out of Ukraine Crisis,” New York Times, March 4, 2014.

This story, by the White House correspondent of the New York Times, who Obama frequently uses to explain what he is thinking–or even to channel his stream of consciousness, reflects the fact that Obama still doesn’t understand that the conduct of foreign policy is not just an analytical game, where you “explain” to the news media and other countries your analysis of a situation and your thought processes in considering various courses of action.

The public and the world need an executive, not an analyst. They, other nations and history will judge Obama not on the basis of his analyses and speeches, but rather on his actions, and the results they produce.

Opinion and Commentary

(1) Henry A. Kissinger, “how the Ukraine crisis ends,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014 (2:58 p.m.).

(2) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Russische Besetzung der Krim; Putin muss beeindruckt werdenr,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, “>5. März 2014 (13:14 Uhr).

Eine Woche Intensivkurs Putinismus haben gelehrt: Rationalität steht nicht hinter den Entscheidungen des russischen Präsidenten. Die EU muss klarmachen, dass sie die von Putin geschaffenen Fakten nicht akzeptiert. Nur die Entschlossenheit zu weitreichenden Sanktionen wird ihn zu Gesprächen bewegen.

(3) Lord Weidenfeld, “Außenpolitisch ist Barack Obama eine Niete, Die Welt, 4. März 2014.

In einem sind sich Freunde wie Feinde des US-Präsidenten einig: In der Außenpolitik agiert Barack Obama fast schon schockierend undurchsichtig. Als Führer der freien Welt taugt er nicht.

(4) Eric T. Hansen, “Europa muss Machtpolitik lernen (Kolumne Wir Amis), Die Zeit, 4. März 2014 (22:35 Uhr).

In Europa bilden wir uns ein, die Welt funktioniere auf der Basis von Vernunft, Rücksicht und Kompromissen. Der russische Präsident Putin zeigt uns, dass es nicht so ist.

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

Steinmeier warns of extremely dangerous situation in Ukraine; Monday dinner with Lavrov yields no results; OCSE observer mission headed to Ukraine Wednesday

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva Monday night, but found no grounds for optimism to report. Steinmeier said the situation was one of extreme nervousness and that he feared, “that in this situation someone loses his nerves, and out of the political conflict new bloodshed could follow.” No progress seemed imminent on the constitution of a “contact” group which would facilitate meetings in which the Ukraine and Russia could talk to and negotiate with one another.

On the positive side of the ledger, he later med with officials at the OCSE in Bern, and an observer mission is expected to arrive in Ukraine by Wednesday.


“Steinmeier warnt vor “neuem Blutvergießen”; Nach dem Treffen mit seinem russischen Kollegen in Genf sieht Außenminister Steinmeier keine Lösung in Sicht. Er befürchtet, “dass in dieser Situation jemand die Nerven verliert” – mit fatalen Folgen,” Die Welt, 4. Marz 2014.

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