Francois Hollande’s dinner diplomacy with Obama and Putin; France’s decision to proceed with the sale of warships to Russia to be based in the Crimea; NATO’s failure to increase forward-based troop deployments in the East

Francois Hollande’s Dinner Diplomacy and France’s Undercutting of the West

For a droll account of French President Francois Hollande’s dinner plans Thursday evening in Paris, first with President Barack Obama at 7:00 p.m. in a restaurant, then with Russian President Vladimir Putin at 9:00 p.m. at the Elysee Palace, see

Stefan Simons (Paris), “Dinner-Diplomatie beim D-Day: Mit Silberzunge und Silberlöffel,” Der Spiegel, June 5, 2014 (16:40 Uhr)

The article also includes tantalizing details about luncheon plans in Normandy with the leaders attending the D-Day celebrations.

In the meantime, France has announced it will go ahead with the delivery of two Mistral naval warships to Russia in the fall, which are likely to be based in Sevastopol, in the Crimea, in Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

The French President, in whom we and others placed considerable hope for a vigorous and forceful foreign policy, with the able assistance of his foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, is turning out to be something of a toad, and not one likely to be transformed into a prince.

Normally, the sex lives of politicians should not be matters of public concern. Occasionallly, however, the dalliances of our leaders can reveal traits of character that do indeed affect the public life and politics of a nation. They can demonstrate something about the qualities of loyalty and trustworthiness.

It is in this light that we should recall how President Hollande was recently caught by the press sneaking out of the Elysee Palace on the back of a motorcycle for an assignation with a girlfriend at an apartment only blocks away. This led to the departure of his official partner from the Elysee Palace, where she had been officially living as the First Lady.

What does Hollande’s affair have in common with French policy on the Ukraine? This can be summed up in one word: “betrayal”.

Now, another woman, Marine Le Pen, seems to have distracted Hollande from his original sense of purpose, with the victory of her right-wing National Front party in the European parliamentary elections on May 25.

It was Hollande who broke the West’s isolation of Putin after his invasion of the Crimea and now the eastern Ukraine, first with his invitation to Vladimir Putin to attend the D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, and then–after the victory of Le Pen’s National Front on May 25–with a second invitation for Putin to meet with Hollande in Paris.

With the announcement by France that it will proceed with the delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia in the fall, despite calls by Western leaders to block the sale, we can now understand how untrustworthy an ally Hollande has become, and also glimpse the character flaws that have led to his becoming so unpopular in France.

He appears not only to be a toad, but one on a par with Edouard Daladier, who is infamous along with Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain for signing the Munich Pact with Adolf Hitler on October 30, 1938. That agreement, which broke previous security pacts and recognized German seizure of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia (a day before Germany’s scheduled invasion), stands still today as the pinnacle of European appeasement.

Words and Deeds: The G-7 Declaration, Barack Obama’s Warsaw Speech, and NATO’s Decision Not to Deploy Forces in the East

Thursday’s G-7 declaration containing strong criticisms of Putin and threatening sectoral sanctions against Russia if it does not cease its support of so-called “separatists” (actually Russian special operations and intelligence forces and agents under their direction and control) in the eastern Ukraine, and President Obama’s strong words in his speech in Warsaw and at his meeting with newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, are fine words. They are needed words.

Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words, and the perfidious and extraordinarily ill-timed announcement by France that it will proceed with the sale of the Mistral warships to Russia, utterly undercuts the intended message and threat contained in those fine words.

At the same time, earlier this week NATO decided to reject requests by Poland and other eastern European members to increase their forward-based troop deployments in the East. NATO countries thus revealed that their timid leaders and schlerotic decision processes are not up to the task of facing down Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression.

Obama, for his part, has failed to lead the West and U.S. allies in a forceful and united response, through actions, to Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Despite the fine words in the G-7 declaration and in Obama’s speeches and comments in Poland, the policies of NATO and EU member states continue to be characterized by pacifism and appeasement.

After Hollande’s self-serving actions and undermining of the threat of sectoral sanctions, and NATO’s decision to essentially do nothing that is really meaningful in the East, Western leaders must now work extremely hard if they are to make their threats seem credible in Moscow.

On the record of their actions since late February, and not their words, Putin is likely to judge that he has little to lose by sticking to his present course in the eastern Ukraine.

The threat of further sanctions will only influence Putin after some serious sanctions have actually been imposed. Only then will the threats acquire credibility.

Further Dithering? Or Forceful U.S. Leadership and Action Now?

The G-7 position that they will wait several weeks to see if Putin halts his support for the separatists is divorced from the pace of events on the ground in the eastern Ukraine. Obama at a joint press conference with David Cameron said today that sectoral sanctions would be imposed, if Putin didn’t halt his activities in the eastern Ukraine within a month.

These deadlines reveal how hard the U.S. and the EU want to avoid imposing sectoral sanctions, and cast further doubt on whether they will ever have the political will and resolve to do so. Much will be decided in the eastern Ukraine in the next two weeks, or month.

The record of the West is one of strong words, threatened sanctions, and then a failure to back up the threats when the actions they target are taken or not taken.

Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov learned to play this game, with great success, in Syria.

The record is one of dithering, offering Putin endless chances to take an “off-ramp” from his aggression, without paying any price for what he has already done.

But the blood of the people who have died at the hands of his special forces and their agents is on his hands. The people who are being killed every day in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the eastern Ukraine are being killed as a result of the Russian invasion and support for so-called “separatists”.

Some sectoral sanctions should be imposed now, to make good on previous threats that they would be imposed if Russia interfered in the May 25 Ukrainian elections. Russia did interfere, massively, and prevented most of the people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions from exercising their right to vote.

The Russians are focused on changing the facts on the ground in the eastern Ukraine through an ongoing invasion. To give them two weeks more, or a month, to continue their aggressive war in the East is ludicrous.

Action is needed now.

Russia should suffer immediate consequences for it actions, which include pouring truckloads of weapons and irregular forces into the eastern Ukraine, and undertaking military-style actions against Ukrainian forces and institutions in the last two weeks.

Russia has an asymmetric advantage over the West: It can act quickly and decisively, whereas the West, absent strong U.S. leadership and independent action when necessary, can only act slowly as consensus is forged among its many members.

Moreover, because of consensus decision making processes, both in NATO and the EU, Western policies are like a chain that is no stronger than its weakest link. With its decision to proceed with the sale of warships to Russia, which will be based in the Crimea, France has become a strong candidate for the title of “weakest link”. There are other candidates, however, as revealed by NATO’s decision not to deploy troops in Poland and the Baltics.

Some third-stage sanctions are needed, now. Only the U.S. is in a position to impose such sanctions quickly. It should do so immediately, and resume forceful leadership of the Atlantic Alliance.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.