Putin redraws the map of Europe with Russian troops, as Western leaders slumber through the summer of appeasement of 2014

Western leaders, caught in the incapacitating net of their own illusions about Russia, and their own deep-seated pacifism and appeasement, are in effect slumbering through the summer of 2014, as the map of Europe is being redrawn by Russian troops.

One of the first tenets of warfare, and diplomacy, is “know your enemy”. The West does not yet recognize the true features of the enemy that Russia has become.

Vladimir Putin has, from his perspective, succeeded brilliantly in executing his war of aggression and annexation against the Ukraine.

A judo master, he has shown extreme deftness at throwing feints and converting his opponents’ lunges into throws leaving him standing triumphant and his opponent on his back across the room.

He delights in turning the arguments made or almost made by the West in other conflicts on their head, and using them to his advantage. Thus he now argues that delivery of “humanitarian aid” to the separatists in the Donbass is consistent with international law, as the West argued or might have argued in Syria, when Russia backed Bashar al-Ashad to the hilt in blocking U.N. convoys of humanitarian aid.

He is a master of deception, launching the great “humanitarian aid” convoy of 280 trucks painted white from Moscow, enticing the world to devote its attention to the convoy — for days — while other columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers and other equipment and fighters penetrated into the Ukraine in the middle of the night.

Another diversion of our attention occurred yesterday, when he allowed and probably organized the despicable parading of captured Ukrainian soldiers before crowds on Ukrainian independence day — a blatant war crime in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions on the Laws of War.

While this spectacle was proceeding, and Russia announced it was sending another white-truck “humanitarian aid” convoy to the Ukraine, reports emerged of new military columns moving into the Ukraine suggesting the Russian-led and supported counter-offensive now had Mariupol firmly in its sights.

See,

Olga Razumovskaya, “Russia Plans New Aid Convoy; Ukraine Says Moscow Moved Tanks; Kiev Says Moscow Sent Tanks, Armored Vehicles Into Its Territory,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2014 (Updated 4:40 p.m. ET).

Amid signs of sharpening fighting in Ukraine’s east, Kiev said Moscow Monday sent a column of tanks and armored vehicles into its territory near the site of a rebel offensive. Ukraine’s military said it attacked the column and blocked its advance, but Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko expressed “extreme concern” about the armored column and Russia’s plans for a new convoy in a phone conversation with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, his office said.

After surrounding the provincial capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk, officials in Kiev said Monday that Ukrainian troops were now fighting off counterattacks. On Ukraine’s southern coast, rebels said they were pushing their way out of Donetsk toward Mariupol, a port city taken from rebels in mid-June in the first big victory by Ukrainian government troops.

Vladimir Putin has brilliantly probed and withdrawn, and probed again, until he found opportunities to advance his military invasion of the Ukraine in little starts and stops, always taking care to avoid the devastating economic sanctions that the West has in its hands the power to use.

Putin is keenly attentive to the reactions of the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West, and has been shrewdly effective in defusing any momentum toward the imposition of really harsh sanctions.

The President of Russia has given new meaning to the expression “the salami technique”, which in the past referred to the salami slicing approach of the Soviet Union in seizing power in the countries of Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1949.

In the Putin version, we now have military invasion by “the salami technique”. Sending in a few tanks here, a few soldiers there, intensifying the invasion when the West is distracted, looking the other way, or not looking at all (as with President Obama on his long-sheduled vacation to Martha’s Vineyard).

At the end of the day, a lot of salami has been sliced up. Russia has intervened militarily in the Ukraine to prevent the so-called “separatist” forces (which it has itself been sending in) from being defeated by the Ukrainian military, as the latter legitimately seeks to restore public order in the Donbass.

After the invasion of the Crimea, the reaction of the West was, first, to publicly rule out the use of force, and, second, to slap the wrists of Russia by imposing rsestrictive measures on a handful of individuals and one or two banks.

Putin then annexed the Crimea.

In response, the West signalled that it would ultimately accept this annexation, if only Putin would not invade the remaining part of they Ukraine and stop supporting the “separatists”.

Putin held off on overt military intervention (for the time being), but continued to send fighters and equipment, including advanced air-defense systems, into the Donbass.

After the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 on July 17, the EU did adopt its first limited “stage 3” sectoral sanctions. They, like the U.S. sanctions, were still mild in relation to the harm they sought to redress.

In response, in addition to counter-sanctions banning the importation of foodstuffs, Putin devised his white truck “humanitarian aid” ploy, while at the same time sending regular Russian troops including tanks and artillery into the Donbass. He also fired Russian artillery across the border against targets in the Ukraine (a development in progress for weeks). The artillery shelling effectively secured an open border and a band some 20-40 kilometers deep in the Ukraine. This kept Ukrainian forces from sealing the border, leaving the area under “separatist” control.

Belatedly, on August 22, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen denounced the movement of regular forces into the Ukraine and the firing of Russian artillery by Russian soldiers from within the Ukraine. But the announcement was not accompanied by any action, other than a statement that NATO’s rotating presence in countries bordering Russia would be increased.

In terms of action, to this overt invasion by regular forces the West did not respond at all, except for Angela Merkel’s trip to Kiev on Saturday, August 23, and her pledge of a credit guaranty of 500 million Euros for infrastructure reconstruction and an additional 25 million Euros for housing for refugees.

As Russia’s overt invasion continued, without provoking even the adoption of additional “stage 3” sanctions by Europe or the U.S. in response, Putin sent new military columns into the Ukraine which crossed the border closer to Mariupol to the South.

From the Russian perspective, President Putin has brilliantly demonstrated the power of the new Russian “stealth mode of warfare”.

Given the continuing pacifism and appeasement of the West, and as the new incursion nearer Mariupol suggests, Putin may now see no obstacle to an invasion (whether all-out or by “the salami technique”) of the territory between Russia and the Crimea, securing direct land access to the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

Achievement of this objective would constitute a key military and strategic triumph — one for the history books.

Poland and Lithuania, which surround the Russian exclave Kaliningrad, will be paying close attention.

Western leaders, caught in the incapacitating net of their own illusions about Russia, and their own deep-seated pacifism and appeasement, are in effect slumbering through the summer of 2014, as the map of Europe is being redrawn by Russian troops.

The Trenchant Observer

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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.