Putin’s War: the Russian invasion by regular troops and the West’s response—critical decisions loom (Updated August 30, 2014)

Updated August 30, 2014
Originally published on August 28, 2014

A new round of third-stage (Stage 3) sanctions must be really biting, with immediate effect. Otherwise, they will only stoke the fires of Russian military aggression in the Ukraine.

Latest News and Opinion


(1) Bertold Kohler (Kommentar), “Verbrannte Erde in der Ukraine: Putins Krieg,” Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28. August 2014

Der Westen darf sich nicht länger von Putin an der Nase herumführen lassen. Der russische Präsident hat kein Interesse an der Befriedung und Stabilisierung der Ukraine. Er wünscht sich einen „failed state“ als Pufferzone zu Demokratie und Rechtsstaatlichkeit.

(2) Daniel Brössler, “Russland lässt alle Hüllen fallen,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 28. August 2014 (18:41 Uhr).

Wo vor Wochen zwei Flugzeuge standen, ist jetzt kaum noch Platz. Satellitenfotos vom Militärflugplatz Millerowo lassen keine Zweifel mehr. Die Russen haben an der Grenze zur Ukraine tausende Soldaten zusammengezogen. Die Nato spricht bei ihrer Präsentation im belgischen Mons von einer “hochmobilen, effektiven Offensiv-Streitmacht”.

(3) Shaun Walker (Kiev), “Ukraine: Emergency UN, Nato, EU meetings after Russian invasion claim; iNato says 1,000 Russian troops fighting in Ukraine as Kiev accuses Moscow of de facto invasion and opening second front,” The Guardian, August 28, 2014 (15.02 EDT).

August 30 EU Summit in Brussels: Further Step 3 sectoral sanctions; selection of new foreign policy chief, and new President of Council of Europe

If the EU yields to the pacifists and appeasers among its leaders, and decides to impose only mildly more serious sanctions on Russia or none at all, or delays acting once again, Vladimir Putin is likely to accelerate his strategic conquest of eastern Ukraine by seizing territory which provides a land corridor between the Crimea and Russia.

With these new facts on the ground, a new Cold War, from which there can be no return so long as Putin remains in power, will have been set in stone.

Inside Russia, any officials or advisers who may be seeking or in the future seek a reversal of Putin’s policies of military aggression and ennexation of conquered territories will be stripped of their last argument against such actions.

The stakes are enormous, and include the following :

–all arms control treaties to which Russia is an important party

–the U.N. Charter’s foundational principles governing the use of force, including the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.


The two key decisions at the EU Summit, therefore, are:

First, who will be chosen as High Representative for forein affars, and for President of the European Council.

Four considerations should be given paramount importance in making the selection:

1) Does the person selected have a proven track record of dealing effectively with foreign policy issues? And does that person have the qualifications and visibility necessary for the job to be taken seriously? In short, is the person selected qualified for such a high-level position?

2) Will the person selected act independently of the political leadership of his or her state of origin in representing the interests of the European Union as a whole?

3) Does that person have the capacity and drive to transform the position into one of effective coordinator of the foreign policies of the 28 member states?

4) Will the person selected have the will, and the ability, to lead EU members in adopying sanctions and taking other measures which can slow or halt Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine and the East?

To put this is perspective, one can imagine how the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 would have gone if each army had been calling its own shots, instead of Dwight D. Eisenhower effectively exercising leadership as Supreme Allied Commander.

It is clear that the foreign policy leadership function in the EU needs to be overhauled. Whether the person chosen is viewed as a placeholder or as a strong leader who can lead that process, will tell us a lot about the likely future coherence of EU foreign policy.

Moreover, given the current disinclination and inability of the United States to lead, the potential role of European leadership in containing Russian aggression is of critical historical importance.

Second, will the leaders at the summit decide to impose, or actually impose very harsh sectoral sanctions against Russia for its invasion, of the eastern Ukraine by both regular and irregular forces?

The importance of this decision has been analyzed above. Will the EU carry out its specific and earnest threats and actually implement measures that might slow or halt Putin’s military aggression?

Or will the leaders of EU nations at the summit fail to act, sending Putin a green light to proceed with his military advances in the Ukraine?

Timing is critical. Implementation of further “stage 3” sanctions is extremely urgent, as Russian military forces roll into and seize more territory in the Ukraine.

It is indisputable that the policy of making threats to affect Putin’s future actions, and failing to carry them out, has not only failed utterly, but also emboldened him in escalating Russian aggression.

Will Europe finally turn away from empty threats and adopt hard measures in response to past and ongoing Russian behavior? Only such an approach has any chance of persuading Putin to pull back, either now or in the longer term.

September 4-5 NATO Summit in Wales

See Kurt Volker and Erik Brattberg,”NATO must stand up to Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine,” Washington Post, August 28, 2014 (8:02 PM).

What is needed urgently at this moment is for NATO to abrogate the 1997 partnersip agreement with the Russian Federation, in view of the changed security conditions in Europe, and Russia’s flagrant violation of the central obligations upon which the partnership is founded.

See “Abrogation of 1997 NATO Partnership Agreement with Russia urgently required — With excerpts from and link to text of Foundational Act,” The Trenchant Observer, August 26, 2014.

Decisions to deploy large numbers of NATO forces in countries bordering on Russia are urgent. The stationing of these troops in Central Europe when the threat has shifted to the East makes no sense. It amounts to NATO basing its security on the maintenance of a new Maginot Line which, like the one which failed to hslt the advance of German tanks in World War II, utterly fails to meet the requirements for nearby forces that can be rapidly deployed, and supplied, to meet any acts of aggression.

Concluding Thoughts

The arguments and analyses have all been set forth here, and elsewhere, in detail.

As the leaders of EU and NATO countries gather to meet, and take decisions which will have momentous historical consequences, each of them should spend some time alone and in prayer, however they understand that term, and ask themselves one transcendental question:

Would their fathers or grandfathers, and mothers or grandmothers, who lived through the ravages of war and the reconstruction of a Europe utterly destroyed by its depradations, be proud of the decisions they are about to take?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and 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. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , 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, Dr. Rowles 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. Dr. Rowles 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.=LL.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, Dr. Rowles 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 some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.