The EU and NATO falter in stopping Putin; Strategy and action to contain an existential threat are urgently required

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(1) Julia Smirnova, “Putin will plötzlich Frieden in der Ukraine; Kremlchef gibt vor, den Konflikt beenden zu wollen; Doch sein Plan ist ein fauler Deal,” Die Welt, 4. September 2014 (Die Welt Kompakt).

(2) Julian Hans (Korrespondent der Süddeutschen Zeitung in Moskau / Kommentar) “Krieg in der Ukraine: Putin will nicht Frieden, sondern Kiews Kapitulation,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 5. September 2014 (07:30 Uhr).

Petro Poroschenko will dem Sieben-Punkte-Plan Moskaus nun doch zustimmen. Das ist ein bitteres Eingeständnis des ukrainischen Präsidenten: Gegen russische Truppen kann die Ukraine nicht gewinnen.


1. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the pacifist leaders of the West quite well and has, quite predictably, given them a thread to hang their hopes on and an excuse for not adopting really harsh sanctions against Russia this week.

The U.S. and the EU threatened in early August to impose such sanctions if Putin continued his support of his puppet “separatists” in the Donbass or sent regular Russian troops into the Ukraine.

2. He has done both of these things, and continues to do so. Russian forces are fighting Ukranian soldiers at this very moment in the Donbass and beyond. There exists inconrovertible proof of their invasion and fighting.

Putin is telling bald-faced lies when he denies these facts.

3. The pacifists and appeasers who lead the biggest countries of “Old Europe” within the EU, especially Germany but also France and England, oppose really strong further sanctions against Russia.

The socialists now hold key positions in Europe with enough influence to slow or derail the momentum for tougher sanctions.

They include German SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (former chief of staff of former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Schroeder is Putin’s business partner in the Nordstream gas pipeline project, such a good friend he traveled to St. Petersburg to celebrate his 70th birtday with Vladimir, and one of the leading Putin apologists in Germany.

They now also include the new (and inexperienced) socialist EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, pushed through by Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi (a rising socialist star) in a deal for top EU positions that had nothing to do with foreign policy.

One of her first statements after her selection was that there was “no military solution” to the Ukrainian conflict (except, of course, Putin’s military solution produced by his second invasion of the Ukraine).

Third, they include the former German SPD politician and recently re-elected President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. He was quoted recently as saying he was opposed to the imposition of any further sanctions against Russia, as follows:

Sanktionen ausgesprochen, um eine weitere Eskalation des Konflikts zu vermeiden. Der Gesprächsfaden mit Russland dürfe “gerade in Krisenzeiten nicht reißen”, sagte der SPD-Politiker der “Hannoverschen Allgemeinen Zeitung”. “Was wir jetzt brauchen, ist kein Säbelrasseln, sondern beharrliche Diplomatie”, sagte Schulz. Europa habe bereits Sanktionen beschlossen, die die russische Wirtschaft hart träfen.

–“Ukraine-Krise: USA bereiten neue Sanktionen gegen Putin vor,” Der Spiegel, 4. september 2014 (20:28 Uhr).

4. The fundamental problem is that Europe’s most influential leaders, such as CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel and her SPD foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have pacifism and appeasement vis-a-vis Russia in their DNA.

Europe’s pacifist leaders, like the U.S. pacifist president Barack Obama, will contemplate the limited use of force against ISIS or in Afghanistan, but can’t imagine it being necessary to contain Russia.

The result is appeasement of Putin by pacifist leaders lacking any sense of history, strategy, or their own responsibilities before history. Nor do they have any understanding of the central role of international law and institutions in organizing international society, and the particular importance of the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter.

5. So, they are willing to leave the Ukraine and Petro Poroshenko to face Putin alone, as the mighty Russian army is pummeling his troops in its ongoing invasion of his country.

6. Putin has offered him a “ceasefire” which amounts to a diktat for capitulation. Most of the Western leaders who are leaving him to face the Russian army on his own probably haven’t read it or fully understand its implications.

Signing the “ceasefire” agreement with Putin, if it ever comes to implementation, is likely to spell an end to Poroshenko’s hopes to build a political base in the upcoming Ukrainian elections for parliament in October.

He is handicapped to begin with, without a party. Prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signalled his strong opposition to the ceasefire and that of his party, that of Iulia Timoshenko.

Poor Poroshenko. He begged for strong support and real military assistance from the NATO countries for months, but it has not been forthcoming.

He and the Ukraine have been left to face the Russian Bear, in all of its military might, on their own.

So we should not be surprised that he has agreed in principle to a ceasefire.  What was his alternative?

We don’t really know how Putin got him to agree to a ceasefire.

Not to be excluded from consideration is the possibility that Putin may have reminded him of what has happened to other politicians in the past, such as Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, who almost died from poisoning but survived to become president. In London, Alexander Litvinenko was not so fortunate, succumbing to polonium poisoning.

7. Poroshenko may be saved yet, however, by Putin’s ambitions and duplicity.

Whereas once Putin might have been content with a “frozen conflict” in the Ukraine that would keep it out of NATO and probably the EU, now that the Europeans have been diverted from the imposition of cutting sanctions–such as exclusion from the Western financial system or the SWIFT system of international funds transfers–bigger goals may have come into sight as Russia’s army is on the march and meeting little opposition.

Putin has achieved all of the above at neglible cost to his wealth or grip on power.

He may now decide to continue his quest for a land corridor connecting the Crimea with Russia proper. The invasion and advance toward Meriupol suggests he is thinking of that.

And later, if he conducts one or more stealth invasions in the Baltics to protect the Russian minorities there, he may be able to bring all of NATO crashing down. Even German Defense Minister van der Leyden has been quoted as saying, in an unguarded moment, that if such an invasion were to occur, NATO would be “dead”.

The defeat of NATO would be a historic triumph for Russia, and Vladimir Putin, after the humiliation of the dismemberment of Greater Russia in 1989.

8. To counter the threat from Putin and Russia, the EU, NATO and the U.S. should be thinking strategically, and devising plans to contain Russia and its nationalistic and irredentist ambitions, by military means if necessary.

Russia, so long as it is led by Putin or someone like him, represents an existential threat to NATO, the U.S. and the European Union.

9. it should be evident that Putin is full of propaganda and lies, has a duplicitous and thuggish nature, and can never be trusted.

It is as if we were negotiating with Adolf Hitler in 1938, hoping he would act nice if we just put enough effort into our diplomacy and showed sufficient understanding of his demands.

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.