Putin Escalates Crisis in Response to New Sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted true to form, in response to the entry into force of the new EU and U.S. Sanctions against Russia on Friday, September 12, by sending a second white-truck convoy across the border and into the Dunbas region of the Ukraine without the latter’s authorization, any inspection, or any agreement with the OSCE or the International Red Cross of any kind.
This action, which began on Saturday, constitutes yet another flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter and international law.
An emergency session of the U.N. Security Council should be called, where the details of this latest act of aggression are laid out, and Putin’s claims no Russian soldiers have entered the Ukraine are irrebutably refuted with detailed factual evidence.
The strong light of publicity is needed to defeat Putin’s strategy of progressive desensitization, so that Russia can violate Ukraine’s border at will, and in the end no one takes it very seriously because it has already happened so many times.
Lest the Russians think they are being cute on the “threat or use of force” aspect, all observers will note that they secured access to the territory of the Ukraine first by an irregular “stealth invasion” which took down the border posts and command centers, followed by a direct invasion of the Ukraine by regular Russian troops. These, despite President Petro Porosheno’s declaration that 70% of the troops had been withdrawn, according to NATO’s latest statements, remain in the eastern Ukraine.
These latest actions by Russia are consistent with Putin’s modus operandi vis-vis the Ukraine, according to which he responds to each countermove by the West to his military aggression with an escalation on the ground.
He is a judo master, and quite adroit at drawing his opponent (here, the West) to make a lunge in response to a feint, while simultaneously attacking him from an entirely different direction.
For example, in August he used the much-touted and much-delayed white truck convoy of “humanitarian aid” to capture the West’s full attention, while sending thousands of soldiers, tanks, artillery and other equipment into the Donbass across open fields in the middle of the night.
At the same time, he has demonstrated how fragile the Minsk ceasefire is and how it could collapse at his command, by resuming the fighting in Donetsk, firing artillery, rockets and other weapons in a concerted attack on the Donetsk airport, which remains in Ukrainian hands.
(1) Martin Williams and agencies, “Ukraine fights off attack on Donetsk airport by pro-Russia forces; Russian rocket launchers seen moving through eastern city as Ukraine’s PM says his country is in ‘stage of war’ with Russia,” the Guardian, September 13, 2014 (12:52 EDT).
On Saturday, Russia sent a convoy across the border, but Ukraine’s top leaders have remained largely silent, underscoring how dramatically the mood has shifted in the Kiev government since a ceasefire deal was struck.
Russian reports claimed the convoy was loaded with humanitarian aid, but the border crossing did not have the approval of Kiev or oversight of the international Red Cross. A similar convoy in August was loudly condemned by Ukrainian officials as an invasion, but this time around Lysenko simply called the move “illegal.”
He said: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.”
(2) Gareth Jones and Anton Sverev, “Ukraine PM slams Putin, ceasefire again under strain in east Ukraine,” Reuters, September 13, 2014 (2:35pm EDT).
On Saturday afternoon, a Reuters reporter heard heavy artillery fire in northern districts of Donetsk, the largest city of the region with a pre-war population of about one million. He saw plumes of black smoke above the airport, which is in government hands. The city is controlled by the rebels.
New EU and U.S. Sanctions against Russia enter into force
Fortunately, the EU published its new sanctions against Russia in the Journal Officiel on Friday, September 12, at which time they went into effect. The United also announced on Friday that it was imposing parallel new sanctions om Russia.
Now, added to the NATO’s decisions on September 4-5 to establish a 5,000 man quick reaction force for deployment to member states in the East if necessary, and to reaffirm of the obligation of each member to spend each year at lesst 2% of GDP (a target to be reached, for now, within 10 years), the West has finally turned aside the strongist pacifists and appeasers within Europe and taken real, hard measures which ought to make the Russians reassess their policies of military aggression.
What should the West do now?
Because it is quite possible that Vladimir Putin will continue his efforts to destabilize the Ukraine, and even potentionally to seek to create a land corridor linking Russia to the Crimea, the West should prepare an even stronger round of further sanctions to be used if Putin resumes his military invasion of the eastern Ukraine, whether by the direct use of regular Russian forces as in August up until now, or in his “stealth” mode by continuing the introduction of weapons and irregular fighters across the border to further assist the so-called “separatists”.
These, with a signal from Moscow, could reject any reasonable compromises on the issue of the status of the territories under their control, leading to a breakdown of the ceasefire and a resumption of the fighting.
Today, according to the news reports cited above, the Donetsk airport, which is still held by Kiev forces, was subjected to intense attack by the separatists. This should serve as a reminder of how quickly the Minsk peace process could come undone.
In the current situation, the EU, NATO, and the U.S. should remain at a high level of alert, and take actions such as the following:
1. Ensure that the new white truck “humanitarian aid” convoy which began entering the Ukraine yesterday does so only with the express authorization of the Ukraine, after prior inspection of all the trucks entering the country. Any violations should be immediately reported to the U.N. Security Council. While Russia can veto any resolution, Council meetings also provide a forum for the concentration of the world’s attention, a place to make detailed factual and legal statements about Russia’s ongoing violations of fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, and a place where Russia must either admit the charges by its silence or set forth its transparently specious arguments for all to see.
“Stealth warfare” must be carried out in the shadows. The bright glare of publicity at Security Council meetings helps to force untenable and facetious arguments to shrivel in the bright glare of daylight.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powell chairs the Security Council during the month of September. She and the U.S. should use the Council effectively during these critical days, when either the Minsk Protocol ceasefire and peace process will take hold, or collapse as fighting resumes.
The members of the Council should consider tabling a resolution endorsing the Minsk Protocol, calling for a withdrawal of all foreign fighters, and respect for the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of the Ukraine. They should then put it to a vote, and whatever the outcome remain seized of the sutuation in the Ukraine.
2. Inspection by Ukraine and OSCE and IRC of all the white trucks before they cross back over the border into Russia, to ensure that the convoy is not being used to remove Ukrainian or Russian military equipment, arms or ammunition, Ukrainian industrial equipment, or the bodies of dead Russian doldiers.
In short, the “humanitarian aid” convoy must be limited to humanitarian purposes. While removal of bodies might serve such purposes, it should be done only after inspection of the departing trucks and with the authorization of the Ukrainian authorities.
In a word, Ukrainian control of its border with Russia should be two-way, both entering and leaving.
3. The EU, the U.S., and the U.N. should immediately start sending large supplies of humanitarian aid into the Donbas. This operation should be conducted on an emergency and urgent basis, as if dealing with a natural catastrophe.
There is no valid reason for allowing Russia to score a huge propaganda victory by portraying itself as the only country doing anything to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of the Donbas.
This humanitarian aid should be widely publicized as coming from the EU, the U.S., the U.N., and other countries.
4. NATO and other countries should immediately begin providing the Ukraine with military aid and assistance which they can use to defend themselves against further Russian military aggression.
The aid should include lethal weapons. There should be no distinction between “lethal” and “non-lethal” assistance.
This distinction was made in supplying weapons to the rebels in Syria, in the absence of the U.S. and its allies setting forth a justification under international law for such action. Such a justification might have been advanced by the Obama administration, in order to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was not.
In the Ukraine, military assistance can be provided in response to the calls Kiev has made for military assistance in exercise of the “inherent right” of collective sef-defence, as set forth in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, in order to repel an “armed attack”.
Armed attacks against the Ukraine have occurred, both through regular Russian forces and through irregular Russian fighters, arms and equipment. These attacks continue, a fact made particularly clear by Russia’s purported “annexation” of the Crimea.
5. Western governments should publicize the widespread violation of human rights and commission of war crimes that have occurred in the territories under the control of the so-called “separatists”. Russia, in particular, should be pressured and held accountable on this point, whether in the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Security Council, or elsewhere.
It goes without saying that the commission of any war crimes on the Ukrainian side must be immediately halted, and those responsible for their commission held accountable.
7. Consideration of a further round of even harsher economic sanctions should begin, as suggested above. These might include a ban on any doing business with Russian companies above a certain size, and a complete ban on Russia using the SWIFT system in banking for the transfer of international payments.
Implementation of these steps should begin immediately.
The West needs to maintain constant vigilance against any agressive move by Putin and Russia, and be prepared to take countermasures quickly when so required.
Having adopted an avowed policy of military aggression, and with thousands of nuclear weapons at his command, Putin may be the most dangerous man on the planet.
While countering IS is important, it is not, in a military sense (as opposed to a political sense), an immediate threat. Putin and the Ukraine are.
President Obama and European leaders must get their priorities right, and maintain constant vigilance in the face of Russia which is, and will remain as long as Putin or someone like him remains in charge, an existential threat.
Like the threat posed by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, it is a direct, frontal challege through military aggression, which cannot be defused through policies of pacifism and appeasement.
The Trenchant Observer