February 11 Minsk Summit on the Ukraine: Latest update and analysis (Updated February 10, 2015)

Updated February 10, 2015

BACKGROUND

The following articles, by some of the most experienced and incisive commentators writing on international affairs, provide the context and background necessary to understand the negotiations planned for the Minsk summit on November 11:

(1) Anne Applebaum, “The long view with Russia,” Washington Post, February 8, 2015.

(2) Roger Cohen, “Western Illusions Over Ukraine,” New York Times, February 9, 2015.

(3) Julia Smirnva, “Was erhofft sich Putin von Verhandlungen? Diplomatie auf höchster Ebene soll die Ukraine-Krise beenden. Russlands Präsident Putin scheint bei den Gesprächen mit dem Westen darauf zu setzen, dass die Krise zum “eingefrorenen Konflikt” wird,” Die Welt, 9. February 2015.

Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin are to meet in Minsk on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, to see if they can hammer out some kind of a “deal” that will include a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine known as the Donbas, and perhaps other areas where the so-called “separatists” (Putin’s puppets) have, with active Russian military participation, extended the territory under their control.

Putin’s objectives will be to make just enough concessions to confuse the Europeans and make the renewal of existing economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine as problematic and uncertain as possible, while sowing divisions among the EU’s members that will make the imposition of new and really tough sectoral sanctions impossible given the unaniminity requirement for action by the EU.

He will also seek to forestall any decision—much less action!—by President Barack Obama to send “lethal” military weapons and other assistance to Kiev, or for European countries to even consider doing so.  Here he will be trying to intimidate both the Europeans and the Americans and make them fear his reaction if they do send weapons, and certainly to make them have qualms about sending arms in a quantity and manner than could really make a difference on the ground.

Today’s leaders, in Europe as in the United States, seem to have little grasp of history, international law, or the origins and history of the United Nations. Their response to Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, beginning in the Crimea in February, has been one of incredulity followed by laughable “sanctions” against Russia that were always “too little, too late”.

Throughout, their fear of the aggressor and unwillingness to contemplate any military moves–such as sending arms to Kiev–has given Putin an open playing field where, having militarily dismantled the border between Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine, he has been left free to move tanks, artillery, advanced air defense weapons systems, and other advanced electronic equipment, as well as thousands of Russian special operations forces, irregular forces, and regular Russian troops and equipment back and forth across the border at will.

If Western leaders did know something of history, they might remember that the United Nations was established to provide international peace and security, above all else, to the nations of the world, based on the concept of collective security. Thus, when a state was the object of aggression, the U.N. Security Council was to be called upon to take action to restore international peace and security, including binding measures and the authorization of the use of military force to secure that objective.

However, given the veto in the Security Council which was granted to the five great and victorious powers in 1945–the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China–the U.N. Charter also provided for the taking of measures of “collective self-defense” up to and including the use of force whenever an “armed attack” was committed against one of its members, (a rule later extended to include all states).

The concept was not that some states would come to the collective self-defense only of other states in a military alliance to which they belonged (such as NATO, which was not formed until 1949), but rather that any and all willing states could come to the defense of any state which was the victim of an armed attack.

This concept is worth preserving, since the alternative is a large number of overlapping military alliances (such as the Warsaw Pact, or the system of regional collective security under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (or “Rio Treaty”) established in the Americas under the auspices of the Organization of American States.

The original Charter scheme of collective security made sense in 1945, and it makes sense now.

Any state should feel free and legally authorized to take measures to aid the Ukraine in collective self-defense in repelling Russian aggression, as authorized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. This includes sending arms, or even troops.

The idea was and remains that any country that was the victim of an “armed attack” had the right to benefit from military assistance from any other states in order to repel and bring to an end the armed attack. Thus, from its very inception, the United Nations Charter created a system in which a country such as the Ukraine which was the victim of an armed attack carried out by a country such as Russia would as a matter of course be entitled to receive military assistance, including lethal arms or even troops, from other states acting in collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

The United Nations Charter also embodied another idea: the sovereign equality of all states, and their rights under the Charter and international law not to be coerced by large military powers to adopt policies and actions in subordination of their sovereign will.

In other words, the old “balance of power” system from the 19th century, which had led to two world wars in the 20th century, was to be replaced by a system based on the basic principles of the Charter, which included the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and the obligation of states to conduct their international relations in accordance with the Charter, international law, and treaties to which they were parties that had been validly concluded under international law.

That is the scheme of the United Nations Charter, and the system of international peace and security which up until 2014 never encountered a frontal rejection such as that represented by Russia’s military aggression against the Ukraine during the last year, and its “annexation” of the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

The biggest issue the delegates to the Minsk summit on Wednesday will face may not be at the top of the list of their immediate concerns, but it remains the biggest issue nonetheless:

What is to be done about the Russian invasion, occupation and purported “annexation” of the Crimea?

As news stories about the latest negotiations in Minsk hit the headlines, it will be useful for the readers bear in mind the broader context in which the negotiations are taking place.

They should bear in mind the monstrous lies Putin and his propaganda machine, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have been telling–denying for example that Russia has sent any troops and tanks, etc. into the Donbas.

They should bear in mind that Putin has not honored a single agreement Russia has made on the Ukraine.

They should bear in mind what the United Nations Charter and international law have to say about military aggression by one country invading another.

See “Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

They should bear in mind the risks of inadvertent nuclear war in view of the present collision course on which NATO and Russia are embarked, and the risks of further acts of appeasement leading to heightened risks of further conflict driven by an emboldened Vladimir Putin, whose goals appear to include disabling NATO and Europe, and not just winning in the Ukraine.

See “Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

“Putin’s Larger Plan: The sobering facts of Russia’s assault on Europe and the West,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.

They should bear in mind that the real issue is the prompt adoption of really biting sectoral sanctions against Russia so long as it keeps its troops and ongoing military operations underway in the Ukraine.

Sanctions which might be adopted now include the following:

Immediate steps that can be taken would be to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payments system, to impose much broader sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy, to organize a boycott of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia (militating for a change of venue to a non-aggressor state), and to add Vladimir Putin himself to the sanctions list, including the freezing of all of his assets abroad.

Putin has machines of war and soldiers in and near the Ukraine to continue his military aggression against that country. The West has far more powerful economic weapons that it can use to defend the Ukraine, and if necessary to bring Russia’s economy to a halt. With an active Russian military invasion of the eastern Ukraine in progress, and accelerating, while Russian military occupation of the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea continues, the West should use those weapons now, decisively.

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.