Putin and the Ukraine: What is the deceptive KGB man and judo master up to?


Since Boris Nemtsov’s assassination on February 27 and Vladimir Putin’s 11-day disappearing act shortly thereafter, Putin, and Russia’s ongoing military aggression in the eastern Ukraine, seem to have quieted down.

NATO Commander U.S. General Philip Breedlove reminded Congress and others in Washington this week, however, that the Russian military threat has not receded, and that indeed the Russian-led “separatist” forces seem to be preparing for further military action, which could come near Mariupol and the strategic land corridor that leads to the Crimea.


Julian E. Barnes and William Horobin (Washington and Paris, respectively), “Top NATO General Sees Threat from Rebels in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2015 (6:37 p.m. ET).

Two other factors are at play.

The first is that the EU sanctions against Russia must be renewed later this year, requiring the assent of all 28 EU members. There is considerable evidence to suggest Putin has been making progress toward securing one or more blocking votes. Greece is an obvious candidate.

Under this scenario, Putin would be wise to bide his time until after the renewal of EU sanctions has been blocked, before breaking out of the constraints imposed by the February 12 Minsk II agreement. Once the sanctions lapse, he can move on Mariupol at a time of his own choosing.

The second factor is the role being played by Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov. At the time of Putin’s “disappearance” following the Nemtsov assassination, there was considerable commentary suggesting some kind of power struggle within the Kremlin was underway, perhaps pitting the leaders of the security services against Kadyrov.

An intiguing report came out recently that Kadyrov had forbidden Russian security forces from carrying out activities in Chechnya, by force if necessary. This would suggest the power struggle is unresolved.

See Paul Sonne, “Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov Gives Shoot-to-Kill Order on Outside Forces; Security services told to fire on authorities from elsewhere in Russia that try to carry out operations in Chechnya,” Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2015 (2:08 p.m. ET).

Whatever is going on with Putin, the West would be well-advised to prepare for his next sudden and bold move, putting together a very strong package of economic sanctions and NATO responses that will be imposed automatically by the U.S., and as soon as possible by the EU, if “separatist” forces and Russian troops move on Mariupol, or other regions outside the areas delimited in the Minsk II agreement.

We know Putin, and his modus operandi.

So long as Russian troops occupy the Crimea (absent legitimation under U.N. auspices, including U.N. interim administration of the Crimea and a true plebiscite after a period of years), he and Russia will remain enemies of the West.

So long as Russia maintains 12,000 troops in the Donbas, and does not return control of the border to the Ukraine, Europe and the West cannot let up on their “containment” of Russia, not even for a moment.

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.