There are news stories this week that give cause for hope, and also a sense of foreboding.
First, the people of Turkey showed that democracy has deep roots in that country, and turned back Erdogan’s naked grab for dictatorial power through elections.
In Bavaria, the G-7 met and produced photographs of the seven leaders of the free world walking through a mountain meadow, seemingly happy wanderers, lost in the delights of summer and oblivious to the approach of a hard winter in their relations with an increasingly authoritan and aggressive Russia.
Pacifists and appeasers in Germany in the SPD, in particular, bemoaned the fact that Russia had been excluded from the group, warning of the dangers of isolating Putin. This chorus, led by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and joined in by another former SPD Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, reflected the pacifism which has gripped Germans, a majority of whom, according to a recent PEW poll, would be unwilling to take up arms to defend their eastern NATO partners, as required by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.
Pacifist sentiments with respect to Russia and the Ukraine are also strong in other NATO countries, particularly in the South.
So, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea, and is continuing its invasion of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas. So what? What is all the fuss about?
Meanwhie, Matteo Renzi welcomed Vladimir Putin to Italy, in Milan, following his ill-advised trip to Moscow in March immediately following the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s leading opposition figure and the most outspoken critic of Putin’s secret war in the Ukraine.
What is Renzi thinking? “Let’s maintain our dialogue wirh the aggressor and presumed murderer, just as we did with Stalin and should have done with Hitler?” Or is he thinking at all?
Of course, Italy under Mussollini was an ally of Germany under Hitler, lest we forget.
In Bavaria the G-7 leaders blithely reassured themselves that the EU sanctions against Russia would be renewed at the end of July, at least until January, and not lifted until the Minsk II agreement of February 15, 2015 was fully implemented.
That, however, is a chimera, as the “agreement” has so many holes in it that it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. It is as illusory as Kofi Annan’s much-touted 6-point peace plan for Syria, and the misplaced hopes it spawned for any progress in reaching peace at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences, during a period in which over 200,000 Syrians were killed.
As for the renewal of the sanctions against Russia, the G-7 leaders would do well to recall the very real possibility that existed that the stage three sanctions adopted on September 5, 2014 would be blocked and reversed during the week it took to achieve their implementation.
Only one EU member needs to balk for the sanctions to expire, and Putin is assiduously working to achieve this result.
So Renzi welcomes Putin to Italy.
In the Vatican, Putin kept Pope Francis waiting for over an hour for his grand arrival in a caravan fit for a king. Here, the symbolism was extraordinary, with the embodiment of ruthless authoritarianism and military conquest in the form of Vladimir Putin, on the one hand, arrayed against the spiritual power of the humble Argentine Archbishop who seeks to emulate the life of Jesus Christ, on the other. Against Putin’s thuggish mimicking of piousness in Russia, stood the real spiritual power of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
No doubt Pope Francis tried to get through to the thug’s heart and to facilitate some small measure of redemption. Yet the aggressor and presumed author of Nemtsov’s murder shows every sign, in his expressionless face and cold demeanor, of having a heart of stone, the heart of a KGB man.
Pope Francis had his work cut out for him. One can only hope that he met with some measure of success.
In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council has met to consider the urgent situation existing in the Ukraine. It is worth reading and listening to the interventions of the delegates, which reflect the views of large numbers of nations in the world, including the most important ones.
Such have been the events of recent days. Turkey shows that the ideals of freedom and the rule of law live on in the hearts of a majority of the Turkish people, and while the story is not over the news is encouraging.
Yet pacifism and appeasement still grip European and American leaders in dealing with Putin, in whose merciless visage they strain to make out the face of a friend. Yet he is not a friend, and will not become a friend. He is probably responsible for Boris Nemtsov’s murder, and is a presumptive war criminal for having launched a war of aggression against the Ukraine.
The Russian military occupation of the Crimea remains. It cannot simply be ignored. At the same time, the Russian invasion of the Donbas continues, with over 9,000 Russian troops fighting the Ukrainian army within the borders of the country.
Meanwhile, America, Europe and the West have no realistic strategy for rolling back Russia’s aggression and “annexation” of the Crimea, or even stopping Russian military aggression in the East.
Nor do they have a coherent strategy for dismantling ISIS and the barbarism which it embodies.
Turkey stands for hope, and is a welcome sign that the longing for freedom and the rule of law still burns brightly in the hearts of men, in Turkey and elsewhere.
But as long as Russian soldiers occupy the Crimea, there can be no stable and durable peace and security in Europe. The G-7 communique fudged this point, saying the sanctions would not be lifted until Russia complied fully with the Minsk II agreement, and fully respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.
That is precisely the point: Russian “annexation” of the Crimea, and its continued military occupation of this piece of sovereign Ukrainian territory, constitute flagrant and continuing violations of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, in violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter. This is the bedrock principle upon which the post World War II international political and legal order is based. The opposing positions, divided over whether or not to lift the sanctions while overlooking Russia’s military conquest and “annexation” of the Crimea, are neatly contained and finessed within this single formulation in the G-7’s comunique.
It remains to be seen how things will play out.
The Trenchant Observer