Leading U.S. newspapers miss story: White House press secretary says Russia must return the Crimea (Updated February 16, 2017)

Updated February 17, 2017

Leading U.S. Newspapers Miss the Biggest Story on the Ukraine in More than a Year

There is a lot going on in Washington, with the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the unraveling of the secrecy regarding contacts betwen the Trump campaign and transition with Russian intelligence officials.

That is an explanation but not an excuse, however, for the extraordinary silence of the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times on what appears to be a monumental shift in the position of the United States regarding the Crimea, and requirements for the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia imposed following the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea in February and March 2014, and its invasion of the eastern Ukraine in August 2014.

In effect, the leading U.S. newspapers have missed the biggest story of the last year relating to the Crimea and the Ukraine. This must raise serious questions about the quality of the editorial leadership at these papers.

To properly do their job, editors must have the intellectual capacity and framework to recognize the significance of events, and not just breathlessly report the latest developments in any given story.

The Story

The White House Press Secretary has stated that Russia must return the Crimea to the Ukraine.


Julia Smirnova und Clemens Wergin, “Gefährliche Beziehungen: Trumps Haltung gegenüber Moskau lässt den Westen zweifeln; Neue russlandkritische Äußerungen aus dem Weißen Haus verwirren politische Beobachter weltweit. Was über das Verhältnis der US-Regierung zu Russland bekannt ist – und was die Forderung nach Rückgabe der Krim bedeutet,” Die Welt, 16. Februar 2017. (Extraordinary reporting)

“Trump fordert Rückgabe der Krim an die Ukraine: Klare Ansage an Moskau: Der US-Präsident will, dass die annektierte Krim an die Ukraine zurückgeht. In Russland schwindet die Hoffnung auf ein Ende der Sanktionen – die Aufregung ist groß,” Der Spiegel, 14. Februar 2017 (23:00 Uhr).

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, February 14, 2017, #12

On the Ukraine and the Crimea, Spicer said the following:

That’s why the President decided to ask for his resignation, and he got it. The irony of this entire situation is that the President has been incredibly tough on Russia. He continues to raise the issue of Crimea, which the previous administration had allowed to be seized by Russia. His Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stood before the U.N. Security Council on her first day and strongly denounced the Russian occupation of Crimea. As Ambassador Haley said at the time, the “dire situation in Eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”

President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea. At the same time, he fully expects to and wants to be able to get along with Russia, unlike previous administrations, so that we can solve many problems together facing the world, such as the threat of ISIS and terrorism.

The statement came amid massive confusion in the White House following the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Monday night.

It is not clear what prompted the announcement, or indeed if President Donald Trump would back it in a week.

It is consistent with statements mase by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, in a speech to the Security Council shortly after the swearing in of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

See “Clear statement from U.S. Ambassador to U.N. on withdrawal of Russian forces from the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, February 4, 2017.

The timing is probably not coincidental. Flynn was no longer at the NSC, where Flynn’s deputy is now acting as NSC adviser, while a retured general close to Defense Secretary Gen. James Matthis is rumored to be in line for the job.

Matthis is in Europe for a NATO meeting and meetings with oother European defense officials. Tillerson will meet with Angela Merkel on Thursday.

If this position on the return of the Crimea is upheld by the Trump administration, it would bring U.S. policy back in line with staunch support for the U.N. Charter’s prohibition against the illegal use of force across internationl frontiers, and the international law requirement that no territory acquired through the illegal use of force can be recignized.

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.

President Barack Obama’s meek response to the Russian invasion of the Crimea in February and March 2014, adopting mild economic sabctions that amounted to a mere slap on the wrist, is widely viewed as having emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade the eastern Ukraine in August 2014.

If President Trump holds to this firm position of demanding return of the Crimea to the Ukraine, and withdrawal of Russian forces from the eastern Ukraine, as called for in the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements of September 5, 2014 and February 12, 2015, respectively, he will have greatly strengthened U.S. foreign policy and and gone far to make up for the abdication of U.S. leadership in the world which took place under President Obama.

The Minsk agreements specifically call for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the eastern Ukraine and return of control over the Russian–Ukrainian border to the Ukraine.

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.