“In 2022, you can’t achieve international security by invading another country and starting a war.”
–The Trenchant Observer
Today’s article is unusually long. Sometimes reality comes hurtling at you so fast that you don’t have the time to carefully parcel out your analyses and arguments so as to fit within a normal attention span.
Nonetheless, readers are asked to take the time to read and digest this entire article, which may be three or four times as long as a normal article.
Much is at stake.
1) Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh, “US warns of ‘distinct possibility’ Russia will invade Ukraine within days; Joe Biden due to speak with Putin by phone on Saturday; Officials tell Americans to leave Ukraine in next 48 hours,” The Guardian,
February 11, 2022 (23.14 GMT);
Berger and Sabbagh reported that Joe Biden told top European and other leaders, on a video call on Friday just after am intelligence btiefing, that Putin had decided to invade Ukraine. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tried to walk that back in a press briefing Friday afternoon. But it turned out that Nick Shifrin of PBS was correct in tweeting and then reporting that the decision had been made.
Berger and Sabbagh reported the following:
Diplomatic sources said that Biden had told allied leaders in a call that Vladimir Putin had taken a decision to go ahead with an invasion, but Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said: “We have not seen anything come to us that says a final decision has been taken, [that] the go order has been given.”
Biden has told other Nato and EU leaders that the US believes Putin has decided to carry out an invasion of Ukraine, which could happen in the next few days, according to diplomatic sources.
Biden’s call to allies followed a situation room meeting at the White House to discuss the latest intelligence on the Russian military buildup, and on Putin’s thinking.
Within minutes of Biden’s call, the UK Foreign Office urged British citizens in Ukraine “to leave now via commercial means while they remain available”.
The Russian embassy in Kiev said it was considering telling non-essential staff to leave, according to Tass news agency. Other embassies stepped up evacuations on Friday.
According to Walla News, Israel ordered family members of diplomatic staff out of the country, and the Kyiv Post reported that the US had called for American members of the Ukraine monitoring mission run by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to leave the country by Tuesday.
Vice-Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, the head of the Norwegian intelligence service, said Russia now had 150,000 troops massed around Ukraine, and said the decision on whether to attack rested with Vladimir Putin.
2) “L’allarme dei funzionari Usa: «La Russia potrebbe invadere l’Ucraina la prossima settimana»; Fonti della difesa avrebbero riferito di prevedere una «orribile e sanguinosa campagna che comincerà con due giorni di bombardamenti aerei e una guerra elettronica», alla quale seguirà poi «un’invasione,” Open.online 11 febraio, 2022 (20:22);
Gli Stati Uniti pensano che il presidente russo Vladimir Putin stia valutando di invadere l’Ucraina e abbia già comunicato la sua decisione all’esercito russo. A diffondere la notizia è Nick Schifrin, un giornalista americano ben informato, corrispondente per gli affari esteri e la difesa di PBS NewsHour, il quale ha reso pubblico sul suo canale Twitter quanto appreso da fonti interne, che qualifica come funzionari occidentali e della difesa. Stando a quanto divulgato da Schifrin, gli Usa si aspettano che l’invasione inizi la prossima settimana, come del resto aveva detto anche il segretario di Stato Antony Blinken nella serata di ieri. Il giornalista riporta inoltre che i funzionari statunitensi gli avrebbero riferito di prevedere una «orribile e sanguinosa campagna che comincerà con due giorni di bombardamenti aerei e una guerra elettronica», alla quale seguirà poi «un’invasione» ed è probabile che l’obiettivo sia quello di un cambio di regime. L’ambasciata Usa a Kiev ha mostrato gli armamenti con i quali intende difendere la posizione dell’Ucraina in caso di attacco: «Ora, come sempre, siamo con l’Ucraina di fronte all’aggressione russa».
Intanto, il Foreign office del Regno Unito ha ufficialmente invitato i cittadini britannici in Ucraina a lasciare il Paese ora che ci sono ancora mezzi di trasporto disponibili, proprio a causa della crescente tensione con la Russia. Allo stesso tempo sono stati sconsigliati fortemente tutti i viaggi in Ucraina. Una simile decisione era stata comunicata qualche giorno fa anche ai cittadini americana dal presidente degli Stati Uniti, Joe Biden.
3) NIck Schifrin tweets (1:28 p.m. EST)
NEW: The US believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, and has communicated that decision to the Russian military, three Western and defense officials tell me.
US officials anticipate a horrific, bloody campaign that begins with two days or aerial bombardment and electronic warfare, followed by an invasion, with the possible goal of regime change.
4) “Ukraine Crisis, February 10, 2022: Putin compares Ukraine’s role in Minsk II negotiations to that of rape victim; Lavrov treats British foreign secretary Liz Truss with disdain,” The Trenchant Observer, February 11, 2022.
Biden, Putin, and the last off-ramp
Nick Schifrin reports in tweets that Vladimir Putin has issued orders to invade Ukraine.
Armchair commentators suggest this could be only a feint, disinformation to throw the West off balance. Anyone familiar with military operations, however, could tell you this is extremely unlikely given the organizational routines and procedures involved in such a large-scale military operation.
We seem to be in a situation where Russia is like a runaway truck racing down a steep incline, which only extraordinary action can prevent from crashing into the Ukraine with a large military invasion.
The principal difference between Russia as a runaway truck and a real runaway truck is that Putin is not sitting in the truck, but rather operating it by remote control. Unlike the driver of a real runaway truck, he will not be killed instantly if the truck continues its acceleration and crashes.
The only chance to avoid disaster is if Putin at the last minute decides to take the last off-ramp.
Liz Truss at her meeting with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Thursday appears to have made the mistake of ruling out any concessions by Ukraine in the “Normandy Quartet” negotiations, which are tasked with implementing the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015.
This was the only exit-ramp Putin had indicated he might take. Obviously, his absolutist goals of Ukraine having to capitulate to Russian demands for “autonomy” in the Donbas are unacceptable, as were his crude words, on Monday after meeting with Emmanuel Macron, suggesting Ukraine, like a rape victim, would just have to accept it, “whether or not you like it, my beautiful one.”
But Truss made a big mistake on Thursday with Lavrov, channeling Ukrainian intransigence on Minsk II. In effect, she seemed to close off the last possible off-ramp. Lavrov’s outrageous and insulting comments and behavior, however inexcusable, seemed to express his exasperation and his understanding of Putin’s likely reaction.
Putin’s comments after meeting with Macron on Monday, and Lavrov’s comments and behavior after meeting with Liz Truss on Wednesday, are consistent wth Schifrin’s report that Putin has issued orders to his military to invade.
So, too, is the report in today of the meeting in Moscow between British Defens Secretary Ben Watson with his Russian counterpart, Shoigu.
The last chance to reopen the last off-ramp: Biden must act!
What could be the last chance to avoid war would be to reopen that last exit ramp for Putin.
At this point, only President Joe Biden has a shot at doing that successfully.
Biden should announce that the U.S. and NATO countries strongly support the Minsk II negotiations in the Normandy Format, and that they they believe that these negotiations could lead to de-escalation and eventually to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Negotiations seeking such a peaceful resolution could, moreover, open the path to broader negotiations on Russia’s and NATO’s security concerns.
To gain time and to draw Putin’s attention to that last exit ramp, Biden should also propose a summit with Putin, perhaps attended by the head of NATO.
If Putin’s truck takes that last exit ramp, he will save Russia from the economic devastation which U.S. and EU sanctions will have on the Russian economy, and from the hugely negative impact an invasion would have on Russia’s relations with the rest of the world.
The latter include even its relations with China, whose support is not unconditional, and in fact may not extend far beyond its veto in the U.N. Security Council and its propaganda support.
As China begins to appreciate the heavy cost it may pay in its relations with other states for supporting a Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the extent of its support may wane.
Further steps Biden should take, now
Biden should take at least two further steps to undermine Putin’s support among other countries and Russia’s own population, and to strengthen coalition support for the allied position.
First, for the upcoming Security Council meeting on Ukraine on February 17, he should organize a strong international law critique of Putin’s military threats against Ukraine, and in particular its violation of the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter.
The critique should also include Russia’s conquest of the Crimea and its illegal “annexation” in 2014, as well as its invasion of the Eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.
At this meeting, the U.S. should present overwhelming photographic and other evidence regarding the number and deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border. In doing so, the U.S. will specfically repudiate the statements of the Russian deputy ambassador to the U.N. who questioned the U.S. numbers at the Security Council meeting on January 31, 2022.
This presentation should be similar to the presentation to the Security Council by Ambassador Adlai Stevenson of photographic evidence of Soviet-missiles in Cuban, in October, 1962.
Countering Russian control of the media apparatus at the U.N.
One further, seemingly minor, important step should be taken by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Russia, following Soviet practice, has apparently gotten control of the media apparatus at the U.N., which directly affects media coverage throughout the world of Security Council meetings.
The interpretation into English of the interventions in Russian, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Arabic has not been available on the U.N. Web TV video of the January 31, 2022 meeting of the Council on Ukraine.
The interpretation exists, and was transmitted live during the meeting. In the video, however, only the original language can be heard on “the English channel”. This should be fixed, even if it takes a majority of Security Council members to demand that the Secretary General fix it, right away.
The Russians don’t want these legal arguments to be heard by the world, or their own citizens. The U.S. and its allies should make sure that they are heard, loud and clear.
The second further step Biden should take is to present a resolution to the General Assembly, now, reaffirming the 1970 “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nation,” G.A. Res. 2625 (XXXV) 25 GAOR, Supp. (No. 28) 121, reprinted in 9 International Legal Materials 1292 (1970).
The “Declaration on Friendly Relations” was approved unanimously by the General Assembly two years after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Resolution 2625 contains a robust reaffirmation and interpretation of Article 2 paragraph 1 of the Charter which confirms the sovereign equality of all states, and Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Charter which prohibits the
threator use of force against the territorial integrity or oolitical independence of any state.
The resolution has been reaffirmed many times in many resolutions and treaties over the years and enjoys the support of an overwhelming number of members of the United Nations.
While countries allied with or dependent on Russia or China might abstain, such a resolution should enjoy overwhelming support in a vote on the record.
The beauty of this approach is that it would permit a reaffirmation of the basic principles and norms of the U.N. Charter without making specific reference to the current Ukraine crisis. It would preserve the option of bringing a specific resolution to the General Assembly in the future if Russia were to veto a resolution by the Security Council (which seems likely).
Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, Biden should act urgently to reopen the last off-ramp, as suggested above, and even propose a summit with Putin, and perhaps other leaders.
At the same time, Biden should take the two steps in the United Nations suggested above.
The first would be to put on a showcase presentation of photographic and other evidence to refute the claims of the Russian deputy ambassador that the U.S. is making up numbers and imagining the threat from Russian troops.
The U.S. should also refute the Russian argument that it is free to move its troops on its own territory wherever it wants. This is obviously not true when such movements represent a threat of the use if force and a threat to international peace and security.
The second would be to present to the General Assembly, with co-sponsors, a resolution reaffirming the 1970 “Declaration of Friendly Relations” and the basic principles of the United Nations Charter recognizing the sovereign equality of all states and the prohibition against the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
The target of such arguments, it should be remembered is not only officials and citizens of law-abiding nations, but also and in particular citizens of Russia, Belarus, and other authoritarian states. Unfortunately, propaganda which is not refuted is often accepted as true. This propaganda must be refuted.
In the meantime President Biden is set to talk to Putin on Saturday morning. Memories of the incompetence of Biden’s foreign policy team in deciding to withdraw and bungling the withdrawal from Afghanistan give cause for concern.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Australia. The Observer’s first reaction to learningbthis news was incredulity.
Upon a moment’s reflection, however, and remembering the Afghanistan fiasco, and having watched National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan’s masterful and clear-eyed press conference today, it’s not clear whether Blinken’s absence is a good thing, or a bad thing.
The Trenchant Observer