Ukraine Crisis, February 18, 2022: Russia appears to be in launch sequence for invasion


Joe Biden has made two catastrophic strategic decisions since taking office in January, 2021.

The first was the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Once that decision was irrevocably made, all that followed was pre-ordained.

The second was the decision to rule out the use of force in responding to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Once that decision was made, there was little the U.S. and NATO could do to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine, except to place their faith in the “rational actor” paradigm, and hope that the threatened “heavy costs” of sanctions would persuade the rational actor “Russia” to not invade Ukraine.

One can imagine Neville Chamberlain telling Adolf Hitler, in late August, 1939, that Germany would pay heavy costs if it invaded Poland.

If the invasion of Ukraine proceeds, Biden and NATO will need to reassess their policy of taking force off the table.

Threats of force or the use of force may be needed to stop the war. That could mean nuclear war, Putin threatens. True, but that has been the situation for over 70 years. We should have thought about it, and have a policy to deal with it.

National leaders may have to lead, and not just follow an uninformed public which “has no appetite for war”.

Dispatches suggest that the Russian invasion could begin at any minute, and that the Russian-orchestrated prelude is already underway.

Latest dispatches


1) Gordon Lubold, Michael R. Gordon,and Yaroslav Trofimov, “U.S. Warns of Imminent Russian Invasion of Ukraine With Tanks, Jet Fighters, Cyberattacks; Biden says he is convinced Moscow has decided to attack with Kyiv as a target, adding that diplomacy remains a possibility, Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2022 (Updated 8:08 pm ET);

2) Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour,”Biden ‘convinced’ Putin plans to invade but says diplomacy ‘always a possibility’; US president speaks after consulting with allies as events in and around Ukraine bring it closer to brink of conflict,” The Guardian, February 18, 2022 (23.38 GMT).

After the evacuation announcements in Donetsk and Luhansk, sirens went off in the cities of the region, supposedly to warn of an impending Ukrainian military assault. Reporters and independent monitors said there was no sign of a Ukrainian attack. Kyiv denied taking any hostile action and Ukrainian intelligence had earlier warned that infrastructure in the Russian-backed regions had been mined to provide a pretext for a Russian offensive.

The metadata on the video evacuation orders by separatist Luhansk and Donetsk leaders showed they had been recorded two days earlier.

US officials increased its estimates of the force massed on Ukraine’s border to 190,000 troops, arrayed in over 120 battalion tactical groups, representing the biggest mobilisation of troops since the second world war. US officials said that about half of them had moved into attack positions.

The White House and the UK government said on Friday they believed that Russia was behind cyber attacks this week that temporarily shut down the websites of two of Ukraine’s biggest banks and its ministry of defence.

And in Moscow, it was announced that Putin would this weekend oversee a drill of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles.

“I don’t think he is remotely contemplating using nuclear weapons,” Biden said. “But I do think he is focused on trying to convince the world that he has the ability to change the dynamics in Europe in a way that he cannot.”

How Joe Biden imagines he can discern what Putin is thinking about nuclear weapons is astounding. His statement betrays his own great fear of dealing with Putin and nuclear weapons. Obama blinked in the face of Putin’s nuclear threats. Perhaps Biden will, too, or already has.

3) María R, Sahuquillo y JavierG. Cuesta, “La orden de los separatistas prorrusos de evacuar a civiles en el Donbás agrava el conflicto en Ucrania; Los secesionistas llaman a la población a refugiarse en Rusia mientras EE UU y la OTAN insisten en que la escalada puede ser una treta del Kremlin para atacar,” El País, el 18 de febrero 2022 (11:16, Actualizado a las 15:42 EST);

This article contains rich details on the cease-fire violations in the Donbas, with OSCE statistic broken by by day and whether not ab explosion was involved. It also contains interesting details on the nuclear exercises Putin will oversee on Saturday, February 19. He has to be there, his spokesman pointedly explained, because he carries (the nuclear football).

4) Le Monde avec AFP, “Ukraine : l’OSCE constate une « augmentation spectaculaire » des violations du cessez-le-feu; Les incidents se multiplient entre séparatistes prorusses et forces ukrainiennes sur la ligne de front dans l’est du pays, au point d’avoir atteint leur niveau d’avant l’accord de 2020. Joe Biden s’est dit à nouveau convaincu que la Russie a l’intention d’attaquer,” Le Monde, le 18 février 2022 (à 23h50, mis à jour le 19 février à 06h09);

5) Daniel-Dylan Böhmer und Stefanie Bolzen, “Interview mit Liz Truss: ‘Wir müssen auf das Schlimmste gefasst sein,'” Die Welt, den 19 Februar 2022 (07:29 Uhr);

Liz Truss seems to have the most clear-eyed view of Putin of all the leaders and foreign ministers.

6) Carsten Luther(Kommentar), “Wladimir Putin; Gefährlich wie nie; Wladimir Putin kennt den Preis dafür, aber für ihn gibt es immer eine Alternative zur Diplomatie: Alles ist bereit für einen neuen Angriff auf die Ukraine. Auch er,” Die Zeit, den 18. Februar 2022 (18:39 Uhr, Aktualisiert um 18:51 Uhr).

Für die Diplomatie heißt das nichts Gutes. Die Frage kann ja nicht immer wieder nur sein, was wir Putin noch alles anbieten können, damit er auf einen neuen Krieg verzichtet. Ein Beitritt der Ukraine zur Nato steht zwar ehrlicherweise nicht zur Debatte, ein Verzicht darauf würde aber auch nichts an Putins imperialen Ambitionen ändern. Ebenso verbieten sich Zugeständnisse in den Minsk-Verhandlungen, die den Separatisten Einfluss auf die ukrainische Politik gäben – das wäre genau die Belohnung, die der Kreml sich wünscht.

Luther stresses that diplomacy offers little hope for resolving the crisis, given Putin’s intransigence.

That does not bode well for diplomacy. The question indeed cannot only be, again and again, what we all can still offer, so that he refrains from a new war. The admission of Ukraine to NATO, to be sure, is honestly not even up for debate. Its rejection, however, would do nothing to change Putin’s imperial ambitions. Likewise, to offer concessions in the Minsk negotiations, which would give influence to the separatists over Ukrainian politics–that would be exactly the reward the Kremlin wants.

A theme to be developed later: How binary thinking has crippled U.S., NATO, and EU responses to Putin and Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Invasion/no invasion
sanctions before/only after invasion
NATO member/non-NATO member

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.