Ukraine War, March 16, 2022 (II): Zelensky appeals to U.S. Congress for more aid; Biden (finally) calls Putin a war criminal; Biden administration continues to be lost in its own bureaucratic fog


Due to rapidly-breaking developments and in order to facilitate readers’ access to the latest dispatches, we are publishing this article as it is being written. please check back for updates and additions.


1) David Ignatius “The best peace plan for Ukraine is sending military support,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022 (7:01 p.m. EDT);

2) Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Ukraine’s Mykolaiv holds the line against Russian forces and delays assault on Odessa,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022 (12:47 p.m. EDT);

3) Alistair Heath, “The hubristic West has declared victory over Vladimir Putin far too soon; The Russian military effort is mercifully in chaos, but the invasion has exposed massive long-term fragility,” The Telegraph, March 16, 2022 (9:30pm);

4) Thomas L. Friedman, “In the War Over Ukraine, Expect the Unexpected, New York Times, March 15, 2022 ;

5) Luís de Vega y María R. Sahuquillo, “La negociación entre Rusia y Ucrania muestra los primeros síntomas esperanzadores para frenar la guerra; Un borrador del plan de 15 puntos, adelantado por el ‘Financial Times’, prevé la renuncia de Kiev a integrarse en la OTAN y límites a sus Fuerzas Armadas,” El País, el 16 de marzo 2022 (06:06, actualizado a las 13:01 EDT);

6) Catie Edmondson and Michael D. Shear, “Invoking America’s Darkest Days, Zelensky Pleads for More U.S. Aid; President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called for a no-fly zone and more weapons to combat Russia’s assault and implored President Biden to be ‘the leader of peace’.” New York Times, March 16, 2022;

7) Ashley Parker, “Biden calls Putin a ‘war criminal’; The comment seemed off the cuff and came on a day driven by a forceful speech to Congress by Volodymyr Zelensky, ” Washington Post, March 16, 2022 (8:02 p.m. EDT, updated at 9:17 p.m. EDT).


Polish Jets, and War Crimes

The ludicrous ineptness of the Biden foreign policy team and the Biden administration was dramatically underlined again today by the administration’s attempt to draw a spurious distinction between “offensive” versus “defensive” weapons, trying to defend Biden’s veto of a transfer of old Polish jets to Ukraine.

“Speaking to reporters Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was repeatedly pressed on why the administration has been willing to provide Ukraine lethal assistance, such as Javelin antitank missiles and Stinger surface-to-air missiles, while repeatedly refusing Zelensky’s requests for Polish MiG fighter jets.

“The administration has sought to draw a careful line between defensive and offensive weapons, arguing that the latter risked setting off a direct confrontation with Russia that could turn into a larger war.

“’I would note that the equipment that we’ve provided is defensive, as you know, not offensive,’ Psaki said. ‘And we see that as being a difference.'”

This false distinction is a bureaucratic invention. There is a self-defense exception in many Congressional bans on sales and transfers of weapons to somecountries. The way previous administrations have gotten around these bans is by arguing that weapons were “defensive” and not “offensive”, and therefore came within the compass of the self-defense exception to the ban.

The distinction itself is spurious.

Is a knife an offensive or a defensive weapon? A gun?

Well, it all depends on how it is used.

The false distinction demonstrates, once again, how the Biden administration applies categories and distinctions developed for one bureaucratic purpose to other situations where they are at best irrelevant or, as here, deliberately used to obfuscate and defend decisions and policies with ludicrous arguments.

A second example is provided by Biden’s and his administration’s failure to call out Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine. Until today, when Biden finally stated the obvious: “I think he (Putin) is a war criminal.”

Even after Biden made the statement, the White House Press Secretary demonstrated, again, how fine distinctions developed for one purpose may be misused in pursuit of another. She also seemed to be staking out a potential argument that Biden was “just” speaking from the heart, and not declaring a new official position.

Today, Jan Ptaki declared,

“As for Biden’s unexpected comment that Putin is a war criminal, Psaki depicted it as a heartfelt remark. ‘The president’s remarks speak for themselves,’ she said. ‘He was speaking from his heart and speaking from what we’ve seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country.’

“She reiterated Wednesday that the State Department is conducting a legal review to determine whether the actions in Ukraine are war crimes. And in The Hague, the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court recently announced that it was looking into the Ukraine situation.

“But neither the international court nor the U.S. government has formally concluded that Russia’s actions constitute war crimes, making Biden’s seemingly spontaneous assertion Wednesday all the more striking.”

These people are idiots or, more accurately, they cynically view everyone else as idiots.

You see with your own eyes the deliberate bombing of civilian populations, and you need a legal inquiry to tell you whether what you saw was a war crime?

This is quintessential Orwellian thought control through controlling which words can be used. Words that describe realities may call for action, and the one thing Biden does not want to do is to take direct action to stop the commission of Russian war crimes.

We’re talking about describing reality with words that accurately portray that horrific reality, not the collection of all the evidence needed to obtain a conviction at a war crimes trial.

Maybe Biden’s admission today that Putin is committing war crimes is a sign that the first glimmers of the light of reality are beginning to shine through the bureaucratic haze generated by the administrations “smoke and mirrors”. We can only hope so.

Every time we see Putin’s name in print we should add the phrase “who killed at least a thousand people today”.

Zalensky’s speech to Congress

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine gave an impassioned speech to the U.S. Congress this morning. Aided by a powerful video of scenes of destruction, he sought to bring home to the assembled legislators, on an emotional level, the existential horror Ukrainians are now living through. While expressing deep appreciation for the assistance Ukraine is receiving from the U.S., he asked the West and the United States to do more to stop Putin. Send the jets. Send the anti-aircraft systems. Establish a “no-fly zone”. This phrase, like that of “Close the skies”, must be understood not literally anymore, but rather as an appeal to stop the bombardments that are raining down on Ukrainian cities and civilian populations.

In their account, Catie Edmondson and Michael D. Shear report,

“Mr. Biden and his top military aides have rejected requests to help Ukraine acquire aging Russian-made MIG fighters from Poland. American officials said the Pentagon had assessed that they would do little good in Ukraine’s fight against Russia — and might be used by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as an excuse to widen the fighting to neighboring countries in Europe.”

These justifications for not authorizing the transfer of the Polish jets are absolutely dishonorable and shameful.

Biden officials are seeking to disguise their own fear of Putin with dishonorable claims that the Ukrainians don’t know how to run their own war, or to determine for themselves what weapons and weapons systems they need.

Instead of second-guessing Ukrainian military leaders, telling them a “no-fly zone” wouldn’t really help them, U.S. military leaders should concentrate on getting the Polish jets and other weapons to Ukraine at the earliest possible moment.

One must assume that Polish fighters could potentially be helpful in taking out the Russian artillery which is bombarding cities and the civilian populations in them.

Certainly, this is the issue that should be discussed, not how War Criminal Putin might perceive the transfer.

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.