Ukraine War, March 21, 2022 (II): Auschwitz, Mariupol, and the Response of the West

Developing

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.

To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.

Dispatches

1) Justin Huggler (Berlin), “Nazi concentration camp survivor, 96, killed in Kharkiv by Russian shelling; Tributes paid to Boris Romantschenko, who was a prisoner of war in four camps during Second World War, but died in recent Kremlin onslaught,” The , March 21, 2022 (6:31pm);

2) Max Boot, “Against all odds, Ukrainians are winning. Russia’s initial offensive has failed,” Washonton Post, March 21, 2022 (9:00 a,m. EDT);

3) Jennifer Rankin and Julian Borger, “Russia threatens to cut ties with US after Biden labels Putin a ‘war criminal’; US ambassador in Moscow summoned for an official protest as EU ministers meet to discuss further sanctions,” The Guardian, March 21, 2022 (13:03 GMT, updated 20.50 GMT);
First published on Mon 21 Mar 2022 13.03 GMT;

4) Eliot A. Cohen, “Why Can’t the West Admit That Ukraine Is Winning? America has become too accustomed to thinking of its side as stymied, ineffective, or incompetent,” The Atlantic, March 21, 2022 (10:51 AM EDT).

Commentary

Putin threatens to break dilpomatic relations with U.S. after Biden calls him a “war criminal”

Well, Vladimir, it will be interesting to hear your defense at your war crimes trial, if when you are older you ever decide to step outside Russia and its like-minded allies.

You better get used to being called a war criminal. Actually, the designation is long overdue, after Grozny and Aleppo.

You are not only guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but like most of the defendants at Nuremberg, you are guilty of the crime of aggression, or what the prosecutors at Nuremberg called “crimes against peace”.

Breaking diplomatic relations with the United Sytates will only make it harder for Russia to get any of the sanctions removed.

Ukraine is winning?

Much as the Observer would like to see the Ukrainians winning the war with Russia, Max Boot’s op-ed in the Washington Post today represents nothing more than very dangerous wishful thinking.

As Mariupol is reduced to rubble and its residents fight a desperate battle to save their lives, threatened not only by constant bombardment but also by a lack of food and water, and heat, a headline that says the Ukrainians are winning sounds grotesque.

To be sure, the Russian advance on the ground has met resistance and suffers from many problems. But let us not forget that this is the army and the people which defeated Nazi Germany in World War II on the Eastern Front.

To declare that Ukrainians are winning the war is what it would have been like in declare, in November 1939, that England and France were winning the war with Germany because the Nazis had made no significant gains on the Western Front after invading Poland on September 1, 1939.

Statements such as Boot’s are dangerous, because they feed the illusion in the West that a negotiated end to the war is in sight, and that NATO countries will not have to resort even to the limited, defensive use of force to stop the advance of Russia’s forces and its ongoing slaughter of civilian populations.

Instead of giving support to false illusions of victory, pundits and leaders in NATO countries should be preparing their populations for the long struggle with Russia that lies ahead, and even for the limited use of force to break the siege of cities, halt the commission of crimes against humanity, and provide humanitarian relief to besieged civilian populations which cling to life by a slender thread.

COUNTERPOINT Notwithstanding the Observer’s criticisms of Boot’s speaking of victory, Eliot A. Cohen makes a strong case for the proposition that the Ukrainians are winning the war on the ground, and that the momentum is increasingly shifting in their favor. Cohen makes a number of telling points, but does not address the reality that thousands of Ukrainian civilians are being killed by the siege and bombardment of cities and civilian populations.

Having followed closely what took place in Aleppo and beimg influenced by a background in human rights where the protection of individual human beings is of paramount importance, the Observer cannot be so sanguine about the future.

What does distinguish Ukraine from Syria and the destruction of Aleppo, and the fate of Grozny in the third Chechnyan war, is the fact that the economic sanctions imposed by the West will take a progressively disastrous toll on the Russian economy and individual Russians. Whether that will be enough to force a change in policy or leadership is too uncertain to predict.

In the meantime, if NATO and the West do not act to oppose Putin with even limited force, tens of thousands of Ukrainians are likely to die from the siege and bombardment of cities and civilian populations.

However, Cohen has a point. Even before the economic sanctions produce changes in policies or leaders in the Kremlin, the tide could turn on the battlefield.

“Never again”: Auschwitz, Mariupol, and the Response of the West

Never again say, “Never again!”

Words are cheap. Actions are what counts.

Grozny. Aleppo. Mariupol. Kharkiv. Kviv. The name of each city will evoke stories and memories of what the Russians have done there.

For those who have solemnly declared for years, “Never again,” the present has become “again”, and the burning questions of the hour are:

1) “What are you going to do about it?” and

2) “What actions are you going to take that will actually stop it?”

Biden and NATO, prisoners of bad assumptions and bad decisions, are paralyzed, unable to confront Russian aggression

Trapped within the assumptions of the “rational actor model”, Biden and his foreign policy team have a dismal record in the Ukraine conflict. Ruling out the use of force by NATO countries, and continually broadcasting that decision to Putin, put Ukraine and NATO at a horrendous disadvantage, and probably made it easier for Putin to decide to invade Ukraine on a massive scale.

Constantly communicating his fear of Putin, of provoking Putin, of doing anything that Putin might interpret as military confrontation with Russia, Biden repeatedly communicated his weakness to Putin.

Putin respects only strength, not weakness. Vetoing the transfer of Polish Mig 29’s to Poland made a huge issue out of Biden’s timidity. Had he allowed the transfer to go forward on March 1, it is extremely unlikely that Putin would have attacked a NATO country in response.

Deploying limited, defensive force to protect humanitarian relief conveys, or to block the commission of crimes against humanity involving the slaughter and starvation of tens of thousands of people, would have set down a marker, and would have introduced an opposing force. Instead, Biden signaled that he and NATO would not oppose barbarism not seen on this scale since the Nazis in World War II.

Moreover, the U.S. and NATO are fast approaching a point where interposing force, limited or greater, may become necessary if Putin employs chemical, biological, or tactical nuclear weapons.

Indeed, it is even possible that Putin wants to engage NATO, and demonstrate that his modern weapons and nerves of steel are far superior to those at Biden’s command.

Everything Biden has done to date, even the imposition of extremely strong sanctions, has been too little, too late.

If the heaviest sanctions had been deployed earlier, it is possible that Putin might not have invaded Ukraineon the scale he did. If the anti-ship missiles had been given to the Ukrainians earlier, the Russian shelling of Odessa might have been or be deterred or greatly reduced.

Who knows how this war will develop?

With the U.S. and its allies imposing crippling sanctions on Russia, it seems unlikely that NATO will not be become more directly involved militarily.

The longer Biden and NATO delay pushing back against Putin with limited, defensive force, or just the transfer of Polish MIGs to Ukraine, the more likely it may become that greater force will be required to stop Putin in the future.

The Trenchant Observer

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