Ukraine War, April 20, 2022: Fog at Foggy Bottom; Lavrov rules out nuclear war; Bret Stevens on Zelensky and leadership; What is the strategy?


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.

Only force can stop Putin

See “Ukraine War, April 5, 2022 (II): Force must be used to stop Putin,” The Trenchant Observer, April 5, 2022.


1) Jeff Stein, “Ukrainian, U.S., E.U. officials walk out of G-20 when Russia speaks; Leaders of other nations join protest of Russian participation as global conference faces turmoil,” Washington Post, April 20, 2022,i (12:03 pm, updated at 12:53 pm EDT);

2) Bloomberg News, “Russia Is Against Use of Nuclear Bombs in Ukraine, Lavrov Says, ” MSN, April 19, 2022 (9:12 am):

Bloomberg reports,

Russia and the U.S. issued a statement last year in which they agreed “there must be no nuclear war, don’t even think about it,” Lavrov said. In January, Russia and the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council adopted a similar stance, he added.

The statement, made in response to a question from a Russian newspaper, was obviously cleared by the Kremlin beforehand. Lavrov does not ad-lib, or get out in front of Putin. Was it just a propaganda ploy preparing the terrain for today’s ICBM test, or perhaps something more?

3) Tom Rogan, “Biden’s Defense Department says Russian nuclear tests are good, US tests bad,” Washington Examiner, April 20, 2022 (4:30 pm ET);

4) Bret Stevens, “Why We Admire Zelensky,” New York Times, April 19, 2022.


Today, the leaders of NATO and the citizens of NATO countries continued to stand on the sidelines, unwilling to take any military action to stop Putin, as the following occurred:

1. Janet Yellen and other leaders walked out of the G-20 meeting when the Russian representative spoke.

2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a press conference in India on April 19 repeated earlier statements ruling out nuclear war.

3. Russia carried out a test of a new ICBM, as scheduled. In early April, the U.S. canceled an ICBM test out of fear of provoking Putin.

Fog at Foggy Bottom

Once again, events have demonstrated the weakness of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team, and the fact that the Biden administration has been unable to organize the kind of broad all-of-government approach that is needed to successfully prosecute the war to halt and repel Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

The Biden administration continues to fight the raging Russian fire in Ukraine with a garden hose, not a firehose.

The administration does not have the bandwidth necessary to take on Russia on many different fronts at the same time. This suggests a structural problem, where a robust administrative apparatus has not been formed, authority has not been properly delegated, and a relatively narrow group of people at the top are left with responsibility for making all the decisions.

This failure is compounded by the fact this narrow group of people are all friends and close associates, and frequently fall victim to the phenomenon known as “Groupthink”.

For example, n January, preoccupied with Ukraine, the Biden administration didn’t even challenge Russia on its military intervention in Kazakstan.

Why? The garden hose didn’t have the capacity to deal with multiple challenges simultaneously.

To cite another example, throughout January the Biden administration did not develop seriously the international legal arguments challenging Putin’s threat of the use of force against Ukraine.

Even since the invasion on February 24, the Biden administration has failed to fully develop and prosecute those arguments in the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly, and in the national capitals of the members of these bodies. That is one reason the U.S. has failed to develop support for the position of NATO and the EU in condemning the Russian invasion and adopting sanctions.

A shocking failure to generate support for the General Assembly resolution expelling Russia from the Human Rights Council revealed the poor leadership and lack of diplomatic capacity at the State Department. The vote was 93 in favor, 24 against, with a whopping 58 states abstaining.

Now, instead of putting together an overwhelming case for why Russia should be expelled from the G-20 and acting in the current meetings to secure that expulsion, the U.S. is simply walking out of meetings where Russian representatives are speaking.

Simple. No staff work required. Not much of a diplomatic effort required. No creativity or bold action required. Just walk out, and defend your action by saying their is no procedure in the G-20 for the expulsion of a participant.

Surely it would tax the resources of the Biden administration to create and use such a procedure, or even to simply draw the battle lines with those G-20 members which refuse to condemn Russian aggression and atrocities.

Bret Stevens’ reflections on Zelensky’s leadership, and our own

Bret Stevens, in his opinion column in the New York Times yesterday has written an eloquent op-ed which should lead to broad refection. Everyone should read it. It is one of the finest columns he has written in a long and illustrious career.

What is the strategy?

What are the goals of NATO and EU and other coalition countries in opposing Putin’s war against Ukraine and  Russian crimes against humanity?

What is the strategy for achieving those goals?

Are adequate measures being taken to achieve those goals? Are those goals likely to be achieved?

If so, when?

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.