Ukraine War, March 16, 2023: Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine; Biden seeks to enforce Putin’s “red lines”; Victory or long drawn-out war at stake

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

To understand the broad context within which current developments in Ukraine should be considered,see

“Ukraine War, October 26, 2022: The context for analysis of current developments; The “dirty bomb” as a Russian propaganda distraction from current war crimes,” The Trenchant Observer, October 26, 2022.


1) John Bolton, “Why Won’t the West Let Ukraine Win Against Russia?; Its defense would be more effective if it didn’t have to fight with one hand behind its back, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2023 (3:43 pm ET);

2) María R. Sahuquillo, “Polonia se convierte en el primer país que enviará cazas a Ucrania; La decisión de Varsovia supone un nuevo paso significativo en la entrega de armamento a Kiev, tras el acuerdo de los aliados para suministrar carros de combate. El anuncio abre la vía para que se sumen otros miembros de la OTAN,” El País, el 16 de marzo 2023 (20:15 CET)(15:15 EDT);

3) Cédric Pietralunga, “Pour la première fois, un pays de l’OTAN, la Pologne, fait don d’avions de combat à l’Ukraine; Varsovie a promis de livrer « au cours des prochains jours » quatre chasseurs-bombardiers Mig-29 à Kiev. Elle pourrait être suivie, dans un premier temps, par des pays d’Europe centrale et orientale,” Le Monde, le 16 mars 2023 (23:49, mis à jour le 17 mars à 03h13);

4) Cédric Pietralunga, “For the first time, a NATO country, Poland, donates combat aircraft to Ukraine; Warsaw promised to deliver “in the coming days” four Mig-29 fighter-bombers to Kiev. It could be followed, initially, by countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Le !onde, March 16, 2023 (11:49 pm, updated March 17 at 3:13 am);


John Bolton provides an overview of U.S. and NATO policies on the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, and describes how President Joe Biden, acting out of fear of Putin and his nuclear threats, has prevented Ukraine from receiving the types of weapons it has needed to defend iself against the Russian war of aggression.

María R. Sahuquillo of El País reports that Poland is getting ready to send four Soviet-made Mig-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days, and that it is leading a coalition of countries that may also do the same.

President Biden, with his obstinate refusal to authorize weapons transfers of fighter aircraft and the ATACMS long-range artillery rockets (with a range of 180 miles or 300 km), is losing leadership and control of the NATO coalition of countries willing to send advanced weapons systems to Ukraine.

Biden is trying to enforce two of Vladimir Putin’s “red lines”, first that Ukraine not be given weapons that enable it to strike targets within Russian territory; and second, that Ukraine not use weapons supplied by allies to attack targets in the Crimea (which Russia purported to annex in 2014).

Under international law, Ukraine has every right to strike targets in Russia in exercise of its right of self-defense under international law and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and the right to use military force to expel Russian forces from the Crimea which they illegally invaded in 2014. The purported annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 2014 is void under peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens), from which there can be no derogation, not even by agreement.

Biden, because of his anject fear of Putin and his nuclear threats has been doing him the favor of enforcing Putin’s “red lines”, in what critics have termed the self-deterrence of the U.S. and its NATO partners.

We don’t know if any secret agreements exist between Putin and Biden for the latter to enforce the former’s “red lines”, though that is definitely a possibility given secret back-channel conversations between Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, and Putin’s top aides.

Certainly Biden’s policies and decisions have been consistent with such an explicit or tacit agreement.

Now we will see if Biden tries to sabotage the transfer of the Polish jets to Ukraine, perhaps on the spurious ground that these Soviet-built jets contain some U,S.-owned technology.

Bolton’s critique is succinct and powerful. Like many other experts, he argues that the risk of Purin using nuclear weapons has been greatly exaggerated. Specifically, Bolton writes,

Much of NATO’s wrangling over weapons tracks Washington’s insistence that Kyiv not attack targets inside Russia or even Crimea, notwithstanding U.S. recognition of Crimea as sovereign Ukrainian territory. Under this bizarre reasoning, NATO pressures Ukraine not to strike inside Russia, and to spare key assets like Nord Stream, whereas the Kremlin can strike anywhere within Ukraine. Observers, recalling America’s catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal, could conclude Washington either doesn’t know its own mind or is eager to avoid pressing Moscow too hard militarily. Russia’s deterrence works.

Today, White House policy is essentially: We support Ukraine’s defending itself, but not enough to be too effective. This formula for protracted, inconclusive war ignores risks to America as well as Ukraine. Critical U.S. munitions supplies are being depleted, and our current capacity to restock is insufficient…

One thing is plain: Fears of Russian escalation are unwarranted. Our prewar intelligence vastly overestimated Russian combat-arms capabilities and the passing months show those capabilities steadily diminishing…Mr. Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling also has deterred NATO, but for no good reason. Moscow’s threats to date have been bluffs. Only in the most extreme circumstances—total Russian battlefield collapse, or Mr. Putin’s own regime on the verge of ouster—would using nuclear weapons realistically be an option. Accordingly, we should focus on deterring Mr. Putin in those scenarios, including threatening his own demise, rather than let his bluffing deter us.

The contradictions in Biden’s policies are becoming too great to ignore, as Ukrainian victory on the battlefield is clearly at stake. If Ukraine doesn’t get the weapons it needs in a timely manner, and if Biden doesn’t stop enforcing Putin’s “red lines”, NATO may succeed at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory, resulting in a long dragged-out war that favors the Russians.

Biden’s muddled thinking and weak foreign policy leadership could now take a terrible toll, either by dragging out the war in lieu of going for victory, or byngiving the Republicans arguments they can use to ride to victory in the presidential election in 2024.

America needs a strong leader. If Biden hopes to win in 2024, he must forge a strong leadership team which includes changes in top positions of his foreign policy team. He must also overcome his fear of Putin, and act decisively to enable Ukraine to achieve “victory” by expelling all Russian troops from all Russian territory–by military force.

A negotiated ceasefire or peace settlement is simply not possible, given the constraints of peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) and the U.N. Charter, before the Russians have left or committed to leaving all of Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer


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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.

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