US [+EU] views on Russia’s latest attempt to change its political occupant state

An Assessment of Russian Defense Capabilities and Security Strategy [Center for Strategic & International Studies YouTube channel, June 30, 2014]

Russia has shown a renewed willingness and ability to use military force (from irregular to high-end capabilities) to coerce its neighbors, the United States, and NATO allies. This raises a series of important questions for defense and security analysts and practitioners around the world. Most important, what are Russia’s military and intelligence services really capable of? And what does Russian President Vladimir Putin intend to do over months and years to come?  

CSIS scholars will consider Russian capabilities, foreign and security strategy and policy, and strategic stability dynamics with the United States.

From Wikipedia:

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is a prominent American think tank based in Washington, D.C., in the United States. The center conducts policy studies and strategic analyses on political, economic and security issues throughout the world, with a specific focus on issues concerning international relations, trade, technology, finance, energy and geostrategy.

In the University of Pennsylvania’s 2013 Global Go To Think Tanks Report, CSIS is ranked the number one think tank in the world for security and international affairs and was also ranked as the 4th best overall think tank in the world.[1] It has been called "one of the most respected of Washington think tanks."[2]

Since its founding, CSIS “has been dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world," according to its website.[3] CSIS is officially a bipartisan think tank with scholars that represent varying points of view across the political spectrum. The think tank is known for inviting well-known foreign policy and public service officials from the U.S. Congress and the executive branch including those affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican Party as well as foreign officials of varying political backgrounds. It has been labeled a "centrist" think tank by U.S. News & World Report[4]

Presentations by

Andrew C. Kuchins
Director and Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS

Paul N. Schwartz
Senior Associate, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS

Clark A Murdock
Senior Adviser and Director, Defense and National Security Group, Project on Nuclear Issues, CSIS

Jeffrey A. Mankoff

Deputy Director and Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS

Moderated by
Samuel J. Brannen
Senior Fellow, International Security Program, CSIS

Germany’s Ischinger: Any Path to Talks With Russia? [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, June 26, 2014]

Senior German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger says there are improved chances for dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine if Putin stops his interference in southeastern Ukraine. Russia has not yet sealed the border there against fighters and arms entering Ukraine, and that is the step required, he says.

Daniel Baer on Propaganda as a Weapon [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, June 30, 2014]

U.S Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer speaks to the Atlantic Council about how Russia uses information as a tool of power and influence at home and abroad, simultaneously reducing the discussion at home by clamping down on the rights of its own citizens.

Daniel Baer on Eastern Ukraine: A Frozen Conflict in the Making? [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, June 30, 2014]

s the area of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatist militants heading in a frozen conflict direction? Will it join Nagorno Karabakh, Transnistria, South Ossetia and other areas where both sides agree to disagree and a decades long stalemate ensues? U.S Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer speaks to the Atlantic Council on whether eastern Ukraine is a frozen conflict in the making.

Daniel Baer on Self-Determination and Separatism [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, June 30, 2014]

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are refusing the terms of the peace plan proposed by President Petro Poroshenko. While invoking legality, they are acting outside the law. U.S Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer speaks to the Atlantic Council about where self-determination ends, and separatism begins.

Mutual Security on Hold? Russia, the West, and European Security Architecture [WoodrowWilsonCenter YouTube channel, published on June 27, 2014]


[From:] June 16, 2014 // 10:00am — 11:30am

This year, the Munich Security Conference celebrated its 50th anniversary. These fifty years of substantive dialogue on security cooperation have existed against a changing political backdrop – from the tensions of the Cold War and the brutal conflict in the Western Balkans, to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the global “War on Terror.” Mutual security and the transatlantic relationship are once again faced with challenges in the form of the crisis in Ukraine. What does this crisis mean for mutual security, and how will it affect the security architecture in Europe? The Wilson Center brings together this distinguished panel to discuss these issues, as well as the recent anniversary volume: “Towards Mutual Security: Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference.”

Event Speakers List:

  • Wolfgang Ischinger // Distinguished Scholar
    Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Germany; Former German Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2006 to May 2008 and to the United States from 2001 to 2006.

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski //Former National Security adviser;

    Professor of American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; and Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies
    BRZEZINSKI REMARKS ON MUTUAL SECURITY

  • Jane Harman // Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center

  • Steven Pifer //Director, Arms Control Initiative, Brookings Institution

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project Woodrow Wilson Center

Confronting Russian Chauvinism [The American Interest, published on June 27, 2014]

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke on a panel at the Wilson Center on June 16 titled “Mutual Security on Hold? Russia, the West, and European Security Architecture”. Below is a transcript of his remarks.

В борьбе с российским шовинизмом ("The American Interest", США)
[ИноСМИ.RU, 29/06/2014]

Доктор Збигнев Бжезинский выступил на конференции в Центре Уилсона, которая состоялась 16 июня и проходила под заголовком «Взаимная безопасность под вопросом? Россия, Запад и архитектура европейской безопасности» (Mutual Security on Hold? Russia, the West, and European Security Architecture). Ниже приведена расшифровка его выступления.

Putin, Brzezinski, and Deterrence 101 [by Janine Davidson, Defense in Depth, June 19, 2014]

On June 16, I had the opportunity to hear former National Security Adviser (and sage professor) Zbigniew Brzezinski speak at the Wilson Center. He gave an outstanding speech regarding the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine and what the United States and NATO can and should do about it.

Here are some key takeaways from this particular student’s notes:

FROM RUSSIA WITH NO LOVE [Diplomatic Courier, Jun 18, 2014]

In Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Strategic Vision, he describes the nature of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy: “a backward-looking combination of assertive nationalism, thinly veiled hostility toward America for its victory in the Cold War, and nostalgia for both modernity and superpower status.”

The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities [The Nation, June 30, 2014]

The regime has repeatedly carried out artillery and air attacks on city centers, creating a humanitarian catastrophe—which is all but ignored by the US political-media establishment.

[From Wikipedia:] The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, a successor to William Lloyd Garrison‘s Liberator.[2] Theperiodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left."[3] Founded on July 6, 1865, it is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.[4] It is associated with The Nation Institute. Circulation peaked at 187,000 in 2006 but by 2010 had dropped back to 145,000 in print, though digital subscriptions had risen to over 15,000.[5]Print ad pages declined by 5% from 2009 to 2010, while digital advertising rose 32.8% from 2009–10.[6] 

For weeks, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.”

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the independent scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not already done so.

* * *

In mid-April, the new Kiev government, predominantly western Ukrainian in composition and outlook, declared an “anti-terrorist operation” against a growing political rebellion in the Southeast. At that time, the rebels were mostly mimicking the initial Maidan protests in Kiev in 2013—demonstrating, issuing defiant proclamations, occupying public buildings and erecting defensive barricades—before Maidan turned ragingly violent and, in February, overthrew Ukraine’s corrupt but legitimately elected president, Viktor Yanukovych. (The entire Maidan episode, it will be recalled, had Washington’s enthusiastic political, and perhaps more tangible, support.) Indeed, the precedent for seizing official buildings and demanding the allegiance of local authorities had been set even earlier, in January, in western Ukraine—by pro-Maidan, anti-Yanukovych protesters, some declaring “independence” from his government.

Considering those preceding events, but above all the country’s profound historical divisions, particularly between its western and eastern regions—ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural, economic and political—the rebellion in the Southeast, centered in the industrial Donbass, was not surprising. Nor were its protests against the unconstitutional way (in effect, a coup) the new government had come to power, the Southeast’s sudden loss of effective political representation in the capital and the real prospect of official discrimination. But by declaring an “anti-terrorist operation” against the new protesters, Kiev signaled its intention to “destroy” them, not negotiate with them.

On May 2, in this incendiary atmosphere, a horrific event occurred in the southern city of Odessa, awakening memories of Nazi German extermination squads in Ukraine and other Soviet republics during World War II. An organized pro-Kiev mob chased protesters into a building, set it on fire and tried to block the exits. Some forty people, perhaps many more, perished in the flames or were murdered as they fled the inferno. A still unknown number of other victims were seriously injured.

Members of the infamous Right Sector, a far-right paramilitary organization ideologically aligned with the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, itself a constituent part of Kiev’s coalition government, led the mob. Both are frequently characterized by knowledgeable observers as “neo-fascist” movements. (Hateful ethnic chants by the mob were audible, and swastika-like symbols were found on the scorched building.) Kiev alleged that the victims had themselves accidentally started the fire, but eyewitnesses, television footage and social media videos told the true story, as they have about subsequent atrocities.

Instead of interpreting the Odessa massacre as an imperative for restraint, Kiev intensified its “anti-terrorist operation.” Since May, the regime has sent a growing number of armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, helicopter gunships and warplanes to southeastern cities, among them, Slovyansk (Slavyansk in Russian), Mariupol, Krasnoarmeisk, Kramatorsk, Donetsk and Luhansk (Lugansk in Russian). When its regular military units and local police forces turned out to be less than effective, willing or loyal, Kiev hastily mobilized Right Sector and other radical nationalist militias responsible for much of the violence at Maidan into a National Guard to accompany regular detachments—partly to reinforce them, partly, it seems, to enforce Kiev’s commands. Zealous, barely trained and drawn mostly from central and western regions, Kiev’s new recruits have reportedly escalated the ethnic warfare and killing of innocent civilians. (Episodes described as “massacres” soon also occurred in Mariupol and Kramatorsk.)

Initially, the “anti-terrorist” campaign was limited primarily, though not only, to rebel checkpoints on the outskirts of cities. Since May, however, Kiev has repeatedly carried out artillery and air attacks on city centers that have struck residential buildings, shopping malls, parks, schools, kindergartens and hospitals, particularly in Slovyansk and Luhansk. More and more urban areas, neighboring towns and even villages now look and sound like war zones with telltale rubble, destroyed and pockmarked buildings, mangled vehicles, the dead and wounded in streets, wailing mourners and crying children. Conflicting information from Kiev, local resistance leaders and Moscow make it impossible to estimate the number of dead and wounded noncombatants—certainly hundreds. The number continues to grow due also to Kiev’s blockade of cities where essential medicines, food, water, fuel and electricity are scarce, and where wages and pensions are often no longer being paid. The result is an emerging humanitarian catastrophe.

Another effect is clear. Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” tactics have created a reign of terror in the targeted cities. Panicked by shells and mortars exploding on the ground, menacing helicopters and planes flying above and fear of what may come next, families are seeking sanctuary in basements and other darkened shelters. Even The New York Times, which like the mainstream American media generally has deleted the atrocities from its coverage, described survivors in Slovyansk “as if living in the Middle Ages.” Meanwhile, an ever-growing number of refugees, disproportionately women and traumatized children, have been fleeing across the border into Russia. In late June, the UN estimated that as many as 110,000 Ukrainians had already fled to Russia and about half that many to other Ukrainian sanctuaries.

It is true, of course, that anti-Kiev rebels in these regions are increasingly well-armed (though lacking the government’s arsenal of heavy and airborne weapons), organized and aggressive, no doubt with some Russian assistance, whether officially sanctioned or not. But calling themselves “self-defense” fighters is not wrong. They did not begin the combat; their land is being invaded and assaulted by a government whose political legitimacy is arguably no greater than their own, two of their large regions having voted overwhelmingly for autonomy referenda; and, unlike actual terrorists, they have not committed acts of war outside their own communities. The French adage suggested by an American observer seems applicable: “This animal is very dangerous. If attacked, it defends itself.”

* * *

Among the crucial questions rarely discussed in the US political-media establishment: What is the role of the “neo-fascist” factor in Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” ideology and military operations? Putin’s position, at least until recently—that the entire Ukrainian government is a “neo-fascist junta”—is incorrect. Many members of the ruling coalition and its parliamentary majority are aspiring European-style democrats or moderate nationalists. This may also be true of Ukraine’s newly elected president, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Equally untrue, however, are claims by Kiev’s American apologists, including even some academics and liberal intellectuals, that Ukraine’s neo-fascists—or perhaps quasi-fascists—are merely agitated nationalists, “garden-variety Euro-populists,” a “distraction” or lack enough popular support to be significant.

Independent Western scholars have documented the fascist origins, contemporary ideology and declarative symbols of Svoboda and its fellow-traveling Right Sector. Both movements glorify Ukraine’s murderous Nazi collaborators in World War II as inspirational ancestors. Both, to quote Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok, call for an ethnically pure nation purged of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum,” including homosexuals, feminists and political leftists. And both hailed the Odessa massacre. According to the website of Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, it was “another bright day in our national history.” A Svoboda parliamentary deputy added, “Bravo, Odessa…Let the Devils burn in hell.” If more evidence is needed, in December 2012, the European Parliament decried Svoboda’s “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views [that] go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles.” In 2013, the World Jewish Congress denounced Svoboda as “neo-Nazi.” Still worse, observers agree that Right Sector is even more extremist.

Nor do electoral results tell the story. Tyahnybok and Yarosh together received less than 2 percent of the June presidential vote, but historians know that in traumatic times, when, to recall Yeats, “the center cannot hold,” small, determined movements can seize the moment, as did Lenin’s Bolsheviks and Hitler’s Nazis. Indeed, Svoboda and Right Sector already command power and influence far exceeding their popular vote. “Moderates” in the US-backed Kiev government, obliged to both movements for their violence-driven ascent to power, and perhaps for their personal safety, rewarded Svoboda and Right Sector with some five to eight (depending on shifting affiliations) top ministry positions, including ones overseeing national security, military, prosecutorial and educational affairs. Still more, according to the research of Pietro Shakarian, a remarkable young graduate student at the University of Michigan, Svoboda was given five governorships covering about 20 percent of the country. And this does not take into account the role of Right Sector in the “anti-terrorist operation.”

Nor does it consider the political mainstreaming of fascism’s dehumanizing ethos. In December 2012, a Svoboda parliamentary leader anathematized the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis as “a dirty kike.” Since 2013, pro-Kiev mobs and militias have routinely denigrated ethnic Russians as insects (“Colorado beetles,” whose colors resemble a sacred Russia ornament). More recently, the US-picked prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, referred to resisters in the Southeast as “subhumans.” His defense minister proposed putting them in “filtration camps,” pending deportation, and raising fears of ethnic cleansing. Yulia Tymoshenko—a former prime minister, titular head of Yatsenyuk’s party and runner-up in the May presidential election—was overheard wishing she could “exterminate them all [Ukrainian Russians] with atomic weapons.” “Sterilization” is among the less apocalyptic official musings on the pursuit of a purified Ukraine.

Confronted with such facts, Kiev’s American apologists have conjured up another rationalization. Any neo-fascists in Ukraine, they assure us, are far less dangerous than Putinism’s “clear aspects of fascism.” The allegation is unworthy of serious analysis: However authoritarian Putin may be, there is nothing authentically fascist in his rulership, policies, state ideology or personal conduct.

Indeed, equating Putin with Hitler, as eminent Americans from Hillary Clinton and Zbigniew Brzezinski to George Will have done, is another example of how our new cold warriors are recklessly damaging US national security in vital areas where Putin’s cooperation is essential. Looking ahead, would-be presidents who make such remarks can hardly expect to be greeted by an open-minded Putin, whose brother died and father was wounded in the Soviet-Nazi war. Moreover, tens of millions of today’s Russians whose family members were killed by actual fascists in that war will regard this defamation of their popular president as sacrilege, as they do the atrocities committed by Kiev.

* * *

And yet, the Obama administration reacts with silence, and worse. Historians will decide what the US government and the “democracy promotion” organizations it funds were doing in Ukraine during the preceding twenty years, but much of Washington’s role in the current crisis has been clear and direct. As the Maidan mass protest against President Yanukovych developed last November-December, Senator John McCain, the high-level State Department policymaker Victoria Nuland and a crew of other US politicians and officials arrived to stand with its leaders, Tyahnybok in the forefront, and declare, “America is with you!” Nuland was then caught on tape plotting with the American ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, to oust Yanukovych’s government and replace him with Yatsenyuk, who soon became, and remains, prime minister.

Meanwhile, President Obama personally warned Yanukovych “not to resort to violence,” as did, repeatedly, Secretary of State John Kerry. But when violent street riots deposed Yanukovych—only hours after a European-brokered, White House–backed compromise that would have left him as president of a reconciliation government until new elections this December, possibly averting the subsequent bloodshed—the administration made a fateful decision. It eagerly embraced the outcome. Obama personally legitimized the coup as a “constitutional process” and invited Yatsenyuk to the White House. The United States has been at least tacitly complicit in what followed, from Putin’s hesitant decision in March to annex Crimea and the rebellion in southeastern Ukraine to the ongoing civil war.

How intimately involved US officials have been in Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” is not known, but certainly the administration has not been discreet. Before and after the military campaign began in earnest, CIA director John Brennan and Vice President Joseph Biden (twice) visited Kiev, followed, it is reported, by a continuing flow of “senior US defense officials,” military equipment and financial assistance to the bankrupt Kiev government. Despite this crucial support, the White House has not compelled Kiev to investigate either the Odessa massacre or the fateful sniper killings of scores of Maidan protesters and policemen on February 18-20, which precipitated Yanukovych’s ouster. (The snipers were initially said to be Yanukovych’s, but evidence later appeared pointing to opposition extremists, possibly Right Sector. Unlike Washington, the Council of Europe has been pressuring Kiev to investigate both events.)

As atrocities and humanitarian disaster grow in Ukraine, both Obama and Kerry have all but vanished as statesmen. Except for periodic banalities asserting the virtuous intentions of Washington and Kiev and alleging Putin’s responsibility for the violence, they have left specific responses to lesser US officials. Not surprisingly, all have told the same Manichean story, from the White House to Foggy Bottom. The State Department’s neocon missionary Nuland, who spent several days at Maidan, for example, assured a congressional committee that she had no evidence of fascist-like elements playing any role there. Ambassador Pyatt, who earlier voiced the same opinion about the Odessa massacre, was even more dismissive, telling obliging New Republic editors that the entire question was “laughable.”

Still more shameful, no American official at any level appears to have issued a meaningful statement of sympathy for civilian victims of the Kiev government, not even those in Odessa. Instead, the administration has been unswervingly indifferent. When asked if her superiors had “any concerns” about the casualties of Kiev’s military campaign, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has repeatedly answered “no.” Indeed, at the UN Security Council on May 2, US Ambassador Samantha Power, referring explicitly to the “counter-terrorism initiative” and suspending her revered “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, gave Kiev’s leaders a US license to kill. Lauding their “remarkable, almost unimaginable, restraint,” as Obama himself did after Odessa, she continued, “Their response is reasonable, it is proportional, and frankly it is what any one of our countries would have done.” (Since then, the administration has blocked Moscow’s appeal for a UN humanitarian corridor between southeastern Ukraine and Russia.)

Contrary to the incessant administration and media demonizing of Putin and his “agents” in Ukraine, the “anti-terrorist operation” can be ended only where it began—in Washington and Kiev. Leaving aside how much power the new president actually has in Kiev (or over Right Sector militias in the field), Poroshenko’s “peace plan” and June 21 ceasefire may have seemed such an opportunity, except for their two core conditions: fighters in the Southeast first had to “lay down their arms” and he alone would decide with whom to negotiate peace. The terms seemed more akin to conditions of surrender and reason enough for the ceasefire to fail.

The Obama administration continues to make the situation worse. Despite opposition by several NATO allies and even American corporate heads, the president and his secretary of state, who has spoken throughout this crisis more like a secretary of war than the nation’s top diplomat, have constantly threatened Russia with harsher economic sanctions unless Putin meets one condition or another, most of them improbable. On June 26, Kerry even demanded (“literally”) that the Russian president “in the next few hours…help disarm” resisters in the Southeast, as though they are not motivated by any of Ukraine’s indigenous conflicts but are merely Putin’s private militias.

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In fact, from the onset of the crisis, the administration’s actual goal has been unclear, and not only to Moscow.

  • Is it a negotiated compromise, which would have to include a Ukraine with a significantly federalized or decentralized state free to maintain longstanding economic relations with Russia and banned from NATO membership?
  • Is it to bring the entire country exclusively into the West, including into NATO? 
  • Is it a vendetta against Putin for all the things he purportedly has and has not done over the years? (Some behavior of Obama and Kerry, seemingly intended to demean and humiliate Putin, suggest an element of this.)
  • Or is it to provoke Russia into a war with the United States and NATO in Ukraine?

Inadvertent or not, the latter outcome remains all too possible. After Russia annexed—or “reunified” with—Crimea in March, Putin, not Kiev or Washington, has demonstrated “remarkable restraint.” But events are making it increasingly difficult for him to do so. Almost daily, Russian state media, particularly television, have featured vivid accounts of Kiev’s military assaults on Ukraine’s eastern cities. The result has been, both in elite and public opinion, widespread indignation and mounting perplexity, even anger, over Putin’s failure to intervene militarily.

We may discount the following indictment by an influential ideologist of Russia’s own ultra-nationalists, who have close ties with Ukraine’s “self-defense” commanders: “Putin betrays not just the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk but himself, Russia and all of us.” Do not, however, underestimate the significance of an article in the mainstream pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia, which asks, while charging the leadership with “ignoring the cries for help,” “Is Russia abandoning the Donbass?” If so, the author warns, the result will be “Russia’s worst nightmare” and relegate it to “the position of a vanquished country.”

Just as significant are similar exhortations by Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russia’s Communist Party, the second-largest in the country and in parliament. The party also has substantial influence in the military-security elite and even in the Kremlin. Thus, one of Putin’s own aides has publicly urged him to send fighter planes to impose a “no-fly zone”—an American-led UN action in Qaddafi’s Libya that has not been forgotten or forgiven by the Kremlin—and destroy Kiev’s approaching aircraft and land forces. If that happens, US and NATO forces, now being built up in Eastern Europe, might well also intervene, creating a Cuban Missile Crisis–like confrontation. As a former Russian foreign minister admired in the West reminds us, there are “hawks on both sides.”

Little of this is even noted in the United States. In a democratic political system, the establishment media are expected to pierce the official fog of war. In the Ukrainian crisis, however, mainstream American newspapers and television have been almost as slanted and elliptical as White House and State Department statements, obscuring the atrocities, if reporting them at all, and generally relying on information from Washington and Kiev. Most Americans are thereby unknowingly being shamed by the Obama administration’s role. Those who do know but remain silent—in government, think tanks, universities and media—share its complicity.

Putin’s Ukraine Policy Backfires [The Nation, June 26, 2014]

At the end of the Coen brothers’ classic 1996 film, Fargo, the intrepid law enforcement officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) famously addresses the less-than-competent bad guy after she’s arrested him:

And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.

One might say the same thing about the less-than-competent bad guy who is president of Russia, Vladimir Putin: And for what? What, exactly, has Putin accomplished by stoking fires in Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea, mobilizing Russian forces on Ukraine’s border, backing thuggish separatists who’ve created ersatz “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine, bringing economic sanctions down on Russia, and destroying whatever good will Russia had built up by hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics? Well. I just don’t understand it.

There’s reason to be optimistic, of course, that the fighting in Ukraine will wind down, that an accord will be reached, and that the surprise talks between Kiev and at least some of the rebelswill succeed.

But the entire crisis might have been avoided if Russia hadn’t gotten its britches in an uproar just because Ukraine—run, by the way, back in 2013 by a corrupt but mostly pro-Russian wheeler-dealer—wanted to sign an association agreement with the European Union. For most Ukrainians, linking up with the EU was a no-brainer—after all, what Ukrainian in his right mind, if that mind weren’t clouded by pro-Russian political or religious ideology, would prefer to tie Ukraine’s economy to the crumbling Russian one and its powerful economic alliance with, well, Kazakhstan? Now, after all the hubbub, the new president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko—far less pro-Russian than his predecessor, though still a wheeler-dealer and probably corrupt—says that he’ll sign an association agreement with the EU on June 27.

Of course, none of that means that the Ukraine crisis is over, just yet. For reasons that remain unclear, in terms of what he can accomplish, Putin is still apparently keeping the flame of rebellion in eastern Ukraine flickering, even secretly supplying the rebels there with a limited number of tanks and heavy weapons. The Kremlin is still making a fuss about the idea of Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, and Russia can create trouble in breakaway mini-republics in all three countries. Still, it seems obvious that every move that Putin has made has backfired, blown up in his face, and made things worse for him—except, perhaps, at home, where Putin has rallied ultranationalists, ex-CPSU types and the religious right to his side. But by creating a crisis over Ukraine, Putin has thrown a handful of monkey wrenches into relations between Russia and both Europe and the United States, allowed Washington to pressure the Europeans to increase military spending, strengthened advocates of NATO on both sides of the Atlantic, given hawks new leverage in the United States against President Obama’s more cautious foreign policy, and more. Way to go, Vlad!

As The Washington Post, in reporting the new efforts between the EU and the three eastern European nations, noted:

Russia’s moves have spurred neighbors to reorient westward even more quickly than they were contemplating. The deal-signing date for Moldova and Georgia was pushed up to June. Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, said he wanted to sign at the same time. Other countries with close ties to Russia also have become more cautious about binding themselves to their neighbor. Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a treaty in Mayestablishing the Eurasian Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature attempt to build a Russian-led counterweight to the European Union, but it contains fewer provisions for political integration than he had initially sought.

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Putin, who’s blinked and blinked again during the crisis, is sending mixed signals, and it’s unclear if and how he’ll react to the EU signings. On one hand, he’s been speaking regularly with Poroshenko—yesterday, together with the leaders of Germany and France—and he’s endorsed the idea of a cease-fire and peace talks between Kiev and the rebels. And in a symbolic act—though not a practical one—Putin has asked Russia’s parliament to withdraw its authorization for Russia to invade Ukraine. On the other hand, however, the Russians have apparently moved military units back to the Ukrainian border, after having withdrawn most of them earlier, and according to US officials Russia is allowing some heavy weapons, including tanks, to move across the border into the rebels’ hands. Worse, the rebels seem to have gotten their hands on some sophisticated antiaircraft weapons, which they’ve used to deadly effect.

So what is Putin trying to accomplish, given everything that the Ukraine crisis has cost him? Despite some fears that Russia wanted to swallow Ukraine whole, à la Crimea—never a likely outcome—it seems obvious that Putin is in part trapped by and in part fueling the almost romantic and religious ties between Russia and Ukraine. Is it to create a mini-state inside Ukraine that will weaken Kiev and give Russia leverage over the country? Is it something else? Time will tell.

The Ukraine Crisis and U.S. Security Strategy [Center for Strategic & International Studies YouTube channel, May 5, 2014]

Featuring a panel discussion with:

Andrew C. Kuchins
Director and Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS

Clark A. Murdock
Director and Senior Adviser, Defense and National Security Group, CSIS

Vikram J. Singh
Vice President, National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress

Moderated by:

Samuel J. Brannen
Senior Fellow, International Security Program, CSIS

Monday, May 5, 2014
1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
2nd Floor Conference Center
CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Please join us for a panel discussion on the implications of U.S. policy regarding Ukraine and Russia for U.S. strategy, credibility, and deterrence. Was President Obama right to take the use of military force off the table? Is an aggressive Russia sufficiently accounted for in current strategy and defense posture? Has the United States done too much or too little to reassure NATO and other allies and partners, including in the Asia-Pacific region?

Conversation with Zbigniew Brzezinski: The Eastern Edge of a Europe Whole and Free [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, April 29, 2014]

President Barack Obama has moved wisely with his administration’s progressive travel and financial sanctions against Russia’s ruling elite over Russia’a assault on Ukraine, but has failed to seriously begin building a domestic understanding that support for Ukrainians is vital to US interests, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said. The Ukraine crisis is "the most important challenge to the international systems since the end of the Cold War," Brzezinski told an audience at the Atlantic Council, yet "right now a significantly larger number of Americans are interested in the basketball championship."

For the United States to respond to Russia’s aggression "in a responsible, serious, fashion," it is politically essential for "president at some point now … to start telling the American people what is at stake here." Brzezinski called for Obama to make a major policy address on Ukraine — from the Oval Office or elsewhere — to do just that. Brzezinski spoke during a two-day conference on the future of Europe sponsored by the Atlantic Council.

Conference agenda and media: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/programs/brent-scowcroft-center/transatlantic-security/europe-whole-and-free

Summary of the session: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/events/past-events/the-eastern-edge-of-a-europe-whole-and-free

Engage or Contain? Future Policy Toward Russia Trilaterally Considered [Center for Strategic & International Studies YouTube channel, April 24, 2014]

Engage or Contain?:
Future Policy Toward Russia Trilaterally Considered

Featuring,

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Ambassador Paula Dobriansky
Former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

His Excellency Andrzej Olechowski
Former Polish Foreign Minister

His Excellency Shotaro Oshima
Former Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister

Dr. Igor Yurgens
Chairman of INSOR Russia, Institute of Contemporary Development

Moderated by,

Ms. Heather A. Conley
Director and Senior Fellow, CSIS Europe Program

Thursday, April 24, 2014
10:00 – 11:30 AM
CSIS 2nd Floor Conference Room
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Please join us for an interactive discussion on the occasion of the release of the Trilateral Commission’s latest report entitled, “Engaging Russia: A Return to Containment?”. The Trilateral Commission convenes experienced leaders within the private sector from Europe, North America, and Asia to research, analyze and assess pressing international challenges in an interconnected and interdependent world. This is the third in a series of reports on Russia that the Trilateral Commission has undertaken since 1995. For the first time, the Trilateral Commission solicited contributions from a group of Russian experts led by Dr. Igor Yurgens, Chairman of INSOR Russia: Institute of Contemporary Development. Former Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski; Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; former Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan Shotaro Oshima; and Dr. Yurgens will discuss the findings of the report and Dr. Zbignew Brzezinski will offer his reflections on the current state of Russia’s domestic and international affairs and what policy approaches the Trilateral countries should pursue towards Moscow in light of the crisis in Ukraine.

Toward a Transatlantic Renaissance: Ensuring Our Shared Future [AtlanticCouncil YouTube channel, Nov 14, 2013

On November 13, 2013, Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland spoke to a packed house at the Atlantic Council in her first public address in office, highlighting the importance of the transatlantic relationship and urging the United States and Europe to work towards a "transatlantic renaissance."


[Transcript] Thank you, Damon, for the warm introduction. I’m so pleased to be here in the brand new offices of the Atlantic Council. Under Fred Kempe’s leadership and thanks to the creative energy of two of my favorite Wilsons — Damon and Ross — both collaborators and friends for many years — the Atlantic Council has had its own renaissance as a vital center of TransAtlantic conversation about all the key global issues: from economics and energy, to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. You’re making it cool again to be a Europeanist. For that, I thank you.

It is no accident that I wanted to give my first speech as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia at the Atlantic Council because today I want to talk about doubling down on the Transatlantic relationship.

I know, I know. Once every four years — or perhaps every four days — someone in a position like mine shows up here to talk about why Europe still matters, and how important we are to each other, even as the headlines are all about the Middle East or other troubled regions of the world. Or worse — they come here to preach Atlanticism just as the news is full of gloom and doom about the fraying of trust between us – whether the issue of the day is Iraq or the financial crisis or now the NSA disclosures.

But none of these bouts of turbulence changes the fundamentals: America needs a strong Europe, and Europe needs a strong America. The greater the Transatlantic and global challenges, the more important it is that the United States and Europe address them together. No other nations will step up if we don’t; yet other nations will and do join us when we, as a Transatlantic community, lead the way and give collective action our shared seal of approval and our involvement. The world needs a community of free nations with the will and the means to take on the toughest challenges, and to work for peace, security and freedom when they are threatened.

But today, as a Transatlantic community, we are standing at another vital inflection point in our ability to play that essential role, both at home and abroad. As our economies begin to emerge from five years of recession, recovery is not enough. What is required is a “Transatlantic Renaissance” – a new burst of energy, confidence, innovation, and generosity, rooted in our democratic values and ideals. When so much of the world around us is turbulent and unmoored, we are once again called to be a beacon of security, freedom and prosperity for countries everywhere. That will require both confidence and investments at home, and commitment and unity abroad. Together, we must lead or we will see the things we value and our global influence recede.

Today, I want to talk about the key elements of a Transatlantic Renaissance, and what we have to do together to make it a reality. At home, our most urgent economic task is to strengthen the foundations of our democratic, free-market way of life. That means working together for an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that sets the global gold standard for openness and growth. TTIP can be for our economic health what NATO has been to our shared security for 65 years: a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. When we eliminate tariffs and non-tarriff barriers to trade across the Atlantic, we’ll support hundreds of thousands of new and better-paying jobs. We will also strengthen our hand in the global conversation to advance the kind of open, rules-based public commons in which our nations thrive. TTIP is so much more than a trade agreement. It is a political and strategic bet we are placing on each other and our shared future. We need to go all in, and I commend the leading role that the Atlantic Council plays to build public support for TTIP.

Together, we are also in the midst of a major advance in energy diversification and independence. If just five years ago, many of us worried almost as much about energy security as our physical security, today the landscape has changed utterly. The EU has made wise decisions to de-monopolize and diversify its market. Member states are investing in renewables, LNG terminals, new pipelines and interconnectors, shale gas and nuclear power, and the U.S. is a major investor in many of these projects. The United States has increased its own oil production by 35 percent and gas production by 25 percent. Today, America is the top natural gas producer in the world. But there is more to do. To complete the map of energy security in the Transatlantic and Eurasian space, now is the time to be innovative and generous with each other. We have to spend the money to build the regional interconnectors, buy each other’s technology, share access to critical infrastructure, export to each other, and continue to help neighbors resist monopoly practices or political intimidation.

The energy renaissance could, in turn, unlock new opportunities in our 25 year project to build a Europe whole, free and at peace. With the discovery of significant gas resources off Cyprus, Cypriot Foreign Minister Kasoulides has publicly predicted that gas could play as important a role in healing the island’s divisions as the coal and steel industry played in 1949 between France and Germany. The United States is impressed by the commitment of the two Cypriot sides led by President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu over recent months to work together for a truly bizonal, bicommunal federation on the island. We also appreciate the support of Turkey and Greece for a mutually acceptable settlement between the parties. Today, both the leadership and shared interest are in place for a comprehensive settlement; this moment must not be squandered. A settlement will have benefits far beyond the island. It will also have a profoundly positive effect across the Eastern Med and on NATO-EU relations.

Two weeks before the EU’s summit in Vilnius, it is also a historic moment for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. All three countries have made advances in rule of law, democracy and market openness in order to meet the EU’s strict conditions for Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The United States welcomes these nations’ European choice and wants to see all three knitted into the European family with the kinds of trade benefits and visa free travel the EU offers. Ukraine, in particular, has three last steps to take to meet the EU’s conditions – passage of judicial and electoral reform legislation, and the release of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko from prison for medical treatment. We join the EU in urging Ukraine’s leaders to make the right historic choice for their 45 million citizens — to choose their children’s future over the grievances of the past.

We are also encouraged by the commitments Serbia and Kosovo have made toward long-term reconciliation, under the patient mentorship of EU High Representative Cathy Ashton and with the full U.S. backing. This process needs our continued support so that both countries achieve their goal of integrating fully into European structures. In another positive development, President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Sargsian of Armenia will meet later this month for the first time in almost two years. They have it in their power to launch comprehensive settlement talks, and we urge them to be bold and creative. And in Bosnia-Herzogovina, it is well past time for leaders to demonstrate courage and vision – to move past petty power interests to build a modern, unified nation worthy of the talents and aspirations of all three communities. But if these leaders continue to block the country’s path to EU and NATO membership, Bosnia’s international partners, including the United States, should reevaluate our approach.

As we work to overcome old hatreds and grievances and finish the democratic map of Europe, we must neutralize another poison that threatens too many of Europe and Eurasia’s young democracies: corruption. Popular confidence in elected government is dropping across Europe’s center and east because voters believe their leaders feed their own interests first and the people’s second. Corruption is a pernicious killer of democratic dreams. Our stability and renewal will depend on more effective joint measures to battle this deadly threat.

And just as the original European Renaissance ushered in an age of greater humanism, intellectual openness and citizens’ rights, so must our work today for a Transatlantic Renaissance include defending and advancing the universal values that bind us as free nations. The quality of democracy and rule of law in Europe and Eurasia is deeply uneven today, and in too many places the trends are moving in the wrong direction. Too many citizens do not feel safe running for office, criticizing their governments, or promoting civil society. In too many places, press freedom is stifled, courts are rigged and governments put their thumbs on the scales of justice. If, as a Transatlantic community, we aspire to support and mentor other nations who want to live in justice, peace and freedom, we must stand with those in our own space who are fighting for democratic progress and individual liberties. Our democratic values are just as vital a pillar of our strength and global leadership as our militaries and our economies.

Hard security matters too, of course. As a former Ambassador to NATO, I am amazed how far our Alliance has come. In the past 20 years, we’ve gone from a ‘deployment-free zone’ to operations on three continents with almost 50 global partners that protect hundreds of millions of people – from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Libya to securing the Med and counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean. With our ability to plug-and-play with so many partners, NATO has become the TransAtlantic core of the international security community.

But I’m also dismayed that Allies expect to sleep safely at night on the cheap and ever cheaper. Just five years ago, average defense spending by our Allies stood at around 1.7 percent of GDP. By 2012, it had dropped to below 1.4 percent. So, as we bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan and look toward a NATO Summit in the United Kingdom next fall, we need a renaissance in the way we think about collective defense and security. That means spending smarter by spending more together on the most vital 21st century capabilities – from joint intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, to deployable headquarters, to integrated strike capability. It means staying sharp and deployable through an aggressive exercise schedule that keeps North Americans, Europeans and our global partners interoperable. And it means consolidating all we’ve learned in the last two decades about training and support for third-country militaries into a permanent, standing training capability. If NATO, in conjunction with the EU, can train others more, we can fight less. But training alone won’t be enough. When people ask me what NATO is for after we stop fighting in Afghanistan, I invariably hear the Ghost Busters theme song in my head: “Who ya gonna call?” The question for us is: will we be ready and willing to answer that call, whenever and wherever it comes next?

More broadly, the world counts on our Transatlantic community to bring creative solutions to the world’s most urgent problems, from climate change to countering terrorism to addressing poverty and hunger. As the President has said so many times, Europe is our global partner of first resort. Today, there is no place where our experience, our ideals and our resources are more needed than on Europe’s own periphery — an area that is also of vital national interest to the United States – across the Mediterranean, in the struggling nations of North Africa and the Middle East. It matters to all of us how the Arab Spring turns out – will the preponderance of people there eventually live in freedom, prosperity and peace, or will tyrants and terrorists prevail?

The investment that the Transatlantic community and other nations make now will have an impact on the outcome. From Libya to Tunisia to Egypt to Lebanon to Iran to Syria to our work to support Middle East Peace, the United States and Europe are strongest when we share the risk, the responsibility and yes, the financial burden of promoting positive change. But this too requires leadership, including making the case to our own people that our fates and those of our neighbors are intertwined. In today’s interconnected world, strength at home and strength abroad are a package deal.

And I firmly believe that when we can find common purpose with Russia, the whole world benefits. When we take nuclear and chemical weapons out of service together, we’re all better off. We can’t stop working to find areas where we can bring Russia to the table. We should, for example, focus intensively in coming years on increasing two-way trade and investment between the United States and Russia by reducing tariffs and other barriers wherever possible, and by connecting our people and businesses at the regional level. We should also focus on spurring educational exchange, innovation and entrepreneurship so that the next generation of Russians and Americans grow up as partners and friends, and lose the zero-sum glasses of their parents. But, even as we seek to build ballast and mutual benefit into our relationship, Americans will never sugar coat it when we disagree with the Russian Government’s treatment of its political opposition, free media, NGOs, and members of the LGBT community, not to mention some of its foreign policies. Nor can we fall victim to a false choice between our interests and our values. For us, they are also a package deal.

Some of you no doubt are now thinking again about the wave of disclosures and allegations about the NSA so let me return to that for a moment. We understand the difficulties the current situation has caused for our Allies and friends. The President is determined to get the balance right between our citizens’ security and their privacy. He has ordered intelligence reviews, and we are having intensive consultations with Allies on this topic. But make no mistake: the intelligence work we do — much of it jointly with Allies and partners — has foiled terrorist plots on both sides of the Atlantic and kept us all safer. So as we work together to restore trust and balance, let’s also stand together to protect the gains we have made since September 11th, 2001, including the Terrorism Finance Tracking Program, the Passenger Name Record program and the Safe Harbor arrangement. As Americans and Europeans know better than anyone, there can be no liberty without security, just as there can be no security without liberty. If we continue to work together, we can and will strengthen both.

In closing, let me go back to where I began: it should not be enough for us to simply recover as a Transatlantic community. We can and must make the kinds of investments in each other now — and in our way of life — to continue to play the leadership role that the world needs and expects of us in these complex times. America and Europe have each tried going it alone at various moments, and the results are rarely good. We need each other to be our best. And, we are at an inflection point. Those who want to live in peace and freedom around the world are looking to us for a “Transatlantic Renaissance.” I believe that is within our grasp. For almost seventy years the Transatlantic community has been the rock on which the world order rests. Our challenge, on both sides of the Atlantic, is to ensure that remains the case. Thank you.

US and Central Europe Keynote Address [Center for Strategic & International Studies YouTube channel, published on June 26, 2014]

"Converging or Diverging Strategic Interests?" Keynote Address by Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs

Video: Strategic Overview: US and Central Europe Strategic Interests recorded on Nov 4, 2009

CSIS Trustee Zbigniew Brzezinski presents a strategic overview at the event, "The United States and Europe: Converging or Diverging Strategic Interests?"

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