Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr. Secretary, Don’t Blink First
“We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked” – observed memorably Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
In October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave in to US pressure and ordered the removal of Soviet missiles from its Caribbean colony, signaling a major Cold War victory for Washington.
Today, if recent news about lifting or softening sanctions against Russia is any signal of future relations, then Washington may have just blinked and betrayed war-torn Ukraine and the other x-captive nations.
But it’s unfortunate for the US to have blinked while eye to eye with a country like Russia that is standing at the edge of a precipice, perhaps deep in its death throes but still mustering its last ounce of strength to invade and occupy Ukraine and bomb Syria.
Recent weeks have been red letter days for Russia watchers, as the country and its leader, Vladimir Putin, sink deeper into a cesspool of shame:

·                     Russia is still reviled for invading and occupying regions of Ukraine
·                     Russia’s economy is tanking, causing the people excessive pain
·                     British investigators have accused Putin of ordering the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko
·                     Human Rights Watch again chastised Russia for continuing to violate human rights
·                     The US Treasury described Putin as being corrupt

With a report card such as that, wouldn’t it be embarrassing for any world leader to shake hands with the likes of Vladimir Putin?
Apparently not. The free world is willing to forgive and forget. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos seem completely out of place as they serve to presage his fellow statesmen’s utterances about similar, tragic policy changes. “And earlier this week here at Davos, Vice President Biden and I met with Ukrainian President Poroshenko to help ensure full implementation of the Minsk agreements. And I believe that with effort and with bona fide, legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions can be appropriate, because of the full implementation, removed,” he said.
Free world leaders bullying Ukraine to surrender its positions because Russia certainly won’t budge.
Kerry also said in his address: “In Ukraine, under the previous regime, official venality and greed triggered an international crisis.” This incredible comment completely absolves Russia of a thousand years of aggression and Russification. It pardons Russia for crimes against humanity in Ukraine and for bringing Yanukovych to power. The “international crisis, that he cited, was caused by domestic crooks. Kerry’s remarks resemble President Obama’s statement during the State of the Union: “Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine.”
Kerry’s misguided assessments lead pundits to observe that a series of recent misinterpreted “encouraging” meetings with senior Russian officials have raised hopes in Washington, Paris and Berlin that Putin is serious about settling the dispute over eastern Ukraine. They believe that Russia’s false positives could then pave the way for sanctions to be eased before the year is out. None of Kerry’s expectations and Putin’s actions are borne out by reality. Russia’s troops and terrorists are still pouring into Ukraine with military hardware and occupying regions in the east and Crimea. There the Kremlin’s gauleiters have deprived local residents of their human, civil, cultural and religious rights and turned them into vassals of Russia. Moscow has not lived up to any of the conditions of the Minsk Accords and minor steps don’t count.
Kerry and other free world leaders quickly cautioned that progress toward lifting sanctions have to be substantiated by the warring sides’ implementation of the Minks Accords, maintenance of ceasefire, and holding of local elections. These sanctimonious politicians continue to obnoxiously place Ukraine in the same kettle as Russia without differentiating between victim and aggressor. The free world believes culpability is equal. It refuses to acknowledge that Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014 and occupied at least three regions of sovereign Ukraine for the sole purpose of restoring the iron curtain. Even with its strength waning, Russia continues to evoke fear in the free world.
Ukrainian officials suggested Moscow is portraying itself as a “good cop,” and presents Kyiv as the party that is not delivering on its Minsk commitments.
The global community, at least that portion that in the past has opposed Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, seems to have become bored with this state of affairs and is hankering to turn back the clock 24 months, return Russia to its pedestal and resume trading with it. Free world leaders are suffering from Kerry-like myopia, and see specters of Russian transformation. Sadly, they are wrong.
“There have been clear signs of a ‘pacification’ process recently,” opined Simon Quijano-Evans, chief emerging markets strategist at Commerzbank AG, on Bloomberg News. “It does look as though all sides are starting to push more markedly for resolutions to the current geopolitical mess.”
All sides? Including Ukraine, the victim of a Russian invasion and occupation. What kind of resolution can the world expect from Kyiv, which is struggling to save its freedom and build a democratic country in the middle of a war without outside help?
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble similarly wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper Monday, January 25, that the EU should build closer ties with Russia to help resolve the civil war in Syria and reduce tensions in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia Muslims. That remark came on the heels of French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron telling his country’s businessmen in Moscow that France would like to see sanctions lifted by the summer.
Should the world urge Paris to suspend martial law in the wake of the ISIS terrorist attacks?
Mark Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., observed that “Kerry is holding the possibility of lifting the sanctions but Russia has to do certain things, like cooperate on Ukraine and Syria and then the US would reverse some sanctions.”
Katz, a Soviet expert, added that the top US diplomat was also seeking to “appease those European allies who are not happy with sanctions.” Thus Russia, with all of its ignominious crimes against humanity, moves to center stage in the eyes of the self-righteous free world and is viewed as a savior of Syria.
Timid Europe has a long-standing reliance on Russia’s gas supply and is struggling to cope with the throngs of migrants seeping through its borders from Syria. With Syrian peace talks planned to start January 29 – and Russia a key player at that negotiating table – the fate of Ukraine caught in a war with the largest country on earth is no longer the only consideration for policymakers. X-captive nations leaders, quoted in my previous blogs, have warned against accepting Russia’s Syria for Ukraine switch ploy.
Calls for better relations with Russia show Putin’s uncanny ability to convince the free world that he’s interested in conflict resolution, even when he’s lying, according to James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at the UK’s Chatham House think tank.
“The West’s priority is Syria, Russia’s priority is Ukraine; their interests are substantially different from ours,” Nixey said in an interview. “Putin can say, ‘If you do me a deal on Ukraine and give me a Syria influence, then I’ll turn around the direction of my bombers and I’ll do more to come onside,’ which is attractive for the West whose primary problem is not Russia but Islamic fundamentalism.”
Kerry and his European counterparts might heed the sobering words of newly elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pedro Agramunt. He said during his first speech as PACE president at the Winter Session in Strasburg that Russia should stop backing separatists in Donbas, return control over the occupied territories to Ukraine and release Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko.
“Russia is still supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. It should do everything possible to return these territories to Ukraine’s control. It is necessary to release [Nadiya] Savchenko,” the PACE president said. According to him, the situation in Ukraine still raises concerns and is dangerous.
“Separatist-controlled territories are remaining the place where mass human rights violations are taking place,” Agramunt said.
Finally, if skepticism persists, the free world shouldn’t discount statements by Russian officials.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boastfully admitted that Russia would not comply with any of the free world’s expectations. He was quoted by The New York Times as saying on Tuesday, January 16, that Moscow wouldn’t budge on any of the issues that put it at odds with the world.
Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, Lavrov said Russia was ready to cooperate with the West, but only on what it sees as equal terms. It other words, Russia will not give into US pressure, it won’t blink first.
“There will be no ‘business as usual’ anymore, when the US and the European Union tried to impose agreements on us that were most of all in their interest, and tried to persuade us that it will not damage our interests,” Lavrov said. “This story is over.”
As for occupied Crimea, Lavrov said Russia would not negotiate the status of Crimea. “We have nothing to return,” he said. “Crimea is a Russian territory.”
The sanctions were originally designed to force Russia into withdrawing from Crimea and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Kerry and others want to lift them prematurely. And, in view of Lavrov’s admission, will Russia be inclined to withdraw from the eastern oblasts of Ukraine? It doesn’t look like it.
Compare these statements about Ukraine with Vice-President Joe Biden’s recent observations about the escalating war in Syria: He held a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace, according to Politico. “It is there he made known the possible new direction for US policy towards Syria. Biden said the US is ‘neither optimistic or pessimistic,’ but are ‘determined’ to reach a political solution. However, Biden also suggested the US is willing to use military force if necessary. ‘We do know that it would be better if we can reach a political solution, but we are prepared — we are prepared if that’s not possible to make — to have a military solution to this operation in taking out Daesh.’”
Syria deserves a solution via US military intervention but not Ukraine.
Fortunately for Ukraine and the other x-captive nations, they understand their own needs. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, during the 9th Europe-Ukraine Forum in the central Polish city of Łódź, said Ukraine is an important ally of Poland, and will continue receiving assistance from Warsaw. “Ukraine is a sovereign nation and has the right to choose its own path of economic development and international cooperation. Poland will support it on this path,” he declared.
With little hope for genuine US or NATO political or military support for Ukraine and the x-captive nations, they are forced to be their own best guardians. The joint brigade that Lithuania, Poland in Ukraine announced they will launch in 2017 is a step in the right direction.
The three countries said last week they would mobilize 4,000 troops that would be operational next year, as the x-captive nations maintain a wary eye on Russia and its invasion of Ukraine.
“The multinational brigade is a sign, symbol and very clear signal to anyone who would want to undermine peace in Europe,” Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in a ministry statement.
Macierewicz spoke after meeting with his counterparts from Lithuania and Ukraine, Juozas Olekas and Stepan Poltorak, respectively, in the eastern Polish city of Lublin. 
“We see this brigade as a driving force that will improve our army,” Poltorak was quoted as saying by the Polish news agency PAP. Additionally, Poland plans to establish 46,000-strong national guard in the face of war in eastern Ukraine.
Thus, Ukraine and other x-captive nations may again become the victims of a sellout of the free world that hopes that Putin will be pacified with promises of greater gains at least until he launches another invasion.

I’ve suggested this before: X-captive nations’ sinn fein.