When the doves begin to sound like hawks

July 22, 2014

There has been an enormous amount of criticism of Chancellor Merkel across the Ukrainian social media since the World Cup Final and her interaction with President Putin.

Exceptionally wrong-head statements about “Frau Ribbentrop”  became the misguided theme for extremely irate and upset Ukrainians.  That they were and are extremely irate and upset is more than understandable.  In fact it would be worrisome that they were in any way accepting of Kremlin actions – both direct and indirect – aimed at their nation.

As post WWII Europe designed NATO to keep the Soviets out, the Americans in and the Germans down militarily, the political system in Germany (more or less imposed) was designed to prevent charismatic and wrong-headed leaders rising and leading the German nation astray once more.  Thus the system produces coalitions and consensus

Ukrainians identify her as “all powerful” in Germany, no differently to the previous presidents of Ukraine who raped, pillaged and corrupted the country with impunity.  After decades of seeing that what the president says – goes – unquestioned and unstopped, there is an expectation that Chancellor Merkel can do the same and all other German politicians will simply fall in line.  A wrongful perception.

There is a lack of understanding regarding the fact she sits atop a coalition that requires a good deal of internal diplomacy and compromise – particularly when faced with a crisis.

However, Chancellor Merkel is no dove when it comes to President Putin or The Kremlin.  She is not the problem.  Indeed over the past few years in particular, it is difficult to identify a more hawkish German Chancellor toward The Kremlin since German reunification.

Her coalition party partner is indeed very dovish toward The Kremlin.  Of that party, the most high profile of the doves is probably Frank Steinmeier, the current German Foreign Minister.  To be blunt, not somebody Chancellor Merkel would have picked as her FM if the mechanics of forming the German coalition government would have allowed – but it didn’t.

Thus Germany presents a hawkish Chancellor and a dovish Foreign Minister to The Kremlin (and the world).

It is therefore important to look very carefully at the statements of FM Steinmeier to ascertain just how far Chancellor Merkel is managing to nudge her coalition doves (and industry lobbyists) along without endangering her coalition government at home.

When the doves begin to sound like hawks, she is having some success in moving the reticent along.  Despite the above tweet still appearing rather dovish, for FM Steinmeier it is far from that and would suggest that the German doves have now moved far enough toward the German hawks for more sanctions aimed at The Kremlin.

In the meantime, Federica Mogherini, who officially is the Foreign Minister of Italy – but whom could easily be confused for either an ENI spokesperson or Kremlin apologist – or both, if you didn’t know otherwise – today apparently faces a meeting with UK and Dutch counterparts, who will no doubt to outline her errant Kremlin apologist/dovish ways that cost her the position of EEAS head, and may cost Italy any Dutch and UK support over EU issues that matter greatly to Italy should Italy try and block any new sanctions that now seem likely to come.

Though sanctions are really only effective when threatened or lifted, as sanctions outcomes during the time that they are actually implemented are almost entirely dependent upon the will to take pain by those sanctioned – and to be blunt, there is a good deal of political will in The Kremlin to endure any such pain – just as the illegal annexation of Crimea could not go without costs and a clear response, the continued flow or arms across the Russian border into Ukraine and the downing of MH17 can no longer go without costs and a clear response either.

It seems the European hawks have been lining up the European doves over the weekend and today – more sanctions look somewhat inevitable – even if they are highly unlikely to change Kremlin course in Ukraine.



As suggested by mere mortals…..

July 21, 2014

Following this tweet of two days ago

And this entry yesterday morning, President Poroshenko came to a similar conclusion.

“President of Ukraine urges UN to condemn acts of terrorism

The President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

During the talk Ban Ki-moon called the crash of “Malaysia Airlines” aircraft shocking and unacceptable. He stressed the need to figure out all the circumstances of this tragedy, and supported the actions of the Ukrainian side towards an open and independent international investigation. Ban Ki-moon called Petro Poroshenko to use all possible international instruments, including the UN, to conduct a proper examination.

Petro Poroshenko assured the UN Secretary General in complete openness to the international investigation. President of Ukraine called on the UN to condemn acts of terrorism and to recognize so-called “DNR” and “LNR” as terrorist organizations. He also informed that terrorists continue to keep shelling and attacking Ukrainian military units, and prevent the access of experts to the crash site.

UN Secretary-General noted that the President of Ukraine has every right to defend its territory and protect its citizens.

Petro Poroshenko informed Secretary-General on the possibility of forced early return of Ukrainian helicopters involved in the UN peacekeeping operations. Meanwhile, the President of Ukraine said that the support of the international community together with the United Nations will provide an opportunity to resolve the situation by other means.

The parties have agreed to closely coordinate further action. In particular, Ban Ki-moon said that for this purpose he has delegated the Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman to visit Ukraine on 28-29 July.”

A statement agreed with by Linas Linkevicius, Foreign Minister of Lithuiania today.

This blog ahead of the curve once more it appears – if only by 48 hours – and in this particular circumstance it would be difficult to be any more ahead.

Very good.  That’s why you dear readers spend a moment of your valuable time reading this blog – it is usually there, or thereabouts.

As yesterday’s final paragraph  stated:

“Something worth considering, if not now, then in the future? Possibly so, for it does seem somewhat too hopeful that even in the unlikely event The Kremlin ceases its current support, that ad hoc violent and/or destructive acts under the banners of DPR and LPR will simply stop on the territory of Ukraine in the coming years.”

The question posed therefore remains – though now with a little more political momentum behind it perhaps – will the international institutions and other sovereign States actually do so?


Adding to the international designated lists – Worth considering?

July 20, 2014

Following on from yesterday’s MH17 entry, would there be anything gained in doing the following?

The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics have – unsurprisingly – been designated terrorist organisations by Ukraine for some time.  Is it now worth considering by other nations and international organisations following the MH17 incident?

That the act and its aftermath caused the feeling of terror for some is without question.  That public figures outside of Ukraine employed the term “terrorist” when referring the MH17 is also a matter of record.

Of course some will employ the rhetoric of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”  - but that a matter of perception and/or belief, and is not the direction this entry intends to go.

Leaving aside national legislation and national terrorist organisation lists, which are on the whole far less ambiguous in their definitions of “terrorism” and also easier to add an organsiation to, or subtract an organisation from, it is against the international lists that the MH17 incident and its offenders  is to be assessed.

There is an issue legal consistency – There is no universally accepted and statutorily agreed definition of “terrorism” by international governments or organisations.  The same can be said for academia too.  A global consensus and agreed definition is missing in both spheres.

As yet the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism remains without conclusion – let alone adoption.  Thus any global “terrorism” definition within remains without legally binding meaning.  Though there are about a dozen UN “sectoral” conventions and protocols relating to terrorism open to State parties to sign and ratify, nonetheless, no singular legal and binding international definition exists regard “terrorism”.

Perhaps a good thing – or perhaps not.  It allows a wide scope for inclusion – or not.  Certainly, many organisations on the international lists would argue that they do not employ acts of terrorism as part of their military doctrines in pursuit of their goals.  Others, quite clearly would certainly meet the definition of terrorism of any “reasonable person”.

With regard to Ukraine, some readers may have the opinion that the “People’s Republics” in Ukraine, due to well documented beatings, kidnappings and killings, have long since been sufficiently of a “terrorist” nature – so as a reasonable person would understand “terrorism” – that the MH17 act is yet one more act to underscore what was already their opinion.

However, the MH17 downing has significantly impacted other nations in a most tragic way from which they had been previously spared.  To move from concerned on-looker to victim is quite a shift for governments and their populations.

Collective grief will turn to collective anger.  Demands will be made.  Justice will be sought.

Just as is the case in Ukraine, the idea of negotiating with those responsible for such acts will be viewed in a very negative light by vast swathes of the population.  Just as in Ukraine, a politically soft approach is unlikely to be tolerated.  Directly affected foreign governments in particular, will be expected to do something.

Aiding Ukraine first and foremost may be seen as the right thing – and it is – by grieving foreign constituencies, but they will also want to see more punitive measures against those perceived to be responsible too – even if such acts are generally going to be ineffective..  The old story of governments being seen to do “something” – even if that “something” is really very little or “nothing”.

So will other governments add the DPR and LPR to designated terrorist lists over the next few weeks or months?  (It is unlikely they would add Russia as a “State sponsor”).  If so, would that further complicate matters for The Kremlin and its asymmetric war in Ukraine?  It would certainly put into further jeopardy any almost non-existent hopes of the DPR and LPR that any international recognition regarding any form of sovereignty will happen.

It would also go some way to ending the slim hopes of any directly negotiated settlement involving the DPR and LPR, reaffirming the international normative of not negotiating with terrorists.  Thus to some extent removing the current option of talking peace whilst making war for the Ukrainian authorities.

Something worth considering, if not now, then in the future?  Possibly so, for it does seem somewhat too hopeful that even in the unlikely event The Kremlin ceases its current support, that ad hoc violent and/or destructive acts under the banners of DPR and LPR will simply stop on the territory of Ukraine in the coming years.



After MH17?

July 19, 2014

There is no need to overly flog a horse that will undoubtedly be publicly and repeatedly flogged in lurid (and perhaps inaccurate) detail across the international media – so this entry will be as short as possible, as writing about the same headline subject as the MSM is not what most readers look at this blog for.

There is no need to link to claimed intercepts, video footage of the incident, or horrendous and graphic photographs.  They are easily found all over the Internet for those who feel the need to witness them.  Quite simply it is not the style of this blog to further promulgate such imagery.

Questioning why flight MH17 was flying over the area it was, does not negate the fact it was shot down.  A criminal act committed deliberate in its targeting – whether erroneously identified, or not.

That President Putin claims Ukraine is responsible because it happened in Ukrainian air space carries little weight.


planes shot down

Clearly he cannot blame the victim – and rightly.  He obviously will not publicly blame the offenders – there are still Kremlin goals to be achieved as far as Ukraine is concerned.

His statement over the incident, a particularly weak sauce for a dish so strong that nobody will swallow it.

Furthermore, if that is to be The Kremlin line, presumably the Smolensk disaster is now squarely the responsibility of Russia – for it happened in Russian air space?

It is also notable in his statement that President Putin made no claim nor inference that the Ukrainian military were responsible for downing this aircraft in his comments.   A claim perhaps deliberately avoided to prevent the use of any evidence to refute such a claim in the public arena prior to any frantic diplomatic damage limitation attempts.

Thus despite all the on-going calls for independent investigations from politicians across Europe and the globe, it is more than reasonable to presume that what happened is already known to the parties concerned – as pointed out by the ever-wise Charles Crawford.

As he rightly states, there now comes the sticky issues of saying what happened – particularly so if it somehow directly links Russia to the incident – a GRU command to drown the plane, professional Russian soldiers assisting in the missile launch, a launch from within Russia itself etc. – as the killing hundreds of civilians by such an act brings those involved perilously close to War Crimes criteria, with an international line up of complainants.

Also there is the issue of perhaps being labeled a “State sponsor of terror”.  Whilst it may be accepted that for a brief moment The Kremlin lost absolute command and control in eastern Ukraine, that moment has since past.  It is necessary to look only at the rotation of the “self-proclaimed” leadership in DPR and LPR, to see that vast majority are now Russian citizens who have replaced those that were Ukrainian.  Command and control was restored.

Thus maneuvering over what will and will not be said in the public realm there will undoubtedly be – and a price to pay for what is and is not said and evidenced in the public realm to be agreed and settled if possible.  In the meantime, limp statements regarding “knee jerk conclusions” will seep from Kremlin institutions with the dual purpose of buying diplomatic negotiating time and the desperate search for a narrative to feed the global media via incessant Kremlin propaganda spin.

That brings about the main thrust of this entry.  The MH17 incident is something of a “game changer” for all concerned.

What does The Kremlin do now?  Abandon the DPR and LPR, distancing itself from this incident as best it can whilst sticking to its “plausibly deniable” asymmetric war against Ukraine in other ways?  Does it go “all in” and drop all pretense?  Does it try and ride out the storm and continue its current tactics?

Does The Kremlin refine its new style of warfare after a particularly bitter lesson learned regarding “local proxies”?  It certainly won’t abandon the concept for future deployment – something all regional nations and NATO should consider.

What do the DPR and LPR do if Kremlin support ends with immediate effect?  Try and slip back into Russia unnoticed, possibly to return at some time in the future?  Knowingly stand and fight to the bitter end in the absence of Kremlin assistance?  Simply fade away hoping never to be held accountable or recalled for future incursions?  The “self-appointed” leadership seeking sanctuary in Russia or elsewhere?

How will Ukraine deal, or perhaps cope, with these groups depending upon what they do next?  Certainly it will want to make the most of the international outrage to push on with ATO more robustly than ever.  Will international sensibilities allow for this and would some disproportionate force be tacitly tolerated in the current circumstance?

What reaction both public and private, overt and covert, will the US and Europeans have?  How will any reaction manifest itself?  Special forces?  The supply of precision weaponry rather than non-lethal equipment?  Truly crushing sanctions that have instant effects rather than damage over time?

What of the governments who have lost citizens that were previously little more than concerned on-lookers?  What will they do?  How does this event effect Kremlin activity in their nations from now on – or globally?  How will their societies react to any attempts at “business as normal” with Russia?

Domestically, how will Russian society react?

Short of NATO troops arriving in Ukraine and digging in on the Russian border, together with an international open-ended financial line of credit to Ukraine that swiftly finances enormous societal reform, it is hard to see just how much worse this incident could be for The Kremlin in the immediate term.

It is a “game changer” – but how will the game change?



Outcomes of 16th July – Ukraine

July 18, 2014

Following on from yesterday’s entry – how did yesterday turn out for Ukraine on the international stage?  Was is as good or bad as expected?

Firstly with regard the European Member States, by way of immediate sanctions there was nothing that wasn’t stated in the aforementioned link.  In short, no further EIB or EBRD lending, and the suspension of some joint EU – Russia projects.

There was, however, agreement on the mechanisms relating to moving to sectoral sanctions.  Those mechanisms agreed by the EU Council, no sector sanctions actually came.

Those sector sanctions may/will come by the end of July.  Hard hitting or not, if and when they come, remains to be seen. However, the EU Council meeting was not entirely an event without positive results for Ukraine (or Georgia and Moldova).

As tweeted last week, the worst possible outcome for Ukraine would have been no EU sector sanctions and the appointment of Federica Mogherini as the new head of the EEAS.  The said appointment did not happen – at least not yet – due to robust disagreements about her candidature between the Member States.  The vast majority of the central and eastern European Member States are very much opposed to her appointment and seem unlikely to acquiesce – thankfully.

All in all, certainly not the best or most dynamic of outcomes for Ukraine – but far from being the complete washout it could have been. Perhaps by the end of the month and a few sector sanctions later, it will be seen as a good result.

With regard to a visibly impatient USA, and as countless entries over the past weeks have alluded to, sanctions came.  Those sanctions taking matters to an entirely new level.

Of the companies listed, the most prominent are clearly Rosneft, VTB and Novatek.  Without doubt pain will be felt within Kremlin walls regarding those three companies.

Whether it is enough pain remains to be seen.  If not, should Sberbank and a few others appear on the next round of US sanctions, that pain really would begin to bite.

Nonetheless, some robust sanctions by the US, putting pressure not only on The Kremlin, but also on the Europeans to deliver something more than “santions-lite” within the next two weeks.

However, as the above tweet makes clear, the effectiveness of sanctions ultimately comes down to the will and ability of those sanctioned to take the pain whilst pursuing actions that caused the sanctions in the first place.  It would be very foolish to expect these, or any other sanctions, to change The Kremlin course.  It is very capable of taking the pain whilst continuing its actions in Ukraine, attempting to divide EU Member States unity and being disruptive and obstructionist on the global stage too.

It is perhaps why governments have been careful in stating that continued Kremlin action “will have costs” – for the sanctions will certainly be costly, despite probably not changing Kremlin course with regard Ukraine – at least immediately.

All of which leaves Ukraine where?

A reasonable tactic in the current circumstances – but what of a security strategy looking forward over the next decade during on-going Kremlin shenanigans of one form or another – or beyond?

Coalitions of the willing such as the UkrPolLit Brigade are a start – but clearly not nearly enough.

All in all though, a better than expected day for Ukraine.  The US delivered.  The EU agreed mechanisms to deliver eventually – maybe – but just as importantly failed to agree to appoint Federica Mogherini as EEAS head, which in itself is something of a result.


Sector sanctions lite – An entirely pointless exercise

July 17, 2014

Writing this prior to any decisions from the European Council today relating to stage III sector sanctions, it will be a short post that will be either proven wrong and have a very limited shelf-life, or proven right with all the continuing disaster that will follow.

Expectations of any meaningful sector sanctions are extremely low, and the effects of any agreed new sanctions can be expected to be impotent.  They may strain even to be seen as symbolic.

So what to expect in any new form of flaccid European sanctions?

As stated in the above tweet, there will be no sanctions that will effect European nations greatly – if at all.  The sum of the EU parts simply does not provide the integrity to act in support of its purported values over and above the individual interests of its Member States – which is of course why EU foreign policy works at the very lowest common denominator consistently – when it works at all.

Thus any new sanctions will certainly not do anything to change the Kremlin course – which is the entire point of sanctions, and therefore any new sanctions will be an entirely pointless exercise.

Stage III sector sanctions such as financial systems and technology transfer etc. will once again be left alone.  Energy sanctions are completely off the table for obvious reasons.  The problem being, for any meaningful and course changing sanctions to be imposed on The Kremlin, it will cause pain within some or many European capitals too.  The Kremlin has called the EU Member States bluff and won – as it, and the EU Member States, knew it would.

But the EU and its Member States must be seen to do something – after all the international and regional rule of law and order has been directly challenged by The Kremlin and a response is required, no matter how lame or timid – even if such a lame and timid response makes the EU entity lose significant political capital globally – which it will.

So it leaves the need to find a space between the current and largely ineffective stage II sanctions all European nations can easily live with – as can The Kremlin – and the wholly unpalatable and undesired stage III sanctions in some European capitals – and The Kremlin, which would actually hurt and may have some effect.

Where to find stage II+, or stage III-lite? – which ever term you would prefer.  Something that can be said to have been done and is new, without acknowledging just how knowingly ineffective it will be and just how morally weak an institution the EU is when directly confronted and challenged.

The answer, it has to be expected, will lie with the suspension, or perhaps even severing, of joint EU-Russia programmes.  Perhaps an arms embargo too – effective immediately – but not retrospectively applied, to allow the French Mistral sales to complete.

In short, an entirely inappropriate and less than proportionate response is the likely outcome – again.  Until the response is proportionate to the raping of international and regional law, The Kremlin course will not change in Ukraine via sanctions imposed on it.  It will simply continue and probably go further.

As early as tomorrow, the USA is likely to leave the EU and its Member States behind and sanction unilaterally, being tired of waiting, and seemingly far more clear-eyed about the global repercussions.  Those global repercussions will force the USA to necessarily act to underpin the European regional rule of law – more so than the Europeans collectively are willing to do themselves.  Individually, there are quite a number of European nations who would have implemented stage III sanctions already had there been EU consensus.

Of course all written above may turn out to be pure bunkum, and the European Member States may actually step up the the plate in a meaningful way some time today and impose serious and painful stage III sanctions on Russia – but the fact that there is not only doubt, but an expectation that they won’t, is a particularly poor reflection on the inability of leaders to realise that in the long term, interests do not trump values – for values are their true interests.



The Mistral contract – To deliver or not

July 16, 2014

Hardly mentioned whatsoever in entries thus far, has been the proposed and contractual sale of 2 Mistral Class amphibious warships by France to Russia.  There is a brief mention in this entry and that is it.

Just how well fitted out these ships will be with regard to technology transfer of installed equipment is difficult to ascertain.  Technology transfer is a serious matter regarding both the ships themselves and also what is actually installed when they are delivered.

France states it will make a final decision on the delivery of the ships in October when the first is due.  In the mean time, Russian engineers have monitored the construction and Russian personnel are now training on the body of the first ship whilst in dock.


Needless to say, there has been much bemoaning and lamenting of the sale throughout the social media in Ukraine and some of the international MSM.  On line petitions have been created.  Hopefully, the Ukrainian military planners are working on methods to mitigate the risks any completed sales generate.  Perhaps the French will inform the Ukrainians of any weaknesses of the Mistral itself.  If not, other friendly nations who have acquired access to such information may.

However we are talking about only 2 ships – perhaps 2 ships too many, but nevertheless only 2 ships.  That the Russian’s have the right to construct another 2 Mistrals under license themselves does not mean that they will.  In fact they probably won’t, for various internal reasons within Russia and The Kremlin.

France currently defends the sale as to fail to deliver would be a breach of contract – though there must be a suspicion that cancellation clauses will exist within said contract under certain conditions.  The question is what those conditions are.

Thus it appears France seems fairly resolute in its delivery of the ships and honouring its contract.  Social media moaning and petitioning will not in any way change the French position.  Diplomatic pressure on the French, or technology and/or defence sector sanctions may or may not have an effect before October.

But what of the European legal sphere as opposed to the French legal sphere?

There would appear to be some room for manipulation within the European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and also under Title V of the EU Treaty.

Certainly there appears to be sufficient legal wiggle room to challenge the sales through the European courts under the current circumstances – and any such challenge will not be the swiftest of procedures, inevitably dragging any delivery date out and over the horizon pending court verdicts.  Any such challenge may even be successful depending upon the hawkishness of the court.

Whether any such challenge either to stall or actually stop the Mistral deliveries will be pursued, or whether it is already being pursued and by whom? Who knows?



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