Archive for July, 2014


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?



Exit – Stage left?

July 15, 2014

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances; ”

As You Like It – William Shakespeare

Which leads nicely to a tweet yesterday – and geopolitical entrances and exits:

How else to put it?

Inaction once more, at a time that is clearly now or never with regard to sector sanctions and Russia, will remove any notion/delusion  the EU as an entity may have of its being a global player.  When seen to be going far beyond hesitant in its own backyard, it forces the perception of being simply weak, ineffective, and comprising of a lot of form but no substance when directly challenged.

Will the Member States of the EU so undermine it as an entity – regionally and globally – by failing to agree to act in its own backyard again?

Exit – Stage left, for the EU as a serious geopolitical player having been so directly and publicly challenged by The Kremlin?

It shouldn’t be a tough call to make by way of decisions that will be made – and that it is, already seriously undermines what the EU claims to be all about.

If – and probably when – the US acts alone, the EU can take its cue, having fluffed its lines, and shuffle quietly off the stage.


Stepping out from behind international skirts – Unilateral assistance

July 14, 2014

Yesterday evening, Artis Pabriks MEP, former Latvian Foreign Minister and Defence Minister tweeted:

A very direct and unambiguous statement.

His claim that western dallying has cost lives, injuries and preventable hardships has some merit – at least and insofar as the stakes for The Kremlin have remained incredibly low when considering the illegal annexation of Crimea in defiance of international laws, treaties, protocols and memorandi  The Kremlin itself is a ratified signatory of. That is notwithstanding its actions – and/or inactions with regard to securing/controlling Russia’s own border – in eastern Ukraine and the flow of fighters, tanks, GRADs, artillery and cash etc, through its borders into Ukraine.

It is of course, Ukraine that must reassert control of its own borders with Russia on the ground.  Western troops are not about to do that for it.  Blood that will be spilled in doing so will be Ukrainian blood – and necessarily so in the current and contained theatre of a small part of eastern Ukraine.

One of the few benefits of producing this blog in English is that it facilitates never ending invitations to meet with international journalists (normally refused),  academics, politicians and the diplomatic community (normally accepted) to discus the issues of the day, or possible solutions to the problems of today/tomorrow/on the horizon.

The personal views of such people are never directly repeated or attributed from such meetings, but it is fair to say that they are not always the same as the “official view” of the establishments they represent.  Events, such as the on-going Odessa International Film Festival, tend to facilitate many such meetings “on the fringes” when such busy people are in town.

Suffice to say the point raised by Artis Pabriks MEP regarding a more robust response to encourage Russian control of its borders is not a point missed by most of the “western” resident diplomatic community in Ukraine either.  That their opinion is heard within their respective capitals, there is no doubt.  That is part of their role.

That their opinion is heeded and takes primacy in their relevant capitals is an entirely different matter.

So what to do, if once again, the Europeans in particular, fail to activate sector sanctions at the European Council meeting of 16th July?

It is then time, perhaps, for individual nations to stop hiding conveniently behind the EU skirts.  Whilst sanctions may be far more effective applied in concert and identified as sanctions – there are “sanctions” and there are sanctions.

Clearly something the UK is thinking about.  The recent refusal of all but 5 Visa applications for the Russian team that was to attend the international Farnborough Airshow being a superb example of “sanctions” that are not officially sanctions.

“Due to Russian actions in Ukraine, no representatives from the Russian government have been issued HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) invitations to FIA (Farnborough International Airshow) 2014,”

Whilst some may boo-hoo the fact 5 Visas were granted, they were granted to admin staff to the Russian presentation/delegation team.  All technical, government and contract negotiation staff were refused.  Therefore the admin staff had little to administer if they attended.

“The Russian embassy in Great Britain regrets the disruption of the visit of the main part of the Russian delegation for the Farnborough-2014 international aerospace exhibition hosted by the UK, important military-technical cooperation negotiations scheduled for Monday between Rosoboronexport and foreign partners have been virtually disrupted.”

The Farnborough Air Show normally generates about $70 billion in sales.

The same Visa issues were encountered by Russian business at the Info Security Europe 2014 exhibition in May.  Serious expenditure and losses incurred to Russia without any formal sector sanctions – despite defence and technology (together with finance) being the three proposed sector sanctions amongst the European nations (naturally not energy/gas).

Bravo the UK.  Ahead of the curve and acting unilaterally to impose costs without official sanctions.

Let’s see if any other nation will unilaterally follow suit should the EU Member States continue to shy away from their purported values.

But let’s take that thought process a little further with regard to unilateral support for Ukraine.

What do the NATO member countries do with their “retired” and yet fully functional military hardware?  Aircraft, helicopters, tanks etc?  Those that were and remain reasonably fit for purpose despite being replaced by updated models?  They have dropped off of the national balance sheets after all once “retired”.

Why scrap them or mothball them when the relevant national balance sheets no longer assign a value to them?  Why not give them to Ukraine for free – as Ukraine can afford free – with only maintenance bills to foot going forward?

It is not as though Ukraine is an expansionist power.  It’s armed encounters outside of its territory come in the form of mobilising to UN peacekeeping appeals.  As such any retired arms given would be for defensive purposes only.  There is no desire to create “NovoUkraine” in Moscow.

Yes Ukraine may end up with a pick ‘n’ mix military with regard to equipment for now, but such equipment may well be better than what Ukraine currently has – and the “now” is what matters.

Perhaps a little too far fetched.  Perhaps going beyond the always comfortable “non-lethal equipment” assistance is going too far.  Perhaps a little too lateral in thinking?  Perhaps though, food for thought when it comes to temporary and cheap assistance in defending territorial integrity in the immediate future?

If the supranational institutions are for whatever reason unable to act – it is time for unilateral action (cleverly per the UK example if necessary), or coalitions of the willing, to do what they can in defence not only of Ukraine, but of the international and regional order that has prevented the continent from turning in on itself since 1946.


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