Tag Archives: Ukraine

Obama didn’t ‘allow’ annexation of Crimea

This won’t surprise regular readers of this blog, but I agree with former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice’s assertion that Donald Trump has taken an outrageous position with regard to Russia and its former membership in the Group of Eight nations.

Trump wants the now G-7 nations to bring Russia back into its fold. Susan Rice said the following, according to The Hill: Rice said Trump made “a disgraceful statement” when he said Obama “allowed Russia to take Crimea.”

“Rather than understand Russia is our adversary, Russia had taken on behavior that is absolutely reprehensible… for the president of the United States to suggest all that is forgotten, that we are together, that we are fine with one country annexing another country’s sovereign territory is outrageous,” Rice said.

Russia took another nation’s territory by force. It has done not a damn thing to rectify its aggression against Ukraine. It has continued to prop up a dictatorial regime in Syria. Oh, and it meddled in our 2016 election.

Rice is suggesting that Trump is divorced from any semblance of reality by asking for Russia’s re-inclusion into the G-7 nations comprising the world’s greatest economic powers.

The president’s desire to bring Russia back after the nations kicked it out after annexing Crimea has been met with almost unanimous scorn by the rest of the G-7; only Italy has backed the president’s request.

Moreover, Trump’s continual harping on actions taken by his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, seem to suggest some sort of sick fixation with the 44th president. He keeps singling him out specifically, making preposterous assertions that he “allowed” Russia to take Crimea. It begs the question: What would Donald Trump had done if he had been in the Oval Office, making the tough call? Does anyone actually believe he would have put “boots on the ground” to prevent a Russian takeover? Give me a break, man!

I have stayed away from asserting in this blog that Russia might have the goods on Trump, that it might be holding some deep, dark secrets about the president’s business dealings in Russia.

These continuing assertions from Trump that all is forgiven with regard to Russia are making me wonder about those reports about Russia and possible business connections with the Trump Organization.


Mitt was ahead of his time

It’s time for a serious mea culpa.

Mitt Romney once declared during the 2012 presidential campaign that Russia presented the “greatest geopolitical threat” to the United States of America.

I was one of millions of Americans who laughed at the Republican presidential nominee.

Five years later, I regret laughing. I regret dismissing Mitt’s assessment. I regret writing some negative blog posts about what the nominee said.

We are learning today — and in the course of the Donald J. Trump campaign and his presidential administration — that the previous GOP nominee was ahead of his time.

It can be argued, I suppose, that international terrorists presented a greater geopolitical threat than Russia in 2012. Our special forces had just killed Osama bin Laden, but al-Qaeda was still going strong. The Islamic State had emerged as a monstrous threat as well.

The Russians, to my mind, seemed at the time to have been relegated to a back bench.

Silly me. Mitt Romney seems to have been spot on.

The Russians are undermining NATO; they invaded Ukraine; they are propping up a murderous regime in Syria. They also sought to affect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The startling revelation today from Donald J. Trump Jr. that he accepted a meeting invitation anticipating dirt on Hillary Rodham Clinton from the Russian government suggests an existential threat to this nation’s sovereignty.

There’s still a lot of ground to cover before we determine any criminality on the part of the Trump presidential campaign. However, I do believe it is becoming quite clear that the Russians remain a force with which we must reckon.

Gov. Romney, I hereby apologize for doubting you.

Rex Tillerson? Huh? Where did he come from?


Eyes had turned to Mitt Romney, then to David Petraeus, then to Rudy Giuliani, then back to Mitt.

Then the president-elect shakes it all up and appears now set to name Rex Tillerson as the next secretary of state.

Rex the Texan. He’s the man Donald J. Trump is about to pick as the nation’s top diplomat.

Wow! Who knew?

Tillerson is president and CEO of Exxon Mobil. He’s another gazillionaire headed for Trump’s Cabinet.

You may ask: What does this fellow bring to the world of international statecraft? Man, I am officially baffled in the extreme.


But here’s what many folks do know about Tillerson: His oil interests reach into Russia, where he reportedly has a good relationship with the Russian strongman, President Vladimir Putin. Oh, boy. Here come the questions.

Will the business interests get in the way of hard-nosed diplomacy? Does Tillerson’s friendship with Putin spell curtains for NATO, the Ukraine, Georgia and other nations affected by Russia’s sword-rattling? Does the apparent nominee’s lack of diplomatic experience hinder his knowledge of world affairs and the nuance required to deal effectively with foreign governments?

The Trumpkins aren’t yet confirming anything. Tillerson, though, appears headed for the State Department. For now. Unless the president-elect changes his mind. Again.

Let's ask: Did Putin play a part in this killing?

It’s easy for peanut-gallery observers far away from the action to ask questions those closer to the scene might not ask. So, I’ll ask it: Did Russian strongman/president Vladimir Putin have a hand in the assassination of a leading critic of his government?


I’m not sure if the Russian criminal justice system has a presumed-innocent clause in its framework, but having watched Putin from a great distance over many years, and knowing of his background, my darker side tells me something just doesn’t smell right in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a Moscow street — in the shadow of the Kremlin — this past week. Who is this fellow? He was considered perhaps Putin’s leading critic. He had a huge political following in Russia and was seen by some as a serious political threat to the Russian president. Many thousands of them marched in tribute to the slain leader.


Now, what about Putin?

His background is worth examining. In his previous life, Putin fellow led the KGB, the intelligence agency of the Soviet Union, the one-time “Evil Empire” made infamous by its known practice of eliminating critics of the communist regime. The KGB’s name went away when the Soviet Union vaporized in 1991, but its infrastructure has remained pretty much in place, even as the agency was split into two parts.

Putin has served a couple of non-consecutive tours of duty as Russia’s president. Each one has demonstrated the hallmark of this individual’s makeup.

He is as ruthless as ruthless gets. He took over a portion of Ukraine, a supposedly sovereign country bordering Russia. The term “bully” doesn’t even come close to describing Putin.

I have this terrible feeling in my gut that Vladimir Putin — at the very least — just might have a good idea as to who killed Nemtsov. If he does — and I believe that’s the case — let’s not expect Putin to give up whoever did the deed.


Did the U.S. destroy the Russian economy?

A question is being bandied about in the international press while the world watches the Russian economy implode.

Have the U.S.-led sanctions against Russia brought about the collapse?


You remember when President Obama announced the sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and sent troops into the neighboring country because Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t like all that anti-Russia rhetoric coming out of Kiev.

Some hardliners on the right wanted the United States to do more, to bring military pressure to bear — perhaps by arming the Ukrainians who were fighting the advance of Russian armor and infantry into their country. The sanctions, they reckoned, wouldn’t have much of an impact.

Interesting that the sanctions all by themselves might have helped bring the Russian economy to its knees. The value of the ruble is plummeting, along with the price of oil, a major source of Russian income. The sanctions have tied up Russian investments abroad and have made it quite difficult for Russian businessman to function.

Russia remains a major military power. Its economic standing, though, has been reduced to second- or perhaps third-tier status.

According to Politico: “’It’s hard to disaggregate out the independent effects of the sanctions from the bigger story. Obviously the driver is oil prices,’ said Obama’s former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.

“’That said, there is no doubt that sanctions raise uncertainty about the Russian economy. Their own minister of economic development said today that the ruble is falling faster than the macroeconomic indicators would suggest it should be,’ McFaul added.”

The sanctions are punishing the one-time super power.

It remains to been, of course, whether Putin’s future adventurism will end. My guess is that he’ll have to think twice, maybe more, about getting involved in other countries’ internal affairs.


Putin builds NATO solidarity

Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in accomplishing one unintended goal: building unity among the nations comprising the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


NATO is meeting this week in Wales and leaders from member nations are pondering whether to provide lethal military assistance to Ukraine in its struggle to maintain its independence from Russian aggressors.

Given the success NATO had in keeping the Soviet Union from invading western Europe until its demise in 1991, this must be seen as a positive development.

NATO came into existence after World War II. The Soviets had liberated eastern Europe from the Nazi monsters. They didn’t give up control of those nations once the shooting stopped. NATO was born out of concern that the USSR would seek to expand its influence across all of Europe. NATO’s main mission was defend against Soviet aggression. An attack against one NATO nation would be seen as an attack on the entire alliance.

President Obama has reaffirmed that principle in declaring that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine must be stopped and he warned Putin against entertaining any notions of taking back other NATO nations — such as the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO, but the alliance’s concern about possible Russian aggression is well-founded.

The NATO nations are rediscovering why they are bound together.

War is no option

President Obama makes it clear: There will be no U.S. military intervention in Ukraine.

That’s a relief.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir “Tough Guy” Putin makes it equally clear: Don’t mess with Russia.

Now, are the Russians tougher than we are? Which military establishment is stronger than the other one? This loyal American knows the answer to both questions.

None of that is the issue. World peace and the consequences of trying to force the Russians out of Ukraine militarily are too horrible to ponder.

The only option now must be the economic one.


The European Union is pondering even more stringent sanctions on Russia. So is the United States of America, working in concert with the EU.

Meanwhile, the critics back here at home — far away from the struggle — keep yammering about the “military option.” None exists.

Russian troops reportedly have “invaded” Ukraine, violating that country’s territorial sovereignty. Obama has condemned the Russians, including Putin. He’s vowing that Russia will pay a price for its violating its neighbor’s territory. The sanctions already imposed are taking a big bite out of a Russian economy that’s on the ropes as it is.

Are we going to bomb the Russians? No. We should put the economic squeeze on them.

Keep tightening the vise, Mr. President.


Hey … about those Nigerian girls

World crises seems to cascade all around us so rapidly that they yank our attention from, um, previous world crises.

Well, several crises ago, the world was aghast at the kidnapping of 300 or so Nigerian girls by yet another terrorist organization, Boko Haram. Remember that story?

The girls were taken into the forest where they’re reportedly being held hostage. Boko Haram had been demanding some sort of ransom. U.S. intelligence and special operations forces had joined the Nigerians and other international organizations in the hunt for the girls.

What’s happened to that story? Where are the girls? What has become of the urgency that was being expressed from places like the United Nations, the Oval Office of the White House, from the State Department, from capitals around the world?

I shudder to think that we can handle only one crisis at a time. Syria once was the crisis du jour; then came Ukraine; next up was Gaza and the Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli neighborhoods. The world is now fixated on Iraq, ISIS and the attempted overthrow of a government that the United States helped install.

Meanwhile, those Nigerian girls are still being held somewhere, by someone, for some reason.

Please, someone tell me the world still cares about those girls.

More sanctions, pain for Russia

President Obama is tightening the economic vise around Russia, along with Europe.

It’s time. Perhaps it’s past time. Whatever the case, the Russians need to be punished for their adventurism in the affairs of a sovereign and supposedly independent nation.

We’re talking about Ukraine.


The president’s announcement comes in conjunction with the European Union’s declaration of even tighter and tougher measures taken against Russia, which has been interfering militarily in Ukraine’s internal political struggle.

As Politico reported: “Stepping up the West’s showdown with Russia , European leaders Tuesday declared plans to impose sanctions against state-owned Russian banks, as well as certain types of oil-industry equipment and so-called dual-use technology capable of use by the military. The U.S. added three banks to its sanctions list, resulting in five of Russia’s six top banks subject to sharp limits on refinancing of debt.”

The Russians have been implicated in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing nearly 300 innocent civilians flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The flight had the tragic misfortune of flying over Ukrainian airspace, where it was shot down by Ukrainian separatists aligned with Russia — which reportedly provided the weaponry to shoot down MH 17.

Russia is engaging in a disgraceful interference that cannot be allowed to stand.

No one should be foolish enough to want to launch a ground war against the Russian military. The economic sanctions, though, should be made to stick and should be applied with maximum pressure to cause equally maximum pain on an economy that’s already suffering.

Obama is right to dismiss contentions that the United States and Russia have entered a “new cold war.” The war we’re talking about is burning quite hot. Russia needs to stand down and let the Ukrainians decide their own fate.

WMD crisis averted

The world can focus only on one crisis at a time, or so it seems.

The Syria crisis gave way to the Ukraine crisis, which then gave way to the Nigeria girl-kidnap crisis, which then made way for the Iraq crisis.

Back to Syria. Remember the “red line” President Obama drew and then said the United States would strike militarily at Syria if it used chemical weapons against its people? The Syrians did. The president blustered, threatened to hit them hard, then asked Congress for permission.

Then came the Russians, who then brokered a deal that persuaded the Syrians to get rid of the gas they used on their citizens.

You know what? It now appears the last of the weapons are gone. Destroyed. We never fired a shot at them.


It’s not entirely clear that all the weapons are gone, as the New York Times editorial notes with caution. The “known weapons” have been removed and destroyed. It remains to be seen whether the entire cache of WMD is gone.

Still, it is worth noting that Obama’s critics had it wrong when they blasted him for failing to act on the “red line” threat, even though Republicans kept insisting the president seek congressional approval before he did anything. The president did that — but it wasn’t good enough to suit the critics.

Barack Obama took office in January 2009 vowing to bring diplomacy back as a tool to help stem international crises. He’s sought to do that, all the while deploying military might when needed. Drone strikes have been effective at killing terrorists. Let us not forget what happened in early May 2011 when the SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in that daring raid to wipe out Terrorist No. 1.

The Syrian crisis is far from over. People are still dying in a civil war. Bashar al-Assad’s forces have taken back the momentum in the struggle.

One key element of that crisis — those dreaded WMD — has been removed. As the New York Times editorial notes: “President Obama’s critics excoriated the deal, but they have been proved wrong. The chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator — and all without firing a shot.”