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Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Natural History: Familiar Terrain" (current events in Ukraine)

natural history: familiar terrain


As always in my writing, one thing naturally leads to another. The moment I had written about this Ukrainian-based films, Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal and Earth, not only did the former premier of that country, Viktor Yanukovych, after the demands of the populace, leave the country, escaping to Russia, but Russia—in pretense of protecting their Russian base in the Crimea and, reminding one of Hitler’s actions before World War II—proclaimed that its troops were entering the Crimea to protect Russian-allied citizens living there. The fact that it appears that none of these Ukrainian citizens, many of Russian birth, were in danger, seems, at least to the Russian President, Putin, not to matter. The Russians perceive the Crimea—and, in fact, the whole of the Ukraine—still to be essential to their sense of national identity. But, obviously, this hardly justifies their illegal entry into a sovereign country.

      The efforts of President Obama and, representing the Department of Defense, John Kerry, seem eerily reminiscent of British leader Neville Chamberlain’s misled attempts to mollify Hitler and the Nazi regime. Yet no American today wants our forces to enter into yet another war. Putin clearly perceives this, and has called our bluff. And the comparisons from both the right and the left with Putin and Hitler are dangerous in the very possibility that they further stoke the tense situation. Even the seasoned Hillary Clinton, however, couldn’t resist the obvious historical perception. And it appears that our allies, even NATO nations, seem hesitant to enact sanctions; and if we were to enact those sanctions, it is apparent that Putin and the Russian government will react by taking over and collectivizing US and other European countries’ factories and businesses working in Russia, which would result in huge financial losses on both sides.     Bit by bit—in Georgia, Moldova and elsewhere—it appears that Putin is attempting to reclaim former Soviet territories, in part to regain Russian pride for what Putin himself proclaims was the worst event of the 20th century, the fall of the former Soviet empire.  Will the contemporary kulaks once again have to battle the invading former Soviets?

     In today’s The New Republic, Julia Ioffe wrote that the issues are not truly based on whether or not regions of the Ukraine were divided into different political alignments—Russian or European—but that, after speaking with a large number of students and others throughout the Ukraine, it became apparent that the issue was generational. The young clearly felt that their commitment was to Europe, but that they were forced to “wander in the desert, waiting for the older generation”—those who grew up in a Ukraine that was tied to the former Soviet Union—“to die off.” It is not, she suggests, so very different from the Red and Blue states of the US. The voting patterns of certain sections of the US do not, necessarily, represent the views of the younger citizens of those states, but merely a history of their parents’ alignments, relationships that, as in Putin’s world, both the extremists of the Republicans and Democrats try to take advantage of.

   By extension, one must perceive that the Soviets were quite clever in forcing many of their Russian citizens into the territories they occupied. And, by that logic, we should foresee that there will be further incursions into such border states such as Estonia, Lithuania, Belorussia, and elsewhere—indeed wherever there remain Russian nationalists whom Putin can claim to be in danger. Yes, this too was one of Hitler’s ruses; so too was it one of Stalin’s. So too was it one of the former British Empire, of France’s North African and even Vietnamese involvements, of China’s continued stand-off with Taiwan, North Korea’s showdown with the South—and, let us recall, the US government’s own excuse for destroying so many American Native Americans. “Our citizens need to be protected,” so the brutes repeat and repeat throughout the generations.
     I read a cartoon today: “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, while those who do study history are doomed to stand by and watch those who have not re-live the events of the past.”
    On the day following day, Russian troops militaristically threatened Ukrainian troops and citizens throughout the Crimea. It has become quite apparent that the Russians were not even waiting for the “false” referendum that they have declared. Obviously, it is not a true process of voting, given the very few days since they have invaded the Crimea. As former chess champion, Gary Kasperov observed on CNN, how anyone might see this as an open vote, given that there has been no time for debate or discussion, is inconceivable. What it truly represents is simply brute force, a takeover of what is a sovereign country which, we can be certain, will only be the first of many of Putin’s list. Indeed, it appears that Russia has already presumed that the Crimea is now their territory once more.
   On March 16, in a referendum that gave Crimean citizens only the choice to join to with Russia or to seek independence, 95% of the populations—so the Russians insisted—chose to have Russian rule. The US, and presumably, soon after, European nations, immediately put up sanctions to numerous Russian leaders and institutions, but it did little good with regard to the Russian takeover.
Los Angeles, March 6, 2014, March 8, 2014, March 17, 2014
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (March 2014).
Over the months since I reported the above, the Russians have moved back and forth along the Ukraine border, depending, in part, on various sanctions enforced by the United States and Western Europe. Outwardly, Putin continues to claim that Russians are not involved within the Ukraine itself, but despite the fact that many Ukrainian Russian-speaking supporters are apparently acting independently, it is also clear that Russians, independently and supported by the state, particularly in the fighting in cities such as Donetsk, Kramatorsk, and Slovyansk, have crossed the border.
     After attempts by Ukraine President Petro O. Porotshenko for a cease fire which resulted in few “concrete steps,” his government forces, according to The New York Times of July 2, 2014, moved to retake rebel-held buildings in Stovyansk and Donetsk, proclaiming: “We will attack and liberate our land.”
     Putin continues to transfer blame to the US and its allies, describing their sanctions as “blackmail,” while blaming them for the increasing conflict in the region. Ukrainian forces were able to regain a crucial checkpoint at Dolzhansky, one of the most important crossings with Russian, previously held by the rebels. Yet other explosions damaging railroad lines and a television tower in Slovyansk clearly demonstrate that the rebels have not abandoned their goals.
     An editorial in that same newspaper titled “The Ukrainian Crisis Reaches a New Level,” argued that, while the US and our western European allies should continue to seek solutions through diplomacy, it has come time to stand up for the sanctions of which we have warned. Noting that it is evident that President Putin continues to describe the battle in terms of the cold war (“We need to understand clearly that the events provoked in Ukraine are the concentrated outcome of the notorious deterrence policy”) and that, even if he will not directly move to annex the Eastern provinces—as he did in Crimea—that “he is determined that [Ukraine’s eastern provinces] remain under Russian control.
      Although he has now signed a trade pact with the European Union, Poroshenko has little room in which maneuver in relationship to Russia, and his ill-equipped and inexperienced troops will face “a struggle that is bound to be long and painful.” It is reported that over 500 individuals have died in the fighting to date.
     The following day, the Germans, working with Russians and the Ukrainians, brokered yet another temporary cease-fire in order to encourage further conciliatory agreements in the eastern provinces.
     On the 4th of July, Poroschenko shook up his military leaders in order to better facilitate the attempts by the Ukrainians to regain buildings and locations currently occupied by Russian-supporters.
Los Angeles, July 2-4, 2014
 The news from Ukraine continued with the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times reports on July 12, that, only a week after the military successes of Ukrainian military forces, the Russian supporters in Donetsk and Slovyansk have resumed attacks, killing more than 30.     
     Using Russian-made rockets smuggled across the border, separatists ambushed a bus carrying miners home near Luhansk and attacked a military base nearby. Pro-Russian militants were also targeting journalists, political activists, and international observers, according to Amnesty International.    
     Meanwhile, in fear of a military showdown between the two forces, thousands of citizens were fleeing Donetsk, turning the city of one million into, what some described as, “a ghostly shell.”  A local businessman noted, according to The New York Times, “My city is in some kind of darkness. It’s like it has died. Or gone to sleep.”  
      Although some Donetsk citizens were fleeing to Russia, many others were observed to be fleeing through the highways toward Kiev. Many banks, most car dealers, city restaurants (including the omnipresent McDonalds), and some government offices were closed down, making it difficult for the older folks remaining. “It’s like the city is waiting for something,” reported a citizen interviewed by The New York Times, “It’s frightening.”     Although the streets were quiet, in the train station crowds gathered, desperately seeking tickets to any destination. Tickets were sold out for at least a week.
     Since the absence of citizens, including members of the police force, car thefts and other robberies rose significantly, forcing some Donetsk citizens to purchase the poorly-constructed Soviet era automobiles, Zhigulis, which “are so awful even the thieves don’t want them.”
    Meanwhile, in a related article by Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times reported that Putin, in an attempt to mend some relations with Western nations, has remained quiet on his support of the Russian separatists, in part because of the effects of American and European sanctions against Russia.    
     Foreign analysts suggest, however, that Putin’s silence represents little more than a waiting game in his attempts to realign the Ukraine with Russian interests, and, at all costs, to prevent the country from joining NATO. Kremlin watchers fear that in the cold winter months, Putin may use Russian provisions of water, electricity, oil and other supplies to broker a deal for closer Ukraine-Russian relationships. A few days later, when a rocket attack accidentally landed on the other side of the border, killing one Russian citizen and wounding two others, Putin used the occasion to further threaten retaliation against Ukraine.
Los Angeles, July 12-14, 2014
Based on articles in The New York Times by Sabrina Taqvernise and Neil MacFarquhar and in the Los Angeles Times by Sergei Loiko and Carol J. Williams.      
After a Ukrainian transport plane and, later, a fighter jet was shot down from a height that suggested it was hit by a Russian rocket, and the shelling of apartment buildings by what appeared to be Russian-made weapons, President Obama announced selected new sanctions against Russia, arguing that although Putin had voiced his country’s non-involvement, he had put few of his statements into real action.  
     New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise’s report of being whisked away by insurgents for questioning represented an even stranger take on the events occurring in Ukraine.
     Taken into custody by the rebels in suspicion of her activities, Tavernise was briefly held by at a rebel checkpoint before a rebel leader, who freely offered his name as Denis, arrived, taking her by car to the apartment of his girlfriend, Tamara Vladimirovna, where the reporter was served tea, cookies, and small sausage sandwiches.
     Denis freely admitted that he was a Russian mercenary who had fought in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere. He was one of about 50 such Russians serving as the base of the rebel force fighting in Ukraine, he told Tavernise. When asked about his prognosis about the fight in Luhansk, the rebel fighter expressed great cynicism for his cause: “Honestly, they’re going to come in. Fifty people is not enough.” When the reporter questioned him how long it would take, he responded: “No one can tell you that.”
     Soon after, Tavernise was released, describing the entire event as a kind of weird, “wonderland” kind of experience. Mostly, observed the temporary captive, Denis appeared to simply to be tired.
Los Angeles, July 17, 2014
At the very moment after I finished writing the entry above, I heard the news that a Malaysian airliner with about 295 people aboard, was shot down in eastern Ukraine, presumably either by Ukrainian separatists sophisticatedly armed by the Russians or by the Russians themselves. The Ukrainians immediately claimed that they had overheard communications by the head of the Dontesk separatist movement, Igor Girkin (a.ka. Igor Strelkov), that he had successfully, so he thought, just shot down a Ukrainian plane. “We warned you not to fly in our skies,” he posted on the web.
     The Pentagon has evidence, so CNN reported, that the plane was likely shot down by the anti-Ukrainian forces, whether within the Ukraine or out of Russia. There was evidence that a radar tracking system was turned on just before the plane’s downing, plus they observed a “catastrophic event” of something hitting the plane.
     The Malaysian Prime Minister, meanwhile, declared that the plane made no distress call.
     Both the rebels and the Ukrainian government insisted that they would carefully investigate the situation, but obviously international forces are doubtful of the objectivity of either. Government authorities in Ukraine, however, called for international help with any such investigation. Poroshenko openly described it as a terrorist act.
     While the rebels declared that they held no weaponry capable to downing a plane at the height, it is clear from earlier statements that they had captured former Ukrainian BUK rockets, and perhaps had used them in shooting down the Ukrainian transport plane and jet. While they earlier denied having any sophisticated weapons, increasingly over the past few weeks it has become clear that they have either captured or been provided by Russia with surface to air missiles.
     Although Putin declared that Russia had no involvement in this incident—while Russian television presented numerous absurd claims that Ukraine was responsible, at one point even intimating that Ukrainian forces were attempting to shoot down Putin’s own plane—it is clear that Russian armed forces may have been involved simply because of the complexity of operating the BUK (similar to SA 11) weapon evidently used. Putin, it was revealed, had called American President Obama early in the morning to report the Malaysian jet’s destruction. So, at the very least, it is evident that the Soviet leader does recognize the seriousness of this either purposeful or accidental transgression.
     Always astute CNN commentator Fareed Zarkaria commented soon after the news of Malaysian Flight 17’s demise, if nothing else everyone should have seen this result as “predictable” given Putin’s dual positions, talking as if Russia was keeping hands off the Ukraine while more secretly encouraging Russians to volunteer to serve across the border as rebels in order, as Zakaria described it, to destabilize Ukraine “on the cheap.”
      At the UN on the following morning, US representative Samantha Power spoke out against Putin’s government, suggesting that the Russians clearly had a role in providing both the provisions to rebel forces and in the field help to shoot the airliner down. Through Powers, the US insisted that Putin immediately end the dangerous war in the region by ceasing Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.   
     Like others, Powers called for a cease-fire so that international specialists can enter the area to objectively evaluate the crash scene and retrieve the black box—which may have already been sent to Russia by the rebels. In any event, it is clear that the site has been severely compromised given the wandering visitations of the area by locals, rebels, and reporters.
     New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise, for example, reported on the site in somewhat gruesome detail in the paper the next morning, beginning with this paragraph:

                   Incongrously, given that the plane fell from more than 30,000 fee,
                   many of the bodies strewn about in the smoldering wreckage of
                Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were largely intact. A woman in a black
                sweater lay on her back, blood streaming from her face, her left
                arm raised as if signaling someone. Another victim, naked except
                   for a black bra, lay on the field, her gray hair mixing with the
                  green grass, one leg broken and her body torn.

Even the local rebel, who goes by the name Sergei, expressed shock at what he observed.
     A more restrained version of events on the ground, however, was expressed by Noah Sneider, a young journalist reporting for CNN, who reported that he had observed very little looting, and that bodies had been marked with white markers but not removed, as local authorities were awaiting international observers. Sneider had counted the identifiable bodies at about 50 at night, returning by morning to observe about the same number.
       But even this calm reporter’s words were sometimes blood-curdling when he was asked if he had seen passengers still strapped in their seats. Yes, he answered, some no longer have faces, but others still sit with “faces frozen in expressions of complete fear.” Many of the bodies, he admits, were blown apart and were virtually unrecognizable with regard to sex. “The flies are started to circle,” and the bodies are beginning to decompose.
      Asked about the attitudes of the local rebels controlling the site, Sneider reported that, for them, "perception was more important than reality," as they continued to argue that they had no weapons sophisticated enough to possibly shoot down an airplane.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government released another intercepted message from the rebels speaking of having just received a new BUK system, provided, by Russia. “What are we going to do with this beauty?” asked one rebel.
     Another recorded message from the rebels proclaimed the downed jet as being an airliner, suggesting that it might have been an intentional act.
     Ukraine officials also released a video showing a land BUK system, with one missile missing, being moved back to the Russian border. The working theory among American intelligence sources is that the BUK system that shot down the plane came from the Crimea, moved into eastern Ukraine through Russian territory,  

     Just before noon (EST) on Friday, President Obama spoke from The White House, calling the Malaysian jet’s downing “an outrage of unspeakable proportions.” He reiterated the American belief that the missile was shot from the rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine.

     Obama further revealed that one American, a PhD student from Indiana University, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was aboard the plane. 192 of the plane’s passengers, CNN noted, were from the Netherlands. Nearly 100 researchers and doctors on their way to Australia for conference on AIDS were also on board the doomed flight, the President added.

     The President further vowed more sanctions if Russia continued to “support the separatists with weapons and training.” It is not possible for the separatists to accomplish shooting down planes with the sophisticated weapons they used without the aid of Russian technicians, he concluded. “Putin has the most control over the situation, but so far he has not exercised it.”

By Saturday, July 19, things had improved relatively little in the area near Donetsk where the Malaysian airliner was downed. CNN reporter Chris Cuomo reported that the rebels were still making it difficult to access the area, and that bodies were now being gathered by locals and put into body bags, left on the roadsides. Cuomo related that he was happy that he could now show the condition of the bodies and the way in which the bodies were being treated. It’s clearly a lack of sophistication here, the rebels unable to perceive that they need to give easy access to international forensic workers, something that will probably not happen until the rebels are told by Russian or rebel leaders that they must abandon their intimidation of outsiders. Some local miners apparently also volunteered to help gather the bodies. “It is the worst possible combination of circumstances,” summarized Cuomo.
     Cuomo also reported that some luggage had been moved, stacked into piles, but that most of the debris field had not been altered.
     The Germans reportedly were attempting to demand that Putin order the local rebel militia to allow full access to the area.

Los Angeles, July 17-19, 2014

     The major question that now arises is how Putin will respond, and, if he continues his doublespeak in the manner of former K.G.B. agents, how much international relations with Russia will disintegrate. Despite his longstanding bluff, there are reports that the former Soviet Union is suffering from several of the US sanctions already placed upon them, and this new incident, with so many European deaths, may likely result in further sanctions from Germany and other countries. There is some fear, indeed, that this incident—in the manner of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria before World War I—could result in a series of reactions leading to a new kind of “cold war” between the US and its allies with Putin’s Russia.

     The US Pentagon, in a morning briefing, said that there was no sign yet that Russia was pulling back military forces. Up to 12,000 Russian forces are still positioned by Ukraine’s southeastern border, forces that appear to be growing week by week. “They’re very ready. It’s a very capable force,” the spokesman added. In the very same area of the downed plane, moreover, an attack occurred on Friday, killing more than 20 local citizens reported CNN. Battles continued in the Dontesk region on Saturday.

     According to a Pentagon spokesman this morning, the US is providing Ukraine with some, low-grade, military assistance such as packaged meals, radios, body armor, first aid kits, sleeping mats, night vision goggles, Kevlar helmets, and explosive detection devices.

     The Los Angeles Times concurred in an article on July 19, 2014 that the entire event surely had put Putin “on the spot in Europe,” arguing, “The intelligence adds to a body of evidence widely cited by Ukrainian officials and their allies in Washington and Western Europe that the separatists are armed and trained, if not actually directed, by Russia. Some say it will change the course of the conflict.”

     “It seems like Putin was for the first time caught red-handed and that this horrible tragedy could become a game-changer for the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” observed Lilia Shevtsova, a senior researcher with the Moscow Carnegie Center.
     The Times article by Sergei L. Loko, Carol J. Williams, and Paul Richter went on to report the effect of American and European sanctions in Russia to date: “The economy is poised for zero growth this year, down from forecasts of nearly 3% before the Ukraine crisis, and at least $75 billion was taken out of the country in the first six months of this year,” exceeding all of 2013’s losses.
     Yet Putin, known for his ability to maneuver out of tight situations, may find ways to deflect the current situation, particularly if there is no direct evidence of Kremlin involvement, and if other European countries, afraid of losing Russia’s natural gas and other resources, are reluctant to speak out or further sanction Russia.
     Although the Dutch lost 192 people on the Malaysian flight, the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, so The New York Times reported on Saturday, refused to take the position of President Obama that the Russians were responsible for the plane’s destruction. Rutte, speaking at a news conference, said “that he was not yet convinced that the plane has been taken down by a missile.”
    “We are a small country, dependent on our exports,” he said elsewhere, “and unlike the United States, we cannot always react from our moral high grounds.”
     The New York Times reminded their readers that Russia is the Netherlands’ third-largest trade partner, with business, particularly natural gas, growing.
     It is precisely such caution and qualifications that, I would argue, have helped Putin and his Kremlin associates in the past to stone-wall and lie their ways out of situations that might quickly have destroyed the reputations of other world leaders.
     In an essay that astutely reminded us of Putin’s policies, British professor Timothy Garton Ash wrote in Sunday’s New York Times about a 1994 speech in St. Petersburg, made by a then Russian political confederate (Ash describes him as “sidekick of the city’s mayor”), Vladimir Putin suddenly piped up in an otherwise sleep-inducing conference, arguing that the Soveit Union had voluntarily given up “huge territories” of the former republics “which historically have always belonged to Russia.” Among these, he argued, was not only the Crimea and northern Kazakhstan, but also Kaliningrad. Russia, Putin stated, could not simply abandon to their fate those “25 milling Russians” who now lived abroad.
    That position, which Ash described as the age-old “völkisch vision” (in Russian now called “russkiy mir” or “Russian world”) is behind today’s actions by Putin to regain territories not only in Ukraine, but previously in Georgia and Moldova, and which has created fears through the Baltic countries and even among the Finns. Ash summarizes:

     Little did we imagine that, 20 years later, the St. Petersburg deputy
     Mayor, now uncrowned czar of the Russians, would have seized Crimea
     by force, covertly stirred up violent mayhem in eastern Ukraine and be

     explicitly advancing his 19th-century vision as the policy of a 21st-century

     state. Today’s Kremlin has its own perverted version of the Western-
     developed and United Nations-sacrificed humanitarian doctrine of 

     the “responsibility to protect.” Russia, Mr. Putin insists, has a respons-
     ibility to protect all Russians abroad, and he gets to decide who is a

     Ash darkly compares this with recent actions in Southeast Asian countries, particularly China, and developments in Poland, and Hungary that have similar “völkisch” ambitions; but the writer seemingly goes out of his way not to compare these ambitions to be precisely those of Hitler who, soon after the Anschluss of Austria, pushed into Czechoslovakia, arguing that the Germans were attempting to protect ethnic Germans living in that country.

     Such actions, Ash argues, “are totally unacceptable, and a grave threat to world peace,” and that such actions inevitably end “in blood.”

     When I first began my couch-side “coverage” of Ukraine, outraged by precisely those Russian assertions that Ash details in his thoughtful essay, I noted to my Facebook friends that I had posted my reactions to my Green Integer blog. Clearly, most of my thousands of Facebook friends were disinterested in such a seemingly “unimportant” struggle with a former Republic of the Soviet Union. Most of my acquaintances were far more outraged by Israel’s attempts to protect its country from the mostly failed missiles lobbed into Israeli territory by Hamas Gazan-based forces—a painful encounter for both sides to be certain.
     I received only one response, huffily dismissing my quite-obvious pro-Ukrainian bias, which argued that I didn’t know what I was talking about, particularly since there had been such a long-term relationship between Ukraine and Russia. Obviously I knew about that relationship, and had recounted some of it in my essays on Dovzhenko’s films, but I didn’t bother to respond, feeling that such a position was a bit like arguing that the US had no reason in 1776, given its long-standing association with Great Britain, to demand its independence. After all, one might have argued, with völisch logic, nearly everyone living there, except for the native American Indians, a few Dutch, and Germans, were British!

Los Angeles, July 19-20, 2014

View image on TwitterOn July 22, with some ceremonial pomp, the separatists of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” “awarded” representatives of the Malaysian government with the two “black box” recorders they had retrieved from the wreckage of the Malaysian 17 jet crash. At the same time, the rebels allowed the refrigerator cars filled with bodies of those aboard, somewhere between 200 to 250 of the dead stuffed into body bags, to move forward out of rebel-held territory where they were met in Ukrainian territory by Dutch authorities.
     After two days of a seeming standoff, the rebels evidently had a change of mind, perhaps occasioned directly or indirectly by comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, apparently looking for a way out of the crisis he had helped to create, stated that he too sought for answers to who had shot down the Malaysian jet, while at the same time arguing that the US and Ukraine wwere using the occasion for “political purposes”—a quite outrageous position given Putin’s continued politically-motivated postures. Among the post preposterous news begin broadcast on Russian television, is that the contents of the plane near Donetsk were actually those of the earlier missing Malaysian flight 370 plane, “dumped only now to make the separatists look bad,” as reported by The New York Times.
      Although it may have seemed to some that Putin was somewhat shifting his position, later in the day the U.S. reported, so noted CNN reporter Barbara Starr, that reconnaissance photos showed that a Russian base near to the Ukraine border has actually increased in military activity, along with new US evidence that Russia had moved resources back and forth across the border. It also became clear, as the day progressed, that Putin would continue what some have described as his “twin-track” political maneuvers, in which he speaks one thing and does another.
     Although British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out strongly against Putin’s continued support of the separatists, and it appears that the Netherlands’ Rutte has now been convinced of Russia’s involvement, little has come from Angela Merkel in Germany, an important figure for the Allies if there are to be significant new sanctions against Russia.
     Another article in Monday’s New York Times concerned the French involvement with Russian military forces in building new warships in the port of Saint-Nazaire—yet another example of how Russian trading ties have worked to help silence the European outcry against Putin’s cynical tactics. France announced late in the day that they would still go ahead, despite US opposition, with the sale of the Russian warships.
     One thing is certain: most of Russian citizens remain firmly behind Putin. “In Russia,” observed sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, “no one thinks that Russia is guilty.” After building the case that Kiev leaders were fascists determined to kill the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, Russian television continued to pit Putin’s policies against both Ukraine and the US, who together are represented as having plotted to shoot down the passenger jet.
Los Angeles, July 22, 2014 

By the next morning, it became more and more apparent that the European leaders had come to no agreement about how to react to Putin and Russian involvement in Ukraine.
      Putin offered that “we will of course do everything in our power (to influence the Ukrainian separatists), but that is not nearly enough.” Again the Russian leader went on to blame Ukraine for attacking Donetsk with tanks at the very moment Malaysian officials arrived to collect the black boxes. He said nothing, however, about the behavior of the separatists nor their continued military actions.
     European leaders meeting yesterday, however, as New York Times reporter Thomas Erdbrink wrote, “shied away from measures what would further isolate Russia. Particularly in Netherlands, the country that suffered the most deaths from the separatist jet attack, is inextricably intertwined with Russian business interests. “For more than a decade,” wrote The New York Times reporter, “the Dutch have been forging closer ties with Russian, emphasizing a growing trade and economic partnership while pointedly ignoring President Vladimir V. Putin’s regional ambitions.” The Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell, with headquarters in The Hague, is one of the “largest foreign investors in Russian gas fields in Siberia, and much of the Netherlands pension funds are tied to Shell and those investments.
     “The Dutch entanglement with Russia through Shell is emblematic of ties that many European nations have with Russian,” summarized the Times article.
     British Prime Minister David Cameron continued to speak out strongly: “It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt,” he argued. But few concrete proposals resulted from the meeting. French President François Hollande, responded that it was impossible for his country to abandon their agreement to provide warships to the Russians, arguing that to cancel the deal would mean that France would have reimburse Russian 1.1 billion euros. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reaction was particularly weak, suggesting only that “communication lines with Russian needed to stay open.” A Dutch columnist reiterated that restrained response suggesting that, particularly in the context of recent American spying on Germany, “Germany does not follow the U.S. blindly.”
     An associate professor of sociology at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev, Svitlana Khutka, somewhat cynically if accurately summed up the European response:

                   It looks like they will not impose any strict sanctions. Why? Because
                   they say they are very concerned, deeply concerned, very, very con-
                   cerned, very much concerned, so very deeply concerned.
                       You just don’t believe that they are concerned, because it is quite
                   evident that they have their own interests.

    In a scathing essay on Putin and Europe’s cowardice, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy—with whom I often do not agree, but this time I feel is quite accurate—concluded:
                   To see the European Union acting so pusillanimously is very dis-
                   couraging. France wants to hold on to its arms contracts for the
                   jobs they are supposed to save in its naval shipyards. Germany, a
                  hub of operations for the Russian energy giant Gazprom, is petrified
                  of losing own strategic position. Britain, for its part, despite recent
                  statements by Prime Minister David Cameron, may still not be
                  ready to forgo the colossal flows of Russian oligarchs’ ill-gotten
                  cash upon which the City, London’s financial district, has come to
                     In European parlance, this is called the spirit of Munich*—appeasement.
                 And it is a disgrace.


*For younger readers, “The Spirit of Munich” refers to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany in negotiations with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, permitting the Nazis to annex portions of Czechoslovakia shortly before World War II.

Los Angeles, July 23, 2014

By the following day it was clear that Putin, taking advantage of the European inaction in determining significant sanctions against Russia, begin to move several sophisticated weapons systems nearer the Ukrainian border. On Friday, the 25th, CNN reported that the US government was claiming that some of those systems are poised to be moved into the eastern Ukraine rebel territory, the same region that had apparently shot down the Malaysian airliner.
    U.S. Col. Steve Warren of the Pentagon stated, according to The Los Angeles Times “intelligence reports showed Russia was planning to give the separatists up to a dozen 200-millimeter rocket launchers,” systems more powerful than anything previously held by the rebels.
      The Russia response is due, in part, to gains made by Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, including their retaking of the city of Lysychansk and several other smaller villages. Anonymous intelligence reports suggest that “recent rocket salvos appeared aimed at preventing Ukrainian forces from regaining control of the border region southeast of the city of Donetsk.”  
      According to Warren, the Russians have also increased their troop presence at the border to 12,000.
     U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, noted that Russia could have taken the opportunity of the downed Malaysian airliner to “put things back on a diplomatic track, instead what we have seen from the Kremlin is the puring of gasoline of the fire.”      Meanwhile the crash site, still littered with the plane’s wreckage and personal belongings of the passengers aboard, sat nearly unattended. Few to none of the international inspectors had yet felt safe or had been given permission, so some claimed, to investigate the rebel held site.
     Obviously, journalists and informed observers questioned the integrity of the debris, open to intruders and sitting now for several days through variable weather. Although some photographs of the plane debris had been sent on to authorities still in Kiev, it was clear no major attempt had been made to access the damage and to collect data that might reveal how and who had shot the plane down. Dutch, Australian, and even Russian inspectors announced that they would soon be traveling to the area, some of them accompanied by armed protective forces.
      On Thursday it was also announced in Kiev that Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yartsenyuk had resigned when his parliamentary coalition fell apart. Since the Ukraine Parliament still contained many members loyal to the previous president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, the new election, called by President Petro O. Poroshenko for the fall, will allow Poroshenko to form new coalitions supporting his strong anti-Russian and pro-Nato positions. The timing of Yartsenyuk’s resignation, along with the dissolving of the Udar party coalition, however, clearly suggested a crisis for the government already involved in trying to quell the rebel separatists in the east of the country.
     European Union members, meeting in Brussels, continued to attempt to find significant ways in which to sanction Russia. President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, suggested, however, that such sanctions were clearly not going to be applied in ways that might damage the close business ties that the Netherlands, France, Britain, and Germany have with their neighbor. According to the New York Times, Van Rompuy noted that the organization had been able to reach “an emerging consensus on some key principles.”
    Olivier Bullough, writing in England’s The Guardian, argued that any sanctions that Europe might impose “will not help Ukraine,” a poor country he points out that has long been the subject governmental and business corruption.

                  There are many reasons for Ukraine’s corruption: low wages;
                 excessive regulations; reliance on Russian gas; murky
                 government spending; crooked judges. These are Ukrainians’
                 problems to solve. As a doctor there told me recently: 
                 “The west cannot do our homework for us.”

     Bullough argues that what western European countries must do instead is to examine its own  actions as much as they examine Russia’s. This commentator continues:

                   Without western bank accounts and shell companies, Ukraine’s
                  leaders could never have undermined their country the way they
                       Yanukovych’s Sukholuchya hunting lodge, set in a forest that
                 he privatised via a murky process that appears to have been illegal,
                 was owned via a shell company registered on Harley Street. That fact
                 alone should embarrass every British policymaker, but has gone largely
                 unremarked. Dmitry Firtash, a billionaire who made a fortune as an
                 unnecessary intermediary in the Russian-Ukraine gas trade, met the
                 Duke of Edinburgh in the autumn, and was welcomed as a donor by
                 Cambridge University. He is now on bail in Austria, fighting extradition
                 on US bribery charges.
                      Our banks, lawyers and others have enthusiastically laundered
                the proceeds of Ukraine’s looting. Anti-money laundering regulations
                are supposed to oblige our banks and other institutions to check whether
                such money is legally obtained, but there are few signs that is being done.
                Yes, we have frozen millions of pounds in bank accounts linked to the old
                regime, but why did we wait till Yanukovych had fallen before doing it?

      The inward looks and chest-thumping which Bullough prescribes may indeed be useful to both European countries and the US in its dealings with both Ukraine and Russia. But it appears to me that it does not at all answer the problems both the US and Europe must now face about Putin’s increased hostilities against former regions of the Soviet Union (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) and, if he further succeeds in Ukraine—as he has already in the Crimea takeover—his future forays into other countries of the Baltic and elsewhere. Nor do Bullough’s arguments for European self-assessment deal with the corruption that continues within Putin’s own government, including his own personal hidden wealth. And, finally, it does nothing to deal with the continued fear of European countries to stand up to Russia and Putin when faced with their own deep investments and rewards of Russian gas and money.
     Yes, perhaps Europe and the US need to look inward, but they also need to look outward to find ways to help Ukraine and President Poroshenko’s seemingly well-intended attempts to move away from the past corruption and closer to an open democracy. Putin would be absolutely delighted to have Ukraine slip back into the “good old days” of what Bullough has described as an “orgy of klepocracy.”

Los Angeles, July 25-26, 2014