The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Brief Meditations on Putin and Small Suggestions That May Support Achieving Peace Through Diplomacy

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). in preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions that he has made, but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond concerning Ukraine. What Western decisionmakers require is some reliable foresight into Putin’s actions. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate thinking among readers on new lines of thought and provide kernels of ideas on how to proceed for foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmaking.

On February 24, 2022, frightful predictions of a Russian invasion were realized as Russian forces moved into the country from several points, to include attacks from the territory of Belarus. So many had hoped that the possibility of war would remain just a possibility, and good minds in Western capitals would find some solution and reach an agreement with Moscow by which Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, and the West in general would be satisfied. Evidently, in Ukraine, many wanted to avoid war to the extent they acted as if it were an unlikely possibility. With the surprise and shock barely worn off most Ukrainians at the time of this writing, some have scrambled to move West in order to escape the oncoming death and destruction, and others have joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces or have simply taken up arms in order to be part of a planned insurgency. They are ready and regularly giving all in defense of their homeland.

Not unexpectedly, at the center of it all is Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his mindset. Concerning the Ukraine crisis, the matter with Putin runs deeper, more subtle than it seems many might suppose. One might be aware of this given the multitude of reports on Putin attempting to see reason in his actions. With considerable discomposure, greatcharlie states that many one sided analyses of Putin and the current crisis continue to stifle the advancement of understanding about him. That in turn may be hampering effective action and keeping diplomacy stagnated. One sided analyses fail to genuinely consider the other party’s thoughts and needs. In preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond. To be effective, top foreign and national security policy decisionmakers need to attain a full understanding of both Putin and new situations as they begin to develop. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate the thinking of readers on new lines of thought and kernels of ideas on how to proceed mainly for US foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmakers,  but those analysts and decisionmakers of other Western governments, too. The word heart-wrenching marginally describes scenes viewed worldwide on broadcast and online newsmedia of Ukrainians ruined by war. One cannot look without compassion at what is happening there. With emotions about Ukraine running high, greatcharlie approaches the subject of Ukraine with caution. What comes to mind are words of French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In one of his best-known dramas, “The Misanthrope” or “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux”, Molière writes the sardonic advisory to which greatcharlie has always paid heed: “That any gentleman should always keep in stern control this writing itch we’re seized with; That he must hold in check the great impatience We feel to give the world these idle pastimes; For, through this eagerness to show our works, ‘Tis likely we shall cut a foolish figure’.”

Putin at press conference following bilateral meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022 (above). Putin insists that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russian.

Putin’s Explanation for the War

In his February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, Putin laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. Outlining his authority to invade Ukraine, in his own words, Putin explained: “In accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.” As for his reasoning for the invasion, Putin stated: “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” As for the scope of the special military operation, Putin explained: “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force. At the same time, we have been hearing an increasing number of statements coming from the West that there is no need any more to abide by the documents setting forth the outcomes of World War II, as signed by the totalitarian Soviet regime. How can we respond to that?”

Boiled down, Putin stated with conviction that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger for ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russia. For almost every other national leader, there is no valid argument to support his choice. Most of the world would likely agree that what he has done is brustschmerzangst, strange and just wrong. In taking this dark, murderous route of invading Ukraine, Putin has sufficiently made the case, once again, that he can be a cruel monster. Few could reasonably deny that Putin cuts the figure of an immoral and cruel ethno-religious nationalist, not exactly steered spiritually by the precepts and strictures of the Russian Orthodox Church, but seemingly by obsession with his own hatred. Hardly any newsmedia commentators in the West, just to stir debate, would go through any pains to single out the points in Putin’s favor. Given choices of whom to alienate on the world stage, Putin has made the top of list. 

In Book X, Section 38 of his Meditations (161 AD-180 AD) the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (April 26, 121 AD-March 17, 180 AD), stated the following about the inner thinking of individuals: “Remember that what pulls the strings is the force hidden within; there lies the power to persuade, there the life,—there, if one must speak out, the real man.” In continuing its discussion on Putin, greatcharlie recognizes that many readers may not find the discussion immediately following satisfying, but it is asked that readers allow some room for maneuver on the following points.

All that has transpired in Russia since Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared the Russian Federation as a sovereign country, no longer a republic of the collapsed Soviet Union, has been the manifestation of Putin’s vigorous, and yes, masterful mind. Even the criminal mind can be regarded as masterful. Coldly exploring Putin, given his accomplishments despite his atrocious actions, it could be assessed that Putin is indeed a noteworthy individual. (The same might be said of Satan!) Perhaps some might coldly assess that Putin has been somewhat brave in the way that he spoke for what he says he believes in, brave in the way he takes on challenges presented to him and challenges he creates. He is ruled by his passions. if an Russian Orthodox Catholic priest, he would become the Primate. If a musician, he would rule the stage. None of this is not stated out of any respect or deference, but clear-headed consideration.

Within the foreign and national security bureaucracies of Western governments, formulating the best response diplomatically on Ukraine will mean better understanding Putin and how he thinks. Analyses within the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, given their access of analysts to intelligence reports, access to classified information collected by friendly foreign governments, their institutional knowledge and experience, etcetera, are understood to be a cut above that of the mainstream newsmedia. Stating this with no intention to offend, it would seem given outcomes and newsmedia reporting on the matter, that presently despite special sources, greater capabilities, and nuances, those bureaucracies are seemingly producing analyses somewhat similar to what the aforementioned newsmedia has on Putin. As a result, finding answers to cope effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. It was once common wisdom that significant US involvement alone in earlier times would have had a steading effect. However, it does not appear to have such powers at the present. Neither promises nor “vague” threats from the US could induce Putin to pull back his forces and refrain from invading Ukraine. International law and maintaining international peace and security mean absolutely nothing to Putin any more.

The agreement Moscow signed promising not to invade Ukraine is the Budapest Memorandum. Drawn up in 1994, the Budapest Memorandum essentially states that Ukraine, having agreed to relinquish its nuclear arsenal which at the time was the third-largest in world, would be assured its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the other countries that signed the deal. Ukraine’s nuclear warheads would be transferred to Russia for decommissioning, and Ukraine would join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. Other than then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the memorandum was signed by then US President Bill Clinton, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, and the United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major. With regard to assuring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ukraine was only provided a politically binding security assurances to respect its independence and sovereignty which guaranteed its existing borders. The US was unwilling to agree to intervene then should Ukraine’s sovereignty be breached, and it clearly remains unwilling today. The government in Kyiv in 1994 very strangely put Ukraine in a wickedly precarious situation, relying too heavily on the goodwill of other countries. They did not know what the future would bring. Surely, they could not forsee or imagine the present-day Russian invasion. For Ukrainians, the deal reached in Budapest was a very bad one.

Putin interrogating the head of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service on February 21, 2022 during a Security Council meeting the Kremlin. (above). Western analysts have created the impression that they are unable to see Putin straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.”

The Hopeless Search for a ‘Good Reason” for This War

Concerning the reasons for things,, the renowned “spy novelist” John Le Carre in his blockbuster work Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Simon & Schuster, 1972) had his main character explain reason can be founded in three ways: “reason is logic”; “reason is motive”; and, “reason is a way of life.” Among those who examine Putin regularly, some surely would find his recent decision-making very difficult to reconcile within the settled order of nature. To that extent it is worth examining because it is inexplicable. The rational part of greatcharlie insists upon it.

A common theme heard in Western foreign policy circles and newsmedia concerning Putin’s attitude and behavior before and during the first few days of the invasion was that Putin was bent on reestablishing the Soviet Union as it existed before its collapse. Standing in the way of that expansion, was his perception of alleged expansionist aims of NATO. That perceived NATO expansion into Ukraine, which remains a real “threat,” an absolutely horrifying possibility to Putin and his advisers. Boastfully, provokingly Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amplified the notion of Ukraine joining NATO before and more so right after the invasion. and before the invasion, his words likely stayed with Putin much as a song that would not get out of his head. In the fragile negotiations organized on the initiative of Ukraine and Russia since the invasion began, and endorsed by the US and other Western countries, Zelensky has back tracked on the matter, saying NATO membership is no longer an immutable position of Kyiv. However, that is due to the fact that far greater matters concerning Ukraine’s future, including the retention of its territory, are now at stake. Once a very weighty issue is now a simple bargaining chip of value yet to be fully determined at the negotiating table.

Intriguingly, US intelligence officials have made their assessments that Putin cannot be seen straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him as greatcharlie alluded to earlier when discuss the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.” In fact, CNN reported, based on information from an official source, that there has not been any new comprehensive assessment by the US Intelligence Community that indicates a particular change to Putin’s overall health. (It would appear that Gospodin Vladimir Vladimirovich has been terribly unhelpful concerning US efforts to evaluate him!) The fact that such a gap in knowledge and understanding about aspects of Putin’s life exist should not at all be satisfactory for the US Congress or for executives and managers within the Intelligence Community, itself.

Interestingly enough, there was also no serious discussion of Putin being off-key in the months leading to the invasion or even on February 24, 2022. In preceding posts on Ukraine, greatcharlie noted with curiosity that national leaders in the West, despite declaring Putin a violent, loathsome man, rarely if ever put into question his mental state. Thiere was no discussion of Putin’s mental state as he began the build up of Russian forces near Ukraine in 2021. On March 31, 2021, when the US European Command raised its awareness level to “potential imminent crisis” in response to estimates that over 100,000 Russian troops had been positioned along its border with Ukraine and within Crimea, in addition to its naval forces in the Sea of Azov. Indeed, European Command made it quite clear that there were signs of potential violence. An assessment of Putin’s mental state that greatly called into question his ostensible preparations to blindly inflict harm on the people of Ukraine may have changed everything for top decisionmakers in Western governments..

Observing how Putin was being perceived in Moscow, there was apparently no concern among political leaders about his mental state. indeed,, he was actually provided even greater powers by Russian political leaders to carry out his plans for Ukraine. On February 15, 2022, Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, voted overwhelmingly to ask Putin to formally recognize Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Donetsk People’s Republic)or Donetsk and Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Lugansk People’s Republic or Luhansk People’s Republic) or Luhansk. Before the invasion, Donetsk and Luhansk were still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent republics. Putin took the step authorized by the Duma. The greatest concern in the West when Hi did so was the fact that it meant a formal end to Russia’s role in maintaining the integrity of the ceasefire between Ukrainian and separatist forces constructed under the Minsk Agreements. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on Telegram after the vote: “Kyiv does not comply with the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots living in Donbas need help and support,” He went on to state: “In this regard, [Duma lawmakers] believe the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics will create grounds for guaranteeing the security and protection of their inhabitants from external threats.”

Returning more directly to the issue of Western perceptions of Putin’s mental state, surely, there are those among US foreign and national security policy analysts who conversely would assess that his recent actions are consistent with those prior. An example provided in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled, Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, Putin would be willing to Russia to challenging and uncertain military operations. The prime example offered was the second on Chechnya by Russian forces in 1999. Russian forces went in depite having been unsuccessful in an operation there three years earlier. Speculation about Putin’s mental health became most popular after his broadcast address on his decision to order a special military operation against Ukraine. Reportedly, the most shocking aspect of the address for top officials was the justification he gave for the invasion. On February 25, 2022, US Senator Marco Rubio relayed on Twitter @marcorubio that Putin “has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant,” suggesting he was basing his assessment on intelligence briefings given to him as the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He tweeted further: “I wish I could share more,but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with #Putin.” Summing up all that he could say publicly what he gleaned from the briefing Rubio stated: “It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”

CNN on March 1, 2022 noted that following the Congressional briefing that Rubio attended, the floodgates further opened regarding Putin’s mental state. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who served in that post during the administration of US President Barack Obama tweeted that Putin had “changed,” and sounded “completely disconnected from reality” and “unhinged.” Former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, who also served under Obama, referred to Putin on CNN as “unhinged” and warned, “I worry about his acuity and balance.”

A photo from the Stasi archives in Dresden picture of Putin (second from the left) standing with a group of senior Soviet and East German military and security officers and officials. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, through that service, he certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions.

When one moves into the realm of conjecture, one guess is as good as another. What may not make sense to one, might speak volumes to another. Among other, more recherché, even outré, explanations for Putin’s behavior are the following. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the behemoth Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, that same KGB service surely had Putin working alongside Ukrainians who he appreciated and observed serving the service well in what was once East Germany. He certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions. Interestingly, as Putin place much concern over the history of Ukraine in his calculus of how to proceed, he conversely would likely say thoughts of his KGB would not be relevant. What is most pertinent are circumstances as they exist today! Hearing his thoughts on the intersection of these matters would surely reveal an intriguing duality. 

Putin himself has played a active deliberate role in glazing over any prospective windows into him with staged scenes for worldwide newsmedia distribution. The truth of the moment is anyone’s guess. Putin likely has a near bottomless bag of tricks. The more recherché his behavior, the greater attention it gets and the greater its chances of retention. In the aforementioned CNN report of March 1, 2022, it is noted that one US official told the newsmedia house that US intelligence officials “have been on guard for the possibility that Putin’s strategy may well be to project instability, in an attempt to push the US and allies to give him what he wants for fear that he could do worse.” Still further, Putin, after all, is a fan of comedy. Supposedly, one of his films was “Ivan Vasilyevich Menyayet Professiyu” (“Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession”) (1973), a Soviet comedic film in which Ivan IV “The Terrible” is accidentally transported by time a machine in a apartment building to the present and the apartment building superintendent and a petty thief are sent to the 16th century a try to require themselves as Ivan the Terrible and a duke of his court. Absolute madness ensues. Russian cultural references, dry humor, and crni humor, is found in many of the characters’ lines. What may have tickled Putin about the film is not so much what was unexpected, but those things that were also outré. (When Putin is in a good mood, certainly unlikely the way he is today, one might speak figuratively that even the heavy planet Saturn which symbolizes maturity, responsibility, discipline, and stewardship, would laugh and leap with him. Yet, this is beside the question.) Surely, there is nothing humorous about anything Putin has done in Ukraine, but again concerning the diplomatic front and political warfare front, as mentioned the US Intelligence Community might agree, he is well-aware of the type of impact certain images, some possibly facetious, would most likely have upon Western observers.

Considering Putin’s recent behavior, perhaps it is not so much that Putin has changed, it may be the case that he has just gotten a little older, and that could have been expected. With age everything changes. Without any intention to appear ageist, greatcharlie suggests that this is an idea lost of many under 65. Of course, not every senior is the same. Some individuals actually shine brighter and find their true selves. Some do not change at all, either for the better or for the worse. Yet, perhaps it is very well the case that Putin, at 69, has entered a new era and has lost interest in what he might perceive as shoe-horning himself into Western constructs to gain some sense of attainment, sense of arrival, sense of assuring Russia a place on the world stage, the first tier. Knowing that Russia is a superpower, whether foreigners agree or not, may now be enough for him. Ukraine evinces this suggested mindset well.

While greatcharlie always senses it is moving out on shaky ground when suggesting medical causality for an individual’s behavior, but perchance Putin may have a B1 vitamin deficiency. As an odd symptom of B1 vitamin deficiency, one can become disconnected from reality, not rational, or reasonable. 

Surely, the notion that there may be something supernatural about Putin’s attitude and behavior at this time would offend all reason of most observers and analysts alike. Yet, perhaps Putin may have been put under the control of a dark shaman who has sinister intentions. Hopefully on this point, greatcharlie will not be accused of faulty humor. What would be most supportive of efforts to get to heart of the matter would be an explanation from disciplined reasoning that would be albeit more prosaic, not guesses that boil down to nonsense. As touched upon earlier, claiming that Putin is unstable and behaving irratically is not an answer. It is an expression of symptoms of observed, associates them with actions,  but that information does not explain their cause. To that extent, such assessments presumably unintentionally mask the failure to find real answers, develop useful information. National leaders and policymakers cannot neither develop worthwhile plans nor comfortably base decisions on such.

Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych following the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan, Putin likely felt more and more that  remnants of the former Soviet Empire which he hoped to hold on to were being chipped away by the West, bit by bit. Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront as he surely perceives it as an important feature of Western efforts expand eastward toward Russia’s border. Indeed, NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and that the government in Kyiv has been pulled far from Moscow’s political reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that he has logically reached that conclusion. given Western actions.

With further regard to Euromaidan, since then, national administrations in Kyiv that came to power after the exit of Yanukovych have gambled on what they wanted and saw as a sure bet, partnership with the West, which attendantly meant the exclusion of nearly everything from Russia that they could exclude safely, reasonably. Kyiv believed Ukraine, its growing partnership with the West, seemingly formalized with the US-Ukraine Strategic Security Pact along with existing agreements such as the Budapest Memorandum, the Minsk Agreements, meant greater security for Ukraine. Kyiv took a considerable risk taking that approach, and it lost. Although it should not have happened, but nonetheless did happen, Putin responded. He figuratively closed the casino and all the winnings on the tables. By tethering itself to the West, Ukraine surely did not become more secure. Perhaps the real issue is that Putin sees Ukraine as a whole-minus the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic–traitorous, since Kyiv, under its present leadership, for all intents and purposes, has turned its back to Russia immutably. Ukraine had become the object of Putin’s pain.

One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. Indeed, for greatcharlie, an reliable undemanding, uncomplicated way to develop an understanding of Putin’s perspectives on Ukraine would be to thumb through his expressions on the Ukraine matter. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. A brief sampling of pertinent expressions by Putin, to avoid being “too prolix,” reveals his concerns, sense of vulnerability to the West and that these expressions were both persistent and consistent.

US President Barack Obama during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014 (above). One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. During their March 2014 call, Putin told Obama that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin declared, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”

2014 Telephone Conversation with Obama

Reportedly, during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014, Obama warned that Russia could face “serious repercussions” unless it halted military operations in Ukraine. Obama further stated to Putin that his actions were a “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law.” Obama additionally urged Putin to pursue “direct engagement with the government of Ukraine” and support the “dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In a reported statement from the Kremlin, Putin told Obama, bluntly, that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin reportedly went on to say, “In the case of any further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” and he warned, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” However, in an official statement from the Kremlin concerning the telephone call Putin had Obama on March 2, 2014, it was declared that “in reply to Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev.” The Kremlin statement further noted that “The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” Themes from the Russian side of that conversation still heard today were the threat of ultranationalists (neo-Nazis) and threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and compatriots who were in Ukraine. Notably, Putin deliberately describes Ukraine, a sovereign country as a territory. It was a subtle utterance Obama might have missed the significance of.

Putin’s Speech at the State Duma on March 18, 2014

One of Putin’s greatest expressions of vulnerability in his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In the official Kremlin transcript of that speech, Putin is quoted as stating the following on Ukraine and the rise of ultranationalists: I would like to reiterate that I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, democratic procedures and elections exist for the sole purpose of replacing the authorities that do not satisfy the people. However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day. On the matter of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, to which Putin refers directly as Russians, he stated: “The new so-called authorities began by introducing a draft law to revise the language policy, which was a direct infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities. However, they were immediately ‘disciplined’ by the foreign sponsors of these so-called politicians. One has to admit that the mentors of these current authorities are smart and know well what such attempts to build a purely Ukrainian state may lead to. The draft law was set aside, but clearly reserved for the future. Hardly any mention is made of this attempt now, probably on the presumption that people have a short memory. Nevertheless, we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.” Putin would add further in the speech: “Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.” As for the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv and attendantly the sovereignty of Ukraine itself, Putin explained: “It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to. Many government agencies have been taken over by the impostors, but they do not have any control in the country, while they themselves – and I would like to stress this – are often controlled by radicals. In some cases, you need a special permit from the militants on Maidan to meet with certain ministers of the current government. This is not a joke – this is reality.” Then, declaring his authority to act of what he perceived as a dangerous situation, Putin stated: “Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.” The same the three elements were repeated in the speech as in the telephone call with tge March 2014 Obama telephone call, Ukraine was a base for neo-Nazis, ethnic-Russians lives were endangered, and Ukraine’s sovereignty was questionable.

Concerning Putin’s sense of vulnerability to the West, it was laid out in the open for all to hear. To summarize, Putin vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating Western actions that fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Doubtlessly, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time so inflamed Putin’s sense of ardor to respond militarily.

Putin’s July 2021 Essay on Ukraine

During the Summer of 2021 and more so during the run up to the invasion, many passed their eyes over Putin’s July 12, 2021 essay entitled, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” All in all, it is very interesting as a piece of history but has little to do with the present realities in the minds of reasonable thinkers and could hardly be the sort of thing that civilized, technologically advanced, industrial societies would go to war over. In greatcharlie’s view, it is essential to take note of Putin’s understanding of the matter to discern his true mindset lies, how his thinking works on the matter. It will doubtlessly have an impact on how he may settle on the matter as events take shape on the battlefield. 

Although Putin goes as far back as the odyssey of the Ancient Rus, dwells in the history of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries and moves more expediently through the 17th and 18th centuries, to explain the historical ties and the bond between Ukrainians and Russians, perhaps most relevant to his view of Ukraine’s place as a sovereign country starts with the Bolsheviks. Boiled down what can be gathered by greatcharlie from the essay as concisely as possible, greatcharlie recounts the following highlights from the essay. Putin explains that following the February Revolution, in March 1917, the Central Rada was established in Kiev, intended to become the organ of supreme power. In November 1917, in its Third Universal, it declared the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) as part of Russia. In December 1917, UPR representatives arrived in Brest-Litovsk, where Soviet Russia was negotiating with Germany and its allies. At a meeting on 10 January 1918, the head of the Ukrainian delegation read out a note proclaiming the independence of Ukraine. Subsequently, the Central Rada proclaimed Ukraine independent in its Fourth Universal. Putin then explains that Ukrainians after signing a separate treaty with German bloc countries  Rada delegates signed a separate treaty with the. Germany and Austria-Hungary which needed Ukrainian bread and raw materials. In order to secure large-scale supplies, they obtained consent for sending their troops and technical staff to the UPR. Putin states that in fact, this was used as a pretext for occupation, by 1918, Ukraine was in his view essentially under German protectorate. Following the revolutionary events in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR) and, in January 1919, announced its unification with the Ukrainian People’s Republic. 

Putin goes on to explain that in July 1919, Ukrainian forces were crushed by Polish troops, and the territory of the former WUPR came under the Polish rule. According to Putin, in April 1920, Symon Petliura signed a secret conventions on behalf of the UPR Directorate, giving up–in exchange for military support–Galicia and Western Volhynia lands to Poland. In May 1920, Petliurites entered Kiev in a convoy of Polish military units. Yet, as early as November 1920, following a truce between Poland and Soviet Russia, the remnants of Petliura’s forces surrendered to those same Poles. Putin, however, also reflects back to note that in early 1918, when the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was proclaimed, it asked Moscow to incorporate it into Soviet Russia. This was met with a refusal. During a meeting with the republic’s leaders, Soviet Premier Vladimir Lenin insisted that they act as part of the pre-existing Soviet Ukraine. On 15 March 1918, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) directly ordered that delegates be sent to the Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, including from the Donetsk Basin, and that ”one government for all of Ukraine“ be created at the congress. The territories of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic later formed most of the regions of south-eastern Ukraine. 

Putin explains that under the 1921 Treaty of Riga, concluded between the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and Poland, the western lands of the former Russian Empire were ceded to Poland. However, he reminds that in 1939, the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland. A major portion of these became part of the Soviet Ukraine. In 1940, the Ukrainian SSR incorporated part of Bessarabia, which had been occupied by Romania since 1918, as well as Northern Bukovina. In 1948, Zmeyiniy Island (Snake Island) in the Black Sea became part of Ukraine. Imaginably, poignant to Putin was relaying the fact that in 1954, the Crimean Region of the RSFSR was given to the Ukrainian SSR, in gross violation of legal norms that were in force at the time. Putin’s reality on that matter founded his action to capture Crimea in 2014. It may be enough to comment on the this part of essay by quoting the 20th century US financier and statesman, Bernard Baruch, who remarked: “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

As for the Ukrainian identity, Putin explained that “In the 1920’s-1930’s, the Bolsheviks actively promoted the ”localization policy“, which took the form of Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR. Symbolically, as part of this policy and with consent of the Soviet authorities, Mikhail Grushevskiy, former chairman of Central Rada, one of the ideologists of Ukrainian nationalism, who at a certain period of time had been supported by Austria-Hungary, was returned to the USSR and was elected member of the Academy of Sciences. Putin emphasized that “The localization policy undoubtedly played a major role in the development and consolidation of the Ukrainian culture, language and identity. At the same time, under the guise of combating the so-called Russian great-power chauvinism, Ukrainization was often imposed on those who did not see themselves as Ukrainians.”

The decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I to allow a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church from the Russian Orthodox Church for many in Russia may have oddly validated Putin’s concern that West was using its influence to pull Ukrainians away from their cultural traditions. Putin’s position on the matter has garnered support from thehead of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. There are not too many issues that could potentially reach the majority of the Russian population on the West’s alleged intention to separate Ukraine from Russia than to create or emphasize a connection between West and the schism from Russian Othodoxy in Ukraine. On that matter, Putin declared: “Our spiritual unity has also been attacked. As in the days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a new ecclesiastical has been initiated. The secular authorities, making no secret of their political aims, have blatantly interfered in church life and brought things to a split, to the seizure of churches, the beating of priests and monks. Even extensive autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while maintaining spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate strongly displeases them. They have to destroy this prominent and centuries-old symbol of our kinship at all costs.”

Regarding his concern over the alleged welcomed and influential place of neo-Nazis hold in Ukraine, politically, militarily, and socially, Putin expressed: “I think it is also natural that the representatives of Ukraine over and over again vote against the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism. Marches and torchlit processions in honor of remaining war criminals from the SS units take place under the protection of the official authorities. Mazepa, who betrayed everyone, Petliura, who paid for Polish patronage with Ukrainian lands, and Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis, are ranked as national heroes. Everything is being done to erase from the memory of young generations the names of genuine patriots and victors, who have always been the pride of Ukraine.”

The July 2021 essay presumably was shaped not only for the benefit of future historians but certainly for the present-day domestic audience in Russia and the people of Ukraine. What the Russian public was supposed to take away was a sense the that West was trying to destroy Russia and its actions in that direction, many disguised, have been quite sinister. Putin explained: “Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity. And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. As a result of such a harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians, the Russian people in all may decrease by hundreds of thousands or even millions.” As for the Ukrainians, Putin left them with a choice to atone for their error of turning westward by joining a path he prescribed or face severe consequences, invasion. Likely in his own mind, he “judiciously” stated: “Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us. We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous. Putin made what was a thinly veiled threat in stating: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.” Then given what has transpired in Ukraine since February he made a statement which now could be labelled bizarre: “Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be ”anti-Ukraine“. And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide.”

Putin during his February 24, 2022 televised address on Ukraine (above). In his February 24, 2022 televised address, Putin put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West, more specifically the US, and well-serves as a fulsome expression of the accumulation of stress and his sense of vulnerability. In his own words, Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.”

Putin’s February 24, 2022 Televised Address on Ukraine 

While Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised address made just hours before the invasion of Ukraine was not a comprehensive expression of his ideas and theories to include subjects neo-Nazis and Ukrainian sovereignty called attention to here, although in declaring the right to move Russian forces into Ukraine, he indicates that he has does not recognize the sovereign rights of the country. Putin does, however, put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West and an alleged anti-Russia mindset of Western governments. Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.” One Putin’s earliest expressions of resentment, albeit in a nuanced, subtle manner, toward the US was a 1999 essay entitled “‘Russia at the Turn of the Millennium’–A Strategy for Russia’s Revival.” In his February 24th address, he returns to that idea, far more aggressively stating: “As for our country, after the disintegration of the USSR, given the entire unprecedented openness of the new, modern Russia, its readiness to work honestly with the United States and other Western partners, and its practically unilateral disarmament, they immediately tried to put the final squeeze on us, finish us off, and utterly destroy us. This is how it was in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when the so-called collective West was actively supporting separatism and gangs of mercenaries in southern Russia. What victims, what losses we had to sustain and what trials we had to go through at that time before we broke the back of international terrorism in the Caucasus! We remember this and will never forget.” Putin went on to state on the matter: “Properly speaking, the attempts to use us in their own interests never ceased until quite recently: they sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature. This is not going to happen. No one has ever succeeded in doing this, nor will they succeed now.” 

Despite the problems Russia has encountered engaging with the West, Putin explained that Moscow tried to reason with Western powers. He noted that in December 2021: “We made yet another attempt to reach agreement with the United States and its allies on the principles of European security and NATO’s non-expansion. Our efforts were in vain. The United States has not changed its position. It does not believe it necessary to agree with Russia on a matter that is critical for us. The United States is pursuing its own objectives, while neglecting our interests.”

Putin moves on to the notion of Russia becoming in way similar to the designation in the children’s game “It” on a forever it, the forever enemy of the West, and NATO would exist as long as there was a Russia. Putin remarked: “Those who aspire to global dominance have publicly designated Russia as their enemy. They did so with impunity. Make no mistake, they had no reason to act this way. It is true that they have considerable financial, scientific, technological, and military capabilities. We are aware of this and have an objective view of the economic threats we have been hearing, just as our ability to counter this brash and never-ending blackmail. Let me reiterate that we have no illusions in this regard and are extremely realistic in our assessments.” Seemingly well-aware of the deficits in the capabilities of his conventional forces and delinquencies of Russian commanders, the consequences of which are full display in Ukraine, Putin placed emphasis Russia’s nuclear forces with regard to the countries’ defense, stating: “As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states. Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” Concerning the foreign military presence and build up on Russia’s borders, Putin noted that : “At the same time, technology, including in the defence sector, is changing rapidly. One day there is one leader, and tomorrow another, but a military presence in territories bordering on Russia, if we permit it to go ahead, will stay for decades to come or maybe forever, creating an ever mounting and totally unacceptable threat for Russia. To the extend that relates to NATO expansion, Putin explained: “Even now, with NATO’s eastward expansion the situation for Russia has been becoming worse and more dangerous by the year. Moreover, these past days NATO leadership has been blunt in its statements that they need to accelerate and step up efforts to bring the alliance’s infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. In other words, they have been toughening their position. We cannot stay idle and passively observe these developments. This would be an absolutely irresponsible thing to do for us. Putin went on to declare: “Any further expansion of the North Atlantic alliance’s infrastructure or the ongoing efforts to gain a military foothold of the Ukrainian territory are unacceptable for us. Of course, the question is not about NATO itself. It merely serves as a tool of US foreign policy. The problem is that in territories adjacent to Russia, which I have to note is our historical land, a hostile “anti-Russia” is taking shape. Fully controlled from the outside, it is doing everything to attract NATO armed forces and obtain cutting-edge weapons. I have already said that Russia accepted the new geopolitical reality after the dissolution of the USSR. We have been treating all new post-Soviet states with respect and will continue to act this way. We respect and will respect their sovereignty, as proven by the assistance we provided to Kazakhstan when it faced tragic events and a challenge in terms of its statehood and integrity. However, Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist while facing a permanent threat from the territory of today’s Ukraine.”

Noting that his use of military power to resolve the supposed threatening situation in Ukraine was not unprecedented, Putin remarked: “Let me remind you that in 2000–2005 we used our military to push back against terrorists in the Caucasus and stood up for the integrity of our state. We preserved Russia. In 2014, we supported the people of Crimea and Sevastopol. In 2015, we used our Armed Forces to create a reliable shield that prevented terrorists from Syria from penetrating Russia. This was a matter of defending ourselves. We had no other choice.” Indulging what was long nursed reckless and dangerous eccentricity concerning the West, Putin went further to say: “The same is happening today. They did not leave us any other option for defending Russia and our people, other than the one we are forced to use today. In these circumstances, we have to take bold and immediate action. The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help.” Propter curam meam in perpetuo periculo non eritis. (Because of my care (concern), you will not be in perpetual danger.) Hey-ho!

The “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation

Worthwhile to note along with these expressions is a very strong and apposite 2013 Military Statement a response to NATO expansion and Putin’s sense of vulnerability and belief that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”, it was noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin accepted the threat assessment of the the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition is also part of that picture. To rehearse the defense against the West, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced massive strategic military exercises Zapad 2017, scheduled to take place in September 2017. He said the joint exercise, which would include Russian and Belarusian forces, will be the “main military event of 2017.” Further, the two countries armed forces will cooperate in over 130 events and measures. Shoigu explained: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.”

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). On February 14, 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources.

Message from the Biden Administration to Putin on Ukraine: “To Hell with You!”

Well before the Ukraine crisis, arguably Washington did not appear willing to approach Moscow with a mind to address in some fruitful way the concerns he broached. That tack has apparently played a role in bringing parties to the conflict to the point where they are today. At the end of 2021, in the face of the aggregate of Putin’s expressed concerns about Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ssigned the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership in Washington, DC on November 10, 2021. Much of the Charter concerned countering Russian aggression, It notes that the US and Ukraine share a vital national interest in a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine. It recognizes Ukraine’s situation vis-a-vis Russia developing into a near impossible one. “Section II: Security and Countering Russian Aggression” of the Charter explains that the US has offered Ukraine all that it can to prevent further encroachment on its territory and interference in its affairs. To that extent, the Charter says that the US is determined to gird Kyiv’s capabilities to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Both are considered “concurrent priorities.” Describing those steps, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine intend to continue a range of substantive measures to prevent external direct and hybrid aggression against Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for such aggression and violations of international law, including the seizure and attempted annexation of Crimea and the Russia-led armed conflict in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, as well as its continuing malign behavior. The United States intends to support Ukraine’s efforts to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions, and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions against or related to Russia and applying other relevant measures until restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

More specifically, on Crimea and the civil conflict in the Donbas stirred by Russia the Charter indicated that the US has no intention of backing away from its position on the matter. Apparently to avoid any ambiguities or misunderstandings in Moscow, the Charter firmly declares the US position on Crimea and the Donbas as following: “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and reaffirms its full support for international efforts, including in the Normandy Format, aimed at negotiating a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-led armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine on the basis of respect for international law, including the UN Charter. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to use the Crimea Platform to coordinate international efforts to address the humanitarian and security costs of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, consistent with the Platform’s Joint Declaration.”

As for the way in which the US would tangibly support Ukraine’s defense, there are no warnings of intentions to take extreme measures, to include military action. However, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine endorse the 2021 Strategic Defense Framework as the foundation of enhanced Ukraine-US defense and security cooperation and intend to work to advance shared priorities, including implementing defense and defense industry reforms, deepening cooperation in areas such as Black Sea security, cyber defense, and intelligence sharing, and countering Russia’s aggression. The United States and Ukraine are key partners in the broader Black Sea region and will seek to deepen cooperation with Black Sea Allies and partners to ensure freedom of navigation and effectively counter external threats and challenges in all domains. Directly in terms of US military assistance, the Charter explains: “The United States remains committed to assisting Ukraine with ongoing defense and security reforms and to continuing its robust training and exercises. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability. Ukraine intends to continue to enhance democratic civilian control of the military, reform its security service, and modernize its defense acquisition processes to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The United States and Ukraine underline the importance of close cooperation within international institutions, including the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and intend to multiply efforts in finding new approaches and developing joint actions in preventing individual states from trying to destroy the rule-based international order and forcefully to revise internationally recognized state borders.” It is precisely this section of the Charter that likely occupied Putin’s mind.

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, perhaps one might be better enabled to derive the sense of the vulnerability, mentioned often here, that lies within in Putin, especially toward the US and its allies and how it has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, many of whom had held senior posts in the Obama administration, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, Putin had experienced considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment in his dealing with Obama administration officials, particularly on Ukraine. As he appeared to have perceived their actions, they found it rather piquant to interact with him as if he were a lesser party, and his positions and concerns were undeserving of consideration. Communications were condescending, actions were often insulting. In an explosion of aggression, doubtlessly in part response to his treatment, he conquered Ukraine and tormented civil war in the Donbass. He engaged in other destabilizing efforts. Apparently, he never forgot. Seeing the appointment of many of those same officials in even higher posts in the Biden administration, Putin viewed everything they did with a sense of their past actions. One might theorize that although he could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, Putin could reach the Ukrainians who, as suggested earlier, he may view as something akin to “defectors”, surely he would view them as “traitorous”. He knew what anguish and loss that would cause those officials and it would cause the same and much for the “Ukrainian followers.” To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engaged, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration and settle scores once and for all. (See greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post for a fuller discussion of its analysis of Putin’s view of the Biden administration officials,)

It is almost certain that Putin planned to move into Ukraine, surely into the Donbas, at some point in the first quarter of 2022. Yet, there was also the chance he would reconsider if the right type of discussions and negotiations were initiated. As it was, Moscow’s talks with Washington before the invasion had reached the doldrums. What Moscow would hear most from Washington were continual statements, alerts that Russia would invade immediately may have struck Putin curious at first, but eventually it would almost create the impression in him that he was being mocked as massed troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine. After a second round of talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin green-lit Macron’s relating of a message to Washington that he was willing to meet Biden. However, he surely viewed such talks as undesirable and pointless after the precondition that he would agree not to invade Ukraine was communicated by Washington. That message from Washington, more than embarrassing, was most likely viewed by Putin as an effort to humiliate him. No one in Russia, out of self-preservation, would ever be so short-sighted as to communicate with the Russian President, particularly in what remains a very intense, highly stressful, period of uncertainty. Quite well-viewed now is the February 21, 2022 exchange at a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin between Putin and Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Naryshkin, an absolute Putin loyalist, known for his aggressive anti-western statements, became visibly uncomfortable as Putin interrogated him on Ukraine. One can only imagine the gasps sounded within his foreign, national security, and economic advisers when they discovered that was the response sent to him from Washington. Among his very top advisers, there was likely a palpable sense that fiery sea of anger, rage, and hatred churned violently inside of him. In that situation, none of them could be certain of what might happen in the immediate hours after receipt of the message.

As a crucial diplomatic communique, it was oddly void of subtlety, nuance,  wisdom. It was surely the clearest way to signal one’s side was not being thoughtful. While greatcharlie does not believe this was the intention, some might believe, within a degree of reason given what is known about Putin and given the tense circumstances then, that the message was oddly enough designed to provoke or aggravate him. Looking at the message now, it is doubtful those who constructed it, would recognize thar it could have been perceived as condescending or that it was short-sighted to demand the precondition concerning invasion. One might go as far as to state that demanding Putin accept a precondition–the would fly in the face of everything that he was expressing, negate him as national leader to be reckoned with–so publicly under the circumstances was surely not the best way to respond if a resolution was authentically sought. There were other ways to communicate with the Russian President, some furtively, that more likely would have resulted in an assurance from him concerning invasion. The reply was incautious, unwarranted.

In Book I, Chapter 3, of his masterwork, On War, the renowned Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz explained: “Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.” (See the standard English translation from Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editors, Carl Von Clausewitz On War (Princeton University Press, 1976)). Intriguingly, despite what may have been stated here on the nature actions taken toward Putin before the invasion, since it began, the Biden administration has displayed a more calibrated, more disciplined approach to Putin, making better considered decision on when to act and when to observe and evaluate. Chasing Putin up the ladder of escalation will bring nothing good. Imaginably, there is the thought among responsible decisionmakers in Washington that peace will eventually come to Ukraine in some way, likely through negotiation with Moscow. Having apparently taken this approach, the Biden administration as a result has incurred the wrath of news media commentators and political opponents alike. Though many may insist providing more advanced, heavier weapons to Ukraine will provide Ukrainian forces a real chance at endsieg, it is difficult to see how Ukrainian forces will muster power superior to that of the armed forces of Russia and eject Russian force from Ukrainian territory in way in which Moscow would continue to hold back greater, more powerful parts of its arsenal. The way in which a lasting peace might be constructed will depend upon how the environment for it is shaped.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law, peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have served as a high intensity stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

A Glimmer of Hope: Peace through Diplomacy

Quaeritur belli exitus, non causa. (Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.) The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law and peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have also served as a considerable stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. Any steps in that direction could have been at best described as desultory. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

Concerning the US and the rest of the West, they must make the choice to find peace and save lives or go out to slay the dragon, Russia, and let the chips fall where they may. It is clear the West wants to avoid getting itself in a war with Russia. Western leaders say it all the time. However, some words spoken by many Western political leaders might convince observers that the West is moving closer to doing what it has already decided, for good reason, not to do so.

Now that Russian forces are in Ukraine, Putin has made slightly veiled threats concerning nuclear weapons. In response to such threats and the Ukraine crisis in general, some US political leaders have suggested that Putin must be removed from power in Russia. There has been additional talk of encouraging Russian officials and institutions, and the Russian people in general, to move against Putin could hardly be well-considered. Off-the-cuff remarks from US political leaders concerning the next moves must stop, if the US is to accomplish anything remotely leading to a desired, favorable peace. Long gone are the days of “dignified scorn”. The lack of moderation, temperance, could prove to be the source of a downfall. 

While some commentators in the US newsmedia suggest that the invasion signals Putin’s dénouement is drawing much closer, such is not actually the case. Such is the product of fertile imaginations. In point of fact, Putin will very likely manage. Conceivably, he hardly believes he is overmatched by the Ukrainians, the West, or the Russian people. To be sure, as of this writing Putin neither has displayed any apparent intentions nor has he expressed any desire to ride off. There are no big concerns at home from political leadership in power. At the moment, there is no stalking horse who possesses anything near Putin’s “popularity” that would be remotely favorable to the West and could potential displace him. 

For now it seems that Ukraine will unlikely be the issue that brings down Putin’s government. The Russian people have domestic concerns that have primacy. Surely, Putin maintains his appeal to many in Russia, and not just those those buried in the backwaters. Perhaps unimaginably to some promoting regime change is the reality that Putin to many Russians represents order, stability, and there is a certain constancy they feel from him to them through his style, image, and actions as a their leader. There is political opposition and an opposition movement that struggles against his government. There is also a burgeoning antiwar movement. However, the opposition movement, though world renowned, does not pose to great a threat at the moment that he would need to fortify the Kremlin. As for the anti-war movement, while very important, will unlikely gain momentum, size, and strength nationwide.

Interestingly enough, according to the Japan Times, polls and interviews indicate many Russians now accept Putin’s contention that their country is under siege from the West and had no choice but to attack. The Russian public’s endorsement of the war is not attendant to the patriotic groundswell that greeted the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The polls on the matter were conducted by Levada, Russia’s most respected independent pollster. In terms of numbers, its polls revealed Putin’s approval rating reached 83%, up from 69% in January 2022. Around 81% surveyed stated they supported the war, describing the need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic-Russians in Ukraine as its primary justification. (Authors of the Japan Times article cautioned that analysts note “polls in wartime have limited significance, with many Russians fearful of voicing dissent, or even their true opinion, to a stranger at a time when new censorship laws are punishing any deviation from the Kremlin narrative with as much as 15 years in prison.”)

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Even if Putin were hypothetically moved from power, it is unlikely anyone among policymakers and decisionmakers in Washington would have the slightest idea of what  would likely come next in that circumstance. It is very likely that an undesirable outcome might be the result once again from US incited “regime change” in a foreign land. Indeed, those making statements concerning regime change have no idea what doors they may be opening that would have been best to have kept closed. Ignorance of subject matter does not bother many commentators. If the story of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a tragedy–it has the hallmarks–its players will indoubitably meet respectively with ill-fate. Important for the US and other Western powers, concern primarily with the interests of their countries, is to straddle the line concerning their involvement in all aspects of the conflict, but to avoid crossing over it. Crossing that line would very likely put them on a path leading to some tragic outcome, much both Russia and Ukraine are traveling now. Ce n’est pas la vache qui crie le plus fort qui fait le plus de lait.

There is no good reason to raise Putin’s ire on the “regime change” front between the US and Russia. A tacit modus vivendi, as well as clear cut international law, must be observed to prevent the US and Russia from stumbling on an oblique, tragic path to war. As is the case on many issues concerning US foreign and national security policy decisionmakers, everything must happen immediately. Of course, Ukrainian lives are at the time of this writing being destroyed every second the conflict rages on. Still, respectfully with that dreadful circumstance in mind, one might posit that many of those so willing shoot from the hip, tossing out ideas unrealistic or reckless for the most part when examined in the round one might guess apparently have not been burned or at least singed enough over time to learn how to figuratively sit on a rabbit hole. The ones from the military, intelligence services, law enforcement, and diplomatic corps who have spent considerable time in the field possess the most awareness and experience with such.

Malo indisertam prudentiam, quam loquacem stultitiam. (I prefer silent prudence to loquacious folly) No more bad seeds as these need to be planted, that has been the pattern. Enough of that has been done already. Energies should be directed at deescalating, halting, and to the greatest degree possible, reversing the terrible circumstances, working with whatever may be left to salvage and build upon.

Putin (above) at “For A World Without Nazism” rally and concert at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on March 18, 2022. A big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Putin would indeed leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on to captured Ukrainian territory among a future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.”

Thoughts on the Nuance of Diplomacy between the Warring Parties

Much has been torn away from the Ukrainian people, time, life, happiness, as a result of the Russian invasion. Hope to a small degree might spawn from forms of restitution and replenishment from the West. While it may make a difference, it would not make things right. However, with the coming of peace, fighting men and women on both sides will live on their days to age. Neighbors who survived and those who may return will have the chance to each other again. Families may start anew. The lives of some young family members, due to war, have sadly run full compass. Yet, those who may survive the war, albeit not as triumphantly as they might have imagined, must rebuild a new world for themselves and their posterity, stronger, far greater, than the one the lived in before. Cela requerra des efforts importants des deux.

The mounting death toll in Ukraine has forced President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider concessions to Russia in order to bring an end to the devastating conflict, but the specific elements of any peace deal his government may be discussing with Moscow remain a mystery to Western leaders, said US and European officials. At the same time, by mid-March 2022, Zelensky was claiming 14,000 Russian soldiers, naval troops, and airmen had been killed in Ukraine. While his claims if true speak well of the prowess of Ukrainian forces regular and irregular, it will surely influence negotiations for peace. Moscow will hardly be willing to surrender back territory to Ukraine if the cost of its capture was indeed so high. Any stand to retain captured territory could resultantly become an impediment to a satisfactory negotiated peace for Ukraine. In that vein, the very act itself of negotiating with their Russian counterparts is what many would rightly call an act of courage given how they must steel themselves against personal reactions to the loss of so many Ukrainians to Russian arms. The prospects for negotiated peace could be ruined with anger and grief. On the battlefield, such official Ukrainian government claims of massive numbers of Russian troops killed in action, rarely combined with wounded in action estimates and precise numbers captured troops, could very well lead to decisions by rouge Russian units or units of private military companies to take matter into their own hands in terms of settling scores. Hurt people hurt people! Additionally, hiding in almost all armed forces are individuals who capable of monstrous acts and atrocities. On first thought, greatcharlie’s mind harkens back to the series of 82 prints created by 1810 and 1820 by Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya entitled “Los Desastres de la Guerra” (“The Disasters of War”). The works depicted atrocities committed during Spain’s Peninsular War (1808-1814) versus Napoleon and setbacks to the liberals after the Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1814. Atrocities of any kind would surely poison, if not kill, efforts to secure a negotiated peace by the present-day warring parties in Europe. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Speaking from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Kuleba stated one day before the negotiations held in Turkey on March 29, 2022 that the Ukrainian negotiation delegation was given clear instructions from Zelensky on what he dubbed as the minimum program and the maximum program. The minimum program included talks concerning humanitarian questions, such the well-being of civilians (meaning noncombatants) and humanitarian corridors. The maximum program referred to talks aimed at establishing a stable ceasefire. He also noted that Zelensky gave clear instructions to the Ukrainian delegation not to trade over people, land, or sovereignty. These are not subjects for negotiation. He explained that the Ukrainian position is concrete, and is supported by international law, Ukraine’s Armed Forces, international sanctions that have been applied against Russia, and weapons that have been handed over to Ukraine to defeat Russian forces.

As for Russia, there has been a near endless chain of heavy losses of Russian troops since the invasion began–nearly every new loss being greater than the one proceeding it. If Putin has cornered himself, it may very well be due to his failure to realize that he was receiving bad intelligence on the situation in Ukraine and what to expect there, his own miscalculations, even hubris. No one is infallible. In a self-assessment, he might discover, self-diagnose, that some disturbance, rumples, have his smooth, grounded reasoning, within his normal parameters. Indeed, Putin’s energy appears to have been wrongly circuited. His talents and what has been a reliable intuition seem darkened. It is enough to say It will take having a lot of things go his way at this point for him to turn the situation on the battlefield around and spectacularly win his war. Otherwise, he must find a clean, honorable off ramp, the best being negotiations. However, if Putin might wish to engage authentically in peace negotiations on Ukraine, he must recognize that the biggest adjustments needed to allow for a fruitful process would be the ones he must make within himself. As far as greatcharlie is concerned, negotiations would be Putin’s best route out a worsening situation. 

All flowers must grow through dirt. That aphorism sounds somewhat worthless as aphorisms do under circumstances similar to the one that currently besets Ukraine. Nonetheless, up through dark and thick of sullen earth must peace be given a chance to grow and its growth must be nurtured if this present tragedy is to be brought to an end. Essential will be drawing on energizing minerals scattered in the soil, even if only present in gentle numbers. Both sides must seek an intellectual solution to the problem, not an emotional one. No party should use the negotiation as an alternative ways to settle scores. Rather than emotions, grace and inner strength should be sourced, especially on Ukraine’s side, to overcome challenges. Negotiators must be determined, focused, shrewd, innovative, mutually inspiring without theatrics. Hopefully, no party to the negotiation will have to the inclination to sit on the talks and plan surprise military moves that would doubtlessly end any chance of a negotiated peace. Russia and Ukraine must find a solution that allows both sides to feel secure and protected from attacks from the point of any agreement forward. There must also be a commitment on both sides to leave space the advancement of the societies of the other’s country in a way that allows their people to heal and get beyond the wounds of the war as best as possible. Qui se ultro morti offerant, facilius reperiuntur, quam qui dolorem patienter ferant. (It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than men who will endure pain with patience.)

As the situation stands now and may likely pan out, “making things right” will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Hardly with the intention of offering false praise to Putin or to offend any readers, but greatcharlie acknowledges the fact that the Russian President is a very intelligent man, not just on paper; he earned a doctorate in Economic Sciences from Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) in 1997, which was not a small academic achievement in his day. He is also a very experienced leader, thoroughly steeped in the entire post-Cold War history of interactions between East and West. Surely, he is aware that younger generations of Ukrainians would insist upon a life-style and future similar to their counterparts in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, than those in present-day Russia. As was alluded to in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the same could be said of younger generations of Russians. Putin would leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

Thereby, after all is said and done, the big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on by future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.” Putin knows how to weaponize the internet, striking adversaries with cyberattacks, destroying networks, obliterating archives, altering data, collecting confidential information, spreading disinformation, etcetera. Yet, he is of a generation that may not fully grasp the transformative impact of the internet among the young. Using the internet, the young in Russia never needed the permission of the government to travel away from their country to observe, to take in, the world outside of Russia. They likely can do even more than that using the internet. This is not to gloss over the fact that young people in Russia have not lost more pleasure than they have been able to glean using online sites as a result of government censorship and instructions to abstain from viewing certain sites. Yet, they can still see, hear, and communicate with the outside world with a device as meager as an iPhone. The expenditure of effort to disrupt such links to the outside surely far surpasses the actual ability of the government to accomplish that. Perhaps the effort itself has created a false impression of success among those who try so hard to bust things up. Le palais de nos chimères a croulé avec mes illusions. 

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) As the situation stands now and will likely pan out, making things right will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security. First, they must think what can physically be done to ensure security for both sides. Second, they must consider what can be done on paper. The scenery of this drama has been set in such a way that external parties may need to be called upon, perhaps the UN with a peacekeeping force of countries neither party may find threatening. That would likely leave the US, other Western countries, particularly EU countries, and NATO Member States out of the mix. No one benefit from an agreement that includes some military response to guarantee its enforcement. At the talks in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation presented their Russian counterparts with a framework for peace under which Ukraine would remain neutral and its security would be guaranteed by third-party countries, to include the US, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Turkey, and China. There would be an arrangement similar to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, under which an attack on one would trigger a joint response by all. Yet, given the likely consequences of Western military action to enforce peace in Ukraine, a nuclear exchange, such a guarantee might end up being something akin to the one the United Kingdom and France provided Poland against possible attack from Nazi Germany in 1938. Ironically, the fear that Putin could act in a way similar to Nazi Germany is the impression, legacy the Putin has created. He actions reflect those of a leader drawn after the reviled German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the historical nemesis of the Russian people. Putin has failed to follow his own precepts.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security.

The Way Forward

Often included in greatcharlie’s posts is a quote from the renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, who said: “Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.) Concerning future relations between the US with Russia, without flickering candlelight and romance, diplomats from both the US and Russia, must meet soon enough to establish some framework upon which can be constructed a way to ameliorate tensions between the two countries on reasonable terms. That would mean coming to agreement on issues on which relative positions were unshakable before the killing, maiming, and destruction of property began without spending too much time on finger-wagging at the negotiation table concerning Ukraine. A new way of thinking toward Putin and his government will be the only chance for anything fruitful to come from interactions between the two countries. In the past, especially before the invasion, the failure reach a positive outcome from diplomatic efforts between Washington and Moscow was less a matter of wrong intention–although an argument could be made for that–and wasting time, than it was as a matter of running out of goor ideas. Leveling everything and starting from scratch is certainly not the answer. However, an infusion of fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, to ignite thinking among the seasoned analysts might help. With no intention to hurtful by broadly accusing analysts or decisionmakers with questionable behavior, greatcharlie is aware that there are a few who simply lift new ideas by mining the writings of those outside of the foreign and national security bureaucracies. It is not just a poor solution, absolutely the wrong answer. That will at best garner bits and pieces that in many cases will be misinterpreted or misapplied. A direct dialogue with those who might display novel ways at looking at issues will better enable the astute to grasp what may on occasion be their recherché line of thinking, which may bring analysts to an understanding, a view to a matter, they had not seen before. Le meilleur moment pour planter un arbre était il y 20 ans, le deuxième meilleur moment c’est maintenant.

On this point, greatcharlie feels compelled to ingeminate the position expressed in the conclusion of its August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post US counterintelligence services should consider hiring individuals from outside the bureaucracy who are already known due to demonstrated interest in the subject matter and recognized as possessing some ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. New thinkers can rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. From the inside, one might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outsiders as mere surmisals and suppositions from those perceived lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to an issue. With no intent to condescend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. The purpose of using such perspectives is to have a look at issues from other angles. Thinking outside the bureaucracy would hopefully move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in special cases that may be hard to crack. Indeed, what outsider brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside the box thinker. One could say the length and breadth of that knowledge and experience allowed for an alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been sought through personal study. It may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, but it is hardly such given what is at stake. Leaders of US foreign and national security bureaucracies must turn their minds to the goal of transcending beyond the sort of analyses developed in the past and look inward, tweaking the discourse, elevating the depth of thinking, raising their expectations, and thereby transforming assessments produced into something far better. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.

With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine. 

Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)

To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)

Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington

If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a person in good health..

Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”

However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I.  And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy.  I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader.  We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit.  We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades.  And it depends on what it does.  It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.

While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.

Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.

As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.

Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.

Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the  majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.

Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.

In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.” 

To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.

Conceivably, Putin (above) began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat. 

Conceivably, Putin began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics. 

Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea,  as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)

Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing  significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.

To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that  would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.

Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier. 

To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.

Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)

Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” 

Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.” 

The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public.  With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for  committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.

Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.

To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.

Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.

Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then,  as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election. 

When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.

The Way Forward

Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. 

Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. 

What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)

The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax

People’s Republic of China Vice Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei (above). Beginning in February 2021, Dong became the subject of a rumor alleging that he, along with his daughter, defected to the US. The possible implications of his supposed defection were staggering. It was eventually revealed and proved that the rumor was pure fiction.  Never before has Dong’s name, or any other Chinese counterintelligence official’s name, been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in the manner it has been lately. An attempt is made by greatcharlie to some degree how this all came about and what was the purpose of it all.

Rumors of the alleged defection of Dong Jingwei, a vice minister of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of State Security–China’s relative equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency, were the subject of intense discussion in the US newsmedia and social media particularly in June 2021. Allegedly, Dong fled China in February 2021 and handed himself over to US intelligence officials. Dong would have been one of the highest-ranking officers from China’s Intelligence Community, and the Chinese government in general ever to defect to the US. Yet, alas, the rumored defection never occurred.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, is now highly selective, positively picky, about those who serve in national security positions in his government. Considering what would be the most likely nature of the man or woman who would be able to serve as his Vice Minister at MSS for counterintelligence, it is hard to form a mental picture of where the rumor that Dong had defected to the US with his daughter, or who, or better, what organization, may have actually given it wings. It is harder to understand how those who ignited the rumor of Dong’s defection intended to benefit from its formulation and promotion. It is hardest to envision who among those with any knowledge of the Chinese government and the national security apparatus would believe, would ever consider defecting to the US no matter what the circumstances may be within the Communist Party of China or in his personal life. One could imagine Dong would be a deadender, sticking with the Party and his country until the rattle. There is always the possibility–though there are absolutely zero newsmedia reports anywhere that suggested some proceeding mental health episode had befallen him–that Dong may have been overwhelmed by some cacoethes. Barring that, there was no earthly reason to believe that he would defect, and to the US nonetheless. The puzzle now having been “resolved”–the whole truth is out there somewhere, greatcharlie gives a go at parsing out some of these issues hoping it does not come off as l’esprit de l’escalier. In that process, greatcharlie, albeit, steps out on shaky ground to present some unsolicited–and hopefully not unwanted–suggestions on how similar false reports in the future might be given appropriate consideration. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Some might conclude after noting the topic of this post that this is one more by greatcharlie on Chinese espionage in the US. Some, perhaps duly, might also grumble to the effect: “Now greatcharlie is all China, all the time!” While greatcharlie approaches the defection that did not happen out of academic interest, this examination, much as those of proceeding posts, is part of an ongoing effort by greatcharlie to give consideration of what it could offer to contribute to development more effective approaches to such hostile intelligence collection efforts against the US. Indeed, with the objective of being transparent, greatcharlie must disclose that on the matter of Chinese espionage in the US it is partisan, giving its complete support to the US, the homeland. Readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective. However, no information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas or bias.

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

Dong was born on November 18, 1963. He is presently 57 years old. In China it would be of some significance to note that he is of Han nationality. As for his studies, he has earned a master of science degree. The only publicly reported member of Dong’s family is his daughter, Yang–also known as Dong HuaHua on social media, who as part of the defection hoax was said to have allegedly fled China with him. She is the ex-wife of Alibaba executive Jiang Fan, who now heads the company’s powerful e-commerce platforms, Tmall and Taobao. 

Dong is a member of the Communist Party of China. Highlights of his career include service as the Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the State Security Department of Hebei Province. He is a Member of the Party Committee and, of course, Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Security. With some reluctance, greatcharlie calls attention to the reporting of the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Referencing Intelligence Online, Wikipedia explains that heading the State Security Department in Hebei was significant for Dong because it was a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles, and accolades as much, provided to Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, where Dong is vice minister, is an intelligence service responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems mainly from providing consumers in Beijing to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, and ministers and senior executives of appropriate ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions.

As noted in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” the primary targets of the MSS hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the Russian Federation, Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes. In the countries of Eastern Europe, China has achieved some prominence in their space. China must equally measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Taiwan, which Beijing declares is part of China, is a special case and a very important MSS target. The second rung of competitors would include India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Mongolia. India has doubtlessly garnered a bit more attention from MSS due to its ongoing border struggle with China. MSS has stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

In defining counterintelligence, James Olson, the former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), which greatcharlie reviewed for its January 2021 post, states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” The primary mission of MSS counterintelligence is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. MSS shares the counterintelligence role with Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS. MPS is an intelligence service under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence.

The achievements of MSS in the US have certainly been no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. As discussed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled,”Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” the tide of essentially unchallenged Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under-developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating. One might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them.

Dong (above)  once headed the State Security Department in Hebei, a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles held by Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

As with all other elements of the intelligence industry, counterintelligence work requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. It is not the nature of intelligence services to regularly use force and aggression to halt an opponent, shut down its networks, thwart its operations, and intercept its intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The intellect is the tool used for doing so. It stands to reason that in order to be a successful vice minister for MSS counterintelligence. Dong must be a man who has a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Dong given his role at MSS, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, the few traits listed here along with a reliable intuition and challenging experiences within his own intelligence organization may very well have enabled Dong to perceive likely thinking, decision making, planned approaches, and actions within adversarial intelligence services. These same traits perhaps have also assisted Dong in successfully navigating the top rung of China’s national security apparatus and to perform well at the side of leaders of the Communist Party of China.

One might first postulate that Dong possesses the traits of clarity, purpose, and focus. Surely, Dong puts his intentions forward for the best outcome possible. Clarity would allow Dong to concentrate with intention on what is ahead, on what needs to be done. One might expect that Dong believes by now that serving in MSS, performing executive duties for counterintelligence is his purpose. To that extent, purpose was likely revealed to Dong when he discovered the ability to use intuition to understand what may be clear to others. He would be able to focus on what truly matters, and understand what needs to be avoided, such as anything that might frustrate, seriously inconvenience, hamper, or inevitably destroy his organization’s efforts

Dong would be an intelligence officer and political leader of great energy,enthusiasm, and creativity. That energy is transmitted through the MSS. In the US, it would be transmitted not only to officers in the field but to errant citizens and Chinese émigrés recruited to serve the purposes of the intelligence service. He would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. He would be able to find unlocked potential in situations and determine ways to uncover what may be hidden away

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

Relate retero. (I tell what I have been told.) Some simple falsehoods went some way to explain and support what was from the outset a questionable story. From what can be gathered about the episode, stories about Dong’s alleged defection initially emanated from conservative websites in the US. Newsweek points decidedly to a June 4, 2021 report from the conservative political commentary website, RedState, as a source of the rumor. Discussion within conservative circles reportedly became even more intense as days passed. There was considerable discourse on Dong’s defection found in Chinese-language, anti-Communist newsmedia outlets in the US and on Twitter.

Among those who reported on the defection, there was general acceptance of the sequence of events. The defection scheme as laid out was indeed mad-capped. Dong allegedly defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the US with his daughter, Dong Yang. Dong supposedly provided the US government with information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that allegedly impacted the position of the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Han Lianchao, a former People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who defected in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Dong’s defection was raised by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the US-China Summit in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. On June 16, 2021, Han, citing an anonymous source, alleged that in Anchorage, Yang and Wang demanded that the US return Dong to China, but US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused. Subsequent reports, coupled with analyses by China specialists continued as Dong’s precise whereabouts remained unknown. Speculation had even reached Chinese social media threads after Dong had not been seen or photographed for several weeks.

While preparing a story on the alleged defection, SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations, had sought comment from the State Department last week, however, it did not respond. In the first public clarification put out by the US government on the affair, a US official, speaking anonymously, “reached out” to say reports of Dong’s defection were not true. With regard to Dong’s whereabouts, he stated “We can’t confirm or deny where he is exactly,” but hinted he remained in China. The official refused to go any further. When SpyTalk asked why the Biden-Harris administration sought to knock down rumors of such a high level defection, an ultra-sensitive issue, the official reportedly stated, “that’s more of a policy question”and referred SpyTalk to the White House. Reportedly, the National Security Council did not respond to SpyTalk’s request for comment.

Notably, Newsweek reported on June 22, 2021 it was informed by a US government official that the reports about Dong’s defection “are not accurate,” without elaborating. A second US government source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rumors were “absolutely untrue.” Yet, such reporting still did not cause those insisting on the defection to retreat back, away from the issue. It is always a capital mistake to reach conclusions before having all of the facts on a point at issue.

The Chinese government, itself, delayed publicly addressing the stories about his alleged defection. Then on June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington informed that Dong made a recent public appearance despite rumors that he had defected to the US four months ago. According to minutes released by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Dong was among five Chinese officials who attended the 16th meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Member States on June 23, 2021 Reports of the meeting were also shared on Weibo, China’s largest social media service.

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

The Daily Beast quoted Robert Manning, a former top Asia specialist in both Republican and and Democratic administrations for more than 30 years as saying the decision of the Biden-Harris administration’s willingness to address such a normally highly secretive issue was “to excise an unnecessary additional irritant in the still downward-spiraling bilateral relationship” between the US and China. The Daily Beast also reported another possible motive was to beat back a Republican campaign to deflect blame for the COVID-19 pandemic in the US from the erstwhile administration of US President Donald Trump to China’s Wuhan Virology Lab and, by extension, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been critical of the former president’s response to the disease. In the same vein that the motivation may be domestic politics, the Daily Beast reported that a leading China watcher suggested the objective was to head off Republican accusations that the Biden-Harris administration was “hiding a defector who has info on the lab leak or [other] embarrassing stuff.” Essentially amplifying what was aforementioned here, the Daily Beast explained reports of Dong’s defection originated in conservative circles here and abroad that have been critical of the scientific consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic was transmitted from animals in Wuhan’s “wet market.”

On June 4, former Fox News reporter Adam Housley tweeted that “US intelligence has a Chinese defector with Wuhan info. and China is trying to produce variants that suggest it came from bats to cover up that coronavirus originally came from a lab.” Housley’s report was referenced by RedState, which alleged that “a person believed to be among the highest-ranking defectors ever to the United States from the People’s Republic of China has been working with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for months.” Citing anonymous sources “inside the intelligence community,” The Daily Beast further reported that Red State cautiously claimed “the defector has direct knowledge of special weapons programs in China, including bioweapons programs,” and that the alleged information had created “a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

In a June 24, 2021 Washington Times story, it was suggested by a former National Security Agency counterspy that the defection rumors were “part of a Chinese disinformation effort to distract attention from growing international concern over reports the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.” If that intriguing possibility is true, it would seem that the other shoe dropped when Dong was seen at a meeting with the head of MPS later in the month. It might be said the some in the US newsmedia are so expectant and desirous of good news for the US on the Chinese espionage front, that some outlets were even ready to jump at a contrived one. he US Intelligence Community did not flinch in response to the defection reports at any point until,  as aforementioned, one US official spoke “just looking to correct the record.” 

Other Suggestions

One can only imagine–if he was actually unaware that the fiction of his defection, would be laid on so thick in the newsmedia worldwide–what Dong’s immediate reaction was when he received news that he was the subject of a farce that put his loyalty and honor in question. Dong was imaginably a little put out. It may have also caused him some embarrassment, some loss of honor. While the truth of Dong’s loyalty to the Communist Party of China and his country would eventually be made very clear, he would surely recognize that once his name was associated with he would indubitably feel was a damnable rumor, that taint would still stick, even if only to some small degree, long afterward. 

 Perchance that the defection rumor was contrived by MSS, then it would be accepted honorably as an unavoidable sacrifice he had to make with the aim of protecting China. Perhaps some monitoring should be done to see if somewhere along the line in the near future, there is some sudden mention of Dong awarded some high honor for his “service” from the Communist Party of China. Perhaps he would receive the award from Xi, himself. That may very well signal, and could help support the idea, that the defection story was indeed part of some nefarious MSS scheme.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. (Who watches the watchmen.) Dong has unlikely gotten lost in any hurt. Yet, one might speculate that perhaps somewhere, someone believes Dong pretends to have an inner strength, nerve, that he actually lacks. Though the true source remains publicly unknown, so far to greatcharlie’s knowledge, no one has been denounced at least publicly in China for having responsibility for igniting the rumor against Dong. One could hypothesize that if the source of the rumor was actually in China, it may have been the case that Dong recognized attempting to establish blame among any rivals for the episode would only be corrosive, and trying to reconcile with some sense his own guilt for leaving himself open to the of such a rumor would be self-defeating. In such a hypothetical case, an expression of such acrimony within days of the celebrations of the Centennial of the Communist Party of China taking place in Beijing on July 1, 2021, would unlikely be of any benefit to Dong politically, professionally, or personally. To that extent, in the eyes of Communist Party of China leaders, he likely would do himself much honor by deciding to hold his tongue at this time, if he even needed or desired to speak out at all.

Arthur Conan Doyle in “Adventure IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery” of his twelve short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in the Strand Magazine (1891) had his main character, the damnably good detective Holmes, state the following which is apposite here: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

Xi has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. In his address at the ceremony, Xi lauded the major contributions made by the Chinese police to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests, He called them a mighty force that can be fully trusted by the Party and the people, and spoke highly of the major contributions made by the Chinese security forces to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests. Xi also called upon the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above) has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. Clearly, Dong has been mindful of Xi’s concept and intent and obedient to the new counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021.

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

As discussed already here by greatcharlie and in previous posts, little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but it seems too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan US observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage.

Dong’s team and counterintelligence executives and managers of the other Chinese intelligence services surely study the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. They would seek to better understand and prepare for expectant future attempts to covertly insinuate operatives into the Chinese foreign and national security apparatus, including particularly both the clandestine posts and covert networks of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services and Communist Party of China organs operating overseas.

Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. They have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. 

To that extent, one might imagine it could plausibly be claimed within MSS headquarters that whole episode was a US counterintelligence artifice, designed to twinkle out Chinese intelligence service officers and operatives based on the their reactions by some the following: movements–attempt to leave US; communications–sending communiques by codes and encryption to provincial departments and municipal bureaus to confirm rumors and see instructions on next actions; contacts–reaching out to network managers in distress or panic; and, email, text, call, and meet other intelligence officers to parse out situation as reported. Alternatively, also with a counterintelligence purpose, the US could be said to have attempted to smoke out prospective defectors among those officers and operatives, attempting to convince them that some “tower moment” for Chinese intelligence service operations in US had occurred and the moment had arrived to choose to remain part of Communist Chinese system or seek refuge in the US. 

Dong and his manager further parsing out the matter might have speculated that beginning in February 2021, he may have been out of pocket for an extended period or on medical leave for some illness. Such speculation could go further to suggest the US Intelligence Community became aware of the situation, which would have been a chilling prospect in itself for MSS counterintelligence, and sought to capitalize on it 

What might cause Dong and his managers some discomfort even though the whole defection story was revealed as a hoax, and if it was the actual source of the hoax, is that for a while at least there appeared to be good news about success against China. Even if proven false, it would be good to have such positive news reach the ears of the US public, and Beijing would not want that. Further, even though the truth is out, the belief may exist among many in the US public that the “super secret” US Intelligence Community may have truly scored the specified success, and now, for reasons unknown, want to conceal it. Among conspiracy theorists in the US, the imagination may have also been given fuel to run wild and the whole matter of the defection will linger for a while. Chinese intelligence services would likely hope that some sense of discouragement might reach into the psyche of the US public over how Chinese espionage in their country appears unstoppable, even though it may be an issue somewhat outside of the average citizen’s day-to-day concerns.

As for the Communist Party of China, propaganda elements might eventually seek to use the whole circumstance to an advantage against the US. The goal would be to embarrass the US by making it appear as if the US Intelligence Community conjured up a story of defection because that has had no real successes at all against China. What would then perhaps be called “the big US lie” or something to that effect would doubtlessly be denigrated by Beijing through declaring it as being too contrived, unsubtle, poorly executed, and further evidence of how little the US Intelligence Community knows about the Chinese intelligence services. Then again, there may just be silence from Beijing.

A Novel MSS Counterintelligence Tactic to Smoke Out “Disloyalty in the Ranks?”

It would appear Dong may have actually been expecting to face something out of the ordinary from US and other foreign counterintelligence services much as discussed here, and it factored into MSS calculations on operations against the US. According to a story in the June 18, 2021 edition of the South China Morning Post, a report on a seminar on a counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021 was posted on Changanjian, the social media account operated by China’s top law enforcement agency, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China. At the seminar, Dong urged the country’s intelligence officers to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces. A read-out from the seminar quoted Dong as explaining: “The promulgation of such regulations provides us, the principal agents responsible for counter-espionage work, with the legal means to prevent, stop and combat criminal activities that would jeopardize our national security.” Dong went on to state: “This will reinforce our responsibility in counter-espionage work, and enable us to do a better job in organising and mobilising all social forces in waging ‘people’s warfare’ against espionage activities.”

In addition to Dong’s expressions on catching foreign spies, the actual report as posted stated that the intelligence officers must also go after “insiders” and “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.” On that point, the report additionally noted: “At present, infiltration and spying activities by foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have increased significantly.” It went on to say, “In particular, there are individuals who have willingly become ‘insiders’ colluding with foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces and engaging in anti-China activities.” The South China Morning Post story lastly noted the insistence in the report that “All state security agencies must stand firm … deepen and carry out our various counter-espionage work to safeguard our national security.”

Given what was stated by Dong at the June 18th seminar on the counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April and the report on the event, it may be grotesquely improbable, yet all the same conceivable, that the defection hoax was actually an MSS loyalty test on a grand scale to as was suggested, to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces.

Attempting to look at thinking in MSS from the outside, trying to put moments and trifles from recent events in order and give them a deeper meaning, greatcharlie hypothesizes that Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS could not be certain of how the US Intelligence Community, and other foreign intelligence services for that matter, might apply pressure to its officers and operatives. For them, that is always the pinch. To do something more than just study the matter, they may have created a scenario that would likely shock MSS personnel in the field: the defection of the MSS Vice Minister, for counterintelligence nonetheless. That might explain why Dong’s good name was thrown into the mix of something so repugnant. Dong and his managers could test what may have been a working theory on the likely causality of some occurrence, in this case it would have been collusion with anti-China forces, and see if it could be confirmed by facts through investigation. Indeed, Dong and his managers would have wanted to see for themselves how officers and operatives in the field would respond to a very deceptive approach that perchance in their minds could have plausibly been attempted by US counterintelligence.

Many of the MSS foreign intelligence networks and operations in the US, and elsewhere overseas, are run by MSS Provincial departments and municipal bureaus. It would most likely be the case that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence managers of those departments and bureaus would have understood that there would be no reason to leave their locations or try to leave the US in the case of such a defection. It would stand to reason that their identities as spies would likely remain unknown for the time being and everything would be handled by Beijing to prevent their capture and keep them safe. That would likely be instilled in training and before deployments. Expectedly, as a result of training, loyalty and dedication, equanimity and sangfroid would be displayed by officers and operatives. However, through experience one might postulate Dong could have felt that there are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. An unexpected blow to the MSS leadership as a defection of its chief of counterintelligence, which they depended upon for their very lives, might surprisingly elicit inordinate behavior among trained officers and operatives.

Dong might have conceptualized further that if one of his officers or operatives had even considered going over “to the other side” or perhaps might have already been in “friendly contact” with so-called “anti-China” force, the former might fear of being uncovered by an alleged defecting chief of MSS counterintelligence might impel them to act, the latter might want to use the situation to capitalize on the connection already made and go to the other side. (After reading what is presented here, perhaps some may accuse greatcharlie of having too much imagination, others may say, too little.)

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

As expressed in previous posts by greatcharlie, how the US handles every defection will surely shape decisions by officials to defect in the future.What US counterintelligence services do with defector would certainly have value for MSS to the extent that it could be used to discourage, plant in minds of officers and operatives that turning to the US would not be a wise choice. What prospective defectors might gather from the whole Dong business is that his or her defection could easily become a very public matter, very quickly in the US and eventually worldwide. It could be imagined by them that facts concerning who or what, when, where, how, and why would somehow be leaked to the news media. Rather than a serious concern, their defection might be presented and looked upon at least among some in the US as a banal amusement. Bookmakers in Las Vegas may very well have been taking bets on the outcome of it all: “Did he or did he not defect?, and “Will he stay in the US or be returned to China for one of our spies?” Regardless of the rank or position a prospective defector might be, he or she would hardly get the impression that the way Dong’s name was tossed about was nothing to signify, but rather unseemly. They would perhaps recognize that they would have little cause to expect any better treatment for themselves. None of this should be looked upon as exaggeration or fanciful if the Dong episode might be considered at all instructive. Using the backdrop of this episode as a gauge, one can only imagine what would go through the mind of an intelligence officer of adversarial country, wanting to defect when thinking about the treatment and well-being of his or her family members and himself or herself, how seriously their situation would be taken by the US, and what would be their final disposition. That may not portend well for the US Intelligence Community or prospective defectors. Hopefully, that will not be the case.

The Way Forward

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Despite pronouncements of Communist precepts that are designed to allow the society to evolve socially, economically, and politically, declarations to maintain an orderly society though a system of justice demanding obedience and assurances from the Communist Party of China on the smooth running of the state and conduct of government affairs aimed at supporting a high quality of life for the people, visible and publicly released reports of scientific achievements in the medical field to high-tech, greater endeavor in the vast ocean and into space, and the notices of accomplishments externally on foreign affairs and guaranteed that the country cannot be threatened, bullied, or taken advantage of ever again, China is nonetheless a nontransparent society. What one knows about China is what Beijing says is true. Independent observations that defy its realities are anathema in Beijing, and can be responded to harshly. There is plenty of secrecy. The frugal release of information on the Wuhan virus is the latest best example of that. Beijing, without fail, will double down further in secrecy when it comes to national security. Yet, to discerning eyes, what the world observes China doing also speaks volumes about what is highly likely being decided behind the scene. That was especially true in this case when ostensibly a man viewed widely in the Communist Party of China as one of the country’s most loyal and dedicated servants, was accused of what could be called the unthinkable. 

While Dong’s name has never been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in any way close to the manner it has been in just days before thus writing. For those somewhat familiar with such matters, greatcharlie’s editor, himself, being simply an enthusiast and nonpracticioner, well-separate from the intelligence world, the notion that that he of all people in Chinese intelligence would defect would be a bombshell neatly as big if Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, was said to have defected instead. That is simply unimaginable. 

Revenons à nos moutons. The hope of US counterintelligence should be “simply” to come into positive contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit some leaning toward an idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. 

Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be considered too extravagant. The desire of greatcharlie is that nothing in this post would be deemed too fanciful by readers and a bit of their curiosity on the topic at hand would be satisfied. Admittedly, it would be doubly satisfying to know what is presented here might  resonate with a few in US counterintelligence services grappling with the Chinese espionage conundrum. However, if greatcharlie has not achieved the latter, the 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, sums up its sentiment in Poème sur la Loi naturelle (1756), Quatrième partie: Je n’en dirai pas plus sur ces points délicats. / Le ciel ne m’a point fait pour régir les États, / Pour conseiller les rois, pour enseigner les sages.” (I will not say more on these delicate points./ heaven made me not to govern states, / To counsel kings, to teach wise men. Spero melior. (I hope for better things.)

Listening to and Understanding the Positions of Others: A Requirement for Thoughtful and Fruitful Talks in All Cases

From March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, a US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center right top) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (center right bottom) met with a delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (center left top) and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center left bottom). The two-day meeting got off to a tense start with exchanges of sharp criticisms. Heeding the positions of others, even for diplomats in high stakes bilateral negotiations between world powers, is not always a comfortable thing to do. Still, it is a requirement to effect constructive and fruitful exchanges on issues.

Listening to the positions of others, even for diplomats in high stakes bilateral negotiations between world powers, is not always a comfortable thing to do. Nevertheless, to effect constructive and fruitful exchanges on issues, it is essential. From March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, a US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The two-day meeting got off to a tense start, with a public display of the strained nature relations between the US and China. According to a March 19, 2021 New York Times article and many other sources, Blinken told the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US for what he called its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies. 

Diplomacy has been defined as the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. In its practice, its key for negotiators to ensure the other side is listening and understanding what they are communicating. That necessitates managing negotiations without arousing hostility. Any awkward situations must be handled with tactfulness. Rather than arguing endlessly over  divergent positions and differing opinions, the time of negotiating parties would be best spent aggregating what ideas are common to both. It is essential that through talks, enough time is taken to collect that information. Through consideration of new information gathered, sometimes just trifles, ways may come to mind on how to turn what may have initially been perceived as a disadvantage into an advantage. Pathways to constructively and comfortably address more difficult issues may be discerned. It is an approach to negotiations sharpened and honed by somber and astute diplomats possessing considerable experience. In circumstances as those that existed in Anchorage, every bit of such experience is required to create the foundation for a future diplomatic breakthrough. Ex notitia victory. (To know, to win.)

To enlarge on the point of listening to and understanding the positions of others, in the October 19, 2020 issue of the online newsletter, Classical Wisdom Weekly, the issue discussed was the difficulty many were having listening to opposing points of view in what was the current political climate then in the US. Classical Wisdom Weekly, the  newsletter of Classical Wisdom, is dedicated to promoting and teaching the classics. It provides weekly information, commentaries and opinions on Ancient Greek and Latin literature both online and through e-mail publications. Founded in 2010 by Anya Leonard and Bill Bonner, it was initially presented by Les Belles Lettres English, a partner of the Parisian publishing house, Les Belles Lettres, which for nearly 100 years has been translating the ancient works. Offering her position on the matter, as well as suggesting readers take time to listen to an opposing political point of view, Anya Leonard, the editor explained: “you need to try to understand the best version of your opponent’s argument. This is called ‘Steelmaning’ their position (as opposed to ‘strawmanning’, which is attacking the weakest version of their point. This will help strengthen your own understanding of the issue).” 

As is customary, after her discussion of the issue, Leonard then invited readers to comment upon questions concerning it. In this instance, the questions she posed were: “Do we NEED to hear Opinions we don’t like? What is the Importance of Differing Views? And why should we try to be objective in the first place?” The response from  greatcharlie to the editor’s her query was published in the November 3, 2020 issue of Classical Wisdom Weekly. Judging its response as pertinent to the matter of negotiators giving close and thoughtful attention to one another in talks, andtimagining that it may be of interest to its own readers, particularly students, greatcharlie presents it here.

On October 19, 2020, the question was: ‘Do we NEED to hear Opinions we don’t like? What is the Importance of Differing Views? And why should we try to be objective in the first place?’ I am usually a bit shy about participating in such things. I hope that you will find some interest in my response. 

Here is something that might be different from other comments. From a military perspective, an opposing force should not be viewed as some inert, non thinking body, waiting to be acted upon. There is an aphorism trained into the minds of mid-level Army officers at the Command and General Staff College that “the enemy has a say.” It falls in line with a teaching of the 19th Century Prussian military thinker, Carl Von Clausewitz, that: one’s opponent (in just about any endeavor, not just war) is “a living force” and military plans must factor in that what is being planned is “the collision of two living forces.” One must have respect for what an opponent thinks to be successful. More specifically, one must objectively gauge what the opponent thinks and what the opponent can do. 

With regard to giving proper attention to what the opponent thinks and one’s objectivity, once again lessons from the military come to mind. To best understand what the opposition is doing, the examination of facts and construction of ideas and insights about those potential plans, must not be colored by emotion, preconception, or bias. Once one’s mind is unluckily turned over to such subjective thinking, even bent intelligence or information can be erroneously collected to “confidently support” an unknowingly wrongful position or belief about the opponent. If one cannot accept the opponent is in a better situation or apparently has a better plan, the pitfall will be to miss those points that actually provided the opposition with a winning advantage. In the end, one might not be able to overcome that advantage. An open-mind to existing realities must be possessed. As aforementioned to a degree in the Classical Wisdom Weekly message, keeping that sort of open-mind requires discipline. Much as Diogenes carrying a lamp searching for an honest man, the process of studying the opponent, in military planning, is an objective search for the truth. 

The present election in the US, by what the news media indicates, still seems up for grabs with less than two weeks left until Election Day. Perchance those who might have the best idea (hint) of how it all might turn out, are those who have carefully, objectively, considered the positions and arguments of both sides.

It is without pretension that greatcharlie freely states that philosophy is not its province. Its practice is to turn to the great thinkers for assistance in understanding issues of the present day. Indeed, it is among the works of the great thinkers that words can be found that are pertinent for any extremity of feeling. On the matter of listening and understanding the positions of others, greatcharlie casts its mind back to the words of the renowned 19th century English philosopher and political economist, John Stuart Mill. Mill explains in his philosophical essay On Liberty (1859): 

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion . . . Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them . . . he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

Perchance a bit of ancient wisdom for negotiators from the US and China would not go amiss. Recall that it was Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

As greatcharlie stated in its June 30, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences,” if a prime purpose of diplomacy is to prevent war, bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. Chinese diplomats should prefer to avoid creating a tit-for-tat situation with the US at the negotiation table. Unless cooler heads in Beijing and Washington can prevail, it might lead soon enough to an act of retribution on high-seas or elsewhere surely resulting in one in return. Each new act would heighten the possibility that a serious outbreak of violence would occur. It is hard to imagine how that would serve the purpose of either side. Procedamus omnes in pace. (All move forward in peace.)

US Takes Sharper Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria: Despite Such Reports, the Future Holds Promise

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Russian Federation Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov (right). Reportedly, US President Donald Trump and Tillerson have sought to isolate Russia for backing the Syrian government after its chemical weapons attack in Idlib. They were also allegedly working to put international pressure on Moscow to change course. Yet, since the cruise missile strikes and bilateral talks, the situation regarding the US and Russia on Syria has actually improved. Change may be possible on US and Russian positions on more issues, but only through bold, determined diplomacy.

According to an April 12, 2017 New York Times article entitled “US Takes Sharper Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria,” US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have sought to isolate Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin for backing the Syrian government in the wake of its lethal chemical weapons attack on civilians. They were also reportedly working to build international pressure on Moscow to change course. In support of that conclusion, the article reports that on April 12, 2017, Tillerson came away from his meeting with Putin without reaching agreement on facts involving the chemical weapons assault in Syria or alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election. In describing the joint news conference with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following the meeting with Putin, the April 12th New York Times article quotes Tillerson as saying, “There is a low level of trust between our countries.” It reports he further stated, “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” Noting the level of tension surrounding the aftermath of the Syrian chemical weapons attack, the article asserts, a quick détente seemed a remote possibility. Further supporting that suggestion, the article reported that during a thirty minute news conference at the White House, Trump declared, “Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all–we may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia.” The point was additionally made in the article that events have sharply diverged from the meeting of the minds between the US and Russia that Trump frequently aspired to when he was campaigning, and there was no visible warming of the relationship. Yet, conversely, the same article explains that although Trump said the US-Russia relationship was failing, he held out hope that the two countries could come to terms, suggesting that Tillerson’s talks with Putin had gone better than expected. Although it highlighted occasions when the Trump administration in Washington, Moscow and New York, publicly chastised Putin, the article also indicated that the administration was privately working hard to “hash out” differences with him.

As greatcharlie affirmed in a previous post, the press, the news media, serves a free, effective democracy best, and is at its very best, when it unearths what is concealed or clarifies what may be confusing to the public about government actions. The press ensures power in a democracy remains in the hands of the people. Such efforts by the press are in great variance with reporting on Trump’s actions and intentions concerning the April 6, 2017 Tomahawk cruise missile strikes and relations with Russia on Syria. In the US, in particular, newsmedia pundits and policy analysts have meted out judgments of Trump’s decisions and actions akin to those once made “on the drumhead” for soldiers, an archaic type of summary military trial where only sentences were given and no interest was paid to evidence or arguments. (A drum is turned on its head and used as “the seat of justice.”) Another disquieting trend of news media criticism of Trump is to insist that he should follow some schedule and make certain decisions based on some template they apparently have in mind of how US presidents should act. (They would likely prefer a carbon copy of what they have found comfortable for nearly a decade.) A point of attack upon Trump’s actions is the idea that nothing he does can have real meaning or encourage a favorable outcome for US foreign policy because his administration’s actions have not been based on a coherent national policy or strategy, an articulated policy on the Middle East, and consequently, an identifiable policy on Syria.

The truth will always dispel falsehoods and misunderstandings. The reality is that following the US cruise missile strikes and Tillerson’s bilateral talks in Moscow, the situation in Syria was made somewhat better, and more importantly, US-Russia relations had turned in a positive direction. As the April 12th New York Times article alluded, Tillerson and Lavrov acknowledged in Moscow that actions have been taken by their respective countries which have irritated the other and they are taking steps to address that. Change may very well be possible in the respective positions of the US and Russia on certain issues, including Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad. However, that will only happen through bold, determined diplomacy. Details of recent events and the Moscow talks are analyzed here to provide a better understanding of what has developed and what may come next. Ratio me ducet, non fortuna. (Reason, not luck, will lead me.)

Trump’s Alleged Policy Troubles

Festinare nocet, nocet cunctatio saepe; tempore quaeque suo qui facit, ille sapit. (It is bad to hurry, and delay is often as bad; the wise person is the one who does everything in its proper time.) Despite reports otherwise, Trump has actually taken a logical, prudent approach to foreign and national security policy. He is determined to make decisions that are true to promises he made during the campaign. He has initially sought to develop a firm understanding of what realistically can be done rather than have his team rapidly produce policies from analyses based on the abstract as a matter of political expedience. The source for Trump’s unorthodox exercise of due diligence on policy may likely be his experience as a builder. In that field of endeavor, Trump often may have greatly admired architectural designs of structures proposed to him, but he would invariably wait for engineering reports, cost estimates, and analyses of his business team before deciding on anything. It is an evolutionary process. The result of that approach has been the construction of some very impressive properties worldwide. Current and former generals serving in the Trump administration, well-versed in military history, might find parallel with this apparent concept very likely guiding their president’s thinking and the words of US General George Patton, Jr.: “One does not plan and then try to make circumstances fit the plans. One tries to make plans firmly the circumstances.” Out of necessity, Trump has energetically taken action on urgent issues; the strike in Syria is a prime example of that. Further, Trump, along with other senior administration officials, have held bilateral and multilateral talks with other countries in international organizations.

The practice of two prior presidential administrations was to make pronouncements on what could be done, poorly considering and matching possibilities with capabilities. They would then take action, the results of which were often failed foreign policy initiatives. An example of such an outcome was the notion promoted by the administration of US President George Bush in 2003 that US forces would enter Iraq and be greeted with cheers, open arms, and candy by Iraqis. Another example is the notion proffered by the administration of US President Barack Obama a decade later, that pronouncing “Assad must go” and supporting the Syrian Opposition Movement on the margins, would bring the Assad regime to negotiating table and its orderly release of the reigns of power would be arranged. Some might say their approaches were conventional. Nevertheless, they were wrong.

When Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, he was presenting the term as a concept, a guiding principle indicating his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. Still, it would be fallacious to apply this concept to Trump’s actions if he has witnessed grave harm come to any long-time ally,  partner or friend of the US, or innocent civilians of Syria, who he has suggested he would protect in safe zones if they returned home. Trump has a moral center, the values from which have a place in his foreign policy decision making.

The Better Angels of Trump’s Nature?

To liberally paraphrase the early Christian theologian and philosopher St. Augustine of Hippo, the defense of war is that it is using lethal force to stop others from committing evil or from inflicting evil upon people. The moral dilemma remains for us: as people who are ourselves sinful and living in a fallen world, our motivations for doing things can be misguided. Our sinful passions can control our behaviors which can lead us to act for wrong reasons and to accomplish sinful ends. Self-neglectful virtue melts all physical and ideological boundaries with a charity that gives hope to those perceived as the most helpless. After the chemical weapon attack in Idlib, Trump felt compelled to make a strong decision. Some policy analysts and news media pundits insist that it was made at the cost of contradicting certain principles, as America First, that he has firmly espoused. True, when Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, he was presenting the term as a concept, a guiding principle indicating that his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. Trump will unlikely be disposed to subordinating the interests of the US to the needs, wishes, or demands of any country. However, it would be fallacious for anyone to apply this concept to his actions if he has witnessed grave harm come to any long-time ally, partner, or friend of the US, or innocent Syrian civilians, who Trump has suggested he would protect in safe zones if they returned home. Trump has a moral center, the values from which have a place in his foreign policy decision making, a most recently his response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The better angels of his human nature took over. Trump’s words on the evening of the strikes in Syria signalled all of this. Trump explained: “My fellow Americans: On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians.  Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children.  It was a slow and brutal death for so many.  Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.  No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

The cruise missile strikes launched on April 6, 2017 by the Trump administration were calibrated to do only what was prescribed in response to Assad’s actions. Those engaged in its planning and execution can certainly hold their heads high. Yet, no paean, no song of praise or triumph, was heard from Trump at his residence Mar-a-Lago that evening. No celebrations took place at the White House or the Pentagon for that matter. Rather, Trump said: “Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.  We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world.  We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed.  And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”

Trump’s Military Experts Take Action

Undoubtedly, after learning of the Assad regime’s chemical attack, Trump undoubtedly asked his national security team to provide concrete answers on what to do in response. Trump did not simply vow to do something. He surely kept in mind Obama’s slow reaction in response to the Assad regime’s August 2013 crossing of a red line he drew on the use of chemical weapons. There was a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb and considerable evidence existed to support the accusation that Assad’s forces lainched it. Indeed, three days prior to the 2013 attack, the US had collected continuous streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence, revealing regime military activities allegedly associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack. Information gathered by the US from multiple streams clearly indicated that after those preparations were made, the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21st. Satellite detections, specifically, corroborated that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred–to include Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. There was also the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, about ninety minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also led the US to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.

Immediately following the cruise missile strike, US National Security Adviser, US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster left open the possibility that Trump will take further military action in Syria. Still, McMaster emphasized on “Fox News Sunday” on April 9, 2017: “We need some kind of political solution to that very complex problem.” He made it clear that finding a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis was what Trump wanted. McMaster further explained that Trump wants a worldwide response to Assad’s action that would include Assad allies Russia and Iran. Yet, McMaster clarified that remark by stating: “I’m not saying we are the ones to effect that change.” He then pointed to the fact that Russia and Iran “somehow think it’s OK to align with a murderous regime.” McMaster also affirmed on April 9th that the administration will try to simultaneously change the Assad regime and destroy the Islamic State terror group, entrenched in Syria. In an effort to clarify Trump’s foreign policy, McMaster said, “There has to be a degree of simultaneous action with some sequencing.”

US National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (above) has left open the possibility of further US military action in Syria. Perhaps members of Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center who provide combat service support for units that launch chemical attacks could be targeted by US strikes. The Trump administration could also let Assad feel “personal discomfort” for his actions. For example, an attack could damage facilities providing electric power to the neighborhood in which Assad lives through the use of non-lethal technologies such as electromagnetic pulse weapons.

Chemical Weapons and the Assad Regime

Syrian chemical weapons personnel who prepared chemical ordinance for the August 21, 2013, and the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack included members of the Syrian Scientific Studies Research Center. The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which is subordinate to the Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Defense, is tasked with managing Syria’s chemical weapons program. According to French Intelligence, the organization is responsible for producing toxic agents for use in war, pinpointing Branch 450 as responsible for filling munitions with chemicals and ensuring the security of sites  where chemical agents are stockpiled. Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from August 18, 2013 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 near an area that the regime was known to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21st, a Syrian regime element  was surveilled preparing for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area. That element was using gas masks. US intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that any Syrian Opposition forces were planning to use chemical weapons.

A publicly released summary of the US intelligence community’s assessment of the April 4, 2017 chemical attack explains the Syrian regime maintains the capability and intent to use chemical weapons against the opposition prevent the loss of territory deemed critical to survival. It assessed that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to a Syrian Opposition offensive in Northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure. Senior regime military leaders were probably involved in planning the attack. According to the summary, a significant body of pro-opposition social media reports indicated that the chemical attack began in Khan Shaykhun at 6:55AM local time on April 4, 2017. The summary claimed further that the chemical agent was delivered by regime Su-22 fixed wing aircraft that took off from the regime controlled Shayrat Airfield. Reportedly, These aircraft were in the vicinity of Khan Shaykhun nearly 20 minutes before reports of the chemical attack began and were seen flying away from the area shortly after the attack. Additionally, the summary indicates personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program were at Shayrat Airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in Northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack.

A Possible Next Military Step

Much as the facilities, air assets, and personnel of Shayrat Airfield were targeted for cruise missile strikes, members of Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center who provided combat service support for units that launched the chemical attacks should be targeted by US strikes. Strikes on them should be executed not only as a consequence to their participation in the operation, but with the goal of removing them from the equation in Syria and obviating the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future. The facilities and equipment of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, from bases and offices, to trucks and gas masks should be destroyed to severely curtail the organization’s ability to support any chemical attacks in the future. US should be confident enough after attacks to assess numbers of remaining personnel only of a size enough to maintain stores of the ordinance until the time that perhaps an international body entering Syria at a later date might become engaged in its management. Under no circumstances should the US allow attacks to create a circumstance where Islamic militant forces could gain control of the chemical weapons at any site.

Further, according to US intelligence, Assad is the ultimate decision maker for Syria’s chemical weapons program.  If a direct attack upon is not a viable option, the Trump administration could as a minimum let Assad feel some “discomfort” for his actions and let him know how vulnerable he truly is. For example, a precision attack could be launched on the Syrian infrastructure designed to severely damage electric power in the neighborhood in which Assad lives. It could mean the use of non-lethal technologies such as electromagnetic pulse weapons that can seize all electric equipment of any kind in the vicinity. While the well-being of Assad and his family members should not be placed in danger, the attack should impact their daily lives. Such calibrated attacks would bring the consequences of Assad’s chemical attacks literally to his home. Assad’s neighbors will also know that the strike against their electricity and their normally well-protected living space came as a result of Assad’s use of chemical weapons. It is human nature to follow. It is human destruction that results from following the wrong leader.

Tillerson had previously met with Putin and senior Russian officials to secure oil deals while serving as the Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil. On June 21, 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors a foreigner can be bestowed by Russia after brokering a deal with the Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft. However, Tillerson cannot, and will not, give any of that much importance now. At the April 12, 2017 meeting, Moscow discovered that as US Secretary of State, Tillerson is still very professional and he will approach issues with a businesslike pragmatism.

Can Tillerson Get a Handle on Russia?

Quid debemos cogitare? (What ought we think?) The Trump administration recognizes the Russian Federation’s significant presence in Syria and its influence with the Assad regime as well aa other countries that support it there. Its strong connection to the regime was enough to convince the Obama administration to accept Russia’s proposal to remove and destroy the Assad regime’s chemical weapons arsenal to avoid threatened military action by the US. Assad long ago was relegated to cameo appearances on the world stage via news media interviews. His cooperation could never be assured, and his treachery was assumed. Tillerson went into Russia to express concerns over Moscow’s continued insouciance toward Assad’s actions against his own people, non combatants. He wanted to learn firsthand the rationale behind Moscow’s willingness to endure international ridicule and rebuke in response to its friendship with the Assad regime, and what might prompt a decision to end that era. From Moscow’s perspective, the Trump administration’s approach to Russia in any direction must reflect the desire to hammer out a deal, not demand one. The insistence of Obama administration officials to take such an aggressive approach in talks with Russia more than anything served to disrupt the US-Russia relationship. Efforts by US officials diplomats and officials to threaten and cajole, as Moscow perceived talks, were more than just displays of a lack of diplomatic tact and maturity, they were viewed as threatening. Opinions expressed by former Obama administration officials on how the cruise missile strikes could be used as leverage in diplomatic talks with the Russian Federation appear to reflect the approach which Moscow found so unappealing. Antony Blinken, former US Deputy Secretary of State and Principal Deputy National Security Adviser in the Obama White House, reportedly told Reuters: “The US strike–ordered less than three days after the gas attack–could make it clear to Russia that the United States will hold Moscow accountable for Assad.”  Reuters also quoted Blinken as saying, “Tillerson ought to be ‘very matter of fact’ in his meetings, sending Russia a message that: “If you don’t rein him in, we will take further action.” Evelyn Farkas, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia, assured Reuters that “Securing a Russian commitment on eliminating Assad’s chemical weapons is likely to be first on his agenda.”

For hours after Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow, it was uncertain if Putin would even meet with him because of the tense state of relations. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, held out the possibility of a meeting once Tillerson arrived, saying any meeting would depend on the nature of Tillerson’s talks at the Foreign Ministry. Tillerson, unfazed by any of those developments, went forward with his meeting Lavrov, the metronome of Russian foreign policy and diplomacy.  The meeting lasted for three hours. Tillerson eventually got the call to come meet with Putin, and left the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for Red Square around 5:00PM local time. That meeting lasted for two hours. All that is publicly known about the content of Tillerson’s April 12, 2017 meetings with Lavrov and Putin, has been gleaned from remarks and responses heard at the post meeting press conference. On April 6, 2017, Tillerson expressed the view that Russia had “failed in its responsibility” to remove Syria’s chemical weapons under a 2013 agreement, which he argued showed Russia was either complicit with the gas attacks or “simply incompetent.” At the April 12th press conference, a journalist’s’ question on the matter enabled Tillerson to clarify that statement. He replied: “With respect to Russia’s complicity or knowledge of the chemical weapons attack, we have no firm information to indicate that there was any involvement by Russia, Russian forces, into this attack. What we do know–and  we have very firm and high confidence in our conclusion–is that the attack was planned and carried out by the regime forces at the direction of Bashar al-Assad.” When Tillerson was asked about his conversations with President Putin on Syria, he replied: “Well, we did discuss at length the future role for Assad, whether it be in a future political process or not. Clearly, our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, and they have again brought this on themselves with their conduct of the war these past few years. We discussed our view that Russia, as their closest ally in the conflict, perhaps has the best means of helping Assad recognize this reality. We do think it’s important that Assad’s departure is done in an orderly way so that certain interests and constituencies that he represents feel they have been represented at the negotiating table for a political solution. How that occurs, we leave that to the process going forward. We do not think one has to occur before the other can begin. And it will take a pace of its own. But the final outcome in our view does not provide for a role for the Assad–for Assad or for the Assad family in the future governance of Syria. We do not think the international community will accept that. We do not think the world will accept that.” Tillerson without question made it clear in his meetings that it would not be business as usual in US-Russian relations. His hope is to make things much better.

This was not Tillerson’s first meeting with Lavrov. On February 20, 2017, during the G-20 Meeting in Bonn, Germany, they met briefly and discussed what Tillerson referred to as “a range of issues of mutual concern.” Tillerson had met with Putin and senior Russian officials previously to secure oil deals while serving as the Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil. In appreciation of his efforts to broker a deal between ExxonMobil as the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft, on June 21, 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors a foreigner can be bestowed by Russia. (He was presented the award in St. Petersburg, Russia, along with the Chairman of ENI, an Italian multinational oil and gas company.) However, that occurred in the past. Tillerson is not, and will not, give any of that much importance now. At the April 12, 2017 meeting, Moscow discovered that as US Secretary of State, he is certainly not a Trump apparatchik. He approaches foreign policy issues with a businesslike pragmatism. He is very professional, very disciplined. He speaks frankly with a no-nonsense demeanor that might discomfit some. Tillerson barely registered a reaction when he was initially greeted by Lavrov with remarks denouncing the US missile strike on Syria as illegal and the accusation that the US was behaving unpredictably. When later asked by a Russian reporter how he would characterize the talks, Lavrov replied with a hint of both satisfaction and curiosity: “The State Secretary did not threaten me with sanctions. He didn’t threaten me with anything, actually. We frankly discussed the questions which were on our agenda . . . .”

A significant achievement of the talks was an agreement to establish a working group of US State Department and Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials charged with addressing smaller issues, which Lavrov called “irritants which have dogged our relations over the last couple of years,” and make progress toward stabilizing the relationship. That will allow Tillerson and Lavrov a freer hand to address urgent issues. They agreed to consider further proposals concerning the way forward in Syria; the respective allies and coalition partners of both countries would be consulted on the matter. There would be continued discussions directed at finding a solution to the Syrian conflict. Lavrov said Putin had agreed to reactivate an air-safety agreement, a de-confliction memorandum, concerning Russian Federation and US-led coalition air operations over Syria. Moscow suspended it after the US cruise missile strikes. Before its next contact with the Trump administration, Moscow will undoubtedly consider what cooperative role the US could play that would allow for the full exploitation of its capabilities in the anti-ISIS effort. Yet, if Moscow wants to cooperate with the Trump administration on Syria, it must create an environment that will facilitate such cooperation. For the moment, the transition of Assad regime to new politically inclusive government is the standing US policy. If the Trump administration ever decided to cooperate with Russia on Syria, it would signal its acceptance of Assad’s presidency as it is Russia’s policy to fully support it. However, to believe that might happen is to deny reality. Assad is at Russia’s disposition. A final decision on how to handle him will need to be made soon.

Through the April 12, 2017 talks, an agreement to establish a working group of US State Department and Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials charged with addressing smaller issues of concern and help stabilize the relationship. They agreed to consider further proposals concerning the way forward in Syria and consult respective allies and coalition partners of both countries on the matter. Discussions directed at finding a solution to the Syrian conflict would be continued. Putin agreed to reactivate an air-safety agreement concerning Russian and US-led coalition air operations over Syria.

Russia: Beware of Assad

Secrete amicos admone, lauda palam. (Admonish your friends in secret, praise [them] openly.) No international conference, no guarantees from Russia to keep him in check, no surgical procedure even, could make Assad palatable to the West at this point, or to any government in the Middle East other than Iran. Assad should not be seen as Russia’s proxy. By 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against ISIS and perhaps US-backed Syrian Opposition forces. The military situation began recurvate after Russia, with the urging of Iran, moved its forces into Syria in September 2015 and supported Syrian military operations. Assad can only be useful to Russia as a figurehead, a symbol of resistance to the opposition and ISIS. In time, it may make sense to his benefactors to him with a leader who would be more acceptable among the Syrians.

Reconstruction will be another huge hurdle for Russia to overcome. Lacking any significant resources from the US and the rest of the international community to rebuild, the only viable long-term goal in Moscow would likely be to convert Syria into a very large version of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic. It would receive the recognition of very few countries, but not the US or major powers of Europe. Syria would in many ways would be shut off from the rest of the world. Even if it received a decent amount of economic aid from the Western countries and international organizations as the UN, the World Bank, or international Monetary Fund, Syria may never see an economic upturn. After observing the effects of few months of rain and wind on the ruins of cities and towns, Damascus might recognize that Moscow truly cannot support Syria in a way that would allow for its rebuilding. The situation would only worsen if pressure was placed on Russia over Syria through future sanctions.

Looking at the situation through Assad’s prism, it clear that he does not like or accept the idea that he is a factotum, a convenient tool for Moscow and Tehran. He may very well be able to convince himself that his regime and his sect, the Alawites, are large enough and strong enough to deter any possible attempt by current power friends and military allies time remove him from power. Assad will not allow his reign to come to an ignominious end. There would be a final demonstration of his power. He will make a stand or lash out before he goes. His concealed stockpiles of chemical weapons would even allow him to strike his allies with some effect. Indeed, Assad may believe that having those weapons at hand may be playing a role in deterring the few allies he has from turning against him. People with the most absolute power in history have tried to hold on by their fingernails knowing when they let go, all will be gone. They have often self-destructed. Misused power is always built upon lies. Tyrannical figures redefine what exists into projections of their egos. There are no noble thoughts. They become wrapped up in themselves. Assad seems to find pleasure in what is evil. As time goes on, the more tragic he becomes as a figure. The cruise missile strikes by the Trump administration may very well have initiated a discourse in Moscow on how to: better handle the remnants of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal and how to defeat their use against Russian Federation Armed Forces in Syria. Such discussions would likely take place in tandem with any on preventing burgeoning, positive relations with the US from being ruined by Assad’s continued use of chemical weapons. Mali sunt in nostro numero et de exilo bonorum virorum cogitant. (There are evil men in our number [our midst] and they are thinking about the destruction of good men.)

Assad (above) will not allow his reign to come to an ignominious end. He will make a stand before he goes. Concealed stockpiles of chemical weapons would allow him strike out even at his allies with some effect. He may believe as long as he has such weapons at hand, he is able to deter the few allies that he has from turning against him. Given the threat his chemical weapons actually pose to Russian Federation Armed Forces in Syria, Trump’s action may have started a discourse in Moscow on how to handle Assad weapons and prevent him from poisoning burgeoning relations with the US by using them.

The Way Forward

In Act I, Scene i of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear, elderly King Lear in ancient Britain is deciding to give up his power and divide his realm amongst his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. He declares the daughter who can profess her love for him the most will receive the largest share. While he hoped Cordelia, his favorite would win, she refuses to play, offering a desultory response. Enraged, Lear disowns Cordelia accepting the soupy, excessive declarations of Reagan and Goneril who consequently set out to kill him. Before leaving the palace with the King of France, Cordelia having an intimation of the danger her sisters posed to Lear, states: “Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides: Who cover faults, at last shame them derides. Well may you prosper!” The prognosis for the long-term survival of Assad’s presidency is not good. Today, many still believe Putin’s relationship with Assad is indissoluble. Quite often, Putin displays choreographed support for Assad. However, sometimes conditions can change to such a degree that one’s position must be altered. Patriotism permeates everything that Putin does. While not actually articulated, Putin has subtly promoted the concept of “Russia First”, a guiding principle similar in many ways to Trump’s “America First”. Putin will not subordinate the interests of the Russian people to those of another country, regardless of friendships, partnerships, or alliances. Putin would be remiss if he ignored big opportunities that would benefit Russia’s long-term interests. Assad would unlikely react well to even the prospect of a “shift” in his relationship with Russia.

Moscow apparently sought to steal a march on the incoming Trump administration by getting to know its likely senior officials, understanding Trump’s intentions, and predicting the administration’s movements in advance. Yet, deciphering Trump proved to be a difficult task. It appears what Moscow knew about the administration as it took the reigns of power amounted to guesswork or nonsense from poor sources. Much of what Moscow observed and encountered from the administration came as a surprise. Praise for Trump initially heard from certain political quarters in Moscow transformed into rebuke. Yet, through contacts between officials of both countries an authentic understanding of Trump began to take shape among Russian foreign policy decision makers and Putin. Those in Moscow au courant with the public discourse in the US on Trump know that harsh criticism is the “popular” reaction. They may also have discerned that the psychology of defective pride was in play when hearing those in the US considered foreign policy experts reproach Trump. Trump is not the imprudent actor those experts want him to be. Trump’s intellect is the type that builds modern cities. Moscow must ignore all the approbation in the background and prevent it from insinuating itself into analyses. That will facilitate Moscow’s efforts to sort things out regarding the Trump administration and become more comfortable in dealing with it. On Syria, relations between the US and Russia are improving. The US approach is not to elbow a better position for itself on the matter, but rather to have Russia acknowledge its responsibilities regarding the war-torn country. It is the most prestigious and powerful player fighting in support of the Syrian Government. As such, it must take on the role of guiding Syria to peace. Russia is not on the sidelines and not in a position to retreat in that direction. Although only Trump and and Putin can respectively prescribe duties to Tillerson and Lavrov, this is a matter that demands their cooperation. Whenever some resolution to the matter might be found, it is nearly certain that Assad will be the last to know about it. Haec omnia vulnera belli tibi nunc sananda sunt. (All these wounds of war must be healed by you now.)

Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by US and Allies: Things Aren’t Improving on Ukraine, But Maybe General Dempsey Can Change That

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is cast in the same mold of a long line of senior military leaders who have effectively advised US presidents in time of crisis.

According to a March 24, 2014, New York Times article entitled “Russia Is Ousted from Group of 8 by US and Allies,” US President Barack Obama and other leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies cast Russia out of their organization to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his annexation of Crimea.  The leaders also threatened tougher sanctions against Russian interests if Putin escalates aggression against Ukraine.   When asked to discuss such efforts to compel a change in course by Russia, Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have literally shrugged their shoulders.  Other Russian officials have scoffed and mocked such measures with great bluster.  Where possible, Putin has taken parallel actions against US and other Western interests in Russia. 

Though it seems Putin may be content with his military achievements so far, US officials, policy experts, journalists, as well as pundits outside of the policy making process, insist upon ratcheting up the situation, publicly declaring that an even greater threat exists from Putin.  Indeed, they pessimistically imagine Putin engaging in further aggression, ostensibly attempting to also annex territories of various former Soviet republics in which ethnic-Russian populations dominate, using the pretext of self-determination with those groups.  In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly have suggested Putin’s actions may mirror former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s efforts to grab ethnic-Serbian held territory in break-away Yugoslav republics to form a “Greater Serbia.”

Putin is astute enough to realize Crimea may be more than enough for Russia to handle.  As former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently commented at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, “We’re going to see if Crimea becomes a small bone in Putin’s throat.”  In that vein, the US and its Western partners will have their hands full, too, trying to build Ukraine up economically, politically, socially, and militarily. Russian media reports remain rife with suspicions and accusations of US involvement in the collapse of the regime in Kiev that was friendly to Moscow.  They emphasize to the Russian people that their country has an upper hand in the situation.  One news anchor in Moscow reminded Russian viewers that “Russia is still the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”

On the positive side, meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have regularly worked together on other urgent and important issues for both countries, have already begun.  Every effective channel reportedly has been opened by the US to express a message to Russians of US concerns about Ukraine.  However, there seems to be a notion held by Putin and Russian officials in their heightened state of alert that any efforts to find common ground with the US would amount to appeasement.  Expressions of US positions have been interpreted as US demands, eliciting a reflex response by Moscow not only to reject those positions, but any proposals drawn from them.  Communications are now somewhat mangled.  All important telephone conversations between Obama and Putin have been reduced to bristling confrontations between the two.  By all accounts, the conversations very likely would have been a finger-wagging sessions between Putin and Obama if they had taken place face to face.  The situation remains tense and dangerous.

Thinking outside of the box, handling the Russians, even with very apparent political and diplomatic aspects of the problem, might be facilitated with more input from a member of the US national security team who had recent success in negotiating with senior Russian military officials on critical defense matters.  That individual is US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  In addition to knowing what the most concerning Russian military capabilities and possibilities for action might be, his professional military experience, depth of knowledge, understanding of history, insights and worldliness, make him someone Obama perhaps could rely on more heavily for advice on the Ukrainian crisis.  Indeed, as a senior military officer he may possesses the capability of being effective in advising Obama in such crises in a way perhaps not possible for other presidential advisers at the moment.

Dempsey was recommended for the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates had already nominated Dempsey to be the Army Chief of Staff. In his recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), Gates explains that Dempsey had commanded forces in Iraq and command in Iraq or Afghanistan was a quality he wanted in the next chairman.  Gates also thought Dempsey had also performed superbly as the deputy commander and acting commander of the US Central Command.  When notifying Dempsey of his decision to nominate him as chairman, Gates explained to Dempsey that he was well-equipped to face the challenges of the budget, to lead the chiefs as a team, to maintain cohesion, and to help a new secretary of defense manage the relationship between the military services and the president.  Obama has clearly been very satisfied with Dempsey, selecting him twice as chairman.

Dempsey has dealt with a challenging agenda since assuming his present post.  Most relevant in the Ukraine crisis has been Dempsey’s part of the process of ensuring sustained positive US-Russian relations.  Dempsey recently demonstrated his ability to manage line of communication and promote constructive conversations with the Russians when he met with General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on January 21, 2014, in Brussels.  In that long-scheduled meeting, Dempsey displayed solid judgment and diplomatic acumen to advance an agenda for bilateral military relations.  The two generals produced a workable agreement that detailed 67 activities on which the armed forces of the US and Russia would continue to cooperate, despite pre-existing political and diplomatic problems and new concerns that arose over security assistance at the Sochi Olympic Games.  Indeed, the meeting came amidst a blitz of criticism leveled against Putin and organizers of the Games by US officials.  Those criticisms served to create the impression worldwide that the Games in Sochi were not safe to visit. The comments were almost perfectly designed to evoke the worst reaction possible from the Russians. 

Upon seeing Gerasimov, Dempsey likely noted he was a tough general, but not totally devoid of charm. As recounted through press reports of the Moscow Times, RT, RIA Novosti, Interfax, and other Russian press offices and of the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), Reuters, and the New York Times, Dempsey sought cooperation from Gerasimov through encouraging him to consider their unique situation as commanders of the most powerful military forces in the world.  Both were well aware of the esoteric, advanced, and frightening technologies that could be brought to bear in war and the need to maintain peace and stability in their nations’ relations and throughout the world.  Cooperation was the best way to achieve that end.  Dempsey was quoted as saying, “I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest.” Issues such as the US missile defense system, vehemently opposed by Moscow, were discussed.  However, Dempsey noted to Gerasimov’s apparent appreciation that Russia was a vital partner to NATO providing supply lines for its mission in Afghanistan, agreeing to allow the movement of nonlethal material to and from the war zone through Russian territory.  That rail and road network is becoming increasingly important as protests in Pakistan choke efforts to use the more convenient supply lines there.  Dempsey reassured Gerasimov about US and NATO efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force at the end of 2014.  Gerasimov asked for regular updates on the US and NATO effort to train, advise, and equip Afghan National Security Forces, as well as Afghanistan’s ability to maintain and control transportation lines in and out of the country. In an AFPS interview, Dempsey was quoted as stating: “We agree that a stable Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests.”

By the end of the meeting, Gerasimov was comfortable enough to endorse “regular contacts” between their militaries as “quite useful.”  Pointing to the less than congenial political and diplomatic relations between the US and Russia, Dempsey said it was important for the militaries “not to foreclose on conversations, even if at some points there are disagreements that prevent the forward movement” in other parts of the relationship whether political or diplomatic.  There could be no better time to consider using of that effective line of communication than now.

At the same meeting, to ensure a safe and secure Olympics, Dempsey made a nearly open-ended offer to Gerasimov to provide “full assistance” from the US military, echoing an offer made to Putin by phone that same week.  Gerasimov’s reaction of expressing a need for anti-IED technology was plausible to the extent that Islamic militants could have used roadside bombs against Russian government or civilian vehicle at the Games.  However, Russian Islamic militants were viewed as more likely to carry out a martyrdom operation (suicide attack) than plant a roadside bomb and detonate it at a distance.  If Gerasimov hoped to exploit US concerns and generosity, that all stopped with Dempsey.  He understood the implications of just giving it away, nonetheless, Dempsey remained quite respectful of the Russians’ request.  He understood that it was after all the job of the Russian security services to seek advantages over potential adversaries, and the effort to exploit the thinking among US political officials should have been expected.  There was a guarantee that Dempsey despite Gerasimov’s push for US technology would be guided foremost by his duty to defend the US.  Abiding by that, Dempsey seemingly, instinctively stood his ground against Russian appeals “in the interest of improving military cooperation and communication” while truly seeking to further military ties likely more earnestly than his Russian counterpart.

Dempsey’s insight on working with military elements of the Russian government could help his president through this crisis.  Dempsey may very likely be able to demonstrate that there is a way to deal with Russians even under current conditions.  He may be able to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, despite the very militaristic and aggressive mindset in which Russian leaders are currently steeped.  In a pinch, he may very-well act as a brake on any possible runaway breakdown in US-Russian communications. 

However, to be most effective in providing perspective and military advice from the chiefs for Obama on Ukraine, Dempsey would need to heed lessons from his experience with Obama on Syria in August 2013.  From that experience, Dempsey likely foresaw difficulties advisers would have in getting Obama to rapidly come to terms with any plans or proposals offered on Ukraine.  Providing a range of military option to effectively achieve objectives based on the president’s concepts, would be not be sufficient enough with Obama.  On Syria, Dempsey was initially tasked with providing advice and viable options for calibrated military strikes in response to Obama’s expressed goal of deterring and degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. In his Rose Garden statement, Obama took comfort in Dempsey’s advice, stating confidently: “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.  Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”  Yet, Obama was actually driven to resolve the crisis not by military action, but in a manner that would allow his worldview—that problems can be solved at the diplomatic table using reason and logic—to win through.  Unable to quickly find that handle to the situation, uncertainty and indecisiveness ultimately prevailed.  Obama was apparently paralyzed by fears of a bitter scenario that would have the US and the region embroiled in a larger conflict as a result of such action.  That was coupled by his concerns over the legal ramifications and international implications of military action against Assad regime.  Not knowing how best to respond, Obama strayed from a path of assertive and decisive action which most likely would have achieved all military goals and had a strong educational effect on Assad.  After making very shrill accusations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed his red-line by using chemical weapons, Obama made the now world renown decision not to take military action.  Obama settled for a deal Russia proposed and negotiated with the US to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Seeing how wrenching and difficult the decision making process on Syria was for his president, Dempsey surely understands that to ensure advice to Obama on Ukraine would be effective, the advice of the chiefs on military aspects of the situation would need to go in tandem with helping Obama remain strong and of good courage in the face of daunting circumstances.  Fears of greater problems stimulate the imagination, can lead to a pessimistic outlook on the future, and often cause a leader to deviate from a path.  Remaining confident a resolute when a crisis is brewing is made more difficult in a dispute such as the one between the US and Russia on Ukraine, when party seems determined to maintain an environment unfavorble for communication.  Dempsey’s advice in that respect would need to be direct and personal.  An example of how Dempsey might proceed would be to first put matters in perspective by discussing Ukraine from the context of the military stalemate that has existed between the US and Russia during and since the Cold War based in part on first-hand experience as a US Army officer.  Following that, Dempsey could assist Obama in understanding the calculated risks and possible outcomes of a variety of diplomatic and military initiatives with Russia given assessments made both in the past and present to make the situation more controllable for his president.  Consideration of what is possible to do and what will likely be faced would also facilitate reaching decisions on options to help bring Putin and Russian officials to a point where negotiation on the issues might be possible.  That is the advice Obama apparently wants foremost.  Along the way, Dempsey could continually assure Obama that he has the full support of the military chiefs.  He could assist Obama in mulling over possible courses of action to ensure a sharpening of his perception and clarity of direction.

Boiled down, Dempsey’s role would be that of mentor or coach for Obama, who apparently is still trying to understand how to manage US military capabilities, leveraging US strength through diplomacy and engaging in decision making on the use of force to deter and defeat opponents.  Putin and Russian officials may discern “tweaks” in Obama administration’s message and communications prompted by Dempsey, and respond favorably to a request to negotiate.

The Way Forward

The US and its European partners have met to discuss and level sanctions and other economic actions against Russian interests in retribution to the Crimea-grab and to deter Russian efforts to further destabilize a weak Ukraine.  However, Putin has executed plans to annex Crimea and a return to the status quo ante will not occur.  For Obama’s advisers, finding ways to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, given the confrontational attitude of Putin and Russian leaders, has been challenging.  However, resolving the Ukraine crisis may more importantly require bringing Obama to see and understand that it requires a certain agility to develop solutions for coping with opponents whose thinking is different from his own.  “Might doesn’t make right,” an utterance recently heard from Obama, is not best philosophy to which one might subscribe when dealing with real aggression.  This is particularly true for the US which predicates its ability to engage effectively in diplomacy worldwide on its capability to enforce its policies and protect its interests with considerable military power.

Advisers such as Susan Rice, Antony Blinken, Wendy Sherman, and Samantha Power, in addition to well-experience officials as Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan, certainly have a great deal to offer to Obama.  Yet, results show that they, most likely for various important reasons, have been unable able to reach Obama over the Ukraine crisis in a manner that has allowed him to appear truly in control of the situation.  There is a certain “human element” to advising leaders in time of crisis. In recent history, a line of remarkable senior military officers have very effectively served their presidents in a manner described here. Included among them are: Maxwell Taylor, Brent Scowcroft, Stansfield Turner, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and James Jones.  Dempsey was recommended as chairman based on his military experience.  That same military experience made him “expert” in encouraging, advising, and coaching fellow commanders in difficult circumstances.  Dempsey’s counsel would truly help his president in dealing with Putin and the Russians beyond the battlefield or even the diplomatic table.  Hopefully, Obama will somehow come to understand the benefits that would come from more fully utilizing Dempsey, and seek “greater” counsel from him soon.

Politics and a Ruptured Tendon Didn’t Faze the Lead US Negotiator, But They’ve Likely Fed into Iranian Perceptions of US Frailty

In a December 1, 2013 article in the New York Times entitled, “Politics and a Ruptured Tendon Don’t Faze Lead Iran Negotiator,” it was reported that US Under Secretary of State, and lead US negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, fell and ruptured a tendon in her finger.  She was on her way to brief highly skeptical Members of Congress about the deal she was negotiating in secretive talks with the Iranians.  The article explained that Sherman simply packed her finger in ice right after her fall, went into a secure room, and continued her briefing to Congress on uranium enrichment levels and current intelligence on Iran.  Only afterward did she go to an emergency room.  The White House used the incident as an opportunity to influence perceptions of Sherman in the Congress and in Iran. She was called “focused” and “tenacious.”  Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken, who has coordinated Iran strategy, was quoted as saying, “She’s not the kind to pay attention to pain.”  While Members of Congress may have been impressed by reports of the very dutiful public servant’s dsiplay of physical toughness, the White House had little chance of using poaitive spin to influence perceptions of Sherman in Iran. 

In Iran, Sherman’s injury may very well have fed into a perception that the US government, has become weaker; somewhat frail, and willing to compromise when previous US administrations never would have. A specious notion of the flexibility displayed by the Obama administration in talks with Iran represented a type of frailty appears to have become dogma among hardliners in Tehran.  It has compelled many Iranian officials to publicly deride the US government as being indecisive and pliant to Iran’s demands at Geneva.  The recently signed interim accord represented nothing less than conquest over the US within certain power centers.  Conversely, US officials, particularly US Secretary of State John Kerry, Sherman, and Blinken have remained discreet and have refrained from making many public remarks about Iran and the Geneva talks.  Yet, the jabs have been not been one-sided.  Political pundits in the US, without much public rebuke or challenge from Obama administration officials, have characterized Iran’s chief negotiator, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as being humbled by the negotiation process.  They have claimed Iran was driven to accept the recent accord constructed in talks with the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  (We now know there were also on-going, dual-track, bilateral talks between the US and Iran.)

In his public statements, Zarif has directly challenged the view that Iran caved in to US demands.  Moreover, he has made statements that unquestionably play into the sense that Iran “got one over” on the US and the West.  He appears extremely confident that he will reach all of Iran’s goals through the negotiation.  Nothing Zarif has said varies much from statements made by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders, and hardline political and religious leaders.  However, Zarif must be careful not to lean so far to satisfy superiors and hardliners with his public statements that he erodes existing trust Western negotiators have in him.  More importantly, he must be careful not to forge ahead, by taking steps shaped by dogma and public boasts.  That could lead to unintended consequences for Iran in the near future.

At first Zarif’s remarks seemed to be an attempt to publicly hash out difficult issues in negotiation.  Following the initial Geneva meeting between US and Iranian negotiators early in October 2013, Zarif requested a new proposal from the US, dismissing a February proposal from the Obama administration to presented to Iran.to which it did not respond.  However, soon afterward, the main concern in Zarif’s public statements became Iran’s right to enrich uranium.  Included among them was the “trial balloon” Zarif released of including the provision in the interim agreement by which the P5+1 would not need to recognize Iran’s right to enrich to remedy a stalemate on its language.  Zarif told the ISNA news agency, “Not only do we consider that Iran’s tight to enrich is unnegotiable, but we see no need for that to be recognized as ‘a right’. because this right is inalienable and all countires must respect that .” 

Once the November 23, 2013 agreement was reached in Geneva, Zarif’s comments seemed more assertive.  On Twitter, Zarif insisted that Iran retained its right to enrich despite comments to the contrary from US officials and political pundits.  He tweeted, “The right to enrichment emanates from the inalienable right in NPT, defined by 2010 NPT Review Conference to include fuel cycle activities.”  He stated that according to the 2010 NPT Review, “each country’s policies and choices with regard to peaceful nuclear energy including its fuel cycle policies should be respected.”  He further stated that the “US and all other E3+3 joined the 2010 consensus at the NPT Review Conference.  The right was first recognized by consensus in 1978 SSODI [Special Session on Disarmament].”  His statement was compelling, nevertheless, that issue was no longer being debated.  Iran agreed in the new accord to freeze the expansion of its nuclear activities, and refrain from uranium enrichment above low-level purity, including 20 percent.  Zarif appeared to be pointing out that the interim accord was at all not in line with the terms of international agreements Iran to which was already committed on nuclear technology and that Iran did not necessarily need to adhere to the new interim accord.

After the interim accord was reached, the official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying in Tehran, “Iran will decide the level of enrichment according to its needs for different purposes.”  He made it clear that “Only details of the enrichment activities are negotiable” referring to the final accord.  According to the Fars news agency, Zarif stated “We have always said we will not allow anyone to determine our needs.”  He went on to state “But we are prepared to negotiate about it.”  However, the US, Britain, France, and Germany hope the final agreement will scale back Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which could be redirected at producing highly enrich uranium for creating a nuclear device.  Zarif’s statements again indicated that although he helped cobble and sign the interim accord, however the decision on how Iran would proceed on the issues covered by the accord was open to the judgement of Islamic Republic’s leadership.  Choppy waters may lie ahead for the Geneva talks given Zarif’s intriguing representations of facts and their ambiguous statements about Iran’s rights after signing the interim accord.  

In a letter regarding the Geneva talks from Rouhani to Khamenei published in the Iranian news media, Rouhani stated “The first step advanced an acknowledgement of Iran’s nuclear rights and right to enrich by world powers—who tried to deny them for years—and opened a path for the next steps to protect the technological and economic advances of the country.”  Before and after his election, Rouhani insisted that Iran be treated as an equal in its relations with the US.  To support the dialogue between nations, the Obama administration approached bilateral talks with Iran based on this notion of equality.  In reality, however, thie two states are not equal.  In spite of steep cuts ib the size of the US armed forces by the Obama administration and economic woes, the US remains a nuclear armed superpower.  As a nation, the US is strong and certainly not a push over.  Despite the claims of some political pundits, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a nuclear weapons program or a few devices will not deter a US attack.

Zarif’s superiors in Tehran want economic sanctions lifted and the ability to use their nuclear program as they choose.  However, Zarif, a true diplomat, is astute enough to know that Geneva will not be a “slam dunk.”  He must know that significant sanctions relief would be difficult, if not impossible to realize, without a significant and permanent change regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  Further, despite what might be thought in Tehran, the true focus of the Geneva process is not sanctions, but Iran’s potential development and use of nuclear weapons.  Talks about nuclear weapons concern nuclear war, and for that reason, the talks to some degree regard the very survival of Iran as a nation.  

For nearly six decades, the US has been engaged in nuclear talks, initially with the Soviet Union, and with Russia and North Korea since.  Those talks have concerned issues such as the size of nuclear forces, production of weapons, and testing.  Known better as as arms control talks when concerning the Russians, they have been important enough that summit meetings often become part of the process.  Public discussion of furtive aspects of such negotiations is typically negligible.  That should also be the case for the Geneva talks.

Perhaps the Obama administration has made significant concessions to reach an historic” agreement.  It could very well be that Zarif and the Iranian leadership have scored one on the White House.  Yet, the president, his cabinet, and his staff are caretakers of the US government.  A new administration will govern in the US in three years.  It would be a tragedy for the new administration to discover, after coming to office, that the Geneva negotiations were, as Khamenei indicated, “an artificial maneuver and utilized various methods to achieve various goals and ideals of the Islamic system.”  The incoming president’s response to a bad agreement reached now, or breached one, may be severe.  Given the list of prospective candidates for the 2016 US presidential election, it is almost certain that the requisite political will to take action will exist.  It would be in everyone’s interest for Zarif not to exploit problems he may perceive in the Obama administration, but rather, negotiate unequivocal terms Iran truly intends to keep.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (at right) confers with the Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) Ali Akbar Salehi (at left), at the November 25, 2013 IAEO Basij Conference.  Salehi was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign minister.  Before taking that post, Salehi served as head of the IAEO for a year.  Prior to that, Salehi was Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Both officials know what is at stake in Geneva.  Surely, Zarif hopes they will still be able to smile at the end of the negotiations.