Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years

For two years, US President Donald Trump has sought to create an effective working relationship with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. That effort was made more urgent because the previous administration of US President Barack Obama left the US-Russia relationship in tatters when it departed. Trump has created conditions for an authentic engagement with Putin. He has done nothing contrary to US values or harmful to US interests. He has given Putin no cause to behave in aberrant ways. Yet, Trump surely has not as yet developed a relationship to his satisfaction with Putin. A choice will likely be made soon on how he will proceed with the Russian Federation President.

Trusting in the adage that there is always a good soup in an old chicken, greatcharlie looks once again at a favorite subject of its meditations: US President Donald Trump’s interactions with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Two years have passed since Trump, as part of his effort to reshape US foreign and national security policy for the better, sought to create an effective working relationship with Putin. That effort was made more urgent because the previous administration of US President Barack Obama left the US-Russia relationship tatters when it departed. Having poorly managed relations, particularly by failing to act in a well-considered, well-measured, well-meaning way with Putin, there is now evidence that indicates that the previous administration more than likely provoked what became an overreaction in Moscow, marked by the annexation of Crimea and an effort to interfere in the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Further, judging by Putin’s fast-paced effort to create a greatly improved first-strike capability, the collective obituaries of the people of both the countries were nearly written as a result of the previous administration’s contentious interactions with Moscow.

Trump has known from the start that his efforts with Putin could all end in something akin to a car crash. Certainly, proper consideration and proper measure needed to be given every interaction with Putin. For Trump, who, using his own wits created a successful multinational corporation and fought his own way through a tough campaign to become President of the US, subduing the ego in order to acquit himself to ensure positive interactions with Putin was easier to think and say than do. Yet, Trump managed to control his ego, his passions, through self-discipline. After also facing down iniquitous criticism of having a delusional ambition, Trump has created conditions for an authentic engagement with Putin. He has done nothing contrary to US values or harmful to US interests. He has given Putin no cause to behave in aberrant ways. Kindness, generosity, respectfulness, and frankness have been an important part of that interaction. Still, two years later, it appears that Trump, who clearly has acquitted himself well, may have developed a relationship with Putin not yet to his satisfaction. It is a relationship subject to vexatious fluctuations. Some important aspects of the relationship, viewed from Trump’s side of the line, are briefly considered here. It is likely that a decision will soon be made by Trump on whether to use the inroads he has made with Putin as foundation on which to continue building a good relationship or call the whole effort a wash, and from that point onward, only contain and mitigate whatever bad actions Putin might take. Oportet privatis utilitatibus publicas, mortalibus aeternas anteferre, multoque diligentius muneri suo consulere quam facultatibus. (A man must rate public and permanent, above private and fleeting advantages and study how to render his benefaction most useful, rather than how he may bestow it with least expense.)

The Environment in which Trump Is Forced to Work

From what has been observed, critics and detractors within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have exhibited a practically collective mindset, determined to find wrong in Trump. His presidency was figuratively born in the captivity of such attitudes and behavior. They have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. The attacks can be broken down to gradations of intensity, none it represents, healthy, objective, traditional reporting and commentary. It is defined by a supercilious, holier-than-thou perspective of the US President, that they believe gives the free reign to be arrogant and rude toward him without regard for the fact that he is still a human being, and in an honored position that, itself, should garner respect.

Coruscating flashes of a type of patrician aesthetic has lead some critics to put themselves in position high enough to judge whether Trump is “presidential enough” for their liking. They have left a record littered with moments of absolute absurdity in the past few years that will break their own hearts if they ever took a look over their shoulders and reviewed their work.  In developing their attacks on Trump, they build whimsy upon whimsy, fantasy upon fantasy. Some will often present angry insinuations of Trump guilt in one thing or another along with the pretense that they know more but were not saying, in a silly effort to puff themselves up. Former US President Jimmy Carter was quoted in the New York Times on October 21, 2017 as saying: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.” He added: “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.” Nonetheless, those critics seem to be held hostage to such ideas. Rotam fortunae non timet. (They do not fear the wheel of fortune.)

From what has been reported about the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign, opportunists, who managed to latch on to it, appear to have independently engaged in enough ill-advised, foolish actions before and during its existence to create a detectable smog of wrongdoing around it. However, their actions were nothe in any way connected to Trump. (Interestingly, many of those opportunists had prominent names in political circles, yet there were no immediate impressions offered by critics and detractors and the US news media that indicated they were problematics even as they very publicly signed on to the campaign.) Far less acceptable have been very prominent attacks that insist there is truth in allegations that Trump colluded with the Russian Federation to win the 2016 Presidential Election and obstructed justice in an effort to cover-up his alleged wrongdoing. On February 12, 2019, when the two-year investigation into the 2016 US Presidential Election was close to being completed, both Republicans and Democrats on the US Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and Russia had been found. It really appears that a farfetched novel on covert espionage was been used by critics and detractors as a template from they could to judge Trump. They have worked very hard to convince that nothing more than fantasies represented the authentic version of events. Investigations into those fantastic accusations have created the impression in the minds of some in the US public that he has at least done something wrong. Not much can be worse than to bring the loyalty of a patriotic citizen, such as Trump, into question. Interestingly, by engaging in this behavior one can get a good idea of exactly what his critics and detractors do not know about that province in which they have tried wedge Trump: the secret world of intelligence.

The Tall-Tale of Trump as “Russian Spy”

The notion that experienced, foreign intelligence operatives of the Russian Federation would approach and recruit Trump is ludicrous. Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but experienced, foreign intelligence operatives of the Russian Federation would unlikely want to work with Trump and members of his family on an operation of such magnitude. To begin, they had no experience whatsoever with the type of conspiracy. A significant amount of teaching would need to be done along the way and that would require plenty of covert contact.  The danger of having an effort to approach Trump or actual effort to recruit him uncloaked would be too great to risk. US-Russian relations would be in a far worse place than where they were before the operation was executed. There is certainly an art that moves Trump’s mind. Just approaching him would be a parlous undertaking. Traits that would obviate him as an intelligence recruitment target would include: his patriotism; his wealth; his extroverted personality; his gregarious, talkative nature; his desire to lead and be in command at all times; and his oft reported combustible reactions. If the matter of recruiting Trump had at all debated within the Russian Federation intelligence services, the idea may have simply bubbled up as part of some late night brainstorming session with plenty of good vodka on hand. Humor aside, even under that circumstance, true professionals more than likely would have tossed the idea out immediately. (The matter as laid out is quite reminiscent of early 19th century ruminations about possible “Bolshevik plots” against the US.)

Hypothetically, if such an operation had been green lighted, it remains unclear how Trump would have communicated with a Russian handler and which handler would have had enough experience and stature to manage him. Some critics and detractors have made the very cavalier suggestion that Putin is his handler. However, in the Russian Federation, no one mens sana in corpore sano and for existential reasons, would even suggest that Putin should be attendant to such a matter because he is Putin. That means far more in Moscow than many outsiders might be able to comprehend.

One might expect that a far higher threshold and a more finely graded measure would be used to judge the actions of the President of the US before making the grave allegation that the individual was functioning as a creature of a foreign intelligence service. Relying upon off-handed remarks and ill-considered gestures of a sitting US President to initiate an investigation would be very questionable, if not completely unwarranted. Using the brief authority of a government position, abusing one’s power, and using money of the people of the US, to satisfy one’s curiosity stirred by an inchoate set of facts, or worse, attempt to substantiate mere surmisal, might actually be called unlawful under certain circumstances. That is not the type of high quality performance that at one time garnered US counterintelligence specialists considerable praise among intelligence services worldwide.

For astute and somber counterintelligence specialists in the US Intelligence Community, far more than just a matter of perception would be required before any would conclude an investigation to determine whether Trump was a Russian spy was validly predicated. Evidence they would require might include some indicia, a genuine trail, of Russian Federation intelligence tradecraft leading to Trump. Good US counterintelligence specialists are exceptionally knowledgeable of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the various departments of the Russian Federation’s intelligence apparatus: the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU; the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. The case of the counterintelligence specialists would have been fattened up a bit once they had figuratively scratched through the dust to track down certain snags, hitches, loose ends, and other tell-tale signs of a Russian Federation intelligence operation and presence around or linked to him. An approach toward Trump most likely would have been tested by Russian Federation Intelligence Community and evidence of that would exist. Certain charms used to lure Trump would need to be identified and confirmed as such. To suggest one charm might have been promising him  an election victory is farcical. Bear in mind that no reasonable or rational Republican or Democrat political operative in the US would ever be so incautious as to offer the guarantee an election victory to any candidate for any local, state, or national office. Recall how the good minds of so many US experts failed to bring victory to their presidential candidates in 2016.

The goal of US counterintelligence specialists is to do things the right way. The purpose is to get things right. (Of course, there have been periods such as the “James Angleton episode”, when things were done wrong.) One would hope that counterintelligence specialists would occasionally engage in the healthy process of self-assessment. If concerning Trump, some have self-diagnosed that they hold some bias against him, they must, as a treatment, leave that bias outside of the office and be certain to remain objective and use diligence in appraising him in their work product. It would have behooved US counterintelligence specialists at the beginning of Trump’s term to consider that attitudes and behaviors displayed by him which were nonstandard most likely were a result of him being: new to not just politics in general, but specifically national politics; new to government; new to foreign policy and national security making; and, new to diplomacy. Trump was certainly a novice in almost all respects with regard to the intricacies of the secret world of intelligence. Given that perspective commingled with the understanding that when Trump campaigned for president, he explained that he was somewhat contemptuous of orthodox ways of doing things in Washington. He declared that he wanted to “drain the swamp!” He would come to the Oval Office wanting to do things his way. To an extent, that was his prerogative. Perhaps a greater degree of, not necessarily tolerance or liberality, but certainly patience and understanding could have been used in assessing what could be called “a beginner’s missteps and misstatements.” True, for the US Intelligence Community, there is a responsibility to speak truth to power. Still, expectations should have been kept within reason. Consideration might have been given to “cutting ‘the kid’ some slack.” Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.)

Instead of initiating expensive, prying investigations of Trump and his administration, directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community present when Trump came to office might have better spent their time by stepping up and developing more effective ways of briefing Trump with digestible slices of information on the inherent problems and pitfalls of approaching matters as he was. Attempting instead to “transform” the presidency to fit their liking when Trump came to office was wrong. With enormous budgets appropriated to their organizations by the US Congress, every now and then, some directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community will succumb to the temptation of engaging in what becomes a misadventure. (If money had been short, it is doubtful that the idea of second guessing Trump’s allegiance would have even glimmered in their heads. Starting an investigating would most likely have been judged as not worth the candle.) Those directors and senior managers present at the Trump administration’s start might have simply held out hope, as is the practice in a democracy, that national electorate had made a good choice and that Trump, himself, would evolve nicely, and perhaps rapidly, while in office. Two years into his presidency, none of “missteps and misstatements” concerning foreign and national security policy initially observed are being seen any more.

Trump’s Alleged Problems with Intelligence Reports

On foreign and national security policy, especially as it concerns Putin and the Russian Federation, Trump has actually acted with integrity, and has been true to his cause: putting “America First”;  “Making America Great Again”; and, the US public. Trump has no need to vindicate himself on this big issue for he has done well. Nothing needs to be dressed-up. He has been forthright. Indeed, if critics and detractors would care to watch closely at what Trump has been doing, they would see that he has stood against, pushed back on, and even defeated many Russian Federation efforts to advance an agenda against the US and its interests. Those who might try to suggest otherwise are well off the mark. A normative hope might be that critics and detractors actually know the truth and for their own reasons are acting against it. In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” However, it seems Trump’s critics and detractors will never compromise their wrongful beliefs with reality. In a country where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, where one has a right to due process, and upholding the rights of the citizen is paramount, one might hope that at least in the subconscious of the US public, there has been a very poor reaction to what is being witnessed concerning investigations of Trump and the reporting of them. Trump has a defense and has fought back. It is more than likely that the outcome will all go Trump’s way. Nevertheless, the impression of wrongdoing, having been propagated for so long and with such intensity by his critics and detractors, will likely stick to some degree.

As if generating evidence from thin air against Trump concerning the Russian Federation were not enough, there are also claims that his brashness and alleged meager intellectual capacity prevents him from appropriately making use of the intelligence community to better understand Putin and the Russian Federation. Most recall how the US public was assured by former US President George W. Bush that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, to include nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, and how Obama declared that Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad, facing an opposition movement, “was toast!” Neither was true. Yet, one might assume that both former presidents made use of information from the Intelligence Community to reach those conclusions and validate them. One might surmise that Trump is labelling intelligence presented to him as wrong Intelligence because it does not validate a point of view he might harbor on an issue. However, that that would be wrong.

As mentioned in the February 4, 2019 grearcharlie post entitled, “The Second Trump Kim Summit: A Few Things Kim Should Consider when Negotiating with Trump”, in his current position, much as during business life, Trump will treat important what he intuits on how to proceed. While government foreign and national security policy professionals may appreciate his ideas, requirements on the development of their work product demand that they refrain including their “gut reactions”  as well as those of the US President in their analyses. Absolute obedience to such requirements  by professionals of the Intelligence Community could be viewed as a manifestation of having to perform under the security bubble, and live daily with the awkwardness of setting limitations on one’s own rights to speak and to think whatever they want in a free society. There is also the paranoia caused by the discomfort of occasionally being watched and the need for self-policing. When there is a disparity between what he may be intuiting and what the US Intelligence Community may be saying, Trump in an orotund way, which is his style, may state that he thinks he is correct. While his public expression of disagreement may create the wrong impression as to the nature of Trump’s relationship with his intelligence services among observers as his critics and detractors have alleged, it is all really harmless as it concerns foreign and national security policy making and decision making. Trump will always press them for their very best answers. Trump is well-aware that a clear picture of what going on regarding an issue can only exist when intelligence provides him with the objective truth. Notwithstanding what critics and detractors may proffer, Trump will always turn his ears toward his intelligence chiefs. (He certainly hears what they say to the US Congress.) Anyone who truly believes, despite his now patented attitudes and reactions, that he is not listening intently to what is being written for and told to him by the US intelligence community, is still in the cradle intellectually when it comes to Trump. Unglaublich!

The Reality of Trump’s So-called “Infatuation” with Putin

A criticism espoused of Trump for the past two years is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders, such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. However, that is a mischaracterization of Trump’s efforts.  Under Trump’s leadership, there is a new spirit exists in US foreign and national security policy to build better relations with countries around the world. That certainly did not mean Trump will be soft on any countries or on any issue. Whenever he saw the need to defend US interest against moves by another country, including Russia, he would act with determination. The Trump administration’s actual response to reports from the US Intelligence Community that Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, in 2017 and 2018 serves as an example of that. Boiled down to the bones, the administration decided to keep 2 Russian Federation’s compounds in the US closed and sustain the expulsion of 35 diplomats in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. In March 2018, the administration imposed sanctions against 16 Russian entities and individuals for their roles in Russian Federation’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election. In June 2018, the administration imposed sanctions against 5 Russian entities and 3 Russian individuals for enabling Russian Federation military and intelligence units to increase their country’s offensive cyber capabilities. In May 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order to strengthen and review the cybersecurity of our Nation and its critical infrastructure. In September 2017, the administration banned the use of Kaspersky Labs software on US Government computers due to the company’s ties to Russian Federation intelligence. In March 2017, the administration charged 3 Russians for the 2014 Yahoo hack, including 2 officers of the FSB. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken the lead in working with all 50 states, local governments, and private companies to improve election security and integrity. DHS has increased coordination and information sharing among all election partners, with nearly 1000 elections jurisdictions, including all 50 states, participating in the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

Trump’s critics and detractors comment as if he has given Putin some type of free pass to do what he wants in the world. Yet, that is simply gossamer fantasy that has been let loose very publicly on the world via the US news media. Putin, himself, knows that he has been unaccommodated by Trump and displeased by all that has done in response the Russian Federation’s election meddling. It might have been helpful for Moscow to understand before it engaged in such a grand, perilous and injudicious undertaking as interfering in a US Presidential Election that all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. If Trump had the only say in how policy would be constructed, surely it would look just as he wanted. However, Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public. Putin’s dissatisfaction doubtlessly does not end with Trump’s response the Russian Federation’s election meddling. Putin has been dissatisfied by a number of other foreign and national security policy decisions by Trump administration: it has encouraged NATO members to increase military spending, greatly enhancing the capabilities and capacity of the alliance in face of the Russian Federation’s military build up in its West; it has increased funding for the European Deterrence Initiative to help defend our NATO allies and deter Russian Federation aggression, by providing billions to increase US troop readiness in Europe; it discouraged European support for the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Project; it has enhanced its support of the Ukrainian Government to stabilize the society; it robustly equipped and trained Ukrainian naval and military forces; it condemned the Russian Federation for the attempted assassination of former Russian Federation intelligence officer Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia with the assurance military-grade Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, England in March 2018; it ordered the expulsion of 48 Russian Federation intelligence officers from the US and ordered the closure of the Russian Federation Consulate in Seattle, Washington; it coordinated that action with those taken by US allies around the world; it expelled 12 Russian intelligence officers from the Russian Mission to the UN in New York for abusing their privilege of residence; it imposed sanctions against 7 Russian oligarchs and the 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian government officials, and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company that has provided military equipment and support to the Government of Syria, enabling the regime’s continual attacks against Syrian citizens; it also sanctioned a bank that weapons trading company it owns; it ordered new Russia-related sanctions under the Sergei Magnitsky and Global Magnitsky programs; it imposed export controls against 2 Russian companies that were helping the Russian Federation develop missiles that violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); it sanctioned a total of 100 targets in response to Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine; it designated Russian actors under Iran and North Korea sanctions authorities; the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network proposed a new rule to bar a Latvian bank involved in illicit Russia-related activity from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts in the US; and, the arrest of Russian Federation national Maria Buttina based on what were efforts to infiltrate, to monitor and to potentially influence the hierarchy of the National Rifle Association with regard to its involvement supporting political campaigns.

Putin is most likely additionally displeased over: the US withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning the Iranian nuclear program to which the Russian Federation  was a signatory; the US support of Syrian forces in opposition to the Russian Federation’s man in Syria, Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad; the continued US presence in Syria; the appearance of what some Russian analysts might conclude has been a “feigned retreat” from Syria similar that of Russian Federation in 2016 when Putin declared that Russian Federation forces were withdrawing from Syria. (See the August 20, 2016 greatcharlie post entitled, “Under Pressure Over Aleppo Siege, Russia Hints at Seeking Deal with US: Can Either Country Compromise?”); the killing of over 200 Russian “mercenaries” by US forces as they attempted to capture an oil refinery on the grounds of a US military base in Syria; the US bombing in both 2017 and 2018 of Syrian military bases and facilities due to what Russia would call false allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own citizens; the US efforts at denuclearization and economic vitalization the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, potential weakening of Russian influence as a result; the US withdrawal from the INF; and recently, US efforts to “undercut” the Russian Federation’s man in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro and stirring popular support in Venezuela as well as support and full recognition of capitals worldwide for the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó, now the self-declared Interim President. Much more has been done by Trump, but it is a bit too much to unpack it all here.

What Has Been Putin’s Aim?

Due to Putin’s penchant for doing something untoward, there always the chance that there could be a big falling out between Trump and himself. Indeed, from what is observable, Putin can often behave in ways to negatively impact ties with others. He has a way of making half-turns away from what is correct, just enough to perturb. There is certainly a lot going on behind his eyes. As a result of that negative behavior, he can fall out from one’s senses, away from what one can understand and even believe. In any event, it is not a joyous experience, it is rather the type of experience from which one would reasonably want to escape. Putin certainly does not have friendly thoughts about the US. To make any noise that would sound as if one sympathizes with Putin and his aides and advisers would be to stand on shaky ground. However, it is somewhat apparent how negative circumstances got them to the point they have reached regarding the US and West in general.

In fairness, the Soviet Union was an arrested as well as broken society that never fully overcame the ravages of World War II. Its people doubly suffered by living under the iron grip of an authoritarian government. It allowed them no voice to express the stresses and pains under which they were trapped. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, measures taken by Western experts, many with very bad ideas on fixing the economies of the former Soviet republics, rushed to the Russian Federation’s assistance. They had the effect of creating more pain, more uncertainty, more instability for Russians at all levels. At that point, for the majority of Russians, the US completely lost its claim to compassion as they looked over the damage done to their society via the experimentation of the economic and financial experts. Interregnum, the multinationals exploited the Russian Federation as it tried to reorganize itself. Russian officials stumbled behind the multinationals experts and marketers trying to understand what they were doing with the futile hope that things would turn out for the best. On that basis, one might muse in an objective way that the resentment of many Russians was somewhat justified. Russians, such as Putin, under the notions that their anger was righteous, took things  a step further via their own angry expression of the consequences and humiliations of such a life.  They reject the notion that the West is superior in any way. They do not see evidence that justifies the claim that the US has a superior society, that is such a thing as “American Exceptionalism”. They rejected what they view as geopolitical and metaphysical fluff propagated by the West. Unable to keep the old order intact they invented a copy, equally threatening at home with regard to recognizing the rights of the Russian people, yet unable to project the power of the mighty Soviet Union. Absent also is the struggle to establish global Communism. Still, ensuring that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations, and seeking vengeance when possible became a means to soothe their pride. “Unser ganzes leben, unser ganzer stolz!”

Calling attention to the flaws, shortfalls, and faults of the US did not serve to positively shape their approach to governing the Russian Federation where the abuses of power and the excesses of elites were most apparent. Expert observers of Russia throughout the world would agree too often the government will regularly exceed what is decent. Even today, one stands on dangerous ground in Russia by even questioning the actions of the country’s leadership. Even Putin’s aides and advisers must tremble at his fury. Perhaps they even shudder when misfortune befalls others at his hand. Life can quickly turn from sweetness to bitterness for those who keep company with him. A majority in the US public might stand in utter horror to know what was actually happening in the Russian Federation. Still, regardless of the Russian Federation’so condition, Kremlin officials insist that their country should retain its place among industrialized countries. In the Kremlin, it was believed that the legacy of being a superpower is validates the Russian Federation’s demand to be included among the main powers in the international order. The Kremlin never felt that the Obama administration was willing to view or act toward the Russian Federation, at least while Putin was it’s president, in a way befitting it. Putin seemingly remains infuriated by the idea projected by the Obama administration that Russia should only be allowed the power that the US wanted it to have. Vocal veterans of the Obama administration, former senior appointed officials, continue to speak in such unkind ways about Putin and Russia, apparently unaware of how much damage their line of thinking did to their own policies, and oblivious to the impact their words still have in the Kremlin today. Numquam enim temeritas cum sapientia commiscetur. (For rashness is never mixed together with wisdom.)

Despite efforts by Trump to blunt Putin’s aggressiveness, the Russian Federation President is still left with a say on whether the relationship will be good or bad. One cannot just sit back and hope for the best, to presuppose Putin will eventually become a good partner around the world. Trump must take steps when the best opportunity arises, to better position the US and its interests in the world. Of course the support of sufficient analysis and forecasts of a favorable outcome anchored in reality would be required, too!  It might be too far to claim Putin has a negative intellect through which no logic can penetrate. The sort of figurative crystal ball gazing that caused anyone to believe Trump was being led by the nose by Moscow is not what is needed at all. Along with a strong interest in improving US-Russian relations, there should be a seamless flow of empathy between the two leaders an apparent chemistry. That does not appear exist, and may not possible. If anything, Putin should be the one find such as outcome regrettable, having squandered so much potential for his own country. However, it is equally possible that he could not care less. How proportionate Putin will respond on a matter can best be speculated upon as logic is not always the best yardstick to use with him. (The best example is Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election.)

Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determination of nature and of truth.) Trump will not let his curiosity become the cheese for any trap laid by Putin. Certainly, changing course with Putin, having invested two years in the effort to build better relations, would be disappointing. Such are the pitfalls aspiring to do new things and accomplish more. Abandoning the effort or at least paring it down if satisfactory results in the form of responses from Putin are absent, would be completely in step with the America First policy. For Trump, what the US public thinks and feels and what is best for them will always have primacy in his thinking and decision making. Furthermore, taking on such challenges is what Trump likes to do successfully. When things do not turn out exactly the way he would like, he will at least know that he gave it his best. Assuredly, Trump will continue to take on challenges for the US public as his presidency marches forward. The matador Escamillo’s aria, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”, from Georges Bizet’s Opera Carmen fits Trump’s stouthearted drive to succeed very well: Car c’est la fete du courage! / C’est la fete des gens de co / Allons! en garde! Allons! Allons! ah! / Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador! (Because it is a celebration of courage! / It is the celebration of people with heart! / Let’s go, on guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah! / Toreador, on guard! Toreador, Toreador!)

Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World

US President Donald Trump (above). International Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO have served well in promoting global economic development, international peace and security, and providing responses to threats to democracy and freedom. Still, some countries, sensing they are surrendering a degree of control and power by creating space for the conciliation of such institutions, frequently work outside of them. Doing that well is not easy. Lessons can be drawn from Trump’s efforts at effecting change in other countries’ foreign and national security policy decision making.

Throughout centuries, overwhelming military power, hard power, has been used by empires, countries, tribes seeking to force some modifications in other groups or halt certain actions altogether. Threaded through that history has been the less frequent use of what the renowned international affairs scholar Joseph Nye referred to as “soft power”, the ability to shape the long-term attitudes and preferences of country by using economic and cultural influence rather than force. Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO, have well-served the interests of countries since the postwar era by promoting economic development worldwide, international peace and security, and providing responses to Communist aggression and other threats to democracy and freedom. However, effecting change peacefully since the end of the Cold War has often been a process in which stronger, very capable, sophisticated, industrialized countries, with a goal of “leveling the playing field”, and promoting an Utopian unreality of all countries “negotiating as equals”. Great strain and limitations have been placed on their diplomatic efforts. Indeed, they feel that they have been in a downward spiral in which they are slowly surrendering an ever increasing degree of control and power to create space for the conciliation of international institutions. Hardline political elements of those countries have gone as far as to complain that working through international institutions has resulted in an absolute derogation of their respective countries’ rights and power.In addition, authoritarian regimes have regularly exploited international institutions for their own ends. For example, Cuba and Venezuela, two of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers, sit on the UN Human Rights Council. China exploits benefits of membership in the World Trade Organization while engaging in unfair trade practices to protect its domestic market.

In response to this dilemma, the US and a number of other countries have begun to engage more frequently outside of those institutions in their diplomatic efforts on major issues. They want to better enable themselves to determine outcomes on those efforts. Moreover, as Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, explained in a December 11, 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “With the international order under siege from actors that would remake it in their own illiberal image, the Trump administration is acting to preserve a just, transparent and free world of sovereign states.” Surely, this does not mean that international institutions are not being abandoned. Efforts are being made to reform them. Abandoning them completely would be a terrible miscalculation for their good offices still have purpose in certain urgent and important multilateral, regional, and global diplomatic situations. Rather, as an alternative, countries can cooperate effectually by making themselves the guarantors of their own domestic freedoms and national interests. Once national leaders become involved in bilateral or multilateral diplomacy outside of the auspices of an international institution, they must be a bit shrewder, more incisive, have an optimal situational awareness, and remain truly dedicated to reaching an agreement or resolution as there will be no “middleman” available to referee or mediate. They must be willing to struggle with an idea until its inception, rather than back away from finding a solution because it takes too much effort, energy, and time. Countries may not be able to insist upon negotiating as equals outside of international institutions, but that matter can be overcome by acting with a heightened spirit of goodwill. National leaders and negotiators must ensure that they are empathetic toward an opposite’s circumstances and positions.

Lessons can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but often from what observers might perceive as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. He indeed exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well. By identifying and examining patterns in his efforts, lessons become available. From an out-of-the-box perspective, an abbreviated discussion is provided here of the types of considerations behind Trump’s thinking on four salient foreign and national security policy issues set before his administration: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) denuclearization; Russian election interference in the US; the Russia-Ukraine confrontation in the Azov Sea (Kerch Strait); and, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Khashoggi assassination. The intention here is not to insist that other national leaders should be guided by the meditations of greatcharlie on Trump’s decision making. Rather, the discussion simply outlines what may be some of the new necessities of thinking and reasoning by national leaders and their foreign and national security policy decision makers today as more countries seek to engage in diplomacy outside of international institutions. Further, it is hoped that the discussion here will become part of policy debate concerning the Trump administration. ‘Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. The Singapore Summit was held on June 12, 2018. in the months since, Kim, nestled in Pyongyang, has likely become comfortable. Just thinking now and then about drawing closer to denuclearization and the future Trump presented, likely disrupts that sense of comfort. Calculating what would actually be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country, may make change a less attractive. Encouriaging Kim to move forward may be a challenge for Trump, but not an insurmountable one.

The DPRK and Denuclearization

Given DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un’s apparent temporizing on the decision to denuclearize, critics and detractors of Trump would want everyone aware of the interactions between the US and DPRK to believe that Kim is using the US President to achieve his own ends. However, even if Kim actually feels that there is something more to the idea of denuclearization, surely he would still be hesitant to advance the matter. It would only be natural for anyone to have a bout with wintery feet facing the enormity of the potential undertaking before Kim. In the chambers where Kim and the DPRK’s most senior officials make decisions on foreign and national security policy, innovative and imaginative thinking would hardly be welcomed and denuclearization is likely accepted unenthusiastically. What has been produced there for quite some time has usually been uninspired stuff, aimed primarily at advancing the ideals of the Worker’s Party of Korea . Kim is surely aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the July 27, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits”, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Months have passed since Singapore, Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have morphed into considerable apprehension since. Kim has been comfortably nestled in Pyongyang. Drawing closer to the world that Trump presented, would require Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just ruminating about what would be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country may make it all seem so difficult and thereby a less attractive option.

When mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. They often moved so slowly that during World War II in particular, they became relatively easy targets for dive bombers and torpedo planes. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. Decisions are usually reviewed endlessly, as they seek to advance their organizations’ parochial interests in an optimal way. Indeed, the bureaucracies can suffer the paralysis of analysis. Compromise is usually reached as last resort. Yet, “turf battles” can become so volatile on an issue that often in the end, while there may have been some compromise from the different organizations, no satisfactory decision is made at all, no approach truly beneficial to the country is advanced. Another result can be some composite solution that will be ineffectual in resolving the matter at hand in the best interests of their country. Further, there can be a result in which too many points, most of which were found to be too controversial to settle on in the bureaucratic struggle, are left uncovered, making it virtually impossible to proceed in the best interest of their country on a matter. All of this makes encouraging change in the thinking of another countries foreign and national security policy appear insurmountable. Trump and his advisers and aides have taken all of this into full consideration, and remain confident that the administration’s efforts will lead to success. In fact, it remains a goal in Washington to find a way to get Kim to accelerate his efforts at denuclearization. What they would like to do is create an occasion on which Kim to have a second chance to be in contact with the persuasive and assuring Trump. For Trump, there is a type of voluptuous quality about the entire challenge, as it will require the full use of his capabilities along the lines of excellence. Moreover, Trump has the freedom to maneuver in his own unique and often successful ways in the negotiation process. He does not need to be concerned that an international institution might impose limitations on his ability to make deals. Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.)

As a practical matter, negotiating countries should ascribe probabilities of their opposites’ likely actions and reactions respectively. In that vein, national leaders of the negotiating countries must also be a bit more empathetic of each others circumstances. As the negotiation process continues, direct communication must be used to convey and remind what the expectations are for both sides and respective red-lines on trade-offs that neither side will cross. Nothing does more to prove how vested the other is on an issue when one party absolutely refuses to negotiate on it, even when perhaps minor agreements tied to it are reached in the negotiating process. Every country has lines that it simply will not cross. If anything, those small steps that might be achieved should serve to build confidence on other matters as the negotiations continue. If one country feels unduly pressured or imposed upon, some capitals could react in a disproportionately negative way. One-sided outcomes successfully forced down one party’s throat will not last.  One-sided outcomes, even if consented to by the initiating party will rarely survive over time. This was recently observed with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Paris Agreement of Climate Change.

Months have passed since Singapore. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have possibly morphed into considerable apprehension. The foreign and national security policy machinery of the DPRK, mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with the US, is moving very slowly. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan positions undoubtedly far surpass their “enthusiasm” over denuclearization. 

For Trump, as would be the case for any US president, success in such an endeavor would also depend upon the ability to create an outcome that supports balance in the international order; that is compatible with US values and interests. If the matter at hand is urgent enough, substantial resources and energy will be speedily directed to it. That has been the case with DPRK denuclearization; trade with China; and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. For Trump specifically, there would most likely be a determination to remain stalwart at the side of the US public. Without deviation, he will keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers how he will encourage and initiate the changes he desires. He will also keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers withdrawing from US military commitments overseas. While reelection in 2020 is certainly the goal and the plan, Trump is not in a popularity contest to the extent that he only wants to make the US public happy or get the people to like him. (Many do already.) He wants to do what is best for their true interests, both for the short-term and the long-term. In that respect, Trump cannot always, metaphorically, serve dessert first, but there is always something better coming.

Omnis nimium longa properanti mora est. (Every delay is too long to one who is in a hurry.) As a caveat, one should not become so steeped in the effort to encourage and draw the response from the other side that one would be willing to make concessions that were never even imagined before the negotiation process began. Trading off something a country’s negotiators would prefer not to relinquish, a major concession, may very well be required at some point. It is almost an immutable part of the process of negotiating at the international level. Still, a line must be drawn along the measure at which nothing beyond would be acceptable. To lessen the pain of giving up anything, whatever one might be willing to part with must be determined and enumerated before any diplomatic negotiations begin. When mulling over what to give up, one must use reason to determine what it’s relative value might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. (In that process of determining what would be best to trade versus what might be gained, difficulties can arise internally in many national governments’ foreign and national security bureaucracies.) Concerning the DPRK and denuclearization, the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of the DPRK. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense on where things stand in the DPRK regarding denuclearization. Where explanations are somewhat unclear, there becomes the need to ascribe the probability of success from the interpretations of what has said and even what has not been said during negotiations and in the briefest communications to include pull asides and other less formal discussions away from the negotiating table. Attention would also need to be placed on what is said contemporaneously among officials from the respective countries who may have met on unrelated matters. That would include theories, surmisals, and any offhand comments. When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services.

US Air Force U2 Surveillance Plane (above). When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above.

As greatcharlie explained in its May 31, 2018 post entitled, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”, for intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue will invariably require having agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaissance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants and with a willingness to travel the danger route. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

Trump has no intention of moving down a blind alley. Regarding the use of his “gut feelings”, intimations backed up with the strength of reports and briefings from intelligence community, military, and diplomatic professionals. Supported in that way, such feelings are less guesses than judgments based on the aggregate of all the information received, tied in with an awareness of seemingly abstract pieces of information to form an orderly and coherent perception. During World War II, German military commanders were known for relying on intimations based on what was occurring on the battlefield and perceptions of what the thinking and planning was in the opponent’s command center. Still, in contemplating what Kim might do, the US will do much more than rely on such hunches. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. It will remain vigilant and cautious. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang.

Il ne fait pas l’ombre d’un doute que Trump and his advisers and sides will seek to be read-in on daily assessments, appraisals, and conclusions. Concrete facts, inference, interpolations from data, intimations, hunches based on experience, will all be heard and considered when senior US foreign and national security policy officials meet. Leg work by a secret grey army of US intelligence officers in the region and confirmed reports from agents ensconced naked where detection could mean certain death, serve to confirm possible actions or unsettling activity, even if not immediately threatening, would be rapidly synthesized and provided to decision makers. Those consumers may also have an interest in reading reports from intelligence officers of regional allies and their agents, as well as data streams from technical collection systems of those allies. US allies just might discern something the US might have missed. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections on the DPRK, Trump remains ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with the DPRK cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that the DPRK wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, and bend too much in an effort to understand the uneasiness of Kim’s position. It is most important for Kim to know that.

Trump (right) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). The efforts of Russian operatives were too unnatural, too unusual. Their focus was primarily on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity, and were detected. The fact that Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public was disproportionate to the degree of risk involved with undertaking a political manipulation effort of such magnitude in the US.

Russia’s Ongoing Election Interference

The unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government, the president is required to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. Indeed, in the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction.

To clarify further on the perception of how a candidate will perform differently to satisfy the voter, there must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In some cases, the negative information about a preferred candidate may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins.

Although Russian Federation intelligence services may pride itself in having what it believes to be considerable expertise on the US affairs, it surely is not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. While their studies and observations of the US may have appeared to yield a genuine picture of the broad US political scene, certainly when it came to understanding what was happening in the lead up the 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Presidential Election, they completely missed the mark. An immediate impression is that since Russian analysts lacked points of reference within their own society that resembled what was happening in the US, there was really nothing upon which they could found their interpretations and conclusions. As social media was a main focal point on which Russian operatives sought to inflict considerable damage during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it appears that much of what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene came from popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries propagated on social media by emotional individuals across of the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. The Russians analysts could not discern that what was on social media did not reflect what was going on in the mind of the US public. Basing the interference operation on that sort of failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance. As they performed their mission, the efforts of Russian operatives, being too imitative, too unnatural, too unusual, stood out. It was all nothing more than  a soupy simulacrum of the real thing. Their focus was almost solely on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity. Their efforts  were out of rhythm and rhyme with the stylings of authentic political message of mainstream US political parties. No matter how well Russian operatives may have believed their operation was cloaked, executed, and managed, those who began investigating what was going on could flag their burlesque without too much difficulty. The fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public. The operation’s modicum of success was disproportionate relative to the degree of risk involved in undertaking an extensive political manipulation effort in the US. The interference operation really appears to have been an act of vengeance more than anything else. Passion did not obey reason in the Kremlin.

Added to that, the US intelligence community and law enforcement had the technological means to trace the efforts of Russian operatives all the way home to their headquarters. So successful were the counterintelligence efforts of the US intelligence community and law enforcement that they could determine when and how things happened and who was involved. For example, they acquired complete profiles of those members of the Russian Federation’s Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU involved with the interference operation. They were able to determine the particular role each played in it. Recall that Putin reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, and he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Having observed the US collect such granular information on the operation, it is very likely that Putin had parsed out that someone in Russia’s intelligence services pointed the US in the right direction. He likely began to believe that there was a rotten apple buried somewhere at the bottom of the Russian intelligence apple barrel. One might informally speculate that anger, even rage over the the ability of the US to discover so much might have been one more straw on the pile that has caused Russia to lash out at the West, and those in West’s fold, in ham-handed ways since. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions))

The fact that Russia sought to disrupt the democratic process of the country is what makes the interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election so insidious. A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. This tenuous notion became a story was heavily covered even before Trump’s inauguration, and has received even greater coverage since. The story considered in light of reports from the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, has been posited as the causality for the investigations of the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The reality is that rather finding a national leader as Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about them. In the past year, Trump observed Putin behave in a very disappointing manner. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has closely monitored hostile Russian moves, not only the continued interference in US elections, but also: Russia’s continued interference in the election processes of countries other than the US; Russia’s efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and, Russia’s efforts to tighten its grip on Crimea and the Donbass. As it was explained in the October 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage”, Trump has repeatedly gotten on Putin’s case about the matter, and has publicly insisted that he has done so. Trump also has surely shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world with a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be an honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. It would seem that Trump could publicly snatch Putin’s lunch away, eat it, and pop the bag in his face, and critics would still say he too soft on the Russian leader. There could not be a worse source or gauge of Trump’s interactions with Putin than his critics and detractors.

German troops passing through Ardennes Forest on their way to France in 1940. (above). Trump knows it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirm some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. The failure of consumers to include assessments of situations in their calculations can be unfortunate. Consider how the French military high command failed their government In 1870, 1915, and 1940 by dismissing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments.

Trump knows that it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Predictions concerning an action are made more urgent when commingled with existing impressions of a national government or national leader, specifically, based on behavior both at home and abroad. The consequence of insufficient intelligence analyses, the failure by consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations, can be most unfortunate. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government 3 times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signalling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1918, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signalling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signalling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signalling that the German Army might attempt to move via the the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

A newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffectual.

There were more recent occasions when intelligence was not given primacy required and not sufficiently analysed and integrated in the decision making of a US administration. Boiled down to the bones, in the late summer of 2001, the administration of US President George Bush was remiss in not giving primacy to information indicating the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US. In fact, Al-Qaeda did strike on September 11, 2001. Failing to become overly concerned over warnings of an impending terrorist attack, the Bush administration did not formulate and implement an effectual response to deter or defeat the threat that revealed itself. As explained in the December 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?”, US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced; Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds.

How a US President might proceed at forks on the road on policy concerning, a countries, or group of countries will typically be based on information provided by the US intelligence community. Sometimes, that information will create a clear path on which the president can proceed with a relatively assured step. In cases in which US responses have been ineffectual or simply wrong, there may have been a failure to integrate information that warned that success was unlikely. Sometimes, “The path is smooth that leads on to danger.” If the US public were kept aware of every occasion in which Russia posed a threat or interfered with US interests, and if the US Government were to react publicly to concerns and intelligence reports about Russian activity, certainly the US would have stumbled into war with Russia long ago. Consider for example that the Russians regularly use their satellites to interfere with US satellites as they transit the Earth. That situation is made more challenging by the fact that there is considerable positive cooperation between the US and Russia on space and it would be disadvantageous to tear it apart. In that same vein, an honest assessment must be made of where incidents fit into the bigger picture of vital US interests and the maintenance of international peace and security. At best, the country must rely on a president’s experience and judgment as each incident arises.

Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources.

Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections. Trump can continue to respond to its behavior by keeping the most effective punitive economic measures in place. However, he also knows that Putin, to the best of his ability has thought through the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. He does not at least publicly appear overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against Russian interests and its allies. Beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, Trump has sought to close the door on Russian election meddling activities against the US as best as possible, build a positive personal relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump, a patriotic US citizen, very likely feels some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from his acting in a measured way. Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown, and keeping it going seems a bit barky. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more enabled US intelligence services and law enforcement are to uncover Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. Perhaps he is on the verge of becoming conscious or accepting of that now.

According to Kiev, the confrontation in the Kerch Strait began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard. (The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway separating the Black and Azov seas.) The Russian Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors are now being held in Crimea by Russia.

Russia, Ukraine and the Kerch Strait Incident

Trump came to office with the intention of assuaging the long standing tension and anger that characterized the US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s poor stewardship of it. He did not begin by trying the figuratively test the water nervously with his big toe. With boldness, he jumped right in, attempting to find a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between themselves and their two countries and hopefully as a result, a decent arrangement for interaction could be created. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them. With any luck, Putin would understand and appreciate what Trump has been doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. It has been a bedeviling process. At Helsinki, there was an incident that certainly raised Trump’s antennae. Despite his desire and efforts to make things right, Putin took the anomalous and very awkward step of presenting Trump with an official football from the World Cup saying, “The ball is in your court.” Trump stated that he would give the ball to his son Darren, and tossed it to the First Lady, Melania Trump. One could immediately observe by his visage that Trump would want answers from his team on what Putin’s move was all about.

Although, with some effort, benign intent can be posited to Putin’s presentation of the ball to Trump. The negative side of Putin may have been on full display. It was clear to all who observed closely that Trump’s reaction to the presentation was negative. His countenance revealed disgust and disappointment in Putin. It may very well be that Trump felt vibrations about trouble ahead with him. It was also very surprising because Putin, an acute watcher and listener. should have known by the time he met with Trump in Helsinki that the presentation of the ball would have created more difficulties than inroads with him. Critics and detractors of Putin would surely explain that he did not seek to gain anything from doing such an unorthodox thing and that it was all very characteristic of the Russian President’s churlish thinking. Si animus infirmus est, non poterit bonam fortunam tolerare. (If the spirit is weak, it will not be able to tolerate good fortune.)

The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait makes plain the reality that problems between the two countries are deepening. According to Kiev, the confrontation began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. In addition, Russia scrambled jets and helicopters, and even blocked the Kerch Strait with a barge, closing access to the Sea of Azov. Russia claims the Ukrainian ships violated territorial waters. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 crewmen as have been held as of January 2019 by Russia in Crimea. The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway that serves as the gateway from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. From Moscow’s perspective, it is most importantly, the waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries have the right to patrol the waters in accord with a bilateral treaty. However, the strait is also the site of a new 12-mile bridge built by Russia that cost an estimated $4 billion. Russia has significantly built up its military presence in the region since 2014.

Russian Federation FSB officer (left) escorts Ukrainian sailor (right). Trump indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. In flight, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.”

The incident in the strait alarmed senior US officials. Sharp criticism of Russia’s actions were immediately voiced. For US allies in Europe, the incident was edge of the seat stuff. There were widespread calls for Russia to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured, and some European leaders called for fresh sanctions against Russia. Kiev put martial law in effect for 30 days in Ukraine. The Kremlin scoffed at an appeal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO to reinforce the Azov Sea with naval ships. Russia shrugged off Western pressure. Moscow maintained that the crisis was created by Poroshenko for political gain. When Trump commented on the matter right after occurred, his words fell short of condemning Russia directly by stating: “I don’t like that aggression.” While there was nothing irregular about that, Trump’s critics and detractors, in response, characterized him as being too reticent on the matter. However, the situation was fluid, and Trump wanted to collect all the information available before taking any steps. So profound was his reaction that he reportedly signalled to the Washington Post that he would consider forgoing the meeting with Putin after the incident in Kerch Strait and escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Trump then indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. Early in the flight, however, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.” He added: ““I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Likely swept off their feet over “how well” they were managing their interactions with US and believing that they had a handle on the highly publicized meeting with Trump at the G-20 Summit Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Putin and his whole cabaret of acolytes were caught completely off guard by his decision. Coming down from their overdose of confidence, their immediate concern would reasonably have been what Trump’s move would mean in terms of future Russian interactions with the US. The Kremlin’s worry seemed to be manifested in the attitude and behavior of Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. At the time, his works lacked a usual sense of certitude. There was a noticeable absence of his normal swagger. He presented a less impressive substitute of himself. Early on November 29, 2018, Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the meeting between Trump and Putin would take place December 1, 2018 around noon. He explained, “We are expecting the two presidents to speak briefly at first, but everything is left to the discretion of the heads of state.” He added that “Washington has confirmed.” Agitated by Trump’s tweet, Peskov told TASS Russian News Agency that the Kremlin had not been informed separately by the White House of the cancellation. He made the necessary correction by stating, explained, “If this is indeed the case, the president [Putin] will have a couple of additional hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”

Whatever could have led the Kremlin to think for a moment that they ever had a firm handle on Trump is a bit of a black box. Among the basket of possibilities, one might hypothesize that the vengeful thinking the prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration is now insinuating itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. (Many of former Obama administration officials successfully needle Kremlin’s officials by presenting acidic analyses of Putin’s behavior, antagonistic critiques of Russian foreign and national security policy, and make warlike recommendations on handling Russia for the Trump administration.) There is the possibility that Putin and Kremlin officials, being vexed by Trump’s willingness to bargain on the basis of fairness with them, chose the easy answer of simply continuing to do what they had been doing in response to Obama. There is also the possibility that being unable to understand Trump, and believing that his range of action, ability to do big things, and take on real challenges, was likely restrained somewhat by his domestic political struggles, which they doubtlessly perceive as amusing. If that perchance is the case, there is the possibility that Russian intelligence analysts covering the US political scene have been remiss by conceivably allowing highly politicized commentaries from Trump’s critics and detractors and iniquitous reports in the US news media insinuate themselves in their assessments. It is possible that any penetration by the GRU and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR in the US may simply be collecting: chicken feed; misleading information grabbed because it was within easy reach of officers, sounded plausible, and would look good in Moscow; or, false reports conjured up by delinquent officers just to look good or prolong their postings in the US. (It can happen even in the best intelligence services.) Additionally, Kremlin officials may have decided to simply leave well-enough alone and remain satisfied with stale, derivative analyses that would serve the bureaucratic requirement of producing some product, but inhibits the exploration or exploitation of opportunities for positive engagement with, and actions toward, the US.

Trump did not make contact with Putin on December 1, 2018 at the G-20 Summit. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the leaders stood for a group photo. Still, having studied the the Obama administration responses to very questionable moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. A conversation finally occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires, organized for the national leaders and their wives. Putin told reporters later that they discussed the “Black Sea situation.”

Having studied the Obama administration’s responses to contentious moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. Putin’s reaction to that approach was adverse and disproportionate. Sensing that Putin may actually have a penchant for destroying progress made with the US, Trump would not set him up with the opportunity to do so again. Moreover, Trump saw no need to move up the ladder of escalation for no benefit, for no purpose. Apparently as an expression of his disappointment with Putin over Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait, Trump did not make contact with him for most of the day, December 1, 2018. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the world’s leaders stood for a group photo. Kremlin officials insisted throughout the day that the two leaders would ultimately meet. Finally, the two leaders had an “informal” conversation. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the conversation occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires’ famous Teatro Colón, organized for the national leaders and their wives. As for its content, Saunders stated: “As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.” Putin told reporters afterward that he indeed met with Trump briefly at the event and they discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin further explained, “I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions.”

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s patience has limits. However, he will at least make the effort manage contact with Putin as best as possible to get a successful result. If it should all fall apart, it will not be because of a silly move or the failure to do everything feasible within reason to promote it. Again, Trump is not doing any of this for himself; he has committed himself to this process for the sake of his country and the US public in particular. He will not allow his personal feelings about those he may deal with to get in the way.

Jamal Khashoggi (right) entering the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey. On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the Consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Khashoggi Matter

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere. Before the murder, the Turkish Government had been monitoring a 15-person team that arrived at the consulate on October 2, 2018. That team returned to Riyadh the same day. The Turkish Government reportedly provided US officials with both audio and video recordings that confirm Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.) The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. With the advantage of hindsight, it would appear that the assassination plot was formed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter. On dit, the Khashoggi assassination has also allegedly provided a candid look at how the Saudi Arabian Government has typically quieted voices of perceived adversaries both at home and abroad.

When the furtive “wet work” of an intelligence services is uncovered, the consequences for the national government that sanctioned the mission and it’s operatives, even if they avoided detection and capture if acting in another country, can be severe. This is a unique and not so often discussed area of commonality among national leaders. An affinity could surely develop for others in that same circumstance. Attendant to that affinity is a type of empathy that may insist the one should not be too judgmental or harshly slam another leader, particularly over an intelligence misstep or disaster. That empathy may obviate efforts to claim the moral high road and false claim of innocence after perhaps having similar experience. In international affairs, much as in “ordinary life” only partial version of oneself is offered. The priority of coexistence must be considered in what one might say or do versus what might be gained or lost. Countries may spare the feelings, national pride, or honor of allies and friends or even or avoid provoking or inciting adversaries. To that extent, acting in that way requires a country to circumscribe itself. Typically, a national leader who might sign off on any covert operation will be provided with the ability to plausibly deny knowledge of it. Yet, on top of that, secrecy, albeit deceit, might be used to protect relationship with an ally or friend and to make any act of circumscription by that ally or friend a bit easier.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above). The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. From all news media reports, it would appear that the assassination plot was executed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter.

Any harsh criticism and expressions of deep disappointment conveyed by the US to Saudi Arabia–which most likely have been made by Trump in his telephone contacts with Riyadh early on during the matter–would never be explicit with an ally of such stature. Certainly, Trump did not shy away from the beastiality of the crime. What Trump and senior administration officials tried to do is bring perspective to the matter. On November 28, 2018, then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon reminded reporters that as of the moment he was speaking about the Khashoggi matter: “We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” He further explained that the US still expected those responsible for the killing to be held accountable. In a November 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expatiated on the matter, summarizing the position of the US Government as follows: “The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing, which is fundamentally inconsistent with American values—something I have told the Saudi leadership privately as well as publicly. President Trump has taken action in response. Twenty-one Saudi suspects in the murder have been deemed ineligible to enter the US and had any visas revoked. On Nov. 15, the administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis under Executive Order 13818, which builds on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. We’ve worked to strengthen support for this response, and several countries, including France and Germany, have followed suit. The Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi’s murder come to light.” Pompeo went on the explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally, by additionally stating: “The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the US-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.” Yet, once Trump and his senior officials sought to explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally when discussing the Khashoggi matter, a knee-jerk response of critics and detractors was the hackneyed claim that the US President placed a pecuniary interest in its Middle East ally at greater value than the life of journalist. That claim was stated so often that it became a common observation.

wTrump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (right). An intriguing type of leadership could be seen from Trump on the Khashoggi matter. A US President must keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage, is a role model to much of rest of the world. It is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide. If the US had officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder and that a strong response was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken tough steps against it. 

Through Trump’s decision making regarding the Khashoggi matter, an intriguing type of leadership could be seen in him. A US President in considering how to proceed on a matter, must indeed keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage is a role model to much of rest of the world. As such, the US is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide through its actions. The values and interests of the US, of course, will hold primacy in decision making on a matter, the interests of allies and partners will also be taken into account. In the Khashoggi case, the reality is that the murder occurred in Turkey (although the Saudi Arabian Consulate is technically the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia). As reported, the assassination team that killed Khashoggi came into Turkey through Istanbul Airport and a number of the co-conspirators moved in and around the streets of Istanbul before and after the killing. If the US had immediately and officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the murder and that some form of retribution was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken some type of steps against it. Turkey may very well have acted unilaterally and swiftly, utilizing its military or intelligence services, to punish those who used its country as the site to slaughter an esteemed and welcomed journalist. Turkey would have unlikely felt that it needed the permission of the US to act, just as Saudi officials, at some level, doubtlessly felt that they did not need to confer with or ask the permission of the US to act against Khashoggi.

As for the US role in mitigating Turkey’s likely desire for retribution, it offered not only words exhorting restraint, but also served as an example of restraint. Consider that there was a preexisting animus between Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the Khashoggi murder. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia was angered over Turkey’s support to Qatar and withdraw its troops from the country. That demand caused Turkey to perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat to Turkey’s interests. In Riyadh, Turkey was on the top of its list of enemies. Khashoggi’s murder brought tensions to new heights. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, days after the murder, made a secret offer to pour billions of dollars into Turkey’s economy and ease its hard-line stance on Qatar if Ankara helped whitewash the scandal. Turkey rejected the proposal. Afterward, Turkey allegedly began producing evidence that indicated Mohammed bin Salman was involved. Nevertheless, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan did stop short of accusing Prince Mohammed directly. He would only posit that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lied at “the highest levels” of the Saudi Arabian Government. Turkey’s fresh anger against Saudi Arabia also added to decades of animus toward the Arab World ignited as a result of battles of the Ottoman Empire to maintain order. What happened so long ago remains a big part of Turkish history, culture, and psyche. Indeed, the loss of many young Turkish soldiers in Arabia still touches the hearts of many Turkish families. None of this is to suggest or imply that an anti-Arab strain runs through Turkish thinking today. Nonetheless, given that memories of past wars persist, and the fact that emotions were running very high after the Khashoggi murder, convincing Turkey, free to act on its own, not to act, was not an easy thing to do. Turkey, as the guarantor of its own national interests, made the choice to cooperate effectively with US diplomatically, outside the auspices of an international institution.

Trump has made shrewd, empathetic considerations whenever acting on foreign and national security policy. His judgments have been made with circumspection, and are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he develops his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measures what might be lost versus what might be gained short-term and long-term. A great portion of the US public, watching him, feels assured that all will be fine.

The Way Forward

In Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, King Cymbeline of Britain has married a woman who has made him her puppet. Cymbeline arranges for his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to marry his new wife’s son, Cloten, but she instead marries the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Angered, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. Before he leaves for Italy, Imogen gives him a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. In Italy, Posthumus encounters a Iachimo, who vacuously argues all women are naturally unchaste, and bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Yet, once at the British court, he fails to seduce her. Full of tricks, Iachimo hides in a large chest he has sent to her room; slips out at night while Imogen slept, and steals the bracelet Posthumus gave her, Iachimo returns to Italy and uses both the bracelet and knowledge of the details of Imogen’s bedchamber, to convince Posthumus that he won the bet. Posthumus, furious, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, in Britain, ordering him to murder Imogen. Pisanio, believing in Imogen’s innocence, gets her to disguise herself as a boy and get to Posthumus while he would report to him that Imogen was dead.  On the run, Imogen becomes lost in the wilds of Wales, where she meets Belarius, a wrongfully banished nobleman, and his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Unbeknownst to them, both were actually Cymbeline’s sons. They would later come to the aid of Imogen and to the aid of Britain against the Romans. The audience first meets Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus as their “father”, instructs them on the nuances of a calm life while climbing a mountain. Belarius states: Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; / Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats. Consider, / When you above perceive me like a crow, / That it is place which lessens and sets off; / And you may then revolve what tales I have told you / Of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war: / This service is not service, so being done, / But being so allow’d: to apprehend thus, / Draws us a profit from all things we see; / And often, to our comfort, shall we find / The sharded beetle in a safer hold / Than is the full-wing’d eagle. O, this life / Is nobler than attending for a cheque, / Richer than doing nothing for a bauble, / Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk: / Such gain the cap of him that makes ’em fine, / Yet keeps his book uncross’d: no life to ours. These words, which may appear somewhat cryptic to modern readers, essentially explain that maintaining a balanced, rational view is the best way of examine a situation and will allow for a rational analysis of it. In each foreign and national security policy issue examined here, evidence indicates Trump made shrewd, empathetic considerations as he acted. His judgments were made with circumspection, considering what precedes and what follows, are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he developed his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measured what might be lost versus what might be gained in both the short-term and the long-term. When moving to make changes in the status quo, Trump typically assessed the situation before him much as a half-back in US football searches for openings in the line that may allow him to breakthrough and do some open field running. Trump has also exuded a confidence on the world stage. Trump knows where he is and what he is doing, and a good portion of the US public, watching him work, feels assured that everything will be alright. Presenting oneself as confident and assured in itself is an art of leaders. When taking risks one naturally feels risk. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained of himself: “There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with a child. Once I had made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.”

In each case presented here, Trump, in seeking to manage and influence the actions of other national leaders, was allowed the freedom to act in his own way, and unshackled by what administration officials might call the limitations of an international institution managing some collective action under its auspices. Countries that would like to work effectively outside of international institutions should feign nothing, and make a wholehearted effort at it. As Trump continues to evolve as US President, other national leaders are provided with an example on how they might approach foreign and national security policy decision making for their own countries. Perhaps most leaders would have small interest in the ministrations of greatcharlie on this matter. Of course, there are rarely situations that arise that are so uniform in nature that lessons from one leader would allow a cookie cutter approach to resolving them. However, smart people are able to find solutions to problems. If national leaders would like to work outside of international institutions more frequently, new more thoughtful and empathetic perspectives must be allowed to arrive in their thinking on their diplomacy with other countries.

Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?

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Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (right). Putin wants to keep the Republic of Belarus within his country’s sphere of influence. Yet, due to regional security concerns, Belarus has gained new importance in the West. Lukashenko, once called Europe’s last dictator, is being approached by the EU and US. He has responded by trying to strengthen ties with them. Some Western analysts conclude Putin will not react well to this development. However, Belarus’s ties to the EU could actually enable its ally Russia to circumvent sanctions through a creative trade arrangement.

According to an October 29, 2016 article in the New York Times entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters,” dozens of demonstrators held a gathering in front of the headquarters building of Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB in Minsk to commemorate the 1937 execution of over 100 members of the Belarusian intelligentsia under the orders of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin. The demonstrators also protested continuing repression in Belarus.  The demonstration was not authorized, however the police did not interfere. The annual commemoration provides the Belarusian public a rare opportunity to show disapproval for the government led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Nikolai Statkevich ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 Belarusian Presidential Election and was imprisoned for five years afterward. The New York Times article quoted him as stating: The fear of repression haunts Belarus as before. Today’s authorities are ideological heirs of those times.”

The EU and US now seem to be approaching Lukashenko with outstretched arms. Lukashenko, once the target of profound obloquy in the West and whose government was called “Europe’s last dictatorship” in 2005 by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is now covered with good words to the extent that his past iron fisted actions have nearly been cloaked. Belarus, in response to EU and US overtures, has engaged in a vigorous effort to curry favor and strengthen ties with them. The question of whether Lukashenko can genuinely recurvate westward after being oriented so long toward Russia has been responded to by some EU leaders with rather Delphine statements.

Putin wants Belarus to remain in Russia’s sphere of influence. He wants to keep Belarus in the Central Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Some Western foreign and defense policy analysts would quickly point out that Lukashenko has never been disposed to completely subordinating the interests of Belarus to that of Russia, or of the West for that matter. Pedictably, those Western analysts have concluded Putin, their bête noire, likely perceives Lukashenko as being disloyal, and suggest that he could react aggressively. Such analyses simply signal a fear of Russian military power. They also signal a fear that when the interests of any country in Russia’s sphere of interest is detectably at odds with those of the Kremlin, a “second Crimea” may be in the making. Crimea happened. Putin acted aggressively. However, Crimea should not be the baseline to gauge Putin’s thinking and actions going forward. Putin does not act impulsively; he acts with purpose. He can well-distinguish between what he wants for the moment and what he wants most. Putin does not want to have Russia defined as a rogue country with a military that is nothing more than an army of conquest. Having built solid relations with Minsk, especially with regard to security, for over a score of years, it is hard to imagine Moscow attempting to militarily intimidate or actually attack Belarus over its contacts with the EU. Extrapolations perpetuating such notions are counterintuitive. In fact, Putin has hardly reacted. He may very well recognize some potential in his ally’s new EU contacts for Russia to circumvent economic sanctions via a creative trade arrangement.

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Belarus is a 207,600 square kilometer, landlocked country, bordered by the Russian Federation to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. When Putin took office, he viewed Russia’s relations with Belarus as unsatisfactory and improved them. Belarus’s strategic importance to Russia increased following regional events such as NATO’s creep into the post-Soviet space, and the “Color Revolutions.” Belarus and Russia have had a few political and economic rows. Still, the two countries are staunch allies.

Belarus: In Brief

The Republic of Belarus is a 207,600 square kilometer, landlocked country, bordered by the Russian Federation to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk. While the borders of Belarus were set at the end of World War II, they were shaped mostly when some territory of the Second Polish Republic was reintegrated into them after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. During World War II, Belarus lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The Soviet Union redeveloped the republic in the post-war years. On July 27, 1990, the Parliament of the Belarus declared the republic’s sovereignty, and on August 25, 1991, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared itself an independent country. Since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the President of Belarus. His leadership was widely criticized in the West. Lukashenko perpetuated a number of Soviet-era policies, to include state ownership of large sections of the economy. For years, political opposition was violently suppressed. Elections in Belarus were declared rigged by the international community.  The country’s rating under The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index was the lowest in Europe until 2014. Freedom House assessed Belarus under Lukashenko as “not free.”  It was labelled “repressed” in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. In the Press Freedom Index for 2016 of Reporters Without Borders, it was ranked 157th out of 180 countries.

Belarus’s Ties to Russia

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the newly formed Russian Federation tried to control the post-Soviet space by creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 8, 1991. However, Belarus, much as other republics in the CIS, began drifting away from Russia, which at that time was attempting to cultivate Western relations and save its broken economy. In the early 1990s, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was concerned that his country’s involvement with Belarus might put its bridge building efforts with the West at risk. Yet, while Russia was fixed on improving relations, Western capitals discerned Russia’s inability to act effectively. NATO began to expand east. Stung and threatened by what he perceived as an effort by the West to isolate it from the European environment by grabbing up Central and Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics, Yeltsin sought to improve ties with Belarus. Relations between the two countries became so congenial that in the mid-1990s, following Lukashenko’s rise to power, Yeltsin concluded Belarus would be an ideal candidate for integration with Russia. After signing the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation with Belarus, Yeltsin declared that “the two nations [had] shared a common historical experience over many centuries.” That, he explained, “created the basis for signing the treaty and other documents on deeper integration of our two countries. Among all CIS countries, Belarus has the greatest rights to such a relationship due to its geographical location, its contacts with Russia, our friendship and the progress of its reforms.” One year after April 2, 1996 when the integration process was launched, the Union of Belarus and Russia was established. It culminated with the founding of the Union State between Belarus and Russia on December 8, 1999. When Putin took office, he determined that the status of the relations with Belarus was unsatisfactory and criticized the Union State Treaty. He sought to put real content into it. He formulated a policy genuinely directed at realizing unification. His proposal was to complete unification either in a federation model which meant that Belarus would join the Russian Federation, or build a union which is similar to the EU. However, Belarus rejected those approaches and there was no change. Still, Putin did not abandon the idea of unification completely. The next goal became integration. The strategic importance of Belarus to Putin increased as a result of international events, to include. NATO’s activity in the post-Soviet space; the decision of many Eastern European countries to orient westward; a US plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland or the Czech Republic; and, the “Color Revolutions.”

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Russia’s share of Belarus’s international trade is 48 percent. In 2015, $17.1 billion in Russian exports went to Belarus. More than half of Belarus’s purchases from Russia are in crude oil alone–reportedly $9 billion in 2015. Disagreements over profits and payments from the energy trade led to the Gas Wars of 2004, 2007, and 2010. In the 2010 row, Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev and Russian energy giant Gazprom claimed Belarus owed Russia $200 million in gas arrears for that year. Belarus demanded transit fees owed by Russia. The matter was resolved and went away.

Considering that integration with Belarus would be costly, it is reported that Moscow sought to maximize gains from it. Its goals became to reduce the economic burden which Belarus laid on its economy, and to take over Belarus’s energy transit infrastructure. That tack spurred many of the political and economic rows. Among those conflicts was a disagreement that arose when Lukashenko accused Russia of offering a $500 million loan to Minsk on the condition that it recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Lukashenko angrily retorted that the position of Belarus was not for sale. Regarding the close military cooperation between Belarus and Russia, Lukashenko compared Belarus’s population of 10 million people as a human shield for Russia against the West. That service, he said, “was not free.” The Milk War erupted in July 2009 when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, explaining that they did not comply with new regulations. Belarus accused Russia of using the ban for political reasons, but Russia denied that. In a statement presented by his press service, Lukashenko lashed out, stating: “Economy serves as the basis for our common security. But if Belarus’s closest CSTO ally is trying . . . to destroy this basis and de facto put the Belarusians on their knees, how can one talk about consolidating collective security in the CSTO space?” Lukashenko acted by refusing to attend the 2009 CSTO summit in Moscow. The CSTO, Putin’s counterweight to NATO, groups Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in a security arrangement. Shortly afterward, Russia lifted the ban and Belarus resumed importing of dairy products to Russia. Additionally, there were the Gas Wars of 2004, 2007, and 2010. In the 2010 Gas War, a dispute arose over a claim by Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev and Russian energy giant Gazprom claimed that Belarus owed $200 million in Russia gas arrears for supplies it had used that year. Belarus then demanded transit fees owed by Russia. A resolution was found and the matter quietly went away.

The EEU is an economic integration bloc of post-Soviet republics. It succeeded the erstwhile Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in January 2015. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joined the EEU later that year. The bloc coordinates policies of its member states in key industries. In that spirit of coordination, the argument between Belarus and Russia over the price of natural gas was resolved, although the two sides have apparently not yet reached a consensus on the scale of the price discount (if any) or the mechanism of its delivery to Belarus. Russia’s share of Belarus’s international trade is 48 percent. In 2015, $17.1 billion in Russian exports went to Belarus. More than half of its purchases from Russia are in crude oil alone–reportedly $9 billion in 2015. Of Belarus’s overall exports, 39 percent is directed to Russia. Those imports from Belarus totaled only $10.4 billion. For the most part it sells Russia value-added goods in return. Aside from trucks and industrial machines, Belarus sells processed foods. A network of Belarusian grocery stores operates in major Russian cities.

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Above is an assembly line at the Minsk Motor Plant. Nearly a third of Belarus’s overall trade is with its second largest trading partner, the EU. Belarusian exports to the EU are dominated by mineral fuels. Chemicals, agricultural products, machinery and textiles form a much lower share. While the EU has withdrawn trade preferences for Belarus, the potential to greatly expand trade exists.

The Strong Military Linkage Between Belarus and Russia

Although there have been some setbacks in the political and economic integration of Belarus and Russia, the military-integration process between them has been successful. Cooperation with Belarus fits snuggly within Putin’s vision for geopolitical order in the post–Cold War world. Putin has never accepted the expansion of the EU and NATO into Central and Eastern Europe. It was practically guaranteed that Putin would push back against what he might call an intrusion into Russia’s near abroad. The near abroad is what Moscow refers to as the territory surrounding Russia’s borders. The term was reportedly popularized by former Russian Federation Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev in the early 1990s. For centuries, Russia has sought to ensure its physical security through its control over neighboring territory. For Putin, the term represents a concept akin to the Monroe Doctrine.

On February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “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 has 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 that 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.

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Belarus (shaded in green), Russia (shaded in violet), and their neighbors. Providing a glimpse of the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation, on February 14, 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, explained the depletion of oil, gas and other natural resources will become an ultimate world crisis by 2030. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade Russia from several directions to grab its land and resources. Lukashenko insists that Belarus will remain part of Russia’s defense.

Ubi concordia, ibi victoria! (Where there is unity, there is victory.) To a great degree, Russian and Belarusian regional security approaches have been harmonized. Lukashenko has pledged that Belarus will be an integral part of the Russian Federation’s defense. Indeed, he has gone as far as to say that the army of Belarus, the modernization of which was nearly completed, was ready to defend Russia’s western border. According to RIA Novosti, Lukashenko declared: “We, together with the Russian people, the Russians, will defend our common homeland in the highly important for Russian western direction. We will be dying in this direction to defend Belarus and Russia.” Lukashenko has referred to the Belarus population as 10 million human shields in the defense of Russia. Lukashenko further stated that the Belarusian Army will be able to show resistance to any aggressor.  Prior to those statements, Lukashenko told the Belarus Parliament that he would not allow the country’s opposition to depict Russia in the image of an enemy. Lukashenko declared to the Belarus Parliament: “The Russians are our brothers, with whom we have been living for a very long time.”

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Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). 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. Shoigu announced that massive military exercises would be held by Russia and Belarus in 2017 to rehearse their joint defense against the West.

A New Military Doctrine for Belarus

Following deliberations in the Belarusian Parliament, Lukashenko signed a new edition of the country’s military doctrine into law. While the doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, it is hinted in no uncertain terms that NATO is its most likely adversary. Indeed, according to Paragraph 11.3 of the doctrine, direct military threats to Belarus include “the expansion (or creation) of military-political alliances in the European region in which the Republic of Belarus is not included,” and attempts by such alliances to carry out “global functions.” Meanwhile, Paragraph 11.4 alludes to the threat posed by “the strengthening of the offensive capabilities of states (or coalitions of states), including the unilateral establishment of strategic missile defense systems, precision-guided weaponry equipped with non-nuclear warheads for attacks against the military forces and infrastructure of the Republic of Belarus,” and other measures “leading to a disruption of the existing balance of forces, as well as the building up of military infrastructure by states bordering Belarus.” There is an emphasis on the dangers of “missile defense” and cruise missiles disrupting the existing balance of forces in the region. (The new doctrine surely refers to NATO and the ongoing buildup of its’ forces in Eastern Europe, including US missile defense system deployed in Romania and Poland.) In addition to direct military threats, the new Belarusian military doctrine discusses military-political, military-strategic and military-economic threats to the country. When presenting an earlier draft of the doctrine for parliamentary deliberation, Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Andrei Ravkov explained that “a particular emphasis was placed on the negative trends associated with the development of the concept of ‘Color Revolutions,’ and mechanisms aimed at changing the constitutional order and violating state’s territorial integrity by provoking internal armed conflicts.” Those mechanisms would include the use of private military forces, and “hybrid warfare.”

Months before the new doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko, while discussing priorities for the armed forces on October 31, 2015, directed his government to focus on developing special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems. Those military elements are best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering efforts of adversaries and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations both in urban areas as well as the countryside. Minsk harbors suspicions that an effort might be afoot to topple Lukashenko. It views Ukraine, not Russia, as a possible hybrid warfare threat.

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Belarusian troops (above). Following deliberations in Parliament, Lukashenko signed Belarus’s new military doctrine into law. The doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, but it is apparent that NATO is deemed the greatest military threat. Accordingly, Lukashenko declared: “We, together with the Russian people, the Russians, will defend our common homeland in the highly important for Russia western direction. We will be dying in this direction to defend Belarus and Russia.”

A New Military Doctrine for Belarus

Following deliberations in the Belarusian Parliament, Lukashenko signed a new edition of the country’s military doctrine. While the doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, it is hinted in no uncertain terms that NATO is its most likely adversary. Indeed, according to Paragraph 11.3 of the doctrine, direct military threats to Belarus include “the expansion (or creation) of military-political alliances in the European region in which the Republic of Belarus is not included,” and attempts by such alliances to carry out “global functions.” Meanwhile, Paragraph 11.4 alludes to the threat posed by “the strengthening of the offensive capabilities of states (or coalitions of states), including the unilateral establishment of strategic missile defense systems, precision-guided weaponry equipped with non-nuclear warheads for attacks against the military forces and infrastructure of the Republic of Belarus,” and other measures “leading to a disruption of the existing balance of forces, as well as the building up of military infrastructure by states bordering Belarus.” There is an emphasis on the dangers of “missile defense” and cruise missiles disrupting the existing balance of forces in the region. (The new doctrine surely refers to NATO and the ongoing buildup of its’ forces in Eastern Europe, including US missile defense system deployed in Romania and Poland.) In addition to direct military threats, the new Belarusian military doctrine discusses military-political, military-strategic and military-economic threats to the country. When presenting an earlier draft of the doctrine for parliamentary deliberation, Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Andrei Ravkov explained that “a particular emphasis was placed on the negative trends associated with the development of the concept of ‘Color Revolutions,’ and mechanisms aimed at changing the constitutional order and violating state’s territorial integrity by provoking internal armed conflicts.” Those mechanisms would include the use of private military forces, and “hybrid warfare.”

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Belarusian special forces in training (above). In the new Belarusian military doctrine, emphasis is placed on trends associated with the development of the concept of “Color Revolutions,” and methods aimed at provoking internal conflicts to destabilize the country and violate its territorial integrity. A year ahead of the doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko directed his government to further develop special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems: elements best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations.

Months before the new doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko, while discussing priorities for the armed forces on October 31, 2015, directed his government to focus on developing special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems. Those military elements are best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering efforts of adversaries and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations both in urban areas as well as the countryside. Minsk harbors suspicions that an effort might be afoot to topple Lukashenko. Officials there view Ukraine, not Russia, as a possible hybrid warfare threat.

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The EU welcomed Lukashenko’s desire to have Belarus play a constructive role in the region by hosting four-party peace negotiations on Ukraine, as well as his decision to maintain political distance from Russia over Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey. The EU called for further human-rights advances by Lukashenko. EU ministers have encouraged Belarus to develop a “vibrant civil society” with more freedom for the media. They have held out the prospect of more trade, economic aid and fast-tracked visas for Belarusians traveling to the EU. Still, many wonder if Lukashenko’s efforts are authentic.

Minsk and Brussels: A Rapprochement?

Some experts have said that it was Lukashenko who began making overtures to the West following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, considerable economic troubles in Belarus, and a degree of instability in Eastern Europe. He managed to grab the attention oF EU leaders in a positive way when he decided to free a number of political prisoners and host multiparty mediations in Minsk for the cease-fire in neighboring Ukraine. EU governments, claiming that they based their decision on content and merit of Lukashenko’s efforts, suspended sanctions on Belarus’s leaders in October 2014. In February 2015, EU foreign ministers terminated sanctions, removing asset freezes and travel bans on 170 officials, including Lukashenko. Three Belarusian companies were also taken off the EU blacklist. The EU maintains an arms embargo and sanctions against four people suspected of being involved in the disappearance of dissidents in the 1990s. Lukashenko responded by intensifying fence mending efforts with the West. As of late, Belarusian diplomats have been pouring considerable energy in enhancing their country’s relations with the West, hoping to capitalize on Belarus’ newfound importance for regional stability. Their approach is bicameral. On the one hand, they seek to develop bilateral cooperation with specific EU countries. On the other hand, they want to develop cooperation with the EU as an institution focusing on the Eastern partnership, a dialogue on modernization, and visa issues. Lukashenko’s current perspective of the EU appears to be reflected in his statements in favor of dialogue with it.  On March 5, 2016, Lukashenko explained: “The Europeans . . . are ready to cooperate with us, including for the sake of security in Europe. We say to them that we’re always open to [talking].” EU and US delegations continue to visit Minsk, but results have been thin. The US has expressed hope not only for improved cooperation on trade, but also on non-proliferation and combating human trafficking.

Praetio prudentia praestat. (Prudence supplies a reward.) Commenting on Belarus, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, remarked, “This is clearly not a rosy or perfect picture . . . but when we see significant, even if limited steps, in what we feel is the right direction, we feel it is right to encourage them.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of the “beginnings” of a thaw with Belarus, and concluded, “It’s worth testing in such a situation how much willingness and reciprocity there is on the Belarus side.” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told reporters, “This is an experiment.” He went on to state: “As a neighbor of Belarus, we are pleased as we hope this will improve relations with the EU and of course with Poland.” While the EU leaders allege they had no intention of prying Belarus from Putin’s hand, that nonetheless was viewed as possible. The EU called for further human-rights advances by Lukashenko. Indeed, in a statement, the EU ministers encouraged Belarus to develop a “vibrant civil society” with more freedom for the media. They held out the prospect of more trade, economic aid and fast-tracked visas for Belarusians traveling to the EU. Lukashenko will take what is offered, but what he really wants from EU countries is financial assistance. Belarus’s international reserves are at the lowest since 2011. Although there has been some direct private investment from the US in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow given the uncertain pace of reform. The US has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the program of macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures. As of this writing, the International Monetary Fund is still deciding whether it should provide Belarus with a $3 billion, 10-year loan.

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Above are Russian “green men” in Ukraine. In the West, every new statement, every move by Minsk concerning its armed forces, has taken on additional significance in the context of Belarus-Russia relations.  Western analysts still insist that Belarus faces the threat of hybrid warfare from Russia. They conclude that Moscow will monitor Belarus’s improving relations with the West, looking for any signs of a serious loosening of ties with Russia.

Are Problems Between Belarus and Russia Becoming Inexorable?

Ad connectendas amicitas, tenacissimum vinculum est morum similitudo. (For cementing friendship, resemblance of manners is the strongest tie.) At the Third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions on June 9, 2016, Putin explained: “In a collaborative effort, Russia and Belarus work to deepen integration processes in Eurasia. As members of the Union State, we are carrying out about 40 programs and are jointly developing advanced technology programmes, primarily, for the aerospace industry, satellite navigation, geological exploration, and agriculture.” Putin further stated: “We are forming the Eurasian Economic Union’s common market for goods, services, capital, and labour, thereby facilitating sustainable economic growth of the member countries and enhancing the competitiveness of our producers on domestic and foreign markets.”  

Some interesting statements have been made by Belarusian officials concerning their country’s security relationship with Russia. There is the example of Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov, who, speaking on February 23, 2016, stated that security of the country relied also on military cooperation not only with Russia and members of the CSTO. He also underlined Minsk’s “strategic” military cooperation with China and “aspiration to develop a constructive dialogue with NATO in order to strengthen international and regional security.” An interview of Belarus’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei with the Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita, on October 17, 2016, has been called significant because it was titled “We Are Not Dependents of Russia.” In the West, every new statement, every move by Minsk concerning its armed forces has taken on additional significance in the context of Belarus-Russia relations. When Shoigu announced that a “joint military organization of the Union State” would be created starting in 2016, including notional unification of the two countries’ armed forces, it appeared Belarus-Russia military ties were further strengthening. Yet, in the West, it was viewed by some analysts as a unilateral statement by Russia, and an effort to save face and show the world that the relationship was still intact. Western analysts note that there was no comment from Belarus on the joint military organization of the Union State. There is a perception in the West that Russia routinely announces joint initiatives with Belarus which have not been endorsed by Minsk. When an announcement of a joint air defence system was made in Russia, Belarus did not comment on it, at least publicly. Reportedly, that same week, Belarus TV broadcasted an extended feature on the country’s Air Defense Troops without once mentioning the new military agreement with Russia. Although the general in charge of the Belarusian Air Force has been nominated as the commander for the “joint system,” Western analysts saw the move simply as a face-saver for Minsk. The lack of reaction by Belarus was said to signal Minsk’s disapproval of the effort by Moscow to control the provision of its security. When Belarus needed to purchase modern fighter aircraft to upgrade its ageing air force, Moscow announced instead that Belarus would be hosting a Russian airbase. Western analysts insist that Moscow pressured Lukashenko for the airbase. However, he insisted upon and arranged the aircraft purchase.

Alter ipso amicus. (A friend is another self.) Some Western analysts have concluded that Russia will observe Belarus’s improving relations with the West, looking for any serious threat to its ties. Yet, that idea conflicts with the reality that Putin considers Belarus to be an integral part of Russia’s geopolitical and cultural space. Moscow has invested heavily in preserving and increasing its influence in the country. Lukashenko has no plans to have Belarus abandon Russia. If some drop in the strength of Belarus’s ties to Russia has occurred, it is negligible.From 2008 to 2010, Putin neither acted violently nor took a hostile tone toward what he perhaps regarded as a recalcitrant, yet typical Lukashenko, with his dalliance toward the West and he has no intentions of reacting aggressively toward Belarus now. Putin knows Lukashenko could never stand by wistfully in the face of Russian decisions impacting Belarus. Putin would never allow Russia to be directed by a foreign capital either. Clashing with Lukashenko is the last thing Putin would want. This may especially be true because Belarus might be able to provide Putin with the possibility to overcome EU sanctions related to Ukraine.

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Moldova, just as Belarus, is not subject to EU sanctions. Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin has proposed that Moldova allow Russia to move its goods into a “European zone” in the pro-Russia autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia as a way for Russia to circumvent EU imposed sanctions. As long as Belarus is not subject to sanctions and the EU is open to trade with it, hypothetically, Russia could move its goods into Belarusian territory, and then have the its goods sold to the West as Belarusian goods, thereby escaping restrictions.

Putin’s Possible Move Regarding Belarus?

US and EU sanctions against Russia over Crimea’s annexation will not go away unless Russia returns the region to Ukraine. Russian Federation Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev remarked at a press conference on November 11, 2016, “Our position is that sanctions will remain unchanged.” Just as the Baltic States were never recognized as part of the Soviet Union by the West. Crimea will always be recognized as part of Ukraine, not Russia. As it was explained in the September 30, 2016 greatcharlie.com post entitled “Putin’s Next Target May Be Moldova, But His Goal Is to Increase Trade, Not Conquer via Military Action,” Russia is well-aware that cooperation stimulates economic growth and higher standards of living on both sides of a border by improving conditions for free trade and exchange. Inter-border cooperation is understood to be a prerequisite of broader integration processes and improving relations between neighboring countries. It can serve as a mechanism for coping with the challenges and jolts resulting from the new divisions created between EU and EEU countries.

As long as Belarus is not subject to sanctions and the EU is open to trade with it, hypothetically, Russia could move its goods into Belarusian territory, and then have its goods sold in the West as Belarusian goods, thereby escaping restrictions. Much as with oil and gas pipelines, Belarus would essentially serve as a relay or refining point for Russian goods targeted for Western markets. For that to even become a possibility, it would certainly be in Russia’s interest to see Belarus improve its relations with the EU, particularly with regard to trade and investment. Belarus could be handsomely remunerated with percentages of profits made or perhaps with greater subsidies on imports of Russian resources. There are certainly limits to the level of Russian products Belarus could absorb for sale to the West. Resale of Russian goods at value added prices would murder the project. Russia certainly could not attempt to move goods into EU countries via Belarus at a level equal to anything it might achieve by trading with them directly. Moscow and Minsk would surely set parameters for the bilateral deal. However, the smallest level would surely be far more than Russia could sell as long as sanctions are in place. Trading an EEU partner’s goods externally in this manner may very well be covered in the economic bloc’s trade provisions. Beyond profit, benefits of this trade arrangement would include: the preservation of Belarus’ brotherly relationship with Russia; Lukashenko’s would have no need to be concerned that the sovereignty of Belarus and its interests were not being respected; and, collective arrangements with Russia such as EEU and CSTO will remain intact. Indeed, Belarus would remain in Russia’s sphere of interest. Note that Belarus is among the few states in Europe that has not asked for membership in the EU. While Belarus has strove for better contacts with EU lately, it has simultaneously sought to further its economic and political ties with Russia.

In many ways, this hypothetical trade arrangement between Belarus and Russia would resemble the creative arrangement Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin proposed for trade with Moldova. Moldova is not subject to EU sanctions. Thus, theoretically, Russia could move its goods into a proposed European zone in Moldova via the pro-Russia autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia and avoid restrictions. A trade arrangement of this type between Belarus and Russia would also resemble the Outward Processing Trade regime that the EU introduced for Belarus. That regime raised import quota amounts for textiles and clothing manufacturers within the EU thus allowing them to produce garments in Belarus that will return to the EU after processing. Additionally, the arrangement would resemble the somewhat awkward way in which some Belarusian firms have been relabelling food from EU countries and selling them in Russia thereby avoiding Russian sanctions. Probae est in segetem sunt deteriorem datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent. (A good seed, planted even in poor soil, will bear rich fruit by its own nature.)

What Might Encourage Putin and Lukashenko to Take This Course?

What might encourage Lukashenko and Putin to seek this arrangement is the fact that after Russia, the main trading partner of Belarus is the EU. Nearly, a third of the country’s overall trade is with the EU. That trade could most likely be expanded with a nuanced cultivation. Belarusian exports to the EU are dominated by mineral fuels. Chemicals, agricultural products, machinery and textiles form a much lower share. While the EU withdrew its trade preferences to Belarus under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences in 2007 in response to Belarus’ violations of the core principles of the International Labour Organization, exports from Belarus to the EU did not cease. The decision only required Belarus to pay import tariffs at the standard non-preferential rate. Trade was also promoted through the Outward Processing Trade regime,which was mentioned earlier.

Lukashenko stands on terrain high enough to survey the liabilities involved in moving closer to the West. Voices in the West have indicated that not all are impressed with Lukashenko’s positive words and a perceived unwarranted rapprochement to Belarus. Even when EU ministers decided to lift most sanctions against Belarus in 2015, they said concern remained “with the situation of human rights in Belarus.” Ministers called on Minsk to abolish the death penalty and implement Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) recommendations on democracy before the 2015 Belarusian Parliamentary Elections. An OSCE report said October’s election showed Belarus had a “considerable way go to” on democratic standards, noting the absence of safeguards against multiple voting, limited choice available to voters and the uneven playing field between Lukashenko and his political opponents. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Mikloś Haraszti, stated after the 2015 Belarusian Presidential Election that he had seen no changes in “the dismal human rights situation.” Drawing the EU closer to improve the position of Belarus and in turn improve the trade situation for Russia, would require Minsk to engage in very nuanced interactions with Brussels and EU capitals. Lukashenko and Putin would also need to be concerned that in working to soothe EU concerns over human rights and good governance, they might inadvertently trigger EU leaders to request that Lukashenko step down from power to ensure Belarus would be governed by an authentic pro-EU, pro-democracy leadership. That request could soon become an insistent voice for regime change.

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Drawing the EU closer to improve the position of Belarus and in turn improve the trade situation for Russia, would require Minsk to engage in very nuanced interactions with Brussels and EU capitals. However, Lukashenko and Putin would also need to be concerned that in working to soothe EU concerns over human rights and good governance, they might trigger EU leaders to request that Lukashenko step down from power to ensure Belarus would be governed by an authentic pro-EU, pro-democracy leadership. That request could soon become an insistent voice for regime change.

The Way Forward

In William Shakespeare’s comedy, All’s Well That Ends Well, Helena, a physician’s daughter, chooses to marry Bertram, a man of high social position in the French court, but he rejects her love. In response, Helena engages in a plot to wed Bertram by employing what has come to be known as the “Bed Trick.” As she begins to execute her plan in Act 3, Scene 7, Helena states: “Why, then tonight, Let us assay our plot: which, if it speed, Is wicked meaning in lawful act; Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact: But let’s about it.” A trade arrangement between Belarus and Russia as outlined here will likely cause discomfort for those who reasonably demand compliance with imposed sanctions. There is nothing inherently wrong with finding and exploiting a loophole in a regulation, business contract, or sanctions. One must have the will to seize the opportunity.

As the leader of a world power, Putin fully understands that his policies should make the Russian people hopeful for the future, not anxious or intimidated. Negative outlooks only advertise the limits one has. Reacting negatively to growing Euro-Belarus ties would not be useful. Inter-border cooperation has greatly assisted in harmonizing domestic policy priorities and international and regional security issues between Belarus and Russia. Inter-border cooperation between Belarus and Russia, albeit from different perspectives, is a prerequisite for improving the relations of both countries with the EU. (The EU is drawing closer to Belarus due to the nature of its ties to Russia. Russia may move closer to Belarus to exploit its improved ties to the EU.) Belarus is already a priority for Russia’s diplomatic, military, political, and economic resources. If Putin senses that he can, with Lukashenko’s cooperation, exploit the rapprochement between the EU and Belarus to circumvent imposed sanctions, that tack could eventually be accepted by Moscow as a mechanism for coping with problems stemming from the divisions between EU and EEU countries. 

Putin’s Next Target May Be Moldova, But His Goal Is to Increase Trade, Not Conquer via Military Action

cq373omweaey4-xA September 16, 2016 Wall Street Journal editorial explained the West should give greater concern to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Moldova. It points to a referendum in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria calling for annexation by Russia. That referendum along with recent political unrest and mass protests (as seen above) make Moldova appear ripe for conquest. Russia is trying to create greater ties in Moldova, but its efforts should not be misconstrued as a prelude to hybrid warfare. Western analysts must overcome the predilection of viewing any Russian moves westward as a step toward war.

According to a September 13, 2016 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “Putin’s Next Target,” while Western attention has been fixed in Ukraine as the field of Russian aggression in Europe, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is turning its attention to Moldova, where Moscow controls a breakaway territory called Transnistria. The editorial explains that a referendum was held in Transnistria on the 10th anniversary of its establishment in which 97.3 percent of residents demanded to be annexed by Russia. Transnistria’s president, Evgeniy Shevchuk further marked the occasion by issuing a decree asking Russia for full annexation, and announcing the formation of a committee to provide a plan for the harmonization of Transnistria law with Russian law by November. The Wall Street Journal editorial says the matter bears attention “less another Russian power play comes to pass.”

While the editorial notes Putin has been reticent about the decree, it also explains Putin has been flexing his military muscles in Transnistria. Drills were conducted by the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping force in Transnistria both in 2015 and 2016. Although Moscow promised in 2002 to remove its contingent of about 1,000 peacekeepers they remained in the territory. The Wall Street Journal surmises that those exercises and Shevchuk’s annexation decree may indicate Putin is testing the climate in the West for a potential next move. In response the Wall Street Journal says US and European leaders must telegraph that any effort to make permanent Russia’s occupation of Transnistria will be treated as an illegal encroachment on Moldovan sovereignty and trigger sanctions.

Evidence may exist within certain parameters to support the view of the Wall Street Journal that Moldova might be ripe for Putin’s taking. Western analysts, who think in line with the Wall Street Journal, have expressed concern that a prospective effort by Russia to take Moldova would come in the form of hybrid warfare—the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure. In addition to maintaining forces on Moldovan territory, for almost a year, pro-Russian political parties who receive support from Moscow, albeit along with considerable support from pro-EU, pro-Romanian parties, helped to organize mass anti-government protests which in 2015 and 2016 have involved tens of thousands of participants. The protests started after the three Molovan banks that had kept social security funds somehow lost $1 billion prior in November 2014. Pro-Russian political parties have also played a part in organization anti-government demonstrations, particularly in 2016. Throw on top everything the fact that Moldova as one of the poorest European countries has to deal with the pressing issues of overwhelming poverty, corruption, an inefficient legal system and widespread workforce migration to Russia and the EU. It may very well be true that Putin senses the West now lacks the determination to forcefully ensure its interests. Perhaps the West is doing less than it should to dissuade Russia from acting wherever it sees fit. Former Soviet republics and new Member States of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe fear the military might of Russia.

There are a number of analysts in the US and EU who have surmised that for the near future Russia will exercise restraint due to its weak economy, isolation from the West, and concerns that it would over-commit its military forces. Still, far more sense they have the advantage over Russia, and express a degree of certainty over what Putin’s intentions are. Concerning Moldova, that may account for what colloquially would be called a knee-jerk response to a more nuanced situation. The predilection of analysts to view any moves by Russia westward to establish greater political, economic, or military ties to a country as a prelude to war must be overcome. That will allow for more rationale policy approaches and more efficacious moves by the US, EU, and NATO. Acclinis falsis animus meliora recusat. (The mind intent upon false appearances refuses to admit better things.)
moldaviaMoldova was carved from Romania’s Bessarabia Province in 1940 by the Soviet Union as a consequence of its non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. After declaring its independence from the Soviet Union, power shifted between the Communist Party which has sought a strong linkage with Russia, and pro-Romanian, pro-European parties which have advocated for EU membership. Since 2009, efforts have been made to move westward, but a final choice on which way to turn has not been made.

Moldova: In Brief

In 1940, Moldova was carved from Romania’s Bessarabia Province by the Soviet Union as a consequence of its non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939. Since then, Moldova has been home to three main ethnic groups, Moldovans, Russians, and Ukrainians. When Moldova became an independent country, power shifted between the Communist Party which has as a custom sought a strong linkage with Russia, and pro-European parties that have advocated for EU membership. In 2009, pro-European parties took firm control in Chisinau, and in 2014, Moldova signed of an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade to deepen political ties with Brussels and gradually integrate Moldova into the European Common Market. Exports increased, the economy grew, and, in response to reforms, including improving human rights, Moldovan citizens were entitled to travel visa-free into the EU. However, corrupt politics and a confusing, mazelike, parliamentary structure made it nearly impossible for Chisinau to recurvate in order to meet the requirements of EU ascension. After those initial days of change, little was done after to open up the country’s economy and its institutions. Moldova remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. Low incomes cause hundreds of thousands of Moldovans to seek a better life abroad.

Many Moldovans still look to the EU for answers. It accounts for the fact that the majority Moldovan voters in the past three parliamentary elections since 2009 have opted for liberal, pro-Western, and albeit, pro-Romanian governments. In that vein, many officials in Chisinau see Romania as a vital counterweight to Russian influence. Bucharest is generally recognized on the international stage as a representative of Moldova’s interests in the network of international organizations, as well as a source of financial air and the know-how necessary for the implementation of reforms. However, other Moldovans instead believe prosperity lies with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. The gap between social and political forces in the country progressively widened. Both sides seem to have temporarily united in response to the average Moldovans’ resentment toward the elite, the oil oligarchs. The disappearance of $1 billion from the country’s banks stoked that frustration. It well-illustrated the failure of Moldova’s leaders to protect their citizens’ interests. The news spread and caused the depreciation of the local currency, the leu.  Price increases and soaring interest rates were accompanied by the loss of purchasing power of the local population Official sources report that in 2015, the average salary in Moldova was just $250. Public finances were battered by the bail-out required to stabilize the banks. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.

street_marketMoldovan street vendors (above). In 2009, pro-European parties took firm control. in Chisinau, and in 2014, Moldova signed of an EU Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade to deepen ties with Brussels and integrate Moldova into the European Common Market. Exports increased, the economy grew, and, in response to reforms, including improving human rights, Moldovan citizens were able to travel visa-free into the EU. Yet, after those initial days of change, little more was done to open up the country’s economy and institutions. Moldova remains one of Europe’s poorest countries.

In the spring of 2015 citizens already fed up with the disappearance of $1 billion from Moldovan banks, corruption, poverty, and immigration problems for twenty-five years since the breakaway from the Soviet Union, engaged in large-scale protests country-wide. The protests were organized in the Dignity and Truth Platform Party that was established in February 2015, particularly in response to the theft of funds from the banks. Dignity and Truth, has been led by lawyers, journalists, and members of Moldovan civil society. It sharply has criticized the authorities and simultaneously has supported the formation of an authentic pro-EU reformist government and pushing for the country’s EU integration. One protest was attended by over 100,000 citizens. Most recently, in August 2016, tensions boiled over during Moldova’s Independence Day parade.  Protesters clashed with police in the capital. One protester lamented: “We decided to celebrate this day in the manner because we do not at all feel free. People are poor, people leave the country. Those who have recently stolen a billion dollars from us, organize military parades, waste millions from the budget on it, which essentially means from our money in time crisis.”   Protesters also expressed anger against oil oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc’s influence in the government and called for early elections.
_85409796_028900060-1Mass protest in Chisinau, September 2015 (above). In Moldova, citizens already frustrated by corruption, poverty, and immigration problems for twenty-five years since the breakaway from the Soviet Union, engaged in large-scale protests country-wide since the spring of 2015. The protests were organized in the Dignity and Truth Platform Party that was established in February 2015, particularly in response to the theft of $1 billion in funds from the banks. Protests had included as many as 100,000 citizens. Tensions boiled over recently over Moldova’s 2016 Independence Day parade.

Moldova’soon Independent Republis: Transnistria and Gagauzia

Transnistria is located on the eastern side of the Dneister River and 450 miles along the Moldova-Ukraine border. The Slavic element of Russians and Ukrainians constitute nearly 60 percent of Moldova’s population. They speak Russian or Ukrainian or both. When the Moldovan Parliament ruled in 1989 that the official language of the republic was to be Romanian (Moldovan) written in the Latin script, and gave five years for non-Romanian citizens to learn it, Russian and Ukrainian speaking population of Transnistria registered their disapproval There was a sense that pan-Romanian nationalism was on the rise. That was when Transnistria region declared its independence from Moldova. Moldova rejected that declaration and engaged in a two year campaign to retake the territory. What followed was a series of clashes between the sides, culminating with a violent armed conflict into which the Russian Federation 14th Army, based in Moldova, was drawn in on the side of the breakaway republic. Two years later Moldova proved unable to retake the territory in a war that killed 1,500 people The number of war refugees was approximated at 120,000 and 150,000.   Transnistria emerged as a pro-Russian statelet. To maintain peace and security in the territory, a joint command structure and tri-lateral peacekeeping force, comprised of Russian, Moldovan, and Transnistrian units were established following Transnistria peace settlement on July 21, 1992,  In 1998, 10 Ukrainian observers joined the peacekeeping force. The Russia still maintains 1000 peacekeepers in the territory despite a 2002 promise by Moscow to remove them.. Since 2005, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU, the US, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Moldova and Transnistria have been engaged in a “5+2” process aimed at bringing the conflict between Moldova and Transnistria to an understanding consistent with Moldova’s territorial integrity while providing a special status for Transnistria

In 1990, fears that Moldova might seek to unify with Romania led the region to declare its independence, calling itself the Gagauz Republic, even before the Transnistria conflict erupted. Moreover, unlike Transnistria, fighting never broke out in Gagauz. A 1994 compromise between Chisinau and authorities in the Gagauzia’s capital, Comrat, led to the creation of the autonomous region of Gagauzia within Moldova. Initially, Moldova’s law on the status of Gagauzia gave the region the right to declare independence should Moldova “lose its sovereignty,” at the same time, meaning seek unification with Romania, but a 2003 amendment to the Moldova constitution abolished that right. declaring Gagauzia a “constituent and integral” part of Moldova. The Gagauz are Orthodox Christian people of Turkic origin who settled in the region nearly 800 years ago and are linguistically, ethically, and culturally distinct from their Moldovan, Romanian, and Ukrainian neighbors. Gagauzia, along with the remaining territory known as Bessarabia, became part of the Russian Empire following the Russo-Turkish War from 1806-1812. While other parts of the eventual Soviet Union saw a decent amount of ethnic integration, over 80 percent of the territory’s population remains Gagauz. Still, it’s population of 160,000 represents about 5 percent of Moldova’s total population. Gagauzia is not actually a congruous region. It includes all areas of Moldova in which the Gaguaz are over half the population, as well as parts of the country that have joined Gagauzia by referendum. Gagauzia’s boundaries have gone through several revisions since 1994. occupying just 5 percent of Moldova’s territory.
moldova-transnistria-gagauzia-mapTransnistria is an unrecognized republic which was declared in 1990. With Rusia’s assistance, it managed to prevent Moldova from reclaiming its territory in the War of Transnistria in 1992. Since the war ended, the Russian Federation has stationed 1000 peacekeepers there. Fighting never broke out in Gagauzia and Russia has no troops there. A 1994 compromise between Chisinau and local authorities in Comrat led to the creation of the autonomous of Gagauzia within Moldova. With a population of 160,000, it is a non-contiguous territory occupying 5 percent of Moldova’s territory.

Moldova’s Neighbors: Romania, Ukraine, and Russia

Since great portions of Moldova’s population are ethnically associated with its neighboring countries, neighboring governments have established lines into Moldova. Besides its traditional goals of consolidating its own position within the EU and NATO and bolstering its partnership with the US, Romania for years has declared that Moldova is a priority of its foreign policy. Romania’s policy aims toward Moldova include reinforcing its neighbor’s position within the system of Western institutions and improving its international linkages. In that vein, Romania has also tried to prevent any attempt to deepen Moldova’s integration in Russian structures, primarily the Eurasian Economic Union. That requires Bucharest to achieve its aims at the political and diplomatic levels, but also by increasing economic ties with Moldova.

Often the notion of Moldovan-Romanian unification is discussed by Romanian political leaders, However, for now, that is unrealistic for political, economic, and social reasons. In Bucharest, politicians would lose power and most would be deprived of career prospects, and established political and business interests would be jeopardized. Romanian policy towards Moldova, and by extension the two countries political relations, are most often shaped, among other factors, political pragmatism resulting from the desire to win the support of the Romanian electorate. Romania has managed to play a generally positive role in drawing Moldova toward Western structures and has been effective in its actions, its effectiveness in other areas of bilateral cooperation has been negligible. The technical support that Bucharest has provided is less than necessary, and infrastructure projects have been seriously delayed as a result of problems in coordinating actions among relevant ministries. This has led to a large breach between Bucharest’s frequent declarations of support for Moldova and actual results. Indeed, Romania has not implemented a coherent strategy toward Moldova. Its policy has essentially been a function of domestic, not foreign policy. Bucharest’s political objectives are often subordinated to rivalry among Romanian political parties.acba38cb4c3725a54cd1663c51b7d537

Moldova (shaded green above) and its neighbors. Romania for years has declared that Moldova is a foreign policy priority. Its policy aims for Moldova include reinforcing its position within Western institutions and improving its international links. Ukraine and Moldova have unresolved bilateral issues include long lasting property issues related to resorts inherited from the Soviet Union, a hydroelectric station, and an issue of border demarcation. Russia views Moldova as an integral part of its geopolitical and cultural space and invests a great deal in preserving and increasing its influence in the country.

For the Ukrainian government, relations with Moldova have been overshadowed by Kiev’s relations of with the US, the EU, and Russia. Chisinau has had to repeatedly deal with Ukrainian officials and experts who have perceived Moldova as being too small to influence regional developments and too weak to shape the agenda of the bilateral relations. However, such an approach has been proven false for a number of reasons. Despite Moldova’s diminutive size, relatively weak economy, and limited influence in the region, the Moldovan government is tough in negotiations. Bilateral issues that remain unresolved between Ukraine and Moldova include long lasting property issues related to resorts inherited from the Soviet Union, a hydroelectric station, and an issue of border demarcation. Left unresolved, these issues could potentially harm joint efforts for European integration, influence the 5+2 (Talks on the Transnistria conflict settlement, and joint participation in the regional projects,

Regarding Transnistria, since 2014, Ukraine has massed heavy weapons on the border with the statelet to deter the launch of a military campaign from it. Kiev gas also imposed limits on the transit of Transnistrian nationals and citizens of Russia, 200,000 of whom currently live in Transnistria. There are 500,000 ethnic Russians in Transnistria. When appointed in June 2015, the Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region Mikhail Saakashvili announced plans to reinforce Ukraine’s border with Transnistria. He stated at an Odessa news conference, “We have two major tasks—to reinforce the border and curb corruption. Drugs and weapons trafficking across the border means nothing good.” He also blamed Transnistrian authorities of destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal’s assay of the Russian Federaton’s Moldova policy was correct to the extent that it explained Moscow wants Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence. Putin wants Moldova to join his Eurasian Economic Union and not the EU. He considers Moldova to be an integral part of Russia’s geopolitical and cultural space and has invested heavily in preserving and increasing its influence in the country. It uses elements of soft power to gain control of assets and political opinion support.   Russian authorities can also manipulate Moldova through its dependence on Russian policies on gas supplies. Within the Russian speaking population of Moldova, sentiment has ostensibly been manipulated through the idea of Russkiy Mir (Russian World). True, the Moldovan heritage is not Slav. Still, Sovietization and Russification had an impact on the identity of many Moldovans.
630xnxd78c0b1-zelenye-chelovechki_628x420-jpg-pagespeed-ic_-xxvmhyzuga1“Green men” in Crimea (above). Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the explosion of violence in the Donetsk and Luhansk, exposed the challenge Chisinau faces in maintaining its border and interpreting Russia’s actions and intentions. The Wall Street Journal editorial noted Putin has been flexing his military muscles and testing the climate in the West for a potential next move. Considering this, it would not be completely unreasonable for Chisinau to consider that Moldova might be facing the threat from hybrid warfare.

The Hybrid Warfare “Threat” to Moldova

Accensa domo proxium, tua quoque periclitatur. (When the house of your neighbor is in flames, your own is in danger.) Moldova’s leaders do not speak to Russia with timidity, but they are realists concerning the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two counties, and signal that understanding in their measured actions. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the explosion of violence in the Donetsk and Luhansk, exposed the challenge Chisinau faces in maintaining its border and interpreting Russia’s actions and intentions. The Wall Street Journal editorial noted Putin has been flexing his military muscles and testing the climate in the West for a potential next move. Given these considerations, it would not be completely unreasonable or unwarranted for Chisinau to consider the possibility that Moldova might be facing the threat from subversion and insurgency, characteriistic of hybrid warfare. Elements of the tactic include::

A de-legitimization media campaign:

  1. The population’s preferences are influenced by altering their perceived needs

The political subversion stage:

  1. Front groups are created to gain public credibility
  2. The country’s institutions—particularly military and law enforcement—are infiltrated.
  3. Governmental power is corroded by fomenting riots, staging violent demonstrations, and generally igniting civil unrest.

The final stage:

  1. Legitimate power is replaced by the capture of government buildings by force and local law enforcement and military units are disabled.

Moscow has already punished Moldova for seeking closer ties with the West. Import bans were placed on Moldovan wines in 2013 and agricultural products in 2014, each time over health regulations and each time close to Moldovan EU summits and accords. New restrictions on remittances that Moldovan workers in Russia send home have also hampered economic growth. Remittances represent over 30 percent of Moldova’s GDP and up to 65 percent of them come from Russia. Once the Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement were signed with the EU in June 2014, prices of imported gas from Russia rose. Moldova is heavily dependent on imported energy and the Russian state-owned Gazprom is its main supplier of gas. To reduce Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas, a pipeline was constructed between the Romanian town of Iasi and Moldova town of Ungheni. Although the pipeline was ready for use, Chisinau, seemingly concerned over displeasing Moscow, announced in November 2015 that it had extended its gas contracts with Russia for another year. There are fears that tensions between the pro-Russia population and the pro-Romania Unionist which support reunification with could also make Moldova vulnerable and could provide Russia a plausible justification to intervene. Russian media which is widely available in Moldova, serves as a soft power instrument for wider dissemination of Russian official propaganda and anti-Western messages.
victory-day-transnistria-1-680x365-1Transnistrian troops on parade (above). Transnistria’s leaders in Tiraspol say Moldova and Ukraine have conspired to keep their country under an economic blockade. Russia accuses Moldova and Ukraine of squeezing Transnistria. Kiev denies any systematic actions against Moldova except suspending military cooperation after Moscow annexed Crimea and began supporting rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Still, Kiev has built up its forces on its border with Transnistria. Transnistria has mobilized its army reservists between 18 and 27. Its forces have participated in exercises with Russian Federation forces since 2015.

In his speech at the Munich Security Conference on February 13, 2016, Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev referred to the political crisis in Moldova as a major threat to European security.  Many nfluential Western politicians are of the same opinion. On August 10, 2015, Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, referred to Moldova as “an occupied state” and pointed out that the country could become the next issue for EU security. He stated: “Many in Moldova worry that Transnistria could become the next Crimea, an anxiety that has been further fueled by appeals for Russian protection from some of the province’s civic groups.”  Despite protests from Chisinau, in April 9, 2015, Russian forces conducted a drill in Transnistria. According to Russian news agencies, 400 Russian troops participated in exercises in Transnistria. They fired 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Again, on August 2016, Russian Federation forces stationed in Transnistria held a tank drill in the territory. Some Western analysts went as far as to say such exercises were intended to create the impression that Putin might take more dramatic action to subdue that defiant country. Western analysts also allege Putin was sending a warning to Moldovans to abandon their dreams of Western integration.

Russia accuses Moldova and Ukraine of squeezing Transnistria. Kiev denies any systematic actions against Tiraspol other than the suspension of military cooperation that followed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and actions in eastern Ukraine. On June 12, 2015, Ukraine moved troops toward its border with Transnistria. Alarmed, Transnistria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vitaly Ignatiev stated, “the situation here is very bad . . . Economic production is going down, foreign trade is shrinking, the security situation is equally alarming with our Moldovan partners holding military drills with NATO and the Ukrainian pressure mounting everyday.”  Transnistria’s leaders believe Moldova and Ukraine have conspired to keep their country under an economic blockade and have mobilized their republic’s army reservists between 18 and 27.

If Moldova faced Russian military intervention, it would unlikely be able to successfully respond. In terms of preparations by Chisinau, Moldovan forces initially began conducting a series of exercises ostensibly to prepare for a possible Russian attempt to seize its territory following Russian actions in Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk. Those exercises, however, convinced few in Moldova that the country was at all prepared to efficaciously defend itself against hybrid warfare or any other type of attack. Those efforts made seemed more than anything else to be examples of “pokazuhka.”   In the Soviet Union, pokazuhka referred to performances by units designed by military commanders to create the appearance of troop combat readiness to impress superiors and gain commendations. Beyond such  window-dressing style training, Moldovan forces lacked military hardware, spare parts, fuel, munitions, body armor, food supplies, and light anti-tank weapons. The defense budget has been kept at $30 million, hovering between 0.3 and 0.6 GDP for the last several years. What Moldovan forces need to know is how to fight in densely populated urban and rural areas, train in the calibrated use of artillery avoid the self-destructive act of demolishing their own country’s infrastructure, and train to fight in an environment in which their opponent would restablish air superiority.
1026752708To prepare for possible Russian aggression, Moldovan forces initially began conducting a series of unilateral exercises. Those exercises, however, convinced few that Moldova was at all prepared to efficaciously defend itself against hybrid warfare or any other type of attack. Moldova soon received opportunities to train with NATO troops. Still, training and assistance to Moldova will be limited because it is not a full NATO member.

To help Moldova, a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, on July 25, 2015, about 800 troops from Moldova, the US, Romania, Poland, and Georgia took part in a joint military exercise in at the Balti military base in Moldova. The aim of exercise known as Joint Effort 2015 was to test the capabilities of the countries’ armed forces to cooperate. Moldova has since hosted additional military exercises since. Indeed, as part of the on-going cooperation between US and Moldovan defense forces, US, Moldovan, and Romanian troops conducted exercise Fire Shield 2016, a combined small arns, artillery training exercise at the Bulboaca Training Area, Moldova. The purpose of the exercise is to improve interoperability, explore concurrent training opportunities, and conduct safety training. Yet, training as well as assistance to Moldova will be limited because it is not a full-fledged NATO Member State. Moldova might receive some critical non-lethal equipment such as counter-battery radar, secure communications, and tactical drones. NATO could also intensify the training of Moldovan military forces in territorial defense However, none of that will truly make Moldova capable of deterring possible Russian aggression.

Pro-Europe national leaders in Chisinau pray to be part of the EU and NATO, but that possibly will not come right away. Granting Moldova NATO membership now, albeit hardly a possibility, or in the near future, may pose a set of problems that other member states may not ever want to deal with. Some in the West may even oppose arming Moldova, calculating that doing so would only cause Russia to inject more military forces in Transnistria. All of this means Chisinau should not feel certain of the US and EU commitment to help protect Moldova’s sovereignty and rights as an independent country. The administration of US President Barack Obama has indicated that the present and future challenge of US foreign policy is no longer to isolate and defeat an existential foe as Russia. Rather, it is creating a sustainable balance of power that advances the US interests by preserving peace and security and fostering collaboration among geopolitical rivals in addressing global transnational threats. It is difficult to assess how a new US administration will respond over Moldova.

Moldova: A False Positive for Hybrid Warfare Today

A false positive is an error in an evaluation process which leads one to conclude that a given condition has been fulfilled when it actually has not been fulfilled.  Russia certainly has exerted pressure on Moldova, but that may only be part of an effort to strengthen its diplomatic hand, not an overture to war. Russia is well-aware that cooperation stimulates economic growth and higher standards of living on both sides of a border by improving conditions for free trade and exchange. Russia believes that can be achieved by investment and integrating the region into the communication and transportation networks of its Eurasian Economic Union. Inter-border cooperation is understood to be a prerequisite of broader integration processes and improving relations between neighboring countries. It can serve as a mechanism for coping with the challenges and jolts resulting from the new divisions created between EU and Eurasian Economic Union countries. Domestic policy priorities and international and regional security issues can be harmonized through it. Inter-border cooperation can also serve to promote minority rights.
_87815849_3fc5bfe4-2a04-4658-9538-bea913051fcfIn July 16, 2016, Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip held important meetings with Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin in Moldova. The aim of the meeting was to tackle the bilateral cooperation agenda. Rogozin offered a proposal for invigorated contacts between Chisinau and Tiraspol that would allow for normal relations, “above all in economics.” They discussed the division of Moldova into zones of influence,” one looking toward the EU, the other looking toward the Eurasian Economic Union.

Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin made a two-day visit to Moldova on July 6, 2016, during which he had important meetings in Chisinau with Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip. The aim of the meeting was to allow the two officials to tackle the latest developments concerning the main elements on the bilateral cooperation agenda. Reports indicate Rogozin came at the invitation of Filip.  Filip emphasized Moldova’s interest in boosting the trade and investment relations with Russian partners and in particular, in the integration of Moldovan goods export to the Russian market. The Transnistria conflict settlement was also an important issue on the meeting agenda. Rogozin and Filip expressed support for the 5+2 talks, and welcomed the resumption of the discussion in this format. Additionally, the two officials discussed aspects of their countries’ cooperation in the migration sector, as well as in the cultural and humanitarian fields. They recognized the need to promote more governmental programs on developing ties in these cooperative areas.

Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci. ([He] has gained every point who has combined [the useful with the] agreeable.) More detailed reports of the meeting between Rogozin and Filip, however, paint a more intriguing picture Rogozin explained Russia wanted to see invigorated contacts between Chisinau and Tiraspol aimed at a return to normal relations, “above all in economics.”   What the two officials most importantly discussed was the de facto division of “zones of influence” one looking toward the West and the EU and one looking toward the East and the Eurasian Economic Union. The formally unrecognized Transnistria and the autonomous Gagauzia would be part of the eastern zone. The arrangement would also allow for the free movement of people and goods between them and to the broader communities of which each is a part. Further, the division of zones of influence would ostensibly spread to all areas of life, including information policy and civic freedoms. Activities that would be perfectly legal in one zone in Moldova could possibly result in arrest in the other.
017627776_30300With regard to trade with Moldova, Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin has presented a proposal to Moldova that would result in a creative arrangement for Russia. As Moldova is not subject to EU sanctions, theoretically, Russia could move its goods into a proposed European zone in Moldova via Transnistria and Gagauzia and thus escape restrictions. Simultaneously, the territories would become points for the expansion of the Russian world. Given the need to ensure that those territories remain part of Moldova, Moscow would hardly consider annexing Transnistria or Gagauzia.

With regard to trade with Moldova, Rogozin proposed a creative arrangement. Moldova is not subject to sanctions. Thus, theoretically, Russia could move its goods into a proposed European zone in Moldova via Transnistria and Gagauzia and escape restrictions. Simultaneously, the territories would become points for the expansion of the Russian world. Since Russia would need to ensure that those territories remained part of Moldova, Moscow would hardly consider annexing Transnistria or Gagauzia. Interestingly, after meeting with Filip, Rogozin went into Tiraspol without the usual complaints from Chisinau about visits of Russian officials to Transnistria. Rogozin, for his part, did not meet with pro-Russian opposition figures or mention any broader political settlement. For some analysts, this has created the impression that in the course of preliminary meetings, Moscow and Chisinau had firmly agreed about the proposed economic arrangement

Since that visit by Rogozin to Moldova, Chisinau has implored the West to help provide relief from pressure by Moscow.  Filip stated on August 16, 2016, “Through elections and international agreements, we have steadfastly chosen the Euro-Atlantic community as our inspiration and destination, and the current government is dedicated to securing our EU path. Moscow is none too pleased, and that is why we need the help of Washington and other Western capitals to solidify our transition from several decades of communism into a free-market economy.” In coming presidential elections, Moldovans will make a choice whether to stay on the pro-Western path toward the EU or more closer to Russia’s orbit

The Way Forward

In Act II, Scene ii of William Shakespeare’s comedy, Trolius and Cressida, Hector, the Prince of Troy, a fierce warrior, and leader of the Trojan armies, states: “Modest doubt is call’d The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches To the bottom of the worst.” Searching for the worst, one might consider that if things do not go Russia’s way in Moldova’s coming presidential elections, Moscow could begin to quietly provide enhanced economic support to Transnistria and Gagauzia. That aid might take the form of a considerable amount of Russian rubles to encourage greater purchases of Russian goods. That aid might initially be cloaked. It could also continue to provide humanitarian aid using truck convoys. Russia could provide financial support to pro-Russian separatist political organizations. To encourage ethnic-Russians to remain in Transnistria and Gagauzia, Russia may assist directly in the infrastructure improvements in those territories, as well as focus on the construction of new schools, churches, community centers, and infrastructure projects that meet the needs of those communities. At the same time, Russia could enable pro-Russian separatists in Transnistria and Gagauzia as a hedge against any attempts to reverse gains made. Separatists could be enabled to defend themselves with training from Russian military advisers perhaps acting covertly and they could also be provided with new Russian armaments. Russia would unlikely withdraw its forces in Transnistria and could possibly increase the measure of those forces to create the capability to rush into restive Gagauzia if any fighting began there. It is easy to postulate such theories on possible moves by Moscow, they are unlikely to be observed in Moldova.  A decision against Russia’s interests in Moldova will not create an ultimate crisis for Moscow. The wisdom exists to resist war.

Nihil est incertus volgo. (Nothing is more uncertain than the favor of the crowd.) Moldova’s sovereignty is as important an issue in coming elections as the country’s economic future. Paramount in considering Rogozin’s proposal is that it would not only establish the defined interests of Moscow, but would also preserve Moldova’s unity, solvency. Despite imperfections in the proposal, it might best serve Moldova’s interests for the moment. To an extent, Rogozin’s proposal represents an effort at compromise by Moscow. Unable to bring all of Moldova into its Eurasian Economic Union, it seeks to create spheres of interest. It may very well be a signal from Moscow that it intends to stick with diplomacy to resolve its issues with Moldova. Despite veiled threats from some senior Russian Federation officials and apprehension among Moldovan officials, Chisinau signed the Association Agreement with the EU in 2014. Moldovan officials now appear somewhat concerned over Russia’s reaction to a possible vote by Moldovans to remain on a western track in coming presidential elections. If they vote to go West, it ironically may prove to have been Moscow’s adherence to a diplomatic tack on establishing zones of influence that created enough breathing space for them to feel unafraid to do so.

Big Guns in East Ukraine Fall Silent: Will the Donbass See Peace or Surreptitious Moves by Putin?

Pictured above is a sniper from the Azov Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine on the front line in the Donbass. The Azov Battalion is a far-right neo-Nazi all volunteer infantry unit, armed by Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. The vicious fighting seen in the Donbass, Putin’s record of moves elsewhere, and portrayals of him cast doubt that peace can be found in the region. However, the prospect for peace still exists.

According to a September 1, 2015 Reuters article entitled “Big Guns in East Ukraine Fall Silent, Two More Die from Wounds in Kiev,” a fragile ceasefire agreed to by the Ukrainian Government and pro-Russian separatists on August 26, 2015, appears to have held. The agreement appealed to the human side of the belligerents, required a halt in fighting in recognition of the start of the school year on September 1st. The Minsk Agreement, signed on February 12, 2015, was supposed to have established just such a ceasefire once signed. However, following its signing, a succession of violations reportedly occurred in both the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts—administrative divisions—in which artillery and other weapons were used. Both sides accused the other of violations in which Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatist fighters were killed. The September 1st ceasefire was arranged under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The three-party Contact Group, which includes representatives of the Ukrainian Government, the Russian Government, and pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk hammered out the document.

The Minsk Agreement represents the beginning of the real peace in the Donbass region. Its terms include: an immediate ceasefire; a buffer zone separating heavy weapons of both sides, with a minimum buffer zone of 50km for 100mm artillery and up to 140km for rockets; effective verification by the OSCE; amnesty and release of all hostages and illegally detained people; safe access, storage, delivery, and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy; restoration of government pensions and other welfare payments for civilians in the east; the restoration of Ukrainian control of the banking system in areas affected by the conflict, pull out of all foreign military formations, military equipment, and mercenaries from Ukraine under OSCE monitoring; the disarmament of illegal groups; full Ukrainian control over the eastern border, after local elections under Ukrainian law and a constitutional deal on the future of Donetsk and Luhansk by the end of 2015. For now, the contested areas will remain “bricked in.” The direction which the region may turn will be determined either by the US, EU and Ukrainian Government, intent to keep all of the Donbass in Ukraine, albeit with part of its population reluctant to live under Kiev’s control and by Russia and pro-Russian separatists intent on establishing the region’s independence and aligning it more closely with Moscow. What nettles the US, EU and the Ukrainian Government, now committed to a westward orientation, is the considerable effort they say Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has invested in grabbing territory in the Donbass and eventually all of Ukraine as it sits in Russia’s “near abroad.” To them, Putin has created something from nothing that preexisted: contemptuous murmurs against Ukrainian identity, language, and national symbols suddenly became rebel yells for secession. They feel Putin now has additional space in Ukraine from which he can exert his influence in the region. (The US, EU and Ukraine claim Putin illegally swallowed up Crimea in 2014.) Conversely, Putin insists the administration of US President Barack Obama caused the conflict in the Donbass. He remarked after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry on May 12, 2015, “They [the US] should not have supported the anti-constitutionalists’ armed coup that led to a violent confrontation in Ukraine, a civil war in fact.” He also views US efforts in Ukraine as part of an attempt to isolate Russia. Facinus quos inquinant aequat. (Guilt equates all who share in guilt.)

Members of Putin’s comitatus such as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov have reportedly expressed the same sentiment that Russia is only acting in response to Western behavior toward it. Now that the parties appear to be adhering to the Minsk Agreement’s terms, and after a year and half of extremely violent battles and firefights, Moscow would unlikely use the same “hybrid warfare” approach—the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure—seen in Crimea, or some other military approach to capture the remainder of Donetsk and Luhansk. Due to the Minsk Agreement, Putin is no longer encumbered by having to do everything in secret. Putin may engage in diplomatic moves and decisive action in the Donbass akin to that seen in Georgia to gain firmer grip on pro-Russian separatist held territory.

In 2008, pro-Russian separatists in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia, along with Russian Federation troops, fought a war for independence against the Georgian Government. Once peace was established between the warring parties by then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Russia occupied the two rebellious regions and continues to do so today. Russia also recognized their independence. There was little Georgia could do to recover the regions, yet it had the support of the US, and the EU. On March 3, 2015, a Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration was signed, effectively granting Moscow control of South Ossetia’s foreign policy, border, and security. In November 2014, Putin signed a similar accord with Abkhazia entitled the Russia-Abkhazian Agreement of Alliance and Strategic Partnership which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the breakaway republic. When the Russian-South Ossetian agreement was revealed, the EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Federica Mogherini declared, “The agreement undermined efforts to strengthen security and stability in the region.” She further stated, “This ‘treaty’—which includes references to a transfer of powers in some areas—clearly violates Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Some observers believe the treaty set the region up for annexation by Russia. Most recently, pro-Russian separatist security forces moved border fences in the South Ossetia and Abkahzia further into Georgia’s territory.  By parsing out the events observed in South Ossetia alone, a possible approach Putin might use in the Donbass is revealed. Three main steps of that approach could include: 1) securing territorial gains via humanitarian assistance; 2) legitimizing independence and Russian influence via “diplomacy”; and, 3) quiet expansion.

Above is a satellite image of Russian Federation weapon systems being moved into Ukraine. The US, EU, and Ukrainian Government accuse Russia of arming pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donbass. Given the Minsk Agreement, Putin would unlikely use the “hybrid warfare” approach seen in Crimea. He will no longer need to do things in secret. Putin may engage in diplomatic moves and decisive action to gain a firmer grip on the Donbass.

Securing Territorial Gains via Humanitarian Assistance

Et genus et formam Regina Pecunia donat. (Money like a queen bestows both rank and beauty.) In addition to economic support provided by Kiev to Donetsk and Luhansk in the near term under the Minsk Agreement, Russia may provide a considerable amount of aid in Russian rubles to the Donbass, perhaps initially cloaked. It could also continue to provide humanitarian aid using truck convoys. Russia could provide financial support to pro-Russian separatist political organizations. To encourage ethnic-Russians to remain in Donbass, Russia may assist directly in the reconstruction of ethnic-Russian communities, focusing on the robust reconstruction of schools churches, community centers, and infrastructure projects that meet the needs of those communities. Comparable aid would likely fail to reach ethnic-Ukrainian and other communities not linked to, or falling within the territorial lines of, the pro-Russian separatist movement. Nations aligned with Russia could be encouraged to provide recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent regions. Russia could enable pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk to defend themselves even better with new Russian armaments and training from Russian military advisers acting covertly given that under the Minsk Agreement, the two regions remain the sovereign territory of Ukraine. (The US, the EU, and Kiev have already accused Russia of arming the separatists.) Russia would unlikely withdraw its forces bordering the Donbass and could possibly increase the measure of those forces to create the capability to rush into the region to secure the peace if fighting resumed between the opposing parties.

In a similar way, Russia had already invested 43 billion rubles in South Ossetia and Abkhazia over the past six years. The border between South Ossetia and Georgia was closed, precluding the Georgian Government from influencing events in its former territory. Russia had considerable influence in the pro-Russian separatist political organizations. Western observers view South Ossetia leadership a puppet government under Moscow’s control. The ethnic-Georgians in South Ossetia drifted off. With the border closed, those who wanted to return could not. The loss of South Ossetians opposed to independence eliminated meant there were no opposing political movements, and internal security and stability could be maintained more easily. The presence of Russian troops in South Ossetia has obviated the possibility that Georgia might retake its territory. Russian troops there have remained on a war-time footing and have not moved to prewar locations as Georgian forces have. Moscow had Nicaragua, Nauru, and Venezuela join it in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia.

What nettles the US, EU, and the Ukrainian Government is the considerable effort they say Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has invested in grabbing territory in the Donbass. They feel Putin now has space in Ukraine, in addition to Crimea, from which he can exert his influence in the region. Conversely, Putin insists the administration of US President Barack Obama caused the conflict in the Donbass.

Legitimizing Independence and Russian Influence via “Diplomacy”

Et mihi res, non me rebus subjungere conor. (I suit life to myself, not myself to life.) Even under the best conditions created for Kiev as the terms of the Minsk Agreement are fulfilled, Putin may still move to establish treaties with both the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” giving Russia control over their economic activity. Residents in both oblasts would be provided with easier access to Russian citizenship. If the balance of the two regions’ populations were to swing more heavily in the pro-Russian separatists favor, or even if not, Russia may formally guarantee that salaries of government workers in the Donbass would be paid by Russia, “to kindly take the financial strain off of Kiev.” Despite the terms of the Minsk Agreement, both the Donestsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic governments would be directed by Russia to push hard to turn border control over to Russia through talks, also ostensibly to make things more convenient for Kiev. Russia could formally take charge of the military operations of the pro-separatist security forces in Donetsk and Luhansk. A joint security zone could be created between Russia and the two “governments.”

Analogously, the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration allowed Russia to formally take charge of South-Ossetia’s economy and military. South Ossetia will receive 9 billion rubles ($147 million or €140 million) in aid over three years. Government salaries and pensions were raised to a level comparable with those received in Russia’s North Caucasus. Putin himself stated a joint defense and security zone would be created between the two countries. South Ossetian leader Leonid Timorov explained: “Russia could guarantee security from Western reaction.” Border crossings for customs agencies would also be integrated. That was made easier because the border crossings with Georgia were already closed.

By parsing out the events observed in South Ossetia following its 2008 war for independence against the Georgian Government, a possible approach Putin might use in the Donbass is revealed. Three main steps of that approach could include: 1) securing territorial gains via humanitarian assistance; 2) legitimizing independence and Russian influence via “diplomacy”; and, 3) quiet expansion.

Quiet Expansion

Alitur vitium vivitque tegendo. (Vice is nourished by being concealed.) After a few short years of the ceasefire and other urgent and important matters may capture Kiev’s attention, pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk may find opportunities to encroach into territory perhaps no longer vigilantly guarded by the Ukrainian Armed Forces or volunteer units. If Russia and the new “people’s republics” were to reach some defense and security treaty by that time, Russian Federation troops would be able to stand beside pro-Russian separatist forces in the expanded territory. Russia could also begin to provide economic and humanitarian aid to those segments of Ukrainian held territory of the Donbass the Kiev may not be able to support sufficiently. Freedom of movement may allow for inhabitants of the region who have applied for Russian citizenship, or possess it, to move into heavily damaged villages and abandoned areas, where Ukrainian combatants have withdrawn. They could resettle and begin reconstruction in them. Russia could declare its intention to defend its “compatriots” entering those areas. Russian and pro-Russian separatist flags would soon be seen further eastward in the Donbass. When possible the expansion of pro-Russian territory may also be aimed at encompassing important infrastructure facilities, particularly gas and energy related sites, and key roadways.

Likewise in South Ossetia, Russian backed security forces reportedly moved a border fence with Georgia, taking more territory for Russian control. Those same security forces armed with assault rifles were also seen crossing into Georgian controlled territory and tearing down a Georgian flag. As a result of pro-Russian separatists moving border fences deeper into Georgia, some villages have been cut in half by Russian separatist forces. Reportedly, people have gone to sleep Georgian and have awakened as members of a breakaway territory. By moving one fence, pro-Russian separatists managed to place 1.6 km of the Baku-Supsa pipeline in the pro-Russian separatist territory. One fence was moved far enough to grab 500 meters of Georgia’s E60 Highway, which is the main road linking the Black Sea to Azerbaijan.

Ukrainian Government faces an economic crisis and a variety of other domestic difficulties to include challenges from a far-right neo-Nazi movement. The Donbass is a net consumer of foreign imports, is dependent on Russian gas, and is a rustbelt requiring trillions of dollars in investment. Those realities along with seeing the effects of a few years of rain and wind on the ruins of cities and towns in the Donbass may make Kiev less eager to wrestle with Moscow for the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.

The Way Forward

Omni mutantur nos et mutamur in illis. (All things change, and we change with them.) For Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, it will be torturous enough to lead an emerging European nation that is facing an economic crisis, and a variety of other domestic difficulties to include challenges from a far-right neo-Nazi movement. Keeping all of the Donbass in Ukraine is the cause of honor now. Yet, after focusing on additional issues over time, numbness may develop toward the intractable situation in the region. New moves by pro-Russian separatist and Russia in the Donbass may no longer be alarming enough to pierce that numbness. The Donbass is a net consumer of foreign imports and is dependent on Russian gas. It is considered a rustbelt needing to be refitted at the cost of trillions of dollars Kiev does not have. Despite receiving economic aid from the West, Ukraine, itself, may never see an economic upturn. After seeing the effects of a few years of rain and wind on the ruins of cities and towns in the Donbass, Kiev may no longer be eager to wrestle with Moscow for the hearts and minds of the oblasts’ inhabitants. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are not a spent force, but they could hardly surmount a genuine threat posed by Russian Federation Armed Forces. US and EU efforts to train and equip the Ukrainian Armed Forces cannot change that. Further regarding the West, it is difficult to determine how much pressure it would be willing to exert against Russia over Ukraine through sanctions in the future.

It has been said that the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The analysis presented in here may appear cynical. It imputes on Putin a lust for power and the intent to simply acquire greater territory and control in Russia’s near abroad. However, Putin has been portrayed that way here for the purpose of debate. There is value in the Minsk Agreement. That value is a ceasefire, lives saved, and ability of the region’s inhabitants to contemplate peace. Adherence to the terms of the Minsk Agreement by Russia and pro-Russian separatists nudged by Russia is not a notional idea; it is reality. The Minsk Agreement and the September 1st ceasefire represent positive change and a genuine restart to diplomatic activity over the Donbass. Much more is required of the agreement’s signatories. Through regular communication via the Contact Group and the good offices of the OSCE, perhaps peace will develop in the Donbass.

“A Plea for Caution” One Year Later; The New York Times Op-Ed That Revealed Much about Putin

In his September 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not suggest any real steps to create opportunities for international cooperation or greater peace and security. He seemingly wanted to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for US President Barack Obama’s administration to deny its behavior toward Putin likely influenced his decision to write it.

In a September 11, 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided a commentary on US-Russian relations that appeared to be a rebuttal to US President Barack Obama’s August 10, 2013 speech on the possible US military response to the chemical use by the President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Putin’s objective with the op-ed was to reach the US public through the back channel of the news media. That was made clear when he stated, “Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.” Yet, Putin failed to realize that while he sought to promote Russia’s positions and arguments in the media, attempting to cope with policy analysts and popular pundits, hostile to his statements, on their “home court”, would be a mistake. Global media is still dominated by the West. Moreover, among those people interested in foreign and defense policy in the West and worldwide, very few would ever take the position that Russia was equal imilitarily, economically, or politically to the US and its Western partners. Far more people worldwide might accept negative perspectives of Russia given its human rights and civil rights history, and the authoritarian nature of the Soviet Union from which it had emerged. Changing such perceptions of Russia would be difficult to accomplish with one op-ed.

What made the op-ed even less likely to receive approval was the manner in which Putin presented his facts and arguments. He does not present a discussion based on Russia’s genuine concerns about the impact of military action. Putin displayed more tack than tact in his commentary. There was no romantic fuzziness in his words. There is no soft spot. It is not some lush, soupy appeal.  The op-ed lacks the moral eloquence of Obama’s speeches. Manifested in the text, however, was the fact that Putin is tough and has no time to be a sentimentalist. Putin was well-aware that he was communicating with citizens of an, albeit, adversarial government. Despite his best intentions, his recognition of the fact that he is not the best friend of the US public–and he likely does not care to be–managed to infiltrate his statements.

Putin accomplished very little with the op-ed. Since the time it was published, the atmosphere in international affairs has not improved, mutual trust has not been strengthened, and US-Russian relations have worsened. Putin has made major moves in Ukraine contrary to US wishes, and he has warned the West that Russia still has nuclear arms. If anything, his op-ed serves as a marker, indicating a genuine downturn in US-Russian relations had occurred. A look at events surrounding his decision to publish the commentary sheds light on how US-Russia relations fell to current levels, but also  seems to provide hope that a constructive dialogue between Obama and Putin could still develop.

Background: Putin and the US

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the authentic face of the Russian government has been Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin restored order in Russia after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Many would note the record shows he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. Putin is conscientious about his work, and has become quite experienced in governance and wielding national power. His style of management is undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been advised and assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are known as siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. A quarter of Russia’s senior bureaucrats, particularly in the armed forces and the security services, are siloviki. At the pinnacle are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. The “roots” of the families those men come from go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. Putin attended the schools and auniversity Chekisty (Chekist) progeny typically attended.

The Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken their homeland, create disorder, and make it dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. The Chekists are resentful of the West’s success over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. As Putin himself has publicly expressed, the Chekist consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. That loss did not mean a loss of dignity or the will to act. Anti-Western sentiment became so strong that it has created a siege mentality among the Chekists. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin spoke not only as the voice of Russia, but the voice of the Chekists. He enumerated some of the actions taken by the West that have fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from 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 refers 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. Putin is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He will not be satisfied until Russia’s global power and influence are restored and the independent states of the former Soviet Union are brought back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence.

Even prior to the op-ed’s publishing, the downward spiral of Russia’s relations with the Obama administration was evinced  by: Putin’s decision to allow National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010; counter allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Despite these and other negative connections, the White House sent Putin proposals on a variety of issues, some in which he had already expressed disinterest. They insisted that he agree to reductions that would be made in both nations’ nuclear arsenals.

Putin rejected the nuclear arms proposals due mainly to his concerns over the efficacy of taking such an audacious step. To him, the proposals called for staggering reductions. He views nuclear weapons as a means to assure Russia’s survival. It is unlikely that a Chekist would ever reduce Russia’s nuclear arsenal to a level demanded by the White House. Perhaps positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with the erstwhile Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave administration officials and advisers the idea that Putin would follow-up by accepting proposals on it. Obama felt he had a strong relationship with Medvedev. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. There were more than enough senior Russia analysts in the US government who could have confirmed Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. However, Obama administration officials and advisers did not appear to give any deep consideration to this matter. Since Medvedev was Russia’s president, Obama saw him as the authority with whom he needed to be concerned. He treated Putin as “the other guy.” Obama did little to build a positive relationship with him. When he returned to the Russian presidency for a third term, what Obama knew about him was mostly in the abstract.

Summit Cancellation 2013: The Catalyst

Obama administration officials and advisers were clearly unprepared to hear or accept Putin’s final rejection of their nuclear arms reduction proposals and reacted poorly to it. They seemed driven to achieve objectives for their president without consideration of the efficacy of their approach. Whether they even thought Putin’s concerns over nuclear arms reduction proposals were genuine is not clear. However, Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending their president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his refusal to accept its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, Obama cancelled a Moscow summit meeting with Putin set for September. It was an amateurish and dangerous response by the administration to Putin. Yet, the decision meant much more than blocking the meeting. For Putin, the summit with the US president would be an important part of his effort to show that under his leadership, Russia has returned to the world stage as a global power. As an outcome of the actual talks with Obama, Putin likely hoped to demonstrate that he is a strong leader who is able to respond effectively to the US on security issues. During the event in Moscow, Putin would also receive the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. Obama administration officials and advisers knew the summit meeting would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. However, they were out to prove that it was in control of the situation. They sought to bring to light what they believed was the reliance of Russian leaders on US standing and capabilities to elevate a country that was practically an economic basket case and a shadow of its former self as a military power. Boiled down, they felt Russia needed the US, but the US did not need Russia. So, they scrapped the summit. Publicly, Obama administration’s officials and advisers made things worse by publicly explaining that the meeting was cancelled because was not seen as an effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Officials and advisers tossed in comments about Putin’s rejection of the proposal. An unidentified source for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Yet, despite these thinly veiled excuses, it was generally understood that the cancellation appeared was a consequence of Putin’s refusal to consider the proposals for extreme nuclear reductions. From it, came seasons of disappointment. Memores acti prudentes future! (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what must be!)

The Op-Ed

By cancelling the summit, Obama administration officials and advisers played into the worst anti-Western strain of Chekist thought. Putin saw the US decision as a form of rejection, a personal affront, and an effort to humiliate him. In Moscow, the anger, bitterness, and hostility that grew in Putin over the cancellation, along with a lot of other things, was likely palpable. Putin had his own set of options. As Obama’s approval ratings on foreign policy had dropped precipitously during the year to a bit less than 39.8 percent by the end of August, Putin may have perceived that he had a shot of reaching a disappointed US public with a special message.  The Russian Federation government had a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm that included placing favorable news items about Russia in US newsmedia outlets. Putin used the firm to place his op-ed in the New York Times. In writing his editorial, Putin, in part, seemed to be utilizing a bit of old KGB tradecraft in writing the piece. (Tradecraft refers generally to skills used in clandestine service to include efforts to manipulate opponents.) Much of what he proffered was a distorted view of circumstances.

Putin began by offering a discussion of certain truths about the US-Russian relations as allies during World War II and adversaries during the Cold War. He recounts that the veto power given the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was established to create consensus on issues of peace and war. He explained that if states were to bypass the UN Security Council and take military action without authorization, as the Obama administration indicated it was prepared to do in August 2013, that UN’s relevance would be placed in jeopardy. As a result the UN would suffer the fate of the League of Nations. However, in further discussion of the UN, Putin engages in something akin to introjection, claiming qualities typically identified with, and exemplified by, the US. Having been successful in constructing a peaceful solution on Syria’s chemical weapons issue, Putin portrays Russia as a beacon of light in international affairs, and promoter of transnationalism, multilateral solutions, and the maintenance of international peace and security. Putin explained, “From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.” While he should be commended for expressing these sentiments, it has actually been the US, particularly the Obama administration, which, for the most part, has shown great reverence for international law. Obama, himself, would undoubtedly prefer to solve problems at the diplomatic table using reason and logic, due process, and rule of law. Putin, on the other hand, has what former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called “a zero-sum worldview.” Contrary to Obama’s belief in the importance of win-win relationships among nations, Putin sees all transactions as win-lose; if one party benefits, the other must lose. Gaining and retaining power is Putin’s goal.

Putin goes on to explain, “The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.” Here, Putin provides a veiled reference to the Operation Unified Protector, when multinational forces under NATO command imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. (The military operation to enforce the UN Security Council Resolution was initially led by the US under Operation Odyssey Dawn.) In Putin’s view, Western-led forces went beyond their mandate to aid anti-Gaddafi forces, and their actions led to his overthrow. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. Despite the fact that the action against him was taken under a UN Security Council resolution, to Putin, it represented one more instance of the West trampling on Russia’s interests. However, looking at Russia’s actions, Putin was not in a position to admonish anyone about international law and the use of force. In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, and Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. He forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova is under similar pressure. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort an agreement Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. Once the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea.

In appraising the use of force by the US, Putin engages in a type of projection, imputing some of the dominant traits of his own handling of foreign policy on the Obama administration. He goes as far as to blame the US for efforts by some nations to acquire nuclear weapons. Putin explains: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” The truth is that Obama has been averse to taking military action, contrary to former US President George W. Bush who was perceived as having the US take pre-emptive military action at the slightest whiff of aggression. Obama’s policy of restraint matches the public mood. Developing proposals for military action has been very difficult for administration officials and advisers.  In situations where the use of force is almost absolutely necessary, officials and advisers have presented options for action that are lightweight, very small in scale and calibrated precisely. Putin’s discussion of Obama as being interventionist is shear fantasy.   While obama has been involved in situations worldwide as a leader on the internation stage, its ill-advised action in Libya was its only authentic intervention. Note that it is Putin who now appears poised to move further into Ukraine.

Even if a US audience was not receptive to his message, Putin likely assumed the hyperbole in his commentary would serve to impress many people in other countries who are ill-disposed toward the US and its policies. appreciative of his efforts to admonish it. Undoutedly, his words were likely captivating and satisfying enough for those who choose not to look deeply and those who choose simple answers. Many realities are erased and the past is written off. He then writes on the past a new story, a substitute for reality. The op-ed seemed to be “sabotaged” by his comments concerning “American exceptionalism” that was rejected and much derided within all circles in the US; and, by his discouraging words concerning US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If someone claiming to be a Chekist were ever to offer encouraging words about the spirit of US public or US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would most likely be an imposter! Creating even more discord, Putin explained that US action could place multilateral efforts on Iran and Israel-Palestine at risk.

The one part of Putin’s op-ed deserving real consideration was his discussion of the danger posed to international peace and security by Islamic militant groups in Syria. Putin succinctly analyzes the emerging threat. He reported, “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.” Putin again seemed to be using skills acquired during his KGB days to develop a strong report on the emerging threat of Islamic militant groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Still, he also seemed to be providing a glimpse of what was being discussed in the Kremlin on developments in Syria, as well as Iraq. His prognostication about the growth of the Islamic militant groups has been on the mark to the extent that the ISIS threat has not reached the shore of the US or Europe. Yet, few in the US focused on Putin’s important comments on Islamic militant groups. His questionable discussion of other issues distracted US readers from anything constructive he had to state.

The Way Forward

In his op-ed, Putin does not suggest any real steps that would help create possibilities for international cooperation or greater peace and security.   Indeed, it was not constructed to improve things. Putin essay better served to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for the Obama administration to deny that its approach to Putin, prior to the op-ed, played a likely role in his decision to write it. Put basely, the Obama administration officials and advisers treated Putin as if he was “their ball to play with.” They lashed out at Putin in a very public way on many occasions, and Putin saw the op-ed as a means to respond to those incidents “publicly.” Unfortunately, rather than use the op-ed to discuss his dissatisfaction and concerns about US actions, he prevaricated and made a number of remarks the US public would only find offensive. Once those points were highlighted in the US newsmedia by political pundits and policy analysts, few in the US public would read it or give it thought after “hearing” what was in it. Putin will unlikely write an op-ed again in a US newspaper given his experience with the first. However, it is likely, given the current course of US-Russian relations, Putin’s future communications with the US public will be far less “congenial.”

As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way; In Putin’s View, Obama Is Doing Just Fine!

Russian President Vladimir Putin is tactically shrewd and more experienced than US President Barack Obama as a leader. Such realities cannot be ignored or rationalized as being unimportant. Putin likely recognizes the benign, forgiving side of Obama’s approach to foreign affairs. It could provide him with the opportunity to do much more to restore Russia’s power and influence.

According to an August 16, 2014, New York Times article entitled, “As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way,” the debate in Washington on foreign policy boils down to two opposite positions: It is all US President Barack Obama’s fault, according to his critics; no, it is not, according to his supporters, because these are events beyond his control. US citizens, the article explains, often think of their president as an all-powerful figure who can command the tides of history—and presidents have encouraged this image over the years because the perception itself can be a form of power. However, Obama, himself, has increasingly argued that his power to shape these seismic forces is actually limited. He is quoted in the article as stating, “Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything around the world.”

Obama’s adversaries and supporters have viewed that statement as rationalization. He seems to be excusing his own actions, or inactions, as the case may be. Polling data provided in the article seems to indicate that Obama’s policy of restraint matches the public mood. Polls indicate the US public finds little appetite for robust intervention in Syria, Ukraine, or Iraq. Nonetheless, having gazed at the results of Obama’s handling of foreign policy, 58 percent of those polled disapproved of his efforts. There is also real disappointment with Obama’s leadership within foreign capitals. Perceptions of friends and opponents among foreign leaders of Obama’s foreign policy performance has shaped their decisions on how to proceed for the remainder of his term in office. Particularly concerning opponents, the US soon face threats has not really seen since the end of the Cold War. Understanding how Obama’s actions and inactions on foreign policy, albeit unwittingly, may have blazed a trail to a more dangerous future for the US, could assist in making decisions on how to handle challenges during the remaining years of Obama’s presidency, specifically those concerning Russia.

Obama and the Policy of Forgiveness

Speaking with equanimity and certitude during the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, Obama indicated that as president, he would be able to achieve much by taking a course different than his predecessors. To ensure outcomes in support of US interests, force would not be used to support diplomacy. Obama’s approach seemingly introduced his personal philosophy, a type of teleology concerning man’s purpose on earth, and the meaning and importance of life. (Obama’s private thoughts on policy may be influenced by a kind of eschatology, a concept on the end of life, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and humankind.) Using his personal philosophy, Obama has tried to look at the deeper side of every policy issue confronting him. Duc in altum! (Put out into the deep!)   Confident in the better side of human nature, Obama has sought to operate under the notion that issues in foreign affairs could actually be resolved at the negotiating table. He prods administration officials and advisers along his way when they were uncertain or against what he had proposed. He asserts moral authority with foreign leaders.

Working within the parameters of Obama’s thinking, administration officials and advisers have not always fully considered challenging foreign policy problems as they truly exist. Euphonious policy speeches from the Obama and administration officials are often laden with rhetorical arguments, using only acceptable language and a selective list of the realities of a situation. Those assessments can still captivate and satisfy some in the US public who have grown weary of warfare as well as US friends and allies overseas hoping for new, constructive approaches that would establish peace and security. However, recently, such efforts at obfuscation have been regularly overcome by the light of the truth.

Obama’s apparent philosophy has greatly impacted the conduct of US foreign policy regarding the use of force. Developing proposals for military action has been vexing for administration officials and advisers. Obama has been averse to taking military action. That has limited the range of options that they could present to their president. In a situations where the use of force is almost absolutely necessary, officials and advisers likely presented options for actions that were light-weight; very small in scale and calibrated precisely. They needed to be effective enough to achieve all objectives based on Obama’s concepts. They also had to find the right language to make the option palatable to Obama. That effort typically initiated an engrossing policy debate among White House advisers. This keeps them busy, but does not make them fruitful. It accounts for difficulties officials and advisers had in getting Obama to come to terms with proposals and plans presented on Syria, Ukraine, and Iraq, leaving an air of uncertainty on how to proceed. Reluctant to make use of US military despite the fact that it provides real capabilities and possibilities for effective and successful action, Obama more frequently proffers the idea that the US can work with partners in regions in turmoil to establish multilateral responses. Yet, few states in the world still possess real military strength to project significant force within their regions or beyond their own borders.

Pressed with a situation in which few options other than the use of military power would seem the best to take, despite red-lines issued and stern warnings given, the world has also seen the Obama administration do more than just avoid military action. Rather, it has practically forgiven or, given the overwhelming military power of the US, shown mercy toward an offending rouge actor. Some of the most challenging problems for the Obama administration’ foreign policy degraded much further as a result of this tack. After receiving Obama’s forgiveness, or mercy for their trespasses, the offending actors have never given any indications that they would halt their actions or reform in some way having escaped retribution from the US. That has been the case with Syria, North Korea, Russia, and non-state actors such as Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. When some nations have trespassed against the US, it would make sense to forgive the action, understanding that the relationship could be put back on course. This was the case, for example, with Israel when it engages in efforts by its intelligence service to penetrate US government organizations. The US has never been happy about efforts by France to collect economic intelligence from US businessmen staying in hotels in on its territory. Germany efforts to gather information from computer networks and databases in the US has raised the administration’s ire. In such cases, the US could demand a change in behavior from those nations that have “lost their way” knowing an effort would be made to avoid such actions in the future.

It Will Be Difficult for Obama to Deter Putin

Obama’s approach, of being forgiving and showing mercy over the actions of rogue actors, has not been missed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has accomplished much in recent months. The military operation in Crimea transpired on the heels of the successful 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi. There was still a sense of renewed national identity, national pride, and patriotism among Russians. As events developed in Kiev, Putin understood that he still had strong cards to play, and he used one, moving into Crimea, to gain an advantage in what is a negative situation for Russia. He seemingly annexed Crimea in return for the loss of a friendly government and Russian influence in Ukraine. In response, the US and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia that were mild, and Putin pressed onward. Since March, Putin has vowed to use military force to protect Russian speaking compatriots across the former Soviet Union. He branded southern and eastern Ukraine “New Russia”, a name the rebels took up as a catch-all for most militia groups. Two provinces have been partly occupied by armed separatist fighters. The rebels are led almost exclusively by Russian citizens and have managed to acquire tanks, missiles, and other heavy weaponry which the Ukrainian government and the West said could only have come from Russia. A military offense from the Ukrainian government has pushed the rebels out of many of their stronghold, leaving them largely besieged in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, which the rebels have proclaimed capitals of the two “people’s republics”. NATO is greatly concerned over Russia’s decision to mass 20,000 combat ready troops along Ukraine’s eastern border to include tanks, infantry, artillery, air defense systems, logistics troops, special forces, and aircraft. While threats to impose even greater economic hardships were made, it was not until July 17, 2014, when a Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, ostensibly by a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system under the control of the rebels, were the screws tightened sharply. All 298 people onboard were killed. These far broader sanctions target Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors. In the end, Obama made the statement that the US has done everything it can to convince Russia to change course in Ukraine. He explained, “Short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be done in their long-term interests.” He further stated, “Sometimes people don’t always act rationally.”

Putin has tried to hold his own against Western economic measures. For example, in a sweeping response, Russia has banned all imports of food from the US and all fruit and vegetables from Europe. The measures would hurt farmers in the West for whom Russia is a big market. Russia is the greatest buyer of European fruit and vegetables, accounting for $43 billion worth of food in 2013, and the second greatest importer of US poultry, accounting for 8 percent of chicken exports. Such anti-Western action plays well with the Russian public. Russia has also signed a deal with Iran expected to undermine Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisages wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It lays the foundation for a multi-billion dollar oil agreement between Moscow and Tehran, or the so-called oil-for-goods contract. Russia claims that cooperation between Russia and Tehran did not violate the UN Security Council Resolution.

A Possible Audacious Move by Putin

Putin can accept Obama and his advisers are using sanctions to halt Russia’s activities in Ukraine and push all parties to the negotiating table, but he also may believe it is part of an effort to fulfill a Western goal of weakening Russia and creating disorder. Tough economic sanctions, Russia’s expulsion from the G-8, denial of Russian separatists’ right to independence, and the US condemnation of Russia for the annexation of Crimea very likely play into a siege mentality that exists among many Russian security officials at the highest level. Moreover, these steps may have stirred some sense of humiliation among them. It may appear to Putin that the West simply refuses to respect Russia as a power, even militarily. The possibility exists that Western sanctions against Russia may prove to be extraordinarily challenging for Putin and his advisers. They may sense their country faces a great a peril much as Japanese leaders had felt their country was endangered by the US under similar pressure before December 7, 1941.

If the US threatens further harsher sanctions and pushes the European states to do the same, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps to change the power equation between Russia and the US and its partners, going farther than Obama and other Western leaders might ever imagine. Sensing his back is up against the wall, unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further actions against it by making rather extraordinary threats to use Russian military power as a response. Shrill statements of condemnation and saber rattling would be heard throughout Washington. Yet, threats of force against Russia would have little meaning at that point. Too many speeches and statements on why US military power should be withheld have already been made to create enough doubt over whether the US might respond at all. Putin may judge that Obama would be unwilling to engage in nuclear exchange because it would most certainly result in the evisceration of several million of lives. Giving an order to use nuclear weapons would be completely alien to Obama’s nature. Considering that, along with the Obama’s record and reputation on the use of force, Putin might calculate that if he pushes hard enough, Obama might eventually back away from further tough talk and harsh economic measures. An authentic debate and decision would likely ensue on Ukraine’s true importance to the US. Putin may assess that Obama would most likely want to negotiate some resolution. Make no mistake, Putin has the will to attack with nuclear weapons, but he also has a bargaining spirit. Talks un such a situation might provide Putin with an opportunity to achieve many objectives that are important to him.

Putin and his advisers undoubtedly took great interest when the Obama administration’s decided to make steep reductions in US conventional forces. Those cuts have left the US less able to project power, take and hold ground in a non-permissive environment, or engage in sustained ground combat operations in defense of the interests of the US, its friends, and allies. In 2013, the US withdrew its last two heavy armored brigades from Germany. Tank units anchored the US military presence on the ground in Europe for 70 years. US military leaders have considered withdrawing the last squadron of F-15C air superiority fighters from England. Putin was likely shocked upon receiving Obama administration’s proposals in 2013 calling for steep reductions in nuclear forces. He rejected them not out of political expedience but due to concerns over the efficacy of taking such an audacious step. Putin views nuclear weapons as a means to assure Russia’s survival. Reducing Russia’s nuclear arsenal to a level determined by the bean-counting of those forces by US analysts would never have been acceptable to him.However, from that experience Putin could clearly see that for the Obama administration, the US nuclear arsenal was merely a political bargaining chip, but not a military tool. Such decisions and actions in the past would make it more likely for Putin and his advisers to assess that Obama would unlikely be willing to use nuclear weapons.

As the driving force behind the Soviet Union, and since the end of the Cold War as an independent state, primacy has been given to Russia in US thinking on the defense of US interests worldwide and the establishment of global peace and security. Despite proxy wars and other confrontations and conflicts, of high and low gradients, along the course of the Cold War, both states, while possessing the unique and mutual capability to annihilate one another and the world with their nuclear arsenals, neither state acted with its weapons. What Russian leaders thought about the US ostensibly deterred them from hostile actions. By maintaining robust conventional military resources and capabilities, as well as an air, land, and sea nuclear triad, US diplomacy could be supported time and again by the credible threat of force. It was understood in Washington that the US must not only look strong but must be strong. During his May 29, 2014 commencement address at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, Obama explained, “I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.” Again, Obama failed to recognize or accept a situation as it truly existed. It is difficult to see how Obama can reconcile his belief that a strong image worldwide does not matter given the position he is currently in with Putin and Russia.

Has Putin Been Testing the US?

Sensing what he may perceive as Obama’s weakness, Putin seems to be testing the possibility of using grander action. So far, in July and August, Russian strategic nuclear bombers have conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. On several occasions, the incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers prompted the scrambling of US fighter jets. A number of Russian intelligence-gathering jets have also been detected with the bombers.

Russia’s Northern Fleet anti-submarine forces detected and aggressively forced out a US Navy Virginia class submarine out of Russian boundary waters in the Barents Sea. A seaborne anti-submarine group and an Il-38 anti-submarine warfare plane, were sent to the region to search and track it down.

Putin also recently warned that Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. He stated, “We will give joy to our partners with those ideas and their implementation. I mean those (weapons) systems.” He explained that the new nuclear systems have been kept from public eye.

The Way Forward

Using approaches reflective of his philosophy, Obama has been unable to accomplish much with Putin on Ukraine. Obama sees Putin’s myopia as the main obstacle. However, Putin is not standing around and pointing fingers. Rather, he is on a mission to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit. He wants to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. Putin is tactically shrewd, and far more experienced than Obama as a leader. Such realities cannot be ignored or rationalized as being unimportant. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes the US president’s rather benign, forgiving side, and wants to exploit it to the greatest degree possible to achieve his goals for Russia.

Assertive and decisive US action most likely would have achieved many US goals and had a strong educational effect on leaders globally, including Putin. Yet, the Obama administration failed to project authentic US strength. Threats of military action now would have questionable impact. It would be difficult for Obama to convince Putin of his willingness to fight over Ukraine when he was unwilling to fight anywhere else, even after red-lines were crossed and stern warnings were given. Rather than try to confront Putin head to head, including with sanctions, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered a useful suggestion. He believes the only way to counter Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the US to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia. The Europeans must consider how they can work in partnership with the US in that effort. While the proposal recognizes the urgency of the situation, it does not demand military action and provides a concept for a strategy that will achieve a specific outcome which requires a long term program to achieve. It seems to fall within the parameters of what Obama might find acceptable. It might be worth trying.