Ukraine–A new Cuban Missile Crisis between two nuclear superpowers?

For balanced insight into the Russian perspective on Ukraine, see,

Leonid Ragozin, “Russia’s Ukraine manoeuvres are a response, not a provocation; The Ukrainian government’s push for NATO membership could provoke a dangerous escalation of the Ukrainian conflict,” Al Jazeera, April 13, 2021

Leonid Ragozin is a freelance journalist based in Riga.

Whatever Putin’s motivations may be for a massive military mobilization on and near the Russian border with Ukraine, he has committed the grave foreign policy offense of credibly threatening to invade a sovereign European country. Whether or not Russia invades, Putin and Russia should be punished for these actions.

The U.N. Charter in Article 2 paragraph 4 probits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state. The architects of the Charter knew that the architecture for the maintenance of international peace and security they were building required the prohibition not only of the use but also of the threat of the use of force. This fact must be born in mind as the nations of the world continue their project of building international law and institutions that can be used by nations to preserve the peace.

So, will Russia invade Ukraine? More importantly, what is the U.S. and the West doing to dissuade Putin from invading the Ukraine?

The decision to send more American troops to Germany was a good move, demonstrating American resolve. The decision not to send two warships to the Black Sea, after having notified Turkey of their passage through the Bosphorous, gave the appearance of weakness, not resolve. Biden’s request for a meeting with Putin simikarly suggested weakness and a lack of resolve. Biden’s announcement, AT THIS MOMENT, that U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11–SEPTEMBER 11 appeared to send a message of surrender and defeat.

Biden’s announcement of minimal sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2020 elections, and for Russia’s massive cyber attack known as “Solar Winds” on U.S. cyber infrastructure, suggest to this observer, and probably Putin, that U.S. reaction to these aggressions is not very serious or costly.

For an insightful view of the current situation and the big picture, which includes the oossibility tgat Russia and the U.S. could end up in a face-off similar to that in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, see

Torsten Krauel (Chefkommentator / Meinung), “Eine neue Kuba-Krise droht – an der Ostgrenze der EU,” Die Welt, den 15. April 2021.

This is a dangerous situation. If Putin invades Ukraine and doesn’t face resistance or crippling sanctions, China could be emboldened to invade Taiwan.

James Rowles

Russia’s threat to use force against Ukraine: April 12, 2021 (Update)


1) “Russia about to launch offensive in Southern Ukraine and stage false flag attacks,” RLI (Robert Lansing Institute),
April 12, 2021

2) Vilma Gryzinski, “Putin vai invadir a Ucrânia? Não, mas quer parecer que o fará; Brincar de gato e rato é uma especialidade aperfeiçoada pelo líder russo e a concentração ostensiva de tropas é uma arma desse arsenal, Veja, 12 de abril 2021 (08h12).

3) Evelyn N. Farkas, “Putin is testing Biden on Ukraine. Here’s what will keep him in check; New U.S. sanctions are coming, and they are a good start,” Washington Post, April 11, 2012 9:00 a.m. EDT).

The Robert Lansing Institute article paints quite a plausible scenario for a Russian invasion of the Ukraine which has the objective of securing Ukrainian territory on the north shore of the Black Sea, linking the Donbas territory controlled by Russian supported and imposed “separatists”. This would create the long-desired “land-bridge” from Russia proper to the Crimea.

The RLI writes;

Russia is about to launch an offensive in Southern Ukraine. The strike is quite possible to be delivered from the annexed Crimea’s side and the breakaway territories of Donbas, in an effort to join them with Crimea, to get access to fresh water to meet the peninsula’s needs, and to have an overland link from Russia to Crimea along the northern coast of the Black Sea.

We believe the offensive is likely to be launched during the Easter celebrations by the Orthodox Church.

The Kremlin is now about to shape a pretext for an invasion. Russia is likely to use the scenario tried out in Georgia in 2008: a false flag attack that would offer a prelude for a total Russian invasion for a limited time, with aircraft and precision-guided weapon. There are several scenarios likely to trigger stepping-up and head-on military clash (the most probable to start with):

1. Religious strives stirred up by Russia’s SOF sabotage groups (to murder a representative of the Russian church in Ukraine, to commit terrorist attack at a religious facility).

2. Violence against a representative of the Russian-associated community or organization in Southern Ukraine.

3. Shelling simulation from Ukraine’s side targeting infrastructure facilities in Crimea.

Russia has built up military forces along Ukraine’s border together with a stream of disinformation by the Kremlin. Meanwhile, information and psy ops GRU experts who had taken part in war efforts in Donbas, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh arrived in Donbas. It means the war is quite possible to start.

Over the strategic and long term, the Kremlin advocates total control to be set up over the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, including Mariupol, Odesa and Berdyansk. But now, Moscow’s task is to strike and seize the water canal that connects the Dnipro and Crimea. That will give Russia a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, through the occupied areas of Donbas.

The United States does not appear to be taking the threat of a Russian invasion seriously, in a manner reminiscent of the prelude to the Russian invasion of the Crimea in February 2014.

Vilma Gryzinski, in her opinion piece in Veja on Monday, April 12, points out that Biden was in charge of the United States’ disastrous policy toward Russia and Ukraine in 2014. She writes:

“Quando era vice de Barack Obama, Biden foi encarregado do caso Ucrânia, seguindo a política altamente cautelosa – alguns diriam até quase indiferente – do presidente no poder.

English (translation by author):
“When he was Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden was in charge of the Ukrainian case, following an extremely cautious policy–some would say even almost indifferent–of the president in power.”

The U.S. and NATO need to give the current Russian threat to invade the Ukraine the highest priority.

Leading newspapers–particularly in the U.S.–need to give this matter salient, daily, above the fold front-page coverage, instead of the “catch-up journalism” they have been practicing, with one good story every 7-10 days.


Isabelle Khurshudyan, David L. Stern, Loveday Morris and
John Hudson, “On Ukraine’s doorstep, Russia boosts military and sends message of regional clout to Biden,” Wasington Post, April 10, 2021 (4:00 a.m. EDT).

What can be done to compensate for Biden’s weak leadership on this question to date, and in the past, is anyone’s guess.

From 2009-2013, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden. From 2013-2015 he served as Deputy National Security Advisor. He was at the center of decision-making in Obama’s weak responses to Russian threats against Ukraine in 2014. According to Wikipedia, “Blinken was influential in formulating the Obama administration’s response to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.”

So far, Blinken has responded to Putin’s threats by saying that Russia would suffer “consequences” and pay costs if it invades Ukraine, and by making plans to travel to Brussels to consult with allies on the Ukraine question.

Something greater is needed. Democratic Senators should call on President Biden to strengthen his foreign policy team charged with responding to Russia’s threats against the Ukraine.

This is a hot crisis. Biden needs to take strong deterrent actions, and to do so immediately. One such action would be to state that, if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. will work to expel them from the SWIFT international payments system, and will with the EU impose new and heavier sectoral (sectorial) sanctions on Russia.

Evelyn Farkas, in the article cited aboves, argues that the threat of strong economic sections could dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine. She writes:

Sanctions so far have been targeted and gradual, wary of harming the Russian people and Western business interests. Yet cutting off access to new capital for Russian state-owned funds and entities — or even more extreme, blocking Russia from using SWIFT, an international banking system used to transfer money among about 200 countries — would immediately cause economic and political distress to Putin and his cronies. Just threatening to do so would probably cause Putin to stay his hand in Ukraine.

Biden faces hus first acute international crisis in the Ukraine.

It is critical, not just for Ukraine but also for his foreign policy in general–including Afghanistan, China and The South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan–that he react forcefully to Putin’s threats.

Putin thinks he knows Biden, as someone who is weak in the face of threats, particularly military threats. It is critically important that Biden correct Putin’s assessment of him–at the earliest possible moment.

James Rowles

War looms over Ukraine; Biden’s apathetic reaction


Raven Saint and Will Stewart, “‘Ready for conflict’: Putin’s threat to the West is laid bare in new footage showing build-up of troops and military convoys on Ukraine’s border as Kiev warns it could be provoked by Russian ‘aggression’; New footage claims to show inside of Russia’s massive deployment on border; Ukraine estimates there are now a staggering 85,000 Russian troops in the area; There have been mounting tensions in the country’s eastern Donbas Andrii Taran, Ukraine’s defence minister, issued a statement earlier today; US is to dispatch two warships to sail through the Bosphorus on April 14 and 15; Washington continuing to fly reconnaissance planes to monitor Russian activity; But it comes as Russia claims to have intercepted an American RC-135 spy plane,” The Daily Mail (Mail Online), April 10, 2021 (05:27 EDT, updated 10:02 EDT).

As leading American newspapers are asleep at the wheel, on a slow Saturday afternoon, Vladimir Putin and Russia are mobilizing for war against the Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian Defense Minister, some 85,000 Russian troops have been moved to within striking distance of the border. U.S. officials are quoted in recent news reports as speculating about what Vladimir Putin’s intentions might be.

The reports are silent about what, if anything, the United States and NATO are doing to affect Putin’s calculations and intentions.

To be sure, the U.S. has given Turkey notice that it intends to move two warships into the Black Sea, in accordance with the notification requirements of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which regulates such movements. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken plans to travel to Europe next week to consult with allies on the developing Ukraine crisis. Oh, and the U.S. is continuing to monitor Russian troop movements through aerial surveillance.

America is sending two warships into the Black Sea. I’m sure that has Putin, probably ensconced in his palace in Sochi, quaking in his boots.

This is a sad spectacle to observe. Joe Biden’s foreign policy team and Secretary of State Blinken continue to not impress. One has the impression that Joe Biden intends to follow the disastrous foreign policy of Barack Obama, which witnessed the Russian invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in February and March 2014, and the Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine beginning in April 2014, culminating in the movement of regular Russian troops into the Donbas in August 2014.

Obama subordinated important foreign policy objectives, e.g., in Syria, to the goal of reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran.

He reached an agreement with Iran, but failed to secure the bipartisan political support needed to sustain it. Biden would be foolish if he continued this approach. A resumption of the agreement with Iran should not be hard to secure. Biden need do Putin no favors to secure this objective.

Putin was stopped, not by anything Obama and the U.S. did, but rather by the European Union which imposed serious economic sanctions on Russia on September 5, 2014, and reached a standstill agreement with Putin in the Minsk I Agreement signed on September 14, 2014. Obama, for his part, was paralyzed and caught up in an internal American debate over whether the U.S. should provide Ukraine with “lethal” military assistance.

After the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, the U.S. and the EU placed very light “sanctions” on Russia, in what amounted to a slap on the risk for invading a European country.

Undoubtedly, this slap on the wrist only emboldened Putin, who proceeded with his invasion of the eastern Ukraine with both irregular and regular forces.

The situation today is similar to that which existed in the Ukraine in February 2014, prior to the Russian invasion of the Crimea at the end of the month. Russian troops were massing on the frontier.

And then they moved.

In the background, Putin can see Biden’s lack of resolve in failing to reverse Donald Trump’s disastrous surrender policy in Afghanistan, embodied in the February 29, 2020 Doha agreement with the Taliban. Biden has not even replaced Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s ambassador in charge of negotiating the “cut and run” surrender agreement with the Taliban.

Putin can see America and NATO are willing to accept defeat in Afghanistan.

He may also be emboldened by the Russian-Chinese agreement to jointly oppose the West, quickly concluded after Buden’s statement on national television that Putin was “a killer”, and after Bkinken’s confrontational ministerial-level meeting with the Chinese foreign minister, and their respective delegations, in Anchorage, Alaska.

Moreover, Putin is facing no strong deterrent pressure from NATO and the U.S., who have not even bothered to rebut the fallacions legal arguments Russian officials have advanced as potential justifications for an invasion of the Eastern Ukraine.

War is in the air. America and Europe are asleep, paralyzed, and in the absence of strong leadership don’t know what to do.

In these circumstances, and barring resolute deterrent actions by the U.S., the EU, and NATO, it appears likely that Russia will send military units into the Donbas, and perhaps beyond.

An obvious strategic objective for Russia would be to seize the territory between the Donbas and the Crimea,including the port of Mariupol, in order to form a “land bridge” from the Russian mainland to the Crimea.

It is time for Biden to bring in some real heavyweights, the best in the country, to assist his current team in managing U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, and the world. The current team, alone, is clearly not up to the task.

James Rowles

Russia threatens Ukraine; “intervention to protect nationals”


1) Andrew E. Kramer, “Russian Troop Movements and Talk of Intervention Cause Jitters in Ukraine; Russia has amassed more troops on the Ukrainian border than at any time since 2014. Western governments are asking: Why now?” New York Times, April 9, 2021 (3:59 p.m. ET).

2) “Russia Moves Ground Troops, Ballistic Missile Systems Near Ukraine Border – British Analysts,” the Moscow Times, April 9, 2021.

3) Ann M. Simmons, “Russia Warns of Full-Scale War in Eastern Ukraine, Blames Kyiv; The buildup of Russian troops on the border and escalating rhetoric threaten to derail efforts to reach a peaceful settlement,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2021 (12:33 pm ET).

In the United States, international crises pop up out of nowhere, it seems. Suddenly Russia is massing troops on Ukraine’s border and talking about war, threatening to militarily intervene in the eastern Ukraine, “to protect its citizens”.

This threat, and the international legal claim it asserts, are ludicrous.

First, why the surprise?  The answer is that U.S. news media, even the New York Times and the Washington Post, have largely stopped covering international affairs on a day-to-day basis. In the old days, officials in the State Department and other agencies used to rely on these newspapers to get a sense of what was going on in the world. Seasoned reporters stationed abroad frequently provided news of what was going on, and a broad view of what was going on, much more effectively than did the daily cable traffic officials could read at their jobs.

This is no longer the case. While papers such as the New York Times may still have a few experienced reporters stationed in key foreign capitals, they do not have the seasoned editors who will print all of the stories, or the stories they might have been tasked to write if such seasoned editors still existed abd supervised their work.

My favorite example illustrating these points is the case when President Donald Trump made some incredibly stupid comments, in January 2019, about the Russians rightfully having been in Afghanistan because Muslim extremists had been attacking Russia.

These assertions were extraordinarily wrong. The Russians invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Attacks by the mujahaddin were within Afghanistan–not against Russia–and gain momentum until years later, with the active support and instigation of the United States. In 1980, the United States and other countries imposed economic sanctions on the Soviet Union for their illegal use of force against Afghanistan, and boycotted the 1980 Soviet Olympics.

The editors at the New York Times seemed oblivious to these facts. What they did was publish a report from Afghanistan quoting Afghan officials who disagreed with Trump’s statements. It was classical “he said, he said” journalism. At the New York Times.  Idiot editors.

So, Russia is threatening the Ukraine, and we have had no day-to-day reporting that would provide context or help us understand the history or the context of what is really going on. To follow these events myself, I have had to read reports in German, French, and Spanish newspapers.

Consequently, it is a late-breaking news story that the U.S. may send warships to the Black Sea to help deter Vladimir Putin from further invading the Donbas, as the eastern Ukraine region is referred to.

News stories fail to point out the ludicrous nature of Russian arguments that it might intervene militarily in the Donbas to protect its citizens, or in any event to halt a massacre such as the Serbian massacre of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenice in July 1995.

However ludicrous its legal arguments, Russia may well intervene militarily in Ukraine. Its military forces are staging to do so. Alexander Navalny is dying in prison, after Putin’s apparent attempt to assassinate him with a chemical failed, and Navalny returned to Russia.

The fact that Navalny was sent to prison for a parole violation, when he was in Germany recovering after the assassination attempt, is somehow lost in the superficial reporting generally published in the U.S. These kinds on details get lost when you don’t have continuity in reporting.

Military action against Ukraine would distract attention from Navalny. And from any further demonstrations. Another reason Putin might to decide to invade the Donbas would be just to show Joe Biden what he can do, because he can. “You call me a ‘killer’? I’ll show you what I can do!” Putin could be thinking along these-lines.

Russia is advancing two possible justifications for potential military intervention in the Donbas, now.

The “Intervention to Protect Nationals” Argument

The first is an asserted right under international law to militarily intervene to protect citizens or nationals. The ludicrous nature of this assertion results from the fact that Russia for many months has been issuing Russian passports to Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the eastern Ukraine, in the “Donbas”.

Dmitry Kozak, deputy chief of staff of Russia’s Presidential Executive Office, warned on Thursday that Moscow would be forced to defend its citizens living in eastern Ukraine in the event of all-out war, and said this would be “the beginning of the end for Ukraine.”
–Anne M. Simmons, Wall Street Journal, above.

So the argument boils down to the assertion that a state may grant citizenship to the citizens of another state (here, the Ukraine), and then invade that state on the pretext that it is defending its own citizens (to which it hs just issued passports).

Moreover, even the asserted international law right to intervene to protect the intervening state’s real citizens is not recognized under international law.

To be sure the U.S. has occasionally used the “intervention to orotect nationals” argument, as in the Domenican Republic in 1965 and Grenada in 1983.  Yet even supporters of this asserted right have argued that the intervention must be strictly limited to the objective of removing the threatened nationals, and within a very short period of time. In any event, the argument has never been accepted by more than a handful of nations. It is basically an argument that in extreme cases a nation may intervene to remove its nationals under an imminent threat of harm.

The “Humanitarian Intervention” Argument

The second legal argument, hinted at in references to Srebrenice, is an asserted right under international law of “humanitarian intervention”. While the U.S. did not present an international law justification for its military intervention against Serbia to halt ethnic cleansing underway in Kosovo, the implicit justification, the only potentially available justification, would have been one of “humanitarian intervention”.

While there may be cases where a carefully circumscribed “right of humanitarian intervention” might be asserted and would make good sense–the case of Syria comes to mind, the fact is that the U.S. did not assert such a right in Kosovo, and claims of such a right have been firmly rejected by the overwheming majority of other states, at least since the Biafran Civil War in 1971.

Fallacious legal justifications, and the illegal use of force against Ukraine

In view of the above, it is absolutely clear that if Russia intervenes further militarily in the Ukraine, its intervention will constitute a new and additional violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Consequences: End Nordstream II, expel from SWIFT payments system, and impose much tougher Sectoral Sanctions

Such a violation of international law will call for the imposition of even stronger economic sanctions against Russia by the U.S., the EU and the U.K., and their allies.

Such sanctions should include, at a minimum, a definitive end to the Nordstream II Gas Pupeline Project, and the expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT international payments system. In addition, stronger sectoral sanctions should be imposed.

Targeted personal sanctions against individuals will have no effect, and should not even be considered to be serious sanctions.

James Rowles

Mr. Rowles holds a Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law (SJD) from Harvard University, and is a former Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.