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USUBC - Washington Watch & UpdateReport # 22
Analysis & Commentary -
Individual Private Observers & Writers
U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC),
Wash, D.C., Friday, July 14,2017
The last Washington Watch & Update Report was at the end of April (Number 21) and so many significant events have happened since then. There there is no easy way to summarize it all. So, as Washington Watch & Update Report renews its publication it will try to catch-up quickly and chronologically from the time President Trump prepared for his trip to Warsaw and to the G20 Summit to today, Friday, July 14, 2017.
(1) Experts Urge Congress & Trump to Arm Ukraine - U.S.-Ukraine Foundation; Atlantic Council -----
Commentary: In anticipation of President Trump’s meeting with President Poroshenko here in Washington and President Trump’s trip to Warsaw and the G20 Summit efforts increased to convince both Congress, and critically the President to make defensive weapons available to Ukraine so that Ukraine can defend itself effectively.
Among the efforts the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network, and especially the Task Force on Security stepped up its efforts to pitch the recommendations for specific types of weapons and the rationale for each to key Congressional offices and to the Administration.
This effort included a press conference at the National Press Club on June 21 headlined by Task Force member General Philip Breedlove, among other things the retired four-star General is immediate past Commander, U.S. European Command as well as the 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
As in any such effort one cannot easily judge its success but the efforts continue. What has been clear from the Task Force’s many Hill meetings is that there continues to be broad bipartisan support for providing Ukraine with defensive weapons and the understanding of the need to and benefit from helping Ukraine fight on its behalf and the behalf of stable world order are becoming even better understood as Putin continues his blatant aggression (daily and deadly attacks) and his characteristic thumbing his nose at the United States and international treaties and organizations.
There also appears to be growing support for defensive weapons for Ukraine within the Administration. [Note: What is being recommended are “defensive weapons” and it is important to use “defensive” not “lethal.” In talking to and with the military and security people we should always use “defensive.” It is significant.]
- The US-Ukraine Foundation release - Click here and/or Atlantic Council
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said after meetings in Washington that Kyiv and the United States would soon sign a number of agreements boosting defense cooperation, news agency Interfax Ukraine reported on Wednesday. - Reuters
- : Up to, during and after President Poroshenko’s visit the pubic here and abroad were subjected to a plethora of articles and reports minimizing the significance of the trip and characterization of the meeting between the two Presidents as a “drop-by” for President Trump. A deep analysis of the origins of these reports would find, among other things, the hands of the Kremlin’s manipulation machine and what they once called their “useful idiots.”
Does the meeting appear to have been everything we would have wished – no. But two points: (a) The invitation for President Poroshenko was perhaps the significant fact – President Trump very specifically decided he wanted to meet with the President of Ukraine before he was to meet President Putin at the G20.
It was to be a message and the President spent significant time with Poroshenko and made it clear Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis are going to be key to next steps. And (b) actions are what counts. Signals are important but actions count. Keep watching.
- : Reuters
- Two House committee chairmen with oversight of the Russia sanctions legislation approved by the Senate said Wednesday that they want to move it expeditiously — a day after one of them suggested a procedural snag would delay the bill. - The Hill
- : This continues to be an on-going story to this day but it is introduced by Washington Watch at this point to note that the sanctions legislation was overwhelmingly sent to the House by a Senate that can hardly agree on anything else. And, that critical House chairmen want to enact the sanctions despite the procedural obstacles that have arisen and despite traditional White House objections to the placing of sanctions that cannot be removed without act of Congress.
Any Presidency and every Presidency will fight to preserve Presidential purgatives and the power of the President to negotiate and remove sanctions when merited. As stated, this story continues and will continue for some time but it should be underscored the bipartisan support within Congress has strengthened. Early this year there were clear signs that Congressional support for Ukraine was very wide but quite thin. Putin and his thuggish behavior has changed that.
Link: The Hill
- European Union leaders reached a political deal Thursday, June 22, to extend the bloc’s economic sanctions on Russia by a further six months, citing the failure of Russia to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal
- It wasn’t long ago there was concern over whether the EU (and the United States for that matter) would continue sanctions. Common sense – energized by Mr. Putin’s behavior – continues to prevail.
- President Trump’s trip to Poland next week is an exceptional opportunity to reassert U.S. leadership and American greatness. In Warsaw Mr. Trump can reaffirm the U.S. commitment to European security by giving Ukraine the weapons it urgently needs to defend itself against Russia’s continuing aggression. The Wall Street Journal
- : Stephen Blank, of the American Foreign Policy Council, and a member of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Task Force on National Security again makes the clear case for defensive weapons for Ukraine, and how providing them is in our best interests.
- : Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
- Ukraine accused the Russian security services of planning and launching a cyberattack that locked up computers around the world earlier this week. Associated Press
- : Washington Watch & Update Report includes this cyberattack story as a representative of the numerous reports of further Russian cyber mischief-making. And, as a reminder about Russia who so many – too many – think can be a “partner” where there are mutual interests.
A classic line from the Associated Press report: “There was no immediate official response from Russia’s government, but Russian lawmaker Igor Morozov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the Ukrainian charges were “fiction” and that the attacks were likely the work of the United States.” You really have to admire Russian officials, they have this clinical ability to prove false information directly to people who they know, know they are lying. Is it taught in Russian civil servant classes?
- : Associated Press
- The Trump administration is not ruling out providing Ukraine with defensive weapons in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, a State Department official told The Weekly Standard, though the administration is focused on a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Weekly Standard
- : I don’t know about you but the timing of this statement – and its being given to The Weekly Standard to go up on-line – right before President Trump was to meet Putin – surely was not simply a coincidence. The timing, the State Department, The Weekly Standard – Washington Watch doesn’t think so. In addition, the article has more interesting things to say if you wish to click on the link below.
- : The Weekly Standard
- Poland has agreed to buy Patriot missile defence systems from the US, hours before Donald Trump gives what has been billed as a major speech on transatlantic relations in Warsaw. Financial Times
Commentary: Maybe reading tea leaves in these times is ill-advised but maybe just for fun, follow a few dots in the run-up to President Trump’s meeting with Putin: Ukraine’s President Poroshenko is specifically invited to Washington to meet with President Trump and key Administration officials before Trump is to see Putin
Even though it would appear the Administration is slowing down final sanctions action in Congress until after the meeting, the Administration is not opposing the sanctions themselves; the EU – surely having coordinated with Washington, extends its sanctions on Russia; the Department of State states that defensive weapons for Ukraine is an option that is on the table;
And President Trump specifically adds a visit to Warsaw immediately before the G20 meeting where he will speak to the Polish people and to the Presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all of whom have a very clear, personal experience-educated and realistic view of Putin and Russia; then, as Trump arrives in Warsaw Poland announces it is buying American Patriot defense systems.
Sure, the meeting with Putin is important and is going to be analyzed and analyzed and analyzed – but these dots are actions and they set a tone. Forget any smiles, Putin’s teeth were clenched.
- : Financial Times
- Editorial: This is the speech Mr. Trump should have given to introduce himself to the world at his Inauguration. In place of that speech’s resentments, his Warsaw talk offered a better form of nationalism. It is a nationalism rooted in values and beliefs—the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious faith and freedom from oppressive government—that let Europe and then America rise to prominence. This, Mr. Trump is saying, is worth whatever it takes to preserve and protect. The Wall Street Journal
- : There is only so much space and Washington Watch assumes readers watched and/or read President Trump’s speech, have their own opinions and so will only include here The Wall Street Journal’s editorial.
However, in doing so WW will note the President mentioned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine very accurately and tellingly – “United States is ‘committed to maintaining peace and security in Central Europe’ and is ‘working with Poland in response to Russia's actions and destabilizing behavior.’” (another dot), and will note that many found the speech lacking and even have attacked the speech – even saying it was a white supremacist speech. Dear Lord, the world in which we live!
For the purposes of Washington Watch Trump’s speech made two critical points: (a) The President met with Eastern Europeans who have lived under Russian aggression, know it, remember it and continue to fear it, before meeting with Putin, and (b) he mentioned Russian aggression against Ukraine in clear terms.
- Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has appointed Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, to serve as a special representative to Ukraine. Reuters
- : Despite a silly Kremlin attempted spin on this appointment (suggesting Volker is a traditional bureaucrat) the fact is Volker is a strong and energetic foreign policy expert who recognizes Russia and Putin for what and who they are. If perhaps you would like to know about his specific views on Ukraine you can go to the U.S.-Ukraine’s website for their newsletter when Volker was announced. It includes three videos of presentations Volker has made to Foundation’s events. (Another dot)
(11) President Trump questioned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Friday about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, using their epic first face-to-face meeting to directly raise what has become a vexing political issue for the White House. The New York Times
Commentary: By this time our readers have read and watched plenty of reports on the Trump-Putin meeting so only this New York Times piece and the following one from Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government are included in this chronological catch-up.
Two observations: (a) Following the dots mentioned above made our President’s performance maybe even a bigger disappointment in the face-to-face with the Russia who is an enemy for the United States, it might even be called dreadful.
(b) It is almost an embarrassment – if anyone can be embarrassed anymore – how much emphasis Trump critics and most of the media make the Russian involvement in last year’s election seemingly claiming it should have been “the” issue of the meeting, reporting on an talking about only that issue.
Reality - There are people dying in Eastern Ukraine from Russia rockets and artillery in a challenge to world stability; there are cyberattacks from Russia against Ukraine and other countries threatening basic infrastructures; there is a significant Russian military build-up in seized Crimea including possibly nuclear; there are major and disquieting Russian troop movements along Ukraine’s borders and in Belarus, and on-and-on, and Russia attempt to influence our elections should have been “the” topic of the day – really?
Yes, Russia’s behavior – however extensive and demonic it turns out to have been, is a big and serious issue. But it is not “the” issue and only issue. Does anyone really think, or not remember, the history of foreign interests in other countries elections – including our own activities? Sure Russia’s games seem to have gone far beyond its mischief of the past. This is not genuinely a new issue.
But not calling Putin the provider of false information he is about the election was not “:the” disappointment of the disappointing meeting. The man across the table from our President does not provide correct information about almost everything – just one small example - there were no Russians in Crimea said Mr. Putin.
But only months later he was pinning medals on the uniforms of his soldiers who seized Crimea. Putin is our enemy plain and simple. Sure we have to keep talks going and try, but we have to be realistic and smart.
Link: New York Times
(12) Putin played Trump like a fiddle at the G20 – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Michael Carpenter writes: In sum, it does not appear that Trump got any concrete results out of his meeting with Putin, aside from the agreement on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria — but gave Putin everything he could have wished for by agreeing to move on from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election without further consequences.
Carpenter says, “Whether Trump agreed with Putin’s assertion that Russia had not in fact interfered in the election, as the Russian side claimed, or merely agreed to put the issue behind him, one thing is painfully clear: The Trump administration appears to have no intention of imposing costs or consequences on Russia for carrying out one of the most brazen covert influence operations against the United States in its history.”
Thus undeterred, Carpenter asks why would the Kremlin stop now? Importantly Carpenter presents an excellent analysis of what the Trump-Putin meeting should have had on the table and why and, obviously, the disappointment that so little was apparently discussed. Opportunity lost, critical impressions made.
Commentary: Carpenter is a solid guy in foreign affairs, an excellent analyst and fabulous on defensive weapons for Ukraine. Among other things as a member of the Security Task Force he has told numerous congressional offices that the mistake they made in the Obama Administration was not supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine.
But this assessment of the disappointing meeting between the two presidents is well, disappointing, or at least the title is disappointing though catchy. He says Putin got all he could have wished for out of the meeting: “All Putin could have wished for by agreeing to move on from Russian interference in the 2016 election.” As mentioned before the idea that election interference should have been the top issue at the meeting seems odd.
It surely is a valid issue in Washington and is and will be studied and discussed and maybe more. But there was only so much anyone could do with the issue faced with a man comfortable with lying in your face when he knows you know he is lying.
Yes, perhaps Trump should have ended that portion of the talk with, “Regardless of your denials, know that when the reviews are complete there will be consequences and you better stop your on-going activities now.”
But we know Trump has questioned the extent of the Russian meddling and it wasn’t his top priority though he knows more “consequences” are in the future from Congress if not him and whether they be for the election or other Russian misbehavior.
It would have been overly optimistic to have ever thought Trump was going to hammer this issue. But the notion that Putin got everything he could have wanted out of the meeting – that is a bit of a stretch.
As said above, by the time Mr. Putin sat down with Trump much of what he wanted and might even have hoped for had been put to ruin, or is it a mistake to think he was adamantly opposed to American Patriot missiles in Poland, for example? Is it a mistake to think Putin’s teeth were locked tight as he heard Trump in Poland.
Do we really think Putin was glad to hear defensive weapons for Ukraine are on the table at the Department of State and that Kurt Volker will be the special representative for Ukraine? Before they met Putin had heard a lot of discomforting news.
There is no doubt Trump’s performance was disappointing, Carpenter and many others of many different perspectives agree on that. As for whether Putin “would stop now” – it will be actions that count, it always was to be so.
(13) Despite Cosy Trump-Putin Summit (sic), Tillerson zaps Russia, Back Ukraine – Reuters
Immediately after the G20 meeting and the President Trump - President Putin meeting Secretary Tillerson and special representative Kurt Volker went to Kyiv. “The fact that they appointed [Volker] is a sign this administration is serious about Ukraine,” John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, told Foreign Policy. In Kyiv they met with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.
Tillerson said the war in Ukraine was “planned and launched from Moscow.” The secretary’s straightforward remarks were music to Ukraine’s ears. Ever since Trump’s election, no one has known where the new president would come down on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Tillerson’s tough talk and his appointment of Volker speaks volumes. And their one-day trip to Kyiv underscores their commitment to helping Ukraine fend off Russia.
Commentary: One cannot discount the Trump-Putin meeting or the apparent Trump determination to find something in a US-Russia relationship, but we have to watch for actions.
(14) Just before President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin’s tête-à-tête at the G-20 on July 7, Russia quietly annexed “about 10 hectares” of Georgian territory on behalf of the Republic of South Ossetia, a polity recognized by just four countries (including Russia). Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Commentary: Now watching for the U.S. and the West’s reaction to this is important – will it be ignored? While we are most concerned about Ukraine, we have to watch and react to Russia’s every evil move. Russia’s moves are not isolated, they are all part of the Kremlin’s meticulous design, each connected to the next, they cannot be pushed into separate boxes. The United States must not treat each Putin move as a separate event.
(15) Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will begin discussions on a roadmap to get Ukraine into NATO, with Kyiv pledging reforms to it up to standard by 2020, President Petro Poroshenko said on Monday. Reuters
- : NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledged support for Ukraine during a visit to Kiev on Monday. Another dot?
- : Reuters
- A key House chairman, frustrated that a Senate-passed Russia sanctions bill has stalled in his chamber, is considering crafting his own plan to punish Moscow — even as White House officials lobby to defang the legislation. Politico
The story and commentary: The frustration of notoriously patient House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Cal) is showing. He is considering crafting his own plan to punish Moscow if the House doesn’t take up and pass the Senate bill soon.
Royce’s uneasiness underscores the growing anxiety among House Republicans who are concerned the White House’s lobbying campaign to weaken the bill could make them seem soft on Russia – which they are not.
Marc Short, the Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs has been lobbying against provisions of the Senate bill that would tie the President diplomatically regarding any future lessening of sanctions based upon Russian behavior.
As stated earlier, any administration and every administration lobbies for Presidential diplomatic authority, that really isn’t news. But in this case it seems Republicans on the Hill want to take a harder line on Russia regardless of traditional Presidential authority. The President knows sanctions are coming.
- : Politico
- Even how critical judicial reform is to Ukraine's future, it’s time for senior officials from the United States, the EU, and the IMF to make clear to Kyiv that no further financial aid will be disbursed until Ukraine creates a Supreme Court with honest judges that pass PIC's ethical reviews. Atlantic Council
Josh Cohen argues now is not the time for the IMF to go wobbly – it must withhold funds. The Ukrainian government wants another tranche this fall, and this is an opportunity to show Kyiv that the international community means business. Ukraine's brave reformers—and its forty-five million citizens—deserve nothing less.
- : Cohen’s piece does an excellent job of outlining the disgraceful on-going corruption in Ukraine’s judicial system and such corruption cannot and must not be ignored because of the genuine progress being made in other areas.
But his “solution” of withholding further financial aid to Ukraine until western states and agencies are comfortable with reforms of the judicial system is wrong-headed.
The last line of his article is “Ukraine's brave reformers—and its forty-five million citizens—deserve nothing less.” Sounds nice but something like “Ukraine’s brave reformers – and its forty-five million citizens – deserve some genuine support and creativity, not easy, traditional and blinded bureaucratic answers.” Financial support is needed and is the West’s best interests to provide.
But demanding conditions, implemented by real-life controls and genuine 24/7 supervision might take the western bureaucracies out of their comfort zone but so be it. Do that and stop whining and for sure do not withhold funds desperately needed.
Add to this several well thought-out individual sanctions of high-ranking Ukrainian officials and/or inner circle members under the Global Magnitsky Act and some genuine progress could be made without punishing the very people Cohen applauds.
(18) Putin’s Dangerous Ukraine Doctrine – The Wall Street Journal
The Atlantic Council’s Adrian Karatnycky provides a good rundown on Putin’s continuing and demonic mischief in Ukraine. “What Mr. Putin wants above all is to ensure that whatever the future status of these regions (Donbass), it will be Moscow, not Kyiv, that calls the shots.
Still, the radical steps Russia is taking, including terrorism, make clear that Mr. Putin seeks to derail the 2015 Minsk II process, even as he points the finger at Ukraine for lack of progress toward peace.”
“The U.S. and Europe must respond forcefully to this new intensification in Russia’s hybrid war. The engagement of Mr. Volker to shape diplomacy on the Russia-Ukraine conflict signals that the U.S. will adopt a pragmatic hard-line policy. It is a welcome sign that the personal chemistry between Messrs. Trump and Putin won’t override the physics of power politics and diplomacy.”
Commentary: On a collateral point we do note that Karatnycky surely used the proper spelling of Kyiv not the Russian version Kiev. But American media and many others have opted to use Kiev and switch the spelling in submitted pieces.
Strange that practically overnight everyone jumped on the bandwagon when Peking abruptly became Beijing, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and when Burma became Myanmar.
(19) Amid the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Ukraine stories pop-up - - again.
- In the last few days there has been “new” and maybe strange interest in the old January story about Ukraine’s involvement with the Clinton campaign. There is no reason to site article after article or questions asked at a Senate hearing. The fact is some are arguing that the Clinton campaign likewise colluded—with Ukraine, to dig up dirt on Trump.
Isn’t a question why is this being brought up now? Senator Graham who brought this to you?
It is an old and different story. It was documented in a January article in Politico – did everyone forget? Who is behind treating this like a new story? Could it have
anything to do with the dots Putin might be reading? Is he trying to thwart defensive weapons?
The Politico article made it quite clear Ukraine did not go to the Democrats. A Ukrainian-American consultant to the Democratic National Committee took it upon herself to investigate connections between Russia and Trump and when Trump named Paul Manafort, who was known for long involvements with Ukrainian oligarchs, to run his campaign, she jumped on it.
She met several times with staff at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to ask question about Manafort, Russia and Trump. The staff apparently shared information freely.
The DNC’s email server, which US intelligence agencies say Russia hacked and leaked, reveals her conversations with DNC headquarters about her inquiries, but also show that the talks went nowhere. DNC officials told Politico her information wasn’t worth putting in briefing books and her efforts to force an congressional inquiry went nowhere.
Ukraine or some staff didn’t look good in the Politico article but Ukraine did not go to the Hillary campaign or to the DNC.
Links that might be of interest: www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446 and/or https://qz.com/.../did-hillary-clinton-collude-with-ukraine-in-the-2016-presidential-ele...
- Unique opportunities provided by RTVi
Unique opportunities are being offered by RTVi an independent Russian media outlet now underway. The name seems quite odd and causes initial confusion given that RTVi is not connected with the propaganda machine RT. Even though it has a studio in Moscow the RTVi channel is moderated by Tikhon Dzyadko, a leading figure in Russia's liberal opposition movement who has been recognized for his contribution to independent journalism.
The program broadcasts on platforms reaching twenty-five million viewers around the world, mainly in the U.S, Germany, and Israel and Russia. The program is also streamed on Facebook Live.
- : Over the last few weeks RTVi has broadcast programs featuring persons from Washington, Moscow and in some cases Kyiv and Donetsk. They are very interested in the situation in Ukraine, and especially the recommendations of the Security Task Force mentioned in earlier entries above.
A couple of fragments are worth sharing. In one the Washington contingent was Ambassador John Herbst, of the Atlantic Council, Hanna Thorburn of the Hudson Institute, and Nadia McConnell or the US-Ukraine Foundation. In Moscow the participants included a few of the city’s hard core Putinites.
The discussion was very lively. At one point the Russian aggression in Ukraine was raised and the Russian exploded with something like, “Here it is, I knew the allegation of Russian involvement would be raised. There are no Russians in Ukraine, there are no Russian weapons in Ukraine.” At this point the Washington moderator noted for all that in Washington the studio is full of laughter.
McConnell observed (as was also mentioned earlier in this newsletter) that Putin denied Russians were in Crimea when it was seized but later awarded medals to those Russian soldiers who fought in the campaign.
Midway in the program an official of the DNR was added and Ambassador Herbst demanded to know what Russian advisors (who he identified by name) were doing in Donbass and the Russian participant changed the subject to ask about the head of the Ukrainian Bank and solicited repeatedly an answer to his question.
Herbst switched to Russian and lit into the guy saying he would answer his question when the Russian answered his. Subsequently the Washington participants were told social media went off the charts when Ambassador Herbst had switched his questioning in Russian. Public confrontation with dissemblers and liars can be good, maybe there should be more of it.
In another broadcast the Moscow contingent pursued the usual line about Ukraine not being a "real" or "legitimate" country. In Washington, Markian Bilynskyj, Vice President of the US-Ukraine Foundation, observed, in an attempt to break the tedium of hackneyed responses from the Moscow studio that normal countries control their borders particularly if they are adjacent to a zone of conflict.
When citizens cross international borders there is some type of identity check when the citizen leaves the country and a security check especially when that citizen returns from such a zone. There are controls at the border.
Yet, Russia’s so-called “tourists” seem to roam freely back and forth across a seemingly porous border with Ukraine adding to the very instability that Moscow says it sees as a threat to its national security.
Bilynskyj asked if given this instability to control its borders perhaps Russia itself was beginning to exhibit symptoms of a “failing state?” The eruption in Moscow might have been detected on seismometers across the globe.
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