Ukraine Update: 18 January, 2022 (Afternoon)

The Kiev Express is ramping up as it becomes more evident to the West that Russia is poised to launch an invasion of Ukraine at any moment. Diplomats and other politicians from NATO countries continue to arrive in Ukraine for discussions with the Zelensky government, tours of Ukrainian defensive positions in the east and firm warnings to Vladimir Putin. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Ukraine tomorrow before doubling back to Berlin for discussions with his German counterpart. Then on Friday, Blinken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva. Friday’s meeting seems to be an eleventh-hour encounter that will be the last opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. Blinken will feel Lavrov out to determine how much, if any, Russian interest there is in a diplomatic approach to deescalating the situation. Last week’s talks were aimed at finding that approach but ended in failure. Thus far, Russia has been insistent that a drawdown of its forces poised along the Ukrainian border needs to be tied to NATO accepting its security demands. The alliance has been insistent that it will do no such thing.

The White House has changed its language and tone regarding Ukraine and Russia. Earlier today, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the US believes Russia is prepared to launch military operations against Ukraine at any time. An alarming statement given the more reserved public demeanor of the administration with regards to Ukraine and Russia recently. Last week, US officials raised concern about the possibility of a Russian operation to manufacture an incident which Moscow could use as a justification for military action. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan then stated that US intelligence was uncertain if Vladimir Putin had made a final decision on invading Ukraine. The new tone of voice from the White House this afternoon indicates the US intelligence assessment might’ve changed.

UN General Assembly 2019: The Last Chance for Diplomacy?

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This week in New York, the chief diplomats of the United States, and Iran are entering the UN General Assembly with two specific mission goals, and guidelines regarding how to best achieve them. What transpires in Manhattan this week will almost assuredly affect the national interests of Iran, and the US. In the case of the former, the same holds true with regards to its economic wellbeing, and overall security.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s mission is to convince world leaders to pressure the United States into loosening the economic sanction noose it has fastened around Iran’s neck. Zarif has been dangling the possibility of talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump taking place on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week in exchange for a loosening of the sanctions. Washington has shown no interest in this approach, and its not likely that Zarif will find too many sympathetic world leaders who possess the clout, or willingness to persuade the US to go easier on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes into the General Assembly looking to lay the foundation for a diplomatic outcome to the crisis. Contrary to the opinions expressed by countless left-leaning journalists, politicians and talking heads, the United States does not want to begin a war with Iran. SecState, and the rest of the Trump administration’s national security team have left no stone unturned while searching for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Regrettably, none have been found. Despite its claims otherwise, Tehran has demonstrated no sincere desire to resolve the current issues through diplomatic means. The Iranian government only wants to return the US-Iran relationship to what it was previous to President Trump’s inauguration and that is not going to happen.

So, as the week begins and the drama starts to unfold in Manhattan, it will be useful to keep in mind that if there is no diplomatic breakthrough by Friday, the Trump administration will begrudgingly admit that diplomacy has failed. From that point on, the US focus will shift towards non-diplomatic means to contain Iran. And by non-diplomatic means, I’m referring to the application of military power, of course. 😊

Iran Promises ‘All Out War’ If Attacked

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Less than twenty-four hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled the Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities to be an act of war, his Iranian counterpart warned the world that any US or Saudi military action against Iran will lead to an ‘all out war.’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went on to explain that while Iran does not wish for war, it is prepared to defend itself should war come. His comments today have escalated the war of words presently underway between the Iranian regime and the Trump administration.

Zarif’s verbal barrage comes on the heels of not only Pompeo’s words, but also Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it believes Iran ‘unquestionably sponsored’ the attacks. Riyadh stopped short of openly blaming Iran, however. In yesterday’s statements, the Saudi government did explain its intention to gather more information on the attack. Specifically, determining the launch points of the cruise missiles. As I hinted at in a post the other day, this explanation could be little more than a screen to hide what is taking place behind the scenes. The US has incontrovertible proof that Iran is entirely responsible for the attack and the intelligence has been shared with the Saudi leadership and its military.

The other Gulf States appear to be aligning themselves with the United States as the crisis escalates. Today the United Arab Emirates announced it would be joining the US-led maritime coalition now being put together. Bahrain has previously said it too would be a part of the effort. Kuwait has raised the alert level of its military and security services as a precautionary measure. The Kuwaitis are also investigating the detection of unidentified UAVs over its territory earlier in the week, in an attempt to determine if there is a link to Iranian actions and future intentions.

 

US-North Korea Talks Postponed

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-level North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were supposed to hold meetings today in New York. The White House announced yesterday that the meeting was being postponed until a later date. Today, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha revealed it was Pyongyang that had requested a delay. Sanctions appear to be the reason behind the request. Pyongyang has been pushing for the US and UN sanctions in place against them to be lightened before serious talks on denuclearization progress farther.

The two sides view the future of sanctions quite differently. The Trump administration insists on keeping sanctions in place until a final agreement on denuclearization is reached. The North Koreans, on the other hand, want sanctions to be relaxed at least somewhat. Kim Jong Un is seeking victory of sorts. A sign that can be touted at home and overseas as proof that the US is treating North Korea as an equal and negotiating in good faith. Unfortunately for them, the United States appears unlikely to deliver such a gift at the moment.

It’s unclear when the meeting will take place, or whether it will at all. This delay needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however. Pauses in dialogue, and brief volleys of heated rhetoric have become recurrent events in the US-North Korean relationship. This is simply part of the process and following this latest pause, the talking will resume at some point.

 

Afternoon Update: Confusion About The Ultimatum, EU Foreign Ministers Meet In Brussels, Pro-Russian Protests In Eastern Ukraine

 

Sometimes, the best way for journalists to report on stories responsibly is to take a deep breath and think for a moment before reporting. A crisis like the one in the Ukraine is very fluid. The situation changes at a breathtaking pace. The media is having a difficult time keeping pace with events in the Crimea. The stories about a Russian ultimatum to Ukrainian forces on the peninsula are a perfect example of this. Around three hours ago reports began to filter in about a Russian ultimatum to the Ukrainian military units in the Crimea: Surrender or face a ‘Military Storm.’ Shortly afterward, spokesmen from various Russian government agencies issued  statements denying that such an ultimatum was issued. Western media outlets continued to insist otherwise. Finally, the Associated Press reported that the ultimatum actually did happen. But it was made by the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (In reality more of a squadron than a fleet) to the captains of two Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol harbor. He wanted the screws of both ships to surrender themselves or the Russians would storm both ships.

 

The emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers has concluded in Brussels. Conclusions from the meeting have been posted online and are available below. In short, the EU is hanging on to the hope that diplomacy can somehow bring the situation under control. It cannot, but the EU is trying nevertheless.

 

Main Conclusions From The EU Meeting In Brussels

1. The European Union strongly condemns the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by acts of aggression by the Russian armed forces as well as the authorisation given by the Federation Council of Russia on 1 March for the use of the armed forces on the territory of Ukraine. These actions are in clear breach of the UN Charter and the OSCE Helsinki Final Act, as well as of Russia’s specific commitments to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 and the bilateral Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership of 1997. These actions are also a clear breach of the Ukrainian constitution which specifically recognises the territorial integrity of the country and states that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea can only organise referenda on local matters but not on the modification of the territorial configuration of Ukraine.

2. The EU calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its armed forces to the are as of their permanent stationing, in accordance with the Agreement on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet stationing on the territory of Ukraine of 1997. Russia should also without delay agree to the request by Ukraine to hold consultations, as foreseen in the bilateral Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership of 1997, and to take part in urgent consultations among all signatories and adherents of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.

3. The EU calls for a peaceful solution to the current crisis and full respect of the principles of and obligations under international law.

 

In the eastern Ukraine,  pro-Russia demonstrations are beginning to take place in the city of Donetsk. Protesters have stormed a government building and taken control of it. Keep in mind how events began to unfold in the Crimea. Now we’re seeing the same seeds planted in eastern Ukraine…another area where Moscow has much popular support.

The pieces are beginning to come together now. Putin’s knife is out, but his intention is not to stab the Ukraine to death. He wants to carve it up instead.