Tag Archives: Russia

Biden Announces New Sanctions in Response to Russia Invading Ukraine

President Joe Biden announces new sanctions on Russia after Putin initiated an invasion into Ukraine. “Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?  This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community…. He directly attacked Ukraine’s right to exist.  He indirectly threatened territory formerly held by Russia, including nations that today are thriving democracies and members of NATO.  He explicitly threatened war unless his extreme demands were met. And there is no question that Russia is the aggressor.  So we’re clear-eyed about the challenges we’re facing.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com via msnbc

Today, in response to Vladimir Putin increasing hostilities against Ukraine, deploying Russian forces into Ukraine and giving a speech in which the Russian President dismissed Ukraine’s right to exist as a free and sovereign nation, President Joe Biden issued a tranche of new sanctions.

“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?  This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community…. He directly attacked Ukraine’s right to exist.  He indirectly threatened territory formerly held by Russia, including nations that today are thriving democracies and members of NATO.  He explicitly threatened war unless his extreme demands were met. And there is no question that Russia is the aggressor.  So we’re clear-eyed about the challenges we’re facing.

Here is a transcript of his remarks:

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin recognized two regions of Ukraine as independent states and he bizarrely asserted that these regions are no longer part of Ukraine and their sovereign territory.  To put it simply, Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine. 

Last night, Putin authorized Russian forces to deploy into the region — these regions.  Today, he asserted that these regions are — actually extend deeper than the two areas he recognized, claiming large areas currently under the jurisdiction of the Ukraine government. 

He’s setting up a rationale to take more territory by force, in my view.  And if we listen to his speech last night — and many of you did, I know — he’s — he’s setting up a rationale to go much further.

This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma. 

I’m going to begin to impose sanctions in response, far beyond the steps we and our Allies and partners implemented in 2014.  And if Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as — with sanction.

Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?  This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community. 

Over the last few months, we have coordinated closely with our NATO Allies and partners in Europe and around the world to prepare that response.  We’ve said all along and I’ve told Putin to his face more than a month ago that we would act together and the moment Russia moved against Ukraine. 

Russia has now undeniably moved against Ukraine by declaring these independent states. 

So, today, I’m announcing the first tranche of sanctions to impose costs on Russia in response to their actions yesterday.  These have been closely coordinated with our Allies and partners, and we’ll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates. 

We’re implementing full blocking sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions: V.E.B. and their military bank. 

We’re implementing comprehensive sanctions on Russian sovereign debt.  That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing.  It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either.

Starting tomorrow [today] and continuing in the days ahead, we will also impose sanctions on Russia’s elites and their family members.  They share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well. 

And because of Russia’s actions, we’ve worked with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 will not — as I promised — will not move forward.

As Russia contemplates its next move, we have our next move prepared as well.  Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression, including additional sanctions.

The United States will continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine in the meantime.  And we’ll continue to reinforce and reassure our NATO Allies. 

Today, in response to Russia’s admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus, I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic Allies — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part.  We have no intention of fighting Russia.  We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our Allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.

We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine.  I hope I’m wrong about that — hope we’re wrong about that.  But Russia has only escalated its threat against the rest of Ukrainian territory, including major cities and including the capital city of Kyiv.

There are still well over 150,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine.  And as I said, Russian forces remain positioned in Belarus to attack Ukraine from the north, including war planes and offensive missile systems.

Russia has moved troops closer to Ukraine’s border with Russia.  Russia’s naval vessels are maneuvering in the Black Sea to Ukraine’s south, including amphibious assault ships, missile cruisers, and submarines. 

Russia has moved supplies of blood and medical equipment into position on their border.  You don’t need blood unless you plan on starting a war. 

And over the last few days, we’ve seen much of the playbook that Secretary Blinken laid out last week at the United Nations Security Council come to pass: a major increase in military provocations and false-flag events along the line of contact in the Donbas; dramatically staged, conveniently on-camera meeting of Putin’s Security Council to grandstand for the Russian public; and now political provocation of recognizing sovereign Ukrainian territory as so-called independent republics in clear violation, again, of international law. 

President Putin has sought authorization from the Russian parliament to use military force outside of Russian territory.  And this set the stage for further pretexts and further provocations by Russia to try to justify further military action.

None of us — none of us should be fooled.  None of us will be fooled.  There is no justification. 

Further Russian assault into Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead.  And if Russia proceeds, it is Russia, and Russia alone, that bears the responsibility. 

As we respond, my administration is using every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers from rising prices at the pump.  As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs for us as well, here at home.  We need to be honest about that. 

But as we do this, I’m going to take robust action and make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.

We are closely monitoring energy supplies for any disruption.  We’re executing a plan in coordination with major oil-producing consumers and producers toward a collective investment to secure stability and global energy supplies. 

This will be — this will blunt gas prices.  I want to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.  This is critical to me. 

In the last few days, I have been in constant contact with European leaders, including with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.  Vice President Harris met in person with leaders in Germany over the weekend at the Munich Conference, including President Zelenskyy. 

At every step, we have shown that the United States and our Allies and partners are working in unison — which he hasn’t been counting on — Mr. Putin.  We’re united in our support of Ukraine.  We’re united in our opposition to Russian aggression.  And we’re united in our resolve to defend our NATO Alliance.  And we’re united in our understanding of the urgency and seriousness of the threat Russia is making to global peace and stability. 

Yesterday, the world heard clearly the full extent of Vladimir Putin’s twisted rewrite of history, going back more than a century, as he waxed eloquently, noting that — well, I’m not going to go into it, but nothing in Putin’s lengthy remarks indicated any interest in pursuing real dialogue on European security in the year 2022. 

He directly attacked Ukraine’s right to exist.  He indirectly threatened territory formerly held by Russia, including nations that today are thriving democracies and members of NATO.  He explicitly threatened war unless his extreme demands were met. 

And there is no question that Russia is the aggressor.  So we’re clear-eyed about the challenges we’re facing. 

Nonetheless, there is still time to avert the worst-case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested. 

The United States and our Allies and partners remain open to diplomacy if it is serious.  When all is said and done, we’re going to judge Russia by its actions, not its words.

And whatever Russia does next, we’re ready to respond with unity, clarity, and conviction. 

We’ll probably have more to say about this as we — if it moves on.  I’m hoping diplomacy is still available. 

FACT SHEET:
United States Imposes First Tranche of Swift and Severe Costs on Russia 

U.S. joined by Allies and partners to hold Putin accountable; Will impose additional costs if Russia goes further with this invasion


Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin of Russia recognized two regions of Ukraine as independent states and today claimed that recognition to include all of the Donbas region. The Russian Parliament also authorized the deployment of additional Russian forces into this Ukrainian territory. 
 
As President Biden and our Allies and partners have made clear, we will impose significant costs on Russia for Russia’s actions. Today, the Administration is implementing the first tranche of sanctions that go far beyond 2014, in coordination with allies and partners in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia. And as President Biden promised, we worked with Germany to ensure the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not move forward.

The President has directed the following measures:

  • Full blocking sanctions on two significant Russian financial institutions. The Secretary of the Treasury will impose full blocking sanctions on two large state-owned Russian financial institutions that provide key services crucial to financing the Kremlin and the Russian military: Vnesheconombank and Promsvyazbank and their subsidiaries. Collectively, these institutions hold more than $80 billion in assets and finance the Russian defense sector and economic development. These measures will freeze their assets in the United States, prohibit U.S. individuals and businesses from doing any transactions with them, shut them out of the global financial system, and foreclose access to the U.S. dollar.
     
  • Expanded sovereign debt prohibitions restricting U.S. individuals and firms from participation in secondary markets for new debt issued by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.  These prohibitions will cut off the Russian government from a key avenue by which it raises capital to fund its priorities and will increase future financing costs. It denies Russia access to key U.S. markets and investors.
     
  • Full blocking sanctions on five Russian elites and their family members: Aleksandr Bortnikov (and his son, Denis), Sergei Kiriyenko (and his son, Vladimir), and Promsvyazbank CEO Petr Fradkov. These individuals and their relatives directly benefit from their connections with the Kremlin. Other Russian elites and their family members are on notice that additional actions could be taken against them.
     
  • Today, the Secretary of the Treasury will determine that any institution in the financial services sector of the Russian Federation economy is a target for further sanctions. Over 80% of Russia’s daily foreign exchange transactions globally are in U.S. dollars and roughly half of Russia’s international trade is conducted in dollars. With this action, no Russian financial institution is safe from our measures, including the largest banks. 

These actions come in addition to steps being taken by our Allies and partners and represent our first response to Russia’s actions. As President Biden made clear, Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression


From the US State Department: G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Russia and Ukraine 

President Joe Biden, at his February 7 meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to express solidarity in deterring Russia from invading Ukraine. The G7 issued a statement, declaring “We reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and our support to Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen its democracy and institutions, encouraging further progress on reform. We consider it of utmost importance to help preserve the economic and financial stability of Ukraine and the well-being of its people.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com via msnbc.

The text of the following statement was released by the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union.

We, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union, remain gravely concerned about Russia’s threatening military build-up around Ukraine, in illegally annexed Crimea and in Belarus. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified massing of military forces, the largest deployment on the European continent since the end of the Cold War is a challenge to global security and the international order.

We call on Russia to choose the path of diplomacy, to de-escalate tensions, to substantively withdraw military forces from the proximity of Ukraine’s borders and to fully abide by international commitments including on risk reduction and transparency of military activities. As a first step, we expect Russia to implement the announced reduction of its military activities along Ukraine’s borders. We have seen no evidence of this reduction. We will judge Russia by its deeds.

We took note of Russia’s latest announcements that it is willing to engage diplomatically. We underline our commitment vis-à-vis Russia to pursue dialogue on issues of mutual concern, such as European security, risk reduction, transparency, confidence building and arms control. We also reiterate our commitment to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the current crisis, and we urge Russia to take up the offer of dialogue through the US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council, and the OSCE. We commend the Renewed OSCE European Security Dialogue launched by the Polish OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office and express our strong hope that Russia will engage in a constructive way.

Any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states goes against the fundamental principles that underpin the rules-based international order as well as the European peace and security order enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter and other subsequent OSCE declarations. While we are ready to explore diplomatic solutions to address legitimate security concerns, Russia should be in no doubt that any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences, including financial and economic sanctions on a wide array of sectoral and individual targets that would impose severe and unprecedented costs on the Russian economy. We will take coordinated restrictive measures in case of such an event.

We reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and our support to Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen its democracy and institutions, encouraging further progress on reform. We consider it of utmost importance to help preserve the economic and financial stability of Ukraine and the well-being of its people. Building on our assistance since 2014, we are committed to contribute, in close coordination with Ukraine’s authorities to support the strengthening of Ukraine’s resilience.

We reiterate our unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and territorial waters. We reaffirm the right of any sovereign state to determine its own future and security arrangements. We commend Ukraine’s posture of restraint in the face of continued provocations and efforts at destabilization.

We underline our strong appreciation and continued support for Germany’s and France’s efforts through the Normandy Process to secure the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which is the only way forward for a lasting political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. We acknowledge public statements by President Zelensky underlining Ukraine’s firm commitment to the Minsk Agreements and his readiness to contribute constructively to the process. Ukrainian overtures merit serious consideration by Russian negotiators and by the Government of the Russian Federation. We call on Russia to seize the opportunity which Ukraine’s proposals represent for the diplomatic path.

Russia must de-escalate and fulfil its commitments in implementing the Minsk Agreements. The increase in ceasefire violations along the line of contact in recent days is highly concerning. We condemn the use of heavy weaponry and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, which constitute a clear violation of the Minsk Agreements. We also condemn that the Russian Federation continues to hand out Russian passports to the inhabitants of the non-government controlled areas of Ukraine. This clearly runs counter to the spirit of the Minsk agreements.

We are particularly worried by measures taken by the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” which must be seen as laying the ground for military escalation. We are concerned that staged incidents could be used as a pretext for possible military escalation. Russia must use its influence over the self-proclaimed republics to exercise restraint and de-escalate.

In this context, we firmly express our support for the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, whose observers play a key role in de-escalation efforts. This mission must be allowed to carry out its full mandate without restrictions to its activities and freedom of movement to the benefit and security of the people in eastern Ukraine.

Biden Lays Down the Law for Putin: ‘We are Ready to Respond Decisively to a Russian Attack on Ukraine’

President Joe Biden:  “This is about more than just Russia and Ukraine.  It’s about standing for what we believe in, for the future we want for our world, for liberty — for liberty, the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures, for the principle that a country can’t change its neighbor’s borders by force.  That’s our vision.  And toward that end, I’m confident that vision, that freedom will prevail. If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world to oppose its aggression.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com via msnbc.

I feel so much more secure with President Joe Biden managing the Russia crisis – it’s threat to invade Ukraine. Russia is threatening the worst violence in Europe since World War II, and this bit of brinksmanship is the worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Biden is using just the right measure of carrots and sticks and showing extraordinary leadership in keeping the allies together, on the same page. Putin miscalculated Biden, incorrectly assessing the Afghanistan exit as weakness and lack of resolve instead of fortitude and competence (the largest air lift in that short amount of time remarkably). In  his speech, Biden spoke directly to Americans and the allies in stating the importance in defending democracy and Ukraine’s self-determination and sovereignty against Russian imperialistic, autocratic aggression, recognizing that just like Chamberlain and Hitler, appeasement (as after Russia invaded Georgia and then took Crimea), would not stop with Ukraine.

Biden spoke directly to the Russian people, too, noting that they are not the enemy, but Putin acting out of ego and selfish obsession with power, putting their lives and economy at risk. He was firm and clear about what Russia would face if Putin stepped a foot into Ukraine territory – releasing declassified intel to take away Putin’s ability to mount a false-flag operation or cyberattack. And he spoke to Americans as well, to prepare us for the fall-out – such as higher energy prices. Preserving democracy has a cost, he said, while giving assurances his administration was doing what it could to mitigate the bad impacts. And he has been on top of the planning – with table-top exercises to react to whatever happens.

He was firm that while he is interested in a diplomatic, rather than military, solution, he has no interest in appeasement.

Imagine if Trump were in the Oval Office – he’d shut down NATO, shut down United Nations and give his puppetmaster a green light (What did Trump react to, today? His accounting firm, Mazar’s, firing the Trump Organization as a client, saying they couldn’t vouch for the reliability of its tax returns from 2011-2020.)

Here’s a highlighted transcript of Biden’s speech—Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  Today, I’d like to provide an update on the crisis involving Russia and Ukraine.
 
From the beginning of this crisis, I have been absolutely clear and consistent: The United States is prepared no matter what happens. 
 
We are ready with diplomacy — to be engaged in diplomacy with Russia and our Allies and partners to improve stability and security in Europe as a whole. 
 
And we are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which is still very much a possibility.
 
Through all of the events of the last few weeks and months, this has been our approach.  And it remains our approach now.
 
So, today I want to speak to the American people about the situation on the ground, the steps we’ve taken, the actions we’re prepared to take, and what’s at stake for us and the world, and how this may impact on us here at home.
 
For weeks now, together with our Allies and partners, my administration has engaged in non-stop diplomacy.
 
This weekend I spoke again with President Putin to make clear that we are ready to keep pursuing high-level diplomacy to reach written understandings among Russia, the United States, and the nations of Europe to address legitimate security concerns if that’s what — his wish.  Their security concerns and ours.
 
President Putin and I agreed that our teams should continue to engage toward this end along with our European Allies and partners.
 
Yesterday, the Russian government publicly proposed to continue the diplomacy.  I agree.  We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed.  I believe there are real ways to address our respective security concerns.
 
The United States has put on the table concrete ideas to establish a security environment in Europe.
 
We’re proposing new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures.  These measures would apply to all parties — NATO and Russia alike.
 
And we’re willing to make practical, results-oriented steps that can advance our common security.  We will not sacrifice basic principles, though.
 
Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity.  They have the freedom to set their own course and choose with whom they will associate.
 
But that still leaves plenty of room for diplomacy and for de-escalation.  That’s the best way forward for all parties, in our view.  And we’ll continue our diplomatic efforts in close consultation with our Allies and our partners.
 
As long as there is hope of a diplomatic resolution that prevents the use of force and avoids the incredible human suffering that would follow, we will pursue it.
 
The Russian Defense Ministry reported today that some military units are leaving their positions near Ukraine.
 
That would be good, but we have not yet verified that.  We have not yet verified that Russian military units are returning to their home bases.  Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.  And the fact remains: Right now, Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine in Belarus and along Ukraine’s border.
 
An invasion remains distinctly possible.  That’s why I’ve asked several times that all Americans in Ukraine leave now before it’s too late to leave safely.  It is why we have temporarily relocated our embassy from Kyiv to Lviv in western Ukraine, approaching the Polish border. 
 
And we’ve been transparent with the American people and with the world about Russia’s plans and the seriousness of the situation so that everyone can see for themselves what is happening.  We have shared what we know and what we are doing about it.
 
Let me be equally clear about what we are not doing:
 
The United States and NATO are not a threat to Russia.  Ukraine is not threatening Russia. 
 
Neither the U.S. nor NATO have missiles in Ukraine.  We do not — do not have plans to put them there as well.
 
We’re not targeting the people of Russia.  We do not seek to destabilize Russia.
 
To the citizens of Russia: You are not our enemyAnd I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine — a country and a people with whom you share such deep ties of family, history, and culture.
 
Seventy-seven years ago, our people fought and sacrificed side by side to end the worst war in history.
 
World War Two was a war of necessity.  But if Russia attacks Ukraine, it would be a war of choice, or a war without cause or reason.
 
I say these things not to provoke but to speak the truth — because the truth matters; accountability matters.
 
If Russia does invade in the days or weeks ahead, the human cost for Ukraine will be immense, and the strategic cost for Russia will also be immense.
 
If Russia attacks Ukraine, it’ll be met with overwhelming international condemnation.  The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction.
 
Invading Ukraine will prove to be a self-inflicted wound.
 
The United States and our Allies and partners will respond decisively.  The West is united and galvanized.
 
Today, our NATO Allies and the Alliance is as unified and determined as it has ever been.   And the source of our unbreakable strength continues to be the power, resilience, and universal appeal of our shared democratic values.
 
Because this is about more than just Russia and Ukraine.  It’s about standing for what we believe in, for the future we want for our world, for liberty — for liberty, the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures, for the principle that a country can’t change its neighbor’s borders by force.  That’s our vision.  And toward that end, I’m confident that vision, that freedom will prevail.
 
If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world to oppose its aggression.
 
The United States and our Allies and partners around the world are ready to impose powerful sanctions on [and] export controls, including actions we did not pursue when Russia invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.  We will put intense pressure on their largest and most significant financial institutions and key industries.
 
These measures are ready to go as soon and if Russia moves.  We’ll impose long-term consequences that will undermine Russia’s ability to compete economically and strategically.
 
And when it comes to Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would bring natural gas from Russia to Germany, if Russia further invades Ukraine, it will not happen.
 
While I will not send American servicemen to fight Russia in Ukraine, we have supplied the Ukrainian military with equipment to help them defend themselves.  We have provided training and advice and intelligence for the same purpose. 
 
And make no mistake: The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.  An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us.  And the United States commitment to Article 5 is sacrosanct. 
 
Already, in response to Russia’s build-up of troops, I have sent additional U.S. forces to bolster NATO’s eastern flank.
 
Several of our Allies have also announced they’ll add forces and capabilities to ensure deterrence and defense along NATO’s eastern flank.
 
We will also continue to conduct military exercises with our Allies and partners to enhance defensive readiness. 
 
And if Russia invades, we will take further steps to reinforce our presence in NATO, reassure for our Allies, and deter further aggression.
 
This is a cause that unites Republicans and Democrats.  And I want to thank the leaders and members of Congress of both parties who have forcefully spoken out in defense of our most basic, most bipartisan, most American principles.
 
I will not pretend this will be painless.  There could be impact on our energy prices, so we are taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets and offset rising prices.
 
We’re coordinating with major energy consumers and producers.  We’re prepared to deploy all the tools and authority at our disposal to provide relief at the gas pump. 
 
And I will work with Congress on additional measures to help protect consumers and address the impact of prices at the pump.
 
We are not seeking direct confrontation with Russia, though I have been clear that if Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully.
 
And if Russia attacks the United States or our Allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyberattacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond. 
 
We’re moving in lockstep with our NATO Allies and partners to deepen our collective defense against threats in cyberspace.
 
Two paths are still open.  For the sake of the historic responsibility Russia and the United States share for global stability, for the sake of our common future — to choose diplomacy.

 
But let there be no doubt: If Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond. 
 
If we do not stand for freedom where it is at risk today, we’ll surely pay a steeper price tomorrow. 
 
Thank you.  I’ll keep you informed.
 

Foreign Policy Experts Nance, Stavridis Warn of Global, Domestic Threats to Democracy as Authoritarians Rise

Malcolm Nance (left), a renowned counter terrorism and intelligence consultant for the US government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Operations, and 4-star Admiral James Stavridi (right)s who was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, engage in a dialogue on foreign policy moderated by Errol Louis, a political anchor at NY1 News, took place at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island on March 18, 2018. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

A dialogue between Malcolm Nance, a renowned counter terrorism and intelligence consultant for the US government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Operations, and 4-star Admiral James Stavridis who was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense, moderated by Errol Louis, a political anchor at NY1 News, took place at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island on March 18, 2018. It proved to be a seminar on foreign policy, with some tough words for the need to defend democracy against a tide of anti-democratic, authoritarian forces both domestic and foreign. “We have to solve this –at the ballot box.” 

Here are highlights from the provocative discussion:

Errol Louis: Moderator: Both of you were at the Pentagon on 9/11; Nance was even an eyewitness. With the rise of terrorism, how safe are we? 

Malcolm Nance: Since 9/11, we went for a short while in the correct direction in counterterrorism, bringing the world together to confront global threat. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq in 2003 broke the mechanisms in Mideast that were functioning – poorly, but indigenous – strongman dictators. Once we invaded, we unleashed demons we could not foresee. The ebb and flow of regional solutions all went out the window.

Before, the hardest problem was people trying to solve Palestinian problem. That’s nothing compared to radical Islam. You can negotiate with Palestinians, even Hamas, groups in Iran.

We have a bigger problem: just keeping the democratic norms in the world, not just US. Democracy as an ideology is now under attack, every day.

Admiral James Stavridis: I agree. Go back 100 years – 1918. The world is coming out of World War I, Spanish influenza pandemic sweeping, 40% of world’s population were infected, 20% of those will die. US walking away from Europe, isolating ourselves, rejects the League of Nations, erects enormous tariff barriers – cracked the global economy. You can drop a line from that to the rise of fascism and World War II. That is a dark global picture.

We have mechanisms to deal with many of the challenges but agree [with Nance] that the whole ideology of democracy is wrapped up in great power politics, the rise of two authoritarian figures- Putin [just “re-elected” to a fourth term]. President Xi Jinping isn’t even putting on faux election, he declared himself the new emperor. These authoritarian systems are a challenge to democracies in ways we haven’t dealt with in 100 years.

We have two other concerns: a new pandemic – don’t spend much time thinking – but every 100-200 years of human history, a pandemic rises, despite fact of enormous advances in medicine. We are due for one – ability to manipulate genome can allow dark dark work. [Consider how Trump has cut funding to the CDC, and would likely not step in to stop a new outbreak of Ebola or Zika outside the US.]

Our vulnerability is in cyber. We are utterly dependent on massive cyber systems. We are at great risk – that’s where the two strains – cyber vulnerability and way authoritarian regimes will come after us – those streams are crossing – we have work to do, tools,

So, how safe are we? We have challenges, but I am cautiously optimistic. The question is whether our democracy will put in the right people.

Louis: Pointing to [Trump’s] new direction in foreign policy [and the fact that the State Department is considering removing ‘human rights’ from its mission statement], why is it to our advantage to fight for democracy and human rights and why is this not a form of international charity? 

Nance: NATO, after World War II [was devised] to stop wars by creating a grand alliance – to spread that ideology around the world., not just American democracy, but allow others to develop their own form of republic, democratic governorship, whether a constitutional monarchy or a republic like France. That is under attack. Democracy is in retreat. ‘Democracy’ has been removed from mission statement of the State Department.

When we were struck on 9/11, it hurt me deeply – I spent my life in worst parts of world getting back. Now, that threat is from within – people in our country do not believe in democracy; autocracy, as being pushed by [Putin] former director of KGB, is better alternative to liberal democracy and European parliamentary democracy-Iit’s all under attack.

It is not a charity – America doesn’t do this as charity. We invented globalism – in WWII –we literally dropped it out of airplanes; people wanted our products at the end of war. Now people believe our system of economy is fundamentally wrong, NATO should be disbanded, the European Union should go away and every country in Europe should be its own autocracy with Moscow as polar center. There are people in US government who believe that.

Admiral Stavridis: “Why does democracy work? It’s not simply the value system. There’s a pragmatic element. With democracy, people [who are disaffected, aggrieved] get to change government peacefully – a safety value.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Stavridis: Why does democracy work? It’s not simply the value system. There’s a pragmatic element. With democracy, people [who are disaffected, aggrieved] get to change government peacefully – a safety value. That’s why we worry about authoritarianism –eventually [discontentment] will blow, and when that happens [authoritarian regimes] will go in search of monsters abroad, look for scapegoats, combat operations. We ought to be very concerned about authoritarianism.

What do we do about it? What’s our move? A couple of different things can do – continue to rely on a system of alliances – that’s why we should worry about tariff barriers, and walking away from NATO, that take global structures apart. We need to rely on those. We need to get vastly better at strategic communications, explaining our ideas. War of ideas? It’s a marketplace of ideas. We have to compete – democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, education, assembly, racial and gender equality – we execute them imperfectly but they are the right ideas. We have to communicate that in ways that get beyond ‘We have the right answer.’ Lay it out pragmatically: why it works. Because there are forces pushing against it.

Louis: Trump’s statements about NATO alarmed people, [yet] US deployed troops to Poland as part of NATO task force exercises. Is his rhetoric worse than reality?   

Stavridis: Candidate Trump said NATO was obsolete and he would consider pulling out altogether. Fortunately, on this subject, he [appears to have] listened to General Mattis, the Defense Secretary; General McMaster, National Security Adviser [so far], Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (oops). But on NATO, I am cautiously optimist he has gotten the message that NATO really works.

Nance: NATO is 28 nations, 52% of world’s GDP, 3 million troops under arms, 24,000 combat aircraft, 800 warships, 50 early warning aircraft – it is the richest, most powerful alliance in human history. US spends $600 billion/year on defense, the Europeans $300 billion. To put that into perspective, Russians spend $80 billion, Chinese $150 billion. We outspend in part because of our European allies – they should spend 2%, and are on track to do so in next 3-5 years. The alliance remains fundamental to US – it is pragmatic value for US to be in alliance.

Where did this idea come into Trump’s head that NATO wasn’t a good value, that US was connected to countries not paying their fair share? In November 2013, Trump went to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant and while he was there, he was brought to a private 2 hour meeting arranged by Aras Agalarov, [a billionaire Russian real estate mogul with ties to Putin] who funded the pageant, in a restaurant owned by Galaroff. [Trump] came out of that meeting spouting the Kremlin party line – anti-NATO, anti-globalization, anti European Union, anti treaties and alliances, believing that Russia is the premiere superpower. The only thing we don’t know is whether he believed it or whether some inducement got him to believe – he said it during campaign. Now he seems to have some change of view. NATO [which Admiral Stavridis once commanded] unilaterally evoked Article 5 after [the US was attacked on] 9/11 – for 10 years they gave their blood and treasure to defense of this nation. This is the single greatest force for good since world War II. Russia wants to do away with NATO – they call us Atlanticist, globalist – their philosopher Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin [who holds fascist views] convinced Steve Bannon, almost the Goebels of the anti-democratic movement, goes around the world, trains, help foster other countries to believe the Atlantic alliance is the problem in the eastern and western hemisphere.

Stavridis: Why NATO matters: 1) The values we share. We will never see another pool of partners who have these values. It is no coincidence because [the Founding Fathers] got them from Europe, from the Enlightenment. 2) The geographic position of Europe matters – why we need those Cold War bases in Europe – those are forward operating stations in the global war on terror 3) It’s the economy and trade between US and the NATO countries.

Also, when I commanded 150,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the nation that lost the most on a per capita basis was Estonia. Number 2 was the Netherlands. The US was number 3. They were with us in that fight because we had been attacked on 9/11. This is an alliance that stands and delivers for us. (applause)

Louis: What does [Trump’s] firing of [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson mean in the broader sense. Is it deliberate, a competence question, a larger crisis, an administration not executing?

Stavridis: When Secretary Tillerson got the job, I thought it was a good choice –a  global businessman, contacts all over the world, quiet, laconic, very serious Texan, tough minded. I thought it an interesting choice, it might turn out well. But Tillerson simply was not a very effective Secretary of State. He couldn’t gain real connectivity in the White House – in a state of constant chaos. How can you be Secretary of State for a president who one minute, says, ‘We will solve Korea with fire and fury like never seen – a preemptive declaration of war –and three months later, be ready to go and cut ‘the deal of the century’ – a defensible policy choices but not for same person. So to be Secretary of State trying to articulating that –the work of Sisyphus, boulder rolling down. As a result, morale in the State Department cratered, applications for foreign service are down 50% in the last 2 years. You don’t get that back –you  lose a generation if you can’t fill those slots, let alone, not filling crucial ambassadorships [including South Korea]. This is as bleak a moment for American diplomacy. A chaotic inexperienced White House that sadly doesn’t seem to be getting better in 14 months (feels like 14 yrs).

Malcolm Nance: “Trump thinks diplomacy is a big stick. His way of negotiating is threatening..A generation [of diplomats] is gone. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams –our first 3 ambassadors – must be spinning in their graves.”
Nance: It appears diplomacy has shifted over to war fighters. Trump thinks diplomacy is not speaking, thinks diplomacy is a big stick, and if everyone sees us as a big stick nation, there will be no communications. The acting Secretary of State is technically Ivanka Trump –Trump is using Ivanka and Jared as an alternate State Department because Trump doesn’t know what the state department is, what diplomacy is. His way of negotiating is threatening –he sees no value in the institution or maintaining. [He is defunding the State Department, institutes]. But the institutes (nongovernmental) are there to help foster democracy and republicanism within countries. They brought about change in countries that would otherwise become a dictatorship – gone. A generation [of diplomats] is gone. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams –our first 3 ambassadors – must be spinning in their graves.

Louis: Will the opening of US embassy in Jerusalem bring about a cataclysm?

Nance:  It could happen. What’s happening in Mideast – so much change, dynamics. You can even see in how the Israeli-Palestinian problem is pushed off – rise of Iran, Syria, Turks invading northern Syria and setting up against the entirety of Kurds (who we fund), Yemen. Palestine-Israel conflict is the ‘good ol days.’. When the deed is done, and US embassy is moved, Saudis may give head tilt to that. I don’t know if there will be another intifada – the strings were cut after the Iraq invasion.

Stavridis: These kinds of conflicts – religious with a geopolitical overlay – are very dug in, and go on and on. The really bad news is that in middle is our greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.

What should we do? Four things: stand with Israel – (applause)- the reasons are pragmatic, values, all the same things that make us want to be in NATO, should energize our alliance with Israel – 2) Need to work closely with Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan). The Saudis are giving head nod on the peace plan, drawing closer to Israel, willing to exchange information, intelligence, missile defense, early warning. Why? because both are concerned about Iran (which is Shi’a). We ought to understand the Iranian self-view: we think of them as mid-size power, they think of themselves as inheritors of the Persian Empire which 2000 years ago, dominated the region. That’s what they want to reconstruct. Working with Israel, alliances, better in cyber, insuring missile defense strong, stand with Israel.

Louis: How to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria, knowing Russia is smack in the middle?

Nance: We had the opportunity to crack this nut in 2012 after Assad’s chemical attack. I advocated then to destroy the Syrian air force utterly – that’s the strategic advantage Syria has over the allies. Then you have put Israel in powerful position; limits Iranian involvement (because they won’t have a runway to land), and gives opportunity to show Arab States here is a chance to use ground forces to do humanitarian intervention. Arab League, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis have enough forces to be in Damascus in 72 hours out of northern Jordan. But so long as Russia backed and Syria can resist, won’t do it.

Stavridis: We last saw a problem like Syria in the Balkans, 20 years ago: Yugoslavia blew up – forced migrations, 100,000s killed – like Mideast – Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians – a religious war with geopolitical overtones that was ultimately solved by partition. Yugoslavia was  broken apart and created sub-states. That was imperfect but at the end of the day, that is what will happen in Syria – it is broken now, and won’t go back- that’s 3-5 years away.

Why is Iran in Syria? Iran wants a land bridge so it can move missiles and fighters from Tehran to Lebanon because that endangers Israel. That’s why we need to move to international solution that somewhat marginalizes Iranian influence – can do with leverage over Russia – the White House needs to get tough on Russia. 

Louis: China. The notion they now have a president for life there, with no mechanism to change leadership – if there are internal problems, if there is a falling out within society or economy or ideology in a bad place, what happens?

Stavridis: The good news is that China will continue to grow at 5%. If they do, the population will stay relatively quiescent. But China’s road gets rough in out years- demographics – an aging population, the imbalance between men and women created by the One-Child policy which led to killing baby girls. We’ve never seen a society as ill balanced. Plus, China’s environment is disaster, requiring billions if not trillions to remediate. The housing market is overheated (reminiscent of 2008 in US). With no democracy, there is no way to relieve the pressure. Xi will have smooth run for awhile, but it gets rough in 5-10 years. That’s when we should worry about Chinese foreign policy that is nationalistic, seeks to find a scapegoat outside, and look for conflict in South China Sea. (See the movie, “The Last Emperor,” about Puyi and read Robert Kaplan’s, Asia’s Cauldron”.)

Errol Louis: What is Putin’s end game? © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Louis: What is Putin’s end game?

Nance: Putin has imperial goals – Atlantic Alliance between Washington and European states has since WWII brought economic, cultural influences Russia cannot stand – They believe it has marginalized Russia’s limited economic power.  All the good that has come from NATO, the EU single market, the US flow of traffic across Atlantic does no benefit to Moscow. Putin realizes that 75% of Russians live in the European part (75% of land in Asia). He believes Russia should be the pole in which Europe should do trade – EurAsianism. He is ruling more like Czar Nicolas I – religious orthodoxy, nationalism, autocracy (while France was creating fraternity, liberty, equality). Russia is buying every conservative, neoNazi group in Europe – owned, lock stock and barrel by Moscow.

Last march, for the second time in American history, France saved democracy – had Marine Le Pen won, France would have withdrawn from NATO,broken up the European Union and aligned France with Moscow, bringing along everyone to Moscow.

Stavridis: Putin’s end game: H will be the dominant force in Russia until the day he dies, and Russians accept it. This is Russian custom, history, culture.  Read literature- Dostevsky, Pushkin – how Russians look at powerful male leaders. Sometimes they get a Peter the Great, the next time Ivan the Terrible; sometimes get Stalin, but then get a Gorbachev – they are willing to roll the dice. But the dice have landed on Putin, he will not give up power. We have to deal with this operative. I met Putin a couple of times. Bush Jr. met Putin and was completely taken –he said, ‘I looked into his eyes and saw his soul. We can work with Putin.’ McCain, a true war hero, met with Putin  and said, ‘I saw 3 letters: K-G-B.’ I think McCain got that one right – and that’s what we will deal with.”

Q&A

Is climate change a national security issue?

Stavridis: Climate change is a significant national security threat. Because of global warming, ice is melting in the Arctic, opening up shipping lanes and hydrocarbons, creating a great power competition – on one side is Russia, on the other side US, Canada, Iceland, Norway – they are all NATO; 2) Rising sea levels gradually affect our ports, our ability to operate in major naval bases and ports 3) Global warming will impact our ability to operate globally because of cost – we will have to mediate against environmental concerns, which will put downward pressure on defense budgets 4) What should worry us most is that as oceans heat up, photosynthesis is diminished affecting oxygen in the atmosphere. Vice President Gore called the Amazon the lungs of the earth; Nope, 70% of oxygen comes from photosynthesis in oceans, and we are abusing them. These are major national security concerns.

What if in the next few months Trump abrogates the Iran Nuclear Treaty?

Stavridis: I expect Trump to abrogate the Iran Nuclear Treaty. 1) That will have chilling effect on negotiations with North Korea – they are unlikely to enter into grand bargain having just witnessed the abrogation of the Iran treaty. 2) Iranians will almost immediately restart their nuclear program – they are probably in primed position to do so. 3) The treaty is not perfect but ending it will put Israel at greater risk because of re-energization of the Iranian nuclear program 4) Allies will be furious, it will put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, and probably not lead to European allies walking away, so US will become even more of an outlier. I wasn’t a fan initially – it isn’t a good/bad deal, it is a done deal, the best we could have at this point.

Nance: I spoke with a senior briefer at CIA who briefed Obama on the details that convinced Obama to sign the Iran Nuclear Treaty: The way the agency assessed, Iran was 6-12 months away from developing an atomic bomb, but with the treaty, Iran gave up all components, 90% of its enriched nuclear material and was pushed back 15 years We do not want a war with Iran. Why would we put ourselves in a position to give Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon? There is no limit to the mischief that would create. And if [unleashed], Iran would go straight to North Korea with $ millions to buy a nuclear weapon.

Malcolm Nance, Errol Louis, Admiral James Stavridis and Rabbi Stephen S. Widom who hosts the Cultural Arts events at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

How to solve the humanitarian disaster that is Syria?

Stavridis: A combination of defense, diplomacy, development – hard and soft power. [This was shown to work in Colombia, after a 60-year insurgency that destroyed the fabric of the country; and the Balkans.] You don’t have to choose hard or soft  power. So often, the long game is combination of all those tools – development, diplomacy and defense when need it – to get balance right, requires leadership. We are very good at launching missiles. We need to get better at launching ideas. We can do both. (Applause)

Nance: That’s smart power. We are a global force for good but have to be global force for diplomacy.

Considering the hollowing out of our diplomatic forces to the benefit of Putin, [possible collusion] in cyberwarfare, why is there reluctance to use the word ‘treason’ in regard to Trump?

Nance: There is a legal definition – Article 3 – to ‘treason.’ You literally have to be at declared war with an enemy and give aid and comfort to enemy. That is rarely invoked – we have sent people to prison for espionage, divulging secrets but the last time anyone was tried for treason was the Rosenbergs. I don’t think that word applies legally – from what we’ve seen.  Where the president violated his oath of office,  you can use ‘treason’ rhetorically if you feel betrayed, or ‘treachery’. I don’t think will be able to use ‘treason’ in legal sense . this investigation started as national counter intel – a spy hunt – still a hunt for citizens in direct communications with foreign intel officers.

What check is there on this president who many think is a madman, is the military prepared to step in and save democracy? 

Stavridis: ‘I solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic – no expiration. The military isn’t going to step in and solve this. We have to solve this –at the ballot box. In 1840, Alexis de Toqueville wrote about this strange new phenomenon of democracy. He was largely laudatory, but the punch line: ‘the tragedy of democracy is that in the end you elect the government you deserve.’ We need to own this problem. No one will solve it for us. We need to get out in November, and again two years later, and we can solve this problem.

Nance: We have entered the greatest period of political activism – I believe it will even eclipse the Vietnam era – 1968. But since World War II, we have gotten fat and lazy and enjoy fruits of democracy.

We have guardrails – you have 246 days to solve part of this problem – but to do that you have to bring yourself and everyone who has not voted in last election.

The military is not designed for coup d’etat. We would really be a third world banana republic. But we can stop stupid – unlawful orders.

Emperor Xi. China building pipelines through Africa into the Stans, helping China, become #1 in world, developing 5G. How will that affect us?

Stavridis: China historically has not had global ambition, but 16 months ago, President Xi gave a “coming out speech” at Davos for China in the 21st century: One belt, one road philosophy – using economic power to further the interests of China. China just built its first overseas military base, at the Horn of Africa. China is on the move. When historians 300 years from how write about the 21st century, how that story comes out will be US and China and the rise of India. We need to be mindful of China, align with India, hold close our global allies, help develop this hemisphere to the south of US. That ought to be our strategy. And China should be top of the list to watch.

Nance: If this administration would understand strategy: China is brilliant. Go to sub-Saharan Africa –that used to be the land of the Land Rover, then Toyota, now you see Chinese Long March and Running Deer pick ups – they are $2000-$5000 but are everywhere. China is colonizing the sub-Sahara economically– buying whole sub-sections of countries to ship food to China. If China develops 5G cell telephone networks before the US gets it into Manhattan, China can export worldwide and own global communications. China is building wind plants, is now the world’s largest producer of solar panels (an industry we used to own). Without a strategy, where you think about where we are, where we will go and put together government resources to get there, we are dead in water. And that requires diplomats.

To what do you attribute Iran’s vitriolic hatred for Israel?

Nance:  Iranians love America –they are held down by an authoritarian regime using Islamic fundamentalism which the bottom 20% believe, not the people who used to run the country or could be, not the youth who all want what all in the Mideast want – a 2018 Toyota Corolla – they want trade, to be involved with world. Hatred for Israel is a schtick.  They don’t really care – they care about religion, family and to be left alone to do what they want. If they see a threat to Al Aksa mosque, they will respond. Palestinians smartest arabs in mide, most educated – everywhere but Palestine – if I were them, would work out public-private partnership to rebuild Palestine as moderate state, so don’t get Islamic cultism of ISIS. If that happens, will be zombie scene, walk into guns. Hopefully Saudi Arabia will focus away from ‘Death to Israel.’

What is impact of Erdogan of Turkey turning his back on western values toward Islamic fundamentalism?

Stavridis: President Erdogan, an authoritarian, is consolidating power rapidly, the most accelerated of all the authoritarian leaders in having taken his nation from functioning secular democracy to one man rule in 5 years. Extraordinary. The bad news is that Turkey is vital to Europe, to US. We need a stable western-looking Turkey – now drifting out of our orbit. We should pay attention, show respect, send high level missions, but behind closed doors, convince Erdogan the trajectory he is on will isolate his nation,. He will never have cozy relationship with Russia or Iran – that won’t work for Turkey. Turkey understands that at a fundamental level. We need to work with Europeans to exert pull on Turkey also. Turkey is more than a bridge (between Asia and Europe), it is a center of power – its population will exceed Russia’s. Turkey is on the move. We need to keep them in our orbit.

The intel community wanted the $120 million appropriated by Congress to fend off cyberattacks on our electoral system. Homeland security issued an alert that Russians already in our computers that run powerplants, and now could turn off electricity. What do we do about that?

Stavridis: We need to reveal more about what we know, to underpin the argument for retaliation –so we can be more aggressive in how we retaliate. We need better private-public cooperation. Government can’t solve this by itself – all our electric grids are intertwined. We have got to get government agencies working together on cyber – agriculture, interior – nobody is focused on cybersecurity.

Considering the rise of authoritarians, what happens If in the next 3 months, Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and a new one fires Mueller. Will Trump be impeached? 

Nance: Trump won’t be impeached before November. But we have guardrails. John Dean said that the day after Nixon fired Watergate investigators, the rest were still at work, he just fired the leadership. If Trump fires [Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein] (and [Special Counsel Robert] Muller), he would have sealed his doom about obstruction of justice and the investigation will continue

Stavridis: I believe Congress, including enough Republicans, would respond – not impeach, but there would be a [Constitutional] crisis and the guardrails would kick in.

In the present nuclear environment, is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction still relevant?

Stavridis: Yes.

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