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Boots on the Ground (Updating)

and they seem to be Russian.

The Washington Post quotes a Ukranian military official:

Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

    The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.

    “Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.

    Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.


I suspect much more news will be forthcoming in the next hours. Here is the New York Times on the President's news conference:

Mr. Obama declined to call the latest reports of Russian military units moving into Ukraine an invasion, as others have, saying they are “not really a shift” but “a little more overt” version of longstanding violations of Ukrainian sovereignty. “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now,” he said. “These separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia. Throughout this process we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.”

Mr. Obama’s tone was strikingly more restrained than that of his ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who earlier in the day bluntly accused Russia of lying about its military intervention in Ukraine. In a blistering statement to the Security Council, Ms. Power said “the mask is coming off” Russia’s actions, which she called “a threat to all of our peace and security.”

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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I would say that the end of Putin's regime will be a good day, but I've learned that what follows could be worse.

Be careful when digesting Western propaganda Ryan. Putin has been proven correct geopolitically more than he has been proven incorrect. Put his record up against the US in that regard and see how things stack up!

Meanwhile, Russia is flatly denying this. According to RT

The Western media has been exploding with allegations, with everyone from the CNN to the New York Times going about the task in a very similar manner: quoting Ukrainian politicians' views on Russia, as well as US figures, the ambassador to Ukraine and the State Department. One similarity could be spotted: they all centered on passionate statements - no evidence - and were followed by a big background into things that took place over the past week.

Whenever there was any mention of someone actually seeing Russian tanks, it seemed a mobile phone was never on hand to take a photograph.

This is just like the situation when the airplane was shot down. Here is the American state department in action! The reporter who questions her is great! No evidence except for social media! I guess the state department now hires valley girls!

Back in an era when playground bullies used fists, and not assault rifles, it was considered unwise to make fun of the bully when one had nothing but a corner behind him. Mr. Obama and his "team" keep calling Putin names, but if you look at the map, it's hard to see Ukraine as anything but a corner. Why make fun of the bully when he knows we can't hurt him but he can hurt us? Besides, in this case, Mr. Putin may have more history on his side than we do. A good analysis of what he might just possibly be thinking is Mary Elise Sarotte's essay in Foreign Affairs (it may be behind a wall):

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, though, all the dancing around and shadow boxing on our side is just empty gesture when not even the tag team of McCain and Graham is calling for our boots on what has been their ground for ages.

And besides, aren't the editors urging Mr. Obama to prepare us for our next Great Adventure in Iraq? ISIS has, so far, been deemed worse than bin Laden, Stalin, Hitler and Genghis Khan, which shows our talking class has a better feel for metaphor than for history. It is hard to see how we can do much against ISIS when our leaders are divided on the causes of the problem. The Democrats blame W. Bush for breaking the pottery, which, as an explanation for ISIS, is full of holes. But at least it has some smell of  "truthiness" about it. The Republican version -- that ISIS stems from Obama's inattention -- doesn't even have that. About the only thing our leadership class  can agree on is that we are large, so we must be in charge. Which definitely isn't true.

And as a further besides, aren't we committed to taking out Iran any month now when Israel's attention returns to the "existential threat" against it (cue: Juliette Greco in black turtleneck; image: Jean Paul Sartre, smoking) after a summer of the War of the Teenagers' Revenge?

There still haven't been enough buckets of cold water dumped on prominent American thinkers.

There is a brutal civil war occurring. And the Ukrainians are acting like Nazi's against the east Ukrainians.

This is a CIVIL war and not an invasion of Russia. We should be encouraging peace talks and not amping up talks of war against Russia. 

But this is the quality of Obama's leadership. An American viciously and burally murdered on national television by relgious thugs, and he yucks it up on the golf course. ISIS takes oil fields and expands, and he blames Russia. Those who have eyes to see, need to see.

Today's (Friday's) editorial in the New York Times says in part:

Comments from European leaders on Thursday showed they recognize the danger of this moment. European Union leaders meeting on Saturday must join the United States in expanding the economic sanctions. France should seriously reconsider delivering the Mistral assault ships it has sold Russia. And when NATO leaders gather next week, they should give strong reassurances to NATO members along Russia’s borders that they will be protected should Moscow turn its attentions on them.

Many of the comments in the Times express skepticism as to whether there is either will or way.

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial shares the skepticism:

On Thursday Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Obama said they will discuss imposing more sanctions this weekend. But if they follow form in this crisis, they will stomp their feet, sanction a couple of more banks and oligarchs, and then beg Mr. Putin to "negotiate in good faith." This would be risible if the consequences for Ukraine, and for the future of Europe, weren't so grim.


Mr. Putin's escalation is also a slap at Mr. Obama, who has pleaded with the Russian that people don't act this way "in the 21st century." Oh, yes, they do. Mr. Obama's refusal to help Kiev with even small arms and antitank and antiaircraft weapons was also a signal to the Kremlin that the U.S. would prefer to look away. The U.S. President has subcontracted out this crisis to the Europeans, which means doing little or nothing.

This whole Ukranian situation reminds me of a book I read years ago by Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August.  It recounts the harrowing miscalculations by European powers that lead inextricably to WW1 and plunged the whole world into almost a century of war and the horrors of genocide.

We can only hope that Merkel, Obama, Cameron, Hollande, and Putin have read this grim book.  

The book of choice at the moment (which, I'm ashamed to say, I haven't read) is Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers. I think it goes over much the same ground as Tuchman, but perhaps even more forcefully, and looks at parallels between 1914 and 2014.

Mr. Cllifford, I just finished The Sleeepwalkers. It begins with prehistory by Tuchman standards. It doesn't get to Sarajevo until around page 350, or more than hallfway through. I didn't see any close parallels to the present other than the usual hubris of statesmen (all males, in those days; no Merkels)  who see only what they expect to see and often can't even conceive of things that are perfectly obvious to potential adversaries. But that's history, not just 100 years ago.


Not NATO, DigitalGlobe, a company operating civilian satellites.

You know, it has become ridiculous… If earlier, someone would at least put their names on those images, be it [Supreme Allied Commander Europe Philip] Breedlove, Rasmussen, or even [NATO Spokesperson] Lungescu, now, they are hesitant,” Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said, RIA Novosti reported. “It makes no sense to seriously comment on this.”

However, NATO is using the pretext of a Russian “threat” to push for a “readiness action plan” that will bring the military bloc closer to Russian borders than ever, despite objections from some members of the alliance.

The current "government" of Ukraine is populated by neo-Nazi, ultra-nationalists; heirs of the same crew who supported the actual Nazi's in WWII.

George D - your assertions are opinion based upon nothing.  Keep in mind that there are 11 districts in eastern Ukraine and the current pro-Russian separatists are active in only two of these districts (now a third with the latest Russian incursion).

NATO's charter does not lend itself to support military action in Ukraine - Ukraine is not a NATO member.  The EU only reluctanlty went along with the last round of sanctions (primarily pushed by the events around the downing of the civilian airliner and loss of life).  Next week's meeting will be decisive - either the EU supports added sanctions and more direct Ukrainian support or things will continue as is - with continued Russian prevarications; incursions; game-playing with unmarked soldiers along side pro-Russian separatists.

Some of you suggest that Obama failed in his statements and yet - no one has provided any alternatives?  suggested action plans? etc. 

Military action would not be well received by Congress or the US public.  Whether we like it or not, we need to continue to partner with Russia on affairs in Iraq, Iran, and Syria along with other shared nuclear disarmement projects.

Arming Ukraine military - wonder if some items, intelligence isn't going on but not made public.  And how has arming 3rd parties worked out for the US historically?

Calling upon the UN - well, Samantha Powers is trying to do that.

Wonder if Obama isn't trying to lay out a new style of US diplomacy?   The Bush doctrine sure didn't work out.

We must measure our success against what is possible rather than what is desired. There is relatively little that we can do short of starting World War II to stop Russia from abusing its neighbors if it has decided that the benefits (including internal political benefits) outweight the costs. The best we can hope to do is to make the cost as high as we can to discourage future violations of international norms.

My assertions are based on reporting from RT.  I don't understand Obama's posture. Russia can help with defeating ISIS. I just think that the Western, and in particular American spin as far as Ukraine is concerned, is totally opposite of reality. And the whole Ukraine situation is completely opposite of what is being presented. And they were historically with the Nazi's. The vast majority of people were thrilled when Russia annexed the Crimea. That is also a fact. But aside from that, the US has no strategic interest in the Ukraine so it is odd that there is all this energy being spent there.

Samantha Powers is good on human rights but I don't understand the anti-Russian virulence. Why are they trying to whip up anger against Russia. ISIS is the threat. And, again, Putin was totally correct about what would happen if you destabilize that region. He knew the kinds of forces that would be unleashed.

No country can stand by and allow a group like this to buture one of its citizens for no reason. They need to be shown in no uncertain terms that they are done. Whether that means temporarily supporting Assad. They need to be dealt with severely.

Perhaps the book to look into for insight is Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, subtitled Europe between Hitler and Stalin. Snyder calculates that some 14 million peope died from policies instigated by Hitler and Stalin between 1933 and 1945. Those policies included famine, gassing, shooting, etc. There is much talk of neo-Nazis dominating the current Western Ukraine government. What about neo-Stalinists in the East of Ukraine? Not that Putin is Stalin, but is the passion to establish Novyruskov akin to the Bolshevik passion to remake Ukraine in the 30s.

P.S. The clue to reading Sleepwalkers is attending to the subtitle: How Europe Went to War in 1914. The book's virtue, in contrast to other great books on the subject (Tuchman, MacMillan, etc.) is not WHO started the war but how personalities, alliances, forms of government, etc. made the carnage possible, when almost no one expected war would break out or could break out over the assassination of the Archduke.


A writer/commentator for whom I have great respect is Anne Applebaum. Her column in today's Washington Post is, I suggest, a must read:

Yep, and that hysteria is exactly what Obama is trying to deal with (to your point about WWI starting, Ms. Steinfels).

Think hysteria - McCain, Lyndsey Graham, Cruz, etc. as versions of what Applebaum cites on the Russian extremist side.

Love the *new* revisionist history about *New or Little Russia* in eastarn Ukraine - you have to really stretch and pick/choose to underline those conclusions; you have to ignore the genocide perpuated upon the Ukrainian people in the 1940-50s by Soviet premiers - relocation of whole peoples and moving Soviet citizens into Ukraine.

Maybe Anne Applebaum would do better to write a column for Die Welt or Le Monde. But perhaps the Sikorski household has little faith in its European near neighbors.

 I dont think one can justify bad acts by asserting the ones on the receving end of it are bad people (whether they are or not).  Is Russia violating international law in what its doing?  Is the Ukraine?  I think that's what the focus should be on. 

I am told that my reference to the Sikorski household is obscure.

To clarify: Anne Applebaum is married to Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, who has raised the alarm about Ukraine and the Russian incursion. The limited response from Europe led by Germany is telling. To appeal then to the US as Applebaum does strikes me as a misplaced effort. If the Europeans in their various parts don't care and/or don't see mounting a military response, why should the United States? In fact, how could it?

The reference is obscure until one googles "Anne Applebaum," and voilà, all is clear.

I don't think that informing U.S public and leaders regarding the extent of the threat posed by Putin is "misplaced." It may be a needed wake-up call and provide perspective as Obama and Kerry address NATO.

But I certainly agree that the Europeans are the front line and that if Germany doesn't take decisive action,

Novorossiya may become more than a map and a memory.

There might actually be a peaceful resolution to this afterall. Hopefully, the US will abandon its typical jingoistic rhetoric about arming Ukraine and work toward diplomatic and negotiated settlements of disputes; not just rhetorically but by action. I agree that the US should let the Russians and international community lead. the last thing the world needs is another Libya or Iraq a la USA.

At talks in Minsk, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have urged Kiev to acknowledge their “special status.” If their demands are met, they will not lay claim to other parts of Ukraine, the rebel republics said.

The initial statement said that if Kiev guarantees their “special status,” then the Donetsk and Lugansk republics will do everything possible “to preserve Ukraine’s common economic, cultural and political space and the space of the entire Ukraine-Russian civilization.”

That special status includes the offical right to speak Russian which the Kiev government has tried unsuccessfully to suppress.

George D: Do you think the self-proclaimed will stick to such an agreement? What enforcement powers do they have over other regions? What about other restless parts of Ukraine? Isn't Zakarpattia home to many Hungarian speakers? Presumably there are many Polish speakers in the west of Ukraine.

Would everyone have been better off leaving the Austro-Hungarian empire intact? With various adjustments over the century? Not a rhetorical question!

It is very difficult, it seems to me, to have homogenous language groups within defined national boundaries at least in this part of the world. Furthermore, is language the only issues that divides Ukraine and the eastern separatists. I doubt it.

Would everyone have been better off leaving the Austro-Hungarian empire intact? With various adjustments over the century? Not a rhetorical question!

MOS, You read The Sleepwalkers. Well before WWI, the empire had a deep fault line running between the German-speakers who (of course) had to run everything and the Hungarians who (of course) hated them. And then there were all the pieces of the old Ottoman empire floundering around for someone's taking. Or not. So if you are serious about a counterfactual, shouldn't your question be: Would everyone have been better off if the Sublime Porte had been able to keep its hinges oiled? And part of  the answer to that one would be that the rest of us wouldn't have Syria and Iraq (and Israel) to worry about

Thank the Lord for "Google:"

Sublime Porte, also called Porte,  the government of the Ottoman Empire. The name is a French translation of Turkish Bâbıâli (“High Gate,” or “Gate of the Eminent”) which was the official name of the gate giving access to the block of buildings in Constantinople, or Istanbul, that housed the principal state departments.


No there are many differences. In fact, as I recall the original divide between the Latin and Orthodox churches in the Great schism ran roughly through this part of the region. So there is large differences that are deeply engrained in the culture and, of course, many of the formal issues that are presented, are pre-texts that mask deeper divides. Berdyaev wrote about these differences as wel but in the context of religious division within Christianity (and when you have both Pussy Riot and Putin quote Berdyaev you can bet he is revered across the spectrum).

 Howsoever much Orthodox and Catholics fight about the filioque and the infallibility of the pope, they will never come near to a mutual understanding. Here collide worlds which have walked different paths and have collected different experiences upon these paths.

By analogy, this is also true of Russia and the west. Certainly, Putin is a slavophile and is convinced (I think) of seeing to it that Russia's spiritual destiny is fulfilled and so naturally there is a sympathy towards those pro-Russian elements in the eastern bloc.

But I fail to see how this issue is in the US or even Western Europe's strategic interest. Whle there is drumbeats for Ukraine entering the EU, it was never seriously considered until just recently. Why?

Follow the money. My conspiratorial mind goes to Russia's support and involvment with the BRICS.


Tom Blackburn: Christopher Clark (Sleepwalker) does write about the Hungarians as poor governors of the non-Hungarians, but he also alludes to and I think Margaret MacMillan makes much of the Austrian's more effective, efficient and somewhat autonomous treatment of their non-Germans. I assume the Czechs and Slovaks, for example. One of them cites the Hungarian insistence on Magyar being the language of the army as a cause for its poor showing in the war (non-Hungarians didn't speak it). But perhaps I should have said the Austrian Empire.

George D: Your use of the word "slavophile" reminds me of Clark's analysis of the Russian Empire's unstinting support of its little slavic brothers, especially the Serbs. Is this religious or ethnic, or both? It, of course, made the Serbs more belligerent than was warranted by their economic, political, or governing capacity.  

Also, you wrote: "But I fail to see how this issue is in the US or even Western Europe's strategic interest. Whole there is drumbeats for Ukraine entering the EU, it was never seriously considered until just recently. Why?"  Those drumbeats can be heard in Anne Applebaum's op ed posted by Bob above. That seems to very much reflect the Polish and Baltic countries fears of Russian aggression and aggrandizement. I have the impression that the Czechs and Slovaks are less fearful, but then they are a bit further West. None of these Eastern or Central European countries have happy memories of Russian hegemony. Those that joined NATO and the EU have expectations about European and U.S. protection, but like you (but perhaps not for the same reasons) I expect/hope that neither will move beyond diplomacy and sanctions (especially Germany).


George D, rarely do I post here (though I frequently read the comments)  but the fact that you are allowed to post such hypocritical and flatly offensive remarks relatively unchecked astounds me.

You caution against western propoganda yet you site RT ("My assertions are based on reporting from RT."), a "news" organization created under Vladimir Putin to improve Russia's image in the larger world. A "news organization" that has even had an anchor quit on-air over RT overt propoganda (Liz Wahl), another recently resign over RT lies concerning MAL tragedy (Sarah Firth) and several other anchors and reporters criticize their lack of freedom and "editorial line". 

Comments like: "I just think that the Western, and in particular American spin as far as Ukraine is concerned, is totally opposite of reality. And the whole Ukraine situation is completely opposite of what is being presented" only lead me to think that perhaps Ukrainian, Canadian (I am Canadian of Ukrainian descent), American, UN, NATO, German, French, British and heck, even Al Jazeera all seem to be spinning because you are so disoriented from the RT spin. When people get drunk George, does that make the world spin or just their head?

The situation in Crimea before the annexation, with Putin denying Russian troops were there despite clear evidence to contrary, only to acknowledge "the little green men" were Russian soldiers "all along" runs parallel to Donetsk and Lugansk. Why would you trust a politician and news agency that clearly lied in the past (6 months) but not those ("jingoist" as you put it) groups that were vindicated in time?

You accuse the Ukrainian government of being "Nazi's" repleatedly without offering any evidence. President Poroshenko was elected freely by the people and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was elected Prime Minister by 371 parliamentatians in the Verkhovna Rada (out of 450 who were all elected prior to the Maiden unrest). Numerous Jewish groups have openly supported the new pro western Government and many Jewish groups are equally if not more concerned with the pro-Russian rebel groups in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine

The fact that Josef Zissels isn't concerned with the supposed "Nazism" of the current government but is concerned about Russian involvement in the east of Ukraine is telling:

Ukraine is at a cross-roads and the vast majority of the population (including the majority of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine according to all recognized polling organizations) wish to remain one nation as guaranteed by the Budapest Memorandum. The Russian agitation and outright violation of Ukrainian sovereignty is deplorable. The Ukrainian people are the only ones who should be able to chose their economic parters (EU or Russia) and their military associations (NATO or the Russian Federation). Most Ukrainians do not look back at the Soviet Union as a time of paradise and would prefer to join with the EU and develop like Poland than to remain like Belorusse under a corrupt dictator.


Until and unless this country (1) reinstitues a widespread draft for both genders with exceptions for only the severest physical and mental disabilities and with no exceptions for marital or breadwinner status or educational enrollment (including seminarians) or employment criticality, and (2) imposes a war tax of a minimum of 10% on all sources of income, formerly taxed or not, then "we" will simply be a country of mercenaries being paid now and for the foreseeable future with borrowed money to be paid back (maybe) by your grandchildren.

I have no tructime for the opinions of individuals who have not experience the realities of military service, what people are trained and expected to do, and who have seen the effects of war first-hand.

The likes of John McCain who, of all people should know better, disgust me immensely.

I don't remember typing "tructime."  What I meant was "time."

Jim McCrea:

Hear, hear.

No sane person wants to go into combat, though sometimes that may be necessary.   If it is necessary, then the decision needs to be taken with the greatest possible gravity and knowledge.   And in a democracy, the cost and risk of war must be borne by all the People.

The problem is that we are now the better part of two generations away from any such thing.  What pass for leaders in our country do not have the experience, and do not have the experience of living with or amongst people for whom this was an ordinary part of civic life.  Other priorities...A baseless reliance on "technology" to obviate the responsibility for eal humans - maybe a brother or sister - lying dead in some field.

In the Naval Service  there is an expression: You can delegate authority, but responsibiity cannot be delegated.  What have we done: delegated authority to our professional armed forces, thinking that we were delegating, or executng  our responsibility.



We agree that it is the people of Ukraine that should decide their destiny. The question is, why was the US funding and supporting Ukrainian opposition? What is the strategic interest of Ukraine for the United States or the West for that matter?

The people of Ukraine may or may not be happy to join the EU but the EU was certainly not sending out any overtures until fairly recently (please correct me if I am wrong). Why now? 

The involvement of neo-Nazi's in the opposition is well documented and supported by many media outlets and not just RT (see here:

Take Oleh Tyahnybok, the rather rugged leader of Svboda, which dominates the Western-most provinces of Ukraine. Western media has described him as one of the three most important opposition leaders and he's met foreign dignitaries like John McCain. He is also a potentially dangerous man. In one infamous speech in 2004, Tyahinybok lashed out at the "Moscow-Jewish mafia" and the "kikes". In 2005, he wrote an open letter to the President asking him to halt the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry". It should be noted that he insists he is not anti-Semitic, simply "pro-Ukrainian" and that he has won prosecutions against him for ethnic hatred.

But Svboda has form. It is a member of the Alliance of European National Movements, along with France's National Front, the British National Party and Hungary's Jobbik. Its policies include taking farm land into national ownership and giving to people to hold on a "hereditry basis". No one who was not born in Ukraine can become a citizen; outsiders cannot adopt Ukrainian children. In 2005, one of the party's deputies founding the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center. It was later renamed after a German conservative revolutionary. That particular deputy described the Holocaust as "a bright episode in European civilisation" which "strongly warms the hearts of the Palestinian population." 

The author, Tim Stanley, concludes:

The involvement of Svboda in the protests doesn't delegitimise the opposition, but it is a reminder that this situation is really, really complex. Personally, I share the concerns outlined by Peter Oborne in our recent podcast that the West risks involving itself in something that it doesn't understand and possibly making the situation worse. We have to tread carefully.

I am not saying the party is Nazi but there is a sginificant constitutent that is. As for why Jewish groups are not concerned, I have no idea. They should be. But I still think the BRICS is a concern for Western hegemony and no I am not some new world order, fluoride fearing, zombie. However, even a broken clock is right twice a day!

However, treading carefully is probably a good idea particularly when there is no strategic interest for the US in this area.

Adam - some of us did try to address his unnuanced blovications: see above - "George D - your assertions are opinion based upon nothing"
Given his repeated comments that are all the same - gave up replying.

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