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I Will Be Treated Fairly Or Else: The Trump Doctrine In Action In Ukraine

In April 2016 I delineated the Trump Doctrine, which was the central through line message of the President’s campaign, as (emphasis mine):

America’s allies are taking advantage of our treaty and other obligations in the national security space; America’s allies and peer competitors are ripping the US off through our trade agreements; the US should go it alone if it can’t renegotiate better deals; and only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly – or else. That only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly, whether in national security arrangements or global trade, was simply an extension of one of the major, if not the major theme of his campaign: Donald Trump would be treated fairly or else and only Donald Trump could guarantee that Americans, especially the forgotten men and women as he phrased it, would be treated fairly or else.

As I wrote two years later, after the most recent demonstration air strikes by the US against Assad’s government in Syria, the Trump Doctrine was a form of strategic communication genius:

That the US will be treated fairly or else, and that only a President Trump could guarantee that happening became the central, unifying theme of his national security and foreign policy approach was actually a stroke of strategic communication genius. A significant amount of the President’s initial strategic communication approach was through tying his primary opponents, the Republican National Committee, and the broadcast and cable news networks in knots about treating him fairly. This included trying to get Megyn Kelly removed from debate moderation after he felt she treated him badly, as well as actually dropping out of a GOP primary debate on Fox News and holding a competing charity event for veterans because he did not like that Fox wouldn’t comply with his demands. And if they failed to do so he’d deal with them harshly. Then candidate Trump threatened his fellow primary opponents and the RNC by making it clear that if he didn’t feel he was being treated fairly by them, then the “or else” would be his running as an independent candidate, thereby splitting the Republican vote for president, and handing the election to the then presumed Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

By making this the dominant theme of his national security and foreign policy approach, he was able to make a singular through line for his campaign – “I, Donald Trump, will be treated fairly or else by the GOP, the RNC, and the news media; only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that you the forgotten men and women of America are treated fairly in regards to both domestic politics and foreign policy; and only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that the US will be treated fairly or else there will be serious and severe repercussions for the GOP, the RNC, the news media, elected and appointed officials, and America’s allies, partners, and peer competitors”. Here was the simple through line to connect Make America Great Again both domestically and internationally by placing America first. It is also the essence of the real Trump Doctrine: President Trump and by extension the forgotten men and women of America, as well as America itself, will be treated fairly or else.

We now have an excellent empirical example of the Trump Doctrine in effect in Ukraine. As the NY Times reports, the Ukrainian government stopped cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his connections to Russia, as well as potential connections between Manafort, the President’s campaign, and Russia. They’ve also decided to slow walk their own investigation.

In the United States, Paul J. Manafort is facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and financial fraud stemming from his decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

But in Ukraine, where officials are wary of offending President Trump, four meandering cases that involve Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, have been effectively frozen by Ukraine’s chief prosecutor.

The cases are just too sensitive for a government deeply reliant on United States financial and military aid, and keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s distaste for the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign, some lawmakers say.

The decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins.

The State Department issued an export license for the missiles on Dec. 22, and on March 2 the Pentagon announced final approval for the sale of 210 Javelins and 35 launching units. The order to halt investigations into Mr. Manafort came in early April.

Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Parliament who is an ally of President Petro O. Poroshenko, readily acknowledged that the intention in Kiev was to put investigations into Mr. Manafort’s activities “in the long-term box.

At NY Magazine, Jonathan Chait suggests this may be because someone in the administration bribed the Ukrainians. Quite simply: stop cooperating and you’ll keep your financial aid and get the weapons you want.

It is of course possible that Ukraine reached this decision on its own, completely independent of any suggestion from Washington. It is far more likely that somebody in the administration proposed a quid pro quo, and Ukraine quite rationally decided it would rather have weapons to defend itself against the next Russian aggression than participate in an investigation that the president of the United States regards as a mortal threat.

The latter possibility cannot be assumed as fact, of course. But it is striking that when the missile sale came up in December, almost nobody even considered the possibility that it might be used as a bribe to shut down Ukrainian cooperation with Mueller.

I think Chait is reading far too much into the Ukrainian government’s decisions to both stop cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation and to put their own on indefinite hold. The Ukrainians, like President Moon in the ROK and the Qataris, have simply recognized what is in their own best self interest by accurately assessing who the President is, how he understands the world, and what is therefore the best way to interact with the him, other US officials, and the US in order to achieve their self interests. Think of all three of these as real world examples of the effects of the Trump Doctrine – ensuring that the President will be treated fairly in order to avoid the or else.

The NY Times‘ reporting supports this conclusion.

David Sakvarelidze, a former deputy prosecutor general who is now in the political opposition, said he did not believe that the general prosecutor had coordinated with anybody in the United States on the decision to suspend the investigations in Ukraine, or that there had been a quid pro quo for the missile sale.

Ukrainian politicians, he said, concluded on their own that any help prosecuting Mr. Manafort could bring down Mr. Trump’s wrath.

“Can you imagine,” Mr. Sakvarelidze said, “that Trump writes on Twitter, ‘The United States isn’t going to support any corrupt post-Soviet leaders, including in Ukraine.’ That would be the end of him.”

Last summer, another member of Parliament, Andrey L. Derkach, initiated an investigation into leaks to the news media about Mr. Manafort’s dealings from Ukrainian law enforcement, saying they put at risk vital American aid to Ukraine. He has openly opposed any Ukrainian role in aiding the special counsel’s investigation.

Ukraine, Mr. Derkach said in an interview, would be taking grave risks if it assisted in what he called a politicized investigation in the United States. In Ukraine, he said, “everybody is afraid of this case.”

It will be important to look out for and to see where else the Trump Doctrine comes into play in international relations. Which other state and non-state actors decide to make sure the President feels as if he’s being treated fairly in order to avoid the or else. Or which state and non-state actors simply decide not to engage on specific issues and problem sets to avoid creating the impression they are not treating the President fairly so as to avoid the or else. And what effects it has on how the global system is ordered and functions.

Stay frosty.

Open thread.

 



Ukrainian Independence Day

Today is Ukrainian Independence Day. And a lot of stuff is happening.

Secretary of Defense Mattis acknowledged that Russia is trying to redraw European borders.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has accused Russia of seeking to “redraw international borders by force” and said that Washington is “actively reviewing” supplying Ukraine with new defensive weaponry.

Mattis, the first U.S. defense chief to visit Ukraine in a decade, also reiterated that the United States “won’t accept” Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Mattis made the comments in Kyiv on August 24, the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

“Have no doubt,” he said at a joint news conference with President Petro Poroshenko. “The United States stands with Ukraine.”

Russia confirmed that it is trying to redraw European borders.

Just a quick note: when Russia refers to Rus they’re spreading a fiction. The Kyivan Rus is not the same, nor were they related to the actual historic Russian ethno-national and ethno-linguistic forebears, state, and society. The Russian government, and before it the Soviet government, purposefully conflates several different historical ethno-national/ethno-linguistic groups into a catchall category of Rus to justify Russian claims to Ukraine and Finland, as well as other areas that Russia considers part of its historic near abroad.

Earlier today there was an explosion in Kyiv.

Police in Kyiv reported that two people were injured as a result of an explosion in the center of the capital of Ukraine on August 24.

“At 14:06 in the next part there was a message about an explosion of an unknown object on Hrushevsky Street. As a result, the husband and the woman suffered bodily injuries “, – reported in the police.

As all of this is going on, the Poles, and several other Eastern European members of NATO, are rightly concerned about Russia’s upcoming ZAPAD17 military exercise.

This is part of why Poland is spending an additional $55 billion on defense spending.

Poland will allocate an additional 200 billion zlotys ($55 billion) on defense over the next 15 years to modernize its army amid signs of growing aggression from Russia, a deputy defense minister said.

Russia’s Zapad military exercises next month in Belarus and western Russia, the largest in years, have raised concerns for their lack of transparency, with NATO worried the official number of troops participating might be understated.

Russia’s Zapad military exercises next month in Belarus and western Russia, the largest in years, have raised concerns for their lack of transparency, with NATO worried the official number of troops participating might be understated.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Poland on Thursday and Friday to check on deployment of U.S. troops in the east of the country and to meet Polish, Romanian and Turkish government officials.

Poland, alarmed by what it sees as Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Yesterday was the anniversary for the victims of NAZIism and Stalinism known as Black Ribbon Day. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 AUG 1939 divided Europe into a NAZI German and Soviet spheres of interest. Tensions are running high as Russia continues a military buildup in advance of its ZAPAD17 exercise. ZAPAD17 kicks off on 14 September 2017. What is unknown is whether this is just the 2017 annual exercise along Russia’s western border or whether, as was the case in 2008 with Russia’s invasion of Georgia, it is a prelude to something else.

And what exactly does all Russia mean to Vladimir Putin?

 



Meanwhile in Ukraine…

It appears that Putin’s little green men are acting up in his other pet project.

It is going to be a long night in Charlottesville – things will get worse after dark. But it is also looking to be a long night in Ukraine.



An Assassination in Ukraine: The Unmasking of the Maskirovka has Removed the Need for Subtlety

Towards the end of 2016 a member of Russia’s parliament and his wife defected from Russia to Ukraine. Denis Voronenkov and his wife Maria Masakova sought asylum and he agreed to assist in the Ukrainian investigation into Victor Yanukovych,

KIEV—Only a few months ago Denis Voronenkov and Maria Maksakova were two of the brightest stars in Moscow’s political firmament, trying to improve the system from inside, but very much a part of it. They rode in luxurious cars, dined with the Kremlin’s elite at expensive restaurants, vacationed in Paris and Cannes. Both were members of the Russian parliament, the Duma. He was a colonel in the Russian military—a veteran of the military prosecutor’s office—as well. She, a classic Russian beauty, was a diva at the Mariinsky (Kirov) opera. The couple lived the good life in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But then the system chewed them up and spat them out.

Now they are whistleblowers—defectors hunted by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, who have found asylum in Ukraine. And they say they are ready to open up in court about the inner workings of the Putin establishment.

“Americans should realize that Putin and his guys are convinced that he spins the planet with his feet,” like a soccer ball, Voronenkov told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “The FSB cyber forces are quite powerful globally. Now they do not just listen to you (they listened and recorded all my phone calls for eight years). They also attack other states.”

Col. Voronenkov said he and his wife had no choice but to flee Russia late last year to “defeat the designs of the FSB,” which had begun to investigate them on a number of alleged criminal charges related to a contentious real estate deal. A favorite strategy for silencing suspected troublemakers is to charge them with corruption in a system rife with it.

Voronenkov was assassinated early today in Kiev.

The Independent reports that:

A former Russian MP has been shot and killed in the centre of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, in what the Ukrainian president described as an “act of state terrorism” by Russia.

Denis Voronenkov, who testified to Ukrainian investigators and criticsed Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman near the entrance of an upscale hotel.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the killing “clearly shows the handwriting of Russian special services shown repeatedly in various European capitals in the past.”

In a statement released by his spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, Mr Poroshenko described the victim as a key witness who gave testimony about “Russian aggression” to the Ukrainian authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed the claim of Russian involvement in the killing as “absurd” in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went further, saying the “killer regime” in Kiev “will do its best to make sure that no one will ever know the truth about what happened.”

Another former MP and Kremlin critic living in Kiev said Mr. Voronenkov was killed while heading to meet with him.

Mr Voronenkov was “an investigator who was deadly dangerous for the [Russian] security agencies,” Mr Ponomaryov wrote on Facebook, according to a translation from The Moscow Times.

Not subtle at all.

We also know more about the Russian attorney thrown from his building:

And Russia’s covert Little Green Men and overt actions involving Crimea and the ongoing Russian low intensity war with Ukraine continues apace.



A Long Night in Ukraine

 

While everything else has been going on it is important to remember that events elsewhere in the world have not paused. Ukraine has been under sustained attacked from Russian backed/Russia’s Little Green Men for several days.

The deadliest flare-up in fighting in eastern Ukraine in 1 1/2 months stretched into a third day as the European Union labeled the violence a “blatant” breach of the stalled 2015 peace accord aimed at resolving the almost three-year-old conflict.

The military said Tuesday that Russian-backed insurgents pounded the town of Avdiivka, 20 kilometers (13 miles) from the conflict zone’s biggest city, separatist-held Donetsk, using rockets and artillery. Rebels blamed the shelling on the army. President Petro Poroshenko broke off a visit Monday to Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern at the security situation.

And:

Ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, tallied 2,260 “ceasefire violations” on Sunday.

And early Monday morning, combined Russian-separatist forces launched a predawn artillery attack and follow-on ground assault on the Ukrainian-held front-line town of Avdiivka.

Ukrainian officials claimed the attacks were an attempt by combined Russian forces to derail the ceasefire by effectively baiting Ukraine into retaliatory actions, which could be used as an excuse for further escalations, or for propaganda.

By Monday afternoon, Ukrainian forces announced they had repelled the attack on Avdiivka, but combat was ongoing.

“The enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars,” Ukrainian military spokesman Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters in Kiev Monday.

The BBC reports that an evacuation is being planned:

Ukrainian officials are preparing for a possible evacuation of the eastern frontline town of Avdiivka amid renewed fighting with pro-Russian rebels.

If evacuation takes place, officials say up to 8,000 people could be removed each day from the government-held town, which has no water or electricity.

Shelling and the deaths of several more people were reported by both sides on Tuesday.

Each blames the other for the upsurge in violence.

It erupted despite an attempt to renew a ceasefire last month.

Ukrainian forces say the outbreak began when rebels launched an attack on Avdiivka, which borders land controlled by the separatists.

Seven soldiers and a number of rebels have been killed in recent days, and there have been civilian casualties on both sides but precise numbers are unclear.

The US’s official response is:

Cease-Fire Violations in Eastern Ukraine

Press Statement

Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 31, 2017

The United States is deeply concerned with the recent spike in violence in eastern Ukraine around Avdiivka-Yasynuvata. Since January 28, the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission has reported a dramatic increase in fighting, including with heavy artillery and other weapons proscribed by the Minsk agreements. The fighting has caused dozens of Ukrainian military casualties and 10 civilian casualties. It has also left 17,000 civilians, including 2,500 children, without water, heat, or electricity. To avert a larger humanitarian crisis, we call for an immediate, sustained ceasefire and full and unfettered access for OSCE monitors. We also reaffirm U.S. support for full implementation of the Minsk agreements.