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Minority Report: Ukraine as Bugbear

[NB: Note the byline; I began writing this as one of my Minority Report pieces; it’s been in my Work In Progress folder for nearly two years, and an unfinished draft here at emptywheel for 18 months. I left off work on it well before the final Special Counsel’s Report was published. This post’s content has become more relevant even if it’s not entirely complete, needing more meat in some areas, and now requiring the last two-plus years of fossil fuel-related developments and events related to the U.S.-Ukraine-Russia triangle after the 2016 U.S. general election. /~Rayne]

This post looks at the possibility that the hacking of U.S. election system and events affecting the election’s outcome are part of a much larger picture — one in which NATO figures large, and the future of energy figures even larger.

One could attribute Russian attempts at hacking and influencing the 2016 general election to retaliation for the CIA’s involvement in Ukraine, or to a personal vendetta against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with regard to Ukraine ahead of the Maidan revolt, or to rousing anti-Putin sentiment in Russia:

… Five years ago, he blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. “She set the tone for some of our actors in the country and gave the signal,” Putin said. “They heard this and, with the support of the U.S. State Department, began active work.” (No evidence was provided for the accusation.) …

But after looking at the mission and history of NATO, the integral role of natural gas to Europe’s industry and continuity, Ukraine’s role as a conduit for Russian gas to European states, one might come to a very different conclusion.

Especially given the death of Alexander Litvinenko on UK soil by radioactive poisoning and the downing of Malaysian Air flight 17, a passenger plane carrying passengers who lived across several NATO countries.

Has the U.S. been asked to provide protection to European NATO members’ supply of fossil fuels transiting Ukraine? Has the U.S. been asked during the last two administrations to push back on Russia because of incursions related to energy?

What makes Ukraine so different from Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, and Moldova, which also have pipelines carrying Russian gas and experienced price disputes — is it the percentage of energy supplied to EU states crossing Ukraine in comparison? Of these four countries, only Lithuania is a NATO member.

How does tiny Montenegro, the newest NATO member state, fit into this picture?

NATO

In 1949, twelve North American and European countries signed a treaty creating an intergovernmental military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They pledged a collective system of mutual defense against external forces attacking any one or all of its member states. The alliance has grown over the years to 29 nation-states with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine having expressed interest in joining. Each member state commits to spending at least 2% of its GDP on defense spending to support the organization’s mission.

It’s critical to note NATO members agreed under the treaty’s Article V that an ‘armed’ attack against any member in North America or Europe would be considered an attack against all of them. Response to an attack upon a NATO member does not require armed or military force. Over time, threats to NATO states were not limited to armed attacks; they were economic in the case of fuel pipeline shutdowns.

In the digital age, what is an armed attack, especially if both sides call it “cyber warfare” or “information warfare”?

FOSSIL FUELS

Like the U.S., Europe has been entirely too reliant on fossil fuels. It has been far too lax in governance when it comes to resulting pollution let alone political and economic volatility related to fossil fuel use. Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal and the EU’s slow response to VW’s fraud and resulting air pollution offer a perfect example.

While Europe has made substantive headway to reduce fossil fuels and replace them with alternatives — Germany, for example, drew 30% of its energy from non-fossil fuel alternatives in 2014 — until the EU has completely eliminated fossil fuels including natural gas it will be vulnerable to pressure by Russia and other fossil fuel-rich countries. It has been too easy for Russia to threaten the EU and Ukraine alike by simply throttling the flow of natural gas through Ukraine’s major pipelines originating in Russia.

But this is not the only front; the “long war” (pdf) across the middle east and northern Africa is also driven by competition for fossil fuels. So, too, is much of the instability in South and central America, and increasingly in North America as the population rejects fracking, shale extraction, and related pipeline installation.

There is only one true solution to socio-economic volatility caused by fossil fuels: development and implementation of alternative energy resources which are not reliant on extraction, nor limited tightly by resource location (ex: cobalt (from DRC), lithium (South America), uranium (Australia, Canada, others)). The amount we have spent on warfare to preserve fossil fuel’s status quo would have paid for this many times over, and we might have had better education and health care along with it. NATO’s EU states could not be threatened by the loss of natural gas from Russia if it could rely entirely on renewable alternatives produced inside the EU.

Magnitsky Act and retaliation

One other key question arises from this timeline. In addition to all the other tension and conflicts between the U.S. and its NATO allies and Russia, note the passage of  the U.S. Magnitsky Act  of 2012 and the Russians’ corresponding retaliatory sanction which stopped all further adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents. If the adoption issue is itself a retaliatory sanction and reversing or changing this Russian sanction requires changing or lifting the U.S. Magnitsky Act, didn’t Donnie Jr.’s June 9 talk during the campaign season with Natalia Veselnitskaya about resuming adoptions under a Trump presidency mean Donnie Jr. conspired or negotiated with a foreign government in a dispute with the U.S. — a violation of the Logan Act? Wasn’t the issue of adoptions merely cover — a coded alternative term — for negotiating Magnitsky Act and other Russian sanctions prior to the election?


Timeline: NATO and Ukraine

1949 — North Atlantic Treaty signed.

1982-1984 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline constructed; it provides transcontinental transport of gas from Western Siberia to Western Europe. The Reagan administration did not support this pipeline, preventing U.S. companies from selling construction materials to the Soviets partly in protest against the Soviets’ policies toward Poland and partly due to the perceive imbalance of trade the pipeline would create in Europe’s energy market. European countries did not respect the U.S.’ boycott of the pipeline, resulting in sanctions against some European companies.

15-DEC-1983 — A fire broke out at a compressor station in Urengoy, USSR in western Siberia. Construction of the pipeline was still underway. (Cause of the fire not clear from available resources.)

1985 — Vladimir Putin was stationed by KGB to Dresden — located north of the western end of the Uzhgorod-Waidhaus pipeline — after Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline began operation.

19-NOV-1990 — Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed, setting limits of weaponry between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact states.

26-DEC-1991 —  USSR was dissolved; the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) formed in its wake from some of the former Soviet Union’s members. The  Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania elected not to join CIS.

1992-1994 — Russia suspended natural gas to Ukraine for non-payment several times over the course of two years.

XX-SEP-1993 — (into November 1994) Ukrainian companies diverted natural gas from pipelines several times. The reasons for the diversions are not clear; was gas diverted in lieu of transit tariffs, topping off reserves, or due to local shortages?

XX-SEP-1993 — Russia’s Boris Yeltsin offered a deal to Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuck: Ukrainian debts would be forgiven in exchange for control of the Black Sea Fleet and Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal. The deal is scrapped after negative feedback from Ukrainian politicians. (pdf, pg 19)

XX-MAR-1994 — Tentative agreement made that Russia could acquire a 51% state in the Ukraine pipeline system.

1995 — Early in the year, Russia and Ukraine agreed to form a joint venture, Gaztransit, which would operate pipeline system in exchange for write down of Ukraine debt to Russia.

XX-NOV-1995 — Ukraine’s parliament banned privatization of oil and gas assets. The agreement for Gaztransit was never implemented nor was debt forgiven.

1997 — Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland were invited to join NATO.

1998 — A new contract between Gazprom and Naftohaz was written linking gas prices and transit tariffs but did not resolve pre-existing gas debts. Later the same year, Gazprom claimed Ukraine diverted gas and owed USD$2.8 billion, suspending oil and gas exports to Ukraine for 1999.

1999 — Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland became NATO members (pdf).

2000 — Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna acknowledged that 7-8 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas were diverted from pipelines before export that year. (pdf, pg 22)

04-OCT-2001 — 2001 Transit Agreement signed, settling the debt between Ukraine and Russia. (pdf, pg 22)

2002 — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were invited to join NATO.

2004 — (April?) Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania became members.

XX-JUL-2004 — Ukraine’s debt of USD$1.25 billion for gas was settled with Gazprom and NAK Naftogaz. Ukraine may have been importing more gas from Turkmenistan.

22-NOV-2004 — Orange Revolution began.

23-JAN-2005 — Orange Revolution ended; Ukraine was one of three Commonwealth of Independent States to experience a “color revolution” between 2003-2005.

24-JAN-2005 – Yulia Tymoshenko takes office as Ukraine’s 10th prime minister; she is a proponent of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO.

08-SEP-2005 – President Viktor Yushchenko fires Tymoshenko and her government; observers believe this is political trumpery targeting Tymoshenko.

01-NOV-2006 — Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive PO-210 and died a few weeks later on 23-NOV. Litvinenko met former KGB members Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square where it is believed he drank tea containing the poison. Multiple byzantine theories about Litvinenko’s death arose.

28/29-NOV-2006 — Energy security was a key topic at NATO’s Riga, Latvia summit. Efforts aimed at a bilateral discussion with Vladimir Putin on the topic of energy security during this summit fell through. From RFERL on the joint summit declaration:

The Riga summit declaration breaks new ground with a reference to energy, saying the alliance recognizes its security can be affected “by the disruption of the flow of vital resources.” NATO undertakes to study the risks and identify areas where it could “add value” to its members’ relevant security interests.

07-MAY-2007 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline exploded near Boyarka in central Ukraine, just west of Kyiv/Kiev. Gazprom said the 30-meter break in pipe would not cause a disruption in gas delivery.

22-MAY-2007 — UK determined Andrei Lugovoy should be charged and tried for Litvinenko’s murder, then asked Russia to extradite Lugovoy in relation to Litvinenko’s death.

05-JUL-2007 — Russia refused to extradite Lugovoy due to the terms of its constitution. This perceived lack of cooperation may have discouraged relations between UK and Russia.

02-OCT-2007 — ‘Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine‘ due to debt of USD$1.3B

08-OCT-2007 — ‘Ukraine settles Russian gas row

18-DEC-2007 — Yulia Tymoshenko takes office as Ukraine’s 13th prime minister.

05-JAN-2008 — ‘Gazprom threatens Ukraine gas cut‘; Gazprom said it would throttle gas on 11-JAN if USD$1.5B still not paid.

12-FEB-2008 — ‘Russian, Ukraine gas deal averts crisis’ reported after Putin and Yuschenko announce an agreement in which Ukraine would pay for Nov-Dec 2007 gas and USD$179.5/1000cm would be maintained through 2008. They also announced the formation of new energy intermediary companies as a JV between Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftohaz.

04-APR-2008 — Accession of Croatia and Albania addressed at Bucharest summit in April. NATO pledges Georgia and Ukraine will someday become members but are not invited to this summit. Czech Republic agrees to the installation of a U.S. missile defense radar tracking system. Installation of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland remains in negotiation.

18-AUG-2008 — Georgia exited the Commonwealth of Independent States as a result of the five-day Russo-Georgian War in early August.

XX-APR-2009 — Croatia and Albania become NATO members.

27-JUN-2010 — Illegals Program spy ring broken with arrest of 10 Russian spies including Anna Chapman.

09-JUL-2010 — All 10 Illegals Program spies arrested in US were swapped in Vienna for four Russian nationals. Two other spies had left the US before they could be arrested.

XX-OCT-2011 — Litvinenko’s widow Marina won the right to an coroner’s inquest in London; the inquest is delayed repeatedly. She insisted her deceased husband had worked with UK’s MI6 after fleeing to the UK in 2000.

24-FEB-2012 — ‘Russia threatens Ukraine over gas‘ after a shortfall of gas to EU through Ukraine during a severe cold snap. It’s not clear what caused the shortfall; Russia may try to run around Ukraine by way of the South Stream pipeline to avoid future disruptions blamed on Ukraine’s state oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy. The conflict could be a head fake to mask Gasprom’s inability to respond to rapid short-term uptick in gas demand in Europe.

19-JUL-2012Magnitsky Act was introduced in  the House.

14-DEC-2012President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law.

XX-MAY-2013 — (into JUL-2013) Coroner decided a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death would be better than an inquest. Ministers rule out the request for an inquiry.

11-FEB-2014 — UK’s High Court rules Home Office in the wrong to decided against a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death.

18/23-FEB-2014Protests erupt in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Maidan Square) in Kyiv.

01-MAR-2014Russia’s parliament approved the use of troops in Ukraine.

01-APR-2014 — (Related/unrelated?) Russia’s GLONASS satellite location system is offline beginning at midnight and not fully back up for 12 hours. No initial cause reported though some months later the outage its blamed on software update.

14-MAY-2014 — An alleged terrorist attack blamed for a gas pipeline explosion near Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine.

17-JUN-2014 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline exploded near Poltave in central Ukraine, located ~240 miles northwest of Donetsk and ~210 miles southeast of Kyiv/Kiev.

17-JUL-2014 —  Malaysia Air flight MH17 downed over eastern Ukraine by a missile.

01-DEC-2014 —  Vladimir Putin cancels the South Stream pipeline project running from Russia through the Black Sea to northern Bulgaria. (Recall Bulgaria became a NATO member in 2004.)

01-DEC-2014 —  Gazprom signed signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkish BOTAŞ for construction of a new gas pipeline running beneath the Black Sea from Russia to the Turkey-Greece border. Part of the deal includes providing Russia gas to Turkey with the rest shipping to the European market.

26-JAN-2015 — Evgeny Buryakov was arrested for acting as an unregistered foreign agent and conspiracy; his counterparts Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporychev had already fled the country.

27-JAN-2015 — A public inquest began into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

21-JAN-2016 — UK public inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded it was an FSB operation likely approved by Putin.

11-MAR-2016 — Evgeny Buryakov pleaded guilty to begin a 30-month sentence.

28-MAR-2016 — Paul Manafort joins the Trump campaign.

06-JUN-2016 — Donnie Trump Jr. meets with Russian attorney Nataliya Veselnitskaya ostensibly to discuss Russia’s ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

10/18-JUL-2016 — In the run up to Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention, the Republican Party’s platform on Ukraine was ‘softened’; the final wording said the U.S. would provide “appropriate assistance” to Ukraine and “greater coordination with NATO defense planning” instead of “lethal” assistance. The wording was changed to coordinate with Trump’s position, in contrast with that of the original proposed by an RNC delegate.

Three Things: Corrupt, More Corrupt, and Stumbling Naifs

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’ve got a couple of posts s-l-o-w-l-y brewing but there’s plenty to chew on in the mean time. There may be some all-caps yelling, I must warn.

~ 3 ~

Utah’s Senator Mike Lee went to Moscow this week to talk about lifting the sanctions. Because of course he did, being utterly insensitive to the ongoing attacks by Russia on U.S. elections ahead. The sanctions Russia placed against the U.S. are pure bullshit and shouldn’t be seen as anything more than that; a member of Congress negotiating with them only legitimizes them.

Curiously, Lee is one of the same Class III GOP senators whose terms end in January 2023. What a coincidence that eight of 22 Class III GOP senators have now made a visit to Moscow.

You’ll recall that last year GOP Senators Richard Shelby (AL), Steve Daines (MT), John Hoeven (ND), John Neely Kennedy (LA), Jerry Moran (KS), Ron Johnson (SD), and John Thune (SD) — all Class III senators except for Daines who is in Class II — made a visit to Moscow on July 4 last year ostensibly to ask Russia to stop meddling in our elections.

Ha. More likely to ask for help when they run for re-election.

~ 2 ~

Speaking of sketchy GOP senators, 26 of 53 GOP senators have now visited and used the Trump Hotel in Washington DC. Purely innocent use of a convenient facility, right? Except these senators never used any Trump hotel until after he was elected.

Last Name

First Name

State

Term Ends

Went to Russia

Barrasso

John

WY

2025

Blackburn

Marsha

TN

2025

Blunt

Roy

AR

2023

Cornyn

John

TX

2021

Cotton

Tom

AR

2021

Crapo

Mike

ID

2023

Cruz

Ted

TX

2025

Ernst

Joni

IA

2021

Gardner

Cory

CO

2021

Graham

Lindsey

SC

2021

Grassley

Chuck

IA

2023

Hawley

Josh

MO

2025

Hoeven

John

ND

2023

Moscow 2018

Inhofe

James

OK

2021

Johnson

Ron

WI

2023

Moscow 2018

Kennedy

John

LA

2023

Moscow 2018

McConnell

Mitch

KY

2021

Murkowski

Lisa

AK

2023

Paul

Rand

KY

2023

Rounds

Mike

SD

2021

Rubio

Marco

FL

2023

Sasse

Ben

NE

2021

Scott

Tim

SC

2023

Thune

John

SD

2023

Moscow 2018

Tillis

Thom

NC

2021

Kind of disgusting to see Lisa Murkowski on this list; she’s been more independent of the GOP than most of the rest of her caucus. The RNC has spent $400,000 at Trump hotels since the 2016 election, setting a great example of corruption for the rest of its ranks.

Don’t even get me started on spineless Ben Sasse, he of all talk and no cattle when it comes to doing the right thing.

Have to wonder what the state of play in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin for these four GOP senators to not only call on Russia on America’s holiday of independence last year but to suck up to their mobster party boss at his overpriced hotels.

One thing I couldn’t find readily: the name of the lone Democratic senator who visited a Trump hotel. Name and shame them, people. Democrats need to clearly differentiate themselves from corruption.

~ 1 ~

Meanwhile, some Democratic freshmen can’t find their butts with both hands when it comes to an impeachment inquiry. These representatives so far have resisted supporting an inquiry in spite of being elected to office in a blue wave — they were chosen to fix Trump’s Washington, in short. Most of them are holding out for more facts, a stronger case before they support impeachment.

And now a direct message to those freshmen holdouts:

WHAT PART OF MULTIPLE COUNTS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE DON’T YOU GET, FRESHMEN??

It’s right there in the Special Counsel’s Report which every member of Congress has had more than ample time and at least one lengthy break to read.

Not to mention the ongoing daily abuses of power and gross negligence which speak for themselves and in some cases have cost human lives (ask Puerto Rico and the untold numbers of asylum-seeking children still in cages).

Take notes from California frosh Rep. Katie Porter on an impeachment inquiry. Nobody is above the law and you members of Congress have a constitutional duty to uphold and defend it — you’re given the power to deal with an intransigent executive by the Constitution.

You’ve read the Constitution’s Article I, haven’t you? You understood your oath of office, yes? Bloody well do what you were hired to do which is outlined in the Constitution and your oath, neither of which prescribe winning popularity contests or fundraising.

These are the representatives I’ve seen named in several reports* as reluctant to get behind an impeachment inquiry:

Susan Wild PA-7 D+1.1 (redistricted from pivot districts, doesn’t believe there’s enough evidence for impeachment)

Gil Cisneros CA-39 EVEN R+0/D+0
TJ Cox CA-21 EVEN R+0/D+0
Josh Harder CA-10 EVEN R+0/D+0
Katie Hill CA-25 EVEN R+0/D+0

Jared Golden ME-2 R+2 (called impeachment nonsense, isn’t hearing from constituents about supporting impeachment)
Angie Craig MN-2 R+2
Andrew Kim NJ-3 R+2
Conor Lamb PA-17 R+2.5 (redistricted)

Haley Stevens MI-11 R+4
Elissa Slotkin MI-8 R+4

Being from Michigan I can almost understand the concerns of the last two, BUT…they were elected in districts which have been strongly GOP for at least a decade, as a direct rebuttal of Trump policies. Trump’s bullshit trade war with China has hurt both businesses and investments of their constituents greatly (unless they’re accountants who are raking in big bucks from all the new tax code changes). They’ve also got a Democratic governor, attorney general, and secretary of state who are women and going to do their best to get their backs and assure a fair election in 2020. The excuses they have for waffling in R+4 districts are nominal, especially after Trump’s egregious behavior on so many topics this week. How badly does Trump have to meltdown before they will get behind a formal inquiry?

And that’s what should be pounded into the rest of the freshmen who are holding out ‘because we don’t have all the facts’ or ‘we need the strongest case’ or ‘I don’t jump on a bandwagon’: DO THE RIGHT THING BY SUPPORTING AN IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY.

We will get all the facts and make the strongest case with a formal inquiry which has Constitutional support.

And the bandwagon is to DO THE RIGHT THING, not worry about re-election, Rep. Wild. None of your bills are going anywhere so long as Senate Majority Leader #MoscowMitch McConnell is in thrall to both Trump and Russia. Quit dragging your feet and get the hell on board.

~ 0 ~

I’ve got a post in progress on the Epstein-MIT Media Lab scandal and another on Scotland. Later this week we’ll have to do another whip count now that I’ve laid out the problem with freshmen Democrats.

If you haven’t called your representative lately, do so — Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 — and ask them to support an impeachment inquiry. Thank them if they already have committed to supporting an inquiry. They count calls, I can see it reflected in media reports.

Let’s get back to school, people. Treat this as an open thread.
________

* Sources:
31-AUG-2019 – House Democrats in Trump districts resist liberal pressure on impeachment (WaPo)

02-SEP-2019 – Impeachment Summer Passes By, Without A Breakthrough (HuffPo)

07-SEP-2019 – Impeachment fight looms over freshmen Democrats at home in California (CNN)

Meanwhile, Over In Turkey . . .

Well isn’t this interesting? From Diplopundit last Friday comes a post with this title: Tillerson Meets Erdoğan in Ankara With Turkish Foreign Minister as InterpreterThe post is a series of tweets from all kinds of media folks, which include some of these gems:

Nicholas Wadhams of Bloomberg News:

Secretary of State Tillerson is currently meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is the lone US representative and Turkey’s foreign minister is translating.

Rajib Soylu, Washington correspondent for Daily Sabah:

This is the second Erdoğan – Tillerson meeting where all Turkish, American officials, and even the translators excluded.

Turkish FM functions as a translator.

Ihlan Tanir of Washington Hatti US:

Im trying to understand — I never expected Pres Erdogan and Sec Tillerson to have a press conference but they did not even read statements following 200 minutes of a meeting?

Let’s pause here for a moment to let that last one sink in.

It’s one thing if the Turkish Foreign Minister brings Erdogan over to Tillerson at a meet-and-greet and translates some friendly “let me show you pictures of my grandkids” chit-chat between the two. But that’s not what this was. This was a lengthy, official, and private meeting that lasted over three hours between some very high level folks at a time of rather significant tension between the two countries.

You don’t have meetings like this without your own translator. You just don’t. The typical process is that both sides have interpreters. Official A speaks, the interpreter for Official B tells Official B what was said, and the interpreter for Official A says some version of “Yes, that’s correct” to verify the interpretation. Then it all works in reverse when Official B replies. With difficult issues under discussion, the last thing either side wants is confusion about what each side is saying.

Excluding your own interpreter is so far outside of normal protocols it is unreal, and begs the ever-green question about most everything since 1/20/2017: idiot or crook?

As Diplopundit noted in his/her own tweet, someone else was missing from this meeting — an official note taker:

Saving money on translators*, too? And the foreign FM will just share his notes of the T-E discussion with the State Dept. Or EUR can use their Magic 8 ball. 😭 It knows everything and always willing to share.

(* Diplopundit later corrected this to “interpreters”, as a slip of the fingers since “translators” are more precisely those who deal with written documents while “interpreters” handle verbal communications.)

“EUR” in that last tweet is the State Department’s Office of European Affairs, where long ago I was an intern. I can only imagine the reaction in Foggy Bottom was when word of Tillerson’s meeting with Erdogan reached them. It likely involved multiple variations on “He did WHAT?!?!?” with various . . . ahem . . . flavoring words for emphasis added. As former State Department spokesperson and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby told CNN:

“If the meeting is not conducted in English, it is foolhardy in the extreme not to have at his side a State Department translator, who can ensure that Mr. Tillerson’s points are delivered accurately and with the proper emphasis,” said former State Department spokesman and CNN diplomatic and military analyst John Kirby.

“That Mr. Tillerson eschewed this sort of support in what he knew would be a tense and critical meeting with President Erdogan smacks of either poor staff work or dangerous naïveté on his part,” Kirby added.

And that’s what Kirby said about this in public. I’ll leave it to your imagination what he and other current and former State and Defense Department folks said to each other about it in private. Hold onto this for a moment, because we’ll come back to it in a bit.

Eventually, Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu did in fact have a press availability, which the State Department has up on their website. In the statements issued by both, as well as their answers to questions from the reporters, they talked about all manner of increasingly tense topics, from the Kurds to what’s happening in Syria to the failed coup and the Turkish demands for Fethullah Gulen to be extradited back to Turkey, and more.

Two items stood out here. First, there’s this from Tillerson about midway through:

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to how we’re going forward – and that’s what all of the discussion here was about, recognizing where we find ourselves. And I think as the foreign minister indicated, we find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship. And we could go back and revisit how we got here, but we don’t think that’s useful. We’ve decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward. The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.

And out of the meetings last night – and much of our staff was up through the night to memorialize how we’re going to go about this, and we’ll share a little bit of that in the joint statement. We’re going to reserve a lot of the details because there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and we – and our working teams need to be allowed to do that work in a very open, frank, honest way with one another so that we can chart the way forward together.

I’ll bet the staff was up through the night. If no staff were allowed in the three hour meeting, then the only one who can tell them what was said, what kind of emphasis it was given, what threats were made, what promises were made, and what kind of nuance there was to each of the exchanges was Tillerson. No offense to the Secretary, but that makes the work of the staff very very difficult. To begin with, they had to interview Tillerson just to get all the information about the meeting (and pray he didn’t leave anything out), before they could even think about “how we’re going forward.”

But the larger item that stood out to me came in the very last pair of question asked, reprinted in full below but with emphasis added:

QUESTION:[ed: to Tillerson] Did you warn Turkey that they could be subject to sanctions under CAATSA legislation if they go ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? [ed: CAATSA is the Russian sanctions legislation that Congress passed but Trump refuses to implement with any teeth.]

And for you, Mr. Foreign Minister, would the threat of U.S. sanctions stop you from going ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? And if you do buy the system, do you still want to remain in NATO if you’re obtaining the weapons from Russia?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We did discuss the impact of the CAATSA law that was passed by the Congress last summer that deals with purchases of Russian military equipment. I discussed it last night with President Erdogan; we had further discussions this morning about it. And indeed, it’s in the first group of issues that the foreign minister is referring to. We need to put a group of experts together, and we’ll look at the circumstances around that, as we’ve done with governments all over the world, not just Turkey, because the intent of that legislation was not to harm our friends and allies. But it is directed at Russia for its interference in our elections. So we’ve been advising countries around the world as to what the impact on their relationship and purchases that they might be considering with Russia, and many have reconsidered those and have decided to not proceed with those discussions.

Every case is individual on its own. We want to consult with Turkey and at least ensure they understand what might be at risk in this particular transaction. We don’t have all the details yet, so I can’t give you any kind of a conclusion, but it’ll be given very careful scrutiny, obviously, and we’ll fully comply with the law. And we are – we are now implementing CAATSA and fully applying it around the world.

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: Thank you very much. First and foremost, I need to underline that I am against the terminology that you use. You used the threat terminology. That is not a correct terminology to be used because it is true for all countries and states. We never use the language of threat and we deny if it is used against us, because this is not correct.

But as Rex has also indicated, this was not something that we talked just yesterday and today. When we met in Vancouver, we talked about this, and from time to time when we have phone conversations, we talk about such issues. This was again brought to the agenda in one of those talks. Of course, there is a law that was enacted by the United States Congress, and they explained this legislation to us. But on the other hand, this is our national security, and it’s important for our national security. I have emergency need of an air defense system. We want to purchase this from our allies, but this does not exist. So even when we are purchasing small-scale arms, the Congress or some other European parliaments, we have – we have and we had difficulty in purchasing these because of these excuses, and I have an emergency need. And the Russian Federation came up with attractive proposals for us. We also talked to other countries, not just with Russia, but we talked about this issue of emergency need with many countries and we had bilateral talks.

Also, in the mid-term, we talked about joint production and technology transfer. We focused on this because this is important for Turkey. And lastly, during the Paris visit of our president – with Eurosam – this is a French-Italian partnership – there was a pre-agreement signed, a memorandum of understanding signed with these groups. So we do not have any problems with our allies. Why should we not meet this requirement with NATO? But, of course, when it is not met within this platform, we need to look for alternative resources. Otherwise, some batteries – some Patriot were withdrawn from our frontier. Some European allies withdrew them. We have (inaudible) of the Italians and Patriots of Spain, and we do not have any other air defense. And we need to meet this requirement as soon as possible. And when we talked to Russia, this was actually an agreement that we reached before the legislation in Congress was enacted. And the remaining part was about the details of loans, et cetera.

Of course, we talked about all of these, and we will take into consideration this – within this working group the commission, but all of us need to understand each other and respect each other. Thank you very much.

In Cavusoglu’s answer, he is pushing back hard on attempts to isolate Turkey. He’s being polite about it, but the very public message is clear: “You know, the Russians seem very interested in making a deal with us, and if you persist in trying to pressure us and don’t back us with the Kurds and cause problems in Syria and don’t return that coup-instigating terrorist you are harboring, the Russians seem pretty clearly ready to help us out where you will not.”

Which makes Tillerson’s earlier comment above sound like he got that message loud and clear. To repeat: “The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.”

But there were also some private messages being sent here, too.

Let’s go back to that no-staff-allowed element of the meeting once more. In general, it is in the interests of both parties to a conversation like that to have interpreters and notetakers present, so that in the public discussions that follow (like the one above), everyone agrees on the basic facts of what was said and you don’t getting into a “but you said . . .” and “no I didn’t” back-and-forth. For the meeting to exclude such staffers means that there is something else that overrides this interest.

In this case, the Turks had to have demanded that Tillerson not bring anyone with him to this meeting. There’s no way he would have told his staff “I got this – you take a break while I talk with Erdogan” on his own. The question is why, and all the possible answers I can come up after reading the Turkish Foreign Minister’s reply to that last question involve Vladimir Putin wanting Erdogan to pass on some kind of message to Trump — a message that he did not wish to be delivered within earshot of interpreters and notetakers.

It reminds me very much of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting that Trump had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and outgoing Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. That was the meeting where we later learned that Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to the Russians about their source inside ISIS and told them that he just fired “that nut job” James Comey which took the pressure off of him because of Russia.

Oh, and the US press were kept out of that meeting as well, with the only reports of it coming after the Russians told us about it. As Politico’s Susan Glasser noted about that Oval Office meeting, it came at the specific request of Putin:

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

Kind of makes me wonder if the reason Tillerson left the interpreter back at the embassy is because Putin asked him to in a phone call last Monday. From CNN:

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump spoke Monday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to express condolences for a weekend plane crash outside Moscow, according to a US official.

The phone call came amid ongoing Washington-Moscow tensions over policy in the Middle East and Russia’s attempts to meddling in US elections.

Russian news agencies reported the phone call also included discussion of the situation in Israel. . . .

Again we’re hearing about this via Russian news agencies? I’m sensing a pattern here . . .