Perspectives On MH17, And On Handling Russia

IN THE AFTERMATH of an atrocity that saw 298 people needlessly slaughtered when their aeroplane was shot down in Ukrainian airspace, Russia has been the target of surprisingly unified international outrage; yet even now, there are reports of obfuscation and interference in enabling investigations of the disaster and the repatriation of the deceased to progress. Today, we look at a no-nonsense, commonsense approach to Putin’s Russia.

This is one of those posts in which I’m really only sharing something I have read; today it’s a piece from David Davis (the veteran Conservative Party MP and minister under John Major, not his namesake in the Victorian Parliament) which readers can peruse here.

Davis’ thesis — that it is time to end the appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin — is bang on the mark.

This time last week, we considered questions about Russia broadly and its behaviour under Putin specifically in some detail; those who missed the article at the time can access it (and a couple of other bits and bobs I linked it to) here, and as I said at the time it seems that any reluctance to condemn Russia for its culpability in the episode was misplaced.

Even now, though — amid the outrage the shootdown of flight MH17 has provoked — Russia is being given every opportunity to “prove” its bona fides as a “responsible” global citizen.

Yes, there are sanctions being applied to Russia by the US and the West. But whilst these will cause some inconvenience to Putin’s regime, they won’t hit Russia where it really hurts: by cutting it out of global financial circles altogether, and by preventing it from making a fortune selling energy to Europe — and holding it, quite literally, to ransom as it does.

Davis’ assessment is brutal in its candour, blunt in its resolve, yet nonetheless still proposes that Putin’s Russia be offered a carrot for its co-operation — with the real stick of isolating Russia altogether not just to be threatened for non-compliance, but actually implemented. I strongly urge readers to take the time to read the article I have shared.

There are three points I make.

One, that Davis is right: US President Barack Obama has handled Putin with kid gloves, which in turn has emboldened Russia to modernise and rearm both itself and its acolytes regionally — and this includes the so-called “separatists” in Ukraine who were the apparent culprits in shooting MH17 out of the sky. (I am not going to use the sanitised semantics preferred by Russia that present the plane as  “downed” over Ukraine: it was shot down, pure and simple).

The Obama presidency has, predictably, been an abject waste of time where international relations are concerned. Under the auspices of its purported “trust” in “partners” and its pursuit of “peace,” the US has perpetrated a ridiculous act of self-disarmament that (unsurprisingly) has not been met in kind by Russia; it has, in seeking to eschew conflict, allowed the outrages of militant Islamic violence in the Middle East to cost thousands of lives; and despite its rhetoric, it has allowed potential flashpoints involving Russia and China (at the top of a long list) to develop into problems that could trigger dangerous military conflagrations, where more a hawkish posture might have kept these things at bay.

Two, the carrot-and-stick approach Davis advocates is the only correct tack to take; it must be made clear that if Russia refuses to co-operate (as opposed to saying one thing and doing something else) then the funds it derives from trade with the West — and on which it relies to prevent economic collapse — will be summarily stopped. Davis is right that this would involve some real cost in the short term to the EU and countries like Britain as alternative sources of reliable energy are brought online, and quickly. But the failure to walk such a path would amount to no more than a continuation of the very appeasement he rightly rails against. The EU and Britain prospered without Russia for decades. There is no reason to believe they could not do so again.

And three, some will say that isolating Russia won’t work; that shutting it off from the free world will simply provoke it. The devastating response to such piffle is that embracing Russia hasn’t worked either; and unprovoked as it may or may not be now, it has certainly been working itself into a position of globally apocalyptic offensive capability largely on the back of what used to be called “petrodollars.” The fear of angering Russia has encouraged it to strengthen its hand. Putin has already demonstrated a willingness to flex the muscles of Russian military might and hold its fist aloft, as have some of his cronies. If “working with” Russia hasn’t worked, then cutting it off can only yield results that, at the very least, are no worse.

And lest there still remain those who think taking a stronger line against Russia is a madness confined to the lunar outskirts of reality, another excellent article I have seen this morning — this time from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — more or less echoes the same sentiments expressed in this column, as well as those enunciated by David Davis and a growing number of prominent leaders and public figures across the free world.

Now that some time has passed since this shocking disaster occurred — and as voices such as these grow stronger, and louder, and face less resistance in mainstream discourse than they might have a fortnight ago — I am interested in what readers of this column might make of them: both in terms of the arguments raised in the articles I have featured, or in the brief comment I have made on the points raised in the Davis essay.