Quotes of the day

The downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet over Ukraine could dramatically broaden the Ukrainian crisis, even before it is determined who bears responsibility…

“This is a new element that nobody expected,” James F. Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the plane’s downing. “It’s one of those events . . . that can have unpredicted negative or positive consequences.”

On the negative side, it marks a clear escalation of both firepower and the willingness to use it that could draw the patrons of both sides into more overt participation on the ground and more direct confrontation with each other…

But Collins and others suggested that the shocking nature of the incident could also be a wake-up call to all involved. “It may bring certain people to decide that some different approach is needed because this is really getting out of hand,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, it could mean a lot more people talking about [the Ukraine situation] and saying enough is enough.”


A short video posted to YouTube by the Ukrainian government reportedly shows a “Buk,” or SA-11 “Gadfly,” surface-to-air missile system en route from eastern Ukraine to the Russian border on Friday.

While the video cannot be independently verified, the footage appears to show the system with at least one of its missiles missing. It also appears to be mounted on a tracked chassis, although it has been loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Tracked vehicles are decidedly slower than their wheeled counterparts. The use of the truck could indicate the system’s own propulsion system is disabled, or that speed is a priority for whomever is moving it.

U.S. officials asserted Friday that the Malaysian airliner that crashed in Ukraine was likely downed by an SA-11 operated from a separatist-held location.


The United States has gathered a significant body of evidence that Ukrainian separatists have been trained on Russian territory in recent weeks to fire antiaircraft missiles, according to American military and intelligence officials who have raised alarms over the reports.

Among other weapons, U.S. officials said, the separatists have been trained in using mobile antiaircraft batteries — missile systems that could be moved around on vehicles and are thought to have been used in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet Thursday…

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine. But he said it was clear the rebels had wanted to add such a weapon to their arsenal.


McCain said he sees “no separation” between Putin and the Ukrainian rebels, calling that movement “clearly orchestrated” by Moscow…

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois said he believes operating the missile system “would need backup from a nation-state like Russia.”

“That would mean that Russian armed forces are directly involved in this wrongful death of roughly 300 people,” Kirk asserted…

“If you’re a world power and you give this type of sophisticated weaponry to insurrectionists, you’re responsible for what happens after that,” King said. “This violates to me all norms of international behavior by a world power.”


Europe and even America never cared that much about Crimea. It is difficult to dislodge an annexation when a majority of the population likely really did support it. And the Europeans, as long as the big red lines weren’t being crossed, are too tied to Russian fuels and their myriad other concerns to care that much about mischief on Ukraine’s eastern border. But having a passenger plane, filled with EU citizens, shot out of the sky above what is presumed to be the bubble of first world safety that is “Europe” is a game changing event not only in the Ukraine crisis but much more broadly about Putin’s role in Europe generally.

In a paradoxical way, I think the future ramifications of this are almost greater because it is about Russia’s recklessness and bumbling than it would be if it were more clearly a matter of intent. This is a f’-up on Putin’s part of almost mind-boggling proportions. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, perhaps an atrocity. But almost more threatening, a screw up. Malign intent is one thing. So is aggression. But goofs of this magnitude by someone who controls a massive military arsenal and nuclear weapons are in a way more threatening.


Pavlovsky was especially concerned about one of the pro-Russian military leaders in eastern Ukraine, a former (and possibly current) Russian intelligence officer known to most by his nom de guerre, Igor Strelkov. (Strelkov’s real name is Igor Girkin.)

A wildly messianic nationalist who cultivates an air of lumpy intrigue, Strelkov has found his way to the battlefields of Chechnya, Serbia, and Transnistria. He is now helping to run the separatist operation in Donetsk. Like the radical nationalists and neo-imperialists in Moscow, who have easy access to the airwaves these days, Strelkov has a singular point of disagreement with Putin: the Russian President hasn’t gone nearly far enough; he has failed to invade and annex “Novorossiya,” the separatist term for eastern Ukraine. Pavlovsky said that people like Strelkov and his Moscow allies are as delusional as they are dangerous, somehow believing that they are taking part in grand historical dramas, like the Battle of Borodino, in 1812, or “the novels of Tolkien.”…

If it turns out that men like Strelkov and his fellow soldier-fantasists were responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and all the people on board, the fever in Russia and Ukraine may intensify beyond anything that Vladimir Putin could have predicted or desired. It is long past time that Putin ended both the inflammatory information war in Russia and the military proxy war in eastern Ukraine that he has done so much to conceive, fund, organize, and fuel. There are hundreds of corpses strewn across a field today in eastern Ukraine. What is Vladimir Putin’s next move?


Ukraine’s very future may be riding on the results of whatever credible inquiry emerges, as its economic and territorial survival depends on the international support. Ukraine is not winning this war on its own, and Kyiv’s political class knows it. They need to plug that hole on Russia-Ukraine border, which Moscow is reportedly using to support the rebels. Without Western financial, logistical and military assistance, Ukraine’s hapless and battered government can’t do it. And the West is reluctant to deliver…

Andriy Shevchenko, a prominent pro-European member of the parliament, partially blames the international community for the airplane disaster. “The rebels turned Eastern Ukraine into a tribal land with no rules, no laws or dignity,” he told me. “This is just a huge, dark hole right in the center of Europe. We need to shut it down.”

On Friday, Putin called again for peace talks—but nobody in Kyiv is listening at the moment. The Ukrainian public and its leaders insist they will go all the way to defeat the rebels. “It is time to put an end to this aggression, and the world should join us in the eliminating of terrorists. It doesn’t matter where they are,” Oleksandr Tyrchynov, the speaker of parliament said in a public statement, most likely hinting at a possible military campaign along the Russian border.


Suddenly, NATO’s role in Europe has regained relevance. Unfortunately, NATO lacks the credibility to match. The United States no longer maintains even a single tank in Europe. The European countries have allowed their defense capabilities to wither altogether. If the budget sequester remains in force, the U.S. Army’s combat capabilities will be cut in half by decade’s end. Even if NATO decided that Russia’s latest actions release the West from the 1990s ban on permanent deployments in eastern Europe, what troops could it send?

We shouldn’t give up the hope that Putin will prove only an ugly detour on Russia’s route to a future as a normal, peaceful European democracy. But we shouldn’t any longer rely on that hope to guide our policy. Russia has become dangerous again. It’s not as dangerous as it was, but it’s more than dangerous enough. Nearly 300 bereaved families in the Netherlands, Britain, Canada, and elsewhere have suffered what hundreds of Ukrainians have suffered since Russian sharpshooters opened fire on peacefully protesting crowds in Kyiv last winter.

And we are all more vulnerable to that danger because we have let atrophy the institutions necessary to meet and contain that danger. It’s time—past time—to build those institutions back. That’s been the meaning of the Ukraine crisis from the start. The terrible heartbreak of MH17 might have been averted if we had absorbed that meaning early. But better to absorb it now than to leave it any longer.


{T]hus far, the West has been reluctant to strike the cancer at its source. France is on schedule to deliver two Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia, having signed a contract for the vessels after Moscow invaded and occupied another neighbor, Georgia, in 2008. This week, it was reported that Italy, which currently occupies the EU presidency, was attempting to water down a further round of sanctions. And on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel— considered one of the continent’s toughest leaders when it comes to dealing with Russia—could be seen chatting next to Putin at the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro…

It is long past time that the United States and its NATO allies supply the Ukrainian military with the lethal aid it has long requested, so that it can at least defend itself and its airspace from Russia. NATO should deploy more troops to Poland and the Baltic states, which are understandably nervous about Russian designs on their territory and quietly doubt the Alliance’s Article 5 commitment stipulating that an attack on one is an attack on all. Sectoral sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy are also long overdue. And, if Russian involvement in this attack is conclusively demonstrated, Russia should be added to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.


Putin will almost certainly have to back away from the insurgency. And mere rhetoric will not be enough. He will actually need to take concrete steps to close the borders and stop the supply of weapons if he is to convince the West that he is serious about distancing himself from the men who brought down MH17. In these circumstances, re-energized government forces will probably be able to win the war militarily, and sooner than would otherwise be the case.

If the war ends sooner, however, it may also be bloodier. The rebels will have their backs to the wall, especially because most of them will probably have no option to retreat into Russia or receive asylum. Kiev may also feel more able to resort to the kind of artillery and airstrikes that won the battle for Slavyansk, regardless of the inevitable civilian casualties, when they move against the remaining strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Either way, it doesn’t look good for Moscow. Putin has increasingly framed himself as the guardian of Russians around the world and the master of post-Soviet Eurasia. No matter how the state-controlled media spin it, a reversal in eastern Ukraine will undermine him both at home and in Russia’s neighbors. The tragedy of Flight MH17 has reshaped the political context of the Ukrainian conflict. It also represents an unexpected and unwelcome challenge to Putin himself.


Until now, the desire of some members of the Obama administration for more aggressive multilateral action against Putin has been stymied by the reluctance of European governments, particularly Germany, to antagonize Russia. Business interests in the U.S. have also claimed that American companies could be hurt if they lose access to the Russian market. In the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which almost certainly claimed dozens of American and European lives, such voices will be drowned out by demands from the public that Russia be punished for supplying the weapons that may have brought the airliner down.
Story: Russian Media Goes Far Out to Explain Malaysia Airlines Disaster

To the vast majority of Americans, Russia’s meddling in Ukraine has largely seemed of peripheral importance to U.S. interests. That calculus has changed. As we have argued before, Putin has far more to lose from a prolonged confrontation than does the West. His finance ministry has already warned that additional sanctions would crush economic growth. And as more Russian businesses get squeezed and living standards deteriorate, Putin’s base of political support will crumble.

It may take months, even years, but Putin’s recklessness is bound to catch up to him. When it does, the downing of MH 17 may be seen as the beginning of his undoing.


Andropov didn’t have to live with opprobrium for long: he passed away less than six months after the KAL 007 disaster. Putin, however, is a relatively young, healthy man, and he will continue to occupy the world stage as Russia’s supreme ruler. But he will never again be able to portray himself as a savvy, cool broker in international affairs, nor Russia as just another great power. Now, he’s just another Soviet-era thug, a perception that was already growing before the Malaysian airliner plunged out of the sky. No matter how the current crisis ends, Putin’s name will forever be tied to this outrage, and his personal bid to create a more respected Russia through violence and intimidation is permanently defunct.

In the short term, the international community may not manage to muster sanctions against Russia that are any more effective than those imposed on the old USSR. But over the longer term, Putin has done far worse to his own country than any punishment we can levy. He has returned Russia to its cursed role as an international pariah, a country incapable of conducting itself without brutality and conquest. Putin’s Kremlin will likely pay only a modest price for now, but Russia and its people will have to bear the brunt of an increasing and corrosive isolation thrust upon them by their leader and his outdated Soviet fears and insecurities. If the Russian people one day find that NATO has renewed its purpose and that the globalized world community has moved on without them, they will have only Vladimir Putin to blame.

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