Moscow says Washington is jumping to conclusions over Flight MH17 as it announces retaliatory sanctions
Tom Parfitt, Moscow correspondent
Telegraph | 19 Jul 2014
Russia has accused the United States of acting “like a bad surgeon who cuts deeper, and then sews things up sloppily so that it hurts for longer” over the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said Washington had got caught up in a “geopolitical frenzy” and was deeply misguided in its perception of events in Ukraine.
The comments came as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, urged Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, in a phone call to use his influence on pro-Russian separatists to reach a ceasefire with Ukrainian forces.
Also on Saturday, Moscow announced it was adding 12 Americans to its visa stop-list in retaliation at US sanctions imposed on Russia last week over the Ukraine crisis.
Barack Obama, the US president, said on Friday that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile operated from “a separatist location in Eastern Ukraine”. The US says “technical assistance” from Russia could not be ruled out.
But Mr Ryabkov said Moscow was not involved in any way in the missile strike.
“Without waiting to establish the facts of the matter or for at least initial agreements about an investigation, which we have spoken in favour of, the US administration is de facto trying to place all blame for what happened on the irregulars and the Russian side,” he said.
Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, echoed the criticism, saying: “The White House even before the investigation of the Boeing catastrophe clearly established who’s guilty. Earlier on the White House established the same way that Saddam had WMD [weapons of mass destruction].”
Mr Ryabkov said Washington’s position was no surprise because it had already “stirred up internal political tension in Ukraine, provoking an anti-constitutional seizure of power, and supported anti-Russian politicians”.
He added: “In its geopolitical frenzy and its attempt to use methods of socio-political engineering everywhere, the United States is acting like a bad surgeon: cut deeper at first, and then stitch up sloppily so that it will hurt for a long time.”
The Russian foreign ministry said it had added 12 Americans linked to the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib scandals to its visa stop-list, including Rear Admiral Richard Butler and Gladys Kessler, a judge. Any new US sanctions would be matched by Russian restrictions, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s deputy defence minister, said Kiev needed to answer why it had not completely closed its airspace over the conflict zone.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian rebels continued in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. Separatist authorities in Luhansk said 16 civilians had died in shelling in the last 24 hours.
Malaysia and Ukraine
Eurasia Outlook | July 18, 2014
The downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane on Thursday over Eastern Ukraine catapults the crisis there onto the global plane. Nationals of several countries, more than half of them Dutch, are among the victims. The UN Security Council will meet in New York. An international investigation has been called for. The story dominates television news all over the world.
Given the realities of continued fighting on the ground, and the very high political stakes involved, the investigation will not prove easy. Yet, even before it has started in earnest, accusations have been made. The most widely discussed scenario in the global media is the downing of the plane by the Donetsk insurgents.
The story gaining the most traction boils down to this: after the Kiev government had moved massively against the separatists, and drove them out of their stronghold in Slavyansk, Russia stepped up cross-border supplies of heavy armaments to the insurgents, in an effort to restore the balance. This has since resulted in the downing of several Ukrainian military aircraft. The Malaysian Boeing, the conclusion is, was shot by the rebels, and by mistake.
Publicly, President Poroshenko has already blamed the Russia-supported separatists, and President Putin has put the blame on the Ukrainian government’s resumption of the military operation in the east of the country. Actually, these statements may be less contradictory than they appear, but this is small comfort. Whatever the final result of the investigation, Russia is likely to face a major political and media campaign reminiscent of the 1983 shooting of the Korean Air Lines off Sakhalin island, which ushered in the most dangerous period of the Cold War after the Cuban missile crisis.
The coming UNSC debate is likely to be emotional, and acrimonious. The US Congress may press President Obama to ramp up the sanctions which he had only announced less than 24 hours before the MH17 tragedy. The daylight between the United States and the EU approaches to anti-Russian sanctions may narrow. Russia’s outreach to Asia beyond China may be compromised. This will put Moscow in a difficult spot, and prompt a reaction on its part.
The only sensible step now would be to stop the fighting in Ukraine immediately and begin a political process, under the OSCE auspices and led by the Contact Group. The tragic and sudden loss of so many innocent lives should put a final point to the armed conflict. Or it may put the international conflict over Ukraine on a much higher and more dangerous level. The choice is still to be made, but the time is running out fast.
‘Putin is a pariah – he must now be treated as such’
After the terrible loss of MH17, Europe must now stand firm against Putin
Telegraph | 19 Jul 2014
For the past two decades, many around the world have been in denial. Russia was changing, they insisted. And so it has. It has embraced money, private jets and super yachts. For a fleeting few years in the early 1990s it toyed with democracy, only to conclude that this course was synonymous with chaos. Out of this new experiment of bling with brutishness came Vladimir Putin.
Six months into the crisis in Ukraine, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner marks a defining moment in the West’s approach to Russia. Or at least it should.
Putin is a pariah. He must now be treated as such.
The terrible loss of MH17, with passengers from a dozen nations on board, was tragedy enough. The stories of Dutch families obliterated, scientific experts on their way to a conference in Australia, and Newcastle football fans making the extraordinary journey to New Zealand were heart-rending. Initially, as the facts remained a little unclear, the Russian President could, just could, have salvaged what remained of his international credibility in his response to the crash. He could have expressed his horror at the military escalation in eastern Ukraine, vowing that the perpetrators of the crime would be brought to justice. Then, in time, he might have called for a conference on the future of Russians in Ukraine and ensured that they secured greater autonomy. He would have been able to trade on some goodwill, alongside the power that comes with Russia’s dominance of energy supplies to Europe. Machiavelli would have approved.
Instead he reverted to thuggish type. As state television produced its now familiar diet of propaganda, the president insisted that the Ukrainians only had themselves to blame. Meanwhile, rebel leaders in the crash site area threatened journalists and investigators who tried to piece together the facts. The idea, from the very start of the Ukrainian insurgency, that the balaclava-clad forces in Crimea and the east of the country were a spontaneous reflection of local sentiment was laughable. They have been armed and coordinated from on high, from the Kremlin. Now the order has gone out to eliminate the incriminating evidence. This will be difficult, but Putin’s hope is to muddy the trail just enough that it will allow some European politicians to argue that further sanctions and other repercussions be toned down.
For sure, Putin did not want developments to unfold in the way they have done. The rebels had, shortly before the Malaysian airliner was downed, just boasted about their prowess in picking Ukrainian military planes from the sky. They ended up picking the wrong target. Their minders in Moscow will be furious with them, knowing that the events of the past 48 hours will set back the rebels’ cause.
In recent weeks, as the Ukrainian authorities had regained a few footholds in the East, the attention of the international media had moved elsewhere. Now it has refocused on the region. Movements of Russian military kit will be more closely monitored. Putin cannot afford another mistake. In the short-term at least, the rebels and their masters will have to watch their step.
Putin has no end game in Ukraine. He knows what he doesn’t want – a functioning, Western leaning, democratic state. He hated the idea that in May Ukraine conducted presidential elections, which contained clear choices and produced an undisputed outcome – at least in areas he couldn’t reach. His only purpose is to destabilise, as he has done in other former republics of the Soviet Union, whose demise he has publicly lamented. Nor does he have a grand plan for Russia, apart from restoring its “dignity”, after the “humiliations” of the 1990s.
Some of his resentments are justified. Russia was taken for granted in the early 2000s. The post-9/11 logistical support it provided for America’s war in Afghanistan, and its agreement not to hinder the war in Iraq were banked, with nothing given back in return. Putin could be forgiven for becoming wary of the West. Indeed, with power shifting to Asia and with emerging countries looking for points of reference beyond the United States, he could have developed a more subtle foreign policy that might have posed an interesting challenge. Instead he fell into a mind-set that was part Soviet era and part Latin American dictator of the 1970s.
His land grab in Crimea was hugely popular back home; his poll ratings reached an all-time high. Although it squealed, the West did not particularly object to the snatching back of a peninsula that had traditionally belonged to Russia and was ostentatiously handed over to Ukraine by a drunken Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 – at a time when demarcations between Soviet states were largely irrelevant anyway.
The crisis in eastern Ukraine is different. It will further damage Russia’s flat-lining economy and is costing lives. Families in the region are being torn asunder as they are forced to make choices about allegiances. Yet, miserabilist that he is, Putin will not call off the dogs of war, because that will look weak.
Back in Moscow, in the sushi bars and the five-star hotels, business goes on as usual. Russia has the veneer of a modern state. The wealthy are driven from plush office to suburban dacha in their tinted-windowed Mercedes, not quite impervious to events in Ukraine, but confident that it won’t affect them.
With each month, the United States has shown greater determination. Europe is divided. Some leaders want tougher action; others, mindful of their dependency on Russian gas, continue to hold back. President Obama is contemplating a further set of sanctions against named individuals and companies deemed to be close to Putin. For all the denials, the earlier rounds have hurt – a little.
The British government’s denunciation of Russian foreign policy and supine embrace of its money is hypocritical and self-defeating. Apart from one or two individuals who have stood up to the Kremlin – and usually ended up in jail – Russia’s billionaires have been his de facto ambassadors, providing glamour to Russia’s international image. They know which side of the fence they are on.
In September 1983 when the Soviets shot down a Korean passenger jet that had strayed into their air space, the Cold War was at its height and Russia was a closed country. Politically and militarily, the Kremlin may not have moved on, but economically the world is very different. Russia’s wealth is tied up in Western banks. Its companies are listed on global stock exchanges. Its oligarchs own prestigious properties in London, Courchevel and the Cote d’Azur. The country that helped them become rich is led by one of the most sinister politicians of the modern age.
This is both Putin’s strength and his weak spot. And this is where the West needs to act.
John Kampfner was the Telegraph’s Moscow bureau chief 1991-94. His latest book, The Rich, is published in October
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