West made a monster of Putin

Plus Media Solutions | July 26, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has the blood of Australians on his hands, and is now hiding the evidence of his crimes. But blame the West, too, for its fatal weakness. In fact, the Abbott government hopes to use the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 to persuade the West to muscle up at last to Russia.

It is Russia – under Putin’s policy of securing his borders – which helped pro-Russian militias seize parts of eastern Ukraine, making them near lawless.

It is Putin’s Russia which supplied those thugs with arms, almost certainly including the BUK SA-11 missile launcher suspected of shooting down MH17, cruising 10,000m overhead.

It is a Russian colonel in a Russian military headquarters who was taped, according to Ukrainian intercepts, receiving a call from a rebel commander telling him: "We have just shot down a plane." It may even be Russia, the government suspects, which supplied the operators of the sophisticated SA-11. The US agrees, telling the UN Security Council: "Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11 it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel, thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the system."

Ukraine’s head of intelligence claimed phone intercepts proved Russia had at least three SA-11 operators in the area. So Putin created the conditions for the crime and almost certainly provided the weapons, too. It also probable he provided the men who pulled the trigger.

And now he’s helping to hide the evidence. True, Putin may have only partial control of the separatists, but he’s shown no sign of exercising it to Australia’s benefit. Factfinders from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were on Friday hustled away from the crash site by separatist gunmen, led by a man who seemed drunk.

The aircraft’s black box has been given to "authorities", some separatists say, but not to Malaysia, European investigators or anyone neutral. Evidence on the ground seems to have been tampered with. Ukraine even released a YouTube clip showing a SA-11 launcher, minus a missile, being transported back to Russia, it claims.

And in a final insult, the bodies of our dead were left for at least three days lying in the fields, in what Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said was a "disgraceful" lack of respect. Asked if Russia was guilty of a "cover-up", Truss said only it was "too early to make that judgement". Still, if Russia thinks it can get away with this, it’s because the West has let it get away with so much already.

When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and created two friendly breakaway regions, Europe and the US did nothing. When Russia this year snatched the Crimea from Ukraine, Europe and the US imposed only weak sanctions.

When Russia then helped pro-Russian forces seize parts of Ukraine, the US still refused Ukrainian appeals for lethal weaponry to defend itself. And if Putin needed any more encouragement, he had only to look to the Middle East, which has exposed Obama as the weakest US president for at least a century. Obama weakened US support for Israel, pretended a terrorist attack on his Libyan consulate was just a protest against a film and pulled out too early from Iraq, surrendering it to jihadists.

And he’s the man who warned Syria it would cross a "red line" if it used chemical weapons but then did nothing when it did. No wonder Putin grabbed what he liked from Ukraine. Who’d stop him? Not Europe, which has never been weaker militarily and, critically, depends on Russia for a third of its gas.

Even Germany, Europe’s strongest nation, needs Russia for a quarter of all its energy from gas, oil and coal. The Netherlands, which lost at least 192 citizens on MH17, is also humiliatingly dependent, recording an astonishing $23 billion trade deficit with Russia in the first nine months of this financial year.

And, God, does that dependence show now.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for an independent investigation but has not criticised Russia, saying she wants lines of communication kept open.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also refused to attack Russia, telling Putin only that the crash site must not "be tampered" with and a full investigation permitted. Only later did the British government issue a statement — still vague — saying Rutte and British Prime Minister David Cameron "agreed that the EU will need to reconsider its approach to Russia in light of evidence that pro-Russian separatists brought down the plane".

Obama, too, was initially muted, making Prime Minister Tony Abbott the first world leader to attack Russia directly, naming it as the chief suspect in supplying the fatal weapon.

Abbott also linked the tragedy to Russian foreign policy in Ukraine, declaring: "The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandizement, and reckless indifference to human life, should have no place in our world."

A furious Russia called Abbott’s attack "unacceptable", but Abbott is trying to make sure Europe and the US now realise Ukraine is their problem, too.

The government believes Ukraine’s struggle with its separatists can no longer be dismissed as a local issue now that it’s cost the lives of 298 Europeans, Asians and Australians.

So Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have worked the phones to muster a joint response, starting with an international investigation that can reach into Russia. Of course, it’s easier for Australia to rage against Russia. We have no gas taps Russia can turn off in winter.

That at least makes us freer to make a stand, starting with disinviting Putin from the G20 summit in Brisbane should Russia not cooperate with the investigation the government wants the UN Security Council to authorise. Russia holds the power to veto council resolutions.

But we are not so alone. Obama has belatedly echoed Abbott’s attack, warning Russia: "This outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine." And he urged Europe to finally stand against the bully, saying MH17 was a "wake-up call for Europe and the world". This is the Abbott government’s thinking, too.

Yes, Ukraine may seem a long way from Australian concerns, but we’ve been reminded again that no part of the world now is too distant to hurt us. Let Afghanistan fall to the Taliban and we get September 11. Let Syria drown in blood and we get dozens of Australian jihadists. Let Putin’s mates dismember Ukraine and we see an airliner carrying Australians blasted from the sky. Time the West found its strength again. Lives depend upon it.

 

Putin’s limitless ambition feeds his interest in dragging matters out
GREG SHERIDAN, FOREIGN EDITOR
The Australian | July 25, 2014

RUSSIA’S strongman Vladimir Putin has behaved brutally and cynic-ally but with considerable tactical flexibility in Ukraine.

The outrage of the rebels he sponsors shooting down an innocent passenger jet occurred only a little while after a period of relative calm, in which Putin seemed to back off, at least a little.

What is puzzling some analysts now is the continued violent aggress-ion of the Russian–sponsored, and often Russian-led, separatists in eastern Ukraine.

After the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, they have continued to shoot down Ukrain-ian government aircraft.

Most analysts had expected Putin to calm things down for a while in eastern Ukraine, to accompany the slightly softer words he has used in recent days, and at least to appear to give life to Russian support for the Australian-authored UN Security Council resolution. In fact, Putin continues his -double-dealing, saying different things to different Western leaders.

One possible explanation for the continued assaults on aircraft by eastern Ukrainian separatists is that Putin may have lost control of them. Certainly some of them are little more than criminal gangs and do not respond in precise fashion to order, even from Moscow.

But this is not a satisfactory explanation for the pattern of behaviour overall. Putin has shown in the past an ability to rein in this -aggressiveness when he wants to.

Similarly, it is hard to believe that the separatists could continue to use sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft systems against Putin’s wishes.

Western analytical agencies are instead coming up with two other explanations for the continued violence and the technology-enabled military aggression in eastern Ukraine, and both have ominous implications.

The first is that Putin, despite the massive reputational damage that he and Russia are suffering, has an interest in dragging this process out.

In order to recover properly all the human remains at the site, and certainly in order to conduct any kind of proper investigation, the West continues to need Putin’s compliance.

Putin knows that if the practic-al-ities of this matter are wrapped up quickly, he loses a good deal of leverage. Western leaders such as US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while they have condemned the atrocity, have worked hard to keep lines to Putin open. They have not yet supported the hardest sanctions nor expressed themselves in the toughest terms.

Once all the information and material from the site are collected, once Moscow’s active cooperation is not needed any longer for any practical purpose, then it is much more likely that Western nations will impose far tougher sanctions on Russia.

Putin would not be the first dictator to keep trouble brewing so that he can effectively sell his influence in bringing the trouble under control.

The second potential explan-ation for Putin’s apparent acquies-cence, if not his downright encouragement, of continued violence by the separatists is that this may ultimately provide him with a pretext for permanently annexing eastern Ukraine.

If the situation gets bad enough, Putin would have a pretext – flimsy and dishonest but a pretext nonetheless – to say that the only way to restore order and stop the bloodshed, the only way to save lives, is for the Russian army to go in to eastern Ukraine and disarm all other groups.

Once Putin did that, he could indeed stop the killing, restore order and even pump some money into the region. He could effectively stay as long as he likes.

And if the West objects to the Russian presence, why then he can surely find some local leader to run a referendum that will produce the result that eastern Ukraine wants to join Russia.

Probably, possibly, Putin would be discouraged from this action if he thought it would bring a disastrous result for him and his regime.

But although the Russian economy has suffered from the mild Western sanctions, from Putin’s point of view this is a long way short of disaster.It is impossible to know for sure at this stage the limit of Putin’s -ambition.

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