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International Outrage After Civilian Aircraft Downed Over Ukraine

Interview with IWPR Caucasus editor Oliver Bullough.
  •  A woman looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Air Malaysia flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
    A woman looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Air Malaysia flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine by a suspected Russian-made missile, killing all 298 people on board. IWPR editor Daniella Peled talks to IWPR Caucasus editor Oliver Bullough about the likely implications.

Given the international nature of the victim list, what are the immediate consequences of the disaster likely to be?

The circumstantial evidence looks overwhelmingly like the rebels did it. This puts Putin in a very difficult position. The consequences of that are twofold.

The international nature of the casualties means world leaders will be under huge domestic pressure to demand that Putin takes action. And that includes France, which has been one of the key European countries resisting sanctions, and is still in the process of selling Russia two warships.

And in the US this will obviously encourage hawkish members of congress such as John McCain to start belabouring Obama to put more pressure on Moscow.

It’s particularly significant that this came just a day after the US imposed tougher sanctions. There is no connection between the two events but it’s clear that rebels who are willing to shoot down aircraft in this way are not in any mood to be restrained.

It show that if sanctions are the chosen tactic of the Western governments than they haven’t gone nearly far enough. The question, is how far can they go?

So what options are available to the international community?

The most extreme step would be to hand Russia full state sponsor of terror status. Russia, like Iran, then loses access to everything. Considering how dependant Russian companies are on international capital markets, any disruption of that flow will harm the Putin model which is very dependent on resources exports. This would break Russia and so is not going to happen.

Instead, the logical next step would to impose sanctions that are tougher versions of what Obama did this week, putting further restrictions on Gazprom and Rosneft and other state energy companies.

We have to hope this makes Putin restrain the rebels. The minimum Putin can do is to seal the border and denounce the rebels. If Russia doesn’t do this, it does indeed begin to look like a state sponsor of terror.

Putin has played this so catastrophically badly for the last five months, he can’t not lose now. If he rejects the rebels then he loses face massively at home. If he doesn’t, then he loses abroad. The western countries have shown themselves willing to get involved in an economic battle to some extent and the longer this situation goes on the worse things are going to get.

How has this incident been reported in the Russian media?

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Russian media was reporting that the Ukrainians had shot the plane down because they thought it had Putin on it. They have now given up on this theory because it’s so ridiculous, but are still suggesting it was a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that downed the plane.

This would be more convincing, except the rebels don’t have an air force so there is no conceivable reason why Ukraine would be in the business of targeting planes. It makes no sense. And the rebels have been shooting down planes and helicopters with gay abandon for months now.

The intercepts the Ukrainians have published of rebel leaders discussing shooting down the plane look very convincing to me. It’s worth noting that the rebels are heard boasting that they’d hit an air force plane before they realised it was a civilian plane and they had made a disastrous mistake.

What kind of impact is this likely to have on Ukraine?

This is the most important thing to happen in Ukraine since the February revolution. Ukraine has yet to be given a chance to pick itself up; the weaker the country is, the greater threat Russia poses to it.

It’s really important to remember that Ukraine is on the brink of becoming a failed state because its leadership looted it with impunity right since independence.

The West is now saying it wants to help Ukraine, but we have been complicit in its ruin because its entire kleptocracy put the money they stole into our banking system.

Ukrainians officials say that 30 billion dollars are stolen from the state a year. That’s around a fifth of the annual GDP of 175 billion dollars.

Since the change of government, some people are taking action but the incentives to steal are overwhelming and you would have to be superhuman to be able to resist.

If we no longer allow Ukrainian politicians access to our banking system or better still flip the burden of proof so they have to show their money has been obtained legally, we could stop the whole network of theft.

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