Jet crash could be turning point for Ukraine crisis

2014-07-18 12:48

Washington - The downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine could be a turning point for the Ukraine crisis, if it convinces reluctant Europeans to get behind tougher "sectoral" sanctions long-sought by US President Barack Obama.

Although it's unclear exactly who was behind the apparent ground-launched missile that destroyed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, US allies who have tried to occupy the middle ground in the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War may now support bolder action to end the fighting in Ukraine.

"Some people thought Ukraine didn't have anything to do with them. They are now discovering their error," one senior US official said, adding that this could shatter the view in some European capitals that the conflict was largely contained.

Current and former US officials, as well as independent analysts, say the tragedy would sharpen global attention on Ukraine's raging separatist conflict and Moscow's role in fuelling it. That, in turn, could be a catalyst for stronger sanctions that could inflict real damage on Russia's economy.

'Moment of sanity'

The European Union's reticence over tougher sanctions reflects concerns among many of its member states about trade and industrial ties with Moscow and heavy reliance on Russian energy.

But with more than half of the nearly 300 people killed in the downing of the plane Dutch citizens, and more than a dozen more from other EU nations, that could change.

There is also hope in Washington that Russian President Vladimir Putin, faced with possibly the worst unintended consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, may experience what one US official described as a "moment of sanity" and work to stop the violence in majority Russian-speaking parts of eastern Ukraine.

"This could be a tipping point," said Sam Charap, a former US State Department official and now senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington.

"It could be just what it takes to make the Russians step back," he said. "This is just what Putin didn't want but it's the kind of scenario that becomes much more likely when you give a lot of undertrained and unreliable people sophisticated weaponry."

Putin could also draw a completely different lesson and decide that, with US-Russian relations already at a post-Cold War low, he has little to lose in defying Western pressure and instead increase support for the rebels, the officials said.

Much would depend on the level of public outrage over the destruction of the plane, and any evidence of involvement by pro-Russian separatists.

"Serious consequences"

Ukraine accused the pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. The separatists have said they took control of such a missile system last month and used it to shoot down a Ukrainian military transport plane on Monday.

The rebels denied involvement in Thursday's crash and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the flight.

The United States has led the way on Western sanctions against Russia, announcing on Wednesday new measures targeting key institutions including Gazprombank and Rosneft Oil Co, as well as other energy and defence companies. The European Union has imposed some sanctions, including new penalties this week, but its steps have lagged Washington and have been weaker.

"This will undermine the case of those who have been reluctant," the US official said.

Obama will also be under growing pressure from Capitol Hill - and from the Ukrainian government - for more military training and an increase in shipments of advanced arms to Ukraine's fledgling security forces, something the White House has been reluctant to offer for fear of escalating the conflict.

'Serious consequences'

The airliner tragedy could also lead to a new push in Europe to rescind arms embargoes that were implemented in the dying days of Ukraine's former pro-Russian Ukrainian government that fell last year, US government sources said.

"There should be serious consequences if we find out that it was either Russian agents, Russian equipment or Russians directly that was responsible for the downing of this airliner," New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The Netherlands declared a day of national mourning for its 154 dead. Twenty-eight passengers were Malaysian, 27 Australian, 12 Indonesian, nine British, four German, four Belgian, three Filipino and one Canadian. All 15 crew were Malaysian.

While the downing of the Malaysian plane is shaping up as defining moment in the crisis, some analysts caution against overstating its impact on already-dismal US-Russia relations.

"It's a very big deal no matter what," said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Centre think-tank in Washington.

But he said this should not be viewed as a "watershed moment" like the Soviet Union's downing of a Korean airlines passenger jet in 1983 at the height of the Cold War.

"There is still a lot of uncertainty about what happened," he said. "That means plenty of deniability for Putin even if the attack is traced back to separatist rebels."

A second US official said on Thursday's tragedy "could lead to a moment of pullback" by the opposing sides in the Ukraine conflict, paving the way for talks and possibly a compromise.

The international reaction to Thursday's tragedy "could go two ways," the official said. It could cause countries to understand the growing danger of the Ukraine conflict, or prompt them to "put their heads in the sand".

  • Raj Nad Sanem - 2014-07-18 13:13

    Tricky question. Say the US is wrong with their assumption and it was a Ukrainian Military missile that downed MH17 will Obama then ask for sanctions against EU countries that supported the April Ukrainian uprising? Just asking. NOT!!!!!!!

      Thomas Freeman - 2014-07-18 13:44

      The plane was shot down in rebel territory on the Russian border after travelling the full length of the Ukraine. No Raj it was the Russians and the rebels.

      Brent Wetherall - 2014-07-18 16:50

      Your damning proof please Thomas? Apart from some concocted YouTube video?

  • Dean Stander - 2014-07-18 13:24

    "The downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine could be a turning point for the Ukraine crisis, if it convinces reluctant Europeans to get behind tougher sanctions long sought by the US." Enough said. Who will call me idiot this time around?

      Frederick Kaczynski - 2014-07-18 13:32

      classic example of : problem => reaction => solution

      Dean Stander - 2014-07-18 13:50

      @Fred I could not have said it better myself. Pity only 1% of readers will get this.

  • Jacqui Daane Van Rensburg - 2014-07-18 13:24

    173 Dutch people died not 154.

  • Sam Gudnews - 2014-07-18 13:30

    The U.S. and its illuminati strategy behind all these to brew trouble,they are nomore getting enough blood in the east and plan to brew a world war.

      Dean Stander - 2014-07-18 13:32

      Preach it man. People need to wake the hell up!

      Thomas Freeman - 2014-07-18 13:45

      Russia shoots is down and you say the USA did it. I suppose all those missing children have been taken by aliens as well.

  • UNITY - 2014-07-18 13:49

    Really tragic when u have to kill inocent people , to get backward facing international community to now , focus the attention to a deepening crisis. A resolution for peace. And stability ,must now come at a cost?

  • Louie Walshe - 2014-07-18 13:51

    Geopolitical shifts are really getting into higher gear now. Wake up people, everything you are witnessing in front of your very eyes is all about the final days of the western empire. The USD is on its deathbed, the rise of power from the east does not sit well with Washington. The world is spiraling into a global conflict over power. Money = Power. The maths is very simple. Global GDP approx 70 trillion USD vs global debt approx 710 trillion - 1.2 quadrillion USD. How does this end well?

  • Support Independent Media - 2014-07-18 16:13

    Jet disappearing from the radar suggests a remote controlled hi jacking similar to the previous Malaysian Airline. In documented evidence, the flight path of the plane was changed from the original course which would have been no where near the war torn area of Eastern Ukraine. NO commercial aircraft would in good conscience take such a path. In the first Malaysian airline disaster , we immediately had the two Iranian hi jackers with the same legs and shoes plastered all over the media (clearly fake) and accusations made against Iran, the purpose being a reason to bomb Iran. In the second we have many , many passports in perfect condition displayed and plastered all over the media, despite the obvious fact that NO passports would have come out of a plane that had "disintegrated in the air" or in the wreckage we have been shown, in such pristine condition. The "leaked" "YouTube" link, supposedly proving that "militants of "Bes" group shot it down with a Russian anti-aircraft missile, was posted on Facebook the DAY BEFORE the plane came down. Clearly they want an excuse to go on and bomb Russia.

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