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July 22, 2014

Amid Sanctions, France in Warship Sale to Russia

Amid Sanctions, France in Warship Sale to Russia

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France says it will go ahead with the sale of a warship to Russia despite calls for an arms embargo against the country, highlighting how Europe’s strong business ties are hindering its ability to punish Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

Western powers say Russia is supporting the insurgents in eastern Ukraine who allegedly shot down a Malaysian Airliner last week, killing all 298 people on board.

European Union foreign ministers met Tuesday to consider more sanctions against Russia but agreed only to impose more asset freezes on individuals, leaving economic relations untouched.

Some countries, like Britain, argue the plane crash has raised the stakes and Europe should not go soft on Russia.

But other countries are more cautious, mindful of the potential costs of harming business relations. Among other things, Germany imports a third of its oil and natural gas from Russia. France’s commercial deals include the delivery of two warships, the biggest ever sale by a NATO country of military equipment to Moscow.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said an arms embargo on Russia was discussed Tuesday, pushed for by the UK and others, but that EU members only agreed to restrictions on “future contracts” — meaning France would get to go ahead with its sales of warships.

French President Francois Hollande on Monday night warned about the costs of cancelling the deal. The first warship, the Vladivostok, is nearly finished and due to be delivered in October.

“The Russians have paid. We would have to reimburse 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion),” he said.

Hollande said the warship deal wouldn’t fall under new sanctions because it was finalized in 2011. French officials have also argued that the ship would be delivered without any weapons.

He said delivery of the second warship included in the deal could “depend on Russia’s attitude.”

Paul Ivan, a policy analyst and sanctions specialist at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank, pointed out that France risks losing future arms deals with NATO members in central and eastern Europe, some of whom are particularly fearful of Russia.

Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin criticized the sale as violating the EU’s own code of conduct, which forbids EU nations from exporting arms if they “would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions.”

U.S. sanctions against Russia have been stronger than Europe’s. Last week, it blocked high-profile oil companies and banks from accessing U.S. markets for financing. Action from the EU has mainly targeted individuals instead.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf criticized the French warship deal.

“Clearly we think it’s completely inappropriate and we’ve told them they should not do it,” Harf told reporters in Washington.

France’s contract for the warships covers the construction of two ships from the French town of Saint-Nazaire by the French state-owned military contractor DCNS and the French shipbuilding company STX.

The Vladivostok’s sister ship, the Sebastopol, is currently under construction. It is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2015.

Each ship can carry 700 troops, 16 helicopter gunships, and as many as 50 armored vehicles.

People in the Netherlands are shocked to know that 400 Russian sailors are currently in Saint-Nazaire training aboard the Vladivostok “when we are waiting for 300 bodies to come back,” Dutch lawmaker Esther de Lange said at a European Parliament hearing.


John-Thor Dahlburg and Juergen Baetz in Brussels, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


Sylvie Corbet can be followed at

July 20, 2014

Vladimir Putin is given ‘one last chance’ as world fury mounts over flight MH17

Vladimir Putin is given ‘one last chance’ as world fury mounts over flight MH17

Dutch PM describes armed rebels’ behaviour in blocking access to crash site as ‘revolting’

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Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash

The MH17 crash site is controlled by armed pro-Russia militia, who are carefully supervising access to journalists and investigators. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Global leaders rounded on Vladimir Putin on Saturday night as armed separatists continued to block international inspectors attempting to identify and repatriate bodies at the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Amid reports that pro-Russia rebels accused of shooting down the plane had removed corpses themselves and were looting credit cards and other possessions belonging to some of the 298 victims, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said that Putin had “one last chance to show he means to help [rescuers recover the bodies]“.

Rutte vented his anger following what he called a “very intense” conversation with the Russian president. Referring to allegations that bodies of the passengers, including 193 Dutch nationals, were being treated with contempt and allowed to rot at the scene, he said: “I was shocked at the pictures of utterly disrespectful behaviour at this tragic spot. It’s revolting.”

David Cameron called for the EU and the west to change its approach to Russia if Putin does not alter course on Ukraine following the tragedy. The prime minister said: “This is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias, and training and arming them. We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action.”

The Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, and a small team of monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were prevented from identifying and repatriating bodies on Saturday, having been allowed only limited access to the disaster site under the supervision of the armed separatists.

Following reports about attempts to use victims’ credit cards, Dutch banks said that they were taking “preventive measures” and that any losses suffered by relatives of the dead would be paid back. The DeTelegraaf newspaper said: “The government must make clear to the world that we are beside ourselves with rage.”

Speaking about the British government’s priorities Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, said: “Our focus now is on securing the site so there is a proper international investigation to identify the cause and the perpetrators and bring them to justice, and making sure the victims are dealt with with proper dignity and respect.”

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, also stressed in a phone call with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that investigators must get full access to the crash site.

The situation there descended into chaos on Saturday as “experts” of unknown provenance moved bodies decomposing in the baking heat from fields to the roadside, and used bags to collect body parts. A spokesman for the OSCE, Michael Bociurkiw, said: “Some of the body bags are open and the damage to the corpses is very, very bad – it is very difficult to look at.”

It was a horrific scene and came despite huge pressure on Moscow to force the rebels to allow proper access to the site. The Ukrainian government accused the separatists of removing 38 bodies from the site to a morgue in rebel-held Donetsk. But as politicians and newspapers across the world lay blame for Thursday’s tragedy at the door of pro-Russia separatists and Vladimir Putin personally, the Kremlin has remained defiant. Putin has said Ukraine is to blame, and Russia’s defence ministry issued a list of 10 questions for Kiev on Saturday, insinuating that it was a Ukrainian missile that downed the plane, while the self-declared prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, told Russian television that the entire event had been a setup by Ukrainian authorities.

“[Ukrainian president Petro] Poroshenko promised a ‘surprise’ for the rebels. I think this is the surprise he was talking about – a plane full of civilians shot down,” said Borodai. However, a senior Ukrainian security official claimed on Saturday that Kiev had evidence the missile was fired from separatist territory by Russian specialists who had crossed the border with the equipment.

The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, told a German newspaper that the missile required “very professional staff” and “could not be operated by drunken gorillas”, suggesting that the separatists had outside help from Russia. When asked about the growing circumstantial evidence that the separatists shot down the jet in error, thinking it to be a Ukrainian air force plane, Borodai said: “It’s a lie and I hope it will be proved as a lie by experts, including international experts who have already arrived on our territory.”

However, there were no recognisable international or even Ukrainian experts at the crash site, which was completely controlled by rebel gunmen. Ukraine’s government on Saturday accused the rebels of destroying evidence and making life difficult for OSCE observers. “We have to be very careful with our movements because of all the security. We are unarmed civilians, so we are not in a position to argue with people with heavy arms,” said Bociurkiw.

Of the 10 dead Britons, the four yet to be identified were named on Saturday as John Allen, a Netherlands-based lawyer who died with his wife Sandra and their sons Christopher, Julian and Ian; Robert Ayley, 28, a dog breeder and father of two from Guildford in Surrey, who lived in New Zealand; Stephen Anderson, 44, who lived in Penang, Malaysia; and Andrew Hoare, 59, a banker who died alongside his Dutch wife Estella and their two children, Friso and Jasper, who were aged 12 and 14 and of Dutch nationality.

Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, has been summoned to the Foreign Office to be told that Putin must use his influence on the separatists to ensure access to the crash site, No 10 said. In Germany, Andreas Schockenhoff, a senior ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, told the Observer: “The disaster in the Ukraine has made it clear beyond all doubt that we are not dealing with a bilateral conflict, but a serious threat to the peace all across Europe.”

Schockenhoff said Russia was “not a neutral actor in the conflict” since it had armed and trained the separatists. He called on Europe to show “a united front and make any failure to cooperate very painful for Putin”.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry published a list of 12 US citizens who are now banned from entry to Russia in response to the latest US sanctions. They include officials involved in the running of the Guantánamo detention facility and military personnel involved with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Fighting has continued between the Ukrainian army and separatists in east Ukraine since the crash on Thursday, with more than 20 civilians reported to have died in Luhansk on Friday. Ukrainian authorities claimed they had evidence of military equipment transferred to the area from Russia in the early hours of Saturday morning.


MH17: Russian media pins blame on Ukraine government

Rebel leaders go on Russian TV to deny role in disaster as state-run channels cover conspiracy theories and counterclaims
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An armed pro-Russia militant attempts to stop journalists from accessing the site of the crash.

An armed pro-Russia militant attempts to stop journalists from accessing the site of the crash. Photograph:Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

While western suspicions about the culprits behind the MH17 disaster grew, in Russia on Saturday the local media were striking a different note.

State-run news channels in Russia replayed statements from defence officials arguing that Ukraine‘s planes and air defence units were operating in the area. Several pro-Russia rebel leaders have argued on air that they don’t have weaponry capable of shooting down the plane, although Russian news agencies previously said they did.

An anchorwoman on Rossiya 24 said Russia was challenging “American accusations” and, “in a continuation of the information war, asking Kiev uncomfortable questions”.

Both Rossiya 24 and NTV aired footage of deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov posing “10 questions” to the Ukrainian government, asking if Kiev could “explain the deployment of Buk missiles in the area of the Boeing,” and suggesting that Ukrainian dispatchers had “allowed the plane to change course for a war zone”. Malaysia Airlines has said the plane’s route had been approved by the European flight supervisory body.

Russian newspapers’ front pages splashed a photograph of a rebel fighter pointing at burning debris, and the Moskovsky Komsomolets printed a map of air defence positions, hinting that Kiev’s forces were to blame. “The Ukrainian authorities bear full responsibility!” screamed the tabloid Tvoi Den, referring to Vladimir Putin‘s remarks that the disaster would not have happened had Kiev not resumed its military campaign in east Ukraine.

A variety of media, including the official newspaper of the Russian government, quoted the Twitter account of a “Spanish dispatcher” supposedly working for Ukrainian air traffic control, suggesting that two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down MH17. The Spanish embassy later said the account was fraudulent and denied that any Spanish person had worked as an air traffic controller in Kiev.

Others, including the website of Rossiya 24, reported allegations from a rebel social network page that the flight had been full of dead bodies when it was shot down.

Valery Grinblat, a professor browsing newspapers at a Moscow stand, said he didn’t trust accusations against the rebels because “Ukraine always lies”. He said Kiev’s forces probably shot the Boeing down, bringing up a 2001 incident in which Ukraine admitted its fighter jets had accidentally shot down a Siberian Airlines flight.

“Never trust Ukraine,” he said. “There needs to be an investigation by an international independent commission to believe any explanationAlexander Nikolayev, a pensioner and former soldier, said it was unlikely the rebels had shot down the plane. “Ukraine says Russia is to blame, Russia says Ukraine is, America blames Russia. You’ll never figure it out without a half-litre” of vodka, he said, using an old Russian expression..”


July 20, 2014

MH17: armed rebels fuel chaos as rotting corpses pile up on the roadside

MH17: armed rebels fuel chaos as rotting corpses pile up on the roadside

Pro-Russia gunmen in standoff with international investigators as reports grow of looting and the removal of evidence

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Two days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, the road near the village of Grabovo, where the aircraft crashed, is still lined with bodies.

Rescue workers carry the body of a passenger killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday. Anastasia Vlasova/EPA

Rescue workers, most of them of unknown provenance, are slowly moving corpses from where they hit the ground and piling them on the side of the road. The victims are then covered with black tarpaulins. Beside them, the belongings of the dead passengers have been piled in heaps: dozens of suitcases, rucksacks, a red summer hat, a broken laptop and a stuffed toy monkey. After each foray into the fields, workers clean their shoes with sticks because the ground is sodden from persistent rain.

What will happen to the bodies now, to the sons, daughters, siblings, husbands and wives of grieving relatives around the world? No one really seems to know.

At Grabovo, the scene is one of utter confusion. Men in masks arrive and depart in fleets of cars, including one painted with the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag, supposedly from the government emergencies ministry. All the men hold guns.

“You are now at the place where the warfare is going on, so people with weapons shouldn’t embarrass you,” said the rebel commander, who gave his nom de guerre as Grumpy. He added that the corpses would probably be carried to the mortuaries at Snezhnoe or Donetsk, but he didn’t know for sure.

There have been Ukrainian claims that several bodies went missing during the night. While most of the corpses have been covered with tarpaulins, some body parts were shovelled into sacks. The smell at the site, as the heat of the Ukrainian summer takes its toll, is becoming unbearable.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has said it will bring the bodies to the eastern city of Kharkiv for autopsies, and has promised to set up information centres and provide free accommodation for relatives. But in the chaos of the crash site, this seems an unlikely scenario: there is no sign that the broad access promised by the rebels to the crash site is actually being granted.

A spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that his team had “evolving access” to the site on Saturday.

Christopher Miller@ChristopherJM

DNR gunmen stop @OSCE on road to site of flight . Finally let them out, “but only on the road, not the field.”


When I first arrived on Saturday, two men in military fatigues at the roadside, armed with Kalashnikovs, were blocking access to the crash site itself. “The experts and investigators of the prosecutor general are now working there,” I was told by one.

The international community is unlikely to be impressed by these endeavours, or by an investigation that is being carried out by the “prosecutor general” of the People’s Republic of Donetsk – the quasi-statelet that has existed here only since referendums earlier this year.

Indeed, many suspect the rebels of engaging in a cover-up to hide their own involvement in the destruction of the Malaysian Airlines flight.

On Friday, the OSCE team was barred from the site, and on Saturday the international monitoring mission, which arrived again in a convoy of white cars, was initially turned back by Grumpy and his men.

“Two-thirds of the OSCE observers work for intelligence of European countries or the US,” he claimed, repeating his distrust for all western monitors – a constant rebel refrain throughout the conflict in east Ukraine. Two sets of OSCE monitors have been kidnapped and held hostage at various points over the past few months by rebels.

However, after brief negotiations and a nervy standoff, the observers were allowed in to see the crash site. Together with journalists, they were permitted to walk along the road but were warned – by dozens of armed people who were tracking them from the nearby fields –not to leave the tarmac.

Several bodies, badly disfigured and still uncovered, lay across their path. According to Aleksey Megrin, the leader of the rescue workers, around 190 bodies had already been picked up by his men. “We are finding bodies and bringing them to the place where rebels tell us to bring them,” he said. “We don’t know what kind of police are working here: Ukrainian or Russian.”

Several times, rebels shot into the air to warn journalists who were getting too near to the bodies lying around them. On Friday the rebels had also fired warning shots at the OSCE team to prevent them from getting too close to the wreckage.

Despite reports of looting, fighters and local people say they have been doing their best to collect evidence and preserve the human remains.

One local resident, Aleksandr Mytyshchenko, whose house lies close to the disaster scene, said that he and his wife had initially thought that the downed plane was swooping low to drop bombs on them. Then came the blast, which embedded pieces of plane into the walls of his house.

Mytyshchenko pulled them out and dumped them next to the side of the road. “The smell was just horrible. I couldn’t bear it,” he added.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said rebels were now taking away all evidence of the disaster that had been gathered by emergency workers. “They [emergency workers] are working under an armed threat,” he said.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian government accused the rebels of deliberately removing corpses from the site and destroying the evidence.

“Terrorists brought 38 bodies to the mortuary in Donetsk,” the government statement read, adding that it was presumed that Russian experts would perform the autopsies there. “The terrorists are seeking out heavy load trucks to carry the plane wreckage to Russia,” the government added.

Grumpy neither denied nor confirmed the claims that some bodies had been moved to Donetsk. “Maybe they did it, maybe not,” he said. “I personally didn’t do that.”

The national security and defence council said emergencies ministry staff had checked roughly seven square miles around the crash site. But the workers had not been free to conduct a normal investigation, it added. “The fighters have let the emergencies ministry workers in there but are not allowing them to take anything from the area,” Lysenko said. “The fighters are taking away all that has been found.”

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, forensic teams have begun collecting material, including DNA samples from relatives, photographs of victims and details of any distinguishing features, to help them identify the remains.

Malaysia Airlines said 193 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in Thursday’s aviation disaster were Dutch, 43 were Malaysian, 27 from Australia, 12 from Indonesia, 10 from the UK, four each from Germany and Belgium, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.

The airline said it was assessing the security situation in Ukraine before taking any decision about flying next of kin to the country.

A spokesman said that family members were being cared for in Amsterdam, while a team from Malaysia Airlines, including security officials, has flown to Ukraine.

What we know so far

Social media

A posting on an account linked to a pro-Russia separatist leader in Ukraine, on a Russian social network site, claims that militants shot down at least one Ukrainian military plane near the Donetsk region town of Torez. The post has been deleted.

Paul Sonne @PaulSonne

Much of the debris on the crash site has already been moved. Some items found whole, for example, piled here.  9:20 AM – 19 Jul 2014

The overhead lockers from MH17 which landed on a village street


Ukrainian government adviser Anton Herashchenko claims the plane was hit by a missile fired by a Buk SA-11 launcher, a Russian-made, surface-to-air missile system. Photographs of such a launcher in the town of Snezhne, near the crash site, appear on the internet. Later, photographs of a Buk being moved on a transporter from Ukraine to Russia appear.

The intercepts

Ukrainian authorities release a recording they claim is a conversation between pro-Russia militants admitting to shooting down the plane. A rebel fighter going by the nom de guerre of “Major” is heard telling another comrade called “Grek” that a group of fighters had brought the airliner down. “The plane broke up in the air, near the Petropavlovskaya mines. The first [casualty] has been found. It was a woman. A civilian,” he says. At 5.42pm, “Major” acknowledges the plane was civilian: “Hell. It’s almost 100% certain that it’s a civilian plane.”

In another recording, a Russian officer called Igor Bezler is apparently heard reporting on the downing of the jet to his superior in Russian military intelligence, Colonel Vasily Geranin: “A plane has just been shot down … They’ve gone to search and photograph the plane. It is smoking.”

In a third conversation, a rebel fighter says: “It turned out to be a passenger plane. It fell in Hrabove area. There’s a sea of women and children …”

Satellite detection

Satellite images show a plume of smoke left by a ground-to-air missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines flight 17. The images help to compile an intelligence analysis shared with the UN security council by the US ambassador Samantha Power, which she claimed showed the airliner was “likely downed by a surface-to-air missile, an SA-11, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine”. The location of the missile launch appears crucial.

“It strains credulity to think [the missile] could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

July 19, 2014

Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

The Associated Press.  July 19, 2014

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— If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.

FILE – In this Friday, July 4, 2014 file photo, Ukrainian government forces maneuver a SA-11 launcher as they are transported northwest from Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine. If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday, July 19, 2014.  DMITRY LOVETSKY, FILE — AP Photo

American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said the Russians might have provided technical help to the rebels to operate the systems.

But to function correctly, an SA-11 launcher, also known as a Buk, is supposed to be connected to a central radar command — as opposed to acting alone — to be certain of exactly what kind of aircraft it is shooting at.

From the information that has come to light so far, the rebels don’t appear to have such systems, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a respected defense columnist for Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow-based newspaper known for its critical coverage of Russian affairs.

“They could easily make a tragic mistake and shoot down a passenger plane when indeed they wanted to shoot down a Ukrainian transport plane,” he said.

On Friday, Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency also quoted Konstantin Sivkov, director of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, as saying Buk missiles “should be provided with external systems of target identification, that is, radio-location systems. It’s an entire system. And the insurgents certainly don’t have radio-location.”

Without a backup, a missile can be fired by operators who are not totally sure of what they are aiming at.

“Just seeing a blip on a radar screen was in no away sufficient to make a targeting decision,” said Keir Giles, associate fellow for international security and Russia and Eurasia programs at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “You need an additional radar system to which these weapons systems can be connected for additional information.”

Social media postings from the rebels in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s Malaysia Airlines disaster also suggested they had assumed civilian aircraft were avoiding the area and that anything in the air was hostile.

If a missile was fired without attempting to identify the aircraft, the destruction of Malaysia Flight 17 would be an act of criminal negligence, said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff. He said commercial airliners operate on known communications frequencies and emit signals that identify them and give their altitude and speed.

“It doesn’t sound like the separatists were using any of this (information), or tried for that matter,” said Latiff, who oversaw advanced weapons research and development for the Air Force and now teaches at the University of Notre Dame.

“My guess is the system’s radar saw a return from a big ‘cargo’ plane flying at 30,000 feet or so and either automatically fired, or some aggressive, itchy operator fired, not wanting to miss an opportunity. It doesn’t seem they chose to seek any additional data before pulling the trigger,” Latiff said.

A NATO military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements, said a Buk launcher, which is a self-propelled tracked vehicle resembling a tank, is ordinarily under the orders of a separate command post vehicle.

“In a totally textbook way of setting up, the command post vehicle assigns targets and designates the firing units — launcher 1 or launcher 2,” the NATO officer said.

Once targeted by such a potent weapon, the Boeing wide-body twinjet would have had little chance. Edward Hunt, a senior consultant for IHS Jane’s, which provides news and analysis on defense and geopolitical issues, said a commercial plane is not a difficult target for someone who knows how to operate a surface-to-air missile system.

“Civilian aircraft fly in a straight line,” Hunt said. “A civilian aircraft doesn’t try to take evasive action. It probably didn’t even know it was targeted.”

In her remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Power said that a journalist had reported seeing an SA-11 system early Thursday in separatist-controlled territory near Snizhne, “and separatists were spotted hours before the incident with an SA-11 SAM system close to the site where the plane came down.”

Power didn’t identify the reporter. But on Thursday, AP journalists saw a rocket launcher near Snizhne.

Rebels also bragged in June 29 report carried by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that they had gotten hold of some Buk missile systems from Ukrainian stocks, though they did not say how many or describe their condition.

A few weeks later, rebels shot down a Ukrainian Antonov 26, a military transport plane that can fly at altitudes of up to 7,500 meters (24,750 feet).

If Thursday’s disaster was due to mistaken identity, it would not be the first.

Soviet air defenses in 1983 accidentally shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, killing 269. In 1988, the USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser, brought down Iran Air Flight 655, with 290 people aboard, after mistaking it for an attacking warplane.

In October 2001, Siberian Airlines Flight 1812, traveling from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Novosibirsk, Russia, plunged into the Black Sea, killing all 78 aboard. The Ukrainian military at first denied responsibility but later admitted its military mistakenly shot down the plane during a training exercise.

Dahlburg reported from Brussels. AP correspondent Jim Heintz contributed from Moscow.

July 19, 2014

Garry Kasparov: The Price of Inaction in Ukraine

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foreign affairs

Garry Kasparov: The Price of Inaction in Ukraine

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Obama and Europe chose not to stand up to Vladimir Putin — now we’re seeing the terrible toll.

There are many questions still to be answered about what happened to Malaysian Air flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. I will limit myself to what is known to a reasonable doubt based on the evidence and statements that have been provided by numerous officials in the 36 hours since the tragedy. Nearly 300 innocent lives were lost when flight MH17 was shot out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile. The missile was launched from an area in Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-supplied and Russia-supported para-military separatists that include at least some Russian officers and special forces. Three other planes have been shot down in the region in the last month.

Nearly 300 dead. Horribly, needlessly. We all mourn them and seek to understand how this could happen. Based on the day’s official statements and most news coverage the word “blame” is somehow forbidden and I do not understand why. Establishing responsibility and exacting accountability for these murders is more important than fretting about reaching the right tone of restraint in a press release.

So who is to blame? This is not a simple question even if you know the answer. That is, of course, the person who pushed the button that launched the missile is to blame; that is the easy part. Shall we just arrest him and try him for murder? Responsibility is a greater concept than that. You have the leader who gave the order to push the button. Then the person who provided the missiles to the separatists. Then there are the officials who opened the border to allow military weaponry to cross into Ukraine and the ministers and generals in Moscow who gave those orders. Then we come to the desk where all power resides in Russia today, the desk of the man those ministers and generals obey very carefully, the desk of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Blaming Putin for these deaths is as correct and as pointless as blaming the man who pressed the button that launched the missile. Everyone has known for months that Russia arms and supports the separatists in Ukraine. Everyone has known for years that a mouse does not squeak in the Kremlin without first getting Putin’s permission. We also know very well what Putin is, a revanchist KGB thug trying to build a poor man’s USSR to replace the loss of the original he mourns so much.

But blaming Putin for invading Ukraine — for annexing Crimea, for giving advanced surface-to-air missiles to separatists — is like blaming the proverbial scorpion for stinging the frog. It is expected. It is his nature. Instead of worrying about how to change the scorpion’s nature or, even worse, how best to appease it, we must focus on how the civilized world can contain the dangerous creature before more innocents die.

Therefore let us cast our net of responsibility where it may do some good. We turn to the leaders of the free world who did nothing to bolster the Ukrainian border even after Russia annexed Crimea and made its ambitions to destabilize Eastern Ukraine very clear. It will be interesting to see if the Western leaders and business groups who have been working so hard to block stronger sanctions against Russia will now see any reason to change their policy. I expect they will at least be quieter about it until the wreckage is cleared away.

Is the West to blame? Did they push the button? No. They pretended that Ukraine was far away and would not affect them. They hoped that they could safely ignore Ukraine instead of defending the territorial integrity of a European nation under attack. They were paralyzed by fear and internal squabbles. They resisted strong sanctions on Russia because they were worried about the impact on their own economies. They protected jobs but lost lives.

Would this tragedy have happened had tough sanctions against Russia been put into effect the moment Putin moved on Crimea? Would it have happened had NATO made it clear from the start they would defend the sovereignty of Ukraine with weapons and advisers on the ground? We will never know. Taking action requires courage and there can be high costs in achieving the goal. But as we now see in horror there are also high costs for inaction, and the goal has not been achieved.

The argument that the only alternative to capitulation to Putin is World War III is for the simple-minded. There were, and are, a range of responses. A horrible price has been paid but it will not be the last if even this fails to provoke a strong reaction. Financial and travel restrictions against Putin’s cronies and their families and harsh sanctions against key Russian economic sectors may also do some damage to European economies. Until yesterday, Europe could argue about how much money their principles were worth. Today they have to argue about how much money those lives are worth.

Garry Kasparov is the chairman of the NY-based Human Rights Foundation.


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