Although the European Union agreed last week to consider sanctions against Russia’s energy, defense, and financial industries, it was unclear how far they would go. It’s still uncertain how broad the sanctions will be, but the call on Monday indicated a change of tone from last week, when EU politicians were trading barbs over whether Britain or France was more reliant on Moscow’s money.
The EU will likely restrict each industry slightly, rather than imposing a full ban — such as an arms embargo. That approach would help address the fundamental problem of different EU countries relying more on Russian business in different industries.
After a five-way conference call between the leaders of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy the European Union seems ready to outline tough new sanctions on Russia. Not just the shooting down of MH 17, but Russia’s total lack of remorse or post-shootdown restrain appears to have been a game-changer in terms of German politics and that’s been enough to swing the situation around. The sanctions package is looking very similar to ideas outlined last week in a memo obtained by the Financial Times. The new package belies the notion of a “weak” Europe that is refusing to counter Russian aggression.
Serhiy Kudelia expects that, if Ukrainian “insurgents are pushed out of big cities, the ongoing asymmetric warfare in Donbas that will be fought largely by conventional means is likely to take the form of an underground guerrilla movement”:
Similar to the PKK in Turkey, ETA in Spain or the IRA in the Northern Ireland, it will rely on sporadic attacks on government and military installations to exhaust the incumbent and damage its governing capacity rather than establish control over a territory. And like Hezbollah in Lebanon or FARC in Colombia, it will rely on outside powers for provision of arms, funds and training. In its new form, guerrilla attacks will likely spill over to other Ukrainian regions, particularly Western Ukraine. According to the latest poll, most Donbas residents (39%) blame radical nationalist organizations for the ongoing conflict, with Western intelligence services being close second (34%).
The path to solving the current conflict in Donbas goes not only through Brussels or Washington, but also through Moscow.
There was hope that the tragedy of MH17 would force Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels to wake up from their post-Soviet fever dream. But following the crash, the parallel realities that exist across eastern Ukraine only became sharper. Prospects for peace have all but disappeared. Among rebels, blaming the Ukrainian forces for downing MH17 is an article of faith. Most locals (fed by the Russian media) agree, seeing it as a plot concocted in Kiev to discredit the separatist movement. And the Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have pressed their offensive further, both at Saur-Mogila and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
After the recent downing of two Ukrainian fighter jets, Max Fisher sees “no reason to believe that the rebels have become any more cautious or restrained about shooting down airplanes since the MH17 disaster”:
[T]he lack of de-escalation and the media war being conducted by Putin are both alarming signals to the international community that this tragedy has not fractured the resolve of the pro-Russian separatists, nor those in the shadows supporting them. Since the downing of MH-17, pro-Russian separatists have used surface-to-air missiles to bring down two more Ukrainian military jets; for now, there seems no interest in dialing down hostilities.
The Bloomberg editors condemn European states for dithering over Russian sanctions:
It’s true that sanctions alone may not persuade Putin to end his support of separatists in Ukraine. But there’s a chance they might — and even if they don’t, they’re still worthwhile. One thing sanctions can do — and there is some evidence they are hurting Russia’s economy already — is deter future behavior. If Putin has unleashed a nationalist hunger to restore Russian dominance that he has lost either the will or the ability to control, all the more reason to cut off the arms and money that fuel further adventures, in Ukraine or elsewhere.
Steve LeVine suggests targeting Gazprom could be effective:
Some analysts think that Putin is awaiting a sign of greater Western toughness in reaction to the crash of Malaysia Airlines 17 before deciding what he does next in Ukraine. “If Europe is only going to wag its finger—if he can get away with this kind of crisis—he will be encouraged to destabilize Ukraine even more,” Itzhak Brudny, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Quartz. Targeting Gazprom—or even hinting that such a move is on the table—could be the best way to display that toughness.
Danny Vinik demonstrates Russia’s reliance on energy exports with the above chart:
This is a double-edged sword: The dependence gives the world significant leverage to inflict economic damage on the Kremlin, but Europe’s reliance on Russian energy exports puts their economies at risk if they follow through on that threat.
The Dutch are strikingly different from Americans in their gut reactions to things. When hit with a national shock, Americans will almost instinctively reach for ideology or ideals. People saw 9/11 as an assault on “freedom.” The Dutch have an innate distrust of ideology. You could relate that to World War II and their experience under Nazism, but it goes much farther back. It has something to do with being a small country surrounded by larger countries that have had long histories of asserting themselves.
It also stems from the fact that Dutch society grew not out of war against a human foe but out of the struggle against nature. Living in low lands on a vast river delta, the Dutch came together to battle water. Building dams and dikes and canals was more practical than ideological. For better or worse, the Dutch are more comfortable with meetings and remembrances than with calls to arms.
(Photo: A person holds a white rose during a silent march in memory of the victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, on July 23, 2014 in Amsterdam. By John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)
The government shared some of it yesterday. Shane Harris summarizes:
The officials offered little new information about the MH17 investigation, except to say that U.S. intelligence analysts are now persuaded that the jet was downed by accident, likely by forces who believed they were taking aim at a Ukrainian military aircraft. The officials circulated widely available information, including photographs of the suspected missile launcher posted to social media in recent days, and pointed to voice recordings posted to YouTube of separatists acknowledging that they shot down a jet, which they later discovered was a civilian plane. One official stressed that analysts weren’t relying solely on social media information, such as tweets and online videos. But nothing in the agencies’ classified files has brought them any closer to definitively blaming Russia.
What’s perhaps more interesting is what the US intelligence officials would not say: that the attack was deliberate or that Russia pulled the trigger. The officials said they suspected the rebels fired on a commercial airliner mistakenly; this too had become conventional wisdom, as the rebels had only previously fired on Ukrainian military aircraft, but the hint of possible confirmation is something.
Yglesias argues that the EU is in the driver’s seat:
Here’s the one fact you need to know to understand where the real balance of power lies: Russia’s top trading partner is the European Union, but the EU’s top trading partner is the United States followed by China. In other words, the 306 billion euro trading relationship is a big deal either way you slice it, but it’s fundamentally a bigger deal for Russia than it is for Europe
And, as Tim Fernholz illustrates with the above chart, the Dutch have significant Russian capital under their control:
There’s always a moment – sooner or later – when a regime propped up by lies will have to account for an empirical reality that refutes it and threatens to bring the entire edifice down. That’s the potentially game-changing significance of MH17, it seems to me.
Here’s Putin’s strange 13 minute address to Russians today on foreign policy – after his deeply weird televised address at 2 am. He’s visibly panicking; and the faces of his colleagues are quite a study:
Notice the petulant raging at Ukraine and then the litany of paranoia and isolation: “we know what’s really going on.” No wonder the Russian population had to be talked down from widespread panic at the thought of an imminent invasion by the West! That’s how far Putin had ratcheted up the hysteria – a very dangerous place for a leader with nukes to be in. A reader who has been monitoring the Russian Internet writes:
As you can imagine, the last few days have been a rollercoaster ride on the runet. The first reaction to the downing of MH17 was panic. They were trying to shoot down Putin’s plane! Two doubles took off from Amsterdam at the same time, one filled with corpses who all had new passports and totally new Facebook pages!
The second wave of the pro-Putinists was despair – “It is all over now! The only thing standing between us and slavery to Western interests is our beloved Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin!”
Now, already, it seems that they are quickly realizing that “everything has changed.” The anti-Putin journalists and posters are becoming much more courageous than they have been in recent months about opposing Putin directly. Here is a piece from Slon.ru, the Russian version of Salon:
The nighttime address to the nation was something unprecedented, and even more unprecedented was its content, in the sense that there was no content in this speech at all. Why did Putin call up his press service, cameramen, make-up artists, and internet site workers and many others at 2 in the morning? Just to repeat once more that there would have been no tragedy if there hadn’t been any war in the Donbass, to call for peace negotiations and inviting ICAO aviation experts to the site of the crash? Couldn’t these two and a half points waited until the morning?
The pro-Putin people have seen their arguments fall to pieces against the reality of the situation. Putin is being portrayed as in a total panic. The anti-Putin forces are worried about what he might do in such a state, but he is no longer being seen as the magician in control.
All of which makes me appreciate the deliberativeness of Obama’s response, praised by my reader earlier today. Putin is blustering, lying, and using the crudest of means to impose his will on Ukraine. Obama is just slowly raising the costs – and those just got a lot more onerous for Russia. Today, the Europeans finally approved of a host of new sanctions, yet to be implemented. That may give Putin some room to climb down. But it won’t be easy. That’s the look on Putin’s face. It’s called rattled.
Today, because the news isn’t depressing enough, we checked in on Syria’s civil war. It makes Gaza look like a side-show: up to 700 people were killed last Thursday and Friday in clashes between ISIS and Assad. Next up: Libya teeters toward ever more chaos.
I sought relief in two stand-bys: Oakeshott, the last great English Romantic, and Montaigne – yes, we kicked off our third book club discussion today. You can buy How To Livehere.
Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 36 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. A Founding Member writes:
I’ve been dragging my heels on renewing my subscription to The Dish. But the events of the last few weeks – clashes in Gaza, Central American children spilling into the U.S. border, the downing of a Malaysian Airliner in the skies over Ukraine, not to mention the bits and bobs of spirituality, pictures, gay sensibilities etc. etc. – demand the re-up.
I’ve got my NYT, my Gawker and yes, I hate to admit it, my Daily Mail, but I find the in-depth offerings on The Dish to be so much more nuanced, thoughtful and just off-kilter enough to make me want to read more, reflect, and oftentimes enlarge the scope of my viewpoint. Not sure what the future of media will be – digital, print, visual – but somehow, somewhere, I think you are going to be in the mix – annoying, exciting, comforting, challenging.
Anne Applebaum has a really sober and accurate description of what has been going on:
A reader adds:
For too long, news reports have spoken of the “Ukrainian rebels” as if the warfare underway in the Donetsk to Luhansk corridor were some sort of bona fide local uprising. It is true that the populace in this zone have pro-Russian sympathies. But the suggestion that they rose up against Kiev is nonsense. Everyone who has looked closely at these operations–starting with a study of the personnel who sprouted up out of nowhere as local “mayors” or “leaders” has come to the same conclusion–this is a very sophisticated covert operation of Russian intelligence, using Russian personnel with clear links to the Russian intelligence services (but covert nevertheless) in all the starring roles, drawing on support from regular Russian military as well as the elite Spetsnaz units, with money, weapons, munitions and logistical support all supplied with a go-ahead from the Kremlin. In other words, Putin really is calling all the shots–including telling the “Ukrainian rebels” to make a show of being independent.
Now, that being established, let us not lose sight of the fact that the United States decided back in the Bush years to rely principally on covert operations for its counterterrorism operations, and Obama fully embraced this.