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.
Putin’s government also held a news conference [yesterday], in which it denied that Russia had supplied the separatists with a BUK missile system “or any other weapons,” and suggested that the Ukrainian government is the prime suspect in the crash. Air Force Lieutenant General Igor Makushev said that Russian radar detected the presence of Ukrainian fighter jets close to the Malaysian flight, suggesting that one of them may have shot down the airliner.
Unfortunately for Russia, the scant evidence available doesn’t appear to support its fighter-jet theory. Photographs of wreckage riddled with holes have begun surfacing on social media, and experts say that suggests the plane was targeted by a missile that exploded nearby. After analyzing photos taken by New York Times reporters, IHS Jane’s, a defense consultancy, concluded that the damage was consistent with that caused by a Buk system. The missiles are designed to explode below a target, increasing the likelihood that a fast-moving Western military aircraft will be damaged even if it avoids a direct hit.
Which makes the entire spectacle riveting. What happens when a Tsar’s propaganda becomes completely untenable in a porous media world? What he can get away with at home is not as possible when your drunken proxies take down a plane from the civilized world? Watching that video statement from Putin in the early hours of the morning gave me some solace. Just look at the body language, the deflected gaze, the nervousness:
A Tsar never had to do this, or felt compelled to. He’s hanging by a thread, and we should take some pleasure in watching him struggle. Alex Altman examines Russia Today’s absurdist coverage:
Putin supports a cease-fire, as he has all along, because that leaves the Russian-sponsored forces in control of Ukrainian territory, a status quo that suits Russian interests. This is precisely why the Ukrainian authorities originally ended the cease-fire, and why they have continued operations even after the downing of the aircraft. They suspect that the longer the territory remains in Russian hands, the more likely it is that it will never be returned.
To see why a cease-fire works to Russia’s advantage, the Ukrainian leadership need only look to Ukraine’s western border, where a slice of its neighbor Moldova known as Transnistria has been occupied by pro-Russian forces since 1992. The conflict began when a group that did not want Moldova to secede from the Soviet Union took up arms, with extensive support from the Soviet/Russian military. A cease-fire was declared in July 1992, and the conflict has remained “frozen” ever since.
Anna Nemtsova reports that fighting in Donetsk has heated up:
A security serviceman wearing military fatigues stands during a press conference held by self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the pro-Russian separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, on July 19, 2014. By Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty.
Ivan Katchanovski predicts that attempts “to solve the conflict in Donbas by force will lead to mounting casualties among civilians, Ukrainian forces and armed separatists”:
Even a military defeat of separatists is unlikely to end the conflict because it reflects significant regional divisions since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, including a history of separatism in Crimea and Donbas. And Russia, with significant military, political, and economic leverage over Ukraine, is there to stay.
An internationally mediated negotiated settlement — which would include international investigations of the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane and other mass killings — could preserve Donbas as a part of Ukraine. An example of one such peaceful resolution of an armed conflict between separatists and the central government is in Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia. A negotiated settlement can also stop an escalation of the civil war in Ukraine and the growing conflict between the West and Russia. But such a peaceful resolution in Ukraine is not very likely to happen.
Maxim Eristavi’s report suggests that fighting won’t stop anytime soon:
On Friday, Putin called again for peace talks—but nobody in Kyiv is listening at the moment.
There is no guarantee that sanctions of any kind will get Putin to back down over Ukraine. But the EU needs to demonstrate that it cares enough and is united enough to stop him — even at some cost to their own interests — if he is to be deterred from further adventures in Ukraine or beyond.
Amen. Vinik doubts, however, that EU sanctions will have teeth:
U.S. sanctions will only act as a deterrent if Europe credibly threatens to impose sweeping sanctions on the Kremlin. If banks don’t believe that the E.U. would ever sanction Rosneft, then they won’t worry about extending euro-denominated loans to it, no matter what the U.S. does. It’s hard to see how Europe can make a credible threat, given the mutually assured economic destruction that would result.
In recent weeks, there had been signs of growing concern among Kremlin moderates and the Russian business community that the proxy war in Ukraine was far too damaging to Russia’s economy and was developing into a potential threat to Russia’s longterm stability. This week, with new U.S. sanctions and the threat of Russian isolation emanating from Putin’s Lockerbie, the Russian stock market fell by over 8 percent.
Putin can seize on this tragedy to move toward rapid de-escalation in eastern Ukraine. He can urge the 15,000 insurgent fighters in Ukraine’s East—many of them Russians—to lay down their arms. And he can immediately stop the flow of tanks, missiles, and other weapons to the rebels. Or he can become a Qaddafi-like pariah and plunge Russia into international isolation with his now transparently brazen support for Russian insurgents and Russian proxies who are seeking to create a permanent zone on instability in Ukraine.
No wonder he’s taking his own sweet time. I’m increasingly struck by how little control Putin seems to have over the nationalist, xenophobic and homophobic forces he has unleashed. Ioffe reveals the growing insanity of the propaganda machine:
Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?
Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?
Well, it’s all true—at least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.
And almost no others so total is the information blackout. Gregg Rowe has a very helpful essay on how this vortex of paranoia controls Putin as much as he controls it. Money quote:
Russia is a nuclear power and a near-dictatorship, but it’s a weak state. This is paradoxical given the overweening authority Putin manages to project, but it’s true. Putin has full authority over the security establishment, but that is no longer enough to endow unquestioned solidity upon the state he built. For one thing, Russia is no longer an isolated command economy. It’s been integrated into the capitalist world … You can police dissidents, but you can’t police the price of natural gas abroad.
If the old Soviet economy has been “privatized” … so, too, have other parts of Soviet power. Corporate conglomerates, a military-industrial complex, rich and insecure churches, noisy social movements (more of them on the Right than the Left), local governments carving out their own extortion zones, and many more mini- and mega-oligarchies multiply … For all his shirtless preening, Putin is no muscle-man able to wield top-down control. Instead he must exhort, scare, cajol, and distract the rest of society till he gets his way.
Daniel Berman posits that “the fundamental obstacles to any sort of concerted action against Moscow remain unchanged” for the West. But MH17 will have consequences for Putin: