Don’t isolate Russia | Tom Switzer

Putin currently graces the cover of Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel and The Economist, together with a host of lesser publications. Always unfavourably of course, with the possible exception of Time where the headline is “Cold War II” and the subhead “The West is losing Putin’s dangerous game”.

In the midst of this stampede, it’s refreshing to find authors who take a longer view. Two popped up today, both writing in conservative publications and from a realist standpoint.

In “Don’t Isolate Russia” over at The American Conservative, Tom Switzer implores us to “think clearly and, if necessary, coldly, about the underlying cause of the Russia-Ukraine standoff, which sparked the military blunder.”

It [the West] has repudiated the implicit agreement between president George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990-91 that the Atlantic alliance would not extend into Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a region that Russia has viewed as a necessary zone of protection long before Stalin appeared on the scene. In so doing, the West has taken no account at all for Russian susceptibilities and interests.

For Moscow, unlike Washington and Brussels, Ukraine is a matter of intense strategic importance: it covers a huge terrain that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries: [ . . .]

Since the collapse of Soviet communism, Western liberals and neo-conservatives have declared the demise of power politics and triumph of self-determination. But Putin’s calculations are based on an old truth of geopolitics: great powers fight tooth and nail when vital strategic interests are at stake and doggedly guard what they deem as their spheres of influence.

This is unfortunate, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Imagine how Washington would respond if Russia had signed up Panama in a military pact, put rockets and missiles in Cuba, or helped bring down a democratically elected, pro-U.S. government in Mexico.

In The National Interest, Dmitri Trenin considers Russia’s likely security strategy now that the West appears to have definitively turned against it. Continue reading

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Dutch expert says Ukraine body recovery team ‘did a hell of a job’ | Reuters

The Dutch head of a team sent to identify the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 praised the Ukrainian recovery workers who collected hundreds of bodies from a giant swathe of land in a war zone for doing a “hell of a job”. [ . . . ]

Despite reports that some of the bodies may have been looted and were never properly secured during days lying out in summer sun, [Peter] van Vliet expressed admiration for the recovery crews that gathered them.

“I’m very impressed about the work that was done over here,” he said after inspecting the main crash site, where bodies were still being found a day earlier pinned under chunks of aircraft wreckage.

Citing the heat and the scale of the site, he said: “I think they did a hell of a job in a hell of a place.”

His comments are in stark contrast to the at times almost frenzied condemnation by many western media outlets and politicians of the way “separatists” were handling the crash site. They fit very well, on the other hand, with what Alexander Borodai (PM of the Donetsk Peoples Republic) said during a press conference on the 19th of July.

(h/t Patrick Armstrong at Russia: Other Points of View)

Obama’s Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East | Chas W. Freeman

A brilliant roundup of the ongoing disintegration of the Middle East from Ambassador Chas W Freeman Jr. [1]

Americans went abroad in search of monsters to destroy. We found them and bred more. Some have already followed us home. Others are no doubt on their way. That’s why we have an expanding garrison state. Our counterterrorism programs are everywhere nurturing a passion for revenge against the United States.

This paragraph, about halfway through his speech, encapsulates the tragic reality of recent US foreign policy and its consequences. The rest was taken up with a detailed examination of the where, why and how.

1 Once again, thanks to FB Ali for bringing it to my attention.

Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement on MH17 agreement

Chalk one up for common sense and a modicum of wisdom. Whilst much can still go wrong, the agreement between the Malaysian Prime Minister and Alexander Borodai is a small light in a rather dark period.

The NYT had a brief piece discussing the agreement. They pondered why Najib succeeded where “heavyweights” had failed.

A big question, which was not immediately clear, was why the Ukrainian separatists chose to deal with the Malaysians at a time when the separatists were under pressure by many countries to release the bodies and surrender the black boxes.

One possible advantage for Malaysia is that it has long been a leading member of the nonaligned movement of developing countries that sought during the Cold War to steer a neutral course between the United States and the Soviet Union. More recently, Malaysia has tried to maintain good relations with Russia, China and the United States at the same time.

Update: The WSJ provides some details on how the agreement was reached.

MH17 | A little less politics please

It’s sad (if perhaps unsurprising) to see how many have instantly piled onto Russia in the wake of the MH17 crash. Including, regrettably, Prime Minister Abbott here in Australia.

Russia and the separatists have much to lose and nothing to gain by such an act. If either is responsible, it’s therefore near certain it was a mistake. Given Russia’s sophisticated command and control capacity and disciplined military, they’re most unlikely to have shot it down.

On the face of it, the odds point to the Ukrainian separatists. It seems they acquired some Buk surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems when they overran a Ukrainian military base some weeks ago. If so, providing they either had or acquired the necessary skills to operate it, it’s easy enough to imagine them shooting down MH17 by mistake. The plane was, after all, apparently flying only slightly above the exclusion zone (up to 32,000 feet) and could have been taken for a Ukrainian military aircraft. These are hardly normal times. Indeed, it’s impossible not to puzzle over the decision to fly directly over an area of raging conflict where planes have been shot down in recent weeks. Continue reading