The Dutch Safety Board yesterday released its final report into the cause of the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014. That flight was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur on July 17 when it crashed over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The Dutch report confirmed earlier assertions by the United States and German governments that the flight was shot down by a Russian SA-11 BUK surface-to-air missile. Although the report does not confirm this, earlier evidence suggested that the missile system was under the control of pro-Russian separatists, who believed they were firing on a Ukrainian military transport. The Russian government has maintained it was not involved in the downing of the flight and released its own report pointing blame at the Ukrainian government.
The report also drew attention to the failure of the Ukrainian government to close airspace over the warzone, leading the Ukrainian government to defend its decision. A statement by the Ukrainian government asserted that “Nobody could imagine that such powerful facilities, such powerful equipment as the BUK [surface-to-air missile] could be used against a civilian aircraft.” The government had closed its airspace to flights operating below 7,900 meters (approximately 26,000 feet), but believed airspace above that altitude was safe. The decision to fly over conflict zones frequently rests with the individual carrier, but the Federal Aviation Administration has recently strengthened rules prohibiting US carries from flying over conflict zones in places like Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, and Somalia.
What do you think? Was Russia responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17? What responsibility, if any, do governments have to ensure that their airspace is protected? What responsibility, if any, do air carriers have to navigate safe air routes? And what lessons might we learn from the Dutch report?
Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was on CNN yesterday and claimed that there were 10,000 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. As part of a plea to the West to help train and equip the Ukrainian military, he also suggested the Minsk Protocol was still viable. Negotiated in late 2014, the Minsk agreement included provisions establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine and mandated the withdrawal of heavy weapons and combat aircraft from a “line of contact” crossing the eastern part of the country.
To date, the West has been hesitant to take a more proactive stance against Russia. At the G-7 summit over the weekend, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement agreeing to leave economic sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk Protocol was fully implemented. At the same time, Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for the Presidency, issued a blistering statement in Germany yesterday, suggesting that President Obama’s permissive stance towards Russia precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, and demanding the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.
What do you think? What factors are driving Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Is Bush right? Should the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia? And if so, what exactly would that involve? What responsibility, if any, do the United States and the European Union have to address the resurgent crisis in Ukraine? Why?
The Malaysian airline flight that crashed in eastern Ukraine appears to have been downed by a surface-to-air missile. According to separate statements issued by the Ukrainian and American governments, the flight was downed by Ukrainian rebels using advanced surface-to-air missile systems acquired from Russia. While several observers have wondered why the flight was routed over the war zone in eastern Ukraine, the air route over Ukraine was—at least until yesterday—a common transit route for planes moving between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. A number of commercial airliners have been shot down due to conflicts on the ground—at least 6 since the 1970s.
Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was carrying almost 300 people, including 100 of the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers on their way to a conference in Malaysia. The tragic downing of the aircraft complicates an already complex situation in eastern Ukraine. US and Ukrainian officials that Ukrainian separatists used an advanced Russian missile system to down the plane, and several leading political leaders have already called for a response. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “Putin has gone too far,” and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cautioned against jumping to conclusions but warned that there would be “hell to pay” if it was found that pro-Russian separatists were responsible. The Russian government asserted that such accusations were “sheer stupidity.”
What do you think? How should the United States respond if it is proven that pro-Russian separatists are responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17? How should the United States address the connection with Russia? How does Russia’s military (and nuclear) deterrent affect the political caucus?
The Russian government yesterday announced that a special pricing deal signed between the Ukrainian government and the Russian oil and natural gas company Gazprom would not be renewed. According to the Russian government, Ukraine currently owes more than $4 billion for previous shipments. But given deteriorating relations between the two countries and the desire of the Ukrainian government to develop closer ties with the European Union, Russia appears increasingly unwilling to offer favorable pricing deals to Ukraine.
This video, produced by the Russian news station RT, outlines the Russian position on the question.
What do you think? Is the Russian government justified in its decision to rescind the favorable pricing deal previously negotiated with Ukraine? If the goal of the Russian government is to punish Ukraine for looking to develop closer ties with Europe, will this move be successful? Can Russia use its oil and natural gas wealth as a foreign policy tool?
The G7 met yesterday, producing a statement on Russia that threatened additional “restrictive measures” on Russia if it continued its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. The G7 (which had been the G8 until Russia’s membership was suspended at the end of March over its intervention in eastern Ukraine) appears to be at a loss for how to effectively address the situation in Ukraine. The organization appears to be divided on how to proceed, with France and Germany pushing for “dialogue and de-escalation” The current meeting had been scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, but was relocated to Brussels following Russia’s suspension from the organization.
What do you think? Will the G7’s effort to isolate Russia be effective in changing Russia’s Ukraine policy? Does European reliance on Russia’s oil and energy production undermine the effectiveness of Western efforts to address the situation in Ukraine diplomatically? And if so, what other tools, if any, does the West have to address Russian intervention?
The Daily Beast yesterday reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has cut off high level diplomatic talks with the United States in response to the US’s efforts to isolate Russia over the Ukrainian situation. The United States has repeatedly asserted that it will seek to impose “higher costs” on Russia in response to Russia’s ongoing intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk on Friday accused Russia of “wanting to start World War III by occupying Ukraine militarily and politically.”
But US options in addressing Russian intervention in Ukraine appear limited. While Secretary of State John Kerry warned that “more sanctions” will likely be announced early next week, more aggressive responses appear to be off the table, and President Barack Obama has made it clear that his “red line” would be a Russian invasion of a NATO member state.
In the following video, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki outlines the US strategy in dealing with the situation in Ukraine.
What do you think Psaki means when she says that there is “no military solution” to the situation in Ukraine, but that the US strategy is “working”? What would a successful strategy in Ukraine look like? Do you think American sanctions will be effective in resolving the situation in Crimea and Ukraine? Why?
In a recent public opinion poll, about 2/3 of Americans indicated that they were following the situation in the Ukraine closely or very closely. But when asked to find the Ukraine on a map, only 16 percent could find it on a map. Some located it as far away as South Africa, Greenland, or Greenland. But the most interesting finding was that those with the strongest opinions supporting intervention were the least likely to be able to find the country on a map. This finding held regardless of the age, political affiliation, or level of education of the respondent.
What factors do you think account for the findings of this study? Why are Americans who know less about Ukraine, its history, and its location, more likely to support the use of force in the country? And how does this finding influence your opinion about the role of public opinion in foreign policy decision making?
Syrian Children Crossing a Street
A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is drawing new attention to the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria on the country’s youth. The report noted that some 5.5 million children require assistance because of war—a figure that has doubled in less than a year. Some 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict, many as the result of deliberate action on the part of combatants. The report also warned that children face “deep developmental and emotional scars” that will continue long after the fighting ends.
Simon Ingram, UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Chief of Communication warned that, “Here we are talking about the hidden injuries, the hidden wounds that have been inflicted on children because of what they have experienced; the behavioral changes, the nightmares that they carry around with them – the way in which they can no longer function as normal children do. And, this is an aspect of the crisis, which has been too often overlooked, but which is growing all the time.”
And yet as the crisis in the Crimea and Ukraine evolves, attention to Syria on the international scene appears to be waning. And more to the point, cooperation between the United States and Russia in attempting to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program appears to have been placed on the back burner after the two countries found themselves on opposite sides of the crisis in Crimea. The Ukrainian crisis has also helped to shape Turkey’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 30.
What do you think? Can reports like those issued this week by Unicef help to draw international attention back to the crisis in Syria? Are decision makers able to focus on multiple crises and issues—the situation in Syria, Ukraine/Crimea, Turkey, etc.—at the same time? Why? How do the breaking of multiple crises affect foreign policy decision making? What determines which issue rises to the fore?
Sharp clashes in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea erupted over the weekend, as pro- and anti-Russian groups fought. The Russian parliament on Saturday unanimously authorized President Vladimir Putin to use Russian military forces to protect the country’s interests “until the normalization of the political situation in the country.” Late last week, unidentified soldiers in unmarked vehicles seized control of several key areas, including airports, in the Crimea. The region is also home to large populations of Russian citizens. Meanwhile President Barack Obama warned Russia against intervening in Ukraine’s political situation, and the United Nations Security Council held an “urgent” meeting on Saturday to address the crisis in the country.
Meanwhile, many observers are asking if Russia will invade Ukraine? And Ukrainian officials are warning Russia not to interfere.
What do you think? Will Russia intervene in Ukraine? If you were responsible for advising President Obama regarding the situation, how would you advise him to respond? What steps can the United States take? What steps should it take? Why?
Russian soldiers rest amid military exercises.
In an oft-cited truism in global politics, the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once famously asserted that “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” As the situation in Ukraine continues to develop, Clausewitz’s insights into the intersection of politics and military force appears increasingly true. While Yanukovich now appears to be hiding in Russia, the Russian government today ordered readiness tests for its Western and Central Asian units, prompting concerns that the exercises are a show of force intended to signal their ongoing interest (and perhaps their willingness to intervene) in the events unfolding in Ukraine.
Indeed, there is a long history of using military exercises to signal a government’s interest in a particular region or area. The United States has used military tests with South Korea as a signal to the North Korean government, while China has used military exercises in the South China Sea to send signals to Japan about their resolve over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyado Islands. Unfortunately such exercises can just as easily escalate the situation, increasing tensions between major global players.
What do you think? Is Russia’s announced military exercise intended to inform decision-making in other countries about the situation in Ukraine? If so, what is their message? Will it be successful? Why?