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'The world needs to make Russia pay'

July 28, 2014 14:25 IST

'The world needs to make Russia pay'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

'The MH17 incident will hurt Russia morally, legally and strategically.'

'Putin is a very good tactician, but he has isolated Russia.'

Thomas de Waal, senior associate, Russia and Eurasia programme, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaks to Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com about the MH17 crisis and its fallout for Russia and its President Vladmir Putin.

Your thoughts on the shooting down of MH17... Who do you think could be responsible?

There is strong evidence that the plane was shot down by the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine using a ground-to-air Buk missile system. The rebels discussed downing a plane on July 17 before they realised that it was a civilian aircraft and those comments were later deleted from the Internet.

One of them has confirmed to Reuters that they had the Buk system in their possession.

Do you think it was a targeted attack?

It seems to have been a case of mistaken identity; the rebels thought they were targeting a military aircraft.

How does such an incident impact Russia?

The implications are very serious for Russia. Even if Moscow does not bear direct responsibility, its indirect hand in the destruction of an international airliner is likely to be proved after an investigation.

There will also be legal claims by Malaysian Airlines and by the relatives of those who lost their lives in the crash. This will hurt Russia morally, legally and strategically. This incident will be with us for many years.

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Image: Pro-Russian separatists from the so-called Battalion Vostok (East) set out from a base in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
Photographs: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

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'The world needs to make Russia pay'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

Do you see the tensions between Russia and the Ukraine intensifying?

There is no evidence of tension reducing in Ukraine. But there is a small chance that (Russian) President Vladimir Putin decides that the rebels in eastern Ukraine are a liability and stops supporting them.

What role should the United States and the international community play in the crisis between Russia and the Ukraine?

It is a difficult balancing act. They need to try to de-escalate the conflict, persuade Russia to stop supporting the rebels, make Russia pay a price for bad behaviour and strengthen Ukrainian statehood.

At the same time (they need to) keep channels to Putin open and cooperate with Russia on issues like Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. That requires very clever diplomacy and I am not sure the balance is right at the moment.

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Image: A boy waits to place flowers at a vigil for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur.
Photographs: Olivia Harris/Reuters

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

How do you rate Putin's handling of the situation?

Putin is a very good tactician and he has achieved high popularity ratings in this conflict. His problem is that he has also isolated Russia internationally and whipped up an anti-West mood in the country, which will cut off Russia from the world.

How important is to strengthen the Ukraine-Russia border?

Sealing the Russia-Ukraine border is the biggest priority at the moment. But I do not see it happening.

Has imposing sanctions on Russia helped?

Imposing sanctions has had multiple effects. It has sent the signal that the West is serious and the sanctions have hurt Russian business. But it has also hit pro-Western Russian businessmen and reinforced the siege complex of the Russian leadership.

Can Russia afford sanctions?

Russia can afford sanctions. It has big currency reserves. But the Russian economy is not doing so well at the moment and the medium-term consequence of this is probably to make Russia more economically dependent on China.


Image: Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
Photographs: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

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