By Kanwal Sibal
“President Obama is right in strongly condemning the MH 17 incident and seeking an independent international enquiry, which Putin too endorses. But he is wrong to admonish Russia on its responsibilities for de-escalation and threaten more sanctions, as the US itself bears great responsibility for the turmoil in Ukraine”, says the author.
In India, we need to separate our reactions to the human dimension of the tragic downing of the Malaysian passenger plane over Ukrainian airspace by a missile and its political dimension. On the humanitarian side, this incident deserves unalloyed condemnation, no matter who is responsible, as apart from the individual tragedies of those who lost their lives in this egregious act, the crucial question air travel safety is involved. President Obama is wrong to admonish Russia on its responsibilities for deescalation and threaten more sanctions, as the US itself bears great responsibility for the turmoil in Ukraine.
Under no circumstances should civilian passenger planes become targets in conflict situations, especially as international flights carry individuals belonging to many nationalities with no connection with disputes on the ground. In turn, international airlines too should stringently avoid overflying disturbed areas and not seek to economise on fuel costs by taking short cuts on the assumption that they are secure against any attack, even accidental.
The political dimension of this reprehensible incident is murky and we, including the media, must not get influenced by narratives emanating from quarters intent on squeezing the maximum geopolitical capital out of this tragedy against Russia. Ever since the Soviet collapse, the West’s agenda has been to sever Ukraine from Russia and bring it into NATO’s and EU’s orbit, the thinking being that Russia without Ukraine would lose vital strategic depth, its European dimension would be severely impaired and its geopolitical vulnerability to western pressures would increase.
This could eventually facilitate a regime change in Russia itself, with Europe-inclined “democratic” forces inside the country, currently suppressed by the authoritarian KGB type regime represented by president Putin, gaining power with outside encouragement and support and, instead of seeking an “equal” partnership with the EU, reconciling themselves to the modest stature of an additional member of the Euro-Atlantic political, security and economic structures. This would explain why Putin is so vilified in the West.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, even the responsibility for the downed Malaysian airliner is being laid, directly or indirectly, at his door in view of Russia’s support for the disaffected anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine and the presumption that MH 17 was downed by them with equipment of Russian origin. The West has unleashed a propaganda campaign against Putin personally for arming the anti-Kiev forces and not doing enough to de-escalate the conflict, even though Putin has repeatedly appealed for a peaceful political solution and against the use of force in eastern Ukraine.
In revived Cold War posturing, Senator McCain and Hillary Clinton, with pro forma ifs, have effectively held Russia responsible and advocated additional sanctions if investigations confirm its culpability. US is the largest exporter of arms in the world and any use of US arms by recipient governments that causes innocent civilians to die anywhere would make the US and its president accountable? To see matters in perspective, when US forces downed an Iranian Airbus passenger plane in 1988 in Iranian airspace killing 290 on board, there was no US apology, no international probe to fix responsibility and no scope, naturally, for punitive sanctions.
President Obama is right in strongly condemning the MH 17 incident and seeking an independent international enquiry, which Putin too endorses. But he is wrong to admonish Russia on its responsibilities for de-escalation and threaten more sanctions, as the US itself bears great responsibility for the turmoil in Ukraine. For years it has sought to promote a “democratic” revolution in Ukraine, repeatedly supporting its membership of NATO, condoning street violence to bring about a regime change in Kiev and endorsing the new leadership of questionable legitimacy by inviting it to the White House.
It sent its vice-president, the CIA chief and special operations teams to Kiev to bolster the Ukrainian government. Despite the Poroschenko government’s dependence on the IMF and EU for survival, the West has failed to pressure Kiev to deescalate, end military operations and attendant civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, and seek a negotiated political solution that takes into account the internal political, ethnic and linguistic cleavages in the country.
Russia is, in fact, blaming the Kiev government’s decision to use military force against the opposition forces for creating conditions under which this tragedy occurred. The US, while consolidating itself strategically in Ukraine, cannot ignore wide-ranging legitimate Russian interests in a country that was part of an erstwhile mother entity, including genuine security concerns about Ukraine becoming part of a western military alliance with a vocation to counter revived Russian power. Pakistan was politically shielded and, instead of sanctions, it has continued to receive US economic and military assistance.
That Russian arms were used to down MH 17 and hence Russia is culpable is an argument best not used by the US as it is the largest exporter of arms in the world and any use of US arms by recipient governments that causes innocent civilians to die anywhere would make the US and its president accountable. That Pakistan has used US arms against us in the past, and even now receives American arms that could be used in the future against us, would, in Obama’s logic, make the US president answerable to us and the international community.
In this terrible incident, one American holding dual nationality has been killed. In the Mumbai terrorist attack which was planned and wilful, six Americans lost their lives. In that case, unlike in the case of MH 17 where no direct Russian action is being alleged, the US from its own sources such as Headley, knew of Pakistan’s complicity, and yet the then US president made no long declaration to strongly deplore the brutal Mumbai massacre, affirm that available evidence indicated planning on Pakistani soil, and threaten sanctions on Pakistan if further investigations proved the involvement of its agencies.
On the contrary, Pakistan was politically shielded and, instead of sanctions, it has continued to receive US economic and military assistance. The manner in which the US political class and the western media have already used the MH 17 tragedy to castigate Russia and its president makes any so-called impartial international enquiry another geopolitical play.
US HAS TO SEE ITS ROLE IN MH17
By Kanwal Sibal