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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Revolutions, Ukraine and Flight 17

By not immediately responding to the downing of a commercial jet, European leaders are setting a dangerous precedent. Inaction sometimes speaks as loud as action. There are other cases of weak European leaders not standing up to revolutionaries. The leaders in the EU are effectively telling Vladimir Putin that it is OK to escalate a civil war by providing sophisticated modern weapons, including tanks and surface to air missiles. It really appears to make little difference to them if a few hundred of their citizens get killed in the crossfire. Perhaps people are not reacting loudly enough to the tragedy, the shock is still palable in the air. It does not make any sense to blindly lash out against a nuclear power like Russia. After all, Putin has clearly proven that he is all too eager to use any weapon in his arsenal to get what he wants.

This was a Boeing 777 full of European citizens, not a drone. This was one of hundreds of airliners in the air at any given time. Putin's own Airbus was flying nearby at the exact same time. This is a big deal and demands a big response.

Europe does not want another war. It literally cannot afford a conflict and no doubt the Europeans would rather do something else this summer. Summer is not a good time to get Europeans to start a new initiative.

They sat back and watched passively while Vlad took Crimea.

It almost looks like that classic schoolyard situation where the bully gets his way simply because nobody wants to stick their neck out and get beaten. However in this case you risk other bullies doing other nasty things. For example, what happens if Iran starts sending weapons into Iraq or Gaza? Oops that’s apparently already happening.

OK so what if France decides to send it’s armies into West and Central Africa to stop the bullies there? Oh, they already have.

Hmm, what if NATO decided to throw an army into, say, Afghanistan? Been there done that.

This is the underlying issue. Europe already is involved in various conflicts or recently was. Once bitten twice shy. Military involvement is not a great way to get re-elected in Europe. The Germans, French and Dutch all have important business deals going with Russia. So do the other nations that make up the EU. These economic ties mean work for their citizens at a time when good-paying jobs are not easy to find in most European Union nations.

According to the Economist magazine, Germany has an effective unemployment rate of less than 6% but Spain is looking at 25% unemployment. 1 in 4 workers not earning income, at least not legitimate income. Every other country has unemployment rates closer to Spain, Germany is an exception. When that many people are out of worker leaders must be very careful about doing anything to threaten jobs. Threatening Russia or sending peace-keeping troops into Ukraine are not choices Francois Hollande, Matteo Renzi, or Angela Merkel want to make. Jean-Claude Juncker is unlikely to encourage such a step when and if he takes over as president of the EU.

So Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Nederlands must stand before his countrymen with strong words but not much he can do. Many Dutch view Russia with a different eye than other EU nations. Holland just finished a celebration of their long history with Russia. Blaming Ukrainians for shooting down a passenger jet makes little sense when you know it was Russia that supplied the missiles, Putin that insists on reclaiming as many of the former Communist satellite states as he can, and pro-Russian separatists literally shooting rockets at anything that moves in their skies.

One way to respond to the tragic loss of Flight 17 is to carefully ratchet up the economic pain on Putin. Not just sanctions but by educating business leaders and major investors that the “R” in BRICS is no longer a worthwhile gamble. Better to put your investment money in Brazil, India, China or South Africa. Anywhere is better than in investing in a nation that recklessly puts weapons in the hands of people willing to risk shooting down a civilian airliner.

Another way to respond is to stop the free movement of Russia's armed forces in and out of eastern Ukraine. I wouldn't want to be stationed in such a "Green Zone" but until that happens Putin will keep re-supplying his Special Forces teams in eastern Ukraine. Just watching all this activity from satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles is not sufficient.

Some Russians seem to think all this ambiguity about their involvement in Ukraine provides sufficient cover. With the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 Putin's cover is blown away. The deaths of those innocent passengers rest squarely on his shoulders. Someone besides this writer needs to clearly stand up and make that known in no uncertain terms to the Russian people, the Europeans and the world.