Putin has chance to avoid economic disaster for Russia in the wake of MH17 tragedy
The downing of Malaysia flight MH17 in Ukraine has catapulted the confrontation between Russia and the West into a new level of acrimony.
The downing of Malaysia flight MH17 in Ukraine has catapulted the confrontation between Russia and the West into a new level of acrimony. A devastating war of economic sanctions and subsequent reprisals between Russia and the West can no longer be ruled out says Professor Stefan Hedlund, Research Director at the Centre of Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden.
‘Much depends on how Russian President Vladimir Putin evaluates his options, if this is to be avoided,’ says Professor Hedlund. ‘He could simply disown the separatists, and cooperate with Ukrainian authorities to make sure that no more weapons, or insurgents, cross the porous border. This would allow the Ukrainian armed forces to burn out the rebellion.’
‘The alternative option is to sit tight, to stonewall any and all accusations of complicity while maintaining, or even stepping up, clandestine support for the rebels,’ he says. ‘And based on what we have experienced to date of Mr Putin’s sensitivity to not being shown proper respect, it seems hard to believe that he would be ready to face the humiliation involved in going back on his own fiery rhetoric.’
Professor Hedlund believes that, given that so much now hinges on the perceptions of one man and a narrow circle of like-minded confidantes, it seems imperative to try to understand what the situation may look like from the Russian side.
‘What if it was all about Crimea and no more?’ he asks. ‘What if the land grab in March 2014 was intended to stave off the risk of Nato eventually taking over Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea which would effectively lock Russia out of the Mediterranean?’
‘If the Kremlin had only its own defensive security in mind, and no further designs on breaking or conquering Ukraine, then it is easier to understand the mounting anger it has shown against the West.’
If it had all stopped at Crimea, the West would have been content to let the crisis slide into oblivion and to re-engage with Russia, as happened in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian war in 2008.
‘But the downing of flight MH17 has suddenly and brutally foreclosed this option. The West’s outpouring of anger against Mr Putin is such that it will no longer be possible to turn a blind eye.’