CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. This is an edited version of the interview.
Obviously, there's the human horror of this, and that, of course, is primary in our minds. But there are also military implications, political implications, strategic implications, which will largely be determined by who may have fired a missile and why.
If this turns out to be what, frankly, many of us suspect it is – a terrible casualty of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict – then this is huge. What might have happened – and again, there are a lot of caveats – but what might have happened is that the Russian government has been supporting, training, arming rebels, separatists in Ukraine. Essentially teaching them how to do this kind of thing. Those forces have, in the past, shot down helicopters of the Ukrainian army, cargo planes – as has been noted. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that they thought this was a Ukrainian cargo plane, because they are poorly trained, ill-equipped. They probably don't have the right kind of radar to figure it out, and they probably don't care. These are not people following safety precautions.
In fact, the separatist group, just shortly before this plane went down, had bragged about, on this day, bringing down what they said was a Ukrainian military plane.
Precisely. Which is why, as I say, all the signs suggest that what happened here was that the Russian government has had this strategy of training these rogue elements within Ukraine to make trouble for the Ukrainian government. This thing then went badly awry as a result of that. But frankly, it was in a perfectly predictable way – when you start using these kinds of forces to do your dirty work for you, something like this is bound to happen because these aren’t disciplined forces that are under tight command and control from the Kremlin.
This produces a major international incident because it suggests that what Russia has been doing has not only been destabilizing Ukraine, but destabilizing it on the cheap, in a dangerous way, largely to preserve a kind of plausible deniability. But now we see the consequences.
Senator John McCain said – and he was very cautious about who was behind this – but he said if, in fact, this is Russia or separatists, it could be a game changer in terms of U.S. involvement and bolster providing military armaments, weaponry to the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
It would absolutely. It would mean that the United States and presumably Europe would be much more involved and invested in helping. I think world opinion will change. But also, however, it will make the situation much more tense, much more dangerous.
Remember, we were trying to move everybody involved to some kind of negotiated solution here where the Russians would try to stabilize the Ukrainian government because, at the end of the day, they live right next door to them. I think that's going to be impossible. If you think that relations between Russia and Washington are going to get tense, imagine the relations between Russia and Kiev. The Ukrainian government and the Russian government aren’t going to sit down for a negotiation tomorrow if – again, with a big caveat – this turns out to be what some signs suggest it is.
The fact that there are more than 10,000 Russian forces on the border, the fact that Russia has been on the ground in eastern Ukraine, that they have been behind events in eastern Ukraine – there will be a lot of fingers pointed at Russia in this, whether or not it was Russian forces who actually pressed the button.
Absolutely. Because this has been the distinctive signature of Russian policy in this region. That's how they took over Crimea. That's how they destabilized and tried to disrupt the elections in Ukraine. That's how they've been disrupting in Ukraine. In all cases, there have been no Russian uniformed personnel present. So this is a method that has been used. And this comes with a big cost because these boots aren't really completely under your control, under Russia's control. And they are also ill-equipped, poorly trained and, of course, can make mistakes.
And if you are sending advanced weapons systems into an area like this, you bear responsibility for whose hands it ends up in.
You bear responsibility for it, and you bear responsibility for the overall strategy, which has been disrupt, destabilize this government – including shooting down helicopters.