By Olga Oliker and Keith Crane, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Olga Oliker is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Keith Crane is director of the RAND Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program as well as a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The views expressed are their own.
Ukraine is burning. Ongoing fighting between government forces and insurgents in eastern Ukraine have left more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians dead and some 300,000 displaced, according to AP. Meanwhile, in large swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, those who remain lack food, running water, and electricity. If the West is serious about preventing things deteriorating further it needs to find a new approach – and one that makes Russia part of the solution.
The Ukrainian government argues that it is doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, but it is believed to have been using Grad rockets, an inaccurate weapon that makes this particularly difficult. The separatists have for their part also used heavy weapons indiscriminately, killing Ukrainian civilians and likely accidentally shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.
In an effort to convince Russia to stop supplying the separatists with weapons and other kinds of support that have kept the conflict going, the European Union, the United States and their allies have imposed economic and travel sanctions on Russian citizens and companies in an effort to change President Vladimir Putin’s policies. Two weeks ago, Russia responded by banning food imports from most of the countries sanctioning it. Yet despite a running joke among some critics that Russia has become the latest country to sanction Russia, most Russians have maintained their long-running support of Putin. FULL POST
By Tatiana Darie
Tatiana Darie, a recent intern with GPS, speaks with Russian journalist Ilya Barabanov, special correspondent for Kommersant and winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous & Ethical Journalism. The views expressed are his own.
You’ve been reporting from eastern Ukraine and along the Ukraine-Russia border. What do Russians think is going on there?
Actually, there’s a civil war going on at the moment, I think that would be an appropriate description of what is happening there right now. At the moment, the Ukrainian army is continuing its anti-terrorist operation, which was launched in April. These past days they have been getting closer to Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and many in the West are convinced, that this is actually a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
You know, we can have a long discussion about what kind of support Russia is providing to the armies of these self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine, but there’s a clear terminology for this. And while the Russian army isn’t officially taking part in this conflict, I think it’s not worth talking about a Russia-Ukraine conflict. I’ve read some articles published by some international human rights and humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, and to my understanding, they have the same assessment of the situation. Obviously, Russia is offering political support to these militias in Luhansk and Donetsk, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground. We're talking about an armed conflict on Ukrainian territory in which Russia is not, at least officially, participating.
You’ve talked toboth locals and rebels in the region. What have you found? What are they fighting for?
I think this story had several phases. The first phase began last spring, right after the events in Kiev, around April, when they took over public buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk. Back then, this looked like a political strategy that the family and supporters of the fugitive former President Viktor Yanukovych used, to take control of the situation in the country.
The second phase occurred in early May after the events in Odessa, just ahead of the so-called referendum in Donbass and right after the launch of the Ukrainian army’s anti-terrorist operation. Then it appeared that these republics were receiving some kind of support – some people voted in the referendum and a good amount of the people, though we cannot know for sure how many, joined the separatist forces. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski about the recent downing of Flight MH17 in Ukraine and the European Union’s response. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Do you feel that there are any signs in the past that even the threat of these sanctions have had the effect presumably that you want, which is that Russia should stop supplying arms and people in eastern Ukraine? My sense is, if anything, is that in the last week or two, those activities have sort of stepped up and the Russians themselves appear to be firing missiles at Ukrainian government planes.
These sanctions, I think, will get President Putin's attention and will show that, despite what he has apparently thought, the West, as a moral community, exists. And it can be united when we see the fundamental norms of international relations are undermined. Hitherto, I think Russian authorities assumed they could always play us off one against the other, and that we are incapable of joint action. This is the first indication that we are.
Do you think it was the airliner changed things? Because my understanding, reports from what was happening within the European Union, was there was significant dissension. I mean, when people would talk about sanctions, non-British countries would argue for financial sanctions, which of course hurt over in London. Britain would argue for the kind of sanctions that would hurt France or Germany. And as a result, there was a standoff. Did the airliner break that logjam?
The airliner and the treatment of the bodies of the victims and the fact that they came from a number of EU countries definitely mobilized politicians in Europe. And crucial was the package put together by the European Commission, which spreads the pain of sanctions on our side fairly. Of course, I expect the Russian side to respond with counter-sanctions, and they'll probably try to divide us again.
By Leon Aron, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
Two wars – one in Gaza the other in eastern Ukraine – are unfolding simultaneously. They have nothing in common except this: both should be being seen as unambiguous in terms of which side is right and which wrong. And second, both are likely to end in a strategic (i.e. long-term) defeat for the right side because of the attitudes that shape the approach of Western leaders to both wars.
The facts are not in dispute. In Ukraine, the legitimate government in Kiev is trying to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over its territory, in practical terms seized by Russia in a proxy war using professional special troops, intelligence officers and mercenaries (kontraktniki) to train assorted thugs known collectively as "rebels" or "separatists" who are being armed and supplied by Russia.
In Gaza, Israel is battling a fundamentalist terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews, Christians and gays and oppressing women. As in Ukraine, they attacked first, by firing hundreds missiles at Israeli cities and towns.
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Europe's response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. This is an edited version of the transcript.
The French continuing with the sale of an advanced warship to Russia. Where is the outrage? Because the responses so far, you're talking about incremental increases in sanctions, still negotiating access to the site – this doesn’t seem to match the enormity of this crime.
You’re right. We’ve seen pretty strong rhetoric coming out of U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and President Obama. We've seen some of it coming out of the British prime minister, finally, and the Australian prime minister. Very little you notice out of continental Europe, the big powers – Germany, France, even the Dutch – have been remarkably restrained given the enormity of the tragedy here.
And I think that part of the problem here is that Europe has very deep economic ties, very deep energy dependence, on Russia. In the French case in particular, France has always prided itself in being a kind of bridge to Russia. They've always prided themselves on being a big military exporter. The way they think about it, if they didn't do this stuff, the Americans would be dominating the arms industry.
So, there are a lot of national interests that are coming in the way of what you rightly said should be a kind of international response. There should be a sense that the international community is acting, but instead what you're seeing is separate national interests – the French national interests, the German national interests – trumping what should be an international humanitarian interest.
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the politics of the Malaysia Airlines crash, the state of the investigation, and why Russia looks to be on the defensive. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Senator John McCain has told us that the United States needs to do more, the United States needs to lead more, that the president hasn’t done enough in terms of leading and the European allies will follow. He also thinks that the United States and allies need to offer arms, offer weapons to Ukraine in order to regain control of the situation on the ground. What do you make of it?
I listened to the interview closely. I thought it was unfortunate…What struck me about what Senator McCain was saying is that it seemed needlessly partisan. By which I mean he said President Obama should lead, he said he should name Putin specifically and hold him responsible.
President Obama stood outside the White House yesterday and said Putin has a responsibility. He's the person with the most direct control. He and Russia can do something about this. He said the United States should lead with sanctions and Europe will follow. The United States has led with sanctions – the United States has many more sanctions on Russia than any European country, and it has prompted Europeans to do more, as perhaps it will this week.
So, yes, there are areas where the United States could do better. But you know it would help in our dealings with our allies, and with the Russians, if the president seemed to be speaking for the country and had the backing of Congress behind him. And instead, what struck me about this was it was turned into just one more of the kind of unending series of partisan wrangles in Washington. FULL POST
CNN speaks with Fareed about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and how the West should respond to Russia’s alleged role in assisting pro-Russian militants in Ukraine.
Is Russian President Vladimir Putin getting increasingly isolated, do you think, at this point?
He is getting isolated internationally, though you will notice that many European countries have still been very, very reluctant to confront him directly and to publicly demand that Russia do things. The Malaysian government has not done it. Russia is a big country, it has a United Nations veto, and most importantly, he still has a great deal of support at home.
Remember, the version of events that Russians are hearing is a kind of alternate reality in which they charge that the Ukrainian government is responsible, even though the Ukrainian government doesn't actually control the territory from which the rockets were launched. They claim that the Ukrainian government might have been trying to shoot down President Putin's plane and missed. So, there's a whole fabricated alternate reality, and Putin remains popular in Russia.
So, while he's getting more isolated internationally, it isn't clear that the domestic pressure, which is what he worries about, has risen at all. FULL POST
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, Ukraine’s response and what we might be able to expect from Russian President Vladimir Putin. This an edited version of the transcript.
You’re well aware of what is going on with the politics and the violence in this country right now. As you heard us report, there are reports of civilian casualties as Ukraine says it's trying to take back checkpoints on the outside of Donetsk. Curious timing for them, don't you think, in the middle of trying to deal with MH17. What do you think the strategy is there?
What it could suggest is that the government of Ukraine, the government in Kiev, has begun an offensive to try to take control of this part of Ukraine. This part of Ukraine is not under the control of the government in Kiev. It is under the control of the pro-Russian separatists.
One of the things that the Kiev government has kept insisting on is that they need to get control of their own country. They may have seen this as an opportune moment because the rebels are on the defensive, they understand that the world is watching them and perhaps most importantly their patron, Vladimir Putin, is on the defensive. So this would not be a moment where you would imagine Russia would be sending in advisers, streaming across the border at night, sending in heavy equipment, heavy machinery.
So it may well be that the Ukrainian government decided this is the moment to act, and as you say, these thugs have fled the crime scene, which suggests that they're going to reinforce their comrades in Donetsk itself.
Two questions. If Russia is so in control, why would Vladimir Putin allow this shameful act to go on? And the other question is, a lot of talk from the Western world about how now is the time, now we must press. But there are no representatives from the Western world except the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is an international monitoring group. Nobody is on the ground. Where is everybody if they care so much?
Great questions. On the second one, as you know, the problem is the place is dangerous, as you have been pointing out. It has been very dangerous until really a few hours ago and my guess is people are trying to figure out exactly when they can go without creating an incident or some kind of violence. FULL POST
Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Fareed Zakaria
The actions of the pro-Russian forces, who it appears shot down a civilian airliner, might seem at first glance to be crude and unsophisticated. But in one sense they're on the cutting edge. They represent something we see all around us these days – the democratization of violence.
Let me explain.
For most of history, the side with the bigger army usually won a conflict. But over the past few decades a different pattern has been emerging – the power of asymmetrical warfare. Look at the pro-Russian separatists, or Hamas or Hezbollah or the insurgents in Afghanistan or Iraq, and you will see attacks that are cheap compared with the massive response then launched by traditional armies. FULL POST
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the alleged shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. This is an edited version of the transcript.
The conflict in Ukraine had generally slipped out of the headlines in the United States, but Thursday’s incident was a very shocking reminder that if anything it as intense as ever.
I think it's also a reminder of something else – that the government of Ukraine doesn’t actually control all of the territory of Ukraine – this happened in a part of Ukraine that the government of Ukraine doesn’t control. It’s largely controlled by these pro-Russian rebel forces. Some are Ukrainians, but there was a lot of reporting as you know that says there were a lot of Russians and Russian special ops people who've been in there.
Actually, Ukraine’s government accuses the separatists and Russia of being linked in that way.
Precisely. And a lot of the equipment that those separatists have got they almost certainly got from Russia. This should be an opportunity for the entire world for the West, for the United States, to say, let's end this farce once and for all. The government of Ukraine has to have control over its own territory. The Ukrainian army should go in there, clean this out, and the Russian government at this point I think is on the back foot and won’t be able to try mounting any spirited defense.
But you've got to allow the government in Kiev to actually control the country…
Since a new president was elected in Kiev we’ve seen advances by Ukrainian forces against separatists. Early on, when Ukraine's military was trying to move into some of these regions in eastern Ukraine, they basically got turned around by mobs of people. But there have been some advances by the Ukrainian military there in the last several weeks.
Exactly, and part of that is they're getting their act together. Part of it, remember, is the Ukrainian military and intelligence services are riddled with Russian spies, so that has made it very difficult. But this is all an opportunity to clean that up, to allow the government of Ukraine to have control over its territory, to sweep out some of those Russian forces. This would be an opportunity, particularly if the Europeans really lay it on the line, because Putin is going to feel on the defensive here. This wouldn’t be a time to mount a Russian counter offense.
A U.S. official told CNN that the Obama administration doesn’t think the government of Ukraine has air defenses in the region where Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot and crashed. The official also told CNN that we'll see the Obama administration attempting to internationalize this, and there will be pressure to allow others from outside to see this site. What do you make of that?
I think it's actually very important because we forget that in Russia that what people are hearing is a completely different narrative. You heard Putin basically saying “Look, if the Ukrainian military wasn't trying to take control of their own country, none of this would happen because this area wouldn't be a war zone.” And there are reports in Russia that say that this was the Ukrainian military that shot down the plane because it was trying to shoot down Vladimir Putin's plane and that they missed and that these two planes just happened to be in the sky at the same time.
The Russians have had this extraordinary propaganda offensive throughout this Ukrainian crisis – there have been some bald faced lies, they’ve made stuff up and just put it out there.
By Leon Aron, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
In the thick fog of war hanging over eastern Ukraine it is only possible at this point to establish the perimeter of the known and then to evaluate the potential culpability on a more-likely to less-likely scale.
We know that Russia and its proxies have tried to establish a de-facto no-fly zone over the rebel-controlled territory in east-south Ukraine. And while initially only low-flying helicopters and planes reachable by shoulder-fired missiles were downed, the targetable range seems to have increased to an altitude that can only be reached by sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, as evidenced by the Ukrainian military AN-26 cargo aircraft that was brought down on Monday.
The self-proclaimed military commander of the pro-Russian separatists Col. Igor Strelkov allegedly alluded to the no-fly zone when, following the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, he appears to have written on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Vkontakte, that “we have just shot down an AN-26 airplane…Haven’t we warned them – don't fly in our sky.”
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.