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Published on: July 18, 2014
Malaysia Air Flight 17
Dealing with Putin the Pariah

The tragedy of MH17 should be a wake-up call to Western leaders to stop dragging their feet and take decisive action now.

Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999-2000 in large part due to his willingness to use brutal, indiscriminate force against Chechen “terrorists”, causing tens of thousands of innocent casualties in Chechnya. During his more than 14 years in power, he has:

  • headed a regime in which critics are often intimidated, imprisoned, and even murdered;
  • armed, aided, and abetted Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of the Syrian people;
  • attacked and invaded neighboring states Estonia (via cyberwarfare) in 2007, Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014, and used economic and energy tools, including gas cutoffs in the middle of winter, to pressure them.

Now Putin appears to have the blood of 298 passengers and crew from Malaysia Air Flight 17 on his hands.

Indications suggest that the airliner flying over eastern Ukraine, territory controlled by the Russia-supported forces, was downed by a missile fired from a Buk-M1 air defense system; Russian separatist forces bragged in June about capturing such systems from a Ukrainian military base. Immediately after MH17 was hit, Igor Strelkov, a Russian citizen who has been leading the fight against Ukraine, claimed that his forces brought down what they thought was a Ukrainian military plane. On previous occasions, Strelkov (Girkin) and his Russian-backed forces have brought down several Ukrainian military planes, including two Ukrainian Su-25 jets on Wednesday. It was simply a matter of time before they risked hitting a civilian aircraft.

Putin has done absolutely nothing to rein in the forces that he unleashed, despite pleading from Western leaders. On the contrary, in the past week alone, there is indisputable evidence of Russian armored vehicles and heavy weaponry crossing the Russian border into Ukraine. Strelkov and others have visited Moscow regularly to receive support and instructions.

The entire crisis in Ukraine is the responsibility of Putin. Last fall, he pressured Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych into abandoning deals with the European Union, setting off a wave of protests in Ukraine. In February, Putin offered Yanukovych a $15 billion bailout but only if Yanukovych brutally suppressed the protestors; more than 100 people were killed in downtown Kyiv. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine and forfeited power, Putin, terrified that such a scenario might be repeated in Russia, invaded Crimea and staged a rigged referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in March. Dizzy with success in Crimea, Putin decided to try his luck in the eastern parts of Ukraine, but ran into a lack of support among Ukrainians living there and resistance from reconstituted Ukrainian forces.

For months, Putin has been doing his best to destabilize Ukraine by sending in forces and arms, including tanks, and cutting off energy supplies. More than 500 people have been killed in the fighting for a separatist cause that few Ukrainians actually support.  The so-called “separatist” leaders are in most cases Russian citizens; their frequent visits to Moscow for consultations underscore how easily the conflict could have ended had Putin decided—or been forced to decide—to do so.

While there is need for a full and transparent investigation of the shootdown of MH17, Western leaders should not wait for that investigation to conclude before taking action. First, on top of the targeted sanctions announced by the U.S. on Wednesday against some key Russian enterprises, it is time for full-scale sectoral sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy, defense, mining, and technology sectors. The Europeans should follow suit, but the U.S. should be prepared to go it alone if the EU continues to drag its feet—and these measures should be announced immediately.

Second, France should announce the cancelation of the deal for the Mistral amphibious assault ships slated to be delivered to Russia this November. Not doing so is just unconscionable. Instead, Paris and other NATO capitals should provide Kyiv with serious military weaponry to enable Ukraine to defend itself.

Third, Western leaders need to adopt a different attitude toward the Russian leader. Putin runs an enormously corrupt, authoritarian regime that has as its main goal staying in power at any cost. He has caused the deaths of thousands of people, destabilized his neighbors, supported murderous like-minded tyrants elsewhere around the globe, and repeatedly violated the human rights of his own people. He may be popular among Russians these days, but that should not deter the West from pursuing a principled policy.

Placing Putin himself on the visa ban and asset freeze list would be a huge step, equivalent to a declaration of political war. But if the downing of MH17 doesn’t get people to start thinking along such lines, how many more innocent victims will it take?

Those of us who have been calling for tough sanctions for months have been warning that things could spin out of control and that, undeterred, Putin might threaten other countries in the region and beyond. The tragedy of MH17 should be a wake-up call to Western leaders to stop dragging their feet and to take decisive action now. They should stop treating Putin as a normal leader and instead treat him as the international pariah that he is.

David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House.
show comments
  • Pete

    1. “Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999-2000 in large part due to his willingness to use brutal, indiscriminate force against Chechen “terrorists”, causing tens of thousands of innocent casualties in Chechnya. ”

    Question: How many innocent casualties did FDR and Truman create in WWII.?

    2. “Now Putin appears to have the blood of 298 passengers and crew from Malaysia Air Flight 17 on his hands.”

    If he does, it’s only indirectly. And besides, you don’t know that Russia or the Russian rebels shot don that plane. The odds are that the rebs did. But it could also be a flack flag operation conducted by a corrupt and desperate Ukrainian government. We still don’t know about Flight 800, federal government pronouncements to the contrary.

    3. Russia has been cutting off energy supplies to the Ukraine.

    Well yes … for gross non-payment of past bills. do you have a problem with that?

    4. “While there is need for a full and transparent investigation of the shootdown of MH17, Western leaders should not wait for that investigation to conclude before taking action.”

    This one takes the cake. forget finding out what happened, just juum to a conclusion that it’s Putin’s fault. How convenient that such a moves plays into the the neocon agenda to confronting Russia, just like their reckless expansion did under Slick Willy.

    5. “Placing Putin himself on the visa ban and asset freeze list would be a huge step, equivalent to a declaration of political war. But if the downing of MH17 doesn’t get people to start thinking along such lines, how many more innocent victims will it take?”

    Kramer’s circular logic. Treat Putin as if he’s guilt before you know for sure. how convenient.

    6. “Those of us who have been calling for tough sanctions for months have been warning that things could spin out of control and that, undeterred, Putin might threaten other countries in the region and beyond.”

    Here Kramer is looking for a pat on the head. He’s so smart, he tells us. He saw it coming. Sorry, until there’s evidence, you’re barking at the moon.

    • Andrew Allison

      I agree that the post is both over-the-top and unduly self-congratulatory. That said, WW-II was exactly that, and most of the civilian casualties were citizens of the USSR starved to death by their own government. There’s more merit in questioning just whose hands are bloody: Vlad’s for sure, but the EU (which fostered the revolution that toppled a more-or-less democratically elected government) is also culpable. Furthermore, as you point out, Ukraine has not been paying for its gas and can hardly complain if supplies are restricted. Your next objection is more flimsy: there’s no reasonable doubt that Putin has been supporting the pro-separatist movement, and if, as seems likely, this included support of the anti-aircraft missile capability which appears to have brought down MH17, he’s culpable. You’re right of course that placing Putin on the visa ban list would be stupid.
      The chances of Ukraine having shot down their very first aircraft are slim-to-negligible; ditto for the Russian armed forces. There can be very little doubt that it was a dumb mistake on the part of the separatists, The issue is not who pulled the trigger, but who armed it.

    • Gary Hemminger

      Pete,

      You have convinced me. Putin is a wonderful man who deserves praise and adulation. Whereas FDR and Truman are war criminals. What fantasy world do you live in Pete? Cause I need whatever you are on to make all my troubles go away.

    • FactCheck

      How is Putin’s hand having blood or not is going to address the real problem?

      There aren’t any good guys here, only bad guys.

  • Rick Johnson

    Why wasn’t the criminal Putin the first person to be placed on the visa ban and asset freeze list. If any Russia is guilty of crimes against the Ukrainians, Vlad must be the most guilty.

    • Corlyss

      What good would that do? This country can’t keep Iranian thugs out either, because they always end up needing to come to the UN to spout off about the Great Satan every Sept. I’m not saying as empty gestures it shouldn’t be done, just that it is an empty gesture the US would be forced to retreat from in two months.

  • Corlyss

    Just a lot of empty words. As long as that’s all we the West have to fling at the modern Attila, he won’t be impressed and neither should we be.

    • John

      Not just words. Use sanctions to throttle the Russian economy, and make them progressive. That’s what’s happening.

      • Corlyss

        Surely you gest. Pinpricks, that’s what their “sanctions” amount to. Embargo travel by people who don’t come here, make a lot of noise about outrage and violation of international norms and what awaits them if they don’t stop misbehaving, but by all means never allow their deeds to rise to the level of critical mass that would invoke serious actions. Unfortunately, Putin has our number and the EUs.

  • Duperray

    This partisan article is a Shame for US media:
    Two referendums were held in Ukraine, providing overwhelming support to pro-russian political forces, these becoming People’s Army and not “rebels” or “terrorists” nor “separatists”, but for Uncle Sam bank accounts these facts do not account because they are adverse to your “vision” of the world.
    You have no evidence that Russia shot down this plane and you adamantly ignore the presence of two Kiev jet fighters “escorting” the plane a minute before shot down. Your government, for once, is more careful (because the two AWACS records are available to it) and awaits either final evidence or the mediatic storm to calm down.
    There are important elements accusing Kiev (either deliberate or accidental) specially their very slow investigation motivation, as if something has to be hidden.
    US Gov made a tragic strategic fault by supporting Meidan popular action which fruits (eviction of president) have be stolen by hidden pro-nazi party now in power. The absolute massive error of Kiev policy has been the unnecessary elimination by “law” of russian language: To the most naïve foreign observer this shows that Ukraine is no longer a unique country but two different States which have to be split, like Czech and Slovacs. But of course most people being adamantly ignorant of Geography and History, cannot understand.
    Even the Odessa massacre did’nt open US eyes, or – as per my feeling – the absolute US goal in UKraine is too important and is two fold:
    Control Russia gas export to Europe (this is why Kiev gave 49% stake to US of their new private pipeline company) and exploitation of eastern Ukraine oil/gaz fields (this is why Biden’ son is already a majority investor in their new energy company, created even before peace is back, son eager are US interest to crop money, money and again money from overseas.
    For an isolated regime/man, Putin worked perfectly! Reviving Russia-China cooperationship (after Russia 20-year long attempt to cooperate with West), Central Asia and South America alliances, and so on… What did Obama achieved since March? Further mess in Middel East, arrogant orders to EU to abide to US policy (to such an extent that most of population feels this as an humiliation) because US money is necessary to reduce huge public debts and so on…
    Ironically the new Isolated man is Obama and the imminent pariah is US Dem foreign policy.

  • BobSykes

    What an ignorant, bigoted post. Obama, Hollande, Cameron, Merkel, Van Rompuy and Barroso started this mess with their foolish coup d’etat that removed Yanukovyck from office. They have a share of the guilt for this. The only possible solution now is partition. Kramer’s nonsense leads directly to nuclear war in Europe.

    Kramer is typical of of bigoted ignoramuses that American Digest uses for foreign policy posts. This blog has become an embarrassment to its owner.

    • Arkeygeezer

      David J. Kramer was United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 2008 to 2009. He became executive director of Freedom House in October 2010. He has a point of view of which many Americans agree. However, I agree that partition of the Ukraine will probably occur regardless of what the the U.S. does short of military action.

      I do not think that taking military action is in the best interest of the U.S. and has no popular support in this country.

      Since this is the case, the U.S. should let Europe handle its own problems.

      • BobSykes

        Kramer’s credentials merely indicate how awful the State Department and our leadership really are.

        The US operates an official secret Star Chamber that selects individuals for assassination. The individuals selected have included at least one American citizen who was killed (with his teenage son) without due process of any kind. The individuals killed can be anywhere, including (but not yet) in the US and its territories. The weapon of choice is the Hellfire missile launched from drones. Obama (and JCS, NSC, et al) signs off on each assassination. These missiles almost always kill numerous bystanders, and this is acceptable to Obama and the US leadership, including the entire Congressional leadership.

        Add to this the universal spying and the use of government agencies to harass political opponents and just who is the pariah? Who is the war criminal? Certainly, Obama has a better claim to those titles than Putin. And Putin is a bad guy.

        Yes, let the Euros handle it, and they would if we would let them and stopped stirring the pot. Maybe Obama wants a war.

        Meade and his friends had better start focusing on the real monsters who run this country and not the minor thugs who are thousands of miles away. What’s a stake here is Meade’s own reputation and the reputations of the people who contribute to this blog.

        • Andrew Allison

          Bob, can we differentiate between this blog and the arrant nonsense which TIA occasionally publishes? Despite the self-interest which causes him to cut the powers that be too much slack, WRM is one of the most thoughtful bloggers out there. The interns occasionally demonstrate their naivete, but name a better place to get a more-or-less coherent view of what’s going on in the World. That said, the complete and utter incompetence of the State Department is an embarrassment, and Kramer is right.

  • FactCheck

    We can blame one another in eternity but it is not going to solve the real problem we are facing. Both US, Western Europe (UK, France), US, Russia, China and Pakistan play this game of arming the rebels in the name of fighting dictators or the so called counter terrorists. If non realized, this type of tragedy is not going happen one day, all were living in some fantasy land.

    The only permanent solution is for the western powers, US, Russia and China arming rebels of any kind for any reason to anyone to fight for any reason whatsoever. There should UN resolution against arming warring factions. The weapons are not merely guns, they are high-tech and high-powered that can indiscriminately kill innocent people even, at 32,000 feet. This game has to stop.

    This is only going to get worse and worse if, we don’t put an end to this game and shut people like John McCain who wants to arm everyone against everyone.

    As far as I am concerned, there are no good guys in NATO or in Russia, all of you, calling your selves world leaders and are for peace are equally culpable. It is known fact, Western Europe and US started the Ukraine problem by meddling in their internal affairs to poke Putin’s eyes.

    Every one of you are responsible for killing every on MH 17.

    I really don’t understand why, the writers can’t see the big picture.

    Kamikaze rebels and terrorists are going to use it as a weapon more and more and they will get it one way or the other because, now they know, they can out a civilian aircraft at 32,000 feet.

    Damn shame

    • Lyle7

      The U.S. doesn’t give surface-to-air missiles to rebels capable of taking out cruising commercial airliners. Now,if the rebels or whomever can get close to a takeoff or a landing, then that’s another issue.

      • FactCheck

        You didn’t get the point. Reagan didn’t supply weapons to Taliban either.

        The point is, all weapons, any weapons to anyone to gain advantage by using them.

        • Lyle7

          The U.S. has yet to provide weapons to Ukraine.

          • FactCheck

            You are way off base here, dude. You are referring to an incident while I referring to bigger problem, world peace.

          • Lyle7

            I’m reality based, not off base. World peace… good luck with that.

  • CountMahdrof

    “Putin runs an enormously corrupt, authoritarian regime that has as its main goal staying in power at any cost. ”

    One could easily replace Putin in the above with Obama. Maybe the US should focus on its own despot.

  • glissando

    AND OBAMA ISN’T A PARIAH?

  • Tyler

    The globalists and neocons are banging the drums for a WW 3.

    Losers.

  • madjakk

    ah….”Freedom House”.
    The same “Freedom House” that’s used by our government to agitate for the overthrow of governments we “object” to.
    In other words, government contracted subversives.
    One thing should be noted that is missing from this diatribe…..Russia can and will expand its markets and raw materials towards asia, specifically China.
    China needs energy and Russia is more than willing to supply them.
    Right now, the EU is weak and cheap Russian energy is abundant…..it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that political reality.
    They will not cut their own economic throats. Given a choice between a saber rattling US demanding sanctions or economic survivability, we lose.
    Further…… maybe if our NGO’s and the EU’s NGO’s were legitimate charities and cultural representatives and not government sponsored agitators for the overthrow of governments we want to depose….we would’nt be in this mess to begin with.

  • RMThoughts

    In the US and Europe there is constant propaganda about “gangster state Russia.” According to this propaganda, resident Putin is a tool of oligarchs who use Putin to rule Russia and loot the people. This propaganda originates in the Washington-funded NGOs that constitute a US fifth column inside Russia. The purpose of the propaganda
    is to destroy Putin’s legitimacy and that of his government in hopes of bringing to power a Washington-compliant government in Moscow.

    Fact: Unlike Ukraine, the Russian government has curtailed activities of some of the oligarchs who used the privatization era to seize control of resources, but that the government’s actions are consistent with the rule of law. In contrast, in the US oligarchs control the law and use it to acquire immunity from law.

    The real gangster state is the US. Every institution is corrupt. Regulators sell protection from law for well-paying jobs in the industries that they are supposed to regulate. The Supreme Court not only permits money to purchase the government but also sells out the Constitution to the police state refusing to hear the case against indefinite detention of US citizens in the absence of due process. This is an unambiguous unconstitutional law, yet the Supreme Court refuses to even hear the case, thus granting unchecked police power to the state.

    In the 21st century it is difficult to find a significant statement made by Washington that is not a lie. Obamacare is a lie. Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction is a lie. Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a lie. Iranian nukes are a lie. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea is a lie. No fly zones are a lie. Russian aggression against Georgia is a lie. 9/11, the basis for Washington’s destruction of civil liberty and illegal military attacks, is itself a lie.

    Another defining characteristic of a gangster state is the criminalization of dissent and truth tellers. Washington has done everything in its power to criminalize Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for revealing the US government’s illegal, unconstitutional, and criminal actions. Washington reeks of hypocrisy.

    Anyone who looks carefully behind the veil of words cannot find democracy in America. For the US government is no longer accountable to law or to the people. The Constitution has been set aside, and the executive branch is
    degenerating into Caesarism. Government is used to impose agendas that result from the symbiotic relationship between the neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony and the economic interests of powerful private interest groups,
    such as Wall Street, the military/security complex, , agribusiness, and extractive industries (energy, mining, and timber). Dollar imperialism, threats, bribes, and wars are means by which US hegemony is extended. These agendas are pursued without the knowledge or approval of the American people and in spite of their opposition.

    As both political parties are now financed by the same private interests, both political parties serve the same masters. There is no longer any countervailing power.

    • adk

      Comrade, sounds like you are writing for other comrades. So why not do it in Russian, on a Russian site? Then, I’m sure, you’d find a lot of agreement.

      Here, not so much.

    • nebanesc

      Obama & Putin are the same, but America & Russia is not. America is always been democratic & Russia is always been autocratic or totalitarian. Because of that many good things came from America. Who may tell us any good product from Russia exept kalashnikov? Obama will go after two years. Who may tell us when Putin will go?

  • msdds1

    Great article. Putin is insane. It is overtime that the world should see his ways. He is scary and what he has done is make the Russian people sort of comfortable so that they will not fight back. Just enough cookies to keep the baby happy.
    He needs to be stopped. It is so obvious when you set out your own “third” term.

  • Rosario

    Sir,
    The story is one-sided and accuse Russia completely forgetting that the US spent 5 Billion Dollars to start trouble and demonstrations in Ukraine throwing the democratically elected Govt. The US feels that Putin, Iran and China are the ones that stand against the empire building USA. The end result will be a complete annihilation of the USA, Britain, France and Russia too. What makes the USA to think that it will win a Nuclear war against Russia. USA always underestimates its adversaries and that landed USA to a situation that it owes 17 trillion dollars to other countries. Now the USA wants to encircle Russia by placing its Nuclear capable missiles at its doorstep which no country can accept. How do the USA knows whether Russians are already keeping offensive weapons in South America. Too greedy to plunder the world’s resources for its own good. Now is not the time. Putin knows what he is doing. And he will certainly make sure that the US also goes with it if the US attacks Russia with N.Weapons. It is more or less certain that the US will not emerge a winner in this war.

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