Airplane Tragedy Triggers US-Russia Showdown

The political outcome of the Malaysian Plane shoot down is now completely in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite the world reaction to the tragedy and the West’s tantrum, Mr. Putin enjoys the benefit of the doubt at home, courtesy of the U.S. government’s frequent and careless statements in the media. Shortly after the tragedy, the US government didn’t waste time to publicly condemn Russia for assisting separatists in the Eastern Region of Ukraine. That of course didn’t help the U.S.-Russia relations that have been deteriorating since the annexation of Crimea into Russia; in fact, moments before the news on the tragedy surfaced, Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama were on the phone discussing the additional sanctions the U.S. just imposed on Russian officials. The United States is again traveling the road of the Cold War nonchalantly, distributing sanctions like candies, as if expecting the recipients to be sweetened by the sanctions. Who the hell are Obama’s advisors on international affairs?

Obama-PutinRegardless of which party is responsible for the shooting down of the commercial airline carrying 298 civilians (passengers and crew), it is clear that this is a tragic accident for no party, except perhaps for the Ukrainian government, which benefits from such tragedy. By any analysis, Russia’s position is worsened by the situation; now the international community is exerting a lot of pressure on Putin to “rein” in the separatists. While Mr. Putin may enjoy the support of the Russians for now, any hint of his involvement may change the equation; by all analysis, the separatists are in a worse position than before the tragedy. No matter which strategy is played out, there is no benefit to shoot down a civilian plane. The only party left is the Ukrainian government, which would be the beneficiary of most outcomes. The international community’s pressure on Russia and the world condemnation of the separatists’ actions expand the Ukrainian government’s support in the world stage, the West in particular.

How did it all start?
The outcome of the Crimea referendum emboldened the separatists in the Eastern Region of Ukraine to seek autonomy from Ukraine; they too wanted to rejoin Russia. Pressured, however, by the international community, Putin put a “small distance” between the separatists and Russia; he declared that his administration is not pursuing the annexation of the region into Russia — at least not yet. Putin’s declaration did not stop the Separatists from moving forward with their plan to secede the region from the rest of Ukraine. That, of course, does not sit well with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the West, which probably slows down whatever plan Mr. Putin may have had for the region. When the tragedy occurred, however, the dynamic has drastically shifted in favor of the Ukrainian government. The separatists are now in panic mode, searching for help to contain the damage. The Ukrainian Government is now front and center, putting pressure on the West to solve this issue: mainly getting rid of the separatists. That could be its golden and only opportunity to regain the eastern region. Russia is now in strategy mode, weighing the pros and the cons of several alternatives. If all alternatives require the use of separatists, it’s very unlikely that Russia would help change the current situation. As it stands today, Russia is not in any mood to make concessions to the West. Luckily for Mr. Putin, the Obama administration, pressured by Republicans, has already showed its hands to the world. It ratcheted up sanctions on Russia’s top politicians, made frequent, unwarranted and careless statements that do not serve the purpose for which they’re seeking a particular outcome, and condemned Russia for the tragedy. Already in Moscow, the public has condemned the American government for being hasty in their conclusion — instead of waiting for an independent investigation — thus strengthening Putin’s stance on the matter. The outcome now relies totally on Putin’s statesmanship.

What has happened to Obama?
For well over a century, America has been involved in wars, most of which are unjustified, some of which are downright based on the whims of presidents and others simply to show off U.S. war power. For the past seven decades, the U.S. government has ratcheted up the rhetoric which had led to wars that are financially detrimental to the country’s economy and emotionally stressful for servicemen, their families, and the the public in general, all for the sake of satisfying the prideful ideology of being the number-one superpower in the world — spreading democracy, its democracy.

Even when there is nothing to fuss about, the U.S. government would inject itself into other countries’ affairs stirring trouble and waking the gods of war. When the Obama administration ascended to power, however, the world awoke to a leader who vowed to avoid conflicts as much as possible; as such, the Obama administration initiated — behind the scene — a number of preliminary negotiations with Iran, Syria and, yes, even North Korea. As expected, Obama’s strategy is paying off; Syria agreed to have the United Nations remove and destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons; Iran promised to get back to the negotiation table for a nuclear deal agreement (and has been); and North Korea is a very different story but all hope is not lost.

Occasionally, conflicts in different parts of the world have tested Obama’s approach to international relations. The Crimea Referendum outcome, for instance, proves that the Obama administration is not eager to engage into unnecessary conflicts. The political pressure at home, however, has had its impact on Obama’s legacy. His approval ratings stand at a mere 43% according to the latest Gallup poll (the average for all U.S. presidents between 1938 and 2014 is 53%). Ironically, his Russian counterpart, Mr. Vladimir Putin enjoys 83% approval ratings. Most Russians believe that Mr. Putin is doing a great job. It seems almost conclusive that Mr. Obama’s approach to the tragedy is an opportunity that his administration may want to exploit to increase his ratings. Unfortunately, it would be a very bad move and a dangerous game. Mr. Putin seems determined to prevent Ukraine from falling in the camp of the West. Strategically, Russia is winning a Cold War that’s already heating up. It’s a showdown in progress.


Follow Mike Ducheine on Twitter: @mducheiney
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