Monday, July 21, 2014

Russian Tanks Roll into Kiev

As emotions reach a fever pitch over the Malaysian flight 17 tragedy and “kidnapping” of the deceased passengers by pro-Russian rebels with Russian assistance continue, a critical question overlooked by the media has been: who has the most to gain with the downing of Malaysian Flight 17?

This sophisticated missile system equipped with radar requires a highly trained crew to operate it. One can’t simply download a pdf from the Russian military customer service website. What did the missile battery crew see on their radar system to justify a launch? How high up the chain of command ordered the firing of the missile? Did they know the target was a commercial airliner? Only days earlier the rebels were a bunch of “cowboys” shooting at everything in sight.

Most airspace around the world is operated by the military. Regularly scheduled commercial flights are registered with each country that they intend to fly over and these commercial flights are routine. Prior to the Malaysian shoot-down, 400 flights daily crossed Ukrainian airspace without incident above the required minimum altitude of 32,000 ft. Additionally, those commercial flights have transponders that clearly identify them just in case they should stray off course. Thus any combatants on the ground know that it’s a commercial airliner.

Putin’s public relations misinformation/disinformation campaign of lies, deceptions and feints, a hand-crafted propaganda campaign (by Russian standards) is in tatters and resembles more the clumsy and crude Soviet official explanations during the Cold War.

It’s important to remember that even dictatorships are not monolithic. Sure you have the top guy surrounded by his inner circle of sycophants. Nonetheless, as in any small or large group, there are always competing factions within the system who will go to great lengths to influence or seize power whatever the cost. The Russians surely have their hawks and hardliners aching to roll tanks into Kiev while others prefer a moderate militaristic approach. Power is power anywhere in the world whether it’s achieved with a fountain pen or the barrel of a gun. Either way someone ‘at the highest levels’ approved such a ghastly tactic to force their governmental adversaries into a difficult position with few options.

Putin’s trump card is that with so many European countries having their own agenda, they will be unable to form a strong united front in punishing him. Additionally, if such a strong collective front should form, Putin he can always shut off natural gas supplies to Europe this upcoming fall and winter. They’ll be no serious loss of revenue in the European market because of his earlier commercial deal with China. Putin is wilier than most experts give him credit for. He has markets, he has options.

Putin will continue to play hardball until he gets what he wants especially since the Ukraine is of the highest importance to him. Russia will never yield on not having a direct influence on Ukrainian politics and will protect the Near Abroad at all costs eve if it means rolling tanks into Kiev. And there’s nothing to stop him from doing it.

An economically and politically powerful blow to Putin would be to boycott the 2018 World Cup scheduled to be held in Russia. Because the World Cup is one of the few genuinely worldwide events (and potential revenue), the Russians would suffer an enormous loss on all fronts. Most galling is that the Americans do not dominate World Cup play. Sure it’s four years away and many people have short attention spans. But if the West is unable to apply strong enough punishments over Russia’s blame game, gross insensitivity in the Malaysian tragedy and ghoulish body-snatching, this could be an option.

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