“The burden is now on Russia.” This was the conclusion of today’s statement by President Obama, as mounting evidence suggests that the MH17 tragedy and deaths of 298 passengers can be directly attributed to Russian-armed and trained rebels operating in eastern Ukraine. This terrible incident has served as a wake-up call for those who have so far been content to look the other way as Russia plays an increasingly heavy hand in the violent conflict.
As I argue in USA Today, the next step must be a swift, measured response from both the United States and international community in order to restore stability to the region. I write:
Unfortunately, U.S. efforts to date to pressure the Russian president to end his support to the rebels and use his influence to stop the fighting in Ukraine have been met with more hand-wringing than action by American allies, who have been reluctant to follow through on previous rounds of economic sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs. More confounding still, France is on track to sell two amphibious warships to Russia.
As a result of this lack of unified resolve, Putin has acted with impunity. After annexing Crimea, Russia launched a creeping invasion of eastern Ukraine that has fueled an escalating civil war with a steady stream of lethal military aid to pro-Russian rebels. Shooting down this civilian airliner is a tragic consequence of this reckless behavior.
Clearly, the global community cannot isolate itself from further spillover from this violent conflict. The international community must support U.S. efforts to pressure Putin and support Ukraine’s defense. And the U.S. can do more in leading the way.
This can be best accomplished through a threefold strategy that incorporates NATO assistance to the Ukrainian government, harsh financial sanctions levied against Russian industry (with European support), and international diplomatic pressure. Australia is already considering banning Putin from this year’s G20 conference, to be held in Queensland.
Of course, Russia will not back down quietly. Russian state-owned media is still propagating a narrative that pins blame for the MH17 tragedy on the Ukrainian government, disavowing any involvement by Russian-backed separatists.
Events are moving quickly, and continued confrontation is likely. Let’s hope the world keeps paying attention.