Sunday, July 20, 2014

Showing the Colors: Ukraine's Moment of Dignity and Discipline

Opinion: The Worldwide Impact 
of the Destruction of Malaysian MH17

MeanMesa has spent most of the evening watching reports and analysis about the Malaysian airliner that was shot down in East Ukraine. Because MeanMesa is rather selective about "news choices," most of what appeared was fairly balanced and rational. However, with respect to the manner in which Ukraine's government is handling the situation there is an unavoidable trend "rattling" around in the back ground which could spell trouble later.

Let's begin with the scope of the "public opinion" audience. In the 24 hours prior to the crash there were no fewer than 55 commercial airliners flying the same route over East Ukraine where MH17 was attacked. Every passenger on every one of those 55 other airliners is sitting somewhere at his destination tonight watching roughly what MeanMesa was watching here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Further, all across the planet just under 10 million passengers board an airliner every day. An "easy estimate" would suggest that at least half -- probably more -- of those passengers are also watching the coverage about Malaysian Flight MH17.

The point is simple. 

Many of the people watching that news coverage have heard very little about Ukraine. When the violence in Kiev was in the news, they may have been paying attention, but almost immediately after political matters began to stabilize, that attention was, once again, scattered over competing news stories. It was "nothing personal." This is the way that "news" competes for attention all the time.

We can "chase this rat" just a little farther. 

In the minds of all those viewing coverage of the attack there is a growing acceptance of the idea that the Russians are responsible for this. Predictably, in the coverage MeanMesa watched there was no shortage of allegations that the SAM missile was a Russian Federation weapon and that those operating the system were either Russians themselves or Ukrainian sympathizers trained by Russians.

How the Story is Playing in the Russian Federation
Of course it's a different story, but it's still interesting.

Naturally, the story is intentionally obscured within the Russian Federation to offer political cover for the President, but the citizens of Russia are "old hands" at seeing through government propaganda. In any event all those interested have, by now, seen on their Internet connections what the people on the remainder of the planet think about it.

Putin has a comfortable clutch of reactionary nationalist voices surrounding him who, most likely, think Russian Federation culpability in the matter is just swell. However, the Russian oligarchs in the next room, already bruised and battered by the US sanctions program, are probably slightly less eager to join the chorus. Those economic sanctions were increased and expanded just before this incident happened.

The state controlled media rushed into the scene insisting that Russian domestic coverage be purposefully deceptive and biased. But that same state control has shown itself -- at least to Russian "news" consumers -- to be awkwardly meat handed in such matters, ineptly presuming that the domestic audience was far more credulous than facts would support.

"On the street" in the Russian Federation there is probably no great appetite for more war making or even for economy wrecking, overly dramatic, Putin style bellicosity. The wild dream fantasies of reviving the old Soviet hegemony are generally inhabitants of the "higher atmospheres" only found closer to the Kremlin. Average Russians hold essentially the same priorities they've traditionally held for centuries -- all focused on opportunity, security and their standard of living.

Russian history has firmly established that nationalist pride offers neither beets nor cabbage. It's also established that incompetent attempts at nationalist pride offer even less.

How the Story is Playing in East Ukraine
Start with the Russian version, then add a little dread and foreboding.

Most Ukrainians living in the "contested regions" to the East would simply like it all to stop. This is not to imply that the stubborn Russian sentiments have been set aside, but the violence and destruction -- which is now real and growing -- were not part of the original pitch which enticed them into such boldness only a few months ago. These Eastern Ukrainians are now, thanks to MH17, facing some serious, unanticipated "modifications" to what had a few days ago been, more or less, a settled expectation.

The final chapters of the East Ukraine story have suddenly been rewritten by a new author who seems to be famous internationally but is a stranger in the town.

What questions are confronting the previously optimistic and hopeful East Ukrainians and the militias? How have the changed conditions altered the mainstream ambitions which have hosted -- or driven -- things to their current state?

Matters are strongly suggesting that the Russian have, in fact, finally finished with their creepy, GRU designed "weapons injection" and destabilization policy. The price was getting uncomfortably high before this screw up, but now, it's clear that the "sky's the limit."

Russian BUK rocket launcher in East Ukraine [Daily Star - UK]
The Kiev Ukrainian government would never consider shooting down an airliner, and the well equipped and trained Russian "regulars" camped east of the border would have known that it was an airliner. Ahem. Somebody decided it would be a good idea to hand over the SAMs to the local, unwashed hill billies in Donetsk. MeanMesa suspects that this plan might have looked like a winner at some point along the line, but -- however someone reckless enough to blow up MH17 got control of the missiles -- it's done now, and the fat's in the fire

The cautious Europeans, always previously reluctant to actively "join in" with punishing sanctions, have now been "beaten into a new bravery" by the political inertia of a constituency comprised of the hundreds of thousands of the sympathetic, the irate, the concerned, the relatives and the acquaintances of the dead -- whose corpses still languish in the summer heat on the rebel held fields at Grabovo.

There was no propaganda or hyperbole required to inform the East Ukrainians of all this. They know what happened, and they are quite worried about what will happen next. This brings us to the point of this post.
How the Story is Playing in the United States
Obama and Putin

By this time Putin has felt the first chilly draft of the cold wind of inevitability. The time will come, sooner or later, when the Russian President will publicly acknowledge his country's part in what happened, take the lumps and probably lose his next election.

Even worse,  the events unfolding paint the portent of an eerie repetition of Obama's successful foreign policy in action -- examples in Libya and Syria come to mind. This is no over complicated, foreign policy machination delicately laced together in a back room at the White House to embarrass Putin or the Republicans. This is precisely matched to President Obama's standard approach -- facing reckless, irrefutable danger, garnering solid international support and exhibiting the confident dignity which heralds to all those "in the way" that this will proceed in just the direction it had when it started.

President Obama didn't need to "throw down a gauntlet." Whoever shot down that airplane and who ever provided the missile have already handled the "gauntlet throwing." Further, the White House "talk" on the matter has been "terse and laconic," a calm, measured statement of intent -- not flamboyant rhetoric. This may have been far more disturbing to the Russians than a more dramatic response could have ever been.

The implacable steadiness of the White House policy leaves little hazard for a partisan political attack from the domestic flank. If President Obama's critics had found the temerity to ask ask, "Why hasn't someone been doing something about this?" President Obama's answer would be "I have been."

How is Kiev Handling It?
Opportunities never arrive without peril.

Perhaps it's now time to address that "unavoidable trend 'rattling' around in the back ground which could spell trouble later" that was mentioned at the beginning. What role does "Dignity, and Discipline" play in this picture?

So far this has been an episode of "dueling talking points" between Moscow and Kiev. Although this was predictable given the flush of propaganda issuing from both sides even before the MH17 incident, it's time for Kiev to decisively pull away from the scrap fight. There are no more "undecided minds" remaining on the field waiting to be finally persuaded with such manipulative efforts.

The Russians have invested heavily in promoting an artificial image of their country's urbane "normalcy." The domestic propaganda around this current matter has embarrassed them. It is usually not the case that the latest "wagon load of smelly propaganda" issuing forth from the Moscow government falls apart so quickly and so visibly within the Russian Federation's borders.

The excitement and fire has now officially drained from what had previously been a modestly effective "boiling pot" of Putin style ascendancy and arrogance accompanying dealings with Ukraine since the invasion of Crimea. However, the point here is that in some cases roughly the same may be said about Kiev's rhetoric, too.

The world is painfully aware of the difficulties that the Ukrainian government is facing. However, the world is also waiting for a clear glimpse of the "new personality" of the Ukraine's "new government" to emerge during this challenge. Up until this hour the "nature" of the Kiev government and the new man in charge, President Poroshenko, has been an unknown quantity already tainted by misperceptions conveniently foisted into the mix by foreign parties with "a dog in the fight."

There are no "hearts and minds to be won" remaining on any side of this. All the "hearts and minds" have now seen and felt the gravity of what has been done with MH17.


The best outcome for displaying Ukraine's "new personality" will come from a dignified, measured response to what's happened in the East. This will be a reassuring "show of strength" far more impressive than simple outrage or overly passionate reaction. Tactics employed now will become recent history when longer term goals can finally be addressed, and those tactics will provide the "shade and tone" -- the foundation -- which will ultimately determine what comes next for Ukraine.

At this juncture there is no advantage to be gained from continually attempting to persuade global opinion to agree that Ukraine has been treated very badly. The world knows this already. That said, almost the opposite is also the case.

Now, Ukraine can offer a "window" through which the world can see a dignified, stable, autonomous country with a new government in place steadfastly embracing rather serious difficulties with the regional bully, and this is the right image. This is the image that will pay dividends long after any sympathetic, maudlin sentiment has been long forgotten.


Regardless of the shallow "reportage" seen in the domestic US media, there is a war underway in Ukraine. None of the parties seems particularly interested in simply "going home to lick their wounds." So far, Petro Poroshenko has comported himself quite well as a military commander, but the thing remains far from out of the weeds at this point. Even if the Russians finally come to their senses and stop injecting WWIII equipment -- and ambitions -- into the East, there still remain many bullets to be fired before it's quiet again.

MeanMesa hopes that those in Kiev understand that they have strong friends in the West.

However, the importance of this discipline business grows to glacial proportions amid such violent conflict, and just as certainly, after it, too. Again, the world will watch to see how the new government behaves through all these challenges. There may an almost unrelenting impulse for vengeance or dominance -- neither one, if indulged, foretelling much promise for long term peace or much of a good international reputation, either.

This is the time for Ukraine -- all of it together -- to shine as a good example of how these things can be resolved. This world needs something shiny somewhere.

пожелание успеха

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