A United Front To Punish Russia For The Destruction Of The Malaysia Airlines Plane? Do not count on it. Europe badly needs Russian gas, now and for years to come

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WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry, now in Ukraine, finally said publicly that America has conclusive evidence that the missile used by the Ukrainian rebels to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, (with or without the assistance of Russian military personnel), came from Russia.

Putin is responsible

Now, as we all know that the destructive conflict underway in Eastern Ukraine has been created and sustained by Russia, it is easy to draw the only possible conclusion. No matter who was in charge of that surface-to-air, (SAM), missile launcher, and no matter who gave the order to shoot down the airplane, (that turned out to be a passenger jet on its way to Kuala Lumpur), it is obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin is morally responsible for this immense tragedy.

Putin started this conflict. He sent Russian operatives to lead and assist the ethnic Russian Ukrainian rebel forces. Last but not least, he gave the rebels arms, armoured vehicles and –yes– surface-to-air missiles.

Western reactions?

Now, as we have got this far in establishing the facts –and this is good– what next?

Here, I am afraid, the picture gets really murky.

First of all, do not expect Vladimir Putin “to do the right thing” and admit Russian implication/responsibility for this tragedy in which the Netherlands lost almost two hundred citizens, with additional losses spread among Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia.

This being the case, the only way to punish Russia for its criminal behavior would be to get really serious about tough economic sanctions. Hit Russia where it really hurts. Deny all Russian banks, financial institutions and individuals the possibility to conduct any and all international financial transactions. Freeze all the foreign assets that wealthy Russians have in London, Paris and elsewhere.

No united front

But I do not see any of this happening. Sure, The Netherlands is in mourning. The rest of Europe is outraged. However, the fact is that most of Europe needs Russian natural gas, now and for years to come, for its very economic survival. So, how do you engage in economic warfare with your major energy supplier?  Simple answer: you don’t. Therefore, forget about the “let’s get tough on Russia” scenario. 

Sure enough, in theory, there are alternatives to European perennial dependence on Russian energy. Europe could begin today a vigorous program to develop its own shale gas resources, while expediting any plans to obtain additional liquefied natural gas, (LNG), from other sources, including the United States.

But, even with the best energy policies in place and the best of luck, this gigantic supply shift would take years. And, in the meantime, without Russian natural gas, how will the Germans keep warm in winter? How will they power their industries?

We need Russian gas

As you can see, “getting tough on Russia” would entail a heavy  price –a price that most Europeans are unwilling to pay.

Given all this, do not expect any courageous moves originating from Berlin or Rome. In fact, expect the opposite: a humiliating retreat, rationalized as wise “realism”.

Explaining tragedy away

Here is how the Europeans will explain doing nothing serious about this sad affair.

“Yes, it is really terrible that the Malaysia Airlines aircraft was shot down while flying over Eastern Ukraine. So many innocent people dead. What a shame! But, look, there is a war over there. It was really unwise for the Malaysians to allow their planes to fly over a conflict area. And so, this is what happened. Obviously, some rebels on the ground believed that this was a Ukrainian military plane. And they destroyed it, clearly by mistake. This is terrible, but it is to be expected that something like this may happen in a war zone. In the meantime, while we recognize that Russia is partly to blame, we still have got to get along with our most significant natural gas supplier. It is sad. But we have no choice”. 

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