The consequences for Russia depend on the outcome of the crash investigation. Even if it confirms that Vladimir Putin learned only after the fact about the 'mistake' made by the separatists and that there was no command from Moscow to shoot down the Boeing, this will not change the essence of the situation for the Kremlin. Its only chance for redemption is if somehow the blame for the tragedy is shifted to Kiev and the world community accepts this. But this is a fleeting chance, at best.
However, much time remains before the investigation will conclude, and the dynamics of the Ukrainian crisis and relations with the West are rapidly worsening in the meantime. The EU's adoption of the third and most painful round of sanctions signals that the conflict has already gained substantial momentum.
One particularly critical aspect of this crisis for the Kremlin is the show of solidarity on both sides of the Atlantic. From the early years of Vladimir Putin's leadership, a special emphasis was placed on strategic cooperation with the European Union. Until recently, relations with leading European partners even took precedence over relations with countries of the former Soviet Union. In Moscow there was hope that Brussels would take a much more moderate approach than Washington, and that conflicts of interests between America and many European capitals would have a mitigating effect.
Following the tragedy, Moscow lost much of its room for manoeuvre between European countries and the US. Now the political position of EU leaders has more clearly separated from the interests and pressure of European business. Furthermore, the Kremlin is seeing a new and worrying trend: the attitude toward Russia in the European business community has begun to change. The tough criticism of Russia coming from the leaders of German industrial associations has been particularly painful.
We had some big news from China this week: Zhou Yongkang, a former domestic security chief, is in the words of the Chinese Government 'being investigated' on 'suspicion of grave disciplinary violations.' Vaughan Winterbottom provided the context:
Zhou is the highest-ranking member of the Communist Party to be brought down on corruption charges since 1949.
President Xi has said from the start that no Communist Party cadre is off limits when it comes to corruption investigations. This proves it.
But Zhou's real crimes were likely his association with Bo Xilai and carving out an oil industry and security fiefdom that rivaled the power base built by President Xi on his way up. In this sense, Zhou's downfall is more reminiscent of a Mao-era purge. Many would say it is a purge, the target of which is all and sundry associated with former President Jiang Zemin.
We'll know soon enough. If Xi's anti-graft drive is an honest attempt by a man whoviews himself as cleanto root out the corruption that pervades the Party, we'd expect the intensity of the campaign to continue. If it wanes, then Zhou was likely the top target of a purge from the start.
As always, Robert E Kelly provide first-rate analysis in a two part post on the supposed shift in Northeast Asia security arrangements. His first piece argued that despite what some would have you believe, South Korea is not drifting towards China. Here's an excerpt:
The claim goes that Korea is torn between the US and China. It is dependent on China economically while dependent on the US for security. The Korean Government is divided into sinophile and pro-US factions. Xi's successful recent trip illustrates the 'Sinic temptation' of Korea. Korea will in time 'finlandise' and equivocate on liberalism and market economics.
Once again, there is a grain of truth here, but a lot of exaggeration and little evidence. It is true that Korea is torn between China and the US. But many states in Asia are. The big internal foreign policy debate for all of Asia's medium powers in the coming decades is precisely the same: how to benefit economically from China's explosive growth without getting pulled into its orbit politically. Not just South Korea, but North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia all face the same dilemma.
In his second post Robert argued that despite the 'reinterpretation' of its constitution, Japan is not really remilitarising:
Japan too of course had a reasonably effective military in the twentieth century. But World War II was seventy years ago and was followed by a decisive social break against 'bushido', militarism, and so on. Since then the Japanese military has not fought once. No one really knows how well it will fare (a point that applies to all regional militaries, actually). The conventional wisdom seems to be that Japan's navy is the most competent, followed by the air force, then the army, but these are soft qualitative judgements at best. (Here is a good outlet on this issue.)
Finally, it has been widely noted that the Japanese public is either indifferent or opposed to the 're-interpretation'. That should be comforting to those worried about militarisation. Abe may be able to squeeze more resources out of the finance ministry because his parliamentary coalition is unnaturally large due to the quirks of Japanese election law. But without public support (not just tepid uninterest, but genuine support) he will find it hard to build a force capable of much beyond homeland defence. A serious expeditionary or power projection capability — necessary to do anything serious with the Americans in the region — will require public support. At the moment at least, it is not there.
Matthew Sussex wrote on the new set of US/EU sanctions imposed on Russia over its behaviour in Ukraine:
These sanctions won't go anywhere near far enough to deter Putin. At best, they are a small PR victory. At worst, the length of time taken to negotiate them will only reinforce Putin's calculation that Europe is divided.
To begin with, these sanctions don't lock the EU into a long-term course since they are reviewed every three months. Actual energy trading will continue, and the focus on oil exploration leaves Russia's gas sector unmolested. A crucial compromise to win the backing of Paris was that the military embargo could not be retroactive. That gave the green light to a 2011 French deal to sell Russia two Mistral helicopter carriers at a price of €1.2 billion.
The aspects of this package with the most teeth are the EU's financial sanctions. Putin will find it harder to obtain credit, which will drive Moscow closer to Beijing. China is likely to charge a steep price for that credit, as it did during the global financial crisis. Even so, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's response that Russia would not bother engaging in 'hysterics' with tit-for-tit sanctions was a sure sign that Moscow is confident in Europe's fragility. Just like Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s, when the tokenistic suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe and the NATO dialogue process lasted a mere six months, Russia intends to simply wait Europe out.
Considering the fallout from MH17 (and Syria), should security issues be on the G20 agenda? Mike Callaghan thinks so:
Is the G20 the right forum to deal with security and political matters? The UN Security Council has its role, but it also has its limitations. The strength of the G20 is that it is a leader's level meeting and it is more representative than the G7. Moreover, escalating regional tensions are directly related to the performance of the global economy. As Nobel Laureate in economics Michael Spence has noted, 'at this moment in history, the main threats to prosperity — those that urgently need world leaders' attention and effective international cooperation — are the huge uncontained negative spillover effects of regional tensions, conflict, and competing claims to spheres of influence.'
Australia should be proactive. It should signal now that geo-political tensions will be discussed at the Brisbane Summit. But expectations should be managed. There should be no suggestions in advance that major breakthroughs or landmark agreements will be reached in Brisbane. Rather, it should be presented as an opportunity for some frank exchanges between leaders on issues of global importance. Moulding the G20 summit to cover such matters could be the legacy achievement for Australia's turn as G20 president.
Stephen Grenville looked at the limits of anti-corruption campaigns in Indonesia:
The issue here is whether public servants should face criminal charges (and long jail sentences) when their policy decisions are harshly judged after the event.
One member of the Bank Indonesia board (which made the decision to rescue Bank Century) has just been given a ten-year jail sentence. While his case is complicated by other factors, the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) has indicated that it will now turn to the other members of the Bank Indonesia board, including current Vice President Boediono (who was Bank Indonesia Governor in 2008) and one of president-elect Jokowi's suggested names for finance minister.
The KPK has gone so far beyond its proper role here that 35 leading citizens — lawyers, former ministers, politicians — wrote an 'amicus curiae' ('friends of the court') letter to the KPK. Respected senior legal figure Todong Mulya Lubis said that 'If public policy is criminalised, many public officials will be afraid to take decisions'.
Adding to Stephen's argument, Peter McCawley wrote that 'if officials come to live in fear of aggressive anti-corruption campaigns, the bureaucracy will choke up because everybody will avoid taking decisions':
The problem – that the Indonesian bureaucracy will choke up for fear of witch hunts – is s serious. While the aggressive role of the KPK is to be welcomed, if the result is that bureaucrats all over Indonesia run for cover then government across the nation will clog up. If an attempted prosecution of Dr Boediono were to lead to reluctance on the part of the central bank to take difficult decisions in the midst of a financial crisis, then the consequences for economic management in Indonesia would be serious indeed.
Finally, Julian Snelder on why China's Silk Road initiative matters:
China's pivot to Eurasia is smart, necessary and urgent.
The US subtly threatens China's sea routes, whereas the Eurasian 'heartland' is a landlocked space occupied by weak countries. China offers them investment, trade and security assistance, and in return gets a lock on Kazakh oil and Turkmen gas. Beijing cherishes the goal of 'breaking through' to the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and Europe, bypassing its Malacca dilemma. Washington stands by; its own 'New Silk Road' program is flailing and its main focus is to leave Afghanistan. It should welcome Beijing's initiatives. The truth is, China has far more to offer the region than distant America.
China proposes three broad systems as part of its new Silk Road: a northern railway to Europe which eventually converges on the Trans-Siberian, the pipelines to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and possibly beyond to Iran, and the southern highway corridors.
Photo by Flickr user barockschloss.