JOOST – What to do when you are furious with the Russians?

What to do when you are furious with the Russians?A big pile of circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion that it was pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who fired a surface-to-air missile at Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, killing 298 innocent people. With countries like The Netherlands and Australia still mourning the loss of so many of their citizens, pressure is mounting worldwide to punish those responsible for this horrible tragedy.

While it is difficult, at least for the moment, to arrest and put on trial the Ukrainian separatists directly responsible for the downing of MH17, all attention is being focused on the leadership of the country that is, according to many, implicated in the crime: Russian President Vladimir Putin. As The Economist summarized it pointedly: “The separatists pulled the trigger, but Mr Putin pulled the strings.

”The push for tough sanctions on Russia is growing stronger in The Netherlands as well. That has forced the Dutch government to perform a delicate balancing act since the authorities in The Hague are still working very hard to secure the bodies of all the victims and identify potential clues, at the site, as to what exactly happened.

In order to do so, they need both the cooperation of the local rebels and tacit approval by their masters in Moscow. This weekend, 40 unarmed Dutch military police officers will accompany 20 forensic experts who will search for human remains at the site of the crash.

Behind the scenes, Holland and Australia are also trying to get the green light for an armed multinational protection force in case the present mission is blocked or sabotaged by the rebels. At the moment it is unclear whether the Russian government will approve such a force.

With its experts on the ground trying to recover the last bodies, there is an understandable reluctance on the part of the Dutch government to take the lead in introducing the kind of far-reaching sanctions its domestic public opinion and many other Europeans are asking for The Economist echoed the frustration and anger felt by many after the downing of MH17 when it called on the rest of the world to stand up, finally, against Mr Putin: “The West should face the uncomfortable truth that Mr Putin’s Russia is fundamentally antagonistic. Bridge-building and resets will not persuade him to behave as a normal leader The West should impose tough sanctions now, pursue his corrupt friends and throw him out of every international talking shop that relies on telling the truth.

”That sentiment is widely shared by many at the moment, but the question is how to do so effectively. It is no coincidence that the loudest calls to hit Russia in the wallet come from countries like the US and Australia that have only very limited economic interests in Russia For the Europeans, the issue of hard-hitting sanctions is far more complicated because several EU countries will have to pay a price themselves.

As The European Voice formulated it correctly: “The crisis in Ukraine is posing some hard existential questions for the EU. The member states are being asked whether, in a post-Cold War world, they are ready to define their relationship with Russia collectively rather than individually.

They are being asked whether they are prepared to inflict pain on their own citizens for the sake of standing up to Russia They are being asked if they are prepared to make individual sacrifices for the sake of the interests of the whole.”For the moment, it is not clear whether the EU will manage.

A first package of financial sanctions has been adopted and preparations are being made for wider-ranging measures if Russia does not stop supplying weapons and other equipment to the Ukrainian rebels.Inevitably, working out sanctions that are acceptable to all 28 EU nations is going to take some time.

Of crucial importance is whether EU countries with huge economic interests in Russia, including Germany and The Netherlands, will be able to share the burden and come up with punitive actions that really hurt Putin, and, most important, that prevent the Russian president from doing what he is so good at: playing one EU country against another.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman