25 years ago today the Berlin Wall fell, and the process of the reunification of Germany and Europe began. It’s a good time to look back at what happened, and what it meant for the continent. And with tensions high between the West and Russia, is the time of division really over? Continue reading
This week the Swedish navy has gone on full alert – looking for a Russian submarine. After sightings of a strange shape in waters near Stockholm, numerous ships have been combing the area searching for the vessel. Swedish suspicions have been strengthened by the fact that they allegedly overheard distress signals in Russian from somewhere in the area, followed by encoded messages from Russian’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. It’s another sign of tensions between Russia and the West, seeing as the exact same thing happened numerous times back in the Cold War. So what went on then? And is Russian now stepping up a ‘bad-neighbour’ policy? Continue reading
This is a terrible thing to say, but three weeks after a ceasefire was declared in Donbass it’s the way I’m feeling. While the ceasefire has ended the large scale fighting, there has been a slow trickle of casualties ever since, with seven Ukrainian soldiers killed on Monday. With the two sides as far apart as ever, I’m starting to think that the current situation is the worst possible one for the region. I know this needs some explaining, so here goes. Continue reading
On Friday a ceasefire was announced between the separatists and the Ukrainian government, meant to pave the way to talks between the two parties. While both sides indicated they would hold their fire, at the time of writing there had still been shelling near Mariupol and Donetsk Airport. However, more is going on behind the scenes, and this ceasefire shows just how much influence Vladimir Putin has over the war in the east. It also comes just as NATO announced serious changes in its relationship with Russia. So why has a ceasefire been reached now, and what was Putin’s role? Will it last? And how will relations change between Europe and its neighbour to the east? Continue reading
As I’m busy leading new students around the Hague for my university’s intro week, here are some more in-depth stories from this week that you may have missed.
While Putin maintains that there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, organisations of soldiers’ mothers say differently. While taking the side of the separatists is popular for now, will support start to drop off as bodies return across the border?
Documents released by the Guardian show that Australia is going to unbelievable lengths to get rid of its Syrian refugees, even coordinating with the Syrian consulate. The documents just go to show how intent the Australian government is on stopping the flow of refugees – even when that flow is far smaller than that of other countries.
This week the Chinese government announced that Hong Kong will not be able to choose its own leader in 2017. Instead, they will only be able to choose from pre-approved candidates – a move that will block pro-democracy candidates from running. The arrangement breaks from previous agreements, and shows Hong Kong’s fragile place in the ‘one country two systems’ framework.
This week Russia stepped up its involvement in Ukraine, apparently sending in Russian troops to open a new front in the war. The town of Novoazovsk, close to the Russian border, was smashed by Russian troops and the Ukrainian army sent fleeing towards Mariupol. The new and more open involvement in the conflict was accompanied today by President Putin calling for “talks on statehood for Eastern Ukraine”, a sign that he is not backing down. So is it certain that Russian forces are operating in Ukraine? What’s so new about this latest turn in the conflict? And why now?
As most people will have heard by now, on Thursday afternoon a Malaysian airlines flight was shot down over the conflict zone in Eastern Ukraine. All 295 on board died, including 154 Dutch citizens. While much is still unclear about the crash, there are still a number of points that can be made.
Who did it?
- The most likely cause is that the jet was shot down by pro-Russian separatists. They have shot down Ukrainian military planes before, including one carrying almost 50 soldiers. They also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, before deleting the posts.
- The Ukrainian army on the other hand has no reason to shoot at planes. The government would certainly not want this to happen, and it would be an unlikely accident as well. The separatists don’t use aircraft (certainly not at the high altitude MH17 was flying at) and the Ukrainians know which planes are in their airspace.
- It was however most likely a mistake. The separatists lack access to air control information or good radar, meaning that they probably had no idea what they were shooting at.
- It is extremely unlikely that either the Ukrainians, nor the separatists, nor the Russians would purposefully shoot down a commercial jet. It serves no purpose, and would be a horrific crime.
How did this happen?
- Commercial jets flying at these altitudes can’t be hit with handheld missiles, like have been uses before in the area. It would require a much bigger system, according to experts the Buk missile system. The Buk also requires trained men to launch it.
- The blame for this will land squarely at Russia’s feet. They have been encouraging the separatists in the Donetsk region and allowing Russian and Chechen ‘adventurers’ to cross the border and play at soldiers, with the sole purpose of creating chaos. They have also allowed all sorts of weapons to cross over, and the role their security services are playing is very murky. They are responsible for dragging Eastern Ukraine into war.
- The other question being asked is: What was MH17 doing there? It’s utterly bizarre that airlines were still flying a route that passes over militias with missiles. This will probably become a big issue.
- According to current reports, the black box is on its way to Moscow. With trust at an all time low, Western countries (especially the Netherlands) will loudly call for an independent investigation.
- This will destroy the separatists in the eyes of the world. If it’s fully proved they were responsible, they will have been shown to be trigger happy and careless. They don’t seem like freedom fighters, but more like violent and foolish adventurers.
- Russia will probably have to take a big step back from its support for the rebels. Backing militias shooting down jets will do terrible damage to their image on the world stage. Putin has already said that it’s the fault of the country whose airspace the plane was in, but he is the one heavily responsible for the violent condition of parts of that country.
With the news cycle moving fast, the attention will quickly focus on the political responses to the attack. Tonight though, the Netherlands especially is mourning the loss of 154 of its citizens. In such a small country, such a tragedy has a terrible impact. It can only be hoped that this disaster can open the eyes of those involved in the conflict, and bring it to a swift and just end.
To find out more about the conflict in Ukraine, click here.