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Last Thursday, a Malaysian airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers.The victims came from 11 countries. The U.S. now believes the plane was shot down by a missile fired from Russian-backed, pro-Russian separatist rebels at war with the Ukraine government. Both Russia and the rebels have denied shooting down the plane. At the crash site, there is growing concern over the integrity of evidence and the bodies of the victims, which are being strictly controlled by the rebels. Diane and guests update the Malaysian airline crash investigation, world outrage and the escalating global crisis.
- Jim Sciutto chief national security correspondent, CNN.
- Ambassador Nicholas Burns politics professor, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and senior foreign affairs columnist, Global Post; former under secretary of state (2005-08) and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001-05)
- Eric Schmitt terrorism correspondent, The New York Times.
- Kathryn Stoner Senior Fellow, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University; author of "Resisting the State: Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S. officials now believe Russia supplied the missile to separatist rebels that shot down a Malaysian airliner last week. The crash killed nearly 300 people from 11 different nations. Joining me to talk about the latest developments in the investigation, as well as world outrage over the tragedy, Eric Schmitt of The New York Times and Jim Sciutto of CNN.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Westport, Mass., former U.S. Amb. Nicholas Burns, and, from Palo Alto, Calif., Stanford University Prof. Karen (sic) Stoner. I'm sure many of you will want to weigh in during the discussion. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for joining us.
MR. ERIC SCHMITTGreat to be here.
MR. JIM SCIUTTOThank you.
MR. NICHOLAS BURNSThank you.
MS. KATHRYN STONERThank you.
REHMEric Schmitt, let me start with you. What do we know so far about who shot this plane down and how certain can we be?
SCHMITTWell, American intelligence agencies are fairly certain that this, as you mentioned in the introduction, was an SA-11 missile supplied to the Russian-backed separatists by Russia. These are separatists that were trained by Russians inside of Russia. And these missiles had been transferred across the border into eastern Ukraine sometime in the last week. What we still don't know is exactly who pulled the trigger and who directed that, Diane.
REHMJim Sciutto, is there actually evidence that Russians may have been at the trigger site?
SCIUTTOThere's no hard evidence that Russia was at the trigger site, pulled the trigger. There is mounting evidence that Russia, one, as Eric said, supplied the weapon systems and, two, trained Ukrainians to fire them. Whether they took the step of actually firing them or were present when they fired them, that's not conclusive yet.
REHMAnd Amb. Burns, Secretary Kerry called his counterpart in Russia over the weekend. What came out of that discussion?
BURNSWell, Kerry has taken the offensive, Secretary Kerry. He was on the network news shows yesterday saying that Russia supplied and trained the rebels with the SA-11 anti-aircraft missile system. He was very forthright in laying the blame, responsibility on the doorstep of the Russian government as well as the rebels. This produces a further deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.
BURNSAnd I think, Diane, it sets up a dramatic encounter this week with the European Union because the E.U. has a very important foreign ministers' meeting tomorrow. They've got to now decide whether they'll agree with the United States to go forward with major sectoral sanctions against the Russian government. The European nations have avoided that for the last three months because they're so tied into the Russian economy, but this is a game-changer.
REHMKathryn Stoner, you've spent lots of time in Russia and Ukraine. How surprised were you about what happened Malaysia Flight 17?
STONERI was surprised that they struck a civilian airliner. But, as soon as they did, unfortunately, my conclusion was that it was a mistake and it was not an intentional firing on a civilian airliner. But I think what we're seeing now is an attempt to cover up what happened by withdrawing messages from social media quickly and, I think, bafflement as to what to do. These aren't particularly sophisticated guys on the ground, and I think this partially explains the delay in allowing access to the site.
REHMWell, that's a fascinating point you've just made. Could the pro-separatists have actually figured out how to use this kind of sophisticated weaponry without Russian training?
STONERSomebody trained them. You don't just walk into an SA-11 and -- launcher and -- or Buk as they call it -- and figure out -- push a button. It takes -- my understanding is up to about six months of training. So a couple of different hypotheses from friends of mine who've been on the ground in the last three or four days there, one is that it came from Crimea. And so it's Russian and possibly came across the border. And Crimea, such as it is, it's not a real border by international standards.
STONERThe Russians already have Crimea. They took that in March. The other possibility -- and this is what Secretary Kerry was referring to yesterday -- is about a week and a half ago, the United States saw, by satellite, I guess, about 150 vehicles coming across the eastern border of Ukraine between Russia and Ukraine. And among those vehicles were several Buks. So the question then becomes, who helped them launch it or actually pushed the button?
STONERAnd it's probably Russian military, either from Crimea and the bases there, or Russian military from southern Russia coming across the border. And then a third possibility is some of the leaders of this movement of rebels have served in the Russian military for years and would've also served in several other hotspots, including Afghanistan, and so might have known how to do it.
REHMSo, Nick Burns, in your mind, how much responsibility does President Putin bear for what's happened here?
BURNSHe bears considerable responsibility for what's happened. I agree very much that it doesn't stand to reason that the Russian separatists would have consciously downed a civilian airliner. They had been shooting at Ukrainian Antonovs, at military aircraft. They'd taken a couple down, as well as helicopters, and this was certainly an upgrade in their capacity from the Russian government, delivered to them.
BURNSPresident Putin has the ability, as Amb. Samantha Powers said in a Security Council debate on Friday, to end this conflict if he wishes to. He's choosing not to because he wishes to divide the Ukrainian state and government. He wants to weaken the Ukrainian government. He wants to effectively control parts of Eastern Ukraine. So does he have responsibility? He certainly does have responsibility. That's why you're going to see the Obama administration go after him this week in trying to convince the Europeans to agree to these tougher sanctions.
REHMAnd more on the downing of the plane, Eric Schmitt. What about these recorded conversations we heard apparently between rebel sources?
SCHMITTThis was one of the first important pieces of information, Diane, forensic information that directly linked the separatists to this downing. Now, initially, there was some concern whether this could've been propaganda created by the Ukrainian government itself. But American intelligence agencies now have verified their authenticity, and this gives some insight. And there were conversations that took place right after this downing took place, so, again, one more link of these separatists to the actual event.
REHMAnd what were those conversations translated like?
SCHMITTThey were basically discussing what had happened, and this is a downed aircraft. And what do we do now? So it's very serious in that, again, I agree with Nick and the colleagues here, this was probably not deliberate. They had been targeting aircraft that had been flying at lower altitudes, but you're looking at a rushed, probably, operation. They did receive some training, but this shows the lack of professionalism on the part of these rebels where they're looking at anything coming across their airspace -- to them, it looks it had a similar signature to the military transport planes that they'd fired on earlier in the week and downed, and thus the tragedy ensues.
REHMWould that indicate that no Russian expert was present at the pulling of the trigger?
SCHMITTNot necessarily, not necessarily. That's, of course, what American intelligence agencies are now focused on is to see what degree of what the military calls command and control they had on the actual shooting down, or did they basically train them, leave it up to them at that point. It's hard to imagine the Russians were more than just a few steps away, though, whether literally or figuratively, in watching and monitoring what was going on with their system.
REHMAnd, Jim Sciutto, one of the rebel leaders this morning said that, in fact, they have the black boxes, but they refuse to give them to Ukrainian officials.
SCIUTTOThese are remarkable conditions. This is an incredibly sensitive crash site. You need investigators there immediately. It's already been four days. And not just the black boxes are under, you know, an argument now, under debate, but even the bodies. They're negotiating over bodies, which is just horrible for the families, but also an enormous challenge to the investigators who need to examine the bodies for the evidence they need to gather to firmly establish who took this plane down.
SCIUTTOThat site is compromised. We talked over the weekend with former NTSB investigator who described what you normally do with a site and what you're seeing here, and it's just two different worlds. And she made the point that, in the Lockerbie crash, the Pan Am flight that went down there, it was thumbnail piece size of evidence that led them to the bomb device, the explosive device in that plane that made all the difference in the world.
SCIUTTONow, you look at all the people, the journalists, the pro-Russian rebels who are poring over this site now taking bodies away, pieces of wreckage, et cetera, that poses enormous challenges to get to this comprehensive investigation that you need.
REHMEric Schmitt, just before -- just days before the plane was shot down, the U.S. announced a tougher set of sanctions against Russia. What about the transfer of these surface-to-air missiles to the rebels in Eastern Ukraine?
SCHMITTWell, I think this is going to bolster the call for further sanctions that the United States no doubt will be making in the coming days, as to Nick's point. This is a serious violation, obviously, if they're transferring weapons across border like this. And to have them not only down Ukrainian aircraft, which the U.S. intelligence was very persuaded by even before, but to take down a civilian airliner, obviously now has most of the world focused on pressuring Russia and pressuring Putin in particular.
REHMEric Schmitt of New York Times, Jim Sciutto of CNN, Nicholas Burns, politics professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Kathryn Stoner -- she's professor at Stanford University. Short break here, more conversation, your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the downing of the Malaysian plane over Ukraine. Lots of finger-pointing going on. We have four guests with us today. Kathryn Stoner is at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. She's author of "Resisting the State: Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia." She joins us from Menlo Park, Calif.
REHMFrom Westport, Mass., Nicholas Burns. He's at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, former undersecretary of state from 2005 to 2008 and former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Jim Sciutto is chief national security correspondent for CNN. Eric Schmitt is terrorism correspondent for The New York Times. And during the break, we were talking about the number of people who questioned why that Malaysian flight was going over Ukraine in the first place. How do you respond, Jim Sciutto?
SCIUTTOIt's a fair question. Malaysian Airline didn't break any rules. There were no bans on it flying over Eastern Ukraine, although some airlines had already made the decision to avoid it. Just before the flight though, regulators -- safety regulators had set a safety zone minimum altitude of 31 or 32,000', this flight at 33,000'. I don't know about you, but as a flier that's not a comfortable enough margin of error for me.
SCIUTTOBut in addition to that, what we learned yesterday is that Ukrainian forces have shot down not three or four planes in the last several weeks, but 12 of them. We know that since this crash went down that U.S. defense officials say they knew that these rebels had this surface-to-air missile technology with an ability to hit at high altitudes. In light of that evidence and that intelligence, why wasn't a decision made by regulators to say, you know what, let's stay away from this area. This is cutting it too close. And I think that's a real question going forward.
REHMHow would you respond, Eric Schmitt? What is the White House saying about that?
SCHMITTWell, the White House is passing all those kind of questions on to the FAA. The FAA is saying it can't respond right now. A lot of these decisions are left up to international airlines. And indeed, as Jim said, many of these airlines took these precautions on their own, flying around a battle zone.
SCHMITTI mean, to be sure, once the United States was aware that there were surface-to-air missiles that could fire well beyond that flight -- and these missiles we're talking about go up to 72,000 feet now -- there should've been some kind of warning that went out to airlines internationally to say, beware of this kind of danger because you don't know who's operating, particularly after the Monday shoot down of the transport plane where it looked like you had a large military aircraft that you -- while it was flying at the same altitude, a little over 20,000 feet, now we're well above the shoulder-fire type missiles that the rebels had on their own.
REHMKathryn Stoner, should there have been a warning about the area?
STONERIt seems as though there should be. I'm not an expert on aviation by any stretch of the imagination, but it does seem as though there should've been some sort of warning. And several airlines did choose to go around the battle zone. I think the problem though is that it wasn't clear to everyone that the rebels had more than shoulder-fire missiles. And the information may have been only a day or two old in terms of actually having the Buk missiles. But, you know, if -- even a day or two that was ample time to warn airlines for sure.
REHMAnd we are now told that President Obama is going to speak at 10:50. We'll keep you informed as the program goes on. Nick Burns, the question of whether the United Nations may get involved here, what do you see happening? And to what extent might that not only deal with problems on the ground but also with this battle between Ukrainian rebels and the government of Ukraine?
BURNSWell, there is a U.N. Security Council meeting today. And there'll be a revolution -- resolution table by the Europeans to condemn the downing of the airliner. Of course, in these matters the key question will be the specific language. You can be sure that Russia, which exercises a veto at the council, will veto any resolution that implicitly or certainly explicitly condemns the separatists or the Russian government. So I don't think we can expect much from the United Nations.
BURNSBut the effort by the Europeans and the U.S. will be to expose the lies of the Russian government. And I can't put it another way, Diane. This is a regime in Moscow that doesn't tell the truth to its own people. It's been lying about the involvement of the Russian military in delivering military technology to these separatists and actively aiding them. And we should not expect that Putin is going to turn on a dime this week and begin to tell the truth. So there's a massive denial here.
BURNSAnd what President Obama has to do at 10:50 this morning and in the coming days is to expose Putin for what has happened here and try to exact some level of punishment. And that's going to be very difficult because the Europeans have not shown much courage until now. But with the number of dead and it's so tragic among the Dutch especially, you're going to see more pressure from the Netherlands, from the United Kingdom and I think from France.
BURNSThe key figure, Diane, is going to be Angela Merkel. She is the most powerful leader. And her economy is more intertwined with the Russian economy than anyone else's in Europe. So she's at central stage.
REHMNick, you mentioned what the Russian press is doing. What are they telling the Russian people, Jim Sciutto?
SCIUTTOYou'd be amazed. I think our listeners would be amazed. There was even a story after this plane went down circulating in Russian media that this was actually an attempt on Vladimir Putin's life, that his plane was traveling in the area around the same time and that maybe the Ukrainians were trying to shoot him down. They even posted pictures on Russian news websites showing the similarity and the colors on Vladimir Putin's version of Air Force One and a Malaysian Airliner.
SCIUTTOI mean, this is the kind of propaganda that passes for news on the Russian media, but it has a real effect because, you know, it makes the Russian people absolve their government of any responsibility as well. Although it was interesting, a reporter in Moscow told us that at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow she saw a lot of flowers being placed by Russians. And some of the notes on the flowers said, "forgive us." So even in the midst of this, there are people who -- inside Russia who may think differently.
REHMAnd that is a question, Kathryn Stoner, to what extent will the Russian people themselves buy the idea that in fact Putin's plane was targeted?
STONERIt -- the way it's been presented it's not as outlandish as it sounds. He was coming back from his Latin American tour, and so the plane was in the area at around the same time. It's -- you know, most Russians get their news from the television. The television is state-run. You know, only about 10 percent get their news from online sources. So, you know, most people I think will think that that's quite plausible, even people I would say are, you know, "reasonable Russians."
STONERBut he has a -- he also has -- because he controls the media and also because he -- you know, there's this constant feed of an economic miracle that he has helped Russia go through over the last 14 or so years. He has tremendous popular support. I mean, it's real support. I've been there a couple of times during presidential elections, and, you know, you really start believing it after a while. You kind of want to vote for him, too.
STONERAnd there is no real alternative. So I did notice that this morning, though at 1:40 a.m., apparently, he put out a video statement saying -- not admitting any kind of culpability but saying Russia will do everything it can to shift the conflict in Eastern Ukraine from today's military stage to the stage of discussion at the negotiating table.
REHMNow, that's an interesting statement, Eric Schmitt.
SCHMITTWe may be starting to see the pressure that's being applied on Putin right now, when you have this kind of international resolve that hasn't been there before, not even any regard and certainly during Crimea and up until now the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. I mean, this narrative that Kathryn talks about playing out in Russia has gone on -- is very popular right now and has gone on basically without a whole lot of international condemnation. This is changing everything, and it's coming under putting Putin under a lot of personal pressure, which he hasn't faced up to this point.
REHMAnd, Nick Burns, David Ignatius was on this program on Friday. He said this downing of this Malaysian plane could in fact leave Putin to step back from the brink, that he may see this as having gone farther than even he wants it to go.
BURNSWell, forgive me for being skeptical, but Putin's entire behavior since the annexation of Crimea has been to say one thing and do another. So today, as Kathryn said, he says he wants a full bore international investigation, which he has not produced over the last couple of days because the separatists have prevented the international authorities from the crime scene, as Eric and Jim have talked about.
BURNSSo, you know, he's a KGB officer. His motive of operation is to act covertly. That's why he's been supporting these separatists. I don't see him changing in that, Diane. He'll talk a good game internationally. He'll say he wants to contribute to a resolution of this crisis, but his strategic game is to neutralize the Ukrainian government and effectively arrest control of Eastern Ukraine from them. I don't see him deviating from that.
REHMBut if, in fact, Russia is found to have been involved and Russia missiles were used to shoot down this plane, what is the next step for the U.S., and what do you see President Obama saying?
BURNSThe president's going to attempt to mold a big international coalition to expose what happened to make sure that Russia is held accountable in public opinion, the court of public opinion. You'll see the United States push the European Union harder than it ever has in the last three months to agree to big sectoral sanctions. What does that mean? It means that the European Union will begin to sanction itself Russian financial institutions and prevent the export of manufactured products from Europe to the Russian economy.
BURNSRussia is an economy that requires capital investment. It requires trade. It can't live in isolation. The Europeans of course are hooked on Russian natural gas and on their own exports to Russia. This will be a big step. I don't see how Angela Merkel and the E.U. can avoid this. I think that'll be the centerpiece of the American effort.
REHMBut, Kathryn Stoner, if we go too far. aren't there risks to the Russian economy itself?
STONERSure. So there are some different shades of gray here. too. The Russian economy's not doing very well right now. In fact, we thought last quarter it may have slipped into recession. It's certainly hovering around there. It was -- so it's gone from, you know, growing on average seven to 8 percent a year from 2000 to 2008 to maybe .5 percent this year.
STONEROur most recent round of sanctions have, I think, caused some division within the Russian power structures and elite. And so I think what you're starting to see is billionaires on one side who are very concerned about the effect -- the sanctions the United States announced a day before the plane went down versus social -- some security apparatus.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Eric Schmitt, all of this comes down to, what we can learn from that site, and has it been determined who is going to be in charge of that investigation?
SCHMITTNo, and that's the problem. Jim described it quite well. It's a very chaotic situation right now. Had this involved in a perfect setting you would've had investigators cordon off the scene, you would've had removal of the bodies watching for evidence there. The most important Pentagon officials tell me, they would be looking for the fragments of this missile, the telltale signs of what it is. That will take it back to specific launchers, specific units. They can then trace right now.
SCHMITTThey would also look much more carefully at the aircraft itself. The way this missile works is you have a warhead that explodes a certain distance from the plane itself. And it's the concussive force along with this massive amount of shrapnel that brings down the plane. All those are pieces of evidence. They're scattered over tens of square miles right now that, as Jim pointed out, has now been compromised. Much of this evidence has been destroyed, has been taken away. It's going to be very difficult to piece this one together.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones now. Let's go first to Vinda (sp?) in Chapel Hill, N.C. You're on the air.
VINDAToday's Frankfurter Allgemeine, a major German paper, quoted Germany's minister for Russian affairs -- his name is Gurneth Ehrler (sp?)-- on a radio interview. And he expressed disgust (unintelligible) separatists handling of the crash site and victims. He said Russia's repeated verbal commitments, statements followed by lack of action are a provocation. He used that very word.
VINDAAnd he stated that if sanctions were applied to "certain large corporations in Russia," the economic effect would be felt throughout the whole economy down to the -- each individual. So my questions are -- there seems to be a pressure regarding crash site and victim handling. Do you agree? And, number two, might this indicate a possibly more -- a possible more general change in the German government's attitude?
VINDAAnd is this an opening despite countervailing public and business opinion?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Nick Burns, why don't you take the second part first?
BURNSWell, I think this may be a case, Diane -- this is a very good question -- of public opinion now in Europe beginning to push their government. If you reviewed the European press over the weekend, there was -- and legitimately -- outrage at what has happened, particularly the fact that the competent international authorities can't get to the remains of the victims. You see Putin reacting to that this morning. He phoned Angela Merkel, and he tried to phone the Dutch prime minister. He's trying to head off these major sanctions. I think the Europeans will be pushed into it.
SCIUTTOWell, you've already seen some signs. You had the British Prime Minister David Cameron write a very strongly worded op-ed saying -- and saying that this may be the time, in his words, for a fundamental change in the way Europe handled Russia. And in the op-ed, he said that, you know, we're prepared to pay the economic costs of that. You also heard...
REHMWhich are huge.
SCIUTTOWhich are enormous for the U.K. Listen, Russia owns half of London. The Dutch prime minister, as well, referenced the possibility of economic sanctions going forward. For the Dutch, Russia's their third biggest trading partner. They have a huge economic stake. So I think you are seeing a public -- you know, change in public opinion. The question is, do European leaders come to consensus -- always difficult -- and do they follow through on real economic sanctions which they're going to bear the cost for as well?
REHMWhere will the Europeans get their fuel oil if it's not coming from Russia?
SCIUTTOIt's got to come from Russia. It's going to take years for Europe to come off the addiction to Russian natural gas. You can change things gradually over time, but that's not going to change immediately.
REHMJim Sciutto of CNN. More of your calls, your email when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the downing of the Malaysian airliner -- civilian airliner over Ukraine, the resulting nearly 300 deaths. Prime Minister David Cameron is now delivering remarks to Parliament, demanding uninhibited access to the crash site for international inspectors. President Obama is expected to speak at 10:50. And, Kathryn Stoner, I know you wanted to talk a little more about the issue of sanctions having been put into place by the U.S. the day before -- pardon me -- the plane came down.
STONERYeah. So we've been -- the United States has been progressively ramping up the heat on Russia. And so the sanctions -- there's some irony unfortunately to this -- that went into effect were our third round of sanctions. And they went into -- they were announced July 16, so we haven't seen the effect yet of this on the Russian economy. But these are our farthest-ranging sanctions so far, and this could encourage the Europeans also to go farther -- not just the downing of the plane, but also the fact that we've gone so much farther.
STONERSo the sanctions actually targeted two huge banks in Russia. One is Gazprombank, which is the equity arm of Gazprom, and Vneshprombank, which is the international-development trade bank from Russia. And it's almost effectively cut off these banks from getting longer-term debt on U.S. markets.
STONERBloomberg is saying it's effectively cut off them dealing in U.S. dollars. I don't know if it'll go that far. Also we sanctioned Novatek, which is Russia's largest producer of natural gas, and Rosneft, which is their largest oil producer. They've also been prohibited from getting new debt on U.S. markets with more than 90 days security.
REHMSo all huge, huge effects. And you...
STONERYes. Huge effects on their economy, and, as I mentioned before the break, the economy's already in trouble.
STONERAnd it's largely dependent on oil revenue import -- exports in particular.
REHMAnd, Nick Burns, a number of people are wondering about President Obama's overall handling of foreign policy and of flexibility to Putin. Richard in Michigan wants to know how much of this Ukraine mess can't be traced to the American president, early in his current term, promising flexibility to Putin.
BURNSWell, I think, Diane, objectively it would be very unfair to President Obama to lay any of the blame for the Ukraine crisis at his doorstep. I think, from the very beginning, he's had the right attitude in my judgment. There's no possibility of the U.S. reacting to make this into a military crisis between Russia and the United States or Russia and NATO over Ukraine. So we've taken away, quite properly, any threat of U.S. military intervention. So what's the president trying to do? The way, as Kathryn said, he can have an impact on Putin is to strike at the Russian economy.
BURNSThe problem the president has had is in mobilizing the Europeans because, while it's true that the U.S. sanctions announced last week are significant, they were not accompanied last week by courageous European sanctions. So the president's real difficulty here, Diane, is to be the leader of the Western Alliance, convince the Europeans they must go along. That's where he's had difficulty.
BURNSThat's why I think you're seeing the White House make a bigger play this week, with the president out on television this morning and with very active diplomacy ahead, to convince the Europeans -- force the Europeans to go along because, if they go along, the economic impact is far greater than the U.S. acting alone.
REHMAll right. Here's a question from Rujero. (sp?) He says, "Russian media reported that Ukrainian traffic control had changed the Malaysia airliner's route to go over the battlegrounds of eastern Ukraine. If this proves true, it could be a cynical gamble on the eventuality of a violent incident to cash in on Western sympathy for the Ukrainian cause." Jim Sciutto.
SCIUTTOIt's a stretch. And to be fair, a number of other flights were flying that same route. Some airlines had decided not to. A number of flights were -- you know, this is the land of the conspiracy theory. It's just very thin when you think of all the evidence on the other side that shows that Russia was sending weapons to these troops. And even if it was not deliberate, that, you know, bears responsibility for putting very powerful weapons in the hands of people you can't control.
REHMAll right. To Gregory in Triangle, Va. You're on the air. Bruce, are you there?
BRUCEYes, ma'am. Thank you for your time. I've been gathering out of this conversation that the economic sanctions are moving forward, but I don't think they're moving forward fast enough. And obviously economics or political diplomacy is the only route. But every time that we don't come down hard on this situation, it -- all it does is empower this man more. He's taken lying to an art form.
BRUCEAnd I wish somebody would explain to me when the Russian people are finally going to come out of the 17th Century with this them-versus-us mentality. The billions of dollars and billions of gallons of fuel spent through the Cold War provided -- did absolutely nothing. And here we're taking another round at it, which...
BRUCE...I think these people need to come into the real world.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Nick Burns.
BURNSWell, I agree with the caller that sanctions have not proceeded fast enough. And, Diane, I think, again, there's been a general criticism of President Obama that he hasn't been as assertive on the Ukraine crisis, on the Syria crisis, on the South-China-Sea crisis with China, as he might have. Here's an opportunity for the president to do that. He has been to Brussels twice since the annexation of Crimea by Putin, just in the last three months.
BURNSAnd he's not convened NATO leadership meetings, as I think other administrations, other Democratic and Republican leaders, might have done. Here's an opportunity for the president to do that. There's a big NATO summit coming up in Wales in early September. I think the White House has become convinced -- I think the president has probably become convinced that he does need to take center stage and lead the West in these sanctions.
REHMAll right. To Lameen in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
LAMEENHi. Good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
LAMEENI now have more or less a comment instead of a question.
LAMEENAnd I'll be interested to hear what your panelists have to say about that. I think, honestly, I think that international community -- and I don't want to sound like a doomsayer here. But I think the international community in a really pretty bad shape during which (unintelligible). The reason I said that is because, his public rating back home is still very high.
LAMEENAnd your last caller mentioned the fact that sanctions have not been happening fast enough. But I think it has not been happening fast enough and not hard enough either. And I think the war is playing with fire here to let you go too far to the extent that we cannot retract that. And in a sense, he could pretty much feel like, OK, I am unstoppable now, and I can pretty much do whatever I want.
SCHMITTWell, I think the caller accurately sums up what we've been discussing this morning. That is that there hasn't been the focus right now on sanctions there has been and that there is now an opportunity. Things have changed. To shoot down a civilian airliner and kill nearly 300 people over the heart of Europe is a dramatic act. I think another thing to watch is what the American people do in this. There was a new poll out in Politico today that talked about Americans not wanting to get involved in foreign conflicts or foreign intervention, no doubt a war-weary nation after 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SCHMITTThis poll was taken before the shoot-down of the Malaysian airline. But it'll be interesting to see how the American public awake to this. These are obviously people who'll be maybe traveling on their own summer vacations, flying over Europe, and maybe having, you know, thinking again about the threats that are beneath them, even if it's in Europe.
REHMJim Sciutto, what's happened to the bodies so far?
SCIUTTOStill under negotiation. They've finally, in the last 24 hours, been collected and put on refrigerated trains but then taken to cities controlled by the pro-Russian rebels. And so you find that investigators -- and not just investigators, but consular officers who are there to provide a service to the families of the victims still under negotiation as to when they get access to these bodies.
SCIUTTOWe're just hearing today that finally Dutch investigators have been able to at least visit some of these places to begin to examine the bodies. But remember, you know, this is something that should have started four days ago, under tremendous control and so on. And it's happening piecemeal. Everything's the subject of a negotiation. It is far -- very far from an ideal situation for a proper investigation.
REHMKathryn Stoner, I know you want to jump in.
STONERYeah, I wanted to get back to the sanctions point as well and also talk about why it is that the rebels might be wanting to limit access to the site and to the bodies. Beyond just their being inhumane, there's probably a broader motivation for that. And I think it's that, once you allow investigators in to see what has happened and signs of shrapnel that we mentioned earlier, then gradually you start tugging on that string of investigation, and a whole line of culpability is produced. And we can squarely point the finger at the person who effectively hit the trigger and who supplied the weapon. So that's one issue.
STONERThe second is regarding sanctions. You know, they're always a blunt tool. And it's going to take a long time. Sanctions don't work in a week, they don't work in five days. But one thing I think that we have here with Russia is that the economy is so vulnerable. It is so dependent on really a single revenue stream.
STONERAnd if you look at GDP since 2000, when the Russian economy really began to recover from the shock of the collapse of the Soviet Union and then the reforms of the 1990s, you could see that the GDP line follows in lockstep with the price of crude oil. So, you know, by sanctioning Rosneft, by sanctioning Gazprom, we're producing some pretty negative effects on the Russian economy that'll eventually trickle down, I think, to the individual on the ground.
REHMAll right. To Chandra (sp?) in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.
CHANDRAGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
CHANDRAThe panel there answered my question about European nations getting cheap gas from Russia, and they did not know how to react to this situation. However, my big fear is these kind of incidents, which are aggression, they're not an accident -- these kind of incidents tend to get played in people's minds for a week or two and tend to move on. And somehow we're going to let them go as collateral incidents and for the greater good of the economy by generally talking about a mere sanctions-type punishment. This reminds me of, like, this too-big-to-fail kind of attitude among the world citizens and not taking these things serious.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Eric Schmitt, our caller raised the word accident. Do you believe what happened was an accident?
SCHMITTI believe it's an accident in the sense that I don't believe these -- those who fired on this plane knew it was an airliner, a domestic airliner. In other words, it wasn't as if a terrorist organization was trying to down a Western aircraft, or a Malaysian aircraft in this case. I think it saw a plane that had a similar signature on its fire-control radar. It looked similar to the Ukrainian planes they'd been shooting down over the last week or so. And I think, because of the sloppy procedures, perhaps lack of control over what was going on, they took a shot, thinking they were going to impose some more fear and punishment on the Ukrainian folks.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And his other question, is all this going to simply go away in a couple of weeks, Jim Sciutto?
SCIUTTOWell, I think that for the Dutch, who lost 189 people, for the fact that this happened in the middle of Europe and a number of nationalities, a number of countries, 12 lost citizens on this flight, I think this one will last because of proximity. But Chandra does raise a good point about a mismatch here. This is murder in the skies over Europe of civilians unrelated to the conflict.
SCIUTTOAnd it does raise the question, are pinprick surgical sanctions, you know, is that all that the international community can muster? I'll bet you Vladimir Putin has made a bet that that may be the case. And this is a challenge, as Nick and Kathryn have said, to whether the U.S. and whether the European community can come together to deliver a real response.
BURNSThis ought to be different. Too often in the past, the Europeans especially have forgiven and forgotten. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, within six months, they were back to business as usual. But this has to be different with 298 people dead, civilians dead, in part because the Russian government was arming those rebels. And that's the challenge for the president of the United States to keep this issue at the center of international conversations.
REHMSo from your perspective, Nick Burns, what is the most important positive outcome from this tragedy that could occur?
BURNSWell, I think to expose -- for everyone around the world to see the cynicism of the Russian government in dividing a country, Ukraine, and stoking warfare. And if anything can come out of this, it's to expose that, to take action, to push back against the Russian economically, which is what Putin cares about. He doesn't care about -- forgive me, Eric -- New York Times editorials. He cares about his bottom line, his economy. And that's why the president, who I think is speaking right now, is going to have to focus on that issue.
STONERYeah, I was going to say also that I do think that we're starting to see some effects on the ground in Russia, in terms of people closing down operations or people having, you know, less access to credit and to loans. This is gradually going to hit the economy, I think, over the next few months in particular quite badly.
STONERAnd if we think back a little bit on Russia and Russian politics, which I always do, it, you know, one of the things that Mr. Putin fears the most is his own street. And he's really -- I was talking to a few Russian friends of mine last night. You know, since 2012, when he's come back into office as president, he's really cracked down on civil society organizations, any form of protest.
STONERAnd this is his big fear. So, you know, by hitting the economy, we're really hitting him where he lives and at the basis of his support among the Russian people.
REHMKathryn Stoner of Stanford University, Nick Burns of Harvard University, Jim Sciutto of CNN, Eric Schmitt of The New York Times, and we are still awaiting President Obama. Thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight and Allison Brody. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington D.C. This is NPR.
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