Foreign Policy quotes Eurasia Center Director John Herbst and Transatlantic Relations Program Nonresident Senior Fellow Adrian Karatnycky on the role of pro-Russian rebels in downing a Malaysia Airlines plane near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia: 

Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow with the Transatlantic Relations Program at the Atlantic Council, said it “enhances the credibility of the United States” to say that the preliminary evidence points strongly to Russian involvement but then call for an international investigation to ascertain all the facts. (Obama said that he’d dispatched aviation crash scene experts from the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board to Ukraine and that they were standing by to lend assistance at the Ukrainian government’s request.)

“I don’t think this is a concession or a walking back or a sign of weakness,” Karatnycky said in a conference call Friday afternoon, July 18, shortly after Obama’s speech.

John Herbst, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine during George W. Bush’s administration, agreed that Obama shouldn’t be held to a timetable or rush to make an accusation that he might have to amend later. He noted that Bush officials waited for days after the 9/11 attacks to conclusively identify al Qaeda as the culprit.


Karatnycky said Putin has to make “a fateful choice” between continuing to supply the rebels with weapons and training and telling them to stand down while reducing his aid to the fighters. In recent weeks, new weapons have been spotted flowing into eastern Ukraine from Russia. But at the same time, Putin has been “preparing his people for a possible retreat,” said Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who noted that leading public figures in Moscow are now calling on Russia to stop supporting the rebel forces, criticism that Putin hasn’t tried to refute or silence.

Still, the analysts said that it would be dangerous for Europe and the United States to hold off on hammering Putin for what appears to be his clear responsibility, even if indirect, for the shoot-down. “A clear line needs to be drawn now so Putin realizes what he’s doing in Ukraine is not acceptable. And if the Europeans won’t do it, the United States can,” said Herbst. “We don’t want revisionist powers to think that they can take territories … without punishment.”

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Related Experts: Adrian Karatnycky and John E. Herbst