Friday Thoughts

There are at least two big stories that continue to percolate along today and that have been going on for some time.  One is a mystery and one is an old story that I hope does not repeat itself.

A Modern Mystery

Like some mystery in a movie or an episode of “Lost” the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues with rampant speculation coming from every source, but with no resolution of the fate of the 239 people on board.  You have undoubtedly seen the news reports that lead one to believe that no one knows what happened to the Boeing 777 airliner — an aircraft with an exemplary safety record — and  thus no one is sure exactly where to look.

Several things come to mind.

  • The world is not as interconnected as everyone thinks.
  • It is not possible to survey every bit of the world at every moment watching for everything, unlike popular belief.  Satellites have to be focused on particular locations and tasked to look for particular events.
  • The ocean is vast and holds its secrets dear.  Those of us that have spent time at sea know that it is an unforgiving place and even a jet liner can get swallowed up.

None-the-less, it is amazing that after seven days no sign of it has appeared.  If it crashed into the jungle of Malaysia or elsewhere, it is not surprising that it has yet to be found.  The jungle can be as unforgiving as the ocean for those unprepared and without guidance.

The one thing that is clear is that the fun of speculating on what happened, ranging from the aircraft being lost at sea to being abducted by aliens, is not so humorous in comparison to the fate of those on board and the feelings of frustration and loss of those family and friends that need to know answers.

Get Ready Ukraine

The part of Ukraine that has been taken over by Russian sailors and troops — the Crimea — is scheduled to hold a referendum to vote on re-joining Russia (it became a part of Ukraine in 1954).  Incredibly, Russia continues to deny that Russian forces are deployed in Crimea and in fact, according to news reports earlier this week, Russian television continues to broadcast that armed gangs are roaming Kiev (the capital) killing pro-Russian sympathizers and that the U.S. 82nd Airborne has deployed to keep what they call the illegal regime in power in Kiev.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Given his KGB background, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not above creating an “incident” in the eastern part of Ukraine as an excuse to move troops into that part of the country.  Indeed just today the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, reiterating Putin’s earlier claim, that Russia is prepared to invade eastern Ukraine to protect “compatriots” and “fellow citizens.”  Yesterday protests in the eastern city of Donetsk left one protester dead, an incident specifically mentioned by the Russian Foreign Ministry in their statement.  Anti-Moscow protesters claim that the dead man was actually from their group.  The details will be unimportant for Putin, indeed there don’t need to be any actual details, for him to act.

It is unclear whether Russia will actually annex Crimea — in fact they don’t have to formally do so to have de facto control — although the Russian Duma or Parliament, has already passed a resolution allowing it.

Once the referendum is complete and the Crimean vote (fair or not) is for leaving Ukraine, stand by for the next round of events involving the rest of Ukraine.  Although Russian forces are currently holding “exercises” on the border with the rest of Ukraine, it is unclear whether Putin will decide to invade.  Only he knows for sure.  However, if I lived in Ukraine, I would expect and plan that he will do so sometime in the next few weeks following increased tensions and a series of incidents (probably manufactured, certainly presented as a major threat).

Why is this important to us?  This will be the first time in Europe since World War II that one country has annexed territory from another.  Following the events in Georgia in 2008 (where there was no contest but Putin learned that his troops were not as effective as they needed to be and thus embarked on a program to improve their training and equipment), events in Ukraine become part of a pattern.  Where will it stop if not here?  The impact of Russia annexing part or all of Ukraine will have profound effects on the rest of Europe, but most especially on those former Soviet republics that border Russia.

Initial efforts to impose political and economic consequences on Russia have been minimal.  The US is working to build an international consensus and that takes time, especially since many nations not directly on the Russian border are taking a wait and see approach to determine whether the annexation takes place and whether further Russian encroachment takes place.

The international community must take action now to make the risks apparent to Putin, in a meaningful way that keeps him in his box.  If the world does not deal with him now, it most certainly will have to deal with him later when the stakes are likely to be higher.