The missile attack has brought home to the world the fact that Putin is not just Eastern Europe's problem (and who cares about them anyway...). In fact, he presents a threat to all nations. As well as the threat to civilian aircraft, he also has his sights on territorial expansion to, and perhaps across, NATO borders to the west. He has been and is corrupting Western European politicians, to the point where it is unclear where the foreign policy of certain Western European capitals is being written.
Russia is on the back foot now, however. She can no longer claim that the "separatists" (actually GRU-commanded militia) are somehow independent from her or are acting to "defend their families" . The focus of the World is once again on Eastern Ukraine.
There's a big chance here for the West. By offering Putin a graceful way out, the West could secure a cleaning-up of the map of Europe, with the massive security benefits that will accrue from it. By "cleaning up" I mean the removal of Russian forces & proxies not only from the Donbass, but also from other European territories illegally occupied by Russia - Crimea, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A "carrot" needs to be devised which Putin could show to his people as some form of success and to cover the losses of these forward military positions. Elements of this carrot could include
- The insertion of international peacekeepers to replace departing Russian troops and provide any protection the local population may think it needs.
- Providing a form of autonomy (including language rights) to the implicated regions (NB without giving the regions a veto over national political issues)
- Bringing Russia back into the G8 and other international bodies
- A promise to allow visa free entry to Europe once technical requirements had been met.
- The possibility of a free trade deal with the EU
Given the domestic political situation in Russia, however, such a carrot on its own may be insufficient to move Putin off his current belligerent course. He needs to understand that there is a very big stick out there which will be used if he doesn't quickly withdraw all Russian forces to behind Russia's internationally accepted borders. The stick could include elements such as
- Rapid NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, including the deployment of significant forces on their territories.
- Tough sectoral sanctions which would put the Russian economy into a depression.
- Publication of Putin's assets held around the world (this measure alone could lead to the Russian population rising up against him, once they realise how much he has stolen)
- Squeezing Transnistria out of existence (with political will this is possible)
In order to seize this historic opportunity we need, however, to see real leadership, a quality that is in deparate short supply among modern politicians. Where is the Churchill, the Lincoln or the Mandela of our time? Is Euromuddle all that we have to rely on? Will we leave Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as the only voice seriously holding the Russians to account?
Who will stand up for Europe and seize the opportunity this day presents?