Do not close the door on Russia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 3:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 8:51am

Russia faces being isolated by the West over its perceived unhelpfulness in investigating the downing by a missile of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. President Vladimir Putin's global standing had already been dented for supporting separatism in Ukraine and muzzling the free speech and the rights of sexual minorities in his country, for which there had been economic sanctions and diplomatic snubs. The US and European allies have toughened measures and Australian politicians are calling for the Russian leader to be barred from the G20 summit later this year. But such steps are dangerous and counterproductive; the world needs to be talking to Russia, not closing the door on it.

Few nations are as loathed in the West. A widespread belief is that Putin is trying to recreate the former Russian empire, Ukraine being a goal just as Georgia was in 2008. An opinion poll by the US-based Pew Research taken before the July 17 downing of MH17 showed almost three-quarters of Americans and Europeans held unfavourable views. Only in East Asia was support strong, with backing in China the highest at 66 per cent.

Russia may have been supporting separatists in Ukraine, but that does not mean it is behind the MH17 tragedy. Dutch calls for Putin's daughter to be kicked out of the country and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's suggestion that the president be prevented from attending the G20 summit in Brisbane in November are over-reactions made without conclusive evidence. Only through a thorough and impartial investigation can blame be determined and even then, given tampering with bodies and wreckage, that may be impossible. At the least, though, Russia has to fully cooperate.

The West needs Russia's help in resolving Syria's civil war, the continuing conflict in Afghanistan and curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Western Europe needs Russian oil and gas. Nor will isolating Russia help the MH17 inquiry. The world has common challenges and keeping all countries engaged, no matter what their standpoints, is necessary to resolve them.