(CNN) The shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine may finally force Washington and Europe to wake up to the danger of the conflict there escalating into full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine.
This potential cataclysm has been inching closer to reality in the last week. The Ukrainian security council has said Russian weapons and troops have been crossing into Ukraine, and military aircraft from both sides have engaged each other. Documented videos purport to show artillery fire into Ukraine from the Russian side. On Sunday the Russian media went berserk with reports of the first casualty of a Russian civilian on the Russian side, from an artillery shot of disputed origin.
Former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told me Monday he was decidedly more pessimistic about the prospects for resolving this crisis than he was three months ago. As a veteran of international negotiations in 1999 on Kosovo and in 2003 on Iraq, he was perplexed as to why the international community was not trying harder to resolve the Ukraine crisis. Last weekend the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, met with Iran on its nuclear issue but failed to use that opportunity to discuss Ukraine seriously.
The Ukraine conflict urgently requires the most resolute and determined efforts to de-escalate before we reach a point no return. Washington should be focusing policy attention on strengthening Ukraine's capacity to defend its sovereignty, economically and physically; instead it has a misplaced obsession with using economic sanctions to punish Russia. The Obama administration and its critics on the right, such as Republican Sen. Bob Corker, contend that such sanctions will change Russian behavior, but there is not a shred of evidence to suggest this strategy would be effective. […]
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