A member of a local militia guards remnants of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron calls for more sanctions on Russia after the MH17 crash

The PM has spoken to Putin about Russia's role in the Malaysian Airlines crash, and is urging his EU allies to impose harsher sanctions on Russia.

Over the weekend, both Britain and the US decided it was highly likely the Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in east Ukraine was brought down by pro-Russian separatists.

In light of this, David Cameron spoke to the Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday evening, urging him to allow international access to the site of the crash. At present, the rebels controlling the area are not allowing proper access to the crash site, and they also removed the plane’s black boxes, which they have since agreed to hand over.

Cameron made clear to Putin that the bringing down of the flight was “totally unacceptable” and a source told the Mail that he also said to the Russian President: “Ten of my citizens have just been killed in a plane brought down by a missile fired by Russian separatists. I have been asking to speak to you since this happened. You clearly can play a role in exerting influence on the separatists to grant us access to the site.”

The PM has also been discussing stronger sanctions on Russia with his allies in the EU. The French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both agreed with the PM that the main priority is to gain unfettered access to the site to recover victims, but have also discussed a new, harsher approach to Russia by way of sanctions.

However, the BBC is reporting a “lack of appetite” among EU countries for expanding existing sanctions on Russia, which is apparently frustrating Downing Street.

Cameron will make a statement to the Commons later today. He's good at these kind of statesmanlike addresses, and his enthusiasm for harsher sanctions made clear by No 10 is a decisive move in the right direction. However, there's only so much he can do in this situation without his EU allies wholeheartedly on-side. Germany is more reticent about sanctions because of its reliance on Russian gas, and also its position as Russia's biggest European trading partner.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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