Wreckage of the airliner that crashed in rebel-held east Ukraine. Photo: Getty
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Europe has a duty to act more effectively on the Russia Ukraine conflict

The Labour MP Mike Gapes argues that it is becoming increasingly likely the crashed airliner in Ukraine was shot down by Russian separatist fighters, and that it's time Europe took action on the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

We must await the outcome of inspections, satellite monitoring data and examination of the black box to be sure, but it seems increasingly likely a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile system, supplied by Moscow to pro-Russia separatist fighters in Eastern Ukraine, and perhaps even operated by Russian-trained personnel, shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight killing 298 people.

The enormity of this crime raises serious concerns and huge implications. 

As the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko said, "This was not an 'incident', this was not a 'catastrophe', this was a terrorist act."

The US had already just imposed further tougher sanctions on Russia for continuing to provide weapons to the Russian separatist rebels. Although the EU sanctions regime is less tough, reflecting ongoing dependence of several states on Gazprom supplies, I think there will now be public pressure on governments here, in the Netherlands and elsewhere to do much more. But the problem we face is that Russia, despite its mounting economic problems and capital flight, still holds several cards. It is a permanent member of the Security Council, able and willing to use its veto to protect its position in Syria, Iran and elsewhere. And the British financial system, London property markets and Conservative party are still very happy to take money from Russian oligarchs.

Putin knows this very well but he also knows that Russia cannot afford to be regarded as a terrorist-backing rogue state. He must swiftly act to rein in the extremists in Donetsk and cooperate in an international investigation of this war crime. He should also work rapidly to end the conflict with Ukraine. But he probably will not do this because his whole strategy in Ukraine was based on pressure to keep it under Russian domination and prevent Ukraine associating with western countries through the EU. That is why he occupied and annexed Crimea, tearing up an agreement signed by Russia in Budapest in 1994, and why he has armed and supported separatist extremists in Ukraine.

If Putin does not change course, we face not just a new cold war but the danger of intensified armed conflict in parts of the former Soviet Union. The forthcoming NATO summit in Wales in September will be the most important for a generation. Is Europe prepared to act more effectively to stand up against terrorism or do we just want business as usual with Putin and his oligarchs?

Mike Gapes is Labour MP for Ilford South and is a member of the foreign affairs select committee

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.