July 18th, 2014 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Malaysians are angry at Russia. Over the social media, I see people cursing the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. That is not something you see every day. Malaysians typically do not care about Russia.
Russia is the largest country in the world, but it is so far away from Malaysia. Trade between the two countries is limited. Malaysia sends less than 0.5% of its total exports to Russia. Imports are slightly higher but Russia is not China or the United States to Malaysia.
There are Russians in Kuala Lumpur, and you can spot pretty models there from time to time but this is not Pattaya in Thailand. My colleague calls Pattaya a little Russian colony in Southeast Asia. He sent me an editorial comic from the Thai press some time back once, when Russia was annexing Crimea from Ukraine. It showed after Crimea, Russia would come after Pattaya next. Looking at arrival statistics, about 28,000 Russians landed in Malaysia from January to April this year, out of more than 9 million visitors in the same period. So, as far as the typical Malaysians were concerned, Russia could be the size of Monaco. It did not matter.
That has changed. Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 17 crashed close to the Ukrainian-Russian border. There is a strong suspicion that the pro-Russia rebels shot the plane down, killing nearly 300 people in it. The colorful Joe Biden said “it was blown out of the sky.” Whether or not Russia is directly linked to bringing the plane down, the circumstances for Russia do not look good. Fingers are already pointing to Russia. Malaysian fingers are pointing to Russia, whatever the Malaysian government actually thinks. Tony Abbott definitely did so in a typically frank Australian fashion.
Somebody on the ground has found the black box. But there is a problem. Given the suspected Russian involvement in the whole conflict, having the black box sent to Moscow for analysis is among the worst of all bad ideas. We want to know the truth. Russia, with conflict of interest aplenty, is standing in the way. If indeed Russia is involved, then it is in its best interest to temper with the black box.
I just do not trust Putin. I have never trusted him but previously, it was academic, a good point for coffee table conversation with not real effect on Malaysian national interest. That is no longer true. There is a Malaysian wreckage in Ukraine now, no thanks to Russian intervention in Ukrainian affairs.
There is already outrage. Having Russia scrutinizing the black box will increase that outrage. The best way to resolve this is to send the black box to a third party. Preferably, all the way back to Malaysia.
I doubt Russia would care though. Russia did not care about the world’s opinion when it annexed Crimea. It did not care when it invaded Georgia in 2008. Europe meanwhile is way too timid despite playing a role in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. And who is Malaysia to Russia?
And so, Russia is becoming the most popular country in Malaysia right now. Popular in a bad way. Infamous. It was Israel before, but Russia just took the top stop. There are Malaysians protesting against Israel… in front of the US embassy today in Kuala Lumpur. But I think the most reliable friend we have now who can support us beyond words of sympathy is the US.
And Europe, if they plan to have a backbone soon.