‘Ukraine is a dysfunctional country, not because of Russia’
RT:Germany, France and the UK have apparently given an ultimatum to Russia, threatening more sanctions if international investigators are not given full access to the crash site. Will they actually follow through? What can they do?
Ken Livingstone: There is an awful lot of pandering to the hysteria that has been whipped up, yet some of us are old enough to remember that back in 2001 the Ukrainian military shot down a Russian civilian plane killing 79 people. There was no great outcry; very few people remember that happening. I can recall back in 1988 under President Reagan, an American aircraft carrier shot an Iranian civil aircraft out of the sky killing nearly 300 tourists that were on a pilgrimage tour to Mecca. There was not even an apology from the US. We did not have headlines saying "It was Reagan's missile" in the way we have had headlines in our gutter press "This is Putin's missile".
The simple fact is Ukraine is a dysfunctional country, it is not being brought together by its new president who needs to offer reassurance both to the people in Eastern Ukraine and to Russian people that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, will not bring nuclear weapons onto its soil threatening Russia, and it needs to reassure people in Eastern Ukraine that they are not in any way dominated or treated as second-class citizens. They need some sort of devolved government like we have here in Britain for our Welsh and Scottish minorities. But the Ukrainian government does not seem to make any concessions that could bring this civil war to an end.
RT:Cameron claims Russia has been arming and training the self-defense forces - but the West has so far failed to provide any proof. Is it right for a Prime Minister to make what remain unproven allegations?
KL: It seems to me that if Putin had sent Russian troops in to secure the site they would be uproar. You cannot blame Putin that this is a bit of a mess going on there. This is an absolute tragedy, but it is not something planned and plotted by Putin. And that is the line being dished out from Washington and the British government. People in Russia may be looking at newspapers and TV broadcast and thinking there is great danger, [but] there is no mood in Britain or anywhere in Europe for escalating sanctions, because it would simply tip the European economy back into recession and there is no evidence to suggest that this is anything other than a tragic error by people that should have known better.
RT:David Cameron in The Sunday Times said "If it's proved that resistance fighters in East Ukraine downed MH17 - it's a direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state." Do you agree with that?
KL: Let's make it clear, Russia did not destabilize Ukraine. Ukraine has had a succession of pretty awful governments, it is a divided nation, it was put together hurriedly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. What Putin wants is a secure stable state on the border with Russia which is not a threat to it. The simplest way for the Ukrainian government to remove all these tensions is to say that they do not have any intentions to join NATO or bring American missiles onto Ukrainian soil.
Let's not forget that when the Soviet Union put missiles in Cuba the world came to the point of extinction. America was not prepared to tolerate that military presence just 90 miles from its border.
We have got to recognize that great powers do not want to see themselves encircled and threatened. We did not have all this of course when Yeltsin was Russian president, because he was seen as very much doing what the West wanted. Now you have got a Russian president who puts Russia's interests first. I would have many disagreements with President Putin about a lot of its policies, but I recognize that in the same way Obama tries to defend American interests – that is exactly what Putin would do for Russia.
RT:But surely Cameron has the right to express his opinion in any way he sees fit.
KL: We do not have a free press in Britain. 70 percent of our papers are owned by 5 billionaires, all of them tax exiles, all of them happy to have the focus on this issue rather than a serious discussion about the mess that David Cameron's government has made of our economy. We have an election coming up. Anything they can seize on to divert attention from the issues that matter to the British people will do.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.