It was unavoidable that the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines plane has been conflated with the Ukraine civil war. What is less clear is the effect the interplay of events would have on relations between Russia and the United States, already strained over the meddling in Georgia and Ukraine that happened well before the air tragedy. These ex-Soviet republics form part of Russia's buffer line, but also happen to be America's new limits of spreading influence.
The outcome of the contest will shape international cooperation on issues ranging from arms control and trade to counter-terrorism and climate warming.
The world would be better off if these two former Cold War adversaries - with large land masses and a demonstrable scope for foreign interventions good and bad - preserved a level of collaboration, even if greater trust among pioneering nuclear states is an unlikely prospect.
But the recriminations that have been flowing back and forth between Washington and Moscow over the missile strike at MH17 and the fomenting of Ukrainian instability suggest that both sides are going for broke. This could be dangerous.
Neither side is giving anything away over the MH17 case or the Ukraine interference. There is too much innuendo, disinformation and righteous rhetoric and too little clarity, although circumstantial evidence points to the Ukrainian rebels' culpability in the MAS incident.
On the fight for Ukraine's future itself, this is a continuation of big-power rivalry which by definition means neither party can claim the moral high ground.
What should concern governments with a stake in the outcome is whether international peace is better secured with Russia as a full participating member in good standing, or one criminalised and ostracised.
Financial and energy sanctions that Europe is imposing on top of US actions can, if coupled with a collapse in energy prices, weaken Russia's economy to a point where retaliation is assured. What then? The Ukraine dispute over ethnic and territorial rights requires a solution that is fair to the disputants and to their supporting patrons.
What has been overlooked in the ongoing tussle is that nations most affected by the MH17 disaster (notably Malaysia and Holland) have legitimate concerns about humanity and natural justice.
Remains of the last victims have not been fully recovered. Evidence in the form of shrapnel-pierced pieces of the MAS plane needs to be secured to get at the truth. But fresh fighting in eastern Ukraine which has disrupted recovery missions is a new indignity - a sad reminder that it will be a while before the dead can have their peace.
This article was first published on July 30, 2014.
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