For more than a year and a half the armed conflict in Ukraine has touched many in Australia. On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in the war zone after being hit by a surface-to-air missile. There was a short burst of jubilation by pro-Russian rebels on social media, before it became clear that this was not a military machine but a civilian airliner. All 283 passengers and fifteen crew were killed, including thirty-eight residents of Australia.
In the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy, expert advice was often partisan. Academic commentators with expertise in Ukrainian history and politics are rare, not only in Australia. Moreover, in a situation where ongoing ethnic strife seems entangled with a 'new cold war' between Russia and 'the West', it is hard to retain analytical distance. Passions also run high because the painful memory of World War II is well alive in the region, expertly exploited by propagandists on all sides. Some analysts – such as Richard Sakwa (reviewed in ABR, November 2014) – have essentially taken Russia's side, blaming the European Union and NATO for the conflict. More mainstream commentary has pointed the finger at Vladimir Putin's imperialist ambitions. Others see it as an ethnic conflict between Russians and Ukrainians, intractable and primordial.