The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine marks a tragic new chapter in the Ukraine crisis. Overwhelming evidence indicates pro-Russian separatists shot the plane down (though not shockingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine's government). Hundreds of European Union and NATO citizens were killed in the crash. But neither the United States nor Europe is likely to respond to this tragedy with any meaningful action.
First, there is a lack of U.S. leadership. From the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the United States demonstrated it was content "leading from behind" on foreign policy matters in Europe. After Russia annexed Crimea, the United States unleashed a barrage of vague warnings of further warnings of stern warnings. Unsurprisingly, halfhearted condemnation has yet to phase Putin. The most recent round of sanctions against Russia is a step in the right direction, but still a step too late. If Crimea's invasion — a blatant act of war — didn't provoke a strong U.S. response, this tragedy won't either. In a statement after the crash, President Obama said he didn't see any new military role for the United States "beyond what we've already been doing" with NATO. Former Secretary of State and presumptive 2016 presidential candidate Hilary Clinton reinforced this, saying it is up to European leaders to "take the lead" on handling this tragedy's fallout.
NATO, for its part, has taken a circumspect role in the crisis. Rather than ramping up military support for Ukraine or positioning more deterrent military capabilities near the alliance's eastern borders, NATO is content to keep its fight with Russia relegated to little more than the propaganda front.
Despite this tragedy, the battlefield remains the same as it was before the crash. Russia still controls Crimea, and its 15,000 troops ominously amassed on Ukraine's border aren't going away any time soon. The plane crash undoubtedly galvanized the international community's opposition to pro-Russian separatists, but the separatists never had any international support in the first place. The crash of MH17 alters neither Russia's support for separatists, nor the West's support for the government in Kiev.
True, this tragedy swept away Putin's paper-thin veneer of plausible deniability that Russia is not backing the separatists. So far, Russia has been on the offensive in the propaganda war, dancing semantic circles around its European counterparts. These events have finally put Russia on the defensive — for the first time, countries outside of Ukraine are paying the price for Putin's recklessness — yet few were naive enough to buy into Putin's narrative from the beginning, and those misguided enough to believe Putin before the crash will continue to believe him after the crash. This tragedy wasn't a "wake up call" to Western leaders on Russia's hand in the Ukraine crisis so much as a grave reminder of what they already knew.
Yes, Russia's international image is irrevocably damaged. But if the West's opinion of Russia concerned Putin, he would never have invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in the first place. Putin remains as popular as ever domestically — few Russians and even fewer Russian journalists will hold him accountable for this tragedy.
Expect the history books to divide the conflict in Ukraine between pre- and post-MH17. Expect harsh rhetoric from the United States and Europe. Expect further minimally-to-marginally harmful sanctions. Expect this tragedy to alter the narrative around the Ukraine crisis, and maybe, just maybe, even stymie Western business with Russia. But don't expect the West to play a more active role in resolving this conflict. Consequently, don't expect Putin's calculus on Ukraine to change.
Gramer staffs the Atlantic Council's Transatlantic Security Initiative. He tweets at @RobbieGramer. All views expressed are his own.