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Hold Russia responsible now for shot down jet: Expert

The U.S. and Europe need to act swiftly to develop a concrete, aggressive plan to stop Russia from backing the separatists destabilizing eastern Ukraine now that it is clear they were involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate said Monday.

Zarate said that there's no need to wait for an international investigation to conclude who pulled the trigger on the missile that shot down the airliner and killed nearly 300 passengers.

"The geopolitical case is already made. Russia bears responsibility for what they've been doing to support, enable, arm these rebels," Zarate told CBS News Justice and Homeland Security Correspondent Bob Orr on CBSNews.com's "Flash Points."

"The Russians at a minimum...have enabled this..and to the extent that we draw ourselves into the details of the investigation and don't deal with the consequences on the geopolitical side it's a retreat from making hard choices."

Those "hard choices" he advocated for are a more vigorous response by the U.S. and Europe. The day before the plane was shot down, the U.S. had moved unilaterally to increase sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, including the defense industry, in an attempt to reduce tensions in Ukraine. European countries, still wary of the effects that sanctions could have on their economies, were a step behind. But now Zarate said they need to be part of a "transatlantic strategy" that can't just be more of the same: targeted sanctions and sending arms to NATO countries as a means of sending signals to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Something has to change and be different," Zarate said.

While that does not necessarily mean putting boots on the ground in Ukraine, Zarate said there needs to be an "open debate" about arming and training the Ukrainian military.

"I don't think we should shy away form that because I think to shy away from that is a signal to Putin that he can outlast us and that there's no stomach for doing things that are hard to dislodge the separatists and the status quo," Zarate said. "Speed and attention matter here because we've seen in the past with these kinds of situations that the longer they drag on, the more muddied the waters get -- and Putin's great at this -- the harder it gets then to galvanize international action."

European countries like the Netherlands and Germany have voiced more willingness to pursue tough sanctions after seeing their citizens killed on the airliner. Two-thirds of the nearly 300 passengers on MH17 were Dutch citizens.

While their top priority is recovering and repatriating bodies from the wreckage, more leaders are calling for action. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that if Putin does not change his actions in Ukraine, "Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia."

President Obama also issued his sternest warning yet to Putin on Monday, telling the Russian president he "has direct responsibility" to compel the pro-Russian rebels to allow international investigators full access to the wreckage.

But Zarate said that actions must occur quickly before the international outrage cools.

"If Europe equivocates, Putin wins because there's going to be no other moment where the level of moral opprobrium and attention, particularly from Europe, will be as high," he said. "Two weeks down the road, three weeks down the road, four weeks down the road, people are going to start forgetting about the elements of responsibility and what's happening on the ground and he will continue to push the envelope if he's allowed to."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.