Putin and company mounted their usual round of lies and accusations after Russians in eastern Ukraine shot down MH17 last week. How do we let them get away with this kind of thing, evading responsibility with relative ease? While we engage in quasi-legal proposals and expressions of concern about securing the crime scene, conducting an international investigation, and tampering with evidence – none of which seemed to concern us too much after 9/11 – Putin lays down his case that terrorists in Kiev shot down a passenger jet flying over Ukrainian air space.
First of all, the terrorists in Kiev are Ukraine’s legitimate government for the rest of the world. They are terrorists only in Putin’s propaganda. Second, the so-called terrorists in Kiev have no motive to shoot down passenger jets, whereas the Russians in eastern Ukraine want to shoot down just about anything that moves in the sky. They are so trigger happy with their surface to air missiles that they brag about their hits on Twitter until they see bodies falling out of the sky. Then they remove their boasts and their videos from Twitter, scramble the weapons they used out of the fire zone, and blame someone else for their mistake. These are criminal hoods we are dealing with. Many of them wear black hoods wherever they go, to hide who they are. Let’s remember that when we put out our legalistic pronouncements.
The most amazing thing of all is that Putin did not find a way to offer condolences to the Dutch or to any other people personally affected by the actions of his proxies in Ukraine. Instead, he offered condolences to the prime minister of Malaysia! If he looked west, to Europe, in the days after the attack, I haven’t seen it. Even during Wednesday’s day of mourning for MH17 dead in the Netherlands, Putin had nothing to say. If you offer condolences, people might think you’ve taken responsibility. Putin doesn’t need that. Instead, a week after MH17 goes down, his anti-aircraft experts down two more Ukrainian military jets, and his army bombards eastern Ukraine with artillery from Russian territory.
Putin wanted to take over eastern Ukraine the same way he took over Crimea: without insignia and without flags flying, but with a coordinated military operation to secure key institutions of control. He doesn’t like to open fire unless it’s necessry. It didn’t work. That method works only if the other side does not fight back. For a number of reasons, Ukraine was not able to fight back in Crimea. For other reasons, Kiev decided to fight in Ukraine. It has tried to do for Donetsk what it could not do for Sevastopol.
The war in eastern Ukraine has not gone particularly well for Putin, and he has a decision to make about what to do next. We have to think about how to help Ukraine win this war. The fussiness about sanctions – when to apply them and to whom – does not help Ukrainian military operations on the ground. Everyone recognizes that, but we have not seen Washington, Berlin, Paris, or any other capital try to rally even a little moral support for those soldiers. Where leadership has failed, the mourners in the Netherlands might step in, even if that’s not their intention. Let their grief rally us, to make sure Putin does not conquer the territory where bodies and blood rained from the sky.