It didn’t take Russian President Vladimir Putin long to get defensive and defiant about the downing of a Malaysian commercial jet over eastern Ukraine and the deaths of everyone on board Thursday.
Said President Putin: “… this tragedy would not have occurred if there was peace in that land, at least, if hostilities had not resumed in the southeast of Ukraine.”
For good measure, he added, “… without question, the state over whose territory this took place bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.”
That, of course, would be Ukraine. It apparently doesn’t matter to President Putin whether the missile that shot down Malaysian Flight 17 might have been fired by Ukrainian separatists loyal to Russia. Or that the reason there isn’t “peace in that land” is that Russia provoked and has supported insurrection first in areas of eastern Ukraine.
Although officials are certain that the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, it’s unclear — at least to most of the world — who is responsible for an act that killed the 298 passengers and crew. Both Ukraine and the Ukrainian separatists have denied involvement.
President Putin isn’t easily embarrassed. Yet one would think that whatever the evidence shows, he would recognize that his support — even direction — of Ukrainian separatists is at least a contributing factor in this tragedy. After all, separatists have fired missiles at other aircraft.
At the very least, the Russian president ought to be expressing sympathy for the dead instead of convicting Ukraine of something it may have had nothing to do with. The people aboard MH17 can’t be dismissed as collateral damage. They are victims of a horrible crime.
It’s worth noting that the missile strike on the airliner came within a day of the announcement by the United States and European allies of more severe sanctions against Russia for its support of unrest in Ukraine. The latest sanctions target Russia’s largest banks and energy companies — all of which are in the hands of President Putin’s friends. The sanctions might even have been stronger were it not for resistance by Germany and other European nations that for trade reasons of their own didn’t want to further alienate Russia.
Whether they are more inclined to punish Russia if it turns out that Ukrainian separatists shot down the Malaysian jet, perhaps believing it was a Ukrainian military transport, is an intriguing question.
This incident may yet cause President Putin more trouble than anything Ukraine’s government or army could.