In the days since Malaysian Airline Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, we have witnessed Western Governments express moral outrage, and families of those murdered publicly convey their grief. We have stood by while the pro-Russian militia—acting like drunken thugs—delayed international inspection teams, delayed removal of the bodies, and apparently looted any personal belongings of value.
What we have not seen is a public expression of outrage from Russia or, more correctly, from Vladimir Putin (since his will is Russian foreign policy). We have not heard Putin demand that the pro-Russian militia cease using surface to air missiles of the type used to down MH17. In fact, only days later the militia used surface to air missiles to shoot down two Ukrainian military aircraft, and they had previously shot down a Ukrainian transport plane.
Putin has publicly stated that Russia has the right to directly and indirectly defend ethnic Russians living in other sovereign countries, whether or not they are in fact Russian citizens. No doubt this sells well to the homeland, but it cannot be taken seriously. Think about it. If this position justified military intervention, the world would dissolve into total anarchy overnight.
The tragedy of MH17 goes beyond the 298 murdered civilians—it includes the lack of Western Governments to hold Putin and Russia accountable. The cover story in the August 4, 2014 issue of Time Magazine (Cold War II, by Simon Shuster) says it well in reporting President Obama’s July 21 statement that the least Putin could do is exert his influence on the militia to cooperate with the investigation: “The least Putin could do was the most Obama could ask for.” And European leaders have done no better. Following the MH17 tragedy France announced that would proceed with selling a warship to Russia, and Italy has lead the resistance to further sanctions against Russia.
The message to Putin from both the US and Europe is “Please don’t do that again.” For a nationalistic leader like Putin, who enjoys an 86% approval rating at home, why should he care what Europe and the US want? Indeed, Putin has made it clear that his goal is a greater Russia (read this to mean territory and influence).
Having already annexed the Crimean Peninsula, formerly a portion of Ukraine, President Putin is poised to invade Eastern Ukraine, probably on the pretense of protecting ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine. Putin has made it absolutely clear that he is not concerned that it was the pro-Russian militia he has trained and armed that murdered 298 civilians.
I grieve with the families of the victims, and I find the rhetoric of moral outrage and condemnation coming from the European leaders phony. Europe does not want to upset trade with Russia (including energy imports from Russia). So Putin may annex and invade sovereign nations on the thinnest of pretense, and provide weapons and training that allows his proxy militia to shoot down a civilian airplane, all with impunity.
It is time for Europe’s leaders to put up or shut up. If they do not want to take a stance against Russian aggression, then they need to say so and stop with the cheap stage acts. On the other hand, if they want to make it clear that this aggression will not be tolerated, the course is simple. With UN backing send ground troops with all necessary support into Ukraine to destroy the surface to air missiles and secure the border with Russia. Anything less is telling Putin he is free to continue this lawless path to a greater Russia.