Murder in the sky

OUR OPINION: Russia cannot evade its complicity for act of terrorism

07/19/2014 7:00 PM

07/18/2014 8:53 PM

The murder of 298 people aboard a civilian airliner over Ukrainian territory represents an unmitigated, horrifying act of terrorism for which Russia and Vladimir Putin must be held accountable.

At this writing, there are still many unanswered questions about the incident. But there is little reason to doubt that Russia and its KGB-trained leader bear a large measure of responsibility for spilling innocent blood. There is simply no way Mr. Putin and the war party in Moscow can evade their complicity.

Without Russia’s active encouragement and open support, there would be no violent insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Hence no armed “separatists.” Hence no anti-aircraft rockets aimed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice at anything in the sky. Hence no tragedies like the one that brought down a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet over contested territory.

On Friday, Fidel Castro, of all people, piped up to blame Ukraine for the disaster. No one should consider this anything but the ranting of a half-demented old man in his dotage. All the evidence so far points to the Kremlin-backed, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine as the ones who fired the anti-aircraft missile that knocked Flight 17 out of the sky.

“That shot was taken in a territory controlled by the Russian separatists,” President Obama said Friday. His ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, went further, suggesting direct Russian complicity: “We cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating this (anti-aircraft) system.”

If Russia’s leaders have any shred of decency, any respect for world opinion, they must immediately cooperate with efforts to find out exactly what happened and why:

• Allow impartial, third-country inspectors, including American experts, access to the crash site and let them do their work without threat or harassment. Failure to do so will only deepen the suspicion that Russia has something — or a lot — to hide. Ms. Power has said evidence might already have been removed from the crash site. If so, it should be returned at once.
• Cooperate with Ukraine and other countries, especially The Netherlands and Malaysia, the countries of Flight 17’s origin and destination, to determine responsibility for this mass murder and fix appropriate punishment. Who fired the deadly missile? From what precise location? Who gave the order? Was this a mistake or was the airliner deliberately targeted? These questions need answers.
• Call off the dogs. It’s up to Mr. Putin to declare a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and make sure that it takes hold. Certainly the Ukrainian government has no interest in prolonging this insurgency. The separatists cannot long exist as a viable force without support from the Kremlin, which Mr. Putin can withdraw any time he chooses. The separatists are his proxies, and the entire world knows it.
• Stop the bullying. Ever since the Russian takeover of Crimea, Mr. Putin has been throwing his weight around, threatening to cut off his European neighbors from the supply of Russian energy resources. His dreams of reviving the Soviet Union’s might and imperial grasp are dangerous, for the people of Russia and for the rest of the world.

Mr. Obama’s challenge is to lead a unified response by the West, stiffening the spine of European allies. Their response to Russian aggression in Ukraine has been weak. Maybe now that the consequences of inaction have been made abundantly, horrifyingly clear, Europe’s democracies will finally decide to get serious.

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