The argument about whether the regime of Vladimir Putin is evil and whether the people of Russia are complicit in that evil ended decisively on July 17, 2014 at 14:15 GMT, when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was blown out of the sky over Ukraine by a Russian-made surface to air missile fired either by Russia-trained Ukrainians or Russian military forces.
At least one American, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was murdered in the barbaric Russian act. The president of the United States confirmed that Russia has been supplying the arms and training to Eastern Ukraine rebels that was used to take down the MH17. He warned that Russian forces should not attempt to conceal evidence at the crash site near the Russian border, but that’s exactly what Russian forces began doing, including confiscating the plane’s black box and banning OSCE inspectors from the crash site.
Russia began churning out lies and disinformation about the crash so furiously on Kremlin-owned Russia Today propaganda TV that one of its foreign journalists felt compelled to resign and go public out of sheer shame at her complicity in the atrocity.
283 passengers and 15 crew on the MH17 were murdered by the pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine using Russian technology and Russian training. Their charred bodies rained down on the fields of Ukraine like sings of the apocalypse. 154 of them were Dutch, including at least one entire family of six, from the MH17’s country of origin, an atrocity against the Netherlands similar in scale for that tiny country to what 911 was for America.
President Obama stated: “That is not an accident. That is happening because of Russian support.” It is encouraging that the world has realized so quickly and decisively that Russian malevolence lay behind the atrocity. But at the same time it is disheartening to see so little decisive action in response to this knowledge.
It wasn’t, of course, the first time Russia has shot down a peaceful, unarmed commercial airliner and then lied about it. During Soviet times, Russia did so more than once.
But this was different. Very different. In Soviet times, it was possible for the world to believe that the people of Russia were as much the victims of Soviet atrocities as we were. We felt a certain strange kind of kinship with them. As we’ve watched the people of Russia repeatedly vote for proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin, hand him unchecked power and applaud as he uses it to seek to reestablish the USSR, our illusions about Russia have been blown away just as decisively as was the MH17.
No amount of Kremlin propaganda can hide the fact that Putin has poured gasoline on a raging fire in Eastern Ukraine. Once seen as a smooth and effective administrator, Putin now stands exposed as a clueless bungler.
And that brings us to Obama’s so-called “reset” policy with Russia, perhaps the single most odious and disastrous foreign policy since Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. Obama’s weakness and appeasement on Russia encouraged Putin to believe he was nearly omnipotent in post-Soviet space and could do as he pleased. Last week, it cost nearly 300 innocent lives.
Yet Obama didn’t apologize or even acknowledge the fault in his prior policies, nor did he take a single step towards reversing them as Russians scurried to bury the evidence of their heinous crime – scurried just as they did when they murdered thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest during World War II and tried to blame it on Hitler.
In a criminally negligent manner that has now cost at least one American life, Obama ignored clear, loud, repeated warnings from NATO that Russia was providing SAM technology to Ukrainian rebels, who now can only be called terrorists, and teaching them how to use it. He responded only with feeble economic sanctions at which Putin merely laughed. One of the world’s impost important aviation highways is in the skies above Ukraine, and now the world can’t use it. His presidency ran aground last week, all of his credibility vanished and he stood before the world looking like the unqualified, helpless, clueless oaf that many warned about before he was first elected.
Now the world clearly sees that 30,000 feet is not enough clearance to protect innocent third parties from raging imperialist bloodbaths like Russia is conducting in Ukraine and Georgia. It sees clearly that the only result of ignoring wanton aggression is more and worse aggression.
But those most damaged by the MH17 atrocity were the people of Russia. Photos of Putin cackling with glee and raising a champagne flute reflect well Putin’s soaring approval from his fellow Russians as he liquidates democracy and extends his gaping maw towards his tiny neighbors. Polls show that over 80% approve of Putin’s leadership and over 70% believe the country is going in the “right direction.” Russians supported Putin’s aggression bullying of Georgia and they support his brutalizing of Ukraine. There is no significant public opposition to Putin’s warlike policies because such opponents know they could be stoned in the streets by their fellow citizens for speaking out.
Abraham Lincoln once famously exhorted Americans “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The only way that the deaths of dozens of vital, hopeful young people and children on the MH17 can mean anything is if they lead the world to finally see Russia for what it is and to respond accordingly.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.