Editorial: Curb Putin's ambition

Last updated 06:49 23/07/2014

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OPINION: Before the shooting down of the Malaysia Air jetliner over eastern Ukraine last Thursday the outside world was vaguely aware of the chaos, violence and lawlessness that had been brought about by the Russian-backed rebellion in the region.

But it has taken the vile behaviour of the rebels in the last few days, fully supported by a blitz of blatantly mendacious Russian propaganda, to bring home the sheer thuggishness and brutality to which the area has been reduced.

What the consequences may be it is too early to tell but it will almost certainly send relations between Russia and the West a good way back to the chilliest days of confrontation and hostility of the Cold War.

No-one has accused President Vladimir Putin of direct responsibility for ordering the jetliner to be shot down. But Putin is undeniably responsible for creating the disorder, anarchy and mayhem in eastern Ukraine that enabled it to occur.

The rebels at first denied that they shot the plane down but the evidence that they were responsible is irrefutable.

In a message intercepted by the Ukrainian government a rebel commander, a Russian secret police colonel and veteran of the vicious wars in Chechnya, can be heard reporting to another Russian intelligence operative boasting of having brought down what he thought was a military aircraft.

An exchange shortly afterwards reveals consternation as reports from among the bodies and debris that had rained down on towns and villages below make it clear the aircraft was a civilian one.

A barrage of falsehoods has since emanated from Moscow designed to obscure and conceal what happened. A feeble and implausible attempt was made to blame the Ukrainian government.

But the legitimate government does not have surface to air missiles in the area. It has no need to - the rebels have no aircraft. A few days ago, it was reported that the Russian-made missile launcher used in the attack had been spirited back across the border into Russia.

The rebels have done all they can to prevent any proper investigation of the incident. So determined have they been to keep outsiders away that bodies were left rotting in the summer sun with no dignity or decency for more than three days.

Only yesterday were the bodies reported to be on their way back to where they should be - with their grieving and anguished loved ones. It was only yesterday, too, that the aircraft's data and voice recorders were handed over, amid yet more posturing and chaos by drunken rebel ruffians, to Malaysian investigators. An investigation, however, is only the beginning.

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The rebellion in eastern Ukraine that led to the disaster has been fomented by Putin in ruthless pursuit of his ambition to restore parts of the old corrupt and discredited Soviet Empire, whose disintegration he has never accepted.

The absorption of Crimea was a step in this process. The West reacted by imposing financial sanctions, which have caused some difficulties in the Russian economy.

More effective measures must now be examined. Military action is out of the question, but something that hurts Putin and curbs his ambition is called for. The 298 killed on Thursday demand no less.

- The Press

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