John F. Hall Jr. writes: The nearly 300 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 were merely victims to Russia’s ruthless efforts to tear apart an independent, sovereign nation on its border that seemingly threatened Vladimir Putin’s twisted vision for a re-born Soviet Union.
We’re now nearly one week past the unconscionable execution of nearly 300 innocent souls aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH-17) by Russian-sponsored, Russian-trained, and Russian-armed criminals over the skies of Europe.
Many of those sacrificed to Russian-orchestrated aggression and expansionist goals in Ukraine on MH-17 were genuine humanitarians, selflessly dedicated to eradicating AIDS in the world. All of those lost were innocent men, women, children — even infants — who could have had no argument in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
They were merely victims to Russia’s ruthless efforts to tear apart an independent, sovereign nation on its border that seemingly threatened Vladimir Putin’s twisted vision for a re-born Soviet Union. We all know this to be true.
Most of those who were lost in this crime against MH-17 were Europeans, but European leaders have, collectively, collapsed, acquiesced, and done virtually nothing to punish Russia or to call it to account for its role in this heinous crime.
Instead, European leaders are proceeding with state-of-the-art arms sales from Paris to Russia, laundering Russian profits in London, and are forcefully tempering sanctions from Madrid, Rome, and Berlin.
Given the timidity and hypocrisy of the Free World’s response to this crime, Putin might soon reasonably expect a medal from the European Union for his leadership in this crime against humanity, which would be unprecedented, except for the fact that the Soviet Union did the very same thing itself — and behaved with the very same obstructionism and intransigence — 30 years ago, when it deliberately shot-down an unarmed civilian passenger aircraft on September 1, 1983.
History has, regrettably, now repeated itself over the formerly safe skies of Europe.
European leaders, many of whom have just shrugged their shoulders and shamefully handed over the lives of their own citizens to Putin’s aggression, are apparently more intently focused upon gas deliveries, financial windfalls, and arms-sales profits than they are upon the truth or justice in the matter. At the same time, even the U.S. president is presently busying himself making campaign fundraising speeches, when he should be actively working with his European counterparts, demanding unified, crippling sanctions on Putin’s war-machine.
European and American leaders have apparently chosen not to lead in this crisis, in which Putin has taken the undisputed advantage. This happened before in 1938, too, with another dictator. It’s now up to the people of the Free World who put their purported leaders and “servants of the people” in-power to show them how to lead or to lead for them. In this case, a few truths must be acknowledged, and a few steps must be taken — together, as allies against evil.
First, we must all acknowledge that Vladimr Putin’s criminal stooges in Ukraine are nothing more than Russian mercenaries, societal backwash, and drunkards who are only skilled in smashing ballot boxes, looting local treasuries, and shaking-down the local populace. They’ve done it superbly. They have no acumen for governing, except as a mafia governs.
Second, the reprehensible act of shooting down a commercial civil aircraft over Ukraine was an act perpetrated by Russian-led terrorists in Ukraine. This is a fact, notwithstanding the wild — and largely absurd — propaganda of Putin’s own skilled disinformation machine in Moscow. The people of the world, and especially of Europe, must call upon Russia to account, and the ridiculous Russian propaganda must be corrected and challenged with truth.
Third, Putin has now invaded and annexed two lesser, non-threatening, sovereign neighbors in his reign, in Georgia and Ukraine, owing solely to those nations’ efforts to join more closely with European democracies. In both cases, Europe and the U.S. stood-by on the sidelines, watching Russia consume freedom-loving nations seeking to join with them. U.S. and European citizens must compel their leadership to acknowledge these facts and embolden their elected leadership to act with resolve to end Putin’s hegemonic ambitions.
Fourth, Russia must be excluded from the Group of 20, as well as any other gathering of civilized nations seeking peaceful and harmonious trade and international relations. Russia is actively seeking conquest in Europe, and it’s now apparently willing to execute hundreds of innocent civilians for this goal, either by its own hand or that of its intoxicated proxies. The Group of 20 is no place for Russia.
Fifth, an immediate arms and financial embargo from the EU is overdue. The European Union’s next “big move” is to punish further Russian aggression by an arms embargo, but they still can’t decide upon it. Why wasn’t that first on Europe’s list of sanctions? It’s not in-effect because too many countries in Europe profit from the sales of arms to Russia and the laundering of illicit profits that Putin is using to destabilize Europe itself. That’s why. European citizens must must demand an end to this. U.S. citizens must likewise demand greater, more meaningful sanctions against Russia. Both the U.S. and Europe must be united in this effort.
Sixth, until Russia returns Crimea and its people to Ukraine, and until all Russian forces and all Russian-sponsored terrorists that have murdered loyal Ukrainians combatting Russian-sponsored invasion and assaults against Ukrainian freedom and independence are either out of Ukraine or behind bars, tough sanctions that will ruin Russia’s ability to wage war upon its peaceful neighbors must remain in place.
Russia unlawfully invaded Ukraine’s Crimea, in clear violation of the guarantees of Ukrainian sovereignty embodied in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which Putin has already gleefully trampled. Putin has likewise happily supported the murder of Ukrainian, Tartar, and other civilian and military people in his imperial Ukrainian gambit.
Putin’s aggression must not be allowed to stand unreversed and unresolved.
When Russia’s people finally prevail upon their corrupt leadership to behave like a responsible member of the international community, then these things can be reconsidered, and Russia can perhaps be reintroduced to the community of responsible nations. Until then, Russia can simply enjoy the company of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, China, and North Korea — militaristic, brutal, dictatorships with no regard for law, rights, or peace in the modern world.
The blood of the defenders of Ukrainian freedom and democracy — and now the blood of the hundreds of innocents of MH-17 — stains Putin’s hands, yet Putin is laughing at the West’s shameful impotence as he works to dismember Ukraine, solidify his gains in Crimea, the Donbas and Georgia, and to move further westward. Putin has the initiative. The United States and the free democracies of the world are presently doing little more than playing the role of simpering, appeasing Neville Chamberlains. All of this while Putin dictates terms.
When will Europe, whose hundreds of sacrificed citizens on MH-17 are now crying-out for justice, finally stand up?
Does it require Putin’s further invasion of Moldova, Lithuania, or even Poland, on the timeworn Soviet pretext of “protecting Russian-speaking minorities,” before the West finally realizes that they’ve — once again — come to the Soviet game too late?
When will the international community finally call “bullshit” on Putin’s lies and his irrational pretexts for Soviet aggression, and finally demand justice from Putin’s Russia?
John F. Hall is an international lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C. who has traveled to Ukraine.